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News & Features » May 2020 » “Rhumba” by Alec Binnie

“Rhumba” by Alec Binnie

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, an imposter sneaks in through the fire escape.

by Alec Binnie
Oak Hill, Des Moines, Iowa

Detective Owen Newlin stashed the stolen LaSalle in the alley behind the Colonnade apartment house and climbed the fire escape, which rose through an open air shaft. At each floor, aromas lingered, and stacks of supper dishes balanced in the sink. The pious Norwegian on the ground floor had scraped the last of the dumplings into the trash before dousing the lights and leaving for church. The Italians in #4, sated on canned chop suey, had elected to stay home and worship at the feet of the Great Gildersleeve.

Newlin paused on the fire escape landing at the third floor. He slipped a house key from his pants pocket and turned it silently in the lock. A bottle of Four Roses stood in the center of the kitchen table. Two glasses, still full, occupied the placemats on either side. The burnt wick of a votive candle floated atop a pool of wax that was congealing in an ashtray adorned with a cursive “V.”

Newlin swirled one tumbler of whiskey and gulped it. The ice had melted, and the soda had gone flat. He downed the second tumbler and looked out toward the house across the narrow alley. The curtains in the second story window snapped shut.

Newlin undressed and piled his wet clothes into the empty sink. He walked through the darkened living room and eased open the bedroom door. Even with the blankets draped over her, Newlin could identify the shape—wings, engine, fuselage, tail—Vonnie Elston was easy to spot.

From the bottom dresser drawer, he took a pair of BVDs, an undershirt, and the thickest pair of wool socks. He knew where in the closet to find the rest. He stepped into the bathroom and turned on the light to dress. He was careful not to disturb the crisply ironed white uniform and the white stockings that were hung from the curtain rod to dry.

Newlin tucked in the sweater and loosened the suspenders as he pulled them over his shoulders. After three years of steady wear, Edwin Elston’s clothes no longer fit Newlin as well as the first time Vonnie had begged him, in tears, to put them on. During a recent drunken rhumba, as she coaxed him back into the glen plaid sport coat, Vonnie noticed that the smell and feel of it now reminded her more of Newlin than of the late second lieutenant. Tonight, Newlin was just looking for something dry and warm—not another thrill that the angels would ask her to recall.

Newlin opened the bathroom door and let the light spill across the bed. Vonnie smiled but did not wake. Newlin pulled back the covers and sat on the edge of the bed. He loosened the length of rubber tube from her arm and coiled it back into the leather case that lay unzippered on the night stand. He slipped her fingers from the syringe and unscrewed the needle. He fitted the pieces into the case and zippered it closed. Newlin knelt beside the bed. Reaching under the nightstand, he placed the case on a small shelf hidden behind the drawer.

Newlin rose and lifted Vonnie from the bed. She stood and swayed a moment. Stretching out her right arm, her left hand resting on his shoulder, she lay her head on the lapel of the glen plaid sport coat. Vonnie stepped back onto her right foot. 

“I remember you,” Vonnie murmured. “You’re the one who made my dreams come true.”

She led.

He followed.


ALEC BINNIE grew up in Des Moines, always suspecting something else was happening just beneath the surface. He lives now in Northern California in a sleepy suburb not far from the continent’s edge. By day, he works as a financial advisor. Story location photos on Instagram @toujoursperdu.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: May 8, 2020

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder, Original Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , ,