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News & Features » September 2017 » “Smoked” by Brandon Dutton

“Smoked” by Brandon Dutton

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, a cigarette helps flame someone’s sinister past.

by Brandon Dutton
San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles, CA

Three miserable years.

But there I was, fucking cigarette in my mouth. Took an inhale, smoke spiraled out as I blew. Santa Ana’s were strong, that wind didn’t forgive one bit.

Blinked and half of it was gone. That familiar buzz, that light head. Promised myself I was done, that I was out. Tried the patch, gum, even vaped. But there was nothing quite like a cigarette. The burn, the flavor, that heat in your chest.

Light began to peek over the hills. Soon the warm night would become a swelter. By then I had to be gone, the morning commuters would be up and down the Pass. As if I needed to be caught smoking with a dead guy next to me. That bastard just had to have a pack on him.

First caught a whiff when I got in the car. Figured after an hour or so my nose would adjust. But every breath was nicotine. The ashtray near the cupholder was stuffed with butts. Haven’t even seen one of those used since I was a kid. Rare in California, can’t even smoke in your backyard anymore.

When he got in it was obvious he just puffed one, the odor still fresh. Nice little wave of it swept past my face, took a quiet breath while in the back seat. Smell was more intense when I got close with the cord.  Pulled back with all my strength until the veins rose from his forehead. Whatever life he had seeped out.  His dying breath was secondhand smoke.

Haven’t done a gig in quite some time. Not quite as long as the smoking, but close. Told myself I’d never do it again. Funny how things worked out, with one came the other.

Already down to the butt.

Nearly flicked it onto the road out of habit, but restrained. Didn’t want it to end up a clue later on.  Maybe the wind would blow it in the brush below. Better safe than sorry, tossed it in the car. Didn’t want to take any chances first day back.

Grabbed the pack of Pall Malls from inside his jacket and put it in mine. Took one of the dirty shirts in the back seat and stuffed it in the fuel tank. Pushed until it was soaked with gasoline, made sure to only get it on my right hand. Luckily he stopped for gas on the way, nice full tank. Probably where he picked up the smokes.

Ran my thumb over the green Bic a couple times before it caught fire. Sloppy first day back but felt better when the shirt turned to ash. Got a safe distance, watched as the tank heated up, combusted. Fire swept inside, fingerprints and cigarette butts gone with it.

The paint curled back, tires melted. Smoke swirled above, those Santa Ana’s took no prisoners.  The inferno was so hot I felt it from where I stood. Before any police presence would be in the area I’d be at breakfast.

The diner I went to was one of those old school joints peppered throughout the Valley. People even use to smoke inside there back in the day. Never had the privilege, little before my time. As I ate I wondered if I’d dented his trachea enough for forensics to notice after the fire. Probably fine, didn’t pull back that hard.  Finished my meal, stepped outside, weather way too hot for November.

Took the pack out, held the Bic to my mouth. Wind spared me that time.


BRANDON DUTTON grew up in Los Angeles. He received his BA from UC Santa Barbara. His stories “The Blackout,” “Luci,” and “Bar In Hollywood” have also appeared in the Mondays Are Murder series for Akashic Books. He works in the film industry.


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: Sep 18, 2017

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