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News & Features » June 2015 » “The The Cortez” by Brett Finlayson

“The The Cortez” by Brett Finlayson

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, Brett Finlayson brings us to Las Vegas, Nevada, where one man’s identity is another man’s livelihood.

UNLV Black Mountain Institute (BMI) Fellow Brett Finlayson poses March 3, 2015 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services) Client: BMI, BLACK MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE

UNLV Black Mountain Institute (BMI) Fellow Brett Finlayson poses March 3, 2015 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. (Aaron Mayes / UNLV Photo Services)

The The Cortez
by Brett Finlayson
Fremont East, Las Vegas, Nevada


Tupelo was sipping a Mickey’s in El Cortez when Mac and Porter came in from Fremont—a double endorsement for capital punishment as far as Tupelo was concerned, and the reason he had a glass eye.

“Well, well,” said Porter, blocking the exit. “What’re the odds, Mac?”

“The California, Binion’s, the Golden Nugget,” said Mac, positioning himself on Tupelo’s other side as he ticked the names off on his fingers.

“Jackie tells us, Find Tups. Bring him to the El Cortez.

“The the Cortez?” said Tupelo.

“Four Queens, the Plaza, Main Street Station,” continued Mac. “We checked every slot pot in town.”

“And the whole time he’s right here,” said Porter, clapping Tupelo’s shoulder, “drinking beer like the asshole he is instead of being halfway to LA like the asshole he should be. What the fuck are the odds, Mac?”

Mac looked Tupelo up and down. “Jesus,” he said. “Pretty fucking good, Port.”


A sour fetor of cigarettes clung to the recycled air that pumped into the office from an overhead vent. Tupelo turned away from the stream to keep it from drying out his eye. Despite the thick mahogany wainscoting, he could still hear the digital burp of slot machines downstairs, interrupted by the occasional surge of craps players. Tupelo walked up and down in place, sneakers squeaking on the plastic tarp that Jackie had lain on the office carpet. “Repainting?”

Jackie wasn’t amused. “People like you,” said Jackie, waving his lowball of Blue Label at Tupelo. “You think Vegas is a big city when really it’s a small town. And in a small town word travels fast. In your case, fucking light speed.” Jackie downed his scotch, and Mac and Porter seemed to take this as a cue that their real role in the story had begun. Taking turns pinning back Tupelo’s arms, they dug the heels of their cowboy boots into his ribs until he felt his cage crack and his insides bruise into applesauce.

“Easy on the goods,” Tupelo choked in between blows. “These organs are of a mature variety—”

While Mac and Porter put in work, Jackie poured himself another drink at the wet bar and brought it to the couch. He plopped his feet up on the coffee table, his patent leather digs shining like the paint job on a new Jaguar.

“Get some!” yelled Porter as Mac buttered Tupelo with right hooks. “Get some, Mac baby!”

Tupelo’s breath pierced his lungs like fiberglass. “I’m sorry, Mr. Bijou,” he managed, swallowing back a bolt of nausea. “It ain’t personal.”

Jackie drained the second scotch with a snap of his neck. He motioned for his men to stop, watching Tupelo sway back and forth, jaw curled into knots at either side of his mouth. “Of course it is, son.”

Tupelo realized suddenly that it wasn’t his nerve that had got Jackie so hot—the gall to dye his hair white, tattoo a birthmark on his left cheek, and hit up all the downtown casinos pretending to be Jackie Bijou. No, the reason Jackie was so pissed was because not one person had noticed the difference between the owner of El Cortez and a junkie son of a bitch with a glass eye named Tupelo Brumes. And that was the last thought in Tupelo’s mind when Mac swung the tip of a boot up into his groin so hard that the force dislodged the prosthetic orbital from his face.

Mac recoiled in disgust. “Jesus!”

All three watched Tupelo flail around under the desk, searching for his property.

“Want us to drag this sorry sack of shit out back?” asked Porter.

Jackie admired the damage his men had inflicted with a smile. “No. He’s a lesson I prefer to walk out the front door, boys.”


“Mr. Bijou,” stammered the bank manager. “I didn’t know you were coming—”

Tupelo shut him up with a hand, and the manager led him to the vault. He placed a safety deposit box on a table in the center of the room and left Tupelo alone. With a snap of his wrist, Tupelo cuffed himself on the back of the head, popping his eye out like a cherry tomato. He poked his pinky into the empty socket and fished out the key he’d swiped from the trap compartment underneath Jackie’s desk. Laughing was painful, but it didn’t stop him from enjoying the moment. In place of the 34 karat princess diamond he left a little jewel of his own, a treasure far more rare, and priceless.


BRETT FINLAYSON has an MFA from Syracuse University, and he is presently a Black Mountain Institute PhD Fellow in Fiction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he serves as fiction editor of Witness. His stories have appeared in Beloit Fiction Journal, KNOCK, New Delta Review, Stone Canoe, and Third Coast, among other publications. He lives in Las Vegas with his beautiful fiancée and their pit bull, Ahab.


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

—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.
—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: Jun 29, 2015

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