2016 NYCM FF Round 1 Group 20

This is my entry for the first round of the 2016 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction challenge.
My prompts were, fantasy, a garbage dump, a pack of cigarettes.
Feel free to comment and share.

_______

One Brother’s Future.

Synopsis: Brothers Matt and Nate scratch out a life on their small island of garbage. Through tragedy, their mother’s wish for her son to find a better life is given another chance.

 

Nate jumped at the rumble of a fresh load approaching.

Content, knowing they had time before the truck reached their end of the dump, his brother Matt mumbled, “Chill, Nate.” Matt licked his paws and washed his black snout. “When the truck crosses the creek, he’s in our territory. Until then, it belongs to Rocky and his raccoon brethren.”

Nate circled the den, his thin tail slapping Matt as he poked his pointy head out through the hole they had gnawed into the discarded end-table.

“But Matt, Matt, what if he stops close? He does that sometimes. And it’s daytime. Daytime, Matt. We can run over and snatch something sweet. Just a treat, Matt. Something sweet.”

“Nathaniel.” Nate stopped fidgeting at the sound of his full name. “If it comes, it comes. If not, it wasn’t meant to be.”

Listening, Matt followed the truck’s progress. First the crunch of gravel as it entered through the rusted metal gate that marked the edge of their world.

He’d never been beyond that point. He’d only come close once.

Near the gate were the recyclables: plastic, glass, and large metal boxes that had once housed hundreds of their rodent relatives, deserted now that Dog lived there.

Dog’s shouts lived in Matt’s nightmares. “Rat-Rat!” Matt shivered in his matting, willing the memory of the day he saw Dog’s face up close from his mind.

The truck engine droned in waves as it wound passed the cement mountains where the birds lived. “Truck coming. Truck. Truck. Truck coming.” The birds talked a lot, but never really said anything.

Behind their end-table home lay a swamp. Throaty bullfrogs serenaded the dump with low-slow blues, and gators called like sirens, enticing the residents with the deceptive promise of an easy meal on fish and shrimp. Sometimes, the sly gators hid in the creek to catch an unsuspecting creature taking a drink. Fear kept Rocky and the other raccoons on the far side of the water.

Matt knew there were only three things the raccoons didn’t do: cross the creek, come out during the day—unless they were foaming at the mouth, and speak in the common tongue.

When the drawers of the end-table rattled. Matt opened his eyes and stretched in anticipation of the truck’s fat tires splashing through the water meaning there was only one possible destination left, Matt and Nate’s doorstep.

When he heard the engine roar and then stop without the splash, Matt settled into his bedding and mumbled, “It’s Rocky’s trash now.”

Over the incessant nattering of the birds, Matt heard Nate call out. “Candy box!”

Matt spun as Nate’s tail slipped through into the daylight. Rushing to the opening, he watched as Nate swam across the creek. Matt saw the human driver standing by the truck, a white and red box at his feet.

He reached the water just as Nate cleared the other side and grabbed the box. Instead of returning, Nate began to tear it apart.

“Nate, get back here!”

The moment he shouted, he realized his mistake.

The indecipherable chatter of the raccoons preparing to defend their land started as quietly as the romantic chirping of the crickets calling out in the night for a mate. By the time they were loud enough for the human to hear—and dash for the safety of his truck—Matt reached his brother.

Nate’s mouth was full of white paper and brown leaves. Filters hung from the ends of the cigarettes he had pulled from the pack.

“Matt, Matt, this candy isn’t very good. Matt, try some, Matt.”

“No Nate. We’ve got to—“

In a flash of brown and black fur, Nate vanished.

Matt panicked, his mind returning to another sudden swatch of brown fur at the main gate. Instead of the incoherent clicks and chirps of their attackers, he heard Dog’s shout of, “Rat-Rat,” just before their mother disappeared.

Between the raccoons forcing them into the swamp, and Dog terrorizing them when they went near the gate, they were the only three left of their kind.

She had brought him to the gate to tell him to leave. “Your brother Nathaniel’s a sweet boy,” she had said. “But he’ll never make it out there. One of us has to stay here with him.”

Nate’s screams broke his trance. “Matt, Matt, Rocky’s got me. Matt.”

Matt attacked the larger animal. His claws and teeth gnashing with a fervor that took Rocky by surprise. The sight of their leader releasing Nate made the other raccoons stop long enough for Matt to latch onto the scruff of Nate’s neck and drag him into the water.

The raccoons rushed to the edge and stopped, too wary to try to cross.

Matt dragged Nate back to their den, accompanied by the high-pitched buzzing of the flies as they called in the swarms. “Fresh blood. Fresh blood…”

Chunks of red, black, and white flesh hung from Nate’s belly.

“Nate, what were you thinking?”

Blood seeped from his mouth. “Matt, Matt, I’m sorry, Matt.” He clutched his prize, unwilling to release it. His eyes focused beyond the walls of their discarded home. “Matt, Matt, do you ever wonder if there’s anything on the other side of gate?”

“No Nate, not anymore. We’ve got each other, that’s all we need.”

“Matt, but isn’t mom out there?”

Matt’s chest tightened at the question.

“Yeah, Nate. She is.” He hadn’t the heart to tell his brother exactly what happened the day he’d seen Dog up close.

Nate’s breath began to come in short bursts. Matt knew the end was near. The end of both their lives in the dump.

Matt licked Nate, cleaning the blood from his brother’s whiskers. His vision blurred by tears, Matt smiled, “So, how’s that candy?”

“M…, Matt, it tastes better with a little spit on it.” His eyelids fluttered and closed. “Don’t eat the furry end part, makes your mouth dry.”

Nate’s voice, already small and weak, faded into silence. “Matt, Ma—-“

 

 

Thoughts on screenwriting

I have a friend who is a movie producer. I’ve known him since grade school, (close to 50 years.) When we were young, we made Super-8 movies and waited patiently for them to be developed so we could watch and learn from our mistakes in order to make the next one better.

 

He went on to work in TV and movies, and I went on to acting, and although I had to give that life up to pay the bills, I kept writing in order to keep my muse happy.

 

A few years ago I decided to start sharing the stories I had written and try my hand at getting published. One of the things that helped my story telling, was my decision to enter short story competitions. Several of my stories won rounds, received Honorable Mentions, and have since been published–including my first fully paid-for story.
Having succeeded at that goal, I’ve decided to try screenwriting.
When the desire to begin writing for film hit me, I did the same thing. I entered a NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. (You can read my first screenplay here, A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT)

Although as of the time of this post, I’m still awaiting the results of that entry, my decision to learn and build my reputation by this method, turns out to be a pretty good idea.

My friend–remember him from way back at the top of this post?–sent me an article to read about the business of screenwriting by Chris Salvattera, an executive with HBO and someone who began his career by writing screenplays.

 

If you’re at all interested in the business, or wish to try your hand, read the article, it’s very informative.
The quote that prompted me to write this post.
“One way to help get your script in people’s inboxes is to do well in a reputable screenwriting contest. It’s a level of vetting your work, especially if you don’t have representation.”

A BARBED WIRE ROSE TAKES ROOT

2016 NYCM Screenplay challenge. Comments and shares welcome.
Prompts were:

Romance

A factory worker.

An apology.

Logline: A hard-edged woman, following a path to self-destruction, makes a life decision to change, and win back the love of her life.

 

EXT. WAREHOUSE DISTRICT – NIGHT

Red and blue neon reflect the words “GO-GO” off a shallow puddle. The street is illuminated by sparsely spaced streetlights. The building’s signs indicate their use. Fleetwood Bedding. Stewart Sprockets. Dyson Logistics.

Muffled, HARD-ROCK MUSIC is heard coming from a beat-up bar, the sign ‘WAREHOUSE GO-GO,’ flashes above the entrance. Half a dozen motorcycles are parked outside.

The THUMP of a large-bore engine is heard over the music.

ANGLE ON: A CUSTOM HARLEY DAVIDSON TOURING MOTORCYCLE.

The fuel tank on the heavily chromed bike has airbrushed roses with I-beams for stems, and flames for petals.

ROSALITA, 35, muscular body, is leaning back in the seat. Tufts of jet-black hair bulge from under her helmet. She is wearing a well-worn black leather jacket. Covering the jacket is a denim vest adorned with numerous patches.

CLOSEUP: PATCH ON VEST.

An image of Mount Rushmore with the words “STURGIS 2009” above. Below, there are smaller patches stacked: 2010, 2011, then two blank spaces, then 2014, and 2015.

Rosalita parks in front of the bar. Studying the sign as she removes a pack of cigarettes from her vest. She pulls a chrome lighter from her pocket, and lights a cigarette.

CLOSEUP: THE ZIPPO LIGHTER.

A pair of intertwined hearts are engraved into the side. One lace, the other barbed wire.

ROSALITA

(Mumbles)We can do so much better than this, Lou. I just hope you can forgive me.

Rosalita walks to the door.

INT. WAREHOUSE GO-GO (CONT’D)

The pulsating MUSIC is louder. Strobes and spotlights aim on a polished hardwood dance floor in the middle of the bar. A bikini-clad woman works the bar. Two, sans swimsuits, gyrate around chrome poles on the dance floor.

Three private booths take up the far wall. The two closest red-painted accordion doors are closed.

ANGLE ON: ENTRANCE

Rosalita enters the smoky bar. Rising from a barstool, the BOUNCER, 30, juiced up body-builder, stops her.

BOUNCER

Ten dollar cover.

Rosalita removes her helmet, her long hair tumbles out.

BOUNCER

Oh, hey sorry. Chicks are free. Drinks are half price too.

Rosalita unzips her jacket exposing her ample cleavage.

The bouncer’s eyes her low-cut, tight-fitting tee-shirt.

Rosalita smiles, drops her cigarette and cruses it out with the pointed tip of her boot. Leaning over, she places her helmet on the bouncer’s stool as she squeezes her bosom for maximum effect.

The bouncer’s leer deepens, his mouth curves into a grin.

In a flash, Rosalita flicks the back of her hand off the bouncer’s crotch. She grabs his throat with her other hand as he doubles over.

ROSALITA

My eyes are up here, bro. Got it?

The bouncer’s attention is now solely on Rosalita’s face, he nods his agreement and she releases him.

The bouncer is rubbing his throat and crotch at the same time, more embarrassed than in pain.

BOUNCER (COUGHING)

Sorry about that. No offense.

Rosalita picks up her helmet.

ROSALITA

I’m used to it, we’re good.

Rosalita looks around the bar.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Is Lucia working tonight?

The bouncer shrugs.

BOUNCER

Don’t know. Most of the girls don’t use their real names. She a friend of yours?

ROSALITA

Yeah. Hopefully more, if I can get her to agree to what I came for.

BOUNCER

What’s she look like?

She scans the room. Her nose scrunches at the stench of stale smoke and cheap cigars mixed with the sweat and desperation of the men paying for a moment of attention from women who wouldn’t glance at them in broad daylight.

ROSALITA

Lucia’s Jamaican. Dark skin, heavy accent. Short. Big boobs–

Rosalita sees LUCIA entering the open booth with an obviously drunk, MAN, 45, stocky and overweight, high-school football star decades past his prime.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Never-mind. Found her.

ANGLE ON: PRIVATE BOOTH ENTRANCE — LUCIA’S BACK.

Centered above her bikini top string is a large tattoo matching the dual hearts etched onto Rosilita’s lighter.

Lucia is carrying a small purse to hold her tips.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I met that guy earlier today. Seems like a douche. Who is he?

The bouncer looks as Lucia closes the booth behind her.

BOUNCER

The dancer is Kaya, and you’re right about that dude. That’s CARL. Thinks he’s King Shit. He’s the foreman at the sheet factory up the block. I think she works for him up there during the day.

The SONG ends and another upbeat SONG immediately begins.

Rosalita steps toward the booth.

BOUNCER (CONT’D)

Sorry, gotta wait. She’ll be done when the song’s over. Assuming she gets the job done in one.

ROSALITA (SIGHS)

A’right. Where’s the deejay?

The bouncer points to the other side of the bar.

Rosalita nods, then walks passed the seated men who, as if part of a wind-up clock, turn when she passes to check out what they see as “new talent.” Rosalita keeps her fists ready in case any of them have the nerve to say anything.

She hears MUFFLED MOANS when she passes Lucia’s booth.

Rosalita converses INAUDIBLY to the DEEJAY, 25, thin in the malnourished way a man who has an affinity for meth and cheap liquor would be.

After appearing to refuse to do what she’s asking him to, Rosalita reaches into her pocket.

CLOSEUP: ROSALITA’S LEFT HAND

Pulling cash from her pocket, she’s wearing identical silver bands, one each on her ring and pinky fingers.

She hands the deejay twenty dollars, he nods. She takes a barstool, and sits by the Lucia’s booth.

SONG plays as Rosalita sits in front of the booth.

FADE TO BLACK.

INT. FLEETWOOD BEDDING LOCKER ROOM – EARLIER THAT DAY

Rows of drab-green lockers line the walls. Lucia is half naked, changing out of her work clothes.

Carl comes up behind her.

CARL

End of another week, ‘eh doll?

Carl swings his hips.

CARL (CONT’D)

You wanna make some overtime for a little extra, physical labor?

Lucia, surprised by his approach, covers her bare breasts.

LUCIA (IN A HEAVY JAMAICAN ACCENT)

What are you doing in here, Carl! Get out before I scream.

CARL (LAUGHS)

Really, Lucia? You got nothing I haven’t seen in the bar.

Carl pulls out a folded wad of cash. He peels off a hundred dollar bill, and waves it in front of her.

CARL (CONT’D)

C’mon, baby? How ’bout a little of that island sugar? You know the game.

Carl points to his crotch.

CARL (CONT’D)

You keep the little boss happy…

Carl, using his thumbs, points to his chest.

CARL (CONT’D)

…he keeps the big boss happy.

Lucia puts on a multi-colored shirt from her locker.

LUCIA

Leave me alone, boss man. I have to take my boy to the sitter.

CARL

Not my problem your roommate ran out on you so you have to work two jobs.

Carl rolls the bill around in his fingers.

CARL (CONT’D)

Speaking of which, I hope you’re working tonight. I told some biker friend of yours you’d be there.

Lucia stops gathering her belongings from the locker.

LUCIA (PAUSES BEFORE SPEAKING)

I don’t know any bikers.

CARL

Well, she knows you. She’s a big broad, I wouldn’t mind getting a taste of that. I like it when they can put up a good fight.

LUCIA (SOFTLY)

Rosie?

CARL

Didn’t give me a name. I told her if she wanted to see you, to come down the bar later. I said you always do your best work in the dark. Thought she was going to slug me. Kind of turned me on.

LUCIA

Careful what you wish for. She’s more woman than you can handle.

Carl rips the hundred in half and stuffs one half into Lucia’s shirt pocket.

CARL

Take this as a deposit for later. Might be another one in it if we can get your girlfriend into the act.

Lucia looks at Carl with disdain. She’s forced to brush against him as she pushes passed him as she leaves.

CARL (CONT’D)

See you tonight, love.

FADE TO BLACK.

INT. WAREHOUSE GO-GO – PRESENT

Rosalita is sitting outside Lucia’s booth.

The SONG ‘Rosalita’ by Bruce Springsteen begins to play.

LUCIA (MUFFLED INSIDE BOOTH)

Lawd Jesus! That skinny white boy knows not to play that song.

Lucia opens the door. She’s pulling her bikini top back over her breasts.

Carl is standing, buckling his belt and zipping his pants.

Lucia’s expression changes from anger at the deejay, to recognition of her former love. She smiles, but it is quickly replaced by anger at Rosalita’s return.

LUCIA

Rosie! I thought you were out of my life. Why’d you come back?

Rosalita is smiling, happy.

ROSALITA

Lou. I’ve missed you. I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I’m ready now.

LUCIA (SCOWLS)

Empty words from you I don’t need.

Lucia shakes her head and starts to close the door.

Rosalita pushes Lucia inside and closes the door.

INT. PRIVATE BOOTH (CONT’D)

The Music’s volume is muffled by the door being closed.

There is a shiny black upholstered couch in the booth.

ROSALITA

Lou, please, I’m serious. I’m sorry I left.

Lucia slaps Rosalita’s hand off.

LUCIA

Don’t you “Lou” me. You lost that right. I’m just another notch in your leather belt.

Lucia looks defiantly into Rosalita’s face.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

Or is it a soldier belt? Which Rosie stands before me today? You like girls again? Want to prove you’re as hard as boys can be?

ROSALITA (HURT BY HER WORDS)

No, it’s not that. I need to be with you.

Carl steps between them.

CARL

Now we’re talking.

Both women face Carl.

CARL (CONT’D)

Hey, don’t let me get in the way of true love, but I wouldn’t mind watching.

LUCIA (ANGRY)

Shut up Carl. This is none of your business.

Carl pulls the wad of cash from his pocket.

CARL

I’ll make this worth your while…

Carl waves the cash in Lucia’s face.

CARL (CONT’D MOCKING)

Lou.

Carl thrusts out his pelvis and winks.

CARL (CONT’D)

C’mon, throw me a bone and I’ll throw you mine.

Rosalita steps to him and punches him in the face.

Carl staggers, a look of shock and disbelief on his face. He drops the cash before falling unconscious on the couch.

LUCIA (YELLING)

Rosie! That man’s my boss. He’ll fire me.

ROSALITA

You don’t need him, Lou. Him or anyone but me.

Rosalita grabs Lucia’s hand.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I’m sorry I doubted my feelings. I really do love you. I was afraid of the person I’d become in the shit. Afraid you wouldn’t want me like that. I know you had to make it by yourself. And then, when you had that kid–

LUCIA

You leave my boy out of this.

Lucia tries to pull away but Rosalita does not let go.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

You think I don’t miss the way it was before you raised your hand to go prove what a big, imaginary dick you have? Maybe if you didn’t go fight in a war that wasn’t yours to fight, I wouldn’t have my boy. Then, when did come back, you wouldn’t walk out on us both.

ROSALITA

You know I tried to make it work, but the baby made me feel I would always be second in your heart. I thought I couldn’t live with that. I was wrong, Lou. So very wrong.

Lucia shakes her head, listening but not believing.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

I wanted to hurt you. Hurt you bad. So I ran. I was trying to bury myself in booze, and girls, and boys, and the road.

Lucia pulls her hand away, her eyes welling with tears.

LUCIA

I don’t need your history lesson, Rosie. I lived it.

Lucia walks to check on Carl. He’s moaning, but still out.

She turns back to face Rosalita.

LUCIA (CONT’D)

Say what you come to say. What reason you come back to play with my life again? I make do for me and my boy. He don’t need no daddy and he sure don’t need half another mommy.

ROSALITA

I was a mess out on the road, ended up in Vegas and met a man.

Lucia scoffs and tries to head for the door.

Rosalita grabs her by the shoulders to stop her.

ROSALITA

No, not like that, Lou. He helped me get sober. Him, his wife and their kid.

Rosalita begins taking the ring off her pinkie.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

They were a real family, just like we can be. Like we should be. Something woke in me I didn’t know I was capable of.

Rosalita holds up the ring. She reaches out to Lucia’s left hand.

Lucia holds her hand back, but doesn’t retreat.

LUCIA

No, Rosie. Don’t you dare say what your thinking. Why would doing that make this time any different?

ROSALITA

Because I’m clean now. I’m not angry at the world or afraid to settle down and share your love with that little boy. And that means, you’ll share mine with him.

Rosalita kneels on one knee.

ROSALITA

The man I met in Vegas got me into the MMA. I’m a pro fighter now. I’m good, real good. I can make enough money to take care of all of us. You won’t have to work. You’ll stay home, be a mom to that boy like you always were to me. I want us to be a family.

Rosalita takes Lucia’s hand.

ROSALITA (CONT’D)

Lucia Clarke, will you marry me?

Lucia shakes her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. Lucia begins to nod.

LUCIA

Yes. Oh yes, my Rosie.

Lucia vigorously nods her head.

CLOSEUP: LUCIA’S HAND.

Rosalita puts the ring on Lucia’s finger.

Lucia hugs the still-kneeling Rosalita.

LUCIA (CRYING)

My barbed-wire Rose. My Empress. I love you, you stupid, stupid girl.

Rosalita stands. They embrace.

CLOSEUP: LUCIA AND ROSALITA’S FACES.

They kiss.

Lucia begins to gather the cash Carl dropped. She puts it in her purse, removes the ripped hundred, crumples it, and throws it onto his chest.

LUCIA

Here, you pussy-klat of a man. I don’t need your dirty money anymore. My Rosie is more a man than you’ll ever be.

Lucia goes to Rosalita, they kiss. Rosalita opens the door and they walk out.

The CLOSING STRAINS of SPRINGSTEEN”S ROSALITA rise.

FADE TO BLACK.

EXT. MT. RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL – DAY -6 MONTHS LATER

The SOUNDS of motorcycles revving and idling is heard.

FADE IN:

A banner with the words “Welcome Riders. Sturgis Motorcycle Rally 2016” is strung above a parking lot full of motorcycles.

ANGLE ON: ROSALITA’S MOTORCYCLE FITTED WITH A SIDECAR

Arms comfortably around each other’s backs, Rosalita, Lucia, and a small boy stand side-by-side, facing the memorial.

(The SONG ‘KAYA’ by Bob Marley plays over.)

FADE TO BLACK.

NYCM Short Story challenge 2016 feedback

I’ve placed 5th with my story, Quid Pro Quo.
These are the comments I received from the judges. They echo those I heard from readers after my submission.

Thank you to all for their comments.


”Quid Pro Quo” by Miguel A. Rueda – WHAT THE JUDGE(S) LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – …………………Interesting story. I love this bad-ass female cop. I enjoyed following her around as she invetigated the boy’s death. Nice job……………….You displayed very good pacing in disclosing the complexity of Laura Cole’s nature: tough & imposing initially, then missing her late, loving Dad, then her ethnic make-up and personal exposure to bullying: well done! You also did a fine job juggling a large cast of characters without reducing any of them to stereotypes. I was left with sympathy for her isolation and plight, but also a measure of faith that she’d prevail…………….The engaging and powerful dialogue distinguishes the different characters and really carries this piece. There was some serious drama going on here–well done, overall…………………….……………………………………………………………………………………………  WHAT THE JUDGE(S) FEEL NEEDS WORK – …………………I felt the ending could have been stronger. I would have liked to see her prevail somehow. ………………Make your log-line more enticing by turning it into a question: “Can a U. S. Senator secure a future for his daughter by trading favors?” I was at a loss as to how Detective Cole had connected the dots between the suicide-donor and the girl: I assume during investigation of the boy’s death, but include that piece. Finally: I thought the parents were over-the-top arrogant for a political couple who’d be skilled in spinning things to prevent scandal. In fact, let the father reveal the daughter’s nickname BEFORE the detective asks. You should make the couple more slick at first; then, when the daughter spills the beans re: her online bullying they can show their truly venomous natures…………….This is one of few pieces that might actually benefit from slightly more exposition. The ending wasn’t as strong as the rest of the piece. …..

NYCM 2016 Short Story Challenge. Round one, Group 12.

This year I drew:

Genre: Drama. Subject: On-line bullying. Character: An organ donor.

Feel free to comment. Thanks for reading.

Quid Pro Quo
A United States Senator trades favors in order to secure a future for his daughter.

  Soft lighting and subdued beeps of health monitors greeted Detective Laura Cole as she entered the critical care unit. Walking to the bedside of an unconscious teenager, she paged through the medical chart hanging on the end of the bed. Every few seconds, the patient’s chest would rise and fall aided by a respirator, otherwise she lay still.
At six foot two, Laura stood above most of her male counterparts. Coupled with her general abhorrence for members of the opposite sex, she had been able to succeed when most of her fellow female officers quit early in their careers. She commanded respect—if not outright fear—from witnesses and suspects alike. Earning a reputation for being a cop who always got her man, she rose through the ranks.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” the ward nurse said. “Can I help you?”
Cole put the clipboard back, handed the nurse her card, and said, “I’m Detective Cole, Wayne P.D., I need to speak to this girl. Any idea when she’ll wake up?”
“You shouldn’t be in here.” The nurse moved in-between the detective and the bed.     “As long as Miss Pine is on my floor, she won’t be speaking to anyone who isn’t family or medical staff. She’s been through a lot the last few days.”
“Last few years from what I understand” Cole backed away from the bed, but made no move to leave the area. She pulled a black notebook from her breast pocket, jotted down the nurse’s name from her nametag, Louise Hennings, then read from her notes. “Amalia Pine. Eighteen years of age. Daughter of Colette and U.S. Senator Jordan Pine. Born with a bad ticker, wasn’t she?” Cole looked up from the pad to gauge the nurse’s reaction.
Hennings pursed her lips and nodded. “She’s been on the transplant list for five years, a donor became available a few days ago.” She held her hand out toward the door. “I shouldn’t be talking to you, I’m just the shift nurse, you’ll need to speak to her family.”
Standing fast, Cole said, “Funny thing, Nurse Hennings, I did and they directed me to their lawyer. Their daughter, literally, gets a new lease on life and they refer questions to their mouthpiece.”
“But, Detect—”
“Look, Hennings, I’m not cold-hearted about this.” Cole moved around the nurse to the bed. “I understand the family is happy their princess will live to give them entitled little grand-babies. But—and I know you’re aware of this—for someone to get a heart, someone else has to lose a heart.” Cole flipped to the first page of her notes. “Ted Wagner. Sixteen years of age. Formerly a junior at Wayne High School. Suicide attempted by hanging.” Pausing, she stared into the nurse’s eyes. “Tough way to go. He didn’t fall from high enough up to snap his neck. Paramedics who cut him down said that it took him ten minutes to pass out. By that time, he’d deprived his brain of so much oxygen that it shut down permanently, freeing up his organs for transplantation.” Cole saw a shine welling in Henning’s eyes.
“I never met these people before this, I only know what’s in the chart.”
“When a child’s life-saving spare part came from a suicide,” she nodded to the bed, “I’d think you’d want to help clear up any cloud of suspicion. Maybe we can learn something from it.”
Cole paged through the chart. She pointed to a note regarding the transplant list. “It says here that Amalia had been moved to the top by the governor. How does that happen?”
“Her father is a senator, maybe he pulled some strings?”
“Well, he did endorse the governor’s presidential bid last week, that’s a fairly hefty string.” Cole closed her book. “When she wakes up, call or text me, the number’s on my card. I’m sure there’s nothing out of the ordinary, but we’ll both feel better when we’re sure.”
“Of course, Detective. I’ll let you know.”
Cole left. She had a funeral to attend.

***

  The window of her unmarked cruiser cracked open to prevent fogging, Detective Cole wrote observations into her notebook as the mourners for Ted Wagner’s memorial left the marble and glass mausoleum.
She noted an older couple left in a limo with custom state-seal license plates before the service had completed.
Her running count of students who came to pay their respects stood at a half-dozen. Piss-poor turnout for a school with a student body numbering over a thousand.
She watched Ted’s family leave in a brand new Volvo sedan. She wondered how they could afford a new car and an upscale cemetery with a home address in the lower-class section of town.
She finished her notes, opened her glove box, and pulled out a flask. On one side, the silver container had a detective badge, the other had a rose with the words, ‘To Laura, From Dad. Congratulations, Slugger.’ She opened it and held it up to the heavens, “Need your help on this one, Dad. Miss you.” She kissed the side, took a shot, then closed and put it away.
She knew that someone here could help her solve the mystery. She just had to wait until the very last person walked out to know who that would be. Five minutes after the Wagner family left, a middle-aged woman in a tailored black pantsuit walked out of the building. Cole drove over and got out.
She flashed her badge and handed the woman her card. “May I ask who you are and how you knew the deceased?”
“I’m Tina White. I was Ted’s driver education teacher.”
Cole began a new page of notes.
“Were you close, or are you a school delegate or something?”
White replied, “I’m only here because I’ve been recently promoted to Vice-principal. Honestly, Ted wasn’t very popular, or bright for that matter. He never showed any ambition to do anything but play with his smart-phone. Not surprising that he was bullied.”
Cole flipped through her pages, “No one has mentioned a bully before, and his parent said he didn’t have a phone.” She returned to the first page, “Ted didn’t leave a note, but did scratch a name into his desk before he climbed up and stepped off. Mia Mériter. We don’t know if there is any significance to it yet. Is she a student at your school?”
“Not that I’m aware of. It’s a unique French surname, I’m sure I’d remember it.”
“Did Ted have any friends who he hung out with?”
“Just Helen Chiles and Kate Booker.” She pointed at a car on the far end of the parking lot, “They’re sitting in Kate’s car.”
“Is there anything else you think would be helpful? Any reason he’d have been targeted?”
“No, Detective. May I go?” White asked.
Cole closed her book. “If you think of anything, use the number on my card. Thank you.”
Walking toward Kate’s car, Cole noticed thin trails of smoke coming from the half-opened windows. The harsh, sweet smell of marijuana stung her nose.
She used her badge to knock on the driver’s window. The girls panicked, waving their hands in a vain attempt to clear the smoke. Cole chuckled when the passenger ate the joint.
Cole said, “Can I ask you both to please step out of the vehicle?”
“Yes, officer. Please don’t arrest us. Our friend just died…,” their voices overlapped. Cole held up her hands. But their pleas only grew louder and higher-pitched.
Cole shouted, “Stop! I don’t care if you’re getting high. Just stop talking.” She pointed to the other side of the car. “Helen. Come over here.”
Helen looked behind her, then pointed at her own chest. “Me? How do you know my name?”
Cole mumbled, “Potheads,” then pointed again. “You, walk your stoned ass over here.”
Helen came and stood by Kate.
She put her badge away, pulled out her book, and handed each a card. Kate studied the card’s embossed police shield as if it were made of real gold. Cole flicked the card to bring Kate’s buzzed brain into the present.
“Who is Mia Mériter? How do I find her?”
The girls stepped back as one and bounced off the car.
“We don’t know who she is, but she’s a real bitch,” Helen said.
Kate nodded. “She’s why Ted killed himself. She trolled him everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, got his personal phone number and sent him the most awful messages. Once word got out that he had someone epically trolling him, the other kids started piling on.”
Cole hated bullies. She had always been the tallest in her class; taller than most of her teachers by freshman year. With her dark sepia skin and close-cropped nappy hair, her appearance gave the class bullies plenty of ammunition to mock her. She’d learned to shield herself against verbal attacks while training her body to fight back at those who got physical.
Helen said, “She wanted us all to die.”
Cole asked, “The three of you?”
“  I’m sure of it.” She replied.
Kate choked back tears. “The messages to us were constant, but Helen and I aren’t as sensitive as Ted, he couldn’t handle it. And once Ted was dead, the messages stopped. Like she didn’t care which of us did it. One of us died, she accomplished her goal.”
“Did you have anything else in common? Neighborhoods, friends outside of school?” Cole asked.
Helen said, “Before this, we didn’t even hang out. I overheard Kate say she was being trolled too, and we knew about Ted because well, everyone did. The only other thing the three of us did was fill out an organ donor form in Miss White’s class.”
“Tina White knew you all filled out donor forms in her class?”
Kate nodded, “Most of the class did when that lady from the state talked to us.”
“Who?”
They shrugged. Kate added, “She was here. It was nice of her to come to his memorial.”
Cole stopped writing. “Today?”
Helen nodded. “She left in a fancy limo before it was over.”
The questioning continued, “Tell me about the form you filled out.”
Kate returned to running her finger over the business card’s raised shield. Cole snapped her fingers in Kate’s face. “Focus Kate. The form?”
She shook her head to clear the internal fog. “Name, address, easy stuff.”
“Not all easy, Kate,” Helen said. “We had to fill in what we’d be willing to donate. Eyes, lungs, kidneys. I guess Ted checked yes to heart. I did.”
Kate nodded. “I don’t think anyone else did heart.”
Helen continued, “There were some answers we didn’t know: blood type, past or current medical conditions. Miss White said that it was okay, she’d find out from our school medical records.”
Cole finished writing and said. “Okay, just give me your stash and you’re free to go.”
The girls exchanged a glance but didn’t move.
“Ladies.” Cole stood straight and opened her coat to flash her badge.
Helen pulled a baggy out from between her breasts and handed it to Cole.
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.” Cole laughed, then realized they were too young to get the musical reference. “Just leave before I change my mind.”
Cole returned to her car and opened her glove box. Instead of reaching for the memento from her late father, she grabbed a pack of Zig-Zag rolling papers.
As a light plume rose from her open window, she flipped through her notes sure that she had all the answers she’d need but one in her little black book of clues.
Who the hell is Mia Mériter?
The chime of her phone alerted her to a text from Nurse Hennings. ‘She’s awake. Parents here.’

***

When the elevator opened, Detective Cole recognized the woman sitting alone down the hall as the one who had left in the limo.
Cole approached and spoke in a quiet voice, “Mrs. Pine?”
“Yes?”
Cole opened her coat to show her badge. “There are a few things that we need to clear up.”
Without a word, Mrs. Pine stood and walked into her daughter’s room.
Cole followed and found Senator Pine sitting on the edge of his daughter’s bed. They stopped talking when they saw her.
He rose and stood by his wife. “We have nothing to say to you.”
“I think you do, senator. You both do.” She approached them.
“Which one of you uses the name, Mia Mériter?”
Amalia’s eyes flicked to her father. “I’m sorry, Daddy. I—”
He stopped her. “Hush, Mia.”
“You?” Cole whispered turning to face the girl.
“Our daughter deserves this life.” Mrs. Pine said. “Those cretans won’t amount to anything. We simply did what’s best for everyone.”
Cole rested her palm on her gun. “But you killed that boy. Might have killed all three if Ted had died quickly by properly hanging himself.”
The senator laughed. “You’ve just proven our point. The idiot couldn’t even succeed in suicide.”
“You’re all involved?” Cole looked at Mrs. Pine. “You found potential donors and your husband got your daughter to the top of the transplant list.” Turning to Amalia. “You bullied Ted until he couldn’t take it anymore. How can you live with yourselves?”
“We’ll all live just fine, especially Mia. “Senator Pine said. “You have no real evidence.” He motioned to the door. “Please see yourself out. We have Mia’s future to plan now that she’ll have a long and healthy life.
“You won’t get away with this.” Cole turned as the door opened.
Her police captain walked in.
“Captain Fredericks. I was just going to call you to say I’d be arresting the entire Pine family.”
Senator Pine greeted the captain with a handshake. “James, you received my recommendation for the State Police Commander position?”
“Yes, Jordan, thank you. The new Head Nurse, Hennings, called and told me that my detective had returned. Thought I’d come and straighten all this out.”
Cole stared at the men. “Captain, they killed a boy.”
“Nonsense. He lacked a will strong enough to put up with a little ribbing. Just look at what you’ve accomplished when faced with personal adversity. You rose above it and became the woman you are today. Strong and proud. Now hand over your notebook.” He held out his hand. “Now, Detective Inspector Cole.”
Transported back to grade school, she felt the familiar pressure building behind her eyes, as though she had no defense against the bullies.
From that same past, her father’s voice came to her, “Never let them see you cry, slugger.”
It may have been all for naught, but Laura swore she’d find a way to get justice for Ted, for all the victims of these bullies. Even if she had to ruin herself in the process.
Squaring her shoulders, she handed the notebook to her Captain and said. “It’s just, Detective, Laura Cole. I’ll earn my title on merit, sir.”

NYC Midnight Short Story competition 2015 Round 1, Group 12. Warriors Reward.

My first round entry in the 2015 NYC Midnight short story competition. Feel free to comment.

Group 12:
Genre = Drama

Subject= Poverty

Character = A juggler.

_______________________________________________________

Warrior’s Reward

Vietnam veterans, Mick and Felix, spend a typical day living on the streets of New York City in the early 1970s.

“Grass—dime bags—loose joints.”

“Smack. Blow.”

Although well after lunchtime for most of the city’s residents, it was ‘up at the crack of noon, first-thing in the morning’ for the pushers in Washington Square Park.

The buyers and sellers did a brisk business during the final year of John Lindsey’s tenure as New York City’s Mayor. Their dealings were tolerated as long as everyone got a taste. The mobs, dealers, and beat cops all got a piece of the pie.

The park’s residents, bums as they were known in those pre-PC days, who couldn’t afford anywhere else to live, spent their days around the circle of the long-dry fountain. Martha Mumbles talked to herself and the pigeons. Nate the pharmacist held court by the public restrooms. And Vietnam veterans, Mick the tunnel rat, and Felix the sniper, moved as the sun did; shifting their locations to stay in the shade. Always keeping their backs against a wall or fence to, ‘cover their asses’, in case of attack.

They all lived below the line that society set for the lower class. Way below it. These were the cast-offs, the losers in life’s game between the haves and the wish-they-hads. Wish they had a home, had a dry bed, had a warm meal. Their days spent squirrel-like, storing up supplies to get them through the nights.

The sun shed light on the hiding places of the monsters, human and imagined, that would soon be hunting for provisions of their own when darkness shrouded the park.

The vets were sitting in the shadow of the triumphal Washington Arch studying the sidewalk scenery.

Without turning, Mick said to Felix, “Let’s jump on the subway and crash at the old World’s Fair site in Queens, I met a guy who’s got a still like we had back in the Delta.”

Both men had volunteered to fight the Viet Cong. Mick, believing the rhetoric about the domino effect of communism, joined to fight for democracy. Felix chose the war over going to prison for stealing a car in order to run away from his abusive father. The friends met during a tour in the Mekong Delta, where they had learned to survive on C-rations and whatever mind-altering concoctions they could find.

Mick thought Felix’d had it easy when they were in-country.

“Death from afar man.” He’d said. “Line up the crosshairs, squeeze the trigger, and poof, look for the pink mist. Easy-peasy kill. I had to get in there on my belly and find them by touch.”

Felix had acknowledged that Mick had a point, even though he had more kills, more than five times as many, without a doubt those that died by Mick’s knife and modified Model 29 Smith & Wesson, were enemy combatants shimmying through the same dark burrows. Felix’s were judgment calls. Killed from as far as a mile away, a lot of doubt can exist in that distance. Several were children unfortunate enough to have been carrying weapons. Add in Felix’s abuse of substances taken orally and intravenously, and he was never in the mood to belabor the point with his only living friend.

Mick stood. “If we’re getting on the subway, I needs me some anti-bumming meds. I’ll get our rations.”

While Mick headed for Nate’s illicit pharmacy, Felix sat by Martha and helped her feed the flying-rats.

“Hey Martha, you’re looking good. How are your birds this fine morning?”

“’Snot mornin’ fool. Damn near evenin’” She continued to speak under her breath as Felix fed the birds from the bag of crumbs next to the disheveled woman.

“Now, don’t get uptight Martha, I’ve got some bread for you. And it’s not the kind your pigeons would eat.”

Felix pulled a ten-dollar bill from the breast pocket of his drab-green Army jacket and placed it into Martha’s crumb bag. “I had a good month. Buy yourself something pretty.”

The park’s people had a bond stronger than any traditional family. Looking out for each other, each shared what they had in good times, in the hope that someone would have their back in the bad.

Martha snatched the money and looked at Felix. “Don’ tink you’re gettin’ anyting from me for dis. I’m a honorable woman.” Stuffing the cash into her ample cleavage, she returned to her task.

Felix heard a quiet, “tank you,” in her next stream of indecipherable speech.

Mick, his empty hands held open at his sides, approached Nate and said.
“Hello my black brother from another father. I think we had the same Celtic mother. What looks good today?”

“What you say about my mother, cracker?”

“Chill Nate. It’s not like I don’t have black friends. Granted they’re all dead in the mud back in the jungle, but we got along fine when we were together.”

“The hell with you Mick. Playing that, Lucky-Charms leprechaun shit whenever it suits you. You’re as Irish as I am African. You gonna buy or talk? Ain’t got time for your bullshit.”

“Whoa, hold up Nate. I’m just making small talk my friend.”

“I ain’t your brother and I certainly ain’t your friend. So put up or walk away.”

“All right man, I’m just ball-busting, one vet to another.”

“Mick, I served just like you and your degenerate friend over there. At least I make a contribution to society by providing a needed service. You two just feeding off the city’s tit. I don’t take none of that welfare or food-stamp shit. I make my own money, pay my own way.”

“It’s cool Nate, I get it. We appreciate your service to the community. I just need a dime and an eight-ball and I’ll be on my way.”

To anyone passing within earshot, what seemed like a tense confrontation was just the way they had to play it. Man to man trying to make it on the street. Money was swapped for dope, then they shook hands in a soul handshake, the accepted way to show respect to another member of the second society.

Mick signaled to Felix that the deed was done and they walked to the south end of the park. They shared a joint, Mick took a bump of coke, and they descended the steps into the darkness. Even though it had been years since Mick had gone underground in anger and with deadly purpose, he still couldn’t go into a tunnel, even one as large as a subway, without hitching his brain up a few notches.

They reached the bottom of the urine-stained and acrid entrance, jumped the turnstiles and hopped onto the first of several trains they’d need to get to Flushing Meadows. The site of the abandoned 1964 World’s Fair.

They traveled with hippies looking to score in Greenwich Village, and respectable types dressed in their fine clothes heading uptown to the theaters and pricey restaurants of midtown. Only the punk-rockers, heading for CBGBs in the Bowery, dared make eye contact. The others, each in their own way, thought themselves better than those poor dirt-bags, in the worn fatigues.

Their final train emerged above ground as the sun set behind the sky-scrapers of Manhattan. They watched the orange light reflect off the mirrored glass facades of the buildings they would never see the interiors of.
Mick said, “They look so small from here, man, can’t even see the tops when we’re below them. It’s like they’re a painting when we’re far away.”

Felix laughed the way stoners do when something simple strikes them as profound. “That’s really deep Mick my tunnel-rat friend. Profoundly deep.”

They rode their buzz in silence as the buildings and graffiti slid by. The iconic flying-saucer towers drew close as the train rocked and bumped along the tracks. Their destination was a twenty-minute walk from the train platform. Stopping at a corner bodega, they picked up a quart of beer and pint of Jack Daniel’s. As they walked through the busy streets, they were invisible. Their existence in the world ignored.

When they reached the chain link fence surrounding the abandoned landmark, Mick said, “There’s a maintenance shed near the east tower, the guy I met has the still set up there. I met him at the VA hospital when I had to be recertified as unemployable.”

Felix replied. “What, you? I know I got no marketable skills; what use is a long range shooter stateside? Other than, maybe, popping rats in the dumps of Staten Island. But you’re perfect for the underground sewer arts, man. Put you down the pipe with a scrub brush, and you’d clean this town out faster than a Godzilla-sized enema up the ass of Jersey.”

Mick didn’t laugh with Felix, his high was gone.

A subway he could handle, the thought of going into a tight, dark, hole drew him back to Nam. His eyes wide, unfocused on anything near them, his gaze far off into the night, he began to shake.
“Dude.” Felix touched his friend’s shoulder.

He knew that Mick wasn’t in New York anymore, he wasn’t even on the same plane of reality. Felix pried the brown paper bag from Mick’s hand. Losing the beer wouldn’t help their situation, he had to be practical.

“I’m sorry man. Mick, buddy. You’re safe. We’re home.”

Mick came back to Felix, tears rolled down his cheeks. His eyes, already bloodshot from smoking grass, reflected a dark crimson in the final shafts of dusk’s light.

“C’mon Mick, let’s find this party. We got dope, liquor. We’ll try this hooch and see if it’s as good as he says.”

It took the two stoned men an hour to find an opening into the deserted grounds. They walked through a decaying reminder of a government’s wealth spent on a showcase of tomorrow, while the men who served that same nation, lived in squalor.

Passing the twin pinnacles of the observation towers, they spotted a low flame under the Unisphere, the skeletal globe of our planet. A group of a half-dozen men, all dressed in the same tattered remnants of their uniforms, were sitting around a fire in a sawed-off steel drum.

A gruff voice called from beyond the fire, “Hey Mick, glad you could make it.”

Mick said to Felix, “That’s Gunnery Sergeant Bob ‘Gunny’ Baxter. Met him at the VA while I was getting…” Felix cut him off.

“I know man. We been over it a few times. I got it.”
“Gunny, this is the best Scout Sniper to ever pop gooks in the Delta. My friend, Lance Corporal, Felix Bukowski.”

Like a failed Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, the group said in unison, “Hello Felix.” And burst out laughing.

Felix nodded, returning the group’s greeting.

They found places around the fire and Felix began rolling a joint as Mick started tapping out lines on a broken piece of glass.

Gunny said, “It’s nice that you didn’t show up empty handed like some jamokes. You want to try some of my Ho Chi Minh hooch?”

Reaching behind him, he pulled a white plastic bleach jug from a duffle bag.

Mick and Felix stared.

The original group laughed. Gunny almost fell off his battered folding chair. “Gets ‘em every time. It’s just the bottle I use. We kept breaking the glass ones. I don’t even rinse them out anymore, the leftover bleach gives it a little extra punch.”

He twisted off the blue top and raised it to his lips. “Death before dishonor boys!” The other men cheered as he took a long pull. He passed it to the man next to him, who repeated the toast to another round of cheers.

Gunny jumped from his seat and said, “Hey. I got a new trick to show you guys.”

As the drink passed amongst the group, each reciting the requisite chant, Gunny fumbled around in the duffle bag.

“I got these from a buddy stationed at Fort Dix. Snagged them from the practice range. Bet’cha you guys didn’t know I could juggle.”

He produced three hand grenades and proceeded to spin them from hand to hand.

With the exception of Mick, the rest of the scared-sober group scattered.

“Ha-ha you motherless bastards.” He continued to juggle them without any apparent effort or concentration. “These are just training pineapples, they’re probably duds.”

He began to work his way around the fire, stepping towards one or another of the group making them jump away. His eyes watching the top of the arc of the objects, he tapped his foot trying to locate the jug. Finding it, he lowered himself into position to pick it up.

Mick hadn’t budged. He sat transfixed on Gunny’s juggling.

Felix shouted, “Dude, don’t be a hero. Get back.”

“Now for my next trick.” In a remarkable display of dexterity for a drunk, Gunny began spinning the three explosives with one hand, throwing them higher into the air than the reach of the light from the campfire. With his free hand, he picked up the bottle.

Several of the men had run for the fence line, the others backed up a safe distance to see what would happen. Living in the open may be dangerous, but at least this was entertaining.

As the bottle reached his lips, there was a hitch in the spinning of the grenades. A momentary stumble as one of them left his hand on the way back up.

The hand holding the jug stopped.

In the split second before the next grenade was caught, Felix saw a glint of silver falling towards the ground.

“Grenade!” Felix shouted as Gunny dropped the hooch and dove back towards his duffle bag.

In quick succession, the grenades hit the ground by Mick. The jug landed on the opposite side of the drum, splashing liquid onto the open flame producing a fireball that shot twenty feet up into the hollow globe above them.

Felix grabbed his friend by the shoulders, tossed him away, and dove belly first onto the grenades.

Nothing happened. No flash. No boom. No guts blasting through the air in a bloody, heroic, end to Felix’s life.

Nothing.

Gunny began to laugh as he looked up from behind his bag. “Ha. Told you chumps they was duds.”

Felix lay still.

Mick eye’s regained focus as he saw Gunny laughing from beyond the fire, then to the grenade’s pin lying on the ground next to Felix. He squeezed his eyes shut, shook his head, then rose and walked to help his friend.

Mick helped Felix stand and knock the dirt off his coat. Felix took the whiskey out of his pocket, opened it, and drained the bottle onto the ground.

“Felix. That was heavy, man. You okay? You good?”

“Mick, I’m gooder than I’ve been in a while. Maybe we should talk to those dudes at the VA about getting straight. I think I’m done with this life.”
“Can’t hurt. Gotta be better than a grenade hole through your chest.”

Felix put his arm around Mick’s shoulder. “Yeah dude, sounds like a plan.”