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No Way Out

3 Oct

Dwight opened his eyes as he lay on the cold marble floor. He was pleasantly surprised at the fact that he felt no pain from his fifteen foot fall through the skylight in the rear room of the First Mutual Bank.

“I guess this was easier than Plan A,” he said to the empty room, letting out a groan while pushing himself up onto his knees. He looked above him at the iron-framed glass skylight door, creaking as it continued to swing. After dusting off his shirt, he saw his prize less than fifty feet in front of him: the wall of safety deposit boxes.

Dwight ran out of money weeks ago and had pawned and hitchhiked his way to where he was now: the crème de la crème of banks, rumored to be the secret spot that some of the United States’ most rich and famous hide away their jewels domestically. And he was here, all alone, and with no one with which to split the rewards.

He knew the drill: while in the shadows, put on the mask. Spray the cameras with spray paint and use the high-powered magnet to temporarily turn off the motion sensors along the wall of deposit boxes. Using his decades of lock-picking experience to bust into each drawer, then with a gloved hand, take all of it. Every last bit.

He stood up and grinned a grin of pride, happiness, and relief. He reached down next to his feet for his duffel bag so he could get to work… and felt nothing. Dwight looked at where he had fallen and his bag – mask, spray-paint, gloves and all – was nowhere to be seen. Unable to move from the corner of the room without the cameras recording his unmasked face, he pushed himself against the wall as his eyes frantically darted around the room.

Dwight slowly looked up, knowing what he would see: the duffel bag, hanging over the opening of the skylight, 15 feet over his head.

Old Maid

2 Oct

Julia stared into her own bloodshot eyes in the mirror as she re-applied her mascara, hoping nobody would come into the bathroom and see her on the verge of tears.

“Just breathe, girl,” she told herself while reaching in her purse for a Valium. She popped a pill in her mouth and reached her hand under the running water. As she put her lips to her hand, she rolled her eyes in disgust.

Once the pill was down her throat she began to pace. This wasn’t the first time she’d melted down in a restaurant bathroom because a date wasn’t going well. She felt stupid for resorting to a blind date set up by her much younger, married-with-two-kids niece. Her niece, for Christ’s sake; Julia knew she was at a low point in life when she agreed to take dating advice from the little girl she would babysit while Julia’s younger, married-with-four-kids brother would take his loving wife on vacation.

“Accept it,” Julia whispered to herself as she closed the clasp on her Prada clutch. “You’re the old maid of the family.”

She desperately stared at her 46-year-old self in the mirror, trying her hardest to see the young, hopeful, daydreamer girl she once was; instead, she saw the grey-rooted adult she was and could never accept. With an exasperated sigh, she turned her head and looked at the open window to the left of the sinks, tossing her purse onto the windowsill.

Hollywood

12 Sep

In the six months since I first met Neal Higgens, he had never said a word that was not written on a screenplay. He was always first or second in line for casting calls, and when he would get moved to the side of the studio with the “EXTRAS GREEN ROOM” sign hanging overhead he wouldn’t even look at me. The other casting agents and I always joked around that he could play a deaf mute if we had such a role available.

I’m sure he just wanted a chance, but a generic white twenty-something hipster isn’t something the studio can take a chance on. He was one of thousands of kids who left Indiana or New Jersey or Kansas for a chance to make it big in Hollywood. Hell – he’s lucky any of us even got to know his name.

As I look up at his pale face, eyes closed and jaw relaxed, I am at a loss for words. What else can I tell the investigators about this kid? “Has Neal been acting strangely lately?” “Has he had any relationship issues?” “Did anyone have an issue with Mr. Higgens recently?” Not a damn clue, detective, but I’m sure he had an issue with us.

Ask me why he hung himself from the rafters in the sound studio and I’ll tell you one thing: he didn’t get to live his dream. Can’t fault him for that.

This is My Dream

20 Aug

As the squeaky door slammed shut behind her, Hazel suddenly remembered why she never came to this side of town. The disarray of the other shops was nothing compared to this dreary vacant storefront.

“You couldn’t ask for a better location!” the realtor overenthusiastically announced. Hazel wondered who he was trying to convince. She walked up to the far wall, the top of which was nothing but an old seamless mirror in desperate need of dusting. While rubbing the mirror with the side of her hand, she could see the reflection of a man outside the store, spitting on the sidewalk and yelling at the woman with him. Hazel let out a quiet sigh as she closed her eyes and leaned on the nearby pedestal sink.

She couldn’t help but feel frustrated at it all: the money, barely enough for her and her young daughter; the time, spent bouncing between odd jobs, beauty school, and daycare; this town, the only one she knew, and the one she loved to hate. This is my dream… this is my dream… Hazel thought to herself.

She opened her eyes and looked at her hands, now blackened with months-old dust. She walked to the realtor with her chin up and said, “I’ll take it.”

The realtor grinned and eagerly nodded. “Fantastic!” he exclaimed as he grabbed Hazel’s dusty hand and shook it. He quickly walked to the door and held it open for her, tripping over a broken tile on his way.

Hazel cracked a smile and rubbed her hands on her jeans as she walked towards the door, chin even higher than before. She skipped over the broken tiles in her way towards the door and looked back on her new shop – her dream – with a sense of accomplishment she hadn’t felt in years.

To Serve and Protect

6 Aug

Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep!

The sound of the metal detector never made me jump, though I can’t the same for the civilians who set the damned things off. It’s seven in the morning and my “Grande” house blend has already worn off. Crap.

I’ve always preferred the major airports: nothing but businessmen travelling for the fiftieth time this month, or carbon-copy families making connecting flights to Disney. Low-maintenance. I can just stand there and watch, stupidly daydreaming that these people just see me and ignore the “LT SWALLOW” embroidered onto the chest of my uniform. Camouflage doesn’t make you invisible in a sterile airport security line, and the rifle in my hands definitely doesn’t help.

Of course, today I’m unfortunately at the shitty airport: a small regional one across the river with those once-in-a-blue-moon travelers. They’re the ones who pack Costco-sized bottles of shampoos and gift-wrapped knife sets; next thing I know, I get to be the one on guard, waiting for the thirty-year-old mother of three to stop juggling her kids and blow this place up with her huge aerosol bug spray, because obviously the trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania was just a ploy.

Here I am, back against the wall, after the non-crisis ended. I smell coffee. I look over to the right, eyeing everyone in line as they tap their feet impatiently. I finally see him: the grey-haired man wearing a three-piece suit, holding the gorgeous cup o’ joe, and I feel sad knowing that not only was I caffeine-deprived, but he would be, too. Textbook blue-moon flyer. You can’t bring liquids through security, old man, I want to tell him. He’s next in line, so there’s no point. I’ll just enjoy the aroma and pray that some caffeine gets into my veins.

As expected, he has to toss his coffee. Beepbeepbeepbeepbeep! I should have known he would set off the machine. Thank God he doesn’t have any luggage. Time to get to work: watching the TSA agent’s back as he pats down this old guy. This is not my idea of a good time. The agent’s stopping and asking the man, “Mister Caldwell, what do you have in your right pant pocket?” Great, now the agent is looking at me because Caldwell is stammering. He’s even sweating. What the hell? “Malcom Caldwell, what is in your pocket?” The agent is looking at me harder than before. That’s my cue.

As I’m patting the guy’s pocket, I’m feeling eyes all over me. This is probably the most excitement these small-town folks have gotten in ages. It’s a box. Fuck. If I got pulled over here because of a pill box, I’m going to retire right now. I’m pulling out the small, black, velvet box and look at Mister Caldwell, his eyes filling with tears and his mouth trying to smile.

“I’m… I’m going to Buffalo. I’m getting married.”

The Night Shift

2 Aug

The lampposts along East Thirty-Third Street began to brighten from a dull flicker to an amber glow. Kristina smiled at the elderly cab driver as he rounded the corner to continue his night’s work, knowing she would be doing the same. The chains lightly clanked against the glass door as she locked it tight, the wooden sign with the words “Sorry, We Are Closed” now facing the icy sidewalk as the auburn beauty walked towards the register.

Any other day after closing up shop for the night, Kristina would play a record and sing along as she counted the till and dance with the broomstick as she swept up flour from the tile floor. Though wearing her favorite knee-high go-go boots and a heavy-knit turtleneck dress, she would easily crisscross about the room with her apron strings floating behind her like a kite tail; unfortunately, whether she liked it or not, this night was best spent in silence. “How can you stand that blaring racket, Krissy?!” her mother would yell from the kitchen of their old Lower East Side efficiency. Kristina remembered those days well, the days spent fearing to show a smile: too wide and she was rubbing her happiness in her unfulfilled mother’s face; too small and she was showing her mother her ungratefulness.

It had been nearly 15 years since the eviction and over a decade since she last saw her mother, but the smell of the bakery’s pilot lights took her mind back to her old life. It was a life that caused more bruises, scratches and concussions than she would like to think about. After every one-sided bout, Kristina would retreat to the linoleum-tiled kitchen for ice or cold water to soothe her aches. Oftentimes she would sleep there, against the avocado green-colored oven or water-heater for warmth. There was barely enough room on the living room loveseat for her mother and whichever gentleman was staying the night, not to mention a school-aged girl.

The clock chimed nine GONGS as Kristina untied her apron, folding it neatly on a shelf by the refrigerator. She snatched her red pea coat from the coat tree on her way out the door. Carefully holding a twine-tied box of lemon squares under her arm, she checked that the bakery door was locked before turning her back on it.

Turning onto Lexington Avenue, Kristina’s stomach turned into knots. Any other night, this would be a carefree walk to her after-hours job. The disco kings and coke-stoned ladies were easy clientele for a mid-town astrologer like herself. Tonight was different, as she had reminded herself for hours, for days, for weeks, for years. It had been over a decade since she last saw her mother through the plate glass at Riker’s Island, and as the neon sign screaming “Kristal Stargazer” came more into focus, so did the diminutive silhouette beneath it.

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