Alterations and Repairs
A short story submitted to the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction challenge
© 2018 David Dobson
- Required setting: Dry Cleaner
- Required element: A periscope
- Genre: Suspense
- 1000 word limit
The bell jangled as the front door thumped shut. A dryer tumbled a clot of sodden whites and a raspberry-red bra whose gaping cups hinted at surgical enhancement. Overhead, a long slanted rack of plastic-covered finery waited, each package ready for the next big day. Concert, wedding, meeting, funeral.
Naismith glared at me, his hands flat on the counter. “Tommy.”
I swallowed. “Sir–”
He waved a hand at me. I shut up. I didn’t have anything good to say anyway. He pulled a pack of Virginia Slims from his jacket pocket, tapped it on his palm, then pulled one out. The thin cigarette looked silly in his gnarled hand, but nobody had ever told him that. Or that there was no smoking in Kleener You. He lit it with the Zippo I’d given him for Christmas. I could see the initials on the side. CNR, with that weird tradition of putting the last initial in the middle.
The door jangled again. A thin man entered. Wilson. “They’re set, boss. I gave them forty bucks for lunch. We’ve got forty-five minutes. At least.” Wilson turned the deadbolt behind him and flipped the window sign to Closed.
Naismith took a drag, then flicked his cigarette with his thumb. Gray flakes tumbled onto the counter. He blew a cloud of smoke up into the clean clothes. That wasn’t going to go over well on Yelp, but I doubted Naismith cared much about the success of his cleaning business.
“She’s dead,” he said.
That was undeniable. Murdered in horrific fashion, my fiancé, his daughter. I couldn’t help but see flashes of her face, red and staring, on the kitchen floor. I pinched my eyes closed. “I know.”
“Wilson says you were there. After.”
I looked down. “I was. I found her.”
“Wilson thinks it was maybe during, not after.” Naismith smashed his half-smoked cigarette out on the counter. Wilson put his hands on his hips, and his jacket opened to show his sidearm.
Shit. Fucking Wilson. “Curtis, I am as devastated by this as you. I found her murdered. Gwen… We were planning the wedding. We were in love.”
“That’s what I told Wilson,” said Naismith. “And the dead guy was there, the killer, that she supposedly shot. Seems pretty clear.“ I felt a little better.
He continued. “But then he told me about the gallery records. On the computer. You have an explanation for those? Huh?” His tone was soft, but his eyes could melt glass. I felt a lot worse.
I was sweating, which wasn’t good. “I didn’t know about that until… until the murder.”
“Your name’s all over them. You’re saying you knew nothing about it?”
“Nothing.” It sounded lame. I tried again. “Nothing. She was… I’m sorry to say it, sir, but it seems like Gwen was using me as a cover identity for an art theft. As a shill buyer, or something. But I had no idea.”
Naismith looked at Wilson. Wilson scrunched up his lips in that way people do when they think you’re full of shit. Naismith looked back at me. I sweated some more.
As the dryer rumbled, I heard a new sound. A faint grinding whine. I had to talk, fast and loud, but I had nothing. I scrambled. “Sir. I think what happened is, the gallery owner found out and had Gwen killed. He was crooked, mobbed up. The Russians, I think.” As I spoke, I risked a glance toward the sound. In the corner of the room, the linoleum buckled, then cracked. A steel drill bit gleamed. The whine died. I cleared my throat way too loudly. The drill bit vanished, and a thin black cylinder poked through the hole. It bent and writhed, like some kind of techno-serpent, until the lens at the tip pointed at the three of us.
Naismith was watching my face. What the fuck was I doing looking at the scope? I turned away and pointed out the window. At what, I didn’t know, but their eyes followed my finger. “I think Gwen thought she needed a big score to impress you. To get back into the family business. After the bank thing.”
Naismith’s eyes got wet. “She wasn’t supposed to. She was out. After the bank. I told her. Over and over.”
Wilson cut in. “That’s bullshit, boss. Gwen wouldn’t cross you. Never.” His hand slid toward his pistol.
”You didn’t know her,” I stammered. “Not like I did. She wanted back in, bad. Couldn’t shake the thrill.”
Wilson shook his head. “I don’t buy it.”
Naismith sighed, then fished for his cigarettes. “I do.”
“We did good, with the bank. Five million, untraceable. It’s just…” Naismith fumbled with the lighter. “That fucking guard. He shouldn’t have been there.” He dropped the lighter on the counter. “I had to shoot him. I thought Gwen would freak. She wasn’t fazed. She was brave. Fierce. She’d have kept going, after, but I benched her. Couldn’t stand the thought of her in prison. Or dead. Fuck.” He covered his face with his hands.
Which was good for him, because the glass from the breaking window sprayed everywhere. Again, not great for Yelp, but this wasn’t going to be Customer Appreciation Day at Kleener You. Tear gas, the shouting, helmets and vests. Wilson pulled his pistol and went down, two shots center mass. Curtis and I raised our hands. The lens watched it all.
Officer Jacobs pushed the form across to me. She paused when she saw my face. “You good?”
I was not good.
She smiled. “As a confidential informant, you can’t face charges. Your relocation is set. Kuznetzov won’t find you. And, you took a bad man off the streets today.”
Yeah. Well. All that might be true, but I also got Gwen shot by a Russian. Who was aiming at me but missed. Me, the guy who thought he needed a big score to impress his future father-in-law, to get into the family business.