This story is by Creig Sigurdson and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Joe Malone’s city is burning, a rash of arsons have been plaguing the city and as Chief investigator, it’s his job to find out why. Getting ready for his shift in his two story walk up , as the streets outside his four stone walls are humming to life on this sleepy Friday in downtown Rapid City, dressed in his best comfortable red and black plaid shirt and his favorite Lee jeans, he hears children playing outside quietly making noise, saunters over to the open window, pokes his head out to see all the hubbub.
Over cast and muggy, he eyes on the street below as Tommy and Sarah are playing in the nearby parking lot with a ball and stick, casually pounding the ball in a game only they know the rules to. Couple of weeks til school starts, Late August, beginning of Fall, waning summer days, cool evenings, crisp mornings. Not many parks in the area. No playgrounds, just boulevards and empty parking lots to play make believe. Ball and stick, changes at the whim, each child makes up variation, where it’s sunny, or raining. Today was how many smacks on the ball till you miss, Angels with dirty faces.
Suddenly they stop playing, dropping the tools of this game, running and glancing back in the direction of loud tire screeching and metallic crashing noises.
Malone sees what scared them away, a small rust bucket of a car has crashed through a mailbox in front of Mom and Pop’s Quicky Mart, coming to rest inside a phone booth, it’s front bumper kissing the nearest wall. A neighborhood institution, 30 years in the hood, selling everything from soup to nuts. No Big box stores in the core Downtown too much risk, not enough money in the area, Q-Mart struggling like the rest of the independents.
With the car stuck, it’s wheels spinning wildly, the doors fly open and a heavy set man and slim woman burst from the immobilized vehicle jumping out carrying large duffel with flying pieces of paper fluttering out of the almost closed zipper. Judging from the color and size of it looks like money.
Greenbacks streaming down the street, a gust of wind churning green paper into money filled dust devils as the couple flee from their broken getaway Chevette.
Sirens and flashing reds and blues come screaming down the street and around the corner.
Malone sees the man with a panicky, fearful face grab the duffel bags from the women as she reaches from under her leather jacket for her piece. Short barrel Uzi comes thrusting out toward the pursuing cop cruiser. She lets it rip and blasts the moving car, just randomly spraying shells in their general direction.
Arriving on scene, riding shotgun the elder cops takes a hit in the chest, spurting blood as a grimace of pain bursts into his face. The younger partner white knuckling, guns the engine and jumps the curb, barreling towards the woman as she continues to unload her clip.
The bullets rip through the windows and pockmark the hood of the cruiser- the windshield shatters, young cop driving blind, as he slams into the woman, breaking her legs and flipping the Uzi from her fear soaked hands into the air, it’s trigger jammed by the woman’s bloody finger torn free of her hand.
Caught in the pinch point arcing shells up and behind her as she screams in pain when the car crumples her into the silver street lamppost.
Marta feels the Oh shit moment comes brutally across her face, as the squad car comes hurtling at her. She clenches her teeth with a sharp intake of breath and tightens her chest muscles. Bracing for the metal, cold and hard biting into her legs, screaming in pain as her legs snap in two, she spits blood as she bites her lips.
With her face twisted and eyes scrunched tight, teeth clenched, lips tattered, nostrils flared whilst blood spurts from her finger with each pump of her heart. She screams through the pain “Carmen you bastard, don’t leave me to the fucking pigs!”
“Sorry Marta, see you on the other side, pray for me!” Carmen shouts as he dashes for cover.
For Marta the pain is unbearable, the bumper breaks her knees, the hood smashed her stomach, and the silver street lamp crushes her spine as her organs rupture. She knows she is dying.
Carmen Alvarez, scrambles down the street, as his partner is pinned to the post barely conscious, running as fast as he can carrying two large bags of cash, he turns a corner. Knowing he can’t out run the cops, he madly looks for a place to stash it.
Out of breath and looking around, a burnt out car, a big green dumpster, and a burnt out barber shop come into view. He dashes inside the burnt husk, breaking the yellow tape of Benny’s Clip Shop, the smell of burnt hair and gasoline pervade the air.
The floor is littered with baked green paint and fire chewed drywall, damaged by ax-wielding firemen. Two red and white old fashioned foot treadle chairs, partially melted are the only thing that speaks of what the blackened shambles used to be.
Them and the huge silvered mirror that still hung on the wall, cracked and broken, like a shiny silver skull with missing teeth. Carmen sees a space behind the mirror just big enough to stash the cash. The hooks for the mirror are loose, coming away from the wall.
“If I lift the bottom corner, it might fit”
Carmen disturbs the ashes as he tweaks the large pane to conceal his grip of cash. He feels a sharp pain in his side, shrugs it off due to the car crash.
“ It will do in a pinch” winces Carmen, “be back for you later.” He kisses two fingers and places them on the bags. The mirror in place, he looks for an exit in the back, but the fire door is barred by fallen roof trusses, all thanks to the flames and firemen.
Carmen trotted back to the front, stops to see if the cops see him dash ”Marta looked pretty messed up, hope she doesn’t die.”
He heard emergency vehicles screeches up, slams brakes. An EMT jumps from the still moving truck and heads straight for her. Wedges his body between the cruiser and pinned woman. Finger on her neck…
Female unconscious, bilateral fracture, possible internal, eyes non reactive, crash cart and immobilize…
Carmen heard it all as if he was standing right there, street noise bouncing off the building like a parabolic dish. Carmen leaves the scene in all the confusion, holding his side with pained look limping away, he hopes she’ll survive but he knows better. Carmen is unaware he’s being observed.
Seeing Carmen dashing into Benny’s shop with and without the bags of money after Malone sees this he makes it to street level after Carmen leaves. Malone enters the shop, seeing the freshly disturbed foot steps in the week old ashes, quickly finds the loot.
“Since the fire, Benny’s family has had it rough, this cash would sure help out, a lot.” He thinks. Malone knows it’s wrong to give the cash to Benny, but sometimes doing the wrong thing for the right reasons is something that helps him sleep at night.
Malone knows Benny and all the good his shop has done for the neighborhood, especially the kids, who needed a helping hand before they got sucked into the gangs. Malone ties a note to the bags “For the Shop” and drops it off at Benjamin’s place, it’s still early, chances of being seen are slim.
The door opens with a click and a light snaps on, just as Malone is placing the bags at the door, and Benny is standing there with raised eyebrows, wide eyes. Malone is caught red handed in his good deed.
“Joe, what is this? Why are you here at this hour?
Malone plays it off, “Found these in your shop, thought it might help!”
Benny shoots him a look, that says he wasn’t born yesterday. He sees the cash peeking out of the bags.
“You know the shop was all I had, my dream was going to have Peter my son take over, all Petey tells me is doesn’t want to take over, interior design is my dream, not cutting people’s hair, Father.
Just then scuffing footfalls from behind, the smell of raw gasoline, a figure comes to light. It’s Benny’s son, Peter who can’t believe he’s been spotted.
Malone is saddened by the young man’s appearance and knows he’s looking at the reason behind all the arsons in his city.
Peter stammers,”I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want the shop, I made sure nobody got hurt, I figured if it was gone, the insurance would give you and mom the retirement you needed.”
Both men sigh, but for different reasons.