Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Not Noir, Not Ever, Never!

A collaborative short story by Cathryn Crawford and Gary Cruse


Cathryn was grateful for the brief puff of coolness that carried the thin curtain straining against unforgiving curtain rods into the darkening parlor, watched as the tattered edges rose silently then fell back against the sill, waiting for a new breath of evening comfort to thicken the condensation on a half-empty mint julep glass. The Victrola labored with a soft grinding sound from hours and hours of use as Ruth Etting wafted from its varnished wooden sound horn.

"Button up your overcoat,
When the wind is free,
Take good care of yourself,
You belong to me."

As she sat in quiet contemplation of the heat that enveloped the entire room, nay, her entire world, she slowly ran her finger around in the dust of the never polished oak desk at which she sat. As she did, the music and the words that she wrote formed a simple sort of medley that ran rampant in her head. The musty smell of the aging parlor only added to the feeling of timelessness that was seeping into her bones.

Maybe she knew he was coming and had just forgotten, or maybe Cathryn wanted to punish Brent for some unintended slight, but even though she recognized the timidity of his light rap on her door, her hand dropped off the edge of the correspondence desk onto a crystal faceted knob drawer pull. The drawer gave no resistance and she pulled it out, her glance seeking out the 1911 model Colt pistol as her hand wrapped around the ivory grip in a practiced single motion.

"Brent? Is that you?" and she pulled back the hammer.

"Yes, it's me", said Brent, as he came into the room with the easy charm that she had once admired and now loathed. He walked to her and as she watched him the hand that lay on the desk clinched unknowingly, leaving skin-colored grooves in the once unmarred oak. After an interminable period of time, she forced herself to relax and the shaking in her hands stopped. She stood, the hand holding the gun tucked carefully behind her, and slowly turned to meet Brent.

"Cath, I...I've done something terrible," Brent managed to choke out between his now unruly lips. "My brother Lester has been gambling money from the bathtub gin business and now he owes his bookie fifty thousand dollars."

"What does that have to do with me, Brent?" But the slowly spreading ball of cold fury in the pit of her stomach was triggering adrenaline and a trembling trigger finger that portended something worse than rash. "I told him that I'd get him the money by selling you into white slavery. You'd do that for me, old gal, wouldn't you? Remember all the good times we had? Be a pal."

Cathryn could not believe the idiocy that poured from Brent. He was usually so suave, so charming, and now he was sputtering foolishness.

"Brent, you mindless fool," she growled. "I don't give a damn about your foolish brother. You know I've detested him since that night that he spilt that frothy drink down the back of my $6000 Valentino. Let him get himself out of his own mess." As she spoke the words through gritted teeth she tightened her grip on the gun, its pearly handle smooth in her grasp.

Sam Rico strained to hear more as he pressed the yielding tips of his stethoscope into his downy ears and positioned the metal disc onto the wall, tuning the faded wallpaper like a crystal radio set, pulling in the sound of the conversation in the next room.

"Listen, old sport," Brent's voice was getting louder as it dawned on him that Cathryn was mistaking him for Elvis Walloon, the slick sheik at the Kozy Kitty Klub who had dumped a drink down Cathryn's Valentino during the Charleston competition that ended tragically in Selma losing all her hair.

"You can help me out or go to...."

In a paroxysm of fury, Cathryn's hand jerked, sending the hammer home.

With a vicious report, the Colt fired a shot behind her, puncturing the thin wallboard and travelling most of the way through Sam's skull. Was this the end of the great Rico?

Cathryn stood with her finger still on the trigger of the gun. The smell of the gunblast filled the room as she realized what she had nearly done in her anger. Instead of the fear that should have filled her, however, she felt a crowning sense of triumph as she saw the shock on Brent's face.

"Did you think I wouldn't do it, Brent?" she hissed, as she turned to look behind her at the hole the small bullet had left in the wall.

"What if I had been pointing the other direction?"

At this, with a look of fear mixed with respect, Brent turned and hurried from the room. Cathryn turned and walked back to the desk, allowing her hand to drop to the receiver of the sleek black phone. She picked it up and dialed unhurriedly. When the voice on the other end finally came through, she quietly said, "Come get me."

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