Sunday, June 12, 2011

Summer is here - challenge time

Steve Weddle, one of my favorite short fiction writers and online raconteurs, has thrown out a challenge on the fantastic Do Some Damage blog. A Noir-ish story about summer. Well, how could I resist?
I threw this down, no doubt inspired by the hours of time I've spent reading interview transcripts for work.
Steve requested to keep it short, but I can't seem to do that too well these days so mine clock in a little longer - 2,900 words. Sorry. I think it's a quick read regardless, about one Dad's very, very bad day at the beach.
Enjoy and visit Do Some Damage on the 20th for links to all the stories in this challenge. There are sure to be some greats.
QUICK NOTE: the .99 Kindle sale of both of our books - One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble continues until the 21st so if you're reading this on the 20th for the challenge day you still have time to grab two great crime novels for dirt cheap on the Kindle. Check out what people had to say about them on the column to the right.

by Eric Beetner
Homicide detective D’Amica handed Max a styrofoam cup of ice water and sat across from him at the interrogation table.
“Thanks,” Max said, lifting the cup to his lips and slurping at the drink, hunched over since the restraints pinning him to the chair gave very little slack. The handcuffs and chains argued noisily every time he moved his arms.
D’Amica set a pen on top of a yellow legal pad on the table between them and then ignored it. The recorders would get it all and someone else would transcribe it later. “Why don’t you start at the beginning and go from there. That’s usually how this works.”
“Okay. Well, it was so damn hot today.” Max tried tilting the cup for another drop of water, but the angle wasn’t right.
“Yeah, funny things happen when the heat rises.”
“You ever see anything like this, detective?”
“Can’t say I have. But I’d still like to have you tell it.”
“Okay. From the start, huh?”
Aug. 16 – 5:06 p.m.
Det. D’Amica:
Okay, we’re on record here. Mr. Ellsworth, please tell us what happened today in your own words.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Well, we were at the beach.
Det. D’Amica:
Who’s we?
Mr. Ellsworth:
Me and my son, Izzy. He loves the beach. He’s autistic so it’s hard to find good places to take him, but he loves the ocean. I think the sound soothes him. And when he’s swimming the motion really helps calm him down.
Anyway, He wanted an ice cream. It’s so damn hot out there today. It’s gotta be over a hundred. Is it over a hundred, do you know?
Det. D’Amica:
I believe it is.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Right, so I go to buy Izzy an ice cream from a guy with a cart. The guy is rolling around on the bike path ringing his bell and there’s a few people gathered around. I order a rocket pop, the red, white and blue kind, y’know? I guess that’s more of an icee, not an ice cream, but you get the idea.
The guy with the cart is Mexican or Guatemalan or something so when he says, “One fifty” I can’t understand him at first. I ask him to say it like three times and there’s this other guy, this big douche bag guy who’s getting all impatient. Then Izzy starts in because he wants his rocket pop. He doesn’t even know the meaning of the word patience. The ice cream guy won’t give it up until he gets paid, which I totally understand, so I start digging in my pocket for two quarters to go with the dollar bill already in my hand.
Well, the douche bag guy says something like, “I wanted one of those too. Here you go. Keep the change.” And he gives the guy two bucks and takes the rocket pop and starts walking away.
Izzy starts freaking out. Now, mind you, these freak outs can last up to an hour, which I don’t really want at the end of a long day when it’s a hundred degrees out, right?
Normally I would have just let it go.
Det. D’Amica:
Uh-huh. Instead you chased him down.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Well, I yelled after him, “Hey, dickhead, that was my kid’s ice cream.” The guy with the cart got out another one right away, but to Izzy that’s not the point, okay? In terms of his freak outs we’re at, like, Defcon two. I really didn’t want it to get any worse.
Initially I was going to go give the guy my dollar fifty and take the ice cream back and give it to Izzy. I mean, the guy could see the kid was starting to lose it. I mean, a few people around were starting to stare. An older couple on the sand started packing up their umbrella and chairs and giving me these looks like I’m disturbing them. I guess I was being kinda loud.
But the dude, the guy gives me the finger over his shoulder as he walks away! All I’m trying to do is get my kid the ice cream I promised him and this guy’s got to go and get all dickish about it.
Maybe it was the heat, I don’t know. I went after him. He was all of maybe ten paces away, not even. I didn’t even say anything, I was too pissed off. All I have is Izzy in my ears starting that high pitched noise he makes.
So I get to the guy and I try grabbing him to spin him around, y’know, face me like a man. Only he’s got no shirt on and when I grab his shoulder, right on top of that stupid tribal tattoo, my hand slipped off because of all the sunscreen so I end up more like punching him forward. But anyone there will tell you I didn’t hit him. I was trying to grab him and spin him around.
Det. D’Amica:
We’ve spoken to witnesses.
Mr. Ellsworth:
And they told you, right?
Det. D’Amica:
Please continue.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Well . . . that’s when he . . . I mean, I kinda pushed him forward – by accident! – and he fell. I think he must have tripped up in some of the old couple’s junk. A beach towel or something. Anyway he fell and . . . and then . . . 
Det. D’Amica:
Please Mr. Ellsworth. Tell us in your own words.
Mr. Ellsworth:
That old bastard, pardon my language, but that old guy had that umbrella out in front of him like a spike, y’know? And this guy, the jerk guy who should have just . . . should have let my kid have an ice cream . . .  (Suspect begins crying) He fell forward and the tip of the umbrella went, y’know . . . into his eye I guess.
(Suspect breaks down. Cries.)
And then the old guy, the fat old guy he kinda falls forward because now his umbrella is stuck in the eye socket of some stranger, and he falls forward and he’s so damn big that when he comes down . . . Jesus, I’ll never get it out of my mind . . . that umbrella comes poking out the other side of the guy’s head.
(Suspect crying)
I mean, all I wanted . . . all I wanted was [UNINTELLIGIBLE]
Det. D’Amica:
Better now? Let’s continue.
Mr. Ellsworth:
So people start screaming and running all around. I mean, I don’t blame them. I didn’t know what the fuck, excuse me, what the hell to do.
First thing is I look back at Izzy. He’s gone silent. In a lot of ways that’s worse than the fits. His silent phases can last days. He just shuts down like he’s in a trance or something. I forget what the doctor’s clinical name for it is. 
I guess I kinda blanked out too. I knew how it looked. Everyone was pointing at me and yelling like I’d spiked the guy’s head with the umbrella myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the old guy. It was an accident. A freak accident.
What can I say? I panicked. I saw the number eighteen bus and I just had that impulse to get the hell out of there. To get my son to safety. I honest to God thought there was going to be an angry mob any second and they would have torn me apart. Really, I did.
So I grabbed Izzy’s hand and we ran.
Det. D’Amica:
That’s when the incident at the bus happened?
Mr. Ellsworth:
Yeah. Do you think I could get another one of those ice waters? It’s just so friggin’ hot.
Det. D’Amica:
We can do that. Keep going, please.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Well, we made it to the bus, but like I said people were starting to get pissed and think I did it on purpose. So I guess this guy, this surfer dude, thought I’d just murdered someone or something. He didn’t even see what happened. All he saw was people screaming and me running away with my kid. Oh, man, I wonder if he thought I was kidnapping Izzy? Do you think that’s what he thought?
Det. D’Amica:
I wouldn’t know.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Anyway, so Izzy is catatonic, the bus is about to leave, this guy is coming up fast behind me. I didn’t know what the hell to do. I got Izzy inside the back door just in time. The bus driver must have been clueless, like they all are. 
The doors close and this guy has got his hands around my waist trying to tackle me. I’m thinking, great, the damn bus is gonna leave without me, but this guy is posing a more immediate problem, right?
So I shake him off. I kinda flip him over my hip. I just wanted to get to Izzy and think of something to do. I didn’t have time for some vigilante surfer, y’know?
So he flips over and lands with his butt on the curb and his head in the gutter. And the bus takes off. I mean, this driver ought to be held responsible because he was obviously not paying attention at all. I mean, how could that possibly be my fault?
Det. D’Amica:
Just tell us what happened, please.
Mr. Ellsworth:
The damn bus rolled right over his head, that’s what happened. God, I’ll never get that out of my mind either.
[Suspect is brought water. NON-INTERVIEW]
Det. D’Amica:
And we’re back on record. Mr. Ellsworth, you’ve told us there are now two bodies and you didn’t think to stop and wait for the police?
Mr. Ellsworth:
Look, I know there were two bodies but you gotta understand, now my kid is on a bus that’s driving away from me. Izzy isn’t the kind of kid who can fend for himself. Especially when he’s in shutdown mode like he was. Or if he broke out of that and started a tantrum on the bus – people would have called the cops on him and he could have hurt himself.
I know you probably don’t believe any of this, but I was doing this for my son. I’m all he’s got, detective. I’m supposed to be the one who takes care of him, keeps him safe. 
(Suspect crying)
God, I fucked up, didn’t I?
Det. D’Amica:
Tell me about the cab driver.
Mr. Ellsworth:
So I gotta catch the bus, right? I hop in a cab that’s right there. I mean, he’s right friggin’ there. I say, “Follow that bus.”
This guy, he won’t budge. He sees the crowd outside, the people screaming and looking down at the guy who just lost his head under a bus wheel. He says he won’t take me anywhere and I should get out of his cab.
I could have said a lot of things, y’know? I mean they were on the tip of my tongue. The guy was an Arab. Second guy in a row with an accent I couldn’t understand. And he’s telling me what to do?
My autistic son is speeding away to who knows where and this guy won’t give me a ride to follow him?
So I start yelling. I wasn’t thinking straight right then. I told him, forcefully I guess, that I needed to follow that bus. I didn’t say anything racial or stereotyping or anything, even though I could have. I honest to God did my level best to be respectful but forceful, y’know?
So what does he do? Pulls a gun on me.
Fine, he needs a gun for robbers and stuff. All I am is a Dad who’s freaked the fuck out and needs to find my son. Sorry about that. I’ll try to watch the language.
But, okay he wants me out of his cab that bad, I get out. Only then I let slip one of the racial things in my head. I shouldn’t have said it, I know. I don’t even remember what it was, but it was stupid and I shouldn’t have said it.
I guess he was pissed at me or maybe he thought he had a citizen’s arrest on his hands or something, but he follows me out and that’s when I hear the cop cars.
Surely you guys got a hundred calls about what’s going on and so this cruiser pulls up and I think, “Great, I’m fucked.” Excuse my language again.
I put my hands up. Ask anyone, I did. And then these cops start shooting like crazy. Only not at me, at the cab driver. It was insane. I felt like I was in Baghdad or something.
Det. D’Amica:
I think the officers on the scene were thinking terrorist situation at the moment.
Mr. Ellsworth:
I’m sure they were. And I don’t blame them. A guy with a beard and that accent waving a gun and then all those people screaming and a headless body in the gutter and another one on the beach with an umbrella through his skull? I don’t blame them one bit. But you can see how I don’t think I should be blamed either, right?
Det. D’Amica:
Let’s just stick to the facts of the story, Mr. Ellsworth. Is that when you took the cab?
Mr. Ellsworth:
Yeah. All that shooting, people were ducking and diving everywhere. The closest place for me to go was inside the cab. I saw an opportunity to get to Izzy before the bus got too far away, and I took it.
I’m telling you, that’s all I was thinking about.
Det. D’Amica:
So you stole the taxi?
Mr. Ellsworth:
I got away from a shootout in the street, although I sure as hell don’t think that driver got off any shots. I mean, I’m sure those cops thought they were foiling a major terrorist plot or something.
 But, yeah, I took the cab and went after the bus.
I knew where the number eighteen was going so I went east away from the beach. Like, three blocks later I saw the bus. Every other time I’m behind a bus while I’m driving I’m cursing them like crazy for being so slow. This time, I was really glad about it.
So that’s when this guy, I don’t even know what his deal was, this guy tries to hail me down thinking I’m a cab driver.
Det. D’Amica:
Wonder why he’d think that?
Mr. Ellsworth:
I know, but . . . sorry. Anyway. He tries to flag me down, steps half way into the street like I don’t see him. He starts cursing me out when he can tell I’m not stopping. I don’t know what was up this guy’s ass. Must be the heat again.
Anyway, I zip past him and he steps out and slaps the back of the cab. I heard it bang on there, loud. He’s calling me names and saying he’s gonna write down my license. I looked in the rearview just because the guy was making such a fuss, y’know? Otherwise I wouldn’t have seen it.
Det. D’Amica:
Mr. Ellsworth:
He stepped out fully into the lane to bitch me out and I guess the guy behind me wasn’t paying attention or got distracted by all the commotion. What I saw was the guy get creamed. He flew up and over the hood and was all flopping arms and legs. I have no idea what happened to him but–
Det. D’Amica:
He’s dead.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Well, again, not really something that could be considered my fault, is it?
Det. D’Amica:
That’s for a jury to decide. Continue.
Mr. Ellsworth:
Oh, Jesus.
[Suspect goes silent for several minutes]
Det. D’Amica:
Mr. Ellsworth, are you ready to continue?
Mr. Ellsworth:
That’s all there is. I caught up to the bus, got out at a stop light and went inside and found Izzy. He was just sitting there like he was watching TV or something. The bus driver started yelling at me about not paying. Guess he finally started paying attention.
I just sat there and held onto my son. I didn’t know what the hell was going to happen. 
Then you guys arrested me on the bus. And now I’m here.
Det. D’Amica:
Okay, Mr. Ellsworth. I want to thank you for being honest with me today. And we’re going off record.
D’Amica glanced at his watch, noting the time. No dinner with the wife tonight. The paperwork on this thing would take all night. He waved in an officer through the two-way mirror.
Max rattled his chains as he drained the last from his cup of ice water. A patrolman in blue unshackled Max from the chair and pulled him to standing.
“We’ll get you back to holding now, Mr. Ellsworth,” Detective D’Amica said.
“And Izzy?”
D’Amica held the door open as Ellsworth shuffled into the hall rattling like Marley’s ghost.
D’Amica nodded a head to a bench where Izzy sat next to his Mom. She held a worried look on her face that deepened when she saw Max in handcuffs. Izzy held a double scooped ice cream cone that consumed all of his focus.
Max smiled, turned to D’Amica with wet eyes. “Thanks for that.”
“No problem.” D’Amica held Max by the arm and walked him down the hall without stopping. 
Izzy didn’t notice his father going by.


Steve Weddle said...

Long enough to send to my Kindle for tonight's reading enjoyment. Cool.

Thomas Pluck said...

Wow, did things sure Sno-ball from there.
Enjoyed this one a lot... I think the framing device makes it work especially well.

Kieran Shea said...

Guess you spend a lot of time at the Jersey Shore, eh? Sugar and heat. Interview structure is cool.