Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Deadly Drafts - CH 12

SPILLED COFFEE


Arthur manspread across the entirety of Perky's lone corner booth, reflecting patrons' scowls and glares with his megawatt smile. An untouched to-go coffee steamed on the table. Despite having the interior space of a large closet, despite its persistent musk of cigarette butts and fryer grease, Perky's Café drew Bakersville like moths to home fries. Never underestimate the power of cheap bacon and pancakes.

The front door chimed. Arthur turned to see Sheila Talbot, hair in a sloppy ponytail and Aviators tipped up over her head. She murmured into her voice recorder. Arthur dug a hand into his pocket and flagged her over.

Sheila plopped into the booth and swiped the coffee. "Thanks for the cup, Kite. Pretty good joe for a greasy spoon." She took a long, slurping pull from the cup and pushed forward her voice recorder.

"You smell horrible."

Arthur sniffed his underarm. "Prison isn't exactly a bowl of potpourri, you know."

"Is this a publishing scheme?" Sheila said. "I've thought about it and that's the only thing that really makes sense. Or some twisted grab at fame? Honestly, I'll be disappointed if it's just about the money."

"The bigger question," Arthur said, "is how a C-minus English major writing crummy obits for a crummy newspaper suddenly becomes a Pulitzer-quality investigator."

"It's what journalists do, Kite. We dig. We harvest sources."

"Now both of us are lying, Sheila."

"Lies?" Sheila stuck out her tongue. "I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

"Promise?" Arthur leaned close to Sheila, back of his hand nudging the coffee. "There’s no way Detective Dalkowski briefed you on The Sacred Theft. She went directly home after interrogating me and overslept our bail hearing the next morning. You said in the parking lot that the detective filled you in. You lied. The only other explanation is you already had Kavi's story."

"That is certainly an interesting theory." Sheila reached to take another sip of the coffee. Arthur grabbed her wrist, pulled her close.

"I lied to the detective, Ms. Talbot. Harris guessed as much. I said traffic made me late to our writing workshop the other night. Pshht. Being late? Tré unfashionable."

"Ok. So?"

Arthur gnashed his teeth. His smile dissolved. "Tell me who sent you Kavi's story and I'll tell you where I was yesterday afternoon."

"I know where you were, you idiot." Sheila twisted her wrist, tried to pull away from Arthur's grasp. "You were robbing a jewelry shop. And you already know I was sent Kavi's story because you sent it. You and your dumbass friends left prints all over the envelope, you know."

"Aha. So there is an envelope."

Sheila tried to wriggle her arm free. "You aiming to add battery to your list of crimes?"

Arthur waited for Sheila to fully wrench backward before letting go. She slammed into the booth seat, its cushion hissing. Her voice recorder spun to the table's edge. In the commotion, Arthur knocked the coffee cup onto its side. Perky's best java gushed over the table and waterfalled into Sheila's lap.

"Sonofafuckingbitch!" She howled. "You spilled coffee on my crotch, you asshole!" Sheila pulled a gob of napkins from the holder and furiously daubed black lava from her jeans.

"Here," Arthur thrust the recorder to Sheila's palm. His face fell, shaking, the mask of cool and calm cracked wide open to show the fear beneath. "It almost fell off the table. Listen, I’m sorry... I didn' mean to spill. It’s just the stress. I didn't mean…"

"If you want to tell me what actually happened," Sheila said, "I'll listen. But don't fuck with me, Kite. I'm not naïve. Tell me the whole truth and I’ll clear an easy landing for you. Otherwise, leave me alone."

Arthur slid out from the booth. "I…" He looked between Sheila and the door, hands thrust deep into his pockets. "I can't."

Sheila grasped Arthur's forearm and pulled. "Talk, Kite."

He froze, muscles stiff. Emotion quivered in his eyes. "Let go."

"Tell me what you're hiding."

Arthur backed away, pried Sheila's fingers from his arm. "I...I’m sorry." He raced to the exit, flung open the door and half-stepped into the midday sun. "I'm not a criminal, Sheila. I promise you."

Arthur only caught a sliver of Sheila's dismissive smirk as he stormed from the restaurant. He practically ran, hands buried deep in his pockets. Cool wind whipped at his face, heart racing faster with every step. Satisfied he'd put enough distance between himself and the reporter, Arthur turned down a narrow side street. His head swiveled, for tails or wandering eyes. He was alone. With a deep exhale, he reassmbled his easy smile. He could have sang. He could have Gene Kelly danced from lamppost to lamppost. He took his hand from his pocket and examined Sheila's voice recorder. Its red eye blinked.

"Gothca." Arthur clicked the recorder off and shoved it deep in a pants pocket.

Arthur strolled back into the sunlight. His car sat on the curb a block ahead. Not a bad meeting. Sheila had admitted, on the voice recorder now in his pocket, to owning a rogue copy of Kavi's story. Arthur whistled down the sidewalk, wondering how many calls to tech support Sheila would place, "why is all the data gone from my voice recorder," before realizing Arthur had swapped hers out for a fake.


Monday, July 22, 2024

Deadly Drafts - CH 11

BARBIE AND KEN


Kavi breezed through the library doors, absurdly large coffee in hand and smile plastered on her face. The panic which had squeezed her body like a lemon finally released its grip. If each variety of sex was its own mouth-watering dessert—evening quickie, post-date delicto—then angry sex was a gooey, atomic hot ginger cake. It left Kavi's mouth watering, her body buzzing, a soft sheen of sweat across her forehead.

The dense gravity of their desire had melted space-time. Without work, with the kids at school, Kavi and James romped back into their carefree 20's, sweating through a pentathlon of marital acrobatics that would have impressed even seasoned professionals.

Not even the dark cloud of jail time hovering over Kavi's head could wipe the smile from her face as she strolled into the library.

Friday, July 19, 2024

Deadly Drafts - CH 10


I F&*@ING HATE THE EAGLES


Harris slammed the accelerator. His Ford Taurus bucked forward, laying a trail of blue smoke. His pulse raced in time with thrash metal on his radio. Guitars shredding scales like cheddar cheese, Harris struggled to keep a steady distance behind Arthur's Subaru. The persistent image of tall, graceful Arthur in an elephant costume kept nudging Harris' Taurus forward. Who holds back a jail-saving alibi? Always the scientist, the more Harris pondered this equation, the more it didn't balance.

Arthur followed his usual path home, his Subaru riding Bakersville's dips and valleys at a lazy cruise. Harris' Taurus, on the other hand, coughed and sputtered like Doc Holliday after a pack of darts. The car sighed burnt plastic, angry over being punished with such unusual exercise.