Flash Fiction Month 2015, Day 16
Challenge #7: Write a Noir story with a non-human protagonist.
The side-effects were a problem. Not for Frank—it was his product, and an entrepreneur always stood by his product—but for business itself. It had been quite a while since he’d been able to act as the face of his own company. That was Tony’s job, though by now even he was getting a bit too scaly for the people on the street. Frank parted the blinds of his office window and peered out at the pinprick ember of the cigarette at the corner of the road. Tony spotted the sudden chink of light from the window and met Frank’s gaze, his eyes dim circles like a deer’s on the highway. Well, not like a deer’s, but not human either. That definitely wasn’t helping sales.
The phone rang.
“Yeah?” Frank ashed his cigarette into the coffee cup on his desk.
“Hey, Frank, is that you?”
“No, this is Frank’s secretary: the hot brunette with a voice like a cement mixer. Christ, Marty, of course it’s me!” Remembering that Marty was just about the last person who still bought in bulk, Frank added a laugh. “Now uh, how much can I do you for this week?”
“Oh, I’m not buying any more.”
“You sure?” Frank nervously rasped his palm across his forehead, watching the slate-like fragments of dandruff rattle onto his desk. “I set aside a batch for you. Top quality! The white coat boys say the toxicity’s way down on this one. It’s selling out quick!”
“Oh, no, no. It’s about…you know when you last came to the bar? Said you was looking into offering protection on the side?”
“Yeah. It’s no secret it’s a dangerous town. Never hurts to have another line of business.” It never hurt to have some money coming in at all. “Why? You got some barflies looking for work?”
“Uh, no.” There was a rattle at the other end of the line, like Marty was peering through the blinds on his own window. “Actually, I’m…I may have a job over here needs taking care of.”
“Yeah. See, a few weeks ago this chap came by claiming to be a cop. Wanted me to fill out some forms and send them to some address—with a cheque, obviously—some kind of licensing scam. I figured he was just some bum in a Halloween costume! So when he said it was ‘for my own good,’ I didn’t take it too seriously. Same thing happened at Neil’s down the road. Naturally he didn’t think anything of it either.”
“Uh-huh.” Frank could see where this was going.
“The thing is, there’s a fire down at Neil’s place right now, and there’s a cop car too.” Marty laughed: a high-pitched, hysterical wheezing. “So, you know. I thought, just in case…”
“We’ll be there.”
Frank stepped into the little bathroom attached to his office and fished out the slugshooter stashed beneath the sink. Instinctively, he paused to check his hair in the mirror, forgetting that he didn’t have either of those things any more: just a scalp of bare granite and a cabinet without a door. He reached up to the remaining shelves and took down a plastic ampoule, a liquid like mercury swirling inside. He snapped the neck and sprayed half the contents into each eye. The faint regret that gnawed at him immediately melted away. Maybe a new name would help convince the public: “Silver Lining.” That would put the right spin on things.
Frank took in the streets as he tore towards the bar. The city was changing. There had always been the broken windows and the boarded shops in this part of town, but this—the protection racket—was new. Sure, in the outskirts the police force was just one more gang. Frank had had a couple of officers out there selling on his behalf, and would have still if business had been going better. But here…Marty’s place was just blocks from the financial district. If this kind of thing was happening in the banks’ own backyard, then something big was going on.
By the time Frank got to Marty’s, the place had emptied out. The patrons stood at a distance on the street, watching the cops heave cans of gasoline from the back of the car. Their heads turned as Frank pulled up.
He nodded to Tony. “Now’s your chance.”
The hail of bullets took out exactly two of the four extortionists. The other two were spared by Tony’s stamped-metal machinegun shaking itself apart. Frank shoved open the door on his side of the car and flopped out, trying to keep the engine block between himself and the return fire that had already ensured that Tony would not be the face of the business anymore.
Frank poked his head up, just wired enough to slam a few shots into the back of the other car, not wired enough to actually stay there and aim. He found himself with his back to the left front wheel of his car, looking from side to side, trying to guess which way they’d come.
Then he heard the faint bark of fumes igniting, and a yelp from one of the cops. One of his slugs must have hit a can, and the pooling fuel must have caught a spark. He jumped to his feet and managed to take down one of the officers as he rushed to find new cover. But where was the other one?
There was a thud at the back of his own car as the last cop vaulted it. Frank turned just in time for the bullet to catch him in the forehead. He shot back, ending the fight.
More than a little stunned, Frank stared about at the gawping crowd. Finally, he came to his senses. He ducked into the car and rummaged about in Tony’s pocket.
“Silver Lining!” he shouted, holding the ampoules high with one hand and pointing to the crater in his forehead with the other. “Get yours today!”