In the Cards

Chuck’s Flash Fiction Challenge was to “smash” superhero fiction with another genre. I went with Noir and as for my “hero”, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

         The yellowing glass made the street outside look sepia, like a photograph peeling at the corners. Not that anyone would want to capture this place forever, Cas thought, leaning away from the warped window. The shop of curiosities had a stale smell—like the inside of an old tomb where the bones had crumbled into dust. The old man who ran the shop had inherited it from his father, as his father had before him. For all Cas knew, the curio shop had been there when Haven was founded. The old man was in the back sleeping. He slept a lot these days. After the mugging the only escape from the knifing headaches and waking nightmares was a healthy dose of oxy and sleep. Cas understood a thing or two about nightmares. He touched the thick, ridged scar that ran around his neck, blotched purple and red–angry, like a burn. Knotting his scarf around his neck, he retrieved his hat from the head of a dusty cat statue and stepped out into the street, locking the door behind him. Garbage clumped along the outside of the building. It was too dangerous for the so-called civil servants to make it down to the Point these days.
         Something moved on the corner, just at the edge of his sight and Cas tensed. But it was only a cat, a one eyed, ragged tom whose malevolent yellow eyes watched him as he turned his collar up against the wind. Curtains in the barred windows above twitched occasionally. You’d think everyone in the Point was blind by the way no one ever saw anything when a crime was done, but Cas knew that the Point was one of the few places where people saw everything. Cas glanced around before slipping down the stairs into the subway station. The ammoniac scent of urine made his eyes water and he waited for his eyes to adjust to the intermittent flicker of the fluorescent lights. There was no point in checking his watch. The trains stopped keeping to a schedule when half the stations were closed, the other half barely maintained. The Mayor announced new plans for an above-ground tram that would be the height of innovation and safety—“a shining beacon of what is to come for Haven”—but the rusting iron framework for a station near City Hall was the only sign of progress well into his second term. Cas pulled a deck of cards out of his pocket. He shuffled them, tapped them against his hand, and shuffled them again.
         “Hello, Lee,” he said, not bothering to turn his head.
         “One of these days you’ll tell me how you do that.” Lee’s laugh sounded nervous as he crossed the platform to stand next to Cas.
         “How about today?” Cas didn’t look up from his cards, his hands moving almost too quickly, shuffling, straightening, shuffling.
         “Yeah?” Lee’s hands shook as he lit his cigarette, throwing the spent match onto the dirty tiles where it sputtered out.
         Cas turned, meeting Lee’s eyes for the first time. “I thought we were partners, Lee. The last two guys on the force whose hands were cleaner than our consciences.”
         Lee’s eyes widened and his doughy face paled to gray above the red glow of the cigarette. “I don’t know what you mean. We were—are—what’s this about, buddy?”
         “I’m talking about you and Nico Capello. I’m talking about you and a yacht out in the bay with enough coke to sink the Titanic. I’m talking about the Mayor’s above-ground railway project that just so happens to be the perfect mode of transport for all the pies you’ve got your dirty fingers in.” The sharp snap of the cards in Cas’s hands made Lee flinch. “Drugs, human trafficking, stolen goods. You’re a damn fine cop, Lee Marlowe. The citizens of Haven will sleep soundly in their beds knowing a guy like you’s out there protecting and serving.”
         “Cas, come on,” a wheedling note crept into Lee’s voice. “You know me. You know me.”
         “I do, Lee. I know you.” Cas ran his thumb over the edges of his cards and watched his partner’s big shoulders slump in relief. “Do you know what this is?” Cas held up one of the cards.
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         Lee leaned forward, squinting. Cas smelled the rotten tang of his sweat, his barely restrained fear.
         “It’s one of those tarot cards, yeah?” Lee pronounced it like carrot.
         “Tarot. Yes. This is Le Pendu—the Hanged Man.” Cas returned the card to the deck so quickly that Lee blinked.
         “I didn’t know you were into that, whatchacallit, occult stuff,” Lee said.
         “My mother used to deal the cards and tell fortunes sometimes.” Cas said, remembering the last time she dealt for him, when she dealt the Hanged Man. It could mean anything from sacrifice to inner harmony, but for him it was all too literal.
         “You know how I got this?” Cas tugged the scarf away from his scarred neck. “Some of Nico Capello’s guys strung me up one night, left me hanging from the struts of the new construction of the good Mayor’s new railway.”
         Lee’s cigarette hung from his fleshy lips. “I didn’t…. How’d you get away?”
         “I didn’t.” Cas flipped over the next card in the deck. The skeleton with the scythe: La Mort. “I hung there until it all went dark. But, I came back.”

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         Lee’s mouth still hung open when his body crumpled, cigarette fallen to the ground when the tarot card sliced through his neck.
         “I came back, but you won’t.” Cas flicked another card onto Lee’s body. It fluttered to his chest, just below the gash that leaked black blood out onto the grimy tiles. La Justice.

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         Cas hopped down onto the rails. A tremor in the earth signaled a train approaching. He began to whistle as he walked, cards flickering in the dark. It didn’t matter if the train was on time, he thought. Lee wouldn’t need it.

Playing With Fire

Flash Fiction Friday Challenge from Chuck Wendig is here again! This time we rolled the d20 dice of destiny and received two well known pop-culture movie/TV-show titles.* Mine ended up being somewhat of a parody, due to the two options I received. I enjoyed writing it, even though this challenge was so open-ended that it was a slow start.

         Brennan winced as the thick curtains of his room were unceremoniously thrown back.
         “What time is it?” he asked, words muffled by the pillow he pulled over his head.
         “It’s time for you to get out of bed, Master Brennan,” Albert said.
        With a groan, Brennan dug himself more deeply into his covers. Albert would go away eventually if he refused to move. He opened one eye when he did not hear retreating footsteps. Albert stood by the windows, immaculate in his butler’s uniform. His lined face was visible in the bright sunlight that streamed through the windows and Brennan knew from the set of Albert’s jaw that he wasn’t going anywhere.
         “What, Albert? Go away.” Seizing upon the first excuse that came to mind he said, “I’m feeling really sick. I can’t possibly get up. You should leave before you catch it, too.”
        He tried to make his voice convincingly raspy, closing his eyes as though they were too heavy to hold open. Albert grunted. Damn the man. What was the point in having a butler if he never listened? Brennan pulled the covers up higher and rolled over. A moment later, the sheets were rudely yanked from his grip.
         “Master Brennan, it is simply ridiculous for you to lounge about in this manner. You’ve been home three weeks and no one has seen you,” Albert said.
         “I don’t want anyone to see me, Albert,” Brennan finally abandoned his charade of illness and sat up. “I thought I made that pretty obvious when I said: ‘Albert, don’t answer the door or the phone and if anyone asks, I’m not here.'”
         “It’s not healthy, Master Brennan,” Albert turned to get the tray of breakfast. “I know it must be hard coming back to Winston Manor after so many years, but your parents—”
         “I don’t want to talk about my parents, Albert,” Brennan said, getting out of bed and slamming the bathroom door behind him.
        When he came out wrapped in his robe, his breakfast was waiting on the table. Grudgingly, he sat down to eat it. Halfway through the plate of toast and scrambled eggs, he saw a yellow legal pad covered in Albert’s neat writing. Messages from every day since his return. He shoved the plate of food away with a groan. He flipped through the legal pad, practically tearing the pages off as he skimmed them. Parties, galas, fundraisers, premiers, restaurant openings. Then there were the other messages: robberies, escaped criminals, organized crime bosses causing trouble, the usual.
         “Vultures, all of ’em,” he muttered, throwing the yellow pad on the ground.
        These people couldn’t let him have a few weeks of vacation could they? If you could call being locked up in the monstrous Winston Manor that was filled with nothing but bad memories and ghosts from his past a “vacation.” The police force had handled everything just fine those years he’d been away, there was no reason for them to come clamoring at his door like a bunch of groupies now that he was back. Brennan actually enjoyed waking up in the morning without bruises and cuts and broken bones. Maybe they thought he was an adrenaline junkie, that he liked hunting down the scum of Rothsham City. Well they were dead wrong. Suddenly seized with an idea, he changed out of his bathrobe and hurried down the stairs.
         “Albert!” he called, his voice clanging against the suits of armor on the landing.
        He rolled his eyes–the suits of armor, the secret passage in the wine cellar, it was all a bit much.
         “Albert!” he yelled again, just before colliding with the man himself.
         His bushy white eyebrows raised in exasperated curiosity, Albert smoothed his tie and cleared his throat.
         “Master Brennan, this is your house and I am your humble butler, but there’s no need to go dashing about like some sort of—”
         “Never mind that,” Brennan interrupted. “Where are my keys?”
         “Which keys, sir? The Ferarri, the Porsche, the Aston Martin…” Albert ticked them off on his fingers.
         “No, no, no, THE keys, THE keys, Albert!” Brennan practically bounded down the last few stairs, searching through the pile of unopened letters on the table in the hall.
         “Oh. Those keys .”
         Brennan looked up at Albert’s tone, “Just give me the keys, Albert.”
         “Of course, Master Brennan, but I don’t just keep them where anyone can find them. They’re in the wine cellar with…everything else,” Albert barely finished speaking before Brennan was racing down the wood-paneled halls.
         Brennan burst into the dusty room and twisted the bottle of 1785 Chateau Margaux to the left. One of the wine racks slid to the side to reveal a gaping hole. He hurried down the hallway, ignoring the weapons and high tech gear that lined the wall. Of course it was down here, how could he forget? He found the keys where he always left them in the past, opening the case with a fingerprint and retinal scan. Jingling the keys as he strode down another hallway, he began to whistle. He reached the vehicle and stared for a moment, grinning. It was sleek and shining and as vibrantly colored as ever. Just the way he left it. Brennan opened the gleaming red butterfly door and slid in. He sighed as he sank into the custom leather seats, perfectly contoured to his body. He put the key into the ignition and turned it, feeling the purr of the engine run like a lover’s fingers across his spine.
        Brennan pushed a button and a giant door slid open with the faintest whisper of cables and pulleys. He put the vehicle in gear, released the clutch and shot out of the underground cavern. Glancing at the passenger seat, he saw his his old Ray-Bans sitting there, as if no time had gone by. He slipped on the sunglasses as he drove out the secret gravel drive, past the ancient trees, and into the sunlight.
        Hell, even the Firebird needed a day off.

*Batman and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off