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B & E: A Frank Armstrong Story

Oct 26, 2010 in Short Stories

Frank Armstrong is the star of Joshua Hale Fialkov’s acclaimed graphic novel, Tumor. Stop by today and tomorrow on MulhollandBooks.com for Frank’s continuing adventures in prose, with original illustrations from Noel Tuazon.

Thursday at the King Eddy is just like every other day.  Except this Thursday is what they call Everybody’s Payday.  It’s that rare month where disability checks, V.A. Pension checks, and the last of the month fall on the same day.  It might as well be Christmas Eve it’s so busy in here.  My usual stool’s occupied, so I take up a small table in the corner and stare at the girl behind the bar so she knows what I want.

The past few months have been a blur of gin stains seeping through nicotine stains and sopping up into my skin.  Camonte cut me loose after what went down, and I realized that aside from being a mediocre hitman, an errand boy for thugs and murderers, and a drunk, my prospects were nil.

And so it goes.

Drunk by ten thirty in the am, wandering through downtown aimlessly from noon ‘til five, then back to King Eddy’s for the dinner rush.  King Eddy’s serves food, so between the booze, the cigarettes, and plates of one-dollar meatloaf, my life pretty much revolves around this place.

And the Nickel, around the corner.  That’s where my wife died.  They also have a helluva good omelette and these bacon donuts which sound revolting, but, man, they really hit the spot.

I’m proud to say I keep my schedule daily.  If a man ain’t got nothing else, at least he can be regular.  So, like regular, Dennis from behind the bar walks over with my one-dollar plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with a double of bourbon on the side.

“How you doin’ Frank?”

“Same old.”

“Some guy was here lookin’ for you. Stocky, looks like a cop.”

“You mind pointing him out without pointing me out?”

“Of course.  Comes with the dinner.”

Some fat ass cop is lookin’ for me.  Fantastic.  Maybe Camonte’s pinned Rosa’s murder on me.  Hell, maybe ‘pinned’ isn’t the right word.  Turned me in, or gave me up.  I didn’t kill her mind you, I just may as well have.

I hesitated.  There was a single moment when I could’ve done something.  I could’ve stopped him from shooting, or at least gotten in the way of the bullet.

I drink to forget.

It doesn’t work.

An hour passes, and the stocky man who looks like a cop walked in.  Dennis nods to me, but he doesn’t have to.  The guy might as well have a neon sign floating above his head.  The entire bar quiets down when he walks in.  I watch Dennis.

He does what he promised.

“He ain’t here, officer.”

“Yeah.”  The cop snorted as he walked straight for me. “You’re Armstrong, right?”

Dennis started to cross from behind the bar to give me a hand.

“Look, man, you can’t just come in here and hassle-”

“It’s alright, Dennis.  I’ll talk to the man.”

Dennis made eye contact.  He’s a good guy.  Caring.  That’s why he still does the one-dollar meatloaf.  For all us skid row rejects who’re able enough to find a buck or two and not shit our pants.  He’s a good guy.

The cop pulls out the stool opposite me and takes a seat.  He’s jowly and balding, and while he’s definitely a cop, I have a hard time believing he passed his entrance exam this decade.  But the suit and the watch and the tie say that he’s still on the street wearing blues if he’s even allowed out from behind his desk.

“What can I do for you, officer?”

“Detective.”

I keep eating my meatloaf.  It tastes like shit if it gets cold.

“Look, I understand you’re good at finding people.”

I’m not.

He slides a folder in front of me with a wad of twenties paper clipped to the front.

“You find him, you get another hundred.”

I stop eating.  I flip open the folder.  It’s a police file.  Six rape-and-murders.  They have a name, a social, an address, hell, even his shoe size.

“I don’t get it.  What do you need me for?”

“The witness who gave us all this, ain’t no good.  We tried for a warrant, but without the positive ID, we’ve got shit.”

“Why can’t you just sit on his place and wait?”

The cop downs the rest of his beer and turns to face the bar.  Anita, Dennis’s latest Mexican conquest is bent over just right cleaning off the bar.

“Hey, beautiful, how ’bout a draft of whatever you got?”

With tits like those in a place like this, it seems almost gentlemanly of him to talk to her like that.

“She’s got a name.”

“And a great set of tits.”  The cop smiles at his own witty repartee. “Look, we’ve been sitting on him for almost a week, and he just don’t slip up.  We see him go out, we tail him, nothing.  Then, another rape, same M.O.”

“Maybe you got the wrong guy.”

“He’s the right guy.”

Tucked beneath the reports are pictures of his vics.  Sliced across the throats and given makeshift caesareans that part them up to their belly buttons.

“He dangerous?”

“If you’re a sexy twenty year old girl, you should quake in your boots.”

“How do I know this is on the level?”

“You don’t.”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“I’m Detective James Polish.  Call me Jimmy.” He waves his finger in the air, beckoning for another as he finishes his current.

“Why me, Jimmy?  Who sent you here?”

“You want the money or not?”

I paused just because if I didn’t, I’d look desperate.  Which I was.

“What do you want me to do?”

To be continued…tomorrow.

Joshua Hale Fialkov is the creator (or co-creator, depending) of graphic novels Elk’s Run, Tumor, Punks the Comic, and Echoes. He has written Alibi and Cyblade for Top Cow, Rampaging Wolverine for Marvel, and Friday the 13th for Wildstorm. He also served as a writer on the Emmy Award Nominated animated film Afro Samurai: Resurrection, and as Executive Producer of the cult hit LG15: The Resistance web series. Elk’s Run, Tumor, and Alibi are all currently in development as feature films. Joshua grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, went to college in Boston, where he got a BFA in writing and directing for the stage and screen, and then worked in the New England film industry, until finally deciding to move to Los Angeles to do it properly. He lives with his wife, Christina, daughter, Gable, and their cats, Smokey and the Bandit.

5 Responses »

  1. Loved that slice of hardboiled life. I’ll pop back for another swifty tomorrow.

  2. Everyone needs to read the graphic novel. Excellent story in a beautiful hardcover at an amazingly low price.

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