Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cleaner

By Matthew McBride

He left the car running with the radio on and the windows up. It was 96 degrees and climbing, but there was little regard for the comfort of the dead man in the backseat.

Barstow watched the parked car through an ancient pair of binoculars from what he wrongfully assumed was a reasonably safe distance. His enthusiasm for this particular assignment was dwindeling by the second. "Where is that motherfucker," he asked himself.

Rollins walked quickly through the lobby, past the escalators, and made a brief stop at the gift shop. He forced a smile to the old woman behind the counter as he handed her the fedora. He knew he would look like a pimp, but this was Miami. Still, he hated these fucking hats.

With the 38 tucked firmly in his waistband, and very aware of the metal detectors, he found the nearest bathroom and locked himself in the farthest stall where he casually removed his sports coat and draped it over the hook. The thought of a quick shit actually crossed his mind, if only he'd had the time.

Barstow lowered the binoculars and wiped the sweat from his bushy eyebrows with the back of his hand. Fucking Lewis, he thought. Cheap bastard sent him out in a car with no air conditioning. He glanced around promptly, but still no sign of Rollins. Suddenly, a 747 boomed overhead casting a thunderous wake, the sound reverberating down to the base of his spine.

"Fuck," he looked around nervously, "Where you at, son-of-a-bitch you," as he threw a spent Marlboro onto the hot Florida pavement. Lewis warned him about Rollins in advance, not that a warning was necessary. Everyone in Miami knew Rollins. At least everyone in this line of work.

Rollins left the restroom, minus sports coat, and strolled across the lounge at a leisurely pace. His undershirt clinging tighly to his muscular chest and the fedora pulled dangerously low. He'd realized he had a tail just after he loaded the body into the back seat, but there was no telling how long Barstow had been back there. After seeing Barstows arm dangeling from the window so many times, he counted on the incompetence of a man in Miami without air conditioning to expect him to return wearing the same dingy sport coat. He would never suspect the fedora.

Barstow was fingering the focus on the binoculars and sweating all over the seat of the boss's car. His other hand clenched the 9mm tightly as he felt an explosive wave of nausea wash over him. This was taking to long. This sneaky fuck was up to something. He crumpled the empty cigerette pack and tossed it on the floorboard as he fished through the ashtray looking for the longest butt.

The car was still running, Rollins noticed, as he felt the summer heat touch his face. He pulled the cell phone from his pocket and struck up a conversation with no one in particular. He could reach the 38 with one hand and that was all that mattered. They would pay him double for this, for cleaning up another mess. He stepped over a pile of luggage and blended in with what little crowd there was. He walked amongst the shadows as best he could, the excitement building. This is what Cleaners do.

Barstow checked his watch. How long had it been? This job was gonna get him killed if he didn't act quick, and he was not prepared to die sitting in a car at the airport.

Timing was important and Rollins waited for the perfect moment as he rounded the massive pillar which provided his cover. Another plane was rocketing up above and the deafening roar was the distraction he needed to conceal the gunshot. As luck would have it, traffic was light and bystanders were scarce. He approached the Monte Carlo with informal stealth and slowly removed the gun from his waisteband. The noise of overhead jet turbines was drowned out only by the sound of the pulse beating in his ear, but Barstow was no longer behind the wheel.

He shot Rollins once in the neck from close range and blew his throat all over the hood of that piece of shit car. The ridiculous fedora fell onto the ground and the body of Rollins was quick to follow. Barstow flattened the hat with his sandal as he climbed into the car, glancing around nonchalantly as he pulled away from the curb. There was a slight rise as the drivers side tires rolled over Rollins arm.

Barstow searched for a radio station as he made his effortless departure and further down the lane he passed the running car with the radio on and the windows up with little regard to the comfort of the dead man in the backseat.


The Matthew J. McBride entry in Dan O'Shea's great airport flash fiction challenge.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Slow Ride

By Gus T. Cumberland

I spent my first three months after college on a cattle ranch near Calgary building wood fences from sunrise to lunch and going on long, drug-addled horseback rides in the afternoons. It was a fine lifestyle, and the Swedish immigrant family who employed me was lovely, but as the weather grew cold and my stash of Hashish began to dwindle, I decided to make my way back home to California’s Central Coast. After a goodbye dinner of beef ribs and herring I went for a drink at the only tavern within 200 kilometers, a bar folks called Bud’s because of its extensive beer selection.

Toothless bears crowded booths and townie girls clung like burrs to their flannel sleeves. The men drank beer, the women drowned themselves in eye contact, and even the palest Canadian skin glowed golden in the bar light. I found myself trading whiskeys with a man who looked like Howard Cosell. He fixed his toupee and told me he was General Manager of the local hockey club, the Deertooth Malamutes. These were his boys, and tonight had been a victorious opening night.

“You know Howard, I’ve always wanted to drive a zamboni,” I said.

“Tell you what. We can arrange if you promise to do one small favor for me. Suit up tomorrow night as our mascot, Mario the Malamute. Our regular guy has dysentery.”


“When the bar closes we all head back to the rink for a couple hours. Just come with us, and remember tomorrow night you’re Mario.”

But I never got to be Mario. At 3:00 AM, with Foghat’s Slow Ride bouncing off the arena bleachers, and a goaltender being pleasured in the penalty box, I set out on my zamboni ride. With a beer in my left hand and the steering wheel in my right, it was cold and smooth and glorious until just after 3:03 AM when I lost control of the wheel, spun in three full circles, and crashed through the boards. My skin was mangled in the blades and my knee was nearly ripped from the joint.

I still think twice before putting on shorts. When Slow Ride comes on the radio, I change the station. And sometimes, on cold nights, I see an ominous zamboni amongst the friendly shadows that glide across my bedroom wall.