I love the Noir.
I love the stories of the hard-nosed, double-chinned gumshoes who have a proclivity for cheap booze, snub nosed .38s, and sweet, whiskey-throated dames with access to lots of
cash obtained through questionable means. The women are all viewed through a glistening, Vaseline coated lens, and the men all have their trousers belted just south of their armpits. Everyone speaks like they have a need to project to the back row after mainlining a couple of Red Bulls. There’s always a Mcguffin involved, and someone is going to get shot. I love this stuff.
The thing is, what I think is Noir is actually regarded as Film Noir, which is almost completely disassociated from Noir fiction. In Film Noir, it’s all about the stark lighting, the fisticuffs, the Private Detective set forth to save the day, but he almost dies at the end. In Film Noir, justice is always served, though most of the time it isn’t wrapped up in a neat little package with a bow. That means that even though the case is solved, but the hero could be dying in a ditch somewhere outside of town. Technically, since the good guys still won in the end, that counts as a happy ending.
In Noir Fiction, there are no happy endings. Hell, there doesn’t have to be a detective character at all.
These are the facts I learned while researching this next Flash Fiction piece. This was my submission for a short story contest that I alluded to earlier this year. I think a sufficient amount of time has passed where I can feel free to post my stuff… on my site.
What I learned is that Noir Fiction, in its truest sense is the antithesis of what would be considered drama, because it is what it says it is; Noir. Black. Hopeless. Dark. Abandon all hope and break out the blended whiskey because you’re in the middle of nowhere with a bullet in the gut. Someone is going to die, and it’s probably not going to be the bad guy. Someone is going to come out on top, and it’s probably not going to be the good guy.
Noir is hard stuff, which is probably why you don’t see too much of it these days. In print, you’ll see it pop up here and there, mostly in anthologies. In movies, great examples would be Chinatown or more recently, Brick. Noir is also hard to sell to a mass audience as in television viewers. The closest I’ve seen recently to a decent Noir, as in Film Noir, is Jessica Jones on Netflix. All the tropes are there, all the characters are there, that they’ve flipped the gender roles that were traditionally set in stone (in this case, the detective is a young woman. The love interest and the crux of the story is a guy) is a welcome and refreshing change.
As with the First Lines Challenge, I had to create a 1500 word story based on a picture. Everything about it said Noir to me. I’m not that experienced in writing in this genre, so I wanted to get it right. It didn’t win, place or show, but I’m still happy with it.
Thank you for reading.
With All My Heart, Loretta-June
As the smoke spun in lazy circles from the end of a lit Winston which dangled from her heavily painted lips, the first thing that came to mind wasn’t how far she could hold the ash before it falls to the floor like the Hindenberg. Nor was it the gaping wound in her side, or how quickly she was bleeding out as she reclined nude and resplendent in an empty claw-footed tub. No, the first thing that came to mind as she snapped back into consciousness was her pearl-handled Derringer, and that it had one bullet left in the chamber. Soon, he’ll come home to a bloody mess. Soon, the bathroom door will be ripped from its hinges and shredded to matchsticks by thick, meat hook fingers. Soon, there will be more blood. She pulled on her cigarette, let the smoke fill her lungs, and as the nicotine gently swaddled her pain in a gentle narcotic haze, she dipped her index finger into the pool of blood, she scrawled a message into the bleached white marble wall and sighed…
“Well, Geraldine, you really fucked up this time, haven’t you?”
When she came to again, she heard a car door shut, then another. It was his car. Edgar was home. She memorized every sound of that damned thing every day for five years while she was kept like a pet. It was a Cadillac V12. Out of his entire stable of Detroit’s finest, he took a shine to this one. She was his favorite. It was his faithful steed that he would show off down on 12th St. every Tuesday night.
Edgar’s primary occupation was separating hard earned pensions from little old ladies, shaking down local business owners for protection money, paying off cops, and greasing the palms of elected officials. He owned the cops, the mayor, the press. Edgar owned this town, it was no secret. What was secret, was his penchant for certain indulgences.
There were rumors of three day orgies at his mansion involving members of government, Hollywood Fat Cats and young boys flown in from Southeast Asia. Depending on his mood, there were times when he asked for the company of a young, Midwestern girl to engage in a menage a troi with a six foot tall Haitian. Sometimes, all three would tangle. Other times, he’d let her watch. His palate for the carnal was legendary. Being born of privilege has its perks. He took what he desired. He always did. And since tonight was a Tuesday, he wanted Geraldine. Out of the entire stable of 12th St. ladies, he took a shine to Geraldine. She was his favorite.
Geraldine was not born of privilege. She was a mistake. By the time she reached eighteen, her chances at a better life shrank like the burning end of a cigarette hanging from the lips of a dying woman. It was no surprise that she would end up on the street. It was also no surprise that she would live a life of ill repute, given the lack of options. And it was no secret that she was his Tuesday Night Fling.
Edgar, as twisted as he is, has always been a respected member of the community. Geraldine knew that to speak of his double life would be the end of her life as well as his. His secrets were his under penalty of death. Although he paid well, and was great in the sack, he will never have her heart. All her secrets were hers to keep.
Again, she snaps back into consciousness. She has no idea how much blood she’s lost, but she’s fairly certain that she is not long for this wretched world. She can barely keep her eyes open, let alone be bothered to flick the cigarette sized ash from her lips that has since burned down to the filter. She must save her strength, just enough to stand up to her captor, point the gun, and pull the trigger.
Any minute now, Edgar and his meat-headed right hand man, Francis, will discover the failed hitman bleeding and broken at the base of his elegant marble staircase. Any second now, chaos will ensue when they have to use Plan B.
As the footsteps get closer, Geraldine stiffens herself, and spits the filter of her spent Winston into the nearby toilet. Whatever happens, she’s ready.
First comes the courtesy knock, as if there were proper etiquette to murder. Then comes the jiggling knob. Before they came busting in, guns blazing, Geraldine found the strength to fill her lungs. “Occupied,” was her battle cry, followed by a one finger salute.
“The boss wants to have a word with you, street rat,” growled Francis from behind the door.
“Francis?” Geraldine asked propping herself up. “Is that you? I almost didn’t recognize you. When did you start speaking in complete sentences?” It was her half-mocking tone that would always send him into a rage. He was never the brightest, and Geraldine often took great delight in exploiting that fact. She knows she should mind her tongue, but she was so tired of this life. The sooner it ended, the better.
“There you go again,” Francis said. “Runnin’ off at that pretty little mouth again when it could be used for somethin’ better.”
“Like I said before, you walking hamhock,” Geraldine said, adrenaline pumping. “When you find that little thing between your legs, let your mama know so she can wash it for you.”
The bathroom door buckled from the force of a giant’s shoulder being driven into it. “That does it, you little slag! When I get a hold of you, I’m gonna rip your tits off and shove ‘em…”
“That’s enough, Francis,” Edgar said over his shoulder, his voice was calm and soothing. “Thank you for finding her, now be a good boy, and get Dr. Werner here on the double please. I’m sure she’s been through enough today.” It wasn’t unusual for Edgar to be the steadiest one in the room in stressful situations. Geraldine knew better. It was the calm before the storm. “Geraldine, my love,” Edgar said. “Why don’t you come out of there so we can talk.”
“That’s cheap even from you, Eddie,” Geraldine’s said. “Did your goon that shot me wanna talk too?”
“I see you used the Derringer I gave you for Christmas. Didn’t I tell you that it would come in handy, my dear?” Edgar’s voice was a slick, greasy grin. His fingers busy themselves with the lock.
“You’re always so thoughtful, Eddy.” Geraldine found her feet, and stood tall in the tub. “I take it you heard from my lawyer?”
“Indeed I did, my dear. I know the man, and I’m surprised that you could afford his services, but then again, I should have given you a smaller allowance years ago. Live and learn, as my mother used to say.” Edgar’s voice was steady as the lock yielded to his advances.
“Oh, I couldn’t afford him. You’re right about that, you’re right about a lot of things. But you’re an idiot to think that I didn’t have a life before you walked into it, Edgar. He was a good customer of mine. He owed me a favor, and he’s not the only one.”
“That’s right. The agreement.”
“It’s what we agreed, Edgar.”
“Yes, yes. Not to ask about passed lives, live in the present, it’s all so neatly packaged. And while it could be argued that you stuck to your end of the deal,” the door slowly creaked open. “your definition of present time is slightly different than mine at the moment.”
“Come on. Get it over with, you pompous ass,” Geraldine thought. “Enough of the bullshit, Eddy. Just let it out.” Behind her back, the Christmas Derringer is gripped a little tighter.
“When were you going to tell me, Geraldine?”
“About what? That I had enough of being your plaything?”
“You stole from me, Geraldine.”
“I’m not a bank, Eddy. You gave me that money, did you honestly think I’d give it back to you.”
“I didn’t think you’d funnel it to somewhere else. Where is she, Geraldine?”
Terror and resolve changed her expression,“Go to hell, Edgar.”
“Where is the child that is taking half my empire?”
Geraldine leveled the barrel her Derringer, right between his eyes, stopping his approach. “She is safe,” she said. ” Just out of your reach, where she should be.” And with that, she raised the pistol, stuck the barrel in her mouth, and pulled the trigger.
Dr. Werner declared her death a suicide. The cops started their process of getting their stories straight and clearing him of any wrong-doing. The press did their Dog and Pony show for legitimacy sake. Edgar was secure in the knowledge that this will all become a memory in a couple of days. No one is going to miss a dead hooker.
What he never saw coming was another one of her favors being cashed in. Perhaps it was an oversight, perhaps he wasn’t vetted properly, but the crime photographer on the scene, was her Wednesday night.
The following morning, when he received the paper with his breakfast, he nearly choked on his coffee when the front page of his own paper had the crime scene splattered all over it. The message that she scrawled out in blood, was barely legible and made worse by flash photography. That was hardly an issue, as the photographer took notes. He knew her handwriting, and in turn deciphered her epitaph for the entire world to see…
© 2016 AA Payson