I’m working on a collection called ANIMALS AND ODDITIES, including most of the stories from LONNIE, ME AND THE HOUND OF HELL and TURTLE FEATHERS and more besides. The title story from LMatHoH won’t be in it, nor will “Mr. Sugar vs. the Martians,” because I’m also working on collections of stories about each of them.
All the stories in ANIMALS AND ODDITIES will have (duh) animals of some kind. The story might be a romance, or science fiction, or fantasy, or mystery.
This one, “Crumb,” is a cozy noir. See, I read the guidelines for a magazine that specialized in dark, gritty stories, and they specifically said they didn’t want anything with tea, tea shops, or cats. So naturally….
The first-person narrator is the mother of a woman who married — and left — a very bad man.
Tea Cozy Noir
excerpt from “Crumb”
by Marian Allen
The first thing I saw, even before I saw Snuffy, even before I saw the body, was the blood. Then I saw the corpse. Some guy I didn’t even know was spread-eagled on the floor by the counter, his white down windbreaker already a soggy scarlet, a hole twisted to one side but probably originally centered on his heart.
Then I saw Snuffy, doubled over with his prescription inhaler stuffed into his mouth, squirting and sucking it in and holding his breath like it was the best damn joint he’d ever toked. The hand that wasn’t holding the inhaler gripped an eight-inch blade, and that hand was covered in blood.
“Yo!” he gasped. “You got a freakin’ cat in here?”
I only meant to call, but I ended up shouting: “Suzanne?”
“Get out, Ma,” I heard her voice, real weak, from the other side of the counter. “Snake told him to kill us both.”
“Nobody move,” Snuffy said, as I started toward my daughter. “I’m closer to her than you are. Stay put, if you want to buy her a little time.”
“Who’s the dead guy?” Jake wanted to know. Cops.
“Customer,” Suzanne’s thin voice said. “Wrong place, wrong time.”
Snuffy rasped a laugh. “Thought he was a hero.” He ripped out a row of hacking coughs, but he kept his head up and his eyes on Jake and me.
The wind screamed, and rain rattled on the windows and walls louder than the thunder.
“How bad he get you, honey?” I asked Suzanne, needing to hear her voice.
“Bad enough,” she said. “Woulda finished me, if you had’n’a come in.”
Snuffy laughed again, then had another coughing fit.
“Shit!” he said, putting his inhaler into a pocket of his trench coat. “No shit, you got a fuckin’ cat?”
“It come in out of the alley,” I said. “What kind of goddamn tea shop would this be, without a goddamn cat, you freakin’ moron?”
Right on cue, here came Baby Face, twenty pounds of lard and long red-brown hair, sashaying out of the store-room.
I thought Snuffy was too racked up to move very fast, but he showed me different. While I still had my eye on the cat, he flashed out an arm and grabbed Jake, pulling him off balance. Jake crashed into a table and bounced off into a chair, both hands to one cheek, blood oozing between his fingers.
“Shit!” Snuffy said again. “Missed! Lock the door and close the curtains and come over here where I can reach both of you, or I cut him again. And put that cat out.”
“It’s a storm out there!”
He raked his knife across the top of Jake’s head, and hair and blood mixed together on my man’s shoulders.
I picked Baby Face up by the scruff of his neck and tossed him into the rain.
They didn’t buy it! Can you imagine? I hope you didn’t like Snuffy, because he isn’t a lucky man.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write about someone with an allergy.