My electronic d20 came up 7, 5, and 4 (hardboiled abduction with a plane/spaceship crash). Coming in at 900 words even (including title), say hello to my little tale!
It’s Not the Fall…
There are so many kinds of screaming.
Take the end of the Jimmy Robinson case. The first bullet screamed out of Billie Kaiser’s gun and turned Hank the pilot’s head into a red puddle on the dash. That’s when little Jimmy Robinson started shrieking as only an eight-year-old can. The second bullet missed me, too, and the hole it made in the cockpit sounded like a January night outside a too-thin windowpane. Billie screamed in frustration, then fired her third bullet. It went wide and hit the controls. The engines gave a dying dragon’s howl as the nose drifted towards the distant earth. It was a small plane, just the cockpit and six seats. The parachutes were all by the cockpit, which put me between them and Billie. She pointed at them with her gun, then back at me.
“Toss one over, Beyer!”
“Give me the kid first!”
“I don’t think so!” She pointed the gun at Jimmy’s head and he shut up. The plane was tilting slowly, taking its time to cry through one last landing.
“It’s OK, Jimmy.” I braced myself on the seats nearest me and tried to shout as reassuringly as I could. “Your mommy sent me. I’m going to get you home.” God, his eyes were big and dark. You almost expected to see tiny constellations.
Billie Kaiser had nothing on her old man. He’d have known threatening the boy was a losing game. Better to keep shooting at me, take a parachute from next to my corpse. Bargaining wasted an increasingly precious commodity. She was too young and too stupid for this, more suited to henching than mastermind work. Then again, it wasn’t like she shot that well either. Just a waste of a proud mob legacy, really. I concentrated on the kid.
“Jimmy, you remember the story of Jack and the Beanstalk?” God bless the paranoid rich and their codephrases. The kid swallowed hard, nodded.
“The hell are you doing?” yelled Billie, jiggling the gun. “I’m serious here!” If you have to say it….
The plane rattled as it fell, then jolted like a rabbit getting its neck snapped by a pit bull. Jimmy dove his tiny, sharp elbow into Billie’s stomach. Her gun arm flailed and shot again, the bullet drilling a meaningless hole in the bulkhead.
With a death grip on the seats, I could lift both legs up, planting them right on Billie’s chest as she stumbled. She oofed to the pitching floor, and I stomped down hard on her face.
“Come on, Jimmy!” He threw himself to my chest, and I let myself slide back to the parachutes. The rush of air stole my own scream all the way down.
Therese Robinson was too much an aristocrat to break down in my office, but I could tell she’d breach a dam once Jimmy was in the car. Assuming she could pry him off her leg, of course.
“Truly, thank you, Ms. Beyer. We owe you so much.”
“Not anymore, you don’t,” I said, tapping the very generous check on my desk. “You’ve been most kind.”
“What do we say, Jimmy?”
“Th-thank you, Ms. Beyer.”
“Call me Helena, kid. Just don’t run away from your nanny again, OK? I might be on vacation, and then who knows what’d happen.” He nodded with that wide-eyed solemnity only kids and puppy dogs can pull off.
“Well, thank you again,” said Mrs. Robinson.
“Anytime. Buh-bye now.” Best not to let the grateful clients linger too long. A little P.I. gruffness goes a long way to avoiding awkward silences. She sketched a half-bow sort of thing and headed out, little Jimmy in tow.
I hadn’t had my feet on my desk more than two minutes before a heavy knock startled me up.
“Ms. Beyer,” he said. Karl Wilhelm, bossman of the biggest ring in town, and Billie Kaiser’s dad. Client Number Two for this little gig.
“I was hoping you could tell me what happened to my daughter.”
“I can’t figure how she’d have made it, sir. She put a gun to the kid, conflict ensued. I didn’t see her get up before I jumped.”
“That’s not how things were supposed to go.”
“I made no guarantees.”
“I didn’t ask for any. Still, I’m disappointed.”
“It was a tough endgame.”
“Oh, I’m not disappointed you left her for dead. I’m disappointed you didn’t confirm it. You know as well as I do what it means not to see the body.”
“I don’t see how she could-”
“No one ever does. That’s why you confirm the kill.”
“Sir, there’s no way she-”
“You say that now, but wait. If in six months or a year some psychopath in bandages starts gunning for me and mine, I’m coming to you first to make you eat those words.”
“I’m serious about this, gumshoe.”
“I got it.”
“Now, taking account all of the preceding, how much do I owe you?”
We settled up and he showed himself out, leaving me alone with the silence and my thoughts.
Billie Kaiser hasn’t come back yet, but when it gets slow, I can’t help but wonder. If…something…does happen, the detective’s usually high in the billing when the shots and screams start. And you know it’ll come when things get slow. Ours is quiet work, until it’s suddenly not.