Caged

Brian Morse is the author of Migration (Pski’s Porch, 2016). His work has appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine and has fiction forthcoming at Akashic Books.


Mona writhed to Charlie Parker’s Ornithology as it pumped through the small neighborhood jazz club, The Python Lounge. She struggled to keep cool, having just intercepted the departure date of two local rounders, who she had been clocking for the past couple of weeks. They were combining their bankrolls and heading west in one week. The money, she thought, was easily hers, though now she needed to recruit Darryl to do the heavy lifting. A potential two-on-one shootout made her uneasy. Mona gulped down the rest of her neat whiskey. Darryl was going to have a helluva time turning her away tonight.

She sauntered across Clarissa Street awash in a green glow that showered down from the python sign. Mona entered Darryl’s second story apartment, ready to offer herself up for the following week, fully, willing to hold him hostage with everything she had.

◊◊◊

“Darryl, it’s eighty-five hundred dollars. Do you know what we can do with that kind of money?”

“Yea, get arrested. Or killed.” He lit a cigarette; the smoke chopped up and spit out by the ceiling fan that whirred in the humid, late July night. He continued, “You’re in over your head with the loan shark aren’t you?”

Of course she was. Recently he promised to show her the deep end of Lake Ontario, if she didn’t reconcile her debt soon. She needed this score.
She ignored the question, “You know I don’t like guns, and besides, I need your muscles and experience.” She sidled up to him where he sat on the corner of his bed, and massaged his bare shoulders.

“I know their moves. They’ll be hauling the money in a blue bowling ball bag. That .38 special of yours should do the trick, don’t you think?”
Darryl took a drag off his cigarette and didn’t respond. She raked her fingers through his blonde hair.

“I need a drink, darling, let me make you one.”

Mona called over her left shoulder as she stirred their highballs. “Romeo bought a round with a hundred-dollar bill tonight.”

She lowered her voice as she handed Darryl the sweaty glass, “Who knows, maybe their bankroll has grown from two weeks ago. Could be ten grand by now.”
Darryl chortled quietly, “Or two.”

She sensed Darryl’s icy position, even in the heat of the night. That was okay, she had a week. A week to poke and prod, to make it so incredibly difficult to turn both her, and the money down, that it would devastate him. He wouldn’t be able to walk away from the deal if he had any sense. It was all or nothing, she’d leave him. Mona slowed her thoughts before they spiraled aloud.

“Well, anyhow, I thought you’d like to know. Won’t you turn on the radio? I could use a pick-me-up.”

◊◊◊

Mona cracked open two cans of Genesee beer at 10:30 am Saturday morning. On the second beer, she emptied the plastic blue ashtray crammed with cigarette butts, and inquired gingerly, “Do you remember what we talked about last night?”

“Yea, I don’t know, Mona.”

She stroked his leg, “How many times do I have to tell you it’s a foolproof plan. We’ll be in South Carolina by the time they piece it together. Untraceable.” A slight desperation had crept into her voice. “Tonight is the night.”

“For the last time, it’ll be me on the hook for this.”

“There is no hook. I laid the perfect groundwork for us.”

“I know I agreed. I know.” He lit a cigarette, stared at the python sign across the street and noted how unremarkable it looked while turned off. “You’re not going to let this go are you?”

“Baby, look at me. This is life-changing money.”

Darryl agreed, “It is.”

She heard a cracked resolve in his mumble, a fissure to dig her painted red fingernails into, to shred him to pieces. She needed to turn it on fast and pull him in for good—to attack now; he was wounded. She dropped her robe and climbed atop him.

After a few more beers, she cooked eggs and toast for them to straighten out for the long night. He parted his blonde hair to the side with a black comb, and looked at her through the bathroom mirror. “We can cool off at your Uncle’s place for a while? He knows we’re coming?”

Mona clawed out of a crevasse, deep within him, clutching his limp soul in her manicured hands, an orgasmic glow swirled about her.

“It’s all taken care of.”

Mona prepped him again. “Listen, you just need to be at the back door of the lounge when Sonny’s shift is over. They’ll be halfway to Vegas before they know what hit ‘em.”

◊◊◊

The neon snake zapped off, drunks spilled into the night, and voices carried through the neighborhood. Darryl crept around back, out of the streetlight, and nervously waited for Sonny and Romeo to come out. It felt like an eternity when only ten minutes had passed. He wrestled with his doubts about the stick-up, and his suspicion about Mona’s intentions after the score—his thoughts were enough to drive him mad.

A wave of anxiety crested inside of his body when he heard the door jangle open. Darryl shakily raised the pistol. He had never fired a gun, despite selling himself as a seasoned stick-up man to Mona. He aimed squarely at whomever came out first, but panic set in when a young white girl appeared. All of his senses collapsed in on him; it felt like a snake constricted tightly around his throat. The girl gasped, and Romeo pushed her aside. Before Darryl could process the unexpected variable, Romeo shot him dead.

“That’s Darryl from across the way! What the fuck?”

Romeo, shaken, but not interested enough to stop and fully address the dead body, added, “How’d he know about us?” He hopped into the white 1957 Chevy Bel Air with the bowling ball bag, and snapped, “C’mon, we gotta go.”

◊◊◊

Dreamily, from a radio in the bedroom, a trumpet ripped through the upper register, cymbals crashed, and the broadcast ended. Mona heard the gunshots, poured herself a celebratory drink, and smoked a little grass. She turned the radio off.

An hour passed; Robins sounded off as sunrise approached. A sickly pre-dawn glow cast a net over the kitchen. Mona’s eyes blazed red. Darryl should have been back by now. She gritted her teeth, “How could he fuck this up?” She opened an empty cupboard looking for nothing in particular, “I should have done it myself, that dumb fuck.” Her anger bloomed into anxiety; a caged panther pacing, panting, now overheated. Darryl didn’t have a back door; she wanted out of this box.

The sun blazed, the neighborhood gathered. Sirens inched closer. She turned on the radio to muffle the commotion outside and lay down on the bed. Caravan by Art Blakey played. Her eyes closed, heavy, like a pair of ten-pound bowling balls. Mona was trapped and miles away from the money she intended to rip from Darryl, hurtling forward, unable to temper the terrible black void that lay before her. The sirens had arrived.

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