Friday Noir: The Easy Way Out

(c)JerseyStyle Photography_seatedman_102014_3810

My father was a self-made man. Old country bred, without formal education he did learn to read and write and began at an early age to devour the classics.

He came to this country from Prussia, well read but not world wise, along the way developing an aversion to physical labor.

He found that to be a detriment when he arrived in New Jersey in 1882 as an eighteen year old with a thick accent. The only work he could find was selling various tonics with dubious ingredients at county fairs across the Eastern Seaboard.

It was at one of these fairs, on the Jersey Shore, that he met my mother; a beautiful but shy girl newly arrived from Yugoslavia. She lost two children in childbirth before I was born five years after they wed. My mother never mastered English but my father did. He was a refined and gentle man who recited poetry and went to church on Sundays.

I never heard him raise his voice.

When I was a senior at Princeton, my father so proud of me, it dawned on me what it was that my father did. He was a con man and a swindler, his most recent scheme selling seaside lots near Asbury Park. The lots were actually swampland located half a mile from the beach.

I now understood the reason we had moved so hastily many times over the years were due to threats on his life.

Arriving home for a visit one drizzly spring Friday evening, I found my mother crying in the parlor. My father, whom I had never seen have more than one whiskey, or perhaps a glass of wine if we were dining out, sat at the kitchen table with a glass and a bottle. He was drunk. At his feet was a crumpled piece of paper.

“Look after your mother always,” was all he said.

He then walked somewhat unsteadily to the bedroom. A few minutes later, there was a shot.
For some reason, I was not surprised.

On the bed next to him was a medium-sized wooden box. It contained nearly two million dollars. The paper on the floor was from an attorney explaining nothing could be done about the fraud charges being brought against my father. And that he would spend the rest of his life in prison.

He chose the easy way out.

The Easy Way Out – Bill Baber, 2014
______________________________________________________________________________________________________

While at the hospital last week, waiting for on the latest round of tests on my Dad, I went outside to get some air. Some non antiseptic smelling air. Maybe some truck exhaust would do me good. I found myself wondering around the wet grounds of Wilkes-Barre’s Hollenback Cemetery, directly across the street from the hospital. Instead of truck exhaust, I was listing to the wind blow through the trees on a warmish day, smelling wet leaves and loam on the graveyard floor.

I was amazed at some of the headstones and mausoleums in the old cemetery, some dating back to the 1800s. Granted, I don’t whistle through the graveyard too much, so maybe this was de rigueur. Maybe not now, but certainly at one time.

I came across “seated man,” above. It’s stone was old and worn, I couldn’t find a name or date. And I still can’t find anything about who this was, or what’s to be on the stone paper at his feet.

So…to tell this story, I opened it up to the pros. Put it up on my Facebook page as a story prompt for many of my writer friends. Asked them to submit a piece of flash fiction for this Friday Noir.

The above story by Tuscon, Arizona-based Bill Baber was my selection.

It’s interesting. Because I shot the photo in Wilkes-Barre, I didn’t expect a story set in Asbury Park. Not necessarily WB, but not AP. I guess I thought the writers would have set it in Eastern Europe or some imagined land.

I liked the twist Bill put on the story, and it’s very much noir. It hits on the elements that I think make up good noir: Desperate people (mostly men) making catastrophic choices with dire consequences.

Here’s some more background on Bill: His crime fiction has appeared at The Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey(where I first read his work), Near to the Knuckle, Dead Guns Press, Thrills, Kills n’ Chaos, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before the Dawn and The Big Adios. His poetry has been featured in Slow Trains and The High Desert Journal and at Dead Snakes. A collection of his poetry Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press at Lewis & Clark College in 2011.

Two other grandly talented authors submitted stories as well. Paul J. Garth (who’s in the Trouble In The Heartland compilation with me) and my Troubleshooter buddy,Bard Constantine.

Both of their stories were fantastic, and frankly, it was a tough choice.

Read: Reunion by Paul J. Garth (PDF)

Read: The Gracious Death, by Bard Constantine (PDF)

Thanks to all three gents for taking time out of their regular schedules to reach into their minds and draw out a new story.

I hope my “story prompt’ exercise worked. Happy Halloween, everyone!

© Mark V. Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography | All Rights Reserved 2014

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