ALL THE NEWS THAT FITS
For the first time, putting up my short stories for everyone.
By G.L. Rix
Galveston, Texas has its own mob history, of course. Where the seawall starts to rise more prominently from the street it protects, a long narrow wooden dock leads out over the muddy water to the elegant old Balinese Room, serving as all the visual proof of a mob connection anyone needs. Mob bosses and their glamorous blonde girlfriends partied there regularly. Back in the day. From under the dock comes the strong, fishy aroma of the sea. And if the breeze is just right, the sharp stench from the oil platforms. Making some people sneeze. Especially Northerners. Especially Northerners from Brooklyn.
At one time there were gambling palaces out beyond the one-mile limit. Not for generations now. But even without the temptation of gambling, who wouldn’t want to weekend down here? Balmy nights leading gently into romance, oleanders shedding their poisonous white, red and purple petals while perfuming the historic neighborhoods. The Bishop’s Palace, a survivor of the 1900 storm. A comfortable room at the overpriced historic Galvez Hotel. A ride across the Gulf on the ferry.
Dolphin sighting boats, too.
Of course, there had been mob soldiers in Galveston. And even a mob boss or two. Even recently. In 1991, Gwyneth Marlow had the honor of hosting one of them as a guest in her rental house.
If it hadn’t been for the Gulf War, the one where Iraq unlawfully invaded Kuwait, Gwyneth wouldn’t have known Luigi Franco from a hole in the ground. He’d have continued paying his rent on time, and kept on greeting her with dignity when she left her apartment for her exercise class in the morning and with a smile when she returned all sweaty, stinky, and windblown late in the afternoon when it was damned hot.
She later figured out he’d probably murdered ten people in the time she rented to him.
In the eighties, Friday night belonged to Miami Vice. Gwyneth was just old enough to have been smitten by Don Johnson, or more accurately, the character he played, Sonny Crockett. And oh, those pastel colors, not to mention all that great eighties rock and roll music. Gwyneth eventually realized she was an obsessive personality and chose to embrace it. By 1991 she was smitten by vampire movies, but it was the remake of Dark Shadows, particularly since it was shown on Friday nights, that abruptly filled the void she’d felt since Miami Vice ran its course and vanished. Barnabas Collins was rad! Smoldering, doomed, and deliciously dangerous, Gwyneth virtually glued herself to the television set Friday nights.
How Luigi Franco spent his Friday nights held no meaning for her.
It was the fourth episode of Dark Shadows.
Gwyneth was settled comfortably in her leather recliner with her feet up and her legs covered by a silk-feeling rayon comforter that lived up to its name. Her living room was also her dining room. No walls separating one room from the other except for the bathroom. The walls a soft yellow color. She had a leather couch that matched her leather recliner, a retro chrome and leatherette dinette set to take the place belonging to the larger dining room table she didn’t have. Odds and ends thrown on the single bed shoved in the corner.
Although there was the kitchen table to clear and dishes to wash, Gwyneth sat riveted to the tv. The kitchen sink was filled with soapy water just waiting for the dishes, but Gwyneth was too busy to bother.
Knowing that a commercial break was coming up, she’d taken her hungry eyes off Barnabas Collins for the first time and was wiggling her way out of the chair when something horrible happened.
The show was interrupted by a national news report. The Gulf War had just started.
Gwyneth looked in anguish towards the kitchen where the refrigerator held frosty cold soft drinks in bottles (she hated the aluminum cans) and other snacks. No way would she make it to the kitchen and back before Dark Shadows resumed, so she stayed where she was. That there were dirty dishes to wash completely slipped her mind, but the pine smell of the soap suds drifted out to the television area. She wrinkled her nose and ignored it.
Both the soap aroma and the television interruption irritated her. Gwyneth absently dragged her hair away from her face. She frowned. She frowned even more when her show didn’t come back on. Dark Shadows was now on hiatus, it said. News reports about the Gulf War took over the airwaves for the rest of the night.
Gwyneth stomped out of her apartment in a huff, knowing she was acting irrationally and not caring at the moment. The hair she’d brushed out of her face fell back into her eyes. At her tiny, cramped balcony she remembered to slow down and watch where she placed her feet. A loosely-coiled green garden hose had a habit of falling from its post on the peg on the brick wall and snaking across the deck to trip her.
Sure enough, there it lay. Gwyneth bent to collect it, recoiling at its slimy texture (from leaving it out wet all the time) and it was then she got a glimpse of a dark-clothed Luigi Franco scuttling out his front door with a backpack hugged closely to his muscular torso.
She wanted to get back to Dark Shadows, but seeing Luigi this was scared her. She’d never seen him out after dark. Who the hell went out for a walk after dark?
Gwyneth snorted and struck herself on the forehead with her palm, trying to make light about a situation that was starting to get out of hand. Vampires went out after dark, duh!
Luigi Franco abruptly stopped, shot a sharp glance straight at her as if he’d known she was there all along, and smoothly transferred the backpack to his back, snapping the straps with calm efficiency. His very posture radiated menace. She was right to fear him. Gwyneth recoiled.
Luigi Franco didn’t seem the sort of man who’d have backpacking expertise. He looked like an extra from a Mafia movie.
Gwyneth felt a chill race down her spine. For a brief moment their eyes met. Because of the security lights near the garage, she saw him clearly and hoped to high heaven he didn’t have such a clean view of her. But he must have. They stared at one another.
All Gwyneth could think was that Barnabas Collins had more of a soul in his eyes than did Luigi Franco. And Barnabas Collins was a vampire. What or who was Luigi Franco?
She suddenly became very afraid of him. Her heart beat so rapidly she had to breath deeply to slow it down. If she fainted out here, she had no idea what would happen to her. Gwyneth felt she’d just been subtly warned to go back into her apartment and mind her own business.
Vainly she fought her inherent impulse to exert dominance over this man who rented from her, and failed. “Mr. Franco,” she called down in a pitifully girlish voice, as if she were asking a strict professor to look at her grades once more. Her voice began to quaver as she finished his name.. She tried swallowing her fear, but it didn’t work. Gwyneth knew that Luigi knew she was terrified of him.
He smiled like a shark before saying, “Get inside, woman.”
But when she recoiled from the rail at his tone, he altered his demeanor, as if he were trying to be a different person. “I’m going to the grocery store. Can I get you anything?” he asked. He peered innocently up at her.
Gwyneth rightly suspected anything he’d bring her back from the grocery store might be laced with strychnine. But where in the world had that thought come from? The man had done nothing except glare at her, and then reconsider and offer her a favor. She’d probably interrupted a late-night tryst, nothing more.
“No thanks, Mr. Franco,” she said in the same quavering voice that proved how scared she was of him. She could only hope her words would throw him off track. “My program is about to come back on,” she lied. Gwyneth didn’t think she’d live to see another episode of Dark Shadows. “I don’t need anything. Had just stepped out for a bit of fresh air. Have a good day.”
Not feeling secure turning her back to Franco and the return of his intense stare, Gwyneth slid herself sideways to the safety of the handrail and then proceeded backwards to her doorway. The railing scraped the skin off her knuckles, but she didn’t care. Once her hand gained the doorknob, she whipped about and regained the safety of her familiar hall.
Gulf War coverage was still on her television set, so she picked out a romance novel from the bookcase in her still trembling hands and silently hunkered down to read. By the next morning, Gwyneth Marlow distrusted every sinister impression she’d gathered during the night, except about the loss of her tv show. She ignored the evidence of her bloodied knuckles.
The Gulf War dominated the tv news the next morning, but scrolling across the bottom of the screen was a snippet of news that interested Gwyneth more. She laughed at first, it was so odd. Two suspected mob bosses had been found dead, and they both had frozen canaries stuffed down their throats.
Frozen canaries. Gwyneth understood the implications right away. Don’t talk.
Gwyneth felt beyond shamed of herself that she immediately tied Luigi Franco to the crime simply by the ethnicity of his name, and the weirdness of the previous night. What had been in his backpack? Frozen canaries?
Gwyneth tried to fool herself that Luigi’s sinister behavior last night didn’t play into her paranoia. She failed. Her hands shook. She didn’t want to leave her apartment. She was sorry she’d ever rented to the guy, and hadn’t the slimmest idea how to get rid of him.
But it was beyond impossible that Luigi Franco was truly a mob hitman. She tried to put her suspicions behind her.
For the next five weeks, Friday night television was interrupted by constant Gulf War updates. Dark Shadows didn’t come back on. And Gwyneth Marlow had nothing to do with her time.
Her Friday night time.
Gwyneth’s days were spent doing other stuff: taking in the sights normally reserved for the tourists who were suddenly not visiting anymore. Duck Boat tours of the island (she got seasick on its brief foray into the inlet bay), swimming in the Galvez Hotel pool (under false pretenses since she wasn’t a guest), and drinking her way through lunch at several of the more famous restaurants (that were always too crowded for her to normally patronize).
The murders were keeping tourists away from Galveston. On the night that Dark Shadows died, two mob bosses were silenced for good, canary in the mouth and everything. Visitors to the island dropped by ten percent.
The next Friday added another death to the list (no canary, but still another ten percent drop in visitors). Then two weeks later, as if he was making up for lost time, the hitman took out three mob-connected businessmen. (Canaries for all three of them.) Visitor numbers dropped fifty percent.
The stark unease Gwyneth had felt about Luigi Falco and their face-off with each other never dissipated. On Friday nights Gwyneth stayed in her living room, afraid she’d meet Luigi if she did anything else. The television was turned to Gulf War news, but her ears stayed alert to any sound coming from the rental house just across the tiny lawn.
If Luigi Falco left his place, Gwyneth never knew it. Her imagination ran riot day and night, but with nothing but an Italian name and a glare one evening when she’d interrupted him going out with a backpack, there was nothing to suspect. But suspect him she did.
Where the hell did anyone get so many frozen canaries?
Gwyneth decided to start with the canaries. The police would think she was crazy, so she didn’t bother them with her suspicions. There were two pet stores in Galveston, so she started with them.
The phone calls she made were answered by imbeciles who didn’t even understand that a canary was a tiny yellow bird. She was going to have to visit in person. She was inordinately pleased to be going. Investigating was how she saw it. She’d find out about canary orders and then inform the authorities. It would be Luigi Franco or it wouldn’t be.
In the back of her mind Gwyneth realized that checking into Luigi’s refrigerator while he was gone was the most logical place to start. She had the key, and she also had the right to check on her own property. Easy enough to see what he had in the freezer.
Easy enough if she wasn’t scared to death of the man.
What did she care if a mob hitman killed even more dangerous mob bosses? He was making Gwyneth’s own city safer to live in. Why turn him in?
It wasn’t the dead canaries, either. Gwyneth liked animals as well as anyone else, but she wasn’t going to get in a showdown with a mob enforcer just to save a dozen canaries or so. Or even two dozen. And even if she did suddenly decide to check Luigi’s freezer and find some canaries stacked inside like ice cubes, he might be saving them for supper. She’d never heard of anyone eating canaries, but maybe it was some sort of Italian tradition.
She drew a blank at both of the pet stores. There were canaries there, of course, but Gwyneth lost her nerve at the last moment and didn’t ask any of her questions. Being in the brightly-lit modern pet shops made all her recent fears feel silly. She was a silly woman working off a silly misunderstanding that could be easily solved with a bit of honest conversation. She resolved to go right home and make it happen.
The Gulf War ended that week. On Friday night Dark Shadows resumed its old spot. Gwyneth watched part of the returning episode as she excitedly waited for Luigi Franco to go out for the evening, but strangely enough, she missed the Gulf War footage. After a five-week hiatus, she wasn’t interested in Dark Shadows anymore, either Another important mob boss had been canaried Thursday afternoon. That’s what Gwyneth had taken to calling the murders—canaried.
Gwyneth Marlow wasn’t a stupid woman. She had made notes about her suspicions. She had told a trusted friend where to find the notes if anything happened to her. And she’d bought a gun.
Something about the canaries had bothered Gwyneth from the beginning. If Luigi Franco had just shot all his victims, she probably would never have suspected him of anything more than bad breath. It was the obscene act of shoving a dead bird in a human being’s mouth that repulsed her so.
Dark Shadows faded to black in the close confines of Gwyneth Marlow’s living/dining room. She rose from her chair in a rage.
“What the hell are you doing” she screamed at the television set. “Now she knows Barnabas is a vampire. There’s no way they can go from there!”
Gwyneth Marlow grew so incensed by the incompetent screenwriters of her favorite show that blood roared in her ears, her face grew dangerously florid, and she felt herself dangerously close to fainting.
The doorbell rang.
Gwyneth blinked rapidly. The sound of the mechanical doorbell reverberated through her small living space like a mini rock concert. No one ever rang the doorbell. She cringed. No one ever came to visit in the first place, but if they did, they’d use the door knocker. The humidity in Galveston played havoc with outside electronics. It was a fifty-fifty chance the doorbell would ring at the best of times.
This part of the year wasn’t the best of times. Gwyneth had a premonition she was just about to experience one of the worst of times. “Oh stop it,” she told herself.
The doorbell rang.
Gwyneth took a last look at her television set where the credits were scrolling down the screen. “Goodbye Barnabas,” she quietly called out. “Goodbye.” Neither Barnabas Collins or any of the other characters she spent her fragile emotions on answered her back. She had long ago stopped expecting them to.
The soft yellow hue of the paint on her dining room walls suddenly caught her complete attention. “I did a good job,” she told the wall, running her scraped knuckled over its pocked surface. “Goodbye walls,” she said.
Gwyneth briefly gave a thought to rushing out of the sliding glass doors to the tiny balcony she was proud to call her deck. But all that would accomplish was a bad fall after tripping over the hose. Not a pleasant death.
The doorbell rang again.
Hell, it might be the mailman with a package. Or a special delivery letter. Or it might be one of the neighborhood children playing pranks like they used to. She didn’t think so, but it made a brief hopeful surge of heat rush through her veins.
Time to meet the canaries.
Luigi Franco stood at her front door with the self-same backpack Gwyneth had first seen in his possession the night Dark Shadows was knocked off the air to make way for the Gulf War newscast.
“I understand you’d like to see my canaries,” Luigi told her, coming through the door she’d opened for him.
One last thread of hope raced through Gwyneth’s muddled mind as Luigi Franco made himself at home. She hadn’t actually asked him inside. Vampires couldn’t come inside your home if you hadn’t specifically given them permission to enter. And she hadn’t.
Luigi Franco looked kindly standing in the hallway where he was going to have to vamoose as soon as she told him. He looked a little less mob and a little more plain Italian.
Gwyneth approached him without fear. All he was going to do was show her his canaries.
They were indeed frozen.
Copyright 2019 Gretchen Rix
Copyright 2020 Gretchen Rix
Changing stories/work in progress
Check BROWN. See if you think you’d like it. https://amzn.com/B07PLV725T https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/books/1130894387?ean=2940161508909 http://smashwords.com/books/view/928313