A couple of days ago, Motor City writer--Patti Abbott--threw out a 1000 word flash fiction challenge. The challenge included a black and white photograph of a man in his early to mid-thirties with wavy hair and thick features...supposedly a dead actor. Who? I'm bad at naming old screen legends, so I have no idea. Anyway, there were a couple of caveats to Patti's challenge. First, submitted stories had to feature the dude in the photograph and second, the story had to be entitled-- "Frank, Jr." Well, Patti knows me, and she also probably knows I can be a bit stubborn. All things being equal, I'd rather call my piece DUCKTOWN.
Yeah, I'm way ahead of the deadline (end of September), but I wanted to participate. I really should be working on my novel revisions, I mean, not that I'm not plugging away...I am--daily--but it's hard to resist the tempting flash fiction lure when you want to clear your head.
Patti, I hope you don't mind, but here's mine. Thanks. Onward.
DUCKTOWN (Frank, Jr.)
A Charlie Byrne Short
On a wicked, bitter Thursday afternoon last February, I sat with Ciro Perotti in Formica Brother’s Bakery in Ducktown, the old Italian American section of Atlantic City. Mr. Perotti in black Florsheims, black suit, and matching wool topcoat, and me dressed in my Garmont hiking boots, a olive turtleneck, and jeans. Nearly bald, Mr. Perotti had a gaunt resemblance to the late actor Jerry Orbach on television's Law & Order and sipped from a paper cup of creamed tea. I drank bottled water. We were there to talk about his niece.
“If I were younger man," Perotti said, "I'd handle something like this myself. But no, I'm too goddamn old and can’t spare the time. My sons? Well, sure, they’re good morticians and good at running the home, but they don’t grasp the importance of this sort of thing. Not to mention they couldn’t find their asses if you drew them a map and gave them a compass. Anyway, this is a matter of honor for me. I’m doing this out of respect for my niece.”
I shifted in my seat. “Mr. Perotti....”
“You can call me Ciro if you want.”
“All right. From what you've told me, Ciro, my bet is sooner or later this Frank Farkas--"
"Frank Farkas, Junior."
"Right, this Frank Farkas, Junior—he’ll eventually throw up some kind of a flag.”
“Explain what you mean by flag.”
“Well, it’s like this. We’ve established he’s left the state, correct? And you say he worked at the Borgata as a dealer for two and half years.”
“This is what my niece tells me so that’s what I know. Casinos, psshhh. It’s not the sort of work I’d ever approve of if you were interested in my daughter, but Brenda is my brother Paul’s youngest. He and his wife had her late in life. Paul is a good man, a moderately successful plumber, but he drinks way too much and his principles are all out of whack.”
“Which reminds me, does your brother know about us?”
“Our meeting. This. What you want me to do.”
“This is my concern, not his.”
“Yes, but he may not see it that way.”
“Brenda is my family too."
"Yes, she is, but—"
"Hell, I’ve loved that little girl to pieces ever since Paul and Bernice brought her home from the hospital in a blanket. Those eyes and that hair. She was an angel. I’ll do whatever the hell I want with my money.”
“But locating Frank Farkas, you have to admit, it does affect—”
“Do you always shillyshally like this, Mr. Byrne?”
“Just tell me more about this flag.”
“Well, Frank’s casino employment here in New Jersey is a great angle on a trace. He’ll need references if he wants another job with any gaming operation anywhere in the country. While I don’t know the so-called personnel hotshots over at the Borgata, I do know a guy who can help me out in that regard, so I plan on shaking that tree as soon as possible.”
“Who's this supposed guy you know?”
“That’s my business. I’m sorry to be so blunt and evasive, but you don’t give away your funeral services for free, do you?”
“Of course not.”
“It’s sort of the same with what I do.”
Mr. Perotti grunted. He gulped down a final slug of his creamy, warm tea and rose. “Look. You work on this for a few days and then get back to me next week, all right? This Hungarian animal, he should die for what he did to Brenda and my family.”
“So, we're clear? You're on the hunt? From this second, you're in?”
“Good. Great. Thank you. And, please. It’s Ciro, remember?”
Pale lips pulsing the smallest of smiles. “Oh,yeah... and one other thing. All of this? What you’re doing for me? It’s not like I’m going to do anything to Farkas if and when you do find him. No, it's just that I want that lying piece of dogshit to realize there are consequences in life. Hey. Do you have a family?"
I zipped up. “Pardon?”
“I said, do you have a family?”
“What do you mean, no? No one?”
I sighed and pumped my right shoulder, once. “Well, my parents died when I was young," I said. "After they were gone I lived with grandmother for a while, but then she passed too. I’ve pretty much been on my own since I was twenty-three or so. I suppose there’s some distant relatives up around New York and such, but it’s been at least a couple of decades since I’ve heard from any of them.”
“That’s unfortunate. I'm so sorry to hear you say that.”
“Thanks. I kind of miss my grandmother sometimes.”
Mr. Perotti looked solemnly down as he buttoned his topcoat--as only an undertaker could. When he finished pulling on his leather gloves, he looked up and gestured out the window with a bob of his chin.
“Guess the snow finally started.”
I glanced out the window. Great lashes of white flakes twirled down Artic Avenue.
“DJ on the radio said six inches,” I said, turning back.
“Really? I thought it was only supposed to be two to four, tops.”
“Moisture up from the south. Forecast keeps changing.”
“Like this place," he said, looking around." No, not the bakery--Atlantic City. What a hell hole. Y'know, our funeral business may still be located within the city limits, but none of our family live in A.C. proper anymore. Hell, now most of us are down in Longport. Had the good sense to pull out of here's in seventy-five and never looked back."
"Well, I think they're trying."
"Oh, sure. They’re always trying. Tell that to the taxman and the cops. Boardwalk Empire, my ass.”
“Anyway, it looks a heck of a lot better in the snow.”
“Most places do.”
“And in the dark,” I added after a thought. "Everything looks better in the dark."