by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Four hours later, Nick sat in his office and tried to focus on the words swimming in front of him. To strengthen his resolve, he downed another shot of bourbon. His eyes watered.
“Harper says this stuff writes itself, and I wish to hell it would,” he said aloud as he reread what he’d written. Someone had struck through the last few sentences of his story and added new text. Now the FBI agent was in on it with McGurk and Dixie.
“Here’s some bracelets for you, darlin’. Cuff your right hand and put your arms behind you.”
“You dirty gumshoe!” she hissed. He snapped the cuffs tight to her left wrist.
“Bill, you son of a gun! I was afraid we’d left you behind!” laughed McGurk.
“Truth be told,” said Armstrong, sliding his .45 back into its holster, “I fell asleep back here. How about I pull the car around in back, you get the beer, and you, you gorgeous kid, gimme a little kiss, will ya, hon?”
Dixie planted one on Armstrong’s cheek. “We did it again, didn’t we, Billy?”
“The Three Tricksters — one for all and all for one!” they sang out.
Sitting on a picnic bench behind the store, the contented bandits drank their Knickerbocker beers and watched as three cop cars flew past in cold pursuit.
“When do we drop off the money at the orphanage?” asked Dixie.
They sat in silence for a while.
Finally Bill spoke. “Aaand cut! So whaddya think, buoys and gulls? Do you like how I changed our narrative?”
“Love it!” Dixie exclaimed. “It’s a great twist having you in cahoots with Mac and me!”
Mac agreed. “I like Billy’s version a lot better. I wasn’t looking forward to ‘dying in a hail of bullets.’ I could just see my epitaph: Here lies Mac McGurk, killed by a cliché!”
That jerk Harper, Nick thought.
He tried to yank the paper out of the platen, but it wouldn’t budge. He hit the carriage return lever, and it didn’t work either. He tried typing. Nothing worked.
“I’ll finish it on Harper’s typewriter,” Nick said and gathered up some blank paper. As he exited his office, he heard the keys clatter, and the carriage return bell rang. He watched dumbfounded as the typewriter banged out one line after another. When the typing stopped, he read:
“Nick, we’ve hijacked your story, which is really our story when it comes right down to it,” said Bill, brushing back a stray lock of his glossy black hair.
“We don’t want you to feel as though you’ve failed or anything, Nicky. We like you, but it is time for a change, don’t you think?” Dixie purred, her glistening lips parted in a sexy pout.
Bill lit up a cork-tipped Herbert Tareyton cigarette. “We decided your story was getting stale, so we kicked around some ideas and came up with new backstories for us. By the way, I don’t smoke Lucky Strikes any more. They were killing my throat.”
“So here’s the skinny,” Mac said. “Us three met as kids at the St. Francis Orphanage run by kindly Father O’Brien. But when we turned thirteen, he had to send us to a state home. The goons there rented us out as child labor. The worst one was Craven. He tried to take advantage of Dixie one night.”
“It was awful,” she sobbed, her full, alabaster breasts heaving. “But I held him off—”
“Until we heard her screams, then Mac and I rushed to the rescue — just in the nick of time!” said Bill.
“We had a knock-down, drag-out with that jamoke,” said Mac, “and he locked us in the basement. But we busted out and swore we’d stick together—”
“And we called ourselves The Three Tricksters,” added Bill. “Then and there we dedicated our lives to helping orphans like us—”
“Which is why we rob the rich and give the money to orphanages and poor people,” said Dixie.
“So, Nick, do you love it?” said Bill as he flashed his pulse-quickening, crooked smile.
Nick tentatively pushed down a key. It moved. He began typing.
“You three can’t be serious.”
The typewriter typed back:
Dixie straightened the seams on her stockings and smoothed her hands over her shapely gams. “Yeah, hon, serious as a heart attack.”
“All right,” Nick typed, “assuming I haven’t gone through the looking glass, here’s what I think. The dopes who read True Crime want blazing guns, straight whiskey, crooked dice, tight scrapes, loose women, and gory deaths.
“The good guys win and the bad guys die, usually in a hail of bullets, as noted. If the story ain’t pulp, it’s rejected, I get fired, and you three are out of a job. So if you will please stop screwing around, I’ll finish the story and get home by three, if I’m lucky.” He inserted a fresh sheet of paper. The typewriter resumed typing.
“No can do, Nick,” Bill stated firmly, his piercing blue eyes searching the author’s face for any remaining traces of integrity.
“Now, hold on, I resent that,” Nick typed. “Do you three have any idea how lucky I am to even have a job? Have you heard there’s a Depression going on? Stock brokers selling apples on the street. Guys like me planting trees for the CCC. Farmers being thrown off their farms.”
“So why don’t you write about them?” Mac asserted boldly.
“Because our readers get stories like that in the newspaper every day, that’s why. Give me a break!”
The three desperados thought for a moment and answered in unison, “No.”
“We’re not gonna give you a break. We want you to aim higher,” Dixie pleaded winsomely. “Remember those short stories you wrote in college? Your professors said you had real promise. You were published! We were so proud of you!”
“Yeah, published in a literary rag with a circulation of 200, payment five dollars. Would you like me better if I were starving?”
“We’d like you better if you’d stop wasting our time and your talent,” Bill counseled. Dixie and Mac nodded in agreement. “We’re sick of being cartoon characters. So here’s our offer. We’ll finish writing this story so you can hit your deadline.
“But you have to go home and work for a couple of hours on some of those ideas you keep in your notebooks. If you don’t, Mac’s joining the Salvation Army, Dixie’ll become a nun, and I’ll become a librarian. And you will definitely get fired.”
“What if I write my story on another typewriter?”
“Doesn’t matter — you’re stuck with us. We’re your characters, for better or for worse,” said Mac. “Sorta like a marriage minus the you-know-what.”
“Where’d you three come from, anyway?”
“No idea, pal,” said Mac, “not a clue.”
Nick ran his fingers through his hair and downed another shot. He wished he were dreaming.
“And another thing,” Dixie opined soothingly, “there’s nothing wrong with a drink now and then, but you gotta ease up. More writing, less boozing. That’s what we want from you, buster.”
“You know what? I give up. Go ahead — write it any way you want,” Nick wrote. “May I at least offer you some stylistic points?”
“Of course? You’re the expert!” Bill replied enthusiastically.
“Easy on the adverbs,” Andrews warned menacingly. “Get it? They slow down the action. If someone says something, don’t have him opine or counsel or venture. Just have him say it. If you want to change your hair color, add a scar, or get some dental work, don’t do it in the middle of a story.
“Heaving breasts, crooked smiles, and curvy legs are okay but don’t pile it on. Let the reader fill in the details. And don’t overdo being virtuous; remember: you’re thieves. Finally, I don’t think the Robin Hood angle is going to pass Carney’s sniff test, but be my guests. It’s only my life you’re ruining.”
“Aw Nicky, have a little faith!” said Dixie as she touched up her mascara and avoided slowing down the action with excessive adverbs.
“Remember: two solid hours of writing,” said Bill.
“Nighty night, Nicky,” said Dixie, as she ran her fingers through her thick auburn curls. “I can’t help it, Nicky, I’ve always wanted auburn hair. Abyssinia!”
Nick scotch-taped ten sheets of paper end-to-end, cranked the first one into the typewriter, and left.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Bill Prindle