Classic: A Short Story Collection
W. R. Franklin
Published by Wayne Franklin at Shakespir
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Classics and Hot Wings
“We’re waiting, Marc,” Robert said, loading his plate with hot wings.
“Okay, my top five hip-hop artists, in no particular or-“
“And none of that millennial rap either.”
“Let him finish!” barked Jeff. “G’head, dude.”
“In no particular order: Jay-Z, Public Enemy, Tupac, House of Pain and Ice-T.”
“See, I was with you for a little bit,” Jeff said.
“What? That is a list of classic artists!”
“Get the fu… By classic, you mean old and irrelevant, right?” Robert laughed.
“When’s the last time ANY of them put out anything worth listening to?”
“To be fair,” Jeff said, “Tupac gets a pass, being that he’s dead.”
“They all might as well be dead! Jay-Z hasn’t dropped anything worth hearing since The Black Album, P.E. is on the ‘Hip-Hop Grandparents’ tour, Ice-T is a TV cop, and I may have to stop hanging out with you for saying House of Pain!”
“That is grounds for a homeboy disillusion,” Jeff added.
“Jump Around? Boom-Shalock-Lock-Lock-Boom? Classics!”
“Name one other song by them,” Robert said. “Go ahead – we’ll wait.”
Silence filled the room.
“Excuse me,” Marcus said. “Can we have some Bleu Cheese please?”
“I’ll get over you, I know I will,” Al said, singing along with the radio. “Man, I love this song.”
“Yeah, it’s a good one,” Bernard said, before wolfing down half of his Reuben. “You see the movie?”
“Pretty Woman! The song is from Pretty Woman!”
“I didn’t know that!”
“Yeah, my wife dragged me to see it last week. I was surprised at how good it was!”
Al tapped a button on the console and the fog evaporated from the windshield, revealing a clearer view of the museum across the street. He flipped the page in the art book and attempted to sound out the words.
“Ra… Ra-nor? Is that right?”
“Renoir,” Bernard said through a cloud of corned beef and kraut. “But we ain’t looking for Renoir, we’re looking for Rembrandts. I circled the ones we’re looking for. Look on the page before that one.”
“Your breath is jacking my stomach up,” Al said, gagging. Bernard rolled his eyes and wiped the mustard from his lips.
“I need you to focus. Study the pictures and study the map. We gotta get in and out. Rick said we got about an hour before the cops show up.”
“That’s what I don’t understand. How does he know when the cops are coming?”
“They radio the police department at fifteen past the hour, every hour,” Bernard replied. “The police station is like ten minutes from here. Rick’s gonna call my beeper right after they check in, and then we go in, tie him up, tie up the other guy, and start grabbing stuff. That’ll give up just over an hour to start hauling.”
“Hold up,” Al said with wide eyes. “It says here that some of these frames are pretty heavy! That’s gonna cut down on how much we can get out in that hour!”
“I thought the same thing, but the boss said don’t worry about the frames – his buyer just wants the art. So I got us box cutters. We smash the glass, cut out the paintings and keep it moving!”
“That’s smart. You’s a smart guy, you know that?”
The pager began to chime. Al and Bernard both gasped, excited. Bernard checked the readout.
“Is it time?”
“No,” Bernard answered, disappointed. “My wife is lookin’ for me. I told her I had a thing to do!”
“Aw man!” Al said, his excitement deflating. “This is gonna be a lot of dough, Bern. You got plans for any of it?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “I’m gonna get Glenda one of those necklaces like Julia Roberts got in the movie. Maybe then she won’t nag me all the time.”
“Pretty Woman! Oh wait – you didn’t see it yet… See the guy from An Officer and a Gentleman is in the movie too.”
“Yeah! So He’s this rich guy, and he gives Julia Roberts this necklace…”
The pager chimed again. Bernard read the readout and a smile spread out beneath his mustache.
“That’s Rick!” They began to laugh, ecstatic that it was about to go down. They propped their matching police hats atop their heads and exited the truck. Al slid his art book under his jacket.
After multiple deep breaths, they casually strolled across the street and approached the delivery door. Al pressed the buzzer with his Billy club. Bernard un-holstered his .38 and cocked the hammer.
“Security,” a voice said through thick static.
“Boston Police, we’re responding to a disturbance.”
The smell of exhaust from a diesel truck is some of the worst shit I have ever inhaled. I would have barfed once that truck passed me, but I was too pissed off about running out of gas in the middle of nowhere to focus on anything else. “Keep walking, get gas, walk back, get it over with,” I told myself as I trudged along the interstate. With each step, water sloshed between my toes as sheets of rain covered my body and created tiny oceans, seemingly designed to ruin my designer hoodie, my designer sneakers and my day.
I almost didn’t put my thumb out when I saw the headlights creep up behind me, because of the multiple cars that had already passed me by. But I did.
“Hey,” a sweet southern voice called through the downpour, “do you need a ride?” Before I could respond, my body had already run toward the black Ford F-150 with the 22” black rims that run $3,000 plus tax and chrome running boards…
How did I know such intimate details about this vehicle? Because it was mine once upon a time. It didn’t hit me until I looked through the window that I’d stepped into my own personal Twilight Zone. My ex-wife was picking me up in my truck. Her smile quickly faded as she realized it was me.
“Oh JESUS,” she barked. “If it ain’t the devil himself…”
Funny, I thought the exact same thing. I rolled my eyes and started heading back to the berm.
“Carlton Jennings! You get in this truck! I have a good mind to leave you out here, but I am a saved, Christian woman, and it would be an abomination to my Lord to leave one of His children out in the cold! Even one as heathenous as you! Now get in here! I ain’t gonna be in front of the pearly gates, tryin’ to answer questions about why I left you on the side of the road!”
“Okay,” I snapped, turning to face the spawn, “first of all, heathenous is NOT a word. Second, I will take my chances out here with pneumonia and axe murderers. Keep it moving, Lisa.”
“CARLTON!” Her tone sent a creepily nostalgic chill down my spine. My body involuntarily got in the car as I scowled. She pulled back onto the highway and turned down her loud gospel music. Don’t get me wrong – I love gospel music, but this woman ruins everything she comes in contact with.
“I knew someday you’d come back to me… I knew you’d need me before I needed you… I told you that…”
“I didn’t come back to you! I told you to drive your happy ass on down the road!”
“Uh-uh! You ain’t gonna be cursing in this truck! Do you know how long it took to exorcise your demons out of this truck? You watch your mouth in this truck! This is the LOOOORRRRRD’S truck! Deuteronomy chapter 3 clearly states…”
I hadn’t seen this woman for a year and a half, and I think she’s still in the middle of the same sentence. You can’t have a regular conversation without hearing about how everything belongs to God, or how many verses from the Bible she has memorized. She still smelled like she’d been frying chicken for days on end. Knee-high stockings sagged around her ankles like the old ladies that used to meet at my grandmother’s house. Her once-pretty lips were now stained with some off-brand, off-color lipstick, babbling chapters and verses at a machine-gun’s pace. Her hazel eyes were now covered by gaudy gold frames. She was the oldest 35-year old I’d ever seen, and I’d had enough.
“Lisa,” I interrupted. “Shut up!” This caught her off guard.
“Who do you think you’re talking to,” she asked, caught off guard.
“You! Shut the hell up for once in your life! Stop talking! You talk too much! You don’t listen to anyone! You don’t know everything! You’re not the only Christian on the planet, but you give the rest of us a bad rap! I’m a Christian too! But you talk too much! You know everything! Your mouth is why we’re not together now!”
She was speechless, for the first time in years.
I hopped out of the truck at BP and thanked her for her time.
It wasn’t such a bad day after all.
2 To the Head
Madeline pretended to hang on every whispered word that fell from Jim’s lips, but she was under the spell of his steel-blue eyes.
You’re beautiful, she thought.
“Madge!” Jim said, snapping her out of her daydream. “Did you get all that?”
“Yeah,” she replied, lying. “No… I’m sorry Jim. Tell me again?” He took a long drag from his unfiltered Camel and exhaled a cloud of smoke.
“Madge, I need you to focus. At 8:30, I need you to get Van to bring you back to the room. Say something filthy, something outlandish, something… “
“Something I’d say to you?”
A grin broke through Jim’s rocky glare.
“Yes, something you’d say to me. Once you’re in there, I need you to get the gun from under the pillow, get him out here on the patio and shoot him, two in the head. The silencer is on, so it shouldn’t make too much noise. I’ll be right behind the fence and I’ll get the body into the car. You got it? Any questions?”
“Yes, I have a couple of questions. First, why are we whispering?”
“I’m sure the Feds have the rooms in this place bugged,” he said, his eyes darting back and forth.
“Okay,” she replied. “Second, that’s a lot to keep track of. Why can’t we just do it in there?”
So beautiful, so stupid, he thought, staring at her helmet of unmoving blonde hair. Didn’t I just say it’s probably bugged in there?
“Because,” he said, pointing through the patio door, “blood is damn near impossible to get out of shag carpet that thick.” Madeline’s skin crawled as he said blood. Her face fell as tears welled in her eyes.
“Oh Jim,” she said, sobbing. “Maybe this is a mistake. Why don’t we just, you know, keep seeing each other? Van’s always at the casino or at work. We’ll have all the time in the world to be together…” Jim wiped her tears away and took her face in his hands.
“Because your husband is a prick, and he deserves to die for the things he’s done to you. A real man would never put his hands on a woman. You’re a queen, baby. And once he’s gone I’m gonna treat you like a queen. Plus, that $500,000 insurance payout is gonna take us a long way from this crazy town. I’m sick of the west. You said you were too, right?”
Madeline stood up and stared at the traffic going by, dazed.
“I loved him once, you know? And I’m pretty sure he loved me too.”
“Was that before he punched your teeth out or after,” Jim asked, reminding her of the abuse. “Or was it when he broke your arm? Wrecked your car? I’m just trying to find the love in that stuff.”
“Stop it, Jim,” she said, sobbing harder. He stood up and took her into his arms.
“You deserve better than that, Madge. You deserve me. I want to make you forget that life.”
“I know you’re right,” she replied, reassured. “Okay, I’m ready.”
“That’s my girl,” Jim said, smiling.
The Drop Off
Paul ran down the stairs at top speed. Out of breath, he snatched the front door open. A black Cadillac Escalade sped down the street, but no one was on the porch.
“I’d have sworn I heard the doorbell ring,” he said to himself. As he pushed the door closed, he noticed a brown package by the welcome mat. He opened the door wider and picked up the box. It weighed about a pound, and there was no label on it. While looking the package over, a bit of white powder puffed out of a tear in the paper and landed on his shirt sleeve.
Paul’s heart raced. Beads of sweat dotted his bald head. Panicked, his eyes darted up and down the street as he backed into the house.
“Oh my God,” he mumbled, closing the door and placing the box on the dining table. “Drugs. I should have known this was a bad neighborhood. Drugs are everywhere, even in the suburbs. Is that cocaine? Heroin? I know it’s not crack because it’s a powder…” He quickly drew the curtains closed at the bay window and the smaller windows. He peeked out the window and trembled. “I bet this used to be a crack house or something, and now some thugs are gonna come out here and shoot the place up. Jesus… I’m gonna get myself killed. I’m gonna get Tina killed. I’m a horrible husband. We gotta get outta here!” He darted back up the steps and threw their clothes into a duffle bag.
“Honey,” Tina said, “was that the doorbell?”
“Uh, I didn’t hear anything,” he lied, trying to protect her. He zipped up the bag and headed downstairs to tell Tina that he’d put his family at risk of being kidnapped and sent to Colombia. As he reached the bottom of the stairs the telephone rang.
“I got it,” Tina said.
Paul’s panic kicked into high gear. He dropped the bag and ran to the kitchen, remembering that some drug lords call you before they shoot up your house, according to some movie he saw once.
“Don’t answer it!” he yelled, but she already had the receiver to her ear.
“No!” he screamed, diving to the floor and covering his head.
“Hi, Mom,” Tina said, smiling. “No… I thought the doorbell rang.” She walked into the living room and saw the package on the table. “Oh – it’s right here. Thanks again, Mom. Talk to you later!”
My wife and her mother are drug dealers? Paul thought. See, I don’t make enough money for her, and she’s trying to help out… I love that woman, but she’s putting us in danger…
“What are you doing down there, silly?” Tina asked, laughing at her husband. “You didn’t tell me Mom dropped off this rice flour. I’m going to make that gluten-free cake I told you about. What’s that in the duffel bag?”
Oh, it’s flour, he thought.
“Just some dry cleaning,” he replied. “I’ll be right back.”
He got up off the floor, grabbed the bag and ran to his car.
Once inside, he breathed a sigh of relief.
“Man,” he said, lighting a joint, “that was close. I think this stuff might be making me paranoid.”
The red vinyl squeaked as he squirmed in the booth, staring out the diner’s window at his latest purchase.
Idiot, he thought. You are so dumb sometimes.
The alluring scent of fried food diverted his attention from the classic sedan outside to the double cheeseburger and double order of fries that had been placed before him. Wanda, his wife of four years, smiled at him as she disappeared into the kitchen. He fought the giddy grin that always showed up when a diner burger was in his presence, because why should he be happy? He’d just spent $700 they didn’t have on a car.
Sure it was a great deal. Sure it had a brand new engine in it. Sure it drove great and hugged the road. But it was so… old.
It’s a classic, he tried to convince himself. [_I’ll be admired and respected. _]
Right. I’ll be ridiculed and humiliated.
“What’s the matter babe,” Wanda asked, sliding into the other side of the booth while nabbing a couple of his fries. “Was it a bad ride?”
“No, the ride was fine. I only stopped to use the restroom and get gas. Evan fixed me a pretty big basket of sandwiches and stuff for the drive.”
“You can thank your wife for that. I called my brother-in-law and said ‘Can you please fix your brother a care package for that trip back? People are crazy and he doesn’t need to make any unnecessary stops.’”
He leaned over the table and kissed his bride on the lips. She looked out the window at the car and smiled.
“That car is so you babe,” she grinned.
“What’s that mean,” he snapped, his demeanor switching immediately. “Are you calling me old?” Wanda scrunched her face at the question and threw fries at him.
“What is your problem, Mike?” Wanda snapped. He brushed the salt and potatoes off his sweater and looked around, embarrassed. He slid his iPhone across the table. She snatched the phone from his hand and read the screen.
From Duane – Grandad, what was Christmas like in the 40s? – #yourcarisancient
[_From Matt – Does the radio only play the best of Mitch Miller? #yourcarisonlifesupport _]
From Duane – I make a motion that Mike never drives when we get wings because we may not make it home. #stranded
Her eyes slowly ascended to meet his. Hurt and embarrassed, he refocused on his meal.
“Seriously,” she said, turning the knife. “This is bothering you?”
“They’re my boys. They both drive brand new cars, they have endless money and they seem to have their lives together. I had to fly to Texas to buy an old car and drive it home, because I can’t get a car loan.” The hurt in his voice bounced around in her head before dropping into her stomach. She slid the phone back across the table and took his hands in hers.
“Your boys, huh?” she asked. “Funny, friends would have gone with you to Texas to get the car, or at least checked on you during your drive home. Let me ask you something – how many wives do your boys have between them?”
“How many kids?”
“Right. Yet you have a wife who loves you, and two boys who think their dad’s old-new car is the coolest thing ever. Way cooler than the Power Rangers, even. Your boys only seem to have their cars and each other. Now who is really better off?” Mike finally smiled.
“Me. I’m way richer than either of them.”
“That’s my baby,” she said, sliding back out of the booth. “Now let’s go pick up your real boys and take them for a ride in your old-new car.”
“Not old – classic.”
Thanks for reading my book. If you enjoyed it, won’t you please take a moment to leave me a review at your favorite retailer?
W. R. Franklin
About the author:
W. R. Franklin is an author, screenwriter, editor and occasional blogger living in Columbus, Ohio. He is pursuing his BFA in Creative Writing for Entertainment from Full Sail University.
Hs fiction has been published in Down In The Dirt magazine, and his music reviews have been published on the website Popatters.com. His first novel, Urban Contemporary, was published in 2000 by iUniverse.com. He also edited the novel Nobody But Us Church Folks: Can I Talk About It? By ENayZ in 2007.
W. R. keeps his head bald and his beard gray by chasing his three young children and obliging his beautiful wife of 20 years. When the mood hits, his random acts of babbling can be read at wordsfromtheyoungman.blogspot.com.
CLASSIC: A SHORT STORY COLLECTION consists of six flash fiction stories written by Wayne Franklin. While there is not a common theme among the tales, each one showcases the author’s unique and somewhat skewed outlook on life. In “Classics and Hot Wings,” hip-hop history is debated between Marc and his friends over a spicy dinner. In “The Preparation”, Al and Bernard kill time before a heist. “Hitchhike” tells the story of Carlton’s chance encounter with his past. “2 To The Head” tells the story of Madeline, a woman who is reluctant to get revenge on her abusive husband. In "The Dropoff,” our paranoid protagonist Paul is convinced a drug cartel is out to get him and his family. In “Classic,” Mike’s wife Wanda helps him find the silver lining of his self-imposed dark cloud.