More Stars Than You'd Think Hard-Boiled Crime Flash Fiction By Justin Bendell

More Stars Than You’d Think: Hard-Boiled Flash Fiction By Justin Bendell

Justin Bendell, author of More Stars Than You’d Think, is a former aspiring grassland ecologist who now writes stories about dead people. He teaches English, edits Manzano Mountain Review, and co-hosts Point Blank: Hardboiled, Noir & Detective Fiction. His stories and poems have appeared in Thuglit, Meridian, 3:AM Magazine, Mystery Tribune and more.

*****

I could see he had a rigid item stuffed in the front of his pants.

I approached him.

I said, sir. Can I have a word?

The man looked at me with twitching red eyes. Drugs.

I said, did you put something from the store that you did not pay for down your pants?

He said, fuck you cop.

So I hit him.

I hit him with my fist and my elbow and brought my boot into the backs of his knees. His legs buckled and I helped gravity smack him to the pale gray tiles.

There was an audible gasp. Shoppers scattered.

I wasn’t even on duty. I had gone to Walmart for a 12 pack of Moon Mist and a pack of camels. I was gonna smoke and play video games until my eyes bled.

But here I was, tending to scum that refused to understand that when you talked to a cop you were talking to God.

I put my knee on his back. West Mesa PD, I said. I cuffed him and read him his rights.

I was off duty, but you always carry cuffs. You never knew when you’re going to crash headlong into a pile of garbage.

I got him up and walked him out.

What am I bein, he started. What am I–

What are you? I said. Not much is what.

The manager smiled as I passed. I hated him and his fat fuck mustache. He was always staring at us women like he could have us. Mister Hot Shit Walmart Manager. If I ever saw him in a dark alley I’d choke him out.

The night was warm. Heat lightning to the south. I put the red-eyed chump against the wall.

You wanna tell me what the fuck is in your pants? I said.

Just a s-s-andwich, he said, his teeth chattering. Please don’t take me to jail. There’s the virus and I don’t wanna die.

The manager smiled as I passed. I hated him and his fat fuck mustache. He was always staring at us women like he could have us.

See, he wasn’t so bold now. He was a scared little shit. I liked when they were like that. When they realized that all their power was a bluff. That all their power was no power at all.

He reached for his pockets.

Keep your hands where I can see ’em, I said.

But I–

I drew my Glock and shouted, Keep your hands where I can see ’em.

He raised his hands.

Palms to the wall, I said.

I called for additional units.

I gotta pee, he said.

That’s you’re fucking problem, I said.

Back up arrived. Armello and Chase.

What’s shaking, Watts? Armello said. I thought you had the night off?

I shrugged and said, He’s got a sandwich in his pants.

Armello said, Is that a sandwich in your pants or are you happy to–

Yeah, I said. That’s funny.

He was playing tough. I had to restrain him. Ain’t so tough now, are you?

Turn around, I said.

Red Eyes turned. He’d been crying. I smelled urine.

You pissed your pants, I said. God damn. You pissed yourself. Get on your knees, I said.

He played like he didn’t hear me.

I said, get on your knees.

Chase said, C’mon Watts. Let’s just get him in the car.

I couldn’t stand Chase. He was a Democrat and a queer.

I ignored him and took a hard step at Red Eyes. A bluff. A front.

He flinched hard. They drugs must be wearing off.

Get on your knees, I said in my high register.

You’re agitated, Chase said.

Fuck yeah I was agitated. This was my night off.

Red Eyes wasn’t hiding his tears now. Eaton, he said, voice shaky as hell. I’m Eaton.

No one asked you your damn name, I said. Get on your knees.

I needed to see him on his knees. I was so tired of saying yes, sir and no, sir and okay and I’m fucking sorry. I was tired of all of it. I was gonna stand over all of them.

Chase said, Watts, this isn’t–

I stared Chase down. Beyond him were several onlookers. Secure the perimeter, I said.

Armello dealt with the onlookers.

But Chase kept at me. You’re not on duty. Let us take over.

He took a sandwich! I said. It wasn’t his property. And he didn’t even respect it! He pissed on it. Ruined it. They can’t even steal right. Jesus, I said. I called you for back up. What’s the point of back up if they don’t back you up?

Chase nodded.

Armello returned, drew his taser, and activated it.

Finally, some support.

Get on your knees, I said.

Eaton refused to kneel. I didn’t have time for this.

I stared Chase down. Beyond him were several onlookers. Secure the perimeter, I said.

He’s refusing to kneel, I said. He’s refusing!

I raised the Glock.

I was going to shoot him. I knew I was. The whole time I was gonna shoot him. It’s what I wanted. It’s why I hit him. It’s why I dragged him out the store. The whole time all I wanted was to shoot this piece of shit.

Get on your fucking knees, Eaton, God damn it! I said.

The electricity fills you like a bloom. It unwraps–warm and red and with a smell to it.

That smell is burning. As you crumple to the sidewalk you realize the burning is you, your own flesh. And the man who caused the burning is the Mexican, Armello, the one you didn’t say shit about even though you wanted to.

Blood on my tongue. My teeth hurt and there was blood on my tongue. All I smelled was burning.

When the electricity stopped, it was just Armello, standing over me with the taser and its little black wires. He looked like a little boy.

I’m sorry, he said.

Get away, I said.

I looked at the sky. A cloudless night sky. The moon, a crescent. I hadn’t looked at the sky for a while. There were more stars than you’d think.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed More Stars Than You’d Think by Justin Bendell, you can find Mystery Tribune’s free digital archive of crime, thriller, and horror flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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