Here is a short Noir story for the holidays. Like all Noir, it's a little dark, (though it's in the lighter end of the Noir spectrum). Call it counter programming....
Deadmen Don't Eat Fruitcake
by Camille LaGuire
IT WASN'T A dark night on account of the snow, which reflected the light of the two street lamps from every available surface, except the bloody patch under Tig Arbuckle. That is, under Tig's body. There wasn't anything left of Tig inside there. His life had leaked out faster than his blood, which stained the snow around him.
Phil stuck his gun back in his pocket and knelt down as Bud came running up.
"Geeze," said Bud, his breath puffing out in a wreath around his face. He paused as Phil pulled off his gloves in the freezing air and quickly searched the body. "He got the fruitcake?"
"No," said Phil, rising and heading back toward the car.
"It wasn't in the car, neither," said Bud, looking back and forth from Phil to the body.
"He must have left it with old lady," said Phil. Four hundred thousand dollars worth of hot jewels, and Tig had to hide them in a fruitcake. It made him want to spit, but the freezing air was too dry.
There was a police car outside the Arbuckle Bakery when they pulled to a stop across the street. They sat a moment and watched. A cop came out--a young woman huddled in her short thick jacket. She adjusted her belt, and paused to warm her hand over the small bag she carried, which steamed slightly in the frigid air. Then she got in the car and left. Just a customer. Phil considered.
"You know anything about the old lady?"
"Tig always said she was a right guy," said Bud.
"A what?" said Phil, turning to look at Bud. Bud shrugged and shrunk a little.
"That's what he said. She's like one of the guys. Tough. A regular wise guy, he said."
"A wise guy baking fruitcakes," said Phil with a sneer. He shoved open the door and got out.
The old lady was shoveling cookies off a sheet and onto a rack when Phil and Bud entered. She paused to look them over, but she didn't say anything.
"We're friends of Tig...," began Phil.
"I know." She kept shoveling the cookies. She put away the sheet and started on another one without looking up. "He was here a few minutes ago. You just missed him."
"We're gonna meet him later," said Phil with a reassuring smile. "We're just here for the fruitcake."
She turned to look more closely at them, and her eyes were sharp with suspicion, like a teacher. Phil was immune to that kind of look, but Bud's shoulders twitched. Bud chafed his hands and looked over his shoulder.
"What were the cops doing here?" he said. "You been robbed?"
She put the spatula down and came up to the counter, wiping her hands slowly.
"You know cops and donuts," she said.
"You don't sell donuts," said Phil.
"My niece happens to like cookies instead."
"Niece?" said Bud. Bud shuffled nervously and looked at Phil. Phil wasn't sweating.
"Yeah, my niece, Maggie," said the old lady. "She stopped by for a present for her boss...a fruitcake."
"We're here for fruitcake too," interrupted Phil. "Tig said you had one for him. Special for him. We're here to pick it up."
The old lady narrowed her eyes and looked them both over, then she leaned forward and set her hands on the counter.
"Yeah," she said slowly, like she'd just remembered something, "he did have one picked out. Stupid kid messed with the dough. Ruined it." She nodded to herself, and then jerked her thumb over her shoulder. "I threw it out."
"Where?" said Phil.
"Out back, in the dumpster." She watched while Phil considered. "If he wants another one, he has to wait. I gave the rest of the batch to my niece."
Phil headed for the door. Bud followed, grumbling.
"What's Tig doing with a cop in his family anyway?"
"Every family's got a black sheep," said the old lady. She came around the counter and followed him to the door. She turned the lock as he went out, and stood and watched.
The dumpster was full of cartons and garbage and dough, all blending into a sickening cement in the cold. Phil stood on his toes to look in, and he wrinkled his nose.
"That idiot," he said. "What did he hide the jewels in a fruitcake for anyway?" He reached in reluctantly to pull a couple cartons out. He poked at them with a stick, and then at the garbage still inside. No sign of a fruitcake, but maybe it had blended in to the rest. He tried to reach for some bags in the back, as Bud climbed up on the edge. But then Bud hesitated.
"Say, Phil," he said. "Your ma ever make fruitcake?"
"No," said Phil shortly.
"How long you think it takes to bake a fruitcake?"
"I don't know and I don't care." But he looked up at Bud anyway.
"Try an hour and a half," said Bud. "That's at least what it took my ma to bake it. And then it had to cool for a while."
Phil dropped the stick. "So if he dropped those jewels in the fruitcake dough...."
"They're still in the oven, or maybe just coming out now. They weren't in the batch she threw away or gave to the cop."
Phil was already headed back up to the street. Bud jumped down and scrambled after him. The lights at the front of the store were already off, and the sign said closed. Phil pounded on the glass, and then pulled the pistol out of his pocket and pounded the glass with the butt of the gun.
"Freakin' old ladies," he said. "Freaking Tig!"
"Hey, Phil, cool it," said Bud, looking around nervously.
Phil shoved him back and took aim at the glass of the door. It was shatter resistant, but not really bullet proof. Three shots cracked it up enough to break. He knocked the rest in with the butt, and reached in to turn the lock. Bud stayed back and craned his neck to keep watch. Phil didn't bother. He was gonna get that old lady. She was just like Tig. A cheat.
He yanked open the door and charged in.
He was met at the counter by a shotgun blast. Buddy, who had rushed in after, didn't have time to back pedal. The second barrel got him.
Flashing lights decorated the front of the bakery, as officers milled, and the CSI unit worked over the mess in the front room. In back, in the kitchen, a detective and two officers accepted slices of fruitcake from Granny Arbuckle.
"Granny," said one of the officers, the niece, Maggie. "Why don't you stay with Ma and me tonight?"
"No, no. I'll settle down better in my own home."
"Well, then, let me stay with you."
"No," said the old woman firmly. "I'll be fine."
"Let me do something!" said Maggie. "I feel awful. I saw them out there casing the place, and I didn't even notice."
"They're friends of Tig," said Granny, patting her on the arm. "You recognized them."
"Yeah, and that itself should have put me on alert."
"Eat your fruitcake, Maggie," said Granny, and then she waved a finger at the detective who was attempting to slip the uneaten bit of cake back on to the plate. "You too young man."
She turned back to the racks of slightly burned fruitcakes, and pulled a sheet from the big box of tin foil.
"You young people don't appreciate something good," she rattled on. She picked up a fruitcake and set it in the center of the foil. "I remember when I was a girl, I always thought it was a treasure. All those little colorful pieces. Like jewels...."
Maggie pointed at the cake in Granny's hands.
"Granny, that one's all messed up."
"That's all right...."
"You won't be open tomorrow, so there's no point in saving the good ones for customers. Take the best one home."
Granny stopped and looked down at the little misshapen cake and smiled at it.
"This is the best one, dear. Trust me, I know fruitcakes, and it may be ugly on the outside, but it's the best on the inside." She finished wrapping it in tin-foil. "A little jewel chest just for me."
This and several other short stories are now available in an ebook collection titled "5 Twists." Watch for announcements on this blog -- and watch at Amazon, Smashwords and other fine ebook retailers!
See you in the funny papers.