“Gold Teeth” by Nik Korpon is the fourth winner of our Hard Boiled-Down Noir Fiction Contest. Nik is the author of Stay God, Old Ghosts, By the Nails of the Warpriest and the forthcoming collection Bar Scars. His stories have appeared in NEEDLE Magazine, Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey and more. He lives in Baltimore. Give him some danger, little stranger, at nikkorpon.com or @NikKorpon.
Blue light splashes against the front window like the glow of some sickly angel, shanghaied in Highlandtown to wither and die. The glass rattles in its frame when I shut the door.
He gives a curt wave from his wheelchair. I toss my damp Carhartts on the couch, tuck his blanket under his swollen stump. Old man doesn’t look up from his program.
‘How’d you sleep?’
He coughs. ‘Didn’t.’
I chew a cigarette. ‘Might not hear them noises all night if you didn’t watch this all day,’ gesturing at the platoon of American boys not much younger than myself, scrambling across an exploding beach.
‘Not my cross. Intel told us it was VC. I just followed orders.’
Biting the inside of my cheek, keeping quiet. ‘I know, Pop. You’ve emphasized that. Numerous times.’
He glares at me, scratches his cheek. Dirt under his nails. I clap his chest, call upstairs for Marty. His cat, Tinkerbell, comes running.
‘Where’s Son Number One?’
‘Never came home.’
‘You shitting me?’ I cough out smoke. ‘You call The Box?’
He thumbs up the volume, strokes Tinkerbell with bruise-specked carpenter’s hands, the ones that pummeled the partner he caught with one finger in the business pie and another in mom’s. Still remember that thieving fuck’s gold tooth winking at me, watching him hobble to his truck with an arm round mom’s waist.
‘I’ve got another ship in two hours. I don’t work that, you don’t watch this.’ He tries to look around me and I block more of the screen. ‘It’s Marty’s turn to do your shot today.’
He grunts. ‘I’m fine.’
‘No, Pop. You’re not.’ Bite my bottom lip, holding back from pointing at his stump. ‘You need to call round for him.’
Pick up the phone and the bell scares me shitless. Another ring before answering. Hissing static.
‘Get the fuck home.’
‘I need you.’ His voice echoes off concrete.
‘Call me later.’
‘You’re my one call.’
I breathe for some minutes. “Time’s up” on the phone. Explosions on TV. Tinkerbell purring and Pop wheezing.
‘I got nothing.’
I hang up, walk down to the basement to fetch my dry clothes. Selfish sonofabitch. Pull on my other Carhartts. Flannel, too. Probably out with Crissy, trying to cop. Dent the dryer with my steel-toes. Pop hacks up something above me.
Wall to wall, my boots stomping louder. Ship’s coming soon, Miss Doris’s in Florida and Pop’ll just shoot a bubble again. Hope that cocksucker can breathe with his face in a prison mattress.
There’s a crunch I don’t expect. I kneel in front of the hole in the foundation wall. Not cinderblock, but plaster. Thumb out some pieces. Thick, rotten air. Chunk out more. Fingers touch something cold, smooth. Knock out whole slabs of plaster. Slumped against the wall, there’re two skeletons. The bigger one has a hole in its skull. A gold tooth in the jaw. Between their feet sits a carpenter’s hammer.
Upstairs, Pop hacks up something fierce.