Tuesday, June 7, 2011

I enter the Do Some Damage "Noir at the Beach House" challenge!

Over at Do Some Damage, Steve Weddle, last seen in these parts asking fellow Noircon attendees to sign his bat, challenges readers to write crime stories with a summer-vacation theme. Here's my entry. How about yours?

Down the Shore

by Peter Rozovsky

Sally took the Lavender Room and left the Leather ‘n’ Spice Suite for me. I thanked her for that much; a guy’s got a reputation to keep.

Sally was all right. Sure, she’d cooed over the scented candles and chintz-covered throw pillows. But she drew the line at the teddy bears – five on the overstuffed settee in the parlor, seven tumbling over each other on a second-floor notions table, and one that scared the hell out of her when it fell on her head from the top shelf of an ivory-inlaid cabinet in the breakfast nook.

That’s why I suspected her when I found a bear with its guts ripped out the next morning. She just looked at me funny as we headed out for an iced coffee before hitting the beach.
Two more teddy bears disappeared that evening, though one turned up under the porch swing soaking in a puddle of spilled mint tea. The glass pitcher that had held the tea lay on its side, next to a knocked-over white rattan table.

Diane shook her head as she mopped up the mess, muttering that some guests lack the simple good manners to come forward when they have an accident. But no one can stay grumpy for long and still run a successful bed and breakfast. “I’m no escapee or anything,” she said with a laugh, slapping the puddle with her mop. “I won’t rip their heads off.”
“Let me do your neck,” Sally said.
I winced as we sat in the Mexican coffee shop reading our newspapers the next morning. “Did you see— Damn!” I threw the paper down and rubbed my left forearm hard. “Itching. We stayed out too long yesterday. Pass the Gold Bond, will you?”

A skinny guy with a faded green baseball cap and a laughing gull tattooed on his left temple stared at the little white clouds as I slapped the powder over my arms.
I recognized the tattoo when I saw it again late that night. Its owner lay face down on the bed and breakfast’s porch, his hands cuffed behind him and a police sergeant kneeling none too gently on his back.

“It was the bears,” the sergeant’s boss said. “This guy’s been a small-time heister for years. He heard a load of heroin was coming down the Shore in one of them teddies, and somehow he got it into his head that this was the town.” He nudged the perp thoughtfully in the ribs with his boot. “It gets pretty shitty for a guy like him in the winters here, and this was his chance to get away. I don’t know what we can charge him with; B&E and cruelty to animals, maybe.” He bent down and hauled the skinny perp up by the arm pits. “Come on, Grizzly Adams. We don’t have much of a downtown, but we’re taking you there.”
If the dope was in Cape Friendly, the skinny guy never found it. Maybe he’d be no worse off than he was before. But maybe whoever had paid for the heroin would make an example of him. Either way, I didn’t envy the skinny guy with the laughing-gull tattoo.

They’d taken him away when Sally came down the stairs. Her mouth made a silent O. “What happened? What is all—” She waved her arm out over the guts of a dozen toy bears.

"It’s nothing, baby, just the stuffing that dreams are made of. Now, let’s go to bed. Your suite or mine?”

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Baltimore Drive-by, Part XVI: How Green Was My Valium?

Meanwhile, back in the newsroom ...

Honorée dimmed the lights in her office and removed her shoes. She lowered herself onto the floor and into the lotus position, popping a Valium along the way.

"I accept," she said, moving her hands into the dhyana, or thumbs-up, mudra.

"I accept my $300,000 salary even as others lose their jobs and their pay."

"I accept that I have gained while others have lost."

"I accept that I serve my boss; that he thinks, and that through me he speaks."

"I accept."
(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. It never happened and never will.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Baltimore Drive-by, Part XV: The big break-in

I set my briefcase on the concrete floor beside the yellow Porsche, and I extracted my tools: a bag of sugar, my old metal pica ruler, and three pounds of hamburger meat. I laid everything on the floor, and I pulled on a pair of rubber surgical gloves. I didn't expect to leave prints, but you can't be too careful.

"Posh car for an editor," Seamus said. "And what would you be planning with all that?"

"Break in, slip the meat under the passenger seat, then sugar the gas tank. Boom! Meat rots, car stinks, engine banjaxed."

Seamus leaned against the Porsche's left rear wheel well and lit a cigarette. "Been a while since you've driven a car, has it?"

"A few years," I admitted.

"This Porsche looks pretty new. Slip the ruler down inside the door. See what happens."

I stood and tried to work the metal strip into the gap between the window and the driver's-side door panel. That used to work when I'd lock my keys in the car as a teenager and needed to break in, but it didn't work now. The space was a lot narrower than I remembered, and the ruler wouldn't fit.

"Try the gas tank."

"Shit. I didn't know they all had locks."

"Yeah, and even if you could get into the tank, that thing about sugar gunking up fuel lines and destroying an engine is all shite. You want to banjax an engine, you pour water in the tank. Now, you feel like getting some work done? Let's go."

He ground his cigarette against the Porsche's gas-cap door. Seamus was right; I couldn't let a stupid grudge interfere with the job. But I was the one who wanted to get back at Honorée. I couldn't let her car escape unscathed.

The meat hit the windshield with a satisfying thunk, and we scrambled down the stairs that would take us to a passage into the office. My career in property crime was about to begin.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here And remember: This is fiction. It never happened and never will.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XIV

"In here?"

"Yep. It's Philly's hottest new brew pub. We can talk without being interrupted by service."

Fifteen minutes later, Blake and I had our beer. Twenty minutes later, we had a plan: Get onto the construction site next to the building, cut a few utility wires, and get inside while everyone is trying to figure out what happened. No one would be suspicious if the lights went off suddenly; that sort of thing went on in Philadelphia all the time. The city's condo boom meant construction everywhere, and the crews worked fast, night and day. That meant forests of wires and pipes just waiting to get pulled, yanked, chopped or accidentally cut. Electricity, phone service, even water, if you swung your sledgehammer right.

"OK," Blake said, "what do we do once we get in?"

"We trash Honoré's Porsche."

Blake looked at the ceiling then back at me. "All right, we spray-paint your mean boss's car, and then?"

"Then the real job starts."


(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here And remember: This is fiction. It never happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XIII

"So then I lost my job."

"No offense, especially with that .38 in your hand, but you probably deserved it. You made the man look bad in front of the president of the United States."

"He wasn't elected yet. Besides, that was just an excuse. I really got fired because people got tired of listening to me complain. `You gotta stop grousing, Nix.' `Things are bad for everybody, Nix.' `That isn't productive, Nix.' `Be happy you have a job at all.'"

"You answered you own question, mate. Why didn't you just shut the hell up, or get out?"

I didn't know what to say. I'd never asked myself that question.

I put the gun down. "OK, Mr. Career Counsellor, who do we shoot?"

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XII: Creative synergies

Blake looked at the scorched foil and cardboard that used to be his cigarette pack. Then he looked at the .38 that had blasted the pack out of his hand.

"Mad fucker," he said. "That's why they call it a smoking gun." His hand didn't shake much, all things considered.

"Now, listen," I told him. "You and McCarver ripped off the girl and the check-cashing place. I know you didn't get much, but I like the way you handled yourself. You sure you've never robbed before?"

"Just did it for the kick, man. No, no, that's not right. Look, I never know where the next book deal is coming from, do I? Layoffs, authors losing contracts, editors getting fired left and right. I have a wife, a baby. I was desperate, and crikey, was I pissed off."

"Does your wife know how you're earning money on this trip?"

He started to stand. I waved the .38. "Aw, sit down. I'm not going to tell her or the FBI. But what was that you said about deals and layoffs and getting fired?"

I reached into my pocket and tossed him a pack of cigarettes.

[Read all of The Baltimore Drive-by so far here. And remember: This is fiction. None of it has really happened.]

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part XI: I hear music

When the skinny mystery fan gave up his jabber and walked off, I was alone in the street. I'd lost McCarver. Now Blake was gone, too.

[Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.]

Nothing to do but head back to the convention hotel and catch the late action at the bar. No way to get there in time unless I took the subway. I was in luck; this was Baltimore. In Philadelphia, you couldn't buy a token or a pass at my station, and the attendants wouldn't make change. So why have attendants? Don't ask me; I hadn't lived in America's Next Great City long enough to figure it out.

Downstairs a guy leaned against the no-smoking sign and lit a cigar. There was no point complaining to the attendant. She'd been smoking, too. But I always look at the bright side. At least she'd sold me a token.

The rattling subway car made me think of Billie Holiday, except the music I heard was supplied by my fellow riders, unsolicited and free of charge. Not that they acknowledged me as they nodded and bopped and fiddled with their iPods.

I'd once read an interview with the guy who invented the Walkman, and it was all hippie utopia: drift off, create your own soundworld, carry it everywhere. I'd never bought into his utopia thing. To me it sounded like Cold War pulp science fiction, a way to keep the worker rats quiet on their underground commutes. But Mr. Walkman never reckoned on shoddy headphones that leaked sound and owners who didn't care. The subway car was anything but quiet.

This damn country couldn't even do a dystopia right.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part X

Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.

Blake cursed softly and threw his cigarette to the ground. Then he lit another. He'd been waiting for McCarver for half an hour. We'd been waiting.

He took a notebook from his back pocket and started scribbling. I had to hand it to the man. Even though he'd branched out into armed robbery, he was still a writer. I wondered if I'd turn up in his story the way I'd turned up in McCarver's. I knew one thing: If I ever robbed people and wrote about it, I'd disguise myself so well in the story that no one would recognize me.

Blake stopped writing and lit a cigarette. I had all evening. As long as he had cigarettes, it looked like Blake did, too.

Baltimore closes early at night, so I heard the soft click of the footsteps from a long way off. I ducked into the pharmacy doorway and peered back out, but he saw me, a young, skinny guy whose clothes had seen too many sunny days and too few washings.

"I just got into town this morning," he said, "and —"

"How are you, Brian? What'd you do with the twenty I gave you on Tuesday?"

" — I need some money for a place to stay ... This friend of mine ... I got to get to my car and ... I've got a job lined up if I can just get some money to get to ... look, I got this badge. I'm raising money for ... cigarettes, man, cigarettes. Cigarettes, a few bucks and money for the subway. And a mystery, man, a good goddamn mystery to help me pass a few hours. You in town with the mystery writers? Go on, man. I got time. Write me a fucking mystery!"

When he finally gave up his manic jabber and walked off, I was alone in the street. I'd lost McCarver. Now Blake was gone, too.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part IX: Cheers!

Nix Kauffman is on the run after robbing Seamus Blake and Fetch McCarver at gunpoint. So why is he buying McCarver drinks?

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

Blake had gone to look for cigarettes. This took him out of the picture for at least an hour. He was hopeless when it came to finding smokes in America, and he'd never find any place open this time of night. And Kleinman — well, let's just say Kleinman was in no position right about now to tell McCarver or anyone else what she knew. And Kleinman knew everything.

McCarver gulped half his beer and said, "It was Blake's idea."

"Easy, Fetch. You don't even know what I'm asking."

"I mean, don't get me wrong: I like a good scam. But Blake thought it up, Blake bought the gun, Blake ripped off the bike."

"That was Scott Phillips," I said.

"But how did you— "

I put down my glass of Magner's. "Philly is my town, remember? And what would Blake do if he found out the girl got her money back after you guys ripped her off?"

Fetch got a funny look on his face, and his jaw went slack. He looked out over my shoulder like I wasn't there. He squinted. Then a fat smile creased his face. "Hey!" he said. "It's Kleinman!"

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part VIII: After overwrought heartstring-tugger, anguished journalist asks, "Why?"

Ex-journalist Nix Kauffman flees Baltimore ahead of two authors with crime on their minds. But don't believe a word he says. It's fiction. It never happened.

The waiter brought another round. "Cheerio, mates!"

"Knob!" muttered Romar, but he said it with affection; the waiter's English accent was good. Or maybe it just sounded that way to me. After six gin and tonics, my head had become a giant buzzing wad of wet cotton. The waiter might have sounded Australian. Or from the Midwest.

"You got a few hours?" I asked – Romar, not the waiter – "because I'll tell you."

"Tell it!"

"One night I'm in the sports department, and this story says the Ravens' quarterback shattered his knee. Thing is, he'd torn a ligament. Torn, not shattered! So I tell the night editor, but he looks at me like I was from Mars. Then this reporter says, `It's a matter of semantics.'"

I smacked the table as hard as Romar had. "Well, yeah, it goddamn was. Semantics. Meaning. You figure out what you want to say, you choose the right word, you say it."

"Let me guess who this night editor was: Your old friend, Mr. Honoré ."

"Too damn right. Same Honoré who became editor twelve years later and fired my ass. Said I showed him up in front of President Obama." I slumped back in the metal lawn chair and took a contemplative sip of gin.

"An outrage, my friend. Obama was only running for president when you showed Honoré up."

This was a man I could work with.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part VII: Hell to the editor-in-chief

Nix Kauffman is on the run after robbing crime writers Seamus Blake and Fetch McCarver at gunpoint. Is that any way for a respectable ex-journalist to behave?

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far
here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

The way he worked the room, I believed Obama might win this thing. He smiled, shook hands, talked with me and my colleagues. He put weak-kneed stargazers at ease, and he even charmed moderate Republicans. In ten minutes, he spent more time talking with the staff than the last five editors-in-chief had in the four years they'd served. He even joked about our old computers.

"Don't worry, senator," I said. "In a few months, none of us will be working at these computers anymore."

Obama laughed. Honoré kept the pasted-on smile that he saved for the staff, but the corner of his left eye twitched, the way it always did when he got angry or lied or had to make a decision.

The next day Honoré called me in for a performance review. That's why I wound up welcoming a pair of crime writers over the Canadian border with a gun to their heads. I had nothing against Blake or McCarver; I enjoyed their work. But I'd lost my union grievance over the firing, and I needed a car, some cash, and a bit of stability in my life.

I'd deal with Honoré later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Trip: Baltimore Drive-by, Part VI

Fictional character Peter Rozovsky leaps from a moving train and rolls down a grassy bank in Delaware, barely escaping desperate fictional fictionists John McFetridge and Declan Burke. He has the clothes on his back; a partly used, non-refundable train ticket in his hand; and one thought on his mind: Where do I go next?

"It's New-ARK."

"Excuse me?"

"New-ARK, Delaware; NYEW-urk, New Jersey. You're in New-ARK."

"Give me one from Nyew— from New-ARK to Philadelphia at 5:04, please. And one to Baltimore at 5:08."

An intake of breath at the other end of the line, and the clicking on her keyboard stopped. Just for a moment, though.

"Will that be round-trip or one-way, sir?"

"Which one? Never mind. One-way, both."

A few more clicks, and I was done.

"Pay on the train, sir. Whichever one you take. Thank you for choosing Amtrak."

It wasn't quite four o'clock, so I found myself a shady tree on the platform, and I lay down with a good book — not Burke's or McFetridge's. Those were sharing a non-quiet car to Philly with their authors and my luggage.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part V: Too many strangers on a train

Did the milling crowds that packed Baltimore's hotels for Bouchercon only write about crime? And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.

I'd split a cab to the station with someone I’d met at the convention, someone I hoped I could use as a source. I looked forward to the peace of the train’s quiet car. I hadn’t got the box, didn’t know how I'd get it now, but I had to learn what she knew about Burke and McFetridge.

The train was way more crowded than a train has the right to be on a Sunday, so we grabbed whatever seats we could find, quiet car or otherwise. We couldn’t even find two together. I was annoyed, a bit nervous, even, but the train wasn’t due in Philadelphia for an hour. I had plenty of time to get what I needed.

Across the aisle, a man had opened a book. The cover was Hard Case all the way: long-legged woman in green and yellow bodysuit, sleeveless, left leg raised high in a roundhouse kick. Bodily proportions that would make her eight-foot-three in real life. Title and author in stark block letters above and below the long, hot woman: Luchadora Be a Lady Tonight by Fista Krauss. I smiled. The reader probably had no idea who was sitting right in front of him.

Just outside Newark, Delaware, the woman next to me started having a family crisis over her cell phone. I commiserated, kept silent, tried to hold my temper. Then I slammed my own book down on the plastic seat tray and headed for the café car.

On my way back, the train took a sharp curve. I juggled my coffee and tuna, and the heavy metal doors between cars clanked open. From in front came the last voice I wanted to hear: “Geez, you’d think an American train could sell you a decent doughnut.” From behind, a voice I wanted to hear even less: “Quit yer fecking whining and hand me a cigarette, will you?”

The train pulled out of Newark with a long, shrill whistle. I mopped the coffee stains and tuna flecks from my shirt, and I watched it disappear.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part IV: Thus spake Ali

Fictional characters John McFetridge and Declan Burke set out from Toronto to Baltimore for the Bouchercon crime writers' convention. A character loosely based on Peter Rozovsky is headed the same way. Burke and McFetridge hold up stores, Rozovsky holds up Burke and McFetridge, and soon the only question is — Who's chasing who!!!!

"A knob," he said, annoyed, "is a COCK — you knobs."

Laughter floated out over the Inner Harbor. "I cannot — cannot! — understand why these tossers have carried on the way they do about bloody boxes of sodding books. Can they not get more?"

"Must be something special in the books."

"Must be something special in the boxes!"

"And who are these knobs anyhow? Declan Burke? Jonathan McFetridge?"



"John McFetridge, not Jonathan. He's Canadian, Burke is Irish. They're crime writers, in town for Bouchercon."

"Do we know anything about them? Pass me that newspaper."

"Oh, you won't find anything in there." I walked over from the bench where I'd been eavesdropping. "I'm Peter Rozovsky, soon-to-be-ex-copy editor for the Baltimore Gazette. The culture reporter is filling in on night police duty and clerical work this week. No one's covering Bouchercon."

"That's a bloody outrage! This is a big event. Big!" He brought a meaty fist down on the metal patio table. Silverware jumped. "What kind of bloody fucking tossers run this newspaper of yours anyway?"

"You got a few hours?"

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part III: Femme fatale, my ass!

Fictional characters John McFetridge and Declan Burke set out from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon. Why not pull a few armed robberies to pass the time? Then they meet up with Peter Rozovsky and a whole lot of folks with crime on their minds.

It took discipline to punch like that: upper arms still, forearms whirling like a Wankel rotary as she danced lightly on the balls of her feet. All the power came from her elbows and the deadly backhand flick of her wrists. I didn't know why I was there, but I liked watching her work.

"Femme fatale?" Thwack. "Femme-effing fatale?" Thwack. Thwack. "You know what a femme fatale does? She brings the world crashing down on any man who comes near her." Thwack. Thwack. Thwack. "Sometimes she brings it down on herself, but let me tell you: I'm not bringing it down on anybody. You want to save yourself trouble? Look in that box you ripped off from Burke and McFetridge." Thwack. Thwack.

Burke wore a red T-shirt and blue jeans. He hunched forward, hands jammed in his pockets, moving fast. McFetridge held the rolled-up Leafs jacket in the crook of his elbow, the Tim Hortons bag half falling out of one pocket. He ambled and shambled but still kept up with his friend somehow. He put a hand on Burke's shoulder, and they stopped.

McFetridge indicated a door, and Burke shook his head. McFetridge held up one finger and ducked into the doorway. Burke shrugged, leaned against a pillar, and lit a cigarette.

(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Baltimore Drive-by, Part II

Fictional characters John McFetridge and Declan Burke set out from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon and decide to do some armed robberies on the way. What a hoot!

Then they meet up with Peter Rozovsky.


Her voice told a smoky tale of cigarettes and whiskey, but it lied. She never touched either.

"Think I'd be able to do this if I wasted all my time hanging in bars with you and Burke and McFetridge?"

"But — "

She whipped her fists into the speed bag so hard and fast that I felt sorry for the bag. Chin tucked, knees flexed, back straight. Elbows in, back heel lifting slightly each time she struck. Her two fists became four, then six, her breath short, spitting wheezes with each punch. I got tired watching her.

But she did hang in bars. But I didn't hang with Burke and McFetridge. I'd never heard of them till we set up the connection and I ripped them off. But —

"But why the hell all this? You write crime fiction. You — "

She stopped punching, and she smiled as she blew a wisp of platinum hair from her left eye. "Would you want to be whipped by a fat dominatrix?"


(Read the rest of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. And remember: This is fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Drive-by fiction

John McFetridge is writing a piece of online fiction about his ramble from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon with Declan Burke. In McFetridge's version, a pair of crime writers named John McFetridge and Declan Burke ramble from Toronto to Baltimore for Bouchercon and pull off armed robberies along the way. McFetridge's third installment ends with the pair setting out for Philadelphia to hook up with one Peter Rozovsky — a minor character so far, mentioned but not seen. But Rozovsky has other ideas.

I jabbed the .45 at the base of McFetridge's skull, and I cackled as his eyes grew wide.

"Bet you didn't think this was real. You hide guns in doughnut bags up there, don't you? No one would be stupid enough to wave a real gun, would he? What can I tell you; I don't like doughnuts. Now, out of the car. And leave the boxes."

I jerked the barrel to the right as Burke went for his jacket. "Hold it right there, Tiger."

Burke's hand froze. "Tiger? The fook?"

"Tiger. You're Irish, what am I going to call you? Paddy? Mick? Now, out of the car, Celtic, and keep your hands away from your — "

"From my bloody Marlboros, you Yankee gobshite. All right, I'm getting out."

I waved out the window of McFetridge's black 2008 Lexus as I pulled away. "See you later, gents. Put this in your books."

Two nights later I'm shouting to be heard above the seething crowd at a hotel bar in Baltimore, hooting and cheering as a sexy dominatrix lifts her blouse to reveal her tattoos. The crowd gathers in around her, all except two guys heading the other way, toward the door ...

The snake tattoo is flicking its tongue at its owner's scapula, but I've got one eye on the two guys.

One of them shouts: "I said, `I'M AFTER FECKING OUT OF HERE FOR A CIGARETTE, MATE!'."

His friend, a husky, saltish-pepperish dude with a Maple Leafs jacket and a Tim Hortons bag stuffed in his back pocket, shrugs and follows. Shit, it's McFetridge and Burke.


(Read all of "The Baltimore Drive-by" so far here. Disclaimer: It's fiction. Almost none of it really happened.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2008