The Covid Cantina is closed for the moment. But the authors who participated wanted to keep on writing, just at a slower pace. So, every Wednesday we will bring you a new collection of stories. One a week. I have the honor to go first, and I hope you enjoy it.
We hope you’ll visit the other authors who comprise this collection: Paul Bennett, Robert Cely, Derek Elkins, Jamie D. Greening, Kathy Kexel, and Joe Shaw. As always, there’s no fee, we’re doing this to help you pass the time. We do ask that you buy our books/audio books to help pay the freight here. But that’s up to you! Mine are all on the right margin of the blog.
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Frank Mulroney sat on the edge of the bed, thinking he’d found peace at the end of his 27 year quest. The cell door was old-fashioned, the kind that had bars and an open slot, versus a solid door with a food port. Classic county jail in New Mexico. Exactly where he knew he could finally sleep.
He hadn’t really slept for more than 2 hours at a time since 1993. It had been hard, and the cause of two marriages breaking up. But he’d been on his own since 2010, nobody able to deal with his moaning in the middle of the night, and his begging the phantoms to be quiet.
Tonight – tonight he would finally get some rest.
The detective had been quite shocked when he’d walked in earlier that morning, and it had taken a while to locate the file. But once the facts started to fall into place, the detective became less skeptical, then a bit harsh, and finally sympathetic. He offered Frank the chance to go home and return the next day once he’d been booked, but Frank insisted that the cell was where he had to be.
Now, sitting quietly in a cell that had no other occupants, in a wing of the facility that had only two teenage kids awaiting bail, he had plenty of time to think about how marvelous this felt.
October 31, 1993 had been a normal Halloween for most people. Frank was 25 years old, doing well in his job at the power plant, and had more than a few coins in his pocket. He’d headed out bar-hopping after work, and his Zorro costume got him a handful of phone numbers before midnight, but no takers on his invitation back to his bed.
With no targets in sight, Frank hammered down a couple of Harvey Wallbangers in the final hour of bar service and poured himself behind the wheel of his Probe. It was a piece of junk, but it ran well enough to haul him around town. It looked much better than it ran, and soon it would give up the ghost. He didn’t mind, plenty of mint vehicles here in San Juan County to choose from when the time came.
Fifteen minutes later, while navigating the back roads on the way to his trailer, Frank rounded a sweeping bend in the road and came to an abrupt halt.
Abrupt, because he’d just driven through six men in Mariachi band outfits, all of whom were lounging next to their car while the seventh man changed the tire. It was one of those barge-sized Cadillacs from the 70s, and it had been turned into a beautiful low-rider.
All six were instantly dead, mowed down like ducks in a row. The seventh was less fortunate, he’d merely been clipped by the front fender and was obviously hurt badly, but still conscious.
Frank, once he realized he’d stopped, got out to see why. The last two wall-bangers he’d consumed soon decorated the hood of his car. The gore was incredible.
Whatever else you wanted to say about that model of Probe, the bugger was tough. there was virtually no damage given the slaughter, and the headlights were already recessed because he was driving by moonlight – one of the reasons he never saw the band until too late.
Backing up, and listening to the sickening crunches from the bodies, he came off the pile of gore and parked. Working by flashlight, he examined his car and found no real damage. All of the men had been sitting, or squatting, next to the car while number 7 changed the tire.
No damage. A chance to get away clean. Frank didn’t even think twice. His trailer was just a mile away, and he escaped without notice.
The next morning he spent an hour with a pressure washer cleaning the undercarriage – and it was good that he had: there was quite a collection of rhinestones when he was done.
For the next few weeks he’d walked on egg shells, but nobody ever knocked on the door. The papers carried the story on the front page, and the television couldn’t get enough of it. All of the men were from Mexico, and had been turned around out in the country most likely. The bodies were all shipped back to their homes across the border, and a large memorial was held in Aztec, the nearest city to where the accident had taken place.
The night of the memorial service had been the beginning of the visits. Shortly before two in the morning – the time of the accident – the door flew open and the Mariachi band marched in blaring an old tune. They would play for 1 hour and then leave. Some nights the phantoms would come back three times. On one Halloween they stayed the whole night, and followed him to the power plant the next day.
Over the years Frank tried to drink them away. That and drugs cost him his job at the plant, and he subsisted on more and more menial jobs over the following years. The trailer became more decrepit, the Probe died and was replaced with a succession of really rotten junkers. But nobody ever asked him about the accident.
He decided that he should get right with the law, and God, by turning himself in when the Mariachi band started playing just two songs every night: Folsom Prison Blues and Jailhouse Rock. He endured almost six months of that before walking into the Sheriff’s office this morning, explaining the accident and signing a confession. None of the deputies had been on the force when it happened, and they had to dig out old records from the paper storage unit. But by six that evening he was finally in a cell by himself, breathing easy for the first time in almost three decades.
Just after midnight Frank heard a noise and opened his eyes. The Mariachi band was just standing around him in the cell, staring. No instruments, no singing, just staring. For a long time.
Finally, the one he assumed was the band leader based on his outfit knelt next to the bunk. In slightly accented Spanish he said, “You really think this will help? I mean, we’ve been dead a long time and we haven’t been at peace. I think, Frank, you will be spending all of your days with us. Now, tonight we all introduce ourselves, and tell you what you took from us.”
Mulrooney just nodded. That seemed fair. He didn’t mind talking.
“But tomorrow, Frank, the instruments are back. And since ghosts don’t get tired, we’ll be playing your favorite tunes 24 x 7. Pretty soon they’ll put you in a cell by yourself in the pysch wing. After all, only a madman hears music at 103 decibels all day. True?”
Frank could say nothing. He listened as they told their tales. And at four in the morning the bandleader said, “See you in four hours Frank. Enjoy the silence while it lasts.”
Four hours later, Frank began crying. And the deputies remarked that they’d never seen a man cry and sing old Cash and Elvis tunes at the same time. Too bad he had to go into isolation for his own good.
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Very happy to see more fiction, Joe.
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