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Players: An Original Mystery Short Story

IN THE December 24 ISSUE

FROM THE 2011 Articles,
andMysteryrat's Maze,
andTerrific Tales
SECTIONS

by Dennis Palumbo

Players is a mystery short story by mystery author Dennis Palumbo. This story is PG rated for some language and was originally published in From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press), a short story anthology.

Reese was sitting by the fireplace, looking down at the half-emptied bottle of Scotch and the loaded .38 on the side table, when the phone rang.

Damn! Just when he’d summoned the nerve to do it—to finally and forever put an end to things—the phone kept ringing. He hesitated only another few moments, then picked it up.

“This is Reese,” he said. He reached for the bottle, took another swig.

“It’s me,” said a voice on the other end. “Artie.”

“I figured,” said Reese. “How’s Florida?”

“Hot.” Artie laughed. Short, staccato bleats, like a trumpet.

“You know what I mean,” said Reese. God, he hated this. How’d he get into this mess in the first place?

“The numbers aren’t good,” Artie said. “When the Feds and the SEC get through with it—then there’s that funny business with the fund.”

“Spare me the details.” Reese picked up the .38, hefted its weight. Heavier than he thought it’d be.

“The way I see it,” Artie was saying, “there’re two ways to go.”

Reese grunted absently. “There’s only one, and you know it.”

The gun lay against his palm, his forefinger curling around the trigger. Testing it. A little play there. What had he read somewhere? Squeeze it—slowly, deliberately—no quick, jerky motions. Oh, yeah, and relax the grip. Sure, he thought. I’m relaxed as hell.

“Reese, you there?” Artie cleared his throat. Laughter near him came over the line.

“You’re not alone,” Reese said.

“Doesn’t count. Rented for the evening.”

More muffled laughter. Young. Male. Christ.

“Well, pal,” Artie said suddenly. “Time is money. What are you gonna do?”

“First thing,” said Reese, “I’m gonna relax my grip.”

Artie was silent. Reese smiled to himself.

“You sure about this?” Artie said at last.

Reese was looking at the .38’s snub nose. Black. Thick lines. Jesus, it was an ugly thing.

“Reese?”

“I’m here.” One more big gulp from the bottle should do it. He’d hold it against his gums, swallow slowly, letting it burn all the way down.

“You want anything?” Artie’s voice was quieter now.

“I want to be somewhere else,” Reese said sharply. “Not in this damn house, not in debt up to my eyeballs, not about to be indicted –” He let out a breath. “I want to be someone else. Think you can manage that, Artie?”

“Fraid not.” Another pause. “Listen, just so you know … I’m gonna call somebody I know over at the phone company. This call never took place.”

“You mean, there won’t be any record of it.”

“Same thing.”

“Gotta hand it to you, Artie. You sure know how to cover your ass.”

“Which is more than you can say.”

“Tell me about it.” Reese saw it all arrayed before him—arrest, conviction, jail time. Hard time. Ruin. Money, he thought bitterly. In the end, it always comes down to money.

“Hell, Artie,” he said, “I had a good run.”

“You’re a player, Reese. Sometimes players lose. That’s what makes it a game.”

“Yeah. Right.” Reese drained the bottle. His head was spinning. Was his hand shaking, too? Pathetic.

Artie tried another tack. “Look, you gotta think of your family, your kids. Not to mention the insurance company. Tryin’ to fool those bastards–”

“I’m touched,” said Reese. “But don’t worry about it. It’ll look like an accident. I’m foolin’ around with my new gun, it goes off—I mean, I’m a goddamn model citizen. Nobody’ll believe I’d ever …” His voice trailed off.

“There’s no other way?” Artie actually sounded regretful.

“Nope.”

Just like that. “Nope.” A whole life summed up in one syllable. It was enough to make you laugh.

Except that Reese didn’t feel like laughing. He stared at the phone in his hand, almost as though he could see Artie at the other end, and sighed. Damn crooked lawyers.

He hung up without saying good-bye.

Just then, the door to the bathroom opened, releasing a cloud of steam into the room. Reese’s wife stood in the doorway, wrapped in a towel, wet from the shower.

“Who was that on the phone?” she asked, stepping into the room.

“Artie. It’s all hit the fan.”

“Which means what, exactly?” Her voice grew an edge.

“Which means, I’m screwed. Finished.”

“Just as Daddy predicted,” she said sourly, wringing her wet hair in her hands. “I was a fool to marry you.”

“No,” he answered, “you were a fool to leave everything to me in your will.”

She was just glancing up to respond when Reese pointed the gun at her and—slowly, deliberately, just like he’d read somewhere—pulled the trigger.

Check out other short stories by Dennis that KRL has published: A Theory of Murder and Patron Saint. Also check out an interview with Dennis and a review of his mystery novel Mirror Image.

Dennis Palumbo, M.A., MFT lives in Sherman Oaks, CA & is a writer and licensed psycho-therapist in private practice, specializing in creative issues. His latest novel, Mirror Image, is the first in a new series of mystery thrillers. He’s also the author of Writing From the Inside Out , as well as a collection of mystery short stories, From Crime to Crime. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and Pepperdine University, he serves on the faculty of UCLA Extension, where he was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year. Learn more about Dennis’ interesting career in writing on his website.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Earl StaggsNo Gravatar December 25, 2011 at 7:14am

Great story, Dennis. You had me all the way.
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2 Dennis PalumboNo Gravatar December 26, 2011 at 12:30pm

Thanks, Earl! Coming from a writer like you, that means a lot!

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3 BrendaNo Gravatar
Twitter: @brendaperrott and wildeoscarcat
December 27, 2011 at 1:15pm

Wow! Didn’t see that one coming!

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4 Dennis PalumboNo Gravatar January 29, 2012 at 12:29pm

Thanks, Brenda! I hoped the reader wouldn’t see it coming.
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5 Jenny MilchmanNo Gravatar
Twitter: @jennymilchman
December 28, 2011 at 7:03am

Great one, Dennis! I loved the description of the gun.

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6 Dennis PalumboNo Gravatar January 29, 2012 at 12:30pm

Thanks so much, Jenny!
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7 Craig Faustus BuckNo Gravatar
Twitter: @cfbuck
December 17, 2014 at 12:55pm

Terrific tale, Dennis. Well told and to the point.
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