The Recession: A Mystery Short Story

Aug 10, 2013 | 2013 Articles, Mysteryrat's Maze, Terrific Tales

by Kathy Kingston

Enjoy this never before published mystery short story.
This story is rated PG-13 for some language.

Mack looked up from his beer as the front door opened, and a tall, lanky figure was blown into the sleazy strip club on a frigid night wind.

The bouncer barely moved, checking the newcomer out, then melted back into the shadows.

“Shut the freaking door,” someone yelled.

Shit, it’s Jackson.

Mack groaned out loud, picked up his beer and took a deep slug.

Good thing I parked under the lights by the front door. The asshole can’t screw with my truck. No sugar in the gas tank, flat tires or stolen parts tonight at least.

A vein in his temple started to throb as his nemesis spotted him, and headed in his direction.

Godammit, the booger eating bastard is coming over here. Man, this shit is getting old.

Mack stared into his glass, watching the golden bubbles rising slowly.

Kindergarten, the first time he looked into that repulsive, feral face. In a room full of happy, smiling children, their eyes met, locked, narrowed, and hate was born. It was instant, it was mutual, and it was war. There was no particular reason why. It just was.

Creating a living hell for each other became their new goal. Nothing was out of bounds. Sports provided a constant supply of black eyes, cuts, bruises and even a broken bone or three, especially when they were on the same team. Teachers and coaches soon learned to keep them well separated.

Now, 40 years later, not much had changed. They both worked in construction and competed for the same work in the same, small town. Only the cost of payback had increased dramatically.

“Hey,” Jackson said, appearing at the empty bar stool next to Mack. He made no move to sit and Mack didn’t offer.

“Hey,” Mack didn’t look up. He was recalling the potato he had jammed inside the tailpipe of Jackson’s truck last month.

He took a sip of beer to cover his smile.

“Guess you heard I gotta sell my dozer,” Jackson said finally.

Mack nodded. He had heard, and was elated. He tried to keep a straight face.

“Thought that might make you happy,” Jackson added bitterly. “This goddamned economy is killing me,” he said, rubbing
the back of his skinny neck. “At least I still got my backhoe.”

“Yeah, things are tight for everybody.”

“Bullshit. You’ve got a steady gig, and then you go and underbid every dozer job around just to screw with me.”

You bet I do, Mack thought, but out-loud he said, “Listen, I gotta go take a whiz.” Sliding off the stool, he added

“It’s a real shame about your dozer,” but he was grinning as he walked away.

Mack had no sympathy for the asshole. Besides, he really did have to go. All that beer wanted out.

The bar toilet was a river of shit and vomit, so he went out back into the dark, deserted, loading area. While peeing behind a bush by the back wall, he thought he heard a groan, scuffling, and an odd clicking sound but was enjoying emptying his bladder way too much to even think about it.

Zipping up, he stepped out of the shadows and almost bumped into two guys in dark suits standing over a lump lying on the ground. The lump wasn’t moving. It also had a small, neat, dark hole in the middle of his forehead.

Suddenly, a gun with a silencer swung towards Mack, who threw his hands up in front of him as he started to walk backwards.

“Don’t freakin’ move,” the larger suit said.

“Donny, you moron. I told you to lock the back door,” the short one said.

“I did lock it, boss; he must’ve already been out here. We just didn’t see him.”

“Shit, now we’re gonna have two of them.”

“Hey, wait! I didn’t see anything, and I don’t give a shit about that bozo,” Mack said, glancing at the body. “That guy could be dead drunk, for all I know.”

“Dead drunk, that’s funny,” the boss said from the shadows. “Sorry, Buddy, wrong time, wrong place.”

He waved his hand. “Okay, Donny.”

“No, stop, please don’t kill me,” Mack said. “Honest, I won’t say a word, I swear on my mother’s grave.”

The little guy chuckled. “Yeah right, she’s probably home playing bridge. And every mook says they won’t talk. Tell me something I haven’t heard before.”

He nodded at Donny. “Go ahead,” he said as he stepped back quickly as if to avoid brain spatter on his expensive suit.

Donny brought the gun up against Mack’s head.

“Listen,” Mack pointed at the body. “I can help you with that.”

“Well, that’s original at least,” the boss said.

Donny pulled back the hammer on the gun.

“I can make him disappear forever. Please, just listen to me.”

“Forever is a very long time, Buddy,” the boss said, stepping out of the shadows. “And how would you work this magic? Make it fast, and make it good.”

“I work at a small town dump,” Mack said, trying to lean away from the gun.

“So what?” Donny growled. “Hold still dammit. C’mon boss, let me finish this.”

“Hold on Donny. This could be interesting, let’s hear the man out. I think I see where this might be headed.” The boss turned to Mack. “Speak.”

“I run the bulldozer. I have total control of the place. I bury stuff and it stays buried,” Mack blurted out. He was dripping with sweat and hyperventilating in the silence that followed. “Please, just give me a chance to show you what I can do.”

“Well, that’s an interesting proposition. And why would you be willing to do this?”

“If I help you out, maybe you’ll let me live?”

The boss stared at him. “Maybe. I have to think about it.”

Mack shuffled his feet and shivered in the cold air waiting to hear his fate.

“Okay, Donny, go get a bag,” the boss said, “Let’s see what the man can do.”

Mack watched nervously as Donny went over to a large black car parked in the shadows and opened the trunk.

“What’s the bag for?” Mack asked, trying to keep the tremor out of his voice.

“Goddamn forensics. Keeps stuff in, fibers, hair, evidence, you know, all that annoying shit.” Donny came back, threw the bag on the ground, and motioned for Mack to help.

Together they stuffed the body into a large duffel bag and threw it into the spacious trunk. The lid was still open. More bags were folded neatly in the corner. There was plenty of room for one more stiff, maybe even a few. Mack held his breath.

The boss slid into the driver’s seat and said to Mack, “You lead the way. Donny will ride with you and I’ll follow. Don’t try anything cute.”

He aimed a clicker at a large gate that rattled open.

“Which way are we headed?” He asked.

“North on the freeway, then stay close,” Mack said.

Mack let out a quiet sigh of relief as they followed the big, black car out front into the bright parking lot.

“I’m parked right in front of the door,” he said as he guided Donny to his old pick up truck.

Wiping sweat out of his eyes, he got behind the wheel and started it up.

“What a piece of junk,” Donny said, examining his ride. “And it stinks, too.” He looked over at Mack and sniffed. “Or is that you?” He rolled down his window. “Christ, let’s get moving.”

The black car trailed the old pickup into the empty countryside following roads that went from arteries, to veins, to capillaries. Finally they arrived at a towering, chain link fence topped with gleaming coils of razor ribbon that reflected brightly in the headlights.

“Geez, it looks like a freakin’ prison,” Donny said, his eyes darting around nervously. “Which is a good thing, I guess.”

Mack opened the locked gate, and they descended into a deep depression in the ground. Headlights revealed acres of flattened trash. He parked next to his Caterpillar, started her up, and quickly scooped out a large hole. Donny motioned to him for help, then they unloaded the bag and threw it over the edge. With a few deft moves of the dozer, Mack had it covered up in minutes.

Mack climbed down and waited, trying to control his shaking.

“Well, that was slick as goose shit,” the boss said, looking around with a big smile.

“Every week, I add more trash over the entire surface.” Mack said. “Nothing that I bury will ever be found again, So, maybe I could help you out. You know, with your sanitation problem. Long term. We could all benefit, right?”

“Maybe,” the boss said. “First, why should we should trust you, and what’s in it for you?”

“Well, first, it’s pretty obvious that you can kill me whenever you want, and second, maybe I could get paid to provide the service.”

“An interesting concept,” the boss said. “And what do you think this service might be worth?”

“Um, how about a grand for each bod… ahh bag?

“Maybe, let me think about it, money is tight these days.” The boss walked away and appeared to be deep in thought, then he returned to Mack.

“Alright, we’re in business. An envelope will be delivered to you. And we’ll have more work for you in the future. Keep your mouth shut and don’t flash your money. We know where to find you and if you screw up, you’re dead. Donny will be in touch.” He put a handkerchief to his nose and looked around. “Jesus, how do you put up with the stench?”

“What stench?” Mack replied.


Mack turned his face to the moonlight while shredded pieces of newspaper and trash swirled and danced around his feet. The noxious odor of the newly disturbed garbage enveloped him as he stared at the mountainous, dark profile of the huge Caterpillar bulldozer in the pale glow.

What a machine, my ticket to paradise. Who woulda thunk?

He watched headlights move slowly through the darkness in his direction, and checked the hole to make sure it was big enough, but he had gotten plenty of practice.

Over the last year, the black car, Donny, bags and envelopes had appeared on an irregular basis. Mack replaced his ratty old pickup truck with a used Tahoe, bought far away so the locals wouldn’t know he paid cash. Life was good, despite the bad economy, and he hardly ever saw Jackson anymore.

Head lights swept past him as the big, black car pulled up and parked. The boss and Donny got out.

“That’s odd,” Mack thought as a trickle of fear slid down his spine. Usually it was just Donny.

Mack waited, but instead of opening the trunk, they walked over to him. They were both holding guns.

“Listen, I know we have a good working relationship, but times are tough, and we got a better offer. This isn’t personal,” the boss said. “Besides,” he added, “With this new guy, we won’t have to meet in this stinkhole.”

“Wait a minute, what are you talking about? What new guy? What better offer?”

Donny motioned toward the black car.

“Me,” said Jackson as he unfurled his lanky body out of the back seat. “I have a backhoe and 200 acres of woods. And I know how to cut a deal, too.”

“But how…? Why….?”

“Thanks to you, I had no work, so I started keeping tabs on you. I followed you here one night and I knew what was up. I recognized these guys and followed them back to the bar. I thought they were going to kill me, but then we talked and made a deal.”

“Yeah,” Mack said bitterly, “That seems to be how they work.”

Jackson smiled; it was an ugly smile.

“Now, here I am.” Jackson said patting the familiar envelope that was sticking out of his pocket, instead of Mack’s.

“And there you are. By the way, Mack, I’m burying you for free just for the pleasure of doing it.”

The boss held a gun on Mack while Donny opened the trunk. Jackson and Donny took out a bag and threw it into the hole.
Jackson scampered up the side of the dozer like a spider. “Hey, sweet Cat, Mack, I’ll enjoy operating it after I get your town job with full benefits too. So sorry.”

But he was grinning like an idiot, and he didn’t look sorry at all.

The boss looked at Donny and nodded.

Donny raised the gun to Mack’s head.

“Wait! There’s a letter.”

The boss held up a finger. “Explain.”

“A letter to be opened in case of my premature death, or if I go missing,” Mack added looking at the hole, “Describing everything. You know. Dates. Details.”

Everybody stared at him. There was a long silence.

“Where is it?”

“I left it with my lawyer. For insurance.”

The boss sighed, looked at the ground and shook his head.

“Okay, Donny,” he said with a tilt of his head towards the dozer. “No bag this time.”

Donny walked over to the bulldozer, raised the gun and shot Jackson. Jackson tilted sideways slowly, then slowly slid down the side of the dozer onto the packed garbage with a thud.

“You might want to remove that envelope before you plant him,” the boss said. “And he’s a freebie.”

“Happy to do it,” Mack replied.

He pulled the envelope out of Jackson’s pocket, frowned, and said, “It seems light.”

“Blame the recession.”

“No problem,” Mack said as he dragged the body to the edge of the hole. With a not so gentle kick, Mack sent Jackson over the side. He rolled down the slope, long arms and legs flailing, kicking up bits of trash that settled gently on top of him as he landed at the bottom, right next to the bag.

Mack couldn’t help but stare into the hole and think, that could be me down there.

“Hey, let’s get this over with,” the boss said covering his nose with a handkerchief. “Goddammit, I hate this stench.”

Mack was stewing in his own nervous stink as he crawled up the side of the dozer and turned the key. As the machine roared to life with deafening rumble and a belch of exhaust, he vowed to write that letter the minute he got home.

More mystery reviews, short stories, articles and giveaways can be found in the current issue, and those and others can be found in our mystery section, including another July 4th mystery short story.

Kathy Kingston is a transplanted New Yorker, by way of Southern Oregon, she has worked as a bank teller, fashion model, wholesale plant salesman, grocery store cashier, and for the past 27 years as an award winning landscape contractor specializing in drought tolerant designs. Short stories are her favorite writing format, but she has a novel in the works. Her stories have been published in the Sisters in Crime LA anthology, Murder in La-La Land and Dark Moon Digest #5. She is currently on the board of Sister in Crime LA.


  1. Now this is a lowdown and dirty story of the recession blues!!

  2. Gripping, clever, great plot twist…can smell the bar and dump through the story…


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