This city consumes people. Fortunes lost, friends abandoned, hearts broken. I’ve seen it a million times. Starry-eyed kids and hardened veterans alike are brought to their knees here. Though not before going through hell and back. Sometimes they’re not even lucky enough to get back. In a town like this, who can tell the difference?

At least in hell you can smoke anywhere you want.

This town is a three hundred square mile eyelash-batting tramp. Gets its kicks luring honest-Joe schmucks to their rock bottoms with tawdry promises and sticky-sweet lies. But the first lie is always yours. You tell yourself you’re strong enough. You swallow the pill whole and figure you can quit any time. But then you find yourself swallowing the same dirty lies first thing every morning with a stiff glass of Bartles & Jaymes.

I should really restock the liquor cabinet.

The traffic brays endlessly below me like a beagle in heat. The nauseating drone of the suffocated street intensifies as rush hour approaches. Blue-collar worker bees swarm mindlessly from heir dead-end jobs and into the loving arms of formulaic sitcoms and frozen dinners. Every one of those poor jerks down there could write a novel on bad breaks and heartache. Me, I don’t write much. Besides, my master thesis on hardship would probably involve finding a dorky red-and-white-clad guy in glasses.

At least my book would have a little nudity.

A knock on my door snaps me out of my afternoon brood, reminding me the first of the month has already come and gone. You’d think the landlady would get the hint after noticing the stack of bills competing with the pile of old pizza boxes. The old hag once told me I needed a woman’s touch. I asked if she was coming on to me and she gave my rent a price hike. Some people just can’t take a joke.

I put down my issue of Highlights and hoist myself out of my seat to peer through the clouded peephole. To my surprise, some spook I’ve never seen is standing in the hall adjusting his tie. The cut of his suit is telling me he isn’t selling magazine subscriptions. It’s also telling me he’s packing more heat than a microwave burrito. I stand with my back to the wall and slide a mustard-stained .45 from my waistband.

“Who is it?” I ask while I check the chamber. Damn. Only three slugs left. I shouldn’t have scared off those pigeons earlier.

“AASL,” the creep snarls. “I’m here to deliver your final notice. Pay up or I’ll…”

He doesn’t get a chance to finish. I rip the door open and deal him a nasty uppercut. The goon reels at the chin music and reaches for his piece. But before he can get a shot off, I’m halfway down the landing, revolver blazing. The stairwell is pelted on each end by white-hot, metallic hail. Each barrel finds its mark. Molten lead punches its way through our torsos. Lungs collapse, bones shatter. I breathe my last and smile knowing I took the bastard with me. Hell of a town. Hell of a way to go. Hell of a way to avoid paying your fees.

Just another tale of inter-library loans and loss… in the big city.

Film Noir at Uneetee