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(Song: “Housewife’s Lament” from the diary of Mrs. Sara A. Price, written between 1850 and 1900.)

Chapter One

I adore hearing my girl sing.

“As I was a-walking I heard a complaining,

I spied an old woman the picture of gloom.

She stared at the mud on her doorstep, ’twas raining,

And this was her song as she wielded her broom.”

But this song is creepy.

“Life is a toil and love is a trouble,

Beauty will vanish and riches will flee,

Pleasures will dwindle and prices they double,

And nothing is as I would wish it to be.”

There is something horrid about a woman making her living as a singer singing this song.

“There’s too much of worriment goes into a bonnet,

There’s too much of ironing goes into a shirt.

There’s nothing that’s worth all the time you spend on it,

There’s nothing that lasts us but trouble and dirt”

I only come for her. Not the smoky atmosphere, the low lights, the classic drinks…

“In March it is mud, it is snow in December,

The midsummer breezes are loaded with dust.

In fall the leaves litter, in rainy September

The wallpaper rots and the candlesticks rust.”

It’s all a setup. They banned indoor smoking. Machines create a harmless mist to simulate a club in the 30’s.

“There are worms in the cherries and slugs on the roses,

There are ants in the sugar and mice in the pies.

The rubbish of spiders no mortal supposes

And ravaging roaches and damaging flies.”

And the scary part is not the lyrics from a bygone age where a woman had nothing to look forward to but being a happy homemaker in some sort of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ nightmare of Tupperware and pies in the window.

“It’s sweeping at six and it’s dusting at seven,

It’s vittles at eight and it’s dishes at nine.

It’s potting and panning from ten till eleven,

We scarce break our fast till we plan how to dine.”

Well, not JUST that.

“From floor to the ceiling and from corner to center,

Forever at work and forever alert,

No rest for a day lest the enemy enter,

I spend my whole life in a battle with dirt.”

The scary part is she sings for a mobster who pretty much owns her.

“Life is a toil and love is a trouble,

Beauty will vanish and riches will flee,

Pleasures will dwindle and prices they double,

And nothing is as I would wish it to be.”

And that the little chores and housekeeping are things she really wants to do. With all her little heart.

“Last night in my dreams I was stationed forever,

On a far little rock in the midst of the sea.

My one chance of life was a ceaseless endeavor

To sweep off the waves as they swept over me.”

She’s getting old, she says – at thirty-five – and wants to keep house for her grizzled PI girlfriend.

“Life is a toil and love is a trouble,

Beauty will vanish and riches will flee,

Pleasures will dwindle and prices they double,

And nothing is as I would wish it to be.”

Not that I see myself as grizzled. I’m thirty-seven with plenty of good years left in me. I would love to spend them not getting shot at. I enjoy not getting shot at. But until she’s free, I work. I work so she can save up money to buy her freedom and a little house far away from fake smoke in crowded clubs.

“Alas, ’twas no dream, ahead I behold it,

I see I am helpless my fate to avert.

She laid down her broom, and her apron she folded,

She laid down and died and as buried in dirt”

So she can do the things she’s singing about for me but with a smile on her beautiful face.

“Life is a toil and love is a trouble,

Beauty will vanish and riches will flee,

Pleasures will dwindle and prices they double,

And nothing is as I would wish it to be.”

The crowd erupts in applause, my hands blending right in with them. I’m somewhat of a secret so when I come to watch her, I’m as nondescript as possible. Felix knows my Sandra has a girlfriend but doesn’t know she’s a private detective. Felix thinks my name is Ginger; a real estate agent from Connecticut. My name’s Clarice, nothing so fancy as ‘Ginger.’ Yes, like that other investigator Clarice. No, I haven’t seen the movie. Out of spite.

Felix owns this place and every two-bit hustler or drug dealer wannabe in a ten-mile radius. He owns all the singers, bartenders, waitresses, and everyone who sets foot in his clubs and collects a paycheck. Or whatever’s left after Felix takes his cut. Debts, he says. Bullshit, I say. This is Sandra’s last performance. We’re leaving. Tonight. By this time tomorrow, me and Sandra will be gone and Felix will be dead. She is going to kill him and I am going to help her.

And yes, it’s because I love her. I would break the law for her because she’s lived through hell. Felix keeps his singers like a personal stable. Sandra loved him once but she can’t stand this sordid world of drugs, whores, and violence anymore. Felix doesn’t take no for an answer. For anything. That little turd.

I don’t see Felix among the tipsy onlookers who clap at the end of Sandra’s set. She bows demurely, keeping her breasts in the vintage, emerald green 60’s dress. It hugs her generous frame and highlights her caramel skin so well, you don’t care what era the silk frock comes from. Her ebony curls spill over her shoulders as the lights on stage fade and the audience turns back to their drinks and dinners. To blend in I down the rest of my Sidecar, wincing at the bartender’s fetish for lemon juice. Beverly is useless at making a good drink; watering them down both to stretch out the booze and express her hatred of her job. Condensation drips down to stain the simple cotton slacks on my thin legs. My hair is long and deliberately down so the inky brown locks hide my face. Sandra is dressed for the stage; I’m dressed to help her kill her boss. Such an occasion calls for comfort over style.

The Sidecar does nothing for me other than leave a sour taste in my mouth. I paid for a glass of lemon juice with some brandy for color and the thought of my wasted money gives me even more reason to put a bullet in Felix; the cheap bastard. Keeping some lazy barmaid like Beverly who can’t even water down a drink and keep it palatable.

Sandra lets me into the dressing rooms, as she does after most performances. She has a small set of admirers visiting all the time so nobody blocks my way when I follow. I hand her the silencer wrapped in a plastic bag as she slips cotton gloves over her fingers. Her hands are steady, determined eyes make sure every finger is covered before she pulls a small pistol from my hand. As Sandra spins on the silencer exactly how I taught her, I let her lead me to Felix’s office. I step in front to block the view of the small weapon. But there isn’t anyone to hide from. Between sets, the activity is on the stage wings and dressing rooms with costume changes, and frantic cosmetic touch-ups while the bodyguards keep the drunks in line.

“He likes it quiet when he does the books,” Sandra told me. “It’s the only time he’s alone, Clarice. At least with his pants up.”

I shudder at the image of that reedy little punk on the toilet and focus on the task at hand.

“Here.” She says, stopping at a door that if I didn’t know better, was just like any other in this place. The wood was painted a bright, ocean blue to match the hallway and left unlabeled.

“Are you ready?” I whisper, my hand on the brass knob.

Sandra meets my narrow eyes, courtesy of my Chinese father, and nods.

I want to stop and remind her not to say a word. Just point and shoot. In the head. Then we run. But there’s no more time for words. In her eyes, I see every time Felix touched her, hit her, and stole her money. I just open the door.

In a flash of silk and soft perfume, Sandra is in the room with a perfect shot leveled and I ready myself for a gunshot that never comes.

“Oh, God.” Sandra’s hands drop and I pull her to the side. Felix is slumped back in his chair, his blank eyes to the ceiling and three holes in his chest.

‘Oh, God’ indeed. “We need to go. Now.” I hiss, my heart pounding in my ears. I am too old for this. If I live, I’m retiring for sure.

I hear footsteps down the hallway and know we’re being set up. I snatch the gun from my girl and hide it in my jacket so I can pull Sandra out of the doorway. Another singer sees us and tries to say hello, but I just haul a shell-shocked Sandra towards the fire exit.

The frantic screaming starts before the heavy metal door can shut.

“Did you see?”

“Get in the car.”

“Clarice! What are we gonna do?”

“Get in the damn car!” I hiss, steering her to the passenger side of my little Camaro and get out of that parking lot as fast as I can without screeching tires broadcasting our escape.

I feel the gun like a hot poker in my ribs, jammed into my belt in the most inefficient and potentially life-threatening way possible but I’m too busy putting as much distance as I can between us and Felix’s body to worry about it. Sandra is hunched beside me, her face pinched in confusion and cursing under her breath and alternating between her native Spanish and English.

“Who… Goddammit, who killed him before I could?” She growls, her knees bouncing as the stress takes hold.

“I don’t know but we were seen and we’ll be on the hook for it.”

Sandra doesn’t say a word as I obey every traffic rule like a saint until the very moment we reach the highway. I punish the car and the pavement, our suitcases hitting the insides of the trunk as I push my little car to its limit. My girl babbles the entire way out of the city to I-95 where we stop somewhere near midnight at a motel. I pay in cash and keep my eyes on the window while Sandra showers.

“I’ll never know if I could do it now.” She whimpers, hunched over on the foot of the bed, her bare feet dripping water onto the horrendous orange carpet.

She may get another chance to use that gun. There’s no way we got away clean. “Get some sleep, baby. You’re driving in the morning. I’ll stay up just in case.”

She looks up at me like the most beautiful lost, wet rat I’ve ever seen. “Just in case?”

I hand back the gun and she gets the message, drying her hair with one hand and using the other to slide the gun under her pillow.

“I love you.” She whispers before her eyes close.

“Love you too, honey.” More than anything in this world. I never understood the sentiment till now; the complete willingness to not only let the world burn but to start the blaze yourself for the one you love.

Chapter Two

Nothing moves the entire night, which worries me more. Felix was shit but he was hot shit, with loyal people who would make his murderer pay. Who killed Felix before we could? Who could have known we’d be there to take the fall? Confusion keeps me from napping quietly as Sandra drives, making good time to Canada. Sandra only wakes me when we’re somewhere between Albany and Potsdam at a tiny cabin one of my less than reputable clients paid me with. It’s small enough for the trees to hide it well, made with real oak with wildflowers in every window box. Unconnected, registered under a false name, and barely kept up for just such an occasion. Did I always plan to kill Felix and run away with my lover? Maybe. But this place is sure coming in handy now.

Sandra parks the car away from the cabin in a secluded nest of underbrush and trees and we walk with our bags the rest of the way. Our adrenaline high is gone and every one of my muscles hammers at my bones, screaming for a real bed and something to eat. But every step is divinity because I take it alongside her.

“Clarice?” My tired brown eyes finally focus on hers and she’s staring at me, baffled. I must have been staring, too. “What’s up?”

“Nothing. We can’t stay long. Just to swap the plates on the car and eat. I’ll drive the rest of the way.”

Sandra flashes me a small grin in understanding, her shoulders slumped in the hooded sweatshirt she wears to protect her from the chill in the air. The dress is in a dumpster a hundred miles away from here.

We walk the rest of the way in silence, sighing in relief when the door locks securely behind us. I don’t fully relax till I’ve checked every room and leave Sandra with my pistol and two spare clips to keep watch while I shower.

It’s cold for a long time before the heater remembers people are here so I only get to rinse with warm water. My hands briskly clean the car ride from my pale skin, glossing over the scars from too many close calls. And not even the overtly dangerous clients! Some of my most violent jobs have been mistrustful spouses. Cheaters do not like to get caught. Yet another reason to seek other employment.

Once I’m in clean jeans and a tank top, Sandra flees to the kitchen to work her magic. She turns whatever is edible in the refrigerator and cabinets into a fragrant meal. I circle the place while she cooks, taking in the new pan she’s using and the distinct lack of dust on any of the country chic furniture. Someone’s been through here to clean. Could it have been my little mole? Nick’s a pretty decent sort for a narc, but he’s no maid.

“Hey, hon? Can you see if there’s any peanut butter in the fridge?” Sandra mumbles in the distracted way of a person concentrating with surgical precision on the pepper grinder in her hands.

I check the sparse shelves and don’t see it. “Nope. I’ll check the pantry.” Sandra only grunts in response, nothing distracting her from the bubbling pans in front of her. The pantry door sticks ever so slightly, the thin oak having warped enough to scrape the floorboards. Some may think it’s charming but every octave of wood on wood makes my fingers twitch to replace it. My foot hits a shallow puddle with a smack and I curse. Damn leaky roof. And we won’t be here long enough to fix it.

I fumble for the pull-chain and lights illuminate the puddle of crimson at my feet. My stomach lurches as I meet Nick’s panicked eyes. His leg is full of holes and I wonder how he hasn’t bled out being tied up and gagged in the pantry for who knows how long.

“Pack it to go, baby. We got a problem.”

“What?” She calls over the sound of sizzling chicken.

“We have a problem! Get down!” No time to free Nick, who wisely stays quiet. The lights flicker but don’t go out and the front door rattles in the frame. I wipe his blood off my sneaker and onto the carpet. The familiar weight of the gun is in my palm and I back towards Sandra, my sneaker squeaking where it’s still damp from the blood, to get the other pistol from the top of the fridge. I swallow hard as the door takes some serious abuse before splintering under the force.

“Drop it!”

He says that like he expects me to listen. Cute. I can hear Sandra breathing slowly behind the sofa out of our visitor’s sight. “Since I don’t take orders from strangers, you’ll have to deal with guns in your face.”

He takes a step towards me and I cock the hammer of each gun back in both hands with my thumbs. I look appropriately badass, but I’ll be too off balance if I fire one gun to fire the other. I am also hopelessly right-handed. I’m lucky I didn’t drop the left gun entirely. But I stand my ground to keep him away from Sandra.

“Drop the guns, Ginger. It’s over.”

Ginger? I chuckle. “You’re from the club. One of Felix’s bouncers.” Don’t know which one but not too many know that name. His build tells me all I need to know about his occupation; too tall and too bulky to do much more than shoot or push people around.

“You thought you could run off with one of Felix’s girls? No dice, lady. You’re gonna give her up right now.”

“What’s taking so long, Steve?” A woman steps between the square tower of leather Steve makes and the mangled doorway, her blond curls no doubt shifting the very air with the stench of peroxide around her. Her, I know. My teeth still hurt from the memory of those God-awful drinks.


The barmaid turns to me, a snide curl to her pouty lips. “You weren’t hard to find, Ginger.” That voice. The scream from the hallway. “Visiting Sandra every night she performed. Perfect set up for us to kill Felix and take his operation. We tracked you with a little transmitter hidden in Sandy’s ring.” Her mother’s ring. One of the few things Sandra refused to part with and this bitch knew it. “We’ll be needing her back now. She’s a good money maker and now we’ll have her little girlfriend as leverage.”

“Felix wouldn’t have liked you waving guns around his best girl.” Sandra is shaking with anger in the corner of my eye, gripping a wooden spoon like it was a dagger and gripping her fingers around the potholder on the handle of a greasy iron skillet. When did she have the chance to grab that? “Singers don’t do as well with holes in them.”

“I think we’ll take good care of Felix’s legacy.” Steve says and takes another step forward. The creak of his leather jacket makes enough noise for Sandra to adjust her weight and get ready to move. For what I don’t know. “No more two-bit drug dealers. It’s time to make real money.”

Beverly snaps her fingers and Steve shuts his mouth with a loud click of nicotine-stained teeth. “Where is Sandra?”

Her answer is a wooden mixing spoon to Steve’s wrist and the frying pan full of hot chicken grease in his face. Through his screams, I shoot Beverly in the shoulder. What can I say? I’m a softie. I can’t kill an unarmed woman. No matter how bad her drinks are.

To stop his screaming, Sandra caves in the back of Steve’s skull with the cast iron skillet. Made in America so nary a scratch on the metal. She takes his gun while I lean over Beverly. “I don’t care about Felix’s empire.” Such as it was. “Let the rest of the punks fight it out and leave us be.”

“You dyke bitch!” Ah, the old names. I shove my foot into the oozing shoulder to make her pay for the slur. “They know your name, bitch! They’ll think you killed Felix and kill you both!”

“Oh, you didn’t tell them yourself? Thought you’d be some mob queen?” Sandra says as she moves to join me, putting Steve’s gun right in Beverly’s eye. “You’re off to a shitty start.”

And with a bang, it’s over. But the stains will never come out of the carpet.

“Do we have to run again?” Sandra looks away from the mess that was Beverly’s face as quickly as possible.

“We’ll have to clean up here. There’s some lye in the storage room.” Poor Nick, still laid out in there. Bet he nearly pissed himself at the noise. “But I can’t be sure they didn’t tell anyone. We’ll have to be quick about it.”

Sandra sighs and gently places the hot gun on the kitchen counter. Her ring catches the light; a thick band of gold with her mother’s name engraved on the inside. She slips it off her finger and goes to throw it down the drain.

“Wait.” I take it and look it over, finding the tiny glimmer of silver gadgetry in the folds of gleaming yellow. I must have used a hundred of these things in my line of work. I pluck it out with a carving knife and slip the ring back on to Sandra’s finger. “I’ll flush it. Let’s just get to Canada.”

Chapter Three

Two deep graves, a sack of lye, and two long showers later, me and my girl are back on the road and over the border before we know it; leaving Nick to the tender mercies of whatever ER is closest to the cabin.

“Clarice?” Sandra breathes, once customs has done everything but anally probe us. “I don’t think I like shooting people. I’m glad I didn’t kill Felix. Even after all the horrible things he did to me.”

“Remember to call me ‘Paula’ now, ‘Monica.” I smile, never being happier to see so much French in my life. Our new names are on all our documents so we better get used to them. “And you can leave the shooting up to me.” I wink at her and she smacks me in the arm for my terrible joke.

Three years later:

I wave at a passing car as I walk home from my camera shop. Being a private eye all those years gave me some great experience with lenses and photography so I played to my strengths. I sell the best cameras in the area. For extra cash, I do photos for the local schools and the occasional wedding. I stay out of everybody’s business and everybody stays out of mine.

I breathe in chilly fall air as I round the corner, hearing a wordless tune from my house. Monica is singing as she lets pies cool in the window. I stop to listen at the fence, left in its natural brown because if she made me paint it white, I would honestly lose my mind. Her curls are twisted up into a loose bun and she absolutely sparkles with pride when she dusts her hands off on her daisy apron. She catches my eye and waves, continuing to sing. I wave back, my camera bag sliding up my shoulder, and I walk to our front door to our house so we can cuddle in our living room after a homemade meal.

Maybe that ‘Leave it to Beaver’ crap isn’t so bad after all.


Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Fiction, LGBTQ+, Mystery/Thriller

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