One Bite at a Time




Monday, October 17, 2011

Tugboat

Patti Abbott has another flash fiction challenge over at her blog. This time the task was Write a story in any genre of under 1000 words based on one of Reginald Marsh's paintings. My contribution is below.




Tugboat



Stinky wondered what kept the tugboat from sinking. Tires and life preservers and ropes and all kinds of shit hung off the side. Taller than it was wide, looked like it might capsize every time a wave big enough to be seen hit anywhere but dead on. A milk run tonight, the harbor smooth as glass. The only breeze in Stinky’s face came from the boat’s movement.

He’d made this trip a hundred times on the schooner Dutch sent to meet the Canucks outside the three-mile limit. Stinky came up with the idea to connect the boats with special ladders, rollers built in to slide the booze between boats. Built-up sides kept the cases from falling off. No lifting, no breakage, and the load got transferred in half the time.

Dutch didn’t pay any attention when Stinky told him. “Yeah, Stinky. Do what you need to. I know you’ll do a good job.” The job Stinky did not good enough to merit a raise. So there was some “breakage.” A thousand cases of hootch come off a boat, some get dropped. Bottles get broken. These became Stinky’s skim. Dutch knew what an acceptable breakage rate was and Stinky knew not to get greedy. He kicked a little back to the Canucks and no one the wiser. Dutch didn’t get cheated, and Stinky and the Canucks got a little extra taste.

A door opened behind Stinky. Light poured onto the bow. Noodles said, “He’s out here, Mr. Flegenheimer.” The door closed and it was dark again.

Dutch walked to stand where Stinky could see him. “Never trust a Dago.”

“You saying me, Dutch? Aronoff sound Italian to you?”

“It ain’t you I’m talking about, Stinky. It’s you I’m talking to. Never trust a Dago. Don’t matter if he’s from Jersey or Canada or right off the goddamn boat from Sicily. I told you not to trust them.”

“You know I don’t deal with them unless I have to.”

“You dealt with them enough.” Dutch leaned on the rail, looked back to the skyline. Light twinkled in the Chrysler Building. “Charlie Lucky’s the worst of the bunch. He’s the one done for you.”

“I met him one time in my life, and it was you took me to see him that time.”

Dutch shook his head. “The guy on the boat. With all those scars on his face from smallpox or acne or something. Nunzio? He’s Charlie’s asshole buddy. Reports back to him of someone even spits over the side. I know about how you’re offloading the booze, and how much you’re skimming. That was clever, those rollers. Stupid thinking you could fool me about it. Why didn’t you just tell me? I’d a give you a raise.”

“You give me a piece of the action?” Stinky waited a few seconds for a reply. “I didn’t think so. You pay like we’re punching a clock. What do I get for a good idea? A twenty buck raise?”

“I paid how I pay when you come on. You was happy for the guarantee. You got no beef coming.”

“It’s been five years and I’m still making a lousy three hundred a week. What are you paying Berman? Ten grand, I hear.”

“Berman’s a genius, you stupid son of a bitch! You got any idea how much he makes for me every week, rigging the numbers in Harlem? You know how many guys there are in the world can do that?” Dutch held up an index finger. “Him. You had one good idea in your life and you kept it to yourself. Look where it got you. Dumb bastard.”

Dutch called for Noodles and Hump and Lulu. Kicked the buckets that held Stinky’s feet. “That’s set about enough. I was going to do you a favor and put your out of your misery before the boys dumped you over the side like the trash you are. Now you can kiss my ass. Give my regards to Legs and Julie when you see them.”

8 comments:

Mike Dennis said...

Ah yes. Legs and Julie. Good story, Dana. I can see Vic Morrow now in PORTRAIT OF A MOBSTER.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Great ambiance and dialog, Dana. This kind of thing went on in Detroit during Prohibition all the time. Canada is a stone's throw from here. Thanks so much for the great story.

Dana King said...

Mike,
Wow, I'd forgotten all about PORTRAIT OF A MOBSTER. Thanks for reminding me. That was a good one.

Dana King said...

Thanks, Patti,
This wasn't one of those stories we talked about on your blog last week, where the whole thing jumped into my head at once, leaving me only to transcribe it. This one was more like making sausage, though it did remind me it's past time for me to start reading more non-fiction for general research. I never would have known Dutch Schultz paid straight salaries had I not looked up a few other peripheral things. That nugget made the whole story fall together for me.

Rob Kitchin said...

Stinky gets a wash! Enjoyed that. I assume he was rolled off the side.

sandra seamans said...

You've captured the era perfectly, Dana. Loved the story. I kept seeing Bruce Willis in the Billy Bathgate movie. :)

Dana King said...

Thanks, Rob. Yep, Stinky sleeps with the fishes.

Dana King said...

Thanks, Sandra. I admit to getting the idea from BILLY BATHGATE. I didn't want to rip off Doctorow too literally and tried include enough of my own touches to avoid that, but I'm also glad I painted the picture well enough for you to recognize it.