Category Archives: Sudden Fiction

Autumn Leaves – A Short Story Response to T’s Prompt


Autumn Leaves

by Fay Moore © 2012

 

The miners knock down the door to the manager’s office with a makeshift battering ram.

 

For several weeks, the miners at this South African platinum mine have been on strike about low wages, poor work conditions and other complaints. The effort is poorly organized. When the mine’s owners ignore the laborers’ concerns, the disenfranchised workers formulate a plan to hit the owners where it hurts: in their pocketbooks. They take their dispute to the next level. The workmen are done with talking.

 

First, all extraction of precious metals stops. Picket lines set up at entrances to the mine. Employees are warned–cross the picket lines at your own risk. Some of the idled men stand in the front of the mob with batons in hand, slapping the bats threateningly into open palms. The baton squad is ready to break  bones—skulls or legs, it doesn’t matter. No one is going to work today.

 

Second, any equipment or infrastructure that is expensive to repair or replace is sabotaged or destroyed. The miners reason, if the owners fire the strikers and replace them with new bodies, mining cannot resume. Without the machines and mechanisms operational, miners can’t get the platinum out of the ground or out of the ore. Mined metals can’t be loaded onto trucks or railway cars to transport the valuable product to smelters or other buyers. If the metal doesn’t leave the mine, money doesn’t flow into the owners’ coffers.

 

Third, any cash in the manager’s office is to be expropriated to create a strike fund for the employees who participate in the work stoppage. The men with the battering ram are looking for the petty cash box.

 

With the expansion of automobile ownership in China and accumulation of precious metals by the world’s wealthy, the demand for platinum is up. Prices are high. The owners want to sell as much product as possible while conditions are lucrative. The mine uses day laborers to supplement the workforce during peak production. Day laborers are paid in cash. The strike organizers know the company’s currency cache is in the manager’s office.

 

Desperate men do reckless things. Once the cash box is located, it is broken open. Two men mount the office building’s flat roof. One has a loud speaker. Another has the cash box. The one with the loudspeaker calls the roving strikers in earshot to come. A dozen men stand below the speechmaker. 

 

“It’s raining Rands. Catch the colorful bills and go home. Feed your families.”

 

The one with the cash box takes a handful of the paper currency and lets the money go. The paper pirouettes on wisps of air before parachuting to the ground. A dozen pairs of hands grab for the cash.

 

“Watch the money fall like autumn leaves. Tell the others to come over for their share as you depart,” is the order.

 

Suddenly vehicle engines roar. Shots ring out. The bull horn clatters to the ground. Men duck and scatter like buckshot as rubber bullets spray the area. The local police, aided by the military, arrive en masse and seize piles of metal rods, machetes and sticks. The cash box is captured though it’s empty, its contents evaporated. In another part of the compound, black smoke curls, an acrid combination from burning tires used as barricades by strikers and tear gas used to disperse the crowd.

 

A few rampaging men are captured and arrested. One protester harangues the policemen, accusing them of apartheid-era tactics. At the end of the day, legal authorities control the shuttered mine.

 

News reaches the dispelled strikers that five other platinum mines in addition to their own have been closed down due to protests.

 

“Just like autumn leaves. They’ll keep falling,” predicts one smiling man.

Response to Forever Young Song Prompt


Forever Young

by Fay Moore © 2012

The halls smell like urine—stale urine, gone rank in the heat, ground into the cheap linoleum tiles laid decades ago when this building was new and this neighborhood was a good place to live. A wire cage surrounds the single light bulb illuminating the dingy corridor. Cecily pulls the door to the apartment shut behind her as she leaves. The soles of her shoes stick to the floor with every step.

Cecily cringes as she thinks of her mother, drunk and in the bedroom, lying under some guy. The grime in the halls doesn’t make her cringe. She’s used to that. She should be used to her mother’s whoring, too.

Her mother puts out for anyone who will pay her twenty bucks. She collects the money in an envelope in her dresser drawer. Momma always worries out loud about having enough money to pay the rent when the superintendent comes around. If the money isn’t there, the superintendent gets ugly. One time, when Momma didn’t have all the rent money, Cecily saw the man shove Momma to her knees. When he grabbed Momma by the hair of her head and fiddled with his zipper, Momma yelled for Cecily to run away, which she did. She made it to the bottom of the stairs.

That’s where she met Guido. He saw her crying and pulled her to safety inside his apartment.

Guido lives on the first floor. He’s older than Cecily by a decade. The apartment belongs to his grandmother, who has lived there forever. She’s got rent control, Guido says, so it doesn’t cost much to live there, so long as his grandmother doesn’t move away—or die. His grandmother is old, blind and crippled, so she stays in her room, playing funny sounding music from when she was young. Guido lives in the apartment, too. He sleeps on the couch. He takes care of his grandmother as best he can. He doesn’t have a regular job. He sells weed in the alley beside the apartment building, so he’s got pocket money.

To Cecily, Guido is fun. He takes her to the corner deli and buys her stuff. He tells her she is pretty.  Today he says he has a surprise for her. He says he’s going to make her a star.

Cecily doesn’t believe him about the star thing. That’s just how Guido talks. He’s always making things up about what he’s going to do when he doesn’t have to take care of his grandmother anymore. He says he is going into business and make lots of money.

Guido shows Cecily the kind of car he’s going to buy when he’s rich by pointing to advertising banners on the sides of the city buses. He wants a black Chrysler 300 with spinner hubcaps and leather seats. Cecily thinks it’s funny because Guido doesn’t have a driver’s license. Guido says he doesn’t need one: he knows how to drive. Cecily knows he steals cars sometimes to earn a few bucks.

When Cecily reaches Guido’s apartment, he’s excited. He has set up extra lamps without any shades on tables around the sofa. The room is really bright with light. He’s talking fast about making movies and selling them on the Internet. He tells Cecily he’ll pay her to act in his movies. She’ll be captured on film, forever young, like Halle Berry or Jennifer Hudson. She listens to him, thinking this is more of his big talk. Then he brings out a small digital video camera and sets it on a makeshift camera stand. He explains that all Cecily has to do is take off her shirt, then her pants, then her underwear while he takes her picture. He’ll pay her twenty bucks.

Cecily isn’t listening to Guido any more. In her head, she is seeing her mother down on her knees, crying out for Cecily to run. Cecily listens to the words of her mother and runs out of Guido’s apartment. She doesn’t know where she’s going, but she doesn’t look back.

In the Emergency Room


Better late than never. Here’s the short story response to the song prompt “Live like You Were Dying:”

In the E.R.

by Fay Moore (c) 2012

She heads to the bathroom before checking in with the Emergency Room receptionist. She knows it will be a long time once she passes into the hospital labyrinth before they give her a bathroom break.

That done, she approaches registration to outline her symptoms: pain in her shoulder radiating down her right arm and up her neck toward her ear, pain in her jaw, and numbness in her fingertips and lips that comes and goes.

Yesterday she pitched 100 bales of hay off the back of the hay wagon and stacked them in the barn. Then she helped load firewood on the trailer to take home and stack for feeding the wood stove this coming winter. Did that behavior trigger her current state?

The day before that, she fell because her right leg didn’t lift as high as her brain thought it did. She caught it on a barrier fence in the garden. The catch of her foot in the fence sent her sprawling to the ground. Before stepping, she made a mental note to step high. But her foot didn’t do what her brain told it to do. Did she miss a warning signal?

The accumulation of symptoms finally drives her to visit her physician’s office for a consult. On hearing her symptoms, the medical office staffer turns her away at the front desk, directing her to go straight to the emergency room.

The hospital triage nurse prioritizes her as an emergency; she doesn’t have to wait in the waiting room. She is taken straight back, put in a hospital gown, hooked up to a cardiac monitor, and plopped into the bed in direct sight of the nursing station, curtain wide open.

A handsome doctor walks by. As a single girl, her eyebrows raise and eyes brighten, in anticipation of making eye contact with him. Her expectation is interrupted by an alarm buzzer. Her blood oxygen is low. The nurse bridles her with an oxygen hose up the nose. Now she prays the good-looking physician never comes back.

The hours grind by, marked by episodes of needle pokes by phlebotomists, body wrangling by technicians and claustrophobic rides into the MRI tube. Trapped on the uncomfortable cot, she thinks about all the possible outcomes.

Only a week ago, she had been ho-hum about life in a conversation with a girlfriend. Life’s tribulations had seemed so hard that having life end sounded peaceful. Now, she regrets those former thoughts. She sheepishly points her eyes heavenward and whispers, “I didn’t mean it. Really, I didn’t. May I take it back? Please?”

She decides that her misadventure today is a prompt to appreciate what she has. In fact, whatever life is throwing her way—outside of this damnable hospital visit—is looking good. More than good. Life looks great. She wants it, troubles and all.

In time, she gets the second chance she asked for. Her symptoms aren’t life-threatening after all. She has an impingement in her shoulder that is pinching a nerve bundle. Physical therapy will cure the problem.

As she leaves the hospital, she notices the birds singing. Funny. She never heard them on the way in.

Justice: Part 3, The Finale


Justice: Part 3

by Fay Moore (c) 2012

Good god, man,” says the Chief. A pause, then, “Call me later with the rest of the findings.”

The Chief of Police is silent. Six pairs of eyes focus on him, trained to read the faces of men to reveal what is in the heart.  At the moment, the face of the Chief is tabula rasa. Under the circumstances, the eyes stay riveted to the chief’s face, mining data from each subtle nostril flare, each bat of an eyelid, each pupil dilation.

Standing, the Chief hands off the cell phone to an assistant, straightens his uniform coat, then locks eyes with his audience.

There’s been a fire at the GS Global Investments building. All the senior executive offices burned. Once the blaze was controlled, firemen made a cursory search through the suite, to be sure all flames were extinguished. In the executive bathroom, they found a pair of severed hands on a plate, covered in blood, under a glass dome. The coroner said the hands appear to have been removed from a cadaver. You know, one of the pickled bodies used for training in medical schools. Thank God for that. I was afraid the hands belonged to another investment banker.”

One of the detectives in the room chuckled. “Blood on your hands.”

What?” asked the Chief.

Blood on your hands. The perpetrator is sending a message. The investment banking community has blood on their hands.”

If you count the kills in Asia, Europe and here, we have eleven dead bankers in forty-eight hours. I’d say you’re right that whoever is behind these hits is sending a message, a very lethal message.”

Did they find anything else?”

Yes. Under the glass plate holding the hands, there was a copy of an article from a San Francisco newspaper, written by a Bill, Phil, or Will somebody and called “Unrepentant and Unreformed Bankers.”

Another voice responds, “I saw that article on the Internet. It has gone viral on the free video channels. That crowd sees our perpetrator–or perpetrators–as a kind of Robin Hood. You know, delivering justice where the regulators and courts won’t.”

The Chief growls in reply, “Let me remind you that we deliver justice, not some vigilante. You can’t have people taking the law into their own hands. Remember that! Now show me the article. You said it’s on-line?”

The detective uses the Chief’s computer to find it. The search returns several references to the article, as it has been printed not only in the San Francisco newspaper, but also in the Huffington Post and on various Internet web sites.

The Chief scans the article as the detectives peer over his shoulder.

Money laundering. Price Fixing. Bid rigging. Securities fraud. Talking about the mob? No, unfortunately. Wall Street,” a detective reads aloud. There’s a laugh around the room. “Old Phil Angelides knows how to start an article off with a bang. You know, Chief, he’s got a point.”

A glare from the Chief silences the speaker. “We have crimes to solve. Now get to work.”

It takes weeks of coordinating investigative efforts with global law enforcement and intelligence organizations to turn up bumpkus. The police entities can’t identify who is behind the mayhem. The killings have stopped: the spree is short-lived and focused. Nowhere is there sympathy for the victims.

Over and over, excerpts from the Angelides article appear on television. In coffee shops, barbershops, taxicabs and airports, the buzz is the same: the banks and their leaders have faced no real political, economic or legal consequences for their wrongdoing. The banks are cozy with the regulators and with legislators. Wall Street is solipsism, a world of utter madness that, till now, others could not affect.

——-

Somewhere in Hong Kong, an octogenarian is on his deathbed. He is thinking about the Year of the Dragon; it is a year of bravery, of passion, a time to eliminate negative chi from the past. He considers his life. He has been favored in business and industry. His personal fortune exceeds the total economy of many individual countries. Before he dies, he wishes to leave a gift to his children and grandchildren. He believes he has done it. He believes he has made their world better.

How does he know?

He is watching the news. The broadcaster describes a global reordering of the financial world. In the aftermath of the multiple murders, fear seizes those who ran the old order, and they flee to hide in their hidden bunkers. Systems that have been in place for decades are being disassembled. The central banking system breaks up into small localized units. Fiat currencies are replaced with asset-backed money. Sovereign debts are forgiven. Taxpayers are off the hook. Governments cut size and balance budgets. International banking criminals are arrested and prosecuted vigorously.

Optimism and hope are in the air. Economies will be rebuilt. He can die in peace.

Justice, Part Two


Asklotta requested I write Part 2 to 8/23/2012’s short story “Justice.” Your wish, Asklotta, is my command.

I went hunting for inspiration and found it on www.zerohedge.com in Tyler Durden’s 8/23/2012 post titled “JPM’s London Whale May Face Jail Time for Mismarking Billions in CDS.” I hope you enjoy another installment of “Justice.”

Justice: Part Two

by Fay Moore © 2012

 On the 20th floor, night’s blackness is arriving without a sound. Reds, purples and oranges chase the sun out of sight beyond J.R.’s office window.

Late nights are de rigueur at the Wall Street firm, so an analyst knows where to find J. R. when the after-hours news comes across the wire. J. R. is in his office, as expected. Unexpectedly, J. R. is in front of his desk when the subordinate knocks on the jamb of the open office door. The boss is striding back and forth atop a broad gilded stripe on the carpet, as if the line is a runway and his feet, the plane flown by a pilot practicing incessant touch-and-go landings.

The underling centers himself inside the door frame, lowers his eyes and waits politely. J. R. makes two more passes in front of the desk before acknowledging the interruption.

Can’t you see I’m busy?”

You asked me to let you know if anything hit the alternative news wires. Something is up on ZeroHedge.”

The boss swears under his breath and heads for his desk. He grabs the arm of the executive desk chair forcefully, rolling it backwards, and jumps into the leather seat, driving the rolling chair forward. The ricochet reminds the subordinate of the lethal motion of a pistol slide.

The Internet article says J. R., as chief executive officer, and his firm are in trouble: in addition to the uncomfortable news of the firm’s suffering massive losses for the quarter, now comes an accusation that players in the firm engage in criminal mismarking of credit default swaps to boost reported profits with the intent to defraud shareholders and investors.

J. R. knows that regulators are three years behind in following up allegations of wrong-doing. A bigger threat, in the form of bad press, comes from self-appointed enforcers outside the establishment. Envious or angry insiders leak damaging information into the alternative news channels. Internet-based sleuths are busy lifting carpet corners, shining light on hidden filth missed by lazy, stupid or blind regulators. Going from trickles to torrents,  the news leaks push J. R. to make admissions about the bad behavior of the London-based trading office, and name names of guilty parties. To cover his own ass, he denies foreknowledge of the crimes. Then there’s the LIBOR scandal, to which J. R.’s firm is a party–if not directly, then by association.

J. R. belongs to the You-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours Boy’s Club where men help each other evade the law, at least, and commit horrific crimes, at most.

The executive admits to himself that the media snowball is rolling downhill and growing out of control. The bad news, that came in monthly dribs and drabs of disjointed factoids in the beginning,  is coming faster and faster now; from monthly leaks to weekly to daily to hourly ones.  At first, J. R.’s smooth spin paints the Internet newsmongers as “nutters” chasing phantoms. J. R. is a master at disconnecting the dots. His executive board loves him for that quality. But now the fouling of the firm is overwhelming. The big question at the top is who is going down?

J. R. is waiting for a call from his criminal defense lawyer. That’s why he was pacing when the associate showed up in his office doorway. He needs the legal firm’s resources to manufacture an escape route that will keep him alive and functioning. He is trying to keep his neck out of the noose.

The television mounted on his office wall—the one that is always on and tuned to the financial news network with the prettiest broadcasters–sounds a bell. For some odd reason, J. R. mistakes the sound for the peal of the early warning system. He looks up at the screen. The announcer speaks. The news rattles him. The former head of a competing firm is dead, shot today by an unidentified gunman while he and his wife are vacationing in the south of France.

In the middle of a sentence, the broadcaster stops speaking, pressing his finger against the device in his ear.

After a pause, the reporter says, “We have breaking news. The shooting appears to be an assassination. A source inside French law enforcement says the shooting has all the hallmarks of a professional hit. We’ll bring you the details as soon as we know more.”

A professional hit? By whom?” the underling asks his boss.

I don’t know,” he answers, his voice quieter than normal. “Look, I have a call to make. Thanks for telling me about the ZeroHedge thing. That’s all for now.” J. R. walks the man toward the door, shutting the door behind him.

He calls his lawyer again and gets the receptionist.

He identifies himself to her, then says, “This is urgent. I need my attorney now.”

The barrister’s paralegal comes on the line. He recognizes the investment banker’s voice. J. R. gets to the point.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the latest. I fear someone is targeting investment bankers.”

Yes, I heard the French news.”

“Then you understand. I need protection, and I need it tonight. I don’t know who is behind the threat, but. . . .”

A bullet breaks through the office window glass, striking J. R. in the back of the head and blowing a gaping hole in his frontal lobe as the projectile exits the skull. As J. R. falls, a tinny voice calls through the small speaker of the phone.

Hello? Hello?”

In a moment, the line goes dead.

Sudden Fiction: Justice


The concept of justice is the theme of the song prompt “Beer for my Horses.” The songwriter romanticizes the style of justice made famous in the Old West–the noose. My story explores another form: vigilante justice. I decided to set the story in the context of this week’s news to give it a contemporary flavor. I found the perfect villain that everyone loves to hate. His own bad behavior and cavalier attitude toward his victims makes him perfect for the villain character in the  story. The old man character takes matters into his own hands to set things right.

This little shortie is less than 400 words. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, and to cover my ass.

JUSTICE

by Fay Moore (c) 2012

The old man shuts the top on his notebook computer. He removes his glasses and sets them on the lamp table next to his easy chair. The glasses rest atop a pile of account statements and letters. He leans his head against the chair back and closes his eyes. The words he  just read are re-playing in his head.

Internet columnist Ben Protess reports, “After 10 months of stitching together evidence on the demise of MF Global, investigators conclude that chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear.”

The octogenarian pinches the bridge at the top of his nose, eyes still shut.

More words echo:

“A criminal investigation into the collapse of the brokerage firm MF Global regarding the disappearance of $1.6 billion in customer money is entering the final stages. No charges are expected to be filed against any top executives.”

The paper statements on the lamp stand show the accounting of deposits made by the old man into an MF Global investment account. The letters mixed in with the statements describe the loss of the man’s money because his brokerage firm gambled on Greek debt instruments with customers’ money. The firm’s actions wiped out the old man’s account. Another letter promises to repay a portion of the loss at pennies on the dollar. However, repayment is contingent on court approval. The case is tied up in bankruptcy court and may be for months or years to come.

But worse to the old man than his loss, worse than Johann Corsini and his cronies skating on criminal charges, are the last words the man reads before taking off his glasses. The words say to the old man that there will be more victims. A leopard can’t change his spots.

“Mr. Corsini, in a bid to rebuild his image and engage his passion for trading, is weighing whether to start a hedge fund, according to people with knowledge of his plans.”

These are the words that prompt the man to place a call. He listens to the ringing before someone picks up on the other end.

“Hello.”

“Do it,” says the old man.

“When?”

“Now. I want to see it on tonight’s news.”

He ends the call and leans back in his chair again, eyes closed. He is imagining the news broadcaster’s announcement:

“Johann Corsini is dead, shot today by an unidentified gunman while he and his wife were vacationing in France.”

Response to “If I Die Young”


Sorry, gang. The story I wrote for this prompt got removed after posting. I was choking on a gag response, the story was so bad. Better to draw a blank and have no story, I decided, than to post one that was forced and contrived. Hence, I used the delete function.