Thursday, September 13, 2012

Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge: The Wrong Man

This week's challenge is incorporate one choice from each of three lists; subgenre, element and conflict/theme.  I let the random nature of the dice decide my fate here and the rolls provided me with a detective tale about imprisonment involving surgery.  Let's see how this plays out.

Chuck's blog is here -

The Wrong Man

It occured to me as the Pennywell Surgeon loomed into view that it often feels like someone is writing my life.  The situations I've gotten into, and out of, would fit perfectly in the page of some dogeared adventure novel.  It was exactly that fact that kept me from feeling fear as he tested the edge of a scalpel on his thumb.  After all, when you've escaped unscathed from a mobster's basement interrogation and put a bullet in the throat of a respected political assassin, knives tend to lose their power.

"Why can't I move?" I asked, testing my limbs for responsiveness.  The man leaned over the edge of the pine box he'd laid me in, the overhead light casting curious shadows across his bespectacled face.  He didn't look like a killer, certainly not one who'd kidnapped and harvested the organs from fourteen women in half a year's time.  He was pushing fifty with a receding hairline and patches of gray in his beard.  The papers had assigned him the nickname but my research had turned up the truth.  Walter Demroe, board certified neurologist and surgeon, had been very careful to keep his nocturnal exploits separate from his professional life.

"Simple anatomy, shamus.  I've clipped the tendons and ligaments that would allow you motion in your limbs." he said, as calmly as if he were lecturing to a class.  I felt my lips pull into a frown despite my effort to stay stoic.  He turned away and I could hear the clink of metal tools.

"Did you do this to your victims, too?  Left them paralyzed while you scooped out their innards?" I asked, the disgust rich in my voice.  I didn't need to know the answer.  I was stalling, you see, as I'd realized he'd missed something.  My right hand twitched as I struggled to move it.

"Some.  Others I used injected chemicals." he replied, a sigh punctuating this words.  "I'm rather surprised you even took an interest in this case.  They were whores and junkies, after all.  The police never gave them a second thought."

"They never gave me a second thought either.  Maybe that's why I felt inclined to dig."  My fingers balled into a fist, pins and needles shooting through my arm.  I could feel the weight of my pistol pressing heavy on my ribs.  I eased my hand slowly upwards.

"And dig you did.  I was content to let you stumble about checking bars and roughing up thugs but once you'd found my office I knew something had to be done." he said.  Light gleamed off a saw as he held it up, the teeth jagged and bent.  Another inch brought my hand closer to the weapon.

"So you set me up?  Used my ex-wife's cell phone to get me to the park.  Where is Marianne?" I asked, fingertips grazing the carved wood of the gun's grip.

"I'd imagine she's at home, sleeping off her night out with the girls.  Only a careless woman leaves her phone unattended when ordering drinks." he replied, pulling a pair of gloves off his hands.  He turned back to me, something gripped in his left hand, and found the barrel of my gun shaking in his face.

"Sorry, sicko.  Nobody's gonna take my organs."  It took all the strength I could muster to level the weapon and squeeze the trigger.  The hammer fell on an empty chamber.  CLICK.  I squeezed again.  CLICK.  My strength faltered and the gun slipped from my fingers, falling into his open palm.  He smiled, gleaming teeth almost monsterous in the dingy, yellow light.  He set the gun aside, opening his left hand and letting the bullets slip between his fingers onto my chest.

"I am not an amateur, detective.  I know my craft well enough to empty my victim's weapons.  Well enough to know your organs are riddled with rot and disease.  Alcohol and cigarettes and putrid diner aren't fit to transplant." he said, and this time it was his voice that held disgust.  As he hooked a hammer into his belt and hoisted the coffin lid I felt the bitter taste of fear.  I tried to move, to kick or punch but all I could manage was a strangled scream.

"No!  This isn't right.  My stories don't end like this!" I gasped, choking the words through gritted teeth.  He stopped, light flashing across his glasses as his smile faded.  In that moment his expression held only pity.  I hated him for it.

"Well, gumshoe, what you've failed to consider is that this isn't your story.  It's mine." he said as he pushed the wooden lid into place, plunging me into blackness.

As I drove the first nail in, I heard the detective scream.  Those screams continued until six feet of packed earth drowned them out.  I waited for a minute, trying to pick out his shouts from the wailing of the wind, then walked back up the path to the parking lot.  The park was my favorite spot, so empty and sprawling in the dead of night.

Brushing soil from my hands and tossing the shovel into the back of my truck, I smiled.  I flicked open the zippo, taking a moment to read the inscription.  I knew you'd ace the detective exam.  With love and faith, Marianne.  The flame danced excitedly until I snapped the lid closed.  A trophy of a different sort from this one.  There were days when my hobby felt like work but this...this was not one of those days.


  1. Great story! I noticed you like to write about the bad guys a lot...should I be worried?

  2. I *loved* the turn where he made his discovery and then the gun was empty - I was getting irritated with the writer because no self-respecting serial killer would make that kind of error...I wanted to see how he was going to get out of it when completely paralyzed (because he always does, right?) but then he didn't, and I started grinning.

    Me, I'd rather have seen the last 2 paragraph cut, without the POV switch - it felt unnecessary. I know the line "it's mine" is the trigger for the switch, and in theory it works, but in practice it jarred unpleasantly.

    The writing is top-notch, though. good story. thanks for it!

  3. Thanks for the input, all.

    The perspective shift is something I was hesitant to use, since I've done it before in previous shorts, but I ultimately decided that the 'twist' was worth it. I didn't think it would work for everyone so I'm glad you put that point forward and confirmed my suspicions.