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The International Writers Magazine: Trust Issues - Hardboiled fiction

Small Change
Rich Raitano

A cold, biting rain cut through the early Seattle morning. It was a typical mid-January, Pacific Northwest rain being bullied by a brisk wind off of Elliot Bay. Most of SoDo’s indigent citizens were sleeping off one too many Oly’s; the weight of yet one more squandered day lying crumpled on cold linoleum floors like a pair of old and threadbare corduroy pants.

Another wet, gray day break was less than an hour away. Only life’s weary and nocturnal homeless souls moved about in the cracks, crevices and dark shadows where even the brave of heart dare not go.

Ferrying its cargo of male thrill seekers back to the safety and comfort of their UW dorm, one lone taxi cab made its way through the watery darkness. Tires hissing, it sped past Safeco and Qwest Fields where the hopes and dreams of championships were left swirling in the now silent and ambiguous promise of next year.

In the quiescent distance the lone wail of a siren tore the drenched night in half, shrieking its raucous aria into the damp labyrinth of concrete, steel and glass. The ambulance, its lights bouncing off the wet streets and slumbering storefront windows where naked mannequins watched in mute indifference, raced to yet another shadowy corner.

The wipers fought a courageous, but hopeless battle to keep the rivulets of water off the windshield. Ahead, the flashing lights of an uncountable number of squad cars filled the night with refracted bursts of brilliance nearly blinding them as they brought the ambulance to a stop. The driver and his partner peered intently through the pandemonium of water and light.

Clusters of uniformed and plainclothes cops roamed the chaotic scene in Keystonesque absurdity; their flashlights illuminating the gloomy night. One small group stood near the curb, their heads bent at odd angles, watching intently as a photographer snapped off shot after shot. A hand thrust into the air and beckoned to them. The driver jumped into the rainy night and opened a side cargo door, pulling a large medical bag free while his partner opened the rear doors and unloaded the gurney.

A small gathering of night dwellers stood off to one side, held at bay by yellow crime scene tape and two cops who were laughing and joking about a whorehouse just up the street. A young black man in his early thirties, made old by years of needles and juice, stood quietly watching in the back of the crowd wearing the dead man’s pork pie hat; snatched from the sidewalk before the police arrived.

The EMT’s maneuvered carefully through the maze of vehicles and police. The crowd parted as they neared; exposing the center of their attention. Lying face up, half on the curb was a body. His eyes were open and stared coldly back at the men who stood over him. His mouth was frozen in voiceless expression, stopped suddenly at the moment of his death, as if he were ready to speak the name of his murderer to anyone who cared to listen.

His right arm was thrown back over his head and his left lay casually across his waist. His right leg lay along the curb, its battered shoe a few inches away filling with water. And in the middle of his chest a deep, dark patch of red gelled on his worn and frayed dress shirt. His jacket and trousers twisted and blood stained; his hair wild and uncut.

Small Change. That’s what they called him on the street. Not because of his five foot-five inch stature or his one hundred and six pound bony frame; although most people thought that was the reason. It wasn’t as easy as that. It was simply because he would do just about anything for a hand full of next to nothing.

At night he prowled the streets; a skinny neurotic lizard pan-handling for coins or looking for easy prey to hassle and rob. Mostly it was nothing more than petty break-ins, and stick-ups at neighborhood grocery stores with a Rossi .38 special he had fired just once. It had been his father’s a long lifetime ago. Small time. Small change.

He had no obligations and very little ambition for anything else. His life was just one moment to the next with no thought of the future and no desire for the past. A nocturnal creature, he slept most of the day anywhere someone would let him. Otherwise he could be found sleeping in piss scented doorways or stairwells, oblivious of those made to step over him.
He came to Seattle from Cincinnati bearing the name of Francis "Frantic Frank" D’Angelo. He had no home in Ohio, at least no one knew of one, and he offered nothing. What only he knew and never shared with anyone was the violent and brutal past he and his mother lived at the hands of his alcoholic and sadistic father in the Bronx, New York.

Frank’s father, Mario, an only child, was left abandoned in Philadelphia at the age of twelve when his mother died of tuberculosis and his heart broken father committed suicide soon after. Angry and defiant at his sudden misfortune, he reared himself in the care of an aunt and uncle who had seven children of their own and very little time, energy or money for another mouth to feed and body to house.

At age fifteen Mario left his aunt and uncles’ home and somehow made it to New York where he hooked-up with a seamy crowd of local punks who lived fast, hard, and heartless. At twenty, his sixteen-year-old girlfriend gave birth to a sickly, malnourished Francis Mario D’Angelo.

Mario’s insatiable need for alcohol and drugs intensified his dislike for life and the people in it, including his girlfriend and his son. In fits of violent rage he would often mercilessly beat his wife into bloody unconsciousness. Something or someone had turned his heart hollow and cold along the way.

As a young child of three, Frank would scream and cry in fear and horror when his father, liquored up and in full rage, began his brutal assault on his mother. His mouth twisted and his face filled with hate, Mario would stumble towards Frank, slap him with an opened hand, pick him up and lock him in a closet for the night. In the morning while his father slept off his drunken fury, his mother would free him from his cell, change his dirtied clothes, feed him, and then sit with him on the floor, rocking back and forth, humming nonsensical melodies.

As he got older, Frank too became the object of his father’s twisted raging. Small and frail, he was no match for the brutality and cruelty of this evil maniac. Beaten into submission, he was nurturing his own rage.

Years later, his mother nothing more than a mindless shell of humanity, Frank stepped into one of his father’s intoxicated tirades just as he was swinging back to slam a .38 into his mother’s face.

No longer caring for his safety, he grabbed the gun from his father’s woozy hand and commanded him to stop. Mario, emboldened by booze and eager for confrontation, laughed at the young boy, daring him to pull the trigger…almost begging him. "C’mon you little fuck! Whatcha gonna do? Shoot me? You ain’t got the balls you fuckin’ faggot prick."
Mario moved clumsily towards Frank, his blood shot eyes glaring with evil. "Gimme the gun," he slobbered, "so’s I can fuckin’ kill you and your worthless bitch mother."

Frank’s long seething malice could no longer be restrained and he screamed with equal rage at his father, "Fuck you, you fucking fuck,!" raised the gun and squeezed one round into his father’s forehead. Mario dropped like a sack of rocks; dead before his knees buckled.

Frank stood shaking uncontrollably over his father’s body. His lungs fought desperately to suck in air through his guttural sobbing. Unsure of what he had done and what to do next, he stuck the gun in his back pocket and turned to comfort his mother who was rocking back and forth on the floor, wailing a dissonant dirge in some far-away place. Frank knelt down and kissed her gently on her forehead, whispered tenderly, "I love you, mother," and quietly left for Cincinnati.
He found part-time work at a junk yard pulling parts off of wrecks until he got caught setting up his own parts business over the back fence. That’s when he decided to head west.

He tried California, but the alpha dogs preyed on him right away. He was no match for the ruthless East L.A. crowd and he quickly headed north. First for a short stay in Portland, and finally ending up in Seattle. Frank thought that maybe he could change his life in Seattle. He would find a job, maybe a short order cook or something on the docks. But that dream was to never be his. His life was cast in iron and there was no where to go but down.

He hooked up with a wannabe hood who went by the name of Big George. Big George was a bottom feeder. He salvaged the leftovers and trash no self respecting felon would touch. A predator by nature, he made his mark by intimidating those weaker than he. It was rumored that a few years past, he robbed, shot and killed a young couple pushing their two year old in a stroller; grabbed the lollipop from the child’s hand and coolly walked away leaving the terrified child screaming behind him. It was also thought that Big George more than likely made that story up to bolster his image.

Big George also fancied himself a "mob boss." He thought that he had the stuff it took to be a big man. But, Big George was neither fancy nor a boss. He was a mindless and arrogant pig of a man. The handkerchief in his breast pocket did not…could not ever… eliminate the rotten smell that came from his grossly overweight body. Big George could care less.
Gathering up the loose ends of people’s lives, he built himself a small army of riff-raff dead-enders. Frank fit into this group perfectly. In fact, he thought himself to be Big George’s second in command; although George did not give him this assignment nor did he ever consider it.

Frank, however, managed to convince several drug addled members of Big George’s motley crew that he was second in command and was entitled to a percentage of their take each day. He carried the lie further by telling them that Big George wanted Frank’s position to remain quiet, and if they did so, he would confer with Big George about moving them up the ladder also. But as these things go, Max, a pickled remnant of lousier days, impatiently approached Big George one evening and asked about his promotion.
George was confused and asked what he meant.
"You know, Big George," he stuttered, "the chance to get a split like Frank gets"
Big George’s eyebrows shot up in a flash. "Split? Oh, yeah, sure. Now what cut was that?" he asked.
"You know, like Frank said. He’s your second and gets a cut of our take. He said he was talking to you about getting us a bigger cut too."
George went red faced in an instant. "That son-of-a-bitch weasel," he thought to himself. "Oh yeah, Max. Sure…sure. Let me talk with Frank to get this worked out. OK?

George asked Max to let Frank know he needed to talk with him about a "thing" and to meet him around 2 a.m. at the usual place. "Don’t tell him we talked though…you know." Max nodded, and believing that his fortunes were about to change, walked away with a smile on his face.

Frank was fifteen minutes late, but it did not matter. Big George emerged from the shadows.
"What’s up, boss?" Frank knew George like to be called "boss."
"I gotta thing I need you to do. Lemme see your gun" George whispered as if it were a secret.
"Sure, boss." Frank reached into his jacket and handed the .38 to Big George. "What’s the thing" he asked.
"What you trying to do, asshole?" George growled through his teeth. "You want to be big time, Huh!?"
Frank was caught completely off guard. He had no idea what George was talking about. "Whadya mean, Big George? I don’t understand."
"You don’t understand" he bellowed. "You miserable puny fuck, Max told me about you scamming me for a cut!"

Frank went white and his knees buckled as his whole skinny body began to shake uncontrollably.
"Boss, No…I mean…it was just a story I told them. I’m not taking anything. Big George, I wouldn’t do that!"

George was red faced. A cold rain began to fall on them both. George smiled. "You wouldn’t?"
A weak smile began to form on Frank’s face. "N-no, boss. Honest.
Big George’s smile faded into a sinister snarl and he put his face into Frank’s. "Fuck you, you bet you won’t."

One shot rang out and Frank fell hard to the sidewalk. He desperately tried to call out to him, but Big George had already slipped back into the shadows.

Frank felt his life slowly slipping away as his blood seeped through his shirt and ran onto the rain soaked sidewalk. His eyes caught a fading glimpse of the night creatures that slithered out from their holes to wait for his death and pick over his remains.

Small Change got rained on with his own .38.
And Big George? Big George went south until the whole thing cooled off.

© Rich Raitano Feb 2008
docrichr at

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