As mentioned, we’re starting a new challenge — the Genre Writing Challenge. Each round, the three writers — Perry, Gary, and me — will write a story on a given genre. The Twins decided the first genre is Mystery/Crime.
For the record, I would have split those into separate genres, but that’s fine.
We’re also doing something different as far as posting the stories. Dropping three stories that can total anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 words is an imposition on readers, so we’re going to stagger the posts. First up was Perry’s story. This is Gary’s story, and finally, my story in two days.
Our usual disclaimer:
The writing challenge has no restrictions, and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the PG range, with a few perhaps pushing into the R range. Those ratings are guidelines, but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same goes if you are not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
So, without further ado, here’s Gary’s contribution to the Mystery/Crime genre.
Wait . . . first, the blurb:
Beep beep! That can be really annoying, whether it’s a tailgater or a very large, very fast desert fowl. Admit it, you secretly wanted the coyote to catch the road runner. Well, the chase continues. Follow your Saturday morning cartoon characters as they work out their complicated lives in the real world.
Wiley and the Road Runner
Copyright 2023 — R. G. Broxson
(4,150 words – approx. reading time: about 16 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Wiley and the chair were one. The moment he dragged in from the factory, he nestled into the faux-leather cocoon and aimed an arsenal of devices at the wall-mounted flat screen. Dinner didn’t matter; he had a microwave and micro-brews. Dishes didn’t matter; he ate with plastic sporks and paper plates. Showers didn’t matter; he worked in a slaughterhouse, and he no longer had a wife with a keen sense of stink. Wiley rocked back and watched the Cartoon Network until he passed out. He got up and went to work and did the same thing all over again and again.
Each night, Wiley waited on a package that didn’t come. He tracked it on his phone. It supposedly arrived to his address, then got whisked away to Shanghai or some-such fantasy land according to the app. Glancing up from his phone, he eyed the monstrosity of a gun he had mounted above the fireplace. It was a flintlock blunderbuss. A fine weapon that could be traced back to John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry to a plantation owner named Fudd. Wiley’s wife had hated it; perhaps that is why he loved it and admired its curves even now.
Driving home that evening, Wiley had eyed a package on his front porch from the street. He didn’t stop and run to it. He clenched his jaw, looked straight ahead, and drove around the house, parking his truck in the garage. Wiley went inside to the empty house and drank a tall-boy beer, then two, then three. Then he micro-zapped a burrito, then two, then three. Now Wiley reclined in his leather lounger; his heaven chair, and contemplated the package that awaited him just a few feet away on the porch. Wiley, you ain’t so smart, but you got the patience of an oyster, his white trash mother had often declared.
Wiley drained the last beer he had in his fridge, then crushed the can. There was nothing left to eat except, coincidentally, a tin of oysters. Last call, Wiley thought as he staggered toward the front door that led to the porch. Wiley flipped on the yellow porch light. Immediately there was a flurry, like rats or roaches he thought, but much bigger. There was a riot of lights and shadows and noise.
Wiley flung open the door and saw a dark figure sprinting across his uncut lawn toward an awaiting car on the street. The dark figure opened the car door, stopped and seemed to peer back at Wiley for a moment. Wiley squinted, then fumbled for his glasses, only making out a shadowy silhouette. Then the phantom disappeared into the car, taillights sparked to life, the engine roared, and the Mustang peeled out down the street. The corner street lamp caught the vanity plate in a flash of light as Wiley adjusted his glasses. Wiley read the tag—R-Runner.
“Goddamn Porch Pirate!” Wiley howled. The first words he had uttered in a very long while. They came out as a growl. He ran to the bedroom where he kept his laptop for porn. He brought it to life and clicked on the app for his doorbell camera. He clicked and clicked and got nothing. Then he remembered how he had ever-so-cleverly disabled the camera a few months ago when he had started coming home drunk. Wiley simply hadn’t wanted his wife to re-wind and see him staggering up to the front door on those nights he had told her he had to work late. He cursed himself, then re-opened the app to camera mode. He would catch the pirate next time.
Wiley clicked straight to Amazon and re-ordered the item that kept getting lost, stolen, or hijacked. It was projected to arrive in three days. Wiley abandoned his old plans and began making new ones. He was actually enjoying this new challenge. Wiley had a purpose.
Wiley got to work. He pilfered a few items from the slaughterhouse and rigged up a crude timer. He watched dozens of YouTube videos on how to set up a remote trigger to a detonation device. It seemed there was an app for everything. Wiley dug up an empty Amazon box and carefully taped and sealed up the contraption. He then took a kitchen knife and scored a series of slits in the sides of the cardboard.
Wiley pulled up the package tracker and checked his watch. It was on the way. As patient as an oyster, he sat at the window and waited. The big brown truck took the corner fast, almost tipping up on two wheels. It stopped abruptly in front of Wiley’s house and a man in khaki shorts jumped out carrying a package. Wiley watched behind a curtain as the man flung the box onto the porch then sprinted back to the truck. It spun to a stop just outside his front door.
Wiley was ready. He cracked open the door and used a shepherd’s crook to wrangle the box up to the opening. Wiley grabbed it, pulled it inside, and then immediately replaced the new package with the box he had carefully crafted. It was almost identical in size and stickers. He then used the crook to push the box away from the door, closer to the retreating porch steps, enticingly. Wiley snickered to himself. The trap was set.
From the anonymity of his bedroom, Wiley watched the doorbell camera on his laptop. If any box burglars had seen the big brown truck rumbling through the neighborhood and noticed the package in plain view on his porch, they would be in for a big surprise. Wiley watched as joggers jogged past, as dog walkers walked their dogs, as cars and trucks drove past the house. He watched for hours, and then he saw it—the Mustang.
The Mustang cruised past the porch slowly. It circled around the block twice and then came to a stop across the street from Wiley’s. It was dark now and Wiley still couldn’t make out the figure from the cheap, grainy video on his monitor. He opened the app on his phone and waited with a smile that showed all his teeth.
The figure walked straight to the package, paused, then snatched it and turned back to the road. Wiley almost pressed the button then, but waited. He watched as the car door closed and the Mustang began to move away out of the camera’s range. Wiley counted to 69, his favorite number, then pressed the button on his phone.
There was a clanging at the rear of Wiley’s house. It was his garage door opening—opening by itself. Wiley’s remote was clipped to his sun visor in his truck and he hadn’t pushed the mounted switch in the garage. His phone still in his hand, Wiley went to the back door that led to his garage. He opened it in time to see his garage door starting to close. He flipped on the light and saw a package, his package, lying in the middle of the floor. It was smoking. Green gassy vapors gushed from the slits he had made in the cardboard. Just before the garage door closed he saw the taillights of the Mustang and the tag—R-Runner. Wiley heard the faraway beep-beep of a horn and then his lights went out.
Two days later, Wiley woke up. He had somehow managed to crawl back inside the house, and had curled up on the kitchen floor. He was so thirsty. The chemicals he had borrowed from the ACME lab were powerful. They were needed to placate the cattle before they were led to slaughter. Wiley had pilfered a concentrated batch for his mission, but it had boomeranged.
Wiley climbed his way up to standing, and then jammed his face into the kitchen sink. He turned on the faucet and drank deeply. After a shower and a load of laundry to clean his poopy pants, Wiley began conjuring another plan to catch the R-Runner.
The box Wiley had retrieved with the crook and replaced with the chloroform trap was gone. Wiley sipped a cup of coffee and considered. That R-Runner bandit must have entered his home, his sanctuary, his Castle, for Chrissakes, plundering about while Wiley was unconscious. What else did this mysterious intruder get up to? Theft? Hell, Wiley thought, what was there to steal? Then he saw it. “Ahhg!” he growled, suddenly realizing that all his dishes had been stolen. The pile that had festered in the sink was missing.
Wiley’s bushy eyebrow raised and he stroked the stubble on his chin thoughtfully. Who would steal crusty dishes, he pondered. He stepped closer to the sink, then on sudden intuition, opened a creaky kitchen cabinet. There they were, plates stacked like pancakes, cups and glasses organized by size and type. Wiley backed away, a wild animal too close to fire.
The doorbell chimed. Wiley thought it must be his imagination; it had been so long since he had had company. He closed the kitchen cabinet and walked to the front door. The chimes ceased now and a fist pounded at the door. Wiley glanced up at the blunderbuss on the wall, then he turned the knob and pushed. It was Ralph, Wiley’s supervisor from ACME. He shouldered his way in and looked around the living room. Both were surprised to see that it was neat and clean.
“Sorry, I…I was sick for a couple days,” Wiley managed.
“You should be sorry, alright. I just lost 100 bucks when you opened that door. Guys at the factory were running a dead pool on you.”
Wiley couldn’t see Ralph’s eyes to tell if he was serious; he wore unusually long bangs that draped down over his forehead and split at the bridge of his enormous nose.
“Ha, just kidding, Wiley boy. Glad to see you are finally moving on from, you know. from your, you know…”
“Rhonda. Her name is Rhonda.”
“Riiiight. Anywho, I was just in the hood and thought I’d stop in and check on you. Will you be back at ACME in the morning? Those critters don’t butcher themselves, you know.”
Wiley nodded and Ralph let himself out.
Wiley exhaled and then turned on the living room and went berserk. He flung couch cushions to all corners, flipped furniture, and knocked two lamps over, dimming his tantrum. Satisfied, and out of breath, Wiley flopped down in his heaven chair, turned on the Cartoon Network and made a new plan.
Wiley would go simple this time. The last plan was too elaborate, too many moving parts, too many ways it could go wrong. Looking up at the blunderbuss on the wall, Wiley could visualize the scene. He would track the package, and then set up for a basic ambush. The huge recycle trashcan would work perfectly as a sociably acceptable duck blind.
Again, Wiley ordered the thing from Amazon, the same thing he had ordered a half dozen times before and never received. This was the cheese in the rat trap, the bait for the fish, the treasure for the pirate. As before, the Amazon team promised to deliver a new item in three days. Wiley waited, patient as an oyster.
On the third day, Wiley set the new plan in place. He rolled the sky-blue recycling trashcan out to the curb across the street from his house. It was only a bit unusual in that he had never actually recycled before. Wiley looked left, then right, then jumped into the open maw of the blue garbage can and then closed the lid down upon himself. And there he waited.
He heard, before he saw, the rumbling UPS truck. Wiley peeked out from under the lid of the trashcan and watched the same damn driver deliver the same damn package to his porch. Having cleverly planned for all contingencies, Wiley struck a match to shine light on the blunderbuss that shared the dark confines of his garbage can. Wiley double-checked the load of grapeshot and the combustible powder, then he cocked back the hammer until it clicked and locked. It would be soon. Just a little more patience, Wiley thought as the match burned down to his fingertips.
The throaty roar of the Mustang was unmistakable. As before, it took two laps around the block, slowly. Again, it stopped across the street from Wiley’s house, this time at an oblique angle to the porch. Due to his restrictive position, Wiley couldn’t see the car door open. He would, however, have a clear sniper shot at the perp as he walked across his lawn. Wiley had read up on the Stand-Your-Ground law and had decided to wait until the pirate actually had the package in his hand in order to avoid litigation.
Carefully, ever so carefully, Wiley began the process of lifting the blunderbuss into position. By degrees, he slowly thrusted the flared barrel of the gun through the small space between the lid and the rim of the can, snaking it out like a proboscis. Sweat dripped down from Wiley’s bushy eyebrows into his deep-set eyes. He had not planned on the garbage can being so damn hot. Wiley blinked away the stinging sweat and saw the figure quickly crossing his lawn toward his porch.
With a single bound, the figure leapt up onto the porch and grabbed the package. Wiley aimed and released his breath, slowly squeezing the trigger. Wiley’s narrow slit of vision instantly turned blue. The rumble of the Mustang had masked the whispering sound of the E-garbage truck. A metal arm tipped with a giant clamp lowered from the truck. It squeezed the garbage can and Wiley discharged the blunderbuss. The grapeshot fired into the sludge of trash in the truck and the smoke and powder turned Wiley’s face black with soot. And then he tumbled into the garbage truck.
Like a man in quicksand, Wiley tried to swim to the top. Milk jugs, aluminum cans, cardboard boxes, and water bottles fought to hold him down. The hydraulic compressor made a whining sound and the trash began to move like a rip current. It pushed Wiley upward as it began to squeeze. Wiley heard the popping, crunching, and groaning of plastic and metal, but he continued to rise. Just when he thought his legs would be crushed, Wiley was lifted just high enough to grab a tarp bar crossing above the truck. He pulled himself up and out and scrambled down the side of the vehicle. A recycler in a yellow vest, looking into the side mirror, saw Wiley jump free covered in rotten banana peels. He told the driver who was jamming to Jamaican and said, “Yah, right.”
Wiley heard the beep-beep of the Mustang as it sped away. He shook his head and wiped a smear of black powder from his face. This would call for more desperate measures. Wiley’s brain was already scheming, even as he shook coffee grounds out of his pants leg. After he washed up, he ordered the thing again from Amazon. Ever consistent, It would take three days; Wiley had three days to prepare the granddaddy of all traps for this porch pirate. But first, he would need an anvil and he knew just where to get one.
The ACME slaughterhouse where Wiley had worked was once a farm. And on that farm, there was an anvil once used to brand cattle, make horseshoes and bend iron to the will of the blacksmith. Wiley used the factory forklift to pluck and place the anvil onto the bed of his truck. The Chevy sagged in the rear and its front wheels almost left the ground. Once Wiley slid it to center of the bed with the forklift, the truck bowed and balanced and rode fairly straight as he drove the anvil home.
The blueprints Wiley drafted were extensive. He purchased pulleys, tackle, and ropes from Home Depot and went directly to work on his Rube Goldberg contraption. Wiley worked like a man possessed. The rope rigging would have to be precise, for there would be no time to test it. When all the lines were looped and secured and knots were tied tight, Wiley looked up at the flat, gray bottom of the anvil swaying from the arm of the oak tree as though it were a two-ton tree swing. He moved two inches to the left and then spray painted an X on the first step of his porch. Wiley admired his work. But now, again, it was time to wait.
Three strikes, Wiley thought. Three strike’s a charm. It didn’t sound quite right, but Wiley rarely argued with himself. He always went with the first thought that popped into his mind. Wiley was a man of action, even when it didn’t make sense. He checked his watch. It was time for action, time to get into position. Wiley climbed the stairs of the two-story house and pulled the knotted cord on the attic drop-door. More stairs unfolded and Wiley continued up into the darkness. That’s when the goddamn doorbell rang. Wiley froze.
Wiley checked his tracker app. It was too early for the UPS man. The R-Runner porch pirate wouldn’t ring the bell. Exasperated, Wiley bounded down the stairs to the front door. It was Ralph, standing on the X painted on the first stair of the porch. Wiley’s mind danced through a half dozen scenarios, none of them ended well. So he just opened the door.
“Hi, Ralph, what’s up?” Wiley tried to sound casual to his visitor.
Under his breath, Ralph sighed, “Damn,” then he smiled. “Hey, Wiley, just checking in again. The boys and I are missing you down at the plant.” His voice lilted upward, somehow making the statement sound like a question.
“I’m good, Ralph,” he tried to grin. Then Wiley saw the UPS truck tilting around the corner on two wheels, nearly toppling. It came to a squealing stop at Wiley’s walkway. The brown-clad lad with khaki shorts and hairy legs bounded out and stepped around Ralph and handed a package to Wiley. None of this was part of the plan.
“Leave me alone!” Wiley snapped, reaching for a taut cord that ran down the side of the door. One tug, Wiley thought. Ralph and the UPS guy looked at one another, two actors suddenly playing roles in a strange theater; both showed palms and backed away from the odd X and from the deranged man.
Wiley heard it before he saw it. The beep-beep of the Mustang’s annoying horn made Wiley’s shaggy ears tingle with excitement, anticipation, and dread. Ralph and the UPS guy had clearly gotten the message and had exited, stage left, before the Mustang cruised past Wiley’s front porch. By then, Wiley had carefully displayed the new package on the porch and had low-crawled back into the house and up the stairs to the attic.
Three times a charm, Wiley told himself, making it his mantra as he waited like an oyster in the attic as the Mustang lapped the block two times. Wiley flipped the slats on the hurricane shutters every four seconds in anticipation. He had an elevated point of view from the attic onto the porch below and the package and the deadly X. He held a rope that led to a cinch knot that seemed ready to burst like an over-aired balloon. Like a backwards sniper, Wiley was willing his prey to step into the cross-hairs rather than swiveling the scope and the cross-hairs to the pirate.
The figure stepped up onto the X and Wiley pulled the cord. Nothing happened, and he pulled again. The rope was tangled somewhere between the attic, the stairs, and the oak tree. Frustrated, Wiley ran downstairs to the front door. There she was.
Rhonda stood on the front step, on the crudely painted X. She held the package. Wiley held her eyes for just a moment. Hers were the eyes of a child, caught red-handed in the cookie jar. Only this was not a pilfered treat to be laughed off. Wiley realized the dire consequences and rushed out the door. He leapt at his frigid ex-wife just as the rope beside him began to unfasten and unfurl.
Everything happened at once. Wiley sprang, the rope slurped upward like spaghetti at an Italian restaurant, and Rhonda flew backward as her ex-husband propelled himself at her like a linebacker. It was just enough to save her life. But In mid-flight, Wiley caught the brunt of the descending anvil as it crashed down on his ominous X.
Beep Beep. The chatty apparatuses in the emergency room competed to announce every change in heart rate, blood pressure, bowel movement, stress levels, and oxygen saturation. Sci-fi machines of all shapes and sizes talked to nurses and doctors that blankly peered at monitors and half-heartedly checked on patients between hands of solitaire.
“Wiley, wake up!”
“What, where…why?” Wiley smacked his dry lips.
“It’s me, Wiley.”
The hospital bed made a whirring sound and then folded upward like a taco. Wiley was reminded of the close encounter with the trash compactor. Wiley, now wrapped tightly in layers of white gauze around his face, head, and body, sat up and looked around the room. The room was empty.
And then it wasn’t. A tall woman, made even taller with a purple scarf wrapped around a pompadour pile of hair, stood at the doorway. “Wiley, it’s me, Rhonda.”
“Rhonda, you, you…stole…”
“Wiley, don’t stress right now. You’ve got a head injury and you’ve broken your collar bone, and more.”
Wiley was wrapped up like a mummy. The anvil had only glanced off his skull but had cracked many other bones in the young man. But Wiley’s body would heal. It always had; it was hit heart that needed tender loving care.
“Wiley,” Rhonda came to his bedside and bent down. “You saved my life.” She took his good hand in hers and squeezed it gently.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Wiley was still in the throes of painkillers. “But I also tried to kill you.” The drugs worked like truth serum.
Rhonda seemed not to compute this confession; she just looked longingly into Wiley’s eyes. Then she dropped his hand and scowled, “That makes us even-steven.” Then she dropped something into his hand.
Wiley was drinking from a glass of water and nearly choked on it. He coughed, “What? How?”
Rhonda smirked, “Really?” She stood there akimbo, waiting for Wiley to figure it out. Not known for her patience, Rhonda began. “You know we still share an Amazon account, right?” Wiley didn’t know that. There were so many things he never got around to changing after Rhonda had left.
Wiley nodded anyway. “I could see what you were ordering and I knew what you wanted it for.” She waited, but Wiley played dumb.
He suddenly realized it was his turn to speak in his own defense. Rhonda had placed his extra garage door opener into his palm, like a gift from afar. “A water hose; big deal. I ordered a stupid water hose.”
Rhonda took his hand again. “Wiley, you and I know you never watered the lawn or washed the car. And this was no garden variety garden hose.” She looked at him, disappointed. “It had a ¾ inch coupling, the same size as the exhaust pipe on your Chevy. And then there was the roll of duct tape? For what, Wiley, to seal the deal?”
Wiley broke down. “When you left…I just couldn’t go on. I just couldn’t…”
Monitors beep beeped and a nurse appeared in the doorway.
“Ma’am, he’s upset. Perhaps you should come back later.” The nurse positioned herself between Rhonda and Wiley.
Over her shoulder, Rhonda continued. “I need to let you know, Wiley. I won’t be coming back. I’m done; we’re over. I have a new man in my life and I won’t be stealing packages from your porch anymore. We are starting our own business. Gonna run fast food in a fast car.”
“Ma’am, please. You need to leave,” the nurse insisted.
“Who?” Wiley shot back. “Who is he?” Wiley tugged at the pulleys that elevated his arm and leg like a marionette.
The nurse ushered Rhonda toward the door; she was crying. Wiley heard a man’s soothing voice in the hallway but the cast wouldn’t allow him turn his body to see.
“Oh, Ralph,” Wiley heard Rhonda cry, and then the door closed.
The nurse turned back to Wiley and checked his vitals. They were skyrocket high. But she calmed and reassured him and then announced that it was almost time for dinner. She handed Wiley a short menu-of-the day. It included pot Roast, chicken, and a cheese and veggie lasagna.
As he began to formulate a new plan, a better plan, the ultimate plan, Wiley snarled to the doting nurse: “I’ll take the bird.”
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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