Last One Standing (the shortest story ever)

It’s either them or me.

(Call to action: All right YouTubers: Let’s see your best flash film interpretation of this story done in ten seconds or less. My only copyright requirement for its use is that you list the story on your video: “Last One Standing” by Joshua Dyer. Post your links in the comments below.)

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Cat and Mouse (A Seapunk adventure)

The Captain of the USS Endeavor fixed his blue stare on the rippling horizon. The massive ninety-foot paddlewheel of the carrier plodded a frothy course through the Atlantic’s undulations.

“He’s out there,” Captain Walker said peering through the large glass observation dome.

The ginger-haired skipper flicked the first two digits of his upturned hand.

“The spyglass.”

“Aye, sir.” One of his Junior Officers set the small brass tube in Walker’s meaty palm.

He scanned the choppy waters for any sign of his foe.

“Right paddle, half-stop,” he barked to his crew in the observation dome. “Bring her around to starboard.”

Two of Walker’s First Classes echoed his order. The taller of the two slammed the paddle lever down to the large ‘half-stop’ in red lettering, and then brought it back up to its neutral position.

“Right paddle, half-stop, sir.”

“Very well, Jones,” Walker said as he studied the seas.

“Coming around to starboard, sir,” the Quarter Master said.

Walker set down his telescope and put the receiver to his right ear.

“Lookout,” he said watching his other shipmates scurry across the foredecks of his vessel, “anything from your vantage point?”

The young Seaman rotated his large set of binoculars around on their post. “Nothing from here, sir.”

It’s not going to get any easier once the sun sets, he thought eyeing the orange and black clouds to the west. Might be time for aerial –

The Endeavor’s warning sirens cut the still of the evening air.

A cluster of white tees and dungarees amassed amidships off the port side. “Enemy sub off port!” several sailors exclaimed jabbing fingers to Walker’s eleven o’clock.

Walker flipped the switch on his console and picked up the small receiver.

“Battle stations, battle stations! All hands.” His voice rang out over every nook and cranny on the massive aircraft carrier.

“Get me a line of bearing on that fish,” he said pointing his spyglass in the direction of the sighting.

“Sir,” a Second Class said from behind her position, “I have them at 74 degrees, four minutes, two seconds at a distance of six miles.”

“Copy that,” Walker said. He turned to the short portly man to his left. “Commander?”

“Sir,” the Endeavor’s Executive Officer said.

“Get three of our birds airborne on that line!”

“Aye, aye, sir,” his short sidekick said.

Walker watched as three planes made their way out onto the flight deck. An aviation deckhand fired up the front propeller on the first bi-plane. Its narrow-spaced pairs of wings unfolded as four more handlers locked them into place. The pilot shot a thumbs-up from his cockpit to the handler in front of his plane. The jet engine on the underbelly of the fighter fired to life pushing the restraining cables to their limits. The handler stepped to port and motioned his hands down the flight deck. Each of the AC-231 Avengers bolted down the runway and darted off into the darkening skies en route toward the enemy.

“Left paddle half-stop,” he commanded. “Bring us around on their bearing.”

His able crew executed the order with precision as the observation dome slowly spun counterclockwise.  Once the bow of the vessel had reached the desired point, the Endeavor sped all ahead into the fray.

The three Avengers wove narrowing circles around the last known position of the enemy submarine.

“Any sign of them from above?” Walker asked. His inquisitive gaze rolled toward his XO.

“Nothing yet, sir,” a pilot said through broken static.

“Get me another line of –”

A bright blue bulb flashed over the copper map of the Endeavor on his console.

“Direct hit off starboard, sir,” a Lieutenant said studying the map.

“Damn!”

The hand receiver next to the blue bulb rang into his bridge. Walker knew who was on the other side and what they wanted.

He placed the handset to his ear. “Walker here.”

“Looks like I win this round, Tim,” the voice said over the weak connection.

Walker watched as the black metal body of a giant swordfish broke the surface a quarter of a mile over his right shoulder. The boat’s clear bubbles glared back at him like a huge pair of insect’s eyes.  

“I won’t go as easy on you next time, Mike,” he said watching the sub bob on the waves.

 

  

Sticky Fingers: An Aces Avery Mystery

Wild Horses debrief: After studying the message, and the information for a while, I came up with the perpetrator and the motive. Let’s start with the message, and the rest will fall into place. The message was a cipher. The key to its secret lay in the second line of the text: ‘P. Argonne sent 700 horses on a Ris Cardan, Baltimore. Ask the man working the counter, Alistair Aldan, to validuate the invoice.’ The capital letter A is in the first, seventh and eighth positions of the second sentence. When we apply this to the positions of the words in the first sentence, we come up with: P a Ris. Paris, France. This is where the shipments had been coming from in Westsern Europe. Rudebaugh and I searched the stables on his property, and found several hidden crates from France. Once opened, they revealed several large bags of $20 US gold coins — commonly called ‘horses’ in street lingo. Upon closer inspection, I found the coins to be gold-plated fakes. We had uncovered Paul’s $14,000 stash of counterfeit loot. Now on to the next case. This one should be pretty straight forward for you, gumshoe.

I had been sorting through my files in the office on a dreary Monday evening when I got a phone call from an old friend.

“Hey Aces?” the voice on the other end said.

“Yeah,” I replied.

“It’s Twitch.”

Bobby ‘Twitch’ Malone had been running with the local family for the better part of the last decade now. Sure, he was into the small-time stuff: running numbers games, Faro banks, and the like, but he still carried a good deal of weight because of his connections.

“I need a favor,” Twitch said in a worried tone.

“What’s new?”

“Listen,” Malone began, “I’ve had a few hundred bucks go missing in smaller amounts over the past two weeks.”

“Alright.”

“You know I can’t take this to the cops, Avery. They’ll throw me in the clink for sure.”

“I know,” I said. “What do you need me to do?”

“Can ya come over to my place tomorrow and have a look around?”

“No problem, Twitch. I’ll see you around eleven tomorrow morning.”

“That’s real swell of ya, Aces. Thanks.”

When I arrived at Twitch’s place the next day, everything seemed to be in order. His auto repair garage was up and moving as it always was. His three regular gals wound in and out of the parlor hitting up the free coffee along the way. Finally, I went in to investigate Malone’s office. Twitch was there waiting for me when I arrived.

“Any luck?”

I shook my head.

“This is where I keep my weekly stash,” he said opening his safe behind a picture of three alley cats playing cards.

“Who has access to your office?”

“Just me, Lou and the dames,” he said spinning the dial. “Big Lou’s too dense to even know what stealin’ is.”

I’d met Big Lou on the way into the joint. Twitch had a point.

“Well,” I said. “That leaves your regulars. Why don’t you bring them in, and I’ll question them.”

A few minutes later, three young ladies strolled into Malone’s office. I told them that I would take each of them out into the hall for a quick question. The first gal was Cheri.

“What’s the distance between the blades on a toboggan?” I asked her.

Cheri’s hazel stare was blank behind her blonde bangs.

“What’s a toboggan?”

Next, I led Suzie into the cool hallway.

“What’s the ZIP code for this town?” I asked her through a drag of my smoke.

“I really can’t recall,” she replied.

I had one question left, and I had saved it for Rachel.

“How many digits are in a standard telephone number?”

“That’s simple,” she said with a smirk. “Ten.”

After his entourage had left, I let Twitch know that I had found his thief. If you have been following along, you know who his money mouse is, too.

 

 

The End of Innocence

 

“I came here as soon as I could,” I said setting down in the freshly cut grass.

The sun peaked up over the distant rolling hillside casting a violet hue into the drifting cirrus clouds.

“I would have gotten here sooner, but my tour didn’t end until just last week.”

I brought my knees up and huddled them close to my chest.

“I had a lay over in Germany for medical. You’d never believe what kind of junk you have to go through just to get back to where you were born.”

Beads of dew still sat like a crystalline sea that stretched out forever in front of me.

“You remember when we were kids,” I said with a laugh. “One memory sticks out in my mind more than any of the others. I can’t explain why, but it does. We couldn’t have been more than eight or nine at the time. It was a beautiful summer day. We had gotten bored, and decided to chase these big butterflies that had wandered into your yard.”

I gazed off into the hillsides ahead of me and let out a huge yawn. The time change was still messing with my biorhythms.

“You remember? You wanted to catch the orange one because it was your favorite color, and I went after the yellow and black one. We must’ve chased those darned things for hours.”

A healthy chuckle found its way out.

“We finally wound up over the hill in Mr. Jarrett’s front yard. We still didn’t get ‘em, though.”

A lone gent in coveralls towed a push mower out from a shed in the distance. He looked like he’d rather be somewhere else. Not me. I’d found the precise spot.

“You remember that time I stayed over at your house for the night? You, your little brother and I stayed up all night playing Pac-Man. Cheech fell asleep in front of the TV, but you and I – we wouldn’t give up until we be the current high score in the magazine.”

The telltale putter of a mower that had seen better days fired up in the adjacent yard.

“The next afternoon we tromped off out into Mr. Real’s meadow. That old rusted-out 1940s Ford still sat up like a monument in the middle of the field. Its heyday had been long gone, but the blackberry bushes that grew out of it were ripe for the plucking. Those berries were nearly as big as our thumbs, and burst in our mouths. We ate until we got belly aches.”

The yardman’s rumbling machine grew closer to our location.

“I got the emails from your mom last month,” I said. A gentle sting entered the corners my eyes.

“She told me that it was getting worse. It had spread to your vital organs, and she didn’t know how much longer you had.”

The tears came in waves.

“Where does it all go?”

I wiped back the warms streams from my chilly face.

“I’m sorry, buddy. I wanted to see you before any of this came around the bend.”

I got up on one knee and laid my right hand upon the brass marker in the pine needles. It felt cold to the touch. My childhood companion had been physically reduced to nothing more than a handful of engraved letters.

“Well, I guess this is it.”

I rose up to stand over his grave. I thrust my cold hands into the pockets of my jeans. The rumble of the groundskeeper’s mower was within striking distance now.

“Don’t worry, pal. I’ll find a way to help your family out in whatever ways that I can. They’ll be well-cared for.”

I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out a small square of aged plastic. I rubbed the sticker on its face clear of dust, and laid the Pac-Man cartridge on top of the marker.

“For old time’s sake.”

As I walked back toward my van, I caught a glimpse of two butterflies out of the corner of my eye. I stood there for a minute more, and watched them drift on the gentle summer breeze across the memorial gardens.

Wild Horses: An Aces Avery Mystery

 

 

Ice debrief: The Bladey jewelry case went like this: I knew that it had to be an inside job. Stan had mentioned that everything was unscathed when he went down to check on Fred. I ruled out Shanks because he had a solid alibi. This left Rich Hartman and Stan Bladey. Rich had admitted a gambling problem and theft of the diamonds could have funded his addiction. Trouble was, he was still trusted with and made cash deposits every night for the store. The real kicker was Stan’s story. He told me that he’d gone down to check on the security guard in the basement at 7:05PM. The problem with that is that his own wife had said that the power went out at seven. The last time I checked, all elevators ran on electricity, pal. If Stan lied about that then he was lying about a lot more. Case closed. Now, on to our next case. I’m gonna need your help on this one for sure.

 

 

I was on my way back from lunch at Archie’s when I was stopped by a long-time friend of mine, John Rudebaugh. He’s in on the ownership of a local horse racing track. Anyhow, Rudebaugh told me that he’d received a very peculiar message in the mail and wondered if I’d take a look. He handed me a folded up bill of sale and an accompanying short message. The bill of sale was for 700 horses, and the message read as follows:

‘P. Argonne sent 700 horses on a Ris Cardan, Baltimore. Ask the man working the counter, Alistair Aldan, to validate the invoice.’

“Makes no real sense to me,” I said.

“Same here,” John said. His face was all screwed up in concern. “Horses are a big part of what we do, but that many?”

I took Rudebaugh back to the office to see if I could rattle a few more details out of him.

“From the message and bill,” I said, “we can assume that the shipment is landing in Baltimore someplace.”

John nodded.

“The question is, why? I don’t even have enough stables for 700 horses.”

This got my ole’ noggin spinning.

“The message doesn’t seem to make any grammatical sense.”

Rudebaugh nodded in accord.

“Maybe it’s some sort of cipher,” I surmised. “Who else has access to your business and grounds?”

“Me, the caretakers and Paul,” he said with a shrug.

“Do any of them have international contacts or relations?”

“The groundskeepers are locals,” he said pulling out an Old Gold from his pack. “Paul does business with power players from all over.”

“How about you?” I asked lighting his cig for him.

“On occasion, I deal with some business in Western Europe.”

I asked him if I could jot the message down. I had a hunch that there was something to it, but I just couldn’t figure out what.

“Do you know where the shipment’s coming from?”

John shook his head in defeat.

“No idea.”

Something told me that if we could figure out where these horses were coming from, or even who the guys were in the message then we might be able to trace the clues back to the source. So, I went back to my place and studied the message and bill for a couple of days. Then, it hit me. It was sitting right in front of me the whole time.

 

I think I’m onto something with this case, gumshoe, but I need your help to be sure. I need you to take a look at the message. See what you can come up with, and we’ll compare notes next time. I don’t think our horses will be doing any racing soon, if I’m right.

Copyright Joshua Dyer 2013

Cold as Ice: An Aces Avery Mystery

The name’s Avery. Arley Avery, but my pals call me Aces. It’s because of my initials, see? A little about me? Well, I served out in the Pacific during the war. Wasn’t much in my line of work once I got home, so I became a Private I. Listen, if you’re going to be my new partner, then you’re gonna have to be fast on your feet. I’ll give you the rundown on my most recent case, and we’ll see if you’ve got what it takes.

I had received a call from one Martha Bladey last week. The dame was all frantic and going on about some missing merchandise. She and her hubby owned a stake in an upscale jewelry store on the ritzy side of town.
“They’ve taken them all!” she had shouted into the phone.
She was referring to a collection of rare diamonds that her husband and his two other business partners had acquired, and valued at well north of two million big ones. I started to ask if she had any idea of who would want them, but then who wouldn’t want two million bucks? So, I asked Ms. Bladey to come down to my office to answer some questions.
“Do you know of anyone who’d want to undermine you?” I asked her.
She still seemed a little rattled by it all. Her hands trembled as she responded.
“No.”
“Anyone who wants revenge?”
She shook her head.
“We’ve got one of the best reputations in town,” she muttered brushing her brown bangs back behind her ear.
“How did it happen, Ms. Bladey?”
“We were up in the office going over the daily reports when the power went out.”
Uh huh, and about when was that?”
“I’d say seven.”
I could tell that this interview was getting me nowhere fast, so I decided to head on over to the store to talk to the security guard on duty that night. Fred was a lean, tall fella, mid-thirties, had a wife, a kid and no clue. Fred said that he always sat in his chair down the hall from the vault next to the stairs.
“What about the service elevator?” I asked him.
“It’s only for the bosses and the cleaning staff,” he said in his country draw. “The staff only has access to the main floor and the offices.”
“Could they get the combination to the vault?”
“Maybe,” he said shrugging.
Swell, real swell. Fred had informed me that he’d been asleep in his chair on the night in question. He said that the rickety boards on the stairs usually woke him up if anyone came down. I thanked Fred for his cooperation, and decided to head upstairs to question the owners.
Stan Bladey, Rich Hartman and Jim Shanks owned the place. They said that Shanks was over in Europe someplace on business. I pulled the other two aside in the hall one at a time to hear their sides of the story.
Stan said that he’d closed up shop as usual that night, and had taken the elevator down to check on Fred around five after seven. No one else was there, and everything was as it always was. Rich said that he had stayed up in the office to file the reports and prepare the nightly bank deposit. I asked him how long Shanks had been away. Rich said almost a week. He confessed that he’d had a slight gambling problem, but that he’d never steal anything. I thanked them both for their time and headed back here to the office. I felt that I had cracked this case wide open.

There you go, gumshoe. If you’ve been following along and paying attention to the details then you’ve got this one solved as well. In the time that it would have taken me to grab some grub at the geedunk, you should have been able to solve this case. Tune in next time for the debrief of this crime as well as our next mystery.

Copyright Joshua Dyer 2013