The Lightning Round
A Charles Splints Case
The bartender turned the lights on so I finished my drink and put the glass upside down on the counter. I got up, dusted the crumbs from my sandwich off my slacks, Turkey BLT, and headed out the door. It was the last day of January and it felt like it.
The city of Brooksend always feels like home, no matter what’s happening from one street to the next. It’s not the most perfect city in the world, it’s not the best place to live, the weather sucks for half the year, but it’s home.
As I was making my way to the next bar, an old friend who always kept his doors open another hour or so, I stumbled upon a poster on the outside wall of a nightclub.
“Come & See The Show of a Lifetime! Magician Lightning Larry Will Electrify The Crowd on February 1st!”
I’ve always been torn on whether I like magicians or not. Sure, they can be entertaining, but it’s all visual lies. The lot of them would make for perfect lawyers. They perform the act right in front of you and the smoke and mirrors block what’s really happening, the manipulation of your understanding of reality.
“He’ll be here tomorrow,” said the gentleman standing in the doorway of the nightclub.
“I can read,” I replied. “He any good?”
“He’s been here a couple times. I saw him once. He’s okay.”
“Maybe I’ll stop in.”
“Tickets might sell out. You can head in and grab one real quick if you want.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
My friend Doug was locking the door went I showed up. He saw me through the glass and rolled his eyes. He opened up and gestured me inside.
“Didn’t know if you were coming,” said Doug. “It’s been a slow night and I was ready to cut my losses and get some beauty rest.”
“You need more than sleep,” I replied. I took a seat at the counter and pointed to a single malt scotch.
“You working any cases tonight?” he asked.
“Not tonight. For once the city feels like it’s sleeping.” I downed the drink in one shot and raised my finger for another. “You ever hear of Lightning Larry?” I took a sip of the refill.
“Saw him last time he was in town. He’s okay. You thinking of going to the show tomorrow? You don’t strike me as the type to sit through a magic show.”
“I’m not so sure there is a type.”
As I polished off my glass there was a thunderous crash from the upstairs room where Doug slept.
“You have some friends over, Doug?”
“Let’s see who came to visit.”
“You need another before heading up there?” asked Doug.
“I’d better not.”
Each step creaked as I made my way up to the second floor. The building Doug called both home and business was one of the oldest in the city. The bones were, for the most part, still original. There was a personality that accompanied old buildings and Doug’s had a crooked tooth grin you couldn’t help but adore.
There were four rooms in total on the second floor, one of them Doug’s room and the other three used mostly for storage. In tough times I’ve slept on a cot he keeps beside kegs for when people just can’t make it home. In my case it was because of a dispute with my landlord, the oven broke, it was a whole thing, and so I spent some time sleeping beside a cheap lager until things cooled off. The crash came from Doug’s room, probably his window.
Unlike most gumshoes in this city I tend not to carry a gun. Maybe I’ve read too many comic books, but it’s just not my style. As I was making my way towards the room I was armed with nothing but witty comebacks, a pair of steel toed boots, and a white belt in karate.
I pushed the door open and there he was, a lanky bandit dressed for slipping through the night. I flipped the light on and was met with wide blue eyes. The bandit wore a bandanna over the bottom half of his face.
“Doug’s not much of a sentimentalist,” I said. “Doubt you’ll find much of anything to steal around here. I can help you open a savings account in the morning if you’d like. All you need is a buck or two and someday you’ll have your very own treasure.”
He pulled a gun on me. My hands went up into the air.
“Not so smart now,” he said. “Where’s the safe?”
“No safe, pal.”
“There’s always a safe. I’ve been scoping this place for weeks. He sleeps, he works, he sleeps. He’s not spending any money. He has to be stashing it somewhere. Show me.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” I walked towards the dresser.
“Quit moving! Quit moving! Tell me where the safe is!”
“It’s not here. Believe it or not he keeps his money in a huge vault, with cement walls and shelves of gold bricks. It’s called a bank. Now, put the gun down and we don’t have to escalate things.” I reached behind my back, wrapped my hand around a wireless phone charger, and unplugged the cable it was attached to. It wasn’t the best option, but it was the closest, and it was better than nothing.
“You’re lying!” he cried.
I threw the charger and managed to knock him in the forehead. He stumbled for a second, which was enough time to lunge the distance between us and land a fist into his gut. He dropped the gun and I kicked it across the room. I shoved him out of the room and to the stairs.
“Get walking,” I said. “Doug! Our friend says he wants a warm jail cell for the night!” I ripped the bandanna off his face and walked him over to the bar.
“This guy looks familiar,” said Doug.
“He a friend of yours?”
“I’ve only got customers,” replied Doug, “you know that. This is the, uh, magician you were talking about earlier. Larry Lightning.”
“It’s Lightning Larry!”
“Sounds better the other way,” I said. “You’ve got a big show tomorrow. What, you don’t think you’ll make enough from ticket sales? The nice man outside the nightclub seemed to think your show would sell out.”
“You don’t know what it’s like! There’s no money in magic!”
“Tell that to my landlord. He makes more and more of my money disappear every year.” I motioned for Doug to come over for a second as I held Larry up against the bar. “Besides, can’t you guys pull money out of people’s ears?” I let go of him and let Doug take over. “Don’t let him get away. I’ve got cuffs on me somewhere.” I searched my jacket and found a pair in my coat’s inner pocket. I slapped them onto Larry’s wrists and hoped he wasn’t an escape artist.
“You two are making a big mistake,” said Larry. “You’d better let me go or I won’t be responsible for what happens.” Right after he spoke a puff of smoke engulfed him. Doug and I could hear the jingling of the handcuffs but couldn’t see anything.
When the smoke dissipated Larry was making a run for the back exit, his hands still cuffed behind his back.
“I could use a drink, Doug.” I waited at the counter as Larry trotted along. Doug placed the drink on the counter, I shot it down, then the glass caught Larry in the back of the head. It must’ve slipped from my hand.
After the red and blue swirling lights disappeared into the distance Doug poured me one for the road.
“You did a brave thing tonight,” said Doug. “I really thought that Larry was a decent guy when I saw his act.”
“You’re just lucky he didn’t look under your mattress.” I shot the drink down and put the glass upside down on the counter. “Have a good night.”
“Good night, Splints. Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Do you think I could be a magician?”
“There’s a slot open for one tomorrow at the club down the street. Give it a shot.”