Paris Literary Crime Short Fiction By Jason Pfister

Paris: Literary Crime Short Fiction By Jason Pfister

Jason Pfister, author of Paris, is an MFA candidate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He has previously published short fiction in Uncharted Magazine, The Eunoia Review, and Ruminate Magazine.


For a time, I believe we will always be driving, the pavement winding like a blacksnake through the pines and the great, snow tipped mountains fixed horribly against the grey skyline that surrounds us. The only sound is the purr of the engine and our own breathing. As the day wanes, it seems impossible that it could be leading us anywhere, the obvious reality instead seeming that it will just continue on like it has been going, twisting around and through, a dreamscape, a hologram, a never-ending loop that we’ve found ourselves trapped inside.

It’s dark when we find the motel, and I make Ollie wait in the car.

“I can’t find my glove, Terrence. I’ve looked everywhere, but I can’t find it.”

“There’s no way we’re going back, okay? So forget it.”

“But Terrence…”

The woman at the front desk wears a gigantic t-shirt that reads: I’d rather be at the beach. There’s a palm tree below the lettering and an empty deck chair turned to face an idyllic looking ocean sunset.

“Me, too,” I say, giving a friendly nod to her bosom.

The woman at the front desk wears a gigantic t-shirt that reads: I’d rather be at the beach.

It takes her a moment to understand.

“This ain’t my shirt,” she says. The fat rolls on her neck and arms are fascinating, perfectly hairless, clean, and smooth like porcelain.


“It’s my brother’s,” she says. “He got it in Florida, but I never been there.”

She reaches for the room key on the corkboard behind her, and in so doing, reveals great yellowed sweat stains that are shaped like loaves of bread.

“The ice machine is broken,” she says. “It’s been broken since spring, so don’t come bothering me about it.”

The room isn’t great. Two beds, a citrusy-chemical smell, teal-paisley wallpaper that matches the comforters and the lamp shades. There are restaurant pamphlets inside the end table instead of a Bible. I take the pamphlets out of the drawer and lay them across my pillow.

“They got tests now,” Ollie says, pacing the bathroom like it’s a cage. “They can get DNA, and then they’ll know I was there, Terrence!”

One of the pamphlets is for a bar that’s right down the road.

“I’m going to eat,” I tell Ollie. “You coming?”

He keeps pacing. Through the open door, I can see the single glove is gripped so fiercely in his hand that his knuckles have gone bone white.

“Okay, do whatever,” I tell him. “Just keep an eye on the bag.”

I decide to walk. The night is clear and there’s a moon out. It’s quiet and I can hear the sounds of the forest all around me. The trees dance to the current and the swell of the air above. I can hear the moan of their spines bending and the hushed whispers of their leaves and needles. I make my way and see the yellow light of the bar appear between the shadowed trunks. A feeling of excitement washes over me; the spindly light is warm and inviting, and I become acutely aware of the empty pit in my stomach that growls and longs to be filled.


“You’re not from around here,” says the girl. She’s blond, in her thirties, the flush of youth already in decline.

“How did you know?” I ask. I’m seated at the bar, halfway through my second beer and a burger with fries.

“Your face,” says the girl. “It’s a small town. Strangers stick out, especially cute ones.”

She winks at me, the mascara on her left eye is smudged. A belly button ring, shaped like the moon, sparkles from her navel. As she maneuvers onto the barstool next to me, she leans closer, and I can smell the liquor on her breath.

“Is anyone sitting here?” she asks, settling in.

“Well…” I say, “Aren’t you?”


My phone starts buzzing on the night stand while I’m on top of her. Her groans are low and guttural. She keeps her eyes closed. There was an old woman sleeping on the couch in the living room when we were passing through on our way upstairs. I saw a toy fire truck and a collection of plastic dinosaurs in the hallway. I ignore the buzzing phone and keep going, kissing her neck, holding her against me, and moving and feeling her softness, her body so close to me, and her breath on my shoulder and in my ear.

“I had a dream about you,” she whispers. “I had a dream I would find someone like you…”


 When I wake, there is a panicked moment when I don’t know where I am. She’s snoring beside me and sunlight burns my eyes like hot oil, pouring through a missing slat in the plastic blinds. Slowly, I acclimate, start to remember: the drive through the mountains, Ollie pacing, the girl’s hand on my knee in the car.

I get up and find my way to the bathroom in the hall. While I’m urinating, I hear the door open behind me, and then I turn and see a small boy standing, watching intently.

“Hey,” I say. “Hey, get out of here.”

He won’t listen.

“Shoo!” I say. “I’m in here now. You have to wait your turn.”

Still, he watches, wide eyed, with a look of growing disgust and maybe anger. Only when I’ve finished up and turn to face him, does he then close the door and scurry off, footsteps pattering away down the hall.

“Weirdo,” I whisper.

She’s still asleep, so I dress and make my way downstairs. My phone is dead, otherwise I would call Ollie and have him come pick me up. The grandmother is seated at the kitchen table. She offers me a coffee but doesn’t look me in the eye when she does. I decline the offer.

“Do you know how far the motel is from here?” I ask.

“Ten miles,” she says. Her eyes are fixed on the ceiling.

I sigh, trying to decide what to do, but then my date is already coming down the stairs in a bathrobe, yawning.

“Off so soon?” she asks, disappointed.

“I have to,” I say. “Business.”

“Oh,” she says. “So I guess you need a ride?”


In the car we are silent but then, when we reach the motel, she parks and starts to talk.

“I had a really nice time. It’s been a while since I felt a connection with someone like this and I know it might sound kind of needy, but I was hoping I might see you again. Do you travel through here often?”

The car is gone and Ollie isn’t in the room. I plug my phone into the charger and there are twelve missed calls. I try not to panic.

“Ollie,” I say when he doesn’t pick up. “Where are you? Call me back right away!”

I go to the front desk and ask the woman if she’s seen anything.

“Yeah, came in this morning,” she says. “Asked to borrow a shovel, then returned it and left.”

She’s wearing a shirt with a picture of the Eiffel Tower on it. Across the bottom, it simply reads: Paris.

“You all thinking of staying another night?” she asks.


I go back to the room and my phone starts ringing.

“Ollie,” I say. “Where are you?”

“I gotta go back.”

“That’s crazy. If they catch you with that bag…”

“The bag is safe. I don’t have it.”

“Ollie,” I say. “Don’t do this…”

Silence. Then a click.

“Ollie? Ollie?!”


I spend the afternoon searching the woods behind the motel to no avail. When the sun starts to drop, I realize I never ate breakfast, and I’m starving. At the bar, I keep an eye out, and then, after the third drink, I decide to call the number she slipped into my shirt pocket after we said goodbye. She answers on the second ring. Breathless. I can hear her excitement. She says she’ll be right over but it takes an hour and when she finally shows up I see why. She’s done up to the nines, red dress, red lipstick, hair shaped and pinned back into a mass of complicated curls. It’s ridiculous. She looks like she’s dressed for a gala, and as her high heels clap towards me, I see the bartender smirk.


“I’m so glad you decided to stay,” she says.

She sips from her martini, leaving behind a red half-moon on the glass.

“I didn’t,” I tell her. “My partner he…just kind of took off.”

“What do you mean?”

I know it would be better not to say anything, but I’m on my sixth pint and feel like venting a little.

“We did this real estate deal together…” I say. “Signed this big contract with this guy we both used to work for. This guy was a big wig, came from a rich family. Had more money than he knew what to do with, you know? Anyway, we did this deal with him but my partner is worried that the uh…contract…will leave him exposed to legal action if…well, if the deal falls through.”

“Oh,” she says. “But I thought you said you already signed the contract?”

“We did,” I say, coughing, taking a drink of beer. “But there’s still a chance it won’t work out. And…I knew he was neurotic but I didn’t think he would so stupid as to…well…as to actually leave and freeze the money in the account…”

“Oh my.”

I wave for another pint.

“Well, can’t you call him?” she asks. “Or your boss maybe?”

I shake my head.

“It’s too late,” I say. “He’s back there by now and that probably means the deal fell through.”

“Well…” she says. “It all sounds very complicated, though I can’t say I’m sorry you’re stuck here a little longer.”

She leans over and kisses me, and when she pulls back, I can taste the waxy residue of her lipstick.

“Oh,” she says, laughing. She takes a napkin, and dips it in her water glass, then dabs and wipes my lips as if I am a child. “Not that it’s not a good look on you, sweetheart.”

I smile and feel a surge of passion, remembering what it was like to be on top of her and to feel her body press against my chest and to feel her squirm and gasp beneath me and taste her tongue on my tongue.

“Oh,” she says. “You left this last night.”

She reaches for her bag and then the glove is produced and placed down in front of me on the bar.

“Ah,” I say. “Thanks, but I’m afraid I lost the other one.”

“Oh my,” she says leaning forward and placing a hand on my knee. “Well, I have a glove you could borrow. But you’d have to come back to my place to get it.”

We kiss again, and as we do, I can’t help imagine what it would be like if I was some other type of person. If I was able to fall in love with her and take her away from this sad little town, someplace where her dress wouldn’t stand out so much, show her the world, maybe even—if we were feeling wild—head down to Vegas and get hitched. Why not?

It’s a nice imagining, and after we finish kissing, I feel close to her in a way that I haven’t felt close to anyone in a long time. I take the glove, folding the stiffened leather and feeling the gentle crunch of desiccated blood. I put it back in my pocket, optimistic all of a sudden. Because there’s a chance Ollie is still alive, and he will come back. Because then I won’t have to go searching for the money in the woods tomorrow, and I can sleep in. Because then everything will still be going exactly as I planned, almost just exactly as I planned it would go…


If you’ve enjoyed “Paris”, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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