The Duck: Hard-Boiled Crime Short Fiction By Javi Reddy
Javi Reddy, author of The Duck, lives in between Durban and Johannesburg in South Africa. His debut novel, ‘12 Yards Out’ was released in 2019 by Austin Macauley. His story ‘Sit Down; You’re Brown’ was awarded runner-up in the ‘The SA Writers College 2019 Annual Short Story Competition’.
The building was thirty-four stories high, although that did not matter. We were not going higher than floor twelve. I scanned the room. Floor twelve. Not low enough to leave in a hurry, not high enough to get a stellar view. Floor twelve means you’re settling. Right now, we were settling with our whiskey. There were worse places to drink.
The new bottle arrived. I knew all too well how this was going to end.
I’m not sure where those places were, but it was late and another bottle of whiskey had just arrived. It wasn’t even my favorite whiskey. Scratch that, it wasn’t even a whiskey in my top five. It was Bells. I hated Bells. To be fair, it was that time of the evening already- when the liquor chose you and not the other way round.
The new bottle arrived. I knew all too well how this was going to end. I would cringe as my drink was being poured. I would cry internally as I took each sip. But I would eventually smile that all too glorious smile, as if I belonged in an advert. Because no matter the standard of the booze, I was buzzing inside. I couldn’t believe my luck and that I was sitting at this table.
“It’s an easy job, this.”
“Well, you’re here aren’t you?”
One of these men were fat; the other was tall. They were known as the Malone brothers and they weren’t even related to each other. Although they didn’t share the same genes, they were extremely identical in their lack of intellect, dry humor and general ability to draw energy out of you.
No one knew their real names. In fact, in this business, you should never give out your real name. So they became the Malone brothers and unfortunately, every job in this town went through them. Not that it was planned by Issac and Simon Malone, but every mob boss outta town used them to co-ordinate their deals. Because the Malone brothers were loyal. They never squealed. They never jumped ship. They saw every crime through to the end with a remarkably solid track record. “Are we gonna order food or not?”
“You ate an hour ago.”
“That was pre-supper. I need supper-supper.”
Simon rolled his eyes at the stomach rolls hanging through Isaac’s white shirt.
After a while you can give me anything, I’ll drink it. Besides, I had to keep up with these cretins. Who knows what they’d tell the big boys? An aspiring criminal had to have a solid hand when holding a gun or a glass of liquor. He was not to fade away when either were in his possession. I glanced at my watch. It was almost 3:44 am. I had to be up at 6:00 am which wilted my bravery away, ever so slightly.
Simon turned to face me, the toothpick in his mouth wavering through his lips.
“What do you think? Can you handle?”
“Time and place, I’ll be there. Time and place.”
The job was this: we were going to steal a box. I didn’t know what was in the box. I didn’t know its color or whether the Queen of bloody England slept with it under her bed. But we were going to take that box tomorrow morning, no matter the obstacles before us. The drink and lack of sleep were beginning to defeat me.
“Hey, Duck! Keep your damn eyes open. This is the only thing that matters right now!”
That’s right, my crime name was Duck. Most people had something like, the Black Claw or the Destroyer. But Fuck, Fuck, Fuck…I was the Duck. In life, we each take our own paths. I often waddled across mine, unable to maintain a straight course. I had read somewhere that they’d been numerous occasions of ducks drowning themselves after they lost their mate. Wayward and suicidal. I’d often felt like that, after my wife left me.
But once I discovered crime, suicide took a backseat. But that wasn’t why they gave me my nickname. Those who began to know me in the underworld, came to see that I was calm on the surface, even when bullets were flying around, whilst underneath, I’d be flapping about like a madman, on the brink of self-implosion. After we escaped the scene, I’d always have panic attacks. But never before or during a job. I hid it well. And that’s why they took me where they took me.
That’s right, my crime name was Duck.
Isaac put his cigarette out and stared at me long and hard. Then spoke to no one in particular, as he pressed his large elbows against the table.
“Wear navy blue tomorrow. Don’t bring any guns. And most importantly, don’t be late.”
This was the worst brief of all time. Perhaps he could be a little more vague? The Bells had squirmed into my bloodstream and when I began to slouch in my seat, it was the final sign that I needed to take my leave. I stumbled down the stairs, percolated with the desire to get tomorrow right. I’d been trying to get it right for the last 15 years of my life. But that was by following society’s warped view of staying in line and doing what was deemed as acceptable.
Sitting behind a bank till getting abused by both irate customers and then an even more irate boss, did not seem acceptable to me. It wasn’t ‘til we were held up and the man pressing the cool steel of his Glock into my overworked face, did I realize who was truly free. Running away, cash in hands, those men felt no remorse, no weight upon them. They took what they want and from people who were too cowering to lead they life they thought they could have.
The Bells had squirmed into my bloodstream and when I began to slouch in my seat, it was the final sign that I needed to take my leave.
So, I got brave. And crime did pay, as long as you kept doing the little jobs. I soon learnt that all those cocky little miscreants, caught and behind bars, were overachievers aiming for the big scores. I flew under the radar. A small heist here and there, never killed or convicted anyone. I always made it back home.
And I returned knowing that I had taken something from society’s shitty rules. Luckily, home was just around the corner from this building this evening, which meant ambling along by foot and not by car, just in time to close my eyes in bed and not on the road.
6:52 am. I had overslept. I felt like the inside of a fatman’s bumhole after his 5th taco. I pondered on how I would venture towards bright and luscious Sydenham Park, the venue for our box escapades. My neighbor had left to Australia for a month. She left me her key to feed her cat.
Although I was not interested in her pussy right now, I grabbed the another key within her house and soon I was pressing down hard on the pedal of her Audi S3, arriving at the park at 7:02 am. Not bad, given the distance I covered without running over any pedestrians. Not great, given the glare from the Malone brothers.
“For shit sakes, Duck. 7am is 7 am. Every bloody minute counts. Especially with this lot on their own damn deadline.”
Simon’s open palm gestured to the grass area where a host of kids, with their parents, eagerly waited behind a large red ribbon that was tied across two trees. The Easter Egg Hunt was about to begin. And yours truly, the Navy Three, were waiting in the wings, to make their move.
I suppose there are better ways to spend Easter. Church for one seems like a bright idea. But when you were used to taking from others or finding other ways to break the law, it was impolite to take a seat at a pew on a holy day. Still, why weren’t this lot, with their families, at church? Why were they, with all their pretend morals, not doing the holy thing today and instead buying into the commercial belief that finding an egg is a treasure worth savoring? The bloody scoundrels.
An elderly lady, perhaps in her sixties, hoisted a starting gun into the air and fired away. The masses broke through the feeble ribbon. The hunt was on.
“Navy is better than black. Black means you’re purposely trying to be bad. We want to be inconspicuous, you know?” At least Issac’s use of the word inconspicuous was on point.
There she was, on a table in the middle of the grass- an emerald green box with a white ribbon crisscrossed over it. Like a glorified hot cross bun. What on earth was inside that box? What riches were so badly wanted by some greedy man hiding somewhere, that he would send a bunch of second-rate lads, who had no hope of making it in society, to come and claim his glory? The table was being guarded by some chump dressed as the Easter Bunny. A pink bunny who was trying to drink soda out of a bottle.
We looked fairly elegant in navy in the end, as we swarmed forward in unison, waves of an angry sea, swamping this pink bastard. The Malone brothers held him back as I reached for the box. But he somehow broke free and smashed his soda bottle over my head. I didn’t drop to the ground.
Pain was in the mind. I focused on the box, my fingertips grazed the ribbon. But soon my head began to swell and my knees trembled. My heart yearned to shoot out of my chest. The bunny leaned in closer. Pain was in the mind. This was my chance to prove I was A Team material. I had to rise above it all. Pain was in the mind. Fuck that, it wasn’t.
The bunny took part of the broken bottle and kindly jabbed it into the back of my knee. The ground felt like home now, as my cheek gladly hugged it. I tried to protect my nether regions, as bunny boy kicked me down there. Have you ever seen a duck and a bunny go at it? I don’t know where the Malone brothers were. I don’t know where the oxygen to my brain was as well, but it had now disappeared. I succumbed to the pain and everything became darkness.
When I awoke, it’s not what I saw first, it’s what I smelt. Funny how the human body worked and how our senses took over. The nose is the first radar. I smelt her. It wasn’t sexy perfume- it belonged to an older lady. A lady in her sixties. The eyes finally took over and there she was- the hag with the starting gun at the egg hunt. She held my chin tightly and looked me firmly in the eyes.
“There’s a good boy. Want some water?” She thrust a glass of water into my face.
“Wake up. I don’t want to waste my day here.”
I was bound to a chair, my hands and legs roped up. But I was not gagged. Not like I had anything to say just yet. She placed the emerald box on my lap. She floated a cold whisper into my ear:
“Ask me. Ask me nicely.”
I shook my head.
She leaned in and grabbed the back of my knee, still fresh from the stabbing. She squeezed down.
“Ask. Me.” I wish I was gagged. No man should scream like that, ever.
She eventually let go and I caught my breath and looked at her once more. I waited for the room to steady and finally blurted out:
“Please madam. Open the box.” She gleefully removed the ribbon, pausing slightly, before smiling some more. She lifted the lid off the box.
“Here you go.” She held a golden egg right up in front of me.
“Do you know how much it’s worth?”
I ogled this magnificent piece before me. The gold trinkets cascading perfectly over each other.
“It’s worthless.” She hurled it to the ground, without thinking twice, shattering it into shards of nothingness.
“Made in fucking China. Like that virus.” She wiped some of the water away from my face with her barehand.
“Every job in this town goes through me. Because men don’t see anything. Your eyes wonder where they need not wonder. And you miss the important details.”
She stepped away to retrieve something then stepped back. “Did you ever ask your pathetic self, why the bunny stabbed you when you touched the box?”
I could barely remember anything. It was all a flash of fur and blood.
“It wasn’t because you touched the box. It was because you touched this.”
She held aloft the ribbon from the box.
“Made from a rare satin. A duchess in Monaco had it tailored to fit on an evening gown she was to wear at her inauguration. But we have people there. Who smuggled it into the country. It’s worth quite a bit- apparently this material no longer exists. That’s why a women should lead. She knows what to go after. What other Neanderthals like yourself, cannot think of.”
I didn’t care anymore. I wanted my bed. I wanted my head to lie on a pillow and not a concrete slab, on which I’m sure I had spent the last few hours. She placed the barrel right up to me, and I I thought of that day of the banking robbery and how I’d wished it was a starting gun. But now I knew better than that. Now, I was free. As she drew back the cocking of the gun, I closed my eyes. It’s ridiculous how your last wish is never what you thought you’d wish for.
All I wanted was a Bells. But now I was a duck out of water…and whiskey. Sometimes, when my eyes are closed, the destruction still calls to me. Sometimes, it’s 3 am and I’m still drinking shitty booze, in a shitty thirty-four story building, staring into space and wondering when I’ll have my wings clipped. We fly, we hope- our direction never truly getting us closer to where we want to go. But at least we’re free to fly.
If you’ve enjoyed The Duck, you can visit our free digital archive of short fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.