Guest Writer - Sweet Suzy by Mike Wilkerson

My next Guest Writer is from Kansas but now lives in St Petersburg, Florida.  I've known Mike for about 18 months or so and instantly became a fan of his hard, gritty and to the point style of writing.  I was lucky enough (and honoured) to have been asked to read the first few chapters of a novel he was working on and was mightily impressed.

Mike recently left a comment on a story I published here that hit home with me personally.  It read....."You cut straight through the BS and delivered the goods."

I'm sure you'll agree that that is what Mike does with this story.  Without further ado...

Sweet Suzie by Mike Wilkerson.

A 396 big block engine with a four barrel carb running wide open. I got a .38 slug in my left thigh, a busted nose and a six inch gash across my forehead. I’m on a tear, heading southwest on I-275 and driving this old Chevelle like a madman at the controls of a locomotive headed straight for a cliff. If the fuzz tries to nab me they’re gonna have to fucking kill me. It’s like that.


The speedo tops ninety, my fuel drops to a quarter tank, instrument needles like exclamation points to my situation. I wipe the dripping red from my eyes like it matters, only it doesn’t, because my nose is puffed up like a poisoned puppy and my eyes are swollen to slits. The blood is only a nuisance. My left hand stays pressed to my thigh but the warm blood still squirts through my fingers. I’ve got maybe twenty minutes before this train goes off the rails.

Mind spasms override the pain. Flashes of hazel eyes and chestnut hair. My memory sputters then kicks into gear, giving me the complete image. Sweet Suzy. The girl I left back in Tampa. A pearl smile as she brushes the bangs from my eyes just before her face is blurred by the engine’s scream as my car redlines. I ease off the lead foot, spot the turn off for St. Pete.

A tom-tom thud throbs behind my eyeballs as I veer from the far left lane into the 54th Avenue exit ramp and down off the overpass, blowing straight through a red light like a bull through a matador’s cape. Horns blare, tires screech. The Buick I’ve cut off crashes into a light pole. The pole breaks and sparks fly as it slams down onto the road. I don’t stop. I blink, breath and keep my hate pulse set right below coronary level.

Harsh city lights flicker through smudged eyes. The thud beats double-time and blood is burning my retinas like a crimson acid rain as I take a right on 38th street and look for the Rose of Sharon’s neon sign. Mick’s business front.

A 50‘s era motor court turned fleabag motel-no-tell where it’s all going to end.

###

Guns for money. Easy peasy Japanesey. Twenty bums in Tampa Bay do what I do, but only three are Aces at this gig. I’m one of the three. Call Simms the top dog. Call Joe Hall the lifer, at it since Moses was a tadpole. We can get anything you want if you meet a certain standard and supply the dough-rah-me up front. The little guys live off our dregs ‘cause they only want the quick sell, enough to take a rocket ride on the cocaine express. It’s 1981, baby, and it’s all about blow.

Mick Randa. Mucho money. Bullshit prophecy: Get in with Mick and you’re on easy street. Get rich quick. A clich√© festival and I ate up the greasy promises and rode the money coaster all the way to the top.

Back story. Mick distributes blow for the Escobar and Ochoa tribe in Tampa Bay. Quiet and cool, none of that cowboy shit you’re seeing down in Miami.

Get in with Mick.

I got in by supplying Mick with guns, ‘cause if you’re gonna sell blow you’re gonna need hardware. Plata o ploma. Silver or lead. Then I made an error by way of an offer I couldn’t refuse.

“You got pizzazz, Cleve. And you got connections. Help move my powder. I’m building a goddamn empire. Fifteen percent of the take…think it over, Sunshine.”

I ran numbers. My yearly salary goosed by 2000%. Castles in the air. A couple of years and then somewhere other than here. Suzy wants babies. A family. She likes the country and sings a Waylon Jennings song about Luckenbach, Texas.

I get a push when I hear Simms is packing up and moving out, running off with a pretty little black girl.

“Get out of all…this,” Simms says. “Amscray and don’t look back.”

I tell him I’m working on it. I don’t tell him about the dope because I’ve broken ranks and I’ve broken promises and I could lose it all. I think about my mistakes all the time. I think about Suzy.

Greed. Mick’s pulling forty g’s a kilo. My take- based off this number. I wheeled. I dealed. I scored forty-five for uncut product, kept the skim sub rosa. Ten kilos a month for the past two months. Do the math.

Word on the street said Mick had a sneaking suspicion. Straaange happenings ensued. Two days of phone calls with dead clicks when I pick up the receiver. Tiny electric tics in my chest and my sleep drops to zilch.

A full week of dead clicks later and I’m tired, wired and running on coffee and anxiety. Suzy asks if I’m all right. I tell her I’m fine and keep a loaded Glock on the nightstand.

Four a.m. on a Thursday morning. I’m lying awake with a buzz-saw running through my head. I feel her stare and then I hear her.

“Are you awake.”

“I’m awake.”

A hand on my chest. “You’ve been awake all week. Is everything…”

“Yeah.” I grab her hand, hate myself for the lie.

“Cleve…?”

“I’m here, babe.”

Suzy pauses before she says: “Cleve, I’m-”

I pull her close to me, whisper a pet name: “Sugar plum.” Suzy loses it. I lose it. We hold on tight. The phone rings. I don’t answer it.

###

I tell Suzy we’re leaving and spend the morning and half the afternoon pulling my scratch together. Two hundred big ones in a Samsonite suitcase. Suzy asks about the spanking new furniture she picked out herself and fit to our lush Tampa pad.

“Everything stays.”

“We just bought it, Cleve.”

I pull up an empty smile from a well of deception. “That new beginning jag we’ve been on? Starts now, hon.”

“But…like this? Cleve-”

I cut her off because she knows about the guns I move, the people I deal with. She’s scared. I can’t even look at her as I say: “Just pack, ok? And only what we can fit in the car.”

A catch in her breathing and that tic in my chest short circuits, begins to pound, its monotone beating sounding like the word regret.

###

Eight o’ clock and the car’s loaded, gas topped off. Suzy and I are dining on greasy pizza and root beer in the living room, our last supper in Tampa.

I go to the bathroom and as I relieve myself, feel the release of impending freedom hit me and I experience a weeks’ worth of tired coming down in the spance of a heartbeat. I close my eyes. Mid-stream and mid-doze I hear the doorbell. I’m a shake too late in telling Suzy to let it go. Just let it be.

She doesn’t even answer the door, doesn’t get the chance. I hear BOOM! as our front door is kicked open. I hear BOOM! as a 12-gauge pump releases and then re-feeds itself. I look up. A skinny cat with a smeared, pantyhose face is staring at me with a .38 leveled between my eyes.

Mick’s behind him with the same nylon war mask and puts the hilt of a 9” hunting knife to the bridge of my nose, skims the blade across my forehead and says: “Shoot Sunshine where he’ll remember who he fucked with.” Skinny does just that.

I hear feet move in soft whispers on the burber carpet blanketing our front room floor as thick blood drips across my sight.

“Nothing here- place is cleaned out.” A Colombian voice.

I feel Mick digging through my pockets, then the sound of jangling keys. “Check his car- the hopped up SS out front.”

The greaser splits. Mick drops in behind him. They’re there and gone in a minute’s time.

I feel around, yank a towel off a bathroom rail, wipe my eyes clear and crawl to Suzy. Sweet Suzy. Buckshot to the chest. Blood and everything which made her flesh is on the wall behind her as she’s sitting in repose on the couch, the couch now steeped in her life. I pull myself up, lay my head in her lap and wonder what could have been. She never got a chance to tell me, but I’d found the receipt two weeks earlier.

I fell apart remembering the shortest story ever told: “Baby shoes for sale: never used.”

I kiss Suzy’s face, tell her I’ll be back. Standing, I place my weight on my good right leg. I turn to see Mr. Butterfinch, our seventy year old neighbor, hunched in our doorway with a look I cannot explain plastered on his gaunt, gray face. I get past him. He doesn’t move and he smells like old people smell.

Outside. Trunk lid up, keys still in the lock, everything we own scattered on the ground sans a black Samsonite suitcase. I pull the keys and notice a burgeoning crowd of people staring at me- everybody loves a massacre. A hysterical lady screams: “The cops and an ambulance are on the way!” I mumble "too fucking late", start the car and put the pedal to the metal.

###

The Rose of Sharon parking lot, far end. The neon sign blinks and the light seems all around me, only the colors of red and blue seem wrong. But I know it’s only the blood skewing my sight.

I’m holding the .44 I always keep in my ride with a twitching hand and mouthing the words to a Waylon Jennings song. I had a plan but I’ve forgotten it. I wonder if it’s the loss of blood or the realization of what I’ve done to Suzy causing my memory to slip like the worn out clutch on a worn out car. I don’t even know how long I’ve been here and either my car has run out of gas or I’ve shut it off. I pointlessly argue with myself for the latter.

A new plan. I cock the hammer on the .44, put the barrel to my left eye. Hesitation. Everything feels wrong and then the dam breaks, memories flood. Mick Randa. Suzy. Baby shoes.

Pulling myself up and out of my car takes everything I got. A step and then two at an old man’s hobbled pace and I think of old Mr. Butterfinch. His look and his smell. My smell. Like milk gone bad our expiration dates are long past due.

The flood continues. Forgotten days with Suzy. We’re feeding ducks at a stagnant, trash strewn retention pond they have the stones to call a lake down here, only I don’t mind because I’m with her.

My feet take their steps: left-right, left-right, my left leg dragging itself along like an albatross. I hold the .44 out in front of me, proving to myself I have the strength to go through with this. I can’t see. I swipe a sweaty forearm across my tumid eyes. Semi-clarity of vision and my skull vibrates with a hate and fear combo at what I see.

Mick is cuffed, bloody and being dragged to the ground outside of the motel’s office door. Prowler lights roll red and blue. A huge cop in a light green uniform spots me and his hand moves downward. Too late- I’m already pulling the trigger, aiming for Mick. The gun’s report is like nuclear popcorn exploding in my ears.

Chaos and now I’m spinning, falling. I drop the gun, my tremoring hand unable to hold on to the grip anymore. My chest is a hot blaze and the metallic taste of lung fluid gushes up to the back of my throat and falls on my tongue, as I look up at the questioning faces of tempered men hovering above and around me against the backdrop of a hard, crystal flecked black sky. I close my eyes to them and see a girl with hazel eyes and chestnut hair. I want to hold her again.

I want to tell Suzy how I miss her so goddamn much.

Bio: Mike grew up in rural, northwest Kansas and now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. His work has appeared online at Thuglit, A Twist Of Noir and Thrillers Killers and Chillers. He is currently working on a crime novel based in St. Pete. You can find links to his work at Writing The Hard Way.

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