short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 5)

I’m serializing a short story I wrote five years ago called The Last Stop, which is appearing in bite-sized pieces throughout the week. It’s probably unpublishable for a few reasons, but I put effort into the thing, so I’m posting it. You are the beta readers.

part one

part two

part three

part four

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Last Stop

(part 5)

© 2009 by Eric John Baker

“Hello. Are you calling because of the flier?”

A hesitation. “Um, yeah. Is the girl in the picture home?

Riley looked at his handset a moment then put it to his ear again. “Can you say that once more?”

I’m calling for the girl in the picture. Did I get a wrong number?

Riley shook his head and balled his left hand into a fist. “It’s a missing-persons flier, not a personal ad, dumb ass. Can’t you see the big M-I-S-S-I-N-G across the top?”

Hey, I found it on the ground with the top part ripped off. What’s your problem, asshole?

Riley dropped the handset into the cradle and buried his face in his hands. The phone rang again.

“Hello? Are you calling about the missing persons flier?”

A woman’s voice, broken and fading, said, “That’s my daughter, Judy.”

Riley jumped to his feet. Judy! “Do you know what happened to her?”

The woman hesitated. “She was murdered.”

The room began to spin and Riley fell back into his chair, unable to breathe. His arm remained in place, holding the phone to his ear, but he barely heard the woman say, “I can’t believe you knew her.”

Riley stared at the wall, destroyed. His voice came out as little more than a whisper. “I just used to see her around… I didn’t even know her name.”

I can’t believe you remember her after all this time.

Riley’s eyebrow went up. “What?”

I say, I can’t believe you’ve been looking for her since 1985. Do you think we could meet sometime?

His grip tightened on the handset until the plastic groaned. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said through his teeth and threw the phone across the room. Then he took the picture he hated of Madeline from the end table and punched it, shattering the glass.

Monday morning, he sold his Toyota at a car-cash place for four thousand dollars. Thank god for the resale value of Japanese cars, he thought as he rode the bus downtown.

He alighted on Jamaica Park Road, the site of a private detective agency. Andre Rodgers, proprietor, motioned for Riley to sit.

“Welcome to Rodgers Agency. How can I help you?”

Riley handed him a flier and told the story.

“So, if I read you,” said Rodgers in a confident baritone, “You want me to find a girl based on nothing but a sketch and a redhead at a bus stop.”

Riley had no time for games. “If you can’t do it I’ll find someone else.”

Rodgers’s hand went up. “I didn’t say that. I can find her if she exists.”

“The police won’t even-”

“The police get paid whether they find her or not,” he said. “In fact, it’s easier for them if they don’t. Me, I’m a businessman. My closing ratio is pretty important to me.”

“How much?”

“Fifteen hundred, and I’ll have a solid lead by the end of the week. If I got nothing, I’ll give you the money back, less two hundred for expenses.”

Andre Rodgers’s words elevated him to the status of minor deity. He was going to find Sophia! Like it was easy. Why didn’t I come to this guy right away, Riley thought. Private enterprise is always the answer. No feat is too great for a man with willpower.

Riley wrote out the check and stood to shake Rodgers’s hand. Rodgers remained in his chair.

Outside, on the sidewalk, Riley felt free from the burden of the heavy chains.

His cell rang. “Hello?”

Riley.” Patrick. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for over a week. Please come in. We need to talk.

He didn’t have time for this. They were so close to finding Sophia. “I’ll be there in 20,” he said with cheerful blankness, back in character.

Riley rode Sophia’s line, bound for the city. He departed at the last stop, where she normally got on.

 

10

He bustled through the main doors of his company on the fourth floor, brushed past the reception desk and someone dressed for an interview—an applicant trying to steal his job, he surmised—and trotted down the hall to Patrick’s office.

Patrick stood and closed the door. “How are you doing, Riley? Do you want to take a seat?”

“I’m fine standing,” Riley said. “Before you tear me a new one, which I deserve, I just want to apologize for the way I’ve been-”

Patrick was doing the boss stare. “Listen. I’ll just come out and say it. You’re being terminated.”

(to be continued)

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27 responses to “short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 5)

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    Now even Riley should have known that was coming!

  • nrhatch

    When I heard that Judy had been murdered in 1985 . . . I thought Riley had been seeing ghosts, as in The Sixth Sense.

    “I see dead people.”

    • ericjbaker

      That’s actually a crossover to a horror story I wrote that takes place in 1985. Judy and Sophia have similar hairstyles, and I figured they might resemble each other in a sketch. I do that a lot, mixing characters and overlapping events, in my stories. The guy in the cafeteria in part 1 of this story, Darnell Tubbs, buys a car in yet another story I wrote about a drug-addicted musician, and his nephew shows up in my current novel in progress. It’s my way of amusing myself, which is more harmless than stalking ladies on bus stops.
      😛

  • Yolanda M.

    I love how I think I know what’s coming next and then whooosh I’m on a crazy roller coaster ride 😀 (the nice sort of course) sorry but I’m going ahead and saying it – this is torture. ps. Interesting choice of word “terminated” – so final, so fitting with this twisted and twisty plot. I wonder if that is a clue? maybe not. At this point I’m probably reading too much into this wonderful piece…keep it coming!

  • haydendlinder

    This isn’t going to be some simple, she changed jobs, The PI finds her and secretly admits she always had a thing for the strange man that started at her from his car while she waited for the bus, is it?

    • ericjbaker

      Actually they are all hanging in weird uterine sacks, unconscious, and Keanu Reeves is dreaming all of it.

      Or, if I can get the rights to the porn music, Riley, Andre, and Sophia are going to… ah, you know how that version ends too.

  • uju

    Terminated. How is he going to pay this dude when he finds Sophia 😦
    Oh maybe he’ll bother the P.I or offer to team up with him, that’ll give him something to so while waiting for the woman of his obsession to pop out. Oh wait, what if she is married and her crazy husband who abused her suddenly has her again? Or maybe….Eric this bite was way tiny 😦

    Can’t wait for the next one as always.

  • L. Marie

    I was waiting for Riley to get fired! He never went to work!
    The plot thickens . . .

    • ericjbaker

      There are probably people in his office who show up every day and get the same amount of work done as he does… none! I don’t want to say I’ve ever worked with anyone like that, but…

      😉

  • Jill Weatherholt

    Ha ha! I was thinking the same thing, L. Marie! He’s a full-time stalker. I’m glad he got canned…is that mean? You better not turn him into a good guy at the end, Eric. You’ve got me biting my nails and I never bite my nails!

    • ericjbaker

      No “Red River” ending for my story.

      Have you ever seen that movie? Halfway through the film, during a cross-state cattle drive, John Wayne loses his mind and ends up killing some people. It’s a great film up until the end when his character returns (the prodigal cowboy?) and is accepted back into the fold in a rather comedic, almost slapstick scene that ends with much laughter and smiles all ’round. An atrocious ending for a film that should be a masterpiece. it’s like they let a focus group of idiots rewrite the ending. He was a murdering madman!

  • short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 6) | ericjohnbaker

    […] ← short story serialization: The Last Stop (part 5) […]

  • tracycembor

    “Terminated” is an odd choice of words. I hope there isn’t anything foreshadowed by that, except maybe by his less cluttered bank account. 😀

    • ericjbaker

      I confess to a happy accident. I needed to cut the segment somewhere, and then saw that word. Looked ominous and foreshadowy, and it broke nicely with the way the next installment begins. Perfect! We’re actually still in the beginning of the chapter, and, in the full version, the word doesn’t look nearly so dramatic when followed by more text.

      That was Eric the editor making Eric the writer look better!

  • livelytwist

    Oh no, I said in the previous part that Riley needed hid job! 😦

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