He looked like Marlin Brando in The Wild One in that hardened, black leather, motorcycle jacket that creaked when he moved but his blue skin and hairless head didn’t make the cut. Neither did the hissing, white-faced monkey scurrying back and forth across his shoulders for that matter. Roger couldn’t understand what the stranger said but shouldering him out of the late night’s rain and into the phone booth at the point of his polished pistol made it clear he wanted Roger to make a call.
He pressed a folder piece of paper from a zippered, breast pocket into Roger’s hand. He took it noticing the monkey had settled onto one shoulder giving him an evil eye, the way he never figured a monkey could do. Between his fingers the paper wasn’t quite paper. It was thicker than what paper should be and reminded him more of tanned hide than anything else. Grimacing to himself as he unfolded it, he hoped it wasn’t dried flesh he held. Merriansville-8931 was written in dark ink that had bled into the pores of the not-paper.
Roger glanced up at the phone dial then back to the stranger from the corner of my eye. His blue hand took hold and strangled the nape of his victim’s neck shoving Roger into the back of the booth, the glass crunching against his shoulder. The monkey ran down the blue man’s arm, gripped firm to a clump of hair vaulted over Roger’s head, thumped onto his shoulder and shrieked into his ear. Instinct told him to duck and cover but the stranger’s steel grip made ducking out of the question and covering would do nothing else but antagonize the rancid, little gargoyle perched on his shoulder.
Reaching out for the receiver Roger felt both his assailants watching him, the stranger through dead, dark eyes and the monkey daring him to try something. He knocked the receiver against the coin slots across the top of the phone and glanced at the blue face, blotched under the booth’s weak, fluorescent lights. A shove into the already cracked glass was his response. “I have to spring for the call?” he said to himself. He felt into my pants pocket wary of the monkey at his ear hoping he hadn’t tipped the waitress all his change. The rain all but washed out the view but the diner was just there at the end of the block. If someone walked out they might see what was happening and help, maybe.
A relieved breath escaped his lips pulling his last nickle from his pocket. He fitted it into the sized, coin slot and watched it fall away catching the hollow clink, despite the rain’s pelting outside. He could feel the monkey’s breathing from his roost but he watched the stranger as he rolled the dial around from zero and raised the receiver to his other ear.
Roger gave the number to the operator and the phone registered its obligatory double ring. He took solace in that one piece of familiarity given the situation that invaded his routine life just moments before. Two rings. Four rings, five. Roger looked to the stranger, where he got no answer, no expression to puzzle a response from.
“Hullo.” a brutish voice finally cracked through with a singe of static.
“Uh..,” Roger hadn’t considered what to say. I am being held hostage by a blue man with a gun and monkey. Please help! was what he thought. “This is… Roger D-…Deacken. I was told,” he glanced to the stranger again, “…made to call this number.”
“One moment,” the voice said. Through the receiver Roger heard clattering of what sounded like poker chips, a ringing bell and a siren farther away followed by female cheers. Then near the phone on the other end a clacking started, fast at first then gradually slowed reminding him of kid’s bike with a playing card stuck in the spokes or the clatter of a wheel-of-fortune spinning round and round. The clacking slowed to a stop and he heard laughter over scattered groans.
The voice returned and cleared itself, “Say these words to the man with you,” it said with stern calculation that disturbed Roger. “Cesste haugh fourdkec dourune.”
“But.. what…? Why? What is this?”
“Do as I’ve told Mr. Deacken and this will all be over, quickly.” The voice had softened its edge and repeated the unintelligible phrase.
Roger recited, “Cesste haugh fourdec derun.”
“Fourdkec dourune,” the voice corrected him.
Across the stranger’s face a smile creased as he raised the gun to Roger’s forehead.
“What? No! Wait,” he turned into the receiver, “Wait. What did I say?”
“All rests on the fate of the spin. Thank you for playing, Mr. Deacken,”
“What? No, I didn’t play any- … Wait!” But the line was dead.
Roger stared through the streaked glass to the rectangle of light laid across the wet sidewalk in front of the diner he’d left not five minutes ago. The diner with their chili and cornbread Tuesday night special and Friday’s rhubarb crisp desert. He’d never missed either.
The monkey leapt from his shoulder pushing him against the rear of the booth. He slid down to the floor to hug his knees, watching the pale light through the diner’s doors willing someone, anyone to come out, to see what was happening.
The point of the stranger’s pistol pulsed with a sharp, red glow. Roger turned away from his dissipating hope and stared passed the glowing point up to the stranger’s face, to the smile still there. He slowly shook his head. “Why?” his lips asked without a voice.
A pin’s point of warmth met his forehead. Heat rose, spread through his scalp and flushed across his face. His lips burned and he heard the monkey shriek one more time.
“Thank you for playing, Mr. Deacken.”
This story, Routine Chance, was inspired by the artwork of Craig Sellars.