By Edward Sheehy
I’m done writing first-person point-of-view stories. My latest saga of a modern family stretching back several generations, voiced by 72 first-person characters including pet dogs and cats and a crow circling the narrative dispensing omniscient commentary, had been soundly rejected by dozens of publishers. My agent said first-person was overdone, mine in particular. Publishers didn’t want them anymore. “Rewrite it in the third person. That’s all I can tell ya.” Estelle hung up before I could lodge an objection.
Rewrite? No way! To hell with what publishers wanted. What do they know. What I wanted now more than anything else was to rid my mind of all negativities. Breathing deeply and browsing the internet allowed my subconscious to roam and explore and bubble up a fresh concept. I clicked down one rabbit hole after another, an infinity mirror of celebrity gossip, horrifying crimes, and limitless trivia from the farthest corners of the universe.
A story about an armored car heist briefly caught my attention when I heard a crack. A dislodged chunk of writer’s block landed square on my noggin and rendered me non compos mentis for twenty-four hours. When I regained my senses, I had a terrific idea for a third-person series. It was risky, but what the hell—what I’d been writing wasn’t selling. Time to try something new.
The plot line needed background that could only be found in the Special Collections Archive at the downtown library—a glass and steel edifice designed by a famous architect whose name nobody could remember. As I entered the main floor reading room, my eyes locked on a striking woman in the Urban Street Lit section. Cream-colored silk blouse tucked into straight jeans and stilettos. Cascades of jet-black hair framed her oval face and cheek bones so high they might require pulley ropes to properly survey.
Despite what I said earlier about swearing off first-person, there was no way I was going to allow an unreliable third-person to tell the story of what happened next. Besides, I’m the only person left alive who can tell it—so publishers be damned!
Read it and weep.
The woman acknowledged my existence with a slight head nod and beckoned me toward the deserted stacks reserved for memoirs. Her eyes rolled in the direction of the next aisle over. A sultry whisper hissed from her red lips, “You see that man over there?”
A tall dude, six-feet-four with a shaved head, wore a gold chain over a tight turtleneck that showed off a thick musculature gained from years of pumping iron at Cumberland Correctional on a narcotics charge. Inside the joint, the dude known as Craz had been the leader of a brutal and murderous prison gang. Back on the streets, Craz was looking to even the score on the punks who set him up. A thug. A bad mutherfucker. Call him what you want, just not to his face. I knew his backstory like the back of my hand. Craz pretended to scan the YA Romance shelves. I shrugged. “Yeah, so what?”
She shoved a package the size of a cigarette pack and a keycard in my direction. “Take this to my apartment at the Monarch. I’ll meet you there. Don’t let that man see you. Please, I beg you. My life is in danger.”
Yeah, right. Damsel in Distress. The oldest ruse in the book. Talk about first-person being overdone. I wanted no part of this tired trope. “Why should I? I don’t even know you.”
She extended a well-manicured hand and whispered, “Lavender Diamond”. And in the instant of our touch, I knew her backstory as well. Raised by a grandmother after her father was killed in a drive-by and her mother busted for crack, Lavender had to fight for everything she got in life. And the one thing she still craved, and would kill for if necessary, was custody of her daughter taken from her when she was 15. Only the bald-headed man in the YA aisle stood in her way—the same thug who shot her father and the same punk who sold her baby for drugs. Revenge burned deep in Lavender’s heart, and I felt the singe.
The pressure of her long nails dug into my palms and weakened my knees, and resolve. I grabbed the package and keycard and drifted over to the DVD bins, then made my way out the door. It had been a sunny and warm afternoon when I entered the library, but now the darkened sky, bruised with low hanging clouds, spat cold rain that left the street awash in neon reflections. The Monarch was three blocks away, overlooking the muddy river. I lowered the brim of my hat and made my way north.
The Monarch rose above the mist-shrouded riverbank bathed in a rotating color palette by a sheath of LED sensors. As I entered the tower lobby, the color wash shifted from prince purple to blood red.
Lavender’s keycard opened a private elevator and whisked me to the penthouse suite. Ceiling to floor glass windows wrapped around balconies on three sides. The skyline’s twinkle accented the décor—gilt-edged simplicity for a cool 5 mil.
I didn’t have much time. Who knew when Lavender or someone else might burst through the door. I walked to the kitchen and opened a cabinet. Inside, I found a bag of Fair Trade Peace Coffee. I poured half of the beans in the trash, then placed the small package in the coffee bag and placed it back in the cabinet. I don’t why I hid it, maybe to protect Lavender, or me, if the deal went south. But why was I trusting someone I barely knew and had just met. None of it made sense.
Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the web of deceit that was bringing three characters together to reveal its true purpose. The elevator hissed open, and Lavender Diamond strode in like she owned the place, which she did ever since paying the 5 mil in cold hard cash.
Lavender faced me in the kitchen. “Great, you made it. I wasn’t sure you would. But I had to take the chance. Where’s the package?”
Before I could speak, the elevator opened again. Craz entered the room holding a Glock 17 with an eight-inch suppressor. He sized up the scene instantly. Total coolness. Motioned with the long barrel. “Both of you, over here. On the couch.”
The couch was really a small sofa, but I didn’t mention it. We sat very close together, knees against knees, facing an angry man with a large gun. The suppressor pointed at a spot on my forehead.
“I don’t know who the fuck you are and I don’t fucking care.” The barrel swung over to Lavender. “Don’t fuck with me, Lavender. Just give me the package.”
“Then what,” Lavender said, “you kill me anyway?” Her voice silky as silk.
“Last time.” His fingers grabbed the air. “The package.”
Lavender and Craz locked eyes. An epic stare down of hate and betrayal. Lavender swore she’d kill Craz one of these days. Craz spat a vulgar slang, and off they went, a royal pissing contest with escalating threats and epithets. Lavender making it clear that she was the boss of the heist. The cursing was all distraction, however, as Lavender pressed my hand between the cushions until I felt the pebble-gripped butt of a 45 Colt Automatic M1911, the same military-issued model my old man carried in the Pacific and taught me how to shoot.
“Alright mutherfucker, I gonna start with you.” The barrel swung back to me as my hand raised the Colt and fired twice, one round catching him smack in the middle of two very wide and surprised eyes.
Lavender looked at the hole in Craz’s face. “Nice shot. Now give me the gun.”
I handed her the Colt. Lavender racked the slide, chambered a round, and pointed the barrel at my head. “Now give me the fucking package or I will blow your fucking brains out.”
I raised my hands. “Easy, Lavender. I’m with you, remember?” I moved toward the kitchen. “But it involves coffee.” I walked over to the cabinet, careful to show my hands at all times, and reached for the Fair Trade Peace Coffee bag. I spilled the contents on the marble counter. A small package slid out along with a scattering of finely ground Guatemalan beans that came from a sustainable grower cooperative and were roasted locally at a shop just a block from the Monarch. I was a huge fan.
Lavender’s hand darted to the package just as a round hit her in the back and exploded out her chest, splattering me with blood. Craz not as dead as he looked. Another trope I’d have to work on. Lavender slid down the wall leaving a wet trail of blood. I yanked the Colt from her limp hand and pumped three more rounds into Craz’s chest.
I lifted the package from the coffee beans and ripped it open. The paper wrap covered a polished blue box with an official seal of some kind involving an eagle. The hinged lid opened to a dark green velvet lining that encased the first and only United States minted platinum coin in the amount of one trillion-dollars headed for the US Treasury building in Washington, DC when a ruthless and highly sophisticated gang of thieves robbed the armored car on the day said coin was to be deposited in said Treasury.
The memories flooded back, before the writer’s block. Of course! A daring heist in broad daylight! The trillion-dollar coin intended to bail out the country from financial collapse snatched away from right under the multiple noses of armed security guards, FBI agents, Treasury cops, and cybersecurity swat teams. Police worldwide were looking for any attempt to fence the coin, but no mention was made connecting Lavender Diamond to the biggest heist in history.
Global fixation on the theft skyrocketed. Who was behind it? In the absence of any firm leads, conspiracy theories abounded. One involved the NBA and China. All I knew was that I had a number of dangerous leads to follow in a limited amount of time and that I’d better get started.
Although news reports mentioned a shooting at the Monarch, interest faded by the time of the next shooting and the one after that. Still nothing on the street about what had happened to Lavender or the coin. Nobody was talking. It was possible that only two people knew I was in her apartment the night of the shooting and they both were dead.
As the investigation dragged on, I pounded out the stories, while a few inches away, a small box used mostly as a paperweight, held the first and only one trillion-dollar coin minted by the United States Treasury—legal tender for all debts public and private. Right next to a postcard from my ex in Cabo. What was I going to do with a trillion-dollar coin? Turn it in and explain my role in two murders in Lavender Diamond’s apartment? Including the one where I killed the same man, twice. No dice.
I finished a third-person take-no-prisoners survivor series set in gangsta world—Lavender Diamond, Monarch Queen. I moved the setting to Miami and quickly established a following. A niche market to be sure but it paid the bills. It was around this time that I started to suspect that someone was following me. Someone who hoped I could lead them to the trillion dollar coin. But I chalked the tingling sensation up as paranoia, right up until the moment one evening in front of my house while patting my pockets for a key I felt a hard poke in the ribs.
A silky voice said, “Don’t turn around.
“Lavender Diamond! I thought you were dead.”
“So did a lot of people.”
“Where have you been?” I asked over my shoulder.
She ignored my question. “And you been making a lot of money off my name, mutherfucker.”
I shrugged. “Not so much, really, after fees…”
“Shut up,” Lavender snapped. Another poke. “And what’s with all this third-person bullshit. It’s my fucking story.”
“Publishers,” I said, “Not my idea.”
“Move. Inside.” Lavender stayed behind me as we entered the living room. When I turned, Lavender was dressed in a short-cropped red leather jacket, black jeans, and Timberlands. She pointed a Smith & Wesson Equalizer at my nose “Now give me the fucking coin.”
I motioned to the small box on my desk.
Lavender fingered the coin in disbelief. “You just fucking leave it out like that?”
“Why not. Nobody knows I have it.”
Before Lavender could react, another voice spoke, “I do mutherfucker.” Craz stepped out of the shadows, behind Lavender, gripping a Beretta PX4, a lightweight model with a lot of stopping power.
I stared not believing my eyes. “Impossible!”
“The only thing impossible mutherfucker is you walking outta here alive.” Then to Lavender, “Drop the gun and hand it over.”
Lavender dropped the Equalizer, then thumb-flipped the coin to Craz. His eyes rolled upward, watching the trillion-dollar coin tumble and twirl, and in a blink Lavender slashed a razor across Craz’s throat. He staggered backward, one hand grasping at the red tide gushing through his fingers, firing the Beretta wildly, nailing Lavender with a spray of hot lead.
The coin lay beneath a chair. A 9mm round had pierced the trillion-dollar coin, dead center, like a ragged bullseye.
One month later…
I was back at the desk working on the rewrite when my cell buzzed. 212 area code. I knew who it was. I tapped the phone. “Hello, Estelle. How are you?”
“I’m great, but the question is: how are you doing?”
“Making progress, half-way done.”
“Excellent. And did you get rid of all the talking dogs and cats?”
“And that stupid crow?”
“Fantastic. I wanna see some pages soon.”
You will, don’t worry. Gotta go, someone’s at the door.”
I guessed the girl standing on my doorstep to be about 15 or 16. She wore a shapeless gray hoodie, camouflage cargo pants, and black high top Converse All-Stars. Tall, with long black hair framing a lovely oval face. The same cheekbones. I was so taken by the angelic countenance that at first I didn’t notice the Sig Sauer P938, a micro-compact designed for concealed carry, aimed at my gut. “You got something belonged to my mama,” she snarled. “Give me the fucking coin or I will blow your fucking brains out.”
Short stories by Edward Sheehy have appeared in the Boston Literary Magazine, The Write Launch, and Lake Street Stories (Flexible Press). A selection of his poetry was featured in Jerry Jazz Musician magazine celebrating the music of Miles Davis. He was baptized in the Delaware River before the eyes of the Lord and several catfish. He lives in Minneapolis.
His Book “Empire Builder Chapbook” can be found at Minnesota Center for Book Arts.