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A Dark Place On The Strand
About the Author: Scott Von Doviak's debut novel Charlesgate Confidential was published in September 2018 by Hard Case Crime. It was named one of the top ten crime novels of the year by the Wall Street Journal. Von Doviak is also the author of three books on film and pop culture, including Hick Flicks: The Rise and Fall of Redneck Cinema. He reviews television for The Onion’s AV Club, and is a former film critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He lives in Austin, Texas.

I’m in New Orleans on business, waiting on a client at Checkpoint Charlie’s, a tavern at the bottom of the Quarter in the triangle formed by Esplanade, Frenchman, and Decatur. A sign on the wall reads Suds and Duds, because this is not only a dive bar, it’s a laundromat. I stop in here whenever I’m in town and wonder why this business model hasn’t caught on everywhere. I’d love to run a chain of laundromat bars. That would beat the hell out of what I do for a living now, which is kill people.

Then again, if you could make money with such a chain, wouldn’t someone else already be doing it? My line of work, at least there’s job security. It’s not seasonal and no machine can replace me. There’s no health plan, though. No retirement package, but plenty of vacation time. I only do a few jobs a year for select clients. One of them is coming through the door now. I wave him over.

“Mr. Sunbeam, I presume?” I’m pretty sure that’s not his real name, but that’s what he called himself when he contacted my agent. Yeah, I have an agent, just like Brad Pitt. One of many things we have in common, no doubt.

“Mike Fischlin?” he says, taking a seat. That’s not my real name either. I like to switch up my aliases, but they all come from the 1980 Houston Astros, the team of my youth. Fischlin only played one game that year. He had one at-bat and he struck out. I must be running out of names. I never use Nolan Ryan, though. That one’s a little too obvious.

“That’s right,” I say. “Would you like something to drink?”

Mr. Sunbeam takes a look around the place—dank and dimly lit, populated by punks and roughnecks. “I think I’ll wait until I get back to my hotel.”

“In town on business?”

He nods. “A sales conference. I’ll be here all week. That’s why—”

“Hold that thought. Let’s talk over there.” I point to a table in front of the stage, where a band called Destroilet is in the middle of their sound check.

“Is this band going to be very loud?”

“Yes, it is. That’s the point.”

We head over to the table and I take a seat facing the stage. He sits opposite me, wincing in pain as Destroilet launches into their first number, “Fuck Dungeon.” I lean across the table and he does the same.

“You’ll get used to it,” I say. “Tell me about the job.”

He thinks before speaking, probably trying to remember a spiel he’s been practicing for days. “I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“You won’t be doing anything. I’ll be doing it for you. Tell me.”

“It’s my wife. I believe she’s unfaithful to me.”

“So divorce her. But you won’t do that. Because this isn’t about fidelity. It’s about money, right?”

I can see in his eyes that his prepared speech is circling the drain. “There’s a life insurance policy,” he says.

“Don’t you just love the irony of that phrase? A policy that ensures your life, except it only comes into play when you’re dead.”

“I think you’re confusing the word ‘insure,’ I-N-S-U-R-E, with the word ‘ensure,’ E-N-”

“I didn’t come here for a spelling bee. How this works is, you give me the target and you give me the money.”

“Well, about that.”

“You don’t have the money.”

“I have some money. This is the problem. I own my own business. Golf cart sales and rentals. Two locations in Houston, where we live, and one in Galveston. In fact, I just expanded our Galveston operation. You know, the islanders use them to get around town and the tourists—

“Yes, I’m familiar with Galveston.”

“Well, I don’t know when you were there last, but I’m guessing it was before the e-scooters showed up.”

“What the hell are e-scooters?”

“A blight on civilization. It started in Austin and now it’s spreading. They’re electric-powered scooters available for rent. You get the app on your phone, you rent a scooter for a dollar and then it’s fifteen cents a minute after that. These are dockless scooters, meaning you pick them up wherever you find and them and just discard them when you’re done. As a result, they’re strewn all over the place—in the middle of sidewalks, dumped on lawns, sometimes tossed into the ocean just for kicks. I hate them.”

“A lot cheaper than golf carts, huh?”

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