Wednesday, 17 August 2011

GUM SHOE by Neil Ballard

Neil debuts with a unique take on the PI story...

Gum Shoe

Some rancid-dicked pissant spat his neon green gum on the ground and now it’s stuck on the sole of my left Italian boot. I didn’t see him, I just noticed it when I got home five minutes ago.
 It makes sense because this old guy was checking out my boots on the bus, like he was concentrating real hard. I just figured I hadn’t polished them thoroughly enough or something, or that he was maybe a queer. I shouldn’t be so judgmental. Probably he was just wondering who would chew neon gum.

I’m wondering too.

I go out in my Clarks because they’re comfortable and classy and nobody ever takes much notice of them. They’re quiet. I go to my neighborhood convenience deli and ask the chick to give me all their gum. She takes one of every kind out of the packets and puts them in a little pile on the counter, because she knows me. She winks at me.

I take all the pieces without a word and go home, chewing all the way. As soon as each piece is chewed I put it neatly in the wrapper and fold it over once. The gum sticks to the paper but I can open up the papers easily to compare the colors. I wish I had thought to bring little baggies or saran wrap or something but I don’t cook and I don’t deal so I don’t have any of that kitchen shit in my house.

By the time I finish and have all the wads lined up on the table with a lamp on them, the gum on my boot has hardened and snaps off when I try to lift it with a screwdriver. I don’t want to remove it, I just want to see the color clearly. Most of it is encrusted with rocks and splinters and a small piece of orange rind.

It’s not orange season. Not even close. Must be some genetically fucked-with orange from Texas that someone ate on the street and dropped the peel. Spit your gum. Drop your peel. Toss your beer can. Piss on my lawn. All the goddamn same, right?

My comparison doesn’t take long. The gum on my boot is quite clearly Stridents. “Kinky Kiwi.” the other green ones- or the ones that ended up green after chewing- are much duller, much more faded, like you’d expect. All that food coloring has to go somewhere. I look at my tongue in the mirror and laugh.

I open my laptop and look up “Kinky Kiwi” and get sidetracked by a New Zealand porno, but it doesn’t take long to climax into silk briefs, and I’m back looking up gum with hardly any time wasted. Stridents, I find out, is like the Kools of gum.

So I get my shoulder-holstered .38, cover with a linen jacket, and head outside. Night’s coming on. I look at my watch and luck has it that a bus is coming along, the 18 circulator that’ll bring me to the right part of town.

The driver is Stinky Pete. I sit all the way in the back and we holler at each other. He tells me piss, fart and shit jokes and I tell him he’s the demented product of lax family boundaries.

There’s an officious commuter looking at me like she’s gonna tell on me to the transit authorities once the bus gets to the station so I open up my jacket like it’s too hot, and she sees the real heat. The rest of the ride she looks straight ahead out the window and I periodically grab on my nuts at her or make the universal sign for eating at the Y with my fingers and mouth. Doesn’t faze her. Good for her!

I get off the bus without saying goodbye to Stinky Pete because he really is an offensive person. On the corner there’s a group of them playing with a rubber ball, they’re throwing down small change and huddling and looking out. I lean in an alley and watch for one of them to go to the corner store, grab a Black & Mild. Doesn’t take long.

I go around the long way once I see what the store of choice is. Way I figure it, these guys hang around all day, they hang around the transit mall. Perp discarded the gum there. The blog reviews for “Kinky Kiwi” were mostly negative, which means it’s an acquired taste if it’s still on the market. Nothing could make it easier for me.

All I have to do is show the clerk I mean business and he squeals. I mean really lays it on me. He’s giving names, addresses, who lifted that brand new digital scale from Fro’Jean’s place. I tell him to relax, I go grab him a cup of his denatured coffee, and I set it on the counter. He smiles and relaxes.

So I jerk my hand up and fling that scalding shit in his face.

I tell him if he gives me any more information than I specifically and particularly ask for, I will waste him. I ask him does he know me? Does he know who I am and does he know the company I keep? He says yes. I say good.

I ask him about “Kinky Kiwi.” He gives me a name and an address. A shitty apartment, a shitty building, and a shitty girl’s name, Rochelle. I leave him with all of his faculties and most of his nose, lucky raghead. Or Korean or whatever.

Five minutes, one fire escape and two B&E’s later (I got the wrong place first time, nobody was home) and I’ve got a bead on Rochelle. She’s bopping along to headphones, hair in braids. She’s got the empty pack of gum on her nightstand, just put the last piece of it in her mouth.

Didn’t expect her to be so young.

Didn’t count on her old man being there either. Come at me from behind with the fire extinguisher, doesn’t have the balls to give me anything more than a glancing blow. Rochelle still doesn’t notice.

‘Kid’s sure got some loud music,’ I say, while he gives me the usual get-out-of-my-house. I drown out him, the music and anything else with one shot at the base of the girl’s skull.

After that, it’s real easy to get it to look like he just flew off the handle. Left him sliding down the wall giving that untraceable .38 some good head. The handy-dandy fire escape makes it easy on me too.

Now, I’m going home to Google the best way to get hardened gum off. Stinky Pete’s shift is over. The driver up front is white and bald. Hands me my transfer, he doesn’t say a word.

Finally, someone who knows how to behave.
Neil Ballard, a young crime writer living in Northern California, has a smattering of publications not worthy of mention, for the roiling and nebulous internet gestalt has moved on. He hopes for a more profound success with a novel that he wrote in 2009 and is currently editing. It is about a witch.


  1. Hi Neil,

    Really enjoyed this because it was a different take. With the protag's brooding, obsessive nature, you knew where it was heading, but I think he may have overeacted a tad! :-)
    But it kinda worked, so well done.

    Let's see what other readers think...

    For me - a great debut.


  2. I do so love an orderly mind. No femme mystique multitasking here, no diffuse routes, only one direction: forward. The man's a paring knife peeling away the skin directly to the core of the matter. And no wonder. Neon Green? The one shade worse than puce? If anything ever deserved a death sentence, there you have it boys. There you have it. Boiled hard as an eight minute egg. Cool.

  3. Love this fast burns right to the inevitable conclusion. You have style in spades my friend.

  4. Felt like I was watching this through a hand-held cam with the narrator grabbing my ear with his unique voice. Hard-boiled indeed.

  5. I liked this a lot. I'm not sure how serious to take it, but it's lovely and dark. Great writing. I'll be sure to take care next time I need to dispose of my gum!

  6. Yes. I love your writing style and word choices. really defines the character for the reader. I was surprised at the ending, so bravo! I thought since daddy-o was there he was just going to spank her and move on with it. Or get super nasty kinky with her in his silk boxers, only to clump gum into her hair after :)

  7. Thank you all for your comments. I'm glad my story is in good company.