Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Saving Cletus Brockton

First published at Powder Burn Flash

The phone startled Edward. He laid his book on the end table and placed his pipe in the cereal bowl.


"Is this Edward Hairston, the attorney?"

"Retired attorney." Edward sat forward in his chair. "Is this another one of those telemarketer calls?"

"My name is Billy Gilbert. Moose Mankowski gave me your name. Said I could call you the next time I was in trouble."

"The next time?" Edward's eyebrows tightened, wrinkles outlined a V on his forehead.

"I've had a string of bad luck."

Edward heard a sniff on the other end of the line and imagined a man wiping a tattooed arm across his nose.

"Anyway, Moose told me you got him out of a sticky spot."

"What did you say your name was?"

"Billy Gilbert."

"Well, Billy Gilbert, I have an appointment in--"

"Wait. Don't hang up. I only get one call."

Edward placed the tip of his middle finger to his forehead and began massaging in tiny circles.

"I got arrested, but I didn't take the wallet. I found it."

Edward rubbed faster.

"I can't help you, sir," Edward said. "Like I stated, I'm retired."

"According to Moose, you're a damn good lawyer."

Moose. The curse that wouldn't go away. Edward fell back in his chair and lowered his hand. "What did you say?"

"Sorry. I was talking to the guard. He said I need to get off the phone. I told him to go screw himself. I have rights."

Edward shook his head. He'd had big plans when he applied for law school. Plans that didn't include guys named Moose and Billy.

"So when can you get here to bail me out?"

"Bail you out? How about April Fool's Day?"

"This ain't a joke, Ed? I got a party to go to."

"Well, Billy, I think you're going to miss the party."

"But Moose said--."

"Moose was wrong."

Edward loosened his grip on the phone, sensing the conversation was about to end.

"Do you live near Dallas, Edward?"

"Yes. Near there."

"I knew your name sounded familiar. You went to Garland High. Right?  Class of '87?"

"Y-e-e-s." Edward didn't like where this was going.

"Still live in your parents' house on Buckingham?"

"Maybe." Edward felt sweat forming on his forehead. He'd returned home after his father passed and his mother moved to the nursing home.

"Bingo. Billy Gilbert is an alias."

"You need to speak up. I can hardly hear you."

"I don't want the guard to hear. My real name is Clete Brockton."

"Name doesn't..." Edward paused. "Cletus? The guy who gave principal Brown a wedgie? The Cletus who wrote my name on a Whoopie cushion and put it on Mrs. Flatston's chair?" Edward remembered his classmate as being 6' 3", 265 pounds, and mean.

"Yep. Ain't this a coincidence?"

Memories of Cletus flashed through Edward's mind, none pleasant. "Yes. A coincidence." His body tensed, and his finger gravitated back to his forehead.

"So now that you know me, you can help me. Right?"

"Why would I want to help you, Cletus?" The pulsing in Edward's forehead returned.

"Well. . .because I'm sorry for what I did, and I'd like to be friends now."

"Huh. Friends. Let me think about that." Edward counted to ten before responding. "Remember what you just said to the guard, Cletus?"

"You mean to go screw himself?"

"Yes, that." Edward sat up, spine stiff. "And I say to you ditto."

"Come on, Eddie. Can't you help an old friend just this once?"


"I could pay you back--with interest."

"If you have money, why did you steal the wallet?"

"I told you I found it."

"Okay, why did you "find" the wallet if you have money?"

"Well, I don't exactly have the money at the moment, but I can get it no problem."

Edward shook his head and let if flop forward into his palm. He supposed he could be wrong about Cletus, but he doubted it.

"You still there? The guard's threatening to zap me if I don't hang up the phone."

"Tell the guard I'm thinking." Edward heard Cletus say something and a long time smoker's voice reply.

"He said one minute."

Edward made mental lists of the pros and cons of helping Cletus. Neither was very long. He inhaled a deep breath, and by the time it oozed out, he knew the best thing he could do to save his former classmate. He hung up the phone.

Jim discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His recent stories have appeared in Flashshot, A Twist of Noir, The Short Humour Site, Dew on the Kudzu, and others. Jim's Six Questions For blog ( provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.”

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