“Photo Finish” by Paul Negri

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Klondike, Candy and Tim perched on stools facing out the big front window of the Koffee Klutch Kafé. They had been sitting for four hours and had collectively consumed six cups of coffee, two chocolate croissants, one large slice of coconut praline pie and six frosted organic oatmeal cookies. Candy had consumed more than half. Klondike rested his elbows on the narrow counter in front of him and stared out the window at cars and trucks rumbling through the wide, busy intersection. His Nikon D850 DSLR was appended to his hand with a padded wrist and grip strap that effectively made the camera an extension of his hairy arm. Candy fingered her tablet, her long nails making little click-clicks. Tim, with his big head resting sideways on the counter, made soft bovine noises in his throat.

“This is a waste of time,” said Klondike.

“It’s only been three days, K,” said Candy, not looking up from the tablet. “We’ve waited longer than that. Remember Sunrise Boulevard? 24 degrees? Ice and wind?”

Klondike smiled. “Part of my frozen ass is still on that bench.”

“Did I call that one right or did I call that one right?” Candy sipped her latte. It left a little ridge of foam on the dark hairs above her lip.

 “You called that one right, C. A double.”

“How many have I called right?” Candy nudged him with a sharp elbow. Despite her addiction to sticky sweets and three-sugared coffees, she was razor thin. Klondike thought it unnatural.

“40%. 45 maybe.”

“58.6%”

“No way,” said Klondike.

“You want to see the spreadsheet?” Candy narrowed her pinprick eyes at him, as if preparing to spring. “Not that you would recognize a spread sheet if you slept on one.”

“You’re the odds-maker, C. I’m just the camera man. Just the best fucking camera man you’ll ever have the privilege of working with.”

Candy snorted. “Odds-maker. I’m a statistician. A probabilist. Very nearly a prophet.”

“A prophet of doom,” said Klondike.

“Just doing my job.” Candy scrolled through her tablet.

“And what about T  there? What’s his job? Drooling on the counter?”

“He’s there if we need him. He knows the cops in every borough. How do you think we got so close on Sunrise Boulevard? I mean, after. And those were your best shots, right?”

“I would’ve got them anyway.”  Klondike lowered his voice to a whisper. “I don’t like T. I bet he was dirty. Why isn’t he still on the force?”

“Try old and fat. And you don’t have to whisper. He’s half deaf.”

Tim raised his head momentarily from the counter. The side of his face had a pink diagonal line running across it, the impression of a plastic coffee stirrer that had been under his cheek. He blinked and laid his head back down on the other side.

“What’s he doing?” asked Klondike.

“Turning the other cheek,” said Candy.

“I mean most of the time we’re finished before the cops get there. What’s T’s cut for doing nothing?”

Candy looked hard at Klondike and Klondike felt it. “He’s here because Dr. Z wants him to be. His cut is none of your business.”

Klondike shifted his gaze out the window. A red SUV screech-stopped at the light. “I can’t believe this stuff is not illegal,” he said.

“Even if he posted it on a public site, it wouldn’t be. Anyway, it’s all for members only. Private club. For Dr. Z and his kind. And it’s not kiddie porn, after all.”

“Still,” said Klondike.

From behind the counter, the African American man in the white cap shouted, “Another round? It’s been an hour.”

“Oh Jesus, I can’t,” said Klondike.

Candy hopped off the stool and went to the counter. “How bout I just give you a five and you give me a donut?”

“How bout you just give me a ten and I give you a donut? We ain’t no bus stop.”

Candy remounted the stool with a chocolate-drizzled pumpkin-spiced donut in her teeth, as if she’d swooped down and captured it. Klondike looked at her stumpy legs dangling from the stool and wondered if she qualified as a midget or if she came up just short.

“You should see my legit stuff,” said Klondike.

“This is legit stuff,” said Candy. “Everything’s legit for somebody.”

“You remember that pair of red-tailed hawks that nested over the façade of the Fifth Avenue luxury condo a few years ago?”

“No.”

“My shot of them made it into National Geographic.”

Candy sucked the rest of the donut into her mouth and wiped the chocolate from her lips. Tim raised his head from the counter. Klondike squinted out the window—

 

a metal screech hot and brittle in the air with a bass drum hard banged once a raincoat like bat’s wings flies up out of sight and out of mind makes reentry thud-thudding on the coffee shop sidewalk Bingo Candy off her stool Jesus Tim stumbles Klondike galumphs first one out click-click-clicking hop skip and jumping shoot-shooting from here and there and everywhere one two three—jump—four five six—jump running round in circles hot and heavy sucking wind the driver in the truck pale as paste the driver crying the old lady on her belly her face impossibly looking up at the sky a pool thick like chocolate slowly spreading from the back of her head—

 

  “Call the police,” yelled the man behind the counter.

“Give it a minute,” said Candy. She stood in the doorway watching Klondike do his work. “Face, get the face,” she called. “Enough?”

“Enough.”  Klondike dropped his camera-hand.

Candy hit 911. “Accident. Pedestrian hit. Cleveland and 4th. Looks bad.”

“A fucking masterpiece.”  Klondike was breathing hard, his eyes round as quarters.

“Did I call it right or did I call it right, K?”

Klondike stood panting. “You called it right, C. You are a fucking prophet.”

 

Paul Negri has twice won the gold medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. His stories have appeared in The Penn Review, Into the Void, Pif Magazine, Gemini Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and many other publications. He lives and writes in Clifton, New Jersey.

 

‘Unpredicated’ by Paul Negri

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“I’m simply saying that there is no predicate, Odessa. That’s all I’m saying. Please try not to argue, dear.”

You bucket of rotting innards, you sack o’ pus. “Did you see the picture of me on Facebook, Mother? Was it you who posted it? Is that kind of picture allowed? Isn’t that against some law? Or at least propriety? Aren’t there children to consider? And old people?” Why must I carry you on my back like a festering hump?

“But that’s exactly it, Odessa. It’s an illustrative example. That picture has no predicate. You know that. You are bone of my bone, after all.”

Bone of some boner of dubious pedigree. “Of course, Mother. I’m not trying to be argumentative, to argue for the sake of argument, contrarian, no, on the contrary, and I, of all people, with half your chromosomes, perhaps more than half, given your uncertainty of paternal particulars, the primordial soup so stirred, I’m just saying, observing, for the sake of propriety, perhaps some restraint might be in order, given the ubiquity of the Internet, its invasive intrusion, its exponential osmotic permeation, that is to say.”  O boiling boil, O reflux redux, O foul bolus, O peristalsis!

“All the more reason, dear, for no predicate, you see. It’s for the best.”

You burst appendix, you vaginal hematoma, you dithering discharge. “Laudable, Mother, and who would challenge you? Who would have the temerity or interest, credentials or concern, the anomie or ennui? Your colleagues obstreperous, your students obsequious, your lovers obfuscate, or your daughter Odessa, the caretaker of your ruins, as she traverses with gentle tread the conduits of your body and your mind, bound as she is by filial duty and propriety, and under the expectant eyes of the Internet Argus Panoptes.”  Held fast by your muscular mucosa, confined in your atrial chamber, exiled on your islets of Langerhans, O bottomless womb!

“Predicate nothing and the rest will take care of itself, dear.”

Osmatic gangrenous assault, strangulating hernia, nexus of necrosis, O! “I am not opposing you, Mother, not offering resistance, surreptitious or otherwise, not harboring ill will willy-nilly, am no threat, nor ever have been, in vivo or in vitro, even as I tend your most tender particulars, I lift not a hand, not a finger with unfiled nail against you, despite your indecently vulnerable position, legs akimbo, helplessly exposed to meddling diabolic or beatific in ways way beyond conception.” You deviated septum, you obstetric fistula, you wireless streaming septicemia.

“Now, now. A world without predicate, dear, without end.”

Bilious ruptured spleen, metastatic menses, alluvial leukocytes, O pus. “Was it you from the beginning and before, Mother? Famed and infamous, all-caring carnivore, all lips and teeth, vagina dentata, with eyes of steel and gaze of lead, hard staring me smaller and smaller, back to a zygote?”  O crackling snapped synapses, dying dendrites, final cerebrovascular event?

“Please, Odessa. Please, dear. Please.”

“All right. No predicate.” O Mother…O Mamma… O Mommy… O

Paul Negri has twice won the Gold Medal for fiction in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Writing Competition. His fiction has appeared in The Penn Review, Vestal Review, Pif Magazine, Jellyfish Review, and other publications. He lives and writes in Clifton, New Jersey.