Ray’s Rambling: Dead Letter , a short story


He hadn’t been expecting a letter. No one was supposed to know where he was. He hadn’t left a forwarding address at his last apartment. He’d merely packed two suitcases with the few things he felt he couldn’t live without, locked the door, and left in the middle of the night when the rest of the building was asleep. He’d given a phony name to the super of his current dwelling, a rundown, roach-infested, third-floor apartment with a closet-sized kitchen and a pull-down bed in the living room. He’d paid three months rent in advance, a princely sum of six hundred dollars, so there would have been no credit check. Even if there had, the name Rodney Miller wouldn’t have shown up in anyone’s files, and unless they ran a fingerprint, there was no way of them knowing that he was really Louis Dumkowski.

So, Louis aka Rodney, was perplexed to see the neat writing on the plain white letter sized envelope,

Mr. Louis A. Dumkowski

Apt 3D

221 Crestwood Lane

Detroit, Michigan

There was no return address, and no zip code, but the postman had thrust it through the right mail slot in the right door at the right address.

Thoughts scampered through Louis’s brain like the rats in the walls at night. He was an only child whose parents died when he was 16 and doing time in an upstate juvenile facility for joyriding in a car that he’d hotwired. The owner might have forgiven his youthful indiscretion had he not smashed said vehicle into a bridge abutment, reducing it to a pile of twisted metal – all without suffering a scratch to himself.

He’d never been married – never really even had a serious relationship. Most of the people he called ‘friends’ were barely literate and never wrote any way.

Could it be Vinnie, he wondered? Vincent “The Avenger” Williams, equal parts Italian, black, and Cherokee, ran the books in Louis’s old neighborhood. Louis was into Vinnie for over ten grand, for the third time in five years.

“Third time’s a charm, Louie,” Vincent had told him at their last meeting. “You got ten days to come up with the scratch to erase your debt, or I’m gonna erase you.”

Louis had no doubt that Vinnie meant exactly what he said; but he also knew that he had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting his hands on that much money in ten days – hell, in ten months.

So, he did what he always did when things got hot. He ran away. He figured if he laid low long enough, Vinnie might have a change of heart and only break a leg or arm, or maybe a couple of fingers, and then let him work off the debt running errands. Yeah, he thought, arm or fingers – can’t run errands on a broken leg.

These thoughts calmed his wildly pumping hearts as the thoughts continued to race erratically through his mind. His pulse slowed. Besides, he thought as he eyed the neatly penned script on the envelope, this couldn’t have come from Vinnie. His writing, which was barely legible at the best of times, looked like the tracks of a drunken chicken.

Curiosity overcame fear, and Louis ripped the end of the envelope open. A neatly folded square of creamy white paper fell to the floor. Louis bent and picked it up, turning it first one way, then another, before unfolding it.

The words were scrawled in the center of the rectangle and were barely legible. As they swam into focus, Louis’s eyes widened and his pulse began hammering – his breath caught in his throat.

“Yu can run but you cain’t hide. Yu R erased.

Vinni”

His fingers went limp and the paper fluttered lazily toward the floor. Louis stood transfixed, staring at the wooden door.

His world contracted into a small bubble, and he could hear his heart pounding inside his scrawny chest. Then, the bubble exploded in a white hot shower of paint-flecked splinters and buckshot as the upper panel of the door disintegrated.

The force slamming into his chest lifted him up and tossed him across the room like a rag doll, pinning him against the wall.

As his body slumped slowly toward the floor, leaving a wide red and pink smear on the wall, the light in his eyes began to dim. His last thought was, “I can’t work off a debt if I’m dead.”