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The Finest in Crime and Suspense Short Fiction

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Disco Is Dead
by Jeffrey Marks 

My lust for Agatha Christie drove me to a summer job at Norman’s Skateland.

Agatha Christie had died two years before, and I was snapping up her books as fast as I could with the miserable salary of $2.10 an hour. I never understood how the rink could ignore the minimum wage, but the skaters told me that the father and son who ran the place had Mob connections, maybe with some drug dealing on the side.

So the summer I was sixteen, instead of reading the latest mystery, I stood behind the counter at the skate rental and listened to Evelyn “Champagne” King sing “Shame” for the sixth time that evening. The rental counter had a rush when the doors opened and a half hour before the rink closed. The rest of the time, we were expected to clean or wait for the skaters’ demands.

That Friday night, as I was trading out a pair of shoes with a sticky wheel, Jimmy Clark flew by like a winged Mercury. Three girls trailed in his wake. He did a seamless turn and cruised by the rental counter again, giving me a broad smile. “What would you rather be reading?” he asked, turning so that he stopped in front of me. The girls came up to stand next to Jimmy, but he kept his eyes on me.

Jimmy was that good-looking guy all the girls wanted to date and all the boys wanted to be. He had broad shoulders, muscular arms, and wavy hair over deep-blue eyes.

“I just got a first edition of The Clocks,” I said.

He raised an eyebrow. “This place must pay better than what I’ve heard,” he said as he turned to go. He looked back over his shoulder and said, “Let me know if you like it.”

My eyes widened. Jimmy Clark had never expressed any interest in books, much less mysteries, and now he wanted my opinion on a lesser-known Christie novel?

By nine p.m. only a few skaters remained. They were older, had later curfews—if they had them at all—and they were looking for things that the elementary-aged students would not understand. I’d learned to recognize the smell of weed that summer, even though I’d never been officially introduced to it.

“Last Dance” by Donna Summer came on, suggesting the rink had
finished for the night—at least for the last dozen skaters. The staff had another hour of cleaning the skates, putting them back in the rack by size, and wiping down the concession area and restrooms.

I was the only guy working that night, which meant I had to scrub the boys’ restroom. The Normans had the archaic mindset that restrooms had to be cleaned by the appropriate gender, even when no customers remained.

I pushed open the door, carrying a dripping wet mop, leaving a trail like a hygienic Hansel. But it wasn’t empty.

The smell of that unfamiliar, but easily identified, smoke hit me in the face. I sneezed. Jimmy Clark looked up at me. “Don’t make any noise,” he said. “Please don’t say a thing.” His blue eyes were wide and pleading. I didn’t say a word.

I didn’t recognize the other guy at all. My gaze wasn’t focused on his face, but on his hands, where a wad of bills and a baggie were squeezed between his fingers. He quickly stuffed everything into his pocket, blushed, and brushed past me, grazing my shoulder, as he left the bathroom. I felt a pang of jealousy.

I rushed through the bathroom chores and put away the mop and pail. The women behind the concession area—the Normans only hired older women to handle the money—were putting their gear away for the evening.

I pushed through the exit door into the humid night air. Late July had come with a heat wave, and I grumbled as my shirt stuck to my back. I walked through the dimly lit asphalt parking area to my car in the outer edges of the lot.

I had my key in the lock when a hand grabbed my arm. My mind flashed to The Pale Horse and the priest coshed over the head on a foggy night. I spun around, remembering to keep my keys between my fingers.

Jimmy took a step back. “Whoa, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He flashed a broad grin.

“Sorry, you just freaked me out. I thought you were already gone.” It felt like we were the only two people alive in the place.

He laughed. “I just wanted to ask a favor. I mean, I know I don’t deserve one—I don’t know you that well, but if you could keep what you saw tonight to yourself, I’d really appreciate it.”

I nodded, thinking of all those roguish strangers in Christie’s works. “Yeah, sure. I mean, who am I going to tell?” I meant to be flippant, but I sounded pathetic. I didn’t have many friends. My nose was mostly stuck in a book.

He took two steps forward, coming so close I could feel his breath on my cheek. “Anyone who looks like you should be popular,” he said.

He pressed his lips to mine. The moment was over before I knew what to do.

 

I wasn’t scheduled to work for the next several days. I spent my time reading, trying not to think about the parking lot, and Jimmy Clark.

When I returned to work on Thursday, Jimmy was nowhere to be found. I wasn’t surprised. As much as I’d wanted to see him, I figured he had the same reservations I did about what happened. I had to be at the skating rink—he did not.

Even the deejay was different that evening. Donna Summer did not provide the coda for the evening. The man behind the multiple turntables opted to play “Boogie, Oogie, Oogie” for the second time that night. And it did run the last of the patrons from the floor.

I found the mop and pail pushed to the back of the custodians’ closet. I feared this meant the restroom hadn’t been touched in days.

I pushed open the door and dropped the kickstand. As usual, the room was only half lit; the owners didn’t want to spend money on lighting and other “amenities.” The same boy I’d seen last Friday was there again.

Even in the half light, I could see his skin was pasty and his eyes were wide. He shoved past me and out the door as if on skates. For a second, I wondered if Jimmy had told him what happened, and he’d rather be anywhere other than alone with me.

I pushed the mop across the floor and dropped it into the bucket again. The water slowly turned a pinkish red.

At first, I thought it was the remnants of a cherry slushie, but as I moved closer to the source, the stain became darker and thicker.

I pushed the stall door open with the mop handle, not wanting to touch any surface with my bare hands. Jimmy Clark lay on the floor with a knife lodged in his side.

A red stain marred the left side of his abdomen, and as I stood there, it grew. I knew what not to do: pull the knife out.

But what to do . . . ?

 

Read the exciting conclusion in this month’s issue on sale now!

Copyright © 2022Disco is Dead by Jeffrey Marks

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