An excerpt from John L. French’s story “Let’s Make a Deal” appearing in the anthology Horns and Halos, edited by John L. French and Danielle Ackley-McPhail, funding now on Kickstarter.
With his team back on the ice, Fred Boyd shushed everyone, his eyes riveted on the tiny screen over the bar. He had been a hockey fan since age eight when his father took him to a Baltimore Clippers game. He wanted one thing, for the Constellations to bring a hockey championship to Baltimore. It didn’t matter that the Federal Hockey Association was the ice-equivalent to AA baseball, Fred wanted a championship. The Ravens, the Orioles, the Blast—all had at one time topped their leagues. Fred believed that if only the Constellations could join them, their attendance might pick up and guarantee their staying in Baltimore for at least a few more seasons.
By the way The Constellations were playing that night, it wasn’t likely. They had had losing seasons their first three years and it didn’t look good for the fourth.
“What I wouldn’t give for the Constellations to be winners.”
“The question, Mr. Boyd, is not what you wouldn’t give but rather, what will you give?”
A woman emerged from the back of the tavern. There were booths there, for privacy should someone bring a date, or have to have a private chat, or to drink without being bothered. All eyes on her, she walked toward the crowd who had stopped watching the game to watch her.
She was dressed in jeans, boots, and tee-shirt—all in black. Her skin and hair were just a shade less dark than her clothes. Her face and arms bore scars from old battles. The glass in her hand contained something… dark. Her eyes, however, her eyes shone with a light that made you not want to stare into them for fear of discovering what stared back.
Where did she come from? I asked myself, not liking the only possible answer. It wasn’t through the front door, I would have remembered. The only back door was behind the bar and there were bars on the bathroom windows.
The woman took a sip of her drink and asked, “Well, Mr. Boyd, what would you give?” and that’s when I knew.
She was a deal maker, just like the one who had approached me just after my husband moved out and left me with nothing. The man in black showed me how to get out from under my debts and be financially secure for the rest of my life—no matter what. All it would take was a favor.
I looked around at the patrons of the bar. One or two seemed to be thinking the same thing. I was about to order the woman, if that’s what she was, out when Fred spoke up.
“Just what do you mean, ma’am?”
“I think you know.” She whistled a few bars of Whatever Lola Wants. I knew the tune, and the musical it had come from. So did Fred.
“Well, Miss Lola, Joe Boyd and I might share a name but I’m not about to sell my soul for anything, especially not a hockey team.”
After Fred said this I looked at the TV. The game was paused, which was odd. It’s not that smart of a TV. I looked at the clock on the back wall. The time hadn’t changed since I had last checked it. I looked at my watch. The second hand was frozen.
Lola laughed the laugh of someone who knew a joke no one else did. Then she shared the joke with those in the Pour House.
“We don’t need souls, Mr. Boyd. 150,000 people die every day, and a surprising number come to us. What I’m asking, in exchange for what you want…”
JOHN L. FRENCH is a retired crime scene supervisor with forty years’ experience. He has seen more than his share of murders, shootings, and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he started writing science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.
John’s first story “Past Sins” was published in Hardboiled Magazine and was cited as one of the best Hardboiled stories of 1993. More crime fiction followed, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the Fading Shadows magazines, and in collections by Barnes and Noble. Association with writers like James Chambers and the late, great C.J. Henderson led him to try horror fiction and to a still-growing fascination with zombies and other undead things. His first horror story “The Right Solution” appeared in Marietta Publishing’s Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. Other horror stories followed in anthologies such as The Dead Walk and Dark Furies, both published by Die Monster Die books. It was in Dark Furies that his character Bianca Jones made her literary debut in “21 Doors,” a story based on an old Baltimore legend and a creepy game his daughter used to play with her friends.
John’s first book was The Devil of Harbor City, a novel done in the old pulp style. Past Sins and Here There Be Monsters followed. John was also a consulting editor for Chelsea House’s Criminal Investigation series. His other books include The Assassins’ Ball (written with Patrick Thomas), Souls on Fire, The Nightmare Strikes, Monsters Among Us, The Last Redhead, the Magic of Simon Tombs, and The Santa Heist (written with Patrick Thomas). John is the editor of To Hell in a Fast Car, Mermaids 13, C. J. Henderson’s Challenge of the Unknown, Camelot 13 (with Patrick Thomas), and (with Greg Schauer) With Great Power …
You can find John on Facebook or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.