[Note from the author: When I use a prompt to generate an idea for a story, I often write a half dozen general ideas and then winnow them down. These stories result from an exercise to develop more than one story from a single prompt. I came up with seven ideas in total and wrote the following three. The prompt was an alley where a crime or accident takes place. I put the alley next to a bar and grill in each story. Each story has two main characters, friends named Chris and Bobby, but they aren’t the same Chris and Bobby in all the stories. In one story, Chris is a female. Another story doesn’t have the crime/accident happening in the alley itself because I couldn’t make it fit that way. Sometimes that happens. Your story can end up quite far away from the original prompt.]
Chris and Bobby, Story One
“Here’s to you!” said Chris, holding up his beer mug. Bobby lifted his glass and clinked it to his friend’s.
“Thanks, man,” said Bobby, “And congrats to you for getting the understudy part.”
“Yeah, that was a shock,” said Chris, “I never thought I’d make it into the main cast, even as understudy. I’ll still be building sets and making props, though, just like always.”
Bobby patted Chris on the back. “Good man!” he said. “Even so, you need to learn your lines. You never know. I might get a last-minute case of laryngitis.” Bobby put air quotes around the word “laryngitis,” suggesting that he’d fake an illness so that Chris could have the stage one night.
“Really?” Chris asked. “You’d do that for me?”
“Hey, man. We’ve been friends forever. I’ll throw you a matinee. No problem.” Bobby winked and laughed and downed his beer.
“Thanks,” said Chris, turning to the bartender to order two more beers.
The men spent most of the evening in the bar, talking about the play and the future of the theater. Their local theater group had been getting more and more press lately. There were rumors that a big city talent scout had heard about the group and was planning to come to the next show. Bobby was the reason for that. He was the quintessential leading man, handsome, charming, and a half decent actor.
The men had been friends since childhood, although it had always been Bobby who was the golden boy. Bobby had always been just a little better at everything than Chris was. People noticed Bobby. It’s not that Chris had no talent or good looks, it’s just that next to Bobby, no one could shine. He was the sun that outshone the other stars. When he walked into a room, all eyes turned toward him. Charisma.
Chris had been a member of the local theater group for years. He had started backstage, first building sets and doing lighting. Recently, he had made his way to the front of the stage doing walk-ons and bit parts. That was Bobby’s doing, too. He’d moved back to town after going to university and he had joined the theater group. He’d been the one to encourage Chris to try out for the plays instead of staying backstage. Chris found he enjoyed being in front of the audience even if it cast him in the role of Bobby’s sidekick again, just like when they were kids.
The men had burgers and fries at the bar and played some pool in the back room. They ventured back into the front of the bar for a nightcap while they checked the baseball scores on the tv over the bar. About midnight, the two men got up to leave.
“I have to hit the head,” said Bobby.
“I’ll pay up and meet you at the car,” said Chris. “I need some air.”
Chris was outside in the cold for ten minutes before coming back in to see what had happened to Bobby. He headed toward the restrooms, stopping first to lean over the bar to ask if the bartender had seen Bobby. The bartender said he’d been too busy to notice. The other patrons Chris asked couldn’t remember seeing Bobby return from the restrooms.
Chris went down the hall, past the poolroom, and into the men’s room. No one was in there. On the way back, he checked the poolroom more thoroughly and asked around. No one had seen Bobby. He walked back toward the front room, calling Bobby’s cell phone, which suddenly started ringing at the end of the bar where they had been sitting.
Now Chris appeared worried. He asked again if anyone had seen his friend. Getting no satisfactory answers, he grabbed Bobby’s phone and went out to the car. No sign of Bobby. The man had simply vanished.
Chris walked to the corner and into the alley where three dumpsters stood, lined up along a brick wall. Chris thought he saw a shoe on the ground near the dumpsters. He ran toward it; the gorge rising in his throat as he neared and saw Bobby slumped against the building.
Bobby’s head flopped to the side, his face looked odd. His shirt appeared to be drenched in something wet and dark. Chris leaned over and shook his friend. He said his name sharply, as if to wake him. But Bobby didn’t answer. Bobby would never answer. Chris stood there in shock for a minute, when the sounds of voices coming out of the front door of the bar and shoes clacking down the sidewalk brought him back to himself and his surroundings and he yelled for help.
Hours later, after the police came, after they questioned him, after they took Bobby away, Chris was driven home by the police, who thought he was too shaken up to drive himself. He let them put him into a cruiser and they insisted on coming inside to check his apartment. For his safety, they said, in case it wasn’t the random mugging it appeared to be.
The police did a walk-through of his apartment and then they told him to get some sleep and they left. He hadn’t been worried that the police would find anything suspicious in his apartment.
Why should he have been worried? It wasn’t like he had planned to kill Bobby. It was spur of the moment. He didn’t even know that he wanted to kill Bobby until Bobby had made the remark about throwing him a matinee. What an egotistical ass! The smirk behind the smile had made Chris realize he had wanted to kill Bobby for years. Maybe even since they were kids. If Bobby had never existed, people would have looked up to Chris. Chris had been just as good as Bobby, but Bobby had always gotten the attention. Chris realized that his entire life would have been better without Bobby around. His life could be better now if Bobby didn’t exist.
The plan came together without effort while they were playing pool. The whole idea came all at once, as if Chris wasn’t a part of making the plan, like someone else had written it and Chris would just be playing a role.
Chris had stuck a toothpick into the lock in the back door on a trip to the men’s room. When Bobby had gone to the restroom at the end of the night, Chris had paid the bill and gone outside and around the building. He had gone in the back door and waited for Bobby to come out into the hall. He had told him that the car was waiting outside.
As soon as Bobby stepped outside, Chris had grabbed him and smashed his head on the corner of the metal dumpster as hard as he could. He heard a sickening crack and let Bobby drop to the ground. He had taken Bobby’s phone and walked back around the building and into the front door, looking for his friend. Chris slipped Bobby’s cell phone onto the bar as he asked about his friend, so that he could phone him later in front of witnesses. It had all worked out without a hitch. The perfect improvisation.
Chris set the coffeepot to brewing. He should go to bed and get some sleep, but he wasn’t even tired. The entire episode gave him energy. He had fooled everyone in the bar and the cops, too. They all believed him when he pretended to be devastated by his friend’s death. He had played it just right.
See? He was a better actor than Bobby. And now that the part was his, he’d prove it.
© 2020 Liza Cameron Wasser
Chris and Bobby, Story Two
Chris walked into the bar and stamped the snow off his boots. He looked around as he took off his gloves and winter coat, his eyes coming to rest on Bobby at a back table near the jukebox. Bobby saw him, too. He stood up and waved Chris over.
“Man, it is so good to see you!” said Bobby. “How long has it been? Sit down. Have a beer.”
“I haven’t been home for two—no, three—years. No wonder my mother is making such a fuss,” said Chris. “I really haven’t been in town ‘since forever’ as she says.” He threw his coat over the extra chair and sat down opposite his childhood friend.
“How’s Chicago?” asked Bobby.
“I like it. It’s not like a small town. No one knows your business. It’s nice when no one knows you. There are no secrets in a town like this one.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Bobby. “Secrets can be kept if you’re the only one who knows them.”
“I suppose. But, how about you? Anything new?”
“Had any accidents lately?” asked Chris.
“What?!” asked Bobby, “What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing, really.” Chris caught the waitress’s eye and ordered a beer, “We always called you the luckiest bastard in the world because you were always surviving crazy accidents.”
Bobby tilted his head and considered this.
“Wouldn’t the fact that I was always having crazy accidents be a clue that I was not lucky at all?”
“Probably.” Chris laughed. “What did we know? We were dumb kids. All we knew was that the adults all claimed you were lucky to be alive. I mean, you fell out of a tree when we were eight and only broke your finger. You skied down the wrong slope on our class trip and went cartwheeling down the hill. You should have broken your leg or worse, and there wasn’t a mark on you. And you skidded on ice and put your car down an embankment on the day you got your driver’s license! The paramedics had to get you out with the Jaws of Life and when they did, it turned out you had two bruised knees. It’s a miracle you walked away from all that.”
“Yeah,” said Bobby, “I really thought that car accident was going to kill me. I had more than bruised knees, though. I was pretty banged up, but no real damage. That counts as a miracle.” He shrugged.
Bobby picked up his beer and took a long swig. A dark look passed over his face and was gone almost before Chris could notice. Bobby smiled.
“As a matter of fact, I’ve had a couple of other accidents since you left town,” he said.
“Are you kidding me, man? What the hell happened?”
“I had a defective gas heater that leaked while I was asleep, but a neighbor smelled it and called the fire department in time. And I fell off Petey’s power boat in the lake and almost drowned.”
“See what I mean?” said Chris. “You’re a cat with nine lives. But, seriously, man. You need to be more careful.”
Bobby downed the rest of his beer and stood up.
“Listen, I have to go. Maybe we’ll see each other again before you go back to Chicago. Call me tomorrow,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” said Chris. “Take care of yourself, Bobby.”
“I’ll try. I might not be so lucky next time.”
“Next time? What does that mean?”
“Nothing,” said Bobby, “I’m kidding.”
He turned and walked out of the bar.
Chris ordered a burger and sat back, staring at his beer bottle, trying to put himself back into his childhood on the day Bobby fell out of the tree. He saw Bobby reach out to grab a branch, miss and then fall, without a sound, to the ground. Funny that he didn’t say a word or yell out as he fell. And what branch was he trying for? Chris had said to Petey at the time that there hadn’t been a branch within reach, but they were too concerned about getting Bobby home to talk about it. When they went on the class trip, Chris and Petey had called out to Bobby that he was heading toward the wrong slope. Chris could have sworn that Bobby had looked back at them before pushing off with his poles. When he asked his friend later, Bobby had claimed that he hadn’t heard them. That car accident was fishy, too, Chris remembered. Bobby had claimed that the car skidded on ice and he went over the embankment and down a steep hill directly into a tree. But it was early spring then, and the temperatures had risen to the point where patches of ice were unlikely. And the accident happened in the afternoon, the warmest part of the day. At the time, Chris had thought that Bobby had invented the ice because he had been driving too fast going into the curve and didn’t want to get in trouble with his parents and the police.
Chris was uneasy with where his thoughts were taking him now, but he couldn’t seem to stop. Hell, it was simple enough to rig a gas leak or to fall off a speed boat when no one was looking. But why would he do that? Bobby had always been a carefree kid, thought Chris. Where was all this coming from?
No. No, that wasn’t right. Chris shook his head, remembering other times with Bobby as a child.
There had been moments when Chris had caught Bobby looking sad. More than sadness, it was sorrow. It was an ingrained melancholy that Chris, as a child, couldn’t understand or explain to anyone else. And, anyway, every time Chris had seen it, Bobby had smiled or laughed and Chris had dismissed it, forgotten it.
Chris did not like the conclusions he was drawing. But it was okay, he told himself. He’d call Bobby in the morning and meet him for lunch or something. He’d ask some questions, try to get a feel about what he was thinking and if it could be true. Man! How could your friend try to kill himself repeatedly and you not know it? It seemed impossible, but somehow, deep down, Chris was afraid he was right.
The waitress had just put the burger down in front of him when the sound of the crash came. It seemed to go on forever, the screeching tires, the sound of metal folding, glass breaking. Every conversation in the bar stopped, and all heads turned to the door.
A man ran into the bar and yelled, “Call an ambulance! A guy just ran a red light and got t-boned by a truck.”
Chris jumped up and ran toward the door. He knew what had happened. He could feel it in the pit of his stomach.
Please, he silently begged his friend, please.
Bobby, don’t let this be the day your luck runs out.
© 2020 Liza Cameron Wasser
Chris and Bobby, Story Three
Chris was pacing back and forth on the sidewalk in front of Ray’s Bar and Grill. She stopped pacing for a moment to look up and down the street for a dark blue Chevy pickup. No luck. She turned to continue her to and fro-ing when she heard a familiar chug-chug-pop sound and she smiled. Turning toward the sound, she waved at the pickup, thinking Bobby needs to get his timing checked.
The driver of the car parked in the alley beside the bar and turned off the ignition, causing more chug-chug-pop. He jumped out and met Chris at the mouth of the alley.
Chris put her fists on her hips and tilted her head at her friend Bobby.
“I know, I know,” he said. “I need to get the timing checked.”
“For a guy who fixes thing for a living, you sure drive crappy cars,” said Chris as they entered the bar.
“That’s kind of the point. I buy them to fix them up and sell them. Speaking of fixing things, remind me to give you your cuckoo clock. It’s in the truck.”
“Oh! Did you get it to work again?” asked Chris.
“Yes,” said Bobby, “It sounds as obnoxious as it did when you bought it in Bavaria five years ago. How can you stand that thing?”
Chris laughed. “I love it! I carried that clock all over Europe.”
They sat at a table in the back and ordered lunch from the specials written on a chalkboard affixed to the wall.
“Okay, what’s up?” Bobby asked, “Why are we here in the middle of the day? What was so important?”
“I quit my job!” Chris said.
The waitress brought their drinks, and Bobby picked up his beer and took a sip.
“About time,” he said. “I’m surprised you put up with that boss of yours for this long.”
“Me, too,” said Chris. “The pay was good, though. But, I’ve been looking for something new for months now. John was so creepy. Every time I looked up from my desk, I’d catch him staring at me. In fact, ever since I walked out, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m being watched.”
“Don’t worry. It’s over now. We need to celebrate. What are we celebrating, by the way? The new job or getting away from John?”
As they ate, they talked about Chris’s new job. When they had finished lunch and ordered dessert, Bobby stood up.
“I’m going to go get the cuckoo clock before I forget. Be right back.”
Bobby left the bar and walked around to the alley where he had left his car. He leaned into the cab and grabbed the cardboard box containing the cuckoo clock. Just as shut the driver’s door, a voice came from behind him.
“You just can’t leave her alone, can you?” said the voice.
Bobby spun around. Chris’s boss John was holding a gun, pointing it at Bobby’s chest.
“What the hell! Put that down!” yelled Bobby. He shoved the box directly into John’s face. John took an awkward step back and tripped, the gun flying out of his hand. It bounced and landed behind Bobby near a line of dumpsters that served the building. Bobby bent over to pick up the gun and John shoved him from behind. Bobby’s head hit the metal dumpster with a resounding gong and he collapsed in a heap, his body falling onto the gun. John, thinking that he had killed Bobby, ran away. Bobby lay unconscious on the ground.
Chris waited in the bar for Bobby to come back with the cuckoo clock. The waitress brought the apple pies and two cappuccinos. Chris wondered what had become of Bobby. Probably met someone and was talking, forgetting that his coffee was getting cold. Chris told the waitress that she’d be right back and went around to the alley to see what was holding Bobby up.
She ran over when she saw him and as she knelt down; he came to. She phoned an ambulance.
“What happened?” she asked him.
“I… I don’t know,” he said.
He tried to sit up, but she told him to lie back down.
“I’m lying on something,” Bobby said. “What is it?”
Chris helped him roll over.
“It’s a gun! Where the hell did you get a gun?”
“I don’t know. It’s not mine. And don’t yell. My head hurts.”
Chris looked into the box where the cuckoo clock lay nestled in newspaper.
“The clock is okay,” said Chris.
“Well, thank God for that,” said Bobby.
“You must be okay, too. You still have your sense of humor.” The paramedics arrived and Chris waved them over.
The paramedics took Bobby’s vital signs, asked questions and put him on a stretcher, while Chris stood by helplessly. She caught sight of a wallet on the ground and picked it up. Bobby would need this later, she thought. She rode in the ambulance with Bobby, clutching the box with the cuckoo clock. The ER transferred Bobby up to a room for observation overnight.
Upstairs in the room, the police had come and gone. They had asked a lot of questions and had taken the gun away. Neither Chris nor Bobby could be of any real help. The doctor said that Bobby might remember what happened or he might not. Right now, he needed to rest. Chris stayed with him. Bobby fell asleep and Chris pulled a chair over and held his hand.
An hour later, Bobby woke up and asked Chris if she could get him a cup of coffee from the cafeteria. Chris remembered they hadn’t had their dessert and coffee at the bar and thought she could use one herself.
“Oh!” she said. “I left my purse in the bar.”
“I think my clothes are in that cupboard,” said Bobby. “Take my wallet.”
“I’ve got your wallet, actually. It fell out in the alley when you were mugged. It’s in the box with the clock.”
She took the wallet and left for the cafeteria.
In the cafeteria, Chris took a tray, got two cups of black coffee, and headed for the check-out line. While in line, she opened the wallet and stared down at the driver’s license in the clear plastic pocket. It was not Bobby’s smiling face looking back at her.
It was John.
“Oh my God!” yelled Chris, running out of the cafeteria and down two flights of stairs. She dashed into Bobby’s room to find John standing over Bobby, his hand around Bobby’s throat.
“She’s mine!” John was saying, in a hoarse whisper, “She loves me, not you!”
“No, I don’t. I love Bobby,” said Chris, as she grabbed the cuckoo clock from the box on the chair in the corner and smashed it into the side of John’s head. He ran from the room, but didn’t get far before being tackled by a security guard in the hallway.
“You clocked him!” said Bobby, rubbing his throat.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” said Chris, laughing in relief.
“So, you love me, do you?” Bobby sat up.
“Of course. I broke my cuckoo clock for you.”
“I’ll fix it,” said Bobby, as they looked down at the splintered remains of the clock.
“I think it’s beyond repair.”
“I’ll buy you a new one.”
“Why?” said Chris, “You hate cuckoo clocks.”
“But, I love you,” said Bobby.
© 2020 Liza Cameron Wasser