Consider It Lit
by Stephen D. Rogers


....While most people imagine the life of a P.I. to be a wild mix of bullets, booze, and broads, most of my work came from Consolidated Insurance. I'd never drawn my gun outside the range and the smell of alcohol on my breath would be cause for dismissal.

....As for broads, a woman once offered me a blowjob to turn in a negative report. She stared up at me with such hatred that I finally pushed her away.

.... Today was actually a nine on my excite-o-meter: sitting in my car taking nips from a small flask of vodka, watching a house.

....The guy who lived inside, his car collided with an eighteen-wheeler, and now he claimed he had a back injury that kept him from earning his salary. Me, I'd washed down five stale bologna sandwiches with a thermos of coffee while waiting for him to catch him in a lie. I'd already filled my pickle jar and pretty soon I was going to need a toilet or shit in my pants.

....Oh yeah, a life of glamour.

....My kid brother sold single-serving condiment packets to restaurants and made three times what I did.

.... Dad asks, "Why can't you get a real job like Davey?"

.... I rubbed raw eyes and shifted in my seat.

.... Maybe I was a loser. At least I worked for my money instead of screwing insurance companies like some of the people I was paid to investigate. This asshole already owned his own home and still he couldn't resist the allure of easy money, easy for him while I was stuck out here.

.... Speaking of, I needed that toilet.

.... I drove to the nearest gas station, traded my license for a key bolted to a two-by-four, and entered a bathroom that made me reconsider constipation.

.... Too late I realized there were only three squares of paper on the roll. Lucky for me someone had left the personals section on the floor of the stall and I dragged it closer with my left foot.

.... The dispenser was out of soap. The water ran cold. At least it was clear.

.... I placed the block of wood on the counter. "Bathroom's a real pit."

.... "Ken" shrugged and handed me my license.

.... Outside, I took a deep breath of fume-laden air to clear my head. What did that guy make, minimum wage? Wearing uniforms with his name stitched in an oval, waiting to be robbed. Dad must be so proud.

.... I pulled out onto the road and my phone rang. "Yo."

.... "This is Zemenka. I hear the engine running. Does that mean you're returning with a picture worth a thousand words?"

.... "Not exactly, sir."

.... "Don't tell me you left Osterman unobserved. I want those pictures. His lawyer is pressuring us, hard."

.... "Don't worry."

.... "Don't tell me not to worry. I'm worried. Light a fire under his ass. Tell him he won some contest. Send in a hooker. I don't care. Just get those photographs, damn it. Your work hasn't exactly been stellar lately and you're not the only P.I. out there."

.... "Don't wor--" I licked dry lips. "I'm on it, sir."

.... "See that you are."

.... I parked across the street from Osterman. For all I knew he was whooping it up with a wild mix of bullets, booze, and broads.

.... I phoned the house, waited ten, fifteen, twenty rings. If nothing else I was probably driving Osterman crazy.

.... Where did Zemenka get off, him and his two-tone office, his L-shaped desk with matching accessories, his private bathroom. Smug bastard didn't know squat.

.... One Thanksgiving, Davey complained that he'd been forced to stay at a hotel without high-speed Internet access. I asked how often he slept in his car. He looked at me as if I was nuts.

.... My phone rang just as I put it down to take another sip. Zemenka again.

.... "My boss just called me into his office. You have one hour before he wants me to hire a different P.I. I tried to convince him to only give you thirty minutes."

.... "One hour?" I glanced at my watch. "I don't keep a hooker in my trunk."

.... "One hour."

.... "I can't make the guy walk, sir."

.... "Then you're in the wrong line of work. One hour."

.... I threw the phone. If I lost Consolidated Insurance on top of everything else that had gone wrong lately, I'd be begging Davey for a place to crash.

.... Climbing out of my car, I yelled, "Osterman!"

.... I scooped up a handful of rocks and jogged towards his house.

.... "Osterman, it's me!"

.... The first rock hit the shutter. The next two plinked off the bedroom window.

.... Nothing moved.

.... He was playing with me.

.... "Osterman. Your mother wrapped her car around a pole up the street. She's hurt real bad. Keeps asking for you."

.... Nothing.

.... I hurled the rest of the rocks and they landed harmlessly in the dead shrubs below. Maybe I needed bigger rocks.

.... Or my gun. This might be the perfect opportunity to test my marksmanship in the field. Osterman couldn't ignore bullets flying through the window, smacking into the ceiling above his head.

.... That's when I realized I'd left my camera in the car.

.... Unbelievable.

.... Running with my father's laughter in my ears, I missed the curb and twisted my ankle. Someone honked and I flipped them the bird without even looking. No mood. I'm in no mood.

.... As I grabbed the camera, I remembered the cans of extra gas in the trunk.

.... I'd get that picture and Zemenka could shove it up his ass.

.... The gas slogged as I limped at a run back to the house, a road flare clenched between my teeth.

.... I'd show them.

.....I'd show them all.

.... I spit out the flare and splashed gas against the side of the house, the shrubs. "Osterman! Your doctor turned."

.... I ripped the top off the flare, listened to it sputter and hiss.

.... "Last chance to walk out!"

.... I tossed the flare and watched the sparks fly.

.... With a whoosh, Osterman's house was on fire.

.... I stepped back to the road and lifted the camera. "Osterman!"

.... If only Davey could see me now. He'd know who the real man was. Damn straight. Dad? He'd be running around in circles, pissing in his pants.

.... I held the camera steady, waiting for Osterman's shocked face to appear in the window.

.... Come on, you bastard! Zemenka wanted me to light a fire? Consider it lit.

.... The fire was roaring now, the whole house awash in flames, windows exploding.

.... Having second thoughts now, Osterman?

.... Then I heard him scream. Fire danced across his ceiling. Smoke billowed.

.... I lowered my camera.

.... The fuck.

.... He hadn't been faking after all.

.... Shit.

Copyright © 2005 by Stephen D. Rogers.


Over three hundred of Stephen's stories and poems have been selected to appear in more than a hundred publications. His website, www.stephendrogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

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