James Maddox and Chris Charlton came up with an amazing character during their time at the 2013 NYCC. The name of that character was Charlie Flatbread, and the purpose of Mr. Flatbread was to be a crotchety old man who got into all kinds of misadventures. Odds were that he would never make it past the conceptual phase. UNTIL TODAY!
Well, sort of…
Here’s the plan. James and Chris are bringing Charlie to life here the way old pulp crime writers like Lawrence Block and friends used to piece together poker room novels. Basically, James starts by writing an opening scene, then Chris will come in and add to the plot.
It’s very possible that this will result in abrupt character deaths and one of us painting the other into a corner, but what the hell, it could also be fun.
So without further ado, we present:
The Adventures of Charlie Flatbread(Entered by James on 2/5/2014)
The honking was non-stop outside Charlie Flatbread’s bedroom window. Charlie knew that they called this hellhole “the city that never sleeps”, but what he didn’t know was that it would be so damned determined to keep him up with it. Misery loves company.
Charlie kept a stack of bricks next to his window. His ammunition. He hadn’t used them yet, but he was sure the day would come soon. At some point he would snap and launch them at the mixed traffic below in a barrage that was as incessant as all the horn-honking and scuttle-bitching. When he ran out of bricks, he would start expelling the small appliances, then the furniture, then the neighbors — whatever he could get his hands on. This was a lesson he’d taken from his early days: Never run out of ammunition.
He hadn’t realized it, but Charlie was eyeing the pile of bricks. The amount of saliva in his mouth had increased, bordered near drooling. That hypothetical “One day” may be coming more quickly than he thought. Just before the curve of a smile could touch his lips, a knock at the door snapped him out of the daydreams that were populated with the blood of Brooklyn hipsters and the wailing of overtaxed businessmen.
Who was knocking at his door? No one ever knocked at his door.
Charlie hefted his bulky and aged frame from the reclining chair and half-walked, half-limped to the front entrance. Before he got there, he snatched his flatcap from the kitchen table and tugged it onto his head. He cleared his throat and opened the door.
(Entered by Chris on 2/11/2014)
A quick shift of his head left the hallway of Charlie’s apartment building sufficiently combed while the index finger of his right hand flirted with the trigger of the gun in his cardigan pocket. A warm breeze wagged the curtains in his apartment as the air pressure and flow changed, rolling into the stuffy corridor.
Punks. Kids, maybe. “Mister FATbread”, they called him behind his back, but loud enough so that he could hear. He was not well-liked by his neighbors or their children. Or anyone for that matter. His own family hung around as a formality, licking their paws and waiting for their inheritance payouts. Cats lounging in the sun.
But no, this was something else. His gaze turned down.
A letter at the foot of his door rattled a bit in a brush of air from inside Charlie’s apartment. There, on top, was his name.
The word sparkled in his mind with a certain majesty. The Flatbread Empire, as it had been known through much of the 90’s, was now in decline, due in part to some bad dealings with the likes of Joe Nabisco and Donnie Kraft. Families that Charlie determined had no sense of decency or moral obligation to anyone. Not even their own kin.
He knelt awkwardly with stiffness through his lumbar, cradling his stomach, then snatching the letter from the floor causing it to crumple on one side. A deep, muffled growl protruded past his lips. As if this exhalation had indicated some weakness within him, he quickly darted back inside – calm and cool behind the safety of his apartment door.
Charlie opened the letter roughly, not bothering to smooth out the wrinkled lines his calloused hands had pressed into it. Before reading, his eyes moved directly to the signature at the bottom of the page. That question, once burning, now extinguished. He balled up the unread piece of paper and hurled it through the open window. It was no brick. No damage done to the street below, but a certain satisfaction engraved itself on his stone face.
The author’s name was Carmine Green. The Green Giant.
Charlie moved to back to his recliner, which sat in the only dark corner of the room. The rich mahogany leather erupted in squeals, under the full brunt of his weight. Pressing his hands together just below the tip of his nose, his eyes seemed to glow, peering out from the darkness like an owl on the hunt.
There was a WAR brewing, and the next play was his.
(Entered by James 2/20/14)
Charlie’s grand move was to take a nap, but only a handful of minutes passed during that nap before his door exploded, shards of the busted doorframe spraying all over the floor. A behemoth of a man stomped past Charlie’s threshold. In his hand was a crumpled up piece of paper that looked suspiciously like the letter Charlie had just chucked out his window. Also, the owner of that clutching hand looked suspiciously like Carmine Green.
“You know how long it took me to write this damn letter, you son of a bitch?” Green said, and if anger was heat, Charlie Flatbread would have been a pile of ash on the withered remains of his living room rug. Fortunately, anger just made Green look a lot more stupid than he usually did.
“How long did it take you to write the letter?” Charlie asked.
The question seemed to take Green by surprise. Perhaps he had a speech all planned out, and Charlie was throwing him off his game.
“A, um, a damn long time,” Green stammered, then mumbled an almost indistinct addition: “I don’t do well with people seein’ my writing.”
“Sorry about that,” Charlie said in a tone that indicated about as much apology as one might have for spitting in an rival’s stew.
“Sorry,” Green repeated. “Charlie Flatbread’s sorry. Did you even read the opening? Did you even bother to take a second–”
Charlie interrupted him before he could get started: “No, Carmine. I didn’t read anything but your name scrawled at the end. Then I crumpled the thing in this hand–” Charlie held up his right hand to provide a visual aide “–and tossed it out that window over there. And I don’t care if it took you a year produce. There’s nothing in that letter that I want to know.”
Charlie stepped back to his recliner, but before he sat down another thought struck him.
“Wait a minute,” Charlie said and took a step toward Green, which put his unexpected visitor even more on his guard. Green shifted uncomfortably. “So you wrote a letter, walked the seven blocks from your territory to my shit-hole apartment, dropped off your message, and were going to do what exactly? Sit in your office and wait for me to call you up? Was that the plan, Carmine?”
Carmine’s attention shifted to the stack of uninteresting magazines that had toppled onto the floor of Charlie’s apartment.
“There’s rules, Charlie,” Carmine said. “A guy like me can’t be the one to initiate contact in person with a guy like you, but I couldn’t trust any of my people not to blab about me contacting you, either. It’s bat-shit crazy out there, Charlie, and if certain people knew I had approached you, it would get a lot crazier.”
“Crazy like how?” Charlie asked, but before he could get a reply, a red dot appeared on Carmine’s chest.
Charlie began to shout out a warning, but before he could, a bullet had pierced through Carmine Green’s vest, traveled through his body and exploded out the other side of the man. Carmine jerked a bit in reaction to the shot, but that was about all he had in him.
Both Green and the crumpled letter he’d held in his hand fell to the floor.
Charlie took cover and quickly made his way to the window. He hadn’t realized it until just now, but the gun that had been nestled inside his cardigan was now in his hand. His finger was on the trigger. Not bad for a golden oldie. The nearly transparent curtain that covered his windows wafted in the city breeze and sported a tiny, new circle in its fabric.
Charlie took a quick glance of the building opposite his, but saw no indication of the sniper’s post, which is what he expected. Carmine had been tagged and the gunman had waited for an opportunity. Now that the gunman had found it, Charlie was left with a dead body in his home and a big, bloody mess to clean.
Charlie secured his shooter from where it had come from and walked over to Carmine. A pool of blood had spread and was soaking the corner of Carmine’s letter. Charlie retrieved the letter and wiped the excess blood onto a clean area Carmine’s shirt. Green wouldn’t mind; his days of minding anything were long gone.
(Entered by Chris 2/27/14)
Griff Conway was Charlie’s cleaner.
A man who never slept, and if he did, no one alive had ever seen it.
You were not to speak with Griff. That’s what Charlie liked about him. There were no niceties. Just facts. Instructions. The less either of them knew the better.
Charlie made himself a sandwich – his traditional Flatbread, Gruyere, Pickles and Tuna – as the turbines of the cleaner’s steam machine roared, evaporating blood from the carpet fibers. Beyond a DNA sweep, the place looked clean. Once the job was complete they shook hands and Griff carted a large black duffle bag to the doorway; the contents of which included the top half of one Carmine Green.
The two men locked eyes. “Uptown,” Griff said with a cold breath that left a layer of frost on Charlie’s nose. His statement… that one word… meant Charlie was going downtown, where Carmine’s bottom half would be taking a dip in the harbor.
The Green Giant had fallen. A victim of his own belligerence and haste.
Charlie had forgotten the note, now signed in Carmine’s blood. He unfurled it right there, standing over his new black duffle bag – the match to Griff’s set. Charlie’s eyes wriggled just below his unkempt eyebrows, taking length as he read and re-read the letter.
Your enemies are my enemies. They’re coming for me. Word is, you’re next.
Watch your back with both of your faces.
Charlie simply let go of the letter, watching as it wafted back and forth like a feather until finally reaching the ground. His face was worn more with aggravation than concern for his life, despite the warning. He huffed and then puffed before rattling softly to himself.
Charlie grabbed the phone on his kitchen wall, lifting the receiver and punching a 4 digit code before hanging up. Moments later, his chauffer, Williams, had arrived with a rap at his door and a snap in his step, as his employer expected.
“Mistuh Flatbread. How may I be of service tonight?” His British accent was curiously thicker when he’d been drinking.
Charlie moved past the stout man’s tidy black suit thumbing back toward his apartment with instructions. “The bag,” he said with a rasp that could have easily been mistaken for someone gargling gravel. Williams was 20 paces behind when he emerged from the apartment with the black duffle.
An elevator ride to the lobby revealed a broken line of sweat on Williams’ forehead as the weight of the giant began to settle in his lower back. He plodded across the marble floor toward the brass doors where Charlie waited impatiently with a stare that was the equivalent of tapping his Rolex. He hadn’t opened a door for himself since 1985. Charlie paused briefly recalling that he had, in fact, never held a door for anyone in his entire life. The thought lit his eyes for a moment, before they darted back to Williams with disdain as the Brit held the large brass door and body bag simultaneously.
“My apologies sir,” Williams bowed his head slightly as Charlie passed and then rushed around him to ensure he made it to the car door first. Once he was safely in the back of the black Lincoln, Williams dropped the better half of Mr Green in the trunk.
As they departed, Charlie barked from the back. “Two stops. The harbor first for the bag. Then Jimmy Mars.”
“Aye, sir.” Williams confirmed, glad it was harder to smell his traditional sandwich breath from the driver’s seat.
Charlie folded his hands in his lap and pondered his next move. If Green’s letter was true, he knew Jimmy Mars would have the inside scoop. Caught up in a long time battle with his rival, Phillip Hershey, Mars rarely bothered with the other gangs. His business was information and his people were everywhere. Rumor had it that paranoia had gotten the best of Jimmy over the last few years and that his body guards, (twins by the name of Macchione), never left his side.
As Flatbread’s Lincoln drew near to the harbor, an unsettling feeling lurched in his stomach.
(Entered by James on 7/3/2014 – [Sorry for the hiatus. Blame The Dead KS and Tricon! – JM])