No Good Deed: New Excerpt
No Good Deed by Victor Gischler is a suspenseful novel about how an ordinary man—trying to do the right thing—finds himself in an extraordinary situation.
Francis was running late for work when he found the suitcase and the odd card with an email on it. He knew he shouldn’t bother but he couldn’t resist.
Now Francis is dodging bullets and doing his best to stay alive, wishing he had never bothered with that suitcase full of clothes.
Something down the hall woke Francis Berringer from an awkward dream in which he was late for work.
He blinked at the alarm clock. It wasn’t a dream.
He scrambled out of bed, trying to untangle himself from the sheet, failed, and tumbled to the floor.
The sounds again. Somebody rattling around in the kitchen.
Francis heaved himself to his feet, glanced at the other side of the bed. Enid wasn’t there.
“Enid,” Francis called.
He went down the short hall, yawning and scratching himself, and found her in the tiny combo kitchen-dining area. She had her earbuds in. No wonder she hadn’t heard him. There was a suitcase open on the table, and she was tossing clothes into it without folding them.
“Enid!” he said louder.
She turned abruptly, startled, took out one of the earbuds. “Did I wake you?”
“You should have earlier. The alarm didn’t go off.”
“Did you mix up A.M. and P.M. again?”
He didn’t know. Maybe? It was hard to think before coffee. “Did you start the coffee maker?”
“You know I’m off caffeine.”
Oh, yeah. She’d made so many changes lately, going vegan and dumping coffee. So many self-help magazines. She had at least a half-dozen subscriptions. They were all over the little apartment. Francis subscribed to a single magazine, Adventure Travel, hikes up Machu Picchu, that sort of thing. They’d had a special all-dining issue last month about eating exotic bugs and things all over the world. Enid made fun of him for that. Adventure and Francis didn’t go together.
He had to admit he was unlikely to eat bugs. He’d have to be really hungry.
He went to the kitchenette and started the coffee maker. Dark roast.
Francis went to the cramped bathroom, still wiping sleep from his eyes. Stockings and a bra hung over the shower curtain. He urinated, flushed, yawned. He put toothpaste on his toothbrush, started brushing, mouth foamy. He looked up and locked eyes with himself in the mirror.
Wait. He’d missed something.
He spit, wiped the toothpaste from his mouth as he bolted from the bathroom back toward the living room. Toothpaste still dribbled down his chest.
Francis blinked at the suitcase on the table. “Are you going somewhere? Are you packing?”
“I told you I got a job,” Enid said. “I told you last night.”
He tried to remember the conversation. He’d been dog-ass tired when he’d dragged home last night. “I thought you picked up another shift.”
“Not a shift,” Enid said. “A job.”
Like a thousand other actresses, she waitressed between jobs. Since Francis had known her, she’d done a whole lot of waitressing and not much acting. A play at some converted place in SoHo and a part in an independent film where she played the corpse of a dead prostitute.
“Well, that’s … good?” Francis eyed the suitcase. “Where is it?”
“You didn’t tell me this last night.”
“Yes, I did,” she insisted. “I said I got some work.”
“I thought you were picking up another shift at the Patty Melt,” Francis said. “Don’t you think leaving town is a sort of important detail that you left out?”
“You know how I am about confrontations,” Enid said. “I was going to leave you a note.”
“It seemed simpler.”
“When are you coming back?”
“Yeah, about that.” Enid zipped the suitcase shut. “I’m not. It’s a tour company, starting in Chicago and then going to the West Coast. This is big for me.”
“What? You were just going to leave without saying … anything?”
“See? You’re upset.”
“I’m … but … well, what the hell? How did you think I would react?”
“Thus, the note.” Enid’s face softened, and she put her hand gently against Francis’s cheek. “Look, it was good for a while. But my career is dead here, and I’m not doing any more crappy waitress shifts in that crappy diner. I smell like grease all the time, and since I’ve gone vegan, the smell of bacon makes me ill. You’re nice, Francis, but you’re not give-up-my-career nice. Take care.”
She turned, dragging the suitcase toward the door on its little wheels.
She opened the door, went out without looking back.
Francis started after her, realized he was in his underwear, ran back to the bedroom, grabbed a pair of sweatpants off the floor. He danced back down the hall, trying to get his legs into the sweats. He caught his toe in the fabric and went down, smacking his head hard against the open door.
He blinked the stars out of his eyes, stood, pulled the sweats on carefully, then dashed down three flights and out the front door of his building.
Just in time to watch Enid’s taxi pull away.
Francis trudged back upstairs, caught sight of the clock.
He was definitely going to be late, but there was still a chance he could slip into the office without Resnick noticing. There was usually a ten- or fifteen-minute grace period, people hanging up jackets, pouring cups of coffee, clicking on computers, and checking voice mail. If he hurried, Francis could make it.
He peeled off the sweats, put on charcoal-gray slacks, black socks, wing tips. He grabbed two shirts off the floor. He smelled the white one. Ugh. He tossed it aside and put on the blue one. He grabbed a mustard-yellow tie. Tied it. The skinny part was longer than the wide part. Oh, come on. He tied it again. The skinny part was still too long. Screw it. He tucked the skinny part inside his shirt.
Coffee. Francis still needed caffeine. He threw open the kitchen cabinet with the to-go cups. There were at least a dozen. Not a single cup matched a lid. How was that possible? He grabbed the biggest, filled it, and headed for the door.
Francis hit the street ten seconds later, fast-walking toward his subway station, hot coffee spilling over his fingers.
In the back of his mind, he was still thinking about his tie. Francis wondered if he were OCD. Not for the first time. He didn’t actually know the clinical definition of OCD. He just knew he hated loose ends, small tasks inappropriately or halfway done.
Fussy, Enid had said. She’d had a way of boiling things down. Not that he was fussy about everything. He had no problem leaving dirty clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink. She’d yelled at him about that too.
There’s no pleasing her. Probably better off she’s gone.
But Francis didn’t feel it in his gut.
He glanced down at his wristwatch. Yeah, he was going to be late. And he was dangerously close to crossing from buffer-zone late to noticeably late. He walked faster.
The putrid smell hit him like a fist. Francis walked past the mouth of an alley with an enormous pile of garbage. Why did they let it pile up like that? Maybe there was another strike. He took a deep breath and kept walking.
He didn’t have time for this, but he couldn’t help it. He had to go back and see if he’d seen what he saw.
Francis went back and looked. It was a suitcase, perched atop one of the trash piles.
And it was open.
He stood there looking at it and realized what had caught his attention. A few things, actually. First, it was clean. Not just the suitcase, but the contents too. Women’s clothes—silk blouses, fashionable skirts, and lots of underwear. He reached in tentatively and plucked out a pair of panties—lace, a soft pink. The tag still dangled from them and read THE SMART SHOPPE. The suitcase was full of panties, never worn, perfectly folded, tags still on.
An old man walked by, giving him the stink eye from under a porkpie hat. Francis tossed the panties back into the suitcase like he’d been burned.
In addition to the suitcase’s contents, Francis noticed something else. It wasn’t like a normal suitcase, not like Enid’s black one with the zippers and wheels. Francis always wondered about such cookie-cutter suitcases. All black, all the same size to fit into airline overhead bins, all looking exactly the same, so people put stickers or string on them so they could find them on the baggage carousels.
The suitcase atop the garbage pile didn’t look like Enid’s at all. Not black. No little wheels. It looked like something from a 1940s movie, big and square, some kind of alligator skin or probably fake. Brass clasps. Except it couldn’t be from the 1940s because, like its contents, it was obviously brand-new.
There was something else inside besides clothes. A small, soft leather case. He took it and flipped it open. It was a case for business cards and held about twenty of them, white with a simple typeface:
He took one of the cards and put it in his shirt pocket, tossed the rest back into the suitcase.
Just leave it. Resnick is going to have your ass on a plate.
Francis moved quickly before he could change his mind, slamming the suitcase closed and clicking the brass latches into place. He double-timed it down the sidewalk, coffee still sloshing. The suitcase was built solidly, and he listed to one side with the weight of it. This wasn’t going to work, not on a crowded subway and not when he was trying to move fast.
He schlepped it another half block and turned into the Patty Melt.
Just as he’d hoped, Francis knew the woman behind the counter, a fifty-something world-weary veteran of New York greasy spoons, named Amanda. Sharp tongue, heart of gold, sore feet.
“Enid don’t work today, Francis,” Amanda told him. The way she said it made it clear Amanda didn’t know Enid had weighed anchor for good.
Francis thought it an inopportune time to set the record straight and asked, “I hate to ask, Amanda, but is there a place I can stash this? I’m already late.”
Amanda frowned but said, “In the cooler, I guess. But you need to get it after work. I can’t leave it overnight.”
“You’re the best.”
Amanda took the suitcase, and Francis was already out the door, hoofing it hard down the sidewalk.
* * *
“Can I see you in my office, Mr. Berringer?”
Francis had almost made it to his desk, thought he would actually slip by unseen, and then Resnick leaned out of his office door and called him in. A sigh leaked out of Francis, and he headed for Resnick’s door, shoulders drooping.
Resnick’s secretary, Naomi, sat at her desk outside of Resnick’s door, some kind of Mad Men throwback with too much makeup and hair piled on top of her head. She held a coffee mug that said WORLD’S GREATEST AUNT. She mouthed sorry at Francis as he passed.
Inside, Resnick told him to shut the door.
Francis shut it.
Bart Resnick was Francis’s section manager. He sported a Johnny Unitas buzz cut, pink clean-shaven cheeks, a striped tie with a short-sleeved shirt. You could slice salami with the crease down his pants. He was always squinting, like he was trying to see something in you he could exploit. He looked at Francis that way now, fidgeting with a rubber band on his desk, seeing how far it would stretch without breaking. A USMC coffee cup on his desk filled with pens and pencils.
Francis was pretty sure a casual study of everyone’s coffee mug in the office would tell him all he needed to know about these people.
“How long have you been a purchasing agent here at McGyver & Roth, Mr. Berringer?” Resnick asked.
“About a year?”
Yeah. That’s about a year. Dick.
“And,” Resnick pressed, “how many times in that span have you been late for work?”
“I guess at least three or four times.”
“That’s not going to work, Mr. Berringer,” Resnick said. “It’s not shipshape.”
Shipshape was new. Resnick usually favored other expressions. He was insistent that everyone on his floor have their ducks in a row and that all his people should do everything according to Hoyle.
“You’re on McGyver & Roth time. When you come in late and take a paycheck, you’re stealing from McGyver & Roth.”
“I don’t think you do,” Resnick said. “Are there mitigating circumstances that might explain today’s tardiness, Mr. Berringer?”
I set the alarm wrong, and my girlfriend left me, and I found a suitcase full of panties. “No, sir.”
Resnick held up a single finger. “One more chance, Berringer. After that, I have to refer you to HR.” He shrugged, tried to look sympathetic, but it came off as gassy. “After that, it’s out of my hands.”
“I understand, Mr. Resnick.”
Resnick rose, came around to Francis’s side of the desk. “I’m glad you do.” With one hand, Resnick opened his office door. With the other, he gave Francis’s shoulder a fatherly squeeze. “You know I don’t want to be the bad guy here. I’m your pal.”
Francis felt his face go hot.
“Just straighten up and fly right, and we won’t have any problems.”
Straighten up and fly right was back in the rotation. Great.
“Yes, sir. Thank you.”
And a second later, Francis was standing next to Naomi’s desk with a sick feeling in his gut. He glanced over at her, hoping for a sympathetic look. That was her specialty, a sympathetic look or a squeeze on the arm. Never mind Mr. Resnick. You know how he can be. It’s nothing personal.
But she hadn’t noticed Francis. She frantically shuffled through the papers on her desk.
“Oh, shit.” Her voice a hoarse whisper. “Shit, shit, shit.”
Copyright © 2018 Victor Gischler.