Harlan: Flash Fiction Challenge Round #2


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Those of you keeping track know that I am once again participating in the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. We are now on the second round of the competition and this one was a bit of a doozy. I had to write a mystery story. I’m not normally much good at those. I get hung up on the clues and not on the whodunit. But I think I managed to produce a fairly good offering this time.

Let me know what you think in the comments.


Genre: Mystery
A Crowbar


As Harlan’s plan falls apart and the threat of prison looms large, he finds himself left with a single option; find the killer before the cops find Harlan.

Harlan stared down at the bare dirt of the racetrack, watching the sparse moonlight glint off the sharp curve on the head of the bloody crowbar. His mouth moved soundlessly, reflexively trying to moisten his suddenly dry mouth. Oh fuck, he thought. This is very bad.

His mind raced. This was supposed to have been such an easy score. Slip in, sprinkle a few handfuls of ground glass into the dirt in the starting blocks and tomorrow, boom, easy picks at the dog track for the first couple rounds. Make enough money to blow town and rest his old bones some place tropical.

At least, that had been the plan until he’d found the body.

The racetrack late night security guard, a guy who had to have been nearly as old as Harlan, dead on the ground from a busted skull. His flashlight, keys, and gun were all gone.

Fuck! Harlan swore again.

This was bad. Very bad. He’d already paid out two of the bribes. Already sewed the ground of the starting blocks with ground glass. Hell, half his bets were in. A fixed race wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows. Not the way he’d set it up. A few super rich types pout for a while and everyone goes back to life. But a murder was very different. Murder was serious.

Why the hell would anyone kill the guard? There was no point. It’s not like there was any money on hand after hours. That’s why it was just a one guard operation. There was nothing here. Nothing of value. Just the kennels. It didn’t make sense.

Harlan shook his head, trying to think. It didn’t have to make sense. He didn’t have to understand. He just had to cover his tracks and get the hell out of here. If he were lucky, he could be safely outside the city by the time any of the traces lead the cops to his door. He was too old to think there wouldn’t be traces. There were always traces. He was wearing gloves, thank God, but there were plenty of shoe prints and probably even some of that fiber evidence they were always talking about on cop shows.

A thought stabbed him in the gut and his heart skipped a beat. He’d told his bookie, Big Jim, that he was going to fix the races! Big Jim had even arranged to wipe his past debt in exchange for the winning picks. He was truly screwed. Too many people knew. It would be too easy to finger Harlan for the murder. Murder while committing a theft was life without parole. Harlan was going to go down for someone else’s crime just because he’d wanted to visit the fucking Bahamas!

He stumbled away from the crowbar. Almost backing into the body on the ground. He stared down at the lifeless body and forced himself to breathe. Get a grip, Harlan! Think, dammit! What do you have to do?

Harlan’s one strength was his ability to keep thinking even when panicked. A murder means cops. Cops mean an investigation. Cops are overworked. Maybe they won’t look too hard if they have the answer already. Maybe an open-and-shut case keeps old Harlan out of jail. He smiled for moment before his stomach sank to his toes. Fuck! That means I have to figure out who did this.

Harlan ground his teeth, letting his mind work. It wasn’t a professional job. Professionals don’t kill security guards. That meant it was an amateur. And an amateur would probably try to rig the races from the kennels, not knowing that the dog owners would have those swept by their own people before the race.

Harlan turned and slunk toward the big building that held the kennels, dropping into a crouch as he neared the closest end of the building. The small door stood half open, gaping in the moonlight. He crept forward, peering around the corner of the open doorway.


Harlan blinked and looked again. Nothing even looked out of place. It was like no one had even come here. Shit! Harlan swore. If there was no one here, then there was no one to pin it on. If he couldn’t find the real killer, the cops would actually get off their duffs and look. People would talk, the cops would find a patch of fuzz from his sweater, and he’d go away for life just because some junky low-life had wanted to get their rocks off by killing a guy.

…some junky…

Harlan blinked and focused on the far side of the building. There in the corner a large rectangular shadow gaped back at him. The vet’s office. Like all dog tracks, this one had a fully stocked veterinary office. It was locked and guarded at all times. Except when the guard was dead and his keys were missing.

Harlan crept through the building, alert for any sound. He neared the gaping black door and heard what he had expected to hear. The crunch of broken glass and the sound of someone giggling.

He fought back a wave of disgust and slipped in through the door. At the far end of the room, a sliver of light played out from the guard’s flashlight and reflected back from the shattered glass of the medicine locker. A man sat on the ground, giggling to himself as he pressed the plunger on the needle in his arm.

Harlan shook his head and waited for the drugs to take hold. He didn’t have to wait long. The man sagged back against the wall behind him and closed his eyes, sighing in delight. Harlan watched for another few minutes and moved away, careful to make no sound. He slipped back to the body of the guard and fished the man’s cell phone out of his pocket. He dialed 9-1-1 and slipped the phone into the man’s limp hand.