Fatal Fiction: Taking a Deep Plunge Into the World of the Noir Genre

Noir Short Story Example & Prompt

Prompt : Using your acquired knowledge of noir fiction through our recent readings and lessons, your assignment is to write your own short story. An 'A Essay' requires accurate noir sentence structure, correct usage of vocabulary, descriptive imagery and characters, and most importantly: your own creativity! Since it is a story and not a formal essay, I want to reiterate that normal paragraph structure is not encouraged, however, there will be a requirement of 2000 words (double spaced, 12pt font., etc.) First draft will be due the Friday after next, and the final draft will be due the Friday after that. A copy of the rubric I handed out in class is posted at the bottom of the "Works Cited" page.

My example: It was cold. It was dark. Just another evening in New York. But this night marked a big change. I was taking the big jump to the big leagues. It was my first case as a detective. No more was I private flatfoot, the rookie cop walking the beat where spooks and dope fiends had a particular distaste for the boys in blue. ‘Specially now, in 1946. You can get away with punching a cop no problem.

But now, I was a real police officer. I could finally make a damn difference. As I drove out to 35th, I kept envisioning myself interrogating all sorts of cats. Some of ‘em I’d have to dig real deep to get ‘em to say two words. Others would confess at the drop of a hat, right when I walked in the room. Poor saps.
“Detective Charles Richardson?”
“That’s me, badge number 9301.”
“Great.” He almost rolled his eyes. “Antonacci is waiting for you.”
The patrolman didn’t give a damn who I was. He might as well’ve told me to “get lost.” I should’ve expected that.  Or maybe he just hated Antonacci. I’d heard of Johnny Antonacci. Brash. A real Bruno. A little bit Hercules, a little bit Captain America. He loved being the best cop in New York, but he bent a lot of rules to achieve it. Some held him up as a hero. Others looked down on him as a dirtbag. I didn’t know where I landed yet. But I’d eventually have to land. ‘Cause he was now my partner.

“Johnny Antonacci?”
He didn’t look up from his notepad, or remove the cigarette from his teeth. “Call me Jack.” His voice was monotone, but not threatening. He sounded dulled and uninterested. Yet the case in front of our eyes was anything but that. A dead man, eyes still open, was 15 yards away. Two dark red holes painted his white dress shirt, and two more adorned his head. It was so grisly, I couldn’t look away. And besides, this is what I signed up for wasn’t it?
“What do we got, Jack?”
“Name is Mark Phelps. Former NYPD Officer.”
“Former?” I tried showing the initiative and intelligence that got me the detective desk. “Is that why he was gunned down? Did he get canned…and then some sore goon with a record saw an opportunity?”
“No. Former as in, he was once a cop, and now he’s got 4 slugs in his body.” He clicked his pen and walked off. Nice meeting you too, partner. I pursed my lips and stared at Phelps’ open eyes. No one said your rookie season was easy.
I was on my second cup of mud the next morning. I told the waitress I took it black, but she gave me two sugars by accident. I don’t do sweets and I don’t do cigarettes. I must be the only cop in New York who didn’t have coffin nails as part of his daily diet. I also didn't gamble, didn't drink, and didn't go out late looking for broads. All I really wanted to do with my life was to be a cop. Pretty boring, huh? Jack finished with his food, and we hit the road. He was a little more talkative now. Probably just accepting the fact that we were partners and that talking to me was better than not. I didn’t care. I was there to solve crimes, not to meet the best man for my wedding.
“I have a lead on Phelps’ murderer.”
“Seriously? Already Jack?”
“Oh yeah. Got this cat over on 34th? Called in a tip last night. Name’s Eli Woodworth. We’re following up today to see how real it is.”
“Why doesn’t he just come down to the station? Does he know we’re coming by?”
Jack smiled. “That’s the beauty of it, kid. The more off guard he is, the more likely he is to tell us the truth.”
I chose to believe him. There had been two other cop killings in the past 4 months, and Jack had solved both of them. Papers called him a hero, a white knight on crusade through the dirty streets of New York.
“Do you think he did it Jack?”
“9 times out of 10, the witness calling the cops pulled the trigger. He wants to appear innocent, to appear concerned. It’s a mirage, kid. Don’t let this fella’s testimony fool you. I got a gut feeling already about this one.”
I did too. The feeling that something wasn’t right.
We arrived at the scene and after some colorful words were exchanged, accusations and denials were thrown around. Then we had our guy. Two hours later, through Jack’s interrogation and finger breaking skills, we had a confession too. We had the button man behind bars and commendations from the chief. After shaking everyone’s hand and making the front page, the jitters I’d once got were a fast-fading memory. I was the squeaky clean sidekick to the best cop in all of New York, the shining face of all that was good and right in the city. Any diner, any bar, it was on the house. Old and young alike saluted me as I passed. I started believing I was the hero they made me out to be.

But just my luck, it was only a few nights later that temptation stopped by the clubhouse. A real ripe tomato, with red hair and a body designed by the devil himself. She stood in the doorway, an odd mixture of timid and determined. I was excited that I was alone, but knew I’d have to stay professional. Boy, she was a looker.
“Excuse me ma’am, can I help you?”
“My brother Eli Woodworth was fingered for a murder he didn’t commit. I know he didn’t do it.”
“Well ma’am -
- call me Rita.”
“Miss Rita…if I may, your brother Eli confessed to the murder of Mark Phelps.”
“Did he confess, detective? Or did you beat him till he was more scared of you than he was of prison?”
I should have taken that as an insult. But I didn’t realize how close she’d moved to me. My heart was beating faster than I liked it to and I knew that getting mixed up with a doll this good looking and this ambitious would only bring me trouble. A woman who’s had a few drinks, gets good and tight, and starts shouting is one thing. But a woman who’s staring you down with no trace of a smile anywhere near her face? There’s a kitten who could end my career and make a fool out of me if I once gave into what she could offer me. I knew she could ruin me.
But hey, I’m a man.
About two weeks later, I was woken up by the phone. They needed me and Jack behind some hash house. Another one of our own had been whacked. Rita woke up next to me, the place she’d been sleeping for the past several nights. When she brought up her brother, I always changed the subject as quickly as possible. But as I drove to the scene, I couldn’t stop thinking about what she said the night we met. Maybe we got Eli to spill a can of lies to save his own head.  
Another dead cop. Why would anyone be dumb enough kill a cop with Jack Antonacci on the prowl?  Murmurs around the station were that it would be too easy for him to find cop killers. The more and more I heard that, the more I started thinking crazy. How was Jack able to solve all the crimes so quickly and efficiently, with or without evidence? Was he in on it? Was Rita right, in that he was no better than a mafia enforcer? Working people over until they sang the tune he wanted to hear? I pulled up to the scene. My doubts would have to wait.
Eventually we had four young guns as suspects to the murder. Within an hour, and without much help from me, Jack had nailed a colored fella for the hit. My suspicions got the best of me. 
“Hey Jack.”
“What, kid?”
He always called me kid. Even though Jack couldn’t have been more than 3 years older than me.
“How do you know that Ellington bumped ‘em off? I mean, why not one of the others?”
“The case is open and shut, I don’t know why you’re dwelling in the past.”
“Jack, whaddaya mean in the past? We got three other suspects in our holding cells right now, an’ we’re just s’posed to let ‘em walk outta here?”
“I know they didn’t do it, kid.”
“Then just tell me, how do you know-
-are you questioning my police work?”
“N-No, all I’m sayin’ is-
Jack interrupted me again. Raising his voice and turning redder every second.
“It’s ‘cause I’m fuckin’ Italian ain’t it?”
Now here was a curveball I wasn’t expecting. “What are you talkin’ about?!”
“I’m the only fucking guinea in the whole NYPD and you think I’m sloppy. Or Antonacci is a wiseguy or Antonacci is on the take or somethin’ right, kid?” His Brooklyn accent was leaking through and he knew it too. He pushed me hard against the wall, my self-defense instincts nowhere to be found. He jabbed his finger in my face, nearly poking my eye out. “Don’t. Question me again, Richardson.” He spat on the floor between my shoes and wrinkled his face up tightly, creasing everywhere. Then, with a mocking Italian accent and exaggerated hand gestures, he whispered, “capisce?” I got the message.
Rita and I were laying there. A cigarette in her hand, and a load of troubles floating ‘round my head. “Did you ever think something so awful, but could never say it out loud, Rita?”
She took a drag of her gasper and blew the smoke slowly in the air. “Is it about my brother?”
“I’m ‘fraid so, sweetheart.”
“Tell me.” She didn’t move her head, nor her eyes. But I could feel her tense up on the other side of the bed.
“I think my partner has been a part of all the cop murders from the very start. He’s either setting up chumps, or at the least, attaining prior knowledge so he can solve the case easily later. And this is all for power, fame, or God knows what.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to do what I signed up to do. Put bad guys behind bars.”
I did my digging every night, staying in the clubhouse after everyone else had gone home. I pulled all the paperwork from the cop killer cases that Jack had solved. In every case involving multiple suspects, the guy he fingered was the one with a longer rapsheet, the one who the DA wouldn’t think twice about locking up. Additionally, there was not a single witness to any of the cases, except for Eli, who we convicted of murder in the first degree. I was feeling sick to my stomach. No way it could’ve been this textbook, this easy. Then I heard a door shut downstairs and my heart stopped beating. I gathered all the files and threw them back in the cabinet.
“Hey kid, that you?”
“Yeah, partner. Just looking over some…papers.”
“At 12:30?” He arrived in the doorway. His tie undone, but otherwise looking like he always did.
“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep.”
“Yeah?…” He paused for longer than usual. He absolutely had to know what I was doing.
“Hey Jack, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna head on home.”
“What’s the rush? Let’s go for a ride.”
I had to play along. “Sure. A quick drive oughta wake me up before I take myself back.”
We climbed into his car, and that’s the last thing I remember before I blacked out.
I woke up in the woods. At least I think it was the woods. My head hurt something fierce and my ears were ringing like I’d sat front row at the philharmonic three weeks in a row. The only light was the headlights from Jack’s car. As I sat up and felt the dried blood on the back of my head, I saw Jack walking towards me.
“Don’t try and stand up, kid.” His Brooklyn accent wasn’t filtered out at all.
“Jack, what the fuck is going on?”
“You might as well call me Johnny.” He stayed monotone, not looking up from the gun he was slowly loading. “Seein’ as you won’t be saying much ever again.”
“Then tell me.” My voice was quivering, but I was looking death in the face and dammit, I didn’t want to go out a coward. “Why did you do it? So you could be the most respected crime-fighter in the state, while working for your cousin Vinny or some other greaseball? Or just so could lock away poor saps you don’t like?”
He laughed. Months of working with this guy and he finally laughs. Right before he plugs me full of holes. This had to be the definition of irony, or something. “You really think I’m a two-bit greaseball? A fall guy for the mob? You’re stupider than I gave you credit for, kid.”
“Well then what the fuck has been going on?”
“Pipe down, I’m getting to that!”
I made a reach for his gun, trying to catch him off guard. I spooked him for sure, but all I got was two shells in my right leg. As I writhed in pain and called him every name in the book, he slowly started circling me, knowing that I couldn’t try anything else on one leg.
“The day you questioned me at the clubhouse. I knew right then and there that’d you be a problem. That you’d eventually put two and two together. Because you’re not like other cops. You’re not one of them poor saps who’s stuck in the world of black and white, of justice for all and all that agonizing fascist propaganda. You’re a thinker. The only thinker besides me in the whole NYPD. And then I noticed your little rendezvouses with Eli’s sister and I knew you’d get some more funny ideas ‘bout me." How he noticed our relationship was beyond me. I guess he'd been following me. Probably since the day we met.
"Broads ain’t good for nothin’ but fillin’ your head with funny ideas, see? I knew she’d convince you to find out the truth about her brother.” He put on a mocking voice and crouched down in my face, “And I know you’d pwomise her wittle heart that you’d find out who done it.”  He stood back up slowly, laughed a little to himself, cocked the pistol, and pointed it at me. “And you did find out who done it, kid. And look what it got you.”
I guess this is where the story ends. At least for me. I got shot four times and died quickly. I’m sure Jack mourned for his fallen partner in the press. I’m sure he locked up some dumb palooka and had swindled the public once again. That's who's really getting the short stick here. New York will never know there's a goddamn serial killer walking among them, masquerading as their guardian  angel. 

It was cold. It was dark. And I was a dead cop. Just another evening in New York.

When students have trouble writing their own story, I’d ask them to read this story and examine the characters, the plot and the dialogue. Specifically, I’d want them to point out Rita as a “femme fatale”, Jack’s character as a pivotal character, one who induces the twist, and Charles’ moral convictions, with his major flaw being his fall for Rita, which (somewhat) brings about his end. I’d want them to point out the darkness of the story, the settings (especially the last one, where the only light is the one from the car). Hopefully this careful compilation of stereotypes will spark their own imaginations and creativity. 

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