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The Worst Flophouse in Heaven

By Paul Luikart

The hotel’s elevator was broken.  Gene had to climb the stairs to the third floor and then walk back down.  When he got back to the front desk, he opened the key box, threw a set of keys in and then plunked into the chair behind the desk.  His chest and gut were heaving.  He shoved his hand into the pocket of his jeans, pulled out his albuterol inhaler and sucked on it once, twice, a third time.  Then he leaned back.  After he caught his breath, he ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. 

Ray came in the front door of the hotel and stomped the snow off his boots.  He was breathing hard too, but he wasn’t fat like Gene.  He was skinny and hunched and wiry hair stuck out from under his stocking cap.  The thick lenses of his glasses were fogged.  He was smoking a cigarette and the smoke made a pale wreath around his head. 

“Go on upstairs,” Gene said.

His Deal

By Thomas Mundt

Albie and I were on the balcony.  We were watching the Polish people below us dance, some to polkas with lots of concertina and clapping but most to American songs about ass.  We kept dropping our clear plastic cheese plates over the railing and onto the guests below because we were shitfaced. 

Albie had questions.  They all pertained to Mieczyslaw, the father of the bride.  What his deal was.  Heard he bootlegged Nikes back in Gdansk, got roughed up by some dock goons and that’s how he lost it.  Heard he wouldn’t trade a Gypsy his touch lamp for a dance so she smashed it, cut his face real good with the shards and some got in his eye socket.  That sort of thing.

He wanted an explanation I didn’t have, an answer I’d never have, on account of my not giving a fuck.  I loved Mitch, as he preferred to be called.  I came of age in his rumpus room, celebrated several Firsts there during junior high and high school (First French, First Old Style Consumed, First Under-the-Bra Breast Stroke, etc.).  I’d eat paczki in the linoleum kitchen with him while I waited for his daughter Elka to finish applying concealer upstairs, would listen to him exhaust the then-current list of NBA Euros, always culminating in Toni Kukoc, the bests of the lots.  What he did in the Old Country to make ends meet and, possibly, sustain an irreparable eye injury in the process was of no import to me as a resident of Mundelein, Illinois.   

I’d had enough of his CSI: Miami routine, so I grabbed Albie by the lapels of his cheap-ass sport coat, pulled him an inch from my face.  I could smell the Skittles on his breath, cover-up for all the Absolut.


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