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Miller and Bell
About the Author: Victor Kreuiter has published fiction in Sou'wester, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Literally Stories, Halfway Down the Stairs, and has an upcoming piece in Del Sol Review.

Dutch Miller listened for as long as he could stomach it. There were three of them sitting in Deena Hoke’s cramped living room, listening to her drone on and on. Miller had been lured with the story of fast work and a big take. Deena’d been hyping the thing for over an hour and the longer she went on the less likely it sounded. Miller didn’t know the other two guys, was unfamiliar with the city where it would happen and was unsure about the target. As she prattled on about how easy and rewarding it would be he made up his mind: it was a wild goose chase.

He stood up and stretched, his move to show he was going to leave. She looked at him, scowled, and pointed a finger.

“Sit down, Dutch. Now.”

He didn’t sit down. He frowned, stared at her, walked to Deena, hung his head—wanting to appear contrite—and said “Sorry Deena. I’m out.” He didn’t want to make a scene, didn’t want any drama, but was no longer interested. Decision final.

He hadn’t seen Deena Hoke in years and hadn’t ever really known her well. He looked into her eyes, shrugged out an apology, and was turning toward the door when she grabbed his arm. “You’re not leaving,” she said. She leaned closer until they were face to face. “Nobody’s quitting. Not now, not after you’ve heard the plan.” Was it a threat? It took him a second to realize she’d threatened him. He wondered how Deena Hoke had convinced herself she had the stones to do that.

And she’d touched him. Dutch Miller did not like being touched.

He punched her. One time, a knockout punch.

He stepped back, glanced at the other two in the room then looked down at her, crumpled on the floor. “I’m out,” he said. “When she wakes up tell her I’m not interested. Tell her I’m not a snitch, I won’t pay any attention if she goes through with this thing, but tell her if she comes after me it won’t end well.” He stood silent for a moment, expecting a comment or a question, anything. Nothing was said and he left.

Miller had retired at fifty-eight. Why hadn’t he stayed retired? That’s what he thought about as he drove home, a twelve-hour drive.

The invitation arrived like this: a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy knocked on his door one afternoon and said Deena Hoke wanted him for a job she had lined up. Miller should have played stupid or claimed he was somebody else or just slammed the door. But he hadn’t. He’d been living in a small town on the Missouri-Iowa border for just over two years, in a small, forgotten farmhouse on a forgotten corner of an immense corporate farm where he paid rent once a year—cash—to a guy who collected rent once a year. That guy never offered a receipt and Miller never asked for one.

He didn’t ask the guy who knew a guy who knew a guy how he’d found him. He should have.

Dutch Miller associated with no one, nobody bothered him, he kept his nose clean and paid cash for what few bills he had. He watched a lot of TV, did a little fishing, a little reading, took walks and worked on keeping the past in the past.

After the knock on his door—a rare thing—he’d listened to the guy who knew a guy who knew a guy, all the time knowing he knew better than to listen. Who was this guy? He never found out. He knew the name Deena Hoke, but that name came with baggage, most of it negative. He’d been bored living on the Missouri-Iowa border, and a little lonely, so he made a mistake. He thought about those things on the drive back home.

Dutch knew Deena’s husband was dead. He’d heard the rumors that Deena had killed him and a friend of his. Those rumors were a couple years old.

When Deena’s eyes fluttered open the room was empty. Her eye was swollen and her head throbbed. She knew the job was queered ... word would get out and there was no way she could get anyone interested again. To soothe her rage she went on a bender. Meth and coke were available, so she got some. Weed? Why not? Alcohol? Lots. Going on a week later she was sitting in a dive bar, late afternoon, drinking, talking too loud, and she mentioned Dutch Miller’s name to the bartender, like he wanted to listen to her anymore than he already had. There was a guy in the back, sitting alone, reading a newspaper, half listening. Hearing Miller’s name he folded his paper, chewed on his lip, got up and walked to the bar and offered to buy Deena Hoke a drink. It wasn’t a tough sell.

This story appears in our AUG 2022 Issue
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