Patrick Nelson and D Bellinghi winners of the Tina Bopper Flash Fiction Competition

 A Love Story 
by D Bellenghi


"Hey, Mister you can't be in here," the young man shouted as he hurried inside into the fading light. "This building is closed. Torn down on Monday. I'm just waiting on a guy who's picking up the last of this stuff." Joe stood in the gloom looking at the bits and pieces of a life that no longer existed.

    "Relax, kid. I just came in to look at the old place one more time. The only thing I'm taking outa here is memories." the old man said as he looked around. On the floor was a torn down yellowed poster of a woman from the time the building had been a strip club. The old man walked over and picked up what was left of the poster.   

    "Boy, she sure was somethin," he said more to himself than the young man. "There was a real woman."

    "Oh,yeah," the younger man said taking the poster to study. "and what made this Tina Bopper so special" he asked reading off the poster in disbelief.

    "Well, for one thing, she was a beauty queen. You know, one of them girls always winning those contest." he stopped to take a sip from the pint bottle in his hip pocket. "She was a beautiful girl. Could have been an actress. That's what she wanted. When she looked at you, it was like a spotlight had been turned on you. When she talked to you, she made you feel like the only other person in the whole world."

    "Sounds like you thought she was something special."

    "She was all of that, I can tell you. When this place first opened, it was a hot new club. A place where things happened. A place to see and be seen. It was one the first club where people lined up clear around the block to get in. I was one of the bartenders in those days and I got to see it all. Tina was in here every night. She loved the attention the men gave her. She was always the life of the party. She burned the candle at both ends. She had fun no matter the cost."

    "So, you knew her real well?" the young man asked hoping to get to some "good stuff" in the story.

    "We were just pals. You know, I wasn't bad to look at in those days, myself. The ladies liked me. Not like now." he gestured moving his hand across his body as if to point out the state he was now in. " That's the way she wanted it." he said with a sigh to himself. "She would say, “Joe I don't need another guy who loves me, I need a friend. That's what she always said."   

    "What happened to her?"

    "She wanted to be an actress. She went out there to Hollywood. She gave it a good shot. She stayed out there a couple of years. Nothin ever came of it. Then one day I looked up and there she was.  Same as always, bigger than life and just as beautiful. I told her them big movie moguls was crazy! Tina just smiled and said she was over all that stuff about being a star. All she wanted was a job. Course, by then the club had changed hands and it was a strip joint. Not run down or nothin just .... Well, it took about two weeks before she came back in." The older man paused, pulled out the bottle and took another sip before continuing. "Tina said she couldn’t handle a regular job and asked if I could get her a job dancing. She needed a theatrical job. Something that fit her talents.  So I got the boss to try her out. She had danced in all them beauty contests so it was easy for her. She just lit up when she hit the stage, even if it was a strip stage. That's when she changed her name to Bopper. There wasn't a guy in the place that didn't have eyes for her. She was the life of the party again. She packed this place every night."

    "Tina was doing real good, you know. She was making lots of money and the guys were fallin all over themselves to be with her. She was still so beautiful....." his voice trailed off and Joe was watching the past that only he could see.

    The younger man, eager to hear the rest of the story asked, "What happened man. Don't keep me hangin."

    "Everythin was going great.  One night, this guy comes in. Big shot. He's throwing money around. He's blown away by Tina. He starts coming in every night doin everything he can to win her over. Expensive gifts and a lot of promises. Tina didn't care at first. She had heard it all before. Gradually, he wore her down, and she started to believe him. He wants her to go away with him. I guess, you know, she figured why not. What was she leaving behind. She had a shot at a real life."

    "So, man is that the last time you saw her?"   

    "Yep, that was the last time...." Joe’s voice trailed off again as he fell back into memories. Off in the darkness a tired door hinge squeaked and a door banged close.

    "That's probably my guy." the kid said as he hurried away. Joe stood gazing around him at the shabby ruins of where he had spent so much of his life. And for what? Was he like this building.....

    Out of the darkness came the sound of footsteps  coming closer and then a voice like honey, "Hey, Joe, how about buying me a cup of coffee." Joe squinted to see but couldn't. No matter, he would know that voice anywhere. It took his breath away. "Sure, anything for a friend."   

The Beauty Within by Patrick Nelson

“I got the shaft and boy does it suck.” She looked at me with very manic eyes; they wouldn’t stay still and her pupils were tiny black pinpoints. I don’t know who she was, but she kept ranting about ‘the whole thing being rigged and they got what’s coming to them.”
It sounded like the script from some old radio soap opera: “I didn’t do it, but I wish I had.”
I was riding in the back of the ambulance with her in case she had anything to add to the story. The other detectives and I had cobbled together what we could and it wasn’t much: we had three victims and a whole lot of sick people. Someone had released a noxious gas on stage at the beauty contest and the two finalists and the judge were at ground zero when the crude dispersion device went off. The “bomb” was a bouquet of roses that contained two vials of liquid that, when introduced to each other, create a deadly gas that only lasts five minutes but can kill you in two if you get a big whiff of it. This woman was extremely agitated and she had to be strapped down but she couldn’t be sedated as the EMTs had a pretty good idea but did not know for sure what the chemicals were that were used in the incident. She had been a contestant in the contest, but had been voted out in the preceding round so she and a bunch of the other ‘losers’ for want of a better word, were commiserating in the wings.
“Those cheats got what they deserved. I hate ‘em all! They ruined my life. I can’t go back on the circuit after a defeat like this!”
She was delusional and probably dangerous, but whoever did this had done it premeditatedly and wouldn’t have been dumb enough to be nearby when this happened, plus it was tossed from within the audience. Other detectives were doing what I thought was the more productive chore of interviewing the members of the audience. My gut told me Lucy in the skies here was just an angry innocent bystander no matter how hopping mad she was on the way to the hospital. To be honest, I kind of agreed with her--about the results, not the killing of the people. The other two dead finalists were nowhere near as good looking as the wild eyed and sputtering lunatic in the gurney before me. As a matter of fact, if we had met under different under different circumstances...
“Hey you male chauvinist pig, just because I'm drugged and strapped down, doesn’t give you the right to drool all over me. Is that what you’re into? What? You want to ask me out you freak? I don’t care if you think I should have won, you weren’t one of the judges. Just because I wouldn’t sleep with him, the lousy son of a bitch cashes me out in the last round. Yeah, we should have done it too but we didn’t. We were all talking about how we all refused that creep Mr. Toque’s promises of winning if we did the big nasty with him. You’re right about the audience being important. It wasn’t any one of us so you should ask them all.”
Okay, she was starting to freak me out.
“You? How do you think I feel?” she exclaimed with flailing arms.
I thought: ‘can you read my thoughts?”
She looked up at me with no sign of lunacy and said: “yeah, asshole. Like a book. Just the stuff on the surface, though. The rest is like a ghost image on the TV. I can’t focus on that.”
I said in my head: “is it just me can you read other’s thoughts?”
“I’m in everybody’s head sunshine! Not just me, All the girls can read minds. You want some more proof, sherlock? The driver of this ambulance is worried that you are going to search him and find that bag of dope under his seat. The other EMT is waiting for you to leave us so he can try to cop a feel. By the way, no such luck, sweetheart! I will break your arm off and shove it up your ass!”
Wow was all I could muster.
“Yeah, you dumbass! ‘wow’ Is right!”
I did have a great idea, though. Maybe she could help me out with this investigation.
“Well, then have them turn this band-aid box around and let’s go!” she said in a borderline hysterical tone.
Oy vey.
“Yeah. Oy vey is right, putz.” 

Thank you all for writing such great stories!  Some gave me the willies, some may me sad and others turned the rock over so I could see the crawly things scamper away from the light.  I’m awarding the drawings to Patrick Nelson and D Bellinghi’s story but I have another study of Tina that I’m going to have to send to Dee Turbon as well.  Here’s why:

I got one of those chills when I got to the end of "A Love Story" by D Bellenghi.  I knew Bellenghi was setting me up for something but I still had that little chill run up my back; tighten my scalp and a lump formed in my throat.  Bellenghi's story had a great sense of setting.  I could see dust motes travelling through a shaft of dirty sunlight and smell the musty odor of old building.  A sort of counterpoint and almost a continuation of "A Love Story" was "WHAT EDDY SAID" by Dee Turbon.

Dee's story seemed almost like an earlier chapter from Tina's point of view.  The two were companion pieces.  Like Bellenghi's story there was a strong visual and tactile element in the story.  I liked the touches of description like complexions and ceiling fans.  There was a kind of pathos and bittersweet optimism to the ending that really appealed to me.

 I never know whether something is a metaphor or an allegory but I feel like "Under fingernails" was a bit of both.  Sheesh! I wanna take a shower.  Some of the imagery was hard to take but I think I understood Greenspoon's take on Tina's turmoil.  I think a lot of people can really empathize with his take on Tina's life and her new beginning.

Nothing could be truer then the flash bulb piece by Wesley in which the realities of Tina's world were laid bare.  It had a lot of punch for such a short piece.  Wesley's piece almost read like the thoughts of one of the characters in Patrick Nelson's "The Beauty Within."

Nelson's story is by far one of the most original and compelling stories I've read in a long time and I would really like to see where it goes after this.  It read like the beginning of a funny noir pulp style novel that I can't wait to tear through all in one night.

Read all the stories here:

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The show is called
Renovated Reputations: Paintings and Fiction inspired by Vintage Portrait Photographs.
at ArtHaus 411 Brannan Street  San Francisco, CA  94107

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