Sharp Focus

You don't have to go all the way down to the crossroads to make a deal with the devil.

Stay here in the Gutter and he'll come to you.

Sharp Focus by Terri Lynn Coop

I spent the first minutes of the last day of my life blowing chunks in my mother’s rust-stained kitchen sink. The irony wasn’t lost on me as I cranked the faucet so the weak trickle could disperse the remnants of Mr. Cuervo’s gold. It was tequila that’d landed me in this mess. Twenty years ago today, at the joint where I played guitar for tips, a roll of the dice gave me the stars and cost me the sky.

The old guy was buying rounds off the top shelf when he asked if I was up for a wager. Since I’d recently pawned the pot I piss in, all I could do was laugh.

His voice, silky as sludge, said, “Seriously, what’s your heart’s desire? A record deal?”

“What are you, some kind of agent?” I have to confess, the words “record deal” got my attention.

“Not exactly, but I know people.”

“I’ll bite. What do you get if I lose?”

He tossed the dice and counted the exposed pips.


“Twenty what? Twenty bucks? Sorry, you’ve confused me with somebody else.”

“You’ll figure it out. When you barter as much as I do you become a good judge of character. Do we have a deal?”

That’s where the bottle got empty and the shit got fuzzy. I do remember the dice ending up on the floor, so I’m guessing I lost.

Or not. A month later I was sitting at an acre of desk signing a contract. Then a gold record and a concert tour. Within a year, I’d leveled up from truck stop blowjobs to fucking this year’s face of Sundew Cosmetics. 

The anniversary cards started at the two-year mark. Never a signature. The bar fog of beer, smoke, and despair radiating from the paper was a constant reminder of what “twenty” meant. I was riding a rocket, but what was going up was destined to come down. I decided I would auger it into the ground.

A three mil check got rid of Miss Sundew, her divorce lawyer, and her coke dealer. Knowing the game was rigged, I went all-in on every hand. The records, awards, women, and paydays all turned to twenty-four karat. Then the calendar page with today circled arrived inside a twentieth anniversary card.

Tonight I was going to toss back shots at the old bar and wait for whatever was going to happen. Right now, I needed food. Decades of practice blunted the hangover, but my fame-spawned ulcer had my belly blazing.

The menu hit the table and a voice from my past said, “Hey Sweetie, you slumming?”

In high school I’d dreamed of climbing into her cleavage and drowning. Even with the mileage she looked pretty damn tasty. It’d been a while since I’d seen button-straining tits that were original equipment.

“Local boy makes good and comes home on a vision quest. The usual shit.”

“Lemme know how that goes. Coffee?”

My abused gut clenched at the thought. “I’ll start with milk and toast.”

Her eyes flashed from amused to knowing. A factory town café serves a lot of milk.  

I was on my second glass when the woman opened the door and set the frog bell to tinkling. It was shift change. Drones trying to forget they packed plastic garden tools for eight bucks an hour filled the café. The chair opposite of mine was the only unoccupied real estate in the room.

Summoning up the smile I use to separate groupies from their panties, I caught her attention and waved.  

The tail of her braid brushed the top of her tall boots as she glided toward me, the light playing on hair the color of polished oak. The smell of her leather messenger bag alongside citrus and herbs cut through the greasy ambiance of the diner.

My waitress scurried over, curiosity bright in her face.

“I’ll have tea and toast, please.” Her voice vibrated with everything I treasured, but rarely heard. It was the difference between Top-40 pop and the blues.

“Put it on my tab.”

“Thank you, but I should be treating after you so kindly offered me a seat.”

“I won’t hear of it. What brings you to town? I have an excuse. I was born here.”

“I’m a photographer. It’s a contract job for a client.”

“Tell me more.” I wasn’t interested in shutter-bugging, but it let me listen to the song buried in her words.

By the time we were getting waitress side-eye for hogging a table, the café had emptied of breakfast loafers. I hadn’t learned anything about cameras, but I knew she had green eyes and that full-sleeve tattoos danced under the sheer fabric of her blouse. My heart was simultaneously full and broken. If someone had appeared with dice and a wager, I would’ve bet it all for one more day with her.

After tipping like a six-top who’d ordered the dinner special, I offered a tour of downtown. What I really wanted were those skeins of hair spread across my bed, but this felt like enough.

We stopped at the bridge spanning the sewer that masquerades as a river.

“May I take your photograph?”

Even though it’s a familiar request, excitement trilled through me. Usually, if the girl was hot, I’d throw an arm around her and cop some side boob while she fumbled her phone into selfie mode. This was different.

“I don’t know. Are you going to steal my soul?” I didn’t add, “like you’ve stolen my heart.”

“What makes you think that?”

“Just teasing. I was going to say you’ll have to find it first.”

“Just hold still.”

The hard veil of ice that fell over her eyes contrasted with her wistful smile. As she lifted the camera, it all came into sharp focus.   

She was here on a contract job. 

Terri Lynn Coop lives on the prairie with four small dogs and a roof that leaks when the wind blows hard enough (which is all the time.) Her flash fiction has appeared in Flashshots, Dream People, The Flash-Forty anthology, Battlespace, No Rest for the Wicked, and assorted and sundry other ezines living and dead. She has been known to blog at Readin', Ritin', & Rhetoric.  Her first legal thriller, “Devil’s Deal” is available at Amazon.