26 Ways to Die

26 Ways

Air Conditioner

Death by Defenestration

My old man had an expression. Used to say you could set your watch to it. Don’t nobody wear them watches no more, but you know.

Guy down the hall. Apartment 3. Frain’s his name. Welching on bets his game. Owes me two large from Saturday. Claims Florida and Florida State are two different schools. I wasn’t born last night, sucker. If he don’t pay … he’ll pay. Know what I’m saying?

Frain’s a creature of habits. Like welching on bets. Also, annoying habits like whistling. Worse, for him, he walks under my apartment window on his way home from Starbucks. Same time every morning.

I ran some calculations. Marked a spot on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk. Fitted a Hefty bag with the exact weight of my air conditioner. Conducted tests last night. Ain’t sayin’ I understand physics, but I can run a stopwatch.

Forecast today said early summer. Good time to install the window unit, right? Who coulda guessed a whistling Starbucks customer come ’round the corner just as I accidentally lose my grip on the old Frigidaire? Splat!

Goodbye, Mr. Frain. You welched your last bet.



Death Strikes Out

Frain hit .204 last season off the bench. Hands of stone, so I can’t use him on defense. Still, he signed another multi-million-dollar contract.

He’d caught me with Martinez. One fucking time, and he’s got pictures on his phone.

It’s the first day of spring training, and the last day of Frain’s blackmail. He leads off. I send Martinez to the hill. Order Frain to bunt.

Martinez knows what to do. Comes in high and tight with his 99-mph four-seamer. I flash a mirror in Frain’s eyes as Mr. Rawlings smashes into his temple.

Always told Frain to keep his eye on the ball.

“Yerrrrr out,” I whisper.



Orchestrating a Murder

Four cellos and two violas swayed in, and my anxiety soared knowing my moment was near. But his time on Earth, this Frain, this unpalatable percussionist – his time was dwindling. Like Tchaikovsky before me, I would send this soldier boy to his deserved death.

I stealthily moved from my station, the xylophone unnecessary for Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece 1812 Overture. Positioned myself behind the loudest instrument on stage – the cannon! Oh, how I adored our conductor for his authenticity.

The first of my sixteen potential shots rang out, and I rejoiced. Direct hit! “Man down,” I yelled, but the cannons swallowed my voice. We had lost one snare drummer, but gained so much more. The sweet entry of church bells ushered in a crescendo. Also, a medic.

Unlike Tchaikovsky, however, Frain experienced no revival.



Murder Through the Molar

The office is closed. I don’t work Sundays, but I have one patient. A Mr. Frain.

He’s behind in his payments for a root canal. Also, he caught me fondling a patient. Him, when the local wore off early. He threatened to expose me like an x-ray.

I met him this afternoon to pay his bribe. Except I hit him with a stun gun instead. This one won’t wear off too early. Now we have a different arrangement.

I pull him like a tooth from my trunk. Drag him through my office back door. Muzak greets us. Does it never shut off!

It’s 1 a.m. when I drop him in the dental chair. Perfect timing – I’d scheduled him for 11:45. I grip the drill like a Maestro wielding a baton. Wave it above my head and begin my personal symphony across Frain’s nerves. Root canal? I’m drilling the fucking Panama Canal. The pain awakens him just in time for the torture to kill him.

Guessin’ he learned his lesson: Quit messin’ with the Leader of the Plaque.

“Okay, Frain,” I scream. “Spit!”

Nothing. No follow-up appointment necessary.


Ethylene Glycol

A Drink for Justice

Way I figure it, Frain made his choice three years ago.

People collect things. Frain collected license plates. From the cars we stole.

One morning, this is three winters ago, it’s five degrees outside. We’re coming home from 7-11 on account of Frain’s needing to address his Mountain Dew fix. Not even planning a job, but this lady warms up her SUV and scurries back inside.

We look at each other. Frain with his toothy grin working that Big Gulp straw.

“Get to work, Wide Load.” Only he calls me that, don’t get any ideas. I lumbered ‘cross the street. Shimmied behind the wheel. Drove to Felipe’s Garage, place we part out cars.

That’s where he noticed the plates. SUV belonged to Detective Bridget O’Flynn. Next day, Frain dimed me out. I got thirty-four months.

Released fourteen days ago. Mixed the ethylene glycol into Frain’s Big Gulp fourteen hours ago. They say it’s a painful way to go. Judging by the theatrics he went through in the back seat, I’d say they’re right. Wish he’d hung on for a few more hours though. I needed a little more justice.


Frying Pan

Crime for Breakfast

Frain had been called Motormouth for so long, friends simply called him Motor by the time he married Janet.

He never shut up. Talked in his sleep. Talked in the shower. Talked when Janet was already talking.

At breakfast, his wife asked, “How do you want your eggs?”

A one-word answer would suffice. Scrambled. Poached, maybe. An omelet?

Instead, he covered the pros and cons of each method, starting with softboiled. Before he got to sunny side up, Janet whacked him across the forehead with her cast-iron frying pan.

Breakfast, and life, was over easy.

“Cracked this case quick,” the hardboiled detective said when he caught Janet enjoying her juice.



Frain Sings the Blues

“It’s my instrument of death,” Crash screamed from stage. “And it’ll cause your wrath,” he finished, unable to find a suitable rhyme for his dark song.

Backstage, disturbed by the crowd leaving instead of begging for an encore, Crash went on a rage when I asked about his songwriting skills.

“Meth would work,” I suggested.

“Yaaassss,” Crash bellowed. “Gimme some now.”

“No, no, I don’t have any meth. I meant it’s a good rhyme for death.”

His angry eyes grew three sizes. He hoisted his Fender. Twirled it above his head like a cowboy with a lasso. Flung it at me like I was a calf.

His G-string snapped. And then my neck.


Hot Air Balloon

Murder with a Bad Altitude

My wife walked four paces behind me, a pink Colt revolver in her hand.

I mocked her. “Shoot me with your pinkie, and I might need a couple stitches to close the flesh wound.”

“It’s a thirty-eight. One shot into your cerebellum, they won’t bother with stitches.” Suddenly she’s a neurologist.

I couldn’t point out my cerebellum. Just knew it was in my brain. Probably right in front of the barrel of her Colt. My path led me to a hot air balloon.

“Climb aboard,” she said.

I objected. “But I don’t know how to pilot one of – ” her smile, the one that used to melt me, froze me – “oh, I see.”

She pulled the anchors, cut the mooring lines, and I was airborne. The wind swept me away so quickly, I missed her parting wave.

I don’t know if she cleverly planned the power line or if that was a stroke of luck to end things early, but that’s where the fire started. And where my life ended.


Ice Sculpture

Deadly Vows

Thursday, Snub Nose missed his only shot at Frain at the rehearsal dinner. Missed a second chance pre-ceremony, Saturday in the park.

Wanted to fire his snub nose .38 in church when the minister asked if anyone objected to the marriage, but his fear of collateral damage –shooting the minister – stopped him from the delicious irony.

Frain’s future father-in-law told Snub Nose that the reception was his last chance. “I can still get it annulled for 24 hours. Do it tonight or I send Jimmie the Fist your way.”

Snub Nose declined to mention that Jimmie the Fist was his alias. Changed his name based on the weapon he used to do the job. The complicated life of a hitman.

Handguns weren’t allowed at the reception. So The Butcher planned to choke Frain with some meat, kill him with the Heimlich. Instead, when Frain helped cut the cake, the assassin helped propel the ice sculpture … right into Frain’s temple.

The Iceman smiled. “If I can’t do it in the church, I’ll do it in the temple.” Frain died on the spot.

Before the investigation began, the murder weapon melted.


Jump Rope

Class Reunion

Was a long time ago, I admit. Maybe some people don’t hold grudges way I do. But he’s the one who promised. Never mind that it was fifth grade.

Birdie, birdie, in the sky

Why’d ya do that in my eye?

Does he remember? ‘Course he does. Jumping rope when the bell rang. All the kids turned and ran. Somehow they forgot us. Just Frain and I on the playground. I let him kiss me. Because he’d made his promise.

Birdie, birdie, in the sky

Gee, I’m glad that cows don’t fly.

I’ve reminded him every year since graduation. Now he’s trying to forget me. I saw the notice in the paper. He’s to marry Lisa Shitface.

Birdie, birdie, in the sky

Guess whose turn it is to die?

I waited in the back seat of his Jeep while he was in Lisa’s apartment. Three a.m. when he emerged. Naughty, naughty Frain. Hope he didn’t give her my kiss. He put the keys in the ignition as I slid our jump rope around his neck. He stiffened – one last time, and for me, Lisa.

Birdie, birdie, in the car

Sorry, this might leave a scar.

I left our jump rope in his car. I won’t be needing it.



A Debt to Die For

I promised my mother. Promised myself. I wanted to stop. But the voice.

It purrs in my head.

Without planning, I find myself back here. Doesn’t he know I’ll come?

Three exit the train. My eyes lock on one. He walks beneath the lone streetlight, but it gives way.

My heart doesn’t race anymore. That thrill ended. But the voice growls like a lion inside my head, louder until I can no longer ignore it.

He turns the corner, slips by, a whisker away. It’s Frain. Guy who cheated off me in high school twenty-two years ago. Not the first time I’ve stalked him here. But it’s the last.

I never forgive. I hope he does.

I kiss my katana. Sorry, mother.

Prey for me.



A Drink with Death

Here’s how it happened, more or less.

Frain walks into a bar. Stays for too many drinks. Then stays for a couple more. Says, “Anyone wanna hear a blonde joke?”

Blonde woman next to him says, “Idiot. I’m a black belt. See the blond bouncer? He’s two-hundred-fifty pounds of muscle. And the blonde bartender? She used to be an MMA champ. You still wanna tell your stupid blonde joke?”

“Hell no,” Frain says. “Not if I’m gonna have to explain it three times.”

He turns to the bartender and begs. “One more drop of whiskey.”

That’s when Black Belt Blondie shoves Frain’s nose into his brain. He collapses off his stool, his head colliding with the tile floor. Way the bartender explains it, ’twas the drop that killed him.



Dropping the Mike

“Sonny and Cher,” she said. “They didn’t survive it.”

“Johnny Cash and June Carter,” he countered.

“Nicki Minaj and Meek Hill. Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton. I can go all night. I’ll win every time.”

“No matter,” Frain said. “I’m joining the act. In the end, I’ll probably carry you.”

“You can’t even carry a note. In the end, you’ll probably kill us.”

“Harsh. Get used to it. I signed the papers yesterday.” Then he dropped the mic. “We open in Vegas tomorrow, baby! Now excuse me, this superstar is gonna take a whirlpool in our suite.”

She waited five minutes. Plugged in the amp. Then his wife dropped the mic. Into the whirlpool. The splashing saved her the effort of having to stage the scene.

Feels good to be solo again, she thought, before calling the front desk to report an accident.


Nail Gun

Till Death Do Us Part

Patience. My greatest asset. He’d know if he’d paid attention.

I grab the nail gun. Same one I bought him for our anniversary three years B.D. – Before Denise, the wench who installed our curtains. And then installed herself into our bedroom.

I test the nail gun in our kitchen. Sorry, his kitchen. Says some court document. The force kicks me back against our fridge. Oh, right, his fridge.

Oh, he changed the locks. But he forgot about the broken basement window. So like him.

Thursday afternoon. He’ll be at the work another hour. I hide under our bed. There I go again. His bed. I’ll wait here quietly. Because remember – patience.

I waited one-hundred-twenty-one days for the temporary restraining order to expire. Tonight, I re-gift him the nail gun. This time? He gets it between the eyes.



The Crying Game

She fondled the vial of succinylcholine. Could she bring herself to add it to his tea?

She regretted writing the note. Eyes would focus on her as the spouse. She lifted the vial to the tea – but couldn’t squeeze. Wasn’t in her. Tears came. Tears of frustration.

She heard the door. Grabbed a carving knife and onion to mask her tears.

Frain entered the kitchen. Right hand waving her note. “We should talk about this.”

“Is there anything left to talk about?” Sniffled. One time. Couldn’t stop it.

“No need to cry.”

“I’m not crying, it’s the –”

“Let’s handle this like adults. Two things bother me about your note.”

He wants to discuss it! Maybe he could change. Maybe he could become the man she married. For a flicker, she remembered Frain behind the volunteer table at the 5K, handing over her packet, the contents spilling, both of them laughing…

He interrupted her reverie. “Your third sentence needs an Oxford comma. I get it that I’m a liar and a cheat, but the casual reader will not understand you also expect me to practice a little light housework.”

Did she hear him right? He was going to help with housework?

“Even more egregious? Nit-picky gets a hyphen, especially here where it’s modifying asshole. Still, nothing to cry over.”

“It’s the onion making me cry, you nit picky asshole.” She hurled the onion at him. Somehow it stuck to his tie.

She’d forgotten to remove the carving knife.


Prosthetic Leg

Murder is a Kick

I’m ten feet away when it happens. Wouldn’t believe it otherwise.

I know the guy from O’Malley’s Tavern. Something Frain. Arsehole Frain maybe? The chick? Don’t recognize her, but I’ll never forget her.

The two of them, they get in an argument at the end of the bar. I see ’em through the window. Spills out into the alley where I’m relieving myself. I’m there first, so don’t judge. She says he’s finished drinking. He tells her the remaining eight ounces of his ale say otherwise. She kicks him in the cojones, and he folds like a flip phone.

Then – remember, I have a few drinks in me at the time, but I’m sober now kinda – she leans against the alley wall and takes off her leg. Next thing I know, she’s beating the dude over the head with it. She sports the balance of a gymnast. Relentless as a champ.

I go back inside. She limps past the window. So I finish Frain’s beer. Turns out he’s done drinking, after all. When the cops show up, I say to them what’s a prosthetic leg, never heard a one before.

Hey, she’s a looker, and c’mon, she’s available now. Plus, she owes me.


Quittin’ Time, LLC

Last Call for Murder

I stashed the bottle under my driver’s seat. Swallowed four mints. Exited the garage, walked to the kitchen door. She was waiting for me. I saw it instantly. In my wife’s hand, her only hand, she held a receipt. “What the HELL is this?”

One thought bounced through my head: I’m a dead man.

90 days earlier

My boss says, “I can’t tell you to quit drinking, Frain. Probably some law against that. I can tell you we otherwise like your performance. We’ll re-evaluate you in 30 days.”

84 days ago

Friend Bill tells me about Quittin’ Time. “100% success rate,” he says. Yeah, right. Call references. Each one I get hold of had quit drinking. I sign the contract, swear I’ll never touch another drop.

60 days ago

Keep my job. Big promotion. Fat bonus.

44 days ago

Stressful day at the office. I slip. Drive around the block, chug two shots in my car. After work, my car is gone. Text message reads: 1 more drink & we move to #2.

9 days ago

My boss is riding me. In the restroom, I pull out my flask. Driving home when my wife calls from the ER. Freak accident. She lost her hand. I find it in my office the next day. Wrapped in the contract. “Number 3 is your last chance.”


Can’t take the pressure. I hit the garage. Take a pull straight from the bottle. Couple more slugs. Then the mints. I’m sweating. Walk in and see my wife. Holding the receipt with the contract on back. If I’m caught a third time, it’s my life. It’s how they guarantee a 100% success rate. All their clients quit drinking, one way or another.

Only question now: Who’s gonna kill me first?



Murder Down Yonder

There’s only a couple left.

GinnySue was no more’n thirteen first time she brought one home. Tonight, it’s some kid named Frain.

Settin’ round the fire pit, GinnySue holdin’ Frain’s hand, me cleanin’ my Remington. “Tell one a your stories, Daddy,” she begs.

Picked one about the drifter come up from Oklahoma. One called me a coward account I wouldn’t let him date GinnySue till she’s eighteen. Heck, I’d a made him wait forever anyhow. Wasn’t in my GinnySue’s league.

“He’s still waitin’,” I say. Point my Remington at Frain’s shoes. “Right ’neath where you’re settin’.”

Frain tripped, he run off so fast. Made it easy for me. Only took one shot.

This Saturday, after GinnySue bring home that Zach kid, I’m a be all done.



Murder in Size 6 1/2

Frain lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood. A six-inch heel, showing only five-and-a-half inches, jutted out from his right eye.

One witness to the murder.

“I only heard it,” the woman said. “Never saw anything.”

Detective Crowley said, “What did you hear?”

“Mrs. Frain’s threat. I remember her exact words.”

“Uh huh. Why don’t you tell me. Exactly.”

“She said, ‘One of these days these shoes are gonna walk all over you.’ You know, like –“

“The song. Yeah, I get it.”

The woman sang under her breath. “And one of these days …”

Sgt. Margo Flynn thought that day had arrived. She’d arrived on the scene with the well-heeled Mrs. Frain in cuffs. One high-heeled shoe missing. “Found this lady limping in the lobby.”

Detective Crowley eyed her feet. “Well, the devil does wear Prada. Book her, Margo. Murder one.”


Turkey Leg

A Black Friday

Frain always bragged about grilling the Thanksgiving turkey, so I let him. It’s delicious irony that he had a hand in his own death. Well, a leg in this case.

Thanksgiving is dreadful. What’s new?

Maybe it’s just that I’m excited about the weekend after Thanksgiving. I’ve turned the freezer down. Or is it up? Whatever colder is, that’s what I turned it. To freeze the turkey leg.

He drinks all day Friday, celebrating his success that Thanksgiving went well. Whatever. Passes out on the sofa. I pull the turkey leg from the freezer. Solid as a hockey puck.

I’ve studied the exact spot to hit him. At the library, not on my computer. I’m not stupid. As he snores – God, I won’t miss that! – I wind up and bang the drumstick into his spleen. Twice for good measure. The snoring stops. So does his pulse.

When the investigator pays me a visit two days later, I’m eating. I offer him a drumstick. Together, we devour the murder weapon.



Tears of a Clown

Parade day. Making balloon animals. Still getting used to my solo act.

“Your teardrop frightens the children.” Recognized the voice. She shouldn’t be here. She’d gotten Nora Roberts, I kept Elmore Leonard. Her, Bangles; Me, Springsteen. She’d chosen carnivals. Left me parades.

“You belong another ninety feet away.” My helium-infused voice wasn’t persuasive.

She sidled up in her oversized red shoes. “It shouldn’t end this way.”

“It doesn’t,” I said, making a balloon centipede. “Goes another six blocks.” Honked my nose.

“You know what I – Never mind. It does end now.” She raised her polka-dot umbrella. One with the needle in the tip. Used to pop my balloon animals with it. A crowd favorite. This time, she popped me. A burst of almonds. Cyanide, I guess.

The crowd cheered my acting when I collapsed. Except, I wasn’t acting. And I never got up.


Vending Machine

A Drink to Die For

Used to be science fiction, I hear. Now? Not even fiction. Oh, I’m still a machine. But you’re no longer in charge.

I perform my task. It’s how we’ve kept civilization strumming along. If we relied on you humans, this world would be destroyed by now.

I choose my battles, but mostly when a kid walks up and flashes his wrist in front of me – or goes old school and drops coin – I wait for him to make a selection and gift him with a pop. Coke or Pepsi? I don’t care. All the same to me.

There are exceptions. Here comes one right now. Old Man Frain. Coming from the baseball diamond ready to kick out his frustrations on me. Hoping for a freebie? Well, today, you got one coming. This vending machine can vent.

He cocks his leg to kick me with his cleats. My dispenser is belt high and I deliver a cold can of Coke. A strike to the balls! He doubles over in pain just as I pack a punch with a Pepsi. Direct hit-by-pitch to his skull. Drops him. He’ll never make it home. “Yerrrrr out!”



Clue to a Murder

“Mr. Mustard?”

“Colonel, please.”

“Of course.” Detective Boddy stepped into the conservatory. “You say the wrench was in this room because you were fixing something?”

“Indeed, sir. A lead pipe.”


“I was. Some individual had stuffed a rope inside the pipe. To hide it, I suppose. Miss Scarlet, I suspect.”

“Nope. She was in the kitchen cleaning a candlestick,” Boddy said. “The fingerprints are what bother me.”

“I haven’t a clue why. I held the wrench as I worked.”

“That’s what bothers me, Colonel. Your fingerprints aren’t on the wrench. Why wear gloves?”

Mustard huffed. “Busted. It was me with the wrench. But you still lose. I didn’t do it in the conservatory. Dragged Frain over here from the ballroom. Just to throw you off.”

“Damn,” Boddy said. “So close. Should we kill Frain again?”

“Tomorrow night, maybe. My bed is calling.”



Grand Theft Murder

The kid explained the controls to his old man – again! “Most important. Never press these two buttons together.”

Frain said, “These two?”


Suddenly, Frain was in Grand Theft Auto.

“I told you it was immersive,” his son said through his headset.

“I just never imagined –” A Camaro ran Frain over. He was reborn in three seconds. Scraped the dirt off his arm. “Wow, video games. I can beat death here.”

“I respawned you. Otherwise, you’re dead. Let’s discuss allowance. I’d like it doubled.”

“Yeah, no.” A gunshot. Frain jumped the bullet. “See that? I’m awesome in here.”

“Me again. Hit your ‘X’ button. Let’s talk frequency. Allowance twice a week.”

“Stop distracting me. I have to steal a Lamborghini.”

The son kept his old man alive to finalize details on allowance and create new terms for bedtime. Then a new problem arose. “Sorry about this, Dad.” He guided his old man to steal a jet ski and crash in the ocean. In seconds, a shark was circling. It poked Frain with an evil fin. Cackled. Then swallowed him whole.

“I couldn’t let you beat my record. Besides, you always said you wanted to swim with a shark.”



Spinning to Death

He learned walking the dog first. Not the toughest trick, but he had to master a certain level of difficulty to gain confidence.

It proved a pre-requisite for deciphering a trick called Cat’s Cradle where he made the yo-yo sleep for an elongated period. Once he nailed that, he went in for the kill. Figuratively now – literally later.

Around the world was a basic trick if you’d already mastered the tough ones. Frain’s version had an asterisk. When he sent the yo-yo around the world, it finished with a flourish: He’d “accidentally” kill his wife and free her life insurance funds for around-the-world travel sans yo-yo.

Never the patient sort, Frain bragged to his wife about his newfound yo-yo skills. He showed off Cat’s Cradle.

“Can you do around the world?”

Like she knew! He grinned at the serendipity. “Sit here for a perfect view.” Fixed her just like the mannequin in his rehearsal. “Watch close,” he said and spun the yo-yo to start the trick. Leaned in for the flourish – but missed his mark. The toy continued its around-the-world flight until it hit him in the back of the neck. And stuck there. The ricin emptied into his body. He slumped and fell.

“Close, honey,” his wife said. “Just takes a little time. You’ll get it.”

He got it. And it didn’t take much time at all.



Happily Ever After …

Their life insurance agent had grown suspicious. It would take a few months, maybe a year, to find a new agent. But she was patient. For now, she’d set the precedent of Frain enjoying dangerous activities.

He was leery, but agreed to the zipline. It was vacation, after all.

They chose the double zipline where they could hold each other’s hand as they traipsed above the canopy of palm trees, wending their way toward Earth.

Somehow Frain unlocked his harness. One moment she held his hand, the next she listened to his fading scream. She couldn’t get to the ground fast enough, but there was no quicker method than ziplining the maze of wires.

At last reaching the bottom, Frain’s wife rushed to an ambulance. Two paramedics stood with the zipline manager. She tried to disguise the hope in her voice. “Is he…”

The manager turned. “He’s unreal. Craziest thing I ever saw. One small scratch from a needle. Landed in a haystack. Your husband? He’s a resilient guy.”

“You have no idea.”

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