Short Story: “A Joint Before Dying”

It’s weird. Not many people can tell you the exact moment that defines them as a person. I can. I’ve actually had two.

The first came when I was twelve. My father loved to show me films that were a bit beyond my age. My friends were watching cartoons while I was watching Scorsese. In retrospect, that was pretty negligent of my father, but it didn’t matter to me. I lapped up every film he showed me like a thirsty puppy.

It all came to a head when he showed me the 1966 film, “Harper,” starring Paul Newman as the cool as ice private detective Lew Harper.

The second happened three years after that. My best friend Chris turned to me and said, “Yo, you wanna get high?”

I did. I very much wanted to get high.

And once this space cadet lifted off for the first time – well – we’ll just say I’ve been hooked.

My name is Nick Crane. I’m a private detective and yes, I love smoking weed.

In the words of the illustrious Gucci Mane, “I stay higher than giraffe pussy.”


The buzzer rang one cold and snowy morning. I was sleeping soundly, smothered under numerous blankets and a thick winter jacket, trying hard to combat the freezing cold. It’s been like this since they shut the heat off.

The buzzer rings again.

Finally, after a brief respite and some silence, my cellphone begins to ring.

The batphone!

A case!

“Nick Crane, private detective,” I announce, now bring it home, “how can I help you?”

Nailed it.

“Mister Crane,” responds a voice as soft and lovely as an angel, “I’m outside your front door.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Hang up.


You run a business out of here; clean the place up.

Clean yourself up, too, Nick. Smelling like liquor and weed isn’t very professional.


Jessica Wilson was certainly puzzled when she reached her destination. The ad said private detective. So why was she at an apartment building?

Just then a cold wind blew and sent snow everywhere, clearing off a sign posted to the building wall.

Nick Crane, Private Detective, Apartment 4B

Well that explains that.


The elevator dings and the doors slide open. I step out and stroll around the corner, into the lobby.

A vision of loveliness awaits me around that corner. If it weren’t for the fire-red overcoat, I’d be sure she’s an angel.

The perfect mix of femme fatale and girl next door.

She’s gonna be trouble.


With pen and paper in hand, I take a seat across from Jessica. Stay focused. No daydreaming. Do you really want to have to hide another erection?

I can’t promise anything.

“So how can I help you today, Jessica?”

“Could you possibly turn on the heat?”

“I wish. Bastards shut it off on me. Guess that’s what happens when you don’t pay your bills, huh?”

Good one. If you were looking to convince your only perspective client in months that you’re a useless, shit sipping fertada, you really nailed it.

“Um, I could get you a blanket.”

“No, I think I’ll be ok in my jacket.”

Oh ok. I’ll just take my blanket and go fuck myself.

Don’t be a pussy. I like my women bitchy.

“How ‘bout a drink? I could make coffee.”

“Do you have anything stronger?”


“I guess that’ll warm you up too. I have some vodka and black label. Nothing to mix with though.”

“That’s ok. I’ll take black label, straight, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not.”

Maybe later you can take a shit in our bathroom as well. Bitch is real comfortable here.

Thought you liked your women bitchy?

Just go get her the drink.

I’m going.

I grab a clean glass and rifle through all the cabinets for my black label. I need to smoke again.

If you smoke again, we’ll go away.

That’s the point. You guys are so loud.

There it is. I pour her a glass and then walk it back to her.

“Here you go,” I say as I hand it to her.

“Thank you, Mister Crane.”

“No problem, Missus Wilson,” I respond before sitting back down, “So let’s get back to it. How can I help you today?”

“I need you to retrieve something that was stolen from me.”

“Ok. I can do that. What are we talking about here: a piece of jewelry or something?”

“A painting.”

This just got interesting. We’re in.

“Alright. I’ll be honest, I did not expect you to say that.”

“It’s a very valuable painting.”

“I’m not an art thief, ma’am.”

“Well that’s good to hear. I don’t need an art thief. It’s not on display at a museum, or up for auction. It’s above my ex-husband’s fireplace.”

“Why did your ex-husband steal it?”

“He was angry. He had just lost custody of our son, but he wasn’t about to take him. My ex is on parole. He’s looking at fifteen years if he breaks it.”

“Then why not tell the police he stole the painting?”

“I may not have acquired it under the most…legal of circumstances.”

“Fair enough. This sounds risky however.”

“I’ll make sure you’re compensated.”

“That’s good to hear. I’m more worried about your ex though. Why did he serve time?”

“Nothing dangerous. Possession with intent.”

“That could be dangerous.”

Don’t be a pussy. This could be fun.

“Alright, I’ll take the case. I need more information from you though. Simple stuff: his address, a picture of him, as well as anything you can tell me about the man.”

“Whatever gets my painting back.”


The first hit from a freshly rolled joint. It doesn’t get much better.

I love burning one down on a stake out. It makes the whole thing so much more tolerable. I know it’s silly. Why do something that impairs your attention during something you should be paying close attention to? Cause it’s so fucking boring. It’s soul crushingly boring. Sitting outside someone’s home is the worst. People usually go home for a reason, because they want to be home. So you just sit there, staring at some ugly suburban home as absolutely nothing happ-

Oh my god; shut the fuck up.

Thank you.

You guys are supposed to be gone.

Huh. Guess the weed doesn’t work anymore.

Great. So now I’m just full on crazy.

Crazy’s subjective. I say you’re just extra fun. I mean; we’re all pretty cool dudes.

Cool dudes? We’re not with him.

Hey, fuck you, man.

“Jesus, it’s getting smoky in here.”

Like a fucking Snoop Dogg video.

Crack a window, you savage.

Shit, last hit of the joint. Savor it.

Time to exhale.

The smoke dances towards the slightly open window: pouring through to the outside slowly but surely.

“I got time for one more.”


I wake with a start.



Duck down, you goomba.

Once clear, I look up and see that the car has parked in the driveway of 421 Sycamore, the address Jessica gave me. Troy Wilson, art thief, has arrived home.

You know, that house is pretty nice. Troy’s doing well for himself.

So? This parolee done good. What’s it to you?

You have any idea how shitty it is to be an ex-con? He must be doing really well.

I don’t see what you’re getting at, sir.

Of course you don’t. Nick, can you help me here?

“Could all come from drug money.”

Never mind.

How do I get into that house?

Fuck if I know.


Jack Archer is, to put it bluntly, my man crush. Jack was the kind of private detective I always dreamed of being. He was a true blue badass. He smoked like a chimney, smelt like a brewery, and always scored high-profile cases. Dude crushed pussy too.

That was like forty years ago, dude.

Fuck you.

Luckily, somewhere along the line, Jack took a liking to me. Whenever I need help, he’s there to consult.

“What time did he come home,” Jack asks, before taking a big pull of his cigarette.

“It was a quarter after one, I think.”

“Oh, that’s easy. He’s a dirty stay out. Just go in when he’s not home.”

Dirty stay out? Seriously, how fucking old is this guy?

“Just go in? How am I supposed to get in?”

“A window. Just pop that sucker open.”

“What about an alarm system?”

“What about it? Dress for the occasion, Nicky. All black with a ski mask. Be typical. And get in and out. Quick.”

“So just rob the guy?”

“Yes! That’s what you were hired for. Come on kid. This isn’t the movies. The job is cut and dry. She wants you to steal the painting, so steal it.”

“Alright, got it. Thank you.”

“No problem, kid. You want a drink while you’re here?”

“Yeah, definitely. You wanna smoke? I’ll roll one up.”

Surprise, surprise, he’s getting high again.

Don’t condescend. It’s not very becoming.

“What do you got on you?”

“Purple kush. It’s good shit,” wait a second, “Are you actually considering this?”

“Just roll it up, kid. I’ll go get the drinks.”

“Fuck yeah.”

Maybe being high will fix that miserable old prick syndrome he seems to have come down with.


“What was that,“ Jack calls out from the kitchen.


That was close.

I start rolling a joint, the first to be shared with Jack. This is exciting.

As I’m rolling, Jack comes back into the room, spirits in hand.

“Nicky, I gotta tell you something,” he says as he hands me my drink.

“What’s up, Jack,” I ask as I turn the grinder round and round.

“I’m not gonna be around much longer.”

“Going on a trip?”

“Yep. One way.”

“Oh yeah, you’re moving? That’s cool. Where to?”

“Hell, most likely.”

“Uh…what,” is the only response I can muster.

“I have cardiomyopathy.”

“You’re gonna have to explain that one to me.”

“All the drinking. It ruined my heart. It’s weak now. Apparently it’s just gonna give out soon.”

“There’s nothing you can do?”

“I can stop drinking. I’m not going to, though. If I’m going out, I’m gonna enjoy the ride.”

Even to the end, Jack is a straight G.


I must look ridiculous. Nobody can pull off all black with a ski mask.

Jack did say, “be typical.”

At least you don’t look like the ham-burglar.

That’s true. I’m just going to finish this joint and then we’ll head in.

Whatever bro.

I take the last few hits from my joint and then throw it out the window. Time to do this.

I pull the mask over my face and head over towards 421 Sycamore. There’s nothing suspicious going on at all over here. I’m just a regular man dressed like a cartoon burglar.

“Window, window, find an open window.”

Who are you talking to? This is a burglary. Stay quiet.

Ta-da, the back bedroom window is open. A child’s bedroom. This must be the son he lost custody of.

Moving through the house. It’s too dark to see much of anything really.

“Where’s the living room?”

I don’t know; turn on a light or something.

I turn on the light, only to find out…

You’re already in the living room.

“Oh. Ok.”

Above the fireplace hangs the painting in question: Van Gogh’s “Fisherman On The Beach.”

That’s valuable? Meh.


“Pick up your phone, Jessica.”

There’s that angelic voice again.

“Jessica, yeah, I have the painting. I’ll meet you where we said. See you soon.”



What the fuck was thaaaaaeesakcndddjjjjj????

SO FUzzzzzZZZZzzzyyyy

What hit me?


That fucking hurt. I certainly have a few questions for Missus Jessica Wilson.

She wanted to meet in a vacant lot. Why was that not a sign of a double cross?

Fucking purple kush.

Quit whining. Get off the ground and go find out why you just got pistol whipped in the back of the head.

Gotta go see Jack. He can help.

You should also get checked for a concussion.


“So who clipped you, kid?”

“I have no idea. The girl?”

“She seem like the pistol whipping type?”


“Look kid, I know you’re sharper than this. If I’m gonna leave everything to you, I’m gonna need to know you can handle it.”

What’s everything? I’ve never seen that man not wearing the same royal blue bathrobe.

“You know I can handle it. I made a mistake.”

You’re falling for this? He doesn’t have anything to give you!

“Making a mistake is ok, it happens, but now it’s time to fix it.”

“You’re right. I need to find the girl.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Still have that contact in the PD?”

“I do.”

“Can he check a couple names for me?”

“We can just use Google.”

“How do you know what Google is?”

“Because I’m not clueless.”


“Nothing on Jessica Wilson?”

“No, nothing kid. What about the husband?”

“His name is Troy Wilson.”

Oh, God damn it. I bet they’re not even real names.

The address. Look that up. That guy was no ex-con.

“Look up 421 Sycamore.”

Jack immediately clicks the keys and starts scrolling through results.

Ok. We all have to focus, you understand? This is big stuff. Lew Harper would crush this case.

We’ll focus if you stop that narrating bullshit. It’s annoying.

Agreed. Cut it out, Sam Spade.

Fair enough.

“I got something.”

“Bring it up, Jack.”

“Says here there was a murder in that house.”

“Did I steal a haunted painting,” I practically scream in excitement.

What did we just say?

Sorry, last time.

“No, you didn’t steal a haunted painting.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Kid, focus.”

Yeah Nick; focus.

“Sorry. I think I have a concussion.”

Still pretty fuzzy. Does Jack have a twin?

I fucking hope not.

“There were four bodies found. All four were suspected of stealing four hundred grand from a safe inside a pawn shop.”

“Who dropped the four bodies?”

“The pawn shop got taken by a five man crew. I remember this, actually. The fifth guy, Wylie Storm, got arrested a week later. The money was never found.”

“The painting felt a little heavy. I didn’t even really think about it.”

“Well kid, seems like you delivered a bunch of cash to a murderous thief.”

“What? No way. He’s still in prison, isn’t he? He killed four people.”

“He escaped two weeks ago with the help of this woman. Look familiar?”


Told you she was going to be trouble.

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“Kid, this is not good.”

“I’m in over my head, I know, but he made one mistake.”

“What’s that?”

“He left me alive.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Still got that gun I gave you?”

“1911 in my glove box.”

“Good. Now how are you going to find him?”

“I have no fucking idea.”

“Well get to work. There’s a ten thousand dollar reward for helping aid his capture. Six thousand for the girl.”

No pressure.

“I’ll need your police contact.”

“I’ll write down his number.”


Am I really doing this? Am I really going after this guy? Wylie Storm? His name even sounds like he’s a criminal. He’s killed his own team, three cops, and four witnesses. Can I do this? He won’t come alive. I’ll have to kill him.

Good. Fuck that guy. He used you, tricked you even. Show him you’re better than that. Take him down.

Show him he picked the wrong man.

That must be Detective Hughes.

“Are you Nick, Jack’s friend?”

“I am. You must be Detective Hughes.”

“That’s right. Can I ask you why you’re looking into Wylie Storm?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“On whether or not you’re gonna be a dick about what I tell you.”

“Well whether or not I’m a dick really depends on what you tell me.”

“I stole the cash from his pawn shop robbery back for him and his girlfriend.”



“How do you accident-“

“Let me explain and I’ll tell you how I accidentally stole it.”

“This better be good.”

“Ok. Well. Long story short, his girlfriend is really hot. She fed me a sob story.”

“And you fell for it.”

“Hook, line, and sinker. But look, now we know he’s in town and probably getting ready to haul ass out of here. Set up roadblocks. Do all that cop voodoo that you do.”

“Cop voodoo, Jesus Christ. Storm hasn’t left town. Not until he kills Sonny.”

“Who the fuck is Sonny?”

“The witness. He was the only one at the card game to step forward. He identified Storm by his voice.”

“Card game, that makes sense. No pawn shop would just have 400 grand sitting around.”

“By the time you catch up, Sonny’s gonna be dead. Let’s go.”

Oh Jesus, you’re really going to do this.


Detective Hughes sure can drive. Dude is flooring it.

Is my hand shaking?

Anxiety. Stop it. Don’t let it spread. If your heart rate picks up, you’re going to be useless.

Pull it together.

“Hey, are you ok over there?”

“I’m fine. Just nervous.”

Trying not to shit myself.


This is really happening. This elevator is taking fucking forever. Should I take out my gun? I think I should take out my gun.

“Put that away.”

“Too soon?”

Yeah, look at his face. Definitely too soon. Put the gun away.


“I gotta tell you, I don’t see what Jack sees.”

“I’m just nervous. Feel free to keep judging me though. I like proving people wrong.”

“Fair enough.”

Pimp. That was a pimp line.

Finally! Fucking elevator.

I could have been up the stairs faster than that shit.

Follow Hughes. You’re backup.

Wait, why would the witness stay in town? This guy Storm is a killer, a fucking cop killer at that. That’s an immediate death sentence for Sonny. Storm doesn’t give a fuck.

Oh, God damn it!


Hughes never made one call. Inch your hand to your hip. Storm could be in that apartment. A police accomplice should have been obvious. Some hillbilly’s girlfriend can’t just break her man out of jail like that, even if she is the sexiest woman I’ve ever met.

Stop thinking, Nicolas. Do something.

“So, you’re planning on killing me, aren’t you?”

He moved for his hip.


“Don’t move! Stay perfectly fucking still.”

He moved. Pistol whip him.

“Give me your gun!”

“Fuck you!”

Hit him again.

“God damn it, stop hitting me with that fucking gun!”

“It fucking hurts, doesn’t it? Who’s waiting for me in that apartment? Is Storm waiting for me in that apartment?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He’s lying. There was a subtle facial twitch once you mentioned Storm’s name. Grab him. Use him as a shield.

“I’ll tell you what, me and you are gonna go in there, together, and we’re gonna see exactly what the fuck happens.”

I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die.

Apartment 4D.


They want to kill you. Stay alert, stay sharp, stay alive.

Wish I didn’t have this headache.

Man up chump.

“Come in.”


“Open the door.”

It’s Storm.

Jesus, he shot at me!

Shoot back.




Oh fuck, I brained him. Shot him right in the head.

Oh, Hughes got shot in the head too? Lovely.

That doesn’t make me want to vomit at all.

Please drop him already.

Jesus, it’s Jessica.

Oh fuck.

Does she have a machete?

Oh my God, she’s screaming and running at me. She’s gonna cut my fucking head off.

Shoot her.

Jesus, unload the clip into that crazy ass bitch.

This is going to be a lot to explain.

Not necessarily. Being the only survivor gives you the benefit of being the only one left to tell the story.

You’re a very humble private detective who got in over his head.

You got lucky.


Answer their questions, be polite, and tell them the story we came up with.

Then you can go kill that old cunt Jack.

Why the fuck did he set me up? He had to have set me up. I mean; could Hughes have picked me?

That would still mean Jack set you up. You got to him through Jack. He was in on the whole thing. He held your hand the whole way through so you would go where he needed you to.

It makes sense. He’s a miserable, old, drunken dick head. You just happen to enjoy him. Can’t overlook the fact that he’s going to die alone for a reason. Can’t trust him. Can’t trust anyone.


“Are we done here?”


“Jack, it’s me, Nicky.”

What is he hiding behind that door?

He’s nervous.

“Nicky, it’s good to see you, kid.”

You need to be inside the house for this.

Just push your way in. Act like it’s any other night.

“Hey, so everything went crazy tonight.”

“I heard. It’s all over the news.”

“Yeah, I killed Storm and his girlfriend. Turns out your cop buddy was working with them.”


“Sit down, Jack. We need to talk.”

“Nicky, I gotta tell you, I’m impressed.”

“Jack, I said sit down. Right now. Take a seat on the couch.”

“Ok, I’m sitting.”

“So it turns out I do pretty well under pressure.”

“I’ll say. When did you figure it all out?”

“When Hughes was walking me up to the apartment. Turns out when I’m sober, I’m a pretty quick draw.”

“Good for you, Nicky.”

“How much was your cut?”

“Seventy five large. I figured if I was gonna take a dirt nap in a couple of months, I might as well go out in style.”

“You know, you’re a dick. And the cops recovered all the money on the scene, so you can just go fuck yourself all around.”

“I guess so, huh?”

“How do you want to play this, Jack? You want me to let you reach for the piece you keep in the couch, or should I just get it over with?”

He reached.




Mr. X