Mustard's Last Stand


By S. Furlong-Bolliger



"What type of name is that?" he asked, pointing to my sign and ordering a kosher with ketchup. Lots of people asked about the name of my stand, but few could appreciate the irony of my business' name — Mustard's Last Stand.

"It's a play on words," I told him. "You know, like Custer's Last Stand." He shrugged and paid up. He didn't get it. Hell, most people didn't even know who Custer was and if they did, it was because of his one great defeat. All the great things the general did before meeting his demise — all forgotten.

Like the great General Custer, I, Benny Silverstein, am only remembered for my one folly. All the years of hard work, biding my time, and building my firm's portfolio, all forgotten because of one lousy mistake. Yes, General Custer and I had a lot in common — our greatness had been snuffed out by one mistake. We were misunderstood, underestimated, struck down in history as failures, screw-ups.

At least I lived through my ordeal, if you can call twenty years in prison living. But, I survived. I even got a new career. Now instead of working the floor of the Chicago Stock Exchange, I spend my days on LaSalle Street, serving young financial gurus their lunch time pups.

And, that's exactly what I was doing the day Vivian Crenshaw walked into my life. Man, she looked good — blond, lots of curves. And, her voice...low and sexy, "I'll take a beef with mustard and extra relish," she said, ordering one of my favorite combos.

I was hooked. She must have felt something for me too, because she came back every couple of days and ordered the same thing. Soon, I started planning my breaks around her visits. I'd close up for ten minutes and we'd sit on the corner bench and visit.

Despite the fact that we were from two different worlds — she being a high-class professional, and me, an ex-con — we hit it off. Of course, I knew it could never really work out between us; but for the time being, I planned to enjoy my time with Vivian. Who knew what I could get from the relationship?

As consequence would have it, Vivian and I had a common bond — her boss, Jack Reynolds. Reynolds was the whole reason I had spent twenty of my best years behind bars. I thought of him every day in that hell-hole. He was my downfall, my Sitting Bull.

Reynolds and I had worked our way up together through the ranks in Chicago's financial district. We were both young and greedy. Then, one day, we happened on a little insider information and decided to make a nest egg for ourselves. We were both in on it, but when we got busted, Reynolds ratted me out to the feds for a sweet deal. Apparently, while I was tucked away in the pen, he was out making a name for himself. Now he was the chief executive of one of the city's largest financial firms. Vivian was his administrative assistant.

For the next few weeks, we continued to meet at our bench. She was a fun gal. Her stories of corporate life took me back to the old days — mergers, takeovers, signing big clients. She made me feel like I was in my prime again.

I especially enjoyed listening to her talk about Reynolds. She hated the guy. He treated her like dirt. Always coming on to her, having her run his stupid errands, and making her stay late and work weekends. We both agreed that the world would be better off without Jack Reynolds.

Once, we even joked around about what it would be like to actually do him in. Like most broads, her weapon of choice would be poison — clean, effective, and no blood. Not me. If I was going to kill Reynolds, I'd do it like a man — gruesome and violent. Of course, it was all just talk. Vivian was a sweet girl — too sweet for murder.

One day, I was working my stand when I looked up from a long line of customers to see Vivian crossing the street. She was crying. I waved away the line of suits waiting to order, closed down, and met up with her at the curb. I ushered her to our usual bench where she broke into sobs.

"What is it, Viv?" I asked.

"It's Reynolds. I just can't take it anymore."

"Reynolds? That scum. What'd he do now?"

"He's such a jerk. You know that raise that I've been trying to get for the past six months?"

"Yeah."

"Well, today I finally got the nerve to go in and talk to him about it and you know what the jackass said?"

"What?"

"That he'd be happy to discuss it with me this evening?"

"Yeah, so?"

She sighed, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. "He wants me to meet him tonight at eight-thirty at the Imperial Hotel, alone. He gave me this key." She held up a key card marked 928.

This was the opportunity I had been waiting for — a chance to prove what type of man I really was. "Don't go, Vivian," I said. "Give me the key and let me talk to Reynolds. I can fix this for you."

"What do you mean? How could you —"

"I know things about Reynolds, things that could get him into a lot of trouble. I'll talk to him and make sure he won't ever bother you again."

She smiled meagerly and hugged me. An embrace that quickly became awkward when her hair got caught in my collar button. Jerking away, she left several golden wisps dangling down my front side. She broke the awkwardness with a burst of laughter that resonated through the neighborhood.

She seemed relieved that her problems would soon be solved. I laughed too.

After Viv left, I reopened my stand, but could hardly focus on my customers. I spent the rest of the day formulating my strategy. Like Custer's battle at Little Bighorn, I was embarking on the biggest battle of my life. Tonight I was going to have another chance to meet my Sitting Bull and this time I would emerge victoriously.

That night, at precisely eight-thirty, I crossed the lobby of the Imperial waving at the desk clerks as I approached the elevator. On the way up, I checked my reflection in the polished steel doors. I was dressed as Benny Silverstein the hot dog man, but despite my brown and yellow jumpsuit with my logo brazenly displayed on the back, I was mentally dressed in blue and bronze, like a great soldier prepared for battle. I had thought through my battle strategy and planned every detail with the accuracy expected from any veteran general. After all, the state pen had been my training field, and twenty years behind bars had taught me a thing or two — every man for himself.

When I reached 928, I slid the key pass into the lock and opened the door.

Perhaps, because I knew what to expect, or perhaps because I was hardened to the casualties of life, the gruesome scene before me had no affect on my consciousness. I simply surveyed the scene with detached interest — Reynolds was sprawled on the bed, a hot dog fork sticking out of his chest. Next to his body was a take-out bag. The yellow print on the bag stood out — Mustard's Last Stand.

I almost laughed out loud. How ironic. The way he laid there, wrapped in bloody sheets, he kind of reminded me of a beef dog smothered in ketchup. I couldn't help but smile. Reynolds had gotten exactly what he deserved.

I took a deep breath, stepped back into the hallway and yelled, "Oh my God! He's dead. Jack Reynolds is dead!"

A chorus of clanking of metal was heard as security bolts slid into place up and down the corridor.

I yelled again, "Jack Reynolds is dead!"

Someone must have called security right away as two security guards were already quickly approaching.

It didn't take long for the rent-a-cops to put two and two together. After a quick look at the scene — the hot dog fork, bloody take-out bag, and my uniform — they jumped me, holding me down until the real cops arrived.

An hour later, I was staring across a dented metal table at the ugliest cop I'd ever seen. His face resembled that of a constipated bulldog. The bulldog's partner was hovering silently in the corner. He was a pretty-boy type — clean-cut, a snappy dresser.

"It doesn't look good for you, Silverstein," the bulldog said. "an ex-con with a motive. What, did you sit in prison the last twenty years and dream of all the ways you could kill Jack Reynolds?"

I held up my hands. "Hey guys, I didn't do this. He was dead when I got there."

"He was stabbed with a hot dog fork, your take out bag was next to him. Your prints are on the weapon!"

"Come on, guys. Think about it. Why would I hang around the scene and yell for help if I had killed the guy? And prints? Well, yeah my prints are on the weapon. It's probably my hot dog fork. One of mine went missing today. Isn't it obvious that I'm being framed?"

"Yeah, right," Bulldog scoffed.

"Framed?" Pretty Boy moved out of the corner and into the chair directly across from me. "Who would bother framing you, Silverstein?"

"Vivian Crenshaw, Reynold's secretary."

Bulldog laughed.

"You don't believe me? I'm not stupid. Why would I use my own hot dog fork? And, I definitely wouldn't leave my takeout bag next to the body."

Bulldog and Pretty Boy exchanged glances.

I continued, "Vivian has been hanging around my stand a lot lately." I looked down and scrunched up my face for emotional emphasis. "I thought she liked me...I really did." I sighed. "I guess I should have known better."

I looked up, wiped at my cheek, and shook my head slowly. "She used me. I should have seen it. She was always talking about Reynolds and how she hates him. And, today...today she was really upset."

"Oh, yeah. Why was that?" Bulldog asked.

"Well, she said that Reynolds was refusing to promote her unless she slept with him. He had given her the key to his hotel room. She wanted me to go there instead and talk to him. She gave me the key." I slapped my head. "My hot dog fork! Of course, I noticed that it was missing right after she was at my stand today. She must have taken it! I'm telling you boys, she's framing me." I threw up my hands. "Hey. I want to see a lawyer. I know my rights. Not another word until I get a lawyer."

"Fine," Pretty Boy conceded. "If that's the way you want to play it. We'll call you one. In the meantime, you're going to holding."

It was early morning by the time a uniformed cop retrieved me from my metal cot and escorted me back to the same interrogation room. Bulldog and Pretty Boy were slumped at the table, foam cups steaming in their hands. Between them was an extra cup and a box of glazed donuts. I knew the extra cup was a good sign. They must have checked out my story.

"Help yourself, Benny," Pretty Boy said, sliding the box across the table.

"Coffee?" Bulldog asked.

I sat, took the coffee, but passed on the donuts. "Where's my lawyer?"

Pretty Boy straightened his tie and opened a manila file. "I don't think you'll need one. We've been going through surveillance tapes taken in the lobby of the Imperial between six and eight o'clock last night. It seems you may be right about Ms. Crenshaw. We have her on tape crossing the lobby at six-twenty and entering the elevators. She was wearing a long coat, gloves, and carrying an oversized bag."

"Big enough to hide a long hot dog fork?"

"Could be," Pretty Boy answered.

"Are you sure it was her?" I asked.

Bulldog shifted. "We think that the tape is clear enough to convince a jury that it was her."

I smiled. The problem with General Custer was that he wasn't the best strategic soldier. I on the other hand, was a master.

"Anyway," Bulldog cleared his throat. "The cameras on the ninth floor showed her entering Reynold's room shortly thereafter. She left the room and exited the hotel at seven-thirty. That gave her almost an hour alone with the victim."

It was my turn to scoff. "Plenty of time to kill him. She's no fragile woman, you know. I'm sure she would be more than capable of driving that fork into Reynolds." I was feeling pretty smug.

Pretty Boy shot me an indignant look. "Probably. Anyway, the time on the tapes coincide with the coroner's estimated time of death."

I slammed my palms down on the table, "Unbelievable! She must have really hated the guy. I hope you have something more on her than just the tapes. Any other evidence?" I was beginning to feel like one of the boys. I reached over and took a donut. So did Pretty Boy and Bulldog.

Pretty Boy turned a couple of pages in the file. "No prints, except yours —"

"Well, she wore gloves, right?" I interjected.

"Right, but we did find a couple of strands of long blond hair. The color fits, but we're waiting for a warrant to obtain a DNA sample."

"I'm sure they'll match," I said, finishing off a jelly-filled. "She set me up, just like I told you guys. We ex-cons are always an easy target."

"It looks that way," Bulldog agreed, licking jelly off his fingers.

"Am I free to go now?" I asked, indignantly.

Pretty Boy shook my hand. "Sure, Silverstein, you're free to go. Hope we don't see your sorry ass back her any time soon."

I scurried out of the interrogation room and ran smack dab into Vivian. She was being escorted to the booking room by two earnest looking cops.

"Benny!" she called out. "Benny, what did you do?" She looked like a wild woman — her normally coiffed hair tangled and matted, black streaks of mascara running down her face. She was wearing some awful sweat suit. But it was probably better than the orange jumper she'd soon be wearing.

"What did I do?" I looked around. We had the attention of every cop on the floor. "You tried to set me up, Vivian. I thought we had something. I should have known that a woman like you would never fall for a guy like me...a...hot dog man. You used me, Vivian."

"No you're wrong. I didn't use you!" The words spewed from her mouth as she struggled against the cop's grip.

I turned away and made my way down the hall. Her screams followed me as I left, "Benny! Tell them that I didn't do this! Tell them, Benny!"

"Poor Vivian," I thought, making my way back to LaSalle where my vendor stand was awaiting. "She's such a sweet girl — too sweet for murder."

I entered my stand, unlocked the cabinet below the counter, and extracted a hot dog fork. Rotating it in my hands, I methodically watched the stainless steel shaft reflecting slivers of light from the midday sun. I smiled with satisfaction. General Custer would be proud. My battle strategy was perfect. I had fooled everyone: Bulldog, Pretty Boy, and even Reynolds. They all thought I was Vivian. I'll never forget the shocked look on Reynold's face as I removed the blond wig right before plunging the fork into his chest. And the hairs that I planted? Well, dumb luck was all that was. I wouldn't have had those if Vivian hadn't decided to hug me the other day. The strands of hair and the tape would be damning evidence in court. Too bad that Vivian had to take the fall, but all battles suffered casualties.

I let out a sigh of content as I reopened my stand. Reynolds was dead. I had conquered my enemy and emerged victor. I may never be the stockbroker I once was, but I was more than just a hot dog man. I had proven mighty and fearless in battle. I glanced up. The bright yellow letters of my sign stood out like a proud beacon — Mustard's Last Stand. I smiled. Vengeance is sweet — especially when it's served with relish.


For many years S. Furlong-Bolliger freelanced as an academic writer, publishing over one hundred short biographies for Ebsco Publishing as well as working with a team of writers for the compilation of various editions of Mosby's Medical Dictionary. The author is also credited with many articles published in national magazines. More recently, the author has turned to writing fiction, publishing short mysteries with Untreed Reads Publishing, Pill Hill Press, and Woman's World magazine. www.sfurlongbolliger.com


Copyright 2011 S. Furlong-Bolliger. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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