The Man with the Moist Lips


Moist. What is it about that word people hate? Sam wondered.

He’d overheard the baristas gabbing about it at the drive-thru coffee joint. It stuck with him as he climbed the steps to the second floor apartments overlooking Nineteenth, the ones with a half-assed view of Potrero Point from one side. He didn’t know the guy who lived there, but had the address from the lady who hired him on Craigslist. Two thousand for a quick snatch of what’s hers, maybe a beat down if it came to it, but this was some IT guy she was talking about, not much in the way of a workout for Sam, who managed to punch the bag a bit during the quarantine. He’d taken his share of lumps in the last year too.

The barista, still wearing a face mask, said she hated the word. Said everyone did. Moist being the ugliest fucking word in the English dictionary.

He quoted Kerouac as he got to the right apartment and knocked on the door. “Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.” He liked the word. Not that he could remember using it, even when he was a Chronicle reporter – back before the Great Recession lost him his wife and job. He got stuck with the teen daughter, who ate more lasagna than that damn orange cat.

The door creaked open and a small voice creaked. “Hello?” 

Sam kicked it open the rest of the way and threw his body into the apartment like a charging rhino. His right hand swung. The dude, as shrimpy as he figured, went down in the middle of his immaculate living room. The place was straight out of an IKEA ad: gray rectangular couch, uncomfortable recliner, and dripping with silver glow lamps.

“Only going to ask once. Where’s… Oh, there she is.”

One still-in-the-package, mint condition Summer in Rome Barbie from 1999, in linen coat, halter top, polka dot skirt and tiny matching scarf. Girl made Rome blush. Sam rubbed his knuckles as he approached the doll, which had been conveniently placed on a bookshelf next to a bedroom door. Only this was a weird door for an IT guy who decorated with IKEA shit. It had locks on it. A lot of locks. At least five chained padlocks.

IT dude crawled after him. He wore a pink V-neck sweater and jeans that looked as though they’d just come in the mail. He wasn’t making an effort to get up. Sam pinched the Barbie, but stopped a few feet from the bedroom door. Something shuffled around on the other side.

He looked down at the IT man. “Do I want to know what’s in there?”

The man looked panicked. He licked his lips, wrinkled his brow, and gave a lot of thought to his answer. “No.”

Sam heard him, but seeing the spittle glisten on his lips brought that word back into his head. Moist.

Something pounded against the other side of the door. Sam kept back a few feet. The banging continued. The chains and locks shook. He tucked Barbie under his arm.

The door trembled in the frame at this point. Sweat began to form on Sam’s forehead. “Keeping someone locked in there?”

“It’s no one, just my brother.”

He could hear an odd hissing sound on the other side of the door. The sound of nails scratching the surface. His “brother’s” fists rattled the wall.

“Whatever you do, don’t let him out!” The IT guy cried over the banging.

“Shit. Why would I do that?”

Sam left with the Barbie under his pit while the scrawny guy went to the padlocked door. He could hear him on my way out, making cooing sounds to whatever was on the other side. Jesus, his brother? Sam thought. He kept seeing that IT guy in his head, even when he brought
the Barbie to the client and cashed clean with her, he couldn’t shake the guy’s moist lips.

“Yeah, I fucking hate that word,” Sam said as he went to make a deposit. “Fucking moist.”

~ fin ~

P Whitehurst headshot

Patrick Whitehurst writes fiction and nonfiction, the latter of which includes the books Haunted Monterey CountyMurder and Mayhem in Tucson and the forthcoming Eerie Arizona. He’s written three Barker Mysteries novellas and his short stories have appeared in Punk NoirShotgun HoneyHoosier NoirMystery TribunePulp ModernGuilty Crime Story FlashDark Dossier, and elsewhere. He’s been featured in the anthologies Bitter ChillsWild Violence and recently in Trouble in Tucson. Find him online at