Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Twist Of Noir 012 - John McFetridge

TIGHT - JOHN McFETRIDGE

Summer squeezed the tube of KY into the bowl, saying you’d think you’d lube up each condom on its own, but you don’t. “You get it everywhere, a real mess. One of the first things I learned.”

Bobbi watched, saying oh yeah, couldn’t believe this chick was doing it right in front of her. She’d handed over the cash to Bobbi, somebody she’d never met before, in a motel room in San Jose, Costa Rica. Started pouring the coke into condoms right away, telling Bobbi she’d get over thirty grand for the kilo in T.O., and Bobbi said that was pretty good.

“Better than twenty in the States.”

She squatted like she was going to take a dump right there, already naked from the waist down, dipping a condom into the bowl, holding it by the knot she’d tied on the end. “This way you cover the whole thing with lube, but you don’t get it anywhere else,” and slid it up her ass.

Bobbi said, “You’ve done this before,” and Summer said, oh yeah. “You like enemas?”

“Never had one.”

“You never do anal? Make your man happy,” and Bobbi said, no, never, and Summer said, “I used to give myself enemas all the time, keep my weight down for meets.”

“You a cheerleader?”

Summer was sliding another condom up her ass and made a face, saying, “Please. Gymnastics. I won a silver at state.”

Bobbi said, oh yeah, and Summer said, yeah, sliding in the third condom saying, “But retail is different. You sell a gram in Canada you get maybe sixty bucks. In the States you get over a hundred,” and Bobbi said, yeah, why’s that, and Summer said, “Since the bikers took over Canada, the Saints of Hell, they control the wholesale market, tied it up tight.” She pushed the last condom up her ass and said, “And I know tight.”

Bobbi thought, shit, you don’t know anything, watching her walk to the bed saying, “I’m glad we met, your prices are better than Mario’s,” pulling on a pair of white Joe Boxer Girlfriend briefs and picking up her flight attendant uniform skirt.

“You going to sell it wholesale in Toronto or drive to Buffalo?”

“You ever been to Buffalo? The retail hassle? No, I’ll sell it in Toronto.”

“Yeah, but to who?”

“I got a guy, he’ll meet me at the airport. He can move a lot.”

She had her comfortable shoes on then, packed up her supplies, her condoms, another tube of KY, a pink vibrator and dropped them all on top of the clothes in her carry-on, saying, “You get a guy at customs, he’s so freaked seeing the vibe he just waves you through.”

“What about a woman?”

“She’s usually understanding.”

Bobbi said she could drive her to the airport and Summer said the hotel would be better, she’d catch the shuttle, “With the rest of the crew.”

“Anybody else carry?”

Summer said not yet. There were a couple of chicks she was going to ask, though, and a couple of guys, “Fags. They know how to handle the lube.”

“You’re going to expand?”

They were in Bobbi’s car then, driving through downtown San Jose, Summer saying, “Shit, yeah. Saturday and Sunday charter flights. Leave Toronto six in the morning, I’m home by nine the same night. I get a few more to carry, that’s huge. You can get the supply?”

“From Colombia, up through Panama,” Bobbi said. “You’re going to be rich.”

“Richer than lap dancing, that’s for sure.”

Pulling up in front of the Hilton Bobbi said, “What about those Saints of Hell,” and Summer said, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

“They might hurt you, though,” Bobbi said. “They find out.”

“How they gonna do that, when it’s just us girls?”

Bobbi pulled around the corner, already on her cell, saying, “It’s just the two of them so far, her and the boyfriend, he’s going to meet her at the airport, take them both out,” thinking, yeah, this Summer never suspecting Bobbi was with the Saints. That’s how they took over, though, that progressive, non-sexist thinking. Tied the market up tight.

BIO: John McFetridge lives in Toronto and has had two novels published in Canada and the USA, Dirty Sweet and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and has a free e-book of flash fictions and short stories that have appeared in DZ Allen's MuzzleFlash, Hard Luck Stories, Demolition Mag, PowderBurnFlash and others available on his website: www.johnmcfetridge.ca. Tight is in the collection but hasn't appeared anywhere else.

A Twist Of Noir 011 - Sandra Seamans

THE DUMB FACTOR - SANDRA SEAMANS

I’m holding down a barstool in Rizzoli’s Bar and Grill, my eyes sliding up and up the come-get-me legs of the red dress who just strolled through the door, when this here ex-cop plunks himself down beside me and starts firing off questions about my buddy, Doobie. Says as how he worked the Kingston Diamond case and he'd sure as hell like to know the truth of it before his ticker up and quits on him. Now, I don’t like cops, even ex's, but the time for charging us with that particular crime has slid on by, so what can it hurt? I ask the bartender to draw us a couple of cold ones and start spilling words.

Truth is, Doobie was always too smart. Hell, his brain would be kicked into overdrive before I got the key in the ignition. Take, for example, the time he decided to give shoplifting a go. Most guys would've grabbed a candy bar or a pack of rubbers their first time out. Something easy to palm into your pocket that wouldn't be spotted when you walked past the cashier.

But not Doobie, he never thought small. He worked his way through that store, picking up and setting down until his eyes hit on the biggest boom box either of us had ever seen. You see, it's his eyes that give him away. He looked at that boom box like it was Marsha Brady dancing naked, right there on the shelf. After a couple of minutes of me tugging on his arm, he shook himself out of his head pictures, wrapped his arm around my shoulder and dragged me out of the store. His eyes were shining bright and there was a big smile slapped across his face.

Two hours later we're back at the store, armed with batteries and a pair of wire cutters. Doobie slips the batteries in while I'm snipping price tags off. Then Doobie hits the on switch and raises the rafters with his "YMCA" tape, hoists the box to his shoulder and walks straight on out of the store with me dancing the YMCA behind him. Management was happy to see our backsides drifting out the door.

So I asked him, how’d he figured he could get away with something like that and he says, "It's the dumb factor. The store figures nobody's dumb enough to try and walk out the front door with something that big. You gotta have balls to pull off the dumb factor, Riz, and I got the balls."

For more than twenty years, Doobie used the dumb factor and his balls to keep us one step ahead of the cops, and I was happy just dancing alongside of him. The Kingston Diamond heist was gonna be our last job, though truth be told, we hadn’t actually planned on lifting the Kingston. That diamond was just a happy accident. That fact aside, Doobie's plan was fucking brilliant. Think about it. Who woulda thought you could walk right into the middle of a high class fashion show, work your way through the crowd and finger-lift half the diamonds decorating them skinny girls?

With our pockets brimming and us headed for the door, Doobie flashes me the look. But this time it ain’t no naked Marsha Brady. Nope, Doobie was seeing Julia Roberts grinding her “Pretty Woman” sweet-spot smack-dab against his lap. Me? I'm thinking the fucking Kingston Diamond? No way in hell he's walking out of here with that stone in his pocket.

But Pretty Julia was swelling Doobie’s balls and we were in drive or crash motion. He nodded me towards the door and as I swung it open he grabbed the stone and shifted his feet into high gear.

We were pounding down the sidewalk with alarm bells caught in the draft behind us when this sexy broad in a little bitty red dress steps in front of us. That dress by itself would have stopped us cold, but the gun in her hand dropped our feet into wet cement. That little girl had bigger balls than Doobie and me put together and that's saying a lot.

Seems she'd had the same plan as Doobie, but when she spotted us filling our pockets with shiny rocks, she decided to let us do the heavy lifting for her. Only thing was, she didn't figure in Doobie's dumb factor. Doobie pulled the Kingston from his pocket and tossed it over, letting her dumb factor kick in all natural like. She dropped the gun to catch the diamond and we skittered on past her. Weren’t a minute later that the cops came charging around the corner and caught her holding that big old diamond.

Now we would've been in the clear if she hadn't mentioned to the cops that the Kingston wasn't the only piece of glass missing. She didn't like being played the fool no more than Doobie, but by the time she fingered us on the surveillance tapes we’d stashed our retirement fund in a safety deposit box. After that, we slipped out of sight and kept our noses clean for ten years before we cashed in our stash.

I felt Doobie’s hand clamp down on my shoulder, “You spinning that dumb factor story again, Riz?”

My drinking friend looked up at Doobie, “You mean you didn’t steal the Kingston Diamond?”

“Take a good look at me, friend, does it look like I’ve got balls the size of watermelons swinging between my legs?”

"YMCA" came shouting out of the jukebox as the old cop stood to leave. A satisfied smile disco-danced across his lips as he watched the swaying hips in the red dress feeding quarters to the jukebox. As he walked out, Doobie’s eyes locked on mine and we started laughing at the old guy’s wet dream.

But the laughing takes a nose dive when the red-dressed diamond catcher shoves a gun in Doobie’s crotch.

“Who's the dumb one now?” she asks.

BIO: You can find Sandra's stories scattered around the internet in places like Spinetingler, PulpPusher, and The Thrilling Detective. Her scattered thoughts about writing can be found at http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Twist Of Noir 010 - Anonymous-9

CLAW MARKS - ANONYMOUS-9

Originally published in DZ Allen’s Muzzle Flash in 2008

First time she walked in, I was under my favorite barstool. The sway in her tail looked inviting but the rest of her looked suspicious.

“Shot a Jack,” she whispered to Mack.

Ignoring me on the floor, she shivered onto a stool, and I could smell sex on her skirt, like she just had a roll in the alley. I like it out there myself, sometimes.

She was overdressed for Mack’s place. Some kinda shiny shoes and purse to match, gold on her hands and ears. I heard Mack strike up a line in his polite voice—I never hear that tone out of him myself—but then, I’m not female. Mack lets me keep my balls.

She answered him in a voice that stood the hair up on the back of my neck. I felt like swiping her ankle to draw blood and drive her out—but then a mouse creeping along the far wall caught my attention, and I forgot all about Mack and his smelly blonde.

This is my bar, my territory, and anything non-human gets clawed by me sooner or later. Mack puts food down only once a day, so I catch lunch and dinner, snacks too. Sometimes I catch a bounty and open their bellies, hook a string of guts with my lower fangs, and pull hard to create a flowery effect. It makes Mack a nice present, but the idiot never eats anything, and throws my trophies out. Hey, I don’t let on how embarrassing he is. I know who pours my milk in the morning.

The blonde returned next day and days after that. Mack took to escorting her into the back room where the giant steel box is—I jumped in once and got swatted out. Back room has a bed where Mack sleeps, and in they’d go. I could hear them rolling around. When they started leaving the door ajar, I walked right in and watched. Funny, these people.

This’d been going on for about a month when she shows up with a black eye. Thunderclouds gather on Mack’s face, and he locks up, middle of the day. She heads for the back room, starts sobbing, and turns her purse upside-down so a flurry of bills spill over the bed. They talk back and forth a long time, and then Mack gathers up the money in a neat stack, opens the giant box and locks it in. They commence rolling around on the bed, but quieter and gentler than usual.

A day or two later, Mack starts putting things in his army duffel. I know what that means: Mack’s fixing to leave for a while. Whitey usually takes over till Mack comes back. I hate Whitey; he forgets to feed me.

Sure enough, after closing, here she comes, carrying a suitcase. I don’t like the look of this at all. They break out a bottle in the back room, strip off naked, and clink glasses.

What they don’t know is, there’s a guy hiding under the bed. He must’ve been there a long time, because nobody saw him go in, but I can smell him breathing. I sit back and twitch my tail. Attracting Mack’s attention is an option, but why bother? Bastard’s going to leave me with Whitey.

They’re bouncing that bed pretty good, making it squeak like a hundred chittering rats, and the guy slithers out from under with steel in his hand. I dive under the bed, and stay there through the blows and bludgeoning, the shouts and screaming, until it stops.

The stranger’s stick drops with a clang, and his feet stagger out the door. It closes, the bolt scrapes. Mack’s sightless eyes stare at me. As he drains onto the floor, I wonder who’s going to feed me in the morning—what about my milk? I lap at one of the hundred rivulets of blood crawling toward me across the old hardwood—lick my chops, swallow the warm red, thicker than the blood of vermin. Maybe this won’t be too bad for a few days, after all.

BIO: More stories by Anonymous-9 are published in ThugLit [Issue 21], Yellow Mama and coming soon in Beat to a Pulp which debuts December 15th, ‘08. Anonymous-9 can be reached at anonwrite9@gmail.com

A Twist Of Noir 009 - J.R. Lindermuth

THE PERFECT ANGEL - J.R. LINDERMUTH

Originally published at Mouth Full of Bullets in December 2006

"My wife's been a perfect angel since I killed her," Dickie Tobin says.

Dickie's a regular at Donovan's but he's not one of us, if you know what I mean. He's always hanging around but it's like he's one of the bar stools, the juke box or the smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke. Like, he's not from the neighborhood. He just don't belong.

So nobody pays any attention the first time he says it. Maybe some of the guys don't even hear, he's so soft-spoken and what with the click of pool balls, the TV blaring and the normal bullshit you have in a place like this.

When he repeats it I'm standing right next to him, tossing darts with Clive. I stop with my arm in the air, turn around to see if I heard right. "What're you mumblin' about, Dickie?"

He sips his Martini, swivels on the stool and looks up at me with eyes big as an owl's behind those thick glasses of his. Dickie's the only guy I know would come in Donovan's and order a Martini. That's what he does, though. Nurses two of them through the best part of the night, then he's gone as if he was never here. "You don't believe I killed her, do you?" he asks with a smile.

"Fuck you talkin' about, Dickie?" Jimmy Spinosa says from the next stool over. "I just seen you and Rae Jean night before last and she looked as live-lee as ever."

Dickie nods. "She's a perfect angel now."

I don't know about the killing part, but angel describes the way she looks. Rae Jean is the kind of woman stops a man dead in his tracks when he sees her no matter what he's doing. If there was a woman like her waiting at home I know I wouldn't be hanging around Donovan's.

"You gonna throw or what?" Clive says, nudging me on the shoulder with his finger tips. He's the kind don't like to be kept waiting when he's involved in something. Even simple things like darts he takes serious.

"You hear what Dickie said?" I ask.

"Who gives a shit?"

"Says he killed his old lady," Jimmy puts in.

"Huh?"

Dickie gives him a glib smile. "Been a perfect angel since," he says in that meek little voice.

Even Donovan sidles over now, pretending to wipe the bar, which is bone dry. Aside from drink and food orders, the old man usually don't pay attention to any talk except his own.

"You gonna throw?" Clive asks, impatient.

I toss, but my mind's not on it. Normally I'm pretty good, but I have to be concentrating. Right now I'm thinking about Rae Jean and Dickie.

We've known her since grade school and we've all wanted her since we were old enough to think about those things. Rae Jean was always a tease. Once she let me cop a feel; nothing more. Far as I know, nobody else scored either. Clive says he did, but I don't believe it.

You've got to know Clive to understand. Clive always has to be the one does what nobody else can. I mean, not that he's a bad looking guy and doesn't make out with a lot of women. But this is Rae Jean we're talking about. I just don't believe it. We've been best buddies forever; at least that's how I feel about it. Clive, he don't need nobody. But I know him as well as anybody. And I know her.

Anyway, we all got the hots for her and what does she do? Up and marries some nobody from across town.

I mean, Dickie's an accountant, for crissake. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But he's the stereotype of accountants, meek little guy always buttoned up in a suit and tie, couldn't give her one real night, let alone a lifetime of loving.

"Come on," Clive says, irritated. "Let's shoot darts. Little guy's just lookin' for attention."

"That's what you would have liked, isn't it?" Dickie says, stars of light shooting off his eyeglass frames as he turns his head.

Clive spins around and I thought he was going to deck him. But he doesn't. Just stands there, glaring.

"Think I don't know?" Dickie says. "You were always coming on to her. Even in front of me, like I didn't matter. But you didn't get anywhere, did you?"

"Give me another beer, Donovan," Clive says, leaning on his big forearms over the bar.

"Truth is, she despised you. Couldn't stand your arrogant manner, the grease under your fingernails. Said you smell like the inside of an old car. She told me how you tried to take her in high school and she kneed you and you couldn't stand straight for a week."

Clive grips the bottle so hard I thought it would bust. "That's not..."

Dickie raises a hand, smiles at him. "You weren't the only one." He glances around at us, that shit-eating grin still on his face. "I think she got off getting men aroused. Sometimes she got me so hot I couldn't stand it. Then she'd shut down cold and I'd have to do what little boys do. But not anymore. Had a good one before I came down here. Might have another when I got home."

Clive takes his beer and walks over to the jukebox, back to us.

"Thought you said you killed her?" Dan Krenshaw asks, stepping away from the hot game of pool he's been having with Ed Fenwick. I mean, everybody is listening now. Donovan even turns down the TV.

Dickie nods. "Give me a pack of Winstons," he says in a louder than normal voice.

"Never knew you smoked," Donovan says, sliding a pack across the bar.

"Only after sex," Dickie tells him, peeling off the cellophane. "Just like in the movies." He fingers out a cigarette, clenches the filter between his teeth and strikes a match. The flame glows twice its size reflected in his glasses as he lights up. Then he giggles. "Guess it never became a habit because I smoked so seldom."

"You're just puttin' us on, ain't you?" Krenshaw says. "You didn't really kill her."

Dickie blows a smoke ring and pushes his glass over for a refill. "Oh, but I did."

"Yeah, so how'd you do it?" Spinosa asks. "Beat the shit out of her? Stick her with a butcher knife?"

"Actually, I drowned her."

"Was you foolin' around in the tub?" Donovan says.

Dickie reddens, takes a drink and another drag on his cigarette.

"I've heard enough of this bullshit," Clive says, striding back and slamming his empty bottle down on the bar. His beefy paw shoots out and grips Dickie around the throat and lifts him from his seat.

"Clive, no!" I shout, putting a restraining hand on his shoulder. Spinosa takes him from the other side and we pull him off.

Clive stands there between us, panting, face twisted up with anger, fists clenching and unclenching at his sides. Dickie sits down as if nothing has happened, adjusts his tie, picks up the cigarette that has fallen onto the bar and snuffs it. Then he lights another.

Spinosa looks at Clive and me, shakes his head. Firing up one of those Italian stogies he likes but can't smoke no more in his hack because of the health laws, he slides onto his stool again. "Clive didn't mean no harm," he tells Dickie. "He just don't like to be fooled with."

"Who does?" Dickie tells him. He twists his neck around to face Clive. "I understand and I accept your apology."

"I didn't make none," Clive growls.

"Let me buy you a drink."

"Fuck you."

"Let me buy everyone a drink, Donovan." He pulls out his wallet and plunks down some bills.

Dickie faces Clive again while Donovan is doing what he does best. "She hurt you. She hurt me." He glances around at the rest of us. "Hell, she hurt all of us."

We hang our heads, toy with our drinks, embarrassed. No one says anything for a while. I guess nobody wanted to believe Rae Jean was as bad as he said or that he was capable of doing what he said he'd done.

"Why are you givin' us all this shit?" Clive asks. "What guy in his right mind is gonna kill his wife and then come braggin' in a bar like he's just won a bet on the Phillies?"

"You still don't believe me, do you?"

"Hell no. I don't believe it."

"Well, it's true."

"So, why are you tellin' us?" I ask, still doubting.

"Because I wanted you all to know. I done it for all of us."

"You little prick," Clive says, face ashen. "I oughta."

"What? Call the cops. I don't care. I expect I'll be seeing them soon enough."

Fenwick - he's always been an asshole - lays down his cue and walks up, rubbing his hands together, swiveling his head back and forth, nervous-like. "Maybe we oughta get out of here before we become, whadya call it? - accomplices after the fact."

"Screw you," Krenshaw says. "Leave if you wanna."

"None of you have to worry. I'm the one did it."

"But why, Dickie?" I ask again.

He looks up at me with the saddest expression I've ever seen on a man's face, his big eyes glistening with tears. "Because I loved her."

I still don't want to believe, but it's starting to sink in now, hard, that he really has done what he says. Woman torments a man enough, I guess she could drive him crazy and make him do what he wouldn't ordinarily. Looking at him I have this vision of him humping away over her dead body, getting what she withheld too often while she was still breathing.

"Said she was going to leave me," he said, quietly.

We, guilty I guess, looked at one another. But, Dickie shook his head. "Not with any of you," he said. "She didn't say with anyone; just that she was going to leave me. I should have been glad. Maybe I was at first. I mean, she made my life miserable. She spent every cent I made, never was nice to me, made me do things I didn't wanna, always raggin' on me. But I loved her, you see." He looks at us as though in search of sympathy.

"They're gonna fry you, man," Fenwick says. "You know that, doncha?"

"It doesn't matter."

"Why didn't you just beat her up?" Donovan puts in.

"I thought of that, but she still would have gone."

Jimmy Spinosa shrugs his narrow shoulders. "So? She's not the only woman in the world."

Dickie looks over at him and a strange little smile twists his lips. Then, he goes on. "I was washing her hair when she told me. Oh, that wasn't something she made me do. I loved doing it. She had such pretty hair. Got me all excited, soaping it up and running my fingers through it. She liked it, too. It made her lazy and vulnerable. Sometimes it helped me get her sweet for a little while - like she was when we first got married. It was while I was rinsing her hair she told me she was leaving."

Dickie pauses, takes a long final drag on his cigarette, then grinds it out. When he speaks again, it's from behind a thick veil of smoke and his voice sounds like it comes from another place deep down inside.

"I don't even really remember doing it. But after a while, there I was straddling her, my hands still around her throat and that beautiful hair spread out like a wreath on the water encircling her white face."

"Bullshit! I don't believe it," Clive says.

"I don't care what you believe," Dickie answers, looking for the first time like a man capable of almost anything.

No one speaks, not even Clive, for what seems an awful long time and it's as still and quiet as I've ever known it to be in Donovan's.

BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaper editor/writer and has published six novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has also published short stories in a variety of magazines, among them Mouth Full of Bullets, A Cruel World and Crime And Suspense.

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Twist Of Noir 008 - Gerard Brennan

KING EDWARD - GERARD BRENNAN

Where did I leave that cigar?

The thought has no place in this situation. Vinto Feehan is pushing the stubby snout of his .38 revolver into my forehead. Twisting his wrist to grind it into the thin layer of flesh. It hurts just a little more than the wine-before-beer hangover, kicking the shit out of the inside of my skull. My stomach is scraped out from puking, brought on by binge-drinking and stress. I’d been expecting Vinto, you see. That’s why I’d sparked up the cigar in the first place.

I’d been given the King Edward at Vinto’s wedding. All the men got one after the silver-service meal. I’d quit smoking ten years ago, so I’d pocketed the thing. The idea was to pass it on to somebody who’d appreciate it. I was lying to myself. Pretending I’d no intention of smoking it. More than once, I’d sat behind my desk, a large whiskey in one hand and the cigar in the other. And last night I finally stripped it of its clear plastic. Lung cancer becomes less of a worry when you know death at the hands of your best friend is on its way.

The outermost leaves left a sweet taste on my lips. The tobacco was mild. Mild enough for this reformed smoker to draw a couple of puffs into my lungs without choking. Blue smoke filled my little office.

Halfway through, I stubbed it, intending to draw out the luxurious experience as far as possible. Then I swilled down another huge glass of Chilean plonk and fell asleep in my chair.

Until Vinto woke me.

I strain my eyes, look sideways at my desktop. There’s ash on a saucer, but no sign of the unsmoked half of my King Edward.

“Did you see my cigar, Vinto?”

“What?” Vinto shakes his head. “I’ve got a gun to your empty fucking head, Marty. You’re worried about your cigar?”

“I’d like to finish it.”

“You don’t get no last requests, Marty.”

Vinto thumbs back the hammer. I squirm.

“Come on, man,” I say. “For old time’s sake?”

“Old times sake?”

Lights flash. Ungodly pain explodes above my ear. I tumble out of my chair and crack the other side of my head on the desk. The hangover is upstaged. I’d been pistol-whipped. First time. It’s as painful as it looks.

“Vinto, you fucker! What the hell?”

“Old time’s sake, Marty? Is that what you said to Veronica?”

Vinto slavers like a fighting dog. His blood’s up, but at least he’s talking. If I can keep him speaking, arguing even, it might buy me enough time to think of a way out of this.

“She came on to me,” I say. “And you’d hired me to see if she was cheating. I figured I was gathering proof.”

Air blasts from my lungs. Vinto kicks my ribs again and again. Bastard cracks a couple of them. I’m actually crying now.

“Gathering proof?” Another kick. “You fuck.” Another kick. “Bastard fuck.” One more for good luck.

I wheeze and whimper, but at least I’m not dead. There’s a taste like copper in the back of my throat. I fight against the urge to puke.

“Stand up, Marty.”

I roll onto my stomach and draw my knees up. Stabbing pain flares in my chest. I hitch a couple of breaths before I attempt to kneel up. Vinto kicks my ass. A kick George Best would have been proud of. Somehow, I keep my balance. If I live, I’ll have to pick my boxers out of my hole later on. I slowly get to my feet, using my desk for support. Panic saps me of my strength. I can’t catch a proper breath. I turn to face him.

“Come on, Vinto,” I whisper the words, but Vinto hears me loud and clear. “We’re friends, man.”
He cocks his head. His gun hand hangs by his side, the piece pointed to the floor. “If this is how you treat your friends, I’m glad we’re not enemies.”

“What if I apologise?”

He snorts. “Shove your apology up your hole.”

“I think you’ve kicked it shut.”

He looks pleased with himself. “You brought this on yourself, Marty.”

“A kicking, maybe. But a bullet in the head? Come on, man. You’re overreacting a bit.”

“I beg to differ.”

He raises the gun again. I stare into the barrel. My palms are slick with sweat and I can feel my balls shrinking. A dull throb swells in my skull. The old fight-or-flight juice shoots through my system. My legs begin to shake.

“Was she worth it?” he asks.

“Almost,” I say. “I couldn’t talk her into doing it doggy style. She wanted to be in control, you know? Straddled me like a rodeo bull. A pretty decent fuck, but not really Penthouse material.”

His face creases in what must be a head-melting cocktail of emotions. Anger, jealousy, humiliation, arousal. Is arousal an emotion? Jesus, facing death puts some fucked-up thoughts in your head.

Vinto’s hand shakes. Serious DT jazz hands. If he shoots now, there’s a chance he’ll miss. This could be my only chance. But the thought of it stalls me. My head is killing me, I can barely breathe and the hangover is niggling at me again. I’ve never been less up for a scrap.

Then Vinto closes in on me. He’s right in my face, screaming and spitting. I’ve no idea what he’s saying. He probably doesn’t know either. But the message comes through. I’m a complete shit.

He’s right. I shouldn’t have banged Veronica. It was bad form. I should take my medicine.

But I don’t.

I smash my forehead into his face. His nose snaps and sprays us both with blood. He stumbles backwards. I kick his balls. Vinto drops to the deck. I stamp on the hand curled loosely around the gun. Vinto screams as bone crumbles under my shoe. He rolls away from me. I scoop up his abandoned gun and he cradles his ruined hand.

I feel bad, but I imagine a bullet in the face feels worse.

As Vinto sits with his back to the wall, whimpering, I go to my desk and toss letters, envelopes and bills off the tabletop. Then I find it. The last of the King Edward. I keep one eye on Vinto as I spark it up. Now that I’m sober, it doesn’t taste as sweet or mellow as I remember. But it’s better than a poke in the eye.

A few more puffs and I’ve stalled long enough. I approach Vinto, cigar in my left hand, shooter in my right. I’m still deciding how I should play it. I hunker down, just out of arm’s reach, and look him in his eyes. They’re floating. Tears of misery and pain. A good measure of it down to me. Poor bastard. I can kind of understand where he’s coming from.

But he came here to shoot me.

I raise the gun.

“I should blow your face to bits, Vinto.”

He shrugs. “You’re a dirty fighter, man.”

“No such thing outside the ring. You know that.”

“So shoot me.”

And I try to. I squeeze the trigger, slowly, breathing evenly. Then I catch the hammer with my thumb and ease it back home. I’m no killer.

“Let’s call a truce, Vinto.”

Surprise stretches his face. “Think you can trust me?”

“No, but I can hammer out something with my lawyer. Sort of a, ‘In case of death, scoop Vinto Feehan,’ type of thing.”

“Is that a real thing?”

I chuckle. “Who knows?” I pause for a second to collect my thoughts. “But this has gone too far. It ends now.”

Vinto nods. “I’d offer to shake hands,” he raises his mashed right hand, “but you fucked this one up.”

“Hey, man. You went to town on my ribs. I’ve five weeks of pain every time I breathe ahead of me.”

“Give me a puff of that cigar,” Vinto says. “It’ll be symbolic. Like sharing the peace pipe.”

Moving slowly for the sake of my ribs, I go to him and crouch down again. He raises his eyebrows and I put the cigar in his mouth. It’s a touching scene. Right out of a Hollywood tough guy flick. Gripping the King Edward in his teeth, he draws deep. The smoke spills languorously from the side of his mouth and he takes another pull. I wink at him.

“I might have saved your soul, Vinto.”

“How do you figure, Marty?”

“I stopped you becoming a killer.”

“No, you stopped me from killing you.”

“What do you mean?”

He squints at me through a cloud of smoke, grinning. “Ding, dong, the bitch is dead.”

“Which bitch?” I say it without humour.

“The bitch you fucked. Veronica ate a bullet before I came for you.”

I ought to say something. Do something. Anything. I can’t. I’m stuck on pause.

Vinto sneers. “Aren’t you going to say anything?” Then taunting; “Does our truce still stand?”

I blink at him, still trying to comprehend. This shit is huge. I’m sharing a King Edward with a killer.

Then it all kicks off. Vinto spits the cigar at me. It bounces off my cheek. I jerk backwards as sparks burst outwards. Am I burnt? I raise my hand to my cheek. I should have raised the gun. Vinto has a knife. An old school Italian stiletto. Where the fuck did that come from? It whickers through the air. I take it in the face and warm blood flows. He’d gone for my eyes and missed by an inch. Caught my cheekbone.

I scrabble backwards, aim and shoot. I catch him a good one in the right shoulder. But he takes it like a champ. Rolls with it. He lunges from sitting. Tries to spear me with the blade. I’ve no choice. Planting my ass on the floor, I empty the pistol in his face. It’s a closed casket for Vinto.

Blood, brains, cordite, panic, adrenaline. The walls are closing in on me. Through it all, I’m still feeling hungover. I struggle to my feet. Vinto lies faceless. The King Edward burns beside him. I give it some thought then crush it under my shoe. I’m going to quit smoking. Again.

BIO: Gerard Brennan, 29, lives in Northern Ireland, with his wife, Michelle, and their two children, Mya and Jack. He’s working on his third novel while his second languishes in many slushpiles. His first has been put down, sadly. He is also redrafting a screenplay, titled The Point (thanks to NI Screen), finishing off a collection of poetry for children, illustrated by Rachel Law, and plans to tackle another draft of the play co-wrote with his father, Joe Brennan, titled The Sweety Bottle. And he runs a blog dedicated to crime fiction in Northern Ireland, http://www.crimesceneni.blogspot.com/. So pass the coffee.

A Twist Of Noir 007 - Albert Tucher

DYING FOR A SMOKE - ALBERT TUCHER

Originally published, in a slightly different form, in the program of the 2004 Deadly Ink conference

“I wish he’d talk to me,” said Lou DiFranco over his empty plate. Bert’s paella had disappeared, and DiFranco had eaten most of it. “The State has a case, but it’s not perfect. We could win it, but he has to work with me.”

“Maybe he doesn’t want to win,” said Diana. “If he killed his wife, maybe he wants to be punished. That happens, doesn’t it?”

She looked to Bert for confirmation, but he was too busy wearing the satisfied smile of a successful host to help her.

“It does,” said DiFranco, “and I have to remind myself that it’s about what the client wants. It just galls me, though -- knowing I could win it.”

“How?” she said. “From what the papers say, it looks pretty clear. He caught his wife in a hot-pillow motel and killed her. Then he just sat there and let the police find him.”

DiFranco sat completely still for a moment, and Diana could guess what he was thinking. He shouldn’t talk about the case, but he was with two people who knew how to keep secrets.

“Not exactly,” said DiFranco. “He was arrested in another room. Same motel, different room, across the courtyard. A maid found the wife’s body early in the morning. The cops went to notify him and couldn’t find him. They got his cell phone number from his brother, and they called it. That’s when they found out he was asleep back at the motel.”

“I know that place,” said Diana. “I used it a lot, back when.”

She visualized the layout.

“So they figure he checked into the motel to spy on her,” she said. “Could he see her room from his?”

“Only if he was awake,” said DiFranco.

“Why do you think the State’s case has holes?” said Bert.

“Because they have him at the motel, but they can’t put him in her room,” said DiFranco. “No witnesses. Lots of comings and goings at that place, but nobody saw him after he checked into his room. Fingerprints say half of Sussex County was in her room, but his aren’t there. None of her blood on him. Okay, the killer slashed her throat from behind, but still, he should have a little on him somewhere. Fiber evidence is a wash, because they use the same carpets and sheets and towels in every room.

“They have two things. His semen in her, which is why they don’t think her boyfriend did it, and two hairs consistent with hers on the bed in his room.”

Diana wondered how many of her own hairs she had left in places like that.

“They say he brought the hairs back after killing her,” said DiFranco. “I say, what the hell. He was married to her. I can explain everything.”

“Unless they find the knife with your client’s prints on it,” said Bert.

He grinned at the lawyer, who grinned back.

“There’s that,” said DiFranco. “You must have been a cop. Matter of fact, I did try to talk to him about a plea, but it was a one-sided conversation.”

“So they think your client raped his wife before he killed her?” said Bert.

“That’s what they say, but the usual injuries aren’t there.”

“What does he say?” said Diana.

“Not a thing. He didn’t talk to the cops, which is good, but he won’t talk to me, either. The only thing he does is cry. It’s eerie--not a sound, just tears coming down his face.”

“How did she get there?” said Bert.

“Good question,” said DiFranco. “His car was in the parking lot, but hers was at home.”

“Who got there first?”

“According to the register, she did, but not by much.”

“They didn‘t use their real names, did they?”

“No,” said DiFranco, “Phony names, but there’s no doubt who was who.”

“Did she have a bag?” said Diana.

“Well, sure.”

“What was in it?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Stuff. Women’s stuff.”

“It could be important, Lou.”

That got his attention. He had learned to take her seriously years earlier, when her testimony beat him in an attempted murder case.

“Well, condoms,” he said. “Makeup case. Handiwipes. Cigarettes. And a red pen.”

“Ouch," said Diana."That's the kind of detail that makes it real. Remember when you were a kid, and you couldn’t imagine your teachers being real people who had lives? Well, here’s one teacher who did.”

She thought for a while.

“She also had cigarettes. What‘s that about?”

“I guess she smoked ‘em,” said DiFranco.

“Do you know that for sure?”

DiFranco paused. “No, I guess not.”

“I have to wonder how a teacher could even be a smoker these days,” she said. “Buildings are smoke-free, and teachers hardly have time to sit down, let alone go outside.”

“Does it matter?”

“If I’m right, it does. See if you can find out. Better yet, let me ask him.”

“If you can get him to talk, be my guest.”

“Did she have matches or a lighter?”

“Jeez, Diana, I don’t know. I’d have to look in the file.”

“I think you should do that,” said Bert. He knew her even better than DiFranco, The lawyer had represented her several times since their first encounter, but as chief of police Bert had once hunted her for murder.

DiFranco held up his hands.

“Okay,” he said, “I’ll look.”

“If it matches,” she said, “it’ll be a book from one of a few places.”

She named several bars near the motel.

“Is he out on bail?”

“Yeah. His family paid my retainer and put up bail. Very heavy bail. Come on, what do you have?”

She shook her head.

“I might be wrong. Let me talk to him first.”

The next morning he called her at her business, Fanelli’s gym in Driscoll. She was still paying off the investors who had helped her buy it.

“Matches,” said DiFranco without preliminaries. “From Francie’s.”

It was one of the bars Diana had named.

“Can you come over now?”

On her way out Diana stopped at the front desk and asked Bert to take over.

“You’re the boss.”

He grinned. Bert liked his part-time job because the irony of a retired cop taking orders from a retired hooker appealed to him.

DiFranco met her in his waiting room.

“I hope you’ve got something,” he said. “Things aren’t looking so good all of a sudden.”

“What happened?”

“I just got back from the prosecutor’s office. They‘ve been dropping little tidbits, trying to get me to plead him. Turns out the cops found a note in his wallet. Just a number, one-oh-six. Looks like her handwriting, and it’s in red ink. Take a wild guess what room she was found in.”

“It wouldn’t be One-oh-six, would it?”

“It would. So, now they’re going to say he found a note that she wrote to herself about where she was going.” DiFranco frowned. “It‘s just one more thing they‘ve got that spells premeditation. Unless I can convince the jury that she didn‘t write it.”

“Oh, she wrote it,” said Diana. “Just not to herself.”

The man sitting in Lou DiFranco’s office seemed made of misery. He wasn’t weeping at the moment, but he could obviously start again.

“This is Mr. Wyatt,” said DiFranco.

Wyatt slumped in one of the two chairs in front of the lawyer’s desk. Diana took the other chair and turned it forty-five degrees toward the client.

“I’m Diana Andrews. Did your wife smoke?”

Wyatt blinked. DiFranco nodded, telling her that it was more than the client had given him.

“I’m guessing she didn’t,” said Diana. “From what I read in the newspapers, I think she was the kind of woman who is very careful about what she puts in her body.”

She winced. “Careful” sounded stupid, considering what the dead woman had been doing. But Wyatt didn’t seem to have made the connection.

“I was a prostitute for almost fifteen years.”

She had his attention.

“I’m thinking back to a couple who hired me once,” she said. “I generally didn’t do couples. There was something creepy about it--I don’t know what, exactly. But this couple said they just wanted to ask me about my work. They paid my rate, so I said okay.

“They asked me about what I would do, what I wouldn’t do, what kinds of weird things clients had asked me for, all kinds of stuff. They wanted it really explicit. I could tell when they liked the sound of something and when they didn’t, because they would give each other these meaningful looks. You know what I mean?

“Then they asked me for some little tricks of the trade, and I remember telling them that I always carried cigarettes for the clients--first-timers especially. See, sometimes a guy came to me at a point when he could hardly remember what sex was like. His marriage had gone so bad that nothing was happening. And he got to where he just gave up and went looking for it somewhere else. With me, for instance.

“So here’s my point. Sometimes, getting some after a long layoff made the guy think about other things he hadn’t done in years, like smoke a cigarette. And he would want one so much that I was like an angel when I said I had some. I got some very good tips that way.

“I think you and your wife were like this other couple. You had a fantasy about her being a hooker, and somehow you heard about the cigarette thing. Not from me, obviously, but from somewhere. So, who else does it?”

“Victoria,” said Wyatt in a voice that was hoarse from disuse.

Diana didn’t know the name. Her former profession seemed to be surviving without her. Later, she would decided whether that was a good thing.

“Okay,” she said. “I don’t know whether this other couple ever took it past fantasy, but I think you did. Was that the first time?”

“Yes,” said Wyatt. His voice was coming back a little.

“That’s a tough break,” she said with a sympathy that was mixed with exasperation. She wanted to ask him what would have been wrong with doing some roleplay at a swing party.

“I killed her,” said Wyatt.

“You mean, it started as your idea,” she said.

DiFranco stirred unhappily at the leading question.

Relax, she thought. We’re not in court.

Wyatt nodded.

“We both liked the idea,” he said, “but when I bought the lighter and cigarettes, that’s when we knew we would go through with it.”

He paused to let a sob fight its way out of him.

“I thought I could protect her if I was right across the courtyard.”

He started to sink back into his silence, and she groped for some way to stop him.

“I never worked with a manager,” she said.

She didn’t want to say “pimp.” The brutality of the word might shut him up again.

“A manager wouldn’t have been able to get there fast enough to protect me. Not unless I went really down market and worked in alleys and cars. What I’m saying is, there wasn’t much you could have done.”

“Maybe if I could at least have stayed awake,” said Wyatt.

This time, he did fall silent. DiFranco nodded to Diana. They had enough information to work with. He led her out into his waiting room.

“I’m thinking they planned to turn one trick, just to see what it felt like,” said Diana. “At the motel they were pretending not to know each other, because it might cramp her style to have him around. She either slipped him the note or left it where he would find it. Then she went to work in one of the bars. Maybe he was even there watching her get picked up.

“Afterwards, they were really hot for each other, so they met in his room. He doesn’t know about the matches, which says to me that she went out again after he fell asleep. I figure she wanted more, and she went to Francie’s and found another john. The wrong john.”

“This is good,” said DiFranco. “There’s a guy I can talk to in the prosecutor’s office. I’ll run it by him.”

Two days later, he called her at the gym.

“All those favors I did you?”

He had never billed her for anything, which had always embarrassed her.

“You are paid up in full. I ran it by my prosecutor friend. He was pissed. He was just starting to like his case, and here I come making him do some work.”

“How so?”

“Well, if they don’t buy our story, they have to explain the lack of physical evidence. And they have to eliminate other suspects, like all the guys who left fingerprints in the room when our guy didn‘t. One set belonged to a dirtbag who did time for beating on a hooker when he couldn’t get it up. Okay, his prints could have been there for days, but it was just too much coincidence. My friend asks the cops what this guy said, and they say they never questioned him. They figured they had a strong suspect who wasn’t denying anything. My friend hits the ceiling.

“So the cops go to talk to the dirtbag. They have nothing on him, but this one cop gets an idea. The guy lights up a cigarette with a disposable lighter, and the cop asks him if he took it off the woman he killed. The fact is, he didn’t. The lighter she lost under the bed is in with the other evidence. But it was like he just needed an excuse to fold. Right away he says, ’I should have known I couldn’t get that lucky.’ Meaning, I guess, that the husband would take the fall. He also said he freaked when he found her full of semen.”

“So,” said Diana, “your client’s going to have to punish himself. The taxpayers won’t do it for him.”

There was a pause, as they listened to what she had just said.

“Shit,“ said DiFranco. He hung up the phone.

Wyatt’s suicide made the Star-Ledger the next day.

BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of eighteen published stories and four unpublished novels about prostitute Diana Andrews. Like most authors of hardboiled crime fiction, he is a librarian in his day job.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Twist Of Noir 006 - Keith Rawson

MA'S FAVORITE WIFE - KEITH RAWSON

“You can have what’s left of me.”

Gina starts to pull her white and blue check hospital gown over her head. I can’t help but involuntarily flinch; the guilt of it washes over me and I can feel my ears turning a bright, burning red.

I don’t notice that she’s peeking through the gauzy material of the gown.

She lowers it back down across her protruding shoulder blades, and starts in with that cackle of hers that always made me want to punch her in the face until she’s unconscious and missing most of her teeth. The cackle was just one of the many reasons why I left Gina fifteen years ago; the laugh topped the list, though. Gina was my first of three wives and my Ma’s favorite. Gina was a neighborhood girl, fair-skinned, freckled, red-headed, Irish-Catholic, and a member of our Parish. She was everything my mother wanted in a daughter-in-law because she was basically my Ma. The two major differences between them being that my mother could never shoot a convenience store clerk in the face for not emptying the register fast enough nor could she hit a deflated, blackened vein with a hypo loaded with a sweet mixture of coke and smack at twenty paces.

Me and Gina were together ten years, and I can’t say there was ever really a dull moment. Neither one of us was cut out for the straight world like our parents. We lived hard, but maintained a public face of a content, working-class couple, choosing to remain in the neighborhood we grew up in and pretended to go to work every day when, in reality, we were commuting to outlying cites, earning a living heisting gas stations, liquor stores, restaurants and drug dealers. It was a decent enough life; shit, it still is a decent life, at least for me. In our ninth year, something began to shift and change in Gina. I won’t say it was subtle, far from it. She wanted to hang it up; she wanted the same thing most women want when they reach a certain age: a baby.

When she told me, I wanted to laugh in her face. She was a junkie piece of shit stick-up artist. I asked her if she could really see herself having a little bundle of diaper rash and shit sucking on her tit all day? She said she did; I said I couldn’t. The riff started. Things started happening in our lives that had never gone on before: screaming matches lasting for hours on end; sleeping in separate bedrooms afterward; me staying out all night or not coming home for days and nights on end. I left 3 days shy of our tenth anniversary and moved in with Heather with nothing but the clothes on my back and a sizable wad from the jobs I’d been pulling solo since Gina decided she wanted to get fat with a kid.

Heather was the exact opposite of Gina, and my good old Irish Ma hated her with a fucking passion. Life with Heather was good for a time; at the very least, our marriage got me out of the old neighborhood and cross-country to the commie pinko shores of California and a whole new world opened up for me. I developed business partnerships with colleagues who needed inroads to the east coast; I was their man for the job. Things came to an end with me and Heather after I found her in the sack with our twenty year-old wheelman’s cock jammed halfway up her ass. I stomped his skull into a fine mush, which was a shame; the kid was a hell of a driver. I didn’t do anything to Heather. I figured watching the kid die and leaving her broke with a raging habit was enough.

Thanks to my new endeavors from out west, I found myself back in the old neighborhood. I met and married another neighborhood girl and moved into Ma’s old place. I think Ma would’ve liked Sandy a lot. She’s another red-headed Catholic girl who I met at Mass. She’s a hard ass and a good girl. She’s never had a thing to do with the life and more or less keeps a blind eye to how I keep the money rolling in. I even gave her what Gina wanted from me for such a long time. There are five of us total. Four women and me; I’m about as whipped as they come.

Gina stayed in the neighborhood, too. Married some faggot cost accountant who moved to the neighborhood a few years after I left. Gina thought he was nice suburban husband. They tried having a family right away, but found out a few years in that Gina’s insides were shot. The cancer showed up a couple of years afterward. The cocksucker stuck it out with the first round, which ended up with the docs taking Gina’s left tit. He split once they took the other one and with him gone, so was the medical insurance. I’ve been paying for the treatments since I found out about Gina’s troubles; I even took care all her other medical bills so she could just worry about getting better. Sandy would kill me if she knew what was going on. She’s the jealous type, but if she saw Gina with her no hair, no tits, and 75 lbs. of skeleton and paper thin skin, she’d probably have second thoughts about me trying to fuck the ex.

Gina’s finally starting to settle down, her cackle turning into a slightly menacing chuckle. I shake my head, stare down at my shoes and look back up her smirking.

“You’re one crazy bitch.”

“Yeah, but you love me for it.”

“Yeah. Yeah I do.”

We spend another couple of minutes chuckling and then I get up and leave. I promised the girls a movie tonight, so I’ve got to get going.

BIO: Keith Rawson lives in the Phoenix, AZ suburb of Gilbert with his wife and the coolest 2 year-old daughter, ever. He has been writing for the past fifteen or so years, but has just recently started sending his short stories out for possible publication. Over the past year, he has completed and sent out 18 short stories ranging in size from 1000 words-to-10,000 and has been fortunate enough to have found homes for at least ten of them in such publications as the late, lemented DZ Allen's Muzzle Flash fiction, Powder Burn Flash, Flashshots, Darkest Before The Dawn, and Yellow Mama. He also recently completed the first draft of a hard-boiled crime novel tentatively titled, Retirement.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Interlude

Just the editor stepping out of the shadows to yammer for a moment.

For those that haven't been here until now, welcome to A Twist Of Noir. Please check out the five stories that we have here already and, if you're up for the challenge, fire something off in this direction. Maybe you'll see your name here soon.

Check out the links, too.

For those that have been here, I hope you like the place. It will be constantly changing and never boring.

A handful of sites and people behind those sites have contributed to sending people in my direction and I'm forever in their debt. In no particular order, they are:

Seth Harwood at Crimewav has been very gracious in pimping out the site to all of his listeners, as well as the viewers of the Crimewav site. Thank you so much, Seth.

Nathan Cain at IndependentCrime, has also been telling everyone to check out the site, netting me Gary Dobbs and his excellent story seen here. Thanks, Nathan.

And Geoff Eighinger at Eastern Standard Crime, who has reviewed three of the five stories we have up and will himself be opening up a crime E-Zine in January.

Also, check Chris Pimental's Bad Things out. Chris will restarting Bad Things in January but is accepting submissions right this very minute. I feel like I stepped all over Chris's toes, due to the fact that he put out his announcement that he was restarting Bad Things the night before I announced that I was starting up A Twist Of Noir. So go show Chris some love, too.

Okay, interlude over. Let's get on with the noir.

A Twist Of Noir 005 - Eric Beetner

DETAILS - ERIC BEETNER

I’ll tell you one thing from experience, blood does not wash out easy. And in a weird way, other people’s blood is harder to get out than your own. Probably because, if it’s your own blood, you tend to notice because that means you’re bleeding, which means you’re injured, which means you’re in pain.

I won’t tell you exactly how I know this because the details aren’t important. All that matters is that I got this predicament and you’re here so I’m telling you in hopes that maybe you could help me out.

Okay, I see in your eyes that you want, if not details, then broad strokes. I agree that this is fair enough. I’m a bag man. I pick up, I deliver. It’s not the U.S. Mail but you get the drift. I seen plenty and been paid not to see nothing. This is my racket and I do okay at it. Other guys maybe did better, I seen them get promoted ahead of me. Other guys did worse, too. I seen them tied up to a tree and beat with branches and then given a Chinese necktie. You heard of a Chinese necktie, ain’t you? Where they cut your throat kinda on the up and down and then pull your tongue out through the hole in your neck so it hangs there like a necktie? I heard it called a Dago necktie, too, but we don’t like to use derogatory terms towards our own. The chinks can’t get mad ‘cause they can’t understand me anyhow. Plus, I don’t even know any chinks. Either way.

But always my job is to hold the bag. So I hold the bag, no big deal, right? Where does the blood come in, I hear you ask, even though you ain’t said a freakin’ word since I sat down. Which I appreciate. A man in my position is on the lookout for someone with discretion. You have proven yourself amply. That’s a kind of way of giving you permission to utter a fucking verb or something like that. No? Fine. We continue then, like a confessional with a mute priest.

Last week, I get the call, blah blah blah and the usual routine. Pick up here, what time, take it there, front or back. I can do it in my sleep. So I show up and what do you know but the item, shall we say, is too big to fit in a bag - unless you got a big fucking bag. It’s a person. A girl. A young girl. I don’t know from nothing so it’s back to the list: where to? What time? Front or back?

Into the backseat she goes. Into the front seat I goes. We’re on our way like a Sunday drive to Grandma’s house. Oh, I forgot to say, her hands was tied up. With like a thick rope, the kind that’s all frayed and stuff. Leaving little strands of it in my backseat. The kind that detectives like to pick up with tweezers and put into plastic bags. But whatever, like I say, I seen a whole lot of nothing doing what I do.

About halfway there, and I won’t tell you where to protect not only the person getting the package but you as well because the less you know the better. Shit, I’m already too much in the details. But you gotta know what’s what so you can help me, right? So okay. She opens the door. Right on Broadway, right in the middle of an intersection, right when I’m stepping on the gas because the light just turned yellow. She opens the door. Did I think to lock it? No. Why would I lock it? Did I know she was gonna jump out of a moving car? No. Why would I? Would you? Y’know what? Doesn’t matter. You weren’t there.

So, bottom line – she jumps out. I hear the door open thinking I got a faulty latch or something. I turn around and see her skinny ass on its way out the door and then she hits the pavement. Holy shit, it was a mess. She rolled out forward, you understand? And her hands were all tied so she didn’t have anything to protect herself with. She hit that intersection face first, I’m telling you. She skidded like a dog when you hit it, you know how it kinda bounces off the bumper and skids along for a little while? That was her. I think she was knocked out cold the first second her head hit the cement. Better for her if she was.

Jesus, I hit the brakes. Nearly took out a newspaper truck making rounds. Oh, it’s about five-thirty in the morning. Did I mention that? Well it is, which is good ‘cause there’s hardly any people around. I get out and go back to pick her up off the ground, right? This is where the blood comes in. A lot of it. Like a prizefight in an operating room. What can I do? I got to get her to the destination, right? That’s my job, right? I already got it all over me the second I pick her up so I can’t worry about it too much. My car, that’s another story. My car is my bread and butter. I can’t have no blood-soaked car. I get routine chats from all manner of cops and private dicks. They know my racket. I don’t hurt nobody and, very occasionally, I let go with a few rumors overheard just to secure my place in good standing. No rat type stuff but just rumors. Y’know, stuff you hear. Ah, why do I got to defend myself to you? Shut up and listen. A joke. Anything? No, huh? Somebody hold a mirror under his nose, see if he’s breathing.

Anyway, too many details but, shit, I’m in it now. Don’t want to leave you hanging. So I’m thinking, trunk? Do I put her in the trunk? She’s still alive, mind you. Just out cold and bleedin’ to death. Such a pretty face, too. Damn shame to give it a facial on the asphalt. I mean, why’d she do such a thing? What makes a person? A whole lot of I don’t know, is what. A whole lot of I don’t particularly want to know. So what’s her business is her business. My problem is how to make my delivery without giving my car a soaking in blood.

Trunk seems to be a better solution than the backseat. You got a better idea? I didn’t think so. So I go for the trunk, only I forgot – I got my brother’s new TV in there that I was supposed to drop off at the repair shop. That son-of-a-bitch brother of mine is always making me do his dirty work because I got a car and he don’t. Bastard has a TV, which I don’t have one of them. Sure, he’s got the bucks for one of those but can he scrape together a few bucks for a used car? No.

Wait a second. Did I call him a son-of-a-bitch? What the hell does that make me then? Ha-ha! Look what I did! I insulted myself at the same damn time.

Seriously though, someone check his pulse. Whoa, you blinked. Call off the hearse.

Anyway, so long story short, I can’t fit her in the trunk. I got to put her in the backseat which makes me mad because she even bloodier now than when we started this whole song and dance.
She’s startin’ to come to, so I sit her down on the curb so I can get a blanket or something down on the seat and maybe she won’t ruin my seats entirely. I figure I got another twelve to thirteen minutes of driving left. I am very accurate at estimations. I told you, this is my job.

So I’m up to my waist in the trunk, trying to dig around under this giant fucking Zenith and find a blanket or a sheet or a newspaper or some thing. I got nothing. But a-ha! Newspaper sounds like a good idea. The guy in the truck just dropped out about fifty morning editions on the curb over there. So I go over to get a few. I carry a pocketknife on me all the time so I can cut the rope easy. You carry a knife? My grandfather gave it to me. Used to go fishing with him. It’s got real Mother of Pearl on the handle. You don’t carry one? You carry a hearing aid? This thing on? Testing one-two-three?

Anyway, I grab up about fifteen papers and I’m headed back through the intersection and she’s getting’ up! She staggers like a drunk on New Year’s Eve. Her hands are still tied, there’s blood in her eyes. She’s a mess, is what I’m driving at. No condition to be navigating an intersection, even at five-thirty in the morning. I can see it coming a clear as the headlines on the morning Chronicle – Boom. Car takes her out. She goes up on the hood, feet over her head, cracks the windshield, shoes in the air, skirt twirling like she’s under the big top at the circus. The jag-off in the Chevy? Doesn’t even slow down. Drunk as a skunk, I’m sure. Tags this ex-beautiful dame right on Broadway and Eighth and can’t even find the brake pedal.

Now, what do I have on my hands? More blood, if that’s possible. I’m thinkin’…do I get more newspapers? Do I just leave her here? Do I strap her to the roof? What do I do?

Get on with the job, that’s what. I ain’t being paid to deal with nothing but deliver a package. Sometimes, things shift in shipping, ain’t that what is says on all the boxes?

I get her out of the street, she’s back out cold, as you’d expect. Now, her leg is going two directions at once. I’m almost gettin’ sick just lookin’ at it. Like, all of a sudden, I’m in medical school or something. I lay down the newspapers good and thick. Good and thick. Four across over the whole backseat, with the headlines staring up at me in fifty-point type:

Millionaire Heiress Kidnapped!

I’m readin’ it, but I ain’t seein’ it, if you get my meaning.

I get her in there. She’s a tiny gal but, out cold like that, she’s like trying to wrangle a sack of old potatoes covered in molasses. The blood is the molasses, see? Aw, you’re deaf, dumb and blind, for all I know. Just lemme finish.

So I get her in there and I go around to the other side to pull her up and in. So I get her where I think she’s all the way, right? Then I slam the door. Well, her damn half-attached leg goes flopping out at the last second and I shut the door right on it. What do you know? Her foot comes right off. Right off! Must have barely been hangin’ on to begin with because I ain’t that strong.

I run back across the street and get one more morning edition and wrap up the foot in it. The shoe is long gone off in the gutter somewhere. Not my problem. So now she’s in and I got twelve minutes to go. I gun it and I make it in eleven. Adrenaline, you know?

I get to the place. Big house. I made a few deliveries here before so I recognize it. I don’t know who lives there so don’t ask me. I keep to myself and that’s the way they like it. I knock on the door and two big guys are there. First thing they see is the blood. So cat’s out of the bag on that one. No one panics. No one chastises. Status quo. So I lead them to the car. I hand the big guy on the right the foot and the big guy on the left and I grab her.

They make me take her to the garage. We lay her down next to a really nice-looking Cadillac. Really nice. Cream-colored convertible. Man, I would love a convertible someday. But anyway, somehow these guys don’t get a drop of blood on them. Don’t ask me how.

We step out and one guy hits the garage door opener and it comes down, only this jackass, and I would never say that to his face or anything, but this jackass didn’t put her in far enough so the garage door comes down right on her neck. It grinds and makes some kind of horrible noise like a tractor giving birth to a hay baler. First time I see these two frazzled. The guy with the remote is pressing buttons. The garage door is going up and then down, up and then down, trying to shut but her neck and head are in the way. I mean, at this point, it’s like putting hamburger through a meat grinder again, y’know?

They get it sorted out but not before the man of the house can come outside, in his silk robe, mind you, to see what the fuss is. Don’t ask me who, I ain’t sayin’. Now I go into my schpiel. See, I got the plates of the drunk who smashed her in the intersection. I got the numbers. I’m off the hook. Free and easy. Now the worst I got is blood in my backseat.

Mr. Silk Pajamas is thankful. Doesn’t seem upset by it at all. Shakes my hand and I’m off. He sends his two guys in to shoot her like a lame horse or something. I hear the shot but all I’m worried about is now it’s six in the morning and I got fifteen editions of the Chronicle soaked through with blood and that brings me to you, my silent and attentive friend. I need your expertise. I need your magic touch. I need you to help me out of this spot I find myself.

What’s the best way to get blood off car upholstery?

BIO: Eric Beetner is an Editor, Producer, Director and Screenwriter in Los Angeles. He has sold several scripts but none have made it to the screen, like most writers in Hollywood. He wrote and directed his own film 'Taking Your Life', which played well on the festival circuit and can be found on Indieflix.com. Some of his music videos and short films can be found at ericbeetner.com.

Currently, Eric is shopping two crime novels. One is a solo effort and one is written with Noir author JB Kohl.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Twist Of Noir 004 - Alan Griffiths

RAT FINK - ALAN GRIFFITHS

Priest was a gangster. Had been for a very long time. A career criminal, as the police would say.

Now he was feeling like a very old gangster. Much older than his 45 years.

His face was like a slab of cold meat, sunken eyes and a slash of cruel mouth below a twisted nose. Shaven close-cropped grey hair topping granite features. Several days of grey stubble covered his face.

He was a hard man and looked it.

Now he was lying on his bed, blood stained sheets, wearing only vest and pants, grubby and stinking from over a week of wear. He was awake but his eyes were closed. A lit Silk Cut smoking between his lips. A glass of malt whisky stood on the floor, the bottle next to it empty down to the label.

He reached down for the glass and felt a stab of pain shoot though his body. Anger seethed inside of him and a spark flared in his eyes.

He uttered a single word. Stark and loud in the silent room.

"Cunt."

He gulped down a large belt of the whisky. Grimaced as he felt it kick him in the throat like a cold-hearted mugger and then again as it settled in his stomach. It was just gone mid-day and his mood was black.

Getting blacker by the minute.

Sliding his right hand beneath the grubby vest top, he rubbed his index finger gently over puckered skin. The scar tissue was still fresh, the flesh still red and raw.

Tender to his touch.


****

He'd been shot in the gut some six weeks earlier when a post office blagging had gone wrong.

Badly wrong.

The owner, an Asian guy, had pulled a hand gun from below the counter. Pulled it from nowhere and got a shot away before Priest had a chance to react.

Fortunately for Priest, the bullet had not lodged, smashing a rib on entry and ricocheting out again. Not so fortunate for the Asian; he was now history, splattered over the back wall when Priest let him have both barrels from the sawn-off.

Priest had help on the job; a kid named Slater, recommended by a friend of a friend. A flash young pup, with a ferocious habit that needed satisfying. He should have been watching Priest's back but had fucked up.

Fucked up badly and then literally fucked off when the bullets started flying. Picked up the hold-all with the takings from the safe in it and like Meat Loaf sang.

Was out of there like a bat out of hell.

Somehow, Priest had managed to get himself out of the post office. And, with one hand holding his guts, in place had driven himself to an alcoholic Irish ex-GP named Flynn who, between bottles of Jameson, had opened up Priest and repaired the damage. All the time Priest remained awake, the sawn-off in his hand as an added incentive for Flynn to get the job done.

The sawn-off never wavered an inch.

****

Bazz Clarke was a dealer. Well-known for good quality stuff. His motto; No shit dealt. No reason for customer complaints.

Always leaving them wanting more.

Two days later, Bazz, a short, stocky man with receding hair and as his few real friends would vouch, bad breath, returned home to his basement flat.

As he entered, a boot prevented the front door from closing behind him. Bazz, turning, was only briefly aware of a blade glinting before his eyes and then felt blood oozing as the tip found flabby skin under the chin. Backing into the room, Bazz had fear in his eyes.

"Hello, Bazza boy," hissed Priest. "I think we have a mutual friend that we need to have a little natter about."

Keeping the blade steady, he stepped closer and reached inside Bazz's jacket pocket and pulled out a mobile phone.

"Make a call and keep it short and sweet."

Priest's wicked grin sent a shiver down Bazz's spine. Slowly, he reached out his left hand and took the phone. For a split second, he seemed to hesitate and the knife held in Priest's hand twisted ever so slightly. Bazz quickly punched a speed dial number.

Priest's eyes never leaving him for a moment, the blade held firmly in his hand.

****

Later, Priest watched from his car as Slater came sauntering down the street, a haunted junky look in his gaunt face. Hands in pockets and collar up against the bitter weather, he stopped, took a quick glance over his shoulder and quickly descended the stairs to the basement flat.

Priest, sitting low in the front seat, blowing smoke rings from his Silk Cut, imagined Bazz answering the door to Slater; an inch of sticking plaster under his chin, sweat on his brow, a shake in the hand, maybe a nervous wobble in his voice. But he knew that Slater would be too desperate to pick up the warning signs.

Too flush with money. Flush with Priest's money.

And Bazz was too scared to say anything. Too fond of his balls.

Ten minutes later, Slater appeared on the street and slunk away. Priest gave it 30 seconds, waited for Slater to turn the corner then flicked the key in the ignition and put the car in gear.

****

Slater had been home over three hours. Home alone.

Priest had waited patiently outside to make sure. Now dusk had fallen, he got out of the car, crossed the road, pulled the knife from his pocket and went to work quietly on the lock with the blade.

As he pushed the door open, a terrible stench reached his nostrils. Quickly, he pulled the door shut behind him and moved slowly along the hallway.

The heroin and rat poison mixture had worked fast. Too fast.

Much quicker than Priest had expected. Well, chemistry had never been his strong point at school.

He had hoped to find the fucker in terrible pain; scrabbling around on the floor, clutching at his guts like they were on fire. Frothing at the mouth, begging for help.

For mercy.

But Slater was dead. Face down on the bathroom floor with his works scattered around next to him.

Lifeless eyes in a tortured face stared back at Priest as he rolled him over onto his back with his foot. Vomit and blood dribbled from the mouth and nostrils, pooling and making a mess on the tiled floor. Priest had to cover his mouth to stop himself from retching.

Revenge was definitely a dish best served cold, thought Priest. The colder, the fucking better.
"Ya cunt," he spat, the words echoing in the cold empty room.

The money wasn't too hard to find.

Still in the same hold-all, clumsily hidden and surprisingly full of crumpled bank notes. Before he left, Priest stowed the sawn-off in its place. Carefully cleaning the shooter with a towel before wrapping and stuffing it behind the water tank in the airing cupboard.

In the car, he pulled the remaining packet of poisonous heroin from his pocket and examined it closely. Drugs had never been his thing; he could never see the point really, always leading to trouble in one shape or form.

He shrugged, threw the packet in the glove compartment, gunned the engine, checked the rear-view mirror and pulled the car into the traffic; heading back in the direction of Bazz's flat.
After all, he didn't like to leave any loose ends. A good gangster never does.

Even an old one.

BIO: Alan Griffiths lives in London, England. He has a keen interest in reading Crime Fiction, particularly Noir. If successful, Rat Fink would be his first published story, making him a very happy man.

A Twist Of Noir 003 - Gary Dobbs

RHONDDA LIVES - GARY DOBBS

Originally Published at Thieves Jargon, several years ago

What the fuck had I gotten myself into this time?

If Mickey had been able to control his bladder, then it wouldn't have come to this.

I looked at the two maniacs seated next to me - both tooled up.

"The job," I said. "Timing's important."

"I know about the fucking job," Mickey said and prodded his sawn-off into my ribs as if to illustrate the point. "Don't have to tell me about the fucking job. I need a piss. Now."

"Look," I pleaded. "We're driving a stolen van, we're armed, onour way to hold up a Securicor van at a fucking pre-designated point and time. We're going against the clock here."

"I'll only take a fucking second," Mickey screwed up his face and became meanness personified. "I'm fucking busting."

"We'll be okay," Razzer, the other fucking loony said. "The van's not made. He'll piss quick." He knew they were safe with the van.

"I couldn't give a fuck if he pisses at a supersonic rate," I snapped. He was right about the van, though - there was no way it had been reported yet. Razzer had stolen it himself only an hour ago and only then after weeks of surveillance. The owner parked it in the multi-storey at seven-thirty each morning and didn't return till well after six in the evening, sometimes later, never earlier.

"When you gotta go, you gotta go," Razzer said and shrugged his shoulders.

I sighed.

"I can't be threatening no fucker with my shooter in one hand,"Mickey said. "And my legs all bent up to stop me pissing myself. I'll look like a fucking joke."

"He's got a point," Razzer said and laughed. "Can't have him leaving no piss at the scene. DNA fuckers can find out amazing things from piss."

"Yeah?" Mickey turned to Razzer, eager to hear more.

"No," Razzer said and poked Mickey playfully in the ribs. "I'm taking the piss."

"Okay," I said. This was getting absurd. It always amazed me how hard men like these could stay calm in such crazy situations. Me, I was shitting bricks but then I had my reasons. Timing was everything onthis job. A split second could mean the difference between success and failure.

"Where?" I asked. "Where do you want to take a piss?"

"Anywhere," Mickey shrugged and then squeezed his bollocks to illustrate the point. "I can piss on the side of the road."

"Good thinking," I said. "And some copper comes along and what you tell him then? How the fuck do we explain these guns, and the stockings in the glove compartment?"

"Fuck you," Mickey said. "I'll fucking piss here." He lifted his arse off his seat and yanked his jogging pants down, pulling his cock up over the waistband. He would too - I'd shared a cell with him once, he'd had no problem shitting in front of me so this would be a doodle to take a leak here and now, piece of piss really.

"Fucking piss over me and I'll shoot you," Razzer said holding his gun up, not caring that it was now visible to any oncoming traffic through the windscreen. He meant it too - if piss started to spurt from Mickey's sorry-looking cock he'd pull the trigger, leaving a lot more DNA than the urine would.

"Fuck," I said and pulled the van over. There had to be easier ways to make a living.

I'd never worked with these two before, I didn't think I ever would again. I'd met Mickey on the inside, I'd been doing three years for holding up a post office and he'd been in for breaking some copper's nose when the plod tried to step in between him and the nonce he was kicking the shit out of. He was hard as nails and I'd quickly struck up a friendship with him. Soon after that he became my cell mate. It meant that the other cons left me alone - Don't fuck with him or you'll get Mental Mickey on your tail. No one wants Mental Mickey on their tail.

Razzer came through Mickey - I'd only met him last Thursday, in Kudos bar, but he'd been close friends with Mickey since they'd been kids so that was okay. Apparently, they'd done borstal and some grown-up jail together.

I'd looked Mickey up as soon as I'd been released; he'd gottenout two months prior to me. I'd had his address over in Pontypridd, which was only a few miles and so I set up the meeting and Mickey had brought his mate.

That was okay by me.

Three men was good - two gunmen to pull off the blag and a driver ready, engine idling.

I'd outlined the job to them. Every last Friday of the month, the Securicor van would be carrying a large cash haul from the Casino, over a million, according to my sources and I knew the perfect place to hit it. The van had to come down through the Rhondda and take the diversion caused by the road works at Porth Square - that would take the van up over the old mine road. If we hit the van in Trehaford, stopped it, overpowered the guard and driver, grabbed the cash, we would be able to make good our escape down the sidings (which were never used since the old road had deteriorated and was now little more than a dirt track) and be away before the coppers reacted to any emergency call. We'd have another unmarked car waiting, parked inside the old Squint washhouse. The other point in our favour was that the Securicor driver, Stan, was in with the deal and would dissuade the guard from being a hero. He was fifty-nine, had a dodgy chest and figured he was owed more than the meagre pension he was due.

It was easy and I planned on taking my share of the money and getting out of this life, making something for myself. It was all so very simple, nothing could go wrong except for the fact that we had to be parked up on the Tump, waiting for the mobile piggy bank at a set time. If we missed it, then the run was over for another month and Stan was due to retire next Friday so the chance would not come again.

And that brings me to - we're parked at the side of the Road in Dinas. I'm smoking a ciggie, Razzer's sitting there, looking all relaxed, not a care in the world and Mickey's over by the kerb, pissing against the wall. Nirvana's on the radio - teen spirit, one of my favourites- but I'm too nervous to listen.

Suddenly, Lady Luck turned vicious - chance of all cunting chances - but at that precise fucking moment, the community policeman came around the corner and stands, staring at Mickey as his penis directed a steady flow of piss against the community centre wall. There was never a fucking copper about when you needed one but just when.

Three weeks earlier, I'd stood in the snooker club, smiling like a loon. I'd just potted yellow to black straight through, cleared the fucking table. I scooped the twenty quid from the edge of the table and pocketed the cash.

"Anyone else want to chance their arm?" I asked, all arrogant-like. End of the day, I had the right to a little ego. I was a fucking wizard on the green cloth. As my father always said, "If you've got it, flaunt it." I was seriously flaunting.

"Maybe another time," Stan said and tapped me on my back. "Come on, I want to talk to you. You can use that twenty to get 'em in."

"Just as well," I said. I'd just seriously kicked his arse on the table and there were no other takers in the pub. Still, I was twenty quid up. We went to the bar and, after I'd gotten the drinks in, Stan directed us over to a corner table.

"So what's up, Stan?" I rolled myself a cigarette, took a mouthful of the warm Welsh beer and stared at the old man. He had been big mates with my old man and, after the old guy had died, I'd often bumped into him in the local. We chatted, he'd known me since I was a nipper and I kinda liked him. He was a good old guy. Of the old school. A proud, strong man. He was also as crooked as they came but then we all were in the valleys. It had always been a case of us and them in the Rhonddaand always would be.

He went straight into chatter mode - telling me about how long he'd worked for Securicor, about the crap wages, about how he was skint, reminded me of how he'd helped my old man out with money problems more than once. He went on about his bad chest, his desire to visit his brother over in Spain and of how fucking difficult it was going to be living on the pittance of a pension he had coming to him. And then came the plan, his fucking glorious plan, and he reeled me in as a fisherman would his catch.

And now, this careful, detailed plan looked in danger of blowing up in our faces because Mickey couldn't contain his bladder.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck," I said.

"Chill." Razzer grabbed my wrist. "Chill, man," he said calmly.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes for a moment and mouthed a silent prayer. Please God, just this once. Let this work and I'll go fucking straight. Fuck, I'll give my share of the loot to the orphans. Just get us out of this. I clenched my fists tightly and watched the copper who, in turn, stood watching Mickey.

"Chill," Razzer said again. He was starting to get on my fucking tit. What did he think we were, a couple of fucking homeboys in a Spike Lee movie?

"Chill," I said. "I'm gonna have a fucking heart attack."

Razzer smiled. "The pig's not going to do anything," he said. "He'll bollock Mickey and that'll be it. We'll be on our way in a moment."

"I hope you're right." I had a feeling in my gut and I watched as the policeman approached Mickey, who had finally finished pissing and was casually shaking the drippers from his cock.

The copper was only young, a kid really, looked like a boy scout. He said something to Mickey but we couldn't hear what they are saying. All we could do was sit there, virtually holding our breath.

The policeman smiled at Mickey, shook his head and then looked directly at the van.

My heart skipped a beat.

"Fucking chill," Razzer said. This time, there was real menace in his voice and he dug his fingers into my arm as we stared out of the windscreen. We were going to have to play this out. See what happened.

The policeman came over to the van and stood by my window. He made a motion with his hand for me to open the window. Mickey came up behind the policeman, which didn't seem to bother the copper that much. It was obvious he was inexperienced in the job, little more than a fresh, in-uniform rookie, and he had left himself wide open to attack from behind.

I wound my window down and looked at the policeman, trying to remain calm. "What's the problem?" I asked.

"Your friend says you're in a rush. He was caught short."

"Yeah," I smiled my most charming smile. "We're really sorry but he was desperate."

"I see." The policeman nodded and, for one splendid moment, I thought he was going to leave us be. There had been no harm done and it wasn't worth dragging Mickey into court for pissing in the streets, not with so much other crime to prosecute. He looked me up and down for a moment and I was aware that Razzer was sitting uncomfortably on his shooter while I had Mickey's beneath my seat. Finally, the policeman asked: "Where you heading?"

I swallowed. What the fuck had Mickey told him? What if I said the wrong thing?

The next thing, I knew was Mickey's hand coming up behind the policeman and, with one deft movement, he sent his head crashing into the wound-down window. The copper's nose exploded against the edge of the glass, splattering blood over the wing mirror.

"Fuck," I said as the copper's distorted face was rammed once again against the window with a sickening sound like fish guts hitting a sink. I saw a tooth crack clean in half and the window turned pink as the copper's face smeared blood every which way. His helmet came off and fell to the ground and then Mickey quickly dragged the semi-conscious copper around to the rear of the van and opened the door. He threw the young policeman into the van and jumped in himself.

"Get the fuck out of here," Mickey screamed. "Drive."

The copper moaned and Mickey kicked him full force in the stomach, sending the air from him in a huge, painful gasp.

"Shut the fuck up, filth."

I sped off, my mind racing faster than the drive shaft. This was not the original plan - what the fuck were we going to do with the copper?

"What you bring him for?" I yelled over my shoulder at Mickey. "What the hell are you doing?"
"He would have made us," Mickey said. "It wasn't as if I had any choice in the matter."

"He wouldn't have made us," I said. "He doesn't have a clue what's going on."

"Yeah, but as soon as the filth heard about the Securicor blag," Razzer put in, "they would have put two and two together."

"Well, he fucking knows about the job now," I said, glumly. "Top marks, Einstein."

"You taking the piss?" Razzer said and prodded me with his shooter. I had no doubt that he would have used it, blown me apart then and there, had I protested further. And, at that point, I cursed Stan, Mickey, Razzer and the whole fucking deal. Easy money, my arse; there was no such thing.

"We'll have to kill him," Mickey said and looked down at the policeman, who was rolling about in agony on the floor of the van, holding his guts. His face was just a swollen, bloody pulp.

"No fucking way," I said and looked first at Razzer and then over my shoulder at Mickey. "I don't kill people."

"We've got no fucking choice," Razzer said. "And besides, that's not people. He's a copper. It's different."

"What?" I said, finding it more and more difficult to concentrate on my driving. Things had gone to the point of everything seeming like one long terrible nightmare. I wondered if either of them would actually be capable of killing the copper, of gunning the man, little more than a kid really, down in cold blood.

"Please," the policeman's frail voice broke into the three-wayargument, but Mickey silenced him with a vicious size nine boot. The copper's face, already a bloodied pulp, absorbed the blow like a sponge.

Razzer laughed and I felt sick to my stomach and I knew at that precise moment that both were capable of killing the copper. It was nothing to them. When that guy put on his uniform, he became fair game.

"What about the job?" I screamed, trying to bring some semblance of normality to the situation. "Let's just dump him and get on with the job. No need to kill anyone and, besides, what the fuck does he really know?"

"He'll make us," Mickey said.

"Yeah," Razzer nodded. "He had a good look at us and our faces show up in a lot of police files."

"He'd fucking recognise me," Mickey said. "Fuck the job. There'll be other jobs. Up the siding now."

"The sidings, why?" I said, though I knew all too well the reason why. This was not the way I wanted it. Yeah, I was a thief but little more - basically, a chancer, the odd blag here, maybe a drug deal there but now I was going to become a party to murder. And not just any murder but the brutal killing of a young policeman.

"We can blast the fucker by one of the old mine shafts, let the body fall in," Mickey said. "End of story. Problem fucking eradicated."

"No, no." I shook my head. I didn't give a shit about the job anymore. All I wanted was to get out of this without resorting to murder.

"You want to go back to the slammer?" Razzer grabbed me by the throat but had to release me when the van swerved. "The cop'll make us and we'll be back inside. Only, this time, they'll throw away the key in my case. It's him or me and I say the copper gets it."

I cornered the van and then took a quick glance behind at the copper. The poor fucker was groaning lightly, blood looking impossibly red on the twin balloons that were his lips, obviously hovering in andout of consciousness. "He's just a fucking kid," I said.

Razzer shrugged his shoulders. "That's tough. He should have thought of that when he put the uniform on. He's filth. He dies."

I knew then it was inevitable - the cop had chanced on us and paid the ultimate price for his devotion to duty. There was no way out. He was going to die and, like it or not, I was involved right up to my neck. I slowed down slightly but drove towards the sidings erratically. All the while, I was praying beneath my breath that some patrolling squad car would pull us over and stop this madness, but no such luck. We reached the sidings and I pulled the van over behind one of the walls of the old weighing station.

"Look, guys," I pleaded one last time. "Let's not do this."

Mickey ignored me and he kicked open the back doors and, with aboot to the ribs, sent the copper sprawling arse over tit onto the hard ground. He jumped out of the van and Razzer did likewise.

I sat there, for how long I don't know, but I heard them laughing as they dragged the policeman, who was too weak to protest, over to one of the exposed shafts. I closed my eyes and kept my head bowed, praying over and over beneath my breath. Then I heard the single shot and I knew it was all over.

I looked at myself in the rear-view mirror and saw a man who had aged ten years in as many minutes and something deep inside told me that things would never be the same again. Like it or not, I had stepped up into a different league, one that I was never intended for.

BIO: Gary Dobbs writes under both his own name and that of Jack Martin. His first novel, a western under the Jack Martin name, will be published next June by Robert Hale LTD.