Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 043 - Mike Wilkerson


He was a coward by his own account. Things had changed for him, only he wasn’t willing to accept it. He thought, no, he knew that if he played his cards right, he could change the outcome.
He enjoyed lying to himself.

He took himself back a few months earlier.

She was the sweetest thing a small town could produce. But jobs in those small towns spelled out the future: POVERTY. Friends had made the move down already. They spelled paradise with a capital “F”- as in Florida.

They talked it over.

“There’s no future here,” he had said.

“I know. But everything we know is.”

They had looked at each other honestly. Sitting there, on a bed in the middle of fucking nowhere, he pleaded his case.

“I don’t want to wake up at fifty and say that we didn’t at least try.”

She had looked at him with eyes that made him want to die and said, “Okay.”

The cops had given him the rundown - nobody goes into the Lemon Grove apartment complex alone. Even cops only enter in two-man teams. A young, attractive Social Worker had no business being in there. They laid it out in so many words - sorry, but she made a big, fucking mistake.

South St. Pete, Florida, in the areas between Tenth and Twentieth Avenue South. The gist: crack houses, prostitution, homeless wanderers. The consequence: crack babies, domestic violence, pedophile victims. The need: Social Workers - Big Time. She had applied, got the job and attacked it with idealistic gusto. She was going to make a difference. These were people with real problems, not inbreeding shit kickers hiding a meth lab in the basement. She believed that one person really could change people’s lives. What she didn’t realize; not everyone wanted help.

He had no such ambition or luck. His job consisted of selling ceiling fans for a Jewish hard-ass. The sunshine did nothing to cure the post-traumatic stress and depression he carried around since he was a kid.

After a month, he thought he’d made a big mistake, moving to this place. After two months, he knew he’d made a big mistake. After three months, he was getting ready to slit his wrists in a warm tub of water on his day off.

That was the coincidence; it was the same day he heard a knock at his door.

The cop was older, solemn and had done this one too many fucking times. He could tell just by looking into his eyes. He ended the brief conversation with, “I’m so sorry.”

When the cop had gone, he found himself on his knees, with a feeling he knew he couldn’t contain; a real reason to finally end it. He crawled to the cabinet, pulled out the bourbon and took the longest drink he could manage. Struggling, he made it to the tub, sank deep inside and ran the blade both parallel and across his wrists. The blood crosses a hope for redemption in his next life.

But the cop had come back.

Later, that same cop would tell him that he was due to retire in two weeks. That might have been the last time he’d ever have to say “I’m sorry” to a spouse or loved one. Something in his face had pulled him back, to let him know that he understood. When he had walked back to the door, he saw that it was open.

He had knocked, then said hello to no answer. He said hello again, this time a little louder and took a deeper look inside the door. He saw the whiskey bottle tipped over on the floor, the contents now empty. Instincts kicked in, he did a quick search and found him.

The cop wrapped his wrists in towels. He then made a quick call and the ambulance was there in less than ten minutes. The man was still very much alive, whether he wanted to be or not. They kept him in the hospital for a couple of days and sent him to the psychiatric ward for two months. The cop visited him every day of his stay. They talked about everything: love, hate, which evolved into rape, murder. Rape and murder - those two words. Three weeks into treatment, he finally asked the question.

“Is that what happened to…her?”

“Yes,” the cop replied.

“The funeral?”

“A few weeks ago.”

The man broke down and they had to sedate him.

The cop made it out to his car and kicked the dash out of it. He’d seen it all, one too many goddamn times.

On the day they released him, the now-retired cop came to drive him home. They said little to each other, until they were sitting in the man’s driveway.

“Now what?” the cop asked.

“I don’t know,” the man said.

“You got my number, if you need anything.”

“Yeah, I know, just call. Fuck.”


The man started sobbing. “Did they catch who did this?”

The cop let out a pissed-off sigh. “They dragged in twenty subjects, all with alibis. Fact is, with what happened because of the riots, shit, it’s a low priority. I’m sorry.”

The man was sobered by the news. Something that happened almost a year ago was dictating the search for his wife’s killer.

“I won’t make it, not knowing.”

The cop looked at him, rubbed his hands over his eyes. “Fuck. Listen, I might be able to…do something.”

“Like what? What do you mean?”

“I was on the force for twenty-five years in this town. I know people. Maybe they’re the wrong people, but they’re the right people, too.”

The man looked out the window. He was wondering why he hadn’t put a gun to his head, instead of the slower, wrist-cutting alternative.

“Okay, tell me.”

The cop broke it down. He knows another guy, used to be a cop. Now, he was a leg breaker, intimidator, hired muscle, big white boy with Southside ties. He knew the worst of the right people. Maybe, he could find out something and take care of it.

The man didn’t hesitate. “Call him.”

For two weeks, he abstained from drinking and took his meds. For two weeks, he didn’t hear a word from the cop. He started to get worried. His initial enthusiasm towards finding the killer was waning. His wife started visiting him in bloody, sexual dreams.

“Why aren’t you trying to help me?” she asked him.

“I’m trying!” he would scream.

“I loved it,” she then said, bucking her hips at her assailant.

He lost it. He tore his house down; mirrors smashed, furniture broken to kindling. Then he hit the bottle and passed out for twelve hours straight. He awoke to a phone ringing.


“We’ve got them.”

It was the cop.


“There were, are, two of them.”

He took in a breath then let it out.

“You still there?” the cop asked.

“Yeah. Jesus, I’ve been waiting, wondering when you’d call. Now, I don’t know...”

“I understand.”

“How much?”

“Let’s not talk about that.”


“Son, don’t worry about it. I need to know what you want him to do with them.”

“I don’t want them to die. I do not fucking want them to die.”


“I want them to go through every day, knowing what they did. I want them to be made to remember. I want to watch while they’re being made to…”

For the first time, the cop raised his voice. “Goddamnit. Listen, I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

“I have to have this. If I don’t have this, I’ll never fucking make it to the end of the week and you can’t watch me for the rest of your life.”

He heard the cop breathing on the other end. “Tonight, midnight. There’s a warehouse at the corner of fifth and fifth, south. There’s a side door. Knock on the door three times, pause and then two more times. He calls himself Jimmy. I know what you’re thinking, but he’s solid, sympathetic. Now, you’re sure?”


The cop hung up. The man spent the rest of the day praying to God; for his wife, the cop, a man named Jimmy and forgiveness for what would happen that night.

He knocked on the door three times, paused and then two more times. Almost thirty seconds went by before the door opened. The man standing before him was a mountain: 6’3”, two-hundred-thirty pounds and dead-serious-looking.

“Jimmy?” he asked.

Jimmy nodded his head, ushered the man inside.

Two men were zip-tied to chairs. Both had a little blood on their lips and noses, but nothing drastic. He saw them and it all became too real.

“I know how you feel.”

The man looked over to Jimmy, awakened by his words. “I’m sorry?”

“You’re looking at these guys and thinking to yourself: ‘Maybe we should just turn them over to the cops.’ And you know what? That would be the prudent thing to do, the honest thing to do. But I’d say you were wrong as hell to think that. I’d say that you were thinking that I’m no better than these fucks and maybe you’re right.”

Jimmy paused, lit a cigarette and blew out the smoke before speaking again.

“I’m not here to tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. We both already know that. I’m just here to tell you that the nightmares will never go away. But at least these two bastards will never cause them again.”

The man looked upwards, closed his eyes.

“They never go away, the nightmares?”


“God,” he said, looking upwards again. He remembered the dreams. His wife moaning in pleasure, right before they killed her.

“Yeah, God.”

“How long will it take to…?”

“It can be as short or as long as you wish.”

He closed his eyes; saw her face, her lips moving. “Why aren’t you trying to help me? I loved it. Why aren’t you trying to help me? I loved it.”

“He told you - I don’t want them dead, I just want them…”

“I know. If it’s any consolation, it’s the same way I’d want it.” Jimmy then pointed to a chair, fifty feet away. “You can sit back there if you like.”

The man went to the chair and sat.

Jimmy went to work. For thirty minutes, he was steady and meticulous. For all the screams of the men, he never let out a single grunt in acknowledgment that what he was doing was difficult. He showed no joy. He showed no remorse. He broke ribs and noses. Smashed kidneys and kneecaps. Knocked jaws off hinges, eyeballs from their sockets. When he was done, all that resembled the men were bloody, mashed pulps of flesh.

He checked their pulses, placed a call. “Yeah, about thirty minutes. Yeah, no more than an hour, though. Okay? Thanks.”

The man was sobbing with his head in his hands. He felt a hand on his shoulder. “It’s over. Do you want to look?”

He kept his face down. “No. Yes.” Looking up, he vomited, put his face back into his hands and started to sob again. “Jesus.”

“Friend, I think we need to get you out of here.”

“They’ll live?”

“Yes, they’ll live, but they’ll never do another fucking bad thing again. I juiced them beforehand also, so we don’t have to worry about them identifying us. Listen, in about twenty minutes, an ambulance is going to be showing up. We need to get you out of here, okay?”


He walked with Jimmy outside. They walked the two blocks to his car and Jimmy made sure that he was in the driver’s seat with the engine running. For a second, he looked straight ahead and then, he turned to Jimmy.

“This dirty, goddamn city.”

“It ain’t for everyone,” replied Jimmy.

“She was beautiful, you know. Brown hair, brown eyes. She was everything I ever wanted in a woman. She was everything that was right with the world.”

“I saw her picture. I’m sorry.”

“It…I’ll never be the same. You were right about that. But, I guess I knew that the day that cop came to my door.”

Jimmy surveyed the area. “He’s a good man. His parents, brother and sister were murdered when he was a kid. His third year as a cop, his wife was raped then she committed suicide. She was pregnant. He probably never told you that.”


“Now, I’m going to give you some advice: leave this town. You’re not built for it.”

“You’re right.”

“And forget my name, forget my face, forget this night. I can find you anywhere you think you might hide. Got it?”


“Okay then. You’ve got about five minutes before this place is swarming. Obey the speed limit and keep moving - you’ll be fine.”

The man nodded and Jimmy started walking.

Thirty seconds elapsed before he pulled out the snub-nosed .38. Putting the barrel in his mouth, he closed his eyes, seeing what he needed to see; her smiling, saying, “Thank you.” He pulled the trigger then, leaving his pain; leaving it in that dirty, goddamned city.

BIO: Mike has been writing for about a year and a half. During this time, he's written a couple of short stories and is currently working on a novel. Besides reading, writing and being married to a beautiful woman, he spends most of his time brooding about the past. His day job consists of waiting for the phone to ring.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 042 - Cormac Brown


Originally published at Cormac Writes

"The writing is on the wall, Tim, and it's ugly. I mean the kind of stuff that young eyes shouldn't see."

"What are you going on about, Jim?"

"I'm talking about the writing on the wall, it doesn't look good. We're a thing of the past."

"Who says, Tim?"

Me and James Angelo are hired muscle.

"We make sure that people stay informed of their options. We teach people the finer points of paying their loans or protection money on time, as well as the occasional confiscation of personal property to mitigate those debts."

What does all that mean? I don't know. It's what Jim tells people we do and I almost understand most of it. School and fancy terms for plain things have never been my strong suit. It was always cracking helmets on the football field and cracking heads off of it.

I would've become a mover but my cousin, who used to do the job, had a freakaccident where he wrenched his back out something fierce. He couldn't see the little cat that ran in front of him while he was carrying his end of couch and the rest is just wrong. Not to mention the lady, who owned the cat and couch, had the nerve to sue him for the vet bills and the cat's cast.

This has messed with my head...tremendously. I'm always looking down now and no cat, dog, squirrel, bird, or any other pint sized freak of nature, is going to get me.

Tonight, as me and Jim sit in a "gentleman's club" parking lot, Jim's whining sounds a whole lot like my complaining grand-aunt. She always had her hair up in a bun and she wore a black dress. Picturing Jim as my grand-aunt (God knows he has the moustache for it) is the only way I can deal all this nonsense.

We are waiting for a guy named "Barry," who was named after his father's favorite college coach. They won the National Championship back in the day and as recently as in 2000. The problem is, Barry bets stupid. He always bets on that team though, to be fair, barring a trick play in which the other team pulled a win out in the last minute, Barry would be an extremely rich man right now and I wouldn't be listening to the "stylistic bitchings" of Jim.

Jim is back on this, "What are we gonna do for a living? I can't get a real job, my record is too long and no honest employer is going to trust me to even go get sandwiches and coffee with the things I've done."

"I tell you what, Jim; the Board of Prisons could hire you to see if a murderer is truly insane. Having you talk to them in a locked room for half an hour? If they weren't insane before, they'd be insane after."

"What did you say?!"

"Hold that temper for something else. Here comes our chump now."

Barry pulls up in a Corvette that is barely two years old. Impressive, no? No, it isn't impressive at all; it's his sister's. The guy paying us for this job says to grab anything that Barry drives and we have tried like hell, to keep up with this Corvette.

Barry is a little too eager to see the strippers, because we are almost on him before he sees us.

He puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles. Here comes one of the bouncers, lumbering up like a big clumsy attack dog. As I drop him with a small crowbar, I feel bad for the guy because I think we used to play next to each other in junior varsity football. Oh well, business is business.

Jim holds Barry while I go through his pockets. I find the car keys and then I see why that when Barry calls, the bouncer comes. The bouncer must get great kickbacks from the dancers because Barry has a roll of one dollar bills that would choke a Great Dane. I work Barry's face over a little, not too much because if you rough him up too bad, the other gamblers aren't going to want to borrow money.

One of the other bouncers went back inside to get help, so we decide that Barry has gotten the point and we take off.

"I'm driving the Corvette!"

"Says who? I did all the dirty work," I say as I walk over to Barry's sister's car. "And I have the keys."

It handles nicely as I try to chirp the tires, but there are electronics that keep me from burning rubber the way I used to. I miss good old-fashioned American muscle and with all of these computer chips, I can't work on cars anymore. My cell phone rings and I answer it without checking the number...big mistake. Jim's at it again.

"It said in the New York Times, of all places, that the crime families are going into drugs, or going legit."

"Hey, as long as there are degenerates like Barry, we'll always work."

"I don't know, Tim. We are dinosaurs and the writing is on the wall."

I let out a sigh; I'm tired of his whining. "What the hell, I could never read for shit, anyway," as I hang up my phone and I turn it off.

BIO: "Cormac Brown" is my pen name. I'm an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, and I'm following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. A couple of stories that I've stapled and stitched together can be found at Cormac Writes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 041 - Jake Hinkson


When I walked into Rudy's Beers & Steers, I found Lia Shannon sitting at the bar with a gin and tonic in her hand. It was her sixth of the night, and according to my watch it was only about nine o'clock. I didn't have to buy her a drop to get her drunk.

I walked over and sat down next to her.

She stared at her drink.

The bartender was a skinny guy with long hair and a faded Rush tour t-shirt. He put down a Robert Asprin paperback, balanced his cigarette on the edge of a whiskey-tinted ashtray and came over. "What'll it be?"

I pointed at the nearly empty drink in Lia's hand and held up two fingers. The bartender moved off to get our drinks. Beside me, Lia Shannon stared at her glass for a moment and then, as if someone had kicked her under the bar, she jerked and looked at me.

"You say something?" she asked.

"Just ordered."

"What'd you order?"

"Couple of G&Ts."


"Thought you might like one."

"Who're you?"

"Name's John. Did you want another drink?"

She stared at her empty glass like the answer was written inside. "Had about six so far."

"Nothing like the seventh."

She nodded like a woman grimly accepting a death sentence.

She looked rough, no doubt about it. Her long, straight hair was pulled back into a ponytail, pulled back far enough to show some gray roots under the blonde dye-job. Her eyes were pink with alcohol and last night's tears. Even tired and wasted, though, she wasn't ugly. She had a wide, open face, and you could see a striking woman in those high cheekbones and full lips. Two days ago, she had looked great.

The bartender brought the drinks. "Start a tab," I said.

Lia Shannon picked up her drink. She lifted it to her lips, but before she could take a sip she placed it back on its napkin. Then she turned to me, turned all the way on her barstool to face me. She rubbed her eyes slowly.

"I'm drunk," she said.

"I can see that," I said.

"You're buying me this drink?"


"Why? You gonna want to fuck me for it?"


"Cause I'm not. I'm not gonna fuck you for this drink."

"Then that works out fine for both of us."


I sipped my drink. Talking to a drunk is like talking to someone else's stupid child. "I don't want to have sex with you," I said. "I'm just buying you the drink to be friendly."

"That a fact?"


She stared at me. She was still dressed in business attire. She'd probably been wearing the same sleek, all-business blouse and slacks for two days. As she stared at me, her face seemed to darken. For a moment, the alcohol in her eyes cleared up a little, leaving nothing there but things she wished she didn't know. She had figured it out.

She said, "You're from my husband. Aren't you?"

I took a sip of my drink. I looked at her. "Yeah."


I eased over a bowl of trail mix and took a handful.

"What does he want?" she asked.

I tossed the mix back in my mouth and thought about her question. Crunching, I said, "He wants you back, I guess."

"You guess?"

"Hired me to find you, that's all I know. If he wants anything other than to have you back, I don't know about it."

"Is he okay?"

"What do you mean?"

"There was an alter…altercation with a gun. Neal got shot in the leg."

"Yeah. He doesn't care about his leg."

"He tell you why I left?"


"He caught me with someone else."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah. Jesus." She rubbed her face. The last vestiges of yesterday's make-up caked the crow's feet around her eyes. "It was horrible," she said. "He walked in and caught me in bed with another man. Neal had a gun. I don't think he meant to hurt anybody, but then they wrestled over the gun and it went off. I was half naked when I ran out of there." She took a gulp of her gin like she was trying to wash the words out of her mouth. She shook her head. "Goddamn it. I can't even cry anymore."

"I'm sorry."

"Are you?" she asked . She pushed her drink away. "Why the fuck should you be sorry?"

"I don't know."

"So you going to take me back to him, or are you going to just call him?"

"I'm supposed to take you back."

"What if I don't want to go back?"

I shrugged. "Why not go back? You can't run forever."

She said, "Wouldn't you be furious if you walked in and found your wife sitting naked on another man?"

"I don't have a wife."

"But if you did, wouldn't you be incon…inconsolable?"


"Would you want her back after that?"


"On what?"

I shrugged and helped myself to some more trail mix. Lia Shannon pulled her drink back toward her, looked at it a moment, and lifted it to her mouth. She did it with such an air of finality, as if she was ready to drink away the remainder of the night. I decided I was hungry.

"What's good here?" I asked.

"Steaks," she said. "It's all they do well."

I nodded at the bartender, and he came over. "Get her another drink and get me a steak. Medium rare. Baked potato with sour cream and butter." I asked Lia, "You want a steak?"

"No, I can't eat."

The bartender walked off.

Lia asked me, "You ain't married?"


"Why not?"

I shrugged. "No one ever loved me."

"That a fact?"


"I loved Neal," she said. She took a sip and looked over at me sheepishly, like a nervous kid might. "You believe that?"


"He tell you what happened?"


"He walked right into that motel room and found me in bed with another man. One second I'm…riding some guy and then the door flies open."

"Who was the guy you were in bed with?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Just a guy I met. Things haven't exactly been good between me and Neal for a while. Hell, things haven't been good between us since we were twenty-three fucking years old." She finished her drink just in time to pick up the eighth one the bartender set down in front of her. "We married young, me and him. We've been together a long time."

"You still love him?" I asked.

She stared at the bar top a moment. She rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand. "I guess, but it's all based on memories now. There's nothing left of us anymore except our memories. So I love him because of our memories, because he's been my whole life for twenty years, but that's it. There nothing left of us except the past. And now even that part is all wrong. Especially now that…"

She started to cry. I patted her shoulder.

"You sure you aren't hungry?" I said. "Might make you feel better to eat something."

She shook her head.

My food came a few minutes later and while I ate it, Lia Shannon nursed her final drink. When I finished, I paid for everything, including her eight drinks. She wanted to go to the bathroom. I waited by the door. I had scoped out the place before I sat down at the bar, so I knew there wasn't a window in the bathroom.

When she came out, I showed her to my heap in the parking lot. Even drunk, she looked offended by it.

"It doesn't look like much," I said, "but what it lacks in custom body work, it makes up for in heart."

She shrugged and got in the truck. I drove us back to the city.

She slept the entire way. She didn't even wake up when I pulled up to the police station. The detective was named Jennings. He was a young guy with caramel-colored skin that freckled around his clear green eyes. "You're back so soon," he said.

"I have Lia Shannon passed out in my truck," I told him.

He smiled. "Good thing for you."

We walked out to my heap. Lia Shannon was pressed against the bench seat, a line of spit hanging from her mouth.

"What'd you do to her?" he asked.

"Bought her a drink. She was holed up in a little backwater called Gator, out near the swamps, drinking her problems away. I bought her a drink and put her in the truck."

"She fight you?"

I shook my head. "No, she thinks the husband hired me."

Jennings turned and looked at me. "The husband? She doesn't know?"

I shook my head. "She saw him get shot in the leg, then she ran out. She doesn't know the bullet hit an artery."

"And you didn't tell her?"


"She know you're the dumbass private eye who let him into the room?"

"No, she doesn't know that, either."

He crossed his arms. "You're still in deep shit because he had a piece on him, you know. Don't matter that he shot himself in the leg and died like a damn fool. You're still gonna have to explain to a judge why you let him into the room in the first place."

"I told you I didn't know he was packing. You think I want to lose my license?"

He looked back at Lia. "Tell it to the judge, man."

"I will."

"At least you tracked her down. Saved the department the trouble."

"Think that'll win me any points in court?"

"Who knows? Can't hurt you, I guess." He watched her sleeping.

"Shame to wake her. She's gonna feel awful when she wakes up."

I watched the woman passed out in my truck as she slept away her last night as a normal person.

"She's not the only one," I said.

BIO: Jake Hinkson is currently at work on a book on film noir. You can learn more about Jake and his projects at his own blog, The Night Editor.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 040 - Kieran Shea


Having the living shit kicked out of me by two baggage handlers in a utility room in the guts of Caracas’ Maiquetía International Airport wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was just when I thought I’d pass out from the pain and it couldn’t get any more vicious, one of my drunk, red-eyed attackers started yanking open his pantolones with incensed rum-fumed vigor.

It was three days after New Year’s. Normally it was a time when I paired down my vows for the coming months. Quit smoking so much pot, call my mom more often…really, I mean really, start flossing. As goon one ground my cheekbone into the grit of the concrete wall while goon two prepared to mount me, two clearer resolutions crystallized in my panicked brain:

One—if I get out of this alive I swear to God I am going to rip Diego Guzman’s skull open with my thumbs.

Two—then I’m going to choke his cousin Paola to death.

It’s hard to candycoat it; the attempted rape was brief. The horny one, let’s call the son of a bitch Valentino, jerked down my cargo shorts while the second thug braced me against the wall like an animal at slaughter. I tried screaming for help but they had punched me in the neck, face and kidneys so many times I could barely breathe let alone cry out. What the fuck was help in Spanish anyway? Ayuda? Ayudo? I couldn’t conjugate worth a damn when I was perfectly sober and at ease, let alone brutalized by dread. I garbled. Blood sloshed in my mouth and a loose tooth clinked on the concrete floor.

Then I heard Valentino spit in his palm to lube himself. The only thing that saved me before Valentino began his probe was that I shat myself and puked at the same time.
A small victory for me, perhaps my last on earth.

Thank God Venezulean food sucked. The national dish is a fried sweet corn meal, lard and ditch water pancake called arepas and, starved out of my mind before charging to the airport, I’d downed a few from a street stand.

The shock of being spashed and sprayed by copious amounts of my hot, runny fecal dapple took Valentino aback. There was a long pause of what I imagined was disbelief as, outside, the loud grumbles of jet engines roared on takeoff and landing. I could feel the vibrations through my palms on the wall. But, even with the deafening noise, I could also hear the sharp click of a knife snapping open. Then I prayed.

Please God. Let this be quick.

Then gunshots. Loud. Two sharp reports in quick succession.

I jerked my head in the direction of the gun as the two drunken baggage handlers, now with ragged bloody holes in their split foreheads, pitch forward against the concrete floor like crumpled sacks of slack meat.

A tall man in a khaki summer suit, slickly groomed for the latest Esquire spread, shouldered his weapon and stepped around the corner of a doorway. Dark serious eyebrows twitched.

“Duane Esposito?”


“Grab your shorts.”

I did as I was told and tripped away from the dead men at my feet. I felt like I was going to faint and vomit again. Or both.

“D’fuck are you?” I stammered.

The man slipped on a pair of aviator sunglasses and looked over his shoulders, right then left. He waved me toward him, “It pains me to use an overused expression, but my name is Brandon. I’m with the U. S. Government and I’m here to help you.”


OK. Rewind. Just back the fuck up.

It was never my intent to travel to Venezuela for trouble and, when I finally agreed to come, it was never my intent to stay longer than a couple of weeks, let alone to get suckered into a smuggling scheme by a tall Latin American beauty and her quick-conning cousin. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bob Dylan may blame it on a simple twist of fate, but I blame it on the goddamn wind.

See, Diego Guzman and me used to be buds. This was way back on Kauai - Hawaii when he was just turning pro on the kite-boarding scene and the sport was still wobbly on its puppy legs. I got to know Diego because I hung out on the kite scene fringes and dealt weed to a few of the pros. Back then, man, Diego? He ruled. Ranked third in the world, sponsors all beserko for his swarthy Argentine swagger and mad, skyrocketing moves. Landed himself an energy drink sponsorship and movie stunt work without breaking a sweat. Total extreme sportstar lifestyle. That is until he shattered his back on a coral reef in Fiji and the money drifted away on a slick of blood and bone.

To recover from his back injury, Diego decided to hide out on the island of Margarita off of Venezuela’s mainland. Diego chose Margarita and the tiny village of El Yaque on the island’s south side because, as he put it, he could fuck off all day and still live large on his savings while he planned his comeback.

I’d heard of El Yaque. Hell, anybody who knew anything about the pro kite-boarding scene had. Place was an epicenter for kite nuts because of the predictable offshore winds. Far from mainland Venezuela and the sprawling nightmare of Caracas, the place was kept relatively pure of trouble so as to attract lily-white European locusts on holiday. Venezuela pretty much has a zero tolerance rule when messing with foreign tourist money being pumped into the country’s lopsided economy.

Since his accident, Diego had been up in my FaceBook grill to come visit, pinging me all the time with pics of topless babes strolling the sand. Finally, when a great-aunt left me some money, I decided to leave Kauai and take a few weeks, check it out. It was awesome, until…that night.

It was late. We were baked out in a cantina with pool tables and a disco just west of the touristy end of town and just below Diego’s condo high on the water. Lukewarm Polar beers passed around and, between slugs, Paola, Diego’s cousin, stroked my hair. Paola and me hooked up after my first week on the island and she drove me crazy. Raven-haired goddess straight up. Crazy. Freaky. Sexy.

The music was loud, a South American hip-hop, I think, and on the horizon, if you squinted, you could almost make the distant humps of mainland Venezuela in the moonlight. Diego howled and handed me a small, white plastic cup. I threw back some clear one hundred proof rum and it flared like a soft nugget of fire down my throat.

We were so drunk. So high.

“Dang, man, glad I made the effort to get down here finally,” I said, shifting Paola on my lap. “Don’t want this to end. Ever.”

Diego grinned, “The place, no?”

“The place? This is awesome. Fuck Hawaii,” I said, “Five dollar gas, half-Philippine jerks calling me a haole and shit and I was freakin’ born there! You got it made, man. Made.”

Diego leaned in.

“What if you could live here like a king, too, eh? Never go back to Hawaii? Would you be interested? Knowing how to do that?”

I laughed, but Diego’s creased forehead and frown told me he was serious. Paola and Diego exchanged glances and smiles.

“What? What’re you talking about, man?”

Diego stood and smiled. Then he hooked a finger. Paola got up next.

“We want to show you something.”


The man called Brandon shoved me down a narrowing concrete hallway.

“I guess I should say thanks,” I said.

Brandon grabbed me by my upper arm and gave me another shove. The hallway seemed to get warmer as we made our way. I figured we must be heading out toward the tarmac or somewhere else outside in the brutal equatorial sun.

“You guess,” Brandon snarled sarcastically through clenched teeth. “Keep moving, dipshit.”

I looked over my shoulder. “But what about those guys back there?”

Another shove. “They’re nobodies. Hired local muscle, five times removed and not worth the scrape of a shoe. It’s a long story. You don’t need to know.”

I stumbled, nearly losing one of my sandals. “You got to get me out of here, man.”

“I am trying to, Mr. Esposito. With the jet noise, someone may or may not have heard my gunshots. I don’t want to be found by the police as much you do.”


“Fucked is right. I can help you get out of this hell hole of an airport and out of Venezuela but you have to do exactly what I say right now, do you understand?”

I nodded and he spun me up against the wall.

"OK. Where are the boards?”


“The boards with the diamonds. Where are they?”


“Stop bullshitting me. I know all about Diego and that skank-slag cousin of his, Paola. Where are your board bags?”

“I— I checked them.”

Brandon paused and suddenly looked crushed. He quickly unholstered his weapon from the nylon holster beneath his jacket and pressed the still-warm barrel to the center my forehead.

“Wait! Dude! They’re in a locker! A storage locker! My flight doesn’t leave for three hours so I checked them in with one of those short-term storage companies near the front of the airport. I didn’t want to wait on line with it all. I figured the lines would thin later. I was at the bar. Those guys just grabbed me when I went to take a piss. They shoved me through some door and brought me down here.”


“Where what? The bags? Dude, near the airline check-in.”

“Which airline?”

“Air Canada.”

“Air Canada?”


“Your itinerary said you were checked through to Miami.”

“Was. There was a change of plans.”


I swallowed hard, “Yeah. He contacted Diego last night. He said I was to drop off the boards in Montreal, not Miami. Miami was too hot.”

“Fucking Mossad.”


Brandon lowered his weapon. He grabbed me by the back of my neck and holstered his gun again.

More shoving down the hallway.



I took a deep hit and passed the joint to Diego, who passed it to Paola. She declined.

“Look, man, I don’t know….”

“Duaaaaaane….we’ve been doing this for over two and a half years, brah. Trust me, no one knows.”

On the kitchen table were three kite boards, slightly thicker than average, rubber foot mounts fixed to the decks. Diego told me that under each flawlessly glassed surface were embedded thousands and thousands of dollars worth of rough diamonds, mined from the mountain plateaus of Venezuela.

“There will be so much quick money you could turn around and come back, stay like a year and live on one delivery. Or walk with the cash. Your choice. This is so easy.”

“But why diamonds?”

Diego took a hit and gave me a look. He handed me back the joint.

“Diamonds are perfect! Look at them.” He shook a few out of a yellow envelope into his open palm. “Wouldn’t hurt a soul. Like a pocket full of dirty sunshine, no? Diamonds hold their value, man, and are, like, universally accepted for barter. They do not set off metal detectors, dogs cannot smell them, and they can easily be converted to cash almost anywhere. Know what the Kimberly Process is? Conflict diamonds?”

“What? People dying over these things?”

“People die for lots of things, man. Get real. The Kimberly Process? Fucking Hugo Chavez said fuck that legal shit. When he came to power and the CIA tried to get rid of him? That play fair business went out the window. Venezuela produces, like, one hundred and fifty thousand carats annually, but, officially, it has exported none, nada since 2005. That’s when Chavez told the world they can kiss his brown ass. Reason nobody cares is because Venezuela is a small part of the overall diamond pie, no? Plus, he’s got the oil, too.”

“This is crazy.”

“I’ve been moving my rocks to a man I met in Miami. His name is Saltzman. He is, like, this super Jew. Pays me fucking cash, dog. Sixty, seventy grand per delivery.”

“Diego…I don’t know.”

“Come on. It’s perfect. I trust you, and I know you can handle yourself.”

“Yeah, maybe dealing weed, but not shit like this.”

Paola sauntered away from the table then and out onto the balcony. I watched her hair whip in the moonlit breeze as Diego playfully punched my shoulder.

“Think about it, Duane. Live down here like a king. Paola would love that.”

I dragged my eyes off Paola’s backside and looked down at the boards on the table. Ornate surface designs. Leering skulls sparkling. Hot blue and black.

I took another hit on the joint. Then my life went to hell.

“OK.” I said.


Brandon and I were on a set of metal maintenance stairs going up. He stopped halfway and jerked me back the collar. I looked back. If he let go of my shirt, I would’ve tumbled to my death. His face was eight inches from mine.

“This is the deal, Esposito. I’ll say it once. We’re going to go to the place where you checked your stuff, then you and I are going back to the embassy. No stops. Got it?”


“They’re mine now. Mine. Not Diego’s, not Saltzman’s, not yours, not Chavez’s, not Mossad’s. They’re mine.”


“I’m tired of playing diplomat in this sweat box of country. Sure, it would’ve been fun if the coup had gone according to plan back in 2002. But you know what? Since then, it’s been utterly suckful. Plus, I’m tired. I’ve been bounced around more tough cracks that you can shake a yucca plant at and it’s my turn to live a little. I found out about Diego’s little operation and now I’m taking my cut. You will say nothing, do nothing, and go back to Hawaii like the stupid little stoner shit you are.”

“Who is this Mossad guy you keep talking about?”

He blinked, “You don’t read at all, do you?”

“Read? I read. I just don’t—”

“Israeli intelligence? Ring a bell? Forget it, brain boy. Let’s go.”

We pushed through some doors and we were back in the airport’s main atrium. Fifteen minutes later, we had the boards.

Yeah, you might have faith in guy who is all macking the James Bond tough talk, waving the ceramic gun around. But not me, hoss. I knew from my days dealing there was no way a player like Brandon was going to let me slide.

Back to embassy? Right. The deal was burnt. And whoever sent Valentino and his sidekick had me in their sights, too, so my chances were telescoping down to zero. Brandon was going to either bust me, drop me of in the slums of Caracas, or shoot me dead… the last two being pretty much the same fate.

I decided I needed to go long.

We were almost to the frantic coiling swarms of cab drivers outside the airport when we passed two security guards cradling machine guns—their mirrored sunglasses all Boss Godfrey a la Cool Hand Luke. My mind scrambled through what little Spanish I knew. When we passed the guards, I yanked my arm free and started screaming and pointing at Brandon.

“¡El tiene una bomba! ¡El tiene una bomba!”

Then I dove to the ground.

Brandon’s suit jacket must have flapped open and exposed his gun then because the guards were in tactical firing stance before my knees shredded open on the concrete.

The world exploded.

The back of Brandon’s tan suit became a homecoming float of bloody carnations. Half of his neck was chopped away by automatic weapon fire and landed in the gutter.

Feet, bodies, shrieking panic-stricken Spanish. Horns, crunches of cars.

I crawled like a roach until I found my feet and ran. I ran and ran and ran until I managed to wave down a cab. I demanded to be taken to the ferry. The driver refused until I threw about a hundred dollars, American, on the front seat.

I was heading back to Margarita.


I knocked and Diego said to come on in.

Blue dope smoke smogged the room. Diego’s eyes drifted up from the head of naked Paola, who was using his tightie-whitey lap as a pillow.

“Cousins, huh?”

“Duaaaaaaaane, man. S’uuuuup?” Diego licked his lips, thick tongued. “Umm. Hey. Wait. Whoa.” He tried to concentrate. “No. You miss the flight, dog? Wha’ happened?”

On the counter, in the kitchen, was a husked bottle of Cachaca by a dozen squeezed-out limes and a sack of sugar used to make Caprihanas. I grabbed the bottle by the thick neck and thwacked it against the side of Diego’s head. The bottle remained intact and Diego flew across the couch.

Paola tumbled to the floor, waking and unfocused. I grabbed her discarded black bikini top from the floor by her feet, whipped it around her neck and choked her until she was still.

Behind me, Diego struggled and tried to stand, his blood soaked hair smearing all over his leather couch in long, arching streaks.

After choking Paola to death, I stood up and picked up the bottle of Cachaca and bopped Diego on the head again, knocking him cold. Then I dragged him to the bathroom and got a sheet from the linen closet.

I hung Diego from the shower curtain rod until I was sure he was dead, too. Then I cleaned up as best I could. I found a box in the closet with three coffee cans full of rough diamonds and stuffed my pockets.

Two hours later, I caught a flight to Amsterdam.

BIO: Kieran Shea’s short crime fiction has appeared in a bunch of ‘zines—Plots with Guns, Beat To A Pulp, Powder Flash Burn and the now-defunct Demolition. Living outside Annapolis, Maryland, he bitterly kicks the tires of the status quo on principle and drinks far too much coffee.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Interlude #5

Okay, you've all been waiting for it so it's time, without further ado, to announce the theme to the first A Twist Of Noir contest, which technically begins in March.

I say technically because the first order of business here is that you can start work on your submission whenever you wish (as if I could stop you) and send it in anytime you wish between now and March 31, when the contest door slams shut.

Let's get another couple things out of the way before I tell you what the theme is, if you can bear with me.

The word count will be going up to 5,000 words for the contest and for the contest only. That still means that you have to limit yourself to 3,000 words for any other submission.

Second, for this contest, I'm going to limit the submissions to one per writer. In the future, that may change. So work hard, ladies and gentlemen. You only get one shot at this this go-round.

Third, when you send, be sure to put your name somewhere in the body of the submission and CONTEST SUBMISSION in the subject line of the e-mail.

Fourth, series characters are welcome in the contest.

Fifth, this must be an original story. Sorry, no reprints in the contest.

Finally, the theme.

I've been thinking about a number of themes and I had some suggestions made but, in the end, I decided to keep it as simple as possible while possibly being difficult.

Bastard, aren't I?

The theme for March's contest is alienation.

What? Alienation? Yes, alienation.

Turn your character's life upside down and make it seem like there's no one else that can understand what they're going through.

Walk that man, woman or child through what seems like an ordinary day and completely flip the script.

Take that woman that's been in the joint for ten years and show us that her girlfriend has moved on with her worst enemy. In fact, the girlfriend's with the guy or woman that put her away for those ten years.

I want to feel the character's confusion and I want you to show me how they intend to get it back the way it was, even though there's a better chance of keeping an ice cube from melting in hell.

Anything else you throw into the situation is yours to play with.

But alienation must be evident.

Above all, have fun with this contest. Push the boundaries of your talent and see what you come back with. You might surprise yourself.

And good luck to all those that enter.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 039 - Brad Mengel


You never forget your first love and, as mine nearly ripped out my heart, I have an extra special reason to remember her. I was only sixteen but, thanks to an early puberty, looked a lot older when I met her. I had skipped school that Friday and was wandering around the city. I had no plan and was only killing time until I could return home.

I had noticed the doorway earlier in the day and wondered what Bettie’s Place sold. I walked down the stairs to the basement club. The plain drab stairs gave no hint of the wonders that awaited me. The bouncer glanced at me and merely growled, "Keep your hands to yourself", as I walked through the entrance.

The club was seedy and dimly lit. If I looked hard, I could make out the pictures of showgirls hanging on the wall as I walked to the bar and grabbed a rum and cola. The barman looked me over but handed over the drink.

I sat down at an empty table and watched a busty blonde gyrate around a brass pole in her bra and panties. I sipped at my drink as she removed the bra and ran the pole between her breasts. I felt the rum burn down the back of my throat as I looked at my first live pair of naked breasts. Men waved cash and, as she went past, stuffed the notes in her panties. One patron decided that his twenty dollar note bought him a quick feel but bought himself a swift knee to the nuts and quick exit from the club.

The blonde left the stage and the next act came out. The announcer called it Roxie’s First Kiss. The two brunettes in school uniforms stripped, pretending to be a young girl stripping in the mirror, ending as the pair locked lips clad only in panties. Men again waved money and shoved them in the side of their panties.

Suddenly, the room went silent and a tension covered the room. I could feel the anticipation in the room as everyone focused on the curtain and it was at that moment that I fell in love. A flame-haired goddess walked onto the stage. She was announced as Miss Fifi La Flame, direct from the Moulin Rouge in Paris. She walked onto the stage and looked right into my eyes and smiled.

The smile sealed the deal. Fifi was like no other girl or woman I had ever met. She oozed glamour and sophistication. Her seven-inch crystal stiletto heels walked towards the table set up on stage for her. Her pantyhose had seams up the back, something the cheap pairs my mother and teachers wore didn’t have. The green sleeveless dress swayed as she moved down the runway and sat at the table. She poured a glass of champagne and began to sing a song in what I figured was French. I had no idea what she sang but it made me weak at the knees.

The black gloves that covered most of her arms were the first to be removed; I was fascinated as she slowly exposed her arms and then took a sip of champagne. She then removed the diamond necklace and dropped it in the ice bucket. The man next to me roared with laughter. I didn’t understand until I remembered that diamonds have been called ice.

I missed how the dress came off whilst my attention was diverted to the next table. Under the dress, Fifi wore an emerald green corset studded with emeralds that flashed as the stage lights hit them. Her panties were the same shade of green. But what really fascinated me were the pantyhose. They only went to her thigh and were strapped to her waist; I’d never seen such things before.

You chuckle but we never had the internet back then and none of the girls in the cheap magazines the guys at school flashed around ever wore this type of gear. I know now that they were stockings and garters.

Then Fifi removed her shoes and stretched her legs. She undid the garters on her right leg and slowly peeled off the stocking and then the same for her left.

Fifi sat on the chair and took another sip of champagne. Her bright red lips smiling as she sipped, the lipstick staining the rim. I imagined those lips kissing mine.

Fifi stood and twirled the chair so the back panel now faced the audience and she straddled the chair and slowly lowered herself onto the seat. The chair had a cane back with small diamond-shaped gaps and, as she removed the emerald corset, we saw only glimpses of her breasts.

"Bon Jour," she called as the curtain lowered.

Whilst it felt like an eternity, her act had only taken five minutes. I took another sip of my rum and coke. The curtain rose and the announcer advised that Trixi Tassels was coming out. I pitied the girl for having to follow the act that I just saw. I didn’t care about Trixi or Roxie, I wanted to see Fifi again.

Fifi was different to any other woman I’d ever seen. She was sophisticated and worldly. She looked elegant. She was alluring and mysterious. I’d only seen her for five minutes and I would have marched into hell for her. Then reality set in. Like I could ever obtain her, my parents would drive us on dates and my money from my part time job could buy us dinner at McDonalds. I let out a bitter chuckle, finished my drink and prepared to leave.

As I was about to stand, a woman walked up to my table. I think she was one of the Roxies. "Miss Fifi would like to see you," she said. "Follow me."

I left the table and followed her through a doorway to the backstage area. We walked down a corridor and past several dressing rooms. Girls sat chatting in various stages of undress and helping each other into and out of outfits. Others sat facing the brightly lit mirrors and applying make up.

Roxie walked to the last door and knocked. I must be dreaming, I thought, as I subtly pinched myself. But this was really happening as I was escorted into Fifi’s dressing room.

Fifi was draped over a green velvet couch, wearing a white robe, sipping a glass of champagne. "I haven’t seen you before. What did you think of my show?"

"Awesome," I blurted, sounding like I was sixteen, rather than the man of the world I was pretending to be.

Fifi chuckled. "I like your enthusiasm. You’re different to the other men out there," she said in her French accent, causing me to go weak at the knees.

"C-can I sit down?" I stammered.

I sat in the matching green chair she indicated. I drowned in her green eyes as she told me how I stood out from the crowd with my total focus on her performance. I appreciated her show as real man should.

Then she kissed me.

It was so unexpected that I didn’t have time to react. "I was right about you," she said. "Most men would have tried to go further but you have class."

I frantically tried to think of something to say, something that would make me seem like the classy man she thought I was. But nothing came and I fought the urge to declare my undying love for her. Fifi took another sip of her champagne and asked me to join her for supper at 10pm and to meet her at a little French café she knew of. How could I refuse?

Fifi then asked me to leave as she had to get ready for her next performance. I kissed her hand as I walked out the room.

I watched her perform again and then left the club. I withdrew all my money from the bank, preparing for my big date.

The hours seemed to drag as I lied to my parents about my day and lied again about going to the movies with my best friend that night. It was hard to pretend that everything was normal. I certainly couldn’t tell my parents what had happened and my friends would never believe me.

Finally it was time to leave and I borrowed some of my Dad’s aftershave. It was Old Spice but better than nothing. Dad dropped me at the cinema and told me to have a good time. I think he suspected I was meeting a girl from school when he smelt the aftershave.

I quickly made my way to the café but I needn’t have hurried as Fifi arrived fashionably late and looking amazing in a black evening dress and an emerald necklace. I rose and pulled out her chair and she ordered for both of us in French.

After some concern that I was getting snails or frog’s legs, I was relieved to see that we had French roast coffee with crepes. I had little to say, but luckily, she thought I was the strong and silent type and did most of the talking. I was content to listen to her. She told me about her time in Europe where she performed before Kings and Princes.

I paid for our meals and she took me for a drive in her 1966 cherry red MGB convertible. We drove to the lookout where we kissed again. I never pushed to go further as I thought it made me seem sophisticated.

We repeated this pattern for several dates and, as she became more comfortable with me, she confided that her manager was beating her. I wanted to go and sort him out then and there but she wanted me to catch him in the act. I looked into her desperate eyes and agreed.

She was meeting him the next day at 4pm and, if I came to his office at 4.30, I’d catch him in the act.

At 4.20, I was ready to charge in, a knight errant ready to rescue his damsel in distress from the dragon. I waited until the time and burst in the door. There was Fifi, bound and gagged, and her manager standing over her with a belt ready to flog her. He had undone his shirt and rolled up his sleeves for greater freedom.

Rage filled me as he brought down the belt and I dived across the room and crash-tackled him. The belt lashed my back but I barely felt it. The pair of us tussled on the floor. We separated and scrambled to our feet.

"What are you doing?" he panted as I swung for his jaw.

My punch was wild and he punished me for my mistake. Practice beating on his clients had shown him the best way to hit and his fist pounded near my liver. Pain exploded through my side as I staggered, nearly knocking over the camera.

He was on me faster than I expected but I was able to block his next blow and punch him in the gut. I heard the wind gush out of him and I pressed home my advantage, knocking him to the ground and kicking him in the ribs. He flew across the room and his shirt snagged the camera tripod.

The camera fell lens-first on his skull and gave a sickening crack. I walked over and checked his pulse. There was none and grey matter leaked from his ear. What lunch was left in my stomach rose up my throat and covered his body as I retched.

I’d never seen a dead person before and the thought that I was responsible had me rattled. It took an eternity to untie Fifi as my hands shook so much. After I removed the red ball tied in her mouth, Fifi calmed me and talked me through untying the knots.

After she was free, I grabbed the phone to call the police but Fifi slapped the phone out of my hand and asked if I wanted to go to jail. She told me to go, she would clean the place up and we would meet in her dressing room at eight tonight. She hugged me and I left.

I ran from the building into the nearby shopping centre and threw up again. After cleaning myself up, I walked home. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was that I had Fifi. She knew exactly how to handle this situation. She was in control and even her voice was different as she guided me through this difficult circumstances. As I walked down my street, I saw a police car parked out the front. Something had gone wrong. Had Fifi been caught with the body? I knew she wouldn’t betray me but I must have left something at the scene.

I was a fugitive now and I had to know if Fifi had been caught. I made my way to Bettie’s Place. I walked in as Fifi started her act. Relief flooded my body. She was free. She would know what to do. I walked through to her dressing room. I was early but I had nowhere else to go. I sat and waited in the green chair where she first kissed me. I noticed a suitcase in the corner. My heart leapt. We were going to run away together and start a new life in a new city.

It was then that Fifi came into the room. I turned smiling towards her. I saw the look on her face and knew something was wrong.

"How did you get away?" she demanded.

It was at this point I realized what was different about her voice: there was no trace of a French accent.

"What happened to your accent?" I asked confused.

She laughed in my face. "My poor naïve simple boy," she said, "I’ll bet you even think that I’m a natural redhead."

I was stunned and horrified. She laughed at the confusion on my face. "You actually did believe everything."

"I thought you loved me," I said, barely choking back the tears. "I – I love you"

The tears flowed down my face. I saw the blur of her outline.

"You were a moth to a flame as I drew you in, stroking your ego, making you think you were sophisticated. I only used you to scare that sick bastard. He was keeping the money he owed me from our photo sessions. Killing him wasn’t part of the plan but I’m nothing if not adaptable. His safe was easy to crack and there was enough money to repay his debt and some interest."

She laughed again. "I lifted your wallet and left that nice piece of evidence for the police to find when I called for them. I was hoping you would make it here. The publicity of your capture would mean I’ll get a centerfold in Playpen Magazine and a better club than this dive. Of course, you’re a deranged fan and no one will ever believe your story if you survive."

It was then that I felt a sharp pain in my chest as if my heart was breaking but I nearly screamed as she twisted the blade.

I told you she nearly ripped out my heart.

BIO: Brad lives in Australia, with his wife, daughters and dog. Over the years he has worked as a barman, teacher and librarian. Currently, he written a study of the Serial Vigilante, the often violent action adventure series of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, such as the Executioner, and the Destroyer, which is to be published by McFarland Press. He was a contributor to Myths for the Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton Universe.

A Twist Of Noir 038 - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


Originally published in Scotland's Crime Scene, Spring 2006

"He's got a nun tied up in there."

"I know, Father."

"He's got her at gunpoint."

"I know."

"Well, what the hell are you going to do about it?"

"Something," I said.

The church was out in the middle of nowhere. It was a small chapel built on a tiny hill at a fork in the road. In the springtime it probably looked pretty as hell. But this was the middle of winter. It was raining. It was getting dark.

"How did he know I was coming?" I said.

"I don't know," Father Michaels said. "He's a bad man."

"He's a kid," I said.

"He's a criminal."

"His parents are trying to change that," I said. "That's why they want him back."

"He's evil," Father Michaels said.

I turned and walked toward the church. "Don't follow me," I said. "Don't let anyone else inside."

I walked up the stairs to the door. I looked around. The bare tree trunks looked black in the rain. No one else was around. Every few seconds, a car would pass. It was a winding road through the mountains and windy as hell. Another set of headlights flashed by and I went in.

It was warm in the church. There was a glow of candlelight. There was a smell of incense. And on the far side, midway down the aisle, there was a nun chained to the radiator. I moved toward her slowly. I didn't see anyone else. But I sensed someone. There was someone else breathing the oxygen in the room.

She wasn't moving. Her body had sagged against the radiator. Her arms hung above her. Her feet were splayed in opposite directions on the floor. I moved closer. "Sister," I said. "Sister Mary Margaret." I had my gun out.

"She won't answer," a voice said. "She's like that. A bitch. A bitch who won't answer."

The voice came from between the pews. A kid sat up. It was Keith Denevere.

"Who the fuck are you?" he said.

"Salvation," I said. "With a fucking gun."

"Fuck you," he said.

"Just another typical church conversation."

Denevere stared at me hard. He had a gun, too. It was aimed at me.

"Get the fuck out of here," he said.

"I can't," I said.

"You can't? You fucking well better get out. You'll get out and you'll have a bullet in your ass, too."

I had stopped moving. I was a few feet from Sister Mary Margaret. Up close, she looked like hell. Her habit was torn and her hair was hanging in long sweaty strands down over her face. The chains that held her were rusty and probably from a garage somewhere. They were wrapped around the radiator and padlocked and she was handcuffed at the wrist and ankles to the chains. She was sweating profusely. I realized that the radiator was still on.

"Put your gun down," the kid said. Most of his body was shielded by the pews. I was out in the open.

"Put your fucking gun down now," he said.

I went to place it on the windowsill and he said, "On the fucking floor, asshole. Kick it under the pews." I put it on the floor and kicked it about a foot under the pews.

"What are you doing in here?" he said.

"I came for confession," I said.

Denevere got to his feet and moved toward the aisle. He was about ten rows in front of me.

"Your father sent me," I said.

"My father? My fucking father?"

"He sent me to bring you home," I said.

"I don't have a fucking father," Denevere said. He was a short kid but the shadows from the candlelight made him look taller.

"Your father and mother want you back with them," I said. "They want to help you. They want to fix whatever's wrong."

"They can't fucking fix nothing," he said. "They can fix shit with their fucking money."

"I tracked you a long way," I said. "They paid me a lot."

"Sure," he said. "Fucking sure. Sure they did. They want me back. They want me to play on the fucking varsity squad and learn chess and get a fucking father and son membership at the fucking country club."

"They're not your real parents," I said.

"Fuck, no."

"Okay," I said. "Fuck them. I won't send you back there."

That threw him a little. He was in the aisle now and he stopped. He still had the gun on me but he was starting to forget that he did.

"Just like that," he said. "Just like that, you won't send me back."

He had sandy blond hair cut in jagged bangs and shaved above his ears. His jean jacket was soaked with what looked like blood. Unless he had a mortal wound and was hiding it, the blood wasn't his.

Sister Mary Margaret opened her eyes. It wasn't her blood, either.

"What's going on here?" I said to Denevere. "Why are you holed up in here? How'd you get out here?"

"I hitchhiked," Denevere said. "I needed to see the Sister here."

He was maybe eighteen but he was all anger. He was years past caring about anything ever again. Maybe.

"Give me the keys to the handcuffs," I said. "And we'll get her off this thing."

"She fucking stays where she is," Denevere said.

I looked at the Sister. She was groggy but becoming more coherent. The radiator she was chained to was an old iron monster and it was beginning to hiss.

"If we don't get her off that thing," I said, "she'll scald to death."

"She deserves it," he said.


"She lied to me."

"What kind of lie?" I said.

"The fucking worst kind, you fucking prick."

I was pretty sure he didn't know he was holding the gun at all now. Outside, darkness had fallen. Father Michaels would be calling the police soon. They would only make it worse.

"How did she lie to you?" I said.

"Fuck you, man. Just shut the fuck up with your stupid fucking questions."

"I lied about God," Sister Mary Margaret said.

We both turned to look at her. Her head was hanging. Sweat was dripping off the tip of her nose. The radiator hissed behind her.

"I told him," she said, "that God would protect him. That God would be with him always."

"That was a lie," Denevere said. "That was a fucking lie and you're a fucking lying bitch."

"I told him that he'd be safe and happy. I told him that his parents would love him."

"They fucking loved me all right. My old man loved me to death," Denevere said.

The radiator was steaming now. Sister Mary Margaret's hands were blistering. I didn't want to see her back.

"Fucking old man," Denevere said. "My fucking father."

"What about your real father?" I said.

Denevere nodded toward the blood on his jacket.

"Why hurt him," I said, "and not your other parents?"

"They didn't abandon me," Denevere said. "They didn't give me up."

"But you said your stepfather --"

"That's what stepfathers do," Denevere said. "Isn't it?"

"Keith, listen to me," Mary Margaret said. "I know we let you down. I don't blame you for hating us. But..."

"But what?" Denevere said. "But fucking what?"

"But you've got to get out of here," she said. "The police are coming. I don't want to see you hurt anymore. I've hurt you enough."

"You didn't do it," Denevere said.

"I did," she said.

"No," Denevere said. "No, Ma, I did. I did everything. I was a bad kid. That's why you sent me away."

Sister Mary Margaret turned away from him. "Lord, forgive me," she said. "Lord in heaven, forgive me."

I charged at Denevere and caught his gun arm before he could fire. I lifted him and slammed him backward against the wall. The back of his head cracked one of the stained glass windows and he dropped the gun. I slammed him against the wall a second time and he clawed at my face, scratching my eye and causing my grip to loosen. He slammed his fist into the side of my head and kicked me in the groin. I still had him by the jacket but he slipped out of it and got past me. He scrambled under the pews and came out with my discarded gun. He pointed it at me then at Sister Mary Margaret. Then at me. Back and forth between the two of us.

The blisters on her hands had cracked. There was puss oozing between her fingers. She looked Denevere in the eye. "It was a sin," she said. "What I did. It was a sin. But your birth -- that was a miracle. You were my miracle."

"Then why --" He choked on the tears that were starting to come. "Then why did you give me up?"

She stared at him. She began to cry. Soon, she was sobbing uncontrollably. Anguish was pouring out of her. Denevere pointed the gun at his own head. "Why didn't you want me?" he said.
"Because," Mary Margaret said. "Because I didn't deserve a miracle."

Denevere pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. He fell to his knees. He started sobbing. She tried to move toward him but the chains held her back. He curled up at her feet and cried. I bent over and searched his jacket pocket. I found the key to the handcuffs and unlocked her wrists and ankles. I pocketed Denevere's gun and took my own from his limp hand and pocketed that one too. I lifted Sister Mary Margaret in my arms and moved toward the front door. She reached over her shoulder for Denevere. He was still curled on the floor, sobbing. I could hear sirens.

"It was a miracle," she whispered in my ear. "He was a miracle and it was a miracle that saved him."

I didn't bother to tell her that before I entered the church I had taken all the bullets out of my gun.

BIO: In 2008 Mark Joseph Kiewlak's work appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thug Lit, Muzzle Flash, Powder Burn Flash, Clean Sheets, and many others. He was privileged to have served as judge of the 2007 Wild Violet Fiction Contest. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 037 - Eric Beetner


It seemed to Chad that the body had gotten heavier the longer he dragged it into the woods. This was the part he didn’t like about killing. It was the part you always forgot about until it was time. Like cleaning up after a party. No one wants to do it but it has to be done.

Chad had killed seven men. Two in anger, one in self defense and this made four for money. Disposing of a body wasn’t his specialty but none of the others had turned up so he felt at least competent at it. The gun work he felt more than competent at; he felt expert.

Like, teach-a-class expert. Write-a-book expert. But he knew he would have to have many more under his belt before that happened. To the men who hired him he was still an unproven commodity. That’s partly why he had to do his own disposal.

Autumn air whistled in his ears and was making his eyes tear. The crunch of his feet on the carpet of dried leaves made a rhythm and his heavy breathing made an out-of-time syncopation that was like a jazz drum solo in the forest.

After a solid ten minutes of dragging the body away from where he had parked, Chad put down the legs and stretched out his back with a deep groan. It had been a hefty man who stopped living (about two hours ago) in his mid-fifties. Chad stepped around to the other side and picked up the body under his armpits and tried it that way for a while. It wasn’t much better.

He came to a small clearing at the side of a dry creek bed. In summer, the creek probably ran with water but not enough to wash the body downstream so Chad decided this was a good place to dump it. He never called a body “him”. The him that was inside this body had vanished with two hollow-point bullets to the skull.

Chad slid the body down into the shallow creek bed and took off his gloves and tossed them on top of the body’s upturned belly. He knew guys who went to a lot of trouble to bury a body but Chad didn’t believe in that. If you find a good place that is out of the way where no one will spot it, it is much faster to get rid of someone if you let nature do it. This is what the whole system is designed for: to return us to the dirt.

He leaned over and opened the body’s jacket and ripped open the shirt, exposing a hairy chest and sizable belly. That made it easier for the foxes to get at him. Really it is the bugs that do it. In a month, the body would be nothing more than a pile of bones picked so clean they would be ready for hanging in a museum.

Another job done. Another notch on the belt. Chad’s future was looking up in the killing business.

Chad was half way to wiping his nose on the back of his hand when he heard a twig snap. He spun and drew his gun like an expert. Like, a give-lessons-to-an-actor-in-a-western expert.

He fired and the sound of the bullet made the leaf-crunching and mouth-breathing that had once dominated the air seem as small as the footsteps of the bugs underfoot.

At the edge of the small clearing was a deer. By the time Chad even focused on what it was it had begun to fall to the ground. Chad watched as it slumped to its forelegs and then let its chest hit the ground. The rear legs were slow to react to the bullet and stood firm for a moment. Once the front end was down, it was just inertia dragging down the rest of the animal. A female.

Chad stopped breathing. The echo of the bullet had faded and the pulverizing of the leaves under the body of the deer had been brief. The deer let out a snort and kicked its legs as if trying to stand up, like it had just tripped over a fallen branch and was now confused as to how it had gotten on the ground at all.

It kicked twice more and then lay still except for the rapid rise and fall of her chest as she huffed big breaths of crisp fall air in and out through her nose.

Chad held his breath until his lungs started to revolt. They burned and fought to draw in more life but Chad had stopped all function as his brain absorbed what he had done.

Finally he sucked in a chest full of cold air spiked with the hint of dust from crushed leaves. He had been able to shoot a man point blank in the head and not raise his pulse by more than a few beats. But seeing the deer fall helplessly at his own doing suddenly made him aware of death in a way he never had been before.

His eyes, already wet with the cool breeze irritating them, now flooded over in tears. He did not sob and did not whimper but fat tears the size of sumer rain came one after the other down his face. Chad didn’t know where it was coming from.

He was tired from the effort of moving the body but not so tired that he had lost his well-practiced self control. It was the animal, larger than he was but still defenseless and gentle looking, that made the world turn from fall to winter right there in an instant.

It was just a damn deer but, in the moment, it was an intersection. This was where his life had led him to. Here, in the woods, he was a killer of innocence. Here, in the cold quiet as a single leaf fell from above and landed on the undulating chest of the doe, the first of many that would form her shroud.

Chad stepped slowly across the clearing and approached the fallen doe. Laying on her side, she huffed the way a boxer does between rounds. Her eye, big and black and blank, stared up at him and beyond. There was no judgement there, no accusing. She didn’t know what a bullet was or what it had done to her insides. The blankness read as calm and the breathing was a comfort to Chad.

He stood over her and listened. He thought about speaking out loud to apologize or explain but he found the idea silly. He also didn’t want to hear his own voice break the calm of the woods. His voice disgusted him right then. His actions, his life, his work all sickened Chad.

Needless to say Chad had never been hunting. The only times he was ever this far out in the woods at all was to dump bodies. Bodies he had killed.

He felt like a fool, crying in the woods over a deer, but there was something undeniable that had shifted in him. His world began to accelerate around him. Images of his past crimes assaulted his eyes and thoughts flashed like a strobe light against the inside of his skull. For a second, he brought the gun up to his own temple and contemplated squeezing the trigger but the impulse soon passed.

He bent down to one knee and reached out to touch the doe. The gun was still in his hand, black and artificial in this natural setting.

He put it in his pocket.

He reached tentatively, his fingers spread and his eyes locked with hers. In his mind he kept repeating “I’m not going to hurt you,” but he realized the absurdity of that thought so he stopped.

When he touched her muzzle, she snorted once and kicked her back legs but was still again after that. He stroked her from nose to ears, brushing away the leaf as if that would somehow stave off the inevitable. A tear fell from his face and landed on her cheek. He could feel the heat from her breath on his own face.

Behind him, unseen, the first insect crawled onto the body laying in the creek bed to inspect it. It navigated the forest of chest hair up to his face and disappeared into the nose to have a look around.

Chad could see the blood of the deer start to seep out from underneath where she lay. It was thicker and darker than what he had seen so many times on the men he had killed or seen killed by others.

He felt grateful that he couldn’t see the full wound.

His own blood coursed quicker through him. He felt his ears get hot and knew they were turning red with the pounding blood. He could see his pulse in his eyes and feel it against the tightness of his shoes.

Before the thought could evaporate from his brain like the others, he stood and took the gun from his pocket. He pointed straight down and fired. Two bullets to the skull.

Just like he had practiced.

Those were the last shots he ever fired.

One month later, the bones of the middle-aged man and the deer both showed white among the crowd of dead leaves in browns and deep reds that had covered all but the tallest rib bones and hips. The woods remained quiet since the last bullet had been fired, a bird call the loudest noise to crack the air.

Chad took frequent walks outside. He hadn’t yet been back to the woods of any kind but he planned on it. He hadn’t gotten a straight job yet but he planned on it. He hadn’t gone a day without thinking of the deer. In a new state, under a new name, he watched the first snow begin to fall and felt the cold bite of winter air sting his eyes and make them water.

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.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Interlude #4

Let's hit two birds with this one, shall we?

Okay, more than two birds.

Chris Pimental's Bad Things is up and running. It's a very unique set-up, too, with all of the stories contained within a "book". Hey, I can't do it justice here. Go look at it, read it, leave your thoughts. It's really a fun format and there's a bunch of bad stories on the site. Bad as in good. Encore, Mr. Pimental, encore!

Crooked is now housed at a new domain and February's issue is just about full up. If you took the time to check it out and send something Geoff's way, thank you, as we have to have as many crime fiction sites as possible. The more outlets, the more crime fiction, the better off the web's footprint on the genre.

Third and final bit of business is to address the contest situation that I mentioned a couple weeks ago.

The first contest, as far as I can tell, should be held in March. I need a little bit of lead time to get it all set the way that I want it to be.

But I can tell you some of the specifics of the contest format.

First of all, as mentioned, and perhaps the most important detail, this will be a cash-winning contest, as will all of the contests.

At the moment, I'm thinking these will be quarterly contests. So, if the first is in March, the second will be in June, then September and finally December.

Each contest will revolve around a theme. Before the end of January, I will let you know what the theme of March's contest will be. It will, of course, be crime or noir-related.

But I digress back to the money...

First place will pay out $25, second will be $10 and third will be $5. At the end of the year, however, that may change to a slightly larger number. Winners will be notified by yours truly and we will work something out as far as payment goes. Rest assured, however, you will receive your cash prize.

This solves one of the potential stumbling blocks that I came up against in thinking this over. Originally, anyone that entered the contest would have had to provide me with an address. Some of you might be a bit squeamish about that so I will only require addresses once you are notified of your win.

Second comes the question of judging.

When a writer submits his or her work for an Edgar or a Hugo or a Shamus, they do so without their names on the manuscript. Since I can't figure out who is who by psychic power, you will have to submit your contest piece with your name on it.

However, because I don't want the judges to be biased towards anyone, only I will have the names of the writers. The submissions will be judged on their own merit.

Since I will know who wrote what, I recuse myself from the judging and will be picking a small panel of judges instead.

Sound fair?

Point three.

As always, you retain the rights to your stories and if you do not want your contest submission to appear on A Twist Of Noir, you may let me know after the contest is concluded and the winners announced.


Have fun and commit some great crime.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 036 - Naomi Johnson


Fuckin’ Dan Winterburn. I never liked that asshole and now I’m dying because of him. Smug, arrogant motherfucker.

I had spent my lunch hour plus a little more at Bergdorf’s, buying a gift for Doreen. Doreen was a walking wet dream, she made Marilyn Monroe look like as juicy as a turkey carcass on the day after Thanksgiving. Curvaceous, funny, easy to be with. In other words, nothing like my wife.

So I’d picked out this pink silk slip, one of those full slips with the lacy brassiere built in. Major retro and with some designer’s name on it, it cost almost as much as my car payment but what the hell. I was imagining it on Doreen then me ripping it off her when that asshole Winterburn appeared out of nowhere. Like I don't get enough of his shit at the office.

He greeted me and then said, “A gift for Velma?”

Fucker. He’d met Velma and he knew she was the last woman in the world any man was going to buy designer silk for.

“Ah…” I said, repartee not being my forte.

“A friendly bit of advice, Bill,” he clapped me on the shoulder and gave me his special brand of grin. A supercilious, knowing, leering grin. I don't how he manages it. “Always buy a gift for the wife when you’re buying one for the other woman. If you don’t, then when you get home the guilt sets in. You feel guilty and it shows. The wife sees it, starts to wonder. Don’t want that, do we?”

The asshole drifted off in the direction of the perfume counter where I hoped the fumes would induce a fatal asthma attack. But I had to admit he had a point. Velma was like a bloodhound and Doreen was a bone I didn't want to toss her. I’d spent the entire hour lingering over my gift to Doreen but it took all of three minutes to settle on Velma's gift: A girdle with more armor than a naval destroyer. I took both items to the counter and paid for them, asked for them to be wrapped and delivered. I filled out the address cards and went back to the office feeling a little holier than Dan Winterburn. The feeling even lasted through the phone call to Velma to let her know I'd be working late.

Bergdorf’s service is always excellent so I was looking forward to seeing Doreen in pink lace when I let myself in to her apartment after work that evening. And I was right, the slip had been delivered. The box and wrap and ribbons were in a tangle on the floor when I opened the door. Problem was, so was the slip.

No, the problem was sprawled on the sofa, one heavy leg dangling over the sofa arm, a meaty arm tucked behind her head. An unfiltered cigarette dropped hot ash onto her upper lip. Velma.

A shudder ran right through me and I never wanted to pee so bad in my life until I saw the gun in her hand. You've heard that expression about bowels turning to water? I'm hear to tell you it's the God's honest truth.

“Jesus, Bill, you're late,” she rasped. “Thought I might fall asleep waiting for you. That's been the routine for some time now, hasn't it?”

I looked from Velma to the slip on the floor.

“What have you done, Velma? Where's Doreen?”

She gestured with the gun. “In there, hon. You go on in and get your goodbyes over with.”

I went in and saw Doreen lying on the bed, the evening sun pushing between the window louvers and slatting across her naked body. A small black hole marred the perfection of the valley between her breasts. Her eyes were glassy and bulged a little, as though she was choking on the object partially stuffed into her mouth. I stared at it for what seemed like days before it dawned on me that it was the girdle I'd bought for Velma.

Sick, I staggered back to the living room. If I was going to throw up I wanted to it be on my wife. Velma sat up and held out a piece of paper to me. Two pieces, the address cards I'd filled out at Bergdorf's. One was to Velma and one was to Doreen. Oh, Christ. The address on both was the same. Mine. Velma's.

I looked up in time to see Velma's paw tightening on the gun. I didn't really hear the blast, I was too busy coping with the sudden punch of a piledriver to my chest. I had to lean against the wall and when that didn't help I sort of slid down it. Velma came and stood over me, straddling my legs.

“What'd you say, Bill?” She leaned closer, the gun to my head.

I whispered, “Fuckin' Dan Winterburn. I never liked that guy.”

BIO: Naomi Johnson is a retired financial analyst with an unused degree in Criminology. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her friends deny all responsibilty.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 035 - Johnny Strike


Originally published in the short story collection: A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above, by publisher Rudos & Rubes

There was a mix-up with the paperwork. Even the furlough captain had missed it when he’d stamped all the forms. A light-blue laminated “Inmate Activity Card” with the warden’s childlike signature was paper-clipped to the top of the file.

Later that morning, an older trustee handed the card and a pink slip of paper through the bars to Brendan Cattrell, a.k.a. “Baby Face Cattrell,” before winking lewdly and trotting away. Cattrell laughed. Yes, he still had the charm.

Dumbfounded, Baby Face sat on his bunk and looked it over. “Brendan Cattrell is authorized to participate in scullery work at an undisclosed outside location.”

Cattrell had just been transferred from maximum security Pelican Bay prison, and he was thrilled to his core with this colossal mistake.

The next morning, dressed in his prison-issued striped jacket and gray cap, he waited until two bulls showed up with five other prisoners in tow. A guard unlocked the cell and placed him in cuffs. The group was led down one prison hallway after another, picking up more prisoners, solid metal gates slamming shut and locking behind them. Baby Face told himself that if he could just relax, this would be his greatest escape––one for which the prison system itself would be responsible. He wanted to laugh out loud but, instead, stared at the floor in front of him.

Baby Face Cattrell boarded an old bus with twenty-two other prisoners. Ten minutes later, the bus was rolling down a country road, away from the prison, across a sea of open fields. The fog made the landscape look like Sleepy Hollow. Before long, the bus turned onto a wider highway and then onto a freeway. The handcuffs would have to come off at some point, Cattrell mused.

He gazed at the morning traffic, trying to imagine where people were going and what they were doing in their lives. He would soon be with them. Baby Face concentrated on keeping his heartbeat steady and his mind in a quiet space. He looked at the activity card again. He was number 1640. Added together, that made eleven. That was his lucky number. Added again made two. He was born in February, the second month. The numbers were lining up nicely.

The bus took a turnoff and began to rumble down an industrial road that was also thick with fog. He could make out white buildings, some kind of a metal tower, tractors, cement mixers, a row of pale green portatoilets. The bus kept rolling, the fog dissipated, and eventually the beginnings of the city outskirts were evident: a grocery store, dilapidated housing, weedy fenced-in lots, graffiti-covered walls, a gloomy gas station. The bus pulled into a parking lot behind a three-story warehouse the color of red clay, and parked near an open loading dock.

“Stay in your seats!” the bull barked from the front of the bus. “I’ll tell ya when you can move. And keep your cards in front of you at all times!” He shot a menacing glance at the prisoners before getting off the bus. The driver rustled the morning paper and began to read it. Somebody farted loudly and a general complaint rose up from the men that caused the bull to climb back onboard and command, “Silence, you fucks!” Then he said something to the driver before turning back to the prisoners. “When I call your name, get your sorry ass up and off the bus. You’ll be escorted to the workplace where you’ll work till chow. Understood?” The prisoners grumbled a “yes sir” in unison and the bull called out the first name: “Sanders, front and center!”

Cattrell craned his neck to see the prisoner being escorted by another bull into the entrance. His cuffs were still on. The escape would have to be from the inside. He waited for his name, still worried that someone would discover the mistake that had gotten him this far.

“Okay Cattrell. Let’s go.”

Two bulls glared up at him as he stepped out of the bus, and one pointed him toward the short climb to the loading zone where a city cop stood sucking his lips.

Down a couple of hallways––not so different from the prison, sans clanking metal doors––as the cop and a bull traded comments about a baseball game. Suddenly, he was looking into a deep room with a ceiling nearly as high as a cathedral, crowded with prisoners busy scrubbing pots and pans, loading and unloading dishwashers, filling plastic trays with clean dishes, glasses and little metal dessert cups, and stacking the trays on dollies. The enormous room was filled of steam and noise and sweat and a sense of hellish boredom. A man with crazy, blue eyes, wearing a camouflage bill cap, left the working horde to snatch Cattrell’s Activity Card and look into his eyes with sullen hate. He nodded to the bull, who was removing Cattrell’s cuffs.

“How’s it goin’, Stu?” he asked the guard.

“It’s alright. Here’s another slave.”

Crazy Eyes laughed and studied Cattrell like an insane drill sergeant.

“I want grease, chump. Elbow grease. Time’s a wasting, lady.” He led Cattrell over to some sinks filled with what looked like near-boiling water. An ugly pan coated with dark slime floated on top. Baby Face removed his cap and jacket. Next to the sink, a stack of cruddy pans of various shapes and sizes rose to the height of a short man––no, make that a short woman, Cattrell thought. Crazy Eyes handed him a pair of blue rubber gloves and winked, “To keep yer hands nice and soft.” Then, “Do it! Now!”

Cattrell dug in, scrubbing at the pan with a bristled brush, but it was so thick with gluey gravy that Cattrell felt there was no possibility of the pan ever being clean again. He gave up, filled it with some of the boiling water, and placed it on the floor. The next one he tried seemed more promising and, after a few minutes of scrubbing, showed signs that it might actually be cleaned in his lifetime. Cattrell worked away but kept scanning the room, observing and noting the general set-up. Behind him was a new guard, and on the other side of the room stood two more watching the deep cavern like a pair of vultures.

Baby Face Cattrell turned around and looked at the guard behind him sipping coffee from a styrofoam cup. The bull stepped closer and said, “What’s the problem? Get back to work.” Baby Face pleaded that he had to use the bathroom. He held his legs together and made the most pathetic expression he could muster.

The guard laughed at his discomfort and took another sip. He narrowed his eyes and sipped again. “There’s a piss break coming up soon,” he said, but then saw that Cattrell was in a bad way. “Okay, son, come with me,” the guard said, and Baby Face peeled off the gloves. In the hallway, they stopped in front of the men’s room. The guard said, “I’ve gotta put the cuffs back on.” Cattrell went back into his leg-squeezing pose and pained expression. The guard still had his coffee. He thought for a moment, then said, “Okay, go ahead. I’ll come with you.”

The bathroom was empty. There were no windows. Cattrell turned to the urinal and unzipped. He slipped out a brush handle with a jagged piece of metal from a dessert dish imbedded into it and wrapped tight with a shoestring. He had contrived the weapon under the hot dishwater, which ended up making it weld together nicely. The guard lit a cigarette and the smell was almost intoxicating to Baby Face as he went ahead and urinated.

As soon as he finished, Cattrell turned and leapt like a wild animal at the guard, savagely plunging the shiv into his throat and twisting it around. As he fell, the guard made gasping sounds, and tried to kick Cattrell off while he groped for his gun, but in a matter of seconds Baby Face had finished him off with a vicious kick to the head. He bolted the door, washed up, and got the guard’s dark trousers off. He pulled them over his own jail stripes. He took his bloody prison-issued shirt off, settling for only a white t-shirt. He took stock of his newly acquired items: a loaded revolver, fat wallet, pack of Camel filters, Zippo lighter, set of cuffs, and keys. He picked up the lit cigarette and took a drag. He dropped it on the floor and stepped on it. He stood on the sink and knocked out the air vent cover above. After he had raised himself inside and closed up the vent, he crawled along a narrow air shaft like a human worm, trying not to breathe too deeply; there was a vague smell of burning plastic.

At the next opening, he removed the vent cover and peered down into an empty room of lockers and benches. Once inside the room, he found a smelly, red sweatshirt, which he put on, and even a pair of sunglasses, which he propped on his head. He let himself out and walked the hallway looking for an exit. He passed a man in a suit and another in a chef’s outfit deep in a heated discussion; neither seemed even cognizant of him. Still, he kept a firm grip on the gun in the pouch of the sweatshirt. Outside, he found himself in a parking lot with a city street just beyond it. He crossed the lot and became a “free man,” walking along a block of East Oakland. He turned a corner, then another, and boarded a bus.

Baby Face Cattrell came from Chicago and didn’t know Oakland or San Francisco. He had been to California only twice: once as a boy, on vacation with his foster family in San Diego, where he’d almost drowned. Still, he remembered the pretty boats, and now arriving at Jack London Square he found boats there, too. Some looked like yachts. His second time in California was when he had traveled to Sacramento for the “job.”

Once off he bus, he bought a gray sweater, and ditched the red sweatshirt in a men’s room trashcan. He walked until he came to a BART station and bought a ticket to San Francisco. He enjoyed the smooth ride and got out at Embarcadero, the first Frisco stop. He walked along Market Street, relishing the reality of his third escape. He needed some ID and then to head south of the border, but first he deserved some fun.

Looking at the San Francisco Chronicle in the vending machines he passed, he was reminded: it was New Year’s Eve. How appropriate, he thought, and pondered if perhaps there was some even deeper meaning. Baby Face sat in a restaurant and ate a “breakfast burrito.” He had never heard of it but had watched the counterman make one: scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, salsa, bacon and refried beans. He was nearly salivating as it was handed to a friendly girl standing next to him. “I’ll have the same,” he told the arrogant appearing counterman. He overheard the girl order a “Mango Monkey” at the next counter, but he decided he would just have a cup of coffee.

Now satisfied, he sat at the counter and wondered what the night––New Year’s Eve, no less––might hold in store for him. Outside, he lit a cigarette and took a deep hit, then dropped it to the ground and stepped on it, which was his custom. A homeless man, who looked like an extra from a Dickens epic, dropped to his knees, retrieved the fag, straightened it out, and exposed a horrible, toothless grin.

At a bar, Baby Face found an envelope on the floor that contained a ticket to the Golden Gate Yacht Club’s New Year’s Eve party. He had a few drinks and decided to go. Once at the yacht club, he had a few more. He met a flirty and tipsy “Miss Royale” by the punch bowl. She wore a pink-and-black striped satin corset; black elbow-length gloves, a silver bracelet above one elbow; and a purple flower in her dark hair. Her painted face was as fetching as any harlot dreamed up by any newly escaped, baby-faced, lady killer. He smiled his special smile, the one that always worked. He watched with pleasure as her pupils enlarged.

“You’re the most beautiful doll in all the world,” he whispered with a sweet, deathly sincerity. Miss Royale nearly swooned. He offered his arm; she eagerly grasped it, and they left the yacht club together.


The sky threatened rain and Cattrell felt a cold wind kicking up. A clump of white balloons was caught on the electric cables of the bus line. The sidewalk before him was sprinkled with glitter, confetti, a smashed noisemaker.

He watched the attendants wheel the stretcher out of the apartment building. The corpse was covered in a white sheet. He fished out a cigarette, lit it, took one drag, and dropped it to the ground. He looked down and stepped on it.

Baby Face Cattrell thought about his next move. He needed proper ID to get him to Mexico. He knew somebody in San Diego who could supply it. He headed to the bus station and bought a ticket. He found a darkened area in a empty waiting room. He slunk into one corner and, on a hard wooden bench, dozed off behind a San Francisco Examiner.

When Baby Face awoke, he found that the terminal was deserted. There was not a soul in sight. He didn’t feel well, either. He walked around looking for someone but he was completely alone. Spooked now, he desperately wanted to get out, but all the doors were locked. He smashed a glass door with a trashcan; the foul-smelling air rushed in and Baby Face gasped and clutched at his throat. He fell to the floor, his chest contracting with a nightmare force. He struggled to crawl across the grimy floor but he didn’t know where he was crawling to. He felt the blood rushing up his throat and he thought his heart was exploding, silently, profoundly; and then he died. Two men in biohazard suits and gas masks hurried by, barely glancing at Baby Face Cattrell’s lifeless body.

BIO: Johnny Strike is the author of Ports of Hell, and A Loud Humming Sound Came From Above and the founding member of the legendary San Francisco punk band, Crime.