Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Interlude: Contest Countdown

Not much time left.

I've been asked by a couple of writers that have entered the contest if I will be posting the stories that were submitted.

The answer is yes, if that's what the writers wish.

As is the policy on the site, the story rights are those of the authors and, if they wish to have their submissions seen by a wider audience than those that are sitting in judgment, then they will be posted.

Also, I've been asked when the contest results will be made public and I have decided that all judges should have made their selections no later than April 15.

If I get results before then, then that's when they'll appear.

Otherwise, figure on Tax Day here in the States as the absolute drop-dead date that I should have answers for everyone.

After that, the winners will be announced and I will contact them via e-mail to arrange payment for their hard work.

Okay, last bit of business.

If there's anyone out there still sitting on a story that they want to enter, you have until 11:59:59 CDT to submit it.

Anything that comes in at midnight CDT will not count.

I can't wait to see what the judges have decided. I will keep everyone updated.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 059 - Paul Brazill


It was shortly after the pitter-patter of tiny feet had been drowned out by the rat-a-tat-tat of the debt collector’s knocks that Carole Parker considered killing her husband. But it wasn’t until many years later, when her daughter Kate had grown up and flown the nest, that she actually decided to do it.

Carole had barely been out of her teens when Doctor James Parker, as glimmering and sophisticated as a Brandy Alexander, swept through her hum-drum life like a tornado, picked her up like Dorothy and plonked her in an Oz that bore more than a passing resemblance to Chiswick, West London.

As the years trundled on, however, James’s gambling and drinking habits ballooned to the size of the Hindenburg, his mood swings and behaviour grew more and more erratic and Oz turned out to be no place like home.

Carole’s initial, overriding feeling of disappointment eventually melded into a hate that slowly marinaded until it congealed into a cold, hard contempt.


Carole, who had been studying Chemistry at Durham University when she met James, found that she couldn't safely rely on him for an income and she eventually took a part time job at Bogajski’s Veterinary Practice in Holland Park, an upmarket joint that pampered the pets of B and C-list celebrities. Over the years, a bottle of chloral hydrate that nestled on a shelf at work had stood out like the lone, beautiful whore in a rundown brothel, teasing and tempting Carole. The years had stretched out like a long summer shadow until, at last, she spiked a bottle of Mortlach - James’s favourite whisky - and headed home.


Carole got off the 94 bus at Turnham Green and glimpsed her reflection in the newsagent's window. Her heart sank like the Titanic. As she looked at the frump in the window she remembered overhearing a couple of shiny, happy WAGs talking about her as they sat in the vet's waiting room.

‘Not bad looking but a bit on the drab side’, the northern one had said.

‘Dowdy and past her sell-by date,’ commented the other, in a grating Estuary accent.

‘About time for a make-over,’ they giggled.

It had hurt but Carole could hardly disagree and she’d been depressed for days after. What had happened to the vivacious young woman who used to light up a room like a firework display? She’d been drowned in a flat cocktail of debt and drudgery but there was still a spark, she knew.

Well, she thought, with James out of the way - and his insurance money in the bank - there would be a rebirth. A phoenix from the ashes. A flush of excitement burst free like a champagne cork but by the time she stood at the gate of her semi-detached house that excitement was waning and being replaced with fear. Fear of prison if she was caught. Fear of what Kate would think. And then the guilt, the doubt and the panic hit her like a tsunami.

Then she saw the car. A big grey BMW that was parked outside her house looking like a shark that was waiting to strike.


‘There are, of course, myriad negotiation techniques,’ said Detective Sergent Frank Cook, in a voice not dissimilar to that of the tiger in the Jungle Book film. ‘One of the most popular is a two-hander, as it were, known as the good-cop/ bad-cop. But I, however, am here alone today and I am as far from a good cop as you can imagine so I think I’ll just stick to the Corleone method.’

Carole was focused now. She looked at James but he just looked pathetic, like a scolded schoolboy. His face was bleeding and snotty and the fingers of his left hand hung limp. With his shaking right hand, he signed the contract as Frank Cook hovered over him like Godzilla over a flattened Tokyo. James was a big man - he’d played prop forward for Durham University - but Frank was bigger, with a face that looked as if it had recently been scrubbed by a Brillo pad and big, big hands, one of which held a big, shiny bloodstained Glock 29. The moment that Carole signed the paper she could feel her life slipping away like dishwater down a plughole.

‘Congratulations,’ said Frank. ‘You are now the proud owners of ..well ... life.’ He grinned like a game show host, pushed the deeds to the house in the pocket of his Armani jacket and then indifferently threw an IOU towards James.

‘I do believe we should have a little snifter to celebrate, don’t you?’ said Frank, putting a CD into the player. ‘I think Doctor James here is certainly in need of a little hair of the dog that fucked him up.’

Carole went over to the drinks cabinet. She took a swig of Glenfidich before passing the bottle over to James, who gulped it down like a drowning man gasping for the last breath of air.
Puccini’s Tosca blasted out as Frank looked at a photograph on the wall: Carole and Jimmy on honeymoon in Las Vegas, looking full of life and future.

‘Those were the days, my friends, eh?’ said Frank, turning and spotting Carole’s Sainsbury’s bag. ‘And is that a bottle of Mortlach, I spy? I hope you’re not keeping the good stuff for yourself.’

For the next few minutes, Carole seemed to step out of herself as if she were watching a film. She poured the Mortlach for Frank and let it all happen. About halfway through Tosca’s third act, as church bells rang, Frank started babbling, puking and convulsing and, by the late evening, he was dead.


Outside The City Barge, a bustling pub overlooking the Thames, the speakers were blasting out an old Eddie & The Hot Rods song. A jet ski cut across the water and Carole flashed back to the previous month when she and James had dumped Frank Cook’s body and BMW in the river’s murky water, somewhere near the Isle of Dogs.

A small aeroplane left a trail of white foam across the vivid blue sky. Carole smiled to herself as she showed her friends the shiny red shoes that she’d bought from Harvey Nichols with one of James's many credit cards.

‘I think I saw your husband looking out of the window again today,’ said Sarah, a mousy woman with mousy hair. ‘Is that all he does these days? He seems to peek through the curtains whenever I park near you. Is he turning into a Peeping Tom?’

Carole laughed. That really was all James did now. Snoop. He was at the window day and night waiting for reprisals from Frank’s cronies. Reprisals that she doubted would come.

If anyone missed Frank Cook or thought that he’d been murdered, she doubted that they would suspect a boring suburban couple like her and James. And if they did, well, she had that big, shiny gun in her handbag, just in case.

‘Oh, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,’ chuckled Carole as she drained her glass of Pimms and lemonade. ‘Same again?’

BIO: Paul Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England - a town famous for hanging a monkey - and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland (South of Hel). He has had stories in (or coming up in) A Twist Of Noir, Beat To A Pulp, Flashshots, Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences and, the book 6S2V. He can be found stalking ‘You would say that, wouldn’t you?’

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Interlude: Contest Countdown and More

With only


days left until the contest deadline, I've been thinking about the word count for stories on the site.

When A Twist Of Noir started, the count was split between flash fiction and longer fiction and it took Seth Harwood to say on CrimeWav.com that A Twist Of Noir's word count was up to 3,000 words for me to say, "You know what? He's right. It makes no sense to split off flash and any other fiction."

So I changed that real early.

Now, with this contest allowing everyone to go up to 5,000 words, I'm starting to wonder if I've been hindering anyone with the usual 3,000 word limit.

Don't get me wrong. I think every story that has seen posting on A Twist Of Noir has been nothing short of phenomenal. And, for the record, there has never been a story rejected on this site (there was only one instance in which I asked a writer to go back and rewrite for reasons that became apparent to him and he handled that situation like a pro) and that's testament to all of you and your talent.

My question is whether or not you want to see the 3,000 word limit change. I don't want to lower it (unless it's for a contest challenge or something similar; yes, I can be a bastard, just ask the contestants who have had to play with the theme of alienation) but I want to know if anyone wants to see the limit raised.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Interlude: Contest Countdown


That's how many days you have left before the deadline of the first A Twist Of Noir contest hits.

If you've already entered, you have only a little while left before you find out if the judges liked you, really liked you (that might have gone over a few heads out there).

If not, you still have time.

Remember, the prizes for the top three places are: $25 for the winner, $10 for second place and $5 for third.

The exact drop-dead deadline is 11:59:59 CDT (adjust accordingly) on March 31. Get it in before then and you're good to go.

Good luck to all those that have entered and to those that may still fire off entries.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Interlude #9

Last night, I was made aware of the Spinetingler Short Story award nominees by one of the nominees herself, Naomi Johnson.

As I told Naomi, there's a lot of competition there. Sandra Seamans and Jordan Harper and John Weagly and Anonymous-9 are all names that I'm familiar with and man, can they write a hell of a story.

So can Naomi.

So, of course, I have my bias and sorry to all the others but I have to go with the hometown girl and I will be voting for Naomi.

If you want to re-read her nominated story, click here and give Sisters Under The Skin a whirl.

Congratulations and good luck again, Naomi. We're already proud of you.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 058 - Paul Brazill


Father Tim had sat through confession waiting for the juicy bits much as, when he was a kid, he’d sat through some ropey BBC Sunday evening costume drama hoping for the flash of a bit of tit. Although the hip flask of rum had dimmed the glare of the self-pity that he’d had to endure, it was really only the lurid details of the sinners’ sordid shenanigans that blew his cassock up these days.

The hot August evening had long since waned and Father Tim was outside St.Martin’s locking up as a shoeless Mad Mack shambled toward the church looking like a duffed-up Worzel Gummidge and sporting a split lip, bloody feet and a torn AC/DC t-shirt. Now, even on his best days, Mack wasn’t exactly what you would call a handsome man and looking at at him bathed in the light from the stained glass windows Father Tim once again doubted whether the Good Lord had, indeed, created Mad Mack in His image.

‘I need to confess something,’ said Mack, spitting and spraying blood.

‘Mortal or venal,’ said Father Tim.

‘Venal, I think,’ said Mack.

They went inside and Tim nodded toward the confessional, laying down a path of paper towels.

‘Walk on this son, it’s a right pain in the whotsit getting blood from mahogany,’ said Father Tim.

‘I feel a bit like Kwai Chang Cain,’ said Mack, chuckling.

‘Sharpish,’ said Father Tim, looking at his watch. ‘Antiques Roadshow’s on in a minute.’


‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned,’ said Mad Mack. ‘It’s as been five weeks since my last confession.’

‘Go on,’ said Tim, leaning his head against the lattice grid and closing his eyes.

‘Well, it all started when I went up north,’ said Mack.

‘Aaah,’ said Father Tim, nodding. ‘The north. Where up north exactly? Birmingham? Sheffield?’

‘Oh, no. The real north,’ said Mack. ‘Newcastle. You know, mushy peas, blackpudding, peas pudding, fishy-wishy-fuckin-dishy.’

Tim coughed. ‘Language.’

‘Sorry,’ said Mack, crossing himself. ‘Anyway, Frank sent me to collect some dosh from this wannabee Champions League whiz-kid who owed him a fortune from back in the day and, using my well known negotiation techniques...’ He tapped the cold Glock under his arm. ‘Everything went tickety boo. I collected the money and my usual souvenir.’

Father Tim, who was familiar with Mad Mack’s method’s, instinctively tugged on his ear lobe.

‘Then, I booked myself into a Travellers Inn for the night, knocked back a few pints of Newcastle Brown, had a few spliffs and slept the sleep of the just. But the next day, on the A1 (M), just outside Leeds - and I really effing hate Leeds, by the way -the car breaks down. Of course, it’s a ringer - one of those mish-mash jobs from Anarchy Al - and I’m up poo creek without a paddle. I can’t exactly call the AA - well, not that AA - and I don’t want to run the risk of being spotted by the filth. So, I pick up my bag of tracks and set off on shanks’ pony.

‘Two hours later, there I am, trudging along the motorway sweating like Gary Glitter in a orphanage, with a throat like a nun’s knickers, trying to hitch a lift when this big flash camper van thing pulls up. It looks just like the one in that Tintin Quarantino film. You know the one about the vampires?’

‘Oh yes, of course,’ yawned Father Tim, taking out his Nokia and starting a game of Snake.

‘But I get in and, behind the wheel, there’s this big, red-faced Scouser who introduces himself as Eddy Hill and poking her head from the back is this well-fit Latino-looking bird, who he says is his wife, Luba.’

Father Tim leaned forward, concentrating on getting the top score on his phone game.

‘So,’ continued Mack, ‘He puts on a bit of music - Roundabout by Yes, classic -and passes over a bit of happy talc and, before you know, we’re chatting away andhave a right old chinwag. Just outside Milton Keynes, Luba shouts that lunch is ready and we pull up at a lay-by near them concrete friggin’ cows.

‘Now, when I get in the back, Luba’s laying flat on her back, legs akimbo on a zebra-striped bed and she’s all done up in sussies and that, like Joan Collins in ‘The Bitch’. I look over at Eddy, who says: ‘Go on lad, fill yer boots!’ So, I pulls off my shoes and socks and, before I know it, she’s on her knees doing Come Blow Your Horn.

‘Well, I’m on me way to shootin’ my load when I spies Eddy and he’s got a camcorder on his shoulder. And then it dawns on me. This is one of those Dogging things I’ve read about in the Sunday Sport. You know what Dogging is Father?’

‘I know,’ said Father Tim, distracted from his phone game. ‘Dogging is a euphemism for engaging in sexual acts in a semi-public place or watching others doing so. A lot of these activities appear on the Internet, on ‘You Tube’ and the like.’

‘Spot on,’ said Mad Mack. ‘Now, normally I wouldn’t give a shite but if this ends up on ‘You Tube’ and Frank finds out - well, the poo really will hit the fan.

‘So, I told Eddy to put the camera down but he says: ‘No, get stuck in there, lad.’ So we argue a bit and scuffle a bit more and then him and her push me out of the back of the van and drive off. And they take my bag, my gun, the ear and the money with them. And me Nike’s.

‘Frig knows what’ll happen if they go to the police...’

‘Exactly how much money are we talking about here, Mack?’ said Father Tim.

‘About fifty grand but it’s the coppers I’m worried about. I’ve been caught on Candid Camera like Beadle’s still about, God rest his soul. Anyway, the thing is, I was hoping you’d absolve me off my sins before I go and tell Frank. And maybe put in a good word for me?’

Father Tim shrugged. ‘Have you told anyone else about this?’

‘Not a dicky bird,’ said Mad Mack.

Father Tim nodded.

‘Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis...’ said Father Tim.

If Mad Mack was shocked when he saw the shining barrel of a Glock 29 pointing at him through the lattice grid, he was unable to react before Father Tim muttered: ‘Sic transit Gloria friggin’ Gaynor,’ and blasted Mack’s brains all over the confessional, producing a passable Jackson Pollock.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness, thought Father Tim, as he scraped the blood from his dog collar. It was a good job Antiques Roadshow was a repeat.

BIO: Paul Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England a town famous for hanging a monkey, and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland (South of Hel) He has had stories in (or coming up in) A Twist Of Noir, Beat To A Pulp, Flasshots, Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences and, the book 6S2V. He can be found stalking at ‘You would say that, wouldn’t you?’.

A Twist Of Noir 057 - Col Bury


Originally appeared at Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers

Sarah Meek had a long-term problem. His name was Steve Fury. Sarah had a short-term problem, too.

She was presently handcuffed to a bed in only her panties with Steve edging closer to her, his eyes wide and manic, his panting like a hunting dog: 'I'm gonna fuckin' kill you, slag!'

When she'd met Steve Fury all those years ago, Sarah was still living at home with her family, relying a tad too heavily on her mum and dad to tidy up after her and mollycoddle her to the extent she'd barely lifted a finger. But then 'The Perfect Gent' had swept her off her feet.

Initially, Steve Fury had broken up a heated altercation in Manchester's trendy Swish Bar, between Sarah and her best friend, Melanie, and a robust Glaswegian woman who'd had one too many. Steve had seen the punch being thrown at the cowering Sarah and had gallantly placed himself in harm's way, taking a hefty right on his nose, before he'd escorted the portly woman over to the doormen who'd promptly thrown her out amid a tirade of expletives.

Just three months later, having been exhilarated by that elusive and long-awaited 'special' romance, she'd gleefully accepted her night in shining armour's offer to her move in with him.

The first year was sheer bliss.

The second one wasn't.

Steve had begun to show signs of possessiveness, pulling his face whenever Melanie called to see if Sarah wanted to go out on the town with the girls. Melanie had warned her she'd seen these signs before, but Sarah was blinded by love and Melanie's calls became less frequent.

By year three, Melanie was a distant memory and, by year four, Sarah had lost touch with her parents, except for Christmas and birthday cards. Steve liked to know exactly where Sarah was all of the time and had encouraged her to pack in her job as logistics clerk for a local import and export firm. After all, he'd insisted, 'My wage as a Director of a Global Consultants would more than cover the household bills, love.' Steve had told her that as long as the house was 'spick-and-span' and a 'hot meal' was on the table when he returned home from the office then he would be a happy man.

Consequently, Sarah became extremely domesticated for the first time in her life. Her parents would have been proud of her, had they known.

The ensuing years merged together, a blur of painful flashbacks. Sarah felt trapped as Steve's controlling became unbearable and if Sarah was to look at a man, even on telly for God's sake, Steve's mood would switch in an instant. The first time he hit her was when he arrived home late from 'work' (again), smelling of booze and stale tobacco. She was sat on the sofa watching a Brad Pitt film.

'Oh, a cozy night in? Just you and Brad, eh?'

And Whack!

It stung like hell. Gob-smacked - literally - Sarah couldn't believe it and put it down to him having a bad day at the office. The next day, a dozen red roses arrived with a note begging for forgiveness and professing his undying love, saying it had been a 'one off.' She was subsequently wined and dined, and the world was a beautiful place again.

Until three weeks later when he accused her of having an affair with the bloke next door. Stanley Wise was sixty-two and had a look of Albert Steptoe! When she'd laughed mockingly and said, 'Don't be ridiculous,' the first blow nearly knocked her out.

The second one did.

She awoke being cradled by the whimpering Steve Fury who was stroking her hair and forehead gently. The black-eye and swollen cheekbone only took a few weeks to clear up so it wasn't so bad. Anyhow, she'd become quite skilled in covering her injuries with make-up and clothing as well as having creative cover stories in case anyone did notice.

The police had attended on two occasions when things had gotten out of hand and once they even took Steve with them, but Sarah didn't have the heart to provide a statement as, to be honest, she was petrified of the repercussions, and he was released the next day.

All ties with friends and family had now been severed beyond repair. Steve had a knack of twisting things, especially the guilt, appealing to her kind nature to forgive him and the cycle of abuse just perpetuated itself, escalating into his kinky sex games.

And there she was lying on the bed, her heart-rate double the norm. His breath and spit showered her as he yelled, 'Do you hear me, you fuckin' whore? I'm gonna kill you!'

She'd become a great actress, Oscar-winning standard. Learning to go with the flow, knowing when to agree, when to compliment and, more pertinently, when to lie. And, although being on her own every day was a lonely life, she'd had valuable thinking time in abundance.

'You think you're fuckin' clever, switching keys, don't you? Unless you let me go now, I will kill you. Do you hear me?' continued Steve, yanking noisily at the bedpost.

Sarah had playfully dangled her cuffs with a raised hand, a look of disbelief on his face. She'd cunningly persuaded Steve to dabble in the submissive role for a change by cuffing his right hand to the bedpost, while his left held the cuff key to release him at his leisure. Although she'd not only swapped his cuff key earlier for a similar one that didn't fit, she'd also adeptly undone her own cuffs with another key acquired from her wily neighbour, Stanley 'Steptoe' Wise, the ex-cop who'd offered her so much advice over the years.

She slid off the bed as Steve Fury kicked and bellowed. No longer was she 'Submissive Sarah.' For the first time in ten years she was now in control.

She lifted a hefty snooker trophy from a shelf and strolled toward Steve.

A look of shock shot across Steve's face. 'Sarah. Now enough's enough!'

'You took the words right out of my mouth, Steve,' she said coolly.

He swung a punch with his free hand which Sarah side-stepped.

And Whack!

Steve slumped on the bed with a low groan, swelling already appearing on his forehead.

'Submissive Steve. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?' said Sarah, returning to her side of the bed where she opened the bedside cabinet and the light shimmered off the kitchen knife's blade. She clutched onto the knife as Steve began to come round. She took in the moment; almost disbelieving it yet also savouring it. Steve Fury's true face now emerged: that of a vulnerable little man.

She raised the knife.

Steve's eyes widened. 'Pleeease. Nooo. Saraaaargh!'

And she smiled as she strolled round the bed; even allowing herself a little wink before plunging it deep into his heart, oblivious to the spurt of crimson spattering her cheeks.

She watched intently as his body tensed then jolted. When he was still, she uncuffed him then took in a deep breath.

Now for the hard bit, she thought.

Sarah Meek quickly slashed at her the palm of her right hand, wincing at the sharp, stinging pain, watching her own blood dripping onto the beige carpet. After another long breath, she cut into her right forearm and screamed.

Regaining her composure, she used her blood-free left hand to clench Steve's fingers around the handle of the knife before tossing it onto the floor along with the upturned trophy. After pushing over the bedside cabinet, she called the police, as Stanley 'Steptoe' Wise had advised her.

BIO: Col Bury lives in Manchester, UK with his wife and two children. He is currently writing a crime novel and is the co-editor - along with thriller author and ex-cop, Matt Hilton - of a site encouraging new writers to showcase their talent: Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, where more of Col's stories reside.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 056 - John Weagly


Originally appeared at DZ Allen's MuzzleFlash, July 2007

I get confused about why you’re not supposed to shower during a thunderstorm. Is it dangerous? Poor etiquette? Is it bad luck? I can never remember.

I suppose danger makes the most sense, since threat and menace are everywhere and since electricity and water are such good friends. Lightning could hit the ground, crawl through the wet earth and climb out through your shower nozzle. Or maybe the lightning mixes with pollution in the H2O and turns it corrosive and then the water eats your skin. Or perhaps the lightning just sees you naked, falls in love and jumps through your bathroom window to give you a kiss.

It doesn’t matter. Sometimes you just have to get clean. It’s either take a shower or stand outside, letting the falling rain wash away the grime, the earth and the blood.

What I did I shouldn’t have done, with the knife and the screams and the soggy, shallow grave. But I’m also not supposed to shower in a thunderstorm.

BIO: John Weagly is a Derringer Award winning author with over 30 plays produced by theaters around the world and over 50 short stories and poems published in a variety of mediums. His fiction has appeared in such publications as “The Back Alley,” “Plots With Guns,” “Hardluck Stories,” “Blue Murder,” “Crimespree,” “Bullet,” “Demolition” and “Book of Dead Things.” The Undertow Of Small Town Dreams, a collection of his short stories, is available from Twilight Tales Publications. For more information about John, check out his website at www.johnweagly.com.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 055 - Gerald So


Originally appeared on the late, lamented Hardluck Stories in Summer 2003

"C.J., where are you? Senor Salinas's people are waiting. You cost me a day!"

We were halfway over the Gulf of Mexico when Jock's radio call came in. It was unlike him to yell. He wasn't good at it; his voice cracked.

That aside, I had no idea what he was talking about.

I grabbed the transceiver, ready to yell back at him. Then it hit me; he must be in some kind of jam. "Sorry, Jock. Engine repairs. Be right there."

Final approach to Jock's Bimini Bar always makes me feel young. I first picked up his landing lights as a teenager piloting a modified Douglas Cloudster called Thunder--Zath McGrath riding shotgun. Half my training was helping Zath run Jock's rum up to Miami.

When Zath was grounded, Jock took care of his medical bills and gave him a fresh start. I'd never be able to pay that debt.

"No me gusta." My own trainee's voice brought me back to the present. "Maybe walking into 'nother fight." I met Johnny--Juan San Martin--in a bar fight at Jock's. Who saved who from a beating that night is still hazy to me.

"Maybe," I said as I unbuckled. "I'll go in first. You wait ten minutes."

Johnny gave me a look.

"Okay," I said, "five minutes."

Entering the bar I heard grunts. Too controlled for a brawl. More like arm-wrestling, but the look of the place wasn't right. Jock's patronage is almost exclusively male, and every man in the place had gathered around a center table.

Must be a woman, but even that didn't completely explain the mass interest. Most of the women I'd seen in places like Jock's can lay bricks, drive trucks, and break mustangs. Man magnets, they're not.

I looked for Jock behind the bar and didn't find him. That was a first. I remembered the radio call, but tried not to worry.

The woman's hair was long, somewhere between red and brown. Her opponent's position at the table kept me from seeing her face, but I did see her hand, small and white clinging to the brown, baseball mitt-sized fist of her opponent. It seemed certain she was going down.

"Que pasa?"

"Shh. Take a seat, Johnny."

By the time he found a chair, she had recovered and won. The beaten man sat with his head hanging, rubbing his wrist in disbelief. The woman leaned in, gave his fingers a squeeze, and he walked away shaking his head.

She took a shiny file from her pocket. After whittling her unpolished nails, she made a scratch on the table to mark her most recent victory. Looking up, her eyes locked on mine, or so it seemed. I couldn't decide if the light in those eyes was warm or cold.

"Time for one more," she said.

No one stepped up.

"No one?" She sat back, arm folded across her chest.

"I'll give it a try," I heard myself say.

I wasn't as big or as strong as the last guy. I just couldn't let her leave.

I got to the table and counted fifteen scratches lined up in front of her. I caught her measuring me and returned the favor.

She gave me a half smile that showed off full lips and white teeth.

A neutral observer started us off. He wasn't really neutral, of course. Every man wanted to believe if he couldn't take her down, no one could.

I felt the lines of her palm. The sounds of the bar receded, and all sensation except for the feel of our hands locked together, faded away. Suddenly she shifted slightly and moved to her right and took my hand to within an inch of the table. Damn, she was quick.

I looked at my hand and imagined her etching me onto the table and dismissing me as she had the last guy. Slowly I fought her back to even. Her eyes looked small and hurt. Then I felt it. She was going down.

I kept the pressure on, didn't look at her. Johnny would tell me later that her arm stayed two inches from the table for three minutes.

I winced and she tried to give me the smile again. That's when I took her down.

The men let out a collective breath. Then the complaints started:

"Disappointed in you, honey."

"Gotta be kidding me."


We sat back rubbing our hands, keeping our eyes on each other.

"C.J. Stone," I said with pride.

"Kate. Kate Holden."

I felt a hand on my shoulder. "Ah," said Jock, "I see you've met my pilot."


Jock's office by the washrooms had a desk and chairs made from palm trees. Kate and I sat. There was also a big guy, very dark Mexican, who didn't sit or introduce himself. His eyes stayed on Kate.

Jock is a thin man with a slick black toupee he parts in the middle. His mustache also looks false, but as far as I know it's the real thing. He has survived forever on his ability to talk.

"Senor Salinas is very anxious to be my coffee supplier."

Coffee? Jock didn't use more than twenty-five pounds a week.

He looked at me. "You will bring Kate and--"

"Rod," Kate filled in.

"--back to Salinas's plantation in Chiapas and pick up my first shipment of beans."


"I'm only sorry C.J. was late," Jock said.

I hung my head on cue.

"No harm. It's been fun." She offered Jock her hand. He kissed it. "When will you be ready?" she asked me.

"Need to go over receipts with the boss, then top off the tanks," I said. "Fifteen minutes."

"I'll be at the bar," Kate said. She left, trailed by Rod.

The door swung shut, and I was up. "Gas is on you for this one."

"Merci, C.J.," Jock said, or maybe "Mercy."

I let him talk.

"Jaime Salinas cabled me last month, making the offer I talked about. A sweet deal."

"Too sweet?"

"I checked around and found out...he has interests besides coffee."

I sighed. "Such as?"

"He also grows coca." Jock stared at the door. "He wants me to sell his dope for him. Rod says it will give Salinas control of the trade in the Bahamas."

"And you want no part of it?"

"I can't get involved with drugs." In one sentence, he went from confident operator to scared addict.

"What can I do?" I asked.

We were stuck on that for a minute. Then Jock held up a finger. He crossed to a metal file cabinet and pushed it aside, a feat of strength that put the lie to his slender frame. On his haunches, he turned the dial of a safe.

He straightened up and brought me a vial of clear liquid. "Small dose for sleep, large dose for--"


Jock looked past me to the door. This time, he undid his collar. Around his neck was the imprint of a large hand. "Rod did this," he said. "If I go along with what they want, I'll have trouble for a lifetime. But if I don't, they'll kill me."

I said nothing.

He said, "You're the only one who can get this away from me."

I pocketed the vial.

Jock took a map folder from the file cabinet, and we plotted a course.

"Salinas's plantation is near the capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, a little over a thousand miles from Bimini. You can refuel in Cozumel and continue southeast."

Refuel, Jock said, tiptoeing around the word kill.

Walking out to the bar, I felt conspicuous with my new mission. I wanted to find Kate before she found me.


Kate looked at me over a man's shoulder. She had tucked her hair into a ponytail, showing off the shape of her face. She was one of those rare redheads who tanned well. A black suede jacket covered her white t-shirt. I preferred the other look, but this would do for now.

Kate drained her glass, and stepped forward. "Shall we?" she said to me.


"A Grumman Goose?"

"That's right," I said, "Miss Liberty."

"How patriotic," Kate said. "Red, white, and blue."

Coming through the hatch, she slipped on one of Johnny's pulp novels. I moved to catch her, but Rod beat me there.

"She won't bite," I said.


"The plane."

Kate rolled her eyes. Then she saw the padded seats, and the bar to the rear. "All this is yours?"

"Thanks to one hell of a game of poker."

Johnny climbed into the copilot's chair. "Ready," he said.

Kate grimaced when she sat, and I knew she'd caught a buckle in the ass. Maybe Miss Liberty was jealous.

We rolled down Jock's runway. I thought liftoff might scare Kate--realizing there's only air and water beneath you can be unsettling--but she showed no signs.

Rod sat one row behind her on the opposite side of the plane. He yawned and stretched and seemed more than ready for a nap.

Johnny was snoring when we leveled off at fifteen thousand feet. "How can he do that?" Kate asked.

"Just be glad he didn't take the first shift."

Her laugh was low, just right for the level of joke.

"I'm guessing you're not from Chiapas."

That part of Mexico was largely undeveloped jungle. The natives were hostile to outsiders. Salinas had to have cojones to do business in Chiapas, even if he were born there.

"I'm from Corpus Christi," she said with the first hint of a drawl. "My daddy worked with Salinas."

"And you've taken over the family business?"

"In some ways, yes. Also, I'm marrying Jaime." She said it evenly, begging for a reaction.

I let out a quiet breath. "Congratulations."

I thought of Sonia Grafer, whose husband bet his plane and his wife on a full house to my straight flush. I remembered Sonia's curves, but her face wouldn't come into focus.

Miss Liberty dipped through a cloud, and we were covered in silence. Nap time, I hoped, for everybody with time on their hands and nothing to do.


"I like it," Johnny said when I'd told him Jock's plan. Everybody liked it; I had to be the one to do it.

Approaching Cozumel, Kate was an hour into sleep. I made a water-landing at a place that airlifted scuba divers. The manager had just come in. A hundred-peso handshake got his gas pump working. Back aboard, Johnny took the controls. I made my way back to Rod.

I still couldn't tell if he were asleep. I got the vial from my pocket, and as I bent toward him, Rod's eyes snapped open. I stomped on his foot. He opened wide before the scream reached his throat, and I poured in half the liquid. A nose grab and another stomp made him swallow. He struggled a few seconds, then stopped.

I turned to Kate who had curled up with her face turned toward the window. She hadn't moved when I fed the poison to Rod. I maneuvered into the seat in front of her to look at her mouth. It was open, and her breath smelled sweet. I stared at her for several minutes, brought the vial out, but couldn't do it. Back in the cockpit, I strapped into the copilot's seat.

Johnny looked at me. "I like her, too," he said.

"Pick a spot to set down."


"Where are we?" Kate asked sleepily.

"A hundred miles northwest of Tuxtla Gutierrez," I said.

She twisted in her seat. "Where's Rod?"

I swallowed. Couldn't say just yet. "I don't work for Jock. I'm just trying to keep him out of trouble."

I explained Jock's poison and showed her the vial. I didn't mention it was meant for her.

"I dropped Rod off the coast of Cozumel for divers to find."

"Thank God."

"You lost me."

Four breaths and then she said, "I lied before. Rod never sleeps. I didn't want him to hear...I had enough trouble getting to go with him. Jock said you were American. I told Jaime you'd need someone on the flight back who spoke English better than Rod."

"So what about you?" I said. "Why are you with Salinas?"

"My father was a drunk. He sold me to Jaime along with a string of horses when I was fourteen. He didn't tell me until I was seventeen, until I matured."

Her tone softened as she worked through her story, but never reached a point of self-pity. I believed her enough to want to hold her.


Johnny pulled back on the yoke for touchdown. Kate was startled out of her dreams, but recovered quickly.

"Salinas's airstrip," I told her. It had occurred to me that we might skip this part of the trip completely. Never let Salinas see Kate again. But that would leave Jock on the hook.

"There." Johnny pointed to an approaching jeep.

I was out of ideas when Kate unbuckled and ran aft.

What the hell?

It hit me before I could ask. I checked my pockets. No vial.

I gave up the copilot's chair and went after her. We met at the hatch, Kate holding a tumbler of clear liquid on the rocks.

"Trust me." With her free hand, she opened the hatch. "After you."

The driver's head was shaved to a shine. In a dirty white denim vest, he looked as though he had just come in from felling trees with his eye-teeth. The man in the backseat was my real worry. Dark skin and long hair, he wore black clothes and snakeskin boots, and apparently didn't sweat. He hopped out of the jeep ramrod straight, but the top of his head came no higher than Kate's breasts. When he smiled, I wanted to punch his teeth out.

"Welcome home, Princess."

Kate raised the tumbler in a toast, but didn't drink. "Jaime."

Salinas spoke with almost no accent. His manner, even on paper, had rattled Jock and I could see why.

"I have been lonely without you," he added.

Enough to forget about Rod, I noticed.

Kate brushed a hair from her face. She was blushing. "Oh, this is Jock's pilot."

"C.J. Stone," I said.

Salinas was slow to look at me. "Stone, would you agree? This woman does not know how beautiful she is."

Kate knew exactly how beautiful she was and what it did to men, but I said, "Yes, sir."

"Thank you for bringing Kate back to me. Your product is ready--"


He looked back. I did, too.

"You look thirsty."

He seemed to realize he was.

Kate offered him the drink, and he took it.

Whatever else she mixed in may have diluted it, but Salinas felt the poison soon enough. Kate gracefully took back the tumbler as he fell.

And seeing his boss fight for air, the big driver forgot about us. When he knelt to help, Kate cracked the tumbler across his skull, and I kicked him in the head.

Breathing hard, I said, "I'm guessing men with guns will be here."

She nodded. "Let's go."

I turned Miss Liberty around and cracked the whip. "We'll take it slow tomorrow, girl. I promise."

And, as I said the words, she lifted.

One day, I'd have to tell Jock I spared Kate. That would be an interesting day.

"Where are we headed?" Kate asked as she watched me bank and turn.

"Pedro's?" Johnny suggested. His belly shook with a quiet laugh.

"There's a hotel in Tijuana," I said, "where they don't ask questions."

"And once we get there, what happens?"

"I sleep for three days."

She leaned in close and whispered, "I was hoping you'd stay up a while."

BIO: Gerald So is fiction editor for The Thrilling Detective Web Site and co-editor of The Lineup: Poems on Crime. His other C.J. Stone stories have appeared in Shred of Evidence, Mysterical-E, Thieves Jargon, BURST, and Yellow Mama.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 054 - Michael Pelc


"Dammit, John, turn off the alarm."

Carolyn pokes me in the side with her elbow. She wakes easily at the slightest of sounds, this woman. I suspect it is a motherly thing that I do not share with her.

My hand fumbles its way through the darkness. The alarm silenced, I swing my feet out from under the covers and sit on the edge of the bed. It is 4:30 in the morning. The world is dark.

"Johnny, don't go," she says, her hand gentle upon my back. Her touch implores me to return to the warmth of the bed and the softness of her body. My wife does not understand the bond of the hunter.

"The guys are counting on me, Hon. I can't not go." I speak to her over my shoulder as I shuffle half-eyed across the cold hardwood floor to the bathroom. I don't leave room for discussion. Me and the guys do this once a year. Once a year, that's all. Once a year on the Saturday before Easter. I don't think that's too much to ask.

When I come downstairs to the kitchen, she is there, standing by the stove. "You want breakfast?" she asks. "Bacon and eggs?"

"Just coffee," I tell her. "Hunger heightens the senses, you know."

"Johnny, I'm scared," she says and wraps her arms around me. Her head nuzzles against my chest, and she presses her breasts hard against me.

"Aw, Peanut, it'll be okay. There's nothing to be scared about. Besides, I'll be back by tonight," I tell her as I kiss the top of her head. We are seven years into our marriage. The lies come easily now.

I take down the Remington from its place above the mantle and walk toward the door, the old hardwood floor creaking beneath my boots. Carolyn has gone back upstairs. She will not linger in the doorway as I load the Jeep. She will not wave as I back out of the drive. She will not say good-bye. I have let her down again, and that, too, comes easily now.

Driving through town, I cannot tell if Wiscasset is dead or asleep, nor do I know if it makes any difference. Her streets, like her soul - if she ever had one - are deserted, her store fronts dark. The traffic lights cycle through their green-yellow-red routine as they regulate traffic that is not there. I don't know what it is that the summer tourists find so appealing about the place. Perhaps they would feel differently about it if they lived here. Or died here.

We meet at the parking lot beside Bert's Barber Shop: Bert, Tom and Jesse, the kid, except Jesse isn't there yet. "Where's the kid?" I ask.


"Has he called or anything?"

"Nothin'." Bert's tone is surly, impatient. It is he who has invited the boy.

"Okay, I say we give him five more minutes, then we're outta here. Agreed?"

No one answers. No one protests. It is understood that we'll wait the five minutes. Marriage should be so simple.

We stand around sniffling our noses and rubbing the sides of our arms to keep our bodies warm. Tom wants to know just what it is that Bert said to the kid.

"Nothin' special. Just the usual," Bert says between draws on his Dr. Grabow pipe. By this he means he told the kid about the eggs – the gator eggs – and how there's a zoologist in Bangor, at the University, who is willing to pay upwards of ten thousand a piece for them on account of how rare gator eggs are up here in Maine.

"Maybe he didn't buy it," says Tom. "Maybe he wasn't as dumb as you thought."

"He was plenty dumb, all right. Don't you worry about that," Bert tells him. Over the years, Bert's been the best picker we've had.

The distant squeal of tires on pavement interrupts their conversation. It's Jesse. No one else would be fool enough to be up at this hour. Except us, of course.

"Damn kid," says Tom. He turns and gets into the Jeep.

Jesse's Mustang kicks up gravel as he pulls into the parking lot. He is full of exuberance and energy, the curses of youth. "Hey, Pops," he says with a laugh, "ready to go rustle up some eggs?"

He is no one's son, leastwise no one in this group. The term "Pops" is simply his way of reminding us that we are old. As if it is somehow a bad thing to have lived as long as we have, to have reached the age that we are. We'll have to see what we can do to oblige him.

We take the state highway north of town to where the mill used to be before it burned down. Then we turn left onto the Jeep Trail and follow that to the far side of Gardiner Pond. It is where we tell the kids like Jesse that the gator lives.

Jesse is wired, pumped up, maybe even on something. He keeps up a running conversation with himself all the way there about some woman or other he met last night at Harrington's. The love of his life, the woman of his dreams, the answer to his prayers, something like that. No one cares, probably not even Jesse.

The morning sun is just beginning to filter through the trees when I pull into the clearing. We groan and stumble our way out of the Jeep. Winter's leftover snow, ice-crusted and dirty and not yet melted by the spring thaw that came late this year, crunches beneath our boots.

"Hey, Pops," says Jesse, his breath visible in the cold morning air. "If'n we find the nest, how many eggs you figure there'll be?"

The kid actually believes there are gators living in Maine. Tom and I look at one another. I can tell he agrees with me that Bert has picked a good one to cull from the herd.

"Well, I dunno for sure about no Maine gator, but I hear tell that in Florida, a dozen or more is right typical of the species," says Bert.

"A dozen! Damn, Pops. Damn, that's a wicked lot of eggs, ain't it? Let's see, at ten thousand a piece...how much would that be?"

Bert shakes his head in disbelief. He takes his time emptying the ashes from his pipe and putting it away before he answers the kid. "Well, at the moment, the total would be zero, wouldn't it? I mean, seein' as how we don't exactly have any eggs yet, now do we?"

"Well, then damn, Pops, let's quit fartin' around and get some."

At this point, according to plan, I interrupt and tell Bert how he should quit teasing the kid, how the boy's right and that we should get our eggs and get out of here. I explain to the kid how he should make his way around the edge of the pond looking for the eggs while the three of us, with our guns, keep him covered on account of how dangerous a Maine gator can be when it comes to protecting its eggs. The kid looks nervous, scared. We're all crack shots, I tell him, he's got nothing to worry about. In all the years we've been coming here, we haven't lost anyone to a gator yet. If that gator's stupid enough to poke his head up out of the pond, we'll blast him. To emphasize my point, I chamber a round in the Remington. Tom and Bert follow my lead.

Jesse gets down on all fours. His back to us, he begins crawling around the pond.

"There, that little outcropping. Feel around in there," shouts Tom. "That's just the kind of place gators like to lay their eggs."

Jesse rolls up his sleeve and pushes his hand into the icy water. Tom pokes me in the ribs. I find it hard not to laugh out loud.

Bert joins in. "Check that rock," he says, "the big one. Turn it over. One year we found some gator eggs underneath a rock just like that."

Jesse struggles to move the rock. The moss along the shoreline is slippery. The kid loses his footing and comes close to falling into the pond.

"Geez, Jesse, be careful," Bert screams out. "Gators are sensitive to any kind of movement in the water, you know. Believe me, kid, you don't want to fall in."

It goes on this way for several minutes. We entertain ourselves shouting ridiculous instructions and meaningless warnings while Jesse slowly gropes his way around the perimeter of Gardiner Pond, looking for an egg from a nonexistent gator.

Then Bert taps Tom and me on the shoulder and we become quiet. The kid was Bert's find, so it's his call, and he's decided that the time has come.

"Gator!" Bert shouts at the top of his lungs.

"Where?" Jesse's voice cracks with fear.

"Right behind you, Jesse, right behind you!"

The kid stands up and starts to run. "Shoot 'im," he screams, "for God's sake, shoot 'im!"

The sharp report of our rifles echoes through the dense, cool air of the woods. We are indeed the crack shots I said we were. Thump-thump-thump. In quick succession like that, our bullets find their mark. What I said to the kid remains true: we have never lost anyone to a gator. I feel good about that, that I did not lie to the boy.

It is late afternoon by the time we are done tidying up, ridding the place of blood, weighing down the body and tossing it in the pond. The sun's rays no longer have any warmth to them, and I am hungry. I have not eaten all day. I drop Bert and Tom off at the barbershop and swing by the Pizza Barn on Route 1 on my way home. I order a pepperoni pizza to go.

When I get home, I set the pizza box down on the kitchen table. I'm careful to place a dish towel underneath it so the heat doesn't warp the veneer.

Carolyn comes in from the living room. Her gaze shifts back and forth between me and the pizza box. "I swear," she says, shaking her head and fighting back a laugh, "I don't know why you guys keep doing that hunting thing of yours. You never bag anything."

We sit down at the table and begin to eat. We don't go through the ritual of pretending to have a conversation. There's no point in trying to explain anything to her. There are some people who will just never understand the bond of the hunter. Maybe next year, when it's my turn to pick, I'll ask Carolyn to join us for our yearly Easter egg hunt out at Gardiner Pond.

BIO: Michael Pelc lives in Florida, where, with the help of his wife and cat (neither of whom is named Carolyn), he tries to maintain a gator-free zone inside his house. His stories have appeared in various print and online publications such as Micro-Horror, Crimson Highway, Apollo's Lyre, Long Story Short, and Short Stories From Hell.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 053 - Jake Hinkson


I’d spent the night before treating my body like I wouldn’t need it in the morning. Naturally then, when I woke up early the next day, I felt like I’d been run over by a beer truck. I slunk out of bed and was crawling into the bathroom when someone knocked on the front door. I lay against the tile for a moment. Whoever was out there knocked again. I stood up, shaking, and made my way to the knocking, just to stop it.

When I opened the door though, there was no one standing there. I looked up the street, and it was empty. I was about to close the door when I heard footsteps on the driveway and a thin woman in an ankle-length skirt rounded the side of the house.

“Hello,” she said.


She came up the steps, and I saw a Bible in her hand. I didn’t groan, but she saw my face go slack. Her eyes narrowed, like a running back looking for an open lane.

“I’d like to talk to you if I could,” she said.

I was about to tell her to fuck off, but then I noticed something in her face. It took me about thirty seconds, and in that thirty seconds she began to talk, to try to talk her way inside the house. I didn’t hear what she had to say, though, because I spent that thirty seconds staring at her face and trying to place her. Then I did. She was Abe Christopher’s widow.

She didn’t know me from Adam. She was just talking, asking if she might have a moment of my time to discuss some good news that might change my life.

I nodded, took a step back and asked her to come inside.

She flashed a worried smile for a second, and then she walked past me and into the house. She hadn’t expected to be asked in, but she walked in bravely, her shoulders back and her head up, clutching her Bible like a loaded gun.

“Sit down,” I said. I gestured to the ripped-up blue couch, and she sat down, surveying the shitty state of my living room. Aside from the couch, I had a large old television with a broken knob. On the cluttered coffee table in front of her sat a bong. She glanced at it, smoothed down her skirt and put her Bible on her lap.

I sat down on the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table.

“My name’s Becky Christopher,” she said.

On the table in front of me was an issue of Rolling Stone plopped open to a picture of George Harrison.

“I’m George,” I told her.

“It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for letting me talk to you.”

“You’re just going door to door?” I asked. “You just happened to come to my door?”

“You could say that, but, honestly, I feel like God led me to your door.”


“I think so. Can I ask you a question?”


“What do you do for a living?”

I scratched my hair and realized how I must look to her. I was wearing my clothes from the night before: a rumpled, beer-stained dress shirt and slacks. I looked down and realized I had on one sock.

I pulled the sock off. “I steal,” I said.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m a thief, Becky. I steal things. Cars mostly, but money, too, sometimes.”

She stared at me. Becky Christopher was a good-looking woman. Back when she was married to Abe, she was a real looker with big blonde hair and a killer body. Sitting across from me now, she looked like a real Jesus freak. Her hair was brown and hung down to her waist, and she wasn’t wearing any makeup or jewelry. Beneath her white blouse and black skirt she still had a body, but she was thinner than she had been before.

She said, “Is that true?”

“What? Me being a thief? Afraid so. Just thought I’d be honest. Small-time criminal.”

She opened her Bible. “Jesus hung between two thieves when he died on the cross; did you know that?”

“It seems like I heard that.”

“The last person on this earth he ever talked to, the last person on this earth who ever showed him any kindness, was a thief. Jesus said that man would see heaven.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Of course.”

“Ever known a thief before?”

Becky sucked in her lips and looked down at her bare hands. “Yes. I used to be married to one.”

“That a fact?”

“Yes. He was a …criminal. Like you, George.”

“You’re not married to him anymore?”

“He died. Or he was killed, I should say. He was shot by a police officer in the middle of a robbery, a bank robbery.”

“Sorry to hear that. What happened?”

She shook her head. “Abe robbed a bank. That’s all. He went in with a gun and walked outside to find a police officer coming out of a deli across the street. He fired at the officer. The officer fired back and killed him.”

“I’m sorry to hear it.”

She nodded. “The wages of sin is death,” she said and then she read me a verse from the Bible that said just that. “Abe wasn’t a bad person, not really,” she said. “But he was a sinner and he died in his sins.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I guess old Abe was a sinner. Shit, who isn’t? But he wasn’t a bad guy. When I had heard that cop shot him, I had broken down and cried. I’d heard the cops had arrested Becky and taken her kid away from her.

“Do you know you’re a sinner?” she asked.


“Do you know that if you die in your sins you’ll go to hell?”

“You think Abe’s in hell?”


“Do you think your husband went to hell?”

She took a deep breath. “Yes,” she said. “I’m afraid so..”

“That’s pretty hardcore.”

“God’s hardcore,” she said.

“I probably deserve to go to hell,” I said. “But I don’t think there is a hell. I think that’s just something somebody made up a long time ago to scare people into acting right.”

Becky started to set me straight on my theology, but I just looked at her face and thought about that poor dumb bastard she’d been married to. I’d met him through a coke dealer named Batman. Batman had a crib over in PG County, and I’d run into Abe hanging out there one time.

I saw Abe off and on after that, and one time he’d brought Becky along. She was only about twenty-one at the time. She’d been pretty strung out when I met her, and now she was sitting there in an old lady skirt, looking like she’d been living off bread and water and Bible verses for the last ten years, lecturing me on the state of my soul.

“Are you happy?” I asked her.

She’d been saying something when I interrupted her and now she just stared at me. “I’m so happy,” she said.

“I’m glad.” I stood up. “I think I need to…get going with my day. Get showered and stuff.”

She smiled, closed her Bible, and stood up.

“Okay,” she said. She took out a little brochure and placed it gently on the coffee table next to the bong. “A little something to read,” she said. “A little something to think about. There’s an address for the Revived Church of Jesus on the back. You might consider coming some Sunday. Great music, nice folks. We usually go out for lunch after service.”

I walked her to the door.

She stepped out on the porch, but she turned around. “Can I ask you one more question?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Why’d you ask me if I was happy?”

I shrugged. What was I going to say? That I was the reason she was a widow? That if I had only been less of a coward she would still have a husband? No. Who knows, she might feel compelled to call the cops and tell them I was the jittery wheel-man who left her husband to die on the street. You just can’t trust somebody who thinks they hear God talking to them. You never know what God might tell them to do.

“I was just wondering,” I said.

“I’m very happy,” Becky said. “I have never been happier. I can truly say that. I’ve lived through the worst times, worse than you can imagine, but God pulled me through. He had me go through those terrible times to deliver me to so much happiness on the other side of it. You know the old saying about how he works in mysterious ways?”

“I guess so.”

“It’s true.”

She smiled and walked away. I went inside and poured myself the last drink of whiskey in the house. I didn’t knock it back, though. Not immediately. I just stared down at it for a while, thinking, If I take her at her word then I did her a favor.

I’d spent ten years feeling awful for bailing on old Abe, and now his widow had shown up on my doorstep telling me she’d never been so happy.

I threw back the drink and let it sink into me.

But I didn’t feel better.

Neither did Abe.

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.

A Twist Of Noir 052 - Paul Brazill


Marty Cook sat on the edge of his four-post Victorian style bed, beside his sleeping wife, Veronica, illuminated only by the glow from his mobile phone and thinking of ways to kill Doctor Phil.

In the most recent scenario, he had pushed a sawn-off shotgun up the good doctor’s rectum and said, Now this is what I call the blame game, before giving him the enema of all enemas.

Less than a month earlier, Marty had barely known who Doctor Phil was but then it all went pear-shaped when Veronica slipped on a pool of puke at the nightclub that they owned, came a cropper and broke her ankle.

Hence, her stuck at home all day convalescing or recuperating or something and getting brainwashed by all the self-help crap on daytime TV. Oprah Winfrey, Ricky Lake - just like in song.

If he was honest, he didn’t mind most of it until she started to blather on about him finding a work/life balance and how Doctor Phil said that there was a high burn-out rate for urban professional couples - whatever they were - unless they found a magic hour each week for some quality time.

As per usual, he just nodded like one of the toy dogs his dad used to have in the back of his old Ford Fiesta but she didn’t let up and it had started doing his napper in no end.


Beavis & Buthead began the elongated chuckle which signaled that he had a text message. As he expected, it was from Uncle Frank and the message was typically uncomplicated: CLEANING JOB, followed by an address in Shoreditch.

Veronica woke up and propped herself up on her elbow, her long black hair as wild as the wind.
‘Well,’ she said, yawning.

‘No peace for the wicked,’ said Marty. ‘Won’t be long.’

Veronica raised an eyebrow like Mr Spock.

‘Work/life balance, Marty,’ she said as he headed downstairs, picking up his .12 gauge shotgun on the way.


Yeah, like a work/life balance will pay for this lot, he thought, gazing up at his six bedroom mock Tudor home before getting into his Bentley.

The cleaning job was at Ye Olde Axe, one of the many striptease pubs that Uncle Frank owned in the area ironically named the Shoreditch Triangle. Marty walked in out of the rain to see the ruddy face of Uncle Frank as he stood smoking a cigar looking down at a decapitated corpse, its blood looking brown and shitty in the pub lights.

‘Foul night, Frank,’ said Marty, shaking the rain from his black umbrella.

‘It’s the night that the Lord saw fit to grant us,’ said Frank with a scowl.

Between Frank and his priest brother Tim, Marty sometimes felt like he was in a Mel Gibson film.

‘Fancy a gargle?’ said Frank.

Marty looked at the constellation of glimmering booze bottles behind the bar and then thought of Veronica.

‘Best not,’ he said.

Quick as a flash, Marty wrapped up the body in tarpaulin and dumped it in the boot of his car. He put the head in a Safeways bag and then put it on the passenger seat. He didn’t ask Frank what had happened. He never did.

He imagined getting a fair amount of verbal GBH from Veronica if he was too long so he quickly drove over to the Canning Town scrap yard and left the body with Anarchy Al, a bedraggled and permanently stoned relic of the sixties.

He was back home within an hour of leaving and was just about to get out of the car when he saw the head. Bollocks, he thought. More fucking haste less speed.

Now, he didn’t want to take the head into the house because if Veronica saw it all hell would break loose. So what the fuck to do?


Veronica was watching Big Brother on TV downstairs when he got in and he’d almost sneaked in without her seeing him when she turned and asked him what he had in his hand.

Marty held up the bowling bag and, grinning, said, ‘Hey, I thought we’d start to go bowling together again, when you get up and about, and then we can use our ‘magic hour’ for some quality time together.’

Veronica grinned and turned back to the TV. Marty was as pleased as punch that she hadn’t seen the blood dripping from the bag before he managed to shove it in the cupboard. He knew she’d lose the plot if she thought he was taking work home with him.

BIO: Paul Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England a town famous for hanging a monkey, and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland (South of Hel). He has had stories in Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences and Flashshots, as well as the collection 6S2V. He can be found stalking at ‘You would say that, wouldn’t you?’.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 051 - Clair Dickson


Originally appeared at DZ Allen's MuzzleFlash

I sat down at the dining room table with my just-filled glass of Diet Pepsi. Condensation had already coated the sides of the cup in the short walk from the fridge. With the heat and humidity, my own flesh was covered in similar droplets even in the tank top and short shorts that showed off my every female curve.

"Dawn seems kind of skittish tonight," I commented to Dimi.

He pushed the folded comics section away from him. "Yeah?"

"Did something happen this afternoon?"

He frowned, thought about it and ultimately shook his head. "No. At least nothing I know of."

"Huh. Almost makes me think her mother called. Similar sort of behavior."

"I don't remember the phone ringing."

I nodded.

Dimi gazed at me and ran his fingers through neon blue hair.

"Your hair's getting awful long," I noted.

"Yeah. I've been meaning to get it cut. It keeps getting in my ears."

"And your eyes."

"You should dye your hair again, Bo."

"I rather prefer being a blonde."

"Better with the gentlemen?"

"Oh, yeah. That's a real big concern of mine."

"You've said yourself that you understand the power of sex."

"I do."

"And aren't men supposed to like blondes?"

"With a body like mine, I hardly think being blonde makes any difference."

"All right. I'll give you that one. I still think you should dye your hair again. Maybe blue."

"Hm." I looked down for moment, studying my glass. "What did you and Dawn do this afternoon?"

"Just . . . chilled."

"In this heat."

"You're being too literal."

"Probably because I read too much."

"I thought this place had A/C."

"It did until the compressor leaked."

"And you're too cheap to fix it."

"I prefer the words frugal and pragmatic."

"What's pragmatic about soaking your clothes in sweat?"

I shrugged. "I'm not as wet as you seem to think I am. You on the other hand, look . . . soggy. And wilted."

He ran his fingers through his hair again. "It's hot, Bo. Way too fucking hot."

"For what?"


"What's it too hot for?"


"Including fucking?"

He grinned. "Depends on the girl."


He looked at me too closely. And for too long. "I might. She's a pretty good-looking girl. Kind of young. She's only, what, nineteen?"

"And you're only twenty-two. At least she's over sixteen, right?"


"Otherwise, it's statutory rape."

"What makes you think I slept with her? I mean, come on, I hardly know the girl."

"I never tuck in my sheets."

He stared at me.

"Someone made my bed today. And they tucked in the top sheet. I can't stand that and would never do it. So, the question is, why would my bed need to be made?"

Dimi's mouth only opened wide enough for his tongue to come out and wet dry lips.

"When you got here, you were complaining about the bad run of luck you had with girlfriends the last couple of months. Most of them didn't even last more than two or three dates. Now, I know you don't quibble over how many dates have passed before you have sex with a girl. But, it doesn't take a quantum physicist to add two and two and conclude that your string of short-lived relationships has probably meant a . . . drought in your sex life."

He grinned sheepishly. "Yep."

"So. I came home, asked how the day went, and Dawn bolts. Didn't think much of it until I went upstairs. And saw my bed."

"You would really notice a thing like that?"

"I'm really anal."

"That'd be nice," Dimi quipped.

"Did you fuck Dawn on my bed? Honestly."

He closed his eyes in a long blink, but when he opened them my piercing gaze was still locked. "Yeah."

"Was it good?"


"Was it good?"

Incredulous, he shook his head and grinned. "Well, yeah."

"For her?"

"Of course."

"Then I suspect my sheets could use changing."


"If it was good."

"You know, I could give you a good lay, too."

"Personally, I happen to think it's way too fucking hot to fuck."

BIO: Over 50 Bo Fexler stories have appeared in naughty places like Out of the Gutter, Yellow Mama, and Crooked. The first Bo Fexler novel is currently trying to seduce agents. Clair muses about writing and has links to her short stories at Bo Fexler, PI.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 050 - Gary Dobbs



What a way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Well, it wasn’t actually that bad, stumbling from pub to pub. It was just that I was skint. Well, that wasn’t strictly true – I had some money but it had been a toss up between paying the rent and spending the afternoon on the piss. I, consummate piss-head that I was, chose to spend my time knocking back the warm beer in a pub-crawl around Pontypridd.

I knew it was my penchant for the drink that had led my life on this merry dance and left me a pathetic figure but, like all sloshers, I figured I’d quit after this one last bender.

Trouble is there’s always one more last bender and then another and…

The place is quiet. I’m sitting over in a corner, minding my own business, drinking what may be my fifth or sixth pint. I can’t really remember, I seem to have lost count. There’s a man in a muscle vest seated on a stool with his elbows leaning on the bar. He doesn’t look across at me, keeps his head down, staring at the bar and I decide to do likewise.

No doubt he has a story just as I have a story but no one gives a fuck.

So I don’t either.

I sink further into my seat and take another large gulp of the beer. I feel bloated now and know I’m not going to be able to hold much more of the warm Welsh beer that has the consistency of treacle and sits heavy on both head and stomach.

Doesn’t matter, I’ll move onto the top shelf then, the vodka, the whiskey and if I’m still standing after that I’d grab a kebab and stumble home. Only to start the whole thing over again tomorrow, jumping headlong into the self-destructive loop my life had become.

I’d just finished my drink and was about to stumble up to the bar when the doors opened and two large men came in. They were dressed identically, expensive suits and silk shirts, and would have been a mirror image of each other but for the fact that one was slightly taller than the other. They looked around for a moment, stared at the guy drinking at the bar, and then they both pulled shooters from beneath their long coats.

‘Tanner!’ one of them shouted.

The man at the bar turned around just in time to have his face blown off when both men shot as one, the roar of the weapons were like twin thunder claps that shook the glasses behind the bar. Blood and gore splattered onto the air. The barmaid ran out from the back room, saw the two shooters and then the dead guy who had slid from his stool and landed on his back. The car accident that had been his face looked back at her.

She screamed and continued screaming.

Then the two men coolly placed their weapons back beneath their coats and turned on their feet to leave. But as they turned I saw the shorter of the two clearly and immediately realised I was looking back into my own history. He locked eyes with me and, for one awful moment, I thought he recognised me but then he smiled and ran out of the door in pursuit of his companion.

I heard the sound of sirens as the police raced through the valley roads and I quickly left the pub.

I didn’t want to get involved.

I had too much shit going on in my own life.


I think it was midnight when I got home and I didn’t notice anything strange as I unlocked the door. In fact it was only when I went through to my pit of a living room that things went tits up. The shooters from the pub earlier were seated on what passed for a sofa, their weapons rested across their laps. This time I had a closer look at their weapons – both had twelve bore sawn-offs.

‘Hello, Frankie,’ my old mate, Keri Smith, better known as Smithy, said.

‘Smithy.’ I nodded in greeting. I didn’t bother asking how they had gotten in but the question would have been redundant in any case. I knew Smithy of old and there wasn’t a lock on the market that he couldn’t pick.

‘Not seen you in that pub before,’ Smithy said. His friend, the bigger man, remained silent and just sat there, a hand caressing the sawn-off in his lap as if it was the sexiest thing he’d ever held.

‘I don’t usually drink up that end of town,’ I said.

‘Then why the fuck did you decide to go there today?’

I shrugged my shoulders and grinned at Smithy. ‘So what now?’ I asked.

Smithy shook his head.

‘See,’ he said, ‘I say you’re safe. That you won’t say anything to the filth. I say we walk away and leave you be. Agree none of this happened.’

‘I won’t say anything,’ I said. ‘And you know I won’t.’

Smith nodded. He pointed to his companion. ‘Thing is, Max here don’t like loose ends.’

The other man remained silent.

‘Is that what I am?’ I asked. ‘A loose end?’

‘Fraid so,’ Smithy said.

‘So what now?’ I asked again.

Smithy and I went back a few years. We’d been part of the same gang when we were kids. We’d shoplifted, experimented with a few of the softer drugs and moved on to a little housebreaking.

Our last job had resulted in Smithy being caught trying to fence a DVD player. The DVD had screwed him over. The police were able to tie him into a couple of other jobs and he did time. Three years, I think it was and, during all that stir, he’d never grassed on me.

When he eventually came out, I’d moved on. The first time I’d seen him since we were kids was this afternoon when he, together with his mute mate, had blasted that poor fuck’s head off.

‘I’ll make it quick,’ Smithy said. ‘For old times sake.’

‘Thanks,’ I said, feebly.

‘Not here, though,’ Smithy said. ‘Come on. We’ll go for a little ride.’


I walked downstairs between them. Smithy in the lead and his mute mate bringing up the rear. I was all snug in the middle. I thought about suddenly making a run for it but I knew I’d have no chance. Either one of them would cut me in half before I covered more than a few yards.
I was a loose end and they weren’t about to let me get away.

They pushed me into the back of a gleaming BMW and Smithy got in beside me. The talkative guy took the wheel and pretty soon we had pulled off and were heading towards the valleys.

‘Our old stomping ground,’ I said to Smithy, hoping to elicit some positive response, get him thinking of the old days and all our scrapes. Maybe then he’d change his mind and convince his friend that I was okay. That they would be safe in letting me go my own way and forget any of this ever happened.

Smithy nodded but said nothing.

I looked out of the window as we passed the Esso garage on Hopkinstown Road and proceeded towards Porth.

‘Where we going?’ I asked.

Smithy looked at me.

‘It’s a shame this,’ he said.

‘Tell me about it,’ I said and then added, ‘What did that guy do anyway?’

‘The guy we shot?’

I nodded.

‘He was behind on his repayments,’ Smithy said. ‘Just enough so it was starting to feel like he was taking the piss. We can’t have people doing that. We’ve got a reputation to keep.’

‘Otherwise everyone would be chancing their arm,’ I said as if it were the most logical thing in the world.

‘Right,’ Smithy said. ‘They guy asked for it. Only we didn’t expect to see you in the pub. We’re not known in that part of town. We didn’t expect any loose ends.’

‘But you know I’m not a loose end. We were thick as thieves in the old days.’

‘That was then,’ Smithy said. ‘This is now. People change and maybe one day the filth will have you on some other matter. Maybe you’ll need to strike a deal and use this little knowledge to get you off.’

‘I wouldn’t do that.’

‘You might,’ the man at the wheel said. It was the first time he’d spoken and it shook me up. He had a voice like cancer - dark, nasty and twisted. I realised then that I was truly fucked.

‘Come on then, you cunts!’ I screamed, losing the plot. ‘What you waiting for? Come on, do it! Now! Blow my head off here in your nice new car!’

I lunged for Smithy but he brought the butt of the shooter heard against my head and I slipped into a void of pure black silence.


One of them grabbed the back of my head and I felt myself being pulled out of the car and falling onto the ground. I struggled with the mist within my head, which was pounding fit to burst.

I felt bile in the back of my throat and vomited.

I tried to get up but fell back on my face.

I lay there for a moment.

‘Come on, twinkle toes,’ Smithy said and lifted me to my feet.

I felt terrible and was unsteady on my legs.

There was a category five hurricane raging within my skull, sending a tsunami of agony throughout my entire body. I looked around and waited for my vision to clear. When it did, I recognised where we were – the old railway sidings in Trehafod. There was an old mine shaft here and I figured they were going to shoot me and dump my poor battered body down there.

I felt the mute guy, who, we’d discovered, could actually talk, prodding his sawn-off into my ribs and pushing me forward. This time, he didn’t speak and merely grunted several times.

I stumbled forward into the ruins of the old wheelhouse and Smithy bent down to remove the grating that would expose the mineshaft. My head was still pounding – so badly that I thought getting shot would actually be a good thing.

Smithy groaned as he tried to slide the heavy metal grating across and he had to put his shotgun down to get both hands beneath the grating.

‘It weighs a fucking ton,’ he grumbled.

‘Help him,’ the now not-so-mute man said and pushed me forward but I was still unsteady on my feet and I fell face down onto the grating, landing with my hand only inches away from Smithy’s shotgun and trapping Smithy’s fingers beneath the grating, which provoked a deafening scream.

I figured I had nothing to lose and I grabbed for the gun, only to recoil when a roar of thunder filled the room and set my headache pounding even worse. Everything went black for a moment and I forced myself to roll over and get to my feet. A thick cloud of black smoke surrounded me and the thunder was still echoing both within my head and around the old ruins. The stench of cordite was so intense that I could taste its bitterness within my mouth.

‘Fuck,’ I said as I noticed Smithy.

He’d been shot, the blast of his mate’s shotgun having taken him in the guts, tearing flesh to shreds, chewing up innards and leaving a gaping hole. I’d been hit too but only winged; there was a wound in my left arm where a few pellets had struck and it dribbled blood. But, to be honest, with the agony in my head, this wound was the least of my worries.

I looked for the other man but I was alone. Well, apart from Smithy, that is. Or rather apart from Smithy’s corpse, that is. Where had the other guy gone? I located Smithy’s shotgun and picked it up and peered into the semi darkness for the other man.

There was still no sign of him. I figured he must have shot when I’d went for Smithy’s gun but shotguns ain’t that discerning and it had been Smithy who had taken the brunt of the blast. But where the shooter had gotten to was beyond me.

From outside, I heard the approach of police sirens and I took one final look at Smithy. I made to move but froze when I saw what had happened to the other shooter. He was on a ledge below us, laying on his back, dead. When he’d shot, he must have lost his footing on the debris-strewn floor and had fallen backwards to be speared on a jagged metal spike.

It protruded from his chest and was dripping blood onto his expensive shirt.

I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

Only moments ago, I’d been a sitting duck, death a certainty.

Now I was the last man standing.

The approaching sirens grew louder.

I turned on my feet and quickly left the old ruins and made my way unseen over the old tips and to the river road below. I knew this area like the back of my hand and I had no trouble getting clean away before the police had even reached the sidings.

Hey, I didn’t want to get involved.

I had too much shit going on in my own life.

BIO: Gary Dobbs writes under both his own name and that of Jack Martin. His first novel, a western under the Jack Martin name, will be published in June by Robert Hale LTD. You can find Gary and more of his writings at The Tainted Archive.

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 049 - Al Tucher


Originally published in a different form in Crime Zine (Australia, mate!)

“Take the money out and toss it on the bed.”

Diana looked at the client. He was the same man who had met her at the mall and passed her inspection.

The same, only different. If he had revealed this hatred of everything female earlier, they wouldn’t be together in a cheap motel room now.

She didn’t need to check behind her. The door was too far away. He would have her by the throat before she made it outside.

I blew this one big time, she thought.

He still looked average. He didn’t have the kind of ugliness that made her think it had started on the inside and worked its way out. He wasn’t handsome enough to make her suspect corruption at his core. He looked dangerous. Maybe that was what made him average.

Jim. That was his name.

She scolded herself for wasting time. Why did she care what his name was?

“I earned that money,” she said.

“Shut up,” he said. “Open the bag and get my two hundred. Do it, and you walk out of here.”


Her bag rested on the bed. She reached into it and felt around. There was one of the items she needed. The problem was, she needed both hands in the bag, and he might wonder what she was doing.

“How do you know I don’t have a gun in here?” she said.

He smirked.

“You don’t. You’re not the type.”

“You’re right.”

She smiled agreeably as she stuck her other hand into the bag. She could see him relax a little. That was his problem.

In the bag was a used condom from a morning date. For years she had been carrying these little trophies away and laughing at herself as she did it. She had always considered it some kind of childish revenge on the male of the species. Who knew she might be glad to have a bag of semen handy?

She held the condom still with her left hand. With her right she searched for her nail scissor. It had a habit of jabbing her when she looked for something else. So where was it now? In a moment Jim would wonder what was so hard about finding an envelope with ten twenty-dollar bills.

There was the scissor, and she hadn‘t even stabbed herself with it. She cut the condom just under the knot she had tied.

“Here,” said Diana.

She cocked her arm and threw the condom into his face. Her weekend softball experience paid off. He saw it coming and started to duck, but too late. He gasped and clawed at his face as semen ran down his cheek.

She turned to go, but at the door she changed her mind. Some insurance would be a good idea, and what the hell. It would also make her feel better. She walked back to him. With her stiletto heel she kicked the fat part of his left calf. He screamed as his leg buckled and dumped him on the floor. He rubbed his face with one hand and his leg with the other.

“Stings like a bitch, doesn’t it?” she said. “I found that out early on, before I got smart about facials. I don’t do them.”

Semen in the eyes did sting, but she also understood that her real weapon was his gay terror. He was that kind of man. She decided to make things worse for him.

“You know, I’ve been wondering about him for a while--the guy I got that condom from. I think he might have AIDS. You should get tested. You know how you can get a cold by rubbing your eyes? Just imagine what HIV can do.”

She turned and let herself out of the room.

She walked. She didn’t need the attention that running would attract, and he was unlikely to come after her. He would stand under the shower for an hour, and it would take him even longer to stop panicking and start thinking. Then he would still have to get dressed.

So she walked around the corner of the building and stopped to look at her new Maxima. It was the gift of a client who got to see her once a week for the next three years. The car had been hers for only a few days but the pleasure of seeing it would take longer to wear off. So would the comfort of the driver’s seat and the excitement she felt when the engine caught and roared softly.

The road back to her home in Driscoll was an old rural highway. It had become inadequate twenty years earlier, and now it was a major bottleneck during the rush hour. Property owners were still fighting the state of New Jersey over public domain. Nobody expected the promised straightening and widening to happen soon.

Ahead of her the road curved several times to evade phantom obstacles. No one could remember what had once been in the way. Oncoming vehicles often strayed over the center line, but today the danger came from the rear. One moment Diana was alone in the dark. The next she had someone’s high beams in her mirror. She would have moved to the right, but the road had no shoulder. She hoped the other driver wouldn’t try to pass.

You‘re just going to have to wait, she thought.

Instead, the driver closed the gap and tapped the Maxima’s rear bumper. Diana felt a moment of panic that she decided to put off for later. She turned the wheel left and then right. The car responded precisely.

Good thing, she thought.

Some of the junkers she had driven would already have gone off the road.

The other car had fallen back a little, but it came at her again. This time the impact was more than a tap. Before Diana could compensate for the jolt, her right wheels were bouncing on the uneven ground at the edge of the blacktop. She turned hard, but not too hard. The wheels found the road. She gave the car more gas and again won some distance.

The road curved to the left. The other car accelerated. Diana waited until the last moment before the impact. Her timing was perfect. The road made a such a sharp angle to the right that the posted speed limit was only twenty miles per hour. Diana stepped hard on the gas and wrenched the wheel. Her car bounced across the grass in the angle. The other driver also accelerated, expecting to knock her off the road. But Diana wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

She regained the road. She spared a moment to watch in her mirror, as the other car shot off the highway to the left. The headlights bounced as the car covered the rough ground beside the road. Diana told herself to relax, but adrenaline kept her right leg rigid. The gas pedal stayed mashed against the floor.

A different kind of light appeared in her mirror--the red and blue flashing kind.

Of course, she thought. What else?

Then she was telling her story to a uniformed officer. He listened respectfully enough. She couldn’t tell whether he recognized her name and knew what she did for a living.

“Okay, ma’am,” he said. “All I saw was you speeding. I’ll have to write you the ticket, but I will include your statement in the report.”

He drove off without asking her who the other driver might be. That was good. If the topic of Jim didn’t come up, she wouldn’t have to talk about her business with him.

But when she reached her rented house in Driscoll, she saw that the officer hadn’t neglected the question. He had kicked it upstairs.

As usual, she had parked several blocks from her home. If a client recognized her car, he still wouldn’t know exactly where she lived. That left the curb in front of her house free for Detective Tillotson. He climbed out of his car and let her come to him.

“I didn’t know that was Lakeview,” she said.

“Just for a quarter mile or so. We like to sit there and pick on people from Witherspoon.”

He was trying to be agreeable. He knew she had problems with the Witherspoon police.

They stood and looked at each other for a moment.

“Aren’t you cold?” he said.

She was, but she shrugged. She didn’t want to invite him in tonight.

He shrugged back.

She expected him to ask her directly about her assailant. Then she would have to lie to him and say she had no idea who it was. If she accused Jim, he might retaliate by helping the cops build a prostitution case against her. She had helped Tillotson in the past. He would prefer to leave her alone, but if a case came looking for him, he would have to follow it up.

But he surprised her.

“Got a call from the Witherspoon cops. They told me a story about one James Scourby, hourly guest at the Royal Motel. Seems he stayed past checkout and wouldn’t vacate or pay up.”

They looked at each other some more, until he decided to go on.

“Okay, first the uniforms find him lying on the bed and moaning about AIDS. Then you get a ticket on the route back from the Royal. Anything you want to tell me?”

So Jim couldn’t have been the driver of the other car. Diana felt so surprised that she almost answered the question.

“I know the Royal,” she said.

“I know you know it. That’s why I’m asking about this evening.”

She shrugged. He looked annoyed.

“I’m trying to help you out here,” he said.

“I’m okay.”

It was exhausting. She hadn’t asked for his help, or for an opportunity to make him angry with her.

“Your friend Jim is a bad boy,” he said. “We think he’s beaten up a couple of other girls. They wouldn’t cooperate, though. You I figured for smarter.”

“He didn’t beat me up. I mean, take a look.”

Damn, she thought.

She had just admitted that she had been with Jim.

Tillotson waved her concern away.

“You know me,” he said. “I’m a realist. I just want to keep things low-key. But I thought you were a realist, too. If you start thinking you can cooperate when you feel like it and blow me off the rest of the time, well, then you’re just another perp. Well?”

She said nothing.

“Okay. Next time, just eat the ticket and don’t try to talk your way out of it.”

She had already reached that conclusion.

He turned away from her. A moment later, he drove off.

Diana knew what to do next, but it would have to wait until the next day.

She left the house before seven o’clock the next morning. It didn’t bother her. In spite of her line of work, she was a morning person. Partying with clients until dawn took much more out of her than getting up early.

She knew where to go. She had clients who paid their two hundred dollars and then spent most of the hour talking about their wives. Sometimes she felt like telling them that a marriage counselor would be more effective and cheaper in the long run. A good bartender would pour advice for free. In this case, she had even seen a photo of the wife. The client had cornered her with it. She also knew that the woman’s name was Jessica.

Diana parked in front of Witherspoon High School and waited. Soon, she saw Jessica emerge from another Maxima. Diana winced. The wife’s car looked about ten years old.

Jessica was an attractive brunette in her forties. Diana wondered about clients married to women like this one, but she didn’t wonder too hard. It might jinx her business.

She climbed out of her car and timed her progress to meet the other woman on the sidewalk. She saw that Jessica recognized her.

“Did you come to give me my car?”

“I came for two things,” said Diana. “Number one, to tell you it’s my car, and I plan to keep it. I made a business deal, and I’m living up to my part of it.”

She saw the other woman deflate.

“Number two, your issue is with your husband, not me. If it helps, you could just look at me as somebody he does business with.”

“Oddly enough,” said Jessica, “that doesn’t help at all.”

She studied Diana.

“I don’t get it. He pays you to put his thing where all those other men have put theirs. Why is that worth money to him?”

“For starters, you could learn to call it something other than his ‘thing.’”

“I doubt that will solve it.”

“Why are we talking about this?”

“Because I need to know. I need to understand my husband before I lose my marriage. What I know about men you could fit in your eye, so help me out here.”

An image of Jim rubbing his eyes came to Diana. She stifled a laugh.

“What’s funny?” said Jessica.

Diana groped for something to say.

“That was some pretty impressive driving last night.”

Jessica smiled, surprising both of them.

“Thanks. It was kind of a rush.”

“How did you find me?”

“You’re easy to follow.”

Then Jessica remembered who this other woman was and dropped the sisterhood.

“You didn’t answer my question.”

“Okay. They pay me for the same reason I plan to buy my next car myself. It keeps things simple. Does that help?”

She doubted it. What Diana knew about marriage she could fit in her eye, but she didn’t think you could keep it simple.

“No,” said Jessica. “It doesn’t.”

Diana decided she was tired of the topic.

“Don’t come after me again. Or I won’t let it go.”

“Next time maybe you won’t see me coming,” said Jessica. “Think about that.”

She maneuvered around Diana on the sidewalk and started up the walkway to the school.

Damn, Diana thought. And I was worried about some john.

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