Monday, November 30, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 278 - Lewis J. Peters


Mazel tov. Yiddish slang - “Good fortune”; especially at weddings.

“What-ho, Pater!” chimed Archie as he burst through the front door.

Just moments before Archie’s father had retreated swiftly to his study. This had been on seeing the cavalcade of sports cars careering up the long gravel drive. Archie’s words now echoed round the large empty hallway but received no response.

Archie. Archibald. Chayyim Levinson loathed his son’s first name with a vengeance. His dearly departed wife had insisted on bestowing it on the infant. For the sake of a little peace, he went along with her when she insisted it would make him more English, more likely to succeed. But he hated it.

Likewise, Chayyim had acquiesced when Archie’s mother wanted him to have an expensive private education. Supporting Archie at Oxford University, too, made him feel as though he was carrying out his wife’s, by then, last wishes.

“I say, father!” Archie’s cut glass vowels reverberated around the mansion as he shouted once again.

Chayyim reluctantly emerged from his study and forced a smile. “Archie, my boy. I didn’t hear you arrive.”

“Father, your hearing gets worse. You really are going to have to get one of those new fangled hearing aid thingies.” Archie did not wait for a reaction, “Listen, old boy, you don’t mind if some of the gang camp out here for the weekend, do you? Party at Foxy’s tomorrow night but he hasn't the room to put us all up.”

“Oh vey, Archie, is a little warning too much to ask?” Chayyim replied.

Archie was not listening. Quickly turning from his father, he gave brisk directions to the tumult of young things that had followed him through the front door. A wind-up gramophone strapped to the rear of Archie’s Crossley Sports two litre blared outside. As flustered staff emerged and started to busy themselves with the unexpected guests, Chayyim retreated once more to the study.


Chayyim Levy was a rich man. His fortune had been made from identifying an opportunity and seizing it with relish.

Levinson Pest Control Ltd was not a glamorous company. However, the money it generated allowed Chayyim, as desired by his wife, to anglicise his surname and enter society. He had long been aware there was a glass ceiling he could never break through but the recent depression had been weathered and he played the role of an English country gentleman with, he believed, aplomb. Not bad, he felt, for the grandson of a Russian peasant emigré.

Chayyim’s inspiration to start the business had come to him at his wedding. In accordance with Jewish tradition, the formal part of the proceedings came to a close when he broke a glass and the guests shouted, “Mazel tov!” His new bride had instantly shrieked in horror as a large brown rat, panicked by the commotion, shot through the hall. Opinion was mixed about whether this was a bad omen for the marriage. For his part, Chayyim saw, in a moment of intense clarity, how he could make his way in life.

Chayyim became dedicated to achieving success in his new business venture. He proved to be as ruthless at eradicating competition as he was in eliminating vermin.

To Archie, the trappings of wealth acquired by Chayyim were ostentatious. His father had become infatuated with the Orient. Chayyim’s particular pride and joy was a small but expensive collection of Ming Dynasty porcelain. Archie perceived it as being obviously nouveau riche. In his eyes, his father was incapable of demonstrating the sophistication required to impress those who mattered.

Archie’s mother died when he was fifteen. It was term time and he was at boarding school. His parents had gone on an extended trip to the Far East. The curt telegram from Chayyim told Archie there had been a storm in the South China Sea, during which his mother had been swept overboard.

Mother and son had been very close but Archie knew the value of maintaining a stiff upper lip. His tears and muted sobs were confined to the small hours when he was sure the rest of the dormitory slumbered.


Peace descended with almost palpable relief on the house after Archie and his friends departed for the gathering at Foxy Aspley-Guise’s place. For Chayyim, the preceding twenty-four hours had been a purgatory populated by vacuous youth and noisy chaos.

Over lunch in the great dining room, Archie had taken his father to task for continuing to live alone in such lurid, crumbling splendour. Chayyim battled with himself to maintain a polite veneer as the argument, conducted in front of Archie’s friends, became heated. Archie had goaded, “Really, Papa, you have no taste. You think this architectural mish-mash is so wonderful but you will always be trade and you simply do not know your Bauhaus Modernist from your Gothic Perpendicular.” Chayyim had leapt up, the force pushing his chair over, and stormed out of the dining room.

The beleaguered staff struggled to meet the needs of the guests but they found themselves being baited unmercifully. Encouraged by Archie and alcohol, the ad hoc house party became raucous. Chayyim had been on the verge of calling the police as the revellers decided to decamp to Foxy’s.


It had turned 3:00 A.M. when Chayyim was startled into wakefulness by the front door banging. He quickly realised from the ensuing commotion that it was Archie and his friends returning from the party. Chayyim dozed fitfully while half-listening to the sounds of drunken revelry downstairs. It was clear there was no mood to bring the debauchery to a close and sleep it off.

Suddenly, there was a loud crash. In a single movement, Chayyim was out of bed, cloaked in his dressing gown and running down the stairs. He could only think of the porcelain collection.

Bursting through the gallery door, he immediately saw a dishevelled Archie and a small coterie of his friends. Archie was clutching a half-empty bottle of whiskey in one hand and a broken cigar in the other. Unsteady on his feet, he struggled to focus on his father.

“Oops,” was all Archie could muster. On the floor in front of him was the wreckage of a smashed plate.

“No, no, no, not the Ming,” screamed Chayyim as he fell to his knees to examine the pieces.

Looking at the fragments of pattern he was, at first, puzzled. Chayyim then realised the broken artefact was, in fact, a commemorative Mazel tov plate from the wedding. Although of no financial value, he had always kept it with the rest of his collection.

Furious now, Chayyim got up and screamed at Archie, “You clumsy, drunken,useless schlemiel! All of you get the hell out right now!”


Chayyim looked out into the early daylight. The only car to remain parked on the gravel drive was Archie’s Crossley Sports. His friends had cleared out.


Father and son sat across from each other at the dining table while breakfast was served. The physical symptoms of Archie’s horrendous hangover were obvious to his father and the servants. A long silence was eventually broken by the older man.

“I am so disappointed in you, Archie,” intoned Chayyim, “I have provided you with everything a young man needs, and more. This is how you thank me. My home is invaded by a rabble and, in a drunken state, you destroy the things that are precious to me. Your mother wanted you to be an English gentleman. Look at the monster you have become.”

There was no apology.

“You have done nothing out of love for me. Your entire purpose has been to make me the person you can never be,” said Archie. “Well, let’s have a little honesty. You hate me and I don’t love you. Mother never loved you, either. I feel nothing but contempt. I have taken your allowance for months but I have not been anywhere near college.”

“Then it is over,” interrupted his father, “You are not my son. Take your ridiculous sports car and go. That is the last thing you shall have from me.”


By the time Chayyim heard the front door close behind Archie, he was comfortable in his favourite study easy chair. The Crossley Sports roared into life. Briefly, there was the sound of spinning wheels then the gravel crunched as the car moved off. The engine note rose and fell as the gears changed. Once more, the revs ascended as the car continued to accelerate.

As the distance between house and motor vehicle increased, the roar started to fade. Chayyim pictured the car reaching the end of the drive before the sharp turn through the wrought iron gates and out on to the main road. Suddenly, the sound of a loud explosion overrode all else.

Chayyim did not rise from his seat. Elbows firmly planted on the chair’s arms, his index fingers slowly rubbed the bridge of his nose.

It had been simple enough to disable the brake mechanism of the Crossley. Indeed, it had been almost as easy to ensure that Archie’s mother fell over the deck rail of the liner during the storm.


Are you like me? Are you addicted to and need your fix of THE DOGFIGHT?

Well, you're in luck, as the ninth chapter of the story is now up.

Titled THE OCEAN DOESN'T WANT ME, it's Chad Eagleton turn at bat and grand slam is not hyperbole. In fact, grand slam may not do it justice.

Haunting and delicate, this is poetry as noir.

Go read it for yourself.

A Twist Of Noir 277 - Mark Pryor


She was the first one in days, maybe weeks, who didn’t stink. Who didn’t shuffle or cower, or prowl through the metal door like an angry dog.

She was the first one in days, weeks, who made me stand up straight and pay attention to the paperwork.

One by one, the deputy brought them out, made them stand on the black line in front of the judge, and two feet to my right. The deputy would give me a nod if they were compliant, raise an eyebrow if he expected a fight. Very few of them fight.

One by one, the judge lets them plead guilty, asking me, the state’s prosecutor, to detail the plea agreement. This one gets probation, this one gets jail. And this one, the stinking fat man who likes little kids, he gets ten years in prison and then ten years of probation. Yeah, I’m looking at you, fat man, what the fuck are you gonna do about it?

But when the deputy brought her out, he just looked at me, our secret code abandoned. Hardly surprising, it’s not like we had a signal for hot chicks. Never needed one.

So it was my turn to raise an eyebrow, his turn to smirk.

She wore black and white stripes like the rest, but her set was new and almost fit her. They could have been pajamas, or a carefully-chosen Halloween costume - “Ha! Look at me, I’m in jail!" I often wondered if those floppy jail rags were comfortable, and usually decided they were. More so than my suit and fucking tie, no doubt.

She walked tall, her back straight, with none of that hesitant shuffling most of them do, scared and a little bewildered. Or acting scared, angling for some pity. Most don’t look at me, the tall guy in a suit looking calm and at home at the judge’s bench, standing there with a file in one hand and a cheap pen in the other. That said, when they do look at me I usually catch their eye and nod. I’m a decent human being, after all. I may be putting them in jail but it’s not personal and I bear them no ill will. Couldn’t care less, most of the time.

But this one held my eye and I wondered at first if she was challenging me. Then I thought maybe she was just seeing who I was, what role I played. When she looked away, I wondered if she thought me a nerd in a suit, not good enough, or not interesting enough for her. Her eyes were blue, like mine, but bigger and not tired from a too many whiskeys the night before. Light brown hair in a simple ponytail, springing out from high on the back of her head, confident, like her. No visible tattoos, which made a nice change.

The judge didn’t seem to notice her, but then he’d drunk more than me the night before and could barely stay awake. I’m not even sure he likes girls, to be honest, but that’s okay, no crime there. Tucked deep into his black robe he started to read the indictment and drone on about her rights, the same routine as usual, same words, same inflection. She just nodded along.

Then he stopped. He’d forgotten to swear her in. Maybe he had noticed her. Old fox.

She was given the oath, raising her right hand to swear to tell the truth, a slim, delicate wrist poking out of the hooped pajama top. As the judge started droning again, I looked through the file to see what she’d done.

She was a thief, so the file said. She and her brother, a drug addict, had stolen a car and gotten about two miles before he drove it into oncoming traffic. I’d sentenced him, too, I remembered now. He’d wanted probation and treatment but he didn’t get it. I remembered his face, angry and a little scared as the judge sentenced him to the eighteen months I’d recommended. You see that face a lot in this job.

I looked over at her lawyer, pushed the file his way on the little ledge in front of us just so I could lean closer to her. She didn’t lean closer to me, but she didn’t lean away, either. I straightened back up and looked at the front of the file, where we write our recommendations for punishment. Jail or probation, them’s your choices. Or, to be accurate, my choices.

How about a good spanking, though, change it up just for her? Administered by me, of course, and right now. Afterwards, a cuddle to make it all right.

Swift justice. Everyone happy.

According to the notes in the file, her brother, decent guy after all, had taken the rap for the car theft and her lawyer had worked out a thirty day sentence for her in the county jail. According to the clerk’s records, she'd done a week waiting for her case to come up. With two-for-one credit, she’d done a couple weeks with a couple more to go.

All I had to do was say, “Thirty days in the county jail, Your Honor.”

But I didn’t. Or couldn’t. Or just didn’t.

“The State’s recommendation?” the judge said to me.

Quick math, just to be sure. “Two weeks in the county jail, Your Honor.”

Her lawyer, bless him, trying to be honest, to abide by our agreement, said: “I thought we’d said thirty days?”

“I’m pretty sure I offered fourteen,” I said, “and if I offered it, I will stick to it.” The Honorable Prosecutor.

“Of course, if she wants to do the thirty...” Yeah, right.

“No, no, Your Honor, fourteen days is fine.”

“With credit for time already served?” said the judge, no idea what was happening.

“Yes, Your Honor,” I said.

I could feel her watching me now, but I knew her lawyer was, too, so I played it cool, writing the judgment details on the back of the file for our records, turning slowly and nodding at her lawyer first, then eyes moving naturally westward to her, a tight smile and gentle nod, but Look at my eyes, can you see what I’m thinking?

She was waiting when I left for the day, perched under the blistering sun on the low brick wall by the parking lot where she could see the courthouse doors. I stopped when I saw her and then started again. Another nod but my smile looser now that her case was done. She stood when I got close, so I slowed.

“Why did you do that?” she said.

I stopped, car keys in my hand. Her head was tilted to one side and I couldn’t imagine this girl, now in low-cut jeans and a sky-blue T-shirt, wearing black and white hoops. “I don’t know. I guess I thought that was the deal.”

Her smile was soft, but there was an edge to her voice. “No. You changed it.”

I shrugged, had trouble meeting her eyes. “You just get out?”

“This morning. Feels good.”

“I bet. A little hot outside, though. You been waiting here all day?”

“Yes. No transport. Thought I’d wait for my lawyer to come out and ask him for a ride.”

What about me, was I allowed to? Seemed like it, she wasn’t a defendant anymore. And it was a hundred degrees out here, I could feel my ears crisping up nicely. She hadn’t broken a sweat. “I’ll give you one. Ride.”

Pretty teeth, too. “Sure,” she said.

She lived by herself, now that her brother was hosteling with the State. A worn apartment complex in a nice neighborhood in south Austin. Nor more than two miles from me and my dog. Who knew criminals lived down here?

Maybe she had aspirations.

“I’m going to nursing school,” she said as she got out of the car. “You want to come up?”

“Come up?”

“Yeah. I’ve never met a prosecutor before. It’s hot.” She said it so matter-of-factly I assumed she meant the weather. But there was reasonable doubt.

“I’ve never met a nurse defendant before.” I said it so lamely.

I went up, curious to see the home of a nurse-in-training defendant, and to make up for my stupid comment. I didn’t want the last thing she heard from me to be so... lame.

It was clean and tidy. A long white couch dominated the room and above it hung framed prints, not posters, on the wall. I didn’t even know how old she was.

“Sit,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” But before she disappeared into her bedroom, she leaned against the jamb and asked if I liked games.

“Sure,” I said. “What kind of games?”

She rolled her eyes and left me alone. I looked at the front door but stayed put. My legs wouldn’t have carried me anyway. Put me in front of a jury and I’m like Iron Man, but a pretty girl melts me like butter. The word ‘wicked’ sprang to mind.

She reappeared in her nurse uniform. Not the kind you’d get from an adult store at all, and on anyone else not sexy in the least. But she’d changed into it, apparently, for me.

“Ah, those kinds of games,” I said.

“Yeah.” She sat down, slid in next to me, and whispered in my ear. “And more.”

We played by her rules, which were pretty simple. I held her ponytail and told her the things she wanted to hear, about how she was a bad girl and needed to prove she was repentant, to show me how good she could be else I’d put her back in jail, one way or another. She whispered what to say and I said it, sounding gruff and mean, which was hard when I was feeling so grateful. I started to wonder half way through whether I’d get to spank her after all, but she kept the nurses uniform pulled down and kept me entertained in other ways.

I don’t know how she got the recorder into the room without me seeing it. I don’t know how she got it to my boss. And I don't know how much of it he listened to before he called me into his office. I didn’t bother telling him it was consensual, you could hear from the tape it wasn’t.

So here I am, with my head down as I stand on that little black line in front of the judge, two feet away from a former colleague. I can hear cameras behind me, people jostling to try and get a clear shot of my face. I fidget to foil them, and also because the hooped pajamas are not as comfortable as they look from the free world. Scratchy, and I don’t even want to think about the stinking inmates who wore the socks and underwear before me.

I got a letter last night. From her. Fake name, probably a fake return address. Just five words long. ‘Should have given him probation.’

No shit.

BIO: Mark Pryor is a former journalist and now fiction writer living in Austin, Texas. At night he shoots, stabs, and poisons people on paper, but during the day he works as a felony prosecutor putting away the bad guys and freeing the innocent. And he blogs at D.A. Confidential.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 276 - Lewis J. Peters


Originally appeared at A Novel Story, Lewis's blog

In A Possible Near Future...

Before opening it, Eddie had not known who the letter was from. He laughed out loud to himself when he saw it was signed off, ‘Your loving mother, Maureen.’

Rich. No contact for twenty-five years but now she says she loves me.

Eddie glanced at the rest of the page. Maureen said she knew he could not commit murder, wanted ‘to be there’ and begged him to have a prison Visiting Order issued.

Bollocks to her, Eddie decided. He had enough on his plate defending the charge without having to deal with a mother he had not seen in nearly three decades. He screwed up the letter and took satisfaction from throwing it into his bin at the first attempt.

It was not the only letter Eddie opened in his cell that morning. His solicitor had written ‘Rule 39’ on the outside of the other handed to him by the screw after roll call. This meant it could not be read by the prison authorities. In Eddie’s experience, confidential legal communications generally contained bad news.

He was not disappointed. The lawyer explained that the prosecution had served the forensic evidence it intended to rely on. Highlighted was the DNA ‘hit’ from the victim’s body. The scientific report stated that the chances of the recovered semen not coming from the defendant were one in a billion.

According to the solicitor, this was one of the highest statistical matches he had encountered during his career. He would, of course, have the results verified by an independent expert. However, he ‘felt compelled to express the gravest concern about the implications of this evidence for the defence.’

How could this be? Eddie knew he was not anywhere near the crime scene at the relevant time. The stain on the victim’s clothes simply could not be from him. OK, so he had been arrested before - that was how they had identified him from the national DNA database - but not for anything like this.

The reintroduction of the death penalty into UK law had been achieved through the Homicide Reform Act. Supporters argued loud and strong that scientific advances had made miscarriages of justice far less likely than in the past. The public were persuaded and the politicians fell in line. Intended to be reserved for the worst cases, media speculation was rife that, as Eddie’s alleged offence involved murder for sexual gratification, his could be the first case to see the use of the death penalty following the change in the law.

Eddie was now in no doubt there was a strong case against him. He sat on his bed staring at a white painted cell wall. Far removed from the stereotype of a decrepit prison, his surroundings were modern, clean and functional. There was plenty of natural light and the lingering fragrance from an early morning application of air freshener. Despite this, Eddie struggled to fight down waves of nausea as he contemplated the future.

Hemmed in, desperate, he started to hyperventilate. Eddie’s distress was seen on the in-cell CCTV surveillance. Prison officers got to him just as he passed out.


Eddie shielded his eyes as the camera flashes penetrated the darkened windows of the prison transport. Hostile chants of the crowd assembled outside the courthouse were accompanied by loud bangs on the side of the vehicle as the police cordon was breached by a small group of rabble rousers. Suddenly, the driver swung the van into a sharp right turn before bringing it to an abrupt stop. Eddie was pitched from the hard seat into the wall of the small cell. Christ, I've been judged before the trial has started.

In the Crown Court holding cell, Eddie met with his two barristers - leader and junior - and solicitor. He was asked if he had thought about what had been discussed the week before when they had seen him in prison. The senior barrister reiterated that an acceptance of guilt could, quite literally, make the difference between life and death. On a guilty plea, the judge was likely to pass a life sentence. Life would mean life with no possibility of parole. However, the death penalty, he advised, could be avoided.

“Should I plead guilty to something I haven’t done?” asked Eddie.

“No,” replied the barrister. “But it’s not as straightforward as that. You have to take into account the strength of the evidence against you. Ask yourself this, ‘If the evidence against me is overwhelming, should I take the gamble when I know I can guarantee myself a lesser penalty?’”

The conversation continued in circles. Always, it came back to the DNA match and that one in a billion statistic. The experts instructed by the defence had not been able to fault the methodology and the conclusions of the prosecution scientists.

“Eddie,” the solicitor eventually said, “we need a decision. The case will be called on in a few minutes and we must have your final say.”

“Then I say I am not guilty. I was not there. I did not attack that girl. The semen could not have been mine.”

The lawyers passed a look between them. The senior barrister was the first to speak, “If that is your final word, we must have your instructions in writing. I am going up to the courtroom now. Your solicitor will write out something for you to sign and I will tell the judge the trial will proceed.”


Eddie awoke, as usual, just before the early morning buzzer went off in his cell. It was three and a half years since the verdict and sentence. Six months ago, the final, unsuccessful domestic appeal had been heard.

Lying on the seat of his chair were two envelopes. He recognised the writing on one to be that of his mother. The other was stamped with the logo of the European Court of Human Rights. They had arrived the previous day but he had not been able to bring himself to do anything with them.

Eddie opened the envelope from the court. So many disappointments. One more did not, this morning, seem to matter. The summary, delivered orally by the tribunal, he already knew from having spoken to his solicitor on the phone. There had been a fair trial in the judgement of the court and the possibility of intervening in the sentence had been specifically excluded by the Homicide Reform Act. Without reading the detail, he threw the papers to one side.

He was becoming resigned. Eddie still felt fierce indignation but the fight had dissipated. Stamina ebbing away, he sensed the need to protect himself from further disappointment.

Eddie looked at the envelope from his mother. She had written to him regularly during the trial and at least once per week since. He had steadfastly refused to open any of the envelopes and had disposed of them all. However, today, something inside gave way and he slipped his thumb under the seal.

His mother’s words were pleading, desperate. Maureen needed to see him, had to show him the love that, she claimed, was undiminished by their estrangement. Eddie relented and made arrangements for the Visiting Order to be issued.


The prison visitors' centre was busy. Maureen felt out of place. For many waiting with her, a visit to a prisoner was part of the normal routine of life. Colleagues in crime, surly older women and girlfriends with impressive cleavages specially on display for their sweethearts mixed with anxious Asian girls and bored probation officers.

Sitting opposite Eddie at the visits table, his mother’s tears flowed freely from the outset. She gushed regret. Eddie felt little. The lost twenty-five years weighed heavily on her now that her son faced the death penalty. Eddie could not bring himself to say anything that would comfort her. It had been her decision to make the rift permanent. She would have to live with that.

Eventually, Maureen had to ask the question. “I believe I do still know my own son. You ran with the wrong crowd and I always knew when you lied to me. I’ll know again if you do not tell me the truth now. I don’t want any details but, yes or no, did you kill that poor girl?”

There was a pause. The weight of the last five years bore down on Eddie. “No, Mum. I did not.” Eddie let go at last and broke down.


It was getting close now, the date set for the execution. For Eddie, the days had started to merge and time seemed to be speeding up.

His mother came to see him regularly. As the gap between them closed, they talked little of the case. It was mostly reminiscence about his childhood. The son of a single parent, it only began to dawn on Eddie now how much of Maureen’s young life had been sacrificed for him. His mother had struggled but succeeded in giving him opportunities and options, gifts he had squandered because of the false promise of a more exciting life offered by dubious friends.

As the time grew nearer, Eddie struggled to find any peace. He had started to draw comfort from the reconciliation with his mother but it also made worse the knowledge that he was going to receive a lethal injection for something he had not done. How could the DNA have matched?


Maureen came to the prison for what she knew would be the final visit. She had almost turned back at the visitors’ centre. The prospect of saying a last goodbye was too much but she could not let him down and, in any event, there was something she needed him to know.

Normally, visits were limited to two hours. Today, they were allowed four. Eddie put on a brave face for his mother throughout. She was, at last, proud of him.

Towards the end of the visit, Eddie’s mother steeled herself and said, “I have kept an awful secret from you all these years. It’s not right that we should part for the last time time without you knowing everything. I was so young when I became pregnant. My family and your father didn’t want to know. I knew I had to fend for myself. I couldn’t cope with two of you.”

Eddie was startled. “What do you mean ‘two of us’?”

“Oh, Eddie, I was so desperate.” Tears sprang into Maureen’s eyes. “I pleaded with them in the hospital to take one of you. Eventually, the social workers took him away for adoption.”

“Who, mother? Who did the social workers take for adoption?” Eddie's eyes were wide with astonishment. Realisation was swift in coming.

“Your twin brother, of course.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 275 - Alun Williams


“Nice tattoo.”

The girl sat down uninvited.

“Where’d ya get it?”

Markkus looked up. She pointed to his arm.

“In Bregenz.” His accent was clipped. “It’s in Austria by the German border. I‘m here on vacation. Arrived this morning.”

She smiled.

“You know who you sound like?”

Markkus chuckled.

“I’ll be back,” he replied.

“Oh my God. You sound exactly like him.”

“You’re the first person to tell me that.”

She nodded.

“Yeah, sorry. I like tattoos, though.”

She ran a finger over his arm.

“A cardinal butterfly. Pandoriana Pandora. You like butterflies?”

“I guess.”

“Amazing creatures.” Markkus pulled up his other sleeve.

“That’s a Julia.”

“No kidding, that’s my mother’s name. I love tattoos.”

“Have you any?”

“Sure. But not here. Wanna come back to my place?”

“I don’t know. Is it far?”

“No. C’mon, butterfly man. I like you.”


In a wood outside of Vienna, Inspector Weiss of the Austrian National Police watched as two uniforms walked towards him carrying a bodybag.

“Her body has the same hallmarks,” one said.

Weiss stopped them and unzipped the bag.. A small piece of skin had been cut from her arm. It was in the shape of a butterfly.

BIO: Alun Williams, 55. Born and still residing in Wales. Member of Crittersbar (writing under maxieslim), Zoetrope and Scrawl (writing as Maxwell Allen) and has had several shorts published in Write Side Up, Bonfire, Twisted Tongue, Skive, The Legendary and various others. Loves noir and Charles Bukowski.

A Twist Of Noir 274 - David Barber


Originally published at Thrillers, Killers ‘N’ Chillers on October 23, 2009

A mahogany table sat in the middle of the small room, coffee stains and scratches adorned the once polished surface. There was a chair on either side and I was seated in the one near the window, my rucksack on the floor by my feet. The one near the door was empty but would soon be filled by ‘Stilts’, the loan shark. His real name was Kelvin West, not a likeable character. He wasn’t a hard man, either, but he was a nasty fucker and whatever he wanted doing got done by his two henchmen, ‘Shorty’ and ‘Titch’. You see, though, and here’s the ironic part, ‘Shorty’ was six feet five and eighteen stone of pure muscle and ‘Titch’ was six feet three and twenty stone with fists like sledgehammers.

The door opened, a huge hand holding the tarnished brass door handle. The ugly, oversized head of Titch peered round the door.

“Stilts is on his way.” The door closed.

Wish he’d fucking hurry up, I thought to myself. The room stunk. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the smell was but it wasn’t pleasant.

The door opened again and closed shut. A shuffling of feet accompanied the top of the head I could see on the other side of the table. You guessed it, Stilts or Kelvin, was a midget. He climbed onto the chair opposite me, standing on it with his hands on the table and leaning forward. His suit was immaculate, Armani or Hugo Boss or something like that. The only good thing about sitting across from him was the welcome break from the stench in the room that his cologne masked.

“So, let’s get names out of the way. I’m Kelvin, more commonly known as Stilts.” His voice made me think of the times when I’d been at parties and sucked the helium out of the balloons on the tables.

“Erm, yeah, I know, your reputation precedes you. I’m Dave, Dave Preston.”

“Ok, Dave. Now that’s out of the way, what can I do for you?”

“I was hoping to borrow ten grand for a bit of business I’ve got coming my way.”

“What business?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Ok, ok,” Stilts said, waving his stubby hands in the air. “None of my business, I know, I know. Well, I don’t know you and you’ve never had money from me before so here’s the deal. Ten grand, forty-eight hour turn-around and I get eleven back. If it’s business, then you’ll be making a tidy profit yourself, Dave.”

“What if I can’t have it back for you in that time? It may take a few more days than that. Can’t you just give it to me and I’ll have it back for you in a week or so? The deal’s not fully sorted yet.”

“Well, that’s not my fucking problem, is it, you lanky bastard? Don’t fuck me around, Dave. Ten grand, two days I’ve said and that’s final!” Pointing a little stubby finger at me, he continued, “You’re nothing to me. See that,” he pointed down at the table, “a speck of dust, you’re nothing but a speck of dust and I could have you wiped away as easy as that.” Stilts brushed his hand across the table then looked back at me, a smirk on his ugly face.

I stared at his oversized head sticking out of the starched, white shirt collar. How the fuck did he get away with all this bravado? I could’ve killed the little shit with both arms tied behind my back, if it wasn’t for the two ‘apes’ outside the closed door behind him.

“Look, Stilts, you’ll just have to put some extra interest on what I lend off you.”

“Don’t tell me what I’ll have to fucking do. You want this money or not? It ain’t my problem that your ‘deal’ ain’t ready yet. I loan you, I want it back. I always get my money back, but when I don’t, I get little pieces of you until you pay up.”

Stilts opened the drawer on his side of the table and pulled out five wads of notes and a small box. He looked at me and then took the lid off the box and emptied the contents onto the table. Fingers fell onto the surface, one of which, I noticed, left a bloody mark as it bounced.

“Ok, ok,” I said, “I’ll take the deal.” I leant down and picked up my rucksack, moving stuff around inside it.

“That’s better, Dave. It makes sense to stay on my good side. I don’t want to have to hurt you, you seem a decent chap ‘n’ all. Let’s just get this sort...”

I cut him short with the Glock I had in my hand.

“Don’t even think about shouting your gorillas. You know, Kelvin, you are one piece of shit and you’ve threatened the wrong person. I guess it’s you who’s ‘a speck of dust’ now.”

Stilts put his hands up just as I pulled the trigger. The bullet went though his right hand and straight into his face. The back of his head exploded onto the door behind him, a fraction before the force of the shot threw him backwards off the chair. The door flew open, pushing Stilts’ dead body like it was a little rag doll, and I fired off two shots, hitting Titch in the chest with both. His enormous frame fell backwards into the hallway. I heard the sound of running and ran to the door just in time to get another three rounds out of the gun, hitting Shorty in the back of the head, blood and skull exploding forwards as he fell to the ground.

“All bravado, ‘n’ no balls.”

I walked back into the room and picked up the money and the bloodied finger from the table. I put the money in the rucksack: Stilts wouldn’t be needing that any more.

“Nobody fucks with my family,” I said, putting my uncle’s finger in my pocket.

BIO: Manchester born and bred, but now living in Crieff, Scotland, with wife, Lisa, and his two daughters, Imogen & Melissa. Wrote some years ago but has recently been inspired to write again by an old and good friend (Col Bury) and the beauty that surrounds him up in Scotland. Always reading - when not entertaining his girls and working - crime and horror...and now writing. He has had a number of short and flash fiction published on Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 273 - David Price


He’d always been a leader. As a ten year old he was the one who decided where the rag-tag bunch of surfer kids would go on their bikes. He was the first to get a boogie board and soon everyone had one. They journeyed up the coast to different surf spots but spent most of their time at their own beach, South Beach.

At times there were as many as a dozen in their bike caravans. They all had lived in SB since childhood. They attended SB Elementary and were the scourge of the neighborhood. SB was not exactly your typical beach city. It had a main drag of several blocks heading down to its big wooden pier. Shops along the street featured all the usual business enterprises, bars, beach food of every type, coffee shops, head shops, tattoo parlors and a few Mom-And-Pop antique stores struggling to survive.

What made SB different was a very present sleaze factor. None of the stores or restaurants were up scale. No one from outside SB hung out there, unlike Pacific Beach and La Jolla which were destination spots for inlanders looking for a day of sun or to catch the vibe in a beach bar.

If you knew the lay of the land, you didn’t go to South Beach unless it was mid-day and you wanted a classic burger at Greasy’s.

There seemed to be more homeless men riding old banana bikes and carrying all their worldly goods in a trash bag per square mile than any other place south of Venice Beach.

The houses near the beach were little bungalows often with just plywood walls and under 700 square feet. The rent was cheap for a beach city and it drew a great many dopers, bikers and low lifes of every description.

This was the culture Ace and his cronies grew up in. They named themselves the SB Ratz. None of the Ratz parents were too keen on parenting. The kids mostly came from single parent homes or several families living together in cramped quasi-commune style.

Locals from outside the area referred to it as, “The Peoples Republic of South Beach”. It was a pretty accurate description.

Ace wasn’t his real name but it was the only name anyone used. Even his teachers used it. If you wanted him to answer, you better call him Ace.

His Dad gave him the nickname. When his Mom got pregnant, they weren’t married. They had been living together for three years. He was a musician working part time in any SB bar that needed a fill-in. He sang too and was pretty good. He was a long haired free spirit. Every girl that met him wanted to tame him. Ace's Mom had been a college student at the nearby Mission Christian College. One night, she and some friends went slumming and ended up in a bar where she heard his Dad sing. She was smitten and the rest was a downhill slide. She dropped out of school, rejected her family’s pleas and got a job as a waitress to support her man.

When she told him she was pregnant, she expected a supportive reaction. She was wrong. His true colors showed as he ranted and raved, blaming her for ruining his life.

He demanded she get an abortion. She called up her suppressed morals and refused. He told her that they would each draw a card. Holder of the high card would get the call on the abortion. She said, “No”. He screamed at her and drew a queen. He shoved the cards in her face. He said draw or he would kick the baby right out of her. She knew she wouldn’t do as he directed regardless of the card she drew. To buy some time, she played along. She drew the ace of spades.

Within a year, he was out of her apartment and out of her life. He nicknamed the baby Ace and it stuck.

Ace loved his mother but he had a mean streak that everyone saw but her. He was the first in his group to do most everything that seemed important to a kid with time on his hands and no real direction.

He was the first to get in a big deal fight. When he was in the sixth grade, he agreed to meet an eighth grade bully after school. The bully leaned on almost every kid in SB Elementary for a cut of their lunch money. He intercepted them on the school playground before school. If your parents dropped you off early or you walked to school, you knew Ricky, the neighborhood bully.

One day, Ricky was leaning on one of the Ratz. Ace came upon the scene with his buddies. They surrounded Ricky and told him to beat it. Ricky puffed up but the Ratz closed in on him. He thought it over quickly and then challenged Ace to a fight after school at the dog beach. Ace stepped up. It was on.

At 3:30 P.M., at least a hundred elementary kids were at dog beach. Ace and eight of the Ratz came walking up together.

Ricky and two of his friends were there waiting. The three of them stood there taking deep breaths, clenching and unclenching their fists. They were jacked.

Little did Ricky know that Ace had made a battle plan. He was ready to fight mano-a-mano. But, if he lost and was getting pounded, the other seven Ratz were going to come in like a SWAT team. They had screwdrivers, ice picks and hammers. Every kid but Ace had a weapon and was ready to use it.

None of the counter-attack plan was necessary. Ricky was a pretty big kid and he dressed and acted the part of a punk but he had never really been tested. Ace didn’t need to put on a show. He was muscular, athletic and had a mean streak that Ricky was about to experience firsthand. All that and five years of martial arts training his mom had supported in the hope it would provide structure and discipline to control his rage. It didn’t work but it made him the baddest elementary school kid in SB.

Ricky put on a big show. He took off his jacket and put up his fists and said, “Come on, Ace, it’s time for your whipping.”

Ace stared into his eyes and then spit in his face. As Ricky used his hand to clear his eyes, Ace attacked. He caught Ricky flatfooted with a snap kick to his groin. It was a bullseye. As Ricky bent over, Ace unleashed a barrage of fist and elbow strikes to his face and head. Ricky went down and yelled, “Stop, I give.”

Never did words fall on deafer ears. Ace mounted him and proceeded to beat his face bloody. Then he got up and kicked Ricky three or four times in the kidneys. He said, “If I ever see you around my school again, I will teach you a lesson you will never forget.”

As the fight started, kids cheered Ace on. By the time it was over, they were sick and frightened. They had had just seen evil unleashed.

That fight and several that followed over the years with the same result, made Ace’s reputation. All the way through high school, he was the man to stay away from.

His cadre of fellow Ratz shrunk to five by the time they entered high school. They were all tough, fearless and too ready to fight.

The high school football team benefited from their anger and aggression. They played together through their senior year. It was the best team at SB High in the past twenty-five years. Ace was the middle linebacker and spiritual leader of the team on the field. Off it, only the five Ratz would have anything to do with him.

Ace was also the first to get a tattoo. His junior year, he found an out-of-work tattoo artist who didn’t care he was underage. He proudly wore a large black rat with red eyes and a snarling open mouth on his right shoulder. Above it, the words, “SB Ratz.”

It was soon followed by crossed surfboards with a dagger on his left shoulder. Down his right calf was a series of Chinese kanji. He was drunk when he got it and couldn’t remember exactly what the symbols meant. He knew it said something about courage and honor with the character for dragon.

As a local, he was known everywhere in SB. People steered clear of him even the local bikers. He worked pick up jobs and surfed every chance he got. The Ratz still hung with him as they all drifted into adulthood with no goals or ambitions, except to earn or steal enough to support themselves and surf as often as possible.

As with many surfers, the locals were possessive of the best surf spots. Outsiders were often intentionally hit with surfboards launched as water missiles. If a tourist or inlander was ever stupid enough to cut in on a wave, denying one of the Ratz the ride, they would be harassed and eventually attacked when they came in to shore.

Fortunately for the Ratz, there was a SBHS alum who owned a construction company. After following their football successes, he offered Ace and two others jobs.

None of them worked enough hours to support themselves so they lived at home in the same dysfunctional families where they had grown up.

When Ace and the Ratz turned twenty-one, they were able to continue their years of alcohol abuse in the bars of South Beach.

Their favorite bar was Torchy’s, just a block from the beach and the pier. One summer night, Ace and three of the Ratz were at Torchy’s tossing back way too many tequila shots with beer chasers. They never stopped hitting on the girls, especially the ones from Mission Christian. When they were feeling no pain, Ace and his buddies staggered out and headed to the beach by the pier. There were several fire rings with people around them and a few were unattended. Ace found one with the wood and coals still smoldering and sat down. His buddies joined him.

They sat around loudly telling profanity-laced stories, making rude comments to passersby and generally waiting to sober up while making themselves obnoxious.

Ace was feeling mean and depressed. He started ragging on a group sitting around a nearby fire ring. They just ignored him. This made him madder. Then he started in on the girls in the group.

“Hey, you hos, come on over here if you’re looking for a real man.”

“Say, bitches, I’m talking to you. Say something.”

There was no response from the group but he did draw some over-the-shoulder looks.

“What, you too good to talk to a local? Hey, I’m talking to you skags.”

Finally, a tall rangy guy wearing a backpack walked over to the Ratz. “Say, mate, can’t you just leave us be? Nobody wants any trouble.”

Ace looked the guy up and down. He had a funny accent. Ace couldn’t place it but he gave it a try.

“Hey, you London fuckface, why don’t you go back home where you belong. You’re on Ratz property. Get moving before I kick your limey ass.”

“First, I’m from Austrailia. Second, I didn’t come over here to cause a problem. Can’t you just be cool and leave us alone?”

When Ace was in one of these alcohol-driven depressions, he was always looking to add an adrenaline rush to the mix. A fight was his tried and true method.

Ace stood up and stepped within a foot of the stranger. The stranger didn’t back up, he simply raised his open hands as if say he wasn’t looking for a fight.

There was no stopping Ace and all the Ratz knew it. They all stood up. When trouble started, they always fought as a team, just like gang tackling in a football game

Ace sucker-punched the stranger just as he placed his arms up. It was on the chin and dropped him hard. He hit the sand face-first. The instant he was down, Ace began kicking him. The other Ratz joined in. Then Ace picked up the skateboard of one of the Ratz and swung it hard and down on the stranger’s head. You could hear the thump like the sound of a bat hitting a watermelon.

The girls around the other fire ring began to scream.. A couple of the guys jumped up and started toward the Ratz.

The Ratz peeled off like jet fighters and formed a line around Ace like they were pass blocking for a quarterback. The other guys hesitated.

Ace reached down and grabbed the stranger’s back pack and pulled him right into the fire ring, face first. He was out cold and never reacted to the smoldering embers.

Ace and the Ratz walked off like strutting victors in a professional wrestling match.

That altercation changed Ace’s life in ways never expected. The Ratz had left many victims beaten and injured but they had never been held accountable. This time was different.

The incident made front page news in the local newspaper and was carried on every local TV news report. The stranger was a twenty year-old college student and part-time model on vacation from Australia. The other people around the fire ring were a couple of German students and some girls from Mission Christian.

The victim suffered a devastating skull fracture, broken ribs and third degree burns to half his face. He was in critical condition in a local hospital for six weeks. His parents flew in from Australia and stayed for weeks, holding daily vigil at their son’s bedside. He was in a coma for thirty days.

The local news media carried daily updates on his condition and the ongoing police investigation.

It didn’t take long for the description of the lead assailant to be identified as Ace. Within three weeks, Ace and his fellow Ratz were in custody.

Ace was arrested in a 5:00 A.M. raid at his mother’s apartment. Bail was set at $500,000. He wasn’t about to make the ten percent fee required by the local bail bondsmen.

When the victim was able, his parents flew him back home. He would undergo many months of vocational rehab. The facial burns were extensive. There would be innumerable skin grafts in an attempt to rebuild the once handsome face. They would not succeed.

Ace drew a break he didn’t deserve. With the victim back home and in no condition to return to testify, he was not available for Ace’s trial.

The D.A. had to cut a deal. Ace was facing twenty years to life in prison for attempted murder and mayhem. He plead out to aggravated assault and received one year in county jail as a condition of five years probation. He was ordered to totally abstain from the ingestion of alcohol and controlled substances. He would have to submit to urine testing as directed by his probation officer.

Ace did his county jail time without official incident. He did have a couple of run-ins with other inmates but his violent reaction and all-out maniac attack mode let everyone know he was best left alone. He breezed through the last few months.

When he was released, he was clean and sober for the first time in years.

He took a few days just to relax. It was good to get some sun and ride some waves. He was due to see his PO at the end of the week.

When he reported, he had to drop a urine test first thing. His PO was a crusty old guy who was tired of his job and tired of spending his days looking across his desk at crooks who were trying to run a game on him.

When Ace left the office, he had an appointment in two weeks to check in again with his PO and to provide a urine test. And so it would go for the next two years at least. He also was ordered to get a job or provide documentation of every place he had applied for one.

Damn, he thought. This was going to be hell. Within a week, he got his old construction job back. He was working four to five days a week and earning good money. With random urine testing, he couldn’t spend his money on drugs or alcohol, as he had done in the past. One dirty test and he could be headed to state prison to serve out his sentence.

He quit drinking but he still loved to hang out at Torchy’s. Sometimes the house band would let him jam a little with his guitar. Mainly, he just enjoyed hanging out with friends and looking for girls. Without alcohol fogging his mind, he became quite an observer of human nature. He watched guys get drunk and make fools of themselves, often ending up in fights just as he had done many times before. He noted that there were very few women who wanted to hang out with a drunken fool.

As the months passed, he found he was leading a life he had never seen for himself. At work, he was promoted to a journeyman position. The money was coming in and he putting a little away every payday as well as paying his mom a share for room and board.

He and his Mom were getting along much better. She had a boyfriend who was a lifeguard. He was an old timer but a cool guy. He treated Ace with respect and was very committed to his Mom.

He enjoyed his low-key life but he sure felt something was missing. He no longer was involved in altercations now that alcohol was removed from his live. The only adrenaline rush he experienced was when he caught a big wave and that was enough for him.

About a year and a half after he got out of jail, he found what was missing.

One night, after jamming at Torchy’s, he noticed a very cute beach blonde type watching him.

Never the shy one, he went right over to the bar where she was sitting.

“Hi. I’ve never seen you here before.”

“I just transferred in to Mission Christian. I heard this was a cool place to check out.”

“My name is Ace. It’s a nickname but it’s the only one I use.”

“Nice to meet you. I’m Cindy.”

“Where are you from?”

“I’m from Palm Springs. I got my AA at Desert Community College. I transferred to Mission Christian to be near the beach. The Springs are just too far away from the ocean.”

“Do you surf?”

“When I can. That’s why I came here to school. If I can get my BA in education and surf every weekend, this will be the best two years of my life.”

“Great. Maybe we can surf together. I’m usually down by the pier every Saturday and Sunday.”

“Cool. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

She left her beer half-full and smiled as she walked out. His eyes followed her. A cute little body in tight jeans and a MSC hooded sweatshirt, she was a doll.

Ace was up early on Saturday. He ate some mini chocolate-covered doughnuts, washed them down with a Coke. A real surfer’s breakfast. He was on the beach, waxing his board, when he saw her drive up in one of those little non-descript American economy cars.

He watched her unload her board from the roof rack. She already had her wet suit on. She didn’t see him.

He picked up his board and walked over to her. She looked up.


“Hi, Cindy. I was hoping you’d be around. I didn’t expect to see you so early.”

“I came to catch waves, not the sun.”

“Great. I’ll see you out there.”

“You bet.”

He walked into the white water and then jumped up and onto his board as the next surf swell passed beneath him. A few powerful strokes and he was out past the shore breaking stuff to the open water where a dozen other surfers sat straddling their boards and waited for a good swell. It looked to be a good day.

Soon, he caught a wave and rode by her as she was making her way out.

He was almost back out to the waiting spot when he saw her shoot by him riding the wave in a low crouch, her hand touching the water in the wave’s barrel. Then she kicked out and over as the wave broke near shore. Damn, this girl could surf.

They chatted some as they sat astride their boards. She’d been surfing for years. When she paddled, her strokes were powerful and relentless. For a life long inlander, she was something else.

He asked her if she’d be at Torchy’s that night. She said, “Maybe.”

He was there and brought his guitar. If she showed, he wanted to impress her. He was definitely interested.

Just as he was about to give up, she appeared.

“I was afraid you weren’t coming.”

“I’ve been studying. Decided I needed a break.”

They sat and talked. They made eye contact. The vibe was good.

Later in the evening, he jammed with the band and sang a ballad. He looked at her the whole time. She never stopped smiling.

He rejoined her after. A while later, she said she had to get back to the dorms. He reached gently for her hand, held it and leaned down and kissed her cheek. She blushed.

As she walked to her car, he waited. Just as she got to it, she turned and waved. That was as good a sign as he could expect.

At his request, she had given him her cell number.

He waited three days and called. He invited her to meet him for coffee later that evening. They talked for two hours. He had never been so at ease with a girl. It was like they were best friends.

At work, he found himself thinking about her. He was reminded of his Mom and Dad. If they became a couple, he wouldn't mess it up like his Dad had done. When you find the right person, you need to do everything you can to make it work.

He called her Friday to see if she wanted to surf Saturday. She said yes and they agreed to meet at the pier.

They spent a perfect morning surfing and talking. When it was time to go, he reached and placed his hand on her cheek. She looked up at him and smiled. He leaned down and kissed her lips softy. He felt her hand on his bicep. It was brief, tender and just right.

He asked her to meet him at Torchy’s that night. She said she couldn’t as her parents were coming into town for parent’s weekend.

He told his Mom about Cindy on Sunday night. She was impressed with his taste. He knew she was going out to dinner with her boyfriend on Wednesday night. He told her he wanted to invite Cindy to come over for dinner. He would make his famous spaghetti dinner. It was only famous to him. He made it occasionally for his Mom and she always complimented him on it. Now he hoped to try it out on someone else. His Mom said, “Go for it.”

“Hi, Cindy. This is Ace.”

“Hi, stranger.”

“How are you?”


“I’d like to make you dinner Wednesday night.”

“Really? Where?”

“At my apartment. My Mom will be out with her boyfriend. It’s his birthday or something. Anyway, I make some great spaghetti. We could just kick back, listen to some music. Very low-key.”

“Well, I have a big biology test Thursday morning but I could break away for two hours but only on one condition.”

“Name it.”

“I want you to play your guitar for me.”


“I’ll be there, just give me an address.”

He did. It was all set. He knew he wouldn’t be meeting another quality girl like this anytime soon. Go slow. Invest the time. He would play this like a total gentleman.

At 7:00 P.M. on Tuesday, he heard a gentle knock on his door.

He quickly checked the apartment to be sure everything was straight and neat. He had one of his Mom’s Sinatra records playing on her little phonograph. His marinara and sausage sauce was simmering on the stove. All he needed to do was boil the water and toss in the pasta.

“Just a minute”, he yelled from the kitchen. Yeah, the place looks great. He opened the door.


“Hi, Ace. This is just the break I need from studying.”

He stepped back as she entered. She paused and looked up at him. He closed the door and reached down to hug her. She returned the hug as he kissed her cheek.

“I’ve missed you”, he said.

“You did? How sweet.”

“Please come in and sit down. I’ll start the water for the pasta and be right back. Want something to drink?”

“A Coke would be great.”

He turned to walk to the kitchen. He only made it two steps before he felt his legs buckle and he fell face-first to the floor. Three hundred thousand volts from a handheld stun gun will do that to you.

He felt like he had been shocked but how could that be?

He convulsed on the floor and tried to roll over. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her kneel to help him. Then he saw the arcing blue light from the stun gun in her hand as she touched him again near his heart. He convulsed and was only semi-conscious.

She moved quickly to his feet and pulled a razor sharp curve-bladed carpet knife from her purse. In two surgical moves, she severed both of his Achilles tendons. He could barely generate a muffled scream as the intense pain reached his confused brain. He would walk stiff-legged like a 100 year old man for the rest of his life. He would never surf again.

Then he felt the liquid running down from his hair, over his forehead, into his eyes and down his cheeks to his neck. Damn, it burns. As he regained some body function, he wiped his eyes. Through the blur, he saw the burning wooden match flying toward him. The only word he could utter was, “Why?”, as he squeezed his eyes shut before his head ignited like a human torch.

She capped the lighter fluid can and placed it and the carpet knife in her purse. Using a handkerchief, she opened the door and exited the apartment. A few quick steps and she was down the exterior stairs of the little seven unit building.

Two blocks over and she was in her car and driving away.

Earlier that afternoon, she had checked out of the no-tell motel that she had called home the past two weeks. She paid cash daily for the room. This place didn’t care about names or ID if you had the green.

A mile away from Ace's Mom's apartment, she entered the freeway on-ramp to Interstate 5, which would take her north to Los Angeles.

Sixty miles north, she pulled off the freeway in San Clemente and drove to a chain fast food restaurant that she had spotted two weeks before on her way south. She pulled into the lot and exited her car carrying a food bag with the restaurant’s signature logo on it.

Inside was a wiped clean carpet knife and lighter fluid can covered by a dozen napkins and a day old order of super fries purchased just for this purpose. She dropped the crumpled bag in the outside trash can.

She returned to her car and placed a dirty hand towel in front of her left rear tire. Wrapped in it was the stun gun and the burner phone she had purchased ten days before. She drove forward three feet, obliterating the contents of the towel. She exited and put the towel in her car.

She drove to the gas station just before the freeway on-ramp and filled up her tank. Into the adjacent dumpster she threw two bags. One contained the neatly cut up Mission Christian hoody she had purchased at the campus bookstore when she arrived in San Diego. Her name wasn’t Cindy and she had never been a student at the college. In the other bag was the towel and the broken pieces it contained.

An hour and a half later, she followed the direction signs at LAX to the airport car rental return and dropped off her non-descript American economy car. She had used a phony California Drivers License and phony credit card to rent the car. Now she paid cash to settle her bill. They would never run the credit card.

She took the shuttle bus to Tom Bradley International Terminal to check in for her non-stop Qantas flight to Sydney.

As she settled into the lounge seat at her departure gate, she reflected on the past two weeks. She was anxious to get back to her family and her last semester of nursing school. But mainly she wanted to see her baby brother. She wanted to tell him that he had been avenged. But she knew there would be no point. He had no recollection of the horrible attack. Now and for always, he would have the mind of a small child.

BIO: David Price is an ex-college jock and retired probation officer living in California. His work can be found on Thuglit, Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers, Flash Fiction Offensive, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before the Dawn and Crooked.

A Twist Of Noir 272 - Des Nnochiri


The trick was to look beautiful and hungry.

Sofia had the beautiful part down pat. Nature had blessed her with all manner of good things. And where Nature had fallen short, diet, exercise, and cosmetic surgery had made up the deficit.

The hungry part was tough.

Crash dieting was risky, and no fun at all. The popsicle-stick-down-the-throat bulimia tactic was even less enjoyable. Both ways, you were liable to wind up looking (and smelling) like the walking dead.

Tough. But Sofia pulled it off, admirably.

“I’ve uh...”

A middle-aged, middle-sized, middle-income type. He’d probably taken pity on her, because she looked like his daughter. Or niece.

“I’ve never done this before.”

“Had the Blue Plate at Safari Sam’s?” She grinned, a charming, lopsided expression. “It’s just up the street. I’ll show you.”

She looked at him, all wide, earnest blue eyes.

“It’s not that hard.”

Her innocent look containing the promise that it soon would be.

Safari Sam’s, then maybe get a room, for an hour or two. Just to get out of the cold weather. Maybe get to know each other, a little better.

She’d have his confidence by then; he’d know that she was familiar with the neighborhood. So, she’d suggest a place.

She rubbed her arms, briskly. Supposedly, to get warm. Her jacket, though threadbare, had bulky sleeves.

Hastings Inn. She and the owner had a little arrangement. Financial.

The blades and needles were all there. In her sleeves, in their little pouches.

The owner, he’d get his cut.

After she made a few cuts, of her own.

BIO: Desmond (Des) Nnochiri spent his early years traveling with his parents, and was educated in England, the USA, and the Republic of Ireland (Eire). He writes freelance now, and has taken his first steps into the world of screenwriting. He has contributed stories to A Twist of Noir, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Powder Burn Flash. He blogs at Des Nnochiri’s Write to Speak.

A Twist Of Noir 271 - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


The mall was crowded. It was the day after Thanksgiving. Late in the afternoon. I saw him moving through the crowd with the boy on one side of him and the girl on the other. He didn’t see me. He was in a hurry. Neither of the kids was looking around. They had their heads down. He had a hand on each of their backs, pushing them forward, keeping them moving. They were nearly running to keep up with his stride. I began to close the gap.

Halfway down the corridor, he stopped and veered right. It was the entrance to one of those long narrow hallways that ran between the stores. This one led to an exit. I couldn’t let him get to the parking lot. I didn't know if he had help out there. I had to stop him now.

I veered right and banged through the double doors and took my gun out as I did. He was halfway down the corridor and moving fast. The light was stale yellow and the walls smelled of urine. He glanced back and saw me and saw the gun at my side and stopped. I raised my gun. I watched his hands. If they disappeared around front, I’d have to shoot. I didn’t mind, except for the kids. They were too close. And they didn’t need to see something like that.

“Ryker,” I said. “Give it up. Turn the kids over.”

“Fuck that,” he said.

“Hey, asshole,” I said. “Watch your language.”

“You tellin’ me how I can fucking talk in front of my own fucking kids?”

I was moving closer and his hands had stayed where they were. Neither he nor the kids had turned around.

“She pay you?” he said. “She pay you for this? To break up our family? To take my fucking kids away from me?”

“Seems like you're the one,” I said, “taking them from her.”

He was muscular. His shoulders ended about halfway up his ears. Top heavy. He’d be slow. But he had the kids.

“Who’s outside?” I said. “Someone waiting for you? Girlfriend? Friend?”

“You don’t wanna stop me,” he said. “No one’s gonna stop me.”

He began to turn around slowly. I watched his hands. “Let me unzip my coat,” he said.

“That would be stupid of me,” I said.

“It would be stupid not to,” Ryker said.


He was wearing a long black leather coat. He unzipped it slowly and opened it so I could see. There were explosives strapped to his bare chest. Lots of them.

“The kids go with me,” he said. “Or they don’t go.”

“Don’t do anything stupid,” I said.

He snorted. “We’re a little fucking past that now,” he said.

There was a men’s room further down the corridor and a small elderly man exited. He was only a few steps away from Ryker before he finally raised his head to see who was blocking his path.

“What is this?” the man said.

Both of the children ran toward him. “Grandpa,” they said.

It was my chance to nail Ryker. But I didn’t know his setup. I didn’t know if he had a deadman’s switch.

“Get away from him,” Ryker growled. “He ain’t your fucking grandfather.”

The children had hold one each of the old man’s legs. The old man was small-boned and only five feet. They nearly bowled him over.

“So it’s your old man,” I said. “Waiting outside.”

Ryker’s attention was split. “Yeah,” he said. “He’s gonna take the kids.”

“What about you?” I said.

“I’m done,” Ryker said. “I’m just fuckin’ done.”

The children were hiding behind the old man now, afraid of their father’s anger. They were twins. Six or seven years old. They had dirty blond hair like their father.

“What’s going on?” the old man said again.

“She put you up to this,” Ryker said to me. “The lawyer’s idea, right? Hire a fucking P.I.”

“You took her kids,” I said.

“Half mine,” he said. “They’re half fucking mine.”

I was only a few feet away now. I couldn’t tell how the explosives were wired. Fucking Internet will give any asshole the know-how. I looked at the kids. There were cigarette burns on the boy’s arm. The girl had some discoloration where a black eye used to be.

“You beat your kids,” I said. “Now you’re going to blow them up?”

“Fuck you, I didn’t beat them,” he said.

The double doors swung open behind us and a teenage couple glued themselves to the wall and began making out. After a minute, they looked down the hall and saw my gun and turned and walked out. They’d probably tell their friends first. But mall security would come eventually.

“Are you saying your wife beat the kids?” I said.

“No,” Ryker said. “Not her. It’s none of your fucking business.”

“Who beat the kids?” I said.

The old man was getting impatient. He moved up close to Ryker and the kids stayed behind him. “What’s that on your chest?” the old man said.

Ryker shoved the old man in my direction. “Go on get out of here,” he said. He held his kids in place by the shoulders. The old man walked slowly past me. “My wife is waiting,” he said.

“If you didn’t beat them,” I said, “why are the kids scared of you?”

“They’re fucking scared of everybody,” Ryker said. “Except him.”

“Except who?” I said.

“Except the one fucking guy they should be scared of.”

“Who?” I said.


I turned around and there was a face peering through the double doors. A guy in his mid-fifties maybe. He pushed open the doors and the elderly man moved past him back out into the mall. Someone else to alert the cops. The guy in his fifties stepped inside. He was nearly bald with only a few wispy strands of long gray hair blowing around on top. He had on a gray T-shirt with a pack of smokes rolled up in the sleeve. He was old school merchant marine tough guy. Enough to eat Ryker for breakfast. He saw I had a gun but he kept right on coming.

“That’s the fucking prick,” Ryker said. “That’s the fucking prick who beat them.”

I was caught in the middle. I turned my gun on the tough guy. His arms were painted blue with tattoos. He was almost on me now, coming nonstop. I’d have to shoot him on Ryker’s say-so.

“Don’t hurt Grandpa!” the little girl shouted.

I lowered the gun and sent a left jab into his side. He took it just fine. I backed up a step to raise the gun again. He came at me fists pummeling and I had to cover up and try to get out from under.

“Fucking bastard,” Ryker said. One of the kids broke loose and ran toward us. I took my finger off the trigger and hit the tough guy in the jaw with my gun. He staggered a bit and I hit him twice more in the face with the barrel, taking a gash out of his cheek and causing him to back up a step. Ryker’s little boy ran past me and threw himself against the tough guy’s chest.

“Grandpa,” he said.

Ryker came up behind me with the little girl and the bomb. “It was him,” Ryker said. “They don’t know any better. He fucking did it.”

“Your father?” I said.

“He ain’t my father,” Ryker said. “He’s her fucking father.”

The merchant marine tough guy hugged his grandson then set him aside. He came at me again, fists pummeling. I shot him in the shoulder.

“Grandpa, no!” the boy said. Both children started to cry. Their grandfather still hadn’t said a word. While he was leaning on the wall bleeding, I half-turned to Ryker.

“He did it all,” Ryker said. “He did everything to them. But he dressed it up, you know? It was all fucking love and shit. He loved them. That’s how he did it. That’s why they don’t know any better.”

The old tough guy was just looking at us and smiling. In a minute, he’d be up again.

“What about your wife?” I said to Ryker.

“He did her, too,” Ryker said. “All her life. Even now. Fucking bastard.” He moved in the grandfather’s direction. “Fucking bastard,” he said to the old man’s face.

The old man was up off the wall and went at Ryker, who still had the girl on his leg. I got between them and punched the old man in his bullet wound and smashed him across the teeth with the butt of my gun.

“They’ll never be free,” Ryker said. “He’ll keep after all of us. That’s why I took them. They’re with me or with nobody.”

“Nobody,” the old tough guy said. He spit a few teeth toward Ryker. The little boy was still clinging to the old man. He opened his arms and the little girl slipped free of Ryker and ran to him. He got down on his knees and hugged the two of them. He nodded toward Ryker. “It was him,” the old man said, "who did it all.”

Two mall cops came through the doors with their guns drawn. They didn’t know what to make of any of it. Neither did I.

“He beat them,” the old man said. “Just because they loved me.”

“You fucking sick bastard,” Ryker said. “Let go of my fucking kids or I’ll take us all out right now.”

“Take us out,” the old man said. He was bleeding from his mouth and his shoulder. The kids were crying into his chest.

“Everybody put their hands up,” one of the mall cops ordered. They were both early twenties, used to dealing with tough-talking teenagers and harmless crazies. This was way beyond them.

“Give me my fucking kids,” Ryker said. He was at my back, ready to charge again.

The old guy threw his chin at me. “I’ll give them to him,” he said. “Then you and I will go.”

“Go fucking where?” Ryker said. “Where do I wanna go with you?”

“Down the hall,” the old guy said. “Out the exit. Away from everyone. Out in the parking lot.”

Ryker thought about it. One of the mall cops, too young to grow a decent mustache, looked at the other one, the one who’d spoken before. “You with the gun,” he said to me. “Drop it. Right now, man. I’m serious.”

Ryker and Merchant Marine glared at each other. “All right,” Ryker said. “We leave. We go together.”

The old guy staggered to his feet. I dropped my gun on the floor to placate the mall cops. The old guy gently thrust the kids in my direction. I bent down and got an arm around each of their chests.

“Grandpa,” the little girl said.

Ryker and the grandfather turned and walked side by side down the corridor toward the exit. Each of them hugged the opposite wall. I stood up with the kids in my arms and blocked the way behind them.

“Hey,” the talkative cop said. “Come back here, you two. Everybody stay right where they are.”

Ryker and the grandfather kept walking. The talkative cop tried to get past me but I stepped right in front of him with both the kids. He saw the cigarette burns and the black eye and lowered his gun. “Good Jesus Christ,” he said.

Ryker and the old man were at the door. Each of them turned and looked back. The kids were staring at them over my shoulders. Ryker hit the pushbar and they stepped out into the cold November sunshine. Just as the door was about to close, I heard the explosion.

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

A Twist Of Noir 270 - Copper Smith


I’ll admit it: ’09 was a slow year; I got a few callbacks that went nowhere, a non-speaking bit part in a local feature and an in-store mascot gig that barely paid September’s phone bill. Other than that everything was drying up fast. Until I got a job in December that changed everything by bringing a few things into my life: Nina and murder. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It started when I got a call from my agent, Joyce. She told me about a new market opening up called Drama-Therapy Roleplaying. The idea is this: therapy patients – usually those who’ve just lost a loved one – often need help during the grieving process, can only get so much mileage out of couch talk, need a real person to hold, to hug, to beg forgiveness from. My job was to be that person, sometimes with a mustache or a New England accent.

The job didn't pay much and good luck putting it on a reel (apparently it is ‘inappropriate’ to have sessions videotaped) but it was a steady check and didn’t demand much time or rehearsal. Mostly patients just wanted another hour or two with Dad or Uncle Max or their late husbands, one last chat stolen from them by cancer or that car wreck. It was sad and draining and uncomfortable, but it was work.

And sometimes it was a wild ride.

One lady, let’s call her ‘Marie’ (real names being another ‘no-no’) wanted her late husband’s help with one last dinner – linguini and clam sauce, if I recall. I chopped the onions and kept the clam sauce at a boil, while she took care of the linguini and updated me on what those weirdos across the hall were probably up to. I guess that was their 'ritual.’

‘Amelia’ told me a cute story about little Zachary’s first game of the season then kicked me in the stomach and told me that she found "the magazines.’

‘Inga’, a willowy Scandinavian with empty eyes, just wanted to be held. I’ve had worse jobs.

And then in crept Nina. Clad in a blur of black, hair obscuring her eyes, chin seemingly stuck to her chest, Nina was bad news waiting to unfold. She swept her hair away and revealed two sullen eyes, already moist.

“I'm ready,” she announced.

But I wasn’t.

What followed was a two-hour upchucking of every angry demon that clawed away at her insides. She spoke of her abortion at 26 or 27 (well, somewhere during the Prozac to Zoloft transition years); the men who had betrayed her; the childhood she had surrendered; the inner peace she never found.

And she brought this nightmare to a pitch by bellowing herself hoarse with a refrain aimed at the heart of her dead husband:

“I am so sorry!”

“I am so sorry!”

“I am so, so sorry, my love!”

My role here was mostly reactive, pretend to understand what she was so sorry about and absorb her verbal blows like I deserved them. I tried to hold her, comfort her, but she pushed me back with a scowl that sent my eyes to the carpet. Then she screamed more with what little voice she had left.

And cut.


Post-session sightings of patients in the parking lot were always awkward, so I learned to step to my car quickly when taking off for home. No eye contact, no chit-chat. Even a wave goodbye promised weirdness. But there she was, as if poised to cut off the b-line to my ’81 Ford Taurus. Just standing there, the dangling cigarette in her mouth almost all ash. She glared at the setting sun as if it had just touched her inappropriately. But still...

“Hello there, actor man,” she croaked.

“Yes, hello,” I answered, the jangling keys in my hand kind of a hint.

“You were very good.”

“Thanks, appreciate it, see you around sometime...”

“You want to go for a ride?”

But still. She was kind of cute. So...



Upon further inspection, she was kind of cute in the same way a tidal wave is kind of moist. She was stunning. With her face now framed – not half-hidden – by those dark wavy locks, and her dry eyes free to shine into mine, she had become a goddess, a star with an adoring audience of one.

We didn’t talk; we drove and smoked as the streak of L.A.’s nighttime lights littered the landscape. And then she pulled up to the crest of a hill that towered over expensive homes below and stopped.

“Do you like those houses, actor man?”

“Um... it’s Kyle.”

She turned, her gaze heating my neck.

“Yes, I like them.”

“So do I. That’s mine. Ours, I mean,” she said without pointing. “The Victorian stone.”

“Very nice,” I lied. Well, maybe it was, but from this distance it was a dollhouse.

“Two baths on the first floor, one on the second, marble floors, high ceiling.”

“Very nice,” I repeated, thinking, She brought me here for real estate talk?

And then thirty, maybe forty seconds of silence that felt like a rash. So I swiped away at it:

“Must be pretty pricey, this neighborhood.”

“It is. But money is not a problem for him.” Then correcting herself, “For us.”

Another rash. Her turn to swipe away:

“That’s why I married him. The money. I thought I was kind of in love, but not really.”

“Divorce sucks. But it happens.”

“Not to him.”

“But if it’s really not working out –”

“Not to him,” she repeated, this time through clenched teeth. “He would never let me get away.”

The picture was growing less murky now. But stupid me, I had to probe on:

“So... um, the dead husband..?”

“No. Not yet.”

She turned to me, a bird pecking at its cage, scared, desperate, flailing.

Maybe she then whispered, “Please…” or maybe I just imagined it. But I’m pretty sure the kiss was real, that lunge at my insides, her hands on my face, pulling me into her, then ripping away at my clothes, my apprehensions. She was on her third pack by then but she somehow tasted like everything except nicotine. She tasted like the softest, sweetest mistake I would ever make.

We pulled ourselves apart, dizzy and frightened of this mess we’d made, but still ready to race on. Still ready to take that dangerous next step. So we then talked about things without really talking about things – mainly through ‘what ifs.’

What if someone relieved her of the burden of this husband?

What if we could be together, free to finish what we started in the car?

What if something happened, an accident or a robbery while she was away? Something she knew nothing about.

Within minutes, the fog had lifted and the only question remaining was: where can I get a gun?


Three days later, Nina, frantic and without breath, called the police to report a robbery and a shooting. The assailant shot her husband twice in the chest and once in the face, grabbed what he could from his wallet and scrambled out into the night with Nina conveniently having her nails done across town. The plan was that she would meet me at one A.M. in the parking lot of that donut shop on Reynolds. I stayed until they swept up, checked my cell every thirty seconds, then got in my car and smoked for a while, trying to blot out that scream from a few hours earlier. The guy’s scream, as his eyes bulged and his chest curled upward, reaching for something, maybe for me, maybe for one last breath. He was a bad guy, I told myself, a selfish, violent husband who didn’t deserve another day alive. But goddamn that scream...

I waited another two hours.

I never saw her again.

I suppose you could say that what I did for Nina was either the stupidest or the noblest thing I’ve ever done; I either liberated her from a life of torture while sparing her the burden of a murderer’s guilt or I stamped her ticket to a place she was already headed anyway. Maybe I was special or maybe I just happened to be the dupe she selected. Who knows.

And other times when I think of Nina, not through the eyes of a victim or a co-conspirator, but as an actor, as a lover of the craft, I remember that scattered, breathy voice, those wounded, sunken eyes wordlessly screeching for help and I think to myself: Now that was a performance.

BIO: Copper Smith is a writer of crime fiction who lives in Minneapolis where he refers to himself in the third person and plays the mandolin like that makes him badass or something. Like everyone else in the world, he has a blog. Check out Uppercut Avenue.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 269 - Nathan Cain


Originally appeared in the last issue of the now-defunct Demolition Magazine

The whore was snoring. Her mouth half open, her eyes closed. She was flabby and past her prime. Her bleached blonde hair had dark roots. She had been, like so many decisions in Duane’s life, a mistake. He had not slept for two days. He had thought some company might do him good.

He poked the whore in the shoulder.

“Wake up.”

He got no response. He poked her again.

“Get the hell up.”

The whore snorted and grunted. He turned on the light. The whore’s eyes blinked open.

“You wanna go again?” she muttered.

“Get out.”

She was a true professional. He didn’t have to tell her twice. She slid out from the greasy motel sheets and started pulling on her clothes. Her breasts reminded Duane of trash bags. He felt nauseous. The whore didn’t speak. She already had her money. There was no need for words. The whore wedged herself into her jeans and pulled on her shirt. She stepped into her heels and wobbled to the door without a backward glance.

Once the door had closed behind her, Duane got out of bed and took a shower. The motel towels were small and rough, just like the ones in prison. At least here he could shower alone.

Duane sat on the edge of the bed, drying his hair. The clock radio on the bedstand said it was 4 A.M. No sleep again. He picked up the remote. Flipped channels. There was some softcore porn on one of the movie channels. He watched it for a few minutes, but the sick feeling in his stomach only intensified.

He turned off the television. Closed his eyes. Drifted off. Opened his eyes. Ten minutes had passed. He reached over and grabbed the book off his bedstand. He had never read a book before he went away. Now, he couldn’t imagine being without one. Books helped kill time, and that’s what life was, killing time. The book was by some guy called Charles Willeford. It was about a cop chasing a crazy man in Miami. Duane had known crazy men in prison. He wanted the cop to kill the guy.

He read for about half an hour, but tossed the book aside. He was having trouble concentrating. He opened the drawer of the bedstand and took out the Bible. He opened the front cover and removed the picture he had placed there.

The little girl had brown hair put up in pigtails. She wore a white shirt and purple jumper and she smiled at the camera, while clutching a stuffed bunny. She was sitting in Duane’s lap. The picture was bent in the upper right corner. It had been taken ten years ago. Duane had given her the bunny for her third birthday. He wondered if she still had it.

He put the picture back in the Bible and put the Bible back in the drawer. He got dressed and went to the Waffle House next to the motel. It was one of the few places he felt at ease. It was one of the few places that he remembered from before prison that had not changed beyond recognition. He ordered coffee and a plate of hash browns from an obese waitress. Someone had left a newspaper on the counter. He leafed through it and sipped his coffee.

He heard yelling in the parking lot. He turned on his stool and saw the whore arguing with a large, balding man in the parking lot. Duane sipped his coffee and watched. The man pointed his finger at the woman’s nose. She slapped it away. The man punched the whore in the face. She fell. Duane swung his stool around. Not his concern.

The waitress waddled over with his food. Set it down in front of him.

“Every night,” she said.


“Those two in the parking lot. Every night. I don’t even call the cops no more, not unless it looks like he’s gonna kill her.”

“Always better to mind your own business,” Duane said. “Can’t make nobody’s choices for ’em.”

“You said it,” the waitress told him. “I got enough problems in my life without worryin’ ’bout everyone else.” She refilled his coffee and walked away.

Duane put some ketchup on his hash browns and wolfed them down. He took his time with the coffee. Paid. Left.

The sun was rising. Duane went back to the motel. He changed into a good white shirt and a clean pair of jeans. Retrieved the picture from the Bible. Put it in his shirt pocket. Patted it. Called a cab. Went outside, waited. When the cab arrived, he got in, gave the driver an address.

The house was nice. It wasn’t stick built, but it was much more upscale than the double-wide they had lived in before. Duane told the driver to wait and got out of the car. His heart pounded as he went up the walk. It was like being punched from the inside.

He rang the doorbell. Heard footsteps inside. The door swung open. She was dressed for work. She had a coffee mug in her left hand. She looked him up and down, and then threw the mug at his head. She was still fast after all these years, but he was faster, and he stepped to the side. The mug landed on the sidewalk and shattered.

“Hello, Amber,” he said.

“You got a lot of nerve showing up here,” she said.

“I came to see Katie.”

“You can’t,” she said, and started to close the door.

He put out his arm and held the door open. “I’ve got a right to see my daughter.”

“No, you don’t,” Amber said. “You’re a goddamn murderer. You don’t have any rights.” She pushed on the door, but it didn’t move.

“It was manslaughter,” Duane said. “I didn’t murder no one, and I’d like to speak with my daughter.”

“Reggie’ll be home soon,” Amber said. “He’s working third shift and he’ll be home any minute.”

“That’s fine.” Duane replied. “I’d like to meet him, and thank him for taking care of Katie.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“I’m not here to make trouble, Amber. I just want to see my daughter.”

“You can’t.”

“Why the hell not?”

“She ain’t here.”

“She left for school already?”

“No, she just ain’t here.”

Duane pushed on the door and sent Amber sailing backwards. She landed on her ass. He stepped into the house and stood over her. She put her hands up to cover head. He reached down and grabbed her arm. Pulled her to her feet.

“I don’t believe you, Amber,” he said. “Katie!”

“She ain’t here. I told you!”

Duane walked through the house, calling Katie’s name. He moved through the living room and down the hall. He opened the first door he came to. A young girl’s bedroom. Lavender walls. A matching bedspread. A white dresser. There was a bunny on the bed. Duane picked it up. The bunny was missing an eye and the fur was dingy.

“She ran away, Duane.” Amber was standing in the doorway.

He turned to face her. “How long’s she been gone?”

“A couple of weeks, this time.”

“This time?”

“She’s done it before.”

“You called the police?”

“They know,” Amber said.

“Why’d she run away?”

Amber shrugged. “How the hell should I know? She’s a teenager. I ran away, too, when I was her age.”

“Your daddy used to beat you.”

“Yeah, ’til you busted him up. But it ain’t like that. Reggie don’t hit her.”

“What’s it like then?”

Amber shrugged again. “I’m gonna be late for work.”

Duane’s grip on the bunny tightened. “What’s it like?”

“It ain’t like nothin’,” Amber said. “It’s about a boy.”

“A boy.”

“She’s been seeing this boy, and Reggie and I don’t approve,” Amber said, not meeting his eyes.

“You aren’t tellin’ me something.”


“You’ve always been a shitty liar.”

She met his eyes for a second. Then looked down again. “She came home late, Reggie wouldn’t let her in.”

Duane squeezed the bunny harder. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Why didn’t you let her in?”

“You can’t argue with Reggie.”

“Wanna bet?”

“Duane, please don’t make trouble.” Amber reached out and put her hand on his arm.

“Where’s my daughter?”

“I don’t know.”

“You know.” He shook her hand off his arm.

“I think she might be staying with her friend, Dana.”

“Where’s her friend live?”

“I don’t know,” Amber said. “She works at Temple’s restaurant downtown.”

A car pulled into the driveway and the engine shut off.

“Reggie’s home.” Amber said. “Shit. Please, Duane, don’t do anything stupid.”

Duane went down the hall and out the front door. There was a man coming up the walk. Short and stocky, he wore a blue work shirt with Reginald embroidered in cursive over the breast pocket. He looked surprised to see a man coming out of his house, holding a stuffed animal. He opened his mouth so say something, but Duane punched him in the stomach before he could get a word out. Reggie doubled over and clutched his gut. Amber screamed at him, but Duane didn’t break stride.

He got in the cab. The driver looked over his shoulder at Duane. “You must really like that rabbit,” he said.

“Take me downtown,” Duane replied.


Temple’s had a pretty good breakfast business. It was early, but most of the tables were full of people eating eggs and grits. The hostess looked at the stuffed rabbit Duane held. He asked for a seat and then asked if Dana was working today. He tried to make it sound like an afterthought, like he was friends with her. The hostess said no and led him to a table. He ordered some coffee and a plate of eggs and sausage, even though he wasn’t hungry. He pushed the food around on his plate and drank coffee until he was queasy and jittery. He realized he had no idea how old Dana was, or what she looked like. If Dana was friends with his daughter, she couldn’t be very old. On the other hand, if she lived on her own, she had to be at least sixteen. He studied the waitresses. Tried not to be obvious about it. There were a couple who fit the bill.

The breakfast crowd started to clear out. He caught the hostess watching him out of the corner of his eye. Duane decided to get out before he made her more nervous than she already was. He decided to go around the back of the building. Waitresses were smokers, and they would have to smoke out back where the customers couldn’t see.

There were three of them standing in the alley, outside the kitchen door. They were talking with a middle-aged black guy in a grease spattered apron. All of them turned and stared at Duane as he approached. He looked at the youngest girl. She had shoulder length brown hair, and three earrings in each ear.

“Are you Dana?” he asked.

The girl took a drag on her cigarette. Exhaled. She flicked the cigarette away and crossed her arms. “Yeah. Meredith said you asked for me, but I don’t know you. What do you want?” As she spoke, her co-workers moved in behind her to form a protective semicircle.

“I understand my daughter Katie is staying with you.”

“Her father’s in prison.”

“I was in prison.” Duane said. “I’m out and I want to see my little girl.” He took the photo from his breast pocket and showed it to her.

“That looks like Katie. Is that the same rabbit?” Dana asked, gesturing toward the toy Duane held.


Dana gave him an address. Duane thanked her and walked away.


Duane knew the neighborhood. It had gentrified while he had been away. He kept walking. Gentrification gave way to something more familiar. He found the address. It was an old, two-story Victorian with peeling paint, and Duane could tell it had been divided up into apartments.

He went inside. The foyer was dark and musty. The stairs creaked. Duane knocked on the door of the apartment. He heard someone moving.

The door opened. It took him a second to realize he was looking at the girl in the picture. She was wearing a loose-hanging, gray sweatshirt that did not conceal the fact that she was pregnant. There was no glimmer of recognition in her eyes, until she saw the toy he held.

“Where the hell did you get that?” Katie asked.

“It’s yours.”

“No shit. How’d you get it? Who the hell are you? Did my mother send you? You tell that bitch to go to hell!” Katie started to slam the door, but Duane held it open.

“I gave you this rabbit.”

“My daddy gave me that rabbit, you son of a bitch. Get out of here or I’ll scream.”

“I’m your daddy.”

“Fuck you.”

“I went away to prison when you were four years old. I gave you the rabbit for your third birthday. Your middle name is Loretta. It’s your grandma’s name. You have a birthmark on your left thigh. Here, look at this.” Duane took his hand off the door, and pulled the picture out of his breast pocket. Handed it to Katie. “It’s us.”

She looked at the picture, then at Duane. “You had more hair then.”

“Can I come in?”

Katie stepped aside. Duane walked past her. The apartment was cramped and dirty. There were clothes scattered on the floor along with a couple empty pizza boxes. The couch was made up as a bed.

“Your momma wants you to come home,” Duane said, as Katie lowered herself onto the couch.

Katie laughed. “Is that what she told you?”

“She said you ran away.”

“She threw me out, cuz of this,” Katie said, pointing to her stomach. “Called me a whore. Told me not to come back. Ain’t been home in four months.”

“She said you ran away.”

“She’s a liar.” Katie reached out and took the rabbit from him. Held it in her lap.

“Who’s the father?”

Katie shrugged.

“I woulda thought your momma woulda kept a better eye on you,” Duane said.

“She don’t care about nothin’ but Reggie.”

Duane kicked at a pizza box on the floor. “Whose place is this?”

“A friend. How’d you find me?”

“Went lookin’.”

“Mom didn’t tell you where I was?”

“Said she didn’t exactly know.”

“She knows.”

“That so?”


“I think I’m gonna have to have a talk with her.”

“You think you could get her to let me move back?” Katie said. “I’m tired of living here. Dana’s nice and all, but I miss home.” She looked like she was about to cry. She hugged the rabbit tight against her bulging stomach. “Is it true you killed someone?”

“Yeah. I did.”

“How come?”

“I didn’t know any better.”

“Mom always said you had a temper. She didn’t say much else, though.”

“That’s true enough.”

“What were you angry about?”

“I don’t even remember anymore. You gonna be all right if I leave you here by yourself?”

“Yeah. What’re you gonna do?”

“Go see your mother. Where’s she working these days?”

“She’s a receptionist for some insurance guy in the old bank building downtown. You know the one?”

“I think so. What’s the guy’s name?”

“Newman or Newsome or something like that. I met him once. He’s an asshole.”

Duane started for the door.

“Why’d you come looking for me?”

He stopped. “You’re my baby girl.”


Duane walked into the converted bank building and consulted the building directory on the wall. Newnan Insurance was on the third floor. Duane got in the elevator and pushed the button. The elevator door opened onto a narrow hallway, lined with frosted glass doors. The third one had Newnan Insurance stenciled on it. Duane opened the door.

Amber sat behind a beat-up desk, punching away at a keyboard. When she looked up and saw him, her eyes went cold.

“You messed up my marriage already. Get the hell out of here before you mess up my job.”

Duane walked up to her desk. “We should talk.”

“We got nothin’ to talk about. I told you what you wanted to know and then you punched my husband, and I was late for work because I had to try and explain to Reggie what was going on. Get outta here before a customer comes in.”

“I’m sorry about hitting Reggie. I shouldn’t have done that. You told me he threw Katie out and I was upset.”

“Well, you’ve apologized, so now you can go.”

“I found Katie. She told me some things.”

Amber sighed and ran her hand through her hair. “I take lunch at one. Can it wait till then?”

“Fine. I’ll meet you out front.”

Duane left. Careful not to slam the door.


Amber came out of the building at ten after. Duane was beginning to think she was ducking him. After speaking to her, he had wandered the streets, getting angry. At about noon, he had started circling the block, hoping to catch her slipping out the back. He realized he was getting worked up, though, and settled on a bench. Even if she did try to dodge him, he knew where to find her.

She stood there and looked up and down the street. He got up and walked across the street. She was looking away from him when he grabbed her by the arm.

She gasped and turned toward him. “You’re hurting me.”

He pulled her down the street. She stumbled trying to keep up. Duane noticed people staring. He let go of Amber’s arm. She fell into place beside him.

“You didn’t tell me she’s pregnant.”

“Yeah, well. I didn’t know how to tell you your daughter’s a whore.”

Duane grabbed her by the arm again and pulled her around a corner.

“Damnit, Duane. I’m wearing heels,” she said. “I’m coming.”

“You told me she ran away.”

“She did run away.”

“She said you threw her out. I don’t understand how you could do that to our daughter.”

Amber stopped. “Duane, this is really none of your goddamn business. You’ve been in prison for ten years. You’re not part of this. You should just go away and live your life. Things moved on without you. You should move on, too.”

Duane stopped and faced her. “She’s my daughter. Now, come on.”

“I’m not taking another step until you tell me where we’re going.”

“We’re going to see Katie.”

“Oh, no.” Amber shook her head. “We are not going to do this.”

Duane pointed his finger between her eyes. “Yes. We. Are.”

“No.” Amber crossed her arms.

Duane grabbed her by her upper arm and pulled her forward. “I’ll scream,” she said.

“No, you won’t.” He tightened his grip on her arm.

She didn’t scream. He felt her shaking, though. He didn’t know if she was angry or scared, or some combination of the two. He didn’t care.

They marched in silence to the house where Katie’s was. Duane pushed Amber up the stairs. Knocked on the door. Katie asked who it was. Duane told her. She opened the door.

Duane pushed Amber through the door. Followed. Closed it behind him. Katie retreated to the other end of the room, as far away from her mother as she could get. Amber and Katie glared at each other. Duane stepped in between them.

“It’s time you two came to some kind of understanding,” he said.

“Duane, there ain’t gonna be any understanding,” Amber said, crossing her arms, and keeping her eyes on her daughter.

“Momma, I’m tired of living here,” Katie said, her voice quavering. “I want to come home.”

“Don’t you ‘Momma’ me!” Amber hissed. “You’re a whore! My own daughter.”

“Calm down, Amber.” Duane said.

“I will not calm down!” Amber swung and faced him. “You show up after ten years, poking your nose into things that aren’t any of your goddamn business, and drag me out here, thinking you’re fucking Dr. Phil or some shit.”

She pointed at Katie. “You have no idea what she’s done. She’s never coming back into my house. Never. She’s not a baby anymore. I shouldn’t even be here.”

Amber tried to get to the door. Duane blocked her.

“Get out of my way.”


“She wanted me to have an abortion,” Katie blurted out.

Amber whirled around and pointed at Katie. “You should’ve had an abortion.”

“You’re just jealous I can do what you can’t, you old bitch.”

Amber lunged at Katie, grabbing her by the hair, slapping her across the face, as the girl lifted her arms to try and shield herself from the blows. Amber called Katie a slut and a Jezebel over and over as she struck her. Duane was caught off-guard. The viciousness of the attack stunned him. He ran across the room and tried to pull Amber off the girl, but she kept her grip on Katie’s hair. Katie kept screaming and clawed at her mother’s arm with one hand and tried to block Amber’s blows with the other.

Duane put one arm around Amber’s throat and grabbed her free hand with the other arm. Still, she kept her grip on Katie’s hair. Duane tightened his grip around Amber’s throat. She stopped screaming, but kept pulling on Katie, jerking her head back and forth. The girl was keening, a high, wordless wail, and her head was pulled back and forth. Duane tightened his grip again. Amber’s grip started to loosen. Katie was able to pull away and lift up her head. Her eyes were red. Snot ran from her nose and drool dripped from the corner of her mouth. Duane was staring at her when he felt Amber’s knees buckle. He let go of her. She slid to the floor.

Katie sobbed and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.

“You okay?” Duane asked.

She nodded.

Duane prodded Amber with his foot. She didn’t move. Duane kicked her a little harder. Nothing. He reached down and grabbed her by the shoulder and flipped her over.

“Call an ambulance,” he told Katie.


Duane was honest with the police. There was no point in lying. They took his statement, handcuffed him and put him in the back of a cruiser. They brought Amber down on a stretcher, covered in a sheet. The ambulance driver didn’t bother with sirens.

Reggie pulled up in his pickup truck. He got out and talked to the nearest officer. The officer pointed at the apartment building. Reggie crossed his arms and stood next to him. After a few minutes, a female officer brought Katie outside. She was holding the bunny. Reggie crossed the street to meet her. He bent down and embraced her. She rested her head on his shoulder. Reggie stood up and put his arm around her shoulder and led her across the street.

Blood roared in Duane’s ears. He banged his head against the car window and yelled, trying to get Katie’s attention. She didn’t look at him as Reggie helped her into his truck. He did get a cop’s attention. He came over to Duane and opened the car door. Duane tried to speak, but the cop doused him with pepper spray. By the time he could see again, Katie was gone.

BIO: Nathan Cain blogs at Independent Crime, a valuable resource for all concerned.