Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 314 - Robert Crisman


Businessmen know that personnel problems will kill you unless you deal with them right here and now.

Ramon and Dennis got up to Aurora in northend Seattle at ten after ten in the morning. Up a few blocks, just past 85th, they came to the Tiki Motel. They pulled right on a side street, parked a block up, and walked back.

The Tiki, a cinderblock eyesore—on Aurora, who’d notice?—a two-story pit stop for junkies, dealers, and hos. It was shaped like a U with the parking lot fronting the street. The manager’s pad was first on the left. Mid-morning, his shades were all drawn, which was good; no birddogging asshole checking them out. The bad thing, of course, was that shitholes like this drew the heat all the time.

“This ought to be something,” Ramon said. “Reyes says the guy’s crying, all fucking night, boo hoo hoo hoo. He didn’t know, and all that good shit. Storytime, right? This ought to be fun.”

Ramon, mid-30s, didn’t look like a fun kind of guy. At 5’9”, 150 or so, he carried himself like a much bigger man, a man people moved for. He was mocha-skinned, chorus-boy pretty, with arctic ice eyes. He dressed like a banker-cum-pimp with his black cashmere topcoat, herringbone sport coat and gray flannel slacks, and bad Bally lizards, shined to fucking perfection.

Ramon in the wind? The very air bled...

Dennis? He really was big, 6’5”, 250, with muscles he ripped off of some goddamned bear. His face at age 35 mugged the world like Walter Matthau’s beefed up like Bluto’s. He had cold hazel wolf’s eyes.

He dressed in a black leather car coat and jeans and looked like he’d just been shipped in off the cellblock.

They followed the walkway back to Room 10. Dennis knocked on the door. It opened a crack, and some guy peeked out. He opened the door, and they went in past him.

Ramon said, “Reyes,” and nodded. Reyes, around 21, was thin as a rail. He closed the door after Dennis.

The place was a roach pit, of course. Eons of hos, tricks, and dopers. The shades were all drawn. It was gloomy as hell. The gloom did nothing to soften the skank.

The only light came from a lamp by the side of the bed. A guy was hunched up on the edge of the bed. Luis, sick as a dog. Pointing a gun at Ramon and Dennis. He had the shakes bad.

Poor Luis: he was 30 going on 50 in a wifebeater t-shirt, stained khaki slacks, with a pallor suggesting that leeches had bled him. His eyes were two Xes. His barbers must have been goats.

Ramon looked at Reyes, who shrugged.

Ramon put his hand out to Reyes, palm up. Reyes went into his pocket, came up with a key, and handed it over. Ramon nodded then, and Reyes took off, closing the door softly behind him.

Ramon turned to Luis. “Eh, Luis? So, what is this? What are you doing?” He had this half-puzzled smile on his face. His tone was chiding, but friendly.

One thing to note: talking to Luis, Ramon’s diction changed. With Dennis, he brought it out the side of his neck. With Luis, he sounded more like Don Carlos addressing the peasants.

Luis just sat there hunched like a dog. You could see the sweat sliding off him. If he shook any more, his teeth would fall out.

Ramon had all the time in the world. “I heard you were here, so I came to find out what the problem is. And then, is this how you greet me, with a gun, like an enemy?”

Still nothing from Luis.

Ramon was the soul of patience and calm. “Luis, Luis. We need to talk, you and I. But you have got to put that gun down. You’re shaking. What are you going to do, shoot me by accident? Then, where are we?”

Shaky as he was, Luis kept that gun trained.

“What is troubling you?” Ramon said. “What happened?”

Luis was working up the nerve to speak. He started slow, then built to a rush. “Ramon...the guy...the one I told you about, the biker... He, him ’n two other guys, they ripped us off. They came in an’ threw down on us, they had shotguns—wasn’t nothin’ we could do, I swear, Ramon, they were—”

“Okay, Luis, okay. Easy. It’s alright. I told you, the biker, you have to be careful. Bikers are bad news. Tell me what happened. How did they do it?”

“Man, Ramon, I swear, we were bein’ careful. I had the gun on him when he came through the door. I thought it was just him, like he said it would be. I told him to be by himself, like you said.”

Luis took the hem of his t-shirt and wiped the sweat off his forehead. The gun stayed trained. “He came in an’ I stopped him, you know, an’ I patted him down. An’, when I’m doin’ that, the door, I told Phylis to close it—an’ these guys come bustin’ in, bam, man, real fast. Wasn’t nothin’ we could do. They must’ve come up around back, ’cause I didn’t hear nothin’. Only thing I could figure... It was rainin’, an’, you know...”

Luis shrugged, shook his head. “They, I swear, Ramon, this is true. I swear to God. There wasn’t nothin’ we could do. I—”

Luis broke off and shrugged again. He looked like he was going to crumple and cry. He didn’t forget he was holding the gun, though.

Ramon said, “Luis, don’t cry. Okay? These things can happen. You expect these things, the possibility. You do what you can to prevent it, but it’s a dangerous business. But, then, it happens, and you don’t call me. Why?”

It was as if he was talking to a kid that he’d caught stealing cookies.

“I was afraid, man. The dope was gone. You’d blame me...”

Ramon clucked his tongue, as if perhaps he was getting a little impatient. He took a step forward. “Luis. You watch too many movies. You think I’m, what, Felix Gallardes? Cut you up with a machete? Come on, Luis. Get real. No.

“I’m in business. If something happens, I want to find out what it is, so I can fix it, not cause more damage, just because things didn’t go smoothly, the way I want. I go tearing things up, and I don’t even know what happened here, or why? I don’t even try to talk to you? What good is that going to do?”

He lit up a smoke. “It doesn’t solve any problems, Luis. I don’t even know what the problem is? This thing, going off half-cocked, that’s for cowboys. Dennis and I were just talking about someone we knew who was like that, going around and just tearing things up. He went to the penitentiary, Luis. He died up there, too.

“It’s stupid is what I’m saying, and I’m not in business to do that. I’m not going to waste good people, either. I’m going to solve the problem that we actually have.

“The point here is, I believe you. I believe those bikers ripped you off. It was one of those things that happen. It could have been anybody.”

Luis started to cry.

“Luis,” Ramon said, “look at me. What we have to do now is, fix the problem. We have to find that biker and his friends. Get what they took, and hurt them for what they did to you. Luis? Do you hear me? That is what we have to do.”

Luis’s tears were in full flow now. His gun hand sagged to the floor.

Ramon kicked him dead in the face.

Luis’s head snapped back, and then forward. Ramon kicked him again, this time in the eye. Luis launched off the bed and fell on the floor with a lamp-rattling thud.

He was maybe half-conscious, lying on his back, mouth and right eye gouting blood. He moaned. Ramon kicked him twice in the head. Then he stomped on his face.

He spit on Luis and kicked him again, in the temple.

He brought a gun out from his jacket. He looked at Dennis, then pointed at a pillow on the bed. “Get that, man.”

He unzipped and fished out his dick, and let fly on Luis.

He finished, shook it, tucked it back in and zipped up. Dennis handed him the pillow. He got on one knee, pressed the pillow to Luis’s face, then pressed the gun to the pillow. He squeezed off three shots. Luis jerked like a fish on a dry land. Blood and brains shot past the pillow like paint that’s been blown out a cannon.

Ramon wiped the gun and laid it on Luis’s chest. He looked at Luis a moment. Then he stood, and gave the room a once-over. “Look around,” he said. “Under the bed and stuff. I’ll check the can.”

“Guy shit himself, man,” Dennis said. “Fuckin’ stinks.”

“Yeah, well,” Ramon said, and went into the can. Dennis peeked under the bed. He quick-frisked the dresser and closet. Nothing and nothing, except for some dust, some old matchbook covers, and jellybeans 40 years old in the top dresser drawer.

Ramon came out of the can. Dennis said, “Nothin’.” Ramon said, “No shit.” He looked around once, and then tossed the key on the bed. “Let’s hit the road.”

Back down Aurora toward town. Ramon said, “What time you got to get this piece of shit back to him?”

“This afternoon, sometime.”

“Good. We’ve got time. I need to get downtown. Drop me there, alright?”


Ramon lit a smoke.

“Man,” Dennis said, “I didn’t believe it, I first heard the story, but, that motherfucker was sick as a dog.”

“Yeah,” Ramon said. “No money, no dope. It happened, alright. Fucking dopefiends. I first heard he took off, I thought the same thing as you. But I talked to Phylis, and she isn’t going to lie to me. Too scared to lie. And, that’s what she said, boy. Those motherfuckers came busting on in, just like he said.”

“She’s the one who told you where he was.”

“Oh yeah. Reyes had called her when he couldn’t get hold of me, and he knew I’d be down there. Luis knew, too. He wanted her to know, same reason, right? Fucker didn’t really have any place to go, you know what I’m saying? Where’s he going to go, where I’m not going to catch up? So, what can he do?

“Try to plead out, and hope something works.”

“Uh-huh,” Dennis said.

Ramon smiled, a small, sour smile. “He was probably asleep on that couch when they came busting in, man. And that’s what I mean, see. If he’d’ve been right, they couldn’t’ve gotten in there like that. He’d’ve had Jaime and a couple other guys in there with him. Bikers, for Chrissake! I tell him, tell the guy, be by himself, but… Guy says okay, you’re going to believe him? A biker? You’ve got to have backup, dealing with something like that. Those guys are bad news.”

Ramon shook his head. “And now, I’m out three grand because dipshit wanted to go get a groove on. That, and plus, whatever he’d stuck up his arm in the first place.”

“Yeah,” Dennis said. “I wasn’t surprised when he’d boogied, regardless. He didn’t call that day I was down there. I told him, call you, He seemed kinda spooky, you know?”

“For all I know, that was the fucking game plan,” Ramon said. “You know, hit his last lick, that’s three more grand in his kick, and arrivederci, you know? Dumb motherfucker. Only thing, he gets loaded, nods off, they take his ass off. So much for game plans.

“He should’ve just kept right on going. But his mind was too fucked up to think. And that’s what I mean about dopefiends, man. They get stupid. Stupid in the first fucking place, and now, something happens, all of a sudden, they’re black belts in stupid, you know?

“That’s why I don’t want any of my people using that shit. And then, they’re tripping, they get these ideas. Going to fly to the moon. Stay grooved for life, and all that good shit. And then, they go do it, whatever it is, and bam. Dumbfucks haven’t thought anything out, and, now it hits them, what they just did, and they’re swimming around, and it’s over their head, and, all of a sudden, they know it. And, now, they’re scared, which they should’ve been in the first fucking place. And they’re running around in six different directions, like rabbits—and here comes the truck.

“Dopefiends, man. Popcorn emotions and rabbit-ass minds.

“Fucking Luis. I knew something was up, way he was acting, but, Jesus Christ.”

They crossed the Aurora Bridge, Seattle’s suicide bridge for the washed-up, spit-out, and lonely. “You read about that dude?” Dennis said. “Skydived off this motherfucker a couple of nights ago? Hit that boat an’ went right through the deck?”

“Yeah,” Ramon said. “One way to go, you feel like you’ve got to, I guess.”

He looked at Dennis. “Your friend Eddie? He’s nervous, you know?”

Dennis looked at Ramon. “Yeah? So?”

“He’s nervous. Out at that place, making those comments and cracks and all that. It was pissing me off.”

“Yeah, I saw that. An’ I had a little heart-to-heart with him, too, about that.”

“Uh huh?”

“Yeah. A couple of days ago. See, I know what you’re sayin’, man, an’, I been knowin’ Eddie a long fuckin’ time. He gets to thinkin’ about things sometimes, an’ all the shit that could happen an’ stuff, like, we go in there, the dude launches rockets or somethin’. An’ then, he gets a hair up his ass. He was that way when we were doin’ stuff before. He always comes through, though, really, he does. This time, what I did, I sat his ass down, got it out of him, what the fuck’s eatin’ his ass, ’cause it always takes awhile, you know, an’ then, I tell him, Look, you know, an’ kinda slap him upside his head. An’ then, he’s, Thanks, man, I needed that, an’ then, he’s okay. He was just, you know, anything can happen on one of these deals, an’ he’s, he just gotta go through this shit, man. It’s like a fuckin’ ritual or somethin’. Don’t worry, he’ll be okay.

“You, uh, okay with that, or what?”

“Hey, man,” Ramon said, “I know what you’re thinking, and you’re way ahead of yourself. You tell me he’s cool. I believe you. Some guys are like that. Long as you got him on track.”

A couple of beats, and then Ramon said, “Does it bother you?”

“Does what bother me?”

“The thought, you know. Like, what if, you know, like what happened to Luis back there. You never know. Like, if, for whatever reason, your buddy comes unglued again. What then?”

“It’s not gonna happen. An’, if it did...”


“I do what I gotta do. Whatever I gotta do, you know what I mean? Whatever I gotta do.”

After a moment, Ramon nodded, apparently satisfied.

Personnel problems? Take care of them before they take care of you.

BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.

A Twist Of Noir 313 - Keith Rawson


The wife’s kicked me out of the house, at least for tonight.

The wife’s having a dildo party.

I ask her, “What, my cock’s not good enough for you?”

She laughs and tells me to get the hell out.

I’m okay with this, I’m not a party person, especially if the party involves a bunch of middle age women stroking and fawning over a bunch of rubber and glass phalluses.

The wife is a party person, she loves being apart of a crowd; mixing and blending, being a part of multiple conversations.

I have a hard enough time keeping up with a conversation with just one person, let alone three or four.

I do as she asks and head to the Chinese restaurant down the road that I like but I can never get the wife to eat at.

It’s a popular place, lots of couples and families slurping hot and sour soup, noshing egg rolls and pork lo mien. I’m the only one in the restaurant who’s eating alone. This is something else I don’t have problem with. Most people I know hate eating alone. They always need someone else there to acknowledge their presence. Someone to compliment their exquisite manners or admire their chewing technique.

Other than the wife, I don’t eat with other people.

My co-workers at the day job all think I’m stuck up because I’ll never tag along whenever they all go out to lunch. No one’s ever told me they think I’m a snob, but I work in a small office and I hear the whispers, it doesn’t bother me.

I ordered Kung pao chicken and a couple of pork dumplings as appetizers.

Normally I’m a slow, measured eater, but I’m shoveling it in tonight like I haven’t eaten in days, weeks.

I finish up, leave a twenty spot on the table even though my bill’s only eleven dollars and head out the door like my ass is on fire.

I’m in a pissy mood, I have been for weeks.

Don’t get me wrong; the life I’ve established with the wife is a good one. I’m living the big FAT American dream:

Over-mortgaged home

Massive credit card debit

Driving luxury cars that we can’t even remotely afford.

But we look good.

We feel good, except when the credit card bills come in the middle of the month and the wife chews her fingernails to the quick and turns herself inside out—at least until she shreds the bills and goes on a shopping spree.

Like parties, I don’t do shopping sprees.

What’s got me so antsy isn’t my big FAT American life, but my life before.

My life before was simple and satisfying.

It was strictly cash and carry. I owned a car, but the type of wreck you could buy for seven hundred bucks from a private owner no questions asked and abandon at the side of the road when it stopped running. I had no identity, no fixed address. I either slept in whatever jalopy I was driving, or if I was lucky enough, I’d meet some woman, some girl at a bar who was impressed—and drunk enough—by my tattoos, my bad boy stories of rural county jails and prolific drug use. More often than not, I would have a place to sleep for a night, a week, a month or two, but eventually I’d get bored, pack half the contents of whatever woman’s apartment I was staying with into the trunk of my car, drive over to the closest pawnshop and head out of town.

The wife started out as this type of woman.

Just another convenient piece of ass at some nameless bar that played the music too loud and charged too much for draft beer. But for some reason, I stuck around. It wasn’t like the wife was a spectacular lay or anything like that; she was just another drunk girl at a college town hole in the wall. She was nice, though, not the usual trust fund girl. The wife was working her way through school and I didn’t have the heart to rip her off.

She let me stay three months rent-free; I started to feel bad that I wasn’t contributing; she said she didn’t care, but I got a job all the same.

Seven years later...

...sitting in a cube, ignoring office gossip, driving a leased Lexus, vacationing in Cabo...

I don’t miss the old life.

Most of the time.

When I do miss it, I go and do my own version of retail therapy.

With my version, I never end up at the checkout counter with a hot little credit card clutched in my greasy fingers.

I end up cruising out the front door, my cargo pants stuffed with merchandise, ready to bolt if I set off an alarm.

It’s not the same as cleaning out some broad’s apartment, or kicking the shit out of a college kid for his beer money, but what I do now are forgivable crimes; the kind of transgressions that if you get caught, all that happens is you get ticketed along with a stern lecture from the cops. And if you’re smart, you carry fake ID and the ticket the police give you is just another piece of paper to be wadded up and thrown into the ever-increasing pile of trash in the backseat of my car.

I start off the night at my local bookstore. We come here often and my purchases here are my largest contribution to our debt. I’ve always loved books, the weight and feel of the pages. I use to spend hours in the libraries of whatever town I’d end up in after I outlasted my welcome. A library is one of the best ways to judge a new community. You see how a city’s population treats its bums and drunks, how they interact, what they read; if you notice people checking out more DVD’s and videos than books, you know you’ve hit the jackpot; you know you’re dealing with a bunch of easily taken hicks. The downside with this kind of population is that they’re quicker to react with wholesale violence if they catch you in a scam.

If you notice more books flying off the shelves, chances are your dealing with a far more liberal community. Intelligent, forgiving human beings who turn the other cheek as you rob them blind.

I like the liberal cities far more.

I end up leaving the bookstore, not wanting to shit where I sleep and head across the street to the local big box monstrosity and stroll into Wal*Mart. I never come to Wal*Mart and whenever I steal from them I almost feel like a folk hero; like some guy hippies will write bad acoustic jam songs about. The liver spot in a blue vest whose name tag reads, Ralph, fisheyes me as I step through the smudged automatic doors and gives me a nice long view of his tobacco brown dentures. The greeter was Wally World’s half-assed version of security. Cheap bastards, like this old fucker, could stop someone from pushing a cart full of flatscreen televisions out the front door if it was coming at him full speed? I’m not a smash-and-grab kind of guy, there’s no art to it. Not that stealing is any kind of art form, all it is is taking stuff off the shelf and sticking it in your pockets and hoping no one has an eye on you.

I head to the pharmaceutical aisles first. I walk with a purposeful stride and slightly annoyed wrinkle creasing my forehead. If you walk into any store with this kind of expression, with this kind of attitude, it warns people away from you. It lets the world know you’re on some short, annoying errand that’s interrupting your day; the look is especially effective with store employees. The last thing a retail employee wants is to catch an earful of shit from some fucker who was sent out by the wife to grab a box of tampons or a gallon of milk. It also lets me have free reign over the contents of the store.

I pocket every sixth item I pick up. I grab watermelon-flavored condoms, bubblegum-flavored toothpaste, mint dental floss. The pharmacy aisle is a cakewalk. Most stores expect and accept a certain amount of theft, especially when it comes to medicine and food items like candy bars and even if staff sees the theft go down, they’re typically reluctant to stop it. I decide I need more of a challenge and head to electronics. The electronics section of any department store is the most difficult to steal from. I’m not looking to grab a Blu-Ray player or anything like that, but CDs and DVDs are a bitch to carry out because of all the security markers retailers stuff in the packaging.

I do the same as I did in the pharmacy aisle; the little shit working the service desk has his head buried up his ass and texting a mile a minute. I head to housewares and start getting a little daring. I start stuffing everything I pick up into my pockets—spatulas, bargain basement cutlery sets. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and stood face-to-face with a middle-aged man with thinning sandy blond hair and glasses. His high forehead was a geodesic map of sharp blackheads. He wore the requisite blue vest and an enormous smiley face name tag pinned to his chest.

It reads:


“Sir, can I see what’s in your pockets?” Old Stuart’s voice is a squeak, full of fear and regret. I give him an eyeful of my ten thousand dollars worth of veneers and say:

“Sure, buddy.”

I worm my right hand past my wallet and keys and palm my stiletto. My movements are smooth and practiced; I pop the six inches of Mexican steel and press the point into his flabby stomach. I’ve never been caught shoplifting, but I’ve rehearsed this exact scenario dozens of times in front of the bathroom mirror. I don’t sink the blade into Stuart’s stomach; all I do is press the tip past the layers of cloth and prick the skin of his soft belly. My smile feels like it’s tearing in half as I watch his bottom lip quiver, a silvery line of drool making its way down his weak chin.

“How do you like what I got in my pocket, Stu?” I ask. “This is what you wanted to see, right?”

He’s starting to cry. Not big shuttering, beg for his life gasps, but only a trickle, a tear or two clustering in his eye boogers.

“Answer me, Stu. This is what you wanted to see?”

He nods his head, slack-jawed and weak.

I stared down at my hand, it is steady, but Stu... Stu’s a quivering bowl of Jell-o. He’s shaking so bad that he’s managed to nick up his stomach; a patch of blood is seeping through his shirt.

“Here’s what’s your gonna do, Stu. You’re gonna stand here and count to 120 and then back to zero again. Do you understand?”

He gives me another palsied nod.

I snap the blade back into the hilt, turn and I notice Stu’s standing in a syrupy miniature lake of piss. I think about saying something pithy like, ‘Clean up on aisle 16’ or some such shit. Instead, I head back to the entrance.

BIO: Keith Rawson is a little known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert wastelands of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic three-year-old daughter. His stories have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher,, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp and many others. You can find him most nights dicking around on either Twitter or Facebook, or stroking his already over-inflated ego at his blog Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 312 - Todd W. Bush


I had a friend in the Miami PD named Jose Garcia. We had met placing illegal bets in an illegal bookie’s living room on a Saturday afternoon three years ago. We didn’t say a word in that room, but later that night, when one of my clients wound up murdered by her husband, Garcia was the detective who pulled the case. A friendship based on shared secrets was born, and as far as we were concerned those are the foundations that make for lasting relationships.

Peppy, as he was known by his friends and co-workers alike, had also worked the Virgin case. He’d worked it for months after the department shuttled the whole thing off to the ‘Open/Unsolved’ wasteland where cases were forgotten by everyone but the family involved and the detective who was still obsessed. Peppy never let this one die, and I knew he’d want to be in on this.

I called him as soon as I found out who she was.

“Peppy, you ever get an ID on the Virgin?”

He got quiet, like a dark cloud had just passed in front of his brain and whatever was about to come out wasn’t going to be nice. “Why you bringing up that shit, Price?”

“It’s come up with something I’m working on.”

“Bullshit. You don’t call and bring up ghosts like this just because it’s on the edge of some fucking divorce shit or a cheating man-whore. You don’t call up just to find out the dirt, bro. Only reason you bring up shit like this is you got something for me. So spill, Price.”

“Awful direct today, Peppy.”

“Fucking A. It ain’t the fucking day.”

“Listen, I might be able to get you an ID if you don’t got one yet.”


“I gotta get something to compare it with, but I think I might have a name for you.”

He was quiet for a few seconds, and I could tell he was working things over in his mind. “You bring it in today, you got it? I know you got something else, and you better bring that in, too. Got it?”

I told him I did and left to go to Lauren’s apartment. It was located in one of the shittiest parts of Fort Lauderdale, where white guys like me didn’t go unless they were well-armed, idiotic or both. Her door was opened by a walking advertisement for steroids. His black skin was pulled taut by muscles on top of muscles, and his head was shaved and waxed to a dull shine.

“Fuck you want, cracker?”

Usually, if you show fear, you get killed. So I tried my best to return whatever aggression I was receiving. “I’m looking for Lauren.”

“Fuck you want that cunt for?”

From behind him, I could hear movement and then a voice. “Oscar? Who is it?” Lauren came bounding up and peered between Oscar’s arm and chest. Her eye was black and her cheek was sporting a large bruise that fit the size of Oscar’s fist fairly well.

I looked up at him and he sneered at me, like I was supposed to be admiring his handiwork.

“You do that to her?”

“Fuck you care what I do with my own shit?” I might as well have asked him why he cut the sleeves off the sweatshirt he was wearing.

“She’s a friend of mine, that’s why. And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take out your latent homosexual aggression on her face.”

Oscar took two steps out the door, his finger jabbing me in the chest.

“You calling me a faggot, you fucking pric—”

He didn’t finish. I grabbed the meat of his hand and turned it toward the sky, then bent his wrist back. Oscar dropped to his knees, but didn’t scream like most people did when I pulled that little martial arts self-defense move. I put more pressure on the joint, hearing the bones start to rub and creak in protest.

He looked at me with nothing but sheer fury in his eyes. I didn’t see the fist coming up toward me until it was too late, but I did manage to adjust at the last second and take the brunt of the blow on my inner thigh. It hurt like hell, and I let go of Oscar’s wrist. Lauren screamed for us to stop, but it wasn’t going to do any good.

Oscar stood up and started to charge me, but I threw a quick cut kick to the outside of his left leg. My shin slammed into his knee and he buckled to his knees again. I wasn’t going to give him time to recover this time. I grabbed him around the head and went to drive my knee into his face, but Oscar saw it coming and threw his weight straight back. I went ass over tea kettle and slammed my forehead into the concrete sidewalk. Oscar jumped on me just as I turned on my back. Now I was comfortable.

The last five years had been more and more violent in my life of work, so I’d decided to take a little training, specifically Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is mostly ground fighting. I had only gotten to a green belt so far, so I was praying that Oscar wasn’t a student as well. From his first move, it was plain that he wasn’t, but he did watch the UFC on TV.

He started to punch at my head, looking for a quick knockout blow. I reached up with my right arm to try and block his blows, then with my left, I pulled down on his head. This stopped the onslaught to my already bleeding face. I trapped his left hand and turned my hips, wrapping my right arm around his arm. It was called a kimora lock and it was designed not to simply put you in control of your opponent, but to end the fight... painfully. I cinched it in, throwing my weight back and pulling his arm up. All the pressure was on his shoulder and elbow, which were being turned about ninety degrees the wrong way. I rolled slightly to my left, increasing the pressure.

Oscar screamed a primal, animalistic sound from deep within. He wasn’t giving up and was trying his best to hit me with his other hand. I could have pulled steadily harder on him and forced him to give up like I’d done hundreds of times in my class, but I caught a glimpse of Lauren standing in her doorway and the damage done to her face. Oscar had called her his ‘shit’, meaning his property. It pissed me off and what I did next wasn’t the nicest thing I’d done in my life.

I jerked hard back toward my head and heard a sickening snap as Oscar’s arm was broken and his shoulder was pulled out of socket. He screamed again and I let go of his arm, then slammed my elbow on the back of his head. The screaming stopped.

I got up and touched my forehead. Blood was dripping down my face, but it wasn’t anything to be too concerned about. Lauren backed up into the apartment and tried to close the door, but I stopped her with my foot.

“I need something of Jessica’s, anything that might have her DNA on it. A hairbrush, toothbrush, something.”

“There’s... there’s... there’s nothing like that here.”

I pushed past her. “Well, I’m gonna look no matter what.”

The apartment was a two-bedroom with a small hallway connecting the two sleeping rooms with a combination kitchen/living room. I stormed back to the bathroom first and found only one hairbrush, but it had Lauren’s mousy brunette hair in it. I turned to go into the far bedroom, and when I opened the door, my breath caught in my throat.

It was a shrine. Pictures of Jessica Mulholland covered the walls. They were modeling pictures, photo shoots from porn magazines, and regular shots from her everyday life. The girl’s underwear was laid out on the bed and wrinkled like someone had just slept on them. I turned back to look at Lauren and saw her crying. “She was the best of us, the most... I don’t know... the most real.”

A hairbrush was lying on the vanity, along with make-up, jewelry and other personal items. The whole room looked like it was set up for Jessica’s imminent return. I felt like throwing up. I gave Lauren one more look and left the apartment.

Back in my car, I called Peppy Garcia. “Did you guys get the plates on the car the Virgin was found in?”

“Yeah, you get what I told you to get?”

“I got it for you, Peppy. Just answer the fucking question.”

“What’s got up your ass, Price?”

“I just broke a fucking giant’s arm and left a crazy girl to cry over her shrine to her former roommate, so I think I’ve got a right to be a little pissed off.”

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Answer the question, Peppy.”

“Yeah, we got the plates. Car was registered to a big shot, somebody we didn’t want to fuck with if we didn’t have to. Least that was the message I got from the brass. Why?”

“Was the big shot Sam Calvante?”

There was silence on the other end of the line. “How the fuck did you know that?”

“I’m bringing you your ID, Peppy. But I’m also bringing you the other thing you wanted.”

“Son of a bitch, Price. You’re bringing me a big can of shit, aren’t you?”

I thought about what Lauren had told me, that Jessica had been at Calvante’s house that night, and that she had been found in his car. Then I thought about the shrine Lauren had kept for basically two years. That morning, I’d thought for sure that Sam Calvante was the killer and the thought scared the piss out of me. Now, I wasn’t so sure, and I was even more terrified than I had been.

“Yeah, Peppy. I’m bringing you in a big can. But maybe it’s time we all knew the truth.”

BIO: Todd W. Bush is the writer of the South Florida Noir series. He has been published at A Twist of Noir and Powder Burn Flash. He lives in South Florida with his family.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 311 - Richard Godwin


Someone had snuffed out Tony and none of us knew who.

Tony the big shot, Tony the fighter, the ladies’ man, the smart ass. He was popular and handsome and everyone looked up to him.

He’d always known how to take care of himself, could handle a bar fight better than any of us and he never went anywhere without a gun.

And there he was, lying in Harry’s basement with his head hanging off, only a thin piece of vein dangling weakly from the severed flesh.

‘Who the fuck did this?’ Harry said. ‘I’ll kill him. Tony taught me everything I know.’

‘He was the best,’ I said, looking around the room for signs of breaking and entering. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll find out.’

Harry was too upset to do anything right then and sat down heavily on the sofa and poured himself a whisky.

I took the opportunity to look around.

There were no signs of anyone forcing their way in and nothing seemed out of order in the flat.

‘He had a key?’ I said.

‘Yeah, he used to come here when I was away on business. I didn’t mind him bringing women round, you know Tony.’

‘What did Samantha say about it?’

‘She didn’t like it.’

‘No shit.’

‘You know Sam, she’s a real Catholic.’

‘I grew up with her, remember?’

‘I know. I mean, when most people say they’re Catholic, it’s a pose. With Sam, she’s serious about it.’

I went into the bedroom.

A stale smell but nothing out of order.

It was when I was about to leave that I saw it, just a blur of white peeping out at me.

A pair of knickers under the bed, a smear of red on the crotch.

I left the flat before Harry got a chance to say anything.

The snow had started to fall and I walked round to the café where Samantha worked and found her at the back.

I’d known her since sixth grade and could read her pretty well. I knew she wasn’t the type to screw around.

‘What happened?’ I said.

She narrowed her eyes.

‘He came onto me.’

‘No. He wouldn’t have done that. Level with me.’

‘Or what?’

‘I tell Harry what I saw under the bed.’

She thought for a moment and then realisation dawned in her face.

She closed the door that led back into the café.

‘I can’t talk now.’


‘I wasn’t screwing Tony.’

‘So what?’

‘He found something out.’


Tears were filling her eyes now and she dragged on her cigarette.

‘I love Harry.’


‘I would never want to lose him.’

‘If you don’t tell me you’re about to.’

‘You think this is about sex?’

‘That’s what it looks like.’

‘It wasn’t Tony.’

‘What wasn’t?’

‘He found out about the kids.’

‘You’re not making a lot of sense.’

‘Harry’s sterile.’

‘You mean?’

‘They’re not his.’

‘None of them?’

‘No. He wanted them so bad I gave them to him.’

‘So you screwed someone else.’

‘Not for sex. I’m a Catholic, I did it for Harry.’

‘That’s an interesting interpretation of the Bible.’

‘It’s the truth.’

‘So where does Tony fit into this?’

‘He knew. He got drunk, wanted a piece of me and threatened to tell Harry.’

‘The knickers?’

‘I told Harry I’d stopped having periods.’

‘So what happened with Tony?’


‘You killed him.’

‘He was trying to rape me. All I could think of was how hard I’d worked to give Harry what he wanted and I reached behind me into the drawer and pulled out a kitchen knife. Tony started backing up but I knew he would tell Harry if I let him go and I just slid it under his neck and something in me kept pushing until he couldn’t talk no more.’

‘Well, he sure as fuck won’t be saying anything to Harry.’

‘Will you?’


‘What will you tell him?’

‘I’ll think of something.’

She leaned forward and kissed me.

‘You’re a good man.’

‘Don’t you believe it.’

‘I did it all for Harry.’

‘Just a good Catholic girl.’

I left her and walked round to the bar.

I ordered a large whisky and sat and drank it, savouring every bit of its warming brackish taste. I never did tell Harry.

I let him think it was some rival hotshot who Tony had fallen foul of. And there were plenty of them. He would piss people off with his big talk. Guys didn’t like the way their women took to him, and you see that was Tony’s problem, he was a little bit too full of himself.

They say the best way to depose someone is not to go for them directly, because their followers will come after you. You need to step into his shoes smelling clean.

And the best way to do that is study the guy’s weakness. And then use them against him. Tony’s weakness was women. They loved him but I knew one who wouldn’t play ball with him. And I knew the one time Tony wasn’t expecting a fight was when he was fucking or trying to fuck.

I’d wanted a piece of his action for a long time and sent him round to Sam’s that day, telling him she had the hots for him. I knew Sam real well. I also knew about the kids, had done for a long time. And I told Tony about them.

And I knew that once she’d confessed it, she’d live with the guilt. And that she’d never suspect me of being behind it all along.

You see, at school, she killed a boy for trying to get into her knickers. I’d covered for her that time, too, cause I didn’t like the kid, he was real smart ass, and I guess you could say the same for Tony, too.

Tony, who always underestimated women. Who never knew how many of them hated his guts for the way he used them and then bragged about his conquests.

BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel.


Sandra Seamans has listed her top ten favorite online stories of 2009 at her site, MY LITTLE CORNER.

On the list is one of my favorites this year here at ATON, that being Stephen D. Rogers’ SCARY MONSTERS.

If you haven't read this story yet, I urge you to go check it out now.

Congratulations to Stephen and to all those that Sandra loved and listed.

A Twist Of Noir 310 - Bruce Brown


Black decided to jump from the van after two hours of pushing through three states worth of back country. Lost. The whine of the engine kept notching octaves as Vokes pushed the engine. Black knew it wouldn’t last much longer. Second to second he expected a rod to punch the hood and the engine to disembowel, belts and oil spilling onto the road behind them. The wheelman was wrecked on Desoxyn and panic and Black was tired of climbing him down. He was tired of the Reach brothers.

The younger brother Big was a bull-thick pile of twitch temper who moved like a falling brick wall. Big had fixated on stacking the bundles of money into a tower until the swerve of the van toppled his work. Black kicked Big’s latest tower and stuffed his cut into a nylon duffle bag. Black waited until they approached a hard left hand snake in the road and then unlocked his door.

The van fishtailed through a patch of gravel before righting on the red clay hardpack. The undercarriage drummed with ricochet. Black looked behind them. It had been months since the last rains and the van was kicking up a fierce rooster tail of dust. Added to the oil-rich boil of exhaust from the van’s abused engine, it felt like signal smoke.

“On this curve, I’m out,” Black said.

“You’re not going anywhere. I’m not stopping,” Vokes said. He didn’t turn to look at Black.

“I’m not asking you to stop,” Black said.

“What about the money?” Vokes said.

“I’m taking my share, probably less,” Black said.

“We’re out in nowhere,” Big said.

“I know. I’m heading somewhere else,” Black said. Black moved his hand, pulling the door handle and maintaining the pressure with his resting weight. Vokes looked over at Black quick and then back to the road. Vokes angled to take the curve.

“He’s not going anywhere. Big?” Vokes said.

The van accelerated, sliding into the curve, kicking spurs of dirt. Black saw Big Reach swivel with a shotgun. Black shifted and pushed into the door following the force of the turn. One moment he was in the car watching Big Reach draw on him and the next he was in the vibrating wake of the van. He heard the sound of the shotgun popping the window and enjoyed the half second freefall before he was snatched hard by the ground.

He rolled with the fall, spinning in the dust, nylon bag tucked to his head, rolling away from the shoulder and into the ditch. He splayed out his limbs, breaking the roll and stilling movement.

He gripped onto loose pebble and furrows of dead grass and pressed himself close to the earth. He tried to think himself invisible. He watched the van through the blur of dust and dioxide. The van hesitated, brake lights flicking. And then it accelerated away, squirting another burst of exhaust.

Black brushed himself and walked away from the road into a copse of Bristlecone. He sat with the pine needles, his back straight against the tree and he relaxed. Black pulled his cell and dialed.

“I need a pickup. I can talk you in for some of it,” Black said, “but pack a fucking GPS.”

BIO: Bruce is somewhere out in America.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 309 - Katherine Tomlinson


Clea knew a lot of people who defended their spending sprees by dubbing them ‘retail therapy.’ She couldn’t deny that they were in situations that were enormously stressful. Tasha had survived breast cancer only to have her only child die in a car wreck. The driver of the other car had staggered away with only a hangover to show for it. He’d been too drunk to dial 911. Not that anyone could have saved the boy. He’d been trapped inside his second-hand Dodge Neon. There’d been a fire.

Andrea’s husband had been unemployed for six months and had moved his father into the house to ‘help with rent.’ Her father-in-law was a randy old goat who liked sneaking up behind her and giving her full-bodied hugs that involved clutching her breasts and rubbing them enthusiastically. Andrea made sure her little girl was never alone with grandpa.

Nguyen had put her husband through law school and he’d left her for a paralegal ten years his senior, a well-kept cougar who only worked out of boredom. Nguyen’s office was in the same building as her ex-husband’s law firm. She ran into him in the elevator all the time. He always said ‘hi’ as if she were a total stranger. Sometimes his lover was with him. She at least knew not to say ‘hi.’

Sometimes when you’re stressed, it’s hard to distinguish between ‘I need’ and ‘I want.’ Clea got that. But she wasn’t a shopaholic. Whenever she went on an eBay binge, or fell into a fugue state in a mall, she told herself that her purchases were investments—things she might not need now but would need some day so she might as well buy them when the price was right.

In her more reflective moments, she realized that what she was really doing was buying props for the life she wanted to have, furnishing a dream house as insubstantial as an existence on Second Life. There were the splashy, colorful tablecloths she’d use for back yard barbecues as soon as she had a home with a backyard. There was the brilliant deco-styled jewelry that would accessorize the designer evening gowns she would wear to theater openings and glittering charity balls. She imagined herself on the arm of a handsome, distinguished older man who’d swept her off her feet after meeting her at an art gallery over white wine and cheese.

She had boxes full of whimsical cookie cutters she would use to make treats for her as-yet-unborn children. There were novels she would read and discuss with a book club, maybe review for the local paper before she passed them on to grateful friends who were too poor to buy hardback books. There was the elegant monogrammed stationery she would use to write witty thank you notes for cocktail parties and intimate dinner invitations. There were ... many other things.

She did use some of the items—recycling the books into birthday presents for office mates or donating them to the local library; selling the jewelry to consignment stores where pretty young girls would buy it to wear to their school dances.

She set the kitchen stuff out at yard sales where fashionably dressed gay couples snapped it up for pennies on the dollar, which made her sad, even though she knew the stuff was going to a good home where it would be appreciated.

She left many of her purchases in their bags and left them in the closet of the spare room in her apartment—a room that was really too small to be a second bedroom although it set her back an extra $350 a month more than she’d paid for a one bedroom place. She’d thought she was trading up when she’d moved in three years ago, especially since her new apartment faced a park instead of a parking lot, but her next-door neighbor was an insomniac who played loud music at odd hours and whose heavy smoking sent noxious fumes wafting into her kitchen if she left the window open.

It wasn’t that she hated her life. She knew she had a lot to be grateful for. She had a steady job, a subscription to NetFlix, a charge account at Lane Bryant (stylish clothes for the full-figured woman), and a car that was reliable. Her parents were dead, so she didn’t find herself sandwiched between generations like so many women her age. She didn’t hate her life so much as she was disappointed by it. She was sure it could be so much more and yet, she’d had to settle for so much less.

Until Susan Williams walked into her bank.

There were three loan officers available but Susan had chosen her, walking straight up to her desk with a confident stride and a wide smile. Right away, Clea sensed she’d found a kindred spirit. Susan was wearing a Jil Sander pantsuit in a sophisticated color somewhere between grey and beige. Her auburn hair was glossy and full, cut to the chin in a business-like but approachable style. She carried a soft leather portfolio filled with paperwork. When she opened it up, Clea noticed everything was arranged into orderly, paper-clipped sections. Clea liked that she was organized. Scatter-brained women drove her nuts. Susan explained that she was divorced, owned her own medical billing business and had a condo she wanted to re-finance.

Clea and Susan had hit it off immediately, giggling over some of the questions on the loan application like teenagers mooning over Robert Pattinson. Clea had offered her a peppermint from the glass jar on her desk; in return, Susan had produced a metal tin of French blackberry pastilles.

Susan had admired the silver-framed photograph of a tuxedo cat that sat on Clea’s desk. Clea told Susan the cat’s name was Maestro but did not add that he’d died four years ago. She asked if Susan had any pets. She didn’t at present, Susan explained, but expressed a fondness for marmalade tabbies. She called them ‘ginger moggies’ in a slight English accent that delighted Clea. It sounded so refined, so unlike the flat California drawls that surrounded her all day. She couldn’t imagine Susan ever falling into the verbal sloppiness that she found so distasteful. (Clea cringed whenever she heard someone say ‘anyhoo’ or ‘whatever.’)

Clea knew that she and Susan were destined to be best friends forever. They would sneak off to air-conditioned movie matinees on hot afternoons. They’d share lunches at little bistros with tiny dining rooms and chalkboard menus. They would browse yard sales and swap meets on weekends, grabbing breakfast at shops that weren’t franchises.

They would celebrate birthdays with girls’ nights out. They would enjoy tandem massages at upscale spas. Clea loved a good sugar scrub.

They would have so much fun.

As Susan was gathering up her paperwork, Clea asked if she wanted to go for a coffee. There was a Starbucks next door and she was due for a break.

There had been only the slightest hesitation before Susan had told her she was sorry, she was running late. She’d taken a swift glance at her watch to sell the lie. The watch was a square-faced Movado with a solid gold case and band, a timepiece worth around $3600 if you bought it retail. Clea wasn’t impressed. She owned one of the black, museum-faced Movados but stopped wearing it once she bought a cell phone.

It was in a drawer somewhere at home, along with a pair of diamond earrings she never wore because she couldn’t be sure they weren’t blood diamonds and a gorgeous ivory bracelet she’d found at an estate sale but never worn thanks to the news stories about poachers killing elephants just for their tusks.

Who wears a watch anymore anyway, Clea wondered. Pretentious bitch. She was no longer listening as Susan suggested they might have that coffee when she came back to the bank to pick up the completed loan papers. Clea knew she didn’t mean it. She knew that Susan had already figured out which of her employees she would send in her place.

Before Susan Williams had reached the parking lot—she drove a silver-blue BMW with a vanity plate—Clea had sold her personal information to a Bulgarian identity thief. Within a week, Susan would be in foreclosure on her condo; her business would be in receivership; her car would be repossessed, her credit cards maxed out, and her checking account empty. Everything in her savings account would be gone and her stock portfolio would be pillaged.

All Susan would have left would be the thousand dollars she kept in a vintage pineapple-shaped cookie jar (McCoy Pottery, mid-century, $200 on eBay). Her life would be wrecked beyond all redemption and she would have no idea how or why. She certainly wouldn’t link her troubles to the chubby banker who had been so helpful with her loan application.

Susan would be so distraught she would attempt suicide, at which time her mother would be put in charge of what was left of her affairs. Susan and her mother had never gotten along. Her mother had sided with Susan’s ex in the divorce. She’d never thought Susan was good enough for him. Susan’s mother would make what was left of her daughter’s life a living hell. Eventually, when she was living in a studio apartment in a part of town where English was rarely spoken, Susan would attempt suicide again. This time, she would be successful.


After Susan left the bank, Clea clocked out early, claiming a sick headache. She went home and showered, using the Kiehl Crème de Corps body wash she’d bought herself for Christmas a few years ago. After drying off, she put on the antique kimono she’d purchased online after reading Memoirs of a Geisha and savored the feel of the heavy silk against her body. The robe had a slightly musty smell from being stored in a plastic cleaner bag for so long.

Clea rummaged through her pantry until she found the dusty bottle of red wine a client had given her as a token of appreciation after she’d guided him through a particularly tricky loan process. She’d looked up its value in the Wine Spectator and been surprised at the price. The customer had been very appreciative. She’d decided to save it for a special occasion and then nearly forgotten about it.

She wiped the bottle off and poured a glass as she perused take-out menus. She considered the offerings of half a dozen restaurants before ordering Spaghetti carbonara from an Italian place just down the road. She was in the mood for something creamy and salty. She ordered two portions of tiramisu for dessert. And extra garlic bread.

She poured another glass of wine as she waited for her food and contemplated the possibilities that now lay before her. On average, she served eight customers a day.

It’s amazing what you can do with a social security number and a whole lot of schadenfreude.

BIO: Katherine Tomlinson lives in Los Angeles where she works as a freelance writer and editor. Her fiction has been published in Thuglit, Astonishing Adventures Magazine, Acorn Newspaper and other print and online outlets. Her story "The Sin Eater" will appear in the January 2010 issue of Dark Fire.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 308 - Richard Godwin


I could smell lavender not roses when the killing began.

Lucia had been slow dancing him and I stood and watched her curves ride the static air in her flesh tight skirt like a sheet of silk wrapped around her steady beckoning to my mad desire.

From time to time she’d glance at me over his shoulder and her eyes would sparkle with the knowledge of how much men wanted her and how much she could use them.

And so it was as I drank another whisky I realised that I was turned into a killer by desire, that her beauty had invaded me and that I walked in a black world where there was only one way out. I looked around at the sea of faces and in that moment. I knew it. Men were the suckers.

Outside, his roses sprayed perfume into the hot summer air.

‘They love blood, feed them blood and they smell sweet,’ Carlos said.

‘That right?’ I said.

‘Behind beauty lies bloodshed.’

‘Interesting philosophy.’

It was the only time I ever spoke to him.

I looked at him and at his empty face and knew at once that despite the extent of his estate she was not his property, that while I had become a sexual thief I was about to turn killer.


I watched him walk back inside.

After another dance, he left her standing there and she looked at me and I crossed the dance floor to her.

‘He’s going up to his office,’ Lucia said.

I leaned in to her and breathed in the essence of female eternity and the old legends about how men got lost searching for their bride entered my head in some explosion of bloodshed and I knew I had to have her and that until I satiated this desire my life would never be all right and I watched in slow motion as she laid her perfect hand on my shoulder and spoke those words into my ear.

‘He is stopping you being with me.’

And in her eyes I saw dance like tiny cruel jewels the knowledge of her power, of how she could use me in this way and I went up the stairs to his office.

I didn’t even have a weapon.

Carlos was there, talking on the phone and was less a man than some cipher in a code I had to crack to reach her.

His words floated aimlessly across the space that lay between us and I looked over at the bar and saw the ice pick and as I got to him he put the receiver down and turned.

There was no surprise or fear in his face as I jammed the pick right into his head, which burst open like a piece of rotten fruit.

And all I could see was her.

A metre of blood shot outwards from him and streaked his polished desk.

He opened his mouth and moved his lips noiselessly, small bubbles of blood foaming there.

I watched him stop moving.

Then I removed the spike from his head, dislodging brain matter that flecked the tidy carpet and went downstairs and washed and found her waiting for me outside amid the smell of roses. But it was her perfume that overpowered the garden as if she had fed on too much blood and I looked at the sheer sheen of her skin and some unearthly odour raised itself from her body and hit me like a drug and drew me towards her and let me taste what she was and let me see how sharp the thorns were.

She said nothing as I drove to her house and there I entered the world of a killer, tasting every contour of what that meant in living flesh. And I knew what power was. And she yielded to me because she could. Because the one who yields holds the key. And I understood that there was more murder in the silent space from which we come than any gun or bar brawl.

I looked into the wasteland of her eyes.

And I tasted lavender again.

Washed into her forever on all the bloodshed that feeds the roses.

BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 307 - Michael J. Solender


Originally published at The Flash Fiction Offensive and part of Eric Beetner’s FIST contest

Jonas Platt was in Jena’s life for less than three months that summer. That 4th of July was the day they met, became intimate and set the wheels in motion for an escapade that would leave Jena and her unborn child almost dead and Jonas in county lock-up for nearly a year.

Jena could pinpoint the exact date of Zack’s conception: July 4th, 1990. She had intercourse exactly once that year. Jonas was the lucky player.

Jonas was on her brother’s softball team and Jena accompanied them when they went to the Pops-in-the-Park huge fireworks display that holiday evening.

She awoke the next morning with the fireworks still exploding in her head and a naked and snoring Jonas clinging to the side of the bed.

She poked at him. “Hey, get up, I gotta get this place put together. I got peeps coming over later.”

This wasn’t true but she wanted him gone and the memory of the previous night to hurry out of her consciousness.

Jonas rolled over and rubbed his eyes. “That’s ok. Make me some coffee, will ya? I gotta go anyway and pick up my wife from work.”

“Wife?” Jena was already furious at herself for giving in to a one-nighter, but now she tapped into her inner bitchiness and started to seethe.

“Get your own fucking coffee at 7/11 on the corner. I’m gonna take a shower, and you need to be gone by the time.”

She didn’t get another word out before his open fist caught her square on her ear and right temple sending her to the floor.

“Bitch.” Jonas glowered as he stood over her. “You’re a lousy lay and you’ve got a big fucking mouth, I don’t need your shit.”

As Jena got to her knees, she began to vomit from the nausea of too many beers and the violent blow to the head she just received. She saw Jonas, now in her kitchen. He opened her refrigerator, took a swig of OJ out of the carton, dropped it on the floor, and left.


Two straight missed periods. She was pregnant.

She got his address from her brother and staked out his place. She figured the least he could do was help her with the cost of the abortion.

Jonas saw her standing on his front stoop, leaning on his buzzer.

“Bitch, get the fuck outta here! What are you doing coming around my house?” he sneered from behind the screen door.

“I’m pregnant, it’s yours and I need some money to get it taken care of.” Jena was trembling, but holding firm.

Violently, he thrust the door outward, striking Jena in the forehead and knocking her back onto her heels. He jumped on top of her and began pummeling her with his fists.

“Bitch.” He was screaming at the top of his lungs. “Get...” punch “the...” punch “fuck...” punch “outta...” punch “my...” punch “life!”

The squad car was there in minutes. Jena had severe head trauma, a broken jaw, internal bleeding and the baby was almost lost.


Jena decided that day in the hospital to take away something positive from the experience. She decided to keep her baby and turn her life around.

Like the magnificent spring of 18 seasons ago, Zack came in that March like a lion. He was a bruiser, nearly 13 pounds with huge feet, and little-man fists that punched out at the life surrounding him.

Jena remained a single mom and her brother picked up the father figure role with Zack over the years. Jena rarely spoke of his father to Zack, saying only he was scum and not worth discussing.

Zack was a great kid and excelled in school. He was particularly interested in mechanics, taking advanced shop and robotics. He proved to be a wizard and won many science fairs and prizes with his very advanced creations.

The winter after his 18th birthday, Zack pressured Jena’s brother who finally caved and told him the story about his father.


“Be careful driving, it’s really snowing hard.” Jena knew Zack was out to make some money with his snow-blower.

Zack tightened the bungee cords holding the blower to the trailer. Its freshly sharpened auger glistened off the falling snow.

“I will, Ma.” Unlike most snow days when he canvassed multiple neighborhoods, Zack had only one destination in mind today.

He pulled his truck in front of Jonas Platt’s house. Zack rang the bell and a woman with a fresh shiner on her left eye answered.

19 years later and Jonas’s station hadn’t changed much. Still a drunk. Still a cowardly misogynist.

“Take care of your driveway, Ma’am?” Zack asked.

“Jonas!” She hollered for her husband and he rambled to the door. Zack was now face to face with the sperm donor who was his father.

“How much?” Jonas was clearly drunk. It was just 11:00 A.M.

“$20 bucks, I’ll even do the walk.” Zack had him in his sights.

“OK, what the hell,” Jonas belched.

Zack unloaded his blower and loosened the scarf around his neck.

He made short work of Jonas’s drive. As he came up the walk, he bent over and deliberately let his scarf get pulled into the blower.

The auger pulled him to the ground behind the blower and immobilized him, positioning his body just so his hands couldn’t reach the tangled scarf still wrapped around his neck. He did reach the kill switch and the machine shut off immediately, though he remained on the walk, unable to stand.

Jonas, witnessing this from the warmth of his den, came running out and began to set Zack free. As he placed both his hands in the path of the auger, Zack hit a remote control hidden inside his mitten.

The blower cranked back on, severing the scarf with its sharp blades, freeing Zack.

Jonas wasn’t as fortunate.

The blades, freshly sharpened the evening before, amputated both Jonas’s hands at the wrist. Zack had figured with hooks for hands, Jonas wouldn’t be beating women any longer.

BIO: Michael J. Solender shovels his own driveway. He blogs at Not From Here, Are You?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 306 - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


I made my way through the trailer park and found the right one and opened the door and went inside. Christmas lights were hung throughout the park and it was beginning to snow. Inside the trailer it was dark. There was no sound. I found Peter in the bedroom standing at the window holding the slats apart watching it snow. His other arm hung at his side. In it was a gun.

At first he had no reaction to my presence. Then he nodded toward the bed and whispered, “They were passed out drunk when I got home.” I looked over and saw in the shadows two people sprawled in the bed. Clothes were strewn on the floor and some were still atop the sheets. There was the smell of sex in the air.

“This is how I find them every night,” Peter said. “Every goddamn night.”

“Peter, what’s the gun for?” I said. I was whispering, too.

“They shouldn’t be like this,” he said. “Not tonight. Not any night, but especially not tonight.”

I didn’t say anything. More snow fell and Peter didn’t move. The night was almost over.

“What about if we get out of here?” I said. “Take a walk. You and me.”

Peter didn’t say anything. I took a step closer to the bed. I didn’t hear any snoring.

“It isn’t right,” he said. “The way they live. They’re like animals. They fuck like animals.”

The profanity sounded strange even in this environment. The whole world was a church tonight.

“You’re not going to leave,” he said. “Are you?”

“No,” I whispered back.

“I want you to leave.”


He raised the gun and pointed it at me. He was still whispering. “Fuck sorry,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I didn't move.

“‘Sorry’ is all I’ve ever heard,” he said. “‘Sorry for this. Sorry for that.’ Fuck sorry. People shouldn’t do the things that they’re sorry for.”

I turned away from the bed to face him. “What are you sorry for, Peter?”

He took his hand from the window slats and wiped his nose with the back of it. “I'm sorry I was ever born.”


He made a small disgusted snort. “Why?” he said. “Fucking why. I’ll tell you why. If you’ve got all night.”

“I do.”

That caught him a little off guard. “Well, I don’t,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Because I have to pack.”

“You’re leaving?”

He gestured to the room around us. He was still pointing the gun but he was starting to forget about it. “Would you stay in a place like this?” he said.

“I might. If someone I loved lived here.”

“I don’t love either one of them,” he said.

There was still no movement or sound from the bed. I smelled the air hard for gunpowder.

“Every night I come home to this,” he said. “That’s a fucked up world I don’t want to live in.”

“I don’t blame you,” I said.


“I don’t blame you for wanting to leave.”

“It wasn’t always like this,” Peter said. “They used to have fun. We all used to have fun. But it didn’t last. My mother got lonely because she was here by herself all day. I don’t blame her for that.”

“What about your father?”

“I never had a father,” he said. “I never knew him.”

I nodded. “If you leave,” I said, “you’ll never be able to come back.”

He was startled by this. “Why not?” he said.

“Because they won’t be here.”

“You’re wrong,” he said. He was barely whispering now. “They’ll always be here. And they’ll always look just like this. This is who they are now. They’re not the people I used to know. They’re animals. Both of them. Fucking animals.”

The gun was pointing at the floor now. The light outside was getting brighter and there was a wind to the storm.

“Did you hurt them, Peter?”

He didn’t answer. He sniffled but he didn’t answer. I waited. “They hurt me,” he said finally.

I strained to hear any breathing from the direction of the bed. “Are they okay?” I said. “Will you let me check on them?”

“Keep your voice down,” Peter said. “It’s a holy night.”

“I know,” I said.

He was sniffling again and wiping his nose more often with his hand. “You don’t know anything,” he said. “She was my mother. She’s not allowed to act like this. Nobody’s mother should ever do the things that she does.”

“Why did you let her do it?” I said.

“Let her?”

“You could’ve stopped her,” I said. “Right when it started you could’ve stopped them both.”

Again he was startled. “She was my mother,” he said. “I couldn’t stop her from doing anything.”

“Not even this?”

“Fuck you,” Peter said. “I want you out of here.”

“You’ve got to tell me if they’re okay,” I said. “You’ve got to tell me what happened before I got here.”

“I should’ve never called you.”

“But you did.”

“The woman gave me your number. She said if things went bad you could help.”

“Sometimes I can.”

“Why bother?” Peter said.

“Because in the morning things look different,” I said. “It’s almost morning. You should wait and see.”

He looked over at the bed and showed no emotion. “I’ll be gone by then,” he said.

“Will you let me go to them?” I said. “If you won’t tell me, will you at least let me go to them and see for myself?”

“They’re dead,” Peter said. “There’s nothing for you to look at over there.”

“Dead how?” I said.

“I smothered them,” Peter said. “I found them passed out and I got sick of it. I couldn’t take it anymore. They were always there anyway so I thought they should be there forever. I put the pillows over their heads and pressed down. They were too drunk to fight.”

“Just let me go check,” I said.

Peter raised the gun and pointed it at me. “Keep your voice down,” he said.

“Where did you get the gun?”

“It’s a trailer park,” he said.

I nodded. “You said you were out earlier tonight. Where were you?”

“I have to go now,” Peter said. “Don’t make me hurt you.”

“Okay,” I said. “I won’t stop you.”

“Aren’t you the police?”

“No, I’m not the police. Not anymore.”

“Who are you then?”

“I help people. That’s all.”

“I don’t need anymore help,” Peter said. “I’m leaving.”

“Remember,” I said. “You can’t ever come back.”

“I don’t think I want to.”

“Okay then.”

“I’m going to pack,” Peter said. “If you’re not leaving I want you to wait outside.”

“I’ll wait right here.”

“I’ll shoot you,” Peter said.

“You can shoot me,” I said. “But I’m not leaving this room.”

“Fine then,” he said. “You stay.” He left the room and I heard him with a gym bag digging in the hall closet. A gym bag would hold just about everything in the trailer that was his.

I stepped over to the bed. There were pillows over the heads of the two bodies. I lifted one. Underneath was a boy, a teenager. He was a little older than Peter and there was a strong resemblance.

“I told you not to go over there,” Peter said.

I turned back and he was pointing the gun right at my face.

“He’s your brother,” I said.

“It’s a trailer park,” Peter said. “It’s where we live.”

“How long was it going on?”

“As long as I can remember,” Peter said. “I told you she was lonely.”

“Where were you earlier tonight?”

“Stop asking me that,” he said.

“Before you came home you were out somewhere.”

“I’ll blow your face off.”

“You were shopping,” I said.

“The hell I was.”

“You were buying presents.”

He started to sniffle again and the gun was shaking in his hand.

“They’re fucking animals,” he said. “You don’t buy presents for animals.”

“But you did.”

“I’m going to leave now,” he said.

I reached out and he let me take the gun from his hand and he fell to his knees sobbing. He tried to keep it quiet and that made the sound all the more painful to hear.

“What, Peter, what?”

He looked up at me and the release was coming. It would all pour out of him in a moment. It was dawn outside and the wind was howling.

“I was going to leave,” Peter said. “I really was. I just came home... to give them their presents.”

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 305 - Allen Kopp


Damon was working overtime and wouldn’t be home for dinner. Wanting nothing herself, Helen made a chicken stew for Tom and Marilyn. After they were finished eating, they went outside to play baseball with the kids up the street, while Helen cleaned up in the kitchen.

When she was finished washing and putting away the dishes, she went into the living room and sat down on the sofa and began reading a book she had checked out from the library. She didn’t like the book very much and was having a hard time getting interested in it. She made a mental note to turn it back in and get a book that she knew she would like better.

She cast the book aside and lay back on the couch and rested her head on the cushion. She knew it was a perfect opportunity to take a short nap before Tom and Marilyn came home, but she was feeling restless. She hadn’t been out of the house or seen another person for four or five days, and she had the feeling that the walls were closing in on her. She needed some fresh air and a change of scenery. Since the weather was fine—it was one of the first warm days of spring—she would take a walk in the hills behind the house, something she hadn’t done all during the winter.

She was going to write a note for Tom and Marilyn, telling them where she was, but she decided it wasn’t necessary because she would be back long before they were. So, leaving a small lamp on in the living room, she went through the kitchen and out the back door across the yard to the alley. She walked down the alley until she came to a path that led sharply upwards into the woods. She knew a little shortcut; she would keep going until she came to the road and then take the road down to circle around and come back home.

Tom and Marilyn came home just after dark. The first thing they knew when they walked into the house was that no one was there. If their mother had been there, she would have been sitting on the sofa in the living room, reading a book or knitting. Marilyn looked on the kitchen table for a note, which is where a note would have been if there had been one, but the table was empty. Tom went across the street to Gladys King’s house where their mother sometimes went when she wanted somebody to talk to, but Gladys King hadn’t seen her all day, she said.

Marilyn began crying but Tom, being the older of the two, told her to just sit down and stop crying because he was sure Helen would be back soon. There had to be a good explanation for why she was gone and there was no reason to be a baby about it. He got out the cards and tried to get Marilyn to play a hand to help her to feel better, but neither of them could concentrate on the game and stopped playing after a few minutes.

After an hour or so of tense waiting, Tom told Marilyn to go wash her face and hands and get ready for bed, as he knew his mother would have done if she had been there. He told her he would fix her a hot dog while she was getting ready for bed, but she said she wasn’t hungry and didn’t want it.

When Damon came home from work, he knew right away that something was wrong. Marilyn was lying on the couch looking at the ceiling, her eyes puffy from crying. Tom was lying on the floor on his back, throwing a rubber ball up into the air with one hand and catching it with the other hand. They were both wearing their pajamas. Ordinarily they would have been in bed at such a late hour.

Tom told Damon calmly what had happened. He and Marilyn were outside playing after supper. When it became too dark to play any more and they came home, Helen wasn’t in the house. They looked for her and hadn’t been able to find her. They expected her to be back at any minute from wherever she was, but still, after all those hours, there was no sign of her.

Damon rubbed his chin and thought. He was a man of few words. He asked Tom if Helen had seemed all right, and Tom said she seemed all right to him and Marilyn concurred. Had there been any calls or any visitors? None that Tom was aware of. Had she said anything about needing to go anyplace, such as to the hospital to visit a sick relative? Tom had heard her say no such thing.

Damon sat quietly for a while and looked at a spot on the wall. He told Tom and Marilyn to go on and go to bed. When Helen came back, he would have her come in and wake them so they could see she was all right and didn’t need to worry.

After Tom and Marilyn were gone from the room and Damon was alone, he sat for a while in the silent house and then he got up and went into the kitchen and drank a shot of whiskey straight from the bottle. Then he took a flashlight and went outside and searched for any sign of Helen. He walked up one side of the street and down the other. He walked behind every house in the neighborhood, ignoring the dogs setting up a ruckus at the intrusion, and then he walked down the alley to the end, shining his light in all the dark places. When he came to the place where the alley ended at the steep incline going up into the hills, he stood there and shone his light all around. It seemed as if the grass was flattened there where somebody had recently walked on it, but he couldn’t be sure.

Finding no sign of Helen and seeing no neighbors who might have seen her or known of her whereabouts, he finally went home. He was terribly tired after working overtime hours, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to rest until he knew where Helen was. He sat down on the sofa and, barely moving all night, stared into the darkness, alert to any sound.

When morning came and there was still no sign of Helen, he stood up and went to the phone in the kitchen and called the police, stating flatly that his wife had been missing since early evening the night before. The officer he spoke to asked a few questions and he answered them, and when he finished the conversation and hung up, he sat down again to wait for what was going to happen next.

When the police arrived, they asked Damon many probing questions. It seems there’s an unwritten law that says when a wife is missing the husband is a prime suspect, but, after speaking to him for a while, the police were convinced he was telling the truth. The police then questioned Tom and Marilyn, since they were the last to see her before she disappeared. Tom told them what little he knew. No, he hadn’t seen anything unusual in his mother’s behavior. She seemed perfectly fine. Marilyn began crying loudly and asked if her mother was dead. The two police officers exchanged a look before they assured her that they would do everything in their power to find her.

Damon remembered that Helen sometimes liked to go walking in the hills behind the house when the weather was warm, but he had no reason to believe that’s where she went. The police said they would search there and let Damon know if they found anything of interest. Damon said that if they were going to search there, he was going to go along and search with them.

Tom and Marilyn reluctantly went on to school. Damon told them he would let them know as soon as he knew anything. He called his employer and told him he would not be in to work until further notice.

The searching went on in the woods behind the house for days, but nobody found any trace of Helen. The police canvassed the neighborhood, but nobody had seen anything the least bit suspicious; nobody recalled seeing Helen at all on the day she disappeared. Damon searched in the woods from first light to first dark for what seemed an endless succession of days, going over and over the same ground, and still he found nothing. The police began to suspect that the missing woman had been living a double life and had run off, intending that she not be found. Damon told them such a hypothesis was ridiculous; Helen would never walk off and leave her children.

After two weeks, the police called off the search because they were certain that Helen was not to be found. Even if she was dead, they would have found her body or some trace of it. In the unlikely event that she had been killed and eaten by wild animals, there would have been some trace that such a thing had happened. They sent her picture out all over the state and into the neighboring states, hoping that somebody somewhere would have seen her. A woman from the neighborhood propounded the theory that Helen was abducted by an alien spaceship from outer space and that the aliens would return her just as soon as they got tired of her.

After all other avenues had been explored, the police called in a psychic, an old woman who called herself Madame Farfalle. They took her to the woods where they had been searching and gave her a scarf that Helen had frequently worn. She held the scarf over her mouth and walked over a large portion of the ground, bobbing her head like a chicken and making low groaning noises in her throat. The officers accompanying her stood leaning on their car, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee and trying not to laugh.

Madame Farfalle reported finally that she did, in fact, pick up psychic emanations from the missing woman but that she was lost to the world forever. She had slipped through one of the portals—extremely rare but not unknown—into a fourth or a fifth dimension. She could hear Helen, very faintly, calling out for someone to help her, but, of course, there was nothing that anybody could do. The police reported the results as inconclusive.

One year after Helen’s disappearance, Damon bought two side-by-side burial plots in the cemetery where his parents were buried. He had a headstone inscribed with Helen’s name, date of birth, and the date she disappeared, and had it erected over the grave on the right-hand side. The grave on the left-hand side was for him when the time came.

The years passed. Tom and Marilyn grew to adulthood and both married and had families of their own. They were able to put their mother’s disappearance behind them. They believed she died—or at least was lost to them forever—on the day she disappeared.

Damon, into his old age, never stopped believing that Helen would return. He never stopped watching, waiting, and listening for her. Every morning when he woke up, he said to himself maybe this will be the day. When he knew the end of his life was approaching, he embraced death more fervently than most because he believed that, in death, the question would finally be answered.

BIO: Allen Kopp is a technical writer and lives in St. Louis. His work has been published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Temenos, The Legendary, Danse Macabre, Bartleby-Snopes, Skive Magazine, Hoi-Polloi, Conceit Magazine, and Dark and Dreary Magazine. Future work will appear in Sunken Lines, The Storyteller, and The Bracelet Charm. Allen was a contest finalist in the Bartleby-Snopes dialogue-writing contest and a 2009 Pushcart Prize nominee for the story “Hermaphrodite Ward.”


A couple quickies here.

Al Tucher has a new story up at Scalped Magazine. The story is titled THE ONLY AMATEUR and is a stand-alone story, apart from but perhaps adjacent to the world of Diana Andrews.

Full-on crime and most definitely noir, THE ONLY AMATEUR stars Al's first male protagonist.

I heartily recommend it.

Meanwhile, and this is a bit late but who would I be without being late and behind the curve, over at Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers, a LIPSTICK KISS from Libby Cudmore. This, too, is very much noir and stars a female character that every man is just dying to get to know a little better.

Just like Al's story, this one comes highly recommended.

Go check them out (if you haven't already) and check back here later today for more stories and perhaps more Interludes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 304 - Todd W. Bush


’Cause living is good, and dying... not as good. It’s something I heard once and it certainly applies to this situation.

I had two options: the first was to believe the word of a known, and admitted, heroin user who was also a street whore and who lived off her lies; the second involved me taking the side of a psychopathic hitman who knew his business and was good at it. The former was noble, to be sure, because it allowed me to help someone who was in trouble and had lost a friend. The latter, however, gave me a guarantee on my life for at least at the foreseeable future. See what I mean about living and dying?

I liked Lauren, I really did. But she wasn’t exactly the most trustworthy person I’d met this year, or in my life for that matter. If she was right and Sam ‘The Tourist’ Calvante had murdered her friend Jessica, then poking my nose into it might put me next on the list. If Lauren was to be believed, then Jessica was the infamous ‘Backseat Virgin,’ and she’d been raped repeatedly, shot, and then her body mutilated and dismembered before being stuffed into the trunk of a car.

Calvante was an enforcer for the Vasciano family, who had control over the second biggest crime empire in South Florida. His legend preceded him because he didn’t just kill for his boss, he killed in extremely brutal ways.

What was done to the Virgin was certainly well within his element. But then again, this was South Florida, and people died every day, some of them in horrendous ways, some just from the odd elevator or faulty motorized wheelchair accident. Just because Calvante was a sick bastard, doesn’t mean he killed the Virgin anymore than it meant I did it because I frequented some of the bars in the area where she was found.

And just in case you were wondering, I didn’t do it.

I was preparing for a lazy morning at home before the first weekend of college football started. I had a hundred on Florida State; they were giving 24 to some school from Idaho or Montana, and even though their defense sucked last year, I was counting on them scoring in bunches. But then I made a big mistake: I checked my work voice mail.

“He-e-e-y there, PI Guy, it’s, um... it’s Lauren! So, yeah... like you gave me your card and stuff... ain’t that so like... like professional and stuff? I mean, I never got nobody’s card before, least not anybody who gave it to me cause he wanted to... I mean, I found a couple in between the seats of cars and shit. You know, Jess taught me that shit. Damn, I miss her, man. Jess Mulholland... that sexy ass blonde hair with the roots, them brown eyes, those nice tits and that ass... holy fuck was she hot. Anyway, PI Guy, call me sometime and let’s get together. I might even give ya a freebie, you know, ’cause I kinda thought you was hot, too.”

She left her number then seemed to try three times to hang up before she finally got it. Apparently she had called from a home phone; I didn’t think anyone under thirty-five had a home phone anymore. I didn’t know what to do with the message, so I just saved it and went back to my relaxing morning.

Only my brain wasn’t cooperating.

Seven hours later and Lauren’s message was still playing in my head. And it wasn’t because of the offer of a free romp in her bed. I might pick lousy girlfriends, but I wasn’t about to get into a heroin addict’s sack, free or not. I thought maybe dinner at my favorite place would help clear my head. So I headed to a sports bar that only locals knew about or ever went to, and even called to put down another hundred on the Ohio State-Texas game later that night. Had to do something to make up for what I’d lost that day on FSU. Effing kicker blew an extra point and the ’Noles won by 23.

The place was empty except for a couple of barflies flirting up the manager. A waitress named Wilma took my order of hot, wet wings and ice cold beer, and I was left alone with my thoughts again. Unfortunately, not for long.

The front door opened and three very large, very angry-looking men approached my table with none other than Vinnie Vasciano.

He didn’t look healthy. His skin was pasty white, and I thought I could see the veins in his face. Dark circles sat under his eyes and the whites were now a bright shade of red. Vinnie G had clearly been doing some thinking about our conversation. He sat down without asking and his goons took seats at other tables, creating a tight little circle for us to talk in. Wilma started out of the kitchen with my wings in one hand and my beer in the other. She showed she had no sense or bigger balls than most men as she split the enforcer ring and laid my order down on the table. I was glad, too; my mouth had gone drier than a desert.

I sipped my beer and asked Vinnie what I could do for him.

“I thought about our conversation yesterday, Mr. Price. I know you and Carmine are friends from school up north, and I know he encouraged you to come to me with your information. It couldn’t have been easy for you, and I commend your bravery and gumption.”

I nodded my thanks, only because I had no idea what to say. He filled the silence with a smile.

“You may eat if you wish while we speak.”

I wondered if it was protocol to offer a Mafia don a hot wing if he was sitting at your table.

“Mr. Price, I want to employ you for a job.”

“What’s the job?” I asked, in between bites on a drummy.

“Find out if Sam Calvante killed the woman known as The Backseat Virgin.”

I put down the bone in my hand and took a big gulp of my beer. It was cold, and the alcohol made the heat from the wings scorch my taste buds even more. Just like I liked it.

“I’m not interested in finding out who killed her, Mr. Vasciano. I got that information from a less than reliable source—”

“I thought it was a client who came to you with this information.” Sharp, this guy. Guess that’s why he’d run a mob family for over two decades without being killed.

“She was a client, but a... special one.”

“So she wasn’t a paying one. I understand.”

No, but she did offer me free sex. But I didn’t think that was relevant to the conversation.

Vasciano adjusted in his seat and came up with an envelope. I looked at it as it lay on the table next to my beer. He looked at it, too, like there was some divine answer in it and he was trying to see through the paper to read it. Finally, he looked up at me, the bloodshot eyes were determined and relentless.

“Mr. Price, there is a check in this envelope for $62,500 dollars. Find out if Calvante killed the girl, then report back to me. If you should find out that he did not do it and then learn the name of the person who did, you may take that information to the police. However, if you find out that Calvante did in fact kill this woman, you will not approach the authorities. That information will be communicated only to myself or a member of my organization. Is that understood?”

He didn’t wait for an answer. “If you complete this job, you will receive another check for the same amount.” Without another word, the four of them got up and walked out the door, leaving me alone with nine blazing hot chicken wings, a rapidly warming beer and a check for more than I’d ever made in my life.

Did I care who murdered the Virgin? Hell no. Did I want to be anywhere near Sam Calvante? An even bigger hell no. But would I do those things for money? Fuck yes.

Her name, according to Lauren, was Jessica Mulholland. She was a bottle-blonde with brown eyes and apparently a nice body. And if the first conversation I’d had with Lauren was true, then she was also a kinky street whore who had banged the wrong guy. And now she was going to be my job. Gotta love my life.

I called a contact with the Motor Vehicles department, but no Jessica Mulholland in her age range had ever had a driver’s license in the state of Florida. I struck out again with the sheriff’s office, which meant she’d never been arrested. So she was a lucky street walker. Or maybe she had just started and her turn in the clink hadn’t come yet.

Lauren had been arrested only once, I found out from the same source at the SO. Her name was Lauren Baker, and she was 23 years old. I was in my office, contemplating how to find Jessica when I saw the blinking light on my phone. Lauren’s message was still saved on my system. My brain was running through her message again and her offer. She wasn’t bad looking, that was for sure. And I knew that she’d done some porn, so you knew she was at least pretty good at what she...

I sat straight up in my seat and dialed a number from memory. Carmine ‘CT’ Trubone wasn’t my only friend from my school days back in the New York area that lived on the shady side of society in South Florida. The call was answered on the second ring, like he’d been waiting for me.

“Detective Lee Price, what in the hell do you want?” A cigarette was in the guy’s mouth making every word only come halfway out.

“Hey, Shooter, I need a favor.” ‘Shooter’ was Greg Shubert, the owner, operator, lead director, and chief male star of Shu-Fly Productions, one of the hundreds of porn companies that had sprung up in the area over the last decade. Shooter had walked a balancing act between reputable businessman and a casting couch sleaze ball; he was also a virtual encyclopedia of the women who were in the industry in South Florida.

“No problem, Price. Hey, you get that latest flick I sent you?”

“Yeah, I did, thanks. Always good to see your mind at work, Shooter.”

“What can I say, Price? I know great ’tang and great talent when I see it.”

“Listen, you remember a girl by the name of Lauren Baker? Early twenties, brunette, might been in the biz a couple years ago then got out.”

He hummed as he thought, and I could hear him clicking a pen in his hand.

“Was she thin, thick, what?”

“Midwestern girl, curvy.”

“Oh, shit yeah! I did a shoot with her once, uh... I think it was the ‘Welcome’ series. Wasn’t very into it, though, so we dropped her. A real good cooch, but a dead fish on camera.” He was talking about his most popular line of movies: ‘Welcome to South Beach, Now Fuck!’ He’d sent me a couple of them as a Christmas gift one time. That Shooter, what a friend.

“In fact, Price, she was right up your alley. Even had a nice landing strip just like you like ’em.”

Having your fetishes quoted back to you tends to make you cringe. No difference in my case. But I had someone else to ask him about.

“What about Jessica Mulholland?”

“Describe her.”

“Bottle-blonde, nice body, brown eyes.”

“Hold on, let me look. That Mulholland like the road in LA?” I told him it was and listened as he tapped on his computer. Less than ten seconds went by before he laughed. “You’re two for two, Price. I worked with her, too. Why you need to know? Got a party coming?”

“No, can you e-mail me over a pic or two of both of them?”

“Will do. This about a case?”

“Something like that. Listen, since they worked with you, can you also put their contact info in the e-mail?”

“Sure, not for sure it’s good or not, but I’ll put it in there. You know these girls, Price. If they don’t get big or get dirty, they go away.” He had no idea how dead on right he was. I thanked him and hung up. The e-mail was in my inbox within five minutes. Shooter hadn’t just sent me pictures of Lauren and Jessica; he’d sent me a zip file containing their model pics and one scene from a movie of his for each of them.

I opened Lauren’s picture first. Everything about her had changed, even the eyes. It was the same girl who’d been in my office, but drugs and life on the street had taken their toll. In the pictures, she was incredibly attractive. Then I looked at Jessica Mulholland. If anything, she was even better looking than Lauren. And the intensity in her eyes showed even in the pictures. I didn’t want to see the videos, but I opened them nonetheless. Shooter was right: you could see that Lauren didn’t want to be doing porn.

It showed in her face, and I saw why Shooter had dropped her. Jessica, on the other hand, was an absolute tiger. No matter how hard or forceful her partner got with her, she pushed him for more. Where Lauren had done only the basics in her scene, Jessica’s contained every possible position and kink that Shooter’s company allowed in that series.

I closed the file out and put my head in my hands. I had one more call to make and I hoped it wasn’t going to work out. Anyone who had an apartment had a phone number. I called a friend who worked at the phone company and asked if a Lauren Baker or Jessica Mulholland had ever had a phone number in the area. She said that two years prior they had both had the same number, listed as an apartment in the middle of east Broward County and that another female, a Denise Coughlin, had that number at the same time as well. I sighed, thanked her and put the phone down.

Everything Lauren had said was turning out to be true. Jess was aggressive and open-minded. They had both been into porn, then gotten out around the same time. They shared an apartment with a girl named Denise. This meant that Denise, Lauren and Jessica had more than likely gone on calls together as escorts, and that Denise and Lauren had probably gone on the fateful call together that had lead to the gruesome murder. It also meant that Jessica Mulholland was almost certainly The Backseat Virgin.

And the worst part of all, it meant that I had to confront maybe the most dangerous man in South Florida: Sam Calvante, a man with a secret life that he would kill to keep that way.

To Be Continued...

BIO: Todd W. Bush is the writer of the South Florida Noir series. He has been published at A Twist of Noir and Powder Burn Flash. He lives in South Florida with his family.