Friday, July 30, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 527 - Phil Beloin Jr.


I ain’t one for formal weddings. Too much ballyhoo. My singular pleasure, watching the dance floor—the young, the tattooed, your brunettes and redheads, though I’m settling on the blonde with long hair restrained and tamed by a pro.

She’s the tallest by inches, six-feet in the stiletto heels, killer legs creeping up to the hem. My gaze jumps to the bared, sharp shoulders, and she spins, revealing the hard line between her breasts. The eyes, though, they are her forte, delicate amber, rich with excitement and champagne. They’re a false invitation, too. Just ask the fellows trying to do the Cha Cha with her.

There’s a glass of the good bubbly in her hand, held high above her head, and as she shimmies down, her rear wiggles in tempo. I should get out there, join in the merriment, but the open bar has me bogged down in mercurial liquids.

Besides, I have things to contend with—folks are prattling to me, crushing my face with their rancid breathes, and I nod and smile, can’t hear a word they say over the vibrating speakers. Madam blonde has gotten herself surrounded by ogling singles, maybe a disgruntled spouse. And you thought weddings were supposed to renew everyone’s vows. Forget it, man. Her gang moves about her like a surly, needy beast, and she revels in their unfulfilled desires. She chuckles when the song ends the hunt.

I’m handed a drink, something dark with ice shavings. Yummy. Coming out of the slug for air, I lose her, panic quick timing through my core. I scan the overdressed broods and find those shining locks with some of the wedding party at the dessert bar. She goes for gelato. Surely, an unwise combo with champagne. I’ve stayed with the bourbon. I know the dangers of mixing.

I notice that I’m on my feet and have stumbled near the dance floor.

I get caught in a drift and I’m flailed around in a bizarre pantomime of dance.

It’s exhausting, pointless, but there’s no out. The blonde’s on the move again—she won’t stay still—towards the corridor leading to the restrooms. A dank recess implores me to follow her down that path. Is she getting sick? Or taking a powder—up her nose as I suspect?

Tall as she is, I spy her return, bopping through friends and family, more socializing, more flirtations, more, more, more. Her energy is unmatched. The music is fading and the DJ is babbling over the tune—he needs the bride and groom on the dance floor. Time for parlor games, he shouts, the garter, the bouquet.

The masses part and the bride arrives upon the stage, sitting on a chair that has appeared in the middle of the floor. The groom approaches, kneels. The newlyweds lock eyes, then turn and grin for the official photograph. The flash is blinding.

As the cheese ball music detonates through my head, I reach my hand up the blonde’s incredible leg and I’m thinking I should have murdered her instead of this charade.

BIO: This is not how Phil's wedding went all those years ago... His novel, The Big Bad, awaits you on Amazon. He also recommends the fiction on There are some brilliant gems over there.

A Twist Of Noir 526 - Chris Benton


“I feel like slitting my throat,” Molly says in the dark. It’s pretty late, somewhere around two or three in the morning and I’m still awake as well. Molly sits up and lights a cigarette. I don’t reply, nor do I move. Our bed feels like the edge of a vast underground precipice. I think about assisting her, there is a bread knife that my late sister gave me for Christmas six years ago that could probably saw through her vertebra within a minute. I smother the thought and decide to wait for her words to dim.

My unemployment benefits ran out last week. I have no degree or meaningful skills. I’ve been dreaming behind the wheel of a forklift for seven years too many at Gene’s Hardwood until my sudden lay-off. I’m thirty-nine now and my dreams have finally ended. Molly, my wife of four years has a degree in painting from a prestigious school out west, and is trying to start her own business painting portraits. It’s not going very well. Molly is also two months pregnant. I guess everything is my fault; I have grand ambitions and zero motivation. It’s only a matter of time until I become one of those zombies the sun shits out onto the borders of grocery store parking lots, a creature cooked to death by the elements, cradling a cardboard sign.

We have no money for rent and we have no money for food and we have no money for our car. Molly breaks down and calls her estranged mother, who is a retired risk analyst, and a thousand dollars is wired overnight. “This is the first and probably the last time this happens,” she tells me.

Two weeks after the money Molly’s mother sent us, we have a fight. We haven’t made love in over a month, and we haven’t made money in two months. After she spits the last of her pasta salad into the toilet, she brushes her teeth and proceeds to tell me she doesn’t love me anymore, and she wants me to move out at the end of the week. She tells me she’s moving back out west, that I can’t come with her because I have no vision of the future. I begin thinking about that bread knife again and realize that this beautiful talented woman is speaking the truth. I flee in terror, taking the car.

I end up parking across the street from my former supervisor’s house. Lights are still on inside, and I see silhouettes moving behind the sheer curtains. The house is nice; two stories in an equally nice neighbor with equally nice neighbors who make cruel decisions to keep their niceness irrigated. I know why I’m here; sitting in a car we haven’t paid for in over a month, under the shadowy claw of an old oak. I need a nice, breathing reason to inflict my pain upon. I feel my face changing into a thousand strangers every minute, feel the steering wheel begging me not to tear it out of the console.

The front door of my supervisor’s house suddenly swings open and I see him stagger out. His wife, Alison, is screaming behind him and she throws something that nails him on the back of the head. He twitches from the impact but does not look back as he unlocks his Dodge Ram and slides inside. Alison stands in the open doorway, howling curses, and I see his son standing behind her, hugging himself. My supervisor starts his truck, backs out of the driveway, wildly knocking over his mailbox and roars off. I wait a few seconds for his wife to slam the front door and I follow him.

He drives downtown and finds a very rare parking spot on River Street. I’m not worried about finding him. I know he will be on the next to the last stool at the Barbary.

Inside, there are the usual new generation of folk, metal necks with desperate tattoos and their women who give my glances a well-deserved grimace. I find my supervisor in his appointed place with a bottle of Bud. The bartender, Grace, catches my eye and smiles warmly as she struts over.

“Whatcha need, sweety?”

“Two Buds, beautiful.”

Grace returns with the beers and I give her an extra dollar for her eternal love. I walk over to where my supervisor is sitting and slam a bottle down beside him. He turns to me and smiles.

“Hey, James.”

“Hey, Terry.”

“Do you still want to kill me?” he asks, like a friend confirming my attendance at a barbeque.

“What are you talking about, man? I don’t blame you, shit happens, everything is fucked up for everybody these days.”

Terry nods and turns his attention back to his beer.

“How are things doing over at Gene’s?” I ask, pushing the bud I bought him beside the empty one he still prays to.

“Fine, fine, I just got laid off today.”

I should feel some kinda of triumphant or vindication but I don’t. What I feel is worry, Terry is still smiling and I’m not sure he will ever stop.

“What the fuck happened?”

“Gene’s son is coming down from Connecticut; he’s going to run the operation.”

“Brian? He don’t know shit about the business. I mean, shit, I thought he was in law school.”

“He was in law school but he dropped out because he was caught fucking his teacher’s daughter or some such shit. It don’t matter anyway anymore anyhow.” Terry takes the Bud I bought him and kills it with four swallows before setting it gently on the scarred counter. He turns to me, still smiling like a boy in love. “Let’s drink until the future is dead,” he says, planting a non-filter Camel between his lips.

Seventeen beers and six shots later, we are stumbling down River Street, and Terry recommends we check out the newly-renovated Drum Trunk Park under the Cape Fear bridge. We buy another twelve-pack from the River Market, and when we get there, Drum Trunk Park consists of a lone backhoe asleep beside a hill of fresh sand.

Terry begins to climb up the hill and I follow him. When we reach the top, we take a seat in the sand and I open two beers and hand him one. The river is drunk with moonlight. The bridge over us groans mournfully with endless escapes and arrivals. Terry lights a cigarette and takes a swig of his beer and gives a long sigh.

“Peaceful out tonight,” he says softly.

I grunt in approval.

“Are you sure you don’t want to kill me? I wouldn’t mind.”

“Yeah, Terry, I’m sure.”

“How’s Molly doing?”

“She’s fine, just a little stressed out about money.”

“It’s a scientific impossibility to be a little stressed out about money,” Terry replies before he pounds the rest of his bottle.

“I guess you’re right,” I whisper.

“Do you love her?”

“I do,” and this is true.

“Does she love you?”

“I believe she does,” I reply and this is not so true.

Terry nods at the river and takes a long draw of his cigarette. “Pass me another of them beers, will you?”


We drink beers and smoke cigarettes from our sand tower in a frail, serene silence for maybe an hour, maybe more, until Terry shatters it.

“I hate my family,” he declares without a trace of emotion. “I don’t know why I do, but I do. Even long before the lay-off, I’ve been hating them and it scares the shit out of me because I can’t think of a single reason why. I mean, Alison is still beautiful, she didn’t get fat and ugly after she had Kevin, and Kevin is my son, my son. He’s the best goddamn batter on his entire team. But whenever I look into his eyes, I don’t feel pride, or love, I don’t feel nothing. If anything, I feel liking puking.”

Which Terry proceeds to do for a couple of minutes and when he’s finished, he covers his confession with some sand, takes off his glasses and wipes them with his shirt tail before putting them back on. I don’t know what to say so I say nothing.

“I don’t know what happened to me,” he says, shaking his head at his chest. “I don’t even know who the fuck I am anymore.”

I put my arm around his shoulders and feel his muscles recoil. After a couple of minutes, they relax and we sit for a while that way, wondering how our dreams managed to die in slow motion.

I wake up because my tongue is trying to choke me. The sun is crawling out of its deathbed. No beers are left. The bottles lie at the base of the sand hill, like victims of a doomed siege. Terry is gone, but this is not entirely true; his clothes are folded into a neat pile where he was sitting, his boots sit on top of them, his glasses and wallet stuffed in the left one.

I stagger down the hill, to the rocky edge of the Cape Fear River. I stare up and down its dark trembling skin for a few minutes and decide to hunt down my car before my hangover spreads deeper.

I find my car and, as I unlock it, the remains of a man appear beside me. He is dressed in grey rags and his arms are covered in scabs that sparkle like diseased gems. “I mean you no harm,” he says with quiet reverence, “but do you have a single dollar bill you can spare? I’m trying to make it home.” I dig into my pockets and find several quarters. I carefully drop them into his palm and he blesses me.

On the way home, my mind and heart and balls are making magical vows. I will be a better man, I don’t want to lose what I have, my dreams may be dead but this doesn’t mean new dreams can’t be born. I will be a better man; I will learn to love what I dread, I will be a loving husband, a loving father. I feel a certainty filled with light and love, a certainty that can only come from God.

I pull up behind a tow-truck that bears the name of Neary. Molly is on the front porch in her chlorine-colored bath robe bitching out a man who towers over her. I get out of our car, which is obviously now in the process of being repossessed and walk towards them.

Molly sees me and puts her verbal autopsy on pause. I’m smiling, filled with a brave new breed of love.

“Hey, babycakes, everything ok?” I ask and Molly frowns in confusion at the wings my words are wearing. The repo man turns to me and his face is red with rage. He walks down the porch steps towards me. He’s dressed like one of those white boys pretending to be a rap star. His head is shaven. I realize he is not a man, but a child. “It’s a good thing you showed up, cause I was about to slap some sense into that crazy bitch,” he says to me.

Repo boy is suddenly on the ground and I’m stomping the shit out of him. I don’t know what’s wrong with my right leg; it refuses to obey my brain, the heel of my boot keeps slamming into his face, which is beginning to vanish. I can hear Molly’s screams for a few seconds, screams filled with priceless wisdom, but they swiftly fade because I have fallen beyond their reach.

BIO: Chris Benton was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina where he still resides. He can be found on Facebook.

A Twist Of Noir 525 - Richard Godwin

Part Two Of A Four Part Saga (part one, THE SKIN ROOM, can be found here)

Mick Fancy had been to prison before he met Maxy.

He’d started his career in armed robbery and found he had a taste for torture. One of his sidekicks beat a till clerk so badly it gave Mick the chance to discover he enjoyed it and, for years, he worked with him, watching as his partner’s tastes for cruelty went through the roof until he was put away for life.

His sadism was vicarious and casual, but nonetheless an addiction.

The first day he sat drinking coffee in Maxy’s kitchen, he watched her get ready for work.

She was putting papers in a case, dressed in a blue business suit, and the professional image rankled in him.

‘You think you’re fooling anybody?’ he said.

‘I’m a businesswoman.’

‘Yeah, sure.’

‘I built my business up fair and square, hard work.’

‘That why you need to get your kicks in the Skin Room?’

She put her bag down and looked at him.

‘I do this for a living. What I do in the other place is to do with my past.’

‘Think it’s normal?’

‘Most people lead separate lives.’

He shook his head.

‘Uh-uh. No, they don’t.’

‘Politicians are caught at it all the time.’

‘Screwing their secretaries, not skinning innocent guys alive.’

‘It’s all part of the same thing.’

Mick stood up and started undoing her blouse.

Maxy tried to pull away, but he squeezed her arm.

‘You still is the same whore I met all those years ago with the same predilections, an’ I know you, I know you, baby, and all your sick ways.’

‘An’ you’re still a pimp with a pimp’s mind.’

‘You can call it what you want, baby, but I get to do this. I get to screw you and stay alive.’

‘Stay alive, Mick, as you say. We need each other.’

He let her go and she did up her blouse.

‘Money,’ he said, holding out a hand.

‘I’ve only got a hundred on me.’

‘Go to a bank and get some more.’

‘Thousand enough?’

‘For today.’

He watched as she drove off in her Mercedes and while she was out he went through every drawer in the house. He found what he was looking for and hid the key in his pocket as he heard her pull up outside.

Maxy came in, handed him the money and left again without saying a word.

Mick found the doorway to the cellar and went down with the only torch in the house.

It was immaculately clean and contained aisles of metal cabinets.

He opened the first drawer and poked the torch in.

Bags made of skin, some of them tiny ornate purses, some large designer handbags, an assortment of them in different styles, shapes and sizes adorned with jewels.

Every cabinet contained an array of them. They were all sealed in plastic, vacuum packed for some future point in time.

When Maxy got back from work, she fixed herself a whisky.

Mick was lying with his boots up on her sofa, drinking a beer, and she resented this male intruder in her sanctuary from her bruised soul and its midnight wanderings. She could smell his sex and hated his male presence there, feeling he was like some tomcat who’d pissed in the doorway.

‘Hard day?’ he said.

‘Nothing I couldn’t handle.’

‘Well, I been doin’ some thinking, Maxy, and I think you should go back to your old line of work.’

‘No way. I don’t do this for money.’

‘What do you do it for? Wealthy woman, like you.’

‘I don’t let them screw me. I let them look.’

‘What they lookin’ at? Those deep scars inside you?’

‘I’m in control of them. I let them see the goods and then I take what’s mine.’

‘Their skin. ’Cause of what he did to you. Makes you feel better, don’t it?’

‘They wanna use me and I use them and I have a part of them to put my things in.’

‘Like he put a part of himself in you.’

‘What do you want, Mick?’

‘I told you.’

‘What do you really want?’

‘Scar tissue never heals. It’s a mark and it warps your personality. People see it, smell vulnerability, the trace of a wound, and they want to fuck with you, open you up. Maybe that’s why you became a whore. Your daddy used you and made you use men. I ain’t got no problem with that.’

She slammed her glass down on the table, spilling whisky.

‘You know what he did. Why are you tormenting me with it?’

‘He fucked you and made you watch him hurt your sister over and over again until she was covered in scars and you thought you was the chosen one because you had perfect skin. But then he told you about the need for sacrifice, didn’t he? He told you about that because your family are all flawed, deeply sick people who believe this shit. Your old man thought by screwing his daughters he was keeping the gods away from his soul and you bought into it. Your sister died covered in scars and you got the perfect skin. But you need to take these men’s skins to still the resident demons in your mind. How are the nightmares, Maxy? I heard you scream last night.’

‘I wish I’d killed him.’

‘That’s right. You wish you’d killed him, but you didn’t. Now you need to punish all these guys who’d use a woman like an ashtray for their come.’

‘An’ you get your kicks watching this.’

‘I been reading some psychology inside, Maxy. Did you know there’s no such thing as a pure sadist? They’re all a mix of sadism and masochism.’

‘Oh really? An’ you’re not a sadist!’

‘I’m a sadist and you’re acting out your trauma in such a perverted way as to be beyond the reach of normal pathology. They’d lock you away forever.’

‘That first time you watched I knew it turned you on.’

‘Hooker’s instinct.’

‘What do you want?’

‘Money. Kicks.’

‘Then watch me skin them.’

‘I want more than that. I want you to get into the country club.’


‘There’s a country club up the road. You know the types, motherfuckers whose wives lay back an’ take their come. They wear French perfume to hide the stain on their souls, an’ they think they’re better’n you. But they’re not. Love don’t exist there, though it’s a common bargaining tool for their acquisitions. You’s wealthy now, you go in as a respectable businesswoman and you start turning them over with their money and I get to screw their wives.’

‘They don’t let people like me join them.’

‘Find a way.’

‘Or what?’

‘Find a way.’

There was some shadow on his face, some precognition of what he was capable of, and the enjoyment of that sense of dormant power was endless and quietly menacing. It was as if the extent to which he was unfazed by Maxy’s torture of men was in equal balance with the darkness of his own demons which he had effectively harnessed to his will.

‘I’m not going there as me,’ she said.

‘You think that’s you?’ Mick pulled her jacket off and threw it on the floor. ‘You’s a whore done good. You’s a whore who’s sick in the head and a killer, a serial killer. The cops don’t have a clue who they’re looking for. I’m the one who knows it all, so you better deliver what I want. Why did you think I didn’t tell em when they arrested me?’

‘Because they arrested you for shooting that guy.’

‘He was onto you.’

‘You did it for yourself, too.’

‘We’s in this together. Now I’m out.’

‘Only because he’s not dead.’

‘Good thing he’s in a coma, huh? He won’t be talking.’

‘So what do you want, Mick?’

‘I want you to start with the wealthy and the famous. I’ll be there and we’ll get their skin and their money. Imagine what that pampered flesh will feel like narrowed to the bone. All those open wounds. Remind you of something, baby? Still wear the bags, Maxy?’


‘Alone at night, in this house where no man ever comes, summoning Daddy’s ghost from that black coffin in your soul? Walk around naked with a bag on your arm, admiring your perfect skin in the dark, crying for your Daddy?’

‘Their wives won’t screw you.’

‘You better fix that part up.’

She paused for a moment in which the air and silence between them in the empty room seemed to stretch like a piece of wire.

‘You’ll have to find a way to the wives,’ she said. ‘I’ll arrange it so they’re home. How hard is rape?’

‘You just join the country club.’

‘I need to go to the flat and get some things.’

‘I’m coming with you.’


Maxy changed into some pants and a sweatshirt over which she placed a mac and she drove to the car park near some derelict flats where her other car was garaged.

‘Old Buick,’ Mick said. ‘Why’d you pick that?’

‘’Cause it’s something I’d never drive.’

‘You do know it’s you doing it?’

‘But it ain’t, Mick.’

‘It’s you. You’ve constructed a self that does it, but it’s all you.’

‘Let’s go to the flat.’

‘And get their skin.’


‘’Cause without skin they can’t rape you, that right?’

‘No one rapes me.’

‘Except Daddy.’

‘They deserve to be peeled.’

‘An’ your skin is perfect.’

‘I need to get some things.’

‘And clear up the evidence. You killed them and you don’t want any evidence laying around.’

There was a noise at the far end of the vacant car park.

It sounded like a metal can rolling along the ground and came from behind the only other car there.

Mick was over there before Maxy had identified what it was she’d heard. He found the man crouching behind some trash cans. He pulled him up by the collar, set his gun next to his head and blew his brains against the wall.

Maxy heard it and ran over.

She looked down at the blood and said, ‘What the fuck you done?’

‘Got rid of a witness.’

‘We gotta get out of here.’

‘Anyone know you here?’


‘Any way they could trace you?’


‘Start the car up, bring it round, we put him in the boot and get rid of the body.’

She did as she was told and they drove to the flat.

Parking in the back alley, they went in and Maxy got her bags.

She placed these inside plastic sheets, which she removed from a cupboard.

‘You paid the rent on this place?’


‘Keep paying. Tomorrow, we clean it up.’

‘What about the body?’

‘I’ll burn the car.’

They went to the alley and he drove them away.

He pulled into a side road and hotwired a car and Maxy followed him to a landfill site, where he stopped and got out of the car.

‘Friend of mine owns this place,’ he said.

He got in the Buick and drove it through the gap in the fence at the back. He found the petroleum barrels and set fire to the car.

Maxy drove home and she went in and put her bags away as Mick waited a few blocks away in the stolen car.

It was now the early hours of the morning.

She followed him downtown where he dumped the car and then she drove them home.

Back at the house, Mick poured the whiskies.

‘So what now?’ she said.

‘We start the country club killings.’

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. His writing appears regularly at Disenthralled and Gloom Cupboard, among many other magazines. He has a Twitter account and can be found there under the User Name Stanzazone. You can check out his portfolio here. His first crime novel will be published later this year.

His blog, RICHARD GODWIN, is the home of the Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse Interviews (which, in this editor’s opinion, deserve as many awards as can be heaped upon them).

A Twist Of Noir 524 - Jonathan Ashley


The psychiatric ward of Louisville, Kentucky’s Baptist East Hospital is housed on the seventh floor. Also commonly known by those who work there or repeat visitors as Seven East, being as it is on the eastern side of the building, the unit is one of the city’s many acute facilities, meaning that patients are usually there for a short amount of time, three to five days, either to get their meds adjusted or for observation until their socially unacceptable behavior calms or, albeit rarely, completely passes.

This was not Sean McDonough’s first stay in a mental institution. Baptist East was the worst in Louisville. He’d almost forgotten. He was so despondent when the cops had shown up at his apartment that he’d allowed them to take him wherever they thought best.

He’d been sleeping in the hallway in a rickety chair since the second day of his stay.

Dr. Benzenhaver, Sean’s psychiatrist, always showed up on the unit dressed to the nines, Armani double-breasted suits, shiny and spotless Italian loafers. Sean wondered who this prick was trying to impress. Perhaps it was just another way to assert his authority and dominance, wearing clothes that cost more than ninety percent of the people on the unit, staff and patients, made in a month. Benzenhaver was the one who put Sean on eye view when a nurse reported finding the Zippo in Sean’s bathroom where he’d foolishly left it next to the sink. Eye view meant that the patient could never be out of a nurse’s sight. It had been five days and Benzenhaver still refused to let Sean sleep in his own private room. And they would not turn out the horrible fluorescent lights or wheel a bed into the day room so that he’d at least be comfortably deprived of sleep.

Sean felt he was being punished for a bureaucratic misstep: they’d neglected to search him when he was admitted, to find his Zippo and Pal Mals. Therefore, it was the admitting nurses to blame for the possible fire hazard, not Sean. When Sean begged for a bed, his eyes milky and red from tranquilizers and sleep deprivation, the doctor said, “You could’ve set this whole hospital on fire.”

Sean replied, “A lot of things could set this whole hospital on fire.”

The doctor went back to looking at the chart, sighing disapprovingly, as if Sean was in detention for flipping off the teacher instead of in a mental hospital seeking treatment for his paralyzing depression.

“I came here for help.”

The doctor continued examining the file, applying marginalia here and there.

“I can’t sleep like this. And the worst part is I’m tired all the time. I need a good night’s sleep in a real bed. I came here to get better and you people are making me crazier than I was when I showed up.”

They were sitting at a table in the small cafeteria in the back of the unit where the doctor met with his patients every morning at nine AM. Orderlies and nurses paced by the doorway, never straying too far just in case one of Benzenhaver’s patients decided to initiate their own personal coup.

“I need to sleep.”

Sean had never gone five days without any sleep. He’d always get a few hours here and there, even when he was feeling particularly anxious. But his stay at Baptist East marked the first time he went a working week without so much as a snore.

“We’ll increase the Seroquel from fifty to a hundred,” Benzenhaver closed the manila envelope that held Sean's institutional history. “That should help.”

“All that’s going to help is giving me a bed and a dark room.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can. You’re the end all, be all as far as decisions go around here. You can take me off of Eye View.”

“You could’ve burned the whole hospital down, Sean.”

“Yeah, you already said that.”

“The one hundred milligrams should do the trick.”

“When can I go home?”

“When you’re stabilized and when you start following your recovery program. So far you haven’t attended group once. You sit in the day room, staring at the T.V. To me, that’s not a sign of someone who wants to get better. This isn’t a motel.”

“No shit. They don’t make you sleep in the hallway at motels. When can I leave?”

“Like I said. start attending the group and we’ll see.”

“I’m never going to be stabilized as long as I can’t sleep.”

“You should’ve thought about all this before you ran around telling everyone you were going to kill yourself.”

“So, I should’ve just done it is what you’re saying.”

“I saw you the last time you were here back in 2002. Do you remember that?”

“You know, Benzie, as fucking tired and horrible as I feel, I could never forget you.”

“According to your file, you wanted to be released to your mother after two days here but during the family session, you two began screaming and throwing things at one another. We realized very quickly that your family life was a disaster. And that was back when you had someone that would allow us to release you into their custody. Your mother is now hospitalized herself. Am I correct? She’s been there since June. Up in Cincinnati. Your father is dead. You don’t have any more cards up your sleeve, Sean. There’s no exit, this time. Not even the possibility of one.”

Sean sat back in his chair, sighing spit onto the cracked Formica table that separated him from Herr Doctor. He placed his face in his hands for a brief moment, and then stared Benzenhaver in the eye.

“Where’d you get your fucking training in psychiatry, Benzenhaver, you kraut bastard? Auschwitz?”

“This conversation is over.”


With that, Sean lunged across the Formica, getting his hands around the doctor’s neck just as two stout nurse’s assistants entered the cafeteria, their lives’ demons fiery in their eyes.

The next morning, after he’d been released from the padded blue room where he still could not sleep, too pumped from adrenaline, Sean sat in the day room watching Dr. Phil on mute. This was his sixth day at Baptist. He was at all times surrounded by deviants, manic-depressives, insomniacs, incest survivors, alcoholics, addicts and other assorted degenerates, the city’s damaged goods. The unit had predominantly the same set up as the half dozen other hospitals in which he’d been a patient. There were of course a few differences; the day room also served as the meeting place for group, the drooling and disheveled gathering around the long mahogany table behind which was the nurse’s station. It was a smaller unit, but not by much. The food was better and Sean could have as many cheeseburgers for lunch and dinner as he pleased.

Sean shifted his gaze from the mind numbing talk show to the young man who had just sat down across from him. Although it was hard to tell because of his receding hairline and yellow teeth showing through the wolfish grin he displayed, Sean figured they were about the same age, early to mid-twenties. He had piercing blue eyes and a scar that interrupted his left eyebrow. He wore dirty jeans and a white Misfits T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. It was the only pair of clothes Sean had seen him in. He wondered why this young man was smiling at him like that.


Alex Springer awoke for the fifth time to the sound of his roommate, Wendell, snoring. Wendell had been admitted at seven o’ clock that night. He was a short, bespectacled man, middle-aged, wearing Bermuda shorts and a short-sleeved dress shirt in the dead of winter. He looked to be in his forties and probably hadn’t been laid since Flock of Seagulls was popular. Alex had been in his room all day, reading National Geographics and masturbating, the Zoloft making it impossible for him to climax.

Alex turned in his bed to face the sleeping Wendell.

“Shutup,” Alex said.

Wendell continued snoring.

Alex pushed himself up by his elbows and sat up on the edge of the bed. He stared at his roommate for a moment. He stood, towering above Wendell. He slapped the sleeping man hard across his left cheek. Wendell opened his eyes, grasping the red spot where Alex had assaulted him. Alex slapped him again on the other cheek.

“I said shut up, bitch.”

“What?” Wendell’s voice quivered as he cowered toward the far side of his bed.

“You been keeping me up all night with your goddamned snoring. I am telling you to shut up.”

“I’m sorry.”

Alex slapped him again, this time up the side of the head. Wendell covered his face with his forearms, cradling himself in the fetal position. Alex sat back down on the edge of his bed and said, “I told you to shut up. If that means you don’t sleep, that means you don’t sleep. But I am getting some motherfucking rest. You understand me, little man? Just nod. Don’t talk.”

Wendell nodded complacently.

“Another thing. You rat on me, you go crying to one of the nurses about this shit, I’ll find you when I get out. I got a name and a face and that’s all I need. I know people, Wendell, and I’ll find your ass. I’ll creep up behind you with a fucking stiletto while you’re walking out of Wal Mart. You understand me?”

Wendell was still shaking in the fetal position when Alex drifted off.

Alex slept through group, although he was briefly woken by the sound of the rotund nurse Amy opening the door and letting the hallway light in. She fed Wendell and Alex their meds. Alex was on one hundred milligrams of the anti-depressant Zoloft and seventy five of Lamictal, a popular mood stabilizer. The cocktail made him feel tired all the time and dulled his senses and emotions. When the nurse left them, it was eight o’clock in the morning. Alex awoke two hours later, stumbled into the hallway, sleep still thick in his eyes. He gave Wendell the evil eye when he caught his gaze in the day room where he sat dejectedly watching the morning news. He grabbed his tray from the meal cart and took it back to his room with him where he ate breakfast alone.

He sat his tray at the foot of his doorway, closed the door and went back to reading National Geographic until a few minutes before lunch time at which point he sauntered out into the hallway and took a seat across from the quiet kid with the shaved head who always wore a plaid shirt and rarely took off his toboggan. Alex guessed that they were about the same age, mid-twenties. He liked the fact that this one kept his mouth shut, minded his own business. Alex figured this guy would survive at Chilicothe or Lagrange. That’s what you had to do in such places, keep to yourself.

He smiled wolfishly at the young man in the toboggan before he began speaking.

“The doctor say when you’re getting out?” Alex said.

“Tomorrow morning, straggles aside,” Sean murmured.

“Me, too. Of course, I don’t know what I got to look forward to.”

“Me neither. My girl moved out after she called the cops on me.”

“You ever do time?”

“Like jail?”

“Or prison.”

“No. Just these places.”

“Lucky you. I’ve done three years total. Eighteen months at Chilicothe in Ohio and another year and a half over at LaGrange.”

“For what?”

“First one was assault. Stupid shit. Second was possession with intent to distribute. I got ratted out and the narcos caught me coming over the bridge with a fuckload of H under the back seat of my Camaro. I’m currently on parole and the only thing saving my ass from going back, since I’m currently unemployed, is the fact that I’m up in this shithole. Once I get out, I gotta get my shit together or they’ll send me back up.”

“What’d the doctor say? What’s your diagnosis?”

“Bi-polar 1. Anti-social. Narcissistic personality. Something like that. That’s not to mention the alcohol and drugs. I got five days without a drink or a needle in my arm as of this morning. What about you?”

“Just bi-polar 1. Although I’ve never shown any symptoms of mania.”

“You just get bummed out, huh.”

“Pretty much. I think they just like stamping us like packages.”

“Me, too. But I know for sure that I’m a drunk and a dope fiend, man. To tell you the truth, I don’t know if I’m gonna stay kicked once I get out of here.”

A pretty, petite black nurse named Tasha began calling out names as the other patients stood and made their way to the lunch cart parked just in front of the nurse’s station. Alex nodded before answering to his call, coming back with his tray full of chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, chocolate pie and orange juice. The nurse called Sean’s name and he stood, ambling over to the cart and accepting his tray from Tasha. He took his seat back across from Alex and began inhaling one of the three cheeseburgers that lay on the cheap china plate. Soggy fries were piled around the pyramid of sandwiches. While the others at the table ate placidly, their eyes fixed on “The Young and the Restless,” Alex and Sean talked between bites, their mouths full of meshed meat.

“You were here when I checked in,” Alex said. “How long has it been now?”

“Six days.”

“Six days? Most people are out in three. The fuck happened?”

“I was playing with a gun. I think that had something to do with it.”

“That’ll do it.”

She’d told him if he didn’t check into a hospital, she was leaving. He promised he’d get better, that as soon as he got another job, everything would be fine. He told her that he just needed something to keep his mind occupied. The money didn’t matter. He still got his check every month and was allowed to make up to a thousand bucks working. He’d been on a steady decline ever since he got laid off from the print shop, sleeping until four P.M. and staying up until six in the morning reading crime novels and crying intermittently. When his medication ran out a month ago, he neglected to get it refilled and, as a result, grew much worse much more quickly.

It came to a head a week ago when she found him in the living room of their shabby apartment in the lower Highlands. He was sobbing, a .38 revolver he’d bought at a pawn shop in the South End sitting on the coffee table before him. She shivered at the sight, tossing her long blonde hair across her back as she began crying with him, asking him what he was planning on doing with the gun. He began laughing as he uncoiled the cylinder, releasing the six bullets. He reloaded one, twirled the cylinder as he snapped it shut and pressed the barrel to his temple. He pulled the trigger. This time, he hit a dry chamber. He unsnapped the roll and twirled again. As he continued playing Russian roulette alone in the living room, she backpedaled into the kitchenette, retrieving her cell phone from her purse which lay on the counter. She dialed 911, told them what was going on, hung up and went back into the living room to watch him.

During his stay in the psychiatric unit, she hadn’t answered her phone once, returned any of his messages or visited him. When he phoned the landlord, a fundamentalist Christian named Matt, he was told that the rent check, which she always sent in, had yet to come and that he had thirty days to either pay the rent and the late fee or vacate. He wasn’t worried. He got a thousand dollars a month from Social Security, survivor’s benefits; his father who shot himself on Sean’s mother’s street in the driver’s bucket seat of his Escalade – the police suspected the old man was on his way to kill her when the car broke down – had never reached retirement age.

The rent was six hundred bucks a month, so Sean would only have four hundred left for bills and food. He’d survived on less.

“Dude,” Alex said. “You okay?”

He couldn’t stop the memories, of her and the bad things he’d done. He had been robbed of the grit needed to suck it up by Benzenhaver, by Seroquel and lack of sleep and back pains.

“I’m gonna come sit next to you,” Alex said, rising and walking slowly around the table, taking the chair between Sean and the nurse’s station, obscuring their view of the patient breaking down.

“Shit,” Sean murmured. “I don’t know you and I’m fucking crying like a little bitch.”

“It’s okay,” Alex ruffled Sean’s hair. “Just try not to weep. You can cry. But don’t let them see it. If you totally fucking lose it, they’ll use it against you and keep you even longer.”

“Thank you.” Sean was able to calm down a little.

“You gotta always remember,” Alex said, “they can kill you, but they can’t fucking eat you.”


“I said–”

“I heard what you said. It just doesn’t make any sense. If they kill you, you’re dead meat.”

“Not you. Not me.”


“Because we’re too tough to eat, son.”

Alex and Sean were released the same day. Waiting to be discharged by Benzenhaver, Sean offered his home phone number – his cell would have to be sacrificed in favor of groceries and gas and heat. Alex told him in whispers that he knew where they could find Benzenhaver and that the prick actually played in a band, a Ted Nugent cover band for which he sung.

“How do you know all this?” Sean said.

“I’ve seen his band. I was drifting along Bardstown Road, drunk and wondered into Bearno’s. Must’ve been fifty people packed into that motherfucker. And who do you think is in the spotlight?”

“That motherfucker. He’s a rock star and a torture artist.”

“Some guys have all the luck.”

Alex had not been mistreated by Benzenhaver, who was also his doctor, but resented the Armani suits and the holier-than-thou attitude.

“We could show up at one of their gigs,” Alex said.

“I just want to sleep for a few days and never hear his name again,” Sean said.

“We got a responsibility. He’s gonna keep abusing his power, keep torturing patients. And most of them are worse off than either of us.”

“Just call me in a few days. I’m gonna turn the phone off and hibernate.”

The apartment was bare. No bed. No TV. No couch. Even the ice cube trays in the refrigerator were gone. He slept on the bare hardwood floor for about a day and woke to a knocking at the door.

“What the fuck?” he yelled, opening the door. In the foyer stood Alex and a girl who couldn’t have been more than seventeen. She had pink hair, a stud in her left nostril, a black motorcycle jacket over a white tank top, and jeans eaten up by patches. She was a foot shorter than Alex and shivered as she blew fog into February’s harsh winds.

Without a word, Sean stood aside and allowed the two to enter.

“Jesus.” Alex examined the apartment. “She showed no mercy on your ass.”

“It beats living on the street.”

“I’ve been down at Wayside Christian Mission on Main Street myself, kinda my home base while I play mastermind. You know, AA ain’t got shit on revenge. I haven’t even wanted to drink or use since they let me out.”

“How did you find out where I lived?”

“Called 411 and gave them your number. Use your head, Sean. You got a home phone and you’re listed. Anyone can find you.”

The girl tugged on Alex’s coat sleeve.

“Oh,” Alex said. “Sorry. This is Bridget. She’s another one of Benzenhaver’s patients. She sees him at his office, though. His private practice in the East End over on New LaGrange Road.”


“Yeah. Didn’t even have to suffer the motherfucker’s singing again to find a way to get us some payback. Just looked him up in the yellow pages, took the bus to the East End and staked him out. Bridget here - her appointment ran two hours rather than one - which I found interesting. So I waited for her in the parking lot. When she came out, mascara was running down her cheeks. She couldn’t stop crying. Thought I was gonna have to shake her to get her to compose herself. So I got in her car and we swapped stories. Turns out Benzenhaver’s been giving her the stiff one eye for over six months. Today – coincidentally the day I decide to stake out the Kraut’s office – he breaks it off with Bridget. Said he didn’t want to risk losing his practice in a lawsuit and everything in a divorce. Bridget don’t need money, but she wants some payback just like we do. Her parents forked over thousands of dollars for Doctor Cocksuck to help Bridget with her depression and what does he do? He gives her even more baggage to carry.”

“How old are you?” Sean asked Bridget.

“Sixteen,” she said.

“And you were having an affair with a married man twice your age?”

“He’s cute,” she shrugged.

“If it was just ‘he’s cute,’ why were you weeping?” Sean said.

“Because no one breaks up with me,” she said. “I’m the one who does the breaking up.”

“I don’t really think, from the story he just told me, that there was anything to break, Bridget. Now, while you put that in your pipe and take a long toke, I’m going to confer with my friend here in the kitchen.”

Sean placed his hand between Alex’s shoulder blades and guided him into the kitchenette. They spoke quietly.

“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Sean said.

“Think about what you’re asking me, dude. We met in a mental hospital.”

“Don’t say it. If you say it and I hear it and I don’t call the police, it’s accessory to blackmail.”

“Does that even exist?”

“I’m sure there’s something they can nail me with. Don’t you know the cops and the courts would love a reason to get both of us off the streets? And you’re on thin ice as it is, being on parole with no job or place of residence.”

“I got a place of residence, motherfucker.”

“A homeless shelter.”

“Park the high horse, okay?”


“I just need you to do the talking. That’s all.”

“What? Why?”

“You’re better spoken.”

“Your economy of words will suffice for these purposes.”

“That motherfucker disrespected both of us. No way he walks free. Especially now that we got something real on him.”

“Do we? All we have is her word against his. Doctors have insurance for this kind of shit.”

“Not necessarily.”

“Not necessarily?”

“We can say she saved one of the condoms. That she’s got his DNA!”

“Did she?”

“No. But he doesn’t know that.”

Sean peeked from behind the refrigerator into the narrow living room. Bridget was gazing out the window at the empty playground across the street, compulsively taking draws off a long, thin cigarette, probably a Virginia Slim. She chewed her lower lip nervously between drags.

“He’s gonna ask to see proof,” Sean said, blinking his eyelids, and every time seeing that smug Aryan face, that perfect head of pure blond hair. As angry as the thought of Benzenhaver unmolested made him, he was still unable to believe this stranger standing in his kitchen was starting to have some sway on his decision-making.


Bridget drove a black BMW five series her mom had bought her for her sweet sixteen. Alex was in the passenger seat smoking a Newport, ashing out the window, shaking his leg. Bridget stared with alarming intensity out the windshield, through the droplets of winter rain, at the red door, the entrance to the drab brick building which housed Benzenhaver’s office.

“This does wonders for my self-image,” Sean held up the Ziploc bag with the used Magnum condom.

“You’re not the one who had to jerk off into it,” Alex said.

“You guys want this to work?” Bridget said. “We gotta stick to the details. Now, as much as he himself is a dick, the truth is, he has a huge–”

“That’s enough,” Sean said. “You already told us.”

“And I think you went into more detail than necessary,” Alex said. “About it tearing up your shit and how you liked it. Thanks, Bridget.”

“I was simply trying to explain why I even let him fuck me in the first place. I mean, there’s the fact that he ain’t that hard on the eyes to begin with. But when–”

“Enough,” Sean said again. “I don’t want to hear anymore about it.”

Benzenhaver’s silver Lexus and a red Mercedes convertible with the black canvas top up were the only other cars in the horseshoe-shaped parking lot that wrapped around the office building. After about another fifteen minutes of arguing over Bridget’s insufferable heartthrob pop punk music, a woman in her mid-fifties wearing a cashmere sweater and a pleated skirt spreading open an umbrella walked out of Benzenhaver’s office.

“Wait until she’s out of the parking lot,” Alex said.

“I’m not fucking stupid,” Sean said.

“You’re not a criminal, either.”


The room was paneled in dark oak. A multitude of degrees and certifications, from Centre and U of L and Bellarmine adorned the walls. Sean sat in a leather armchair across from Benzenhaver behind his massive dark oak desk. Sean would’ve thought, had he not known better, that the car, the degrees, the desk, the treatment of his patients, that it all boiled down to compensation for sexual inadequacy. Apparently, Sean thought, just like falling rain, God disperses huge dicks and bedroom prowess to the just and the unjust alike.

“Surprise,” Sean said.

“You’re looking prosperous, Sean,” Benzenhaver said.

Sean had worn the only suit he had, a black one from Von Maur that Laura had given him to wear on their anniversary. He would pay her back with the money they got from Benzenhaver. He would give her half of his cut for being a sport, for putting up with his bullshit all those years.

“I don’t really enjoy our conversations, Krautenhaver,” Sean said, retrieving the Ziploc bag with the cum-filled Magnum from his inner coat pocket. “I’ll just let the Magnum do the talking, big boy.”

He’d never seen the good doctor without that smug, shit-eating grin plastered to his face. He looked almost innocent without the malicious smile. Then his face contorted into something so grotesque, Sean knew he’d see it in his nightmares recurrently.

“Let me ask you something,” Sean said. “I mean she’s cute and all. But was it really worth it? Your family? Your practice? Ever hear the expression... wait... what is it? Yeah, that’s it. ‘Don’t shit where you eat.’”

“She’s very disturbed, you know,” Benzenhaver said. “Her mother is a chronic alcoholic and her birth father, who is wanted by the police, raped her from the time she was six until she was twelve.”

“So, I guess that automatically discredits her. But, what about that awful look you gave me when you saw the raincoat - extra large.”

“Sean, I don’t think–”

“I don’t think you’re listening to me.” Sean rose, replacing the Ziploc bag in his inner coat pocket and pressing his palms into the oak, his knuckles growing white, getting in close to the doctor. “You’re the one with no exit this time, Doctor. How’d you say it? Yeah. There isn’t even a possibility of one. So here’s what you’re gonna do. Me and Alex - you remember Alex – we’ll be your patients on paper. And you will prescribe us both Valium and Xanax, high dosages, too, high enough to where we can sell it on the street. You will do this until we decide you can stop or until you decide to quit practicing psychiatry. Either scenario is amenable as far as we are concerned. We’ll see you every couple of months on different days to get the prescriptions. Also, we’re going to ask that you pay both of our insanely inflated hospital bills. We’ll forward them to this address. I’ll take those first prescriptions now. Unless you want to see me here again tomorrow with the condom. And, tomorrow, I’ll come early so I can show all your patients in the waiting room what a big man you are. Then, if that doesn’t persuade you, I start showing up at your church and your country club and your fucking mansion.”

After a few moments of Benzenhaver staring despondently at the top of his desk, he finally said, “I can just mail you the drugs.”

“No,” Sean said. “I want to see your face.”


It was a good run. Alex got a part time job at a used record store so his parole officer wouldn’t hound him. He also handled the sales and Sean trusted his accounting, collecting half of the cash every week. He allowed Alex to use his beat up Taurus to make runs to the South End, the West End and Portland where most of their customers lived. He even let the criminal stay on his couch since Alex helped him move all his new furniture in once they’d made their first thousand dollars. Bridget would come over and fuck Alex on the couch, the leather squeaking beneath them. Sean could hear it from his bedroom. At first, it irritated him immensely. Then, he came to almost depend on it to get to sleep, like a New Yorker would with horns blaring and car alarms going off.

Alex was somehow able to maintain a healthy, working relationship with alcohol. Maybe it was the satisfaction of success and revenge. He had not yet moved to cocaine or heroin as far as Sean knew. After Bridget left, before Alex moved into his own fully furnished apartment in Old Louisville, they would drink together and talk, Miller Lite and Pappy Van Winkle, Sean of institutions and Alex of prison and his methhead parents in Owensboro who’d put him out when he was thirteen.

“I don’t blame them,” Alex said, taking a long pull from his beer. “They were raised just like I was. Only difference was their parents were drunks and dopers. It’ll go on like that forever. That’s why I ain’t having no kids, dude.”

“Me, either,” Sean said. “We can do that much. That’s something horrible we can actually put a stop to. It’s a little thing. But I guess it’s something.”

“What’re you talking about?” Alex stumbled upright from where he sat on the hardwood floor, gesturing with his beer out the gabled window. “We’re stopping some horrible shit every day. We’re making that cocksucker think twice every time he’s about to disrespect someone or torture another patient.”

“People like him don’t ever stop,” Sean said. “And there’ll just be another in his place, another rich guy from a rich family with a big dick who still, for some reason, has shit to prove. They’ll never stop until everything has been burned, fucked or murdered. The woods are full of Benzenhavers.”

“We don’t have kids, so we stop the cycle. We stop Benzenhaver, so there’s a handful of people out there getting treated better. That’s good enough for me.”

“I guess. I kind of wish we could string them all up.”

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. Benzenhaver is a good start. And we’re getting rich, too, something no one ever thought two psychopaths like us could pull off.”

They drank in silence for an awkwardly long period of time until Alex finally said, “Sean, tell me something. If you don’t think we’re doing any good, why are you helping me? I know it ain’t the money.”

“I like seeing the look on his face,” Sean said. “I laugh myself to sleep some nights thinking about it.”


Floyd Hansen had killed two men when he was seventeen, men that had raped his mother in an alley in Old Louisville on her drunk walk home from the Magnolia Bar and Grill. They were men she knew from the bar. All he had to do was ask around the neighborhood and he knew exactly what happened – his mother had simply told him she’d been attacked. And he also had their names before the police had even gotten the rape kit back, not that his mother would think enough of herself to testify against them. They both lived within blocks of his mother’s Grand Victorian apartment on South Third Street. He bought a Beretta from a black kid at Central High School. He promised the dumbass his next ten Ritalin prescriptions and gave him the hundred bucks he’d saved from landscaping the summer prior. Floyd stalked the bar until the assailants were together again, followed them down Magnolia toward Third and, when one stopped to puke, the other placing his hand at the small of his sick friend’s back, he opened fire, unloading the entire clip.

Considering the circumstances, Floyd’s defense attorney was able to convince the judge to sentence him to Central State, a mental hospital with a wing reserved for the criminally insane. His doctor was a man named Andrew Benzenhaver, to whom the courts assigned Floyd after he was released. He was allowed to choose another doctor, but Benzenhaver didn’t fuck with him too much as long as he told the blond bastard what he wanted to hear. Since his release, Benzenhaver had quit Central State and had been hired on at Baptist East. Floyd was his last criminal client. The past Monday had been Floyd’s final required visit and the good doctor had given him news that fell on him like a snowfall in June.

“Depending on what I put in my report, Floyd,” Benzenhaver had said, standing behind his desk, facing out the window at the gusted clouds floating effortlessly over the expressway, “you could be a free man by the end of the week or be sent back to Central State indefinitely.”

“I don’t understand,” Floyd had said from the leather armchair, already in his work clothes, his monkey suit, a brown one which he wore over a white dress shirt and loafers he’d found at the Goodwill. He worked at J.C. Penny as a shoe salesman, a cush job with which Benzenhaver had actually hooked him up.

“I’ve done a lot for you, Floyd. I’ve reported to the courts that you’re making good progress even though I don’t believe it. I found you a job that got you out of your mother’s apartment and even helped you find a used car to get you to and from said job. I did this, not out of charity, but because you are an anomaly. You are a lot like me, Floyd. I bet you never thought you’d hear me say that.”

“No,” Floyd said. “Actually, I didn’t.”

“My mother was a drunk, too. Never knew my father. But, we came from money and her family did everything they could to hide the fact that she was a psychotic, lush whore. My grandparents paid for my education and helped minimize the damage that woman did to me. I’ve seen the results of your IQ tests, Floyd. You actually scored higher than me. Can you believe that?”

Yeah, Floyd thought, I can, you pompous prick.

“If I had had your life I probably would have killed those men, too. I may even have turned the gun on my mother. But, I knew that I had a future. That’s the only difference between us. Money. But, I know from experience that the damage done to your psyche can never be repaired. You will always be angry and prone to violence. And it’s my duty to report that to–”

“Wait,” Floyd had said. “I’m self-sufficient. I’ve held onto a job, a good one, for a lot longer than anyone would expect. I even enrolled at JCC for the summer semester. J.C. Penny’s gonna split the bill with me. I was gonna tell you that today.”

“That’s good, Floyd. But, that doesn’t change your nature.”


“Calm down. I have a proposition for you. Something mutually beneficial, you could say. It solves a big problem for me and you get to stay free as long as you don’t get caught or commit any other crimes.”

“Get caught?”


It had taken Floyd two weeks to catch the three of them together. Benzenhaver had told him to make it look like a drug deal gone bad or some bullshit. They were all eating Chinese take out in the front room of the first floor apartment on Hill, the one rented out by the guy named Alex, only miles away from where Floyd’s mother had been raped. He could see them through the cracks between the blinds, in the light of the lamp that hung from the white ceiling over the long glass dining room table. They were drinking beer with the food and laughing heartily. The girl looked like a baby to him. The other two, he could make up different histories for, justify why they had it coming. But the girl wasn’t old enough to have done any real damage to anyone.

“Fuck you, Benzenhaver,” Floyd said.

He got out of his rusted, silver Dodge Stratus, a model from the mid-eighties, and walked around to the trunk. He popped it, retrieved the sawed-off Ithaca pump shotgun he’d stolen from a pawn shop, breaking in after hours and making the adjustments to the barrel at his apartment. He hid the gun beneath his black raincoat, walking briskly toward the Grand Victorian apartment building, the moonlight cascading through the canopy of trees, casting kaleidoscopic colors on the street through the newly-birthed leaves of spring.

“What’s a Jewish pedophile say to a little kid?” Alex asked his dinner guests who were still rolling with laughter from his last anti-Semitic joke, one that also made fun of the Catholic Church.

He waited a beat before the punch line, allowing Bridget and Sean to gain a bit more composure.

“He says, ‘Want to buy some candy?’”

The explosion of laughter, paralyzing, orgiastic laughter, was interrupted by the loud doorbell, common in Old Louisville homes for their vast size.

“Who the fuck?” Alex said, rising, his laughter curtailed.

“Who is it?” Sean yelled between fits of laughter.

“It’s the LMPD,” a voice said from the other side of the door. “Open up.”

“Shit,” Bridget mouthed, the laughter dead.

“It’s okay,” Alex rose and turned his voice to a whisper. “There ain’t nothing in the apartment. Plus, they gotta have a warrant.”

Alex staggered across the tiled checkerboard floor, almost running into the door, more inebriated than he had at first thought. He peered through the peep hole. Standing in the hallway only lit by two small bulbs flickering from the ceiling was a young man, probably in his early to mid-twenties, tall and clean shaven with his salt and pepper hair cut conservatively short. He wore a black rain coat over a brown suit, a white dress shirt and a bad tie, blue with black sailboats. He looked like a cop.

“One second,” Alex said. He walked back over to the diner table and whispered for Sean to check the bathroom in the medicine cabinet to see if, by chance, there were any pills lying around.

“But the prescriptions are in our names,” Sean whispered back.

“Just do it. They might count how many we got left and match it with the date we filled the script. Flush any pills and scratch out the name on the sticker.”

Sean got up and ran down the hallway to the bathroom without another word.

Alex wiped the sweat from his brow with one of the dirty tablecloth napkins, kissed Bridget on the cheek and went back to the door. He removed the chain, turned the lock and opened the door.

“I’m sorry,” the man with the shotgun said before the thunderous roar echoed across the hallway and through the apartment. The glass table shattered under Alex’s weight as he was flung onto it from the doorway, his entrails ruptured and exposed by the massive hole extending from his nipples to his pelvis. Bridget shot out of her seat, knocking her chair over. Her primal howl was interrupted by the second gunshot.

Sean didn’t find any bottles in the medicine cabinet. The gunfire stopped him from looking under the sink. He peeked out of the bathroom, down the narrow hallway. The air was thick with smoke and cordite and a well-dressed fellow with a shitty tie stood in the dining room, a sawed-off shotgun dangling loosely at his side. He couldn’t see Alex at all from where he stood, but on the ground, the toes of Bridget’s unlaced Doc Marten’s pointed toward the ceiling. He knew they were both dead, or else the young killer wouldn’t be standing off-guard. He let himself drift further into the hallway, the shock overtaking him.

He was hypnotized by the dead girl’s boots, stuck, when the third blast tore away the drywall not inches from where he stood. He still didn’t move. The guy with the bad tie and the overcoat pumped another round into the Ithaca, a sound that snapped Sean out of his trance. He sidestepped into the bathroom, quickly locked the door behind him and slipped out through the gabled window. He had always complained about the window being in the bathroom, that anyone could walk up and see him with his dick out or taking a shit. Tonight, as he sprinted to his car, he was more grateful for it than the thousands of dollars in cash he had buried behind his place between the Highlands and Germantown.


She was late for her ten to eight shift at the nursing home, stepping out the door onto the back porch, rifling through her purse for her keys. She tripped over him but caught herself on the banister. In the light of the street lamp, she could see the trail of blood leading from his Taurus to the steps of the back porch where she stood. He lay on his side cradling a dry and discolored brown paper bag against his breast. His eyes were closed but his stomach extended and retracted with his breathing. His blue button-up dress shirt was torn at the side. The skin beneath was caked in blood and peppered with a dozen or so wounds the size of fingertips.

She couldn’t call the cops or the EMS. If he’d gone to the trouble of finding her and showing up here after all this time, it meant he was in trouble. It was what she should do, but, even as she dialed 911, she knew she wouldn’t hit SEND and clicked her cell back shut. She had a weakness for the wounded and for absconding criminals. It was probably her alcoholic con man of a father who had instilled this in her.

She had no idea how she was going to get him inside.


Crime reporters and homicide detectives made the connection between Bridget and Alex within a matter of days. It was all over the news. Benzenhaver spun it well, too. He told the police that the two had met in his waiting room – Alex, thanks to his own idea, now documented as one of the doctor’s official patients – and had begun an intimate relationship. The psychiatrist told press and police that he had refused to see either of them anymore because he did not approve of the relationship and felt compelled to inform the authorities if it continued with his knowledge. He simply could not abide statutory rape. He told the cops that he knew Alex had been dealing, what he was not sure of, but that he had stopped prescribing refills on Alex’s Xanax as of last week. Small amounts of heroin, crack and cocaine had been found all over the apartment, between the mattress and the box springs, taped under the toilet bowl lid as were some sex videos the couple had made. The murders, despite the high profile and Bridget being a white girl from a good family, were soon buried somewhere on the third page of the Metro section, written off as drug-related.

Sean, reading the paper every day and watching the news religiously, figured her parents would want it that way. The less bad press for families in the east end, the better. They might’ve even had some say in the matter, refusing to talk to reporters anymore, neglecting to hound detectives. Who knew? They’d soon pin it on some poor person who bought the wrong used gun on the street.

“How long were you planning on staying?” Laura said from behind the red vinyl couch on which Sean sat, interrupting his hypnotism by the black homicide cop being interviewed in a half minute segment on WLKY about the murders. His name was Fraction and he had sad and honest, deep sunken eyes. He was telling the buxom blonde reporter that the murders were still considered drug-related, either a deal gone wrong or a robbery committed by a rival kingpin.

“Kingpins,” Sean laughed, hitting the OFF button on the remote with his thumb.

Laura had removed the buckshot Sean’s side, cleaned and stitched the larger of the wounds. She had gone to Target and bought him some new t-shirts, socks, boxers, and a pair of boot cut jeans. She had even let him sleep on her queen-sized bed the first two nights. She politely asked him to move to the couch for the remainder of his stay. It was obvious that he was following the double murder in Old Louisville. She never asked why, though assumed, since the killer had used a shotgun, that he had narrowly escaped the slaying. She also assumed that he was scared that the perpetrator would find him if he went to an emergency room. Something about Sean had changed. His face seemed softer, less furrowing of the brow. He hadn’t taken any meds since he’d been under her care, so she knew it wasn’t that. It was as if he’d made some commitment to himself, the nature of which was so deep and private that to inquire would be in bad taste to say the least.

“I’m leaving tonight,” Sean said.

“I wasn’t saying–”

“I know. I just have to go. It’s too dangerous for you, me being here.”

“Are you gonna be okay?”

“I don’t know. But I don’t want you to worry about me. I’m not gonna say I’m sorry for what I did. That would be a fucking insult to you. But I want you to know that I’m gonna do some good before it’s all said and done. There’s a man out there hurting people. People like me. People like your mother.”

Her mother had been schizophrenic and had died of a heart attack at forty from the attendant stress the condition had put on her body.

“What are you talking about?” she said through tears.

“I’m gonna stop him. He’s never gonna hurt anyone again. Alex was right. That’s enough for this life.”


“I love you.”

She did not say it back and he didn’t care. He just wanted her to know. While she was sleeping, he left her all of his money, what he’d dug up out of his front yard and placed in the brown paper bag he’d found in the backseat of his car. All of it but five hundred which he would need for a decent handgun.

He didn’t have the heart to ask if she still had his .38.


“I don’t understand why you waited a fucking week to contact me,” Benzenhaver said from the driver’s bucket seat of his Lexus. The air conditioner was kicking. It was eighty degrees outside. Summer had come in April.

Floyd was drunk. He’d stopped showing up at work the day after the killings and had not been answering his home phone, which all parolees were required to have in the state of Kentucky. Benzenhaver had already pointed out how bad this looked, him going AWOL the day after the killings, that it was a miracle some reporter or homicide police hadn’t made the connection.

Lucky for the good doctor, though, people skipped parole all the time.

“I’m sorry,” Floyd said.

“You stink, Floyd. When was the last time you showered?”

“I don’t know.”

“Changed clothes?”


“Are you wearing the same fucking clothes you wore when… when you did it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Get out of the car. This looks bad.”

Benzenhaver had picked his patient up downtown, by Slugger Field and had driven to the old docks in Portland, which were more often than not deserted. They walked along the silt, navigating the dead branches and other river refuse. The doctor allowed the patient to take the lead.

“Look,” Floyd said. “She was just a kid. You didn’t tell me that. You said they were criminals. You said they had it coming. You said–”

The hiss of the silencer, a sound no louder than that of air let out of a tire, quieted the reluctant killer’s reverie.

He collapsed face-first into the dirty river sludge.

Benzenhaver tossed the Glock as far as he could out into the water along with the latex surgical gloves.

Silencers were easier to get in Kentucky than just about any other state.

The Glock he’d bought on the street in the West End from one of his former patients that owed him a favor. It was unregistered and had no serial number.


It was August when he came home from work and found the note from Theresa telling him about the young man who’d stopped by, the tapes he’d played her in which Benzenhaver all but admitted engaging in an affair with an underage girl. In the tapes, Benzenhaver and the young man discussed other patients, namely, the two killed in the “drug related” double murder in March. It was the same one Benzenhaver had gotten so much press over. She said he’d never see their children, Augustus and Trisha, ever again and that she would take her sweet time in deciding whether or not to turn the tapes into the LMPD.

He was still holding the note, handwritten on yellow legal paper, when he heard the familiar sound of a hammer being drawn back.

“Sean,” he said without turning around.

“Benzie,” Sean said.

It was then that the good doctor noticed the two orange pills on the dining room table where he’d found the note, Seroquel, one hundred milligrams each.

“Having trouble sleeping, doctor?”


He awoke to cold water in his face. His eyes fluttered and when they adjusted to the blinding fluorescent lights, he saw Sean standing before him, dressed poorly as usual. The walls were concrete as was the floor. Exposed pipes and ducts ran the length of the ceiling. It was some sort of a warehouse, probably somewhere on the outskirts of the city. That was all the doctor could discern from inside.

He was seated in a swivel chair.

Sean stepped forward, a solid black Colt .45 leveled in his hand. He opened the palm of his free hand in which he held another Seroquel.

“Whoever is able to stay awake,” Sean said, “he gets to kill the other one. Don’t worry. I took one, too. But I’ll warn you. I’ve had a lot of practice.”

BIO: Jonathan Ashley is a reporter and columnist for LEO or Louisville Eccentric Observer. He has worked as a screen printer, a private investigator, a counselor for adolescent orphans and a coffee shop Barista. His stories are soon to appear in PLOTS WITH GUNS and THUGLIT. He has a BA from Indiana University and is currently seeking and MFA from Murray State. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

A Twist Of Noir 523 - Stoke Teagan


After a night of drinking, there's nothing worse than waking up next to somebody and not being able to remember their name, how you met, or why they’re dead.

But there he was, lying in the spot my husband usually occupied, with the morning sun streaming down on him through the curtains. Was he young or old, handsome or ugly? Did it matter? Those baby blues of his might have been piercing in life but now they were milky and vacant and reflecting twin images of one hysterical housewife.

I’d gone to a new bar downtown the night before, one of a crop that opened since the War ended. A colored band was playing jazz on a little stage. I was knocking back screwdrivers with orange juice and gin instead of vodka. Gin. Sloe gin. On the rocks, like my marriage. Sitting in the corner commiserating with some redhead who’d sidled up and got chatty. Only yapping with another lady because I hadn’t caught the eye of a likely male yet.

She looked a little familiar, but I couldn’t place her. Around thirty, pretty. A bit of a tomboy even with the saucy blonde wig over that red mop of hers. Yeah, I spotted it. She acted real friendly and sympathetic when we talked, but I thought I saw her giving me a funny look when she thought I wasn’t looking. Kind of cold and appraising.

I was too drunk to care. Lonely. I wanted someone to talk to.

She said, “So you really think you’re going to divorce? You’re going to be one of those gay divorcees?”

“I think he’s going to leave. Or I’m going to leave. I’m not gonna feel gay. I’m gonna wish I was dead. I’m gonna wish I...had another drink.” I gave her a pointed look. I’d bought the last round.

She got up to get us more drinks. I don’t know why she had to walk over to the bar when she could’ve just called the waitress over. Whatever. She got the drinks and then dilly-dallied around at the bar with her back to me for a minute, fiddling with her purse. She came back with a rum and Coke for herself and another screwdriver for me. At least she said it was a rum and Coke. I didn’t notice the barkeep reach for the rum bottle, and I can guarantee you I know where it is.

So she starts asking me questions, like it matters to her. “Why can’t you stay together? What’s wrong with Maury?”

I didn’t remember telling her Maury’s name. Guess I forgot. I looked down at the drink she’d brought me. Dirty bar grit in the bottom of the glass. I must not look like a lady who’d be fussy. I wasn’t. I took a not-so-dainty sip and answered her.

“How would you like to be married to someone who lies, drinks too much and sleeps around?”

“I wouldn’t like that at all.”

I drained the glass and slapped it back on the table. “Well, neither does he.”

I guess the drink was stronger than I thought because I don’t remember anything after that.


Back to the dead man.

After an airplane crash, I hear that sometimes the survivors sort of line up patiently in the aisles to exit the burning wreckage instead of climbing over seats and scrambling to get out of the smoking heap like you’d think. Some even grab their carry-on luggage, can you imagine? When people are stunned, I guess their minds go blank and they follow their routines because they don’t know what else to do.

So you'll excuse me if I tell you that after I woke up and saw the dead guy, I put on my slippers and chenille robe and started making the bed. I’d look down to make a hospital corner, then look up, hoping he wouldn’t be there anymore. He was. Tuck in a sheet, he’s still there. Straighten the bedspread. Still there. Then I heard my husband’s key in the front door.


Maury walked into the living room with a gun in his hand.

Well, that’s not as bad as it sounds. He’s a police sergeant and he always does the same thing after working the night shift. He comes home chattering away about his day and starts undressing even before he hits the bedroom door. He puts his revolver on the dresser, changes into the pajamas I’ve set out, and reads a detective novel before going to sleep. That’s his routine.

So here he came, sounding cheerful, yapping away.

“Norma, you wouldn’t believe the night we had? A couple of gangsters offed each other. One shot, one stabbed. And somebody might get in trouble, because the coroner’s boys were supposed to take those stiffs to the funeral home but instead I think they might have—”

And that’s when he saw the body. He fumbled his revolver and it clattered off the dresser onto the floor along with his pinstriped PJs and The Case of the Spurious Strumpet.

Meanwhile, I was hopping from foot to foot, waving my arms around in a feeble attempt to either shield the body from sight or distract my husband from looking at it or both. Now, after a single year of marriage, a woman loses her ability to distract her husband from even the television set. So, after ten years, you can bet I couldn’t stop Maury from noticing the corpse taking up his spot.

“I don’t see anything! Do you see anything? What was that?” I pointed randomly and tried to keep from wetting my knickers.

“I didn’t think they’d really do it,” he muttered irrelevantly. In his defense, he might have had a more spirited response to finding a dead man in our bedroom if he hadn’t found a few live ones over the years.

“Norma, I mean, I can’t believe you’d really do it.”

Then Maury shook his head and pulled himself together. He gently moved my hopping, waving self out of the way and examined the body. Then he pulled the sheet and blanket up and covered it completely. He stood there looking at the shrouded form for a long time.

Finally he came back to me and took my hands in both of his and we sat down on the edge of the bed, as far away from the dead man as possible, with our backs to him.

“Norma, I know you didn’t do it, but...” He lowered his eyes. “Your favorite kitchen knife is sticking out of his side. You could get in real trouble for this.”

I could get in trouble? Heck, I could get dead. Why hadn’t that occurred to me? I’d just been worried about what Maury would do. Was the prospect of losing him was worse than the prospect of getting executed and losing my life?

I looked up at Maury expecting to see anger or disgust or even satisfaction in his eyes but I didn’t see any of that. All I could see there was love, and hope, and maybe something else. Some bit of slyness. Was he already planning how to get me out of this jam?

A smile flickered at the corners of his mouth as he pulled out his wallet and took out a twenty. “Here, Norma. I want you to go get yourself breakfast at one of those coffee shops that open early. Then I want you to get your hair done or see a movie.” He took out another $20 and gave it to me. “And go shopping, buy yourself a new dress if you like. I just need you to be gone for a few hours.”

He stood up and gave me his hand to help me up like I was a real lady. He turned me to face the bedroom closet and gave me a little pat on the rear.

“Now get dressed, and get going. Be back here at two o’clock and I’ll have this taken care of. Then we can have a talk.”

A talk. That sounded bad. I turned back to look at him.

He must have seen the look on my face because he said, “Don’t worry, honey. We’re going to put the past behind us and start all over.” Then he said the strangest thing, the thing I least expected, something he’d only said a couple times.

He said, “I love you.”


Well, I got home at 2 p.m. sharp, and he was as good as his word. The body was gone and we had our talk. We made some decisions that day, Maury and I. I stopped drinking and fooling around. And it wasn’t just one-sided; he was never a drinker, but he’d done some fooling around too. We stopped that. We stopped doing a lot of stupid things, and we started doing a few smart things like going to AlAnon. That crazy morning was ten years ago now and we still go to meetings together once a week. And—can you believe it?—his cousin Judy, a redheaded police matron, is still my AA sponsor.

So Maury’s got my secret, but I’ve got his, too. We don’t talk about the ugly things in our past. All that matters is we found happiness together after all these years.

It’s funny how memory can garble things up, because Judy reminds me of the lady at the bar, the one I drank my very last drink with. And, as I was driving to the coffee shop that terrible morning, the morning after the two gangsters killed each other, the morning I woke up with a dead man, I passed a coroner’s wagon driving into our neighborhood, making a pick up. Maybe it had official business there, but I’ve heard rumors about the pranks the guys from the Medical Examiner’s Office sometimes pull. But none of that matters. I’ve even thrown away that tag I found by the foot of the bed, the little one with the loop of string at the top just long enough to slip over someone’s toe.

I don’t know how much good a gangster does in this life, probably not much. So if someone uses him to do a good deed after he’s dead, I hope the gangster gets credit for it when he gets to the Pearly Gates. Maybe one happy marriage doesn’t mean much in a world with as many problems as ours, but it means the world to me and Maury.

BIO: Stoke Teagan is a lawyer and aspiring novelist. She lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and two cats. Her blog is (mysteriously enough)

A Twist Of Noir 522 - Nigel Bird


“Veil and evil.” This was the part Brandon enjoyed the most. “Same four letters. Ever noticed?”

The three women tied to the chairs that used to sit round his grandfather’s table offered no response. Just stared.

Ever since Grandad had gone into the home, Brandon had been using the house as a base. Seemed fair enough - he spent his week teaching brats who didn’t want to learn to pay for the old goat to stay there.

‘The Chamber,’ he called it. He liked to hear himself say it out loud.

Brandon and his mates loved weekends. A couple of pints at the meeting followed by a trawl round town to do their bit to clean the streets.

Seemed like their lucky night when they saw three of them together.

When they bundled them into the van, they made no attempt to struggle. Wasn’t so much fun without having to beat them into submission, but there was still time to get their kicks.

Billy was all for chucking them into the Ribble, leaving their fate to the undertow, but Brandon ordered them to head for the usual place.

Number 36 was in the middle of a red-brick terrace. Newspapers taped to the windows stopped neighbours taking a nose.

The Chamber was upstairs at the back. Soundproofed and blacked-out, it was perfect.

“See, in Britain, we like to see people’s faces.” Billy had stripped down to his boxers. Sweat dripped from his armpits to his waist as he coiled a studded belt around his hand. He always undressed in front of their prey. Like it was part of a ceremony or something.

Brandon gave Ian a nod.

Ian pulled scissors from the bag, wandered over and cut the hijabs to the knees.

Brandon’s skull tingled at the sight of their skin. He itched to take them there and then. Waiting for their tears, for the begging and the squirms merely heightened the pleasure.

They never came.

“Maybe we’re not getting our point across.” Brandon picked up a blowtorch and turned the valve.

Billy reached over and gave it a light. The flame hissed orange and blue.

“I’ll take off the niqabs then our mouths are going to get intimate.” He flicked his tongue up and down. Shook his shoulders with delight. “And Billy’s lips wouldn’t mind a friend tonight, eh?”

Billy licked the studs at his knuckles and smiled.

“Don’t co-operate and you’ll need those masks to hide the scars.”

Brandon stepped over to the first girl, noted the smell of spices. Decided to go for a curry afterwards.

He reached for the veil. Tore it from her face.


“Watch yourself with that bloody razor.” As Yusuf pulled his leg away from Arash, he kicked over his mug of tea.

“Dickhead. Mum’ll be furious.” Arash took off his tee-shirt and rubbed the carpet clean. “We’re supposed to be slick. Fuck would Naz say?”

“Sorry, mate,” Yusuf said, “but you cut me.”

“Can’t take a nick from a razor, how the hell are you going to sort out these fascists?”

Yusuf, Zeeko and Ahmed sat in a line on the sofa watching the North End with the sound down. All three had their legs stretched out, covered in shaving foam.

“We’ll take what they give,” Zeeko said. “They won’t be coming for any more of our women after tonight.”

Arash set about his work again, stripped away the leg-hair and sent them off to get showered and dressed.


“Jesus.” Brandon pulled his hand away as if he were about to be bitten. “It’s the bearded fucking woman.”

Billy ripped off the veils from the others. Two more beards. “Shit.”

“It’s a bloody trap,” Ian said backing away.

“Cool it, man,” Billy said. “They’re the ones in the snares.”

Brandon felt anything but cool. He’d been lusting after men. It didn’t feel right. Nobody should play tricks like that. He put his feet on the chest of the biggest and pushed him over. Grabbing the scissors from Ian, he stabbed it into the man’s thigh.

“Crazy bastard,” the man shouted, writhing in his upturned chair in spite of the bindings. It was the first sound he’d made since they’d taken him from the street.

There wasn’t much blood until Billy pulled the scissors out. After that, the trickle was steady.

“You girls need a facial, know what I mean?” If they hadn’t, it didn’t take long for them to find out.

Brandon took the blowtorch. Went straight for the face. The smell of singeing hair, accompanied by Brandon’s laughter and the victim’s screams, filled the room.


Arash pulled up a couple of doors down. Reversed into the space outside number 42. Caught the front wing on a scaffolding pole sticking out from the back of the flatbed he was trying to avoid.

“I’m a dickhead. A total knob.” Arash jumped out of the car to inspect the damage. “Mum’s going to kill me.” He licked his fingers and gave the scratches a rub. They didn’t go away.

In the passenger seat, Naz wound down the window and took the headphones from his ears. “Park the bloody car and let’s get to work.” He looked behind him to his brothers, their necks bent, heads pushing dents up into the roof.

Arash slapped the truck. Pulled back his hand and got ready to punch it. Decided he’d be better off saving himself for later. Got back behind the wheel, edged forward and started again.

The car ended up two feet from the kerb. It would do.

The boys in the back contorted themselves to get out when Naz pulled up the front seat, then uncurled to their full height once on the pavement. They looked down at the car and nodded.

“I’ll get better after my lessons,” Arash told them.

“When you’re old enough,” Naz said. He unzipped his holdall, checked the contents and closed it up again. “Now move.”


It was the first time Brandon had actually used the torch. They usually folded at the sight of it. Gave in to whatever they wanted.

What they wanted was always the same. Sex and the promise that they’d show their faces when in public from then on. That or stay indoors.

It had been working. The head of the Preston Chapter had been pleased with their work. Fewer Muslims in traditional dress. Fewer Muslim women on the street full stop.

Brandon and Billy were in line for a promotion. Ian, well, he might make it if he held tight to their tailcoats, but Brandon didn’t really care what happened to him. He was soft. Took all of the pleasures but had to be carried.

“I’m definitely not screwing them now,” Billy laughed. “Shame they wasted all that eye make-up.”

“Don’t know if these guys’ll get laid ever again,” Brandon said. He looked down on the three men lying on the floor, still trussed to their chairs. The screaming had stopped. Instead, all three of them cried softly. Maybe the tears were nature’s way of cooling the burns, Brandon thought. “In fact, we’re going to have to make sure of it.”

“What do you mean?” Ian asked.

“Sometimes you’re slower than a bloody tractor,” Billy said.

“Aye. They came to sort us out, I reckon. We have to send a message.”

“Can’t you just write it down?”

“Gotta get rid of them for good.” Brandon turned down the flame and put the torch over on the mantelpiece.

“Needs to be done,” Billy said.

“Hear that boys? Your Krishna’s not going to be any good to you now.”

“Paper, scissors, stone?” Billy asked.

The three men formed a circle and clenched their fists.


Naz went up to the door followed by his younger brothers Zulfi and Ali.

The three of them were destined for greatness, Arash was sure of it. They were the kind of people that nothing ever touched. It was rare for them to get involved in battles these days. Most of their time was spent studying or down at one of their gyms. If they didn’t make it at boxing, it would be basketball. Had their sights on a scholarship in the States. Anything had to be better than a life on the Broadgate.

Arash came from the side, his head turning from left to right, checking for witnesses. He knew it was pointless. A street like that, full of curtain twitchers and old folk, and they might as well have been posting photos of themselves through every letter box.

Replacing his headphones and switching on his tunes, Naz opened up the bag and passed out the goodies. The Amir boys should be able to scare the shit out of anybody without needing weapons, but having a few to hand wasn’t going to do them any harm.

The scimitar, curved and polished, caught the light, even though the sun was already setting. Zulfi took that. Ran his thumb across the blade. Felt the weight of it in his hand.

Arash was given a ball and chain. It was a token gesture and Arash knew it. He could swing it and look intimidating, but the brothers wouldn’t let him get close enough to do any damage. They just needed his mother’s car and his brains.

Ali had a bow and a handful of arrows. Placed one of them into the string, ready for action. His head nodded up and down to the dubstep that was probably ruining his hearing.

It’s going to be the first Medieval battle since the middle ages, Arash thought. Made him feel better to have that picture in his mind.

Naz took the crossbow for himself. “Ready?”

Without being asked, Ali leant his shoulder into the door. Stood back to give it a good bash.

Putting his fingers on the handle, Naz pushed down gently. The door opened it without making a noise.

Ali turned, rubbed the arm of his shell-suit as if removing dirt, and turned down his tunes.

Everyone nodded and they followed Naz inside.


Ian was first out, just like always. No matter how random the game should have been, he never guessed right.

On the count of three, the finalists threw down their hands. Billy’s was open, Brandon’s clenched.

“Paper wraps stone,” Billy said and punched the air. “Yes.”

Brandon was pissed off. Maybe he was losing his touch. Not that it mattered. He’d still get his turn.

“Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.” Billy pointed at the three men in turn. Mouthed the rest of the rhyme to himself. Settled on the one in the middle.

“Come on, Billy,” Ian said. “They’re not going to say anything. Look at the one you chose. He’s pissed himself already.”

The man in the middle lay in a puddle, his body shaking like he was freezing to death.

It was the last time they were going to work with Ian, Brandon decided. He was worse than fucking useless. Didn’t have the stomach for this anymore.

“Today,” Billy said, “I shall be using the belt, followed by whatever knives I can find in the kitchen.” He stood over his intended victim and pulled back his arm.

Brandon heard a creak on the stairs, then another. Turned his head towards the door as it was kicked open. Found himself looking straight at a crossbow.


Arash stayed at the bottom of the stairs. It was like his body gave up on him. He looked at the spikes on his weapon then gave the chain a swing. Let the ball take out a chunk of plaster from the wall. No way he could do that someone’s head.

The others took the stairs three at a time. Strolled up like they were about to throw a few practise hoops.

Ali went to take the door. This time, Naz let him. He kicked it in with the heel of his trainers and they were out of sight before Arash could let out his breath.

He heard the ping of the bow-string and the jolt of the crossbow, then nothing.

“Where the fuck have you been?” someone was yelling. Sounded like Zeeko. “Where the fuck have you been?”

There was a strange sound, like a gas leak.

“No way, man. Please. No way.” Someone was begging. One of the white kids. Should be saving his breath.

Next he knew, a human fireball was tearing down the stairs. Looked like he was wearing a suit and tie, but Arash couldn’t be sure. He resisted the urge to lift up his leg and trip him over - the way the flames were swirling round the body and those arms were gyrating, it would have been a mean trick.

Arash watched the ball of fire run out of the door, cross the road and jump clear over the wall into the river. By the time he got there to investigate, there were only a couple of ducks to be seen.

From the house spilled the tinny sound of a hip-hop track, hitting the beat in perfect time with Arash’s pulse.


“He just reversed into it like it wasn’t even there, Mum.”

“Did you get the plate number?”

Arash hadn’t worked through the whole story. He’d been too busy getting his mates to the hospital. “Nah, Mum. He was too quick.”

He didn’t see it coming but he felt his cheek sting as the slap landed.

It was the kind of slap he liked. Reminded him of who he was. Where he came from. “Thanks, Mum.”

He gave her a kiss on the forehead and ran up to his room without needing to be told, a great big grin spread right across his face.

BIO: Nigel Bird is a Support For Learning teacher in a primary school near Edinburgh.  Co-Producer of the Rue Bella magazine between 1998 and 2003, he has recently had work published by ‘The Reader’ and ‘Crimespree’ and was interviewed by Spinetingler for their ‘Conversations With The Bookless’ series earlier this year.  He recently won the ‘Watery Grave Invitational’ contest over at ‘The Drowning Machine’ and will have work published in Needle and at Pulp Metal Magazine and Dark Valentine Magazine this summer.  His story ‘An Arm And A Leg’ will appear in the ‘Best Of British Crime’ anthology (edited by Maxim Jakubowski) in 2011. He hopes to complete a draft of his first novel by the end of 2010.