Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 407 - Katherine Tomlinson

THE HOUSE OF HALF A HUNDRED CATS - KATHERINE TOMLINSON

“I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul.” --Jean Cocteau

The mission began, as they often did, with a call from a concerned neighbor. Something was just not right, the caller said. She was worried about the woman who lived next door to her. The old woman lived by herself and hadn’t been outside for awhile.

Roz, who ran “No Cat Left Behind,” asked the caller why she hadn’t phoned the police. The woman replied apologetically that her neighbor had “a lot of cats” and she didn’t want her neighbor in trouble with Animal Protection if nothing was really wrong. The phrase “a lot of cats” is a subjective one so Roz told me to be ready for anything, including the possibility I’d find the old woman planted face down on her kitchen floor, with ragged bites taken out of her corpse.

It had happened before.

I took one of the newbies on the run with me. Viv was an earnest college kid who was already burning out. Every time we went on a rescue she ended up with one of the cats. I’d given her the standard lecture—You can’t save them all—but she’d just looked at me with tears welling up in her big brown eyes and I’d given up.

I was the same way when I was her age. At one point in my thirties, I’d shared my apartment with five cats, a tuxedo, a ginger tabby, two Siamese and Collette, a tortoise shell Maine Coon who stuck to me like Velcro when I found her as a skinny kitten in a downtown parking garage. She was 22 when she died and I grieved so hard I vowed I’d never have another cat of my own.

The caller had said her neighbor’s name was Louanne Bettis and that she was 71 and recently widowed. Her home was a modest ranch-style place on a corner lot. A free-standing garage was set back and to the side. As we approached the front door I caught a whiff of the ammonia stink emanating from beneath the garage’s roll-up door. That was not a good sign.

Viv knocked and, to my surprise, Mrs. Bettis answered. She was short and stocky and looked much older than 71. She was dressed in a threadbare track suit too small for her bulk and bedroom slippers that had been slit to allow her bunion-covered feet to bulge out of them for comfort.

Her eyes were blank as she listened to us explain why we had come. She claimed not to know any of her neighbors and complained that people should just mind their own business.

As we talked at the front door, several cats appeared at her feet, their tails held high which means “Hey, what’s going on?” in cat-speak. Viv reached down to pet a little gray tabby, and I took the opportunity to ask Mrs. Bettis how many cats she had. She suddenly looked defensive.

“A couple,” she said, avoiding my eyes. “I have the room,” she added. She stepped back from the door. “Would you like to meet them?” Viv and I shared a look and entered. I heard Viv stifle a gasp as she got a really good look at the living room. There must have been 20 cats lounging around—on the chairs, the sofa, the bookcases, the television. (It was tuned to Animal Planet, I noticed.)

The house was in utter disrepair, with cracks in the windows, peeling paint on the walls, holes in the floor and a thick blanket of cat hair coating everything. As Mrs. Bettis moved through the house, a fat, floppy ragdoll came up to her and bumped his head against her hand. She picked him up and he attached himself to her shoulder, nuzzling her neck as if he were nursing. I could hear him purr from five feet away.

With the cat still clinging to her, Mrs. Bettis took us out to the garage. The overhead light came on as she opened the door. Viv gagged from the toxic stench but managed not to vomit.

There were at least 30 cats in the garage and only one litter box I could see—the cat sand long ago turned to cement. Unlike most cats you see in these hoarder scenarios, all the animals looked like they were in great shape. Their coats were groomed and free of mats. I didn’t see any runny eyes or hear any raspy coughs. They were sleek and well-fed and affectionate.

Mrs. Bettis surveyed her cats with pride, seemingly unaffected by the reek. She clearly loved her cats. And that’s the sad thing about hoarders. They’re usually lonely people who think they’re doing a good thing when they adopt so many animals. They don’t realize that what they’re doing isn’t necessarily in the cats’ best interest. They don’t know it’s also against the law. They don’t realize it’s a sign of mental illness.

I went back in the house with Mrs. Bettis while Viv stayed by the truck to get some air and unload the cat carriers we’d brought. I explained that we were going to help her find homes for her cats and she started to cry. “Don’t take my cats away,” she begged. “They’re all I have left.”

I asked her if she had any family living nearby and she said she did but that she didn’t like to bother them because they had their own families. She showed me a framed family photograph that had to have been taken a good 30 years earlier. Her late husband had been a handsome man.

Viv came in carrying a couple of kennel cartons and we convinced Mrs. Bettis to let us take as many as we could accommodate in one trip.

When you’re out on missions like this, you sometimes have to do triage. There are always way too many cats and the pounds are full of potential pets whose days are numbered. Viv stuffed the carriers with the short-haired white and black cats we called “cows” and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we’d have a hard time adopting them out.

She had tears in her eyes as she looked around the room and I knew she was trying to figure out a way to rescue just a couple more. I took pictures of the remaining cats and when we got back to the cattery, I posted a video on YouTube. We got a lot of comments on the order of “Leave the poor woman alone,” but we also got offers from people who wanted to adopt every single one of the cats we’d brought back. Buoyed by our success, I put together a convoy of rescuers and we headed out to Mrs. Bettis’ to pick up the rest of her cats the following week.

We arrived to find the house the center of frenetic activity. There were two news satellite trucks parked at the curb and five patrol cars lined up on the dried-out grass of what had been a front lawn. The house itself was open and empty. Not a sign of a cat anywhere. As I watched, EMTs loaded a body bag into an ambulance. I told everyone to stay put and got out of the truck to find out what was going on. My first thought was that Mrs. Bettis, distraught over the idea of losing her beloved animals, had killed herself.

“It’s not the old lady,” a young cop said before the detective in charge of the scene walked over and told me to get lost. I walked slowly back to the truck, looking over the small crowd that had gathered. I spotted a thin woman who was watching the goings-on with the avid eyes of a born gossip. She caught my glance and drifted over, eager to spill what she knew to an appreciative audience. I wondered if she had been the woman who’d made the original call as a “concerned neighbor.”

The body, she told me was not Louanne Bettis but her husband. He had gone missing a little over a year ago under what had been called at the time “suspicious circumstances.” The police had come and searched her house but no one had spent too much time in the garage. The police had shown up early that morning after getting a tip to search the garage for the remains of Al Bettis.

They’d arrived to find Louanne and her cats gone and the garage door open. They’d found skeletal remains buried beneath the litter box. Identification was pending, but the skeleton was still wearing his wedding ring and odds were it wasn’t some stranger. Weird thing, added the neighbor, the phone tip had come from Louanne’s own land line, so the police had just missed her by an hour or so.

*

They never found Mrs. Bettis, but in Palmdale, a small city northeast of Los Angeles, an animal rescue group noticed there was suddenly a colony of 40 cats foraging in a dumpster behind a Ralph’s supermarket. Overwhelmed, they sent out a bulletin to every cat rescue organization in California. We were full up but when Roz heard the story, she asked me to go to Palmdale and see what was what.

When I drove up to the location in the “No Cat Left Behind” van, I was met by a middle aged man who looked like he’d just mustered out of the Army—brush cut gray hair, rock-hard body. Not your stereotypical cat lover. He was wearing a vintage Lynda Barry t-shirt bearing a cartoon of a poodle with a Mohawk. He told me his name was Bill Clinton, no relation.

He told me he had some volunteers coming in from Lancaster who’d agreed to take 20 of the cats and asked me if we could take ten. I said sure because I knew that’s what Roz would say.

One of the cats came up to me and rubbed against my leg. It was the fat, floppy ragdoll I’d seen Mrs. Bettis cuddle. When I picked him up, he stuck to me like Velcro and started to purr. Bill raised an eyebrow and smirked. “Sucker,” he said.

I named the cat Churchill. Churchill seems happy enough, but after living in such a large social group, he gets lonely when I’m away at work. I think he needs a brother or sister to keep him company.

I’ve got the room.

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

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 406 - Steve Weddle

THE WINNER - STEVE WEDDLE

I’d carried the list around for years, every so often adding a name, moving it to a new scrap of paper in my wallet. I read it like some kind of mantra. Calming myself. Focusing.

Jake Martin. Junior year of high school. He punched me in the nose on a dare.

Mike Gibson. First job out of college. Weaseled his way into my spot and got me fired.

Chad Michaels. At the Tire Factory. Sold me three used tires, claiming they were new.

I guess they don’t seem like that big a deal to you. But that’s because they didn’t happen to you. This isn’t about you. This is about me. And the seventeen people on the list.

And the six numbers that brought me ninety-eight million dollars.

The date of my birth, month and year. Four. Twelve.

The age at which I lost my virginity. Twenty-three.

My lucky number. Thirty-three.

The meaning of life, the universe, and everything. Forty-two.

And the random number I left to chance each time. That day it was a meaningless number. Just fell out of my head onto the form. Nineteen. Not from the Steely Dan song. Not from my age when my parents died. This time nineteen didn’t mean anything. And, of course, it meant everything.

It meant I was the sole winner of the Midwest Wonderball lottery. After taking the cash option and giving a large fortune to the taxman, I still had ninety-eight million dollars and change.

And my list, which had pressed against the ticket in my wallet for three days while I waited for the drawing. The ticket and the list getting to know each other. Sharing. One completing the other.

And I held the ticket in one hand and the list in the other that Tuesday night at 10 P.M.

As the numbers started falling for me, I knew I could complete some of my list. Then most of my list. Then, when the last number fell, all of my list.

I got an accountant. Then I picked up my winnings, which was basically just information about getting the money wired to an account. Then the accountant took over and set up tax shelters and investments and all sorts of nonsense. And she left me with plenty of cash. Liquid money.

She handled the forms. I took the list. Then I hired a man to find Nick Jacobsen, my roommate right out of college. The piece of shit who had told my girlfriend, Angela, that I had gone back to smoking pot. He was first on my list.

He was divorced by the time I got to him. Decent job in an insurance office. Nice house. Normal life. I decided to go after the house first. He ruined my comfort, so I’d take his. Local bank. I worked with my accountant for a month and a half, used a small company to buy Nick’s mortgage. Got his credit information and sold that for fifty bucks to a Russian called “Mirlov.” Didn’t take long for him to start getting hit with phone calls. Certified letters. Then I took his house.

By then I was on to Kirsten McGee. I’d worked as a temp for a while and ended up a filing clerk at a corporate headquarters in the city. She was thirty, kinda pale and thin, but with this deep, brown hair that wouldn’t have worked on anyone else, but made her, I don’t know, otherworldly. We talked in the hall. On Mondays she’d tell me about her weekends. On Fridays, her plans. In between we’d talk about “Lost” and “Survivor” and whatever other shows we watched. After a month or two, I’d call her up and we’d talk on the phone, sorta watching the shows together. We stopped watching reality shows when they kept eating disgusting food – rats and goat kidneys and whatever. She was grossed out easily, which I found charming and ladylike.

Then she started seeing a guy called Brad Hanson. Everyone at the office called him “Brad Handsome.” Oh, ha ha. So clever. Then she would just barely talk to me in the hall. And never like we used to talk.

Kirsten lived in an apartment. Leased a car. Didn’t have much I could take from her. So I decided to give her something. I used another company to buy the crappy little apartment complex where she lived. Then I made some smaller purchases, from people I met on the internet. I started small at first. A decaying mouse in the back of her underwear drawer. Going through her fridge while she was at work and changing out her food for spoiled things. Milk. Moldy cheese. Rotten eggs. For six or seven weeks, I worked slowly. Coming in while she was at work and making small changes. I watched her from the parking lot when she got home. She started sleeping with the lights on.

Then I met a man who helped me out. He was “Firefly64” online and worked at a hospital. Thanks to him and an envelope of hundreds I gave him, I was able to fill Kirsten’s toilet with eyeballs and kidneys. Not my most clever moment, but I was just starting on the list.

After Kirsten, I decided to go back to the original plan and keep things even, in perspective. No reason to go crazy with the whole thing. For example, Jake Martin punched me in the nose. Physical. So I’d deal with him on the physical level. He could keep his house. His wife. His job. But he’d balled up his fist and punched me in the nose. Things had to even out.

I had some people pick him up on his way home from his gym. A sort of “Rent-A-Thug” I came across. Times were tough in this economy for some drug dealers. You wouldn’t think so. Or I wouldn’t. Bad economy means people do more drugs. That’s what I’d thought. But folks try to save money and make their own meth at home. Grow their own weed. So I got a deal on some tough guys. They didn’t ask why. Just who and what.

By the time I got to Jake Martin in a field fifteen miles outside Monroe, he was hanging upside down from an oak tree and had a seed bag over his head. The field was still a little damp from the morning dew. He was screaming and crying. Still with a high-schooler’s energy. I had the tough guys lower him to just above the ground, thought about how he’d punched me in the nose, then put my steel-toed boot square into his face. A wet crack, like a twig snapping in the rain. I started to walk away, then thought about how he’d punched me. How he’d balled up his fist and walked across the gym floor after practice, after the coach had gone back to his office. How he’d punched me in the face, then turned around and walked back to his friends while everyone laughed. Because they’d dared him to hit me.

I walked to my Hummer, got what I needed, then walked back Jake. The tough guys were standing next to their van along the logging road on the edge of the field. I cut Jake down and he thudded and plopped around while I kicked him some more.

I stood on his right forearm, the one he’d swung at me. I stepped on it until it sank into the ground. Then I swung once, kneeling, then another time, until the axe made it through his wrist, pulling off the fist that had punched me, that had made everyone in the school laugh at me. Look at me for weeks. Blood. Swollen eyes. Never able to breathe right. For a dare. He’d punched me on a dare. How wrong was that?

He was flopping around and the thugs looked at me, asking what to do. I turned a garbage bag inside-out and picked up Jake’s hand, closed the bag and put it into my coat pocket. Walked to the guys, told them to dump what was left of Jake near Ruston. “Alive?” they asked. I hadn’t thought about it. Hadn’t considered dead as an option. I reached into my pocket, felt his bagged hand, and nodded. Then I reached into my other pocket, pulled out some more cash I’d brought along, and handed it over to them. It’s a good idea to tip well, I thought.

I made it through the last name on the list near the end of last year. Only two out of the seventeen people died, and neither of those was really my fault.

Truth be told, it felt good for a few days to be done. But then I started missing it. Having a reason to live. A job to do. Being a multi-millionaire means that your job is being a multi-millionaire. My money keeps growing. When I was poor, I couldn’t hold onto ten bucks. Now, I make a million dollars while I sleep. I didn’t really have much to get out of bed for.

That’s when I met Leslie at a donor dinner for the library. She’d brought her daughter, who was three, because she couldn’t find a babysitter. Both of them were beautiful and charming. We’ve seen probably fifty movies in the year we’ve been dating. I bought a theater so we could have plenty of room to watch whatever new release we want. Amber had her fourth birthday at the movies, watching something in 3-D with a half-dozen of her friends.

They moved in with me two weeks ago after Leslie lost her job at the car dealership. We’ve become major donors to a few charities and I’m working on new jobs to do. New reasons to live.

“Uncle Conrad,” Amber said to me, and I thought again how Leslie and I needed to figure out what the girl calls me.

I put down my fork and Clarence cleared my breakfast plate away, taking it back to the kitchen where he and the cook could start preparing lunch.

“Yeah, sweetie.”

Cooks. Chauffeurs. An honest-to-goodness butler. I missed handling things myself.

“Can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure, Amber. What’s the secret?”

She looked around to make sure no one was listening. Then she looked back up at me and I thought she was going to cry. She sniffled a little. “At school yesterday,” she stopped. “Yesterday at school.”

School. I thought again of Jake Martin. How complete I’d felt when I put his hand into that garbage bag. Amber was talking again. “At school, Monica punched me in the tummy and I cried.”

“She what?”

“And she did it on purpose. She didn’t even say ‘sorry’ or anything.”

“Are you OK? Did you tell the teacher?” I pulled Amber up into my lap and hugged her.

“No. She said if I told, she’d punch me again.”

I thought again about Jake Martin. About my nose. I felt fluid behind my nose, under my eyes, like I was about to cry with her. Then I thought again.

“Amber, tell me. This Monica girl.”

“Yes?”

“What’s her father’s name?”

BIO: A former English professor, Steve Weddle has an MFA in poetry and hates guns. Every Monday, he takes a break from being a complete sissy to blog about crime fiction at DoSomeDamage. He is the editor of Needle, a magazine of crime fiction, featuring work by Christopher Grant and others. Weddle's work has recently appeared at Beat To A Pulp and CrimeFactory.

A Twist Of Noir 405 - Jarrett Rush

PLAYING HOUSE - JARRETT RUSH

He held the red coat by the waist and stared at the woman in the bed. This was it. This is what he wanted, the life that everyone said was normal. But he knew it wasn’t something he could have, not with her anyway. Theirs was a working relationship. He didn’t even know her real name. He called her Paisley, and the last few days with her had been perfect.

She’d collapsed on the bed in her dress and shoes after their second Christmas cocktail party in as many days. It was the cost of doing business. If you’re going to take the new neighbors for all they’ve got you have to get a look inside their homes.

It wasn’t the best life, he knew it. But most of the time he didn’t care. Most of his conscience had fallen away years ago. But occasionally he’d get these feelings looking at Paisley. He wondered how he’d handle a normal life. A life that started early in the morning and included work, kids, and dinner when he got home. He told himself he didn’t need it. It was just something to ponder when he felt like feeling down.

He met her a month ago and she’d been charming. Could have popped corn she looked so good. Getting to play house with her the last few weeks had been fun, almost normal. It gave him hope, for a moment, that he could be this thing that he wanted to be.

He‘d told everyone his name was Joe McAvoy, a computer engineer who moved to the neighborhood because it looked like the perfect place to raise kids. The new neighbors told him it was. The schools were good, there was a park just down the street, and everyone looked after everyone else. He and JoAnn were excited to be part of it, he told them.

When he’d come in this afternoon to get ready for the party, the scent of her perfume was still in the air. He paused for a moment to enjoy it, and then saw her in the dress and was shell-shocked. At the party, he watched her work the room, bouncing as she walked, and realized that as much fun as he was having playing house it was all going to be over soon. Here she was on the bed, so worn out that she didn’t have time to get undressed and three wallets next to her. She had picked them during the party just for fun, to keep from getting rusty.

BIO: Jarrett Rush lives with his wife, Gina, near Dallas. He’s been previously published at A Twist of Noir. He blogs at JarrettWrites.

A Twist Of Noir 404 - Alun Williams

SMELLING GITANES - ALUN WILLIAMS

“You killed your husband.”

She smiled, took a long pull on her smoke, French, I think, then adjusted her posture deliberately revealing a cleavage that would take me a week to find my way out of.

“What makes you think that?” she replied. “I loved him.”

It was my turn to smile. I walked over to the window. Outside, kids played make-believe. We were playing the exact same game here.

I chuckled. “You’re good. If you were a man, you’d be me.” I leant back. She wasn’t fazed at all. She crossed her legs and stared right through me.

“Compliments, Mr Lazarus? I suppose you have evidence...”

“I’ll find it,” I replied. ”His mother hired me to do so. The DA’s office thinks you’re guilty, too, but they’re a little confused by that expensive perfume of yours. It’s called money.”

“And you? “ She stood up and walked over. “Can’t you smell it, too?”

“It’s a long time since I smelled anything so...”

“Beautiful...”

“Dangerous,” I replied. I kissed her on the lips but she didn’t respond.

“You’ll help me beat the rap,” she said. “I mean, I can be very, very persuasive.“ This time, she kissed me.

*

Later, I studied her as she slept next to me and wondered on how beauty could be so remote. It was an injustice. I called the cops and told them to pick her up. I’d lied about the evidence.

*

I still smell Gitanes on hot summer nights...

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

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 403 - Keith Rawson

TWO CHERYLS - KEITH RAWSON

The 1st Cheryl

The family had worn him to a nub this weekend.

The boys had decided to get up at 4:30 in the morning on Saturday. Normally they were both sound sleepers, but for some reason the twins were acting like it was Christmas morning and they knew they were either getting bicycles or some elaborate video game system and couldn’t wait to get their greasy little kid hands on them. When they were toddlers, Jason hadn’t minded the early mornings—he was a natural early riser—but now that the twins were six years-old and far more independent, he’d readapted his sleep patterns to his and Cheryl’s pre-children days:

In bed by 2 AM and up whenever the hell he felt like it.

Of course, the boys didn’t give a shit what time he’d gone to bed and as usual, not even gunfire three inches from her head was going to wake Cheryl. So he headed downstairs with them to doze on the couch as they watched whatever obnoxious cartoon they were into at the moment.

No doing.

They both wanted some serious Daddy attention; which meant he was down on the carpet with them building forts with Lego blogs and fighting wars with Star Wars and Transformer action figures until Cheryl dragged her sagging ass out of bed around ten. Within an hour of getting up, they were piled into the van off to run errands. Cheryl had no sympathy for his two hours of sleep. She was home alone with the boys five days a week and had plenty of days where she didn’t have enough sleep, either.

Sunday wasn’t any better. He had a little more sleep because he’d passed out a half hour after the boys’ bedtime at eight, but they still got him up at four and wanted the same performance as the morning before. No chores on Sundays, but the boys had soccer and both of them were on separate teams and their games ran one after the other, which meant four hours out in the sun, sweating and listening to lifeless suburbanites bitch about how badly the kids other than their own were playing.

Cheryl did let him catch a brief nap after they got home, but it was interrupted after forty-five minutes when he heard Cheryl’s shrill, loud enough to break sound barrier voice yelling for the boys to stop whatever they were doing and came charging into the bedroom, shouting at him in the same octave. Yelling at him to get his lazy ass up RIGHT NOW!

Jason was a patient man, he’d put up with Cheryl’s near psychotic outbursts for fifteen years.

He’d bowed down to her every whim:

He obeyed when she told him she wanted to get married.

He obeyed when she said she wanted to get pregnant.

He obeyed when she said she wanted to stay home and raise the boys, even though they had fifty thousand dollars in student loan debt from her education they were paying off.

He was a dutiful, hard-working husband, and all that he asked was the chance to get a little rest on the weekends. A little time to himself to recover from his sixty-hour work week.

He flung himself out of bed, his eyes grainy; his throat tight and dry. He needed a couple of minutes to let himself wake up. Cheryl wasn’t giving him a minute; she needed his help. He needed to get the boys under control. Her shrill babble filled his head; the noise was like a table saw grinding against a broken carpenter’s nail buried and invisible in a 2-by-4.

“SHUT! THE! FUCK! UP!”

Hearing the VOICE well up from his chest, rumble up his throat and explode out of his mouth was perhaps the single proudest moment of his life.

And the look in Cheryl’s eyes.

The woman who had been his wife for fifteen years had never known a moment of fear in her entire life and at this perfect moment, her steely grey eyes trembled, a sheen of tears briefly coating them right before she asked:

“What the FUCK did you say?”

She shoved him, putting all 5’3”, 120 pounds of herself into it.

She barely budged him.

Her first punch made him laugh, which pissed her off just enough to put a little more intensity into it. Within seconds, it felt like she had sprouted six arms; her sharp knuckles digging into his bones, colliding with his teeth. He struck out blind, grabbing a fistful of Cheryl’s sandy blonde hair. He shook her like a pitbull, lifting Cheryl’s small frame off the floor and tossing her at the wide mirror attached to the dresser. She tumbled with rag doll elegance, a cooling hunk of meat and bone, shards of mirror dragging bloody gashes. She landed flat, staring up at him, all of the fire and life gone from her eyes.

The boys stood in the doorway of the bedroom, their cheeks wet, screams tearing from their lungs.

Jason didn’t hear them...

His boys, they were good boys. He’d always taught them to be good, honest, obey their parents, never tell a lie.

They’d say something about their mother being gone.

His boys.

His good, honest boys...

After it was all said and done, he had to get out of the house, take a walk. Nothing epic, just a couple of miles to clear his head.

Jason’s neighborhood wasn’t much, a typical Phoenix suburb, nothing but track homes broken up by the occasional mini-mall. The only thing that broke up the monotony was a Catholic church a couple of miles down the road from his development. He remembered the realtor used it as one of the selling points of the neighborhood when they were deciding to move in or not. He shrugged it off; neither he nor Cheryl was particularly religious and the last time either of them had been inside a church was when Cheryl’s baby sister married her first husband, the god nut with the lisp. But he needed some peace and quiet and he figured the church might be good for a little solitude.

Jason stepped through the heavy wooden doors of the entrance and was enveloped by the sudden murky darkness and the near arctic chill of the air conditioning. He took a deep breath, blowing it out slowly through gritted teeth; he was exhausted, needed to sit down. He headed into the chapel, hands tucked into his pockets. Walking into the flickering candlelit chapel, he expected peace and quiet, maybe some illuminating stained glass windows, and, of course, the emaciated vestige of Christ dying on the cross, staring down, judging him with his weeping gaze.

What he got instead was a young nun bent over a pew, her habit hiked up around her hips, wearing black fishnet stockings, black six-inch stripper heels with a black man noisily lapping away at her upraised ass.

It was like a scene out of a porno. The young nun was quietly whispering to the black man, telling him what a bad boy he was, that he was getting what he deserved; her tongue flicked out between her teeth, licking her full lips. He should’ve been disgusted by what he was seeing. No, he wasn’t religious, but this woman, she had made a pledge to God...but here she was, getting her pipes cleaned by some hood rat! He should’ve been rushing down the aisle, pulling the two of them apart and give them a stern lecture...

...should’ve...

Instead, he focus on her lips, on the string of obscenities and dirty talk flooding from her mouth and started rubbing himself through his pockets.

Rubbing and rubbing to the sound of her words and the wet slurping.

He let out sharp breath as he suddenly came in his underpants and the nun’s snapped to attention, seeing him for the first time, her eyes as big saucers.

“Oh my God,” she said. “Oh my God!”

He started back down the aisle, getting ready to run just as the black man stood at his full height, his stern face glistening in the candle light.

*

The 2nd Cheryl

Cheryl’s been bugging me about having a kid. She says it will help cement our love, make us a stronger couple, all that stuff women say when they want their bellies filled with eight pounds of shit machine. I wish I didn’t sound so bitter, because I’m not. I’m forty years old and some how I’ve managed not to get a single woman I’ve ever been with pregnant.

But here I am with a twenty-five year-old wife.

A blonde, tight-bodied, smoking hot twenty-five year-old white girl.

She’s pornstar caliber all the way and goddamn she’s hot in the sack. So hot that I needed to get myself on Dr. Porkenhiemer’s big blue pill in order to keep up with her urges.

We’ve been together three years.

It ain’t all been blissful. Her folks weren’t exactly down with our age difference or with my skin color. My family pretty much felt the same way. Both my mother and oldest sister nearly fainted when I brought her home. Both of them always hoped I’d end up with a nice church-bred black girl; both of them hoped I’d end up with a woman just like them; hard-headed, strong-willed and waiting for some man to come along, boss ’em around and occasionally knock out one of their front teeth or bust their nose for throwing out a little too much sass.

My Cheryl, she’s strong-willed, she’s ambitious, and she ain’t a damn thing like my mother or sister. But we dealt with the disapproval of our families and we built a good life together. Solid careers, a beautiful home, a small, tight knit group of friends.

It’s a perfect life as far as I’m concerned.

But then she started in with the baby talk. I hemmed and hawed, smiled politely whenever she brought it up, but never giving her any kind of real answer to how I felt.

Until she finally cornered me one night after we’d drank a couple of bottles of good wine with dinner.

The way her eyes sparkled when she talked about having a baby, of having a person who was made of a small piece of her and me, it melted my heart, it made me want to have a baby with her.

Kind of.

I didn’t know what kind of father I’d be. My father was mulch by the time I was two years old and the only father figures I knew were the series of bonebreakers my mother hooked up with when I was growing weren’t the type of assholes you wanted to use as templates.

I said fuck it, especially since the idea of getting knocked up was driving Cheryl wild and her normally advantageous sexuality was kick-started into overdrive and she was turning me inside out two or three times a day. I couldn’t keep up and started pushing her away when she’d try climbing on top of me. Then she started trying different things to keep me interested and as revved up as she was.

Crazy, kinky shit.

My girl’s biggest thing is roleplay.

When Cheryl was in high school, she was huge into the drama club, so was her first boyfriend. Her first sexual experiences were hot, sweaty throwdowns dressed up like Romeo and Juliet, or whatever costumes they happened to be performing in that semester. We’d played her games only a few times before our spate of baby-making—bad cop, French maid, dirty nurse—and it was some of our most explosive sex. But when Cheryl decided on wanting a baby, she stepped up her routines and, along with playing dress up, she wanted to act out her little passion plays on location.

The French maid routine now had to be in an upscale hotel room.

Bad cop had to be at the side of a three AM strip of two lane highway.

Dirty nurse had to be in a hospital emergency room.

The bigger the risk, the hotter she got and I had to admit, it got me sweating just as hard.

But I thought her dressing up like a nun and us heading down to the local Catholic Church was a bit much.

Even though neither Cheryl or I were very religious, I was raised Southern Baptist, the church was my family’s entire world and it was instilled in me that every church—no mater which faith it may be—was sacred.

Cheryl kept pushing.

She kept parading her ass around in the sack cloth black and white habit with nothing underneath except black six inch stripper heels, fishnets, and no panties.

Like all of her other demands, I finally relented and drove her down to the church a couple of miles away from our townhouse on a Thursday night.

The chapel was completely abandoned, so we started in on her nun/teacher/naughty parochial school boy fantasy. We were just getting into it, Cheryl bent over a pew, my face buried in her ass, lapping away, and I felt her tense up.

“Oh my God...oh my God!”

I stared up and saw some nondescript white dude backing down the aisle, not able to take his eyes off the two of us. “Stop him, Ty!” Cheryl practically shrieked. “You’ve got to stop him!”

I stood up, letting the man see my full six-foot-three frame, my face slick with spit and Cheryl’s juices and I charged. His eyes were huge and glazed over, still in shock over what he was seeing. I hit him hard, tackling him around the midsection. I clambered on top of him, wrapping my big hands tight across his throat. He tried fighting back; weak punches glancing off my shoulders. I heard Cheryl somewhere far away, her voice high and shrill.

I didn’t know why I was squeezing the life out of this complete stranger. Maybe it was because all the blood that normally would’ve been powering my brain had all drained away from it to power up my dick and I was in survival mode, like some kind of animal.

I finally came out of my blood stupor, the dead man under me, Cheryl standing over me, her face glowing, slack-jawed. She pushed me off of him and collapsed on top of me, maniacally grinding me, cumming over and over again, never taking her eyes off the corpse.

That was two months ago.

Six bodies ago.

Still no baby.

We’re out again tonight; she wants me to do a cop, so we’re in a stolen car, speeding around corners, side-swiping parked vehicles, trying to attract attention.

I want to tell her every day that we need to stop; that we’ve gone too far.

But I can’t.

I just can’t say no to her.

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

A Twist Of Noir 402 - Cindy Rosmus

THE WEDDING DATE - CINDY ROSMUS

The Wedding Date Collected in Gutter Balls by Cindy Rosmus. Copyright(c) 2007 by Fossil Publications.

“This guy,” said Lucy the bartender, “who hurt you so bad. You’re goin’ to his weddin’?”

Cissy smiled. Lucy was Bar 13’s Rock of Gibraltar. Its voice of reason, which didn’t say much. Patrons as lucky as its name symbolized. “Only if I find a date.” A beer-guzzler built like a double-scoop cone, Cissy’s good luck stopped there. She was thirty-five, trashy, and smart enough to feel lousy about it. “Six guys I asked already. Nobody wants to go. You’d think I asked them to marry me, for Christ’s sake.”

Lucy shook her head. With her bleached frizzy hair, and that scar down her cheek, she was worse off than Cissy. “I wouldn’t go. Or even mail back the invite.” Lucy’s sneer showed a double row of teeth. “Motherfucker!”

A scumbag, sure, but Roy was hot stuff: tattooed, and blond, with a scruffy chin and gravelly voice you could feel grazing your clit. Not to be fucked with, just to fuck, hot and deep. He seldom got trashed, wanted a home and family. “But not with me,” Cissy told Lucy. “With ‘Sweet Polly Purebread.’” Roy’s girl Trish, an Italian JAP, had been holding out for marriage. Six months Trish made Roy wait, but the time flew by, thanks to Cissy, who sucked and fucked him, anytime, anywhere.

For the tenth time that week, Cissy finished her story. “And the very night those six months were up...” She picked up her shot of ’Buca. “He gives her the ring, and me the shaft.” She gulped the shot.

Lucy instantly poured another. “Won’t last,” she muttered. As the side door buzzed open, both looked up. In the doorway loomed Terry Becker, Loonus Colossus, who smiled mysteriously.

Lucy turned back to Cissy. “What I don’t get,” she said, cracking a beer for Terry, “is why he’d invite you.”

As he stared up at the TV, Cissy watched Terry pull his dark hair back into a ponytail, then let it fall. “Trish was my friend,” she said. “In gram-”

“Hear about that spree-killer?” Terry shook out a pack of smokes.

“...Grammar school.” Cissy avoided his eyes. “She was a priss-ass even back then.”

“Killed ten people so far.”

“Don’t interrupt!” Lucy told Terry.

“But I love to.” Cissy could feel his eyes on her. “And you love when I do.” When Cissy looked over, he smiled. “You didn’t know I was a poet, did you?”

“I know you’re a pain in the ass,” Lucy said. “Whoa!” she said, when he got up.

But he was moving his stuff next to Cissy’s, whose heart raced, as he sat down beside her.

“So,” Terry said, “who’s this diva? And where’d she invite you?” Lucy rolled her eyes.

“I don’t feel like talking anymore.” Cissy’s voice cracked.

“Love bites,” Lucy muttered.

“A wedding?” Terry said. “Lucky you.” He took a long drag on his cigarette. “And are we happy for them?”

Through clenched teeth, Cissy said, “If I was any happier, I’d be twins.”

“Don’t say that,” Terry said softly. “Weddings suck.” Suddenly he looked sad enough to cry. “Mine did.”

Lucy looked horrified. “Somebody married you?”

Terry ignored her. “’S a real sore spot with me, Ciss. Believe it or not... Some things I just don’t talk about.”

“Wow,” Cissy said softly. She looked at him differently. Even that crazy gleam was gone from his eyes, or hiding somewhere.

“My bride,” he said, “never loved me. Who did she love?” He laughed bitterly. “Hint-hint. He’s not called the ‘best man’ for nothing!” Cissy gasped. “The day we got married, I thought she was blushing.” His hands framed his face, in an exaggerated, comic way. “But it was the afterglow of hot sex!” He pounded the bar. “Raw... raunchy... sex! With him!”

“This guy, Roy,” Cissy said, “hurt me real bad. Used me. Now he’s gonna marry her. And I’ve gotta go to their wedding.”

“Why?” he demanded.

She didn’t answer right away. For the first time that week, it all hit her: her dead-end office job, guys who wanted her ’til they got her, then dissed her. This... place.

“Well?” Terry said. As he leaned across her for the ashtray, his hair brushed her, and she tingled, all over.

“To prove I’ve grown,” she said.

“When is it?”

Cissy looked down at her beer. “Two weeks from today.”

“Valentine’s Day?” She jumped when he seized her hand. “How dare they!” he yelled. “What a slap in the face!” Lucy caught Cissy’s eye. That crazy gleam was back in Terry’s.

Lucy poured him a double-shot. “Told her she shouldn’t go.”

“Oh, no!” Terry said. “You must. Look at you! Angelina Jolie meets Einstein. Big juicy lips and a killer IQ. And...these.” A respectful glance at her chest. “Hot stuff that just can’t be cooled off!” Cissy beamed, squirmed in her seat.

“Go,” Terry commanded. “Show him what a mistake he made.” His eyes narrowed. “Go,” he said, “and blow him away. Blow them all away!”

At the register, Lucy stopped dead. Turning, she slowly shook her head. Cissy ignored her. “But I can’t go without a date,” she told Terry.

They toasted. “You got one,” Terry said.

*

As the door shut behind Terry, Lucy said, “Know those feelings I get sometimes? Out of nowhere?” Cissy nodded. “Got one now. About that fuck,” Lucy said. “Don’t take him to that weddin’, man. I mean it.”

Cissy’s smile was silly. It was the happiest she’d been since she got that dreaded invitation. She was so bombed, she saw two Lucies with four sets of teeth. “R-Roy...” she told one Lucy, “Roy’s gonna die!”

The other Lucy wasn’t smiling. “Him and who else?”

Cissy forced a laugh. Slid her shot glass across the bar. “One more?” she begged.

*

Villa Notte. The classier the name, Cissy thought, the sleazier the hall. Outside Terry Becker’s place she waited, shivering, in her rented Sable. Her coat wasn’t warm enough for mid-February, and the smell of a new car always made her queasy.

Like all her wedding dates, Terry had been MIA since he promised to go. But last night, as Cissy was trying on her halter dress—black spandex, of course—the phone rang!

“Ya ready?” Terry said.

“It’s tomorrow!” she said.

“I know,” he said. “Just tyin’ up some loose ends.” A strange thing to say, but coming from him... “Caught that spree killer,” he said then.

“Did they?” she said.

“Too bad.” The smile in his voice chilled her.

“Be ready at four!” she told him.

Now Cissy was antsy. How would it feel to see Roy again? With her? As man and wife! She blinked back tears.

A knock at the window. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty!” Terry said. As he hurried around to the passenger side, Cissy saw a new Terry Becker! No suit, he wore black casuals, but that long hair...was gone! A black Dutch boy, he had now. And clean-shaven! She realized he had no chin, and was carrying...something, in a brown paper bag. A big one. Shit, she thought, dirtbag brought his own beer. But it looked too heavy even for a whole case.

“What’s that?” she said, as he got in.

“A surprise!” he said, grinning. Without all that hair, he looked weird, but still cute. The bag he put in the back, keeping a small foil box and red envelope, which he slipped in his jacket.

In the box were pieces of a hollow chocolate heart. “Happy V-D Day!” said the new Terry Becker.

“Thanks,” Cissy said carefully. “But...it’s broken.”

His smile matched that crazy gleam in his eyes. “Oh, well!”

Villa Notte had no valet parking. “Good,” Terry said. From the lot, Cissy saw the bridal party step out of their limos. The gowns were dill-pickle green. Then a flash of chartreuse. In the doorway stood the maid-of-honor, Angie, Trish’s big-nosed sister.

“Oh, God,” Cissy whispered. “I can’t.” Beside Angie was the best man, Bruce, Roy’s best friend. His gap-toothed smile reminded Cissy of the time they’d almost fucked.

Smirking, Terry watched them file in. “They have no idea,” he said. “No idea!”

Next were the bride and groom: Cissy glimpsed Roy’s buzz cut, and a tacky, senorita-type veil. Blinded with tears, she suddenly reached in the back seat. “A beer!” she sobbed. “Gimme a beer!”

“No!” Terry seized her arm. “Later,” he said. “You can have anything you want, later...” She sniffled. “At my wedding,” Terry said, “they wore red. Blood-red.”

“When was it?” Cissy asked, “Christmas?”

After a long pause, he said, “It was five years ago... today.”

She looked up. “Happy Anniversary to me,” he said dreamily, watching the bridal party file in.

Inside, the Villa Notte looked like a funhouse, hyped up for Valentine’s Day. Red neon hearts against gilded mirrors, which seemed to multiply the guests, making them uglier, fatter. Good thing they’d missed the “Big Dance.” Coming up was Bruce’s “Big Toast.”

Cissy rushed to the bar. The old bartender looked amazed as she gulped two double Sambucas. “What you want?” she asked Terry.

He didn’t answer. His eyes were huge as the best man raised his champagne glass. “Hey, guys! Today is a very special day!” Bruce said. “And for these two, even!” People laughed uproariously.

Cissy smacked down her empty glass. “Club soda,” Terry murmured.

“You’re not drinking?” Cissy said.

“I don’t have to drink,” he said, “to have a good time.”

Since when? she wanted to ask. But she owed him, big-time. Maybe, later...would be the “Big Payback.” She giggled, as the ’Buca hit her.

*

“Ya know what?” Cissy asked Terry loudly, as he picked at his Prime Ribs. “To guys, I’m just a piece-a meat.” She knew she was on everybody’s nerves. “Chopped meat.” The spectacled lady beside her looked ready to smack her. “But I got feelings!” Cissy told Terry. “That makes me...chopped meat, with feelings.”

Smiling, he put down his fork. “No.” He took her by the chin, looked into her eyes. “You’re better than that.”

“Am I?” Cissy whispered.

“You’re a...chuck steak, with feelings. Juicy, I bet real flavorful.” Cissy could see herself in his eyes. He pointed to the bridal table. “He’ll be sorry.”

For the first time, Cissy turned and looked that way. Roy was alone. Arm draped across his bride’s empty chair, he stared into space.

“Damn, Ciss!” Trish was right beside them. “Lookit all these glasses!” In her bridal gown, she looked like a white elephant. Her wedding purse bulged. “People would think you’re a drunk!” she sneered.

Or that you’re a cunt, Cissy thought. Without smiling, she tossed her own wedding card onto the table, then turned back to Roy.

His smile made up for all he’d done, somehow. How he’d cut her off, for good. But as soon as she smiled back, Cissy was sorry.

Behind her, Terry was standing. “I need the car keys,” he said.

She grabbed his hand. “Why? Where you goin’?”

He pried her fingers out of his. “Be right back.” As she handed him the keys, he slipped the red envelope out of his jacket. “Hold this,” he told her.

“Kiss me!” she said, before she could change her mind. He smiled down at her. His hair curled around his cheek, and she realized he had dimples.

As he bent to kiss her, somebody said, “What a nice guy. And stuck with that drunk bitch!” Chuck steak with feelings, Cissy thought, as they made out. His tongue probed her mouth, with a vengeance. What a kiss! Short, but sweet, and ending with a rough lick from cheek to ear. Cissy loved it.

“Be right back,” he said again, but without smiling. And walked out.

“The bride cuts the cake!” people were singing, but Cissy was oblivious to all but Terry, now. This new, sober guy was so cool, so sexy. And a challenge! Like a lovesick teen, she held his envelope to her heart.

What came first, the screams, or shots, she’d never remember. Both seemed to start at once, the moment she read the envelope: “HAPPY VALENTINE’ S DAY, MR. PRESIDENT!”

Mirrors shattered, neon lights exploded. Roy’s face burst in two, half his skull struck the screaming Trish, in the middle of feeding him cake. Gown red now, she was jerked off her feet. Bruce was riddled with bullets, danced wildly, as his limbs were blown off. Blood, guts splattered as the uzi sprayed the hall. Bridesmaids were raw burgers, all ketchup-y.

Like a dog chasing its tail, Terry ran around, almost in circles, shooting, laughing maniacally.

Under the table, Cissy crouched, puking. Too close were the shots, shattering glass, bones. A foot went limp, chunk of brain landed beside her. She puked up everything she’d ever drunk since grade school.

A new kind of shot rang out. And it was over. That fast, the cops got there.

She was dragged from under the table. The spectacled lady’s head was gone, blood shot up like a geyser. Too late for laser surgery, Terry might’ve said. He had to be dead, for that uzi to be. Lots were dead, lots wounded. People were still screaming, rushing to get out, but the cops held them back. Everywhere she looked, Cissy saw blood, intestines, glass. Gory whipped cream cake. Again, her stomach lurched. But nothing else came up.

“He...he was with her!” The bartender pointed to Cissy. He was showered with booze and splintered glass. “Her date! That maniac was her date!”

Cissy’s head reeled, as cops swarmed her. She needed a lawyer. She was the driver, the scorned slut. Chuck steak with feelings, my ass. This was planned. “No!” she screamed. “I had nothing to do with this!”

“They never do,” snarled the cop, as he cuffed her.

BIO: Cindy is a New York textbook editor by day, a hardboiled Jersey female by night. Her fiction has appeared in Black Petals, The Beat, The Cynic, Red Fez, Zygote in My Coffee, Hardboiled, NVF, MediaVirus, Mysterical-E, The Monsters Next Door, Out of the Gutter, Devil Blossoms, 13th Warrior Review, and Beat to a Pulp. She has four collections of stories out: Angel of Manslaughter, Gutter Balls, Calpurnia’s Window, and No Place Like Home. She is the editor of the e-zine, Yellow Mama. She is also a thrill seeker, a Gemini, and a Christian.

A Twist Of Noir 401 - Robert Crisman

HARD KNOCKS - ROBERT CRISMAN

Some guys have it so rough you beg God to throw them a solid.

Like two guys I knew back in ’72, a ’60s hangover year that saw the world at low ebb. The Cuyahoga River kept catching on fire. Junkies came out of the woodwork. Nixon was top dog. Four More Fucking Years loomed like interminable stretches of sheer sawtoothed hell.

The guys were Joey and Danny, the dumbest two crooks who ever drew breath.

Joey, a thinker as well as a doer, kept mapping these stone nitwit capers. Lazy-ass Danny’d just shrug and say sure.

Joey had zeal for an army. Thirty years old, he lived with his mother, the Battleship Bismarck. She wanted him gone like last year. Okay by Joey: he wanted to move in with his squeeze the Lovely Danielle and be homeless at her place, with luck for the rest of his life.

But first he had to rustle up scratch. He kept telling his mom he was pounding the bricks and looking for work like a dog. He told Danielle the same thing.

Danielle was a milk-and-cookies kind of a girl and wouldn’t put up with that crook shit.

But—cop a 9-5 slave? Joey’d rather cut off his nuts! Which meant he had to do crook shit...

Trouble was, he kept getting busted. Sometimes even worse stuff would happen.

Before we get started, lets get descriptions out of the way. Joey looked just like my man Steve Buscemi in Reservoir Dogs. Danny? Steve Baldwin, the short, stocky blond guy in The Usual Suspects.

Joey’s mom, like I said, was the Battleship Bismarck. Danielle? Nicole Kidman, To Die For—but finer! And seeing as Joey looked like spina bifida on good days, doesn’t that piss you right off?

Anyway, Joey was hot to break his bad luck, and he and Danny burgled this house out in Ballard in northend Seattle one night. They’re rifling the house and Joey goes into the kitchen. There’s some EX-LAX there on the counter. Joey thinks it’s a Hershey Bar, man, and powers it right the fuck down. A little bit later his bowels start belting out rap tunes—in 1972!—just as the folks who live in the place come home from Love Story or something.

Little Jenny, the daughter, screams like a banshee jacked on cocaine! Three houses are leveled! NORAD gets ready for war! FEMA can’t find its butt with its hands! Hell just won’t have it!

Joey and Danny scoop up their stuff and break for the weeds! They hit the back yard! Joey falls down! He loses his sack! Danny keeps going! The guy in the house calls the cops!

Joey shoots up a tree, bowels drumming away like a ’60s rock solo! They blow blow blow blow! Ka-FLOOOOM on the lawn and the bushes! Toxic brown onrush of death and destruction! New mutant species arise! Earth is now theirs for the taking!

What happened next—long fucking story. Suffice it to say that things got so weird that aliens came sniffing around to see what the deal was.

Cops and the Toxic Waste Crew came. They torched the place and left quick. Joey slunk down the alley, a miasmic green haze in his wake that left cats for dead.

*

Danny stayed at the Old Goat Hotel, a downtown flopola for drifters and grifters, Room 307. Joey, his ass finally wiped with a blast hose, sat slumped in a chair.

“You didn’t get nothin’? Not even the toaster?” Danny, sprawled on the bed, looked ready to cry.

“Not after the Toxic Waste Crew showed up.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Hey, man, they’re torchin’ the place! What do I tell ’em? ‘Hold on a sec, guys, till I get my shit out of your way’?”

“Well...” Danny said.

“And what about you?” Joey said. “Your fucking bags broke?”

“I told you, man, yeah! All over the sidewalk! An’ don’t come at me! That shit was heavy! It’d been nice if you’d been there or somethin’, help out with the load. I mean, your shit’s where you dropped it an’ your hands’re free, am I right? Fuck yeah, I’m right—but. I look around, you ain’t there! You’re up in a tree takin’ dumps on the cops! EX-LAX, for Christ fuckin’ sake! You dumb—”

“Hey, man, how’d I know—”

“If you’da waited till I got back down I coulda told you! You an’ your greedy pig ass, man, I swear!”

Joey, abashed, said, “Okay, okay. I didn’t know. I’m a pig. I was hungry! I’ll never do it again, man, I swear.”

Danny was tired. “Yeah, man, alright… So what now?”

“Well, the thing at the house, I think we oughta look at it as sort of a dry run.”

“Dry run.” Danny snorted. “Rivers of liquid shit rainin’ down on the whole fuckin’ world an’ you’re talkin’ dry run.”

“C’mon, man. You know what I mean. Dry run! Like a practice! We did this thing and it didn’t work out, but the game, man, is yet to be played!”

“Oh, for Chrissake,” Danny said. “You sound like the coach of the retards. Dry run… We went in that house to get shit an’ came out with nothin’. An’ meanwhile they had to evacuate Ballard! What’s next? We go in a place an’ Qaeda takes over the world?”

“Jesus, Danny! Qaeda? That’s thirty years off! Are you loaded?”

“The guy who’s writin’ this stuff is for damn sure. He sniffed that shit you let loose in the yard an’ now he’s in orbit.”

“And he’ll be there as long as it takes to finish this story! And so, time’s a-wasting! He wants to come back to Earth, I want to get into Danielle’s, and you’d like to meet a girl sometime that don’t throw up when you’re squeezing her tit and—“

“Hey, man!”

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, man, really. I’ll leave that alone.” Danny was seeing a speedfreak chippie named Lulu who did have the habit of ralphing inopportunely. She did it once on his dick. Danny had issues on this one.

“Danny, look,” Joey said. “Next house, no EX-LAX, I promise.”

“Man, I dunno.”

“Danny, Danny! You got anything else?”

“No.”

*

They hit a place on Alki the next night, a bungalow right on the beach.

They drove away in this beater they’d rented, from Jimmy, a guy who had tons of them piled in his yard, hoping to sell them to fools. This one was a ’58 Lincoln all beat to shit. The previous owner, a speedfreak with palsy, had plowed the thing into storefronts and houses and pilings and light poles and guard rails. His sex life consisted of slamming the car into ditches at high rates of speed. This over 14 long years. The Lincoln sounded like Panzers chewing through Poland. It veered ultra-left like Maoist contingents. It sputtered and died at green lights, again like Maoist contingents.

Jimmy had wanted to sell it to Joey. Joey had actually wanted to buy it—a Lincoln, hot damn!—but broke as he was he just couldn’t. A half a lid, though, bought use of the thing for a couple of days. The bud was way weak, but Jimmy’d been loaded so long his brain was like mulch. You could have given him ear wax to smoke and had any car in the yard.

Him being king of the dead beater business, you might have figured that, right? He hadn’t sold one of those fuckers in six goddamn years. His yard looked like Dresden after the war. His neighbors wanted him gone gone gone gone. They’d finally decided that only a death squad could get the job done.

The car was burnt toast and a bust in the making. For one thing, Joey had gotten his license suspended last June. He’d run a Chevy onto a lawn and plowed through a garden of beautiful roses, then sideswiped the house that the lawn and the roses belonged to. He’d been loaded like dump trucks and mislaid a cross street.

The house belonged to a judge whose views on criminal justice would soon be compared to Khomeini’s. The judge’s wife had won prizes growing those roses.

The cop ate Joey’s license.

But so far so good on this night. They’d cracked a house and actually gotten away with the goods! The Lincoln chugged down the road.

“See?” Joey said. “No EX-LAX, no problem!”

“Oh, hell no,” Danny said. “Crime of the Century we just pulled off. Eight thousand steaks, an old cuckoo clock, an’ a five-dollar roll of fuckin’ goddamned dimes. What a haul. Jesus.”

Eight thousand steaks. The guy’d had a freezer full of the things. The rest of the pickings were sparse and so, steaks it was. The question was, where did the guy come up with the fuckers? Were there cows out in back?

“I can’ just see us tryin’ to rope cows,” Danny said as they stared at the steaks in the freezer. “We couldn’t rope tree stumps. Let’s just do this.”

It took them an hour to shag the steaks out to the car.

But they’d scored, man, goddamn! Didn’t Danny see what that meant?

“Those steaks,” Joey said, “we can sell ’em, the clock’s an antique, and five bucks is five bucks. The point is, man, we broke luck! It’s a start!”

“Start of what?” Danny said. “A career in house-to-house sales? Like Avon Ladies or somethin’? Bing-bong, Sirloins R Us? An’ also, them steaks’re frozen right now, but give ’em a coupla days, they’ll turn green an’ stink like that yard out in Ballard. We’re gonna have to bust ass to get rid of them things, an’ after all that, whadda we got, maybe two hundred bucks? The clock, what, a bill? An’ the dimes—hey, that makes it! Another house, maybe two, we can retire!”

“Danny—”

“Danny nothin’. Burglary sucks. I ain’t gonna do it no more. Somethin’ else maybe, but this shit, uh-uh.”

Joey sighed, for the moment defeated. “Alright.”

They drove awhile. “Okay, man,” Danny said, “I’ll flip you.” He dug in his pocket. “Who gets the steaks an’ who gets the clock. Heads, tails, you call it.”

“Okay,” Joey said, “and we split the dimes down the middle. Steaks, I call heads.”

Joey wound up with the clock.

*

That weekend the Lincoln pulled slowly into an alley. Two-thirty A.M. A deserted stretch in the south end of town. Warehouses and weeds all the way.

Danny was not happy. “It’s still a burglary, man.”

“Jesus, Danny, this is a warehouse! No EX-LAX, no steaks, no old fucking clocks. No toasters! Just nine fucking tons of black leather coats! Waiting for us! We can dump ’em up at the pool hall in six fucking minutes! We’ll be rich!”

Slowly the Lincoln tooled down the alley.

Danny ripped a huge belch. Then he shrugged. “Guess it beats shaggin’ steaks. How much further?”

“Right up there on the left. Let me pull in by this dumpster.”

“We’re kinda close to the place, don’t you think?”

“I know. But there’s ten million coats in that place, and the point of this thing’s not to drop dead while we’re schlooping the coats to the car.”

“I can dig that,” Danny said.

Joey pulled up in back of the dumpster and they got out of the car.

They stood and looked at the warehouse. Two stories of windows, and off to their left was a porch with stairs that led to a door. “Fuck the door,” Joey said. “Six locks on the fucker, I bet.”

Another dumpster stood at the right of the warehouse, immediately below the first-story windows. “We’ll climb up on that thing,” Joey said, “and go in the window.”

He went to the dumpster. “Give me a boost.”

Danny gave him a boost. Joey straightened and surveyed the window a moment.

He looked down at Danny. “Give me a rock.”

“Tape the window first, man.”

“Why, for Chrissake? Nobody around for 6,000 miles.”

“The alarm, man. What about that?”

“Billy fixed it.”

“Billy?”

“Cabrero. He works here, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. Say, what’s he gettin’ outta the deal?”

“Danny, what are you, loaded? I told you, a third.”

“A third? Jesus Christ! I musta been loaded! That’s steep, man, don’t you think?”

“That’s what I had to agree to, man. Little too late to be worrying about that now. Hand me the rock.”

“All we got’s bricks.”

“Let’s pretend it’s a rock, man, c’mon!”

Danny passed Joey the brick. Joey busted the window. He reached in, unlocked it and raised it on up. It went up two feet like somebody’d greased it, then stuck.

Joey crawled through, got halfway—and the window slammed down! It was a big, heavy fucker. Joey was stuck like a pig in a meat packing plant.

He kicked and he flailed and he screamed. “Oh shit! Danny, help me!”

Danny stared awestruck, open-mouthed, helpless.

A car pulled up by the dumpster. A cop car, unmarked.

Plainclothes detectives Edwards and Kleinfelt stepped out.

Edwards and Kleinfelt, scutbusters supreme. They’d busted Joey and Danny some eight million times. Mostly for pud-whacking offenses.

Descriptions. Edwards: Harvey Keitel to the dime. Bad Lieutenant, remember that flick? Cold fucking flick! You ever see it? It’s this coke-sucking cop. He’s a killer, a gambler, he cheats on his taxes and kicks ass for fun—and this one time, he rousts these two teeny-bops, right? They’re maybe 16 and he’s got them boxed in their car, and fucking Keitel—this is no shit—he turns them around on the front fucking seat, has them flip up their skirts, drop their drawers and show ass—right where they’re parked on the street in mid-town Manhattan!—and he spanks the monkey right there!

The guy was a junkyard dog’s dick!

Edwards was cooler than that but, Jesus Christ!

Kleinfelt, his partner, was tall, stolid, gray, with paper-thin lips and a chin like a shovel. Sort of like any cop partner, so pick one. Except Harry Morgan in Dragnet. Harry’s alright, you know, M.A.S.H. and all that. My mother loved him. But cop he is not. So, someone else. How about Ben Alexander, Joe Friday’s partner from back in the ‘50s? Kleinfelt down to the brogans, except Alexander was fat.

So anyway, Edwards and Kleinfelt got out of their car—and both fell down laughing.

They got up and walked over to Danny, who looked like that Edward Munch painting, The Scream. They looked up at Joey and fell down laughing all over again.

Klienfelt had never laughed in his life.

They finally got up. Edwards wiped the tears from his eyes. “This isn’t a job, it’s a Looney Tunes special! In front of us now we have Cluck Number One! And, up in the window, Cluck Number Two-o-oo!”

Danny kept swallowing the flies that buzzed by the dumpster.

“Uh-huh,” Edwards said. He nodded his head as if some final truth had revealed itself to the world. He scanned the warehouse as if he were searching for clues. His eyes stopped at the door. He climbed the steps to give it a closer look.

He got to the door and saw it was open a sliver. A note stuck under the door read, “Joey! In here! Don’t bust the window!” A childish scrawl. Signed, “Billy C.”

Cluck Number Three.

Edwards turned, grinning like toothpaste commercials. He pulled the door open and laughed. “Hey, fellas, we’re in!”

Down below, Danny closed his eyes slowly.

Edwards went into the warehouse. A dark, gloomy room, enormous, and empty as George Bush’s suit.

Nothing but coat racks and hangers for miles.

And dust motes and cobwebs and rat shit.

Edwards fell on the floor.

And there on the floor, a ratshit-splotched note: “Thanks, Billy! Your buddy, Ben.”

The prize went to Cluck Number Four! Edwards went into spasms.

He got up and walked over to Joey. He couldn’t stop laughing. Joey was gasping and purple as grapes.

Edwards took hold of himself. He bent level with Joey and whispered, “Bad news, my man. You got here too late. Ben’s been and gone.”

Joey wheezed curses and pleas.

Edwards put his hand to his ear. “What’s that, my friend? Get you loose? Why, of course!” He called down to Kleinfelt. “The dumpster, man. Lift the lid, would you?”

He straightened and yanked on the window. Joey slid out and dropped like a stone. He screamed all the way and splooshed into six tons of nasty, wet garbage. His screams turned to burbles. He sank three feet.

Kleinfelt flipped the lid shut.

*

There was this one time that Joey’d been busted, out in the streets of downtown Seattle, Saturday noon. He’d been up for five days, jacked on speed playing pool. He lost all his money, went back to the can, fell asleep standing straight up—and the manager, Slim, came in, wrote “FOOL” on his forehead in big block letters with chalk, and sent him outside chasing dopefiends who, Slim informed him, had just made off with his hat.

Joey went, Huh, what the fuck? He’s feeling around on the top of his head. Where the fuck is his hat? His hat’s gone! Those knick-knacks took off with his hat!

Joey’d never once had a hat in his life!

He went tearing on out to the sidewalk, to catch the cocksuckers who’d ripped off his hat. Millions of people out shopping, all the grandmas and teenybops, right? And here is this wild man out on the sidewalk, hopping around like a zoo full of monkeys, white shit slathered all over his lips, shock treatment hair, eyes like he came from a psych ward on Neptune, and “FOOL” on his forehead big as a billboard.

They scooped Joey up with a net. What happened next was straight out of the circus. They figured that he came from space, so they charged him with starting a War of the Worlds. Orson Welles showed at the trial. So did Rod Serling. He made the covers of Newsweek and Omni, and Foreign Affairs devoted three issues to “What It All Means” and “Why Now?”

He got marriage proposals from Zsa Zsa Gabor and Salvador Dali. Halloween Night was refigured forever. Stephen King owes him.

And all this was nothing, mere blips on the way to finis.

You should have been there the day Joey’s mom, The Battleship Bismarck, showed up at the jail to bail his ass out. He heard she was coming and begged them to send him to prison. He said he’d sold secrets to Russia. He confessed to axe-murders. He told them he’d spanked it in church.

They probably believed that he’d whacked off in church—he looked like the type—but, Mom was out there, right in the lobby and ready to blow like St. Helens.

They told him, if they had their way, they’d shovel him under the jail, but, “Sorry, son, you’ve got to go.”

They weren’t going to fuck with the Battleship Bismarck.

They turned him over.

She howitzed his ass through downtown. More World War headlines.

An ordeal for sure. Welts make for bad memories, man...

This time again they refused to ship Joey off to the joint. “But I financed Osama bin Laden!” he wailed. The jailers just laughed.

“You couldn’t finance a mouse to a meal,” they rejoined, and chucked his ass out.

Into the arms of his mom.

The first stoplight they came to walking through town it was bombs away with her cane.

“Just like your father!” Ka-whack! “I bailed him out of jail so often they started in giving me discounts!” Ka-whack! “I’m like a frequent flier down there!” Ka-whack-whack-ka-whack!

“At least your father he was a drunk! And now here you are—” She brought the cane down— “a felonious retard who breaks into places with nothing to steal!” She broke the cane over his head.

“I can see headlines!” she bellowed. “Burglars make off with 3,000 coathangers, eight tons of dust, a spider named Fred with a thing for young flies, and a roach who boogied on into the place by mistake!” She kicked him! He squealed!

“And then you go rolling in garbage! Is that your signature, Junior? Like those assholes who shit on the rug before they make off with the silver? And what pray tell was your take? Three rats and a roach and that spider named Fred, and all the dust in the world! No wonder you couldn’t make bail!” She kicked him three blocks!

They reached the house, Joey by now on all fours. “Well, mister,” Mom said. “You can hose yourself off in the back yard, and then you can sleep there tonight! And in the morning, we’re going to have a long-needed heart-to-heart talk!”

Words that signaled the end of the world. Perhaps not a bad thing...

She fetched him a good one upside his ear and stalked into the house.

Meanwhile, back at the jail, the question of questions was, “Who in the fuck is Osama bin Laden?”

*

Shivering and shaking, Joey lay swaddled under a tree in the tiny, fenced-in back yard. He’d thought the tree would give him some shelter. Until the rains came.

The leaves all dripped down...

Two cats on the fence, either fighting or fucking, provided the soundtrack to this, the latest installment of Joey’s Scythian Hell.

Joey muttered, “Why not? It’s perfect. The winner gets to shit on my head. Thanks a lot, Mom. Dad got drunk for a reason, you know.” And so on like that for two solid hours.

At long last the cat fight broke off. Or maybe one of them just dropped his load. Now, ominous sounds, something big, beastlike, shuffling around on the other side of the fence.

“Ah fuck, what now?” Joey moaned. “Lions? Son of Sam maybe?”

The shuffling receded.

Joey lay back with a sigh and looked up at the leaves dripping, dripping. Water got in his nose. The wind had picked up. Weather like this down in Hell would prompt sit-ins, revolts. The Devil would flee back to Utah.

“This is not gonna work,” Joey muttered. “I can’t even die, this story’s not over! That fucking Crisman. So I sold him some bunk that one time. What’s 12 bucks? The fucker was trying to short me!”

Just for the record, what I want to say is, 12 bucks is 12 bucks, motherfucker!

In the morning, Joey busted a move.

He crawled out from under his blanket and shook himself off like a dog. Water sprayed. He stayed sopped.

His hair hung like moss in a toxic rain forest. He smelled like an aardvark who’d died in coitus. His clothes? Suffice it to say, they were not bonaroos...

He’d slept in his socks and his shoes. His shoes had shrunk. As he splorched toward the house, he teetered and tottered like drag queens on quaaludes. His feet were in agony, man! The way things stood now, he’d need a blowtorch to get those shoes off.

His gameplan was, try and get Mom on his side for once. Somehow, some way. His hopes relied on the clock he had clutched in his arms as he lurched toward the house. The old cuckoo clock he’d burgled that night and—

Oops! I think I fucked up!

You’re asking, where’d the clock come from? He didn’t have it up at the jail. And he sure didn’t make any stops coming home, not while Mom was kicking his ass through his shirt. So where did he get it? Was the fucking thing stashed? In the tree? The bushes? A gopher hole maybe? Three feet up his ass?

A plot hole! Disaster disaster disaster!

...!

Ah, fuck it, who cares? Let’s just move on and—what’s that you’re saying? Publishers hate plot holes? You’ve got to be kidding! Look at Dan Brown! Besides, I’ll put in some tits and ass later, along with a soul-baring contest or two. Publishers love that kind of shit.

We’ve got to keep moving! We stop and they’ll bust us! If I were to freak over something like this, the next thing you know, some smart-ass like you, a New York Times critic or some fucking thing, would smell all the blood and start taking potshots.

I can just hear it:

“Hey, Bozo, I thought this was supposed to be real! So, what, the clock came by spaceship or reappeared, poof, like things do in cartoons, out of nowhere? God sent it Fed-Ex? I mean, how did it get here, alright? The question of questions—and you blow it off!

“And you want to get this thing published! Good luck, you hack motherfucker!”

Then I go off: “Are you done, you coke-sniffing warlock? I hope to Christ! And who signed your press pass? Who are you? Hemingway? Mickey Spillane? How about Alice B. Toklas, you snatch-bumping mud pig! I’ll have you shot like a dog in a kennel!”

See? One of us winds up in jail. So, fuck Sturm und Drang. I’ve got a prostate the size of a boa constrictor, like I’m 90 years old or some goddamned thing. I don’t have time for this shit.

Joey hit the back porch. The porch for some reason refused to hit back. Joey crept in the door.

He sucked in a breath and slithered on into the kitchen.

He squeaked out, “Mom?” No response.

He tipped toward the livingroom, slow as a bucket of scared-ass molasses. Sheer desperation prodded him forward.

He reached the livingroom entry and peered cautiously into the room. Mom sat on the couch reading a piece in Soldier of Fortune and gnawing on bon-bons. The article, “Torture: Refining Techniques,” held her spellbound.

The piece was authored by Dan Mitrione, an American cop and intelligence agent who’d taught the Brazilian police how to do it. The basic idea in this line of work, he propounded, was practice—on winos and dopefiends you dragged off the street. Practice makes perfect and nobody’d miss them, capiche? The Brazilian police saw the wisdom, of course—American leadership covers all fields, or did in those days—and they threw themselves into the work with a gusto. They snatched up the winos and dopefiends. Booze sales nosedived in Rio. You couldn’t give smack away...

That’s not really true. Dopefiends don’t care. They’ve got a monkey that’s bending them over and making them bleed out the butthole. All those thumbscrews and shit? Glass tubes up your dick that they break with a hammer? Like that’s some big deal!

Dopesick is now and that stuff is nothing but some other time.

Mitrione moved on to Uruguay later and promptly got scragged by some rebels. The Brazilians kept going and branched out from hobos to rude teenage kids and guys who laid pipe with cops’ wives. They got famous, and death squads all over picked up their techniques.

Dan Mitrione! They gave him a sendoff up in Ohio. Sinatra belted out show tunes and ballads as gravediggers shoveled him under.

Joey’s mom loved it! She’d often thought of boxing up Joey and shipping him down to Brazil.

Now here he was. She looked up and smiled, a smile with all the warmth of an icepick. It was time for that heart-to-heart talk.

He plastered a shit-eating grin on his face. “Hi, Mom,” he said.

She gave him stinkeye.

“I—I brought you something.”

She noticed the package tucked under his arm. “What’s that you’ve got there?”

He brought out the clock.

She stared at the thing. “Where’d you get that?”

“Huh?”

Why these tough questions?

“You did it again, you little cocksucker!”

“Huh? Wha—Mom! No! I—”

“You’re not out of jail one goddamned day and you’re off stealing clocks!”

“Mom, no, I swear to God, I—”

“No? Then where did you get it? An estate sale or something? You were just driving by in your new Coupe de Ville and the thing caught your eye?”

“No! No! I...”

“C’mon, son, make it a good one.”

“I—I found it.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “I said a good one. Christ on a crutch! My son the clock thief. And certified hat-trick moron to boot! How in the hell can—”

“Mom Mom Mom Mom! I—I—I—Mom! You gotta listen!”

He tried to say more but he couldn’t. He gasped for air, eyes wide as saucers.

Mom cupped her hand to her ear and trilled, “Ye-e-es?”

Joey took a deep breath. “Mom, I know I’ve let you down—”

“Since you were three, you little cocksucker!”

“I—uh, yeah, Mom, I know. I’ve been rotten. And it bothers me, really, and—”

“Son, cut to the chase. I can sing the whole jingle. I read the damn thing word for word in the last cheesy novel I cracked. The son was just out of prison and trying to weasel back into the will. You aren’t getting a dime. So what do you want?”

Joey stared, shocked. How could his very own Mom be so cold? And so smart?

“I—I—I just wanted to give you this clock.”

He held the thing out like a supplicant begging forgiveness from some pope or other. Any one of the cold-blooded fuckers would do.

Mom stood there a moment laying the stinkeye on thick, then took one more look at the clock. Her gaze softened. “It’s oak...”

Joey’s eyes turned to heaven and silently offered up prayers to a whole raft of gods. Most of the gods were more noted for blowoffs than help in hard times.

“Yeah, Mom, it’s oak.”

With a bit of reluctance Mom took the clock in her arms.

She looked at Joey. “You found it, huh?”

“Honest to God, Mom.”

“Don’t blaspheme, son.” She cradled the clock. “It’s beautiful,” she cooed.

She loved the clock!

Joey drew breath for the first time in possibly years.

Mom studied the fireplace mantel. “That would be perfect.”

She placed the clock on the mantel. “Yes, perfect.”

“Oh yeah, Mom, perfect!”

“Joey?” Mom said. She didn’t take her eyes off the clock.

“What, Mom?”

“It’s gorgeous.” Mom looked at the clock a long moment more. “You have a week to come up with a job or your ass is gone.”

A reprieve! Thank God! Joey trundled off to his room. He spent that night in his room planning capers.

Stone nitwit capers! He and Danny kept getting busted and falling down manholes. Their take in all this? Split lips and nerf balls.

After awhile the cops wouldn’t take them to jail. Like Edwards told Kleinfelt, “These guys are for laughs, so let’s let ’em run! We can take pictures or something. Sell ’em, make millions.”

And that’s what they did. One time they caught Joey up in a tree, naked as jaybirds and stoned to the tits on bad acid. Don’t ask. They sold the pix to some tabloid, then dumped their wives and hooked up with bimbos who spent all their money in seconds.

Joey and Danny kept going.

*

Up on Cloud Nine, St. Peter just shook his head. These guys Joey and Danny below. The fuckers were dumber than plywood.

St. Pete turned to God and said, “Boss, these guys, I don’t know. Can you help them or something?”

God said to St. Pete, “Let me give it some thought. They might be beyond me. I’ll let you know.”

In the end, God came through. He does that every Pleistocene Era or so. He let Joey boil in oil for awhile, then scooped him out, and then, via abra-cadabra-like hijinks and stuff, got him hitched to Danielle, the Lovely Danielle, who took Joey in hand and shaped him right up.

They had four kids and moved to the country and lived happy as clams in a Walt Disney movie.

And Danny? He married Lulu the speedfreak, thinking for some unfathomable reason she’d straighten up and fly right. Once again, his dick steered him wrong. She puked in his hair about 5,000 times and he had to broom her at last. As of this writing, Danny’s still looking for love.

But all that’s a story for later. This one is done.

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

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Interlude: Who's Ready For Some Awards?

The 2010 Spinetingler Award for Best Story On The Web nominees have been announced.

I can tell you just by the names on the list that it's going to be a nail-biter all the way to the end.

The full list and links to every story can be found here.

I have to apologize to seven of the ten nominees whose stories were chosen as I have to be biased and root for the home team that consists of...

Michael Moreci, who wrote BLURRED LINES way back at story number 154.

Alan Griffiths, who, by the way, just a short time ago was a rookie writer and wrote MY FATHER'S SON even futher back at story number 80!

And Mark Joseph Kiewlak, who was the first writer at ATON, and wrote THE PRESENT just before Christmas last year, at story number 306.

Congratulations and good luck to Michael, Mark and Alan and also Frank Bill, Paul Brazill, Sandra Seamans, John Kenyon, Hilary Davidson, Sophie Littlefield and Anonymous-9.

And Now We Are Four Hundred

400 stories!

Nuff Said.

A Twist Of Noir 400 - Jimmy Callaway

FOUR HUNDRED - JIMMY CALLAWAY

“Tell her I love her.”

Those were Donnie’s last words to me as he bled out. Fighting back the tears, I grabbed the swag and hauled ass before the cops showed.

At the funeral, I took Donnie’s wife aside and told her what he’d said. I was too drunk to do anything, but she looked good all in black. As she wailed and beat her chest, I made a mental note to send her some flowers next week.

That night, I went out. The new kid, Charlie’s nephew, came and grabbed me up. Theresa wanted to know where I was going, so I gave her a smack and told her I wanted the fuckin’ place spotless when I come home, don’t worry about where I am.

I went across town to where Donnie’s girlfriend lived. She was drunker than I was earlier, she barely blinked. I went downtown to the restaurant where Donnie’s other girlfriend worked as a hostess. She ran into the back, her sobs squeaking out from behind her hand. Then I went back uptown to the nudie bar where Donnie’s other girlfriend worked. She sighed real heavy, and then offered me a ten-dollar lap dance.

But my night was just beginning.

The various nieces of various bosses and underbosses in town, they had to be handled delicately. Fortunately, they all knew me, knew the situation. The ten or twenty nigger broads Donnie was poking on, they were in unfriendly neighborhoods. Charlie’s nephew had to stand guard outside the car as I went in and out of the ratholes they lived in.

I went back downtown, back uptown, across town, underground, and all around. Donnie had ’em stashed everywhere: apartments, townhouses, duplexes, dormitories, hotels, motels, hostels, and brothels. White, black, Puerto Rican, Russian, Roman Catholic, Irish Catholic, Jewish, and Wasp, and there had to be at least a double handful of post-op trannies in there. Some bawled, some wailed, some set their mouths, some pulled their robes tighter. One broad punched me. I gave her a smack, but not a real one, y’know. She was in mourning, after all.

When all was said and done, I musta seen four hundred broads. When I finally got home around dawn, Theresa asked me where I’d been. I checked under the lampshade and found not a speck, so I told her Donnie’s last words.

Theresa cried.

Theresa cried a whole lot.

BIO: Jimmy Callaway blah blah blah attentionchildren.blogspot.com

A Twist Of Noir 399 - Jimmy Callaway

THREE HUNDRED - JIMMY CALLAWAY

Three hundred years, they gave me.

Well, two hundred and ninety-seven, if you wanna be picky about it.

The first ninety-nine was for Pop. Don’t regret that at all. Bastard had it coming for years. Always hitting Ma, hitting me. Doing God knows what to Betsy in her room late at night. So he got a clip emptied into him from my Glock.

The second was for Ma, and I do kinda regret that. They found her, her throat slit open, my fingerprints on the knife. The knife I’d used to help Ma make dinner when I’d visited last.

Still, I feel bad. Sure, Ma married the bastard. Sure, she brought me and Betsy into this miserable existence, and then just crawled into a bottle. Still. I feel bad.

But the last ninety-nine, that was for Betsy. She’d reloaded my Glock already. Her hands were shaking, and the gloves made it hard, but she’d done it.

And she was pointing it at herself.

I’d dropped the bag of groceries I’d brought, oranges spilling everywhere. I’d barely taken the scene in, but I knew what had gone down.

We wrestled and wrestled. Like when we were kids, and I wanted The Three Stooges and she wanted Saved by the Bell. Sounds stupid, but this was just as fierce.

I’d almost had it away from her. I had my hand on the butt, as she gripped the barrel with both hands. Then she said those three little words:

“It’s your fault.”

I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t kill Pop myself. I’m sorry my Ma died. But Betsy...

Am I sorry I killed her?

Or am I sorry that she was right?

Well, I got three hundred years to mull it over. Two hundred and ninety-seven, if you wanna be picky about it.

BIO: Jimmy Callaway blah blah blah attentionchildren.blogspot.com

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 398 - BJ Bourg

GREEN GLOVES - BJ BOURG

Originally published in April 2006 at Flashing in the Gutters

Blade McKenzie pulled the wet wraps from his aching hands and let them fall to the gym floor. He removed his mouthpiece. The familiar stench of stale sweat drifted from his hands.

“You okay?” Sam Wyatt asked.

Blade licked the salt from his lips and nodded.

“Still in pain?”

“A little. Doc says my hand should be healed enough for the fight.” Blade sank wearily to the bench and shoved his hand into a bucket of ice.

The gym doors abruptly opened and Chip Armstrong strode in. Chip dipped his shoulder and dropped his bag to the floor. The trainers and other boxers gathered around him and spoke in excited voices as Chip wrapped his hands. They cheered when he slipped through the ropes and shadowboxed to the beat of Kid Rock’s remake of Saturday Night’s All Right For Fighting.

Blade’s eyes were green with envy. “What’s he got that I don’t?”

Sam slapped his back. “Relax, man, you’ll get your chance.”

“It ain’t just the title fight.” Blade pointed to his trainer. “I’ve made more money for Tim than Chip ever will, but he won’t even acknowledge—”

“Dude, Coach is the least of your worries. I didn’t want to be the one to tell you this, but...”

Blade flexed his hand and grimaced. “Tell me what?”

“It’s about Debbie.”

Blade froze at the mention of his fiancĂ©’s name. He and Debbie Ridley had been dating since grade school. She had been his one and only love. “What about her?”

“Chip’s been getting real friendly with her lately.”

“What do you mean?”

Sam’s eyes darted about the gym. He leaned close to Blade. “Debbie showed up at the gym last week while you were out. She walked outside with Chip and they talked for about an hour on the sidewalk.”

Blade slowly got to his feet. Sweat glistened on Chip Armstrong’s bare shoulders as he threw a combination of punches to the heavy bag. The metal bag rack creaked under the force of the blows.

Sam shook his head. “Don’t even think about it. When Chip was born, he chewed his umbilical cord in half, beat up the doctor, and carried his mom home.”

Blade’s heart thumped in his chest. He flinched with each of Chip’s thunderous strikes to the bag. “Did they just talk?”

“They just talked.”

Blade snatched up his bag and stormed out of the gym. His wet shorts and shirt clung to his body and he shuddered when the cool night air greeted him. An image of Chip flirting with Debbie flashed though his mind. Determination turned his blood to ice. He raced to his parent’s home and borrowed his father’s F-150.

*

When Blade returned to the gym, he surveyed the dark parking lot. It was empty. He parked the F-150 beside Chip’s red Mustang. Grabbing a tire iron from behind the seat, he slipped into the bed of the truck and lay hidden, waiting for Chip to leave the gym. He didn’t have to wait long.

The alarm on Chip’s Mustang beeped and the doors flipped unlocked. Footsteps drew nearer. Blade gripped the tire iron. The footsteps stopped beside him. He heard the door to Chip’s Mustang open. After taking a deep breath, he jerked upright and lifted the tire iron high into the air. With one great heave, he brought the tire iron down onto the top of Chip’s head. He was surprised at how easily the skull collapsed. Chip dropped to the pavement and Blade leapt from the bed of the truck. He glanced around. All was clear.

Blade grabbed Chip’s arm and turned him onto his back. The arm felt soft. Blade lifted the tire iron and was about to bring it down a second time when the interior light from Chip’s Mustang splashed across his victim’s face. Blade involuntarily lurched forward and vomited on the pavement. Heaving uncontrollably, he dragged himself forward and cradled Debbie’s head in his arms. “Oh, my God,” he wailed. “What have I done?”

BIO: BJ Bourg lives in southeast Louisiana with his beautiful wife and two wonderful children. For more information, please visit his website at BJ Bourg.