Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Interlude Stories: Jed Power


“Is there anything else we can try, Doctor Fisher?” She was a shell of a woman and she asked the question without a trace of hope in her voice, almost as if she felt an obligation to ask it. She sat stiff and upright in a plush, red leather chair and looked across a large imposing mahogany desk at the man seated behind it. He had on a white coat and his hands were steepled at his chin. The walls surrounding him were covered with medical degrees. Even so, he seemed quite uncomfortable with the question he’d just been asked.

When he spoke it was slowly and in a businesslike tone. “For the progression of the disease...as I’ve said before...there is nothing except the treatments you are already undergoing. But for the nausea and appetite...possibly.” He cleared his throat and spoke more softly now. “Mrs. Sinclair, have you ever smoked marijuana?”

The question didn’t surprise her. Not much did anymore. Not since she found out she was sick. Still, she hesitated a bit before she spoke. “Why, yes I have. In college a few times.” Then adding quickly, “But that was a long time ago and not since then.”

“Of course,” the doctor said, nodding gravely. “Now, I was wondering. Are you familiar, by any chance, with the success some chemotherapy patients are having controlling their nausea with marijuana?” The doctor’s voice lowered considerably on the last word.

Mrs. Sinclair let out a heavy sigh. “Yes, I’ve heard about that. Matter of fact, I’ve wondered about it.”

The doctor stared at her intently and drummed his fingers on the desk. “Well, as I said, some patients have been helped considerably. Would you consider trying this option?”

Mrs. Sinclair didn’t hesitate a heartbeat. “I’d try anything, doctor.”

Doctor Fisher smiled and seemed to relax. He was silent for a moment, then in almost a whisper he said, “Will you have any trouble obtaining it?”

She touched her finger to her jutting cheekbone and was silent for a minute, thinking. “I ...I can’t think of anyone I would know to...”

The doctor held up his hand for her to stop. “That’s all right, Mrs. Sinclair. Arrangements can be made. Of course, you do understand the legal ramifications? That discretion is required. Also that both of us must pretend that this conversation never took place.”

“Certainly, doctor,” Mrs. Sinclair answered, nodding her head wearily. “I’m not that naive.”

“Good. Let me give you a card then.” He did not get one of his business cards from the small pile on the desk, but instead, reached into a drawer and pulled out a box of blank, white business size cards. He removed one and placed it on the desk. Taking a pen he scrawled an address on the card. He then handed it to her.

“Thank you,” she said, looking at the address. She was glad it was close by in an adjacent town.

“You’re welcome. The person at this address is safe and reliable. I’d trust him with my life. Are you able to go now?”

“Yes. Yes, I am.”

“Good. I’ll make the arrangements, so he’ll be expecting you.” He started to rise, then hesitated as he remembered something. “One more thing. I would suggest taking one of the preparations as soon as you get home from chemotherapy. A few puffs may suffice. If not, feel free to finish one. No more than one every four hours though. And of course, if you have any negative side effects discontinue use. Also, no driving until you’re sure the last dose has completely worn off.”

“Fine, doctor. And thank you again.” Mrs. Sinclair stood and extended her thin hand across the desk. The doctor stood and accepted it.

“Good luck,” he said. “And don’t forget to make your regular appointment on your way out.”

Mrs. Sinclair turned and hurried from the office.

It was only a short ride from the doctor’s office to the address on the card. Mrs. Sinclair was somewhat familiar with the town and had little trouble finding her destination. At the front door of the brick apartment building she pressed the appropriate button and was quickly buzzed in. She rode the elevator to the third floor, and when she found the right apartment she rapped timidly on the door. The door opened immediately to reveal a muscular man in a wheelchair. He had a warm smile and appeared to be about Dr. Fisher’s age.

“Hello,” he said. “Please come in.” He held the door for Mrs. Sinclair and then rolled ahead of her into a main living room which was tastefully furnished. She sat in a comfortable, over-stuffed barrel chair. The man swung his chair around to face her. He made no introduction.

“I believe you have something for me?” he asked. His tone was friendly and relaxed.

“Oh, yes. I’m sorry,” she answered. She rummaged through her small purse, pulled out the card and handed it to him.

The man looked at both sides quickly, turned and wheeled himself into an adjoining room. He was only gone a few minutes before he returned and handed her a small, clear sandwich bag. She could see that inside the bag were about a dozen thin, hand-rolled cigarettes which appeared to be pinched at their ends.

“Thank you,” Mrs. Sinclair said. Her hand shook as she placed the bag into her purse. “How much do I owe you,” she asked, her voice quivering.

The man mentioned a figure. And even though she had no experience in this type of transaction it seemed very reasonable to her. Her hands shook as she counted out the money and handed it to him.

He put the bills in his shirt pocket and asked, “May I offer you something? Coffee? A soft drink?”

“No,” she answered. “Nothing, thank you.” She looked nervously from side to side and said, “I think I should be leaving now.”

The man shrugged his shoulders as if disappointed but not surprised. “Yes, certainly,” he said. Mrs. Sinclair stood and he followed her to the door of the apartment. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you. And of course, please feel free to get in touch with me again at any time. Here’s my number.” He handed her a small piece of paper.

“Yes, I may do that,” she said. Before stepping through the doorway she looked down at the man, and emphasizing each word she said, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

The man smiled warmly. “You’re welcome.” Then added softly, “Good luck.”

Mrs. Sinclair turned, clutched the purse close to her waist, and hurried out of the apartment towards the elevator.

It was a week later that Mrs. Sinclair found herself at her local bookstore. She enjoyed seeing what was new; picking up the books and leafing through the pages. Sometimes she felt she could spend a whole day doing nothing else, until she had fallen ill and the trips to the bookstore were even too much for her. But now, she felt up to it again! And she knew she owed it all to Dr. Fisher and the man in the wheelchair he had sent her to. It hadn’t been a miracle but it had been the next best thing. And now the small, important things in life, like browsing in bookstores, were enjoyable again. And wasn’t that just wonderful!

Now as she scanned the rows of books one caught her eye. She reached up and took it down. The title read: “Big Deals.” Below that the blurb: “The True Story of Medical Students and a Marijuana Smuggling Ring.” Up until a week ago, not the type of book that would have interested her. But now, she thumbed through it slowly. She stopped when she came to a series of photos in the middle of the book.

There was a picture of a boat loaded with marijuana bales. Armed Coast Guard and Customs men stood around the contraband. She turned the page and saw a group of six or seven young men’s photographs--mugshots--all with numbers across their chests. One of the pictures instantly jumped out at her; he hadn’t changed that much. She had no doubt; it was him. The man in the apartment, with the wheelchair and the medicine. He looked much younger and healthier but it was definitely him.

She read his name and the rest of the little caption under his photo. It identified him as a medical student who was involved in the smuggling operation. He had been sentenced to a twenty-year mandatory prison sentence and released after serving eighteen years, but not before he had been crippled in a prison altercation.

She took the book and hurried to a chair in a secluded section of the store. She flipped through the pages, her eyes skimming them as she went. Occasionally, she’d slow her reading when words grabbed her. She got the gist of the tale faster than a speed reader. What she learned excited her.

Apparently the wheelchair bound man had been the only one on board the marijuana laden ship when it was seized at a Hampton Beach, New Hampshire dock. The case against him was airtight. His only hope against a long prison stay and the loss of a future medical career was testifying against others involved.

Federal authorities had already been able to link six other medical students to the smuggling operation but the case against them was weak...unless the man found on board would cooperate. He steadfastly refused, was found guilty in a federal court and sentenced to the maximum twenty year sentence. Eventually, because of his refusal to turn on his friends, the charges against the six were dropped.

Mrs. Sinclair jerked her head up. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? She quickly turned back to the book’s picture section. And there he was--the one on the bottom right. And it was him! He had a beard then, and not only hair but very long hair. No glasses then too. She didn’t even have to look at the name below the picture. But she did---James Fisher. It was Dr. Fisher and above him the man in the wheelchair.

And she remembered now what Dr. Fisher had said. “I’d trust him with my life.” And she realized how good that must feel; to trust someone with your life. Because now she felt it, too.

Mrs. Sinclair smiled, tucked the book, “Big Deals” under her arm and feeling very good walked briskly up the aisle to the cashier.

Interlude Stories: Liam Sweeny


Smitty and D-John walked out the bodega, a little shit-hole, windows barred and filled with cigarette and lottery signs, neon beer glows. They had two forties in crumpled paper bags, not even waiting to leave the store before pounding them. They walked over to the corner, past the view of the store, a new block in a new neighborhood for the same business. Smitty had the bundle, and D-John was there to enforce. Too many crazy junkies stompin' the grounds. But they were always for roughing up a junkie, or robbing a nice watch, or any opportunity that came up. Like a stranger in a shiny, classic black Mercedes SUV. The guy that hopped out was a little wiry fuck with coke-bottle glasses. He parked in back of the lot; no cameras, no one watching out. Perfect.

“Yo, let’s boost that,” D-John said. “The engine’s runnin’!”

“Crazy... Dude’ll report that stolen quick-fast; we won’t get far...”

“Joey’s chop is two blocks down,” D-John pleaded. “We don’t have to get that far.”

They walked up to the SUV. It was purring. They didn’t think; thinking wasn’t what kept them on the block, or in a cell-block, their whole lives. They hopped into the heavy smell of air freshener, masking a much nastier smell. D-John put it in gear and eased it back out. Joey could slice out the smell. They’d still get a couple large for the car. They sped off, Smitty catching the guy in his rear-view. Fucked up thing was, the guy just waved good-bye.

They got to the chop-shop and D-John rapped on the garage door; two, by three, by one, by four. The door slid up, and Joey walked out, bear-hugging D-John. They went to P.S. 13 together; they were tight. He motioned Smitty to drive it in.

“It stinks, Joey,” D-John said. “But everything’s good.”

“I can smell it from here, dog...” Joey grabbed a flashlight and poked his head in the front-door, unlatching the back door and unlocking the trunk. The smell became unbearable. Joey lifted a blanket off the back seat; no sooner than he did it that he turned around and puked. Then the voice came on through the stereo.

“Enter deactivation code, Mr. Barrow.”


Joey screamed at D-John. "There’s fucking body parts in this car! Did you even bother to check the back seat!?”

“I-I Just thought...”

“You don’t think, D-John!” Joey screamed. “You never think about shit!” Joey rubbed his temples. “Where the fuck you get this?”

“Over at the bodega, Joey... I’ll just drive it back.”

“Oh yeah.” Joey was furious. “Leave your prints, my prints, and my crew’s prints all over it by the time the dude you stole it from has five-o there about gettin’ his car stolen!”

“He got bodies in this piece! You think he’s callin’ cops, Joey!?”

One of his other mechanics looked in the trunk. He puked, too. “Trunk’s full of ’em!” He said between hurls.


“And it’s got an alarm! Fuck is wrong with you?” Joey said. He went to the workbench and grabbed a pair of pliers before reaching hesitantly into the center console to clip the wires on the alarm. Then his eyes bulged when he saw what the alarm was wired to.

“Holy sh-”



They both felt the earth shake as the explosion rocked the neighborhood.

“What in the hell was that?” asked the bodega owner.

“Sounded like a propane tank blew up.”

“You want me to call your cops about the car?”

“Oh no, that wasn’t my car,” the wiry man replied, pushing his coke-bottles up the bridge of his nose. “It was just a couple of strangers that dropped me off here. They picked me up on Route 43; I had to hitch-hike.”

“Gotta be careful ’bout hitch-hiking ’round here...” the bodega owner said. “You never know who’s gonna pick you up.”

The wiry man turned to him as he dialed 411 on his cell for a cab. “I guess I was lucky. Thank you, sir.”

The bodega owner went back inside. The wiry man dialed 3 on his phone.

“Hey,” he said. “It’s Barrow. It’s all taken care of.”

“What do I owe you?” said the voice on the phone.

Mr. Barrow could hear the whoops of the fire engines and the screams of cop cars.

“A new Mercedes,” he said. “I’m heading you’re way.”

“How are you getting here, John? Plane? Bus?”

“I’ll get there, don’t worry...” Barrow said, feeling the weight of his heat in the shoulder holster. He laughed. “…might just hitch-hike.”

BIO: Liam Sweeny is a novelist and short fiction writer from upstate New York. He has published two novels, and a short works compilation. In his free-time he volunteers in disaster relief work and is a struggling...everything.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Introduction To Callan’s Purgatory Sex Twins

This is an introduction of sorts.

It’s actually an affirmation of what I think about the audience that comes to this site and the writers that write for it. I believe that this audience is adult enough to read the following story and not go apeshit over it and want for it to be removed or for the author to be told that they are engaging in a fantasy.

The following story is, in my opinion, both gruesome and beautiful and is ultimately a brilliant piece of writing.

It’s gruesome because of the subject matter, the incest and all the gory details. But this happens in our world and it should not be flinched away from simply because it puts our nerves on edge or makes us want to turn away and sweep it under the carpet.

That is, in my opinion, the biggest no-no in writing. You write about things that hurt, that make people want to turn away. You expose the light to these dark things. You don’t write about the simple stuff, or at least not all of the time.

A little while ago, Graham Smith had a story published at Thrillers, Killers ’N Chillers and, the exact same day, he had it removed because the editors were under pressure by a small, miniscule, really, number of people that didn’t like the story because of the subject matter.

I offered Graham to have his story published at A Twist Of Noir and he declined.

The biggest injustice in writing is to silence something.

So Purgatory Sex Twins is difficult to read and its subject matter is gruesome.

So what?

It is also beautiful. The beautiful part is the start of the story and what ultimately turns out to also be the ending of the story.

There is something that moves the reader in that ending.

And, because of that ending, the entire piece, I believe, becomes a brilliant piece of writing. It moves you from “What is this?” at the beginning to revulsion at the actions of not only the narrator but also the revulsion of the situation that both he and his sister find themselves in (and not just the incest but also the feelings that they share) and, by the end of the story, we now understand why it is that he cannot ascend the staircase with his sister, that being a metaphor for heaven.

Brilliant and I’m proud to have this story at A Twist Of Noir.

Interlude Stories: Callan


My sister and I hold hands as we walk up the long flight of cold, white, marble stairs. The stairs gleam in the perpetual blackness. I can not see the bottom of the steps when I am at the top and I can not see the top of them when I am at the bottom. When we reach the last step I let go of her hand, and the great empty dark space grows still dimmer.

“I can’t go with you any further.” My voice booms out in the cavernous darkness much louder than I intend.

My sister fixes her large dark eyes on me for a moment then she turns and lifts one foot but midstep she pauses and turns back towards me. “I am not sure if I want to go upstairs. I am not sure that there is an upstairs.” Her voice was thin and tear-filled.

We walk back down the long flight of stairs. When we get to the bottom of the stairs, she begins to pontificate about what might be upstairs.

Again, I would take her small cold hand in mine and lead her to the top. And, again, when we reached the final step, I would have to tell her that I could go no further. She was afraid to go alone.

I beat her to death with a shovel.

I killed her in the kitchen. As she lay dying, I kissed her. I ripped her thin, blood-soaked blouse.

Buttons exploded into the heavy air saturated with the scent of her blood. She raised her hand to my face and smiled. I wound myself around her and sucked on her bloody tits. I kissed her neck, the salty taste of blood sent an erotic charge through me. I pulled the rest of her clothing off and held her. I had never loved her more than when she was my murder victim. She spread her legs for me and I thrust myself inside her. I could feel her ebbing away.

I loved my sister so much.

After she was dead, I held her and wept. Her body was still warm and blood poured out from her.

I went into the bathroom and took a shower. I watched the pink-colored water flow down the drain.

My sister’s blood was running down the drain. My body convulsed thinking of her cold. I loved her. I loved her as much as I hated myself. And for that, there could be no measure. The absence of her heartbeat was unbearably hollow.

She could not live without me. I could not live with her without succumbing to my most disgusting sexual desires.

We tried to live apart. We tried to be normal. In the three years we lived in different parts of the country, she overdosed twice on sleeping pills and slashed her wrists. Each time, at the final moment when death had come for her, she had called an ambulance. She could not make up her mind.

What no one understood was that we could feel each other’s heartbeats, feel each other’s pain. If she banged her wrist on the side of the table, pain shot through my wrist. When she was angry at me and feeling neglected, she would stab herself, pull her hair. If she suspected I was with a woman, she would squeeze the lips of her pussy, making it difficult for me to maintain my erection. If I managed to come, she would feel it. She would feel what I would feel and I would feel the special brand of rejection and self-hatred that women have made their own. Other times, she would masturbate when she knew I was at work. I would feel the build, feel the straining of my muscles. She would take a long time to climax. It was agony. I would call her and tell her to finish herself off.

“Please, please just finish!” I would beg her.

“Talk to me, tell me about the first time when you fucked me, describe what it felt like. Tell me.” The desperation in her voice repelled me, but I would do it. I would tell her how it was, then she would come and the line would go dead. We were so connected that, when I fucked her for the first time, I could feel her pain. I could feel the pain of a young girl losing her virginity and the gratification of a rapist. What delightfully sadistic agony to feel both sensations at once!

Our folks died and we inherited the house and money. I moved in with her. We did not have to work, plenty of dough. We were alone together in the house, day in and out. I could see no point in trying to lead a normal life. After three years away from her, I knew that it was no use. A few times when we had been apart, she had taken men to bed with her. She went out of her way to debase herself. I could feel her pain. I could feel the emptiness such encounters left inside her. I had raped her when we were children and no other sexual experience could match that memory, so I gave in. I gave in and began living with her. We slept in the same bed, we avoided people. We pretended that we were in love.

I grew bored. I could not enjoy sex without hurting her. I could feel her pain, and it hurt like hell but she could feel my excitement and, when I came, she came in response. The only problem was that each time I had to go further to get aroused.

First, I held her down. Soon that was not enough. I had to tie her down. That held me for a long while, over a year. There is something really exciting about watching thin, bruised wrists strain against ropes. There is something intoxicating about genuine cries of pain, of humiliation. I would cover her mouth with one hand and lean against her throat with my arm. I would watch her eyes bulge. See her face drain of blood. Then she would be still and fix those dark eyes on me. She was feeling what I was feeling: disgust and sexual gratification. This was enough for awhile. Her favorite part was afterward, when I would bathe her. Satisfaction would invade her as I gingerly lay her in the water. I could feel her. I could feel love, the love she felt for me and I loved her then. I would scrub every inch of her. Often, while I was scrubbing between her legs with hot water, she would come, which in turn would make me come. These were the salad days.

Two years passed before I truly began to hate her. She could feel my hate. I felt the hopeless feeling, the despair she felt. I knew I had to kill her; every waking moment was agony for her. Hate is the wrong word for what I felt for her. There isn’t a word deep enough to describe what I felt for her. Everything she felt, I felt. Everything I felt, she felt. It was too much sensation. She felt my hatred and repulsion for her. She felt the hatred and repulsion I felt for myself. Her capacity for love and hate went much deeper than mine.

What created us? I had done research on other twins. I could not find evidence of anything even approaching the physical and emotional connection we shared; we were truly one person in two separate bodies.

The incest continued becoming more and more depraved. One afternoon, I convinced her to let the dog fuck her. I could feel her self-hatred I could feel the erotic charge of ultimate humiliation. The sensation was so powerful that, for a fraction of a second, we were both able to feel what the dog was feeling. We could hear with a dog’s ears smell her cunt with a dog’s nose. The canine’s primitive thrusting was a new high, but it was also the final low. I had to pour water on them to separate them. She was bleeding. I kicked the dog. Then I fell on top of her. I could feel how raw she was. I could feel everything. The sensory experience was so intense. I felt every hair on her body growing, every muscle twitching, the lungs taking in air to scream. The empty space in her chest when the screaming ended.

I dragged her by the hair into the kitchen. She lay on the floor. It was as if she was possessed. She was trying to speak but the words were guttural, demonic, primitive. She tried to stand pulling herself up on the counter, smearing blood everywhere. I could not look at her. I was the cause of this. I created this so it was my job to put it out of its misery.

I went outside to get a shovel. Somewhere between the house and the garden shed the idea of sodomizing her with the handle of the shovel sent a charge through me and I could feel her again. I could feel her cringe. I could feel that intoxicating current of self-hatred and sexual arousal. In my mind, I spoke to her. I comforted her. I was able to soothe her.

After I had killed her, I felt free. I was no longer weighed down by an extra set of emotions.

When the night came, I still had not cleaned up the mess in the kitchen. Rather than cook dinner, I ordered a pizza. Then I went down to my local watering hole and I drank and drank. I did not feel the double feeling of getting two people drunk and behind my eyes was the image of my twin sister. For the first time, it dawned on me that I would never have her again.

When I got back home, I fell onto the couch and slept but my dreams were only my own. I woke with the dawn and went to the garden shed. I grabbed a bottle of ant poison and swallowed as much as I could. For a fraction of a second, I could feel her. I went back to the house sat on the couch and drank the rest of the poison. An intense pain seized my gut. I could feel her feeling my pain.

I was on my way back to her.

Next: I was standing with her at the bottom of a staircase; we were together, again, in death. We mounted the marble staircase. It was a long flight of stairs and we held hands. When we got to the top, she paused. “I don’t know if I want to go upstairs after all,” she whispered.

We never discussed it but we both understood that I would not be able to ascend the staircase with her; if she went upstairs, she would leave me behind for good. We would be apart forever more. I killed her and myself. I would never be allowed upstairs. “Let’s go down one more time, ok?”

“OK,” I said. There was nothing but time now.

Perhaps eons of time have passed, perhaps mere hours, how can I know?

Even in death, we are not free of one another. Until she goes upstairs, we will never be free. But neither of us is willing to part. So up and down the stairs we go. Up and down the stairs for all eternity.

Interlude Stories: K.A. Laity


“I know where to get you some.”

Hanley looked up. Nagle sat there, nodding a little too fast, knee jittering like a piston. Madman: he was on something hoppy again, overdoing it. Expanding his head, he always claimed; next he would be seeing giant moths. Again. “Get what?”

“Mandrake anthrax.” He breathed the words like an incantation.

A shiver wormed down Hanley’s spine. “It’s not real. Just a song, like.” Yet he could feel his tongue working in his mouth already, ready to taste it.

Nagle smiled. “Riley told me.”

“That fucker’s a liar.”

“Not that he had it, that it was real. He was looking.” Nagle leaned toward Hanley, bringing his scabby chops a little too close for comfort. “But I found it.”

“I thought you were going to help me move,” Hanley said, grabbing the empty Tennent’s box and sweeping some CDs into it. “The housing association won’t let me stay past this week.”

“Too right.”

Hanley looked at him. “You all right there?”

“Sure, sure, sure. And yourself?” For a moment Nagle appeared to connect with this realm. His too blue eyes clouded over again and the hum returned.

“No, I’m fucking not. These arse-lickers have it in for me. I should emigrate.” He threw a few more CDs in the box then sighed. Moving made him feel fifty years old. I should be on the trail of some fine pilsner, Hanley thought, fuck this for a laugh.

“It’s not far,” Nagle urged, knee jerking even faster. “Just down the street, number 63. Decadence and anarchy, eh?” Nagle nodded more, seemingly unable to stop once he started.

“You will drive me insane with that,” Hanley said, irritation finally getting the better of him. “Could you stop feckin’ nodding for two minutes together?”

Nagle looked wounded. “Sorry, mate.”

“Mate.” Hanley kicked the Tennent’s box. He wished it were a dog. Or Nagle.

“Friend o’ my youth, brother in arms, ancestral sage,” Nagle crooned.

Hanley laughed. “Feckin’ eejit!” Anything had to be better than packing: a reasonable offer. “Right. How much you got?”

Nagle’s eyes flashed and he jumped to his feet. The man practically danced. “Plenty, plenty. Had a little visit home this week. Yourself?”

“I put a wee bit by.” It was no less than the truth. The crisp blues had been destined for Connolly’s or Garavan’s and a swiftly flowing river of lager. Perhaps a man ought to expand his horizons on occasion—not as far as Nagle, mind. “Right-o.”

“Go round there then, shall we?”

In the streets below the rain pelted down and the wind howled mournful. Hanley pulled his collar up. Nagle shuffled along beside him, the hum audible even in that din. How much longer would the Crimbo lights be up? Surely the city paid good money to unstring them even at the holiday rate.

“Here.” Nagle nodded but once. Lesson learned.

Hanley eyed the brick façade. The door proved to be a gothic affair, metal bound and painted all black. Seeing no modern convenience, he lifted the oversized bat knocker and clapped it to a few times. They both craned their ears but all around them it was suddenly as quiet as death as if all the people had walked hand in hand into the bay abandoning the city behind them. Hanley shuddered.

When he had just about surrendered all hope and began to get thirsty for a tall foamy pint, the door groaned open to reveal a disheveled looking eurotrash reject of indeterminate age. “What?”

Hanley found him off-putting. Nothing like a youngster thinking he was better than he was to rile him. Nagle must have sensed it. He swayed in and said, “We’re here to see your man.”

The dull-witted young man stared for a moment, as if he were about to refuse, then shouted over his shoulder, “Gregor, coupla pugs for ye.” He moved himself with the door to allow the two to pass.

“Thanks, pikey,” Hanley muttered. His mam woudn’t have held with such rudeness, but Hanley figured the kid ought to have been more humble to them. Unprofessional it was.

They walked along the corridor to the sitting room at the back. The afternoon light—such as it was—filtered in through the net curtains and lit a strange scene. Cholly Case sat on the mock-leather sofa, the parts of some fancy gun spread out before him as he polished a shiny piece. He nodded to Hanley, then went back to his work. At the table a Dutch woman sat there weeping and playing Solitaire.

Gregor raised his hands in greeting. “My friends, welcome!”

Nagle oozed obsequiousness. “Gregor, you’re looking lively.”

“It’s no less than the truth,” the dealer agreed. “What’ll you be having today? A little crack with your craic.”

Hanley grimaced. The joke was so old it had a beard in his grandfather’s youth. “None of your cut-rate Polish grinder.”

Their host smiled, a magnificent and beneficent beam. “May the cat eat you.”

Nagle intervened. “We were after some mandrake anthrax.” He managed to invoke the words without betraying the hunger behind them.

Gregor’s surprise could not be hidden, but he recovered quickly. “How quickly it spreads, the word.” He named a price. It was sufficiently astronomical to be convincing.

Nagle nodded at Hanley. This time he could not cease the jerky motion. “We’ll do it.”

Gregor looked from one to the other of them. The Dutch woman sniffled. Without another word, he turned and went to the cupboard below the sink. When he returned, Gregor held out a bottle. Its black letters spelled Hex.

“Mandrake Anthrax,” he cooed.

Somehow the bottle seduced. Hanley’s fingers itched to hold it. The dark green curves would fit his hand like an old friend. He couldn’t smell it, yet it tickled his senses. It had been the right thing. His tongue moved, lascivious.

Hanley handed over his folding money and swigged.

The effects came instantly. His belly boiled with its heat. His skull expanded. His mouth began to laugh. Nagle looked so small beside him. That seemed to be funny as well and he threw his head back to guffaw with abandon.

The room widened. The moon peeked in. How had the time passed? Nagle chattered, his arms stalks waving in the gloaming. For some reason it angered Hanley.

Gregor poked a finger at him, but Hanley did not let it dissuade him. His legs propelled him across the darkened room as if they were moving through meringue. Nagle shrank in the twilight. No more than a bug, Hanley thought. With both hands he grabbed the wee man’s ears. He pulled Nagle’s head off and watched it skitter up the wall. The eyes blinked at him from their perch. His humour returned. No point moving, he realised. I’m already in hell. Hanley laughed his own head off.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Interlude Stories: Salvadore Ritchie


Jason rattled through the top drawer of the nightstand, carelessly tossing things aside, then stopping abruptly. I was standing behind him, so I couldn’t see the item he had uncovered. By his exaggerated pause, whatever it was had captivated his attention. He reached in the drawer, gently removed the object, and then turned around.

Clutched in his hand was a polished, .32 snub-nose revolver. I could see its weight by the light strain it had on Jason’s skinny arm.

“This job’s already too complicated. I won’t kill people.” Jason said this as if he was talking to the .38. His voice rose to a nervous pitch, his eyes shifted towards me. “I’m not a killer.” Given that he practically had the gun pointed at my chest, I found this a bit ironic.

“You get me, man?” Jason lowered the weapon, appearing to take some control over his nerves. His resolve came more into focus.

“I get you,” I said, pausing to emphasize the brevity of our exchange, “...man.”

The house we were robbing belonged to rich, empty-nesters. Jason told me that these kinds of people were valuable for their accumulation of wealth, often times translating to vast collections of jewelry, cutting edge consumer products, and quite frequently, armaments.

Jason stormed over to our duffle bag and shoved the pistol recklessly inside. He didn’t check to see if it was loaded. “I’m not a killer,” he repeated, this time to himself. As he approached the sizable walk-in closet, he repeated the phrase aloud, and a few seconds later, he muttered it again. It was like he was trying to talk himself out of something that was never asked of him. Maybe he saw something in me that prompted him to make such a declaration, but either way, I was crystal clear on the limits of his moral flexibility.

“Jason... I’m going back downstairs to see if we missed anything.” I tried to sound as if nothing were wrong.

“Maybe we should reconsider that television? It’s big, but fencing it should be easy enough.”

He stopped what he was doing, which was pulling shoe boxes off the top shelves of the walk-in. Rummaging through shoe boxes, he claimed, was a technique that sometimes netted family heirlooms like antique jewelry or rolls of cash.

“The T.V.” He didn’t turn around. “Just the T.V., alright?” His voice wilted, as if he were pleading with me. I found this to be the most unappealing moment of our short partnership. Jason was a seasoned burglar; myself a novice. I had wrongly assumed that, during his long stint in this vocation, he must have encountered almost every situation thinkable. By the broad nature of his boasts, I was sure he was a master, but now I realized that I was merely a naïve victim of his overly exaggerated showmanship.

He continued rummaging through the closet as I made my way out of the room.

I couldn’t help but notice the entire house held a deep, vast silence that felt entirely inescapable. Each room, each corridor I had previously visited contributed to this feeling. Only the staircase betrayed the wide expanse of nothingness that permeated in this place.

Slight creaks from the wooden stairs formed a crisp echo as I stepped off the last plank onto the polished tile floor of the foyer. Tall ceilings and ebony colored furniture carefully dotted the living room.

Scattered about the walls was a collection of abstract art that was both engaging and aesthetically appealing. I had nearly lost myself in a painting that reminded me of the beautiful wreckage found in many dead cities. That’s when the gagging and shuffling behind me snapped me back to reality.

I let my pleasant daydream float away, applying my concentration on what Jason and I had presumed to be the owners of the house. There they were, next to each other in the middle of the living room, bound to dining chairs by duct tape and gagged with washcloths held in place by more duct tape.

We had stumbled across them during our stealthy entrance. They had been gone for days; perhaps they were back from a trip? A vacation?

The husband, an older gentleman, had a sunburned face. Needless to say, he was stunned when he found me standing before him, crowbar in hand. My swing was accurate and resulted in a bleeding forehead. He went down fast and easy. The woman, also sunburned, had bleached hair, exaggerated by the roots.

After getting them tied up and gagged, Jason pleaded that we leave. I calmly presented the case that they were bound and that we had regained control of the situation. I also reminded him that this entire venture would be a lot of risk and effort, all for nothing. Eventually, I persuaded him to stay and finish the task at hand, and assured him I would assume responsibility for the unfortunate homeowners.

Upon my approach, the homeowners both reanimated with tugs and pulls. They struggled against the coils of duct tape, as if doing so might postpone my inevitable advance.

I kneeled in front of them.

The sweat made their sunburned foreheads shine. Wide-eyed, they both watched me in silence. The drops of crimson on the man’s collar had darkened to the familiar brown of a blood stain. The woman had a blouse on with a catchy tropical pattern. She wore a playful white skirt.

I decided right then to begin my ritual. I wanted them both to understand everything that was going to happen to them. It’s important to me for my victims to imagine what’s about to take place, so I raised my hand to the woman’s exposed knee, ever-so-slowly. As I touched her, I could feel her skin gently shudder as the rate of her breathing increased dramatically. The contour of her breasts exaggerated with each deep inhalation, this was made pronouncedly more difficult due to the rag crudely stuffed in her mouth. The man’s eyes widened further now. He screamed into his gag and shook violently, but to no avail. My hand crept up slowly, only an inch or two, which was right when I caught what I needed... His eyes. His eyes were filled with such a complicated kaleidoscope of fear and horror that I felt between my legs the snake of my better spirit, rising. It’s always in the eyes where one can tell if a spouse truly loves the other. It’s the eyes that let you read an entire transcript of a life spent together. It’s all in the eyes. It’s always better when they’re really in love. I needed him to watch. I needed him to absorb everything with perfect, unambiguous clarity. I was going to take him far beyond the confines of normal human depravity.

I squeezed her knee firmly, but not so much as to be abusive. Not yet. The man shook even more violently. It was time for them to embrace the blackness.

But then... A creak from a small distance. My concentration broke. Was it the staircase? Was it Jason? I abandoned all pursuits with the couple, snapping myself up. I had enough presence of mind not to move. I waited for the next creak to confirm Jason’s descent. The silence was only broken by the couple’s heavy breathing.


I called out and waited another minute.


I made my way out of the living room and over to the staircase, mindful of everything around me.

The staircase was empty. I knew better than to call up. Jason was likely still collecting items and I wouldn’t want to break his concentration. I needed his focus, needed to use it against him.

I went to the kitchen. The tools of my trade were on my mind, when I happened across a stainless steel cutlery set. While going over the general merits of a carving knife, a boning knife, and a host of various table knives, I thought about the relationship Jason and I shared. The passing bit of regret about our souring partnership was offset by my sense of work ethic. I had originally been attracted to Jason for his reputation as a thief, as a cold criminal. With my specialties being closer to recreation, I had hoped that we could merge our specific disciplines. I pictured us making a real mark everywhere we went. I could have shown him my ways, and he could have shown me his. Naturally I couldn’t let him immediately know where my specialties lay, but this surprise opportunity was the most prominent litmus test of his constitutional durability to date. Sadly though, he had made his intention quite clear. Now, I had to make the tough decision. This was never easy, no matter how many times you cut a partner up. But in order to complete my ritual, Jason had to go.

The biggest handle sticking out of the cutlery set was all that remained. The rest of the knives left me empty. They had no soul, no... Swagger. I reached for the handle and, to my pleasant surprise, I pulled out a bulbous meat cleaver. It was stunning. The girth of the handle was strong and phallic-like. It was a glorious piece of equipment.

I had leaned into what was going to be my first step, when I looked up to see Jason in the doorway.

“I saw you out there.” His voice no longer contained that pleading quality... It had filled out now, contained a much deeper, baritone quality.

Was it anger?


Not anger.

“I saw you with those people.”

To my surprise, I believe his voice was filled with...


This came to me as a total shock, because the prerequisite to feeling disgust is a sense of superiority towards the object of your disgust... And we had long ago defined our intellectual hierarchy. He was breaching all protocol.

Not to mention, he was holding that shiny .38.

“I know what you are.” He raised the .38 to my chest. “Put down the cutter.”

I complied without protest. I set the cleaver down on the counter beside me. Since the gun was a revolver, I could finally see that all the chambers were loaded.

“I know what you are.” I could tell that his disgust was growing. He certainly liked repeating himself.

“What am I?” I asked.

“You’re a monster.” Each word was plump with poison.

As if a light too bright for my eyes had suddenly been turned on, I winced. I couldn’t understand why I felt such rage, such dirtiness. Relying purely on instinct, I grabbed the cleaver and jumped.

The distance between us was too great. He fired, the bullet piercing my torso. It felt like hot lava rippling through my organs, or like the stinger of a giant wasp, tearing through my abdomen.

I gurgled some words.

I found myself on the floor, Jason standing over me.

Warm liquid began filling my throat.

I coughed up blood.

I cocked my head to the side to let some of the blood drain from my mouth. “I thought you wouldn’t kill?”

“I said, ‘I wouldn’t kill people.’ You’re a monster.” He pulled the hammer back until it clicked.

I coughed up more blood and smiled.

“What’s the difference?”

BIO: Check out http://salvadoreritchie.com/ for more information on Sal and his writing.

Interlude Stories: Jamie Grefe


It was becoming hard to focus. The bedroom, a strobe of monochrome and neon. Soupy blood gushed from the fresh gash in my fat gut. I used my left hand to shovel stomach bits back in while Technicolor crimson swirled across my upturned right palm, dripped in stringy strands to the floor. Things were slipping from my grip just like the unhappy marriage and the torrid affair. Phlegm formed in my throat, sat in my mouth. I fondled the lampshade for support.

Salino stood by the bedroom door, eyes locked in a dead stare, mouth wide: a grin of marital vengeance. Bastard had stabbed me. The hunting knife in his hand was wet, gold front tooth sparkled in the street lamp glow from outside the open window like a cheap jewel. Salino: smirking murderer, handsome devil-dog, and better half of Lexa, the fairy that squawked, mistress sublime. I spat that gob of phlegm on the floor, tried to count the watery monochrome chunks.

He tugged at starched sleeves, straightened his jacket in quick twitches, ran a slender hand down the length of his necktie. He strode big steps to stand closer, steps that carried with them an invisible velocity, nudging me back to the bed where I slumped drooling. My head swayed in a slow bounce. Oozing waves of blood made everything prickly with perceptual fuzz. The bed felt springy and warm, my head woozy and flat. Salino approached spinning the knife around, twirled it in his tattooed fist like a bad kung-fu pantomime. The word, “Love” engraved on his fingers wavered up and down, each letter undulating in an ebb of the violence incomplete. Almost.

Open your mouth, he said to me.
You gonna kiss me? I said.

His other hand, the one with “Lexa” inked into it, gripped my chin, tilted my head up to meet his gaze. Cheeks squished, my mouth puckered open in a crusty oval. Bruised eyes looked up, all the way up to the tip-top of his bald head where a skull-sized cobra, tongue flickering fire, had been tattooed in blue ink. The hunting knife eased gently across my cheek. I held gut blood in, kept my insides from spilling out. The cobra’s eyes stared.

I’m gonna cut you up, Salino said, touching the rim of my lips with the tip of the knife. But first, and he paused to reflect before whispering, I’m gonna cut out your teeth, one by fucking one. Just carve ’em out of your gums like a pumpkin. He paused again. I’m gonna wear those teeth around my motherfucking neck just so I can remember this moment forever. Quite sentimental, Salino, I thought. Quite sentimental.

I choked out a cough from the rank fog of his husbandly bad breath. Salino, the serpentine husband, shouldn't have stood so close to a man with nothing to lose. There were things I was still capable of in this, my last stand. I summoned another gob of phlegm to the roof of my mouth and shot it into his face, watched it stick to his lips, drip from his grizzled chin.

Give that one to Lexa, I said. She’ll know who it’s from.

His fist lashed out and rammed my nose back into my head with a whop. I felt a road extending within me as my nose crumpled inward. He ran the knife down the front of my face and touched the blade to the gap between two front teeth. It was perfect timing to catch the snake by the neck and bite its head off.

I raised blood-soaked hands from exposed guts, grabbed hold of both of his sleeved wrists, twisted his arms back toward his face, and rammed that hunting knife right up through the cobra’s head. It was quick. The blade ripped into the skin under Salino’s chin, tore past the mouth and face, up to the peak of his domed head until Salino, her cobra husband, spit out a final diminishing hiss and nearly splintered in two. The blood splattered everywhere in a shower of red venom. I rose in explosions of pain along with the gripped knife, savoring its majesty as if it were divinity itself. I wanted to relish the moment. My stomach applauded in gusts of neon pain. Salino’s head wobbled, two clumsy eyeballs trying to focus, seeing the unseen, perhaps the monochrome, while simultaneously lolling in disbelief, probably at the fact that the head that had joined those eyes together for the entirety of their existence was literally, and oh-so-gracefully, coming undone. His head split apart just like my marriage, just like an orange.

Lexa, do you know what we could have had? I said to the dead Salino.

She was probably outside waiting for him in the Buick. I watched his body, melt and wither with droppings of slobbery goop spurting about the bed, spattering me crimson as he tumbled to the bedroom floor. Perhaps some of the cobra’s guts could be mixed with mine, I thought in a rare moment both lucid and deranged. There’s treasure in those guts. We could mingle. I huffed toward the window, considered carving out Salino’s gold tooth or scraping off the skin of his tattooed fingers. I wanted to demonstrate how evil my love could be. I wanted Lexa. I wanted to be him, the husband. Salino’s Buick was parked under the street lamp. She would be in there.

When I hobbled out the front door, I saw Lexa’s concerned face, little lonely sheep eyes, staring out from the passenger seat. I swung open the driver’s side door and threw myself behind the wheel. This is what it feels like to be a real husband, I thought, looking over at her with a blood-drenched gold-toothed grin.

My sticky hands covered her mouth to stifle that hideous shriek. Fragments of skin and letters dangled from my knuckles. A sliced chunk of Salino’s serrated facial skin hung limp, stretched over my real face. The mixture of phlegm, sweat, and blood wasn’t quite doing the trick, holding his face to my own. It was sagging. I could feel the ink of the serpent’s spit seep into my skull, drip down into the abyss of my aching guts. That bastard ink was the elixir of love. Crawl, baby.

It’s just you and me, Lexa, I said, leaning in for a wet kiss, mouth full of venom.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Just wanted to drop in for two quick notes.

Look for new stories right here tomorrow.

And, in the meantime, go check out Richard Godwin's Chin Wag with Lou Boxer. Lou may or may not be a name that you recognize but he's the co-chair of NoirCon and a great guy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Interlude Stories: R.J. Spears


Father and son, they sat in a dark nondescript van as rosy cheeked children strolled through the crosswalk on their way to school. The father, both hands on the wheel, was just the other side of forty, with a rugged face like a lumberjack. A thin white scar ran along the edge of his chin, parallel with his mouth but was almost entirely hidden by dark stubble. The boy, riding shotgun, was fourteen and shared his father’s woodsman good looks only sans the scar and five o'clock shadow.

“Look at those kids,” the father said. “What do you think they’ll learn today in school?” He looked over at his son. “Not a helluva lot. Not as much as you learn with me in a day. Right?”

“Right, pop,” the son replied.

The light was about to change and a couple gangling, teenage boys raced to beat it. The father continued, “They’re locked all day in school while you’re out with me learning firsthand what the world is really like. I say one day of the real world is worth any month spent in a classroom. I read in a magazine that they call it experiential learning -- learning by doing something rather from a book. You know what I mean?”

The son nodded in agreement. The light changed from red to green and father navigated away from the school driving onto a main thoroughfare with only light traffic which eventually took them into a small downtown shopping district. The streets were lined with a variety of luxury cars and high end sports utility vehicles that advertised the status of the shoppers. They passed through the shopping district and into a residential area of mammoth houses with spacious park-sized lawns. The father cruised with one hand on the wheel and the other leisurely hanging outside the window of the van. The boy took in the opulent houses and mini-mansions.

“Okay, let’s check out my home schooling technique,” the father said. “It’s time for a pop quiz. That house coming up on the right,” he said pointing. “What kind of architectural style is that?”

The boy gave the house a quick visual inspection as they drove by and said, “Tudor.”

“Right,” the father replied. “Now, ask any of those egg heads back at the school if they can spot a Tudor. I bet that can’t.”

They drove down a couple blocks and stopped at an intersection. To their left, a large white colonial sat like a stately manor in the center of a well-manicured lawn with a retro-styled gazebo positioned to the right of the house. A Latino gardener pruned the hedge just the edge of the sidewalk of the neighboring house and paused to look up at the two of them in the van. The father gave him a “Hi, how are you?”abbreviated wave and drove on. “Okay, what would you say that house was worth?” the father asked.

“Three-fifty, maybe three seventy-five.”

“That’s pretty close. I would say closer to four twenty-five. I bet if they have kids, they don’t even know what the house would go for, but you, at least, can make an educated guess.” He flashed his son a quick smile.

The father took a right at the next corner and said, “We’re almost there now. You ready to learn some more?”


They drove down half a block and the father turned into large stone driveway that lead up to a sprawling suburban mansion, complete with a tennis court, heated pool, and four car garage. The father navigated under a large iron gateway past the front of the house and circled around to the back where he killed the engine and they got out. The boy paused for a moment waiting for a cue from his father on what to do next.

“What do you look for first?” the father asked.

“A dog?”

“What about if you don’t see a dog outside?”

“A chain or a dog bowl.”

“That’s my boy.”

The father walked around the side of the van and opened the sliding door. He retrieved a couple sizable canvas tool bags and handed one to the boy. He pulled out a two pairs of light weight leather gloves from the van, handing a pair to the boy and they took a moment to pull them on. The father stood rigid for a moment. The pose made the boy think of a hunting dog sniffing the air for prey.

The father peered around the neighborhood and exhaled loudly. He gave his son a quick look that said, “Let’s go,” and they walked to the house.

They stopped as they reached the back door. The father chuckled and said, “You know I hate this, but I can never remember the code for these alarms.” He stuck a hand into his front pants pocket and retrieved a small sheet of paper. He showed it to his son. “And this piece of information only cost me fifty bucks.” He examined the paper then punched in a series of numbers on the keypad beside the door. He gently grabbed the doorknob, holding his hand on it for a moment, then turned the knob and they entered.

They stood just inside the back door in a short hallway that led to a cavernous kitchen as the father listened for a moment. He moved into the kitchen and the boy followed. An island stove was stationed in the middle of the room, shiny copper pots and pans hung from a circular ring attached to the ceiling just above it. To the right of the island was a large oak table for those who wanted an informal place to have a morning bagel and cup of coffee.

“Yoo-hoo, anyone home?” the father called out. His voice echoed off the walls, but died out quickly as it carried deep into the house. No response came.

“Now, why’d I do that?” the father asked.

“To see if a relative is staying over unexpectedly. Or if a maid is using the place as a rendezvous for some mid-morning delight,” the son said in a tentative voice.

“Good answer.”

They waited and when no one responded, they made their way into the house, stopping in the dining room. “Okay, what can we look for in the dining room?” the father asked.


“Yes, but in most cases what do you find?”


“Good. Let’s head for the gold mine.” They headed out of the dining room and passed through the entertainment room, complete with the latest home theater system with enormous surround sound speakers. The father asked without pausing, “Why do we pass these rooms up?”

“You don’t get a good return on electronics.”

“And?” the father said stopping to look over his shoulder at the boy who had frozen in mid-step.

The boy was caught like a deer in the headlights, his expression blank but also guilty.

“The stuff is too heavy to carry,” the father said, slightly exasperated. He started moving again, “You don’t want to throw out your back and have to crawl out of the place. Or worse, have to lay like a snake with a broken back until someone comes home.”

They found themselves in the foyer standing at the base of spiral staircase that led up to the second floor. The carpet throughout the house was plush and luxurious, muffling their footsteps. “Where are we going first?” the father asked as they ascended the stairs.

“The master bedroom,” the boy replied.

They got to the top of the stairs and paused for a moment.

“Right,” the father said. He then led them down a hallway with numbered prints on the wall that reminded the father of spilled paint. He swiveled his head from side-to-side taking quick peeks into each room. He led them into the master bedroom with a large cherry sleigh bed covered with a paisley comforter. On each side of the bed were his and hers matching cherry dressers.

“You take hers, I’ll take his,” the father said and the boy moved around the bed to the woman’s dresser.

“And why do we come to the bedroom first?” the father asked while he sized up the top of the man’s dresser.

“Aaaa, jewelry,” the son responded.

“Right,” the father said, opening a drawer. He reached in and pulled out an ornate golden watch. “Rolex,” he said, holding his bounty aloft for the boy to see.

“And why do we go for jewelry?” the father asked.

“It’s easily portable and most of the time easily fenced unless it’s a one of a kind item.”

The father stopped what he was doing, turned from his son and his face held an expression of pride. “Tell me you would have learned that in school? Okay, let’s get to the bigger picture. A little philosophical, you know, the topping on all my home schooling of you. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?”

The boy paused just as he was about to place a jewelry box into his canvas tool bag, looked at his father with a sly smile and said, “Crime pays.”

BIO: R.J. Spears is a filmmaker and mystery writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. His short story “Skeletons Out of the Closet” placed second in the Indianapolis Murder and Mayhem short story contest in 1997 and he is currently trying to find an agent to represent a P.I. novel set in Columbus.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Interlude Stories: Regina Clarke


Brenner called himself a private detective and he was suited to the job, as indifferent a man as Moira had ever met. Still, she needed to have a check run on Martin, and fast. Better to get it over with and if she didn’t like Brenner’s personality, it hardly mattered.

Once upon a time, she thought, as she left the investigator’s office, the world had seemed such a nice place. But not for a long time, she sighed. She was beginning to understand the desire for revenge with every broken promise Martin made, every lie, every caressing gesture made to her after he’d been with some other woman he’d found here or there.

He was home when she got back from seeing Brenner, puttering in his greenhouse, for all the world like a loyal, cheerful husband. He walked into the living room from outside when he heard her slam the door.

“Hey, Moira, what’s the problem, door get in your way?” His smile, she was sorry to realize, still made her heart turn over. It’s worked with all those other women, too, she thought. He wore the same tailored shirt and gray tie that he always did, at work or at home. She remembered how happy he had been to find twelve ties the same color on sale at Barbour’s.

“Tea?” she asked him. “And watch your feet, they’re all wet.”

“Oh, sorry, forgot,” he said, sending her a sweet smile. “Just watered up the begonias—I don’t think this new heater I got is working right. Has a short, maybe. It was ninety degrees in there, should’ve been just sixty-five. Henry said he could replace it when the next supply comes in a couple of weeks. He’s at the store now. I think I’ll just go remind him to save one for me.”

Yes, Moira thought, you go see Henry—or maybe it’s Henrietta? Carefully she made the tea the right way, not the way Martin did it, slopping a tea bag into some half-boiled water. Rinse the cup first in the hot water, put in the milk, pour a full boil, steep the tea three minutes to brew it just right.

“You British with your tea,” he’d say every time, teasing her. “Teabag does just as well.”

No, it doesn’t, she’d say to herself each time as she handed him the cup in silence, like now.

After he left, Moira went out to the greenhouse. Dappled early evening light filtered through its glass. She imagined Brenner on Martin’s tail, wasn’t that the way they described it? The idea of getting the first report excited her.

The greenhouse was so well organized. She saw the chart on the wall that Martin used to care for the plants on a rotating schedule. He was a creature of habit, no question about that. It was also very hot. Some of the geraniums he’d set out were faded and the ferns were brown at the edges. That had to be so annoying for him. But he hadn’t dismantled the new heater. Thrifty, he was. He’d use it until he got the replacement, of that she could be sure.

Two days later she pressed the fourth-floor button in the elevator to Brenner’s office. She felt a lurching in her heart, a sudden pounding, her hands sweating.

Brenner looked up from the egg salad sandwich he was eating. Bits of egg were caught on his upper lip and mayonnaise dripped onto the newspaper he was reading. With a cautious expression he wiped his mouth and motioned for her to sit down.

“Well?” Moira said, expectantly.

Brenner pulled a manila folder toward him, pushing aside the remains of his lunch.

“After work he goes every day to a garden nursery, talks to the owner. There are the photos,” he said, laying them in front of her. “Yesterday he went to his club, around five, but not all the way in, just to the lobby, explaining to some guys why he’d missed watching a game with them. Then he went home, as you know. This morning he went to his office as usual.”

“So what are you doing here—why aren’t you following him?” Moira wanted to scream it out but kept her voice even.

“I’ll be there at five, when he leaves.” Brenner was looking at her oddly.

“How do you know he hasn’t left now, skipped out a few hours?”

Brenner looked away from her out the window that let in dusty light. He didn’t want her to see the irritation he felt. The money was good. He turned back to Moira with a smooth expression on his face.

“Okay, from now on I’ll eat lunch in his parking lot. That work for you?”

Three more days passed and the reports were all the same. Every day Martin was where he said he’d be.

Maybe he knows he’s being followed, Moira suggested to Brenner. But Brenner was so nondescript she couldn’t imagine Martin noticing him for any reason. And she had been careful to show nothing but courtesy and affection whenever Martin was around her, even though it brought bile to her throat.

Brenner finally suggested they give it up. He had other cases waiting. “A guy’s fooling around,” he said, “he doesn’t wait this long to do it. I hate to say it, but nothing’s going on. Trust me.”

She left feeling intense disappointment and bewilderment. What could that mean? This was the third investigator she’d hired in as many years. Always the same results. What, what, what could it mean?

As the answer came to her, she shuddered involuntarily. It means, Moira, she said to herself, that Martin is a very boring man. She’d never imagined the possibility. She went over in her mind all the signs she’d thought she had detected. But she’d been wrong. There'd been no lies, no affairs. He’d been doing what he always said he was, for all the years they’d been married. He was just a nice, boring man. She wanted to cry. She couldn’t live with someone like that. She’d rather die first. Or maybe...

She tried to let go of the thought that came to mind.

What I need, she thought, is a good cup of tea. In the kitchen she put the kettle on and waited for the water to come to a proper, full boil, watching the gas fire so it wouldn't scorch the porcelain finish. And then she remembered the defective propane heater. Martin would come home from his office where he’d been all day just like he said, and he’d go out to the greenhouse wearing his tailored shirt and gray tie and switch the heater on at seven o’clock just as he did every single night. She could count on it. Dear, dear Martin.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Interlude Stories: Keith Gingell


Noodles has been with me for about ten years now. I can remember the day we met like it was yesterday. I was having dinner with my wife at Uncle Marco’s place. An interesting feller is Uncle Marco. He’s a businessman, but nobody in our family knows what kind of business he’s in. It changes a lot. One year it’s insurance, another he’s running a café. Then he’s a football trainer or he’s selling furniture ... whatever, but he seems to do alright.

Aunty Sophia plonked a couple of bottles of Barolo on the table while she prepared the food. Marco took something out his pocket and squeezed it. A four inch blade appeared like magic and he sliced off the cork covers. He must have seen my eyes nearly pop out. I’d never been that close to something so illegal.

‘You like it?’ he said, rotating the lethal weapon between thumb and forefinger.

‘I’ve never seen a flick-knife before,’ I said.

He folded the blade and it slipped into place with a solid double-click. He stretched across the table and dropped the loaded handle next to my other cutlery.

‘’S yours.’

‘I can’t take this.’

‘Sure you can,’ he said, ‘I don’t need it anymore.’

He reached behind him and pulled a bronze coloured Colt automatic out of his belt and held it up for me to see.

‘I got this.’

We both leaned back in our chairs and laughed at the joke.

‘Is that real?’ I asked.

‘I’m building up my business. Sometimes I need to protect myself ... You want the knife?

‘I don’t know what I’ll do with it, but yes. I‘d like to keep it.’

Uncle Marco looked at me real serious. ‘It’s good for opening letters and bottles of wine, but don’t go pointing it at anybody, unless you’re prepared to use it.’

That’s how I got it. I named it after I saw “Noodles” use one just like it to kill Bugsy in the shadow of the Manhattan Bridge. To be honest, my Noodles wasn’t much use for anything other than a letter opener. It was as dull as the plastic scissors my kids used for cutting paper.

My grandfather was a barber, he showed me how to strop razors when I was a kid. Lately I’ve been working on Noodles. It’s so sharp now, I could shave a Peach ... Without soap.

Tomorrow night I’m going looking for the guy who did those things to my daughter. I’ll introduce him to Noodles, and for the first time in ten years I’ll use it for more than opening envelopes.

BIO: Keith has stories in Radepacket 3, 4 and 5. Two on Pulp Metal Magazine and four or five on Thrillers, Killers ’N’ Chillers. He is English, but lives near Antwerp in Belgium. He has been writing fiction since 2006 and has been concentrating on noir/crime for the past three years.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Richard Godwin has a new Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse today with Austrian author Ines Eberl. Richard knows how to get you talking and thinking when he interviews you and there is never a dull moment, never a run-of-the-mill question or answer.

Have a look.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Interlude Stories: Richard Godwin


So I’m sitting in Parkside, Anthony Federici’s place. I got connections. What the fuck, I was made at eight. There’s been a few scuffles in the administration, nothing major. Only a few dead bodies. I’ve just ordered Osso Bucco, I can smell the veal sizzling. I love a bone with a hole, and my comare Graziella has her hand on my thigh. Her nails are Chianti red as she slides her fingers upwards when he walks in. Freddy the fucking Shylock. No more than a babania, a babo.

‘So, Tony, how’s it going?’ he says, laying his sweaty palm on my shoulder.

I check my Armani suit for grease marks and catch the angry flicker in Graziella’s eyes.

‘Good, I’m a little busy right now but-’

He cuts me off.

‘There’s a little something owing,’ he say, cupping his hand next to my ear.

I return his gaze and watch his eyes wander down Graziella’s cleavage, hovering at the edge of her La Senza bra.

Look, I gotta tell you this guy’s a cafone, his mother used to hide him under shopping when she took him out, you know. He’s got this puckered face. Gotta pay for his snatch. I ain’t respecting some smart ass like that. But they call me Tony Two Times and I stand by my name. I always give them a chance. I mean, you gotta play fair, right?

‘Excuse me,’ I say to Graziella, and leave her sipping her Prosecco.

I wander the marble corridor.

‘What the fuck do you think coming here and embarrassing me like that? Do you know I’m getting married?’

He smiles, flashing his big yellow teeth at me. It’s ugly his smile, like someone cracked an egg on his fucking face and I think of pliers, my favourite tool. I like to remove their teeth when I’m on a hit, one by fucking one. It’s surprising how much information you can get like that. Crack. Scream. Crack. Scream.

They whine like little girls. They want their mommas. They pray to Christ.

I was hired once to get some vig. Some smart ass reneged on his debts. I like that word renege. So I kidnapped the guy’s son and friend. I called him, I gave him a chance. The asshole never paid. I killed them with a broken Corona bottle and drank a cup of the son’s blood. That was before I gave up coke.

Now I look at Freddy and see he’s nothing more than an empty suit.

‘I’ll get you the money,’ I say, ‘next week.’

He shakes his head.

I can see he’s enjoying this.


‘You know what’s happening in a few days?’ I say. ‘Me and Graziella, I’m a fucking earner.’

He starts to walk away.

‘Not good enough, Tony, bye bye.’

He waves and that’s when it comes to me. I have to do it. The guy’s half a hard-on with a suitcase, he’s a fucking problem, got no respect. He needs to go. I’ll do it for Graziella. She’s a fucking diamond, my best asset.

‘OK, I’ll pay it,’ I say.

He stops.



I go through to Graziella and she flashes her eyes at me.

‘I’ll only be a few minutes.’

While Freddy’s waiting, I steal out front and slash one of his tyres. Then I walk with him to his Benz.

‘Hey, what the fuck?’ he says.

I lay a hand on his shoulder.

‘Kids these days,’ I say. ‘I’ll change it in two minutes.’

He opens the trunk and hands me the jack. Dumb fuck. I smash his head in, bundle him inside, and drive him to Long Island.

The night’s like black velvet as I cut his gut open, release the gases, and weigh him down. Not a murmur, he sinks like a stone.

Back at Parkside, Graziella’s a little mad, but she soon calms down. I marry her two days later. Tony Federici puts the call through for me and I pay my debt. Fuck, she’s his only daughter. Freddy was small time.

These Young Turks, what do they know? Me, I’m enjoying the finest comare snatch this side of Sicily.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Interlude Stories: Andy Henion


They lie on the floor, naked and intertwined, like the couple on the painting above the fireplace. He’s still inside her, wilting now, hands wrapped around her slender throat. This is not his house, but he adores the painting. Man and Woman in Garden. Plans to take it when they leave.

After many minutes she shudders and pushes him away, gasping. Curls into a freckled ball.

He laces his fingers behind his head and stares up at the painting. It’s bigger than anything he’s seen, life-sized, so big he’ll have to remove the gold frame to get it in the trunk of his Pontiac, parked down the street off a weedy two-track. From here he plans to head west to Kalamazoo and down into Chicago, where he’ll find them another house or garage or outbuilding to stay for a few nights, but even in the big city he’ll fight the urge to pawn the painting, the way he pawns just about everything else, for he means one day to put it above their fireplace, in their house, on their woodsy lot. Somewhere down in California, maybe even Mexico, three or four kids running about. A storybook setting that belies his upbringing.

“Do you see them?” he says, pointing to the painting. “The dandelions?”

She ignores the question, holding her throat. She was raised in a house like this, but only in theory. Her own little hellhole. When they met, on a cool, rainy day, she was working at the bookstore and he was stealing books, this slick, longhaired stranger with a definite intensity about him. She followed him to the parking lot and climbed in the rusty Pontiac with the out-of-state plates, and when he looked into her dark eyes he knew better than to ask questions.

“You’re my dandelion,” he says now.

“Don’t call me that.”


“They’re fucking weeds,” she says, thinking, for the hundredth time, she’s made a terrible mistake hitching her wagon to this Neanderthal.

He’s reaching for a fistful of her long brown hair, ready to teach her another lesson, when they hear the garage door. He scrambles for his clothes, more specifically for the nine-millimeter atop the pile, but she’s already there, she already has it.

Pointing it at him.

“Nice recon job,” she says. “Gone another week, huh?”

“We gotta move,” he says. “No fuckin’ time for this.”

“Sure there is,” she says, and shoots him in the face. But she’s never fired a gun, and the slug travels low and tears through his cheek, exposing teeth. He makes a sound, somewhere between a growl and a gurgle, and holds his arms up, pleading. Two hands on the grip now, easy breaths, and the next slug finds its target and drops him where he stands.

She looks over to see the homeowner standing there. He’s a tall, well-built man, more than twice her age, but regal looking, with a strong chin, powerful hands. And cufflinks: She’s never seen a man with cufflinks.

Instead of terror on his face, there’s only curiosity as he takes in her bruised, naked body.

“Better off dead, I take it?”

She shrugs. They’re out in the forest, no neighbors for miles. The recon said he was divorced, kids grown, a frequent business traveler with money to burn.

“I can help with this,” he says, motioning to the gory heap on the floor. She understands his meaning, but holds his stare in a desperate attempt to see through to his true nature. He has an easy way about him, kind blue eyes, but even at nineteen she knows it’s an impossible task, reading men.

The gun in her hand gives her choices. But she better make one soon, because the regal man is easing toward her with a familiar look in his eye.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Interlude Stories: Mary Ann Back


A woman with five legs sat next to me on the Chicago “L”. Two of the legs were hers. The other three were prosthetics, banging, clanging and tumbling their way out of a canvas tote she carried. I tried not to stare, but it was impossible. My eyes kept darting back to those legs - sun-kissed, shapely and life-like. They were fascinating. Concerned that I was beginning to look like Sling Blade, or a serial killer, I stopped the eye darting and smiled.

“They’re broken,” she said, as if that explained everything.

“So you cut them off?”

“They’re prosthetics.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

She giggled. “I’m a prosthetics technician.”

“Aah, of course. Let’s put your bag over here.”

I moved my tool bag to the floor and placed her tote next to me. She’d handed it to me with no hesitation – so submissive, so trusting.

“There, that’s better, isn’t it?” I asked, peering into her eyes.

She was sexy in that I-have-no-idea-I’m-hot kind of way. Good Me wanted to leave her alone. But her eyes smiled back, flashing gratitude and maybe a hint of something more. I turned him off like a switch. Sometimes I wondered about Good Me.

“Yes, that’s much better. You didn’t have to move your bag. Thank you, Sir.”

“Sir? You’re killing me. My father is sir. Just call me Jack.”

“Then thank you, Jack. I’m Amber.”

She extended her hand to me, fragile and delicate; mine swallowed it whole. I tried to focus on her face, but my eyes drifted to her legs. They were svelte and flawless, tawny like the legs in the tote. My free hand drifted to the bag and found itself brushing against the cool smooth surface of one of those legs. A shiver swept my spine.

“The pleasure’s mine, Amber. Besides, my tool bag doesn’t have anything cool in it like spare legs, so your tote gets the seat.”

“What kind of tools do you have?”

“They’re for carving.”

“Like wood carving? Sweet - maybe I’ve seen your work in town?”

“Not likely.”

Chit-chat had served its purpose. It was time to close the deal. “So which station’s yours?”

“Ashland and 163rd.”

“There’s a coincidence; that’s my stop. What street did you say you live on?”

“I didn’t.”

Her voice was flat; the silence that followed absolute.

I’d pushed too hard - time to regroup.

“Jesus, I’m sorry. That sounded like a come on, didn’t it? I’m so embarrassed. Look, I’m old enough to be your father. All I could think about was how late it is, and how I wouldn’t want my daughter trying to make her way home at this hour by herself, lugging a bag of body parts through the south side. There are a lot of creeps out there, Amber. I was just trying to look out for you. No hard feelings, right? Tell you what. How about you let me pay cab fare to make sure you get home, okay?”

“It’s alright. I’ll be fine. I’m not parked that far from the station. I can drive home from there.”

“Do an old man a favor, huh? Let me walk you to your car. I’ll sleep better knowing I got you there in one piece. Your dad would want you to be safe. Do it for him. Please?”

She flashed me that sweet hot little smile. All was forgiven. Ying and yang were back in balance.

When the train pulled into the station, I swung her bag-o-legs over my shoulder. We walked out into the night toward her car. Good Me had stepped up his game – he was on a mission to get her there in one piece. But Bad Me wasn’t giving up. He made sure to grab my carving tools as we left the train.

It was anybody’s guess which Me would win.

BIO: Ms. Back, of Mason, Ohio, was awarded the 2009 Bilbo Award for creative writing by Thomas More College. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including: Short Story America, Every Day Fiction, Bete Noir, Eclectic Flash, The Loyalhanna Review, Flashes in the Dark, and Flash Shot.

Interlude Stories: Mary Ann Back


Stiffs had a way of piling up at The Blue Note Lounge. I made it my business to stay out of that pile, which wasn’t easy for a gin-swilling, shit-for-brains mook like me. I sat at the bar slouched behind a copy of the Times, popping peanuts and tossing back Tanqueray, eyeing the door like it was the muzzle of a gun. Typical night for a gumshoe. But this time it was personal. I was expecting a dame. And she was inching me closer to that pile of stiffs than I wanted to get.

It started yesterday when Big Dom Genovese gets me on the horn. I was into him for ten large on account of betting a horse that turned into glue in the middle of the track. Dom wanted a favor.

“Pauly,” he calls me Pauly, “You tail my wife, Loretta. Tell me who she’s stepping out with. You do this for me we’re even, capiche?”

“Sure, Dom,” I says, thinking I got off easy. “You want I should dance on his face a little?”

“Naw, Pauly. That’s okay. He won’t have no face when I get done with him.”

So, he gives me a picture of wifey. My mouth goes dry and my eyes burn ‘cause they can’t blink. She’s all boobs, legs, and hair. A long, tall drink of water, with double D’s so firm they’d poke your eyes out. It was an okay picture, but it didn’t do her justice. The eyes were wrong; they looked sad and lonely. She wasn’t sad. And she sure as hell wasn’t lonely. I should know. I’d been the one putting a smile on her face three nights a week for the last six months.

She might have been Dom’s Loretta. But she was my Lola. And I made her eyes dance like the fucking Rockettes.

The door opened and rain swept into the bar. Lola stood in the doorway. A street light behind her burned through the swirling fog, making her look like an angel. She sauntered up to the bar, hips swaying like coconut palms in the breeze, pouty red lips wrapped around a Lucky, working it soft and slow.

I thought of the last time we were together, when it was me in her mouth. I was way past wanting her. I needed her more than air.

“Hey, Baby. Miss me?” Her breath hot and moist in my ear.

“Have we met? I’m Pauly. Loretta, isn’t it?”

Her smile disappeared. The scent of fear skunked her Chanel No.5.

“He’ll kill us both if he finds out, Pauly. You know that, don’t you?”

“Why’d you lie to me, Baby?”

“At first it didn’t matter. It was just a fling. Sure I should have told you later, but I was afraid I’d lose you. You’re not gonna leave me, are you Pauly-baby?” Her voice shook and the waterworks started.

“The only way I’m leaving you is in a pine box, Dollface. But we gotta amscray! Stop your blubbering.” I handed her my handkerchief and chucked her under the chin.

She wiped her eyes and moved between my legs. She wallpapered herself against me and stuck her tongue down my throat. I was lost alright, lost in her scent, lost in her taste, and lost in her eyes. So fucking lost I didn’t notice the back door open.

“You’re not too bright, are you, Pauly?” It was Big Dom and two of his mopes.

“Let the dame go, Dom. She’s nothing but a two-bit floozy. It’s me you want!”

“What’dya say, Baby? Once more - for old time sake?” He grabbed at Lola.

I plugged him with my snub-nose through the pocket of my trench coat and nailed the other two goons before his head hit the floor.

“Let’s blow this popsicle stand!” I yelled, pulling Lola out the door.

We ran down 53rd street leaving Big Dom and the body count piled high at the Blue Note. Life was good. I was in a spin, loving the spin I was in. All for a woman.

Her name was Lola – she was a show-girl.

BIO: Ms. Back, of Mason, Ohio, was awarded the 2009 Bilbo Award for creative writing by Thomas More College. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including: Short Story America, Every Day Fiction, Bete Noir, Eclectic Flash, The Loyalhanna Review, Flashes in the Dark, and Flash Shot.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Introduction To Night Call by Dot King

A while back, I created a character that was a deaf hitman. Not to toot my own horn too much, but there was pretty good response to it, so much, in fact, that Jimmy Callaway took it upon himself to write a story about my deaf hitman character. Joyce Juzwik and Chad Eagleton followed suit and all three writers, in their own way, brought something new out of the character, something that I’m not sure that I would have thought of on my own. Each story was brilliant.

Flash forward to last week and Dot King decided to contact Graham Smith and ask him if she could continue where he left off with LONELY NIGHTS.

Graham gave Dot his blessing and it was off to the races for Dot. She ran the copy past Graham before sending it on to me and the rest, as they say, is history.

I think you will agree that Dot’s story, while answering some questions left unanswered in LONELY NIGHTS, raises new questions and stands as a nice addition to Graham’s tale.

Without further ado,  Dot King’s NIGHT CALL.

Interlude Stories: Dot King


And that was when the hand grabbed her by the throat...

In that instant, unconnected, simultaneous reactions assailed her: a feeling that something was familiar, should be, yet she couldn't seize, hold on to it; a strange, dangerous comfort that she was going to die: no more TV dinners, no more empty, lonely nights, relief from that torpor of all-consuming sadness ... feelings that were thrust aside by raw instinct screaming in her head « BREATHE ».

She couldn't. Nor could she see. She realised with a shock that her attacker's other hand was over her eyes. Her arms and hands were useless, unable to connect with those pressing her down on the bed, blocked by his arms. She was dimly aware of her hand releasing her cellphone and by the muffled skittering noise as it hit the floor, she knew it had slid under the bed.

Kicking out, she tried to bend her knees to get some purchase on the counterpane, to push away, lessen his grip, but it slipped away beneath her until her right arm, in its flailing, connected only with air as the top part of her body was pushed over the edge of the bed. She felt the pressure increase on her neck until she thought it would snap and still the voice in her head commanded « BREATHE ».

From somewhere, she thought she heard another, external voice. Then she knew she'd heard a voice, was still hearing it: « Police. Are you there? You have called the police. Please state your name ... » For a split second the pressure on her throat eased as her attacker tried to assess what he too was hearing. Susie needed no more time than this. Her hand connected with the empty glass from the night before, grasped it, lifted it, smashed it, dragged the jagged edge along the underside of his arm, elbow to wrist.

Liquid warmth ran over her hand and dripped down on to her chest. As the pain from the wound kicked in, the man gasped and raised the hand that held her throat. Susie dragged in a breath. It made her dizzy, but already her hand was arcing over for another slash. Into the side of his face. « You. Bitch! » Again. Again. The hand over her eyes yanked away.

In the darkness she scrambled back, away from him. He was holding his face, covering it, his head flung back. As her sight adjusted and her breathing steadied, she could see dark stains oozing between his fingers. He moaned loudly.

« Hey, what's going on there? »

The cellphone. Had she still had her finger on the call button when he grabbed her? She opened her mouth to yell. Her throat burned and her voice was no more than a strangled rasp. He was getting up from the bed.

Get out! Go!

Keeping her eyes on the man, back to the wall, Susie edged around the bedroom to the door. On the pale bedcover the dark stain was spreading. With every breath, the man moaned. He was standing, swaying.

The cellphone tinnily interrogated « Where are you? »

Finally, the open door, the landing, the stairs. Susie struggled with the multiple security locks on the front door, glancing behind her every couple of seconds. The man's moans seemed louder in the silence of the carpeted hallway. A thud from above panicked her.

Sliding the last bolt with trembling fingers, turning the handle made slippery with blood, she stumbled out into the yard, tried to fill her burning lungs with night air, but could only take small panting breaths. If they were all she had, then she would manage. Barefoot, she made her way to her car, vaguely hoping the keys might be on the dashboard. They weren't. Three miles on foot to the town. Auto-pilot.

The officer on the desk recognised Susie, took in her bleeding feet, blood-soaked pyjamas and the bruising on her neck and cheekbones. He called a doctor and asked a female colleague to lead her through to a quiet office where, in a halting, absent monotone, she told her tale. After hearing of her ordeal the desk sergeant immediately called control to dispatch officers to her house, only to discover they were on their way after her unanswered 999 call had been traced.

Passively, she sat silent while the doctor cleaned and dressed her feet and examined the bruising. She was helped out of her pyjamas and given a washed-out tracksuit. The world was cotton wool. She could not speak. She could not think. She had survived, that was all.

The radio on the officer's belt crackled. Reporting in from the house. Did Susie feel strong enough to go out there? She nodded distractedly.

As she was helped from the car, medics were carrying a stretcher from the house. She heard muffled, disjointed phrases. «Alive. Just. Lost a lot ... blood. Maybe lose ... eye. Unconscious. Pull through. »

« Do you think you could look at him? Perhaps you can identify him... if you feel up to it. »

Susie assented. Part of her picked up a distant, detached, flinty quality to the officer's voice. She looked at him, wondering. The woman officer walked her to the gurney, nodded to one of the medics who shone a light on to the devastated face of the man.

As unconsciousness finally pulled her under, Susie breathed his name, « Mike. »

Friday, November 18, 2011

Introduction To Lonely Night by Graham Smith

Graham Smith made waves in the crime/noir fiction community last month when he wrote ANNIE’S STORY for Thrillers, Killers N Chillers. The story was published and then taken down, due to its content and some outrage at said content. Some outrage may be an overstatement. There were, as far as I know, only two, maybe three people that objected to the story.

As soon as I found out the particulars to the situation, I extended an invitation to Graham to publish his story at ATON.

There are two rules here at ATON that I live by when I publish stories:

The writer is god.


The editor is god.

When these two rules rub each other the wrong way, then there is trouble. Being a writer myself, and I think the numerous writers that I have published here can attest, there is rarely trouble.

Content has only been a problem once in all of the stories that I have published and only then because a writer had written a character that ingested cyanide and somehow lived, going into a semi-comatose state so that she could be snuck into another country, and is revived by the end of the story. Needless to say, this is not what happens when one ingests cyanide and I felt it was only asking for trouble if I published the story. I clearly explained to the writer that this was the reason why I was not publishing it. The writer didn't take it too well but I stand by my decision.

As far as I was concerned, Graham’s story was not the easiest thing to read and it made one’s skin crawl (and not least for the surface content but the subtext, as well). But isn’t that why we read fiction, to be amazed, to be touched, to be moved in one direction or another, to be outraged, to be angered and, yes, to be horrified?

In the end, Graham decided that he did not want to have ANNIE’S STORY republished at ATON, preferring to leave the entire situation and move on.

While it’s not the decision that I would have made, I respect his decision. It’s his story and he has the final say.

The following story, LONELY NIGHTS, I think you will agree, is top-notch and showcases Graham’s talent for keeping you on the edge of your seat. And damn does Graham know how to end a story.

Without further ado...

Interlude Stories: Graham Smith


Susie got in from work and pulled a ready meal from the freezer. Putting it into the microwave, she got a knife, fork and plate ready, switching on the kettle as she moved around the huge farmhouse kitchen.

It had been Mike’s idea to buy this place and he was steadily renovating the place between other paying building jobs. She’d never wanted to live in the country until he’d shown her this place and explained his vision. She’d bought into his dream immediately and they had scrimped and saved to finance the mortgage and the necessary repairs and alterations.

Now it was back on the market. A rotten scaffold plank had given way beneath Mike’s boot and he had fallen to his death. Now she lived alone in the big farmhouse. No pets, no family and the nearest neighbour over a mile away down the rutted access road.

When the microwave beeped its culinary finale, she removed the fish pie and tipped its unappetising mess onto her plate. Carrying the plate through to the lounge, she switched on the TV in time to catch the seven o’clock news update on Sky News.

Despairing at the plethora of misery presented from around the world, she shoveled the food into her mouth uncaring of its bland tastelessness. It was nourishment. That was all; purely and simply fuel to keep her body going. Since Mike’s fall two months ago, she had struggled to take any pleasure from any act. Books were half read, films were watched in an uncomprehending daze, food was eaten not savoured. The purpose had gone from her life and she was little more than an empty shelled zombie, sleepwalking her way through the tatters of her life.

Ironically her job was what gave her the most satisfaction and by throwing herself into her work she could forget the tragedy for whole minutes at a time. Never had accounting seemed so interesting. Normally the intricacies of tax law left her bored to tears. Now they stopped the tears flowing.

After channel-hopping aimlessly for a couple of hours, she gave it up for a bad job and went to bed. Since Mike’s death, bed had become a haven. She was safe there, surrounded by the smell of him on the sheets. His pillow was her comfort blanket and each night, after taking a sleeping pill, she cuddled the pillow to her body and dreamt of him, smelling his aftershave and the salty tang of her tears.


Susie awoke, bleary-eyed and confused. Her subconscious had heard an unfamiliar noise and had prodded her awake. Unsure as to whether it was a dream or not, she sat up and listened intently. Nothing. No strange noises, no unknown sounds. A cow lowed in the distance but that sound was familiar. Now awake, she decided to get up and check the house anyway. Although not timid by nature, she was still unnerved enough to creep around checking doors and windows, until she had determined the house was secure.

As she’d made her way around the house, she’d grabbed her mobile from the coffee table and now it rested on her bedside table next to the lamp, alarm clock and the ever-present glass of water.

Sleep came harder a second time, but it eventually returned and she retreated back to her dreams of Mike. The time when he’d proposed, their first meeting, their first kiss and their first glorious weekend away together.


This time, her unconscious didn’t so much prod her awake as kick her. Hard! Her hand shot out to switch the lamp on and knocked the glass to the floor where it collided with last night’s glass in a sudden crash startling her further. Again she listened; again nothing untoward assaulted her ears. Shadows flitted across the window. Investigating, she discovered they were caused by the oak in the garden, blowing against the moon’s low-slung light.

Nervous adrenaline was coursing through her veins so she set off on a second inspection of the house. Only, this time, she had her mobile in one hand with the number for the police already dialed and her thumb on the call button. In the other hand, she carried a long shard of broken glass retrieved from her bedside. Room by room, she toured the house. She switched every light on. Made noise, deliberately announcing her progress. She wanted to scare off any intruder so she didn’t have to confront them. Still no sounds or noises came. The kitchen was the last room to check and, when it too was found to be secure and vacant, she started chastising herself. ‘Silly cow, total overreaction. What’s next, being scared of my own shadow?’

Switching off the lights, she went upstairs where, after quickly tidying up the broken glass, she went back to bed.

And that was when the hand grabbed her by the throat.