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.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Interlude Stories: Jim Harrington


It’s no fun having sex with an alien.

Her name is Jenny. We used to be best friends. We used to be married. Sex used to mean something. Then she changed.

She turned thirty and decided to be somebody else, someone I didn’t recognize. She cut her hair short, dyed it red, got a tattoo of a macaw over her left breast, and started talking funny--like she was on drugs. I didn’t mind the hair or the language. I hated the damn parrot.

She ran away twice, once with her yoga instructor. I hunted her down and welcomed her back both times. When she tried to leave again ... I had to stop her.

It wasn’t always like this. We met at a college frat party. Jenny’s major was art history, mine biology. She acted like she wasn’t interested in me, but I knew better. It was during Spring Break in Cancun our junior year when she finally came around. We married that August, ignoring her parents’ concerns, and were very happy -- despite not having children. The quack doctor said I was impotent.

Jenny is still the prettiest woman I know. She’s lying on the bed, her eyes and mouth open, the look of pain and surprise gone. A sheen of sweat from our lovemaking covers her naked body and glistens in the moonlight coming through the open window, the beacon accompanied by the sounds of the night critters that surround the cabin. Jenny never liked this place. Said she was a city girl and always would be. Guess it doesn’t matter now.

The sun will be coming up over the lake in a few minutes. I’ll call the police shortly after that, or maybe I’ll take a shower first. I’m not going anywhere. Everyone will know I killed her, especially since it’s my hunting knife sticking up from between her naked breasts, blood oozing around the blade. I threatened to harm her every time I had too much to drink, which I wouldn’t have done if she hadn’t turned herself into an alien.

BIO: Jim discovered flash fiction in 2007, and he’s read, written, studied, and agonized over the form since. His Six Questions For... blog provides editors and publishers a place to “tell it like it is.” In his spare time, he serves as the flash fiction editor for Apollo’s Lyre.

Interlude Stories: Clair Dickson


Originally published at Muzzle Flash in February 2007

“Eve,” she said as both greeting and introduction.

“I thought that after the apple, Eve realized she had to be clothed,” I commented.

“Finally, someone who can appreciate the irony.” She smoothed the tiny tube top and adjusted her tiny shorts. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m Bo Fexler, private investigator. I’m looking for Holly Smalls.”

“You’re awful pretty to be a private eye.” Then, she invited me into her mobile home by wordlessly stepping aside.

“What do you know about Holly’s disappearance?”

“Who hired you for that, anyway?” She slid coyly onto the couch, arching her back so her boobs stuck out.

I gazed steadily at her face. “All looks, no brains. You make things hard for those of us with both.”

Eve didn’t like that and put on a pouty face. She wet her lips in a way practiced for seduction. “Do you like girls?” she asked in a little voice.

“I like everyone the same,” I answered. I kept the punch line to myself. Then, I pressed again. “Holly Smalls.”

“Nobody would come looking for me like this.”

“I’m getting paid for this. Otherwise I’d be at home with Raymond.”

“Your man?” she squeaked in distress, confirming my suspicions.

“Chandler. An author.”

“Oh. Do you have a man?”

“Sometimes. Until I get bored.”

Eve smiled. “Holly likes men, too. Lots of them.”

“Do you know why she wouldn’t tell her mother about that?”

Eve laughed at my joke, even though it wasn’t a very good one. “Holly wasn’t the good girl her parents wanted her to be. She liked to go out to clubs. She’d come over here afterwards to sleep it off.”

“Then you know where she went?”


“It’s a good thing Holly’s gone.” With the bait on the hook, I cast the line. “Because now, you’re available.”

Eve was done playing coy. She sat up, planted her feet on the thin floor and leaned forwards. “I know his name, only I don’t know where they were going. He said he had a place on a lake. His name was Dale Weaver. She met him at a club. They slept together a bunch of times, and then he invited her up to his cabin.”

“How long were they together?”

“A couple of weeks.”

“Did you go clubbing with Holly?”

“No. Not much fun.”

“Gets old, doesn’t it? All that male attention.”

She smiled knowingly. “It can.”

“You find many dates?”


“Holly’s parents don’t know, do they? That you’re lesbian.”

Eve shook her head, a flicker of a frown.

“Come on, Eve. You may be a good seductress, but you’re a bad liar. They knew. They didn’t want Holly around you.” She looked down. “That’s why you bought that trailer in Webberville.”

Suddenly, she fixated on me, her mouth agape.

“Like I said, darling, you make things hard on those of us with both beauty and brains. You called there, repeatedly, on your cell phone. The police never connected it because the cell phone’s still in your ex’s name. Only your ex likes tall blonds just as much as you do.”

Eve smiled weakly. “Okay, okay. She’s in Webberville. In a trailer we bought. Once things settled down, I was going to move out there. But it’s not like you think. We’re just friends.”

“Didn’t work out as a couple, huh?”

“Damn. You’re sharp.”

“Thanks. I don’t suppose you’d give me the address. So I can do my job, you know.”

“I dunno,” Eve smiled, coy again. Her default.

I tried again. “If I don’t get paid, I can’t take you out to dinner or anything.”


“Like, on a Friday night.”

“Well. That’s different. 412 Creekside Way. Little blue one.”

“Thank you.”

“Wait. Friday night.”

“What about it?”

“Aren’t we-- aren’t you taking me out?”

“What? I never said that.”


“No. I didn’t. You heard what you wanted. Besides, Eve, you try too hard. Seduction should be subtle.”

“Bo—was anything you said ... true?” Eve asked as I stepped outside.

“Sure.” I smiled amusedly, lit a cigarette, and walked back to my car, watched by Eve. The first girl—to my knowledge—to fall that hard for me.

BIO: Bo Fexler has appeared in more than 50 short stories in over 17 publications. Clair Dickson writes about every evils when she’s not working one of her many part time jobs or chasing after her young son. Visit for links to more short stories.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Interlude Stories: Joe Clifford


“Drive!” I scream as I drop the bag and reach across my battered, bleeding body to slam the door shut. My right arm dangles at my side, useless.

“Where?” she asks.

“Just drive. And take it easy. These roads are icy deathtraps, and I don’t want to end up in a culvert.”

I try to brush the snow and ice from my hair but I’m having hard time moving, breathing, and wince with every motion. I’m pretty sure I broke some ribs when I slid down the embankment and flopped on the drainpipe. But at least the bullet went through. I think. I bonked my head pretty good, too. My brain feels like a blender on frappe.

I don’t know how I managed to even get up, or make it into the middle of the old access road on two feet, let alone aim my gun into the only pair of headlights I saw in a middle of a goddamn blizzard. And considering the motel where we’d been holed up, the Candlelight, is in the sticks, it’s a goddamn miracle anyone was out this time of night at all.

But I think I’ll hold off thanking God just yet.

“I’m not sure where you want me to drive—”

“Listen, honey,” I say, “I’ll let you know when to turn, OK?” I give her the once over. It’s hard to see in the dark. There are no lights out here. She’s got something covering her head, but blonde tendrils poke out. I can’t tell how old. Pretty young, though. She looks put together, everything where it should be, pert little nose. Something about her feels vaguely familiar, probably because I grew up around here and the women are all the same.

I should tell her that if she does what I say, she’ll be OK, but I don’t particularly care about pleasantries right now. My brother is missing. The kid is dead. I’ve been shot and the cops are after me.

How did it all turn to such shit?


I didn’t like the job from the start. Too many deviations, wrinkles outside the norm. The reason I’ve been successful this long is I never stray from what works. You can’t do this alone; you need guys you can trust, and the only person I felt safe working with was my brother, Ash. We’d been in this business since we were kids, from liquor stores to armored cars; and while other guys have done long stretches, neither one of us had so much as seen a jail cell overnight. And it hadn’t been a matter of luck.

The first problem was the job itself. The pros have two tiers, the guys who arrange the job, and the ones who pull it off. Peter Prince did the arranging, and Ash and I did the stealing. Prince was a hairy beast of man from the islands who always smelled like cinnamon. But he was rock solid as they come, a stand-up guy. It was a partnership that had been lucrative for both sides for a long time.

Ash and I had rules we lived by, one of the biggest being never work close to home. And this job was practically in our backyard.

The game this time was stones. These days, diamonds were usually too much of a headache to even bother. Security systems, armed escorts, a royal pain in the ass. Not like in the old days, when a couple salesmen carried them in trays in the trunk, driving town to town to show prospective buyers the new cuts just shipped in. It was a simpler time then. But Prince had gotten a line on a couple boys doing it old school.

Word was Edmund Herschlin was getting out of the business, too old to give a fuck about joining the high-tech parade. Ol’ Ed was the last independent jeweler in the North and he’d be liquidating in our neighborhood. Most of his boys were old farts left over from the Truman administration. They rarely carried guns, and if they did, they wouldn’t know how to fire the damn things.

Ash and I were coming off a shaky job over in Chicago, payroll deposit on the Gray Line, probably the closest we’d come to getting caught. In fact, when Ash didn’t show up at the rendezvous, I was certain our streak was over. Or at least his was. I should’ve known better than to doubt him.

But it scared me. It’s a criminal cliché, I know, one last job, but after Chicago, I really was thinking of hanging it up. At least for a while. A good long while.

Then this fell in our lap. Ash convinced me, if I were serious about quitting, to take the easy money. Hard to argue. I wouldn’t be getting a 9-to-5 anytime soon.

Except that when it looks too good to be true, it usually is. And it’s never just a matter of money.


The winter wind lashes along the old country posts, wobbling the tin sign that reads Old State Road 23. Or maybe it’s my brain that’s wobbling. It’s all coming down now, snow, sleet, ice, the heavens pitching a violent fit. With the weather, she takes it slow. I keep my eyes peeled, front and in back. No cars, either direction.

“Expecting someone?” she asks.

“Just drive.” I kick the medicine bag with the stones at my feet, pull the cigarettes from my inside pocket with my good arm, slide one up. I jab in the dash’s lighter. My right side throbs. I’m pretty sure it went through. Why won’t it stop bleeding?

The lighter pops. She reaches over. “Here, let me.” She holds the cherry-red tip steady as I lean forward for a big inhale.

These tiny towns spread out up here, but I know Rochester can’t be more than forty, fifty miles straight ahead. There, I can make calls, find out what the fuck happened. But in this weather, who knows how long that’s going to take, and I’m not feeling so hot.

Then the pain hits, a long lasting wave that I can feel through every nerve cell, all the way to the back of my teeth, which start to chatter, before involuntarily clamping down.

“What am I supposed to do if you die in my car?”

I try to sit up, gritting my teeth. “I’m not going to die. A bullet went in and out. I’m going to be fine. Now you do what I tell you, you’ll be fine, too.”

“I’m not a nurse, but—” Icy rain continues to pelt through the snow, thrumming the windshield “—maybe we should pull off.”

“Where do you think we can pull off, lady? We’re in the middle of a goddamn blizzard, in the middle of goddamn nowhere. There’s a roadside motel back up that hill where you picked me up. And if you think we’re going back there, you’re nuts. Just drive.” I pause. I’m feeling funny, starting to get a little paranoid.

I bring the gun up to her head. “What are you even out for on a night like this?”

She keeps her cool, eyes locked on the road. “I’m leaving my husband, if you must know.”

I lower the gun. “You might’ve picked a better night. Not that I don’t appreciate the ride.”

“The night sort of picked me, if you know what I mean.”

Yeah. I guess I do.

She reaches into the center console, pulls out a bottle of water. “At least drink this.”

I twist the cap off with my teeth. Take a slug, then rinse the blood from my mouth, pour it on my wound.

“Sorry about your car,” I say.

She smiles. “Don’t worry about it. It belongs to my husband.”


Being right in our backyard bothered me. How neat it all seemed bothered me. Usually either one of those things should’ve been enough for me to pull up.

Then Prince made a last minute addition. Said we needed a wheelman, just in case, and that he had the perfect guy.

The kid’s name was Danny Bunyan. Neither Ash nor I had ever heard of him, and we got in a big fight over it.

“How long we known Prince?” Ash said.

He didn’t need me to answer.

“Prince says you’re good people, you’re good people.”

Ash was right. I owed it to him to at least meet the kid.

The meet and greet was set up at Waylon’s, a truck stop in Zumbrota. We were told this Danny was young and that he would be wearing a blue ball cap. He was wearing a blue ball cap, all right. And he was young. Really young.

We had beers, talked particulars, and right away Danny put me at ease. He talked a good game. Mostly, he’d worked as a wheelman, but he’d been a bagman plenty. He told some stories. I listened for holes in his stories, anything out of place, but my bullshit meter didn’t twitch. And the longer we sat in the roadside, the more I really started liking the kid. He reminded me of me when I was just starting out.

A car horn beeped, and I tensed.

“Relax,” Danny said, “that’s just my sister.”

“What the fuck?”

“My brother’s right,” Ash said. “You can’t have your sister coming around.”

“She thinks I’m filling out an application to tend bar. I’m not stupid, guys. I’m not as young as I look.”

I was just starting to relax, when he took off his ball cap.

Flaming red hair.

You make your living perfecting your craft, developing technique and approaching everything with a cold, critical eye. But you still need to trust your gut, and you don’t fuck with superstition. Everyone knows: red hair is bad juju.

We watched as Danny got in the car with his sister, who best I could tell was a redhead, too. Terrific. A family of goddamn redheads.

The red hair should’ve been a deal breaker. But my brother can be pretty damn convincing when he wants to be, and in the end, I guess I was too focused on the finish line.


“You’re bleeding badly,” the woman says. “You need a hospital.”

“Just drive,” I repeat, although I’m not sure that’s what comes out, the words sort of slithering, slurring. My brain feels like it’s bobbing on a bog of molasses, the rest of me being sucked down. I look over at her, try to focus. Her face is changing color, sharp shadows dancing like devils on a grave in the moonlight...


I was pissing out the backdoor of the motel into the brush, when they showed up. Growing up here in the northern wilds, I’ve always liking pissing outdoors. It’s...comforting. The medicine bag, where I’d transferred the stones, sat an arm’s length away on the bathroom sink. Danny sat on the bed, his head in his hands, his flaming red hair falling over his face.

Everything started out fine. We caught up with the diamond men around midnight, just past Riesling, at a desolate rest stop, a swoop and grab. Danny was as skilled a wheelman as Prince had said he would be, pinning them in their car while Ash and I hopped out and took care of the rest. The salesmen were about a hundred years old, and they gave up the trays, no problem, like we knew they would.

The old farts crawled into the trunk like little boys going down for an overdue nap.

As Ash and I started to get in the car, Danny got out.

“What are you doing?” I said. “Get back inside.”

“We can’t leave their car here,” Danny said.

“What are you talking about?”

“I just saw a truck up on the highway flip a bitch and make for this exit.”

“I didn’t see any truck,” I said. “Ash?”

“I wasn’t looking at the highway.”

“We don’t have time,” Danny said. “Trust me. We’ve got to move—now.” He handed me the keys. “You drive. I’ll get rid of the car, get a hold of you at the Candlelight.”

“Fuck that,” Ash said.

“You’re holding the diamonds,” Danny said. “What’s the problem?”

“That’s just not how we do it,” I said.

“I don’t know how you two do it,” Danny said, “but I’m telling you, I saw a truck up there get off this exit—”

“Who gives a shit?” Ash said. “Maybe they forgot some milk at the store—”

“What store? We’re in the middle of fucksake nowhere—”

I reached inside the salesman’s car, yanked the key from the ignition, a single one on a giant ring with a diamond-encrusted logo and the words “Let It Shine.” I passed the key to my brother. “I’ll go with Danny north to the Candlelight. You head south, leave the car at Lyman’s.” Lyman’s was the old junkyard off 73, about half an hour from Prince’s. It’s where we left a lot of things we didn’t want being found for a while. “Call Prince when you get there. Get a hold of us at the motel.”

We’d been at the Candlelight for over three hours. No Ash. Prince wasn’t picking up either. And out of nowhere, a brutal winter storm had rolled in.

A freak blizzard. A goddamn redhead. It’s not a matter of signs. You just know when the chips are stacked against you.

I heard the sirens coming up the drive just as I was zipping up, and grabbed the bag. “Let’s go!”

But that redheaded bastard just sat there, on the bed, looking at me like a lost puppy dog.

I wasn’t waiting. I pulled my gun and ran. I heard the door splinter, the shots. I looked back to catch the kid flopped facedown on the floor.

I ran through the brush and snow, and one good thing about the storm, if they were behind me, they sure as shit couldn’t see me.

I got to the ledge overlooking Old State Road 23, and grabbed a branch to navigate down the icy embankment. I felt a stinging beneath my ribs. I looked down and saw the blood. Then the branch broke and I rolled down the hill.


“You don’t look so good.”

I’ll be OK. Don’t worry about me, I say, holding up the gun, only I realize I’m not holding up the gun. It lies there, limp in my lap. And no words are coming out of my mouth, either. I’m paralyzed.

She reaches over and grabs the gun, peeling it effortlessly from my flaccid fingers. She pulls off to the side of the road, pets my head. I can’t move a muscle, can’t even blink.

A car approaches from the other direction, slows down, and stops in front of us, and as the light spreads, I see the peroxide box on the floor, the giant key ring with the diamond logo, shining, dangling in the ignition. I think I detect the faint scent of cinnamon...

She reaches over, grabs the bag at my feet.

She lifts the pack of cigarettes off my lap, fires two up, and sticks one in my mouth. She laughs when it falls right back out.


“I know what you’re asking yourself,” she says. “Who was it? Danny? Your brother? Prince? Maybe all of them?” She lifts my head, squares it up out the windshield. “What did you really see?”

Through swishing wipers into the icy night, I see a silhouette in the headlights, a faceless black shadow cast back over me.

“And what I’m telling you,” she says in a whisper as she lets go of my head and it falls with a lifeless thud on the dash, “at this point, what does it matter?”

BIO: My work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, Darkest Before The Dawn, Thrillers, Chillers 'n' Killers, Thundadome, and a lot of the high-minded literary ones too (Connecticut Review, et al).

Interlude Stories: Court Merrigan


Normally you can’t hardly bribe a Pattaya cop to a ten-car pileup but this one appears at our little fender-bender pronto. He grandstands around the crash scene with his spray paint, outlining skid marks and plastic debris from where the farang tourist sideswiped me and Jae on the scooter. Notes license plates and names in his little notebook. Sucks up to the barbarian in English with a shit-eating grin, like he just couldn’t be happier the red-skinned bastard has come to Thailand. Meanwhile he confiscates me and Jae’s IDs.

Me and Jae have been working this lane of short-time hotels and low-end girly bars for a while now. We got it down like the movies. It’s easy to spot the farangs in rentals and then we just have to take diggers. We practice our diggers on the beach. Tourists take pictures of us practicing down there, is how good we are.

Normally a farang will see the blood, the crashed scooter, the cracked helmets, and fork over a wad just pissing himself to get gone. Then me and Jae spend the next few weeks spending our good fortune sucking down beers and picking up waitress and masseuse rubes fresh off the upcountry bus.

“You give the boys money,” says the cop to the farang.

Jae nudges me.

“Hospital,” I say in English, displaying my bleeding arm. “Hospital.”

Jae keeps wicking the blood off his forehead and with the cop watching the barbarian hands us some sweaty bills. Guess we’re lucky to score any.

“Okay,” says the cop to the farang in English. “Everything okay.” He looks at us. “You two,” he says in Thai, “you follow me.”


At the police box we give the cop deep wais, palms pressed together, heads bowed. Proper as can be. The cop instructs a junior officer to lock us in the sweatbox.

“But we didn’t do anything,” says Jae. “He hit us.”

“Say one more word,” says the cop. “Go on. Say it. So I can knock your fucking teeth out.”

We squat in the dark and piss stench a long time. When the cop finally arrives he blinds us with the lights and kicks us in the balls. Then he starts in with the baton. We grovel and beg but the cop doesn’t stop till he’s done. The junior officer passes him a water bottle and he slurps on it while me and Jae lay there coughing and spitting out teeth.

“Hand it over,” the cop says.

No point in resisting. Between the two of us we’ve got a little more than 3500 baht. The cop deposits the bills in his breast pocket.

“And your scooter keys,” he says.

“What the fuck, man?” says Jae.

The cop brandishes the baton. Jae digs the keys out of a pocket.

“If I ever see you two rat fucks again,” says the cop, “I’ll cut off your balls. You ever pull this stunt again, I’ll cut off your balls and shoot your mothers. We’re clearing the street rats out of Pattaya. Tell your friends.”

He instructs the junior officer to direct us to the garbage heap out back. The junior officer flicks our ID cards onto the pile after us.


We pass the time pissing blood, guzzling rice whisky, cussing every pig in Pattaya. Then I get a call from my cousin Dul.

Dul is a condo complex security goon, one of those guys who leans back in a booth pretending to pay attention to who comes in and out. He says he has something for us. There’s this enormous fat farang who lives in the condo complex. Everyone calls him Vacuum Man. This is because he spends all day every day vacuuming up platefuls of food at every buffet in town.

“He weighs two hundred kilos if he weighs one,” says Dul. “He once cracked a counter in the lobby just leaning on it. He has to ride in the elevator alone. He can’t tie sneakers so he only wears sandals. The blubber off his chin hangs down to his chest.”

“I get it,” I say. “So?”

“So he’s easy pickings.”

“This going to work out better than last time?”

Dul used to manage a motorcycle rental shop for farangs. To rent a bike, farangs have to leave a passport as collateral. When one would rent a higher-end bike, one of them beautiful Beemers or a Suzuki crotch rocket, Dul would slip us a spare key. Me and Jae would tail the bike until the farang parked. Then I’d stroll over and lift the bike. When the farang turned up at the shop, Dul would threaten to hand his passport over to the police. A wad of bills would get coughed up real quick. A week or two later we’d haul the bike out of storage and come in for our cut. Easy. Until one day some hard-ass mob cats horned in on the action. They didn’t ask any questions before making us eat concrete.

“One shot,” says Dul. “In and out. Way better than playing scooter jockey.”

“Fuck you, Dul,” I say. “We’ll be over.”


We thread the gap in the back security fence and slip in the back door with a busted lock and hotfoot it to the 19th floor hallway where the security cameras are dead. Let ourselves in Vacuum Man’s door, courtesy a key from Dul.

What a letdown. This complex flaunts terraces and an indoor swimming pool and a lobby fountain and a sauna. Very class. But here Vacuum Man’s pad sits practically empty. No digital TV or leather couches or wardrobe or anything. One mattress in the bedroom. A few putrefying plastic sacks in the fridge. Rows and rows of pills and stomach tabs in the bathroom. Probably Vacuum Man is too busy being a hog to think of home furnishings. Me and Jae watched him waddle to ATMs and conjure up wads from his fanny pack scarfing his way across town. A whole week we’ve been watching him.

You can tell this is a farang building because it’s quiet as a cursed temple. No yapping, no TVs going, nobody hawking anything, no cooking or spice smells. No kind of place for civilized people, in other words. You don’t want to come back a farang in your next life, if you can help it. When the door rattles me and Jae pull on ski masks.

After the fat bastard bolts shut the door me and Jae gang tackle him. The pure size of him creeps me out. He must be four of me. Maybe five, and he’s slimy as a squid. Me and Jae gag him and try to pinion his arms behind his back but he’s way too wide for that. So we cinch his hands up good. He blubbers like a pissed-on dog but doesn’t fight. The cords vanish into the blubber. Jellyrolls bulge over his fanny pack. His wattle quakes. Me and Jae play rock-paper-scissors. I lose.

“Go on,” says Jae. “Reach in there.”

I kneel beside Vacuum Man and grope for the fanny pack, trying to keep my mind on the long days of lounging ahead. Unbuckle the greasy strap and yank the pack out, Vacuum Man yelping into the gag. I slap him, unzip the pack, flip it over. Out flutters a twenty-baht bill, a pile of coupons and vouchers, and one ATM card.

“Ask him for the PIN,” says Jae. “You’re the one who speaks English.”

I slap Vacuum Man again. Like hitting a side of pork hanging on a hook in the market. Take off the gag and let him gasp his breath back. Giant drops of sweat wobble off his mustache. I waggle the ATM card in front of his face.

“Hey you!” I say in English. “You number card! You say me! You say me now!”

Vacuum Man flaps his gums, making mushy sounds. I can’t understand a thing.

“Hey you!” I say. “You say number!”

“Listen close,” Jae says. “He’s trying to speak Thai.”

Fatty keeps on sputtering and finally I pick out the PIN: 9-8-7-6. Not very creative, Vacuum Man. Jae pockets the card and sprints out. I’m stuck with the fat son of a bitch. Fucking rock-paper-scissors.

“He finish, I go,” I say to Vacuum Man.

Vacuum Man starts jiggling his tied-up hands. “Please can take off?” he says.

“So you can speak Thai,” I say.

“Yes. A little.”

“Well, the answer is fuck no, Vacuum Man. You’d probably try to sit on me.”

I throw the gag back on and meander to the window. I’ve never been so high above town before. The lights of the five-star hotels and the shopping centers sparkle in sickles on the crescent bay, the blazing facades of the dinner-show boats coasting on the light. Tell you what, if this was my place I’d have a new girl in here every night. And none of these rubes still smelling like buffalo shit, either. Real class broads used to the finer things, who wouldn’t go gaping out the windows. I’d get me a stereo and a TV and a Burmese maid who’d scuttle around on her knees. I wouldn’t live like a barbarian like fatty here. But maybe that’s how farangs are. Who knows, what with all those twacked-out stories about their uncivilized ways you hear. Vacuum Man has quit with the blubbering. The building goes dead silent again. By the time Jae calls, it’s creeping me right the hell out.

“You ain’t going to believe this,” he says. “There’s nothing on this card. Not one baht.”

“What?” I say.

“Are you deaf? There ain’t nothing on this fucking card.”

“I should have gone. You’re probably not doing it right.”

“I’m doing it right. I’ve been to four machines. I’m telling you. There’s no money.”

“How in the hell can that be?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?”

I march over to Vacuum Man, kick a rubbery thigh, ungag him.

“Hey, you piece of shit,” I say in Thai. “Where’s your money?”

“No have money,” Vacuum Man says.


“No have more money. Spend all.”

“Don’t lie to me. You put down twenty-three plates at the Marriott seafood buffet on Monday. I counted. And what about the Super Stuffer at the Hilton on Tuesday? The Noodle Extravaganza at Big Noi’s on Wednesday? Wang’s Thursday All-You-Can-Eat?”

“Not have anymore. Spend all.”

“The fuck you did,” I say.

I dig through the clammy fanny pack again. Nothing. Rip open dresser drawers, throw out buffalo-sized boxer shorts and T-shirts. Then I find a rope tied into a noose.

“What the hell?” I say, holding the noose out to Vacuum Man.

“No have money more,” he says. “Die today.”

I call Jae.

“You think it’s true?” asks Jae.

“There’s no money, is there?” I say.

“No. I been to two more machines, waiting for you.”

I stomp over to Vacuum Man. His meaty shoulders are quaking.

“A whole week we been following you,” I say. “You suck, Vacuum Man.”

“Everything sad,” he says. “Everything.”

I throw the noose on Vacuum Man’s lap. “Good luck.”

“Please,” he says. “Please untie my hands.”

I’m no barbarian. Before getting the hell out, I uncinch the cords.

BIO: Court Merrigan’s work can be found all over. For links, please visit

Friday, November 11, 2011


NoHo Noir has a new home.

Check it out and tell them you-know-who sent you.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interlude Stories: Nick Boldock



I buried Gerald in the sand. Well, I say buried – really I just scooped as much of the stuff over his body as I could manage without too much exertion. Because by then, I knew that excess effort could leave me as dead as Gerald, and I had Chloe to think about.

Gerald had died in the night, while the three of us had slept fitfully in the middle of wherever the hell we were. I’d been awoken by Chloe shaking me, hands on my shoulders, whispering, “Dad... Dad... I think there’s something wrong with Uncle Gerald...”

He’d died in his sleep. I knew that burying him could kill me but I wasn’t about to leave him there to be food for the resident predators. I would at least try to give Gerald a proper burial. So I braced myself and hunkered down in the sand and scrabbled away with my bare hands until I had made a shallow depression. I wouldn’t have called it a grave as such – it was nowhere near deep enough to warrant that honour – but it would have to do. Using up even more precious energy, I dragged Gerald’s body into the crater and began to throw sand over him. I had nothing within me to keep me going but somehow my hands kept working and the sand kept piling up over Gerald, until eventually most of his body was covered by a dusting of the stuff. Not much maybe, but at least his face was no longer visible, which somehow seemed important. I clasped my hands together and prayed that this counted, that Gerald was laid to rest as best as could be under the circumstances. I recited the Lord’s Prayer – the only prayer I knew – under my breath.


After the makeshift burial I hugged Chloe close to me. I told her that everything was going to be okay. We would be rescued soon – trust Dad, Dad knows best. But Dad didn’t know best, did he? Because if he did, then we would never have landed in this bloody mess in the first place.

Not for the last time I looked over at the burial mound that held Gerald. My brother. I heard him say to me, “Are you sure about this?” then heard myself answer, “What’s to worry about? Course I’m sure. It’ll be great.”

I wasn’t sure now. Not of that, at any rate. I was sure of one thing though. We were going to die, just like Gerald, and just like untold numbers of idiots over the years who thought that strolling across the Australian desert was like going for a walk on the Yorkshire Moors.

I’d planned a straightforward hike, no more than a couple of hours long, across a small stretch of outback. It was easy, in the grand scheme of things. Nothing to worry about – absolutely nothing. I’d done walks much longer than this before so this would be a piece of cake. So easy in fact, that when Chloe said she wanted to come, I’d agreed without hesitation. I should have known better than to be so blasé of course, but at the time – well, you know what you know, and sometimes that seems enough. So off we went into the desert, on our little leisurely jaunt. It would be fun.

Then the sandstorm came. From nowhere. One minute we were strolling along, laughing and joking, and then within a matter of seconds we were in the middle of a maelstrom. Hell came to visit us and it whipped at our faces and eyes, sucking the moisture from our lips, as we linked hands to help us stay together. Even like that we couldn’t see each other, such was the ferocity of the sand. I gripped Chloe’s hand so hard that I was worried I was hurting her. I was carrying a map and compass, both of which were ripped from my fingers by the storm. Our links to the real world were taken by the wind and left us with nothing.

By the time the storm and the flying sand abated, we had absolutely no idea where we were.


We left Gerald. We had no choice. He was dead and we were alive, and we had to press on, to try and find help. Chloe wasn’t looking too good. Her lips were blue, even in the blistering heat of the day, and the skin on her face was visibly dry. Her eyelids were starting to crack.

When I looked at her it was all I could do not to descend into panic. My little girl was dangerously close to dehydration. She was going to die unless I could get us out of this. But I didn’t know where I was going and with every step things became more and more desperate. Fathers are supposed to be the superheroes in these situations. I knew that. I knew I was supposed to come up with some sort of master plan that would rescue Chloe and me, but I was stuck for inspiration, and as I looked over at Chloe again, she was struggling to even take a step forward.

The sand dragged at her ankles, as it did mine, and she stumbled to one side. She half-turned her head and looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “Dad...” she said. Then she fell forward onto the sand.


I cradled Chloe in my arms. It was pointless but she knew I was there if nothing else. I imagined myself as a TV news crew, reporting on myself. I would say I had been reckless, foolish, irresponsible... I would say I had led my daughter to certain death in the desert through arrogance and over-confidence.

Her eyes were red with blood, haemorrhaging from her brain through dehydration. The skin on her face was developing welts like stretch marks. Her body was absorbing its own moisture. I had heard about this, but never seen it. I stuck the middle knuckle of my left hand between my teeth and bit down, hard. Chloe’s eyelids fluttered. She looked at me and said, “Dad... I love you.”

At that moment, I would have done anything for her. Absolutely anything. Tears pricked my own eyes and I told Chloe that I loved her too. I told her she was my baby. I told her she was special. I told her to close her eyes.

Then I raised the rock in my right hand, and brought it down on Chloe’s skull.

I did it again.

And again.

And then Chloe was dead.


I couldn’t bear to see her die of thirst. I couldn’t let her suffer like that, and so I ended it for her before things went that far. It was her face that did it – seeing that beautiful silky skin cracking and bleeding brought it home to me. I looked at her and knew – my daughter was going to die. So rather than watch her suffer like a fly in a web, I did what I had to do and I stopped the pain.

She was my world.


I think I hear helicopters. I’m lying in the sand, and I’m asleep, or I’m dead – one or the other. But there’s a dream, and there’s the noise of a helicopter. And it’s coming for me. Now, I hope it doesn’t find me. If it exists, let it leave me alone. And then, I can hug Chloe and tell her I’m sorry.