Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 048 - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


The restaurant was crowded and hot. It sat atop a skyscraper and spun in a slow circle, giving you a view of the city as you ate. I wasn't there to eat. I found the girl easily enough. She was sitting at a table near the window. Fleming was there with her. She didn't look like she was under duress, but duress can mean a lot of things.

I approached slowly. Fleming had her back to me. The girl had her eyes down on the table. She had food in front of her but she wasn't eating. She wasn't even moving. Her hands were beneath the table, folded in her lap.

As I came within earshot, Fleming, without turning, said to me, "Come. Join us."

"How about instead I just wring your scrawny neck?"

I couldn't see her face but I knew she was smiling. Her hands were resting flat on the table. She raised one of them just a few inches and two men appeared behind me. They were over six foot and all muscle between their ears. But they heard Fleming well enough.

"Escort our guest to his chair," she said. "And be discreet about it."

Each of them glided up behind me to where they were almost touching my arms. If I had turned in either direction, they would have grabbed me. One was bald and had a Colonel Sanders goatee. The other had hair down to his ass and wore a maroon turtleneck under his suit coat.

I sat down across from the girl. She had no reaction to my presence. She was in her late twenties, early thirties maybe, but her outfit was that of a schoolgirl. A frilly white blouse with a huge black bow at the collar. I turned to Olga Fleming.

"I'm taking her out of here with me and I'll kill anyone who tries to stop me," I said.

This time, I saw Fleming's smile. The corners of her face bent and cracked. Her eyes became slits. Her heavily applied crimson lipstick was like a smear of blood where her mouth should've been.

"She's mine," Fleming said. "She's been mine for a long time now. I'll die before I give her up."

The girl still hadn't moved. I tried to catch her eye but her stare was a glassy one. No one was home.

The two bodyguards had taken up positions near the window. They were half-turned toward it so as not to attract attention. And they were half-turned toward me in case I suddenly got the urge to kick Olga in the face a couple of times. As if it would make any difference.

"How did you find me?" Fleming said.

"I got one of your girls to give up the name of your accountant. Accountants are easy. He told me right where you like to dine."

Fleming seemed pleased by the mental picture she was creating. Then her expression turned back to business.

"We're flying to London tonight," she said. "Then on to Switzerland. No one in this country will ever see Valerie or I again."

"You're half right," I said.

When I said it, one of the guards, Goatee, moved a step closer. Both he and Hair-Down-To-His-Ass were glaring at me. I tried to keep from fainting.

"I know something about you," Fleming said. "I know that both your son and your daughter disappeared when they were very young."

I felt the bile rise in my throat.

"Is that the reason you chase around rescuing all those lost little boys and girls?" Fleming said. "Are you just looking for your own missing children?"

I kept my entire body squeezed tight. I couldn't afford to show anything to this witch.

"Do you think you'll ever find them?" Fleming said. "Is that why you do what you do?"

I did my best to show nothing.

"Maybe you're better off not finding them," she said. "Maybe then you can at least keep the hope alive."

I saw myself going for her throat, tearing it out with my bare teeth. I showed nothing. I concentrated on the girl. As I glanced beneath the table, I saw that her ankles were handcuffed together. I'd have to carry her out. What would the other patrons make of that?

"I imagine you have a gun," Fleming said. "I imagine you're thinking about using it."

"The girl isn't yours," I said. "She used to have a real home. And a family who cared for her. You took her away from that."

"That was nine years ago," Fleming said. "Long forgotten. No one can care for her like I can."

"Because you're her mother?"

For the first time, I saw Fleming falter. It was just a twinge in the corner of her eye, but it was there. I had an opening.

"How did she react when she found out her mom used to be a junkie scumbag cracked-out whore? Did you break it to her gently over tea? Two-dollar blow jobs in the back seat of a burnt out Chevy -- you've certainly worked your way up the ladder," I said.

The corners of her mouth deepened. The bodyguards were just waiting for the signal to pounce. "Valerie is all I have ever wanted," Fleming said. "To make a life for her. A life I never had."

"How many of your girls died to make this life?" I said. "How many have you sacrificed to finally be able to afford your escape?"

"I would've sacrificed them all," Fleming said. "They were not my daughters."

Again, I waited for the girl's reaction. Again, she had none. Her dinner had gotten cold. Her expression even more so.

"Boy, you've got that delicate mother's touch," I said. "I can see why Valerie's so responsive to it."

"Valerie," Fleming said, "is well-behaved. Well-mannered. Ladylike."

"It used to be you'd choke a rat for his crumb of bread," I said. "You're dressed up now, but on the inside you're still gutter-dwelling filth. And that's all you'll ever be."

Fleming's cheeks were as crimson as her lipstick. Her small pearl-beaded purse sat on the table before her, pointed in my direction. Fleming began to reach into it. Suddenly, Valerie raised her head and said, "No." It was a quiet empty echo of a word. "No," she said again, a bit louder. "That's not true."

Fleming and I stared at her, waiting for more. It was slow in coming, but she got the words out at last. "She's not filth," Valerie said. "She's just ... sad on the inside. All the time."

"You hush now, Valerie. I'm taking you away from here."

"She doesn't mean to be," Valerie said. "She doesn't mean to hurt me."

Fleming nodded to the bodyguards. They came and stood on either side of me at the table.

"Do you remember," I said, "the people you used to live with, Valerie? Do you remember the home they gave you when you were young?"

"They never came looking for me," Valerie said.

"Because they didn't know," I said. "Olga lied to them. She left a note saying you had run away. She made them think you had written it."

Her eyes were beginning to water. She kept her hands folded neatly in her lap.

"They still should've looked," Valerie said.

"They did," I said. "For nine years, they've been looking."

She began to cry. Except for the tears running down her face, the rest of her was still. "Take me away," she said.

I hit one of the guards, Goatee, with an elbow to the rib cage. As he doubled over, I grabbed a plate off the table and smashed it over the other guard's head. Hair-Down-To-His-Ass still had fragments of the plate stuck in his hair as he grabbed me in a bear hug from behind and squeezed for all he was worth. I was vaguely aware of the restaurant's patrons scattering every which way but I couldn't tell why. Then I saw that Fleming had her gun out. It was a Ladysmith, tucked in her purse. She fired it at my head. The guard and I went over backward and his grip loosened and I shook free and scrambled for cover.

As I glanced at Hair-Down-To-His-Ass, I saw that he had a bullet hole in his forehead. Goatee had his gun out now and aimed in my direction. I shot him twice in the midsection and he fell backward onto Fleming's table and overturned it. Fleming got out of the way but Valerie was caught by the table and knocked over backward. The cuffs on her ankles kept her from regaining her balance. Fleming still had her gun trained on me. She fired. The bullet hit the window over my shoulder and splintered it like a windshield. I took cover behind another overturned table. I drew a bead on Fleming but she crouched behind Valerie and I couldn't take the shot. She fired at me twice more, taking a chunk out of the table and further splintering the glass behind me.

Fleming got Valerie under the arm and pulled her up. Valerie was terrified and in shock.

Fleming worked her like a puppet. She pushed her one step at a time in my direction, staying behind her as she did, never giving me an opening. Several times Valerie nearly stumbled because of the cuffs on her ankles. Her white blouse had blood speckled all across the front of it. She was crying and shaking her head and cowering as her mother pushed her forward. Fleming was close enough now so that she wouldn't miss. She raised the gun past Valerie's shoulder and Valerie turned her head and bit down on Fleming's wrist. The gun fired wild into the ceiling. Fleming made a fist and smashed it against the back of Valerie's head. Once. Twice. Valerie's teeth had drawn blood. Fleming dropped the gun and hit Valerie a third time on the back of her head. Valerie crumpled to the floor. I was on my feet and moving toward Fleming when she bent and picked up the gun. I got hold of her by the throat and lifted her and threw her as hard as I could away from Valerie. Fleming sailed briefly through the air then hit the window with her back and cracked it where it had been weakened and kept on sailing right through the glass, plummeting to the street far below.

The restaurant was still spinning slowly on its axis. I felt dizzy all of a sudden. I looked around. Everyone was gone. I heard multiple sirens approaching. I went to Valerie. She was groggy but still conscious. I lifted her in my arms and moved toward the lobby. It was like walking on a carousel. No wonder every shot had missed.

As we stepped off the dining room platform, Valerie opened her eyes and looked up at me. "I want to go home," she said. "I want my mommy."

Damned if I knew which one she meant.

BIO: In 2008, Mark Joseph Kiewlak's work appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thug Lit, Muzzle Flash, Powder Burn Flash, Clean Sheets, and many others. He was privileged to have served as judge of the 2007 Wild Violet Fiction Contest. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 047 - Sandra Seamans


I was sitting in the darkness of my empty kitchen, the barrel of my service revolver staring me in the face, when the phone rang. I tried to ignore it, but the incessant ringing kept gnawing into my grief until I answered.


"Detective Giles?"


"This is Sister Mary. From Saint Rose's Hospital."

"I'm off the clock, Sister, call the station, they'll send someone over."

"I don't need someone else, Oliver Matthew Giles, I need you. I know you buried Marilee today, but that doesn't keep the living from needing your help."

I've known Sister Mary since my days as an altar boy so when she uses my given name instead of detective I tend to pay attention.

"For you, I'll come, but don't expect me to have any sympathy for that pack of no-backbone women you're playing nursemaid to."

I hung up before she could start preaching about the weak and downtrodden. I didn't want to hear it, because deep down, in my cop's gut, I knew it was their fault my wife was dead.

St. Rosey's is always full up on a Saturday night with the victims of the After Two-Bar's closed-Our Team Won syndrome. A room full of bruises and blood, stitches and casts and excuses. I know he still loves me. It was all my fault. No cops, please. It was just an accident, he didn't mean to hurt me. An emergency room full of blank anonymous faces that everyone knows on sight, but pretends not to.

This was my wife's beat. Marilee worked for the Women's Resource Center, she knew every face, every scar and every story in the room. None of these women were anonymous to her. She cared for each one of these wounded women and worked hard to keep them safe from their husbands and boyfriends. Me, I was the enemy, that lethal combination of man and cop, they didn't want me here any more than I wanted to be here.

Sister Mary greeted me with a firm handshake as the sliding glass doors swooshed open and I stepped into that silent room full of muzzled tears. "Thanks for coming, Detective."

"You're not welcome, Sister."

"You can drop the attitude, Oliver, those two women over there need your help."

"And if I don't want to help them?"

"This is something Marilee would have wanted you to do."

"Don't throw Marilee at me, Sister."

"You're right, I shouldn't have done that. But, please, talk to them."

The women were huddled in the farthest corner of the room using each other as life rafts while they waited to see the doctor. The younger of the two was a quiet wisp of a woman with flyaway blond hair and a painful-looking pair of black eyes that were rainbowing into hues of purple and yellow. The older woman had a bag of ice pressed against her forehead to freeze up the blood flow from the gash above her eyebrow, bruised knuckles and a split lip pointed to the fact that at least she'd put up a fight.

"Ladies, this is Detective Giles, Marilee's husband. You remember her talking about him, don't you?" said Sister Mary as she shoved a molded plastic chair into the back of my knees, forcing me to sit down. "Detective, this is Sylvie Marsh and her friend, Birdie Muldoon."

I nodded, waited for one of them to speak, then plunged into the conversation myself. "That's a lot of blood on your dress, Mrs. Marsh. He must have hurt you pretty bad."

Sylvie looked up, her eyes sliding away from my face. "It's not my blood."

"Who's blood is it?"

"My husband's."

"Are the doctors stitching him up?"

"No, he's dead."

Sylvie started to cry, pressing her face deep into Birdie's ample chest.

Typical battered woman, crying for the son of a bitch who beat the crap out of her. I pulled out my cop facade to keep myself from screaming at her. "Can you tell me what happened?"

Birdie hugged Sylvie tighter. "You've got to tell him, honey, he has a right to know."

"Jack, my husband, killed her."

"Your husband killed someone?"

"It was all my fault, I shouldn't have let her talk me into leaving. She told me she could keep me safe, but she didn't know Jack, didn't know how he was. How could she?"

"Who are you talking about?"

"Your wife, Marilee, it was my husband who killed her."

I felt my heart slam into the floor. I didn't want to hear this, not from her, but I needed to know what happened. "Go on," I said, surprised that I could even squeak out the words.

"After Marilee picked me up, I made her stop at Birdie's house. I knew Jack would beat her half to death if he couldn't find me. I couldn't just run off and let him do that to my best friend, could I?"

She was staring at me, expecting me to say something, but all I could see was Marilee's broken body laying on the coroner's table, our unborn child on the table beside her. I choked back the memory and the angry words that were on the tip of my tongue. I saw a shiver ripple over her body. She was afraid of me, of what I might do. "Then what happened?"

"Well, that's where he caught up with us. At Birdie's house. He just kept beating on poor Marilee until she wasn't moving no more, then he dumped her in the back of his truck and drove off. That was a few days ago, the day before they found her body alongside the road out near Harmony Creek. I should've done something to help her, but I was too scared."

A wave of rage swept over me as the anger kicked up a notch, anger at this woman for not leaving her husband, for not saving my wife, for robbing me of the revenge that was rightfully mine. I wanted to leap out of my chair and strangle her. Instead my cop instincts kicked in and I asked, "Where's your husband's body?"

"We just left him there, at the house. What else could we do? Birdie needed stitches, I had to get her to the hospital. I guess we were hoping that Sister Mary would know what to do."

I watched as a gentle smile passed between the two women, their hands slipping together like old friends. "Why now?"


"Why'd you shoot him this time? Why not shoot him when he was attacking Marilee?"

"I didn't have a gun then. When he showed up this time, I grabbed the shotgun. I asked him to go away and leave us alone, but he said we were witnesses. Said that Marilee was a cop's wife and he couldn't leave no tracks tracing back to him. I knew then that he was going to kill us, just like he'd killed Marilee. When he tried to take the gun away from me, I pulled the trigger. There was a big hole in his chest and all that blood. I just wish I could've..."

She reached out, laying her hand on mine. "I'm so sorry."

I looked at that small hand and thought of Marilee, remembering something she'd told me about the women she helped. "Battered women are like alcoholics. They want to stop but, until they take that first step and find the strength inside themselves, all I can do is hold their hand and offer them a little hope. What's even more tragic is that even after they're in a safe place, they're still afraid to ask for help."

I patted Sylvie's hand. I wanted to hate this woman for taking Marilee away from me, but how do you hate someone for being too afraid to stand up for herself? I stared into her bruised face and felt the anger drain from my body, but the words of forgiveness she was seeking caught in my throat when Sylvie leaned forward and pressed a soft kiss on my cheek.

"Can you help us, please?" she whispered.

I pushed my chair away from her, knocking it over as I stood up. My head felt like it would explode with the anger that was racing through me as I headed for the door, ignoring Sister Mary's pleas for me to stop. She caught up with me in the parking lot as I was punching numbers into my cell phone.

"Oliver, you can't turn your back on them. They need your help."

"Need my help for what, Sister? To get away with murdering my wife?"

"Sylvie's husband killed your wife."

"No, Sylvie and her lover murdered Marilee. The pair of them are trying to frame her dead husband for the murder."

"Her lover? Birdie? No, I don't believe you. You just want to blame those women because Marilee cared about them. You're jealous."

"Jealous? Of them? Let me ask you something, Sister. How many times was Sylvie in the ER before she asked for help?"

"I don't know, once or twice."

"Doesn't that seem a little strange to you? Marilee told me that battered women are afraid to ask for help, even when they're in a safe place."

"That's true."

"But not Sylvie. She asked for help after only two incidents and, just now, she asked me to help them. Not her, them."

"But why would they kill Marilee?"

"I think Sylvie was setting up a reason to kill her husband. What better excuse than battered women's syndrome? That morning, before she left for work, Marilee asked me how I knew when someone was lying. You know what I said? I said everyone lies, because in my line of work that's what they do. She just laughed at me and said not everyone lied. She was too trusting, Sister, and that's what got her killed."

"You think she was wondering about Sylvie?"

"That's what I'm supposing, but the fact is Sylvie said she was holding the gun when her husband got there. If she was pointing a gun at him, how could he break open Birdie's skull? And those bruises on Birdie's knuckles and that split lip? They're already starting to heal, same as Sylvie's black eyes. I think Marilee figured out what they were planning and confronted them. Things got out of hand and they killed her. Maybe it was an accident, maybe not. However it happened, they decided to use her death as an excuse to kill Sylvie's husband, leaving them to walk away scot-free."

Sister Mary nodded at the phone. "Who were you calling?"

"The cops. I don't trust myself not to kill that pair of bitches. And don't tell me to watch my language, Sister."

"I won't, Oliver, not this time."

BIO: You can find Sandra's stories scattered around the internet in places like Spinetingler, PulpPusher, and The Thrilling Detective. Her scattered thoughts about writing can be found at My Little Corner.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 046 - Alan Griffiths


He was a big fucker.

Richie had a mental picture of a grey haired, 'Just Take the Money and Go!' type, as he stuck the gun through the window.

But he was late thirties, going on forty; a big angry fucker.

"Hand over the takings," Richie said, a nervous waver in his voice. "Do it fucking now." The gun wobbled in his hand and he steadied it by putting his left hand over his right wrist.


There was no shelter and he had been soaked by the rain within minutes. Turning up the collar of his cheap sports jacket, useless against the weather, he took a last drag on his cigarette before flicking the butt away. Had something gone wrong? It was now forty five minutes past the meeting time and the last two pints of Dutch courage had worked through his system. Should he risk a crafty piss? He stamped his feet on the ground to ease the numbness and felt a vibration in his trouser pocket as the text arrived.

Three words on the rain spattered screen: WE ARE ON.

No chance of that piss now. Inside his jacket pocket his right hand gripped the butt of the pistol. It wasn't real. A replica but looked the business. He pulled a baseball cap from his pocket and tugged it onto his head, the peak down low.


Richie had known Andy on and off for years; dragged up together on the same local authority estate. Three years between them. Andy, the eldest, at twenty. Richie, the baby-faced disciple.

Cars were Richie's gig, from the age of fourteen, when he had boosted his first Ford. Since then he'd been in and out of young offender's units, mainly for taking and driving away offences. Andy, smarter, as he told him at every opportunity, had recently done a spell inside.

Richie was broke and Andy, a hopeless gambler, always needed cash. The get-rich-quick plan: Stick-up a London black cab, the drivers always loaded with cash after sixteen hour shifts. Spin the driver a yarn about picking up another punter on the way to a party and lure him off the main road, away from nosey CCTV cameras. Pull the job and have it away with the cash.

"Point the replica in their face. Yell at them and watch them shit a brick," Andy had said. "Easy pickings, my son."


A diesel engine broke the silence and headlights cut through the rain, illuminating the slick road as a cab pulled around the corner. Richie, the tension building, hoped to fuck he wouldn't piss himself, as the driver pulled the window down.

"Hand over the takings. Do it fucking now."

As he clocked the driver, Richie saw that there were two bodies in the rear seats; Andy alongside another guy. The stranger's eyes locked on Richie and for a long moment they looked at each other until Richie pulled his gaze away, "C'mon, hand over the fucking cash or you'll get it."

The driver looked a grizzled son of a bitch. Close cropped hair, dark eyes and heavy salt and pepper stubble. He didn't look scared, just grinned, showing bad teeth and flicked the rear door locks on. "I like to shoot, weekends at the gun club," he said. "You need a real gun, sonny, not a fucking pop-gun." He moved quickly, grabbing Richie by both wrists and yanked him hard up against the door. Richie froze; he could do nothing about the grip on his wrists and as he bounced off the metalwork felt fingers at his throat.

Glass broke inside the cab, raised voices and curses as the cab rocked violently. The grip on Richie's throat weakened and suddenly he was falling in a heap, the fake gun clattering to the ground. Scrambling to his feet, Richie could see that the glass between driver and passenger compartment had been smashed. The stranger had his arms around the cabbie, both of them grappling. Andy, watching white-faced. Suddenly, the driver screamed, his hands coming up to his face. The stranger, a blade in his hand had cut the driver across the right side of his face, blood now flowing freely through the cabbie's fingers.

"Out," the stranger said, "Open the doors and get the fuck out." The door mechanism released and the driver was pushed out onto the road. As Richie inched round the front of the cab, the stranger had the blade at the cabbie's neck. "Where's the fucking money? The money?"

Andy took the hint and, avoiding Richie's confused look, ducked back inside and began to search.
The cabbie, bloody hands still cupped to his head, moaned and groaned. "Shut it," said the stranger.

"Ya cunt. You've cut half my fucking ear off."

"Shut it. Or I'll cut the other one off as well." The stranger pointed towards Richie. "Fuck's sake, mate, get the passenger door open and search for the dough. It's in there somewhere."

Inside, Richie grabbed hold of Andy. "What the fuck's occurring here and who's the nutter with the chiv?"

"That's Spencer," Andy said. "I met him inside. It was his idea to rip off the taxi but I left his name out of it."


"Didn't want to scare you off."

Richie swore but his words were drowned out.

"I've got it," Andy shouted triumphantly, a small black case in his hand. Outside, Andy rested against the bonnet, zipped the case open and pulled out a fistful of notes. "Sweet, the fucker's loaded. Fucking loaded, my son."

Spencer turned his head and the driver took his chance and pulled Spencer sharply forward by the lapels and head-butted him. Spencer's nose broke, blood and snot spurting, as the two of them went down, arms and legs flailing. The cabbie getting the better of it, on top of Spencer, throwing punches. Andy, the first to react, aimed kicks at the driver, catching him in the back and side. Richie, adrenaline-pumped, screamed and jumped into the bundle, as the two of them wrestled the cabbie off Spencer.

Richie took a punch to the face and fell backwards. The driver turned towards Andy, roaring, blood and phlegm flying. Spencer then entered the game again, swinging a low punch to the cabbie's gut, pulling his fist back, following up with another and another. With a surprised look on his face, the driver's mouth formed a silent, bloody O, then his knees crumpled and he died on the cold, wet tarmac. Spencer; stood over him, blood dripping from the blade in his fist.

"Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!" Andy screamed, hands up to his ashen face, staring at the lifeless body. "Nooo!"

"Shut the fuck up!" Spencer hit Andy, back-handed, knocking him to the ground beside Richie. "Get on your feet. We need to get the fuck out of here." Spencer's battered face a mask of blood, both eyes beginning to swell and bruise above his flattened nose. "Now!"

Richie really did piss himself, as the sobs racked his body and his bladder opened.

They drove away in the cab, Spencer behind the wheel. The pair of them had watched from the back seats, the air stinking of fear and stale piss, as Spencer pulled the body clear of the cab and dumped it in the gutter. Like old rubbish.

Spencer drove across the city, crossing the river and pulling up on waste ground bordering the water's edge. There was a petrol can in the boot and they watched again in silence as Spencer doused the interior and turned the cab into a ball of flames with a flick of a match.

Halfway across the waste ground, Spencer stopped to launch the bloody knife into the murky water with a straight-arm throw. "You two are coming with me. I know a squat where we can crash while I work out what the fuck to do next."

"Shouldn't we split up?" Andy said, big-eyed, shitting a brick. "Go in different directions like?"

"No fucking way," said Spencer, spittle on his busted lips. He pointed at them with a blood-stained finger. "I need to keep my eyes on you two. You're a liability." He spat blood and phlegm onto the ground, narrowed his puffy eyes. "A real fucking close eye."

BIO: Alan Griffiths lives in London, England. He has a keen interest in reading Crime Fiction, particularly Noir. His first short piece of fiction, Rat Fink, was published on AToN in 2008, which made him a very happy man.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 045 - Keith Rawson


It was a cliché, but in Dane’s case it was a statement of fact:

He was getting too old for this shit.

"This isn't going to work."

"It'll work."

"And you should know, right? You've done this a million times, right, Mr. Bank Robbing Expert?"

"I've done it enough to know he doesn't want to die, or see you, or his employees die."

"So that thing’s real?"

"Yeah it's fucking real. Rodney's an old school mad bomber. The Irish accent might sound like bullshit, but it's the deal. He'd strap those rigs to British soldiers they'd kidnap and make 'em walk into their barracks. Of course, those psychos only wanted blood."

"And all he wants is money now?"

"Nothing but."

"I don't want anybody hurt! You promised me! I've known most of those people for years. Just because their boss is a dick doesn't mean they should get hurt!"

"Would you shut the fuck up for once! I told you I wasn't going to hurt nobody and I meant it! Just try to stay calm until we get the call."

Jesus, the cunt had a mouth on her. Six weeks of working her, and Dane could swear she hadn't shut her trap the entire time; she even chatted it up in her sleep. Six weeks was a long haul for a fuck job. Usually he was in and out within three. One week of scouting, one week of screwing, then a week convincing the target into the job.

It still amazed him what you could talk a middle-aged woman into doing when you threw a little strange cock in ‘em.

But with Gale it was the standard week of background, but two weeks of her attempting to be coy and flirtatious, which made Dane throw up in his mouth a little every time she fluttered her eyelashes seductively or “accidentally” caressed the back of his hand before he finally put the cock to her.

And once she got it, she kept wanting it and wanting it. Two continuous weeks of humping, and anytime he’d attempt to broach the subject of her husband or anything resembling the job, Gale would be down on her knees, unzipping him with her teeth. He’d groan, attempting to make it sound like pleasure instead of disgust.

It wasn't that Gale was an unattractive woman, far from it. She was a petite 5'4 brunette, who spent 4 days a week in the gym and ran 6 days a week. Dane should have been thrilled she wasn't your typical middle age bank manager's wife. (Who—from personal experience—tend to resemble wrinkled rotting pears with folds of cellulite the consistency and color of cookie dough, thanks to a wholesale diet of chocolate, fast food, Twinkies, and trashy daytime talk shows.) But when he looked at her, a shiver ran down his spine and the taste yellow bile crawled up his throat; it wasn't Gale, it was what Gale represented; Gale as metaphor.

The screw jobs were a young man's game, and he was rolling up on 36.

True, at 36, he could easily pass for 25 or 30, but shit, it was a lot of work to keep up appearances. A couple hours in the gym every day; weekly visits to the salon; pedicure, manicure, a professional dye job, and a strict diet where red meat and alcohol were excluded. He was a bank robber, for Christ's sake. Shouldn't he be out every night drinking and whoring, enjoying the spoils of his labor?

But this was the path he'd chosen as a thief. He was by no means a strong-arm man, storming a bank in ski masks and packing shotguns was for amateurs or psychos like his partner Rodney. He was a finesse man, but crawling into the sack month-after-month, year-after-year . . . The only thing that seemed to be making it worth the effort was the afterbirth of the job.

He'd made it a habit to keep the wife alive until the crew made it back with the cash and the husband. Most of the wives would be foaming at the mouth ready to tell their loving spouses off. Nine-times-out-of-ten, they'd rip into them about what shitty husband's they were; how lousy of a lay; how every time they screwed she faked it.

Dane wound be internally bent over shrieking laughter as he watched the husbands break down in a fountain of tears and snot, the tortured eyes, knowing that their wives of 10 or 15 or 20 years could betray them so easily for some strange cock and a whole shit load of money. At this point in the confrontation, Dane would step up behind the bitches and turn their heads inside out. The best part was watching the husband's reactions.

Most of the time, it was horror, revulsion; but occasionally, the husband would have the smirk of a man who’d just finished a great piece of prime rib, or has just watched his cheating whore of a wife have her brains come rocketing out of what used to be her face. After the smirk, Rodney would take care of the husband, and the team moved on for six months, three months, or whenever they ran out of money, and it was back to the grind of scouting the next target.

But the stolen car joy ride exhilaration of the kills wasn't doing the trick anymore, which is how he figured Rodney talked him into the vest.

Rodney had been pushing it over the past couple of years. It was a simple design: Two pounds of C4 explosive strapped to a regular suit vest with industrial strength duct tape. The detonator was controlled by a simple remote, which worked great as long as the vest was in direct line of sight. Otherwise, it was completely useless, which was why a basic timer was used as back up. Dane suspected Rodney wanted to use the vest because he missed blowing shit up; correction, he missed blowing people up. You really couldn't blame him; the Irish screwball came of age in Belfast during the "troubles" and he'd spent a lifetime perfecting the art of turning walking, breathing human beings into something resembling extra chunky salsa. So what was the harm in letting him blow up the husband, as opposed to shooting him in the back of the head?

Whatever, Dane didn't like thinking about it too much. It was a reminder that screwing all those over-the-hill soccer moms had more to do with ego than with pulling a job.

The cell in his jeans pocket vibrated like a dildo. He picked up on the third ring, grateful he had someone else to talk to other than Gale.


"It's done. We got the wedge." Rodney had immigrated to the states 10 years ago and his brogue was ever-so-slowly starting to be swallowed up by a flat Midwesterner twang. It made him sound like a Californian attempting to imitate a chappy from Gloucester, Mass; yeah, more or less retarded. "D'ya want us to head back to the house?"

Dane stared at the back of Gale's head, his eyes focusing on a small cluster of gray hairs near the top of her skull that her colorist must have missed at her last stylist appointment. He pulled his tiny Sig Sauer P250 from his waistband, thumbed the safety off, and sighted down at those gray hairs.

"Nah, go and take him someplace secluded and light him up."

"Yer shitting me, Boss?"

"No, just make it quick and don't linger. All that C4 going to make a lot of noise."

"You betcha, chief. Ah, the boys are gonna love this shit!"

"Great, have fun." Dane hung up and listened to Gale's prattling, panicked voice grating like nails on a chalk board; still going on and on about how she couldn't live with herself if someone got hurt because of her. She didn't even notice that he'd been on the phone or had a nine millimeter pistol nearly pressed into the back of her skull. He wanted to say something, cough, clear his throat, anything so she'd turn her head a couple of degrees so she could see the gun.

Ah, fuck it.

He inhaled deep, letting his lungs fill with the stink of cordite and burning hair. Other than the slight echo of the report, it was finally quiet enough for him to think. Maybe he just needed a few months off.

Six months in Mexico shacked up with a couple or few college girls down in Cabo and he'd be ready to get back to the grind? Or maybe he'd finally just let Rodney take the reigns. Maybe.
Right now was nothing but a world of maybes.

BIO: Keith Rawson lives in the Phoenix, AZ suburb of Gilbert with his wife and daughter. His stories have appeared (or are waiting to appear) in such publications as DZ Allen's Muzzleflash, Powder Burn Flash, Flashshots, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, Bad Things, Crooked, Crimewav.com, PulpPusher, and Yellow Mama. He has also finished the first draft of a hard-boiled novel tentatively titled, Retirement.

And yes, just like every pulp writer on the net, he has a blog which he occasionally updates when he's not chasing around a two year old or working on new writing projects. You can find it at Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 044 - Cormac Brown


First published in the premiere issue of Astonishing Adventures Magazine

It's one of those rare days in San Francisco when it is actually hot. I came into the bar, not to get away from the stifling heat; though I'm a native San Franciscan, somehow I am used to that. No, I came in here to get away from what? Only the Lord and Devil know.

There was something that was bothering me, that I thought was gone from my mind like that formula you learn in school. The one you used to know that tells you when two trains traveling from the opposite ends of the country will meet up with each other. What's the difference, anyway? If they are traveling in my head, they're bound to crash.

Ah, regardless, whatever it was that was simmering in the recesses of my brain, it was starting to stink my soul up. So, bartender? A little "amnesia juice" with a "selective memory chaser." I pretty much ignore the few people here and there, though one in particular catches my eye. He's on the phone and he's wearing a natty wool sport coat, even in this heat...vainglorious moron.

"Did you know that stuff you drank was made in a dry county?"

Now, I've been to this hole in the wall before, and I believe one of the reasons that I specifically picked it out, was because everyone in here keeps to themselves. There is a jukebox, but all it does is collect dust because no one comes in here to dance or get happy. They come in here to be ignored and to forget.

So if a guy was dumb enough to ruin that implied code of silence, I would at best tell him to take a hike. Or at worse, lecture him about the code of silence around here and sucker punch him to make sure he got the point.

Yet, I don't get all sore, because the voice doesn't belong to a guy, but a woman...what a woman. I mean a tomato, the tomato to end all tomatoes. She has my head spinning, or maybe it isn't all her, because this isn't the first bar that I had been to today. But I digress.

If she were in a beauty contest with Myrna Loy and Ella Raines, Myrna and Ella would come in a distant second and third place, in that order. She was a punch bowl full of pulchritude and I wanted to drink her in.

"I said, did you know that whiskey was made in a dry county?"

Am I going mental? All of my thoughts are playing musical chairs and it seems like nothing can lift the needle off the record. Here is the kind of brunette to make you forget about blondes altogether, and somehow I can't understand a word that she is saying.

Is it the booze? Is it her looks? Is someone after me? Is there something I need to get done? This thing that keeps eating away at me, it's bigger than a monkey on my back. It's weighing me down more like King Kong, and on top of everything, he's holding Fay Wray and the airplane, too.

The bartender winks at me and chimes in, "He's had about four too many." He gives me a quick scowl, and then he goes back to washing his glasses. Something about this bottle jockey seems oddly familiar and I know it isn't because I've seen him work here before.

She looks down at my right forearm with a smile so warm that it could melt a glacier, as she sees the tattoo that is almost completely covered by my shirt. She lightly tugs on my short sleeve with her left pinkie nail and causes all kinds of problems, the most important one being that it is my arm that is the only thing keeping me from falling on my face. She purrs, "You want to show it to me."

It wasn't a question.

That gets mine and the rest of the bar's attention. I'm speechless, though I'm fairly sure that she is talking about my tattoo. She leans into me and whispers in my ear. The whisper sends a shiver that bounces up and down my spine, like a kid playing paddleball.

She whispers again and I shake my head. I gulp, "No. That's not what that means. It comes from an old English saying, meaning 'blow for blow.' This...for...that."

She looks me in the eyes, dips her left...then her right shoulder, and her dress slips. Wow. I go into a bar for a drink and a burlesque show breaks out. She catches the dress before it can fall below her navel, then she takes her time putting it back on.

Fair is fair, but before I can respond in kind and show my tattoo, a bear gets up at the end of the bar. Did I say a "bear?" That's the liquor talking. It's a goon that looks like he's half-Kodiak, half-man.

As he lumbers towards me, someone or something lifts the needle and all the thoughts in my head sit down. The game of musical chairs for my thoughts is suddenly over and I'm more sober than I've been for quite awhile. That goon works for Briggs Colcannon and Briggs is what, or should I say who, has been eating at me.

I see Briggs is the one in the sport coat as he glowers at me from his table, just before his goon is upon me. I calmly reach behind the bar for a bottle and crack it over the goon's head. Everybody in the bar can tell you who got the worst of that exchange: the goon has a tiny cut on his face, and my hand is cut open by the glass.

The goon reaches for me and I duck under his grasp. By the time he turns around, I've caught him square in the nose with a barstool. The goon stiffens, then he leans forward for some more, which I dish to him with more panic than passion. I jab the barstool twice at his face, the first blow connecting, and he snatches the stool out of my hands, on the second.

He is a little woozy, but his anger seems to bring him to and I hit his legs with another barstool. He drops to one knee and I'm swinging at him like Joe DiMaggio did two months ago, trying to keep his fifty-six game hitting streak alive. The goon finally flops to the floor. I could hit him again, but I have no beef with him as I'm here for Briggs Colcannon.

Hell, I have no beef with Briggs either, and even though we've crossed paths over a dozen times, I never put it together as to just who he was. Briggs had double-crossed every mob, from the Italians, the Jews, the Basques, and even the Chinese. He has even cheated the politicians in Sacramento, and they never forget.

Miss Tit-for-Tat's gorgeous eyes widen for a second and my head instinctively follows what startled her. The bartender is pulling a double-barreled shotgun and I panic, and hit him with a bottle. He winces and I yank the shotgun from his hands. Somehow, my dumb luck manages to hold up and the thing doesn't go off.

Yes, everybody who is anybody that makes a dollar the wrong way off of someone wants Briggs dead; nonetheless, he is impossible to get to. He is cousin to both the mayor and the police chief, though I doubt even family loyalty is the reason they protect him as fervently as they do.

As Briggs's meat paw reaches into his natty sport coat, I realize that the double-barreled shotgun is in my hands and he thinks I'm there to kill him, though I'm starting to have my doubts. I do know that I am a gambler with too many debts to forgive, and if the U.S. Government had to make good on them, it would bring back the Recession of 1937.

So someone has sent me, a man with no common sense and nothing to lose, to take care of one of the most powerful men in California. Yet that someone is not a man who has lost money, political pride or had a man or friend killed by Briggs. No, Briggs took away the most important thing in the world to that man and here she is, standing right behind me.

As Briggs and I simultaneously pull our triggers and I close my eyes, I think to myself that I don't blame either man that has put me in this shootout. If ever there was a woman worth dying for...

...I open my eyes to Briggs looking right back at me. We both exhale, though his breath is his last. His natty sport coat is far from natty now, and though my shirt is a little wet from perspiration, it doesn't have any holes in it. The little peashooter that Briggs had is on the floor, then I realize that someone could've been shot, so I turn around.

At first glance, everyone seems okay, then my eyes meet those of Miss Tit-for-Tat's. Her eyes are unsure of what to make of me, and I'm not sure what to make of myself. I'm no killer and I can't tell if she's scared of me, or feels sorrow for the loss of Briggs. My eyes drift over to the bartender and through his scowl, he winks at me. I thought taking that shotgun was entirely too easy and that he looked too familiar.

I look all the way around and wherever the bullet that Briggs squeezed off went, it didn't hit anybody. She looks at Briggs, then she looks away from me as I turn to go. Had we met under different circumstances, I would've been Briggs right now, with my guts seeping to the floor. Because women like that are what brings out the Briggs Colcannon in the meekest of men, and we will never know what it is like to enjoy the company of, or keep a woman like that, for long.

The sun blinds me as I walk out of the door and helps me get my bearings. I hop aboard a streetcar for Downtown, where I'll take another streetcar across the Bay Bridge and into Oakland. The San Francisco waterfront is out, so hopefully the cops will be looking for me there, just as I'll be sailing past Alcatraz.

I have to pray that the former husband of Miss Tit-for-Tat made good and struck all of my gambling debts from the books, for a good accountant can do what no magician can do in real life, make something actually disappear. Either way, I'll never come back to San Francisco.

A friend of mine told me about Hong Kong and said they treat American men there like kings, and that you can't beat the food. Things with the Japanese are getting hairy on that side of the Pacific, so the ship I'm sailing out on is bound for Hawaii, where it's nice and quiet. The ship is taking a drawn-out and convoluted path, so we won't get there until right around the first week of December.

BIO: "Cormac Brown" is a pen name. He is an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis and is following in the footsteps of Hammett…minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. Some of his stories have appeared at Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences, Astonishing Adventures Magazine, and Crooked Magazine. You can find him at Cormac Writes.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Interlude #7

More Gerard Brennan news, as he has a new story in the stream, over at Thuglit. Titled Hard Rock, this tale of a literal femme fatale and a hard rocker needs to be read to be believed.

Nice work on this one, Gerard. I especially love the subtle Room 187 snuck in there.

Let this be a cautionary tale to all of you rockers out there. Don't go for the looney tunes groupie with a fetish for choking herself during sex or employ a necrophiliac roadie in your entourage.

Best line of the story? "It felt so wrong to be struggling on the floor with a pink-skinned, almost naked, fat man wearing a ribbed condom. But life throws shit like that at you sometimes."

If that doesn't recommend the story, I don't know what will.

Meanwhile, Al Tucher has a new Diana Andrews story in the exact same issue of Thuglit. This one is called The Full Hour. In this one, Diana is kidnapped (sort of) and made to hear the final confession of a housewife who just couldn't take her husband's cheating ways anymore.

I've called Diana Andrews one of the most intriguing voices in hardboiled fiction and this installment continues to make me believe that sentiment.

Another great Diana, Al.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Interlude #6

The new Crooked has dropped. Go have a look. It's another all-star caliber lineup of authors. I'm going to have a read as soon as I'm done here.

The contest for March is starting to pick up, with a couple of early entrants already in the mix. I don't mind telling you that these two entrants are very well-known on the net and that their entries are going to be stiff competition.

No pressure, though. You have until March 31 to get yours in for the possibility of taking up to $25 in cash.

Hey, that's Ken Bruen's new novel Once Were Cops and some change right there!

Stephen D. Rogers is the latest author at Beat To A Pulp, outstandingly put together by David Cranmer, Elaine Ash and DMix.

And, at some point when I wasn't looking, Sandra Seamans snuck in with a tale of her own.

Check them both out.

And friend of A Twist Of Noir Gerard Brennan has an interview with Reed Farrel Coleman at his blog Crime Scene NI.

Check that out, too.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read Crooked #2.