Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 076 - Michael J. Solender


Originally Published at Powder Burn Flash 04/08/09

Dr. Payne awoke nauseous, eyes burning, and a huge welt on his head where Blaine had sucker-punched him. The massive forearm blow across his brow minutes earlier came as Payne was readying the Novocain for Blaine's cracked tooth.

Now he found his ankles and knees were immobilized as he was duct taped into the stiff, plastic covered dental chair in his own operatory. Several bungee cords pulled his arms taut behind his back with the same efficiency that rendered his legs useless. Still blurry from the blow, he made out Blaine accelerating the high-speed drill into a frenzied buzz.

Blaine began to approach him deliberately.

"Blaine, what is going on?" Payne asked in a pleading voice, his eye twitching. "'ve been my patient for years!" he half-screamed in his nasally, whiny voice.

"Exact-a-mundo," Blaine stated, accelerating the drill into overdrive, "your turn now."

BIO: Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for the Charlotte Observer and NEVER runs with scissors. His fiction has appeared online at 6S, Powder Burn Flash, Thrillers Killers 'n' Chillers, and Flashshot (soon). He blogs here: not from here, are you?

A Twist Of Noir 075 - J.R. Lindermuth


He invited me in as though the house were his and directed me back to the library - Aaron's favorite room.

I shouldn't have been surprised to see packing crates, empty shelves, covers over much of the furniture. "Where are the servants? Are you going someplace?"

With a sardonic grin, he nodded. "Carole needs to get away. There are too many reminders here."

We'd never met but he was much as I expected. Confident. Efficient. Arrogant. Aaron's suspicions were justified. His message had been waiting for me when I returned from another assignment. By then, it was too late for him. I'd complete the assignment, though. I owed it to him. I'm loyal if nothing else. "There are matters I should discuss with her."

"Not now. She's resting. Perhaps when we return."

"It's important."

"Why don't you explain to me what you need and I'll decide if it's important enough to bother her?"

Since he hadn't invited me to sit, I took it upon myself. I pulled a cover from a chair by Aaron's ornate desk and sat down. He wasn't going to put me off. I needed the two of them together.

Seeing I wasn't going to be deterred, he decided to be polite. I should have taken that as a warning.

"Would you like something to drink?"

Aaron had one of the best wine cellars on the east coast. Memory of what was on those shelves tempted me and I asked for a glass.

He left the room and came back a few moments later with two glasses. Handing one to me, he moved around and sat behind the desk. In Aaron's chair. The cheek of the man. "Just what is it you did for him?"

"I-uh-I tidy up."

He chuckled and leaned across the desk, both hands flat on its surface. "Like a cleaning person? Well, I'm sorry, Mr. Diener. I don't think she'll be needing your services. She has other help."

I took a sip of the wine and grimaced. It was hard. Not at all what I expected in this house. I noticed he hadn't touched his. "What is this stuff?"

"I'm sorry," he said with a smile. "I don't have the keys to the cellar. This is a Bardolino I found in the dining room. Not very good?"

I took another sip. "Musty. It tastes like rotten wood." I pushed the goblet away.

He half rose. "Sorry. Should I look for another bottle?"

I waved a hand. "No. Don't bother. There's business to attend to. I need to speak to Carole."

"As I said, she's resting."

I'd had about enough of his insolence. "Look, you can try to put me off but it isn't going to work. Aaron knew what was going on."


He looked positively mystified. Well, he didn't fool me. I'd been leery of her from the start. Aaron was my employer. He was also my friend. And I wasn't going to let them get away with it. "Don't pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. Aaron was old but he wasn't a total fool. This was what - her third marriage?"

"Fourth," he said, calmly, looking down at his fingernails.

"Fourth. And at least two of her previous husbands died under odd circumstances. I couldn't talk him out of marrying her but at least he listened to me about the prenuptial agreement."

"Ah, that was your doing."

"Yes. He knew about you, too. How you were always hovering about, whispering to her. Going off together when you thought he didn't know."

He had the arrogance to laugh at that. "You think we were having an affair? That's ridiculous. She's got a good thirty years on me."

"And what does that matter when it comes to easy money?"

"Actually, Carole's not my lover. She's my mother."

That surprised me but it didn't change things. "His death supersedes the pre-nup. She's due to inherit everything now."


I slapped my hand down on the desk. "It's not going to happen."

He raised his eyebrows and gave me another sardonic grin. "And how do you propose to stop it?"

"I..." Suddenly there was a burning sensation in my stomach. Beads of perspiration broke out on my forehead. The wine. I glanced at him. He hadn't touched his glass. "What did you.."

He sat back, steepling his hands before him and looking at me over them. "It'll all be over soon. You'll have a little discomfort but I promise there won't be much time for pain."

"You've poisoned me?"

"There are many ways to kill a man without leaving a trace. The physician concluded Aaron died a natural death. Shows how much he knew. In your case, it won't matter. We never met. No connection to us. We'll be long gone before they find you." He rose, came around the desk and smiled down at me.

I wanted to move, to get at the gun in my jacket pocket. My limbs were leaden. My vision went hazy. I tried to speak. My tongue had gone numb.

He patted me on the shoulder and smiled. "You're not the only one good at tidying up, Mr. Diener."

BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is the author of seven novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online.

A Twist Of Noir 074 - Jimmy Callaway


“How do you mean?” I said.

“What?” Tip’s gun wavered a bit. “Look, it’s a straightforward question,” he said. Yes, very straightforward. And meant to strike fear in my cowardly, craven heart. Jesus. Romano must be slipping, sending a guy like Tip. That, or he holds me in very low regard.

Tip doggedly began again. “If you died today—”

“Yeah, yeah, I heard you,” I said. “But to take care of someone or something, I mean, that can have all kinds of, y’know, interpretations. Aren’t you taking care of me, in a way?”


“I mean, you’re taking care of Mr. Bob Romano’s problem—me—by taking care of me, right? And Mr. Bob Romano’s general happiness is important to you, so you’re also taking care of that. I mean, there’s a lot—”

“Look, shut up!”

“You brought it up, I’m just—”

“Shut up, I said!” Tip blinked sweat out of his eyes.

“All right, I’ll shut up,” I said.

“Good. Now—”

“But you brought it up.”

Tip’s gun made a big noise across my face. I mean, don’t get me wrong, a smack in the face with a gun hurts, it always does. But Tip’s hand was shaking and he was pretty upset. Y’know. You can’t do any real damage to a guy, physically or otherwise, without being dispassionate about it. That’s been my experience, anyway.

“Tip,” I said, “let me ask you this.”

“What?” he asked, and I kicked him in the nuts as hard as I could. While he was bent over, puking, I picked up his gun and put one in the back of his head.

Who’ll take care of Tip’s family?

Who gives a fuck.

BIO: Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. Please check out for more hijinks.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

March's Contest Runner-Up - Naomi Johnson


I wheeled the big Olds '88 into the alley behind the Marathon station just as Little Jimmy Meeker cut across the lot. Well, well. Perfect timing.

“Want a ride, Jimmy?” I called.

It was a humid night, breathing was like drinking hot soup through your nose. In the residue of light cast from the front of the gas station, Jimmy bent down by my window to see who was offering. I flipped on the dome light to help him out.

“Well, hey, Lorna. I ain't seen you since...” His voice trailed off.

“It's been a while,” I agreed. “You want a lift or not?” I gunned the engine like I was in a hurry to get going and didn't care whether he rode along or not. The action made him look at my legs. Dancer's legs, of the exotic variety. The better to lure you with, Little Jimmy.

“Sure thing.” He slid into the passenger seat and sat with his back against the door. I flipped the light off again and I could feel him studying me in the darkness. Jimmy wasn't ever going to be a Rhodes scholar but he had a certain amount of street smarts he'd acquired the hard way. Even so, sometimes things that should have made him stop and think didn't register at all. Things like getting into a car with me.

I wasn't surprised he didn't finish his sentence, that he hadn't seen me since... Since before he set the fire that burned down my house. And burned up my precious baby. Only eight months old, Sammy had been the love of my life. Jimmy was notorious for forgetting little things like that. Smokin' dope will do that to you but I doubt if Jimmy was ever all there to begin with.

“Where you heading, Jimbo?”

“Can you take me as far as Dibby's?”

“Why not? This must be my lucky night, I was just thinking about heading up to Dibby's. It's a nice night for a drive and we'll have time to talk.”

I felt him straighten up.

“Talk about what?”

“Oh, anything. Everything.” I turned west on Broad Street and braked for the light. “I guess you heard I tried to commit suicide?”

“Sure did. After – after all that stuff happened, it was all anybody talked about for a while. But you're okay now, right?”

“Well, the medical staff at Upham Hall do their best but what can I say? I sold my scrips right after they let me out. My baby's dead and I have nothing left to live for, m'man, so what the fuck do I want with antidepressants?”


I pressed the accelerator gently and eased through the intersection.

“But you know, I do still have worries, Jimmy. I mean, they say that suicides aren't just dangerous to themselves, they sometimes want to take other people down with them. I'd hate to do that but I can see how it might happen, you know? 'Cause I just don't give a fuck about anybody anymore. Whoever burned my house did that to me. Whoever burned my baby alive did that.”

Whoever, Jimmy.

I glanced over at him. He wasn't slouched against the door any longer. He was leaning forward like he might try to leap out of the car if I stopped again.

“I think I'll take 315, that'll be faster,” I said, pressing the gas pedal and feeling the car surge up the northbound ramp. Even Jimmy would have to think twice about trying to climb out at this speed.

“Lorna, listen, I didn't –,” he started.

“Hush a sec, let me merge and then we'll talk.” When I had the beast gliding along the curves west of downtown, keeping pace with the other traffic, I hit the button that rolled up the windows so we could talk without yelling. I said, “So who paid you to burn my house, Jimmy?”

Calm. Good, I like being calm. Calm is control, or so Dr. Mercer at Upham Hall had told me.

“Lorna, please, I didn't do it. I only set little fires, you know that. Trash cans and stuff. You know. I wouldn't never hurt nobody.”

Maybe the folks at Upham Hall know what they're talking about. Jimmy didn't sound completely in control; he sounded nervous and maybe just a little bit worried. Maybe I should have told Jimmy about staying calm? Nah. I gave the Olds a little more gas.

“I know you set little fires just for fun, Jimmy. All the time. Trash fires, garages, empty houses, vacant lots. You don't get paid for those, I know. That's just how you keep busy, right? Idle hands and all that. But somebody paid you to set my house on fire and you're going to tell me who it was.”

“Nobody, I swear. I didn't do it, honest to God, Lorna, you have to believe – oh, my God! Slow down!”

We'd just passed Ohio Stadium where the speed limit jumped from 55 to 65 but I kept my foot down and sneaked a peak at the speedometer. We hit the the hospital curve doing 80 and climbing. I moved from lane to lane, dodging the sparse traffic but not by much. I saw as well as felt Jimmy jump when a horn blasted from a black Lincoln Navigator on the right. I was almost close enough to sand his paint job. I gave him the finger and cut over in front of him as close as I dared. That earned me another blast from the Lincoln, and I figured the driver was probably calling the cops via Onstar. Rich prick.

“You crazy bitch, you'll kill us both! Slow down, goddammit!”

Could be. The Olds was starting to shimmy20a little. Jimmy had both hands locked on to the dash, arms rigid. Jeez, he was really scared. I hadn't known his voice could get that high. I kept my foot down. Calm, yeah, but starting to feel a kind of high I wasn't familiar with. A control high. Shit, if I'd known control felt so good I'd have stayed in school and got into politics.

“Who paid you, Jimmy? Tell me now and nothing will happen. I don't want you, I just want whoever told you to do it. I just want whoever killed Sammy.”

“Slow the fuck down!”

I dodged a Passat that had one of those old 'Baby On Board' signs in the rear window. I gave it more leeway that I had the Lincoln. Maybe there really was a baby in the car.

“Lorna, please, please, please.”

God, was he crying? Oh, I sure hoped so. Fuck, I felt my own eyes start to well up.

“Who wanted my house torched?” I had to yell over his screaming. “You tell me now, Jimmy, before the cops catch us. I boosted this piece of shit but I'll tell'em you stole it and I didn't know. Hey, I'm certifiable and I'm off my meds. I'll go back to Upham Hall for a few weeks. You'll go to Lucasville, three to five. Probably the max with your record. You'll get to be with your dad again.”

That cinched it. Nothing scared the shit out of Jimmy like his old man. I don't blame him either. One time that old bastard nearly cornered me=20and Lil, Jimmy's sister, and I was so scared I'd wet myself. And Jimmy was proving to me that he wasn't half the man his sister was.

“I don't know who set that fire, Lorna, honest to God. Honest to God. But, but maybe, maybe I know who paid for it. I don't know why, nobody tells me shit. Slow the fuck down, please?”

I eased off the accelerator and just as the car began to slow noticeably I slammed my foot down again. He screamed like a – well, let's just say I bet my Sammy had screamed just like that. I'd dreamed about it.

“Fuck fuck fuck! Goddammit you'll kill us both.”

“I think I heard a siren.” I sneaked a glance in the rear view, just for show. “Last chance, Jimmy. Who was it?”

“Mark, all right. Mark wanted it done. Mark fucking Peyton already. Will you slow the fuck down?” His head was on a swivel, looking all over for the flashers. I slowed down to legal and signaled for the exit ahead.

I glanced over. Little Jimmy was slumped back in the seat, his hands over his face. And now he grew calm, too.

“He'll kill me, Lorna. He'll kill me for ratting him out.”

“Don't you worry about Mark,” I reached over and patted his hand. It was damp. “Mark'll never touch you. He's not gonna know what hit him.” We slid down the ramp, caught the green light and headed west again. “I'm going to drop you at Dibby's, just like you wanted. You stay there 'til they close. And don't make any phone calls, Jimmy, or you'll piss me off. I'm serious. If I have to take you for a ride again I promise you they'll never find your body. Are we straight on this?”

“Yeah, but-,”

“No buts, Jimmy. I'll take care of Mark as soon as I drop you off. You stay in Dibby's, have fun, and if you don't leave until they lock up you have a solid alibi.”

Now he was going past relief and moving toward compliance. “Okay, okay, if you're really going to get him tonight. You really are, no shit?”

“Jimmy, what would you do if somebody torched your baby?”

He thought about that longer than a totally sane person would have to.

“I guess I'd be real pissed off?”

Gee, you think?

“I guess you would.”

“But I'd probably get another dog, Lorna. You know?”

I ignored him as I slowed for the turn into Dibby's parking lot. Busy but not too busy. The front lot was almost full and there were a couple of cars at the side. I pretended not to notice Mark's Eclipse. I rolled the windows down again and heard bass thumping out of the building loud enough to sterilize every guy in the place. “I'm going to drop you around back so nobody sees us together, Jimmy. That'd screw your alibi.”

“You thought of everything, huh, Lorna?”

“Yep, everything.” I pulled to a stop, cut the headlights.

“And you're not mad at – at whoever burned your house? Because it was Mark who wanted it done. It was all Mark.”

“I know, Jimmy. I know you'd never have done it if not for him. I'm not mad at you. Mark's the one who killed my baby. Go on in now, and remember, no phone calls.”

“I promise.” He hopped out and rounded the front of the car, heading for the side door. I reached under the seat and sat up again.

“Hey, one more thing,” I called.

He came back toward me. “Yeah, what?”

“I lied.”

I let him see the gun right before I shot him in the face.

I turned off the engine, reached around for one of Mark's old shirts on the back seat, slid it on. I got out and put the gun in the waistband of my shorts. The shirt would hide it. Things were working out better than I could have hoped for. My lucky night. I felt great, better than I had in months. Who the fuck needs Prozac and electroshock therapy? Vengeance was turning out to be an excellent antidepressant. Somebody ought to tell the doctors at Upham Hall.

I looked down at Jimmy. Lady Luck had blessed my aim because even in the lousy light I had seen his brains shoot out the back of his head. Shoot out, terrible pun. Still, I couldn't help smiling. Jimmy's sister, Lil, had already told me I'd find Mark at Dibby's tonight, although I'd had to put a bullet in each of her elbows before she talked. Tough gal, that Lil. I was sorry I'd had to use a third bullet on her. But now I was feeling so good that I might have even given Jimmy a second chance if he'd been upfront about knowing Mark would be at Dibby's. Or maybe not. That crack about getting another dog was just mean.

BIO: Naomi Johnson is a retired financial analyst with an unused degree in Criminology. She lives in Columbus, Ohio. Her friends deny all responsibilty.

Monday, April 27, 2009

March's Contest Runner-Up - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


The car screeched to a halt in front of me and she was there, naked, at the wheel.

"Get in," she said. "Hurry."

I looked behind for another car. There was none.

"I'm dying," she said. "The bastard killed me."

I got in the car.

She was still beautiful. Still irresistible. There was blood between her legs.

"Where is he?" she said. "Tell me where the hell he is."

"I don't know."

She floored the gas and my head bounced back off the headrest.

"Liar. Bullshit liar."

"Olivia," I said. "What happened to you?"

"Fuck what happened to me. Where is he?"

We rounded the corner onto Main Street. There wasn't much traffic yet, this early in the morning.

"I should've killed him years ago," she said. "Should've blown his prick head off."

"He came after you again?" I said. "He did this to you?"


"Then what the fuck --"

The lights weren't changing fast enough for her. She was running them all. Behind us horns formed a chorus.

"I need to know something," she said.


"I need to know real bad."

"Tell me what it is," I said.

"Why didn't you stay with me?"

The one question I had no answer to.

It wasn't light yet. Not yet. There was still moonlight, a trace of it, gleaming off her breasts.

"I wish I had an answer," I said.

"Oh, fuck you and your wishes. Wish shit. What, I wasn't pretty enough?"

"You're the most gorgeous woman I've ever seen."

"Or was it because I hit thirty? Lots of younger rookies for you to choose from...."

"Olivia, stop it. You're talking about him, not me. You know that."

"Where is he?" she said. "You have to tell me where he is."

"So you can kill him?"


She turned hard at the Square and hard again to take us back in the other direction. "I have to keep moving," she said. "If I don't I'll lose my mind."

"Where are your clothes?"

For a second it was like she didn't understand the question.

"They took my clothes," she said. "They took everything."


"Salazar's men."

She was slowing down a bit now. Both her and the car. She wasn't gripping the wheel as tight.
"They came for me," she said. "They knew I was the one who shot Salazar's son."

I saw where this was going.

"There were only three of us there," I said.

She laughed. A harsh sound.

"Three rookie ass punks," she said. "Who covered up a shooting."

"He was raping that girl," I said. "Each of us was ready to pull the trigger."

"But I was the one who did it," she said.

The pool of blood between her legs was deepening. She was growing pale.

"I never told anyone," I said.

She showed in profile just the trace of a smile. "I know you didn't."

"What about the girl he was raping?"

"She slit her wrists," Olivia said, "two years ago."

We were getting near the parking garage. I had a decision to make.

"So it had to be Mickey," I said.

She didn't say anything. We swerved to miss a newspaper truck in the intersection. The daylight was coming now. No one could stop it.

"They burned all of my clothes," she said. "Took all of my personal belongings." She took a deep breath. "They killed three of my neighbors just for being there."

My voice was quieter now. "How did you get hurt?" I said.

"When I opened the apartment door they were waiting. Five or six of them. I never got a count. They were clean and quiet. Gagged me. Stripped me. Threw me on the bed. They had destroyed the entire apartment. Just because they could."

I felt something tear loose inside me and I knew the decision had been made.

"It was just a game," she said. "That's how Salazar told them to play it. They would let go of me and then knock me back. Three of them held me and one cut me -- down there -- with his knife. They didn't care if I lived. They didn't care if I ran. Salazar was sending them out of the country, back home, within the hour. It was all just a game."

We had slowed to a normal speed and rode in silence for another block.

"He called me," she said.


"Just before they got there. He called me. Said two words: 'I'm sorry.' Then he hung up."

I thought about the three of us back then, how we stomped through the world and threw ourselves headfirst at every obstacle.

"He's in the parking garage," I said. "Top floor."

She swallowed hard and wouldn't look at me. "I know there was a meeting tonight," she said. "I know you see him at meetings. I know he talks about things there that he doesn't talk about anywhere else."

"We all do," I said. "That's what it's for."

"Why the parking garage?"

It was coming up in the next block. We didn't have long.

"He goes there when it's bad," I said. "When he's ready to end it. He stands at the wall and waits for the sun to come up. He said, once, if he can just make it until dawn he can make it another day."

I saw the garage up ahead and saw her start to tremble.

"He beat me for years," she said. "But I never thought... Salazar is a monster. How could Mickey..."

She turned into the parking deck and took the ticket from the machine, letting it fall to the ground. The gate lifted.

"I know we fought all the time," she said. "I gave as good as I got. But how could Mickey..."

"Maybe he was drunk," I said. "Maybe they gave him money. Maybe --"

She lifted her foot off the gas and we drifted to a stop near the outer retaining wall.

"Maybe he didn't want to go on without you," I said.

She let go of all of it then.

She was sobbing and shaking and I couldn't do a damn thing except the one thing I wanted to do more than anything in the world.

"After they cut me," she said, "they all backed away. Like they were just going to watch me bleed. I jumped off the bed and ran for the door. They just let me go. My keys were still hanging there in the lock. I didn't know where my gun was. I just ran. I just ran and I called you. I just ran and I knew Mickey had done it. I knew he'd killed me. Salazar will never stop. He'll never let me live."

I knew what would happen if I touched her. I knew and I did it anyway. I took her hand in mine. I brushed the hair back from her face. I felt her mouth press against mine. She was still bleeding and numb from the pain. Her lips were against my ear.

"I don't care how much it hurts," she said. "I want you inside of me."

She climbed on top of me and I remembered everything. The smell of her skin in the morning. The way she never left the room without turning just once to glance at me over her shoulder.

The way she bled on our first night together.

Now I was back inside her and nothing else mattered. She screamed my name and I screamed hers. When it was over we found ourselves slumped against the passenger side door, our faces pressed hard against the window, our breath fogging the glass.

All at once she moved her arm beneath me and the door opened and I tumbled out. I hit the back of my head on the concrete. I felt her push my legs out of the car and heard the horn honk accidentally as she climbed back behind the wheel. I sat straight up and the garage spun just a little. The car was pulling away.

I reached for the passenger door, which was still open, and missed. I got to my feet and the garage spun a little faster. I ran toward the car, following it up the ramp to the next level. It swerved side to side and I saw Olivia's head lull forward then snap back. The car sideswiped the concrete wall as it turned for the next level. It slowed nearly to a stop and I ran faster. Then it jerked forward again and I lost ground. It scraped all along the inside wall, sending sparks in a long trail behind it. She was too far away now. I headed for the stairs. I opened the door on the fourth level and heard tires squealing above. On the sixth level I just missed her and ran again in pursuit.

On the next turn she struck the wall and smashed out one of the headlights and kept going. I kept going too, though I knew I would never reach her in time. The seventh floor was the roof. She was picking up speed, sitting straighter in the seat now. Her hair was gleaming in the new sunshine.

I saw Mickey at the wall, facing her in the distance. His arms were hanging loosely at his sides. He never even tried to step out of the way.

She was barreling when she struck the wall. The concrete buckled and the front end lifted and she and Mickey and the car all disappeared. I ran out of breath in the center of the deck. I fell to my knees as I heard the gruesome impact below. I stared at the wall where the chunk was missing. The passenger side door had been torn off and was lying there rocking back and forth, gently. The glass was still fogged from our breath.

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).

A Twist Of Noir 073 - Paul Brazill


Bingo Master’s Breakout is a reworking of Sleeping It Off which appeared at Powder Burn Flash.

In the beginning is the sound. The light comes later.

The sound is a thump, thump, thump that goes on and on and on, over and over again and drags me by my lapels into consciousness.

I open my eyes and shards of sunlight slice through the blinds. Squinting, I focus on the worn Francoise Hardy poster on the wall and the familiar red flock wallpaper. Once again I’ve fallen asleep fully clothed on my sofa, tangled up in a tartan blanket which has seen better days, and nights. The coffee table and the floor near the sofa are littered with the usual debris of beer cans and whisky and gin bottles.

I pick up a half full can of Stella, lay back and steadily sip.

Memories of the previous night trample over my thoughts with dirty feet and eventually, I turn on my side and look around the room.

As well as the usual alcohol, the table is covered in a fair amount of Colombian marching powder and in the corner of the room, next to the CD player, holding a glass of what looks like gin and tonic, face down in a pool of puke, is a man.

And he’s dead.


The evening was melting into night and dark, malignant clouds were spreading themselves across the sky. I pulled down the metal shutters and locked up Las Vegas Amusements as a battered yellow taxi cab spluttered to a halt in front of the arcade.

I shuffled into the back seat of the cab as the driver struck a match on the NO SMOKING sign and lit his cigar.

’Astros?’ said the driver.

‘Aye’, I replied, nodding, ‘Same shit, different day.’

‘Didn’t you say that yesterday?’ he smirked.

The taxi snaked its way along the sea front, past pubs, greasy spoons, gift shops and amusement arcades, as the rain fell down in sheets. We pulled up outside Astros as a leathery bottle blond struggled to control a black umbrella which fluttered and flapped like a big black bat trying to escape from her grip.

‘Eyes down,’ said the taxi driver when he gave me my change. Being a bingo caller, I got that sort of thing all the time and it never failed to amuse the person who said it.


I was trying to catch the pasty faced barmaid's eye when, dressed in a white linen suit and a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, a blast from the past that was positively seismic burst into the bar. Jim Lawson, a man with a face like a blackcurrant crumble, a liver like the Great Barrier Reef and the smell of a soggy mongrel, sidled up to me, shuffling and sniffling, moving in close and conspiratorially like a double-agent in a Harry Palmer film.

’Jesus Christ,’ I said.

‘Close but no cigar,’ said Jim, wiping the happy-talc from his nose. ‘Thought, I’d find you here.’

‘Long time no see,’ I said.

’Sounds like a Chinese take-away,’ smirked Jim.

‘Aye, you could make that into a joke. Albeit not a particularly funny one,’ I said, slowly tearing up a beer mat.

‘It’s been donkey’s years,’ I said. ‘Still doing the sleazy hack thing in Bucharest?’

‘Oh, aye,’ said Jim. ‘Still dishing out the spare change and bingo calling for pensioners at Las Vegas, eh? Clickety–click, two fat ladies and that?’

I nodded, suddenly draped in a drab cloak of gloom.

‘I imagine you’ve a few tawdry tales to tell, eh?’ I said. ‘Louche bars and lithium dens, that sort of thing?’

‘More than a few,’ said Jim.

We sat at a rickety table in the corner, with two pints of Stella and whisky chasers, near what must have been the Xmas tree version of mutton done up as lamb – emaciated and overdressed in as much yuletide tat as possible.

‘How's the great unfinished novel?’ said Jim.

‘Not so great. Still unfinished,’ I said.

‘Well, have a butcher's at this. Eyes down, ‘he said, grinning as he dumped a massive manuscript on the table. On the front was the title: ‘Destination Lurid’ by James G. Lawson.’ I was uncharacteristically speechless.

‘It won’t bite,’ said Jim, wiping a bead of sweat from his top lip.’Get stuck in there. ’

And so, I looked. And, of course,as luck would have it, it was good. Very good. A potboiler, for sure, but what a potboiler! I was hooked from the first page. Line and friggin’ sinker!

‘I’m off down the smoke to see an agent on Monday,’ said Jim, looking more than a little pleased with himself. ‘ I sent a sample chapter off to a few friends of friends and Bob’s your Uncle and Fanny’s your Aunt.’

And me? I just started pulling so hard on the threads of my life that the whole thing was starting to unravel.

I took another gulp of whisky and headed toward oblivion, like dirty dishwater down a plughole.


In the early hours of the morning, when I awoke back at my flat, The Walker Brother’s ‘The Electrician’ was playing at a low volume and Jim was laying on the floor foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog. And then he went into convulsions.

I drained a glass of gin, turned over and went back to sleep.


I take the drink from Jim’s hand, and slowly sip it until I start to feel warm and glowing, like one of the kids in the old Ready Brek advert. Then, I drag the body into the kitchen and, struggling, dump it into the freezer, covering it with packets of frozen peas and fish fingers.

James G. Lawson is as good a pen name as any, I think, as I switch on the computer to check the Monday train times to London, before polishing off the gin.

I look around, see that I’m out of booze and take a wad of cash from Jim’s wallet. No worries, it’s nearly opening time.

BIO: Paul Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He has had stories in (or coming up in) Powder Burn Flash, Six Sentences, A Twist Of Noir, Thriller Killers 'n' Chillers, Flashshots, Beat To A Pulp and the book 6S2V. He can be found stalking ‘you would say that, wouldn’t you?’ at and Paul D. Brazill.

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 072 - Col Bury


You just never know who you're chatting to online.

Frustrated wannabe writer, Joe Barron, had no idea such a simple act could irrevocably change his life.

Just as he was typing yet another post, grumbling about his chronic writers' block, on the online Writers Forum he frequented a little too much, he heard the slap of the mail on the hallway lino of his lonely two-bedroom flat. A flicker of excitement prompted him to exit his writing room - so-called as he was supposed to write in there, but seldom did - and he headed for the front door.

He subconsciously exhaled on seeing there were no brown A4 envelopes within the small pile of mail, which meant the dream was still alive regarding the three chapters and synopsis he'd sent out to the last wave of carefully selected agents on his list. He flicked through the mail: a mundane assortment of junk, including a cheap-looking clothing pick up service pamphlet, some crap about double glazing, a couple of bills and, he was surprised to see, a white envelope with handwriting he didn't recognise on the front.

Could this be some kind of response from an agent, maybe requesting the rest of the manuscript? Exhilaration swept through him, tempered by panic as he'd still not finished the 'novel' yet despite starting it three years ago. The idea of publication was what Joe dreamed of, but the discipline and hard slog of achieving it was another thing altogether. He hastily ripped open the letter and stared in shock at its contents:

Dear Mr Barron,
So now I know your name, you foolish, foolish man.
Did you really expect me to forget our disagreement?
You reap what you sow.
Expect a visit.
Yours truly, HM

For the rest of the day he stewed on the letter, but couldn't make any sense of it. It had clearly been meant for him, though he had no idea who 'HM' was and couldn't recall any disagreements he'd had recently.

The 'expect a visit' part was playing on his mind and he pulled back a curtain and glanced at the street three floors below. Everything looked as per usual; people going about their business, kids playing football against the graffiti-ridden substation wall and a solitary car parked up on the road. He didn't recognise the car and strained to focus. There was someone in the driver's seat: a man.just waiting.

His vivid imagination began to zoom and he chided himself aloud, 'Joe, you daft sod. Stop being paranoid.' He knew his excessive cannabis intake didn't help with the latter.

Then the man looked up, directly at him. Joe retreated behind the curtains, his heart-rate speeding.

A moment later he checked again and the man was still sitting there, but not looking up. His head was dipped towards his lap; he was reading a newspaper, or was it a laptop?

You're being stupid, Joe, he told himself. Sometimes having the mind of a writer was a hindrance: over analytical, reading too deeply into things and all that. He decided a chat with his like-minded virtual friends was required. They understood him, unlike his family, who just regarded him as the mad, pot-smoking writer!

Joe took a long audible drag of a freshly rolled joint, harsh on his throat, but its effect instant in chilling him. Flash Fiction Feline was online and the first to comment on the thread he'd created in the hope of reassuring perspectives on the letter.

FFF stated it was probably one of his 'Friends messing about and not to worry. 'Writer Online was next: 'You could go to the police if it's bothering you, but as there's no direct threat in the letter then they wouldn't waste money on checking for prints, etc, so I doubt they'd take it very seriously.'

Creative Carl was more philosophical: 'If this idiot was the real deal then he wouldn't send a letter first. It's like when people yell from the rooftops threatening to kill themselves - they never jump. It's the quieter ones who commit suicide. I wouldn't let it bother you, Joe.'

Joe felt much better and was glad he had such great friends, even though he'd never met any of them as they were scattered around the world. He considered having a stab at progressing his novel, but the thought filled him with dread as it had been like pulling teeth lately, so he made a coffee and returned to the computer for another chat.

Three more comments on the thread he'd started. He knew he was procrastinating - a disease perpetuating his frustration - and that if he carried on like this he'd never finish the novel, but he remained on the forum to read the comments regardless. The first two were pretty much reiterating the previous postings and then he came to the third.

Hatchet Man said: 'You're not fretting are you? I once knew a bloke who'd had an online argument, but nothing came of it.'

Joe responded: 'Hi Hatchet Man, long time, no hear. That happens a lot, but it's all part of the forum thing, isn't it? Not everyone will agree all of the time.'

'Yeah, but this guy got personal.'

Joe shuffled in his seat. 'Was that on this forum?'

'You know it was, you foolish man!'

Joe's heart somersaulted. He glared at the screen as realisation kicked in. Hatchet Man. HM! Joe's hands were shaking like an MFI wardrobe as he typed: 'Did you send the letter?'

HM: 'What do you think, Mr Barron?'

Shit! He vaguely recalled coming home drunk and stoned about a year ago andhaving a minor spat with him about a topic so irrelevant he couldn't even remember.

'What did I say that's made you so pissed? It's been deleted by the moderator.'

HM: 'I can recall it word for word.'

Joe: 'Well, whatever I said, I didn't mean it.'

HM: 'Even the fact that I am supposedly a "Mummy's boy," and you were, "Gonna hunt me down and kick my arse"?'

Joe didn't respond. He couldn't deny it. He'd had a few ding-dongs in the pub that night and had had a right one on him.

HM: 'Well, there's no need to hunt me down now is there? The last man who messed with me isn't here any more. Fancy changing your pen name on here, you fool.'

Joe jumped out of his chair, clattering it backwards, and ran to the window. He saw a tall man dressed in all black, alight the car. Closing a laptop, the man glanced over both shoulders before placing it in the boot. He again gazed up at Joe and walked purposefully towards the entrance to the flats.

Joe clasped his hands on his head. 'Oh, fuck!' He felt his adrenaline pumping, making him feel nauseous. What are the chances of having an argument with someone on the net and them hunting you down? Trust me to find the only lunatic on a forum for supposedly intelligent people! And why the fuck did I change my pen name to my real name?

He called the police, but struggled to find the right words as he was that scared and stoned. When he began swearing down the phone, the silly bitch hung up! He threw the phone in anger and it smashed onto the laminate floor. Scrambling on his knees he tried to piece it back together, but it was useless.

He heard a deep voice echoing in the outside corridor. Looking through the spy-hole, he saw a distorted face staring back at him. Joe jolted back from the door.

Three loud bangs on the door. Hatchet Man would have only gone this far for one reason. He ran into the kitchen and grabbed a kitchen knife. This man was clearly a fuckin' psycho. Three more louder bangs on the door. I'll show the bastard.

Joe opened the door and lunged at Hatchet Man with the knife, plunging it straight into his stomach. The scream of a woman was followed by a door slamming across the corridor. Hatchet Man slumped to the floor, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, both hands clutching the protruding handle of the knife. A leaflet wafted to a stop beside him.

Breathless and numb with shock, Joe stared at the leaflet. It detailed a smart-looking bathroom suite with free fitting. He looked down at the man who gurgled then lay motionless.

Joe's gaze fixed disbelievingly on the growing pool of claret on the carpet and it began to trickle down the stairs. Like a zombie, he trudged into his writing room and checked for any further messages on the forum.

HM: 'I meant the last man I argued with isn't on the forum anymore. He'd obviously had enough.'

HM: 'Joe, are you there?'

HM: 'Okay, Joe. This has gone too far now. The letter was to spook you, that's all. When I'd seen you'd put your full name on I just couldn't resist it. I admit it was a childish revenge. Shall we call it quits, mate?'


The cell was cold, smelly and very basic, but at least he wasn't sharing. And with no internet connection, maybe now he'd finish that damn novel.

BIO: Col Bury lives in Manchester, UK, with his wife and two children. He is currently writing a crime novel and is the co-editor - along with thriller author and ex-cop, Matt Hilton - of a 'site encouraging new writers to showcase their talent: Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, where more of Col's stories reside.

A Twist Of Noir 071 - Garnett Elliott


Linh Tran pulled up in front of the client's house. A single-storied Southwestern with crushed granite for a lawn and a Lexus SUV parked in the drive. Nice, but unremarkable in this neighborhood of tract homes. She tried to estimate the price as she unpacked her masseuse table and tote full of oils from the trunk. She'd always been told she had a good head for numbers.

Her small feet crunched the gravel walkway. Music drifted from an open window, and she detected the random, irritating notes of jazz. What was the deal with upper-end white people and jazz? Some kind of cultural nuance she had yet to understand.

The front door opened before she could set her table down. A man in his early forties stood there, dressed in a dark blue robe, loosely tied, showing a few wisps of white hair on his narrow chest.

"Mr. Strode?" she said.

"Please, call me Phil." He had a high voice that she recognized from their phone conversation. His eyes, behind gold-rimmed lenses, slid up and down her body, though she wore a conservative white smock that emphasized little beyond her slimness.

He helped her carry the table inside. Children's toys cluttered the front room, and he kicked a few out of the way, apologizing. Linh noted the décor. There were the inevitable wine-racks, a painting of a Tuscan sunset, and several floral prints that hinted at a feminine hand. No family pictures, however.

She added this to her calculations. Mr. Strode hadn't mentioned he was married on the phone, though, ostensibly, it wouldn't matter.

"Where would you like to set up?" she asked.

"Ah, the spare bedroom. Just over here." He steered the table down a hallway and made a right-angled turn into a small room. Light spilled through white-lacquered blinds onto a single bed. Strode immediately walked over to the blinds and twisted them shut. He turned to Linh and his eyes flicked from her, to the bed, and back to her again. His face reddened in the dim light. "Ah, for privacy."

"Of course. Is your family . . .?"

"Away," he said. And added with a chuckle: "Thank God."

"I must ask, before we begin, that you please turn down that music." She inclined her head towards the hallway, where the jazz continued to bleat.

"Yes. Yes. Would you prefer something else? I have some lovely Asian flute. Or Yo Yo Ma."

Linh shook her head. "Silence is preferable."

"That's part of this, isn't it? Some kind of Zen Buddhism thing."


He hurried off. Linh set up her table and checked key items in her tote. When Strode reappeared, she was laying out her oils and scrubs next to a clean towel. The house had fallen blessedly silent.

"I, ah, thought maybe I could lie here," he said, patting the bed. A faint smile played across his lips.

"Why not?"

Without warning, he heaved off his robe. Linh pretended one of her scrubs required sudden attention, and spared herself the assault of his full frontal. He lowered himself onto the bed. Stomach down, thankfully. From the way he craned his hairy ass in the air, she figured he already had an erection.

"I'm kind of shy about being touched," he said.

"We'll work that out of you."

She draped the towel over his ass. It helped a little. His back was bright pink and spotted with gray-tufted moles. He smelled of talc, like a baby. She'd rather dip her hands in a pot of warm shit than touch him, but work was work. Linh hadn't gotten this far being squeamish.

She squirted warm oil down his spine. As soon as her slender fingers made contact he started to groan, working his hips a little against the mattress. So much for shyness. She crooked both her hands and kneaded his shoulders. His skin felt flabby to the touch, with almost no muscle tone. It reminded her of kneading soft dough for dumplings.

"Oh Christ, that's wonderful," he said.

She moved down to his lower back. Her fingers found tiny spots of resistance, too slight to call them 'knots', that probably came from sitting in a chair all day. She rubbed and grunted with feigned effort.

"You're very tense down there, Mr. Strode," she said. "Your muscles are holding a lot of stress."

"Oh, you don't know. There--yes. My life. It's complicated. All the responsibilities."

She rolled her eyes.

"I'd love to--ahh--harder, please. Simplify things. But my family. Obligations."

He was practically humping the mattress now. Her hands flitted to his thighs and forced them to stop moving. He took a deep breath. Because rubbing a man's thighs was dangerous territory, she continued to work down until she reached his meager calves, and started stroking those.

"You're really good," he said.

"Thank you."

"I--I don't usually get touched too much. By my wife. She's a great lady, and I love her, really, but I think sometimes she's lost her spark, you know? Also, she's kind of let herself go. I don't know why women think they can do that, but they do."

Linh made sympathetic noises, like she hadn't heard this same fucking story a thousand times.

"Anyways, if she took care of me I don't think I'd have to do this. Pay some stranger to touch me. Well, no, that's not the only reason, I need a message, you understand, but it's nice, having a young attractive woman like yourself paying attention to me. Taking care of my needs. Phil's needs, for once. And I've got to say, though I don't want to sound like your typical male pig here, because I respect women, I do, but I wonder if our society--American society, that is--hasn't lost something, the way men get treated now. I mean, in Asian culture it isn't like that. I'm not trying to make any generalizations or anything, but I'm saying in your world men still get the respect they deserve. And the women, ah--"

"They know their place?" Linh said.

"Exactly. Know their place. Thank you."

She stopped rubbing his calves. "Mr. Strode?"

"Phil, please, like I told you."

"Would you like me to jerk you off now, Phil?"

His breath caught. Every feeble muscle in his back seemed to arch at once. "Oh, God, Linh. Please."

"It'll cost a little extra."

"Please." He rolled over. For a moment, Linh tensed at what she might see. There'd been many occasions when she'd massaged a small, effeminate man--or a guy who didn't look like he had much, limp--only to find a one-eyed brontosaurus bobbing in her face when it came time for the happy ending. Not with Mr. Strode, however. Fully erect, he topped a little over four inches.

"Don't let that thing scare you, honey," he said. "I've heard about Asian men."

"It's true," she said, hiding her smirk by bending to slather more oil on her palm. She encircled Strode with her forefinger and began a slow downward stroke. He roared like a tiger touched by a white-hot branding iron. His eyes rolled up and he slammed his head back against the pillow.

One goddamned stroke.

"Oh, holy mother-fucking Jesus, mother of fucking God . . ."

She waited until the expletives had drained away before removing the digital recorder from her tote. Best to hit them fast, while their brains were still scrambled. Strode didn't seem to recognize the recorder when she waved it in front of his face, so she pressed a button and the last five seconds of his screaming orgasm played back on the tinny speaker.

"I don't get it," he said.

"Two thousand dollars."

"For what? A handjob? That's too damn much--"

"Two thousand dollars or I send this as a wav. file to your wife, vacationing in Mexico. We have her e-mail address."

Color seeped in around his hairline. "You're blackmailing me."


"What if I don't pay?" He propped himself up on the bed. "What's to stop me from grabbing that thing right now and kicking you out of my house?"

She snatched the recorder away, and with her other hand drew a Lady Smith nine millimeter from her tote. A small gun, but at the sight of it Strode froze. He offered no resistance as she jabbed the barrel up between his legs. The metal came to rest against his nutsack. She couldn't hide her smile at the poetic symmetry; small gun, small package.

"You'll pay," she said.


Mr. Nguyen did not allow her to come through the front entrance of Contemporary Nails. He liked to keep the two business lines separate, though in truth one depended on the other. So, after she parked, Linh skirted the front parlor. A glance through the windows showed rows of young South Eastern Asian women, chatting up Anglo clients while they trimmed, painted, and buffed their privileged fingernails.

Mrs. Strode was a frequent customer.

Nguyen waited in the alley behind the shop. He had a cell phone tucked under his chin, a cigarette in his left hand and another cell in his right. As Linh approached, he juggled the cigarette to his lip, spoke something in fluent Tagalog to the first person on the phone, then switched cells and bawled someone else out in Vietnamese. Between the conversations he took deep puffs.

"Ah, Linh," he said, nodding at her. He laid the phones down on a stoop. "How'd it go?"


"Excellent. Excellent work. Get yourself some lunch, then I have another job for you." He fished an index card out of his slacks and squinted at it. "Retired sociology professor. His wife caught him watching porn, so I sense potential there."

She started to object.

He flashed her a hard look, and she stopped. Mr. Nguyen affected the Happy Grandfather with his girls most of the time, but he had a gravitas that came from sharpening punji sticks as a young boy, in another life.

"Remember your work ethic," he said.

She sighed and took the card from his hand.

BIO: Mr. Elliott has had crime-type stories published in Shred of Evidence, Hardluck Stories, Darkest Before the Dawn, Plots With Guns, and Out of the Gutter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 070 - Patricia Abbott


Donald Hauser has lived down the road from us since Eleanor and I moved here with our two boys. Our sub, on Paladin Road, was built after a local farmer, tired of turning over rocks instead of sod, sold his land to a developer. The houses are unpretentious ranches, set back a ways from the road. I've never regretted buying the place and Eleanor still refers to it as her dream house, though more for the setting than its undistinguished architecture.

Donald was already here. His three acres or so lay just beyond the parceled farmland and he couldn't be persuaded to sell. He built the house during the war when top quality building materials were scarce, and unlike our house, his sits close to the road. It snows up her, and he probably didn't want to dig himself out a dozen times each winter. Nor did he want to pour the concrete for a long driveway, or run the electrical, sewer and gas lines farther than was needed.

Donald and I became friends of sorts. I write books about antique guns and Donald collects them. Over the years, I’ve inspected many of his purchases and he’s seldom paid too much or been hoodwinked. There must be four-dozen firearms in the mahogany cases lining his front room. I wouldn't mind owning one or two myself, but I haven’t kept a gun in the house since the late seventies when Petey Burleson, a neighbor’s boy, shot his pigtailed sister with the rifle hanging over their fireplace. I had two kids of my own living here then.

Donald and I are both amateur woodworkers. Well, he may be a bit more than an amateur. His place may not be much to look at but it's lasted half a century. It's warm in the winter and tolerable in the summer. A ball will stay put where it’s set; doors stand open till you push them closed.

Donald’s eighty-five now. He's taken on the stiff, shuffling walk of those old enough to fear a fall, and he's grown forgetful. He doesn't change his clothing enough and doesn't always dress "appropriately" for the weather. Of course, eighty-five’s old by any reckoning.

Sixty-five is old, too and I can feel the changes. I grasp at names that would have leaped effortlessly from my tongue not long ago. Ideas are often lost amid the tidal wave of information flowing through my brain. It’s hard for me to look at Donald without seeing where my road leads.

A few years ago, Donald loaned me a few blades for a project. I don't like to borrow things, especially from Donald, who is particular about his tools. I don't care to lend tools either, but do so when asked, having decided long ago that people are more important than possessions.

It was a Sunday and the hardware store in town was closed. I woke up with a project in mind and couldn't wait to get started. I drove over to Donald's place where his wife led me out to his workshop. Years ago, Donald added a small building at the rear of his house and it was there that he did his carpentry. Though the building was modest, it boasted a collection of tools that rivaled any personal workshop. The steely gleam of sharpened tools, the bouquet composed of oils, wax and freshly cut wood, the familiar pitch of a blade making the first cuts into a good piece of Pennsylvania cherry, were intoxicating. Donald turned after a minute, sensing my presence in his chapel. He lowered his goggles as I explained my project, waiting impatiently while I made my selection. I was reminded of the elderly librarian in the mobile library of my youth who seemed determined to keep all her books away from my grimy fingers.

Donald stored his blades in heavily padded envelopes, each one as sharp as the day he bought it. That’s the way Donald did things, fastidious to a fault. Hurriedly, I slid the blades in and out of the envelopes until I had made my choice. Although he feigned disinterest, I was sure he could call out the manufacturer’s code on each one from across the room. I drove home, easily finishing the rough work that required Donald’s blades by dinnertime. I think it was a small pine cabinet for our good set of silverware.

Donald seemed distracted when I knocked on his door early that evening, but took the blades, nodding curtly at my thanks. He didn't ask about my project nor did he exchange a single pleasantry. The fate of his precious blades had probably gnawed at him all day.

A few days later, a hurricane blew up from the Carolinas. The early prediction was it would miss us in Connecticut, but Godfrey, a nasty storm, proved the prognosticators wrong. The electricity went off once the storm hit and several of our trees were felled.

When it was over, Eleanor was especially disheartened by the loss of a dogwood she had been nursing for years. I refrained from saying that a storm like Godfrey is nature's way of weeding out the weak. For the next few days, neighbors who rarely saw each other, came out of their houses to compare hurricane stories.

About a month later, I was in the post office when Donald stopped me. Naturally, we compared hurricane damage and he said that although his house suffered little injury, Godfrey had torn up his shed pretty badly. Some tools and a few nice pieces of wood he’d stashed away were lost or destroyed. When he finally turned to go, a hesitation in his step gave me the impression there was something more, but perhaps I only believe that in retrospect.

A year went by. I think he bought his Winchester during this period and called me over to see it. Then he phoned to ask if we would pick up his mail while he went with Nancy to see a specialist in Boston. She died a few months later and Donald settled into an even more hermetic existence.

Last fall, out of the blue, Donald stopped me outside the house and asked when I was planning to return his blades. It took me several seconds to recall the loan.

"Well, Donald, I returned them the same day I borrowed them. If I remember correctly, they were destroyed in a hurricane that fall."

Various emotions, fear among them, flitted across his face as he tried to remember. I wondered if Nancy's death precipitated some sort of cognitive dysfunction. But finally his face cleared and he grabbed my hand, pumping it vigorously.

"Of course, I remember, Martin. You’ll have to forgive an old man. You just don’t know…" his voice tailed off. Shielding my eyes from the bright autumn sun, I watched him turn and walk down Paladin Road. I put his lapse down to age and shaking my head, went into the house.

"It's a good thing you had the hurricane to anchor the memory," Eleanor said at lunch. "We should have him over to dinner."

I must have made a face because Eleanor laughed gently, saying, "Well, maybe I’ll take him over a cobbler." And I did mean to visit him . The road to hell is paved with meant instead of cement, my mother used to say.

Two weeks before Christmas. I was hanging a string of lights on the blue spruce when Donald came up behind me.

"When are you going to return those blades?" he demanded angrily, shaking the ladder a little.

I got down off the wobbling stepladder, nearly turning an ankle. "Now wait a minute, Donald. I returned those tools years ago. You lost them in that storm!"

He pulled back his arm a little, as if he were going to take a swing at me. If the situation hadn’t been so distressing, it’d have been comical to see a man of his age aching to throw a punch. Or a man of my age, worried about receiving one. But then his face cleared and he chuckled lightly. "Sorry, Martin. I guess my memory's not as good as it was." Insisting he sit down a minute, I went inside to get a glass of water. When I came back out, he was gone.

"Go after him," Eleanor called from the porch. "Could be a stroke."

"It's no stroke," I told her. "Damned near landed one on my chin though."

Eleanor shook her head, and shivering, closed the door.

This scene was eerily repeated in February, and then again in March. Each time, Donald was eventually persuaded his blades had been lost in Hurricane Godfrey. It was as if we were rehearsing a scene in a play and couldn’t get it right. I considered calling his daughter for help, but since I didn't know her, I did nothing.

Suddenly, the freakish encounters stopped, and when I saw Donald next, he waved pleasantly. I accepted the change gratefully. Still, I tried to steer clear of him. Once or twice, I dreamed about Donald grasping agitatedly at my arms or legs. In the dream, my limbs were easily removed and, in that peculiar landscape we travel in at night, I accepted their loss with equanimity. My conscious self was less sanguine, however, for I awoke shaking and tearful.

"What is it?" Eleanor asked, hugging me. But like many dreamers, I shook her off. Then I lay in the dark for hours, listening to Eleanor's faint snore.

I ran into Donald Hauser today in town. I was in the pharmacy, waiting for my order to be filled, and without thinking I stepped between him and the door.

Donald shook my hand, and I sensed reluctance in the grip. "Martin," he said. "How've you been?"

"Fine. And you?"

"Good. Good." He never once looked me in the eye.

"I've been meaning to ask," I said, "did you ever find those missing blades?"

His face collapsed, but he quickly recovered and mumbled something.


"I said you would bring that up again. Thief!" He was nearly shouting and his face was the grimace that only the old can wear. He pushed by me, went through the door, and got into his truck. I looked around to see if anyone had heard him. The store was nearly empty, but a girl refilling the aisle with school supplies ducked her head. I was still standing there with my mouth open a moment later when the pharmacist motioned me that my prescription was ready. I could hardly hear his instructions with the beating of blood in my ear. Hauser’s harassment of me would have to stop. I was losing any respect I had earned in my years in this town.

I pulled up at Donald’s house a few minutes after him, but I could already hear the sound of his table saw. He was wearing goggles and ear protection and didn’t hear me. I looked up; there were the blades he’d been talking about hanging on the wall in front of him. The blades he had insisted I had. The beating in my ears moved into my head. He’d tortured me for years with an invented theft.

I backed out of the workshop quietly and went around to his front door, moving in almost a fugue state. The door was unlocked and I walked inside, headed for the one piece of furniture I was familiar with, breaking the glass on his guncase with an umbrella I found in the hallway. I loaded the Winchester and took it back into Donald’s workshop.

I hadn’t held a loaded gun in years; it felt good. The saw stopped suddenly and Donald turned around. I caught him with a bullet in the neck and then the chest. He dropped more quickly than his stiff knees should have allowed.

I pointed to the blades. "I don’t know why you’ve tortured me with those blades, but this is the end of it. My own wife is starting to look at me like I’m crazy. And now you tell the whole town your lie."

Donald looked up, a look of sadness on his face: such sadness. "It was Eleanor who returned them." I could hardly hear him so I moved closer. He put a hand to his neck, attempting to staunch the flow of blood. "She said you were getting forgetful." His eyes closed.

Forgetful? I put the rifle in my mouth and pulled the trigger.

BIO: Patricia Abbott has published more than fifty stories in literary and crime fiction outlets. She won a Derringer last year for her story, "My Hero." She has stories in the forthcoming "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll" (Todd Robinson) and Between the Dark and the Daylight" (Ed Gorman and Martin Greenberg). Check out more from Patti at Pattinase.

Monday, April 20, 2009

March's Contest Runner-Up: Al Tucher


“You’re about the last person I expected to hear from.”

Mary Alice studied the man across the table from her. She knew it wasn’t a friendly look that she was giving him.

“I can’t say it’s a pleasure,” she said. “But you have something I need.”

“What’s that?”

“Your badge.”

Romero nodded. The flesh under his jaw shook, and the edge of their table in Keenan’s bar cut into his gut. His huge, hairy forearms looked like two pieces of road kill on the shoulder of a highway.

She remembered that he smelled of sweat and stale tobacco. As she watched, he lit a cigarette. The cloud that he blew toward the ceiling clung to the No Smoking sign above their table. Other patrons looked sideways at him, but no one said anything.

“You know Diana Andrews?” she said.

“Heard a lot about her.”

“That’s the problem.”

“What is?”

“That you’ve only heard of her. She’s never had to put up with the Romero treatment. I think she should get a taste.”

“I wouldn’t mind, hot blonde like her. But the word is she’s smart.”

Mary Alice sat for a moment and savored her hatred of this man. He knew what he had just said--she wasn’t as hot or smart as Diana.

Mary Alice wasn’t a blonde, either, and it rankled. Some men told her that they loved her black hair and dark complexion, but that only made her wonder what was wrong with them.

“Maybe I can help you get next to her,” she said.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“I’m sick and tired of the Little Miss Perfect act. She never gets arrested. She never gets involved with clients. They never try her once and then go to somebody else. They don’t even cancel or no-show on her.”

Mary Alice wasn’t sure about that last part, but she was enjoying her grievance too much to care about the truth.

“Okay,” he said, “you want to put her where you were last week.”

“Flat on her back under you.”

“And paying me for the privilege.”

His grin did it. Mary Alice couldn’t contain her anger.

“That was my rent, you asshole. Eight hundred dollars that I made fucking guys almost as disgusting as you. And you just put it in your fucking pocket.”

“You didn’t have to pay up. You could have taken the bust and gone to jail.”

“That’s some fucking choice.”

“You run a business. Every business has expenses.”

Mary Alice clamped down on her anger. She wasn’t going to get to him, no matter what she did. Diana would have to do.

“So what’s the plan?” he said.

Mary Alice gave him her ugliest smile.

“I’ll give you a referral.”


“But I want some payback. Half of what you get from her.”


“Then you get nothing. Nothing from me and nothing from her. No pussy, no cash.”

“I’ll give you half, up to four hundred.”

“How do I know what you get from her?”

“Guess you’ll just have to trust me.”


Two days later, Mary Alice sat scrunched low in Romero’s car at the same motel where she had met him. Morristown lay twenty-five miles south of her home base in Driscoll, New Jersey, which meant that she had made a special trip to get shaken down.

The new entry-level Lexus wasn’t a typical domestic cop-mobile. Romero had bought it for this sideline business of his.

At three minutes to four, Diana’s Maxima appeared in the courtyard parking lot. The driver’s door opened. Mary Alice had a perfect view, as Diana swung her legs out of the car. They were excellent legs. Diana didn’t do women, or Mary Alice would have made a move on her years ago.

And hated herself for it afterwards, but wasn’t that her life?

Diana walked to room 167 and knocked. Romero opened the door. His smile made him even more repulsive. Diana shrugged as if apologizing for something. She turned and went back to her car. The Maxima drove out of the parking lot.

The driver’s door of the Lexus opened, and Romero climbed in. He settled himself behind the wheel.

“You fucked it up,” said Mary Alice. “How could you fuck this up?”

“Don’t look at me. She made me for a cop in a second.”


“Beats me. I told you. We never met.”

His expression turned nasty, and she knew what was coming. She inched her right hand toward her coat pocket.

“Seems to me you owe me for this,” he said.

“Forget it, asshole. One bite of me is all you get.”

Mary Alice started to get out of the car. Romero grabbed for her left elbow. With her other hand she jabbed at his face. Her keys protruding through her knuckles just missed his eye. She did manage to scratch his cheek. He let go of her, and she used the moment to push the door open.

She half-fell out of the car, righted herself, and started running across the parking lot. After a moment she realized that it was wasted effort. Where could she go? She had come in Romero’s car, because Diana knew her Lumina.

Mary Alice stopped, and Romero caught her. He dragged her back to his car and slung her over the hood. She kicked at his shins, but he moved closer and pinned her legs against the fender. He wrenched her right arm behind her back and slapped a handcuff on her wrist. He grabbed her left wrist and twisted it.

“I guess I was right about you,” said a familiar voice.

Romero froze. “I thought you were looking for your boyfriend.”

“What would it take to cut her loose?” said Diana.

Mary Alice looked to her right. Diana stood in the doorway of the motel’s office. The clerk, Sean, must have let her use the private door that led from the sidewalk to his apartment. How had she sweet-talked him into that? It was one more thing to make Mary Alice seethe.

“What do you mean, cut her loose?”

“It’s not a hard question,” said Diana.

“There’s only one way that plays. We pick up where we left off. And this time, no bullshit.”



“Are you always this slow on the uptake?”

“Okay, let’s get down to it. When I think you did your job, I’ll cut her loose.”

“No. The cuffs come off now.”

“Don’t push your luck.”

“I’m not the one who’s pushing it,” said Diana. “I know you. Must have been about three years ago, because that‘s the last time I came down this way for business. There was a sobriety checkpoint, and you were working it. In uniform, but I’m good with faces. I have to be.”

Diana looked at Mary Alice.

“I guess he forced you into this. Why didn’t you tell me? We could have figured something out.”

“You just shut your fucking mouth,” said Romero.

“I don’t feel like it,” said Diana. “You make it worth my while, and I’ll burn a favor or two. Some cops know how to get along with the working girls. And I even know a few down here.”

Mary Alice listened to Romero’s angry breathing. Then he unlocked the cuffs and pushed her toward Diana.

“You sure about this?” said Mary Alice.

Diana shrugged.

“It’s just another dick.”

No, Mary Alice thought. It’s not.

This was their livelihood. It was going to cost Diana her take for the day.

Diana started to walk back toward 167. Romero followed. As he bent to unlock the door, Diana winked at Mary Alice and nodded toward the office. After a moment Mary Alice understood. Diana had probably kept a couple hundred in her bag for Romero to take, but she had given most of her payday to Sean. And if he was like every other desk clerk in New Jersey, Sean had already developed a crush on her. He would hold her money for her.

Diana wouldn’t even mention the two hundred that Romero would take from her, which meant that Mary Alice would have to offer, and insist, that Diana take it.

Romero got the door open, and Diana went to work.

Little Miss Perfect, Mary Alice thought. How am I supposed to hate you now?

BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of over twenty published stories and four unpublished novels about prostitute Diana Andrews. Like most authors of hardboiled crime fiction, he is a librarian in his day job.

A Twist Of Noir 069 - Andy Henion


Henson shoots the young cop in the bicep just as he gets his service pistol clear of its holster. The kid howls and drops the weapon, stomping on the gravel driveway as if his feet are on fire. Henson kicks the gun away, grabs the keys from the ignition and opens the trunk to the cruiser.

“In,” he says.

There is no protest. The cop looks into Henson’s eyes and understands the score. As he climbs into the trunk he smacks his wounded arm on the spare tire and cries out. “Fuck motherfuckin fuck,” he says.

“Use your belt as a tourniquet,” says Henson, slamming the lid and hurling the keys into the neighbor’s trees.

He gives a last look to his brother and ex-girl staring wide-eyed from the picture window, then gets in his car and drives away. After a few miles, he hears a siren, then another, and suddenly the city is full of them. He’s never been so popular. Shoot a cop, get your fifteen minutes.

They’ll be looking for a disfigured male driving an early model green Cutlass. Henson knows he can do nothing about the former but he can change the latter, so he drives to the Lansing airport, cutting through subdivisions and at one point ducking into a strip mall when two state cruisers blow by on the cross street.

He chooses the long-term lot and idles along until he sees what he wants: a man walking toward the terminal with suitcase in tow. He pulls next to his vehicle, a black Dodge Ram, steps out and begins working the slim jim. Henson learned the trade as a teenager after his father’s death, in the years when his mother couldn’t pay the mortgage. The owner of the garage where he apprenticed, a man who called himself Big Rick, paid five hundred per car—a thousand for a Beamer or Lexus—and Henson would become Big Rick’s best before he even earned his driver’s license.

Within five minutes, he’s got the Ram hotwired and is heading for the gate.

In the extended cab is an array of hunting gear. Bow season is two days away and Henson figures the owner plans a beeline for his blind the moment he returns from whatever mind-numbing conference he’s flying to in Baltimore or Indy or Raleigh.

He pulls on a pair of black wraparounds and a bright orange cap, checks himself in the rearview mirror. The hunting cap has a long bill and side flaps that hide his face. The effect is Elmer Fudd meets the Terminator, he thinks, and nearly smiles.

“Afternoon,” he says, extending the ticket. The booth attendant is a fat, expressionless man who takes the ticket with barely a look at Henson, his attention focused instead on the red and blue flashers to his immediate rear. The incoming sheriff’s deputy slows at the booth to examine the Dodge, staring straight into Henson’s dark shades, before continuing into the airport proper.

The attendant watches him for several more seconds before turning back to tend to Henson.

“Some bad voodoo going on,” he says.

“Looks like it,” Henson says. “Glad I’m heading the other way.”


Henson intends to head south. And they’ll expect him to head south, back the way he came, or perhaps east through Detroit and then into Canada, a ninety-mile trip. So instead he goes north and west, sticking to the secondary roads, planning to follow the lake up and around the Upper Peninsula and then down through Wisconsin. Take his time, let the trail cool. Boost another vehicle when the time comes.

Snow begins to fall through the waning sunshine. October in Michigan, he thinks. Goddamn. At the tourist town of Manistee he picks up the highway to cover some mileage. Traffic is sparse but he keeps to the speed limit, passing only the occasional semi. On the passenger seat is a soft case of compact discs and he thumbs through them: mostly bullshit country. There’s no one on the road behind him so he drops the window and flings the discs one after the other, keeping only a select few: old Hank, Skynyrd and Seger, the hometown boy. He slips in a disc and leaves the window down, invigorated by the cold air and mouthing the words to the familiar anthem.

Working on our night moves. Trying to lose the awkward teenage blues …

It gets him thinking. Henson can’t help but love this iceberg of a state, the raucous memories of his youth, the people from his past. But such nostalgia cannot last, and before long his knuckles are white on the wheel. For he hates them also, hates them all, for not protecting him from what he’s become.


He pays the toll and makes it across the Mackinac Bridge without incident. The snow has become a blanket in the night sky, cutting visibility to a matter of feet and forcing most of his fellow motorists off the road. He puts the Ram in four-wheel drive and continues at a snail’s pace as far as Escanaba, where he pulls into the parking lot for a Wal-Mart.

He rummages around in the glove box and finds a pair of horn-rimmed reading glasses.

Together with the orange cap they seem to provide suitable cover—just another anxious hunter—and Henson tracks through the snow toward the entrance, dreaming of deli chicken and barbecue chips and a cold six pack. It’s after midnight and the place is all but empty. He collects the food and beer and wheels the cart to the back to pick up a few more discs. He has to remove the glasses to read the titles. As he does, he notices an old man staring at him from the wall of televisions.

“Nice hat,” the man says, offering a two-fingered salute. He’s wearing a similar cap, only black, and flaps up.

Henson returns the gesture. When the old man turns back to the televisions he reapplies the glasses and pushes off for the checkout, thinking, Dumb fucking move. In and out, Einstein, in and out.

He has to wait for a cashier. A baby-faced woman with pigtails and a humpback finally hobbles up. She could be twenty for all he knows; she could be fifty-five. She snaps her gum and stares at Henson the entire time she’s ringing up his order. It’s a skill, to be sure, although the scrutiny makes him feel claustrophobic, itchy, and the sweat rolls from the furry flaps down his neck.

“Nice hat,” she says finally.

“So I’m told,” he says.

He drops his cart off in the entryway and takes his bags. The man with the black cap is leaning against the wall near the doors. Henson makes an effort to avoid eye contact, lest he encourage the old guy, though he understands it’s probably too late for that.

“Come with me if you want to live.”

Henson is in his face before he can draw another breath. He jabs two fingers into his fragile ribcage and says, “They won’t find you when I’m done.”

But the old man doesn’t flinch. A corner of his mouth curves up and he nods slightly, as if Henson has met his expectations. “Saw you on the TV news back there, Sergeant. And guess what? If I can recognize you, they can too.”

Henson stares into his wrinkled face. “Fuck you want, old man?”

“Buying records in the Wal-Mart? Christ, son, you might as well paint a bulls-eye on your chest.” He shakes his head like a disappointed father. He’s nearing seventy, Henson guesses, with sharp gray eyes and the rigid posture of a military man.

“Soldiers stick together, Sergeant. My place is just down the road. I assume you’ve lost the Cutlass by now?”

Henson backs up an inch, squinting through the glasses. What’s his angle?

“I’ll take that as a yes. I’m in a red Bronco. When you pull in the driveway, come around back, behind the house.” The old man adjusts at his collar and steps through the doors. Henson follows him out, staring at his leathery neck, thinking how easy it would be out here in the driving snow, no one in sight. He’d make it clean, leave the old man slumped over his steering wheel. By the time they figured out it wasn’t a heart attack or stroke, he’d be long gone.

Then he considers the cashier’s intense gaze and the nearly impassable highway. But more so he thinks of his desire to sit down and eat his chicken and drink his beer in a warm dry place, maybe put his head down for a few hours.

He’s tired; so bone-fucking tired. One way or another, he decides, the old man will provide him some rest.


The black Lab’s name is Barry, the old man explains, after the Lions’ only decent player of the past half century. The dog sits like a statue next to Henson on the futon, eyes straight ahead. He will not lie down, he will not nuzzle the stranger for attention.

“He doesn’t trust you yet,” the old man says.

They sit across from one another nursing glasses of scotch.

This isn’t what Henson expected: a big modern house with surreal art lining the walls and a sunroof. The old man, who goes by Burl, says he recently sold the business he had built from scratch, imports-exports, although his wife of forty years is the one who has brought meaning and substance to his life.

“She’s here with us now,” Burl says, rubbing the gold box on his lap.

“My darling Rae, meet Sergeant Henson.”

“Just Henson,” he says, before he can stop himself.

They drink the scotch and Burl caresses the urn. For the first time in days Henson is sated, and despite the dog sitting rigid next to him he finds the futon more than comfortable enough to sack out. At this point he’s simply waiting on the old man to come out with it.

“Okay,” he says. “I’m guessing you’re taking the long way down the Mexico, gonna disappear in the jungle or some such.”

Henson says nothing.

“You’ll never make it alone. Every cop from Michigan to Texas wants a piece of you. That young officer lost his arm, you know.”

Henson didn’t know. He exhales and sets the scotch down. “So you’re proposing to come with me. Why is that? And don’t give me that all-for-one bullshit.”

“Fair enough,” says Burl, standing. “A business proposition, plain and simple.” He strides to the bookshelf and pulls down another gold urn, hands it to Henson.

“Sergeant Henson, meet Charles. Twenty three years old, smart as a whip, whole goddamn life ahead of him.”

Revenge story, Henson thinks, reading the dates on the box. The kid’s been dead a year.

“A bad man cut him down, Sergeant. A man who lives like a king off the backs of others.”

“And you aim to end his reign.”

There’s a pair of crossed wooden swords on the far wall. Burl takes one down and holds it out in front of him, two handed, sight-lining the blade. The dog whimpers and adjusts his stance on the couch.

“The bad man lives in luxury in Waco, Texas.” Burl swings the sword with surprising speed and spins closer to his guest. The dog jumps down and begins to growl. Henson stays where he is, slouched on the sofa, motionless.

“All I need from you is backup, Sergeant.” The sword cuts through the air, the dog barks. “The bad man is mine.” Another arc, the old man spins gracefully, and now he’s at the couch holding the tip of the sword a half foot from Henson’s face, samurai style. The blade is sharp as a razor.

Henson says, “Backup, right,” as the old man snaps the sword away and continues his swinging dance across the room, the dog circling him, yapping continuously. This goes on for some time, to the point Henson believes it to be the old man’s daily regimen, and eventually he puts his head back and closes his heavy eyelids and simply listens to the commotion until it fades to nothing.


He sleeps for thirty hours, waking only to piss twice and kick off the blanket the old man has draped over him. Smelling sausage, he sits up and watches the old man moving around the kitchen. The dog jumps on the couch and resumes his sentry duty, just out of Henson’s reach.

“He lives,” Burl says. “Eat some breakfast, get yourself cleaned up and we’ll hit the road.”

Henson makes his way to the dining room where the old man meets him with a pot of coffee and a newspaper. He drops it on the table and Henson looks at a picture of himself staring up from the front page.

“You’re a star,” Burl says.

Henson sits down and sips his coffee and reads the story.

Fallen Solider: Did War Vet Kill For Money?

Tim Hoffman and Corey Kerr
Associated Press Writers

LANSING, Mich. – Three weeks before he turned 18, John Henson stood before District Court Judge Harold Robinowski and was given a choice: five years in prison for grand theft auto or a stint in the military.

“Your father died and you went out and made some money to help your mother. That’s admirable,” Robinowski said, according to court transcripts. “What’s not admirable is the way you made that money, by stealing cars. Nonetheless, your record is otherwise clean and you strike me as a young man who learns from his mistakes. Because of that I’m giving you the opportunity for a second chance.”

Seven years later, Henson, now 25 and recently discharged from the Army, faces homicide charges in Houston stemming from the death of a nightclub bouncer, as well as attempted murder charges in Lansing after authorities say he shot a city police officer. The officer, a 22-year-old father of two, lost his right arm.

The charges raise the possibility the judge made an error in judgment. The same Ingham County prosecutor who recommended the full sentence for Henson seven years ago, William Laughlin, now says he is a “cold-blooded murderer” who killed the bouncer for money.

“No offense to the judge,” Laughlin said, “but the evidence says this suspect was a rotten seed from the start. And now he’s graduated from car thief to hit man.”

Judge Robinowski would not comment for this story, but several of Henson’s friends and colleagues characterize the former solider as a misunderstood war hero. Joanie “Soshanna” Johnson, an adult dancer and college student who is charged with hiring Henson to kill the bouncer, said he “only took the case because of what that (expletive) was doing to us.”

Johnson and three other dancers at the club where the bouncer worked have come forward to say he was sexually assaulting them. Johnson, 20, said she didn’t go to police because the bouncer, Javon “Bertrand” Washington, had threatened to inform the authorities the dancers were having sex for money, a felony.

Prosecutors in Houston have publicly questioned the dancers’ stories.

Johnson said she’s speaking out for Henson against her lawyer’s advice “because the man went through hell over there (in Iraq ) and now he’s being hunted for doing society a good thing.”

“Yes sir, we made some mistakes,” said Johnson, a sophomore education major at the University of Houston. “But no one should get away with what that animal did. If you want my opinion, Sergeant Henson should get a medal.”

War hero?
Not long into his second tour of combat duty, Sgt. Henson’s patrol was ambushed by armed militants in Fallujah. A grenade was thrown into his armored personnel carrier, killing three fellow soldiers and wounding Henson.

Henson was captured and taken to a militant stronghold where he would be held for nearly a year, according to military sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. There, he was beaten and denied food and medical care, the sources said. As a result, a shrapnel wound on his face became infected, leaving him severely disfigured.

Henson escaped and was discovered by allied forces stumbling along a rural highway, delirious with dehydration. He would spend more than a year in several Army hospitals before receiving a medical discharge.

The Army would not release Henson’s records, but several sources said he didn’t necessarily establish himself as a hero. He received a Purple Heart for his injuries, but beyond that was given only basic service commendations, they said.

In addition, it took Henson six years to get his sergeant’s stripes, about two years longer than the average. He was punished at least once, as a private first class, for striking an officer in a non-combat setting, the military sources said.

But Ernie Ward, who served with Henson in Iraq and now faces conspiracy charges in the murder-for-hire case, said he was “the best (expletive) leader I ever served under.”

“I’d follow Sarge anywhere,” he said.

Ward, 22, lost his legs and now talks through an electronic box after sustaining injuries in a roadside bombing separate from the explosion that injured Henson. After Henson was released, he spent time at Ward’s home in Houston —and it was there, authorities say, that the plan to kill the bouncer was hatched.

Ward, who’s accused of serving as Henson’s go-between with the dancer, faces life in prison if convicted. During his preliminary hearing he claimed he and Henson were being set up by Middle Eastern terrorists hell-bent on exacting revenge, a theory prosecutors call absurd.

“We serve our country with our blood and our guts, and now we’re hit men?” Ward said in court. “That’s crazy. Y’all are (expletive) crazy.”

On The Run
Henson came back to Michigan to confront his younger brother and former fiancée, according to the fiancée, Sylvia Kubiak.

Kubiak said she and the brother, Leonard “Red” Henson began dating not long after she received a phone call from an Army official in Virginia informing her that Henson had been killed in the war. The Army denies making such a call, saying it goes against procedure.

“They lied to us,” Kubiak said. “They ruined my life. They ruined Johnny’s life.”

On Friday, Henson returned to his childhood home on Kalamazoo Street , sent his widowed mother to a casino in northern Michigan and waited for his brother and Kubiak to return from the supermarket where they work, Kubiak said.

When they arrived, he pulled a gun, she said.

“I knew Johnny wouldn’t hurt us, and he didn’t,” Kubiak said.

During the confrontation, the younger Henson apparently contacted Lansing police by text message. Leonard Henson refused to comment, other than to say, “You make your bed you lie in it, that’s what I know.”

Officer Larry Erb, a two-year veteran, responded to the home and was shot once by Henson in the driveway, police said. Henson then shut him into the truck of his police car, threw the keys into the woods and drove away in his dark green 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Although Erb remained in the trunk for less than 15 minutes, his arm sustained massive nerve and muscle damage and surgeons were unable to save it. He remains in the hospital in stable condition.

Lansing police wouldn’t comment on where Henson may be heading. But Chief Joseph Wills vowed he will be captured, noting that there’s a nationwide alert out for his arrest.

“You don’t shoot a cop—one of my cops—and get away with it,” Wills said. “We will use every resource in our power to bring this man to justice.”

Henson puts the paper aside and glances around the table. There’s a spread of scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, buttered toast. He looks up at the old man, who is well into his breakfast, fork gripped like a club.

“So,” he says around a mouthful of food. “What is it: Rotten seed or misunderstood hero?”

Good question, Henson thinks, and drains his coffee. Instead, he says, “Does it matter?”


They ditch the Ram at a park-and-ride lot and set out in the Bronco, the old man taking charge. Henson is to wear the getup even in the vehicle and, if trouble surfaces, act the fool. “You know, drool on yourself, beat your chest, whatever.”

The sun is out, the highway clear and Burl keeps the speedometer at seventy. On the seat behind them is Barry, nose against the cold glass. The urns are packed in the back, along with the wooden swords, a rifle and a thirty-eight: the old man’s personal arsenal.

He’s letting it out. His son, Gregory, got him a full ride to play baseball down at Baylor but hooked up with the wrong crowd. Booze, drugs, the whole shebang. Next thing, he’s calling home for money and Burl decides to intervene. He flies down to find the kid hooked on the smack, and selling for the bad man. Joey Torres. Gregory is dead within a year. Police rule the stab wounds self-inflicted, but Burl knows better. He goes back down, actually gets inside Torres’ home before he’s hauled out and beaten bloody by his cronies.

“It won’t happen again,” Burl says.

Two hours later, near Green Bay: a roadblock. Burl sees the buildup too late to get off. “Play it cool,” he says.

Traffic’s being routed through an off-ramp, the line of vehicles fifty deep. Henson sees multiple sets of flashing lights and a crew of cops questioning two cars at a time.

“This can’t be for you,” Burl says.

“Unless they found the Dodge, put it together.”

“No chance.”

Nothing more is said until they reach the checkpoint. The head cop engages Burl while the other circles the Bronco, peering in the glass. He stops at Henson’s window, motions for him to unroll. Henson obliges, hearing the head cop tell Burl about a prison break.

“Nice dog,” the cop says.

Henson nods and pushes up the glasses with a knuckle. Staring at the passenger, the cop gets a look in his eye, actually tilts his head, and says, “Sir, can I see some identification?”

Henson pauses for a second to look over at Burl and then lets loose with a bellow. He lurches forward and smacks his fist off his forehead. The cop steps back and puts his hand on his weapon. Henson keeps it up, bellowing and twisting in his seat. From the back, Barry begins to bark.

“Boys!” shouts Burl, and puts a hand on Henson’s shoulder. “Officer,” he says, “I’m afraid my son here don’t carry identification. Perhaps you’d care to see mine?”

The dog continues to bark and Henson rocks slowly in his seat, moaning and tugging down on his hat flaps. The head cop shakes his head and waves Burl off.

“That won’t be necessary, sir. You gentlemen have a nice day.”


Passing through Chicago, the old man says, “I did some things in Korea I’m not proud of. I was a sniper, you know. The power of God at my fingertip.”

Henson chews on a beefstick, listening.

“That warped me for some time, after. But then I met my wife and I could breathe again.”

Henson knows the old man is trying to help him. But the truth is, he doesn’t get it. They are nothing alike.

“I killed a man in Texas for mocking me. For mocking me.”

“Listen, kid, I’m not your priest. When’s the last time you got laid anyway?”

Henson looks over, baffled at this old man with his gold urns and robot dog and wooden swords.

“That’s what I thought,” Burl says.


Henson knows what the old man is up to, but still he lets it happen. It has been too long, indeed. Sitting in a brown-paneled room in a St. Louis motor court, he hears the knock and gets up to encounter a blonde in a short red dress.

She looks at him and says, “Damn, buddy.” Henson steps aside. She’s a knockout, young and fit, and he can’t help but wonder how much Burl shelled out.

“Is that leprosy?”

Henson sighs.

“Okay, buddy, whatever.”

She turns from him and goes to the bed. Crawls up on her elbows and arches her back. Her heavy breasts fall free of the dress. Henson lifts the material and thinks, Wow. He fumbles a bit and just gets going, fingers digging into her hips, when there’s a thump against the adjoining wall. Then a dog barking—yelping—and Henson withdraws and runs for the door.

“Hey buddy,” she says, but he’s already outside, cock wilting. He busts open the cheap door and stumbles into Burl’s room. The pimp is rifling through a wallet thick with cash. Burl is sprawled on the bed, a wooden sword in his chest. The dog is nowhere in sight, though Henson can hear it whimper.

He waits a beat to see if the pimp pulls a gun and, when he doesn’t, steps back and lets the whore enter the room. He pushes her to the floor. The pimp grabs the other sword from the dresser. He’s a forty-something playboy, well dressed, with slicked hair and a goatee.

Henson walks to him, ducks the sloppy swing and knocks the pimp to the bed, next to the old man. He takes the sword from his hands and drives it two-fisted through his abdomen and into the mattress. The playboy sucks wildly for air and paws at the handle.

The whore breaks for the door. Henson catches her by the back of the dress and flings her back down. “Stay or die,” he says, and turns back to the pimp. He’s pulled the sword free and is attempting to rise from the bed. Henson retrieves the weapon and finishes the job, a swath of arterial blood spraying the whore in the face. She makes to scream until he drops to her eye-level and says, “No you don’t. We’re going to walk out of here and drive away. You stay quiet, you stay alive.”

The whore surprises him by asking about the dog, what about the poor dog? Henson looks over to see her stroking the panting, broken heap on the floor.

“Leave it,” he says.


The whore needs to die. They both know it. She cries hysterically as he drives through a barren industrial park in East St. Louis, Glock in hand. Twice she’s tried to hurl herself out of the moving Bronco, gun be damned, and twice he’s pulled her back in. “One more time and it’s over,” he says.

Burl didn’t need to die. No fucking way. Just a strange old bird trying to make amends.

The old man had checked them into the motel, Henson remaining hunched down in the Bronco, meaning only two people had seen his face. The pimp was dead. The whore needs to die.

He stops the vehicle. The whore cries out, begs for her life. Henson wonders if she was part of the action or if the pimp simply saw the old man’s money and took his shot. He also knows that if all goes as planned, if his face gets changed, she’ll never recognize him.

That’s too many ifs.

“Pleease,” she says.

Henson turns and puts the barrel to her forehead. The whore reaches up and ever so gently wraps her hands around the gun, Henson’s fingers. Snot runs down her nose.

“Pleease,” she says again.

Henson relaxes, takes the gun away. The whore breathes like a baby for the first time. He pulls out the old man’s wallet, withdraws three hundred-dollar bills and drops them in her lap.

“Get out,” he says. “And keep your mouth shut or I’ll find you.”

The whore takes the cash and climbs out. Shaking, she stands at the side of the road and glances around at the decaying buildings, with their knocked-out windows and graffiti. Henson imagines the type of vermin that must inhabit such a place as he drives away.

BIO: Andy spent three years as a cavalry scout in the U.S. Army, although not, thank God, under W. He lived for a stretch in South Texas but now is back in his native Michigan. His crime fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Plots with Guns, Hardluck Stories, Pulp Pusher, Lynx Eye and elsewhere. For a different slice of his prose, try this one in Poor Mojo. The first part of HENSON COMES HOME won third place in the first-ever A Twist Of Noir Contest and can be found here.