Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 089 - Gary Dobbs


Originally published at Thieves Jargon

‘When you live with death on a professional basis, it gives you a fresh perspective on this thing called life,’ he said and stepped over the corpse, careful not to pick up any of the gore on his shoes. They were expensive, the Italian leather brogues, but that wasn’t the point. They had genuine style, looked good, and blood and whatever that grungy stuff pumping from Elton John’s smashed forehead was would spoil the aesthetic value. Brain, sinew and splintered bone would not compliment the tan leather.

He liked to look the part and he brushed his hands down the creases of his trousers, almost sharp enough to cut yourself on, before leaving the room, closing the door behind him.

This was a big house and he had much to do.

No rest for the wicked!

Outside the door, he found himself in a long hall. He removed the small earpieces and listened for a moment. Silence...nothing but silence. Good. It meant that the muted thud of his pistol hadn’t been heard above the music coming from elsewhere in the massive house. It would make his job much easier. Better to remain undetected for as long as possible.

He replaced the earpieces and pressed random play on the I-Pod he carried in his breast pocket. A wonderful gadget that housed almost his entire CD collection in its memory. Rock music filled his head and he smiled as Hendrix rasped into Hey, Joe.

Hey Joe, where you going with that gun in your hand?

He smiled again. Strange how the computerised gadget seemed to select a tune that was somehow related to whatever he was up to at any given moment. Like the other night when he was getting head from Tammy, the attendant at the all-night garage, the damn thing had gone from Eva Cassidy to James Brown; an artist eminently suited to having the old cock sucked to. That was stupid, he told himself. Coincidence is all and there’s no time for fancy thoughts. This is a job. Calls for professionalism.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

He didn’t move until Hendrix had faded out, replaced by The Police; Sting bemoaning his loneliness in his distinctive, high-pitched cadence. He continued along the corridor, seeking his target. He moved slowly, steadily, his face impassive - he might as well have been a machine.

The job had come to him in the usual way. He had been contacted by a mutually trusted go-between, the contract dished out, a down payment made. The target’s name was Max Klein, some sort of big shot in the record industry, a billionaire with a penchant for young boys and strong drugs. The guy had fucked about with some boy whose father knew someone who knew someone else with big contacts. The indiscretion was enough to warrant a termination order going out and Traine had been handed the job. Traine was after Klein and the hitman may as well have had Canadian blood running through his veins because, like the Mountie, he always got his man.

Sting went, replaced by Black Sabbath. The heavy beat drove Traine forward. He had come in through the cellar entrance, after negotiating the surprisingly lax security at the main gates and remaining hidden for the length of the gravel drive. Anyone else would have carried out the contract at another time, when it was quiet, and not in the middle of a large party Klein was throwing to celebrate a number one single by his new, ever-so-young, wife. Traine, though, liked a challenge, and he knew that if he carried out the hit in the middle of this celebrity party, this grand show business shindig, and escaped to kill another day, which he had no doubt he would, then his legend would grow even further.

Rep was all important in this line of work. It was money in the Swiss bank.

It had been weird, almost surreal to find aged crooner Elton John in the cellar. What he had been up to, Traine had no idea but no matter. He had taken a slug between the eyes, his head opening up with more multi-coloured splendour than any of the singer’s flamboyant costumes had ever managed.

Candle in the wind, indeed. Your brains were blown out long before your legend ever was.

At the end of the corridor, Traine found himself with a choice. There were doors both left and right and, after removing his earpieces, he stood rigid for a few moments, listening, deciding.

Left it is, then.

He opened the door, another corridor, this one wider, obviously leading up to the main section of the sprawling Wessex property. He quickly closed the door and then opened the other - no harm in checking before moving up into the house proper. Nothing, a storeroom.

Left again, then.

Eminem started hip-hopping through his brain as he carefully walked the length of the corridor, the pistol, a silenced Walther, held rigid, ready to spurt death at any moment. Another, an automatic whose origins no munitions factory in the world could claim, was nestled snugly in the Smith and Burns holster beneath his left arm.

He covered the distance of the corridor without incident and then opened a large oak door at the far end and stepped out into the house proper. He removed the earpieces, stopping Eminem, and stood, getting his bearings. Directly in front of him were two huge doors and he could hear laughter, talk and muted music coming from behind the ancient wood.

He had found the party.

He replaced his earpieces - still Eminem, and removed the automatic from its holster. He kicked the doors open, a gun held in each hand, and saw countless shocked faces turn toward him. It was like a who’s-who of the music industry - all the big players were at the party. He saw Mick Jagger standing next to a tall, very young blonde, two of the Spice Girls were staring directly at him, next to them was Barry Manilow. And there, amongst the famous faces, he saw Max Klein - the target. The guy was standing there, a terrified look on his face. The champagne he had been pouring was running over the carpet like liquid gold.

Traine smiled as The Beatles filled his head.

Helter skelter, when I get to the top, I go back...

He opened fire. Seven from the Walther, thousands from the automatic, making sure he took the security men, who came running at him, trying to draw their weapons, first.


Death gatecrashed the party.

He saw his target go down, the bullet tearing into his throat, throwing his head back violently as the bullet exited out of the newly-formed hole in the back of his skull, but before that, he had the satisfaction of taking one of the Spice Girls’ heads off, blowing a hole straight through Barry Manilow’s chest and totally obliterating Gareth Gates’ face.

This was like some surreal acid trip, a mad celebrity shoot-em-up video game, he thought as he blasted an hole through Sting’s face, sending the singer forever into fields of gold. Chris Deberg screamed and made a frantic dash for the far door. He made too good a target and Traine got him as he tried to climb over a lady in a revealing white dress. The slug took the singer midriff, sending his guts spilling over the lady who instantly became the lady in red, courtesy of the singers innards.

He ceased fire, closed the doors on the carnage. Apart from the lady in red, there wasn’t a person left alive that he could see. His legend was assured. He turned to leave but tensed when he heard footsteps coming towards him.

‘Fuck me!’ Paul McCartney said as he came tearing around the corner and found himself face to face with the big man with the gun. He was holding a tray of vegetarian sausages, which he tossed ineffectively at the hit man.

Traine smiled, ignored the soya sausage on his shoulder, and raised his gun, debating whether or not to let Macca live. He quite liked The Beatles but all that had been yesterday and since then, the Liverpudlian had committed many crimes against music.

‘This is for the fucking frog song,’ Traine said.

He fired.

McCartney was thrown backwards. The bullet entered the front of his head and erupted from the back with a crimson burst of shattered skull.

‘Bom, bom, fucking bom.’ Traine said, stepped over the one-time mop top, and quickly left the building, walking away into legend.

BIO: Gary Dobbs writes under both his own name and that of Jack Martin. His first novel, a western under the Jack Martin name, will be released on June 30th by Robert Hale LTD. You can find Gary and more of his writings at The Tainted Archive.

A Twist Of Noir 088 - Jimmy Callaway


He let himself in, fumbling with the key card and the huge bouquet of roses he carried. As the heavy door swung shut behind him, he looked up and saw me. He held the flowers out in front of him a little, like a benediction.

I sat in the chair, legs crossed, gun in my lap. I smiled.

“Are you Karen’s new boyfriend?” he said.

“I work for Mr. Bob Romano,” I said.

“What? Where’s Karen?”

“She ain’t here, Skip.”

“What do you mean? She said she’d meet me here.”

“She sent you that e-mail ‘cause I gave her fifty bucks.” I shrugged. “She didn’t think twice about it, Skip.”

“No, no, that’s—no. She said she’d be here.”

“She lied.”

“No, Karen wouldn’t—no, that’s...”

“Look, Skip, I was sent by Mr. Bob Romano. You know what that...”

“Are you Karen’s new boyfriend?”

“What? No. Look, Skip, it’s nothing personal here. Mr. Bob Romano...”

“No, no, this is—this is...insane. Karen wouldn’t lie to me. She wouldn’t. This is insane.”

Shit. He’s telling me.

“Now, where is she?” he said, “Are you her new boyfriend? Are you...”

“Skip, look...”

“Are you! Are you her new boyfriend! I want the truth!”

“Oh,” I said, “All right.”

I shot him in the face.

Didn’t think twice about it.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Just to call attention to one of our authors. Gary Dobbs, author of three excellent stories that you can find here, is reading one of them (originally titled Rhondda Lives, now retitled Rhonda Noir) over at CrimeWav.

If you haven't, go check it out already. If you already have heard it, hear it again.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 087 - Paul D. Brazill


Swamplands was originally published in Flashshots

Elvis awoke in a cold, dank sweat, hungover from bourbon and bad dreams. The nightmare had consisted of him being hunted through a swamp by the murderous spectre of his stillborn twin and his pounding heartbeat seemed to echo through the mansion.

He stumbled into the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face and looked in the mirror to face his own ashen reflection and that of his grinning doppelganger.

Aaron tightly wrapped the umbilical cord around Elvis’ throat and pulled it until his brother breathed no more.

The king is dead, long live the king, he muttered.

BIO: Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He has had stories in (or coming up in) Shoots & Vines, 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?’ and Paul D. Brazill.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 086 - Eric Beetner


Getaway drivers are, by in large, a cocky set of bastards. Ask one and he’ll generally tell you he’s the best.

I’m not that guy. Sure, I’m good. Any driver not in jail has to be half way decent but I’m not stuck up about it. I do my job, I do it quickly, quietly and we don’t get caught. That’s what I get paid for.

And before you go there, don’t think I’m sexist by saying “he” all the time. Have you ever met a female getaway driver? I didn’t think so. Find one and I’ll ask her to marry me.

The only ones on a crew more full of themselves are the planners, the masterminds. They found the target, assembled the crew, presumably have done it before and therefore think they cornered the market on cleverness and balls. No one ever gives the driver credit for the amount of planning it takes. All they care about is the car but that’s the least important part of the equation. Try telling them that.

It gets quite annoying actually when the first question every time you go to interview for a crew is, “So what do you drive?” I could drive your Grandmother’s electric wheelchair and make a clean getaway. It’s not the wheels that matter. It’s the planning, the preparation and the nerves of steel. Do we get credit for having any of that? No. Never. Any yahoo with a muscle car and a right foot to press the gas pedal can get hired. Prison blocks are full of them.

It’s work but the planning is what I like most about it. The driving fast part is fun, sure, but that can get old. Planning a new job and staying one step ahead of the jerks trying to screw you and the cops trying to catch you - that’s a skill.

And what do I get for all my planning and all my nerve? Ten percent. Break out the confetti and party hats.

Ten percent is insulting. I’ve gotten my rate up to fifteen but that’s only by reputation and that takes a while to come by. It makes leaving town that much harder. has to be done.

Maybe it’s just in my nature to get uncomfortable being idle. Those few minutes waiting outside a bank or jewelry store are unbearable to me and normally I’m a pretty relaxed guy.

So I pack up and move on from time to time. When the job is done I get gone.

It’s not like I make friends. Making friends with thieves is downright stupid. They’re going to steal from you and screw you over. It’s what they do. By offering you only ten percent they’ve basically stated their desire to fuck you over right from the jump off.

It's time someone showed them they aren’t so smart after all. The driver does hold the keys, in more ways than one.

Sure it takes time to set up a new life in a new town but, like I said, the planning is the fun part. That’s where the really talented ones shine. Breaking in a new identity isn’t easy. Keeping out of any records: police, government, etc., is hard to do these days. Building a new reputation takes time and it means going back down to the ten percent club for a while until people start to know you.

I like to turn down a few jobs at the start. Make them come to you. The market for a good driver is actually pretty strong. They might not want to admit it, especially to your face, but deep down the planners know the driver is critical to a successful score.

I have to laugh at the planners who try to do it themselves. I always say the fastest way to get to prison is to drive yourself there.

For a first meeting, I like to steal a big impressive car to give them the eye candy that they want. A big V-8 that rumbles and sounds mean. Exactly the kind of car that I would never use on a job. The last car you want is one that is loud and attracts attention. That pretty much rules out anything American. The advantage American cars do have, though, is storage. People storage and trunk space. I give in on jobs with a bigger crew, more than 3 people, and just do some modifications to make them less conspicuous.

There is a fine line, though. You don’t want to be noticed while you wait for the job to be done inside but you do want to be noticed leaving. I know, it sounds off. The trick is that I know I can get away. No high speed chase for me. So what I want is a clear description of a car that any witness no matter how blind or dumb can give. If the cops have a very clear picture of what they’re looking for they are much more likely to ignore everything else. Enter the second car.

The actual getaway car is the flashy one with the bigger, louder engine, then something cosmetic like I usually paint one door panel orange like it’s been replaced or something or racing stripes or one of those stick-on things that makes it look like a baseball busted through your back window. Then there are the vanity plates. I have a stack I take with me. If they see nothing else about the car, most people will try to be the hero and get the license plate. So why not make it easy for them? Give them something they know and can read quickly. ‘T and A’ was a favorite. ‘g bye’ was another. For this last job I used the old classic ‘Eff Yoo’.

The last job before I get gone from a particular city doesn’t take much extra planning. Picking the right job is key, you have to go out on a big payday. I make sure everyone on the crew knows exactly where the switch is to the second car. They know what car it is and where it’s parked. That’s important for the last job.

I’m not talking about the proverbial “one last score”, screw that. I’m going to be driving into my sixties. Although that’s easy to say from the comfort of my mid-20’s. When I’m sitting on a chunk of cash, like I am now, it’s easy to see how an early retirement would be a good thing.

After the last one, I decided to go south. I like it so far. I’m spending too much time on the beach though and not enough time setting up the new me. But, like I said, I got money so I got time.

This last one went as well as I could hope. Just like the other last scores. It’s important not to tell the crew leader that you’re leaving town right after his big heist. It makes them nervous. They don’t know my commitment to the job. I would never skip out early. Still, they only see their big plan falling through and they don’t see how much is on the line for me. Arrogant pricks.

I have to tell you I really enjoy teaching them a lesson about how smart the driver can be.

This last one was a bank. Pretty standard stuff. Small crew of three, plus me. It was a perfect set up, my idea actually, because the two young guys the planner brought in with him were motorcycle guys (another batch of cocky jerk-offs). They kept saying how a cycle was a much better getaway vehicle because of the acceleration and the maneuverability in tight situations. I let them have their fantasy and suggested that they go for it. It worked out better for me.

We had two bikes stashed for them, one in the alley next to the bank and one on the street opposite the bank. When the three of them would exit, the two motorcycle guys would each peel off and get on their respective bikes and speed away in opposite directions, leaving just me and the planner to use the car and the little detail they didn’t bring up about the car vs. bike argument - the trunk to keep the money in.

A big green army duffle bag doesn’t do well on the back of a Kawasaki.

If you’re robbing a liquor store or a mini-mart, sure, ride your motorcycle. If you’re doing a real job where you hope to take enough that when you split ten percent here and fifteen percent there you aren’t left with nothing more than milk money - take a car.

So it went as planned. My plan, not his.

They were inside for three and a half minutes, a little longer than I like. They came out, no alarm. No shooting. Nice.

The two cycle freaks went to their bikes with plans to meet at the second car to split the take. The planner had stashed his gun already and looked the picture of calm, more or less, as he crossed the sidewalk to the car where I had popped the trunk for him. The engine was humming, the street was clear - it was picture perfect.

The trunk slammed and that was my cue to get gone.

I flicked the automatic door locks, cranked back the gear shift and only left a slight squeal of tires and a small square of rubber to mark my last job in this town. I had, of course, also left the planner on the sidewalk - alone, stunned and frozen in place.

The two bike jerks would be waiting by a stolen Camry in the parking lot of a Home Depot about twenty miles away from where I had my real second car stashed.

I had it all ready to go for a drive south and new start. All I needed to do was to transfer the duffle bag, as it turned out with $374,436 in it, and get gone.

Who’s the smart one now?

BIO: More about Eric's writing can be found at His crime novel 'One Too Many Blows To The Head', co-written with JB Kohl, is scheduled to come out later in 2009 unless something goes horribly wrong. Something always goes horribly wrong...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Interlude: A Word Of Advice

Before you read the story below, if you haven't already read parts one and two, you're going to want to check them out. Andy Henion has put a great deal of time, thought and work into this series and they are essential reading if you want to understand part three.

Check out

Henson Comes Home Part 1


Henson Comes Home Part 2

A Twist Of Noir 085 - Andy Henion


Henson is leaning against the wall of a radiator shop when the Mexicans pull up in a tricked-out Toyota. There are two of them, Joey Torres’ lieutenants, with their wife-beaters and porno mustaches and gold medallions. They ease out of the low-rider and sidle up to this goofy-ass white boy with the nerve to peddle smack on Joey’s turf.

"Was’sup, holmes?"

The Mexicans take spots along the wall, surrounding him. Henson pulls at the flaps of his hunting cap and rocks in place.

"Hear you got the good shit."

"Nuh," Henson grunts. The horn-rim glasses make his eyes appear twice their size.

"Shit, holmes, we’re not five-oh. We just want the good shit." A roll of cash is produced.


"Yo, fuck this." The smaller of the two attempts to grab Henson only to have his arm knocked away. The little Mexican sneers and reaches for his waistband; his partner stops him with a signal. A lunchtime crowd is milling at the burger joint across the street.

"Ease back, ease back. Big man respecting his space is all."

This one, the apparent leader, steps in front of Henson and smiles. A toothpick protrudes from his wet lips. "So tell me, holmes, you ever hear the name Joey Torres?"

Henson stops rocking.

"Motherfucker sure has," says the smaller one.

"Si, si. Sure you have. And you’ll be happy to know that Señor Torres is impressed with your, ah, productivity."

Henson pushes the meat of his tongue through his lips, bites down, leaves it there. The leader raises his eyebrows and glances at his partner.

"Lo que sea, holmes. Lo que sea." He flicks the toothpick away and inches closer to Henson. "Listen to me now. We got this little problem to address."

Henson says, "Wha," and bends his knees as if to bolt. The leader holds up his hands, palms out. "Easy, holmes, it’s not like that. Joey wants to talk is all. A man with your, ah, talents, he’s thinking maybe there’s a spot on the team."

Henson is rocking again.

The leader opens the back door of the Toyota, sweeps his hand like a game show host. "Take a little ride with us, come meet the man. We’re gonna treat you right, guaranteed."

Henson looks at each of them in turn, tongue extended, then shuffles to the vehicle and climbs in. On the sidewalk the two lieutenants laugh and chatter in Spanish. The door is slammed behind him.

The smaller one drops into the backseat with Henson. They pull away in silence and drive past gas stations and pawn shops until they hit the highway. At this point the little Mexican extracts a switchblade and flips it open after some fancy handwork. He jabs the tip into Henson’s shoulder and draws blood.

"You fucked with the wrong Latino, half-wit."

"Rique," says the leader. "Not yet. When Joey’s done with his ass."

The little Mexican turns away as if deciding his next move. When he turns back, Henson shoots him in the face. A flap of cheek slaps the window like pulpy leather.

The Toyota swerves; the driver curses and shouts, full of emotion. Henson suspects the little one was his cousin, maybe his brother.

"Shut up and take me to Torres," he says, pushing the barrel of the Glock against the driver’s shuddering back. When he calms, finally, Henson says, "Now hand me your piece by the barrel." The Mexican looks slit-eyed into the rear-view and Henson belts him in the neck. The cursing returns but this time he does what he’s told, carefully passing the weapon back.

Henson leans back with the silver Beretta and goes about emptying the magazine and chamber, dropping the bullets on the expired Mexican. Then he puts the handgun on the seat between them and removes the horn-rims, rubbing his eyes.

"You won’t make it through the day," the driver says.

"Then consider these precious moments and shut the fuck up."

But the babbling continues, and Henson ignores it, staring out the window at the passing Texas countryside. At one point the Mexican slows for the wrong exit, forcing Henson to correct him with gun butt.

"I know the place," he says. "No more fuckups."

The Torres ranch sits on two hundred acres in the Texas Hill Country. Henson has scouted the hacienda for the past week, hiding among the limestone formations with a pair of night-vision binoculars he bought at an Army surplus store with his old friend’s money. As the chiggers gnawed his ankles, he watched the drug couriers come and go in the darkness, a steady stream of activity tapering to nothing by late morning.

It’s shortly after noon when they pull up. No vehicles are in the driveway. Henson puts the glasses back on and drops the Beretta over the seat. "Walk me to the door with this, side by side. Don’t wave, don’t run, don’t cock an eyebrow."

The Mexican obeys, opening the back door and ordering him out with a flick of the gun. Henson keeps his hands in his jacket pockets, fingers wrapped around the Glock. As they walk, the Mexican pulls the trigger over and over, the Beretta clicking with impotence.

"Smart ass," says Henson.

When they pass the reach of the security camera and make it to the porch, Henson withdraws the Glock and drops the Mexican. He throws open the door, whips off the glasses and heads for the glass-walled kitchen, where Torres should be lounging in his silk bathrobe, mimosa in hand.

He’s there, but holding a gun instead of a drink.

They fire. Torres goes over backward, gun clattering to the tile. Henson’s heart seizes in his chest. Doubled over and gasping, he pounds a fist against the bullet-proof vest once, twice, a third time: a savage form of CPR. But the slug has simply stolen his wind and, within fifteen seconds, he’s standing above Torres, watching him bleed.

"Some retard," says Torres. Reddish-black fluid dribbles from a hole near his right armpit.

"Anyone else in the house?"

"Two others. My muscle."

Henson bends down and hits him in the mouth.

"Okay then. Let’s go with no."

Henson pockets both guns, then helps Torres up and puts him in a chair. He hands him a roll of paper towel before taking a seat. The drug lord presses the entire roll against the wound.

"Keeping me alive," Torres says. "So tell me a story." He’s as Caucasian as they come, with pasty skin and thinning blond hair.

Henson pulls off the hunting cap, revealing his mangled face. Torres laughs and shakes his head.

"Well, holy shit," he says.

"An old man named Burl Crenshaw," Henson says. "He died coming for you. Your shit killed his son."

"Is that what the old shyster told you? How about this version: Burl Crenshaw ran the northern operation for us. If anything killed his kid, it was his own product."

"Bullshit. He was coming—"

"Coming to kill me? Wrong, Sergeant. He was coming to turn you in. You see, there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar bounty on your ass, but only if you’re breathing. Seems that bouncer you snuffed was connected to some very bad people."

It doesn’t make sense. The old man a drug dealer?

"A hundred grand," Henson says, trying to get his brain around it. "And, what, you planned to split the take with the old man?"

"Something like that. But then Burl drops off the map."

"Fuck that," Henson says. "Too many coincidences. The old man just happens to run into me in bum-fucking-Michigan and sets the whole thing in motion?"

"Life is full of coincidences. How about this one: the retard moving in on my territory just happens to be the wanted war vet. And I don’t put it together."

"That’s not a coincidence," Henson says. "That’s stupidity."

Torres’ laugh comes out as a weak cough. "Hey now. The old man never told me about the retard shtick." He closes his eyes for several beats. The paper towel roll is soaked nearly through with blood.

"Listen," he says. "I need a doctor. What’ll that cost me?"

"Sounds like my price has been set."

Torres nods and stands gingerly. "I can do better," he says, and leads Henson into a den. Henson stands behind him as he opens a safe in the wall. When the door swings open, Henson pushes him aside and withdraws the stacks of cash.

"There’s a hundred seventy-five there, maybe a little less," Torres says, falling into the seat at his desk. He slumps over, fighting to remain conscious.

"Now’s when you slip out the back," he mumbles, reaching weakly for a phone on the desk. "Make your escape while I call for help."

"Something like that," Henson says, and pulls out the man’s pistol.


The massive garage is stocked with gleaming sports cars and sport utilities. Henson picks a rust-plagued grounds truck and heads back to town. On the way, he dials his old company commander, Lars.

"I got it," he says. "And a bonus for you."

"Out-fucking-standing, Sergeant. No surprises on this end: The man’s on board."

As an officer in the United States Army, Lars has access to a national network of disgruntled soldiers: the kind of people who have no problem helping Henson get along. The man in question is a recently discharged surgeon who runs a reconstructive practice in Macon, Georgia. He’s agreed to manipulate Henson’s face for six figures and put him up in one of his investment properties.

"I’ll be there in two days," Henson says. "I’ll let you know what I’ll be driving."

"Roger that," says Lars.


The plastic surgeon, Lawrence Shaumburger III, runs his baby-soft fingers over Henson’s face, kneading and pinching the damaged flesh to the point that Henson wants to jump off the exam table and throttle his ass. The chubby little surgeon wears rubies in both ears, keeps his skull shaved clean and smells like a fucking prom date. Henson has met plenty of military docs in his time, but never one like this.

Shaumburger clucks his tongue and wheels back from the table.

"You’re looking at three surgeries. Spread over nine months, a year. My price just doubled, Mr. Henson."

That would be a quarter million. Henson sits up and settles his gaze on the man. Shaumburger is his only chance, and they both know it.

"I’m a hundred short," Henson says.

Shaumburger rises, walks to the sink and begins soaping his hands. It’s late and the building is empty save for the two of them and a seven-foot Filipino sitting corpse-still in the corner. Shaumburger washes each finger vigorously as if scrubbing away disease, then takes a hand towel and turns to Henson.

"I’m sure something can be worked out."

Fuck this, Henson thinks, imagining what the flake has in mind. But in the end he knows he’s powerless to the freedom of Shaumburger’s scalpel, and so he simply nods.

"Yes, then. Marvelous. We’re going to run a week’s worth of antibiotics before the first procedure. In the meantime, Saymo, my assistant, will get you settled and tend to your needs."


Henson spends his time digesting bad television and seafood dishes simmered in coconut milk. By day the Filipino cooks, cleans and watches old game shows. At night he disappears, apparently to do Shaumburger’s bidding, then perhaps home to a wife and kids. He doesn’t say and Henson doesn’t ask.

On the fifth night, after the last of the quiz shows, Saymo says, "Get your hat, we’re going out."

He drives to an upscale bar and parks in an unlit corner of the lot, under a low-hanging live oak. It’s Thursday and there are ten or twelve vehicles scattered about. Industrial buildings surround the property.

"A white man will pull up in a black Lexus. This man is the leader of the City Council. This man is denying Dr. Shaum his permit to expand the practice."

He shuts off the Cadillac and they sit in the near dark. Because of his height, the Filipino keeps his seat tilted all the way back, yet his head nearly scrapes the ceiling. He does not look at Henson as he speaks.

"You will send this man a message. A very strong message."

A car pulls in then, a black Lexus. Henson watches the City Council president park and says, "The doctor wanted this?"

"Yes," says Saymo.

"Bullshit. I’m too easy to identify. He’ll collect after the facelift."

"You will send this man a message."

"Fuck you. This is your deal."

Like most big men, the Filipino is cocksure of himself. Instead of pulling a weapon, he comes for Henson barehanded. Henson knocks the long arm away with his left and comes across with a right hook, bracing his foot against the door for purchase. Something cracks in the Filipino’s jaw, but he’s no amateur—pain is part of the game—and he keeps scrapping. Henson is in close now, however, and he gets a hand around his neck and uses the other for more face work, bouncing the Filipino’s head off the window with each punch.

When the fight has left the big man, Henson is basically in his lap. Panting, he says, "You will get out of the car and find your way home. You won’t say a word of this to the doctor. You understand?"

Saymo manages a slight nod, eyes vacant and glassy: concussed. Henson scoots back to the passenger seat and watches as he stumbles out of the Cadillac and goes to a knee, emptying his stomach on the asphalt. Eventually he rises, wobbly, grabbing onto the car for support, and when he shuts the door Henson is left staring at a thousand pieces of the Filipino through a bloody spider web of glass.


He lies on the operating table with an IV in his arm and a head filled with doubt. Shaumburger will perform the surgery with a single nurse, a stocky, close-cropped woman who fiddles with a bag of medication and tries not to stare at the infamous hit man. What’s to say she won’t whisper the story to her lesbian lover this very night and put them all at risk?

And Saymo. The Filipino hasn’t come around the apartment since the beat-down two nights ago, which means he’s out there stewing in his own bitter juices, just waiting for the right time to strike. When Henson is recovering and vulnerable, no doubt.

Then there’s Shaumburger, the funky Dr. Frankenstein who’s about to transfer the first patch of skin from Henson’s neck to his face. Say the Filipino spins a tale for the good doctor, convincing him Henson is more trouble than he’s worth? Or perhaps Shaumburger botches the operation altogether? There’s a reason he’s practicing in backwater Georgia, after all.

It all boils down to a matter of trust, and Henson trusts none of them.

"Put me under," he says.

"In time, Mr. Henson. In time."

"Do it now, before I lose my nerve."

Shaumburger looks down at the patient, whose teeth are clenched and whose hands clutch at the sheet, and nods at the nurse. She reaches up and starts the flow of propofol. Within seconds Henson feels the heaviness spreading through his limbs and panics, pawing at the air and attempting to sit up. He wants out of here—needs out—but the drug has taken control, and the last thing he remembers is the surgeon’s fat little hands pressing down on his shoulders with surprising strength.

BIO: Andy's short fiction appears in Plots With Guns, Thieves Jargon, Pindeldyboz, Hobart and other publications. He lives in Michigan.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 084 - Albert Tucher


Originally published in the 2005 Summer issue of the now-defunct Lynx Eye Magazine

“Rend-er-sheck,” said Diana.

“Not bad, but not quite,” said the officer. “Rendo"rse'g.”

This time she did better at removing the bite of the “r” while leaving the voluptuous core of the “o” sound.

“With me,“ he said.

Their duet felt as intimate as a kiss. He was very cute. Some would say he was too young for her, but who were they?

“It means, ‘Police.’”

“I had a suspicion,” she said.

His uniform was one clue. The prominent lettering on his patrol car was another.

“I am the rendo"rtiszt,” he said. “Police officer.”

He smiled. He did it well.

“You would be the rendo"rno". Police woman.”

“If you only knew.”

She had been a prostitute for almost fifteen years and an ex-hooker for less than three. She was glad that the calluses had worn off her reactions to appealing men, but she also felt some alarm. With her right thumb and forefinger, she rubbed the fourth finger of her other hand, where she would have worn a wedding ring. She wasn’t sure what a ring on that finger would have meant to Europeans, but it didn‘t matter. The massage was for her own benefit.

He studied her with mock severity.

“You are Hungarian in origin?”

“My grandmother said her father came from the Taba'n section.”

“Across the river in Buda, between the two hills. I will show you, if I may.”

That wouldn‘t do at all.

“I was there earlier today,” she said.

All morning she had wandered and tried to sense her great-grandfather walking those same streets. She had and she hadn’t. It was one of those things.

Maybe he wasn’t sure he approved of her.

“Taba'n is known for beautiful women,” said the man she sensed too well.

It must be true, she decided. Who could lie in an accent like that?

“Where do you stay?”

“The Grand Hungarica.”

Oh, she thought.

She had sworn she wouldn’t tell him.

The radio in his car began to squawk in Hungarian. He frowned. She smiled in relief.

“Please enjoy your visit.”


But disappointment pierced her, now that he had to move on.

“Rendo"rse'g,” she said.

It would be hard to forget.

Diana rounded the corner of the Hyatt Regency. She smiled again. There was Bert, the man who had never failed to be where she looked for him. He stood halfway across the Chain Bridge. He had been communing with the Danube for more than an hour, and he showed no sign of moving soon. She had spent a few minutes with him on the bridge. She knew he had a railing to lean on and a breeze to soften the early summer sun. Occasionally, a ship or barge slid into his field of vision, but he seemed to prefer it when he had nothing to look at but the water.

She could leave him there for a while. Where was Howard?

She turned inland and walked along Roosevelt Square. Just a few minutes down Va'ci Street, she found him. What she saw wasn’t good. Howard was eighteen and a new high school graduate. In September, he would start his freshman year at Princeton. With his command of languages, he had guided Diana and Bert through Paris and Vienna. None of that made him a match for the young woman, who had lured him to a table in one of the outdoor cafes. She was at least in her mid-twenties, and she had the kind of legs that made designers keep turning out miniskirts and stiletto heels. She also had the look.

Takes one to know one, Diana thought.

She didn’t think that Howard never needed to meet a hooker, but this encounter would do him no good. The woman was out to get something for nothing, and she had help if she needed it. Diana already didn’t like the two large, unfriendly men who had started toward Howard.

Diana got there first. The woman glared at her. Her meaning was plain--this one‘s mine.

“Rendo"rse'g,” said Diana.

She had no ID to show, but she didn’t worry about it. She had heard things about Eastern European police. Fifteen years after Communism, they still ignored the niceties.

The woman gave her an incredulous look and asked her something. Diana wondered whether she should have said, “Rendo"rno".”

She tried to look as if she had understood the question but didn‘t consider it worth answering. She kept staring the woman down.

It worked for the moment. The hooker got up and stalked off into the café. Howard made petulant noises.

“You need to come with me right now,” said Diana. “Let’s go. Quick.”

Howard sulked, and then it was too late. The two men had reached them.

One of the men was plainly the boss. He was the smaller of the two, but that still made him big enough. When he spoke, Diana wanted to arrest him just for his tone.

“What is this?” said the gestures that went along with his words. “A crackdown? Why didn’t anyone tell us?”

She continued to stare at him.

“Don’t we pay you enough?”

His meaning was unmistakable She raised her eyebrows as if to say, Don’t go there. She decided to outflank him.

“Young man.”

She put on a Hungarian accent in case the man understood English. The inflections came easily. Her grandmother had imitated her father many times.

“Young man, you must go. Up. Now.”

Howard finally grasped that he was in trouble. He jumped up and nearly ran from the cafe. Diana watched him turn left and disappear into a side street.

When she turned to follow him, a strong hand gripped her bicep. She counted three and looked up at the man. She stared through his eyes to the back of his skull.

He released her. She walked away from him without looking back.

Diana turned up the same side street that Howard had taken. It felt like a mistake, and she realized why. A cop would have moved on. Now she looked like Howard’s confederate. It was too late to fix her error now. She kept going.

Howard waited for her in the ATM lobby of a bank. He wasn’t alone. The man loitering near him ignored the cash machine. Diana figured him for a pickpocket or worse.

Howard didn’t see her coming. At that moment, she felt completely exasperated with him. Did he have to walk around with a target on his back?

She yanked the lobby door open and said, “Come on. This isn’t cool at all.”

He came with her. She pulled him across the street into a restaurant that had a six-stool bar. She ordered two small beers. The bartender seemed to expect her to speak English. Howard looked chastened.

“That was really dumb,” he said.

“Yes, it was.”

She relented immediately. He was a kid.

“My guess is, when you asked for the bill, it would have had a few extra zeroes on it, and those two no-necks would have dragged you to the nearest ATM. I also think the cops don’t usually hassle them about that scam. They seemed really surprised.”

It occurred to her that it wouldn’t be smart to retrace their route back to Bert. She dug in her bag for her rented cell phone.

“Where did you disappear to?” said Bert.

“Later,” she said. “We’re … where?”

The bartender told her the name of the restaurant and the street, which she relayed to Bert. Diana paid for the beers and tipped the man extra. After about twenty minutes, Bert appeared. Diana thanked the bartender and led Bert and Howard out into the street. They began to walk in the direction of the hotel. Howard drifted ahead to avoid hearing about his adventure.

“Impersonating a police officer,” said Bert. “Not the best idea back home. Could be even worse here.”

“I knew it as soon as I said it. But you know me.”

Bert smiled and put his arm around her shoulders.

“Yeah, I know. The Queen of Blurt.”

They planned to shower and rest for a while before going out to dinner. Howard went to his room. Diana watched Bert put the key card into the lock of their room. When the door swung inward, she pushed him lightly but insistently toward the bed. He twisted around and landed on his back on top of the bedspread. She climbed on top of him and kissed him.

“You’re in for it, Mister.”

“Be gentle with me.” His grin said the opposite.


She had issues to work on. There was the adrenaline left over from her encounter with the local wildlife. Then there was the young cop, who had stirred feelings in her that she wanted to put back where they belonged.

The knock on the door was curt. Diana and Bert looked at each other. They both knew who knocked like that.

They were still dressed. Diana got up and went to the door. When she opened it, she began to smile, which annoyed her.

Her young boyfriend didn’t look friendly at all. Neither did the other uniformed officer with him. The two cops came uninvited into the room.

“Diana Andrews,” said her now ex-boyfriend. “Of Driscoll, New Jersey, U.S.A. I have just spoken on the telephone with Chief of Driscoll Police Fornerato.”

Oh terrific, Diana thought.

The current Chief enjoyed making life difficult for Diana and for Bert Jadlowsky, his predecessor. The call from Hungary had given him the opportunity to do just that without leaving his desk.

“Mrs. Andrews.”

She didn’t correct him.

“Chief Fornerato says you are the prostitute. Clever, never convicted of any crime.”

“I was the prostitute.”

Damn it, she thought. Can’t I ever stop doing things like that?

“I was a prostitute. I have not been for three years.”

“And you are married to this policeman.”

“Ex-prostitute, retired policeman,” said Bert.

Diana liked his answer. If she had to, she could remind the cops that she and Bert had never said they were married.

“You are young to have this eighteen-years-old son,” said the cop to Diana.

“I adopted him. His parents are out of the picture.”

“Where have you been since we met?”

Diana hesitated.

“This is not America. You must answer questions from the police.”

“We’re tourists. We walked around. We looked at things.”

“Is that all?”

Great, she thought. Now it might come out that she had impersonated a police officer.

“We took a break at a bar in one of the restaurants.”

“Ah. Do you recognize this man?”

The young cop handed her a Polaroid photograph. She looked, looked again, and handed the photograph to Bert. The young cop gave her a testy look, but she couldn’t worry about that. Bert needed to know what kind of trouble they were in.

The image from the photograph stayed with her. The bartender who had served Diana and Howard in the restaurant lay on his back with his hair in an unkempt halo around his head. Someone had held the camera directly over his face. Diana knew death when she saw it. The bartender was dead.

Another man appeared in the doorway and stopped. There wouldn’t have been room for him inside. The man was about sixty and obviously the boss. He looked as massive and as likely to smile as a bust on Mount Rushmore. His civilian suit might as well have been a uniform.

Diana thought. The bartender had been alive less than two hours earlier, and the cops had already found her. It was fast work--too fast. At least one of these three cops had known where his investigation would lead before he started it. And how could the other two have watched the third make huge intuitive leaps without becoming suspicious?

All three must be involved with the hooker and the thugs from Va'ci Street. If she had other enemies in Europe, she didn‘t know about them.

She could see it. The three from Va'ci Street figure out that she isn’t a cop. They go around asking people about her. They question the bartender and go too far with him. They need help, and they know where to go.

Honest or corrupt, the boss was the one to deal with, but how could Diana manage it? If the young cop had made the call to Fornerato, it was probably because his boss didn’t speak English.

Then Diana heard Howard’s voice in the hall. She listened, but nothing she heard made sense. Oh wait, she thought.

She had heard Howard’s German before. The man in the suit listened as Howard explained and persuaded. Diana switched her attention to the young cop, who stood stoically.

He doesn’t understand either, she thought.

The boss raised his hand to silence Howard. He rumbled something in Hungarian to his two subordinates, who both answered at length, agreeing with each other on some points and disputing others. Both young cops left the room and disappeared in the direction of the elevators.

“Come in, please, young man,” said the boss in English. He turned sideways to allow Howard into the room. Howard still had a hard time squeezing by the man’s bulk. “I am Inspector Balint. Madame, your son has told me an interesting story.”

“Oh,” said Diana.

Her theory had collapsed.

“Your son was correct in his thoughts,” said Balint. “The younger Hungarians have English. The older have German. He did not know that I am paid to have both. And Russian. The last century was eventful for my country.

“Tell me about your encounter in the Va'ci Utca.”

Diana told him. She understood that he wanted to compare her version with Howard’s. She hoped that Howard had told the truth.

“I must discourage you from pretending to be a police officer in my country,” said Balint when she had finished.

“It was a bad idea,” she said. “But why don’t the police do anything about scams like that? That’s extortion. Or something.”

“It is certainly something,” said Balint, “but our laws have not caught up to the new ways of doing things.”

“I think your young man knows these people,” said Diana.

“We all know them. Someday we shall be able to do something about them.”

For the first time, he showed an emotion. He was angry at Diana, or his powerlessness, or both.
“But that is not why we are here. We received an anonymous tip about you.”

His mouth twitched a millimeter.

“We say that now. ‘Anonymous tip.’ From American police television. Someone described a woman and a younger man, both Americans. They entered the restaurant just before the man was killed. Imre said that the description might be a certain American woman. He said that you might have a young man with you.”

Diana glanced at Bert. Sooner or later, he would make the connection. Why would a young man like Imre think she would associate with young men?

Again, Balint nearly smiled.

“Imre is very keen. He will be a good policeman when he learns to be less...”

He turned to Howard. “...heftig.”

“Impetuous,” said Howard.

“Thank you,“ said Balint. “I blame you Americans.”

Diana looked at him without understanding.

“There have been many Americans in our city since 1989. Imre has friends among them. They give him bad habits. It was not his place to call America. Now. Why should I not arrest you for murder?”

“Because we didn’t do it?”

“We will search your rooms.”

It wasn’t a question.

“Will we find a knife or bloody clothes? Now is the time to tell me.”

“No, you will not,” said Bert.

“You are a policeman?” said Balint.


“I should be retired also.”

Balint shrugged.

“But I am not. Madame, who might have killed the owner of the restaurant?”

“I thought he was the bartender.”

Oh, for God’s sake, she thought. Who cares? But she thought about it and saw that it might make a difference. “The pickpocket,” she said. “I mean, I thought he was a pickpocket.”

She told Balint about the man lurking in the ATM lobby across from the restaurant.

“I’ll bet he was watching the place. I think he made the anonymous call, maybe after he killed the owner. It might have been about a protection racket. Does that happen here?”

Balint didn’t answer. He walked ponderously to the phone next to the double bed. Diana and Howard scrambled to let him pass. He spoke a few sentences of Hungarian into the phone. Imre and the other young officer appeared in the hall. Two other uniformed officers were with them.

“Come out, please,” said Balint.

He led Diana, Howard and Bert from the room into the hall. Without being told, they lined up against the wall. Diana looked at Bert and read his mind.

How did we become such good citizens so fast?

Two uniformed cops searched the room. They were thorough and unconcerned with the conditions they left behind them. The other two gave Howard’s room the same treatment.

“Madame, you will please come with us,” said Balint.

“Why is that necessary?” said Bert.

Balint gave him a hard look, but it didn’t work. Bert had his own cop look.

“She must look at photographs. Mug shots.”

Balint seemed to have drawn the same conclusion as Diana. Howard hadn’t noticed enough about the man at the ATM to be useful.

Diana moved closer to Bert.

“Why don’t you and Howard get some dinner in the restaurant downstairs?”

It was nothing like their plan before the police had appeared.

Balint had a Mercedes and a driver, but Diana rode in the back of the subcompact police car. Imre and his partner ignored her.

She had never been arrested, but several times she had answered unfriendly questions in police stations. The place they took her smelled like a police station, and the cop talk around her sounded as familiar in tone as its words were strange.

For more than two hours, she flipped through books of photographs. The man she had seen wasn‘t in them. It seemed less and less likely that he was just a local thief.

Imre dropped her off at her hotel. He still hadn’t spoken to her. The cops obviously expected her to go to her room and stay there. She didn‘t feel like cooperating. She also didn’t want to look at Bert after she had ruined the last part of their trip. He wouldn‘t blame her, which would make her blame herself.

She started to walk toward the center of the city.

She didn’t know her destination until she had nearly arrived. Ahead of her was the restaurant where the bartender had died. What did she want there?

The answer came to her. She felt guilty. She wanted to reassure herself that the man hadn’t been killed because he had let her and Howard linger over drinks. But how could she hope to find out what had happened?

She glanced up and noticed a new sign above the restaurant. She couldn’t remember the old name, but the new one was “Druzba”. She pushed the door open. Customers sat around bistro tables. Ten o’clock was late for dinner in Budapest. Most of the tables had nothing but drinks on them, which suited her. She still had no appetite.

She also had no interest in meeting the woman who looked up at her from one of the tables. Howard’s Va'ci Street hooker had a new job. Diana understood. She had blundered into a criminal power struggle that someone had just won. She wondered how much of the city had changed hands, and how many nearby doorways would have led her into the same invisible war.

She looked around for the two thugs from that afternoon. Did they also have new jobs? Maybe they now starred in Polaroid photographs on Balint‘s desk.

The hooker stood up abruptly and began to mutter abuse, as she worked up the nerve to get physical. Diana didn’t feel like fighting, but she refused to back away from this woman. A man appeared between her and the hooker. Diana knew him. She had been looking for him in books of mug shots.

It raised an interesting question. Was she going to die as the bartender had?

The man spoke to the hooker in a language that sounded nothing like Hungarian. The hooker froze, and her mouth slackened. She returned to her table, sat down, and stared at the drink in front of her.

The man smiled at Diana and gestured toward an empty table. As she sat, she tried to remember the last time she had obeyed a man without hesitation. The answer came to her immediately--that afternoon, with Inspector Balint.

She needed to get out of Budapest.

She had seen no signal, but a waitress set two beers in front of her and the man.

“You’re Russian,” said Diana.

“So is this restaurant,” he said. “Druzba. Friendship.”

He nodded toward the hooker. “Katia Petrovna and I understand each other. She will be your friend now.”

“I’m sure.”

So the hooker was also Russian. It explained why Diana’s single word of Hungarian had fooled her.

“You did not find photograph of me,” the man said. “You would not. I was not here two days ago, and in minutes I will be gone.”

“What did you have against him? The bartender. Did you even know his name?”

“I had nothing against him. He refused very generous business proposition.”

“Generous. He steps aside and he lives.”

“Be careful,” he said.

She decided to be careful.

“I am here to apologize,” he said, “I needed police to waste their time, but I spoiled your holiday.”

He laid his right hand flat on the table. When he took the hand away, a folded sheaf of bills remained on the tabletop. He nodded toward the money. She picked up the crisp new bills and riffled them. She still had the knack for counting quickly and accurately. He had given her ten U.S. hundreds.

“Okay, you ruined our vacation. Why do you care?”

“I am sentimental.”


“About prostitutes. Those who survive, very tough. I like that.”

How did he know about her? He must have someone feeding him information from the police. Could it be Balint? He spoke Russian, but it proved nothing. This man spoke English. Everybody spoke English. If she had stuck to English, she would have stayed out of this mess. She could have paid Howard’s bill at the café and kept her illusion that she knew something worth teaching him.

“Do we understand each other?”

Anger at this man’s arrogance stopped her breathing. He thought he knew her. He thought he could kill a man and hang around at the scene of the murder. He thought he could buy anything. She feared he was right.

Diana set the money down and shook her head. It felt like the most dangerous thing she had ever done. Meeting his eyes was the hardest. She had stared down some vicious men, and some women who might have been worse, but this man could beat her at the game. With him, it stopped being a game.

“Do not spurn gifts,” he said. “Very serious matter for Russians.”

Serious, she thought. I know what he means by serious.

She nodded. She would give him nothing more, no matter what. He nodded back, stood up, and left.

Shame turned her throat dry. The money was hers. As a hooker, she had taken some dirty payoffs, but nothing this bad. What could she do with it? She could give it to the bartender’s wife or children, but how could she find his family without the help of the police? They would ask awkward questions. She could put the money in Howard’s college fund, but Bert would wonder how she came to have it. She could put it in her wallet and let it dribble away on daily expenses, but she would remember her shame each time she broke a hundred.

She picked the bills up and crumpled them in her hand. Katia Petrovna watched her stand and approach. Diana flicked the money onto the tabletop.

“Here,” she said. “I’m buying you off. The next time you feel like running your scam on some guy, don’t.”

The hooker beamed pure hatred at her. Even if she had understood Diana, the likelihood that she would honor their deal was zero.

“Glare all you want,” said Diana. “It’s the best I can do.”

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.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 083 - Michael J. Solender


Originally published at Thrillers Killers N Chillers 4/28/09

Erin tugged at her skirt. Not down, to cover her legs and what was between them, but up to enhance the view from the diagonal of the boardroom where she arrived early to get a very strategic position directly kitty-corner from United Re’s first African American CFO, Rick Robards.

This was her first time presenting to the Board of Directors and she was intent on making a lasting impression.

Only 25, Erin’s rise at United had been mercurial. Hired into the prestigious derivatives group straight out of M.I.T. at 23, she was United Re’s only hire in the post-financial meltdown year that had seen their reinsurance profits evaporate and government regulators snooping in their linens.

Her stochastic models and projections exploited a previously unknown void in currency fluctuations between the Yen, the Euro and the Dollar and had allowed United to recoup a tidy profit in her first 90 days on the job. Promoted at 6 months to lead a special project team, she again performed flawlessly in an investment strategy that boldly bet correctly on a Dow drop and the corresponding uptick.

Promoted to Director on her 25th birthday, she had gained the respect of her colleagues and notice of her superiors, even the aloof and illusive CFO, Robards.

Her smarts and business acumen could not overshadow arguably, at least amongst her male coworkers, her strongest assets; Erin Stiles was a flat-out knockout stunner.

Not a classic beauty, her nose was slightly too large for her fragile and pleasing face, but men found her intriguing and beguiling nonetheless. It was her shape that took most men’s breath away. Petite at 5’4”, she was well rounded in each of the requisite male eye resting spots. She never missed a day at the gym and her form had a toned, firm and strongly feline air that the traders spent hours debating at the pub after work.

She was not unaware of how men appreciated her other talents and was not unabashed in using these assets to advance her career to the corner office that she so coveted.

Robards was a tough nut to crack for her, however. Always the buttoned-down professional, he barely noticed her, or so she thought, when she had stopped by his office to review the monthly figures. He’d seemed immune to the low-cut blouses she wore when she knew she’d be in his company that day. He was one cool cookie.

For his part, Robards could barely contain himself. How could anyone not help but notice Erin, her tight buns, dewy eyes and obvious come-ons? He wasn’t getting any relief at home from his marriage-of-convenience wife, Delores, who had all but sanctioned his liaisons as long as he didn’t expect anything in the bedroom from her.

He needed to exercise caution, however. As CFO, he was vulnerable to particular scrutiny and, as one of only 3 black executives at United, he knew he was under a microscope. He’d have to make any moves and subsequent action on his terms.

The BOD meeting went off per usual. The highlight for Robards was the unobstructed view of leg crossing and uncrossing by Erin designed for both his pleasure and to send a powerful signal. He could wait no longer and, like a moth to the flame, cornered her after the meeting.

“How about lunch today?” he asked Erin with a rising intonation that conveyed it was more than nutritional sustenance on his mind.

“That would be great, but I need to run to my apartment to feed my cat,” Erin, purring in her own cat-like way, told Robards. “Can we stop there first?”

Game on, thought Robards. He was about to get the lay of his life and he got rock-hard right there outside the boardroom.

“Of course, that won’t be a problem,” Robards, now with a lilt in his voice, replied.

The motion activated audio/video recording device that had been set up in Erin Stiles’ apartment bedroom provided extremely high definition. The participants in the afternoon encounter were exquisitely captured in full bore passion that Erin enjoyed more than she would have liked to admit.

But this was business, there would be no encore. She fingered the jump drive with a lone video file in her hand on the elevator ride to the executive suites. She knew she had Rick Robards and he would deliver for her. She was also ready with plan B, just in case he did not.

Robards, decided to call her bluff. If she went public, he thought, her career would be as over as his. Not only that but he’d be damned if he was giving half his considerable net worth to Delores in the certain divorce that would accompany this debacle.

“You bitch,” he sneered. “Get out of here. Not only won’t you ever get another promotion, I’ll see you’ll never work in reinsurance anywhere as long as I’m around.”

“I guess I’ll just have to make sure you’re not around,” Erin coolly said and started to leave his office. She reached up to the collar of her silk blouse and violently tore it down to the waist exposing her front S clipped bra, which she also tore open, and then screamed, running out into the hallway.

“He tried to rape me,” she said to no one in particular, though she had the rapt attention of each of the executive secretaries. “Call the police! He’s been harassing me for months, I can’t take it anymore!”

The VP of Human Resources reassured Erin that the company would do anything, ANYTHING, to avoid a scandal. Of course, she could have the next month off and, of course, they would transfer her to the London office with a promotion to VP. After all, she was an extremely valued employee.

Robards’ resignation accepted, Erin had nothing to fear in the way of retribution, the HR VP assured her.

Erin stopped at Starbucks on her way home. She had made one call after leaving the office and hoped her lover would be there to meet her and offer congratulations on achieving their mutual goal.

Delores Robards greeted Erin with a Cappuccino and a big, full-on, deep-tongued, thrusting kiss. “You did it, sweetie,” she cooed.

“We did it,” Erin replied. “Is he going to settle?”

“It will be completely uncontested,” Delores said. “Half of everything should be about $6 million, including the house in Regent Park. Here are the keys. I'll meet you there next week.”

Erin smiled; she loved the rose garden at Regent Park.

BIO: Michael J. Solender is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, NC. He writes a weekly Neighborhoods column for the Charlotte Observer and is a contributor to Charlotte ViewPoint. His fiction has appeared online at 6S, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Thrillers Killers N Chillers, Flashshot and Dogzplot (soon). He blogs here: not from here are you?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 082 - Julie Wright


Originally published in now-defunct Bullet Magazine #7

It’s Monday, so it’s Southwick, land of the short, pale person. White bread, white sugar, lard, chips and lager. You are what you eat.

I do the rounds, collect the cash, no problems. They’re all as good as gold. They know what’ll happen if they fuck me about. Some of them found out the hard way.

I’m the man with the money, personal banker to the perpetually skint. I make people’s dreams come true, especially at Christmas. If the bairns want something special, I have the power to let them have it. I’m the Santa Claus’s Santa Claus. I’m a fucking saint, me.

You won’t see my adverts on the telly, mind. I’ve not taken any billboards out lately either, but I’m chocka with business. Anybody needs a loan, all they have to do is ask. Anybody wants to stay in one piece, all they have to do is pay up in full, on time, every time.

I learned the ropes working for Alan Savage. His squad used to hang around the arcade when they’d finished collecting. I used to doll off school and go down there most afternoons, that’s how I got to know them. I started running messages for them, proved I could be trusted. When I turned sixteen, Savage took me on.

At first, I was still just an errand boy, but before long I was on the squad, out collecting with the lads. I loved it, took to it like a duck to water. Not that I’m violent, I’m not a headcase, man. There’s only bother when some fucker takes the piss, other than that I could be the man from the Pru. After a few years, though, I realised I was in a trap. I’d gone about as far as I could with Savage; he was a good boss, but I’d always be just an employee. I wanted more. I wanted my own operation.

I thought about it all the time. I knew I could handle it, I had the experience. I knew there was enough business, I could set up and he wouldn’t even notice me. I also knew that if I did, I would be taking a huge risk. I saw it as the next step, setting up for myself, but there was every chance Savage would see it as disloyal, me learning the business from him then setting up as competition. Bad things happened to people who pissed off Alan Savage. Bad things that were done to them by people like me.

I tried to forget about it, but that itch wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t just be satisfied with what I had. The job was easy, the arcade was boring. All I was doing was making time pass. Something had to change. About a year ago I set up a meeting with Savage, and change happened.

He listened while I explained what I had in mind, then he sat and thought it all through. Still as a rock, but I could see his mind ticking over behind his eyes, weighing it all up. I was hardly breathing, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I felt a bead of sweat run down my spine, tickling from the nape of my neck to the crack of my arse.

‘You’re ambitious. I’ve always known that,’ he said. ‘And I reckon you’re right, there probably is enough business to go round.’ I relaxed a little; dared to hope. ‘But you must know I can’t let you set up on your own, Edward. How would it look? You work for me.’ He laughed, but there was no mirth in it. ‘Or you did, anyway. Barry will be in touch.’

He turned back to the papers on his desk. That was it; I had been dismissed, just like that. A part of me that had kept its gob shut up until then suddenly wanted to be heard: How the hell else did you think it would end, dickhead? Did you think he’d throw you a fucking party? My guts turned to ice. I was fucked.

I paced the floor that night, waiting for Baz. I wanted him here on my territory, that way I had less of a disadvantage. I’d be watchful on the street, but he was a sneaky little fucker and mean with it. If he got the drop on me I’d had it. Baz liked space to fight in. My flat was small. Barely room to swing a bat, but I had one next to the front door anyway. Not much in my favour, but I’ll take whatever’s going.

He turned up at midnight, probably hoping I’d be off my face by then. I wasn’t.

‘Evening, Baz.’

‘Eddie.’ He nodded. ‘Nothing personal, mate.’

Not fucking much. Savage had picked his man well. Everyone knew that Baz had been looking for an excuse to slap me ever since that business with Sophie. She was out clubbing with her mates when I met her, how the fuck was I supposed to know she was Baz’s kid sister? I didn’t know he had one. I didn’t know she was only fifteen, either. She was just some jacked-up little bird wearing fuck-me shoes and a fanny pelmet. She looked eighteen, easy. Very fucking easy, as it turned out.

‘Just business,’ I agreed, then danced back out of the way as he took a swing at me and the door frame splintered under the force of the blow from his baseball bat. I reckoned that one must have rattled the teeth in his head when it landed. I fucking hoped so, anyway. I grabbed my cricket bat and took aim; let battle commence.

I wound up with a trashed flat, a black eye, a fat lip and a couple of cracked ribs. Baz ended up in hospital, as much a victim of his weapon of choice as of mine. Cricket bats are shorter, more manoeuvrable in an enclosed space. I just landed more hits than he did.

The neighbours knew better than to pick up the phone, so I rang Baz an ambulance myself, after I’d kicked him down the stairs and dragged him up the street. Let him be found outside of somebody else’s house. I didn’t need the aggro. I sent him flowers, though; after all, it was just business, nothing personal.

A couple of days later, I was back in front of Alan Savage. I had a new proposition for him. We could go on forever, him sending somebody round and me kicking the crap out of them. Fair enough, my luck would run out sooner or later, but I reckoned I had the measure of the squad he was running just then. I should know, I’d recruited them.

‘All right, son,’ he said, eventually. ‘A franchise. Let’s give it a go.’ He paused to check that I was listening, not that there was any need. He had my full attention. ‘I’ll give you your territories and I want fifteen percent of your take.’

‘Seven and a half.’


‘Agreed.’ I’d expected to have to pay twelve and a half, so that was a bonus.

‘You get me somebody who can fill your shoes. Until that’s sorted out, you stay put.’ I nodded again. That had been my idea. I couldn’t afford to pay for a franchise, not with my other set up costs. This was in lieu, this and the percentage. ‘And you stay on call, Edward. I need you, you’re there. No question, no charge.’

I hadn’t counted on that. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘For six months.’



‘Twelve after the new boy’s ready.’

We shook on it.

The new boy is Jeff Jopling, JJ. He’s doing all right so far, which is keeping Savage sweet. Makes life easier.

It’s Tuesday, so I’m off to Pallion. Over the water. First call, old Pop Harris. Owes me two weeks. He’ll be shiting it if he’s come up short again.

I rap on the door, what my mam would call a money knock. The curtains twitch and I see Ma Harris’s wrinkly old face peering out. She’s mouthing something, looking nervous. I can’t hear what she’s saying.

‘Open the bloody door!’

She hears me, though. She hesitates. I mime kicking it in. She nods and a few minutes later I hear the bolt being drawn, the chain going on and the click of the lock. She peers out through the gap.

‘He’s not in, son.’

‘I need my money. Two weeks.’ I pretend to check the book, but the figures are all in my head. ‘That’s a hundred quid, not counting the extra interest incurred for late payment.’

Old man Harris is into me for about fifteen hundred now. He’ll pay back four times that, easy, more if he keeps slipping with the payments. Gambling debts. The bookie was going to break his legs, so I came to the rescue. Trouble is, the stupid old sod can’t lay off the gee gees, and his luck’s no better now than it was before. The way he’s going, me and the bookie will be breaking a leg each. He knows it’s no idle threat. The lad up the road still walks with a limp. And he’s still paying. Never misses, these days. If he does, he knows it’ll cost him a finger.

Ma Harris is shaking her head. ‘I haven’t got that kind of money, son. I’ve mebbe got ten pound in me purse, but I need that for food.’

‘Better than nothing. It’ll buy him a bit of time.’

She looks crushed, but she goes and gets her purse anyway. Poor old sod, worn thin with years of worry and want. I always wonder why women like that don’t leave, but they never do. They always stick with the useless tossers they married.

She passes the tenner through the gap, chain on the door giving her the illusion of safety. Her hands are shaking. When I do Pop Harris, I decide I’ll give him an extra boot in the bollocks just for her.

‘Tell him he’s got two days. I’ll be back on Thursday. He’d better be here.’

She nods, her eyes teary. She probably thought she’d be done with shite like this at her age, whatever that might be. She looks about a hundred and ten.

No sooner am I away from Harris’s than my mobile rings. It’s Savage.

‘Edward? Trouble. Your monkey’s fucked up.’

Bollocks! That’s all I need. Things have been sweet so far and I’m only at his beck and call for another month or so. Well, allegedly. A part of me knows I’ll never be free of Savage. I’ll always be paying him a percentage, always be at the end of a fucking chain that he can yank whenever he feels like it.

Ten seconds later and I’ve got JJ on the phone. I arrange to meet him in the Fort, see what the silly sod’s been up to, then I ring Kenny and get him to do tomorrow’s round for me.

‘He was pushing it, Eddie! He got what he deserved.’

‘You don’t beat the fuck out of the posh ones, man, I told you that.’

‘He set his lip up.’

‘You lost it, you mean.’

‘Thinks he’s a cut above.’

‘You shouldn’t have smacked him.’

‘He’s no better than I am. At least I can pay my bills.’ He scratched his head. ‘He’s pressing charges. I’m going down for this one, Ed, I’ve got previous.’ He swallowed his lager. ‘He wasn’t half as cocky after I bust his nose, mind. Snot everywhere. Cried like a fucking baby.’ He waggled his empty glass at me. ‘Pint?’

I shook my head and he went to the bar to get himself one. How the fuck was I going to sort this out? What a bastard mess!

‘He got family?’ I asked JJ when he came back, slopping Stella all over the table as he sat down.

‘Aye. Horse-faced bint and a couple o’ kids.’


‘Late thirties?’

‘The kids.’

‘Oh. Senior school. They go to Southmoor.’

‘Any lasses?’


‘Good. Enjoy your pint.’ I got up and headed off.

Thursday and I’m off to Seaburn, catch a bit of salty sea air. Ocean fucking finance. Savage isn’t the only one with middle-class clients. Makes good business sense. Some of these in their own homes, they’ve got even less cash than the housing association crowd. But they’ve got jobs, families, appearances to keep up. More to lose.

I’m done by one o’clock, although I’ll be back at seven to do my evening round, catch the workers while they’re having their dinner. It’ll be mince and spuds or fish fingers and beans for most of them. Summat cheap, anyway. Mind, if anybody asks them at work tomorrow, it’ll have been salmon and asparagus or veal escalopes with roasted root vegetables. As if anybody who ate that posh nosh would look as ill and grey as this lot do on their unremitting diet of shite and stress. Anyway, I’m done for now so it’s off to Pallion to catch up with Pop Harris.

On the way there, I get a call from Savage.

‘Nice work, son. All sorted.’

‘No worries, Mr S., all part of the service.’

Pop Harris is waiting for me, opens the door before I knock, and he’s got my dosh in his hand. I nod, take it and count it, mark the book up. I see Mrs H at the window. She jumps like she’s been burned when my eyes land on her. As the yellowy nets fall back into place, I see an empty space where the telly used to be.

I meet up with JJ again once I’m through with old man Harris. ‘Here,’ I say, passing the envelope over the table in the pub. ‘You hang on to that.’

‘What is it, like?’ He peers inside then pulls out the photographs and spreads them on the table.

‘Put them away, you fucking idiot!’ I gather them up before anybody can see them. Pictures of the wife dropping the kids off and picking them up. Pictures of the kids in the town with their mates. Pictures of the bloke’s family when they’re vulnerable. Evidence of how I spent Wednesday. I trailed around after people, sat in the car and watched, took pictures, waited for my chance.

I got it when I saw Shergar load the kids into the car and take off after tea. I let myself in, caught him at the kitchen table with the Guardian sudoku puzzle and a glass of red wine. He nearly shit when he saw me. I nearly laughed out loud. With his two black eyes, he looked like he had a burglar’s mask on.

‘Who are you?’ he demanded, once he’d recovered from the shock of me being in his house and had realised that I wasn’t just there to hurt him. ‘What do you want?’

‘You owe a lot of money to an associate of mine.’

‘Your associate did this to me.’ He indicated his face, purple and yellow bruising showing around the bandages taped to his nose. ‘I owe him nothing.’

‘Your debts aren’t cancelled just because he stuck the nut on you.’

‘How about if I drop the charges?’

‘Good idea, why don’t you?’

‘Well, I will, if he does his bit.’ He sat back, ready to cut a deal.

‘What bit?’

He tapped his nose and nodded. ‘Cancels the debt.’ It was like being in a Carry On film. I was just waiting for the bugger to wink.

‘What are you saying?’

Cheeky sod tutted and rolled his bloody eyes. ‘I’ll drop the charges if he cancels the debt.’ He enunciated each word carefully, like he was speaking to an idiot. I could see why JJ had twatted him. I was tempted myself.

‘Oh, I see.’

‘Well? How about it?’

‘No chance.’

‘It’s a fair deal. Take it or leave it.’

‘You’re kidding yourself,’ I told him. ‘It just won’t happen.’

‘It would be worth his while, surely. The publicity...’

‘The publicity is just fine the way it is. You defaulted on a payment, you got a smack. You’ve done him a favour, really. It’ll be all over the papers when it goes to court. Gets the message across loud and clear.’ He hadn’t thought of that. ‘On the other hand, your neighbours, your family, the people you work with, they’re all going to find out that you have money problems and that the banks won’t touch you.’

‘He’s a thug. It’s an assault charge.’

‘It’ll all come out, I can promise you that. All the details, the full story. As for my associate, well, prison is an occupational hazard.’

‘But he will be locked up. He can’t collect money if he’s in prison.’

‘He’ll be looked after while he’s inside and his job will be waiting when he comes out, along with a nice, fat bonus for being a good and loyal employee.’

He sat back and folded his arms, stuck his chin out. ‘I’m not paying another penny. There’s no way anyone can touch me now.’

‘Nice looking girls you have.’


‘Your daughters. What are they, twelve and fourteen? Something like that.’

‘You leave them out of this!’

‘She looks like a nice lass, the little blonde one.’ I flipped a photo onto the table in front of him, the youngest kid waving and smiling.

‘You wouldn’t dare.’

I spread the other pictures out across the table. ‘You can make this all stop now.’

‘I’ll have the law on you!’

‘After my associate, you got me. After me, someone else will come. Then another, and another, and another. You’ll never meet the man you owe money to. You’ll never be in a position to touch him. Are you getting the picture?’ I stirred the prints with my finger.

‘Fucking scum! I’ll break your neck!’ He jumped to his feet, crashed into the table and sent the wine glass flying, but for all he was quick, he was soft, spent all day in front of a computer. I got his arm behind his back and pushed his face into the scrubbed pine. He howled, his nose still tender from JJ’s ministrations. I saw him eye the broken wine glass, his imagination doing my work for me.

‘Drop the charges, no-one gets hurt. Your call.’

‘He’s dropped the charges.’ JJ tells me what I already know. ‘Thanks, Eddie.’

‘Just don’t fuck up again.’

‘I lost it, man. I let him wind me up.’ He grinned, embarrassed. ‘It won’t happen again, don’t worry.’

‘Sometimes you use your fists, other times you use your loaf. I told you this.’

‘I know. Sorry, mate.’

Friday, last collecting day of my week, and I’m off to sunny Hendon. Third call and I’m at the door of one Bobby Robson. No kidding. This one’s a spotty little scrote with an attitude problem. I knock, my money knock, then listen. Sure enough, I hear the back door slam. Mid-terrace, so pick a direction and go for it. I take off and race round the block. Luck’s on my side and Bobby-oh ends up running down the back lane towards me. He looks up when he hears the pounding feet and his eyes nearly pop out of his head. He skids to a halt cartoon style, does an about turn and takes off again.

I catch him easily. He’s sweating like a rapist, breath tearing at his lungs. I’ve barely broken a sweat. I get him by the scruff and throw him against the wall. While the back of his head’s still stotting off the brickwork, I punch him in the gut and step back smartly. Sure enough, he doubles and pukes. Misses me, though, which is lucky for him. These boots cost a packet.

‘You owe me,’ I tell him.

It’s a couple of minutes before he can speak. ‘It was me mam’s birthday. Had to get her a present.’

‘What about your repayment?’

‘Next week, mate. I’ll have it all for you, get back on track.’ He’s gasping air like a mackerel flapping on the pier.

‘And how will you manage that, Rockefeller?’

‘What?’ He doesn’t get it.

‘HOW THE FUCK WILL YOU PAY?’ I shout, and I swear a few of his spots pop in terror.

‘Sell something.’ He’s not half so cocky now. You aren’t, though, when you’re kneeling in your own puke.

‘Sell what?’

‘Mountain bike. It’s a good ‘un. I don’t use it.’

That much was obvious from his athletic prowess. I put the toe of my boot under his chin, turn his face up to mine. ‘Make sure you do.’

He nods as best he can under the circumstances. I kick him in the ribs and walk away. I can hear him behind me, sniffing and cockling like a brat.

Out on the front street I see a group of kids playing football. Little Tommy Briggs runs over in his new Sunderland strip. Brand spanking, just out this week and he’s got it on his back. Other kids watching him with green eyes.

‘I got it for my birthday, Mr Bell.’ He stands in front of me, showing it off.

‘Looking good, Tommy.’

‘Me mam said she got the money off you. Thanks, Mr Bell.’

I ruffle his hair. ‘No bother, son. Tell your ma I’ll see her next week.’

He runs off to join his mates, kicking the ball around the streets, proud as punch in his new footie strip.

I made that possible. Me. That’s what I do. I make people’s dreams come true.

BIO: Julie lives by the seaside in the north east of England. She's had stories published here and there, including Powder Burn Flash, Muzzle Flash, Flash Pan Alley, Out of the Gutter and Darkest Before the Dawn. She thanks you for reading.

A Twist Of Noir 081 - Salvatore Buttaci


The sleepy, just-waking-up voice aroused him. Once he heard it, even when it was adrenaline-pumped with terror, he was a goner and he knew it. Knew it better than he knew how dangerous it was to break into strange houses, tiptoe to the bedroom of women who lived alone. He knew it. That was all there was to it.

He stretched his body down the bedspread length of the double bed. Easy now. Mustn't wake her just yet, but even his breathing, which he tried to control, caused a dull vibration beside the woman tucked dreamily beneath the spread. It hurt to turn his head sideways, but he had to gaze at her face in the slash of white/black symmetry cast by a friendly moon eavesdropping at the open window. The shade fluttered like a fledgling trying out its new wings. The woman lay on her back, still as night.

Martin breathed in the perfume that wafted from the woman asleep beside him. It was her hairspray, he guessed, so he poked his nose into the locks of mousy brownness flowing to her bare shoulder and found he was wrong. Brazenly, he rested his nose against her cheek and inhaled deeply. How beautiful she smelled! He admired her taste in perfume: “Red.” Strong enough to last the day and night.

Once, when he was a boy, he had kept a scrapbook of perfume ads he'd scissored out of fashion magazines. At the time, he knew them all by name. He would match the names with the scents, spending Saturdays at perfume counters where he'd spray circles on his arms in the places assigned for each name.

He prided himself in his ability to recall each perfume scent as easily as most boys his age back then called to mind the names of baseball players. Martin had no time for foolish ball! He did not know why it was so important to commit perfume scents to memory, but he made it his business to store the scent and its name inside his head, to resort to these olfactory memories when a particular day heavy with the stench of failure or the bad smell of defeat or the reeking odor of abandonment weighed heavily on his chest. It was then he would breathe deeply, clear his lungs of life's contaminations, and inhale the memory of “White Shoulders” or “White Diamonds” or “Poison” or “J’Adore”––whichever eau du ciel--oh, he liked that! Eau du Ciel, “heavenly waters”––he believed would clear the air of his discontents.

Now, lying beside this woman, he needed only to thrill himself breathing her. A mixture of “Red” and nighttime perspiration. A fine heady combination. How gentle she looked! Mimicking her sudden smile, Martin felt one widen on his own face. He looked at her and wondered, Are you dreaming you are safe and warm? At peace? Then she stirred, coughed, and rolled on her side away from him. He knew it was not her intent to offend him, but her maneuver offended him nonetheless. How dare you turn away!

For a few dark moments, he stared at her exposed shoulder, the fall of her hair upon the bedspread, the wavy ends reaching out to his extended hand. Touching him. Again, he smelled her hair. He moved closer to see the hair fall gently away to reveal her bare neck and allow his lips like a fly to alight against her skin.

He clamped his eyes shut till they ached. His lips quivered at her neck. He pretended he was desert-dry and she was the drink to quench his thirst. When lightly he licked a line across her neck, she moaned unintelligibly, then slapped her neck as if to rid herself of some pesky flying thing that had survived the heyday of summer this late in autumn.

Martin jerked his face away. She moaned again. Then giggled at some dream anomaly. Then fidgeted her body in quick twists and turns left and right. Punched her pillow. Crammed it under her head, faced him again.

All during her sleep moves, even when she kicked her leg under the sheets and nearly rolled Martin onto the floor, he held his position at her side. Maybe she’s nightmaring, he thought to himself. Maybe behind those rapid eye movements she was trapped somewhere in the dark forest or rooted to the sidewalk on a night-city street peopled with monsters and she’s looking to break loose. But that wasn’t it at all, he decided, because the woman was giggling again. Mumbling. Both of them lying now like obedient subjects in a still life.

There wasn’t much time. Martin raised his arm in slow motion, turned his wrist so he could read his watch. Five o’clock. It was taking too long. Day was hanging over him. So many faces he had committed to memory. Sleeping women with their stale breath, their arms and legs akimbo, their faces devoid of make-up because, here in their beds, who was there to impress? Lonely women in big houses that swallowed them whole. Women doused in “Passion.” “Obsession.” “Red Door.” He could take those smells to the bank in his head and spend them one by one like pieces of gold.

It was late. Outside, the moon was on its last legs. Soon enough, it would roll itself somewhere else prepped for night. And the sun would shine bright enough to open her eyes. It was now or never.

For a brief moment, he would once again be the prince who wakes the sleeping princess. In a flash, he played back a kaleidoscope of women in beds like this one. Soft young faces. Sprawling bodies to die for. Wrinkled old faces.

Bodies lying still as coffin sleepers. They were all up there in his head, like those good books people read over and over again. They were all the women he smelled and lightly touched and lay beside while they dreamed in his company.

He stared intently at the sleeping woman. He tried to memorize the tilt of her face resting on her arm. The tangle of her hair. Imagined the tiny sand drifts in the corner of her closed eyes. Those lips he would never forget, the way they separated ever-so-slightly to expose a hint of white teeth behind them. He would collect these memories and savor them. Martin would save them forever.

It was always something he loved doing. Collecting evidence, making sense of all life’s intangibles, pinching the wings of the elusive that once were beyond easy detection but now could be capped within a tight-lidded jar. It made him feel as though a person truly was the sum of all the things that made her what she was––the simple things like the smell of her body, the texture of her hair, her sleepy-time voice, even the music of her snoring.

These were pieces of the puzzle that he was adept at assembling and conserving somewhere in his memory or in the little ring boxes he had constructed, each one with a name he'd given each woman. Not her birth name nor the one thrust upon her in marriage, but the name he––Martin!–– had given her to set her apart from all the other women locked away in their own little boxes. One was labeled "Tiny Laughter." Another "Sleep Talk." He wondered what name this one who slept beside him would earn tonight. He had without words vowed to each of his women a love that would never die.

Twelve boxes of them he’d hidden away. Why not stop at an even dozen? he'd asked himself, but he knew better. Why not thirteen? Fourteen? Why not a little village of little boxes? So many boxes filled with mementos undetected by the human eye. Intruders would see only emptiness inside. It would mean next to nothing to these outsiders. Martin saw it all as a kind of mystery that even he himself as creator was not completely privy to.

For excitement, he fantasied their intrusion into his basement, their discovery of his many little boxes which he had so painstakingly hidden behind the base of the sheetrock wall. “What are these boxes?” one of them would ask. “Open them,” his partner would say. And like two boys on a treasure hunt they would lift the top off each of the little ring boxes and find no rings, no messages, no single hint of their purpose.

He imagined the two detectives shaking their heads because now they'd have to work for their pay, if they intended to decipher the mystery of these boxes. Why are they empty? Were they once full and someone took their contents to destroy incriminating evidence? The new detectives. What a laugh! Martin would envision himself a fly on the sheet rock, high on the rim of the dim light fixture hanging from the ceiling. He would rub his legs together, stretch out his antennae, stare at those two cretins with his green compound eye, taking in every dumb move, every word bounced off his flickering wings.

How could they find what was not there? The investigation will be a failure: The boxes are empty. One detective will scratch his head; the other will tug at his chin. All these boxes handled with delicate care, arranged in groups according to the perfume of the women. Not chronologically, not spatially, not most valuable to least valuable. For Martin they were all dear to him. Not one box's contents on a higher plane than the next. He loved them equally because each woman, preciously unique, was worthy of his love.

Bolder than ever before, Martin touched the woman’s bare shoulder. He imagined how good it felt, pretended her heat radiated through his black glove and healed whatever ailed him. If only just once he could shed the gloves, touch flesh to flesh! But he had worked the business much too long to weaken now. He knew too well those who played it safe got away with all the crimes that went unsolved. Only fools who walked blindly through their paces, unprotected against the snares of sharp cops like himself who knew what to look for, uncovered precisely those clues that sentenced perpetrators and closed cases.

No, the gloves would not come off. Later, in his own bed, Martin would replay this night. He’d imagine alternate scenarios as if common sense and his fear of a one-way ticket to death row did not matter. He would imagine that this one time he had tossed caution aside and stripped off his gloves, and the plastic sheet wrapped around his shirt and trousers.

This time, he’d pretend tonight he had left the black ski mask deep in his pocket. This time, he would remember a fabricated tale of how he stripped himself of all his clothes, lay naked as a honeymoon husband beside the soon-to-awake lady. This time, in the aftermath of his visit, when it was over, he would pretend he had wriggled himself under the sheets, pressed his bare leg against hers, looked under the covers for a glimpse of the sleeping woman, breathed in the scent of her until his lungs threatened to implode.

He would imagine reaching over to her side of the bed and kissing her so passionately, she would wake up and say something sweet in that wake-up voice he loved so much. And the two of them for years to come would brag how they met, how they came to fall in love. Who would believe them? And despite it all, they would live happily forever and all those boxes, all those women whose spirits lay invisibly within them, could be left behind. It would not matter anymore. Martin could finally call it quits. Be a man released of his perfume demons. A free man.

But, as he lay there in gloves and plastic, he knew damn well it was too late. To slip up now was suicide. Those same guys who admired his knack for solving crimes would turn on him. They’d want his blood.

He donned the black ski mask. He’d done this a dozen times and could predict with uncanny accuracy when the woman would open her eyes.

Number Thirteen mumbled in her sleep. Then she woke up and turned her head the way she might have turned her head in the throes of nightmare. Her eyes were blue; Martin loved blue eyes on a woman. Brown eyes, black eyes––they were for men, but eyes blue as the sea or the sky filled Martin with pride in his choice of woman tonight.

The woman screamed and screamed and screamed. Martin stood over her now at the side of the bed. “Scream all you want,” he said. “Nobody can hear you. You live alone. There ain’t no houses for blocks and blocks. Go ahead and scream.”

She let herself sink back into pillow. “Please, please,” she said and he closed his eyes to savor that voice he had always loved. He had waited hours to hear the sleepy-time voice again tonight and it was well worth it. Eyes closed, he inhaled the smell of perfume and sweat and fear. “I don’t want to die,” she pleaded. Now she lay there as if paralyzed, not a muscle stirring.

For a second, Martin wished he could this once let her go. He wished he could fold up the knife, put it in his pocket, and simply climb out the same window he had climbed in. He could say something that would make the woman’s day: “Ok, tell you what. I came here to hear you breathe and talk. Watch you sleeping there so peacefully. Smell your perfume. ‘Red’, isn’t it? I’m leaving now. You can go back to sleep or get on your knees and thank God I had a change of heart.”

But he didn’t. He had brought along little box #13 and though he hated that number, knew damn well wiser men than he had a lot of badmouthing to do about that infernal number, what else could he do? He had put twelve of them to rest; this one was number thirteen and that was that. He needed to fill that little box with her smell. He needed to save within it the air that flowed from some of the words she was whimpering. He needed to come up with a name for the box. Martin was leaning towards “Almost Free” because she’d been the only one of his women whom he almost let live.

It was getting late. Detective Hogan and the captain expected a lot from him, starting with getting to the station on time. They had their hands full with clueless homicides and maybe he could help and maybe he couldn’t.

The radio clock on the night table read 6:00 A.M. The sun had beaten out the moon. It was a new day, but only for Martin. Like a father to a child, he said to the woman in the bed, “Don’t cry.”

Then he stooped down and sat on the side of the bed, his leg against hers, the bedspread between them. He took the little box and held it against her blue eyes and imagined he had captured one of the woman’s last tears. Next, he inhaled deeply again, but this time he held the box against his lips and very slowly exhaled the scent of her to be treasured forever within the security of box 13 and shut it.

“I won’t say anything,” she bargained with him and he nodded because he knew she was telling the truth. “I don’t know anything,” she added and he nodded. Again, he listened to her truth, then put the little box safely back into his pocket.

For a few seconds, they stared at each other. She didn’t know it, but it was Martin’s way of not saying goodbye. He stood up, moved away from the woman in bed. “I’m sorry,” he said, then turned away in a sadistic playacting as if he’d decided to spare her life. With his other hand, he slit her throat.

BIO: The poems, letters, and stories of Salvatore Buttaci have been published in The New York Times, Newsday, U.S.A. Today, The Writer, Cats Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and widely elsewhere in America and overseas. His newest book, A Family of Sicilians, is currently available for purchase at Salvatore Buttaci's Storefront - He was the recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award in 2007. Buttaci has lectured on Sicilian American pride and conducted poetry workshops and readings.

A retired teacher, Buttaci lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.