Friday, October 30, 2009


I've been promising for days to do a couple of these but haven't been able to for one reason or another but when I make a promise, I do my best to keep it.


First of all, Mike Wilkerson has a personal blog out there where he writes about WRITING THE HARD WAY.

His latest posting involves a story about the partial of his novel that he put out there for an agent to read and what rejection feels like. Hint: a kick in the balls.

But, as Mike and everyone else who has been told no knows, you have to pick yourself up and start again.

To me, Mike is an ace when it comes to the hardboiled and the few stories that he has out on the net are worth every minute of your time.

If you haven't already, check out the blog, track down the stories, see what you think.

Meanwhile, I've been telling Michael J. Solender that I would promote the Thanksgiving Contest that he's holding on his site, Not From Here, Are You? for about a week or so now.

Well, Michael, tonight's the night (and it won't be the last).

November 13th is the deadline. Flash fiction is the name of the game. Michael will donate $100 to the winner's favorite charity. Genre is optional.

So what's the catch?

Glad you asked. It's not really a catch, though.

You have to incorporate thankfulness into your story's theme. As Michael says, what that means is completely up to you.

The other catch, it must be 1000 words or less.

The winner will not only win $100 for their favorite charity, their story will also appear on Not From Here, Are You? on Thanksgiving Day, one of the most trafficked days on the net. Runners-Up will have their stories appear on Thanksgiving week and the following week.

Send your original, unpublished 1000 word or less story to me at: The subject line should read: Thxgiving Flash Submission, Name, Story Title. Place your story in the body of the email – NO ATTACHMENTS.

I've already entered and I wish good luck to everyone else who has entered or will.

This is for a good cause, whatever cause that might be.

A Twist Of Noir 243 - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


We were in a glass elevator going up the side of the building.

“He’s got my daughter in there.”

“I know.”

“You’ve got to do something to help her.”

“I will,” I said.

We were nearing the top floor.

“I just... I thought I could trust him. With him being a doctor...”

“Like you,” I said.

“Yes, dammit. Like me.”

Henderson looked like he was going to pass out. Sweat was pouring out of him. Outside the elevator the night was cold and dark and it was hailing. We reached the top floor.

“I’ll help your daughter,” I said.

The doors opened and there was a body lying facedown in front of us. It was a security guard. I took out my gun and stepped into the corridor.

“Do what I told you,” I said to Henderson. “Go back down to the lobby and send the elevator back up here.”

“He stays where he is,” a voice said. It came from down the hall. Three doors on the left. An office door was open and a pair of legs was sticking out into the hall. They wore the same color pants the security guard was wearing.

“The old man fucking stays,” the voice said.

“That’s Kevin,” Henderson said.

He took a step out of the elevator. I shoved him back. “He’s got my daughter, dammit.”

I kept my eyes trained on the doorway.

“Kevin,” I said.

“Who the fuck are you?” the voice said.

“I’m here for Mindy,” I said.

“Fuck off.”

“I can’t do that,” I said.

“Send the old man in,” he said.

“I can’t do that, either.”

“You’re a fucking cop,” he said.

“I used to be.”

“Fuck off.”

I had my back to Henderson. I felt him pushing against me, trying to get around. The sound of hail against the elevator glass was getting louder.

“He’s got my daughter. I want to see her.”

“Send the old man in,” the voice said.

“I’ll only say this once,” I said to Henderson. “Step back into the elevator. Close the doors. I can’t worry about him and about you at the same time. If I hear those doors open, I’ll turn around and leave and call the cops like I should’ve done in the first place.”

“No police,” Henderson said. “We can’t have the police here.”

“Then do as I say.”

“I’m waiting,” the voice said.

Henderson backed into the elevator. “You take care of my daughter,” he said. “My baby. You take care of her. You kill that prick if you have to. Do whatever you have to. I’ll back you up. I’ll say whatever I need to. You just get my daughter out of there, understood?”

The doors closed behind me. I went down the hall slowly, keeping my gun trained on the doorway.

“Who the fuck is out there?” the voice said.

I stepped into the doorway. Kevin was standing behind his desk pointing a gun in my direction. He had on his white coat and underneath that his surgical scrubs. There was blood and some other kind of fluid all over him.

“Where the fuck is the old man?” Kevin said. “Send him in here.”

“He’s not coming,” I said. “Where’s his daughter?”

Off the main office there was another smaller room. From where I was standing, I could see the corner of a surgical cart. I thought there might be an operating table.

“Is she in there?” I said.

“Fuck off.”

“Kevin,” I said. “I’m here for the girl. If you don't show her to me to prove that she’s alive, I have no reason not to shoot you where you stand.”

“She’s alive,” he said.

“Show me,” I said.

“I’ll goddamn shoot you if I have to.”

He was shorter than me and didn’t look much like a doctor. He looked like an Internet geek. He was wiry and had thick glasses and three days growth of beard. He looked like he drank Cappuccino. His gun hand was shaking.

I glanced down at the body blocking the doorway. It was another security guard. There was a pool of blood beneath the body. “I had to shoot them,” he said. “They were going to stop me.”

“Stop you from what?”

“From helping her. From helping Mindy.”

“Show me,” I said.

“No. I want the old man.”

“Kevin,” I said. “That’s not going to happen. Give it up. Look at your hand. Look at my hand. Whose is shaking?”

“Fuck you, Mr. Tough Guy. Put your fucking gun down.”

“Let’s go in the other room,” I said. I stepped over the security guard into the office. Kevin instinctively stepped back toward the window. “You can keep your gun on me the whole time,” I said. “I just want to see Mindy to make sure she’s safe.”

“Safe? Fucking safe? You’re the one who's putting her in danger, you asshole. You’re the one working for him.”

I kept my gun on Kevin and sidestepped into the adjoining room. Mindy was on an operating table. She was sedated. There was a big canister in the corner with a medical waste symbol on it.

“You can’t fucking help her,” Kevin said. “I was the one who helped her. I was the one willing to do what needed to be done.”

There was blood all over the operating table but the sheet she was wrapped in was clean. There was also a trail of blood leading back to the doorway. And smaller drops I remembered leading to the elevator. I’d assumed it was one of the guards’.

“She came to me dying,” Kevin said. “She was hemorrhaging. She tried to do it herself.”

“To get rid of the baby,” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “She tried to give herself an abortion. She used... oh, God, it’s none of your damn business. Just get the fuck out of here and send in her old man.”

“It’s his baby,” I said.

“It was.”

On the table Mindy began to stir. She was having a nightmare. Her arms and legs were in restraints. She struggled against them.

“There was no one to assist me,” Kevin said. “She was hysterical. She wants to kill herself.” He was out from behind the desk, moving toward me. He still held the gun but he had lowered it a bit.

“Why were the guards trying to stop you?” I said.

“Henderson told them to. He owns the whole fucking building.”

Mindy was thrashing against the restraints. She was feverish and delirious. “No, daddy, no,” she said. “It’s mine. He’s mine. He’s mine.”

“It was a boy,” Kevin said.

“Did he die before of after you --”

“There was no way to tell,” Kevin said. “Everything was crazy at the time. We’d need an autopsy.”

He slid past me, keeping his back to the wall, and went over to Mindy. He tried to calm her. “Her fucking old man,” he said. “Fucking Henderson. I wish he were on this table.”

“You shouldn’t have shot the guards,” I said.

“I know.”

“You’re going to prison,” I said.

“It was worth it,” he said. “I’d do anything to protect Mindy.”

“You and I are going to walk out of here now,” I said.

“I can’t,” he said. “I can’t leave Mindy. She’s stable now but anything could happen. She could start to bleed again. I can’t leave her.”

“Put the gun down,” I said.

He laid the gun on the floor and kicked it over to me. I bent down and put it in my pocket. I put my own gun back in its holster.

“We’ll send someone else up here,” I said. “Other doctors are waiting. The whole staff.”

Kevin leaned over her and wiped the sweat from her brow. He kissed her forehead. “The whole staff doesn’t love her,” he said. “And neither does her fucking old man.”

I went over and took him by the arm. He didn’t resist. “We’ll get somebody else up here,” I said. “It’ll only take a minute.”

Mindy was asleep again. Her hair was long and chestnut colored. She had delicate shoulders and round cheekbones. She looked like somebody’s prom date.

Kevin was crying as I led him from the room. He still resisted a little. “We can’t just leave her,” he said. “Not even for a minute. Someone has to stay with her.”

“I’ll come back,” I said. “I’ll come right back and stay. She’ll get the help she needs.”

“No one can help her,” he said. “Not now. He’ll take her out of the country. No one will ever see her again.”

We stepped over the guards and down the hall to the elevator. I pushed Kevin to the side just as the doors opened. Henderson was there. Alone. Behind him the hail was pounding on the glass.

“Where is she, you prick?” Henderson said to me. “Dammit, where’s my daughter?”

I reached around him and hit the button for the ground floor. I yanked Kevin into view and shoved him into the elevator. He collided with Henderson and knocked him back into the glass. I stepped backward out of the elevator.

Henderson regained himself and stared at Kevin. Then he stared over Kevin’s shoulder at me. “What is this,” he said. “What the hell is this?”

As the doors closed, I saw Kevin reach into his pocket and take out a scalpel. I was glad for the pounding of the hail.

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

A Twist Of Noir 242 - Mike MacLean


Originally published in Crimespree Magazine, March 2009

Back in high school, I would’ve called them freaks. Would’ve spat the word out like so much phlegm. Now, I’m the one drawing stares.

They pack the dance floor. Lots of black leather and white painted faces, doing that slow-motion slipstream. Somehow moving with the beat and against it at the same time. It’s a grace I don’t have words for.

I take a long pull from my beer and gaze into the crowd. Searching.

Occasionally, I lock eyes with one. The women among them hold my stare, grinning at me in cock-tease defiance. But the men—they take one glance and look quickly away. They know what I am.

I drain the rest of my beer and order another. This next one I’ll drink slow. When it’s gone, I’m gone.

And that’s when I see her. The one.

She’s at the other end of the bar. Little black dress. Milk white skin. Long, silky hair, the color of blood.

She sips wine and pulls a silver cigarette case from a clutch. Once, twice, three times, she fumbles with her lighter, but doesn’t get so much as a spark. Before one of the Goth boys gets to her, I’m across the bar, flashing my Zippo.

“Thanks,” she says.

I flip the Zippo shut. “It’s why I carry the thing.”

She gives me a little squint, looking me up and down, taking in my worn jeans and flannel shirt. “Are you lost or something?”

“I thought I was,” I say. “Until I saw you.”

She bites her lip and stares into my eyes. Her smile is like a slow moving shadow.


Her lips taste of rum and sweet clove cigarettes.

My hands tangle in her hair, yanking her head back so I can kiss her neck. I’m not so gentle about it, but she doesn’t seem to mind.

“You like it rough?” she asks.

I stop kissing. Shove her to the bed. Watch her tumble across the sheets. I climb on top and try to kiss her again. But she puts a finger to my lips, like she’s shushing a child.

“Wait,” she says. “Let’s do this right.”

Rolling off the bed, she does a slow runway-strut across her little studio apartment. The place is dark, clean, and sparse. A few pieces of furniture, and that’s it. No posters. No photographs. Just blank white walls.

She goes to the closet and returns with a riding crop, handcuffs, and a black mask. The mask is straight out of a nightmare—rough leather, iron spikes, zippers for the eyes and mouth.

“What’s the game?” I ask.

“Pain’s the game.” She lifts the crop and handcuffs like trophies. “Do you want to give it?” She offers the horrible mask. “Or take it?”

“Give it,” I say, hoping the words don’t sound too eager.

She smiles. Dons the mask. Tosses me the crop and handcuffs. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

I clamp one ring of the cuffs around the bedpost. The other is open and waiting for her wrist.

She slinks out of the little black dress and comes to me. Her pale, naked skin shimmers in the dark room. If it weren’t for that mask, she’d look like an angel.

Shucking off my flannel shirt, I take the riding crop from her. I slash the empty air then test the thing out on myself, whipping my bare chest.

“No,” she says. A red tongue slithers out of the zipper mouth. She licks the fresh welt rising on my skin. “Leave that for me.”

I watch her slip into the bed, her body full of lazy, cat grace. I take her wrist and start to close the handcuff around it.

“Wait,” she says. “We need a safe word. In case things get out of control. I say the word and you stop. No matter what.”

I nod, like I’m taking it all in. Like it’s all new to me. Then I give her the look. I’ve practiced it in the mirror a hundred times on a hundred sleepless nights.

“I’ve got a safe word for you,” I say, clamping the handcuff tight around her wrist. “How about Sammy?”

Ever-so-slightly, her eyes widen. “What did you say?”

“Oh, come on. You remember Sammy, don’t you? Skinny kid. Blonde. Followed you like a dog.”

She goes quiet. Her muscles tense.

“Took me a long time to find you,” I say. “Sammy left some clues, but it was months before I could connect the dots.”


I cut her off, my words turning to gravel. “Why’d you claw his face like that?”

The mask doesn’t answer, so I slap her. The flesh of my palm smacks wetly against the rough leather.

“Why?” I shout.

Her zipper eyes glare up at me coldly. “He didn’t play the game right,” she says. “He cried for his mother. But never used the safe word.”

“Maybe you just didn’t hear it.”

I think about Sammy’s funeral, his closed casket on a grassy hill. Mom caressed its lid, moaning, “Sammy...Sammy.” It was months ago, but still fresh.

I drop the riding crop and stand tall. One after the other, I crack my knuckles. The “pops” they make are loud in the quiet, little apartment.

“So now it’s your turn,” I say. “Are you ready for the pain?”

Her eyes are vacant. Then she flashes that shadow of a smile again.

“I’ve been waiting for it all my life,” she says.

BIO: Mike MacLean’s fiction has bloodied the pages of The Best American Mystery Stories, Thuglit: Hardcore Hardboiled, The Deadly Bride, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Recently, Mike was discovered by independent film legend Roger Corman. He now writes screenplays for Corman’s New Horizons Pictures. Visit Mike at Mike and check out his story “Little Gun,” over at Thuglit.

A Twist Of Noir 241 - Kieran Shea


Referrals—investigative bread and butter. Most of the time it’s manna from heaven, but every once in a while, said manna from on high? Patchy with mold—butter as rancid as pushcart ghee.

Hugo Lutz. A real smeary bowl of bad news. Medical malpractice attorney. Big claim to fame was going after birth defect cases. Mined the despair with a venomous team of tort wielding, forty-five percenters who I wouldn’t let sift out my cat’s litter box let alone represent my legal interests. The 1-800 pitches on late-night television, the billboards evangelizing justice for those looking to punch a Wonka ticket. A call from his office would make a hardworking OBGYN consider the merits of heavy calibers.

Fortunately, for me, when Hugo’s path crossed mine, he was already dead. Liver cancer, a day before his sixty-seventh birthday. Just embarking on the golden years of Johnnie Walker Blue and Mr. Magooing around Jersey’s finer golf links and God kicked down the memo: Sorry to be a drag and all, but the rent? Past due.

Like many a supercilious ego, Hugo decided to come clean before he met his maker. Told his widow, my prospective and referred client, Hester Lutz, so many things. Deceitful moves over the years, transgressions against kind and kin. Poor Hester. She really didn’t want to know. Who needed the extra aggravation on top of being a bed nurse to abusive, alcoholic shitbird for forty odd years? Do everybody a favor next time, Hugo. Shove it in a bottle and chuck it the fuck out to sea.

“Before my husband died he said he had an affair with someone named Jan Kyler. After the initial shock and the shouting and the tears I pressed him for when this was exactly, but his mind by then, Mr. Byrne, you must understand, the drugs.”

We were in Hester Lutz’s beachfront condo in Atlantic City. It was in a beehive tower that catered to the well-off and winding down, close enough to the ocean that if toppled over in a stiff west wind it would make a decent point break. The day was clear and the air inside was intense. Arid and hot and overpowering odors of Chanel No. 5 and rotting celery. Plenty of knickknacks and furniture, all artfully arranged and expensively winking the washed in sunlight. No doubt select showpiece items trimmed down from a lavish lifestyle elsewhere. Mrs. Lutz looked like a cross between gaunt Elizabeth Dole and a peeled apple left out to dry in the sun.

“The drugs kind of clouded things?” I asked.

She gave an affirming nod, “The pharmacology that treated his cancer combined with his prescribed antidepressants made him crazy. In and out, in and out. One day he was lucid. The can’t imagine.”

Actually, I could but I kept that to myself.

Mrs. Lutz broke down a bit then. Bubbled and shook for a steady five minutes. Thankfully I faked a minor back tweak when she asked me to sit down next to her on the sofa when I arrived. No secret that us of Irish descent don’t do the there-there all that well.

As I watched Hester Lutz sob, I patted myself on the back for having the foresight to dry-swallow a Diazepam from my Tic-Tac dispenser before taking the elevator up. What can I say? It was one of those days. Hell, it’d been one of those weeks. I’d been burning the hours on a dead-end surveillance gig for two weeks straight and my internal clock was all messed up. I needed the soft, carefree fuzz of the Diazepam. Maybe after our meeting I’d grab a fat, juicy nap.

Mrs. Lutz worked a Kleenex. Her jewelry jangled.

“I’m sorry. It’s all just so painful.”

I felt a slight headache coming on. I imagined a battle between the whiny forces of cranial mischief and the Diazepam slugging its way into my bloodstream. Come on, Big D. I managed an obligatory nod, phony as any TV anchorman. “I understand. It’s never easy, these things.”

“Thank you.”

“Go on. Please.” For the love of God, please.

Hester Lutz looked at me.

“Well, here’s the problem, I think. The day Hugo shared this information with me, about the Kyler woman I mean, he was also hallucinating.”


“Yes. He was in bed talking to the walls. I asked him, who are you talking to, dear? And he prattled on about all these people I’d never heard of. The pharmacology again I suppose. I gave him an extra pill and let him sleep. But then the next day I asked him about this Kyler woman again and he denied it. Flat out denied it! Now he’s dead, Mr. Byrne, and I don’t know what to think.”

“Could this Kyler person be someone he knew before you two were married?”

She shook her head and took a sip from a glass of water on the table in front of her. “No. At least I don’t think so. No. We met when we were young and Hugo was in law school at Temple University. Like any couple I guess we had some ups and downs over the years, but we pushed on through. That’s what people of my generation do, you understand. I never suspected something like this, though. It’s such a shock. That is, if it’s actually true and not some figment of his imagination.”

I picked up a framed photograph from an end table. Hugo, Hester and a man about a decade older than myself, all beaming smiles and tans on the deck of a cruise ship. Happier days, cocktails in hand. “Have you discussed this with your family, Mrs. Lutz? Your son?”

“Franklin?” She shuddered. “No. I don’t want to upset him. He’s been through enough, poor boy. He’s recently divorced himself and his father’s death was very hard on him.”

I tapped the glass in the frame and set the picture down. “Seems old enough.”

Her eye lids closed briefly. “Yes, well, Franklin is not very much mature, I’m afraid. An only child. Hugo and I spoiled him. He’s forty-two, but sometimes he’s as brash as a teenager.”

I let this information settle and then asked, “So why?”



“What do you mean, why? What kind of question is that? Why?”

“A simple one.”

Some bristle. “I think all the whys are my business.”

“See, that’s not exactly correct. If I accept this work on your behalf, the whys will be my business, too.” I opened my palms. “Look, I appreciate this referral but I don’t want to waste your time. Or your money. I’m getting the feeling a verification like this is not the sort of thing I typically look into. I mean, if it was money owed or something like that, maybe...”

“Is this so hard for you then?”


“You’re supposed to investigate things, I mean, that’s what you do, right? Investigate? Find out things for people?”

“Yeah, but...”

“Well, maybe we should have called someone else.”

“Maybe you should have. But what I’m trying to suggest here is that there are other less costly ways of going about this on your own, without the expense of someone like me. Have you talked to his former colleagues, golf buddies?”

“This is a private matter.”

“Have you even tried the Internet?”

“I don’t own a computer.”

I tried to slow down my blinking but the Diazepam had kicked in and I stood there like a stupid goat. “OK. There’s the library. They usually have excellent people on staff, they could steer you—”

“But I want to pay you to do this.”

Mrs. Lutz hustled to her feet and steamed toward the kitchen. She returned with an envelope and breezed into my comfort zone with a practiced measure one associates with people peacocking their status against someone of lesser stature. Someone like me, for instance. Once again, my nostrils blazed with smell of sour celery and Chanel No.5.

“The man who referred you said you work with a cash retainer first and then checks later, once things move along.”

“That’s right, but, Mrs. Lutz...”

“I’ve plenty of money, so you tell me if this isn’t enough to get you started.”

The weight of the envelope made me curious. I thumbed open the flap and thought, gee, I really did need to put some money away in my Roth IRA for the year. Or maybe get one of those flat screens in time for the hockey playoffs and some new threads. Suddenly, the narcotic groovy glow of the Diazepam flooded everything. Big deal, a simple verification that poor dead Hugo Lutz cheated on his wife with some woman named Jan Kyler? How bad could it be?

Turns out, pretty goddamn bad.


Five days later, I stood again in Hester Lutz’s foyer, palming away the rain from my hair like Pat Riley in a sauna. No Diazepam this time, just a solid jolt of double espresso holding down the fort. I held out an envelope.

“This is the remainder of the cash retainer you gave me. I took out my flat rate for five days and some more for mileage and expenses. Expenses were pretty short. Call it twenty bucks even. Enough to cover a strawberry milkshake, three Red Bulls, and tolls.”

Hester was dressed in some kind of high-end suede dress with a shiny, purple Western blouse. The blouse had fancy green stitching and snap pearl buttons. Cinnamon red cowboy boots and a black hat completed the cowgirl ensemble. D’hell? I’m sorry but this is New Jersey. Going all Texan is akin to sporting a Samurai costume with a dildo.

“Where is she?” she demanded, eyes slit.

“Jan Kyler exists, Mrs. Lutz. And, yes, your husband was less than faithful. Trust me, you should just leave it at that. My notes are in the envelope.”

She slipped out and unfolded my anonymous summary. It was short, typed, and bullet pointed on my letterhead. She took a moment to read all three paragraphs.

“There’s nothing here that says where she lives.”


Down the hall, her son, Franklin Lutz, stepped out from around a corner near the condo’s galley kitchen.

“What do you mean there’s no address?”

“Ah. You must be Franklin.”

Franklin’s face hardened. “Uh-huh. You were paid by my mother to find this woman. Where is she?”

“I think there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“I’ll say. Where is she? Where is that whore who broke my mother’s heart?”

I sized up Franklin, checked the size of his hands, his weight. I decided not to worry and addressed Mrs. Lutz. “Wow, I can see that brashness you mentioned. But, gee, I thought you said Franklin here was too delicate for this matter.”

Franklin stiffened. “Delicate? Where is she, smartass?”

“Tranquilo there, amigo. I was hired to—wait a second.” I reached into my jacket pocket and retrieved my iPhone. I swiveled a finger across the screen for a few moments until I found the recorder application and file. I played back the original consultation, the spot where Hester merely wanted to know if, in fact, Jan Kyler existed.

“See? Your mom asked me if Jan existed. Guess what? Jan does. I went the extra nine yards and, with a little cajoling on my part, confirmed the affair. The fling was a long time ago, and I recommend you leave it at that. Move forward.”

Franklin took a step. I put up a palm like a crossing guard and pocketed my iPhone. “I’m just keeping things real,” I turned and stared at Hopalong Hester in her cowgirl outfit. “See, I had a funny feeling about all this, Mrs. Lutz, so I checked on your son Franklin’s temper here. You have some nasty anger issues, Franklin. Two restraining orders? Thirty days for assault? How do you beat up such a tiny woman such as your ex-wife and get away with throwing me stink? Do me a favor, people, don’t patronize me. Kyler’s address was not part of the deal. I don’t like being used to setup punching bag vendettas or whatever you two have planned.”

Hester blanched. “How dare you!”

Franklin took another, bolder step closing the distance between us. “I ought to kick your butt seven ways from Sunday.”

“Really, Franklin. Must we?”

Mrs. Lutz stammered. “G-get out! Just get out of my house!”

Franklin wheeled. “But, Mom! Wait! This guy owes us! He knows where that little slut lives, goddamnit!”

I started for the condo door but I caught some movement in the buffed parquet floor to my left. When Franklin grabbed my collar, I pivoted, planted my foot, and executed a spring hip throw. Franklin crumpled on his shoulder near an umbrella stand and something delicate and deep clicked. He yelped. He yelped again when I kicked him in his fractured collarbone.

Mrs. Lutz shrieked and slapped at my back.

“Leave him alone! Get out! Get out! Get out!”

I jutted my butt backwards. This threw Hester off balance and she tumbled to the floor with a sprawl and a startled gasp. Her black cowboy hat was knocked free on impact and spun behind her like a popped hub cap twirling in an empty street.


I stepped past Franklin as he crawled toward his sobbing mother and left.

As I waited by the elevator in the hallway, I half expected Franklin to stalk out and try to bang heads with me again. But then I thought—nah. Franklin’s a momma’s boy, plus that broken collarbone had to sting pretty bad. If he or his mother wanted to try anything, they might call the police. But, hey, if it came to that, I could start asking why she wanted to find her husband’s former lover so badly and why Junior was so hot to find Jan Kyler, too, given his anger management issues.

Outside, I climbed into my car and headed back down the coast. I took the scenic seaside route via Atlantic Avenue. Not the quickest way home as the traffic lights were frequent, but I didn’t mind. The sky had cleared. Sunny spring afternoon and warm. Lots of people out, plenty of joggers. I eased down the windows and cranked up some Social Distortion in the cue, Mike Ness doing the jacked-up Johnny Cash. Thought—maybe when I get home I’d grab my Shimano Tallus fishing rod and do a few twilight casts on the bay. Neighbors had been having some luck catching small stripers that week. Sounded good.

Jan Kyler lived an hour or so west, near the Cherry Hill, New Jersey sprawl that butted up against the Philadelphia suburbs. A Pilates instructor, Jan was whip thin in his late thirties, and pretty far out there on the Judy Garland – Anderson Cooper meter. Sang twice a week in a tranny bar off 12th and Locust in Philly. Jan remembered his times with Hugo fondly. When I finally found him, I didn’t know who to pity.

BIO: Kieran Shea can sing “A Little Less Conversation” with a throaty Elvis confidence that is embarrassing to his family, friends and strangers. When he says he’s trying to write, he’s really just avoiding the black helicopters in his head. He blogs at Black Irish Blarney.

A Twist Of Noir 240 - Lee Hughes


An Entry In Eric Beetner's FIST Contest

We were both roughly the same size and build, but that meant fuck all. Declan told me with a dip of his shoulder what he was about. He missed by a country mile.

He had a Roman nose.

I threw my first.

From Roman nose, to broken nose. His head snapped to one side. I didn’t hesitate.

Threw my second.

Blood trickled from his left ear. I’d probably burst the drum.

My third?

There was no third. I didn’t need it. Declan was on his knees and wondering which way was up.

The laughter and the cheering started.

I could see Declan’s Da looking all disappointed. My Da, on the other hand, was fuming mad, even though I’d fuckin' won again. He was holding his hat and shouting, “The third, for fuck sake!” pointing at Declan, who still looked half asleep and was busy making funny faces at me.

Da has this rule; he lives by it. No matter what, you always make sure you get the first, second, and the third punch in.

There was no fight left in Declan. Besides, us fifteen year-olds, we were just half-time entertainment in between the dogs and the big men fuckin’ each other up.

The dogs and the big men, that’s where the money was. Us kids, we fought for our Da’s pride and bragging rights. Me? I couldn’t give a fuck if my Da was proud, the man’s a cunt.

Declan looked at me, eyes still glazed. I think he was half expecting me to chin him and put him into the black proper.

A year ago, I would have. People change.

I headed over to Da, but only because he had me jumper.

I got me jumper and a crack to the back of the head.

It took everything to stop myself from flattening the prick.

“You get the first, second, and the third in, always. What the fuck were you thinking? I thought I’d brought you up proper.” He gave me another cuff.

“Brought me up? More like fuckin’ dragged me up.” I’d had a fuckin’nuff of him.

“What did’ya just say? Ya fuckin’ little shite ya.” He spun me around.

I saw him make fists. His knuckles were all fucked and lumpy from scrapping. I saw a man that demanded respect but deserved fuck all. It had been comin’ for a long time. I reckoned I was big enough. I was fuckin’ hoping so anyway.

“You wantin’ a fuckin’ go, are ya?” Da demanded. Shock and anger in equal measure like a pox about his face.

“Yeah, but for money.” I figured if I was to end up spitting teeth and having my ribs clattering like wind-chimes when I breathed then I might as well make a few quid while I was at it.

He hoped to stare me out. He gave up and went to get it sorted. It was something that was always welcome at meets, an extra unexpected bout to bet on. No wonder outsiders called us Pikeys.

Uncle Brendan was none too happy. “You’re not going to fight young Aidan now!”

“It’s him, the little cunt that’s wantin’ to fight. Gonna teach the little prick some manners.” My Da worked himself out of his tee-shirt. You could see the stains where muscle had been. Like a party balloon a day or two after the party.

Uncle Brendan could see something in my eyes so he decided to shut the fuck up.

Plenty of people got shoulder to shoulder to watch this. Not many people liked my Da. I, for one, could understand why as he danced about from foot to foot and snapped off heavy punches in thin air. A bigger bollox never put his arm through a coat.

I’d seen my Da fight too many times to count. Never saw him lose. Some were easy fights, like against Ma when he’d be full to the gills on the black stuff.

I felt like one of the scrap-dogs we’d put up against Diamond, our best pit-bull. It’d be a dog we’d not much care for, well, one that Da didn’t much care for, and he’d set it against Diamond to get its confidence up for a proper fight.

Fat-fuck beckoned me, egging me on.

I knew what the fucker was up to. He wanted to get the first, second and the third digs in to prove his point good and proper.

I had a point to make, too. You didn’t have to get the third in if it wasn’t needed.

He kept sending fake tells. He’d taught me them. I don’t think he realised he wasn't as fast as he used to be. He tried to catch me out by throwing what he expected me to take as a red-herring.

I knew it was a real one.

I ducked and delivered my first. It was a decent uppercut that struck twelve o’clock on his chin. I could tell by the way that he staggered back that it had rattled something.

I sidestepped a haymaker and flung out my second. It was an eye-shutter. Problem with those is that it takes a minute for the eye to swell closed. They were both solid punches. They didn’t really do much damage to him. I’d have to land the third after all.

I threw it, and missed.

He threw and landed his first proper one. I felt a stomach’s worth of air fly out of me. And Christ Almighty if me legs didn’t go and buckle. Da was fuckin’ deadly with the body shots.

He threw his second before I was on me knees. I felt my jaw go loose, couple of teeth ended up under my tongue. I blew a couple of blood bubbles and stared at him.

He’d won. I knew it. He knew it. The crowd knew it.

He just had to stick to his fuckin’ rule.

I don’t remember the third.

BIO: Lee Hughes's short fiction has appeared on Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, Powder Burn Flash, Blink-Ink, MicroHorror, The Daily Tourniquet, FlashShot, Everyday Fiction, The New Flesh Magazine and, of course, A Twist of Noir. And in print in Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9. Find out more at www.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 239 - J.B. Christopher


“Stay there, goddammit.”

In his son’s upstairs bedroom, David Cuevas tried wiping the blood off the wall, floor, and door with a bath towel. His hands shook, but no matter how much he tried, the blood still coursed from the back of the man’s skull. His son, as he was told, hid under the bed, whimpered.

David shucked the balaclava off the dead man’s head and he could see where the bullet entered just under the chin and he froze – he recognized that face. Even in death, the eyes, almost peaceful, held a familiar look of contempt. He only knew his first name - Fernando. The security boss for Alberto Molina. He had been a reliable professional.

David saw a piece of paper tucked into the front of his vest with the date scribbled on the top. It caught his eye, seemed out of place in Fernando’s military dress.

Quickly, he turned the paper over.

A photograph of himself getting into his Honda taken with a telephoto lens. In the parking lot of the Real Del Mar Country Club. He had on a dark suit, no tie, white shirt open at the collar. A friendly smile. David held the photo of himself in his hand and wondered how many of these were floating around.

David didn’t waste any time. He wiped his hands against the bed sheets, grabbed his backpack and moved to the window. Sunlight lined the drawn window shades and was already filling the room. On the street below he saw a large white Suburban. Tinted windows. A row of high powered lights across the front cab. Passenger window lowered. A man stood in the street, another sat in the passenger seat, smoking. Like the dead gunman in the bedroom doorway, each wore baggy black cargo pants, an ear piece, and a light weight combat vest. One of the men waved oncoming cars to move around. And they did - without honking or looking. He carried a small machine gun secured with a nylon shoulder strap.

David didn’t move; he stared into the street wondering how’d they not hear the shot? He looked at the body again. A submachine gun beside the stiff, the barrel replaced with a fat silencer, still pointed at the bed. It didn’t make a sound when it ripped through the bed linens and pillows. Small white feathers dusted everything in the room. But his pistol? It roared when it went off in his hand.

He didn’t want to wait and find out if they heard it or not. He checked the revolver, the barrel still warm, and tucked it in his waistband. He glanced over the body one last time, not the first dead man he’d seen and surely, living in Tijuana, not the last.

The first time had been outside a convenience store when he heard a pop-pop-pop, like fireworks. Loud, but not uncommon. When he went outside, he found a crowd around a black Jeep Cherokee and saw a man slumped over the steering wheel, a woman passenger pressed against the dashboard. Blood splattered the windshield's interior. The dead man in the jeep, he found out the following day, was the new prosecuting attorney for the city. Young with a family. His next of kin, a nephew in National City, had to drive down to identify the body and collect the vehicle. Now, what was he going to do with a shot-up Cherokee, the interior still wet with blood? David thought that was strange. Tijuana wasn’t a place for such consideration. Everyone it seemed was living on borrowed time.

He whispered for his son, hugged him, and the two exited the house through the back.

They walked hand in hand down the alley behind their house until it reached Avenida Aventuras and took a footpath around the main gate and down a steep hillside. David flagged down a cab, told him to head to El Centro and the driver complained about the weekend tourist traffic. David said just get them close to the main drag and they would take the rest on foot.

Squinting in the sun as the taxi zipped along towards their destination, David considered his options. The airport. Molina’s men would be there and he knew who was coming in or out. Head south? David could return to Guadalajara or Mexico City. He had connections in both those cities. But Molina probably would know that, too. Besides, he would have to fly to get there or risk the long car drive. Bus station? Same problems as driving. But crossing the border provided real hope.

The Tijuana border crossing, the busiest land border in the world, has about 200,000 people crossing into the US each day with work permits. On a Friday, everyone was coming into Tijuana, not leaving. But getting there was the problem. It would be easy to pick them out on this side of the border. David said to himself this will never work.

“Who was that man?” asked Juan Carlos, David’s six year old son. He found the nerve to ask, his voice strained with fear.

David drew close to his son and whispered. “He was a bad man. But he’s gone now.” And David smiled. They were very close, and often David forgot that his son was just six.

“What did he want?” His mother died when Juan Carlos was two, leaving David to raise their only son. “What happened to him?”

“Me. They wanted to take me away. But that’s not going to happen.”

On the way to the city center, they passed an ambulance and a fire truck, sirens wailing. The taxi pulled over briefly and allowed the stream of rescue trucks to whip by.


The next day, David emerged from the motel Ticuan a few blocks from Avenida Revolución, to check things out. He wore a baseball cap, the brim pulled low over his face, sunglasses, and a baggy sweatshirt that he bought last night. They tried twice to cross yesterday and were met with Molina’s foot soldiers at every turn. He didn’t want to press his luck anymore and got a room for the night, paid in cash, and spent the night peeking out the window, or peering through the eyepiece in the door, the revolver always in hand.

He walked in circles near his motel, through the labyrinth of narrow streets, and didn’t see any sign of Molina. But that didn’t matter. He needed to avoid walking down Revolución at all costs. The gaudy strip of nightclubs, bars, discount pharmacies, back-alley whorehouses and restaurants was Molina’s turf. The barkers on the sidewalk, the traffic cops, the vendors selling Chanel bags, the tranny prostitutes, the yellow eyed beggars, even the street kids selling knock off Disney toys while sniffing glue, were all under the careful employ of the Molina family.

He thought they got lucky yesterday, making it to the border crossing and back. If Molina knew where he was, they’d be dead already.

Back at the motel, he called his cousin in Chula Vista from a payphone in the lobby. David dared not use his cellphone - Molina could access his call records at will. He told his cousin Isabella where he was and about his son, Juan Carlos. They would cross tonight and she would be waiting for them in a white Nissan Sentra. She told him she knew this was going to happen to him and cursed him.He returned to the room and found Juan Carlos awake, watching television. The two ate a breakfast of cold beans and rice, toast, scrambled eggs. David forgot the juice.

“What do we do now?”

“We wait until it gets dark.”

“Where are we going?”

“We’re going to stay with Tia Isabella. She lives in San Diego across the border. Do you remember her?”

The boy didn’t say anything. His dark eyes swelled with tears. Of course, he remembered her. When they’d visit, she always took him to Sea World and Disneyland. She was a nurse at the Naval Hospital in San Diego and was very friendly and warm. She never had any children of her own and took a special liking to Juan Carlos.

“Are you still hungry?”

The boy shook his head.

“Listen, if something happens to me - stop crying - you have to listen to this. If something happens to me, you have to take this,” he showed the boy an envelope and continued, “you have to get to a phone and call Isabella. Her number is in here. There is also some money in there. Enough for cab fare to the border crossing. You tell them you have an American passport. Don’t talk to the Federales. Cross the border and talk to an American policeman. Got it?”

Tears were streaking down the boy’s round face. He wiped at them with his fingertips and looked up at his father, trying to show how strong he could be.

David moved to his side and together they watched cartoons until Juan Carlos fell asleep.

David would sit at corner table in the lobby bar at the Colonia in La Jolla, sipping at his rum and Coke, watching the ice melt, stirring it with a thin black straw.

Paloma would enter the bar, alone, in a black hip-hugging dress under a wide brimmed hat and oversized sunglasses. She held a small designer handbag which she placed on the seat beside her.

She would slip into a seat opposite David and purr, “May I join you?”

David would ask, “Are you alone?”

And Paloma would reply, “But I’m looking for company.”

Staring at the thin gold necklace with the crucifix between her breasts, he would say, “And who are you looking for?”

Her eyes, lined in heavy black mascara, would narrow. She would hesitate and say something like, “I’ve been looking for a good time.”

This was how it went down for nearly nine months. The hotels, always a high-end boutique in either La Jolla or Rancho Sante Fe, were paid in cash. Names used during check in, always fake.

After the first few weeks of this, David would look out the hotel window, naked, still sweaty from fucking, and would say something like, “I can’t believe we pulled this off.”

Paloma, grinning, feeling her heart beat like it hadn’t since she was a young woman, would say something like, “Alberto is half the man.” The bed sheets were pushed and twisted at the foot of the bed.

It seemed that Alberto was too busy, too distracted with running his empire to realize what he had. She always said she was shopping with friends in San Diego. He never seemed to notice or care. Alberto, pragmatic in all facets of his life, was a businessman first and foremost.

On his way across the border, he dropped Juan Carlos off with Isabella in Chula Vista, and kept heading north along the 5 freeway until he hit the La Jolla exit. The entire drive he kept on thinking what would happen if her husband found out about it. This would be the only time.

In the beginning, they would stay in their room, order room service and watch TV. But as time went on, they would spend time idling by the pool, charging drinks to the room, she would wear a skimpy two piece bathing suit and he would oil her back, working the lotion into her lower back, his hands lingering. For a woman who gave birth to twins, she looked good. Wide hips, thin waist, she could fill out a bikini and was not self-conscious about showing off her body. She said Alberto would never let her wear a bikini like this and he would tell her to put some clothes on and cover herself.

Alberto was not like any other mafiosi that ran the crime syndicates in the border town. Educated at Rice University in Texas, he had an MBA from University of Florida and ran his operation like a corporation. He shunned the public and hopped between the three various homes he owned across the Baja area. But the language his colleagues understood was violence. And it was a language he excelled in. The papers called him La Tombola – a childhood nickname that stuck.


Sunset. David had written two detailed letters, outlining what he knew about La Tombola and his syndicate and folded them neatly in two white envelopes he obtained from the clerk in the lobby. One was addressed to CNN in Atlanta, the other to La Marca in Madrid. He thought about e-mailing it from an internet café but couldn’t imagine sitting there, typing the e-mails, while Molina’s men circled around. In the Centro, there was no quiet, no solitude – not a spare corner of peace where he could sit and collect his thoughts.

Revolución brought a constant stream of chaos and action, set to the incessant beat of an always nearby bass line. He was surrounded by it and, with it, the undercurrent of danger and terror ushered by Molina.

Outside on the street, he moved quickly and tried to find a post office. Twice, he thought he saw someone take notice of him. He doubled back, ducked down an alley, and cut through a restaurant and returned back to the motel.

Juan Carlos said he was hungry.

David couldn’t take it anymore.

Sitting there, waiting for fate to decide.

David tucked the envelopes in his backpack, and said this was it. He checked the pistol and nodded to his son.

They weren’t even a full block from the motel, when he recognized the Suburban roaring down the street outside his motel – the same one that was parked outside his house. It stopped outside the lobby and three men jumped out.

David grabbed Juan Carlos by the hand and the two ran in the opposite direction for two blocks. David flagged down a taxi and told the driver to head to the border crossing. The man nodded and grinned.

Juan Carlos smiled.

David sat back in the narrow backseat. This was it. He opened his eyes and watched the signs for the upcoming border check point flip by. Could it be this easy? Via Oriente. Kids selling candy and stuffed animals. They were going the right way. And then he noticed a photo of himself, the same one he recovered from the gunman in his house, tucked on the dashboard, and his heart sank. It would not be this easy.

“We can get off here.”

“Senor, it’s just a bit further. Por favor.”

David pulled the pistol from his waist, and cocked the hammer and aimed it at the driver and repeated himself.

The car came to a sudden stop against the curb and David and Juan Carlos jumped out. Car horns shrieked, people yelled and swore at the cab. The driver mumbled something and shrugged his shoulders and sped off.

David didn’t stop running until Juan Carlos complained about his feet. They were in the Colonia Libertad district. A week earlier, seven Tijuana police officers were executed here. David didn’t like all the traffic on Avenue Pino Suarez. It would be way too easy for Molina’s men to casually pull up alongside them. They would never see them coming. They needed some place to hide until morning. But first they needed dinner.

David and Juan Carlos ate hamburgers and fries and drank Cokes and sat in a parking lot. There were three cars in the lot. The hamburgers were served from behind a narrow slot in a plexi-glass window in a food stand with only two people inside. One scribbled down orders, the other worked the grill and deep fryer. When the order was ready, the man tucked the order pad in his waistband and called out a number.

A truck pulled into the lot and David couldn’t make out the color. He slowly pulled out his pistol and kept it near his thigh. The truck turned – a black rig with chrome accents – and parked. A man and a woman slipped out and got in line for the hamburger stand.

Juan Carlos saw the fear in his father’s eyes. His young eyes fell on the revolver.

David didn’t say anything.

He finished his Coke and told Juan Carlos it was time to move on.

He knew they couldn’t cross the border at night. The cabbie would have called in their last known location and collected his other half of the deal. They would have to wait. He didn’t want to check into a motel – as his picture was certainly circulated through every clerk’s hand with a hundred dollar bill and a promise of more.

David needed to find a place to hide and sleep through the night.

The first place they checked out was an alley near the hamburger stand. The alley was sandwiched between two large squat brown colored buildings – a maquiladora where they made sweaters, the other an auto body shop. There was a small park at the far end and, from here, David could see the cars drive past the parking lot with the hamburger stand. There was a green metal dumpster that they could sleep against.

The second choice was a church. David had second thoughts about spending the night on the street with a small boy and hoped, at the last minute, to find a dive motel. The Our Lady of Mt. Carmel had an open door policy. David and Juan Carlos took a seat in a pew in the back, each made the sign of the cross before seating themselves.

Tijuana was more than a border town for Mexicans entering the US. It was the doorway between Latin America and the US. For thousands of Central and South Americans, Tijuana was the last stop before they slipped over into the States. Our Lady of Mt Carmel provided food, and at least a brief rest stop for many of the desperate travelers. David and Juan Carlos were no different.

David gazed at the crucifix that hung in the far end of the church and had a feeling that everything was going to be ok. He thought about calling Isabella but was still afraid of using his phone. What would he tell her anyway? You were right. She’s trouble. Where’s that going to get me? And now, I killed a gunman sent to kill me and all of Molina’s crew are looking for me. He remember Fernando’s face from the other morning – lifeless and waxen, his life draining out the back of his head. The way the entry hole puckered and discolored from the bullet tearing through the skin. Details came into his conscious and he prayed to God for forgiveness.

He was about to tell Juan Carlos to get going when he saw his son sleeping in the pew, his knees pulled close to his chest. David changed his mind and decided to rest here for a few hours. He began to pray, asking God to protect his son, staring above into the vaulted ceiling. He removed the pistol from his waistband and put it in the backpack then wrapped the backpack strap around his wrist and curled up against his son and joined him in sleep.


The van engine lurched to a stop, and the engine cut out. Two car doors slammed shut. Talking. Laughter. And then the noise of a car driving away until it was silent. David didn’t know what time it was, as the policemen took his cellphone and wrist watch.

They came in the early hours of morning, led by the priest. He remembered waking up to see the priest, his face expressionless, pointing at them. Two policemen stepped in and led them down the church steps to a waiting police van, windowless and unmarked. The boy climbed in first with his backpack, and then David, as he turned, was hit from behind.

When he awoke, he was in the van, with his son holding his hand. David opened the bag and found the pistol still inside. The back of his head ached and he touched at it with the tips of his fingers.

The van drove for hours and came to a stop. David had no idea where they were. He suspected they were in the Southlands, in the lawless frontera, and had every reason to be terrified.

He remembered when he first met Alberto Molina.

That morning, Alberto greeted David with a broad handshake and a smile, welcomed him to his mountaintop estate and said, “You’re the best English tutor, yes? I only want the best. I always get the best.” The man spoke fast.

David hesitated, unsure if it was a question, and then responded in the positive. “But of course, of course.”

“Excellent. My childrens, my sons, they are everything to me. I want them to have the best. The best education. The best future. The best. You have a son, yes?”

“Yes, I do. Juan Carlos.”

“Ah. Then we have something in common. You and I.”

He clapped David on the back, and said, “Tutor, I would like to introduce you to my wife, Paloma.” He never referred to David by his name, always by Tutor, almost affectionately. He would say it and smile, daring David to correct him. But David only smiled and nodded.

David only met Alberto on a half dozen occasions. In each instance, he was always polite and said, “Tutor, how are my childrens doing? I do not want them to have a cholo accent. Entiende?” And he would let loose with a loud laugh. David never saw gunmen crawling the grounds, or even patrolling the house. But he was sure the guns were not far away.

It was about the second month of him working for Alberto when Paloma slipped him a note. He hoped she would forget about it, that it was just an afternoon indiscretion from too much wine at the club. Something that she would soon regret. But she did not.

Alberto was always accompanied with a tall wiry man who wore mirrored sunglasses and had an earpiece. His face was ruined with acne and scars. Fernando. David killed him with a lucky shot that blew his brains out the top of his skull.

Five days ago, David received a text from Paloma that said simply – Tombola. She always referred to her husband as Alberto – she never used his moniker. David interpreted it as Tombola knows – get the hell out of Dodge. He bought a pistol – a heavy .357 Magnum with a plastic grip from a gun shop on the outskirts and kept it near him. He spent the following nights bouncing from motel to motel until finally getting the nerve to return to his house – a townhouse in an upscale community with Pacific views. He just needed to get in and out and grab a few personal items. He told Juan Carlos to get a few things from his bedroom and they were never coming back. But when David called for his son, there was no answer. Juan Carlos had slipped into his bed and fell asleep, holding a framed picture of his mother.

That night, David had slept against the far wall, beside the bed. His son had moved close to the edge, to be near his father, and eventually rolled off the bed. The two slept beside the bed on the floor.

At six that morning, Fernando kicked open the door with a silenced MP5 submachine gun and sprayed the bed.

David grabbed the .357 Magnum and pulled the trigger for the first time, firing a single shot, blindly towards the door. The shooting stopped. David pushed his son under the bed and jumped to his feet, aiming the pistol. Fernando was dead.


The heat in the van was unbearable. David considered shooting at the lock, but was afraid the bullet would ricochet inside the plated cabin. Juan Carlos sat in his underwear.

David sat there, a condemned man, awaiting his executioner.

Paloma had called him over a month ago and said she was through with Alberto, that this was it. That she wanted to live a normal life. The warring between the rival families and the police was washing the streets of Tijuana in blood. She couldn’t take it. She feared for their children. She said she was leaving him.

Days became weeks and she still stayed on.

Poolside in the Colonia in La Jolla – their favorite – David told her point blank what he was feeling, trying to keep it straight with her. He was waist deep in the pool, she was sitting along the edge of the pool, her eyeglasses pushed back on top of her head, resting on her elbows, a white hotel pool towel spread beneath her.

Composed, he told her that he loved her and he watched her face tighten, as though she was surprised, caught off-guard. He finished and watched the way the look on her face changed from an intimate lover to that of pity. He waited for her response. Her lips parted, but nothing came out. Her eyes took him in.

Flustered, she said, “What am I going to do? He’s their father.” She flashed her eyes at him, full of pain, and anguish. She had a lot on her mind, and she wanted to explain it better. She felt she owed it to him. She tried to smile, but he wasn’t buying it. She told him to relax, that everything was going to be ok.

“What about us? Does that mean anything?”

And she had laughed at him and said he was being emotional.

He had pulled himself up out of the pool and returned to their room without toweling off.

Sitting in the van, with his back against the door, he shook his head at how stupid he was. That fucking woman is why we’re here. But his son would not understand. David moved to his son’s side, brushed the hair from his brow and kissed him on his forehead. He removed the Magnum from the bag, checked the bullets, and made sure the safety was off. He raised it at the door and checked his aim. He laid down next to his son, with the pistol within reach.

He could still picture her posed along the bricked pool edge in her bikini. It was just a game to her. The clandestine meetings and texting, the late calls. He was just something to keep her busy while her husband did what he did. Maybe he knew all along.

Hours passed. And both David and Juan Carlos slept. David could hear his son’s labored breathing.

The sound of a car engine.

It cut out. Doors opened, closed. He thought he heard footsteps come closer. The glinting of metal on metal. A key inside the lock.

The heavy van doors squealed under their weight, and the light flooded the rear compartment, blinding David.

He fired at the opening, reflexes taking over. The report from the Magnum left his ears ringing. Juan Carlos, with his hands over his ears, screaming. David’s eyes focused and adjusted to the bright desert sun.

It was quiet. He didn’t hear anything. He neared the opened van doors. Slowly. Sliding on his bottom, with the pistol raised. A police car parked nearby, both doors closed. One leg on the bumper, he saw the bottom of a pair of worn boots. He inched forward, both legs on the rear bumper now, the rest of the body that they belonged to clearly in sight. Then he fired twice more and fell back inside the van, with three bullet holes in his chest. The pistol dropped from his hand, clattered against the metal flooring.

“Juan Carlos. Juan Carlos,” David whispered. “I got him.”

Juan Carlos touching his father’s hand, then touching at the blood that moved from the left corner of his father’s mouth, said nothing. If David could have opened his eyes completely, he would have seen his son pale with fright and his eyes swollen with tears.

“Listen to me. You must take the backpack. Take it. And you must cross the border and find my cousin – your Tia Isabella. She’ll be looking for you. Don’t listen to anyone else. She’s the only one you can trust. She’s in Chula Vista. All her information is in there. Do you understand? Do you remember what I told you?”

Juan Carlos cried, and kissed his father on the forehead as he did hours earlier.

“I don’t want to go. I don’t want to go by myself. I can’t.”

“You must.” David coughed up blood, and tried to sit up but could not. “Those men, they’re coming back to finish this. You have to leave. You must. I’ve told you enough. Don’t trust anyone. Not even the police. Understand? Get to the border. Tell them you got separated from your aunt. And use your English. You don’t have an accent. They’ll listen to you. And those envelopes. Give them to Isabella. She’ll know what to do.”

As Juan Carlos cried, he stared out from the back of the van, and could see the twisting dark metal wall stretching across the brown hillside. All he knew was in the van and he did not want to die.

BIO: In addition to contributing to online articles for technology and online marketing sites, Joseph recently had a short story accepted for publication at ShriekFreak Quarterly. By day, he is a principal and Technology Director for a web and video interactive agency in Portland, Oregon and enjoys helping clients tell their story for the web. By night, he is an aspiring crime fiction writer. When he is not busy managing work and writing, he can be found playing with his two young daughters. He writes under the pseudonym J.B. Christopher.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 238 - Stephen D. Rogers


He sat on the edge of the bed, tugging at his left shoe. "Since someone who hunts is a hunter, I guess someone who whores is a whorer."

"Whatever you say, sweetie." Gladys knelt behind him, placed her left hand on his shoulder.

His shoe dropped. "I seem to remember reading that prostitution is less about sex than power."

Gladys knocked him unconscious with the heavy base of the table lamp. "You got that right, brother."

Laying him flat on the bed, Gladys handcuffed his arms and legs to the corner posts, stuffing an old pair of panties in his mouth. Only then did she open the door to the rest of the girls.

There were five of them, whores like her. Every so often they just needed to freak a little. The release was the only way they could remain sane.

Except for the sounds, the room was silent.

BIO: Over five hundred of Stephen's stories and poems have appeared in more than two hundred publications. His website,, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 237 - Karl Koweski


They left for school at 7:30. Already the early morning heat was stifling. Without air conditioning, they knew the coming school day was going to be an exercise in misery. From the front stoop, they could see the steeple of St. Casimir church jutting toward the heavens like a righteous middle finger. Three blocks away, a freight train rumbled along the tracks.

Brian walked ahead. He carried his arithmetic book and his Catechism in his hand. Sheets of loose leaf paper curled out of his books like cowlicks. Harley carried his books in his backpack. Brian had an identical backpack but refused to carry it since it cramped his style.

At the end of the block, they were met by Milsap and Skiba walking to school from the opposite direction. Milsap and Skiba lived within a few houses from each other in an area where Harley’s dad said the poor lived. They met here on the way to school every day.

Skiba was one of those kids, even shy of being a teenager, you knew would never have a chance at life. God had tattooed BORN TO LOSE on his upper arm in invisible jailhouse ink at conception. And Skiba seemed content to live up to this destiny. He was tall, gangly; he often skipped breakfast but not by choice. His hair was the greasy brown of dead raccoon, his teeth were chipped, discolored and painful to look at. The characteristic that defined him to most of the kids in the neighborhood was the livid scar that jagged across his large Frankenstein forehead. This being a generation before Rowling came along and made such a facial scar desirable. The cheap buzz cut Skiba sported called further attention to the scar.

Skiba was run down in the road when he was eight years old as he chased a frisbee thrown by an overzealous cousin (who most people believed had seen the car coming). The sole reason Skiba was able to attend St. Casimir was because Father John, hung over from bingo the night before, was driving the Buick.

How Milsap’s parents came up with tuition was a bit more vague. Milsap mentioned something about a rich gramma who wanted him to have a good Catholic education even though she was Lutheran and, supposedly, a Nazi sympathizer. Whatever the case might be, her charity obviously stopped when it came to supplying Milsap with laundry soap or clothes that fit.

Milsap was short and on the same diet as Skiba. He carried neither books nor backpack. His philosophy on homework: anything that couldn’t be done during the first five minutes of class wasn’t worth doing. As far as the good Catholic education went, Milsap couldn’t tell the difference between an immaculate conception and a good transubstantiation.

“We stopping at Biedron’s?” Skiba asked.

“Hell no,” Brian said. “She never gots anything worth a damn. Let’s go to White Hen.”

“Deep money pockets wants to go to White Hen,” Milsap scoffed.

“I ain’t got money for White Hen,” Skiba said.

“Well, you ain’t got money for White Hen, then you ain’t got money for Biedron’s.”

“Yeah, but I get the five finger discount at Biedron’s.”

“Then go on and go. Me and Harley’ll wait outside for you.”

Skiba glanced at Milsap. Milsap shook his head no.

“We need someone to go in there and buy something,” Skiba said. “We can’t just go in there and start taking stuff.”

“Well, it looks like you’re shit out of luck, then, cause I’m going to White Hen and getting me a suicide.”

They walked past Biedron’s corner store. The two story brick structure looked like an apartment building except for the plate glass window at the front. The store offered a little bit of everything but sold mostly nothing except penny candy to the neighborhood kids who were just learning to feel contempt for the elderly. The products scattered about the shelves were coated with enough dust to choke a coal miner. Most of the perishables had long since perished. The two 5lb sacks of flour were rat-gnawed.

Mrs. Biedron staring out the window looked as though she’d been left on the shelf twenty years past her sell-by date. She sat on the stool in front of the manual cash register, lording over an array of Sour Patch Kids, Bazooka Joe gum, cherry balls, swedish fish. There was no television or radio to ease her corner store existence. And that struck Harley as sad.

“Goddammit. You’re gonna leave me and Skiba high and dry so you can make one of those bullshit drinks.”


Brian’s latest obsession centered around White Hen’s fountain drinks. He prided himself on a concoction he called “the suicide” which consisted of Pepsi, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and Grape Nehi mixed in a 40 oz. cup. Those hoping to curry favor with Brian often asked him to create suicides for them. Brian was all too happy to oblige, thinking in the back of his mind, such a skill might serve him well in the future when he embarked on a career as bartender.

Milsap, never one to curry favor, was always quick to offer his opinion of Brian’s suicides. “I don’t know how you can drink that liquid shit.”

Milsap made eye contact with Mrs. Biedron momentarily. Her watery blue eyes swam behind glasses thick enough to start forest fires in San Diego from where she stood in South Chicago. Though his mind registered no other thoughts than his usual unexpressed revulsion for all things, seeing her motivated his hand to rise up and his middle finger extend. He blew her a kiss.

“Why you gotta be such an asshole, Milsap?” Brian asked.

“I don’t know,” Milsap shrugged. “Guess that’s just how god made me.”

“He threw in an extra asshole and left out the brains,” Skiba said.

Everyone laughed. Harley laughed a little too loudly, and a little too long. Brian cut his eyes at him. The message was clear. Don’t overstep your bounds. Your ass is lucky just to be here.

Another block brought the quartet to White Hen Pantry with its polarized plate glass windows, asphalt parking lot and fountain drinks. It had something for everyone willing to pay exorbitant prices rather than drive the extra mile and spend the extra five minutes shopping at the grocery store.

“Any you guys want a suicide?” Brian asked.

Nobody consented. Brian reached for the door when Milsap stopped him dead with three words. “Look at this.”

It wasn’t so much the words as the tone of voice. Likely it was the same tone of voice Carter used when he discovered the entrance to Tutankhamen’s burial chamber or when Skiba found his first nudie magazine while he was rummaging through an alley. The three boys turned their attention to Milsap.

Milsap stood next to a refrigerated truck parked alongside the White Hen. Grinning ear to ear, he motioned at an unlocked compartment. Quickly, they glanced around ensuring there were no curious passersby. Milsap opened the door and grabbed a twenty-four count box of ice cream.

And then they were off, racing around back, down the alley toward school. Though lugging the ice cream, Milsap set the pace. He’d never ran track in school. Never did much of anything in school. But given ample motivation, Milsap could outrun damn near anybody. His utter lack of school paraphernalia didn’t hurt any, either.

They raced for half a block until Milsap could no longer resist examining his loot. He stopped and dumped the box on the ground. He used his fingernail to slice the brown tape. The four boys crowded around the box.

“Chocolate and banana fudgesicles!” Harley announced. His absolute fucking favorite. The gods were smiling upon him.

They reached in simultaneously, knocking each other’s hands out of the way, somehow grabbing two or three apiece. Wrappers came off. Fudgesicles jammed into mouths.

“What are we gonna do with the rest?” Harley asked. It seemed imperative he eat all the ice cream.

Skiba took his fudgesicle out of his mouth long enough to say “hide ‘em under a porch”.

“They’ll melt... Skiba.” Idiot being the word Harley wanted to use.

“After school, we’ll take them home and refreeze them.”

“Won’t work. They’ll drip out.”

Skiba, not much liking having his plan shot down out of hand by a kid two grades lower, sniffed, “Since when are you an expert on fudgesicles?”

“Shut up, Skiba.” Brian gave him a glare that begged the question: How would you like another scar across your head?

Milsap spoke with the expertise of a kid who’d been stealing since he stole from the womb. “We take as much as we can eat and ditch the rest.”

Skiba grabbed another handful as did Brian. Harley watched as Milsap took one more from the box to go along with the one he’d almost finished. Harley followed Milsap’s lead.

Milsap dumped the remaining fudgesicles in a garbage can, and they finished the trek to school. By the time they arrived at the red brick compound named for the patron saint of Polocks, Milsap and Harley were empty-handed. Skiba and Brian still carried three fudgesicles between them.

Outside St. Casimir school’s front doors, thirty kids congregated, grouped according to age, and divided again by social order. The cool girls, most of them favoring tight navy blue slacks as opposed to the billowing blue and white plaid school girl skirts worn by the heavier, unpopular girls, stood near the doors on the right side of the lobby. The boys gathered on the left side near the flower beds where they told dirty jokes and played grab ass.

Milsap, followed by Harley and Skiba, joined the boys. Milsap already had a joke on his lips concerning the St. Casimir clergy and altar boys. Skiba stood on the fringes, unable to even give away one of his fudgesicles for a few moments of conversation.

Brian glanced about subtly to see who was watching before approaching the girls. He nodded and smiled to every girl who made eye contact but didn’t slow his step until he reached Holly Wargo. He offered a fudgesicle and she accepted.

“Skiba,” Milsap hissed.

Harley tore his eyes away from Brian’s attempts at romantic bribery. Skiba stood off by himself, his face flushed, and the scar lightning bolting down his forehead in stark white. He double fisted the fudgesicles, taking turns on each. He didn’t seem to hear Milsap. His eyes were as distant as his chances of ever getting down Holly Wargo’s pants.

Harley looked back at Milsap who was making curt motions toward a red Honda parking in the No Parking Zone. Harley recognized the driver. Mr. Vavercan with his neatly-trimmed beard and seventies holdover white man’s afro was the owner/operator of White Hen Pantry. The moment he stepped out of his vehicle, his eyes locked on Skiba sucking down fudgesicle.

Act casual. Act casual.

Harley playfully slugged Adam, standing next to him. “So how’s it going, Adam?”


Harley glanced over his shoulder. Mr. Vavercan approached Skiba. Skiba was still oblivious to everything except the two chocolate banana fudgesicles in his hands.

“So whatcha up to, Adam?”

“Standing here. What’s it look like?”

Harley looked for Milsap. Suddenly, he’s no where to be seen. Where’d he go? Should Harley have ducked out of sight? And where was Brian? A quick glance in that direction revealed only a bevy of Catholic school girls.

He heard Mr. Vavercan’s simpering voice asking Skiba where he got the chocolate banana fudgesicles from.

“From the store.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yep.” Skiba continued to lick the ice cream, alternating from one hand to the other.

Mr. Vavercan’s hand darted out, seizing Skiba’s wrist and knocking the fudgesicle from his hand. It splatted on the ground. Skiba tenaciously held on to the other ice cream.

“Look what you made me do,” Skiba griped. “You owe me a fudgesicle.”

Mr. Vavercan didn’t bother replying. He led Skiba to the front door. At his approach, the congregation of girls divided and Brian stepped out. He held a half-finished fudgesicle in his hand and nonchalantly ran his tongue across it.

“Where’d you get that fudgesicle?”

“It rained down on me from heaven, where you think, Disco Joe?”

“Ok, let’s go, smart ass.” He pushed Brian toward the door. “We can discuss it with the principal.”

Brian didn’t give him the satisfaction of a retort. He opened the front door and walked through without so much as a glance over his shoulder.

The enormity of the situation hit Skiba smack dab in the forehead. He’d ditched the remaining fudgesicle and busied himself wiping the chocolate away from his mouth and staring wildly about like a horse being led to the glue factory.

The last thing Harley heard Mr. Vavercan say was, “I thought you Catholics had rules against stealing.”

“What’s going on there?” Adam asked.

“None of your fuckin business,” Harley dismissed him with a wave of his hand.

No sooner had Adam walked away when Milsap appeared at Harley’s side.

“It’ll be a long time before Brian makes another one of his famous suicides,” he said.

“Oh, we’re so fucked,” Harley said.

“Why you say that?”

“Are you kidding? Skiba’s gonna...”

“Skiba’s not gonna say a goddamn thing. After Father John plastered him with his Buick, they’re practically canonizing Skiba. He’s a saint. Especially when he’s sitting next to your brother.”

“Oh.” Of course. Since Brian entered St. Casimir school, no misdeed occurred without Brian getting blamed. And no one took advantage of this fact more than Ronnie Milsap. “Dad’s gonna kill him,” Harley muttered.

Milsap laughed. “Shit, Harley, don’t you know you can’t kill a man born to hang?”

BIO: Karl Koweski escaped the shadow of the steel mills thirteen years ago. He's been running in place ever since. He writes the monthly column Observations of a Dumb Polack for His stories and poems have been published across the small press. His first full length collection of short stories will be out by the end of the year from Epic Rites press.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 236 - Albert Tucher


This story first appeared in The Deadly Ink 2006 Short Story Collection, and then in Mouth Full of Bullets

“I keep telling myself to quit doing parties.”

“You mean this has happened before?”

“A murder, no,” said Diana. “Cops and ambulances, yes. One time a guy had a heart attack. Young guy, too.”

He looked at her curiously. “How much do you make? I mean, is it worth it?”

She hesitated.

“Relax,” he said. “Right now I care about homicide.”

She nodded. Detective Beldin wouldn’t admit it, but this was probably his first homicide. Westfield wasn’t known for them.

“A thousand each.”

“Heather, Crystal, and you. Fourteen guests. Doesn’t actually sound like enough of a payday.”

She shrugged. “It’s a living.”

“So, tell me again.”

She didn’t bother to complain. “I was waiting for the bathroom. He came out, half falling down. He said, ‘Gertrude.’ Then he did fall down. I could tell he was dead.”

“Anyone else in the bathroom?”

“No,” she said. “I looked. He must have been hit earlier, and it took a while to kill him.”

“You know any Gertrudes?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever met one.”

“Wouldn’t be you, would it? I mean, most...women in your line of work have professional names.”

“I don’t.”

“How come?”

“I invented this business as I went along. By the time I learned about keeping my private life separate, it was too late. Anyway, you know that. You saw my license.”

“You have a driver’s license that says Diana Andrews. I could get one that says I’m Dan Quayle. We’ll run your prints.”

“They’re not on file.”

“No arrests?”

“I don’t embarrass my local police. They appreciate it.”

“We‘ll take your prints anyway. For elimination.”

“So you have whatever he was clobbered with,” she said.

He said nothing. She decided to solve his case for him rather than give up her fingerprints.

“How about the other two?” he said.

“Well, you know Crystal is Mary Alice Mercier. It’s her real name.”


“I don’t know anything about her, but Mary Alice brought her in. That’s good enough for me.”

“So she could be Gertrude.”

“Maybe. You know, maybe Gertrude did it, or maybe it was about Gertrude.”

“I thought of that. So who were you with?”

“I had Paul the birthday boy and Stan the dead kid. They were best friends, was my impression. Plus three others. They all came and went, though.”

He winced. She shrugged.

“So you don’t know where the victim was before he came out of the bathroom.”

“This is a big house. The birthday boy must be rich. Or his parents are.”

There had been a lot of room for killer and victim to avoid prying eyes.

“Gertrude,” Diana said.

The name gave her an idea. She started looking around the living room. Soon she saw what she wanted--a picture frame turned face-down on an end table.

“A lot of clients do this,” she said. “It’s like they don’t want the people in the picture to see what they’re doing. With me.”

She picked the photo up and looked at it. What she saw made her motion the detective over.

“Damn,” he said. “Play your cards right, and in twenty years... Damn. She could be your mother.”

A woman in her forties sat on a beach chair between young Paul and his friend Stan. She had dark blond hair, strong cheekbones, and an even stronger nose. The effect was very attractive in an unconventional way, and her tiny bikini didn’t detract from her appeal. Diana slid the photo out of the frame and turned it over.

“Skip, Paul, Paul Jr. and Stan in Jamaica,’” she read aloud. “At least, I’m guessing the guy behind the camera is named Paul.”

The names were written in blue ink, but someone had scribbled furiously in black over the second name.

“If that’s Paul Jr., there’s probably a Paul,” said Beldin.

“And I’ll bet Skip is Gertrude,” said Diana. “It’s the kind of nickname a woman like her would have.”

She studied the back of the photo, and then the front.

“It’s all right here. Skip and Paul Sr. are divorced, which is why she crossed his name out. And it must have been recent. I just saw Paul Jr. face-to-face. He doesn’t look any older than this.”

Beldin didn’t seem to get it.

“Think about it. Skip has just been dumped, and here’s this cute Stan guy who’s hot for her. I mean, just look.”

“I think you’re right,” said Beldin. “If he got any closer, he’d be in her lap.”

“So, at some point, Skip and Stan had a roll in the hay, which he had the bad taste to mention to the birthday boy. He was drunk enough to get that stupid.”

Beldin told her to wait and then left her alone for more than an hour.

“Birthday Boy gave it up,” he said when he came back. “His friend Stan said you and Gertrude even trim your...”

“Bush,” said Diana helpfully.

“...Yeah, whatever—the same way. Birthday Boy clobbered him but thought he was okay when he got up and walked away.” Beldin stopped and looked at her curiously. “What made you think of Mom and the friend?”

“Hamlet,” said Diana. “His mother’s name is Gertrude. He’s obsessed with her sex life.”

“A hooker who quotes Shakespeare. Damn.”

“I went to high school like anybody else. Maybe I even learned something.”

It was almost four in the morning. Detective Beldin had gathered Diana, Mary Alice and Heather in the living room.

“Ladies, the next party happens someplace else. Not in Westfield. Got that?”

He gave Diana the same stony look as the other two. She nodded slightly in gratitude. She didn’t need a reputation for helping the cops.

He turned and left the room.

“Let’s get some breakfast,” said Diana.

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.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Twist Of Noir 235 - Paul Brazill


Originally published in a shorter version at Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers in April 2009

Ten Sycamore Hill was, in Peter James’ mind, the font of all of his misfortunes. While women, work, cars and kids came and went, the only constant in Peter’s turbulent life – apart from the copious amounts of alcohol that he consumed, of course - was that weather-beaten Victorian detached house overlooking Hart Village; its increasingly battered facade and interior seeming to degenerate with each one of his trials and tribulations.

With every one of Peter’s disappointments, a window frame would crumble; with every disaster - romantic or otherwise - a door handle would come loose or slates would be ripped from the roof by an unsympathetic wind; when his health failed, so did the heating. And, as Peter’s bank account was slowly depleted, the wallpaper and paint seamed to peel itself free from the walls before his eyes.

Each night, as a drunken Peter staggered back from another interminable drinking session at the Raby Arms, he would look up at his home perched on the hill, looming over the village like a great black crow and, soaked in alcoholic self-pity, he would curse: ‘Fuck. Fuckin’...fucker...fuck.’ Or words to that effect.

And then, one October, as Halloween loomed, Peter had an idea so bright that it was positively incandescent.


The Raby Arms, an anonymous country pub amongst a cluster of anonymous country pubs, was always smoggy - despite the smoking ban - and, indeed, the interior, including the mirrors, the windows and the faces of most of the regulars, all seemed to have a nicotine sheen. As on most nights, the pub was half-empty.

‘You know, it’s actually possible to kill someone with a bottle of Pepsi and a packet of Mintoes?’ said JT, peeling an unlit pin-sized roll up from his bottom lip.

Peter nodded.

‘Oh, aye?’ said Peter, as he hung his camel coat on the moose head coat rack and sat opposite JT with a sigh. ‘Not a lot of people know that.’

‘Aye,’ said JT. ‘Well, it’s true. According to Big Jim. Reckons that he saw it on that YOU TUBE.’

JT, a gaunt, jaundiced-looking man with a spidery black quiff, was sat at his usual corner table, near a buzzing slot machine, drumming his fingers on his pint glass to The Shadow’s ‘Apache’, which played from to a crackly speaker.

Peter sipped his pint of Stella, gazed at the fading bat-wing tattoos on his hands and faded in on the memory of a drunken night at a Newcastle tattoo parlor that then segued into the time he first met his wife, Deborah, at Astros nightclub. Twenty five years ago now. There’d been a lot of booze under the bridge since then, he thought.

He looked at JT. A former hardman, just like him, and had a flashback to the night when it all started to go wrong. When they’d thrown a rowdy punter down the stairs at Astros with a little too much enthusiasm. The policemen on the scene had also shown a little too much enthusiasm for the arrest and the ensued injuries had, luckily for Peter and JT, resulted in a suspended sentence. But the stains remained.

There was a loud bang and Big Jim burst through the doors. Peter and JT both laughed as Jim stumbled into the toilets, his fly open, muttering to himself.

‘Here he is, the David Niven of Hart Village,’ smirked JT.

‘So you reckon it’s a non-starter then?’ said Peter, massaging his left arm.

JT took a swig of Stella.

‘Oh, aye. Great idea. Get Big Jim to burn down your house and then collect on the insurance. A foolproof plan, that. About as foolproof as that canoeist that did a Lord Lucan and ended up getting spotted in Rio or somewhere.’

JT had a point, thought Peter. Big Jim wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box. He remembered the time in the pub quiz when Big Jim had answered a question about the largest Loch in Scotland with ‘Chub’. However, Jim was cheap and Peter really wanted rid of that house. The bills were mounting up and the Invalidity Benefit that he’s started getting after his first heart attack barely covered his drinking sessions.

Peter sighed again and slouched in his chair as he wiped his sweating brow with his ubiquitous tie.

‘Just think,’ he said. ‘Bonfire Night’s coming up. It’s like Full Matal Jacket out there some nights. This time of year, kids are always pushing bangers and fireworks through people letterboxes. It’s happened to me loads of times. Now, if I happen to leave some booze splashed around the place and work on my motorbike in the front room and it catches fire, well...’

They both looked up as Big Jim plonked down next to them.

‘Peter, I’m your man,’ said Big Jim.

‘I’ll take that with a mountain of Saxa,’ said JT.


The night stumbled on and JT and Big Jim left Peter propped up at the bar, tearing the label from a bottle of Newcastle Brown. He was watching Lewis, trying to ignore the numb feeling in his arm. It had been creeping up on him with greater regularity these days. Doctors were out of the question. Overpaid quacks, he thought. Well, he had thought that since Dr. Khan had misdiagnosed his dad’s cancer as ‘constipation’ a few years before. Feeling weak, he went to sit down when he heard the bang.

‘Bollox!’ he shouted. ‘He hasn’t... he...’

Hot, sweating and wheezing, Peter rushed out of the pub and up the cobbled path towards his burning home.

‘Tosser!’ he shouted at Big Jim, who was tripping, tumbling and stumbling down the path in a panic.

Peter was burning up with anger and the pain in his arm was getting worse. He suddenly heard a sound behind him, turned and saw a bedraggled bunch of vampires, werewolves and ghosts.

‘Trick or treat!’ they shouted.

‘Oh, bollox,’ whispered Peter and then he gasped and crumpled to the ground like a demolished building.

The weight of a mammoth was on Peter’s chest before the last stages of the coronary kicked in. The costumed kids deftly lifted his wallet and watch and, as they frisked him, Peter looked up at his burning house and saw its black silhouette against the waxing moon, his vision starting to fade.

Ten Sycamore Hill’s windows and front door seemed to light up a glowing red, like the eyes and mouth of a grinning Jack O’Lantern, the flames darting about like a lunatic’s tongue. And then he thought he heard a maniacal laugh.

BIO: Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and is on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He can be found stalking ‘you would say that, wouldn’t you?’.

A Twist Of Noir 234 - J.R. Lindermuth


Doctor Edward Bingaman strode past his wife, dropped his bag and hat on an armchair and went straight to the liquor cabinet. Their every encounter these days was a skirmish, the battle raging on with never a victory but, often, a retreat on his part. Well, no more.

He was accustomed to saving lives, not taking them. But, in these few moments he’d been home, Bingaman made a decision.

Bingaman felt her beady eyes boring into the back of his skull, her anger swelling round him like the weight of an oncoming wave. He could almost hear the crash of that dangerous surf, smell the ozone of the imminent thunderclap. Still he didn’t grant her the satisfaction of seeing his vexation until he’d poured and downed a whisky and soda.

Only then did he turn to his wife who perched now on the arm of the sofa behind him. “For God’s sake, Rosalie,” he snarled, “I wish you’d have the decency to let me in the house before you start nagging.”

“If you were a little more considerate, I might not have reason. You’re always late and you know how I hate being alone.”

If not that, he told himself, it would be something else.

“You have no idea how lonely and boring it is here by myself all day,” she went on as though she'd read his mind. “There’s nothing for me to do here. You never take me anywhere.”

“I'm a doctor. I have patients. I don’t punch a damned time-clock.”

“If only you cared as much for me as you do your patients...”

Nag, nag, nag.

Bingaman fixed another drink. Surreptitiously studying her as he sipped it, he wondered how this whining shrew enticed him to the error of marriage.

Rosalie came to him as a patient, suffering from a hypertension he now realized was a symptom of her vicious nature. Naively, he had been taken in by pity for her plaint of lonely widowhood and, somehow, seen in it a similarity to the emptiness of his own bachelor state. Misreading that supposed common bond, he thought he saw in her someone who would give him solace, support him, share his interests and bring fulfillment.

Instead, he found himself bound to a person who gave him no peace and whom he had grown to hate.

“I don’t want to fight,” she was saying now.

“Nor do I.”

“If only we’d stayed in the city...”

Bingaman sighed. If they had, he’d be bankrupt by now. She spent money as fast as he made it. That was partly why he took this country practice—to get her away from stores.

Bingaman loved it here. The pace was more relaxed. There was time for slow walks, bird-watching, gardening, restoring this lovely old house. But Rosalie abhorred all of these.

Once he’d broached the subject of divorce. That unleashed a tempest persisting for days and an oft-repeated threat to take him for his last penny if he was fool enough to try it.

Unconsciously, Doctor Bingaman’s hand slid into his jacket pocket and his fingers closed on the ampoule. Much as he regretted it, he saw no other way out.

“I think I’ve found a solution,” Rosalie said.


“A way for us to be happy again.”

When were we ever? he asked himself.

Rosalie smiled and it was like the grin of a crocodile preparing to clamp its jaws on a victim. “You haven’t eaten, have you?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Come in the dining room. I’ve kept dinner hot for you. I’ll tell you my surprise while you eat.”

He followed, wondering what was going on. He couldn't remember the last time she’d kept a meal for him.

A place was laid at the table and beside it was a salad she encouraged him to eat while she disappeared into the adjoining kitchen. He was hungry and dove immediately into the salad. A clamor of banging pots and pans, opening and shutting of the oven came from the kitchen and he caught a whiff of an enticing odor.

Rosalie came and sat beside him. “It’ll just be a few minutes,” she said.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “What have you been up to?”

“Well, if you must know,” Rosalie said, giving a little pat to her tight knit curls, “we have a chance to go back to the city.” She beamed like a little girl who’d just been given a present.


“I wasn’t going to tell you till later. But you’re so impatient and I could hardly keep it in anyway. I called the hospital where you used to work and they have an opening on staff. Doctor Ledbetter said it’s yours if you just call him.”

Bingaman clenched his teeth and blanched but Rosalie didn’t notice as she bustled off to the kitchen again.

What she served him was her variation of a Spanish recipe she’d picked up God knew where. The dish combined veal cutlets with hardboiled eggs, olives, peppers and succulent slices of ham. He doubted the original had employed horse radish as a garnish but he loved the stuff and didn’t care what the Spanish might have substituted.

Bingaman rubbed his hands together and smacked his lips. Despite his lavish praise, Rosalie only made this dish a few times before. He realized it took some preparation. She must really want to go back to the city, he thought.

Well, he’d accept this bribe, but he wasn't going to bend to her will again. It was too late.

“Aren’t you eating?” he asked.

“I ate earlier. I’ll just have a cup of tea. The water’s boiling.”

Bingaman laid down his fork and knife. There was no putting it off. Here was opportunity. “Let me get it for you, Rosie. Then you can tell me what else Ledbetter had to say while I eat.”

“Ooh,” she cooed with a smile, “you haven’t called me Rosie in ages.”

“Well, we both want to get things back to where they used to be, don't we?” he said, returning the smile.

In the kitchen, he took out the ampoule he’d carried with him for weeks. An innocent little vial that would solve his problem. He’d longed to use it before, but hesitated. Now, he knew, there was no other way. Rosalie had gone too far this time.

Quickly, before he might change his mind, Bingaman fixed the pot of tea, adding the few grams of digitalis needed to bring on cardiac arrest. She wouldn’t suffer long and his pain would be abated. With forethought, he’d mentioned her precarious condition frequently in the village. He was a doctor. Who was going to question his diagnosis?

Putting the pot and two cups and saucers on a tray, Bingaman returned to the dining room.

“Hurry,” she said, “your food is getting cold.”

It didn’t matter. This particular dish was as good cold as it was hot and he was already looking forward to the dessert of seeing her...

What? Something odd was happening. Bingaman’s mouth and throat burned. A tingling sensation spread through his limbs and his hands felt as though he wore fur gloves. The fork dropped from his hand and clattered off the plate.

Slowly he raised his eyes and felt a deathly chill shake him as Rosalie smiled back at him. Steepling her fingers, she leaned across the table. “You made it so easy,” she said.

Bingaman tried to speak but his tongue wouldn’t form words. He tried to rise and was held back by a weakness scrambling his mind’s commands to his body.

“I knew you would never go back to the city,” Rosalie told him. “So I’m going without you.”

He strained to focus but could barely hear her. It was as though she were miles away instead of next to him.

“You actually showed me the way with your stupid lectures,” she was saying. “Oh, you’re so erudite—and so stupid. Remember when you showed me that plant out by the barn?”

Wolfsbane. It took some effort for it to sink in. Now he realized he was the source of his own destruction. Oh, no! His gaze fell to the plate. He’d told her people died from eating the grated root of wolfsbane, mistaking it for horse radish. Two to four grams of aconite-laced root constituted a fatal dose. How much had he eaten?

“I grated it myself this afternoon,” Rosalie said. “I know what a glutton you are for horse radish. I knew you couldn’t resist.”

Bingaman struggled to rise, but he couldn’t. His vision went dim. When it returned, his eyes saw objects in the wrong colors. Agonizing pain shot through his head, neck and across his chest.

“I’ll have it all now, Edward,” Rosalie said, still smiling, oblivious to whether he heard or not. “I’ll sell this old house and the practice, collect on your insurance. I’ll be very well provided for. Even better than I was from my last husband.”

Bingaman was slipping fast. Circulatory paralysis was setting in and he could hardly formulate a thought. His only consolation just before he slumped from his chair was seeing Rosalie pour herself a cup of tea.

BIO: J.R. Lindermuth is the author of seven novels, including three in the Sticks Hetrick mystery series. He has published short stories and articles in a variety of magazines, both print and online. Check out Jack's Place for reviews and sample chapters.