Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 343 - Graham Bowlin


“I don’t think I can shit, Am.”

“I don’t think you have an option, Hiram,” Ambler La Bauve said, irritation slowly creeping into his voice like his father into his childhood bedroom at night.

Hiram Arcenaux looked down at his great, bloated stomach, hoping for a rumble but expecting nothing. He had not had a movement since Tuesday. Four days, ten enchiladas, nine chili rellenos, five orders of juevos rancheros, countless beers and cigarettes, and half a kilo of heroin-filled balloons later, Hiram was still constipated. And all the way from a border town in Coahuila to a shithole rest stop outside Louis Armstrong International, Ambler had listened to his complaining.

Ambler finished setting the toilet paper down on the seat. In the next stall over, Hiram had foregone formality and plopped immediately down on the cold plastic. Now he was anxiously tapping his feet, hoping against hope that around $60,000 worth of brown, South American powder would fall out of him. He grunted and groaned, finally pounding on the stall door and interrupting Ambler’s balloon count. He was up to four when he clenched up.

“I can’t do it, Ambler,” Hiram whined.

“You fat asshole, just bear down and get it out. Terry’s gonna be here fucking soon, and then you’ll just have it beat the fuck out of you anyway. Hurry up.”

“Why you bring Terry up, Am? Now I’m more nervous. You tied my guts all up.”

“I can’t go with you talking in my goddamn ear,” Ambler said. He closed his eyes and focused. Five, six... “You know what’s a good cure for what you got?”

Hiram shrugged and then, realizing he couldn’t be seen, responded verbally. “No.”

“Fuckin’ suicide, that’s what. Put a bullet through your head right now, you’d shit everywhere.”

“That ain’t true.”

“It is true.” Ambler sighed. Seven... “My mother was a nurse, so my drunk fuck perv father didn’t have to leave the house. She told me that EMTs used to carry around string and cotton balls, so when they’d get somebody that died they would tie off their dicks and put cotton in their asses so they wouldn’t piss and shit on the floor.”

“What do they do now?”


“You said they ‘used to’. So, you know, what do they do now?”

“What? I dunno. I assume they do something else now. It was a long time ago. Now pinch off that loaf before Terry gets here.” With a final spasm, Ambler dropped the last balloon. He smiled to himself and reached for the paper.

“Aw...” Hiram whimpered as he thought of Terry. Terry had beaten the living hell out of him several times before just for being a dumbass. If he couldn’t get the balloons out, it would be a lot worse this time.

If Ambler wasn’t lying to him to be mean, which he sometimes did, then maybe he should just kill himself, Hiram thought. Anything would be better than this. What if he never shit again? Was that possible? Was it possible that people shit their pants when they died? Did his Mom shit her pants? He was working with Ambler when it happened, so he wasn’t around to see it. If Ambler was right, he was glad he hadn’t been there. That would have been awful.

Suddenly, the door swung open and the familiar sound of clinking spurs echoed through the room.

“Monkey bread,” said a gravelly voice.

“Monkey bread,” Ambler replied.

The password. Terry had arrived and Hiram hadn’t moved a single balloon. He desperately squeezed down with everything he had.

Though not quite done wiping, Ambler pulled his pants up and stepped from the stall, trying to buy Hiram some more time.

Terry stood in the middle of the small bathroom, his stance calmly suggesting that no one attempt to exit the room. An unlit cigar rolled back and forth between his lips, framed by a bushy mustache. One look at him, and Ambler could tell that Terry was pissed.

Ambler was right. Terry’s day had begun with waking up to his girlfriend’s period blood soaking his sheets, an angry call from his boss on the way to the store, and some spic kid getting in his face as he waited in line to buy tampons. Terry would have murdered the kid in the parking lot, but he was in a hurry to meet two chuckleheads in a rest stop bathroom and had to stop back by his house to deliver the tampons. Needless to say, Terry was royally pissed.

“I’m all through in there, but Hiram’s, uh...”

“What?” Terry spit on the floor.

“Constipated,” Hiram muttered, embarrassed, from behind the other door.

“You fuckin’ kiddin’ me?”

Ambler shook his head. Terry grabbed him by the collar and threw him up against the door.

“Guard the door,” Terry growled.

In two steps, Terry was at Hiram’s stall. With a third he kicked it open. Instinctively, Hiram moved to hide his manhood, though his gut covered it all up anyway.

Ambler’s hand tightened into a fist. If there was one thing he hated it was a man who didn’t respect the privacy of another man’s locked door. There was never any excuse for that.

Hiram looked up at Terry, tears of humiliation brimming in his eyes. “I just can’t go, Terry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“That’s a quick fix,” Terry said. With a single fluid motion, Terry reached into his polyester, western cut suit coat, pulled out asilenced .38 special revolver, and put two bullets into Hiram’s chest.

Hiram looked down in surprise as the bullets ripped through him, spraying blood from his chest in a fine red mist, like fireworks in the night sky. He’d never seen anyone get shot before and he was fascinated by it. He slumped backward on the toilet as his hands began to go slack. As the last synapse fired in his brain, he wondered if Ambler had been right about the death shit.

He had been.

Terry turned around and slid the gun back into his blazer, shrugging at Ambler. Ambler looked down at the floor. He suddenlyrealized that he couldn’t stop blinking. He then tried to stop, but just kept going.

His boss pulled a pair of rubber gloves from another pocket and held them out. “I’ll guard the door. Sorry, but you’re doing double duty for your friend here.”

Ambler didn’t move.

“Dig around in this fat fuck’s crap, you shithead.”

Without a word, Ambler took the gloves from Terry. Terry leaned against the door.

“Oh!” Terry exclaimed. “I brought two pairs, so you can double up if you want.”

Ambler shook his head and opened to door to Hiram’s stall.

BIO: Graham Bowlin is a dirty young man from a clean North Carolina town. Currently, he's writing like a madman and dreaming of bigger and better depravities on the West Coast. He has two stories forthcoming in Thuglit and Powder Burn Flash. His blog is The Pulp Primer.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 342 - Albert Tucher


“I don’t think so,” Diana said.

She backed up a step and studied the man in the doorway. Something in his expression made a shocking contrast with his nurse’s uniform.

“No way,” she said. “I’m out of here.”

She turned and started walking toward the street. As she left him standing there, she fought the urge to run. Looking vulnerable might invite him to come after her.

“What’s the problem?” he said.


She tossed the word over her shoulder and increased her pace as much as she dared.

This part of Witherspoon Township was zoned for hulking McMansions and two-acre lots. The driveway seemed even longer than it had when she arrived. With every step she fought the urge to hunch over and make a smaller target.

She could have stopped and told him everything that felt wrong. “If there are two men involved, don’t make me think just one. If you’re not the client, don’t say you are. And don’t look at me like you’re wondering how much pain I can take.”

But he wasn’t entitled to an explanation. People who tried to change the game in the middle got nothing.

“You have something against the handicapped?”

Behind him in the foyer she had glimpsed a middle-aged man in a wheelchair. She felt a strong urge to defend herself, but she recognized the trick. He would say anything to get her to stop.

“Or male nurses?”

She didn’t answer that one, either. By now he was shouting to make himself heard.

Diana made it to the road and turned right, walking on the shoulder. Witherspoon was the kind of town that didn’t have sidewalks or curbs. At the corner she turned right again. Her Maxima came into view. She had parked where the client wouldn’t see her car and recognize it if he came across it again.

As she unlocked the driver’s door and climbed in, she checked behind her. Nobody had followed. The stillness of a suburban mid-afternoon surrounded her, without even a police car to break the spell. She could usually count on the Witherspoon cops to turn up and hassle her.

She started the car and drove to her home in neighboring Driscoll. In her kitchen she made coffee to keep her hands busy while she thought about the encounter. It seemed important to analyze it and draw lessons for next time.

The nurse’s challenges bothered her, although she knew she had nothing to apologize for. Paraplegics were nothing new to her. She had even worked for a quadriplegic once, but the man had talked honestly with her before the date.

That left the male nurse factor. She thought about the recent case of the serial killer nurse who had poisoned patients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Some people had said, ‘Uh huh, male nurses,’ but she didn’t think she was one of them. The man she had just met reminded her of a few cops she had known, the ones who wore the uniform for what it could get them. But where was the profit in being a nurse?

That, she realized, was an easy question to answer. Insurance companies paid for nursing care. Insurance companies had money.

In other words, it wasn’t her business.

She had a late afternoon date with a safe, boring client who would clear her mind for her. The man always wanted missionary in the first fifteen minutes and then conversation for the rest of the hour.

It worked, until she got home a little after six and heard the phone ringing in the kitchen.

“Diana. It’s Phil Rangel.”

The name threw her for a moment.

“Dr. Rangel. What can I do for you?”

“It’s about Leah. I know you’re friends."

Diana had found Dr. Rangel and referred several other women in the business to him. A gynecologist who didn’t get judgmental was a good person to know.

“I just left her in the hospital. Morristown. An ambulance brought her in.”

“What happened?”

“Somebody beat the hell out of her. I’m calling you because she never listed anybody to notify.”

“Next of kin would be a bunch of polygamists in Arizona,” Diana said. “They wouldn’t cross the street for her. Did she say who did it?”

“She didn’t have time. She‘s unconscious again.”

“On my way.”

Diana didn’t want to go, because she would end up talking to cops. Some of them didn’t care about her business, but others had been making a project of her for years. The way things were going, she knew which category would show up today.

But she went back to her car and drove the twenty-five miles to Morristown. In the hospital lobby she asked the volunteer where to go.

Leah had a double room on the fifth floor, but the other bed was empty and ready for the next patient. Diana approached and winced. She didn’t recognize anything but Leah’s bright blonde hair.

“The guy must have dumped her and left her for dead. He wasn’t wrong by much.”

Diana started. She hadn’t noticed Dr. Rangel in the corner to her right. It shouldn’t have surprised her that he had come back. Leah had that effect. Everyone wanted to protect her. What was wrong with the man who had done this to her?

“Where did they find her?”

“Near the baseball field at Morristown High School. Some kids practically tripped over her. The police don’t know where the assault happened, though.”

They both watched Leah, as her chest moved delicately. Diana realized that she was holding her breath, as if Leah needed all the oxygen in the room.

“Shouldn’t there be a cop here? In case she wakes up?”

“I pulled rank,” said Rangel. “I figured you wouldn’t want to talk to him, so I told him he was agitating my patient. He’s young. He’ll learn, but not tonight. Anyway, now that you’re here...”

“Sure. Thanks for the call.”

He left the room. Diana went to the corner where he had waited for her and dragged the padded steel chair across the room to the bed. She sat on Leah’s right and made herself look at her friend’s brutalized face.

Leah was going to hell. She talked about it often, but it wasn’t hooking that had damned her. Her sin lay in disobeying the prophet of her community, who had planned to make her the eighth wife of a second cousin three times her age.

Or was it a third cousin twice her age? Diana couldn’t remember.

Leah had run away and somehow hitchhiked to Atlantic City without ending up dismembered in dumpsters across the country. Diana had found her on the boardwalk. Leah had insisted on becoming a prostitute, because it was the only career choice for a sinner like her.

She had done well in the business, once Diana had broken her of some bad habits.

“Why did you give him half his money back?”

“Well, he didn’t come.”

“That’s his problem.”

The door handle turned. Diana didn’t remember getting up, but by the time the door started to open, she had hidden herself behind the white portable screen between the two beds.

It’s only the cop, she thought.

But her hooker’s radar told her something different.

She had to listen hard for the footsteps that crossed the room. The visitor was wearing rubber-soled hospital shoes. Why didn’t that reassure her?

Diana risked a look around the screen. Even in three-quarter profile, the man in the nurse’s uniform looked familiar. He stood looking at Leah, but Diana suspected that he had more in mind than admiring his work.

She stepped around the screen.

“Here to finish the job?”

The nurse pivoted. She looked at the expression on his handsome surfer’s face and got ready to fight. But the door opened again, and a uniformed police officer entered. He did seem young. At twenty-six Diana felt almost like his mother. He glanced at the nurse but gave her a stern look.

“What are you doing here, Ma’am?”

“He’s a friend of mine, Officer.”

She turned to the nurse.

“Do you have time for coffee or something? We can do some catching up.”

She watched him thinking. If he was smart, he would realize that she had him cornered.

“Okay,” he said. “There’s a lounge at the end of the hall.”

Diana went to the door and opened it. He followed her out of the room. They walked side by side down the corridor. She could feel the cop watching them go.

In the lounge the nurse went to the coffee machine.

“What’ll you have?”


He fed a dollar into the machine and pressed buttons. The smell of bad instant coffee surrounded her. It combined with the ugly yellow paint on the walls to give her the beginnings of a headache.

She chose a table and took one of the four plastic chairs in the same shade of yellow. He set his coffee on the table and sat diagonally across from her.

“I have no use for insurance companies,” said Diana. “But I don’t rip them off, either. They always get their money back somehow.”

“What brought that up?”

“I meet a guy in a wheelchair. Somebody who gets close to him gets beaten half to death. That spells insurance fraud to me.”

He tried to stare her down, but she wasn’t impressed.

“What happened? Did he go stir-crazy, maybe threaten to ruin the plan? You shouldn’t have let anyone near him except your tame doctors.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You know why I didn’t stay this afternoon? Because you lied when you didn’t have to. People like you always do. If you had told me on the phone that you were the nurse and your patient was the client, I’d have said, okay, fine. I think you learned your lesson with me and applied it to Leah.”

“Interesting story.”

“Here’s the thing you probably didn’t know about us. Hookers, I mean. We’ve seen it all. We’ve done it all. I’ve been up close and personal with paraplegics before, and I know Leah has too. If I had to guess, I‘d say your partner’s not as disabled as you claim. Leah saw him move something that shouldn‘t have moved. And knowing her, she said something about it.”

“If you were right,” said the nurse, “you’d be making a big mistake right now.”

“I don’t think so. The cop back there just saw us together. Leah’s doctor knows me. If anything happens to me, who are the cops going to want to talk to?”

He glared at her. She looked back at him until he dropped the effort.

“I guess we have a stalemate,” he said.


He stood and drained his paper cup. The taste made him wince, and he threw the cup at the trash can in the corner. He missed. Without a word he turned and left the lounge.

A pay phone hung on the wall next to the coffee machine. Diana fed change into the slot and punched in a number that she knew by heart.


“My favorite law enforcement professional.”

“What do you need, Diana?”

“Couldn’t I just be calling to chat?”

“What, and ruin your reputation?”

“This is a little complicated. I’m in Morristown, but I need a Witherspoon detective. You know anybody I can talk to without getting a load of shit?”

“Probably, but I’ll need a reason.”

She told him about her date that didn’t happen, and about Leah, and the insurance fraud theory.

“Call me back in thirty.”

When she did, he told her, “Stay there and wait for Detective Pelsner.”

“Will do.”

“I guess that nurse thinks you don’t talk to cops.”

“I told him I’ve done everything. It’s not like I’m changing the game on him.”

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

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 341 - Sam Roseme


He’s watching me. Again.

Josh looked out the corner of his eye at the man sitting next to the window. The man wore a baseball hat and sunglasses even though it was night and they were underground. Each time Josh moved, the man’s head followed. Josh didn’t need to see his eyes to know he was being watched.

Josh stood and gripped the handrail of the BART car as the commuter train glided beneath the San Francisco Bay. It was past 10 p.m. Another late night at the office. Despite the hour, the train was standing room only. A Giants game had just ended and most of the passengers wore the orange and black jersey of the hometown team. Their conversations about the game were loud, fueled by overpriced stadium beers.

The train rose above ground and stopped at the West Oakland station. Headlights floated past on the freeway below. The train then descended and traveled underneath downtown Oakland.

Josh questioned himself. It was late, he was tired. He couldn’t trust his own thoughts. He thought everyone was looking at him. They all knew his secret.

Maybe it’s not him. He looks different than last time. He looks different every time. I’d only met him in person once. But I do look at a photograph of him everyday. At work. On her desk. No, it’s not him. I’ve got to get a grip. He’s just another commuter. That’s all. I’ll prove it.

Josh crossed the width of the train to stand next to the doors opposite where he’d been standing. It was a test. If the man moved his head, it was him. If not, he’s just some guy.

The man’s head turned, the bill of his hat tracking Josh’s movements. Josh had his answer. It was him.

Josh’s stomach turned and his heart beat faster. He felt claustrophobic and needed to get out. The train re-emerged and Josh considered getting off as it stopped at Macarthur Station, but decided not to. His station was next.

Josh turned to face the doors so that he would be the first to exit the moment they opened. “Rockridge Station,” the conductor announced. Josh stepped hurriedly off the train. He walked past the car he’d been in as he headed toward the stairs. He glanced through the window. The man in the hat was still seated, staring straight ahead. Josh exhaled and his shoulders relaxed. He looked back one more time. Just to be sure. The man in the hat suddenly stood and bolted toward the doors as they were sliding shut. The man stopped them with his hands and slid through. Josh’s eyes went wide. He turned and ran toward the stairs, looking back once to see the man following. Josh bounded down the steps two at a time, weaving through the crowd. At the turnstiles, he found the shortest line.

“C’mon, c’mon,” he said out loud as two pudgy baseball fans fumbled with their BART tickets.

Josh hurried down another flight of stairs to street level. A red light stopped the pedestrians at the first intersection. Josh crossed anyway. A Subaru wagon grazed his knee. Just three more blocks and he’d turn on his street. The cafes and bars were emptying with a mix of professionals and Berkeley students. If Josh walked any faster he’d be running. He looked back one last time. A group of men in Dockers poured out of a sports bar. Several wore hats. Josh didn’t see the man who was following him.

Josh sprinted the half-block to his house. His hands felt swollen trying to pick out the right key. He looked over his shoulder. Finally the right key and the door opened. He slammed it behind him and locked all the locks, the doorknob, deadbolt and chain. He ran through the house and made sure the back door was secure. From his closet he pulled a Louisville Slugger signed by Barry Bonds, pre-steroid allegations. He gripped it tight and sat on the couch.

The sunshine woke him in the morning, bat on his chest, clothes and shoes still on. Grateful to be alive.

In less than an hour Josh was back in San Francisco to start another day. The morning commute was uneventful, as always. The sun shone on the city from above the East Bay hills. He had just enough time to grab a bagel and coffee.

The meeting was beginning as Josh entered the partner’s office. Everyone else called it a ‘team meeting,’ but Josh refused to do so. Teams are in sports. Calling a group of lawyers a ‘team’ was a tad too corporate speak for Josh. Though he feared that if he stayed at the job too long he’d be throwing around terms like ‘skill set’ and ‘think outside the box’ without even noticing. He told himself that would be when he would quit.

The partner on the case, Catherine Mann, gave Josh and two other associates their next assignment. This case was similar to all the others Josh had worked on in his two years at the firm. The client was always some rich guy who was the CEO of a company. Mr. CEO liked being rich very much and couldn’t imagine being any less rich. But Mr. CEO had inside information about something bad in his company. So Mr. CEO did two things, he tried his best to keep that information from finding its way to the public and he sold all his stock in case it did.

This usually goes unnoticed during good times. The shareholders don’t make a peep because, hey, their stock is up 30 percent for the year. Who cares if Mr. CEO took a little extra so long as everyone else is getting theirs? And if the shareholders don’t care, then the SEC doesn’t care. The government attorneys have plenty else to worry about. Like leaving the office right when their clocks strike 5 p.m. But as soon as the economy goes in the shitter, as it just did, and the shareholders have lost their retirement savings, well, then, it’s time to scrutinize just how Mr. CEO paid for that villa next to George Clooney’s on Lake Como.

And that’s when Mr. CEO picks up the phone and dials the offices of Sacks, Sacks & Gold LLP. The Sacks senior partner then calls a junior partner and tells her she has a new case. The junior partner then calls a team meeting.

That’s all neither here nor there to Josh. All Josh knows is that he and the other associates on the case are now being told by Catherine that there are 20,000 e-mails from the company that need to be reviewed by Sunday night. In other words, when the documents are printed and put in binders by paralegals--and which had god damn better be ready by tomorrow--Josh will not feel sun on his flesh for four straight days.

That’s fine, Josh thought. It may be safer for him to work all the time. If he works late enough the firm will pay for him to take a cab home, keeping him off BART and away from the man in the baseball hat.

Josh glanced around Catherine’s office. It was large enough so that everyone at the meeting was comfortable. There could have been a half-dozen more associates and there’d still be room left over. The office had floor-to-ceiling windows that provided sweeping views of the bay, from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz. On Catherine’s desk sat a framed photograph of her and her husband, Mark. Josh studied the picture. He looked closely at Mark’s square jaw, thin lips and pointy nose. Josh knew that Mark had been an investment banker in the city, making big money for the past several years. But then when the downturn came, he had lost his job. The same month Catherine made partner. One would think that Catherine’s promotion would ease Mark’s stress from his unemployment. But it only made it worse. Mark’s sense of worth was wrapped up in his career. His wife’s success further diminished his confidence. On the rare occasions when they spoke, it was mostly to argue. Josh knew all of this because Catherine had told him.

Josh pulled his focus back to the meeting.

“When reviewing the e-mails, you need to highlight any mention of assets being transferred. Any company assets. And make sure to note any loans involving officers of the company. We need to know where all the assets that were in the company prior to July 1, 2008 went.”

The first thing Josh noticed about Catherine when he met her was that she never once said ‘um’ when she spoke the way most people Josh knew did. There were no awkward pauses. Her speech was fluid. All right, that wasn’t the first thing Josh noticed. That would have been any number of things. Her long, smooth legs. Or her tight skirt that was snug against her ass and helped show off those legs. Or it could have been her big lips or piercing blue eyes. Yes, the first thing Josh noticed about her was that she was sexy. Not a common thing among partners or even soon-to-be partners, which is what she was when Josh met her his first week at the firm.

Today she was wearing a skirt that stopped just above her knees, a white blouse and dark jacket.

“And again, I’m going to need a summary of our findings by Monday morning so that I’ll be able to respond to the SEC by Wednesday. Any questions?”

The only question running through the associates’ minds was, Why the hell did I become a laywer? Josh asked himself that every day.

“Okay, thanks, everybody.”

The associates couldn’t get out of Catherine’s office fast enough. Josh, however, took his time, pretending to jot down a few last notes.

When he stood up to leave, Catherine asked, “Are you free for lunch today?”

“Um, yes,” Josh said. “I am.”

“Great. I’ll see you then.”

Nothing else needed to be said. He already knew the when and the where of lunch. And he certainly knew the what.

He went back to his office. Since the documents wouldn’t be ready until tomorrow, he spent the next hour and a half surfing the Internet trying to get his mind off the fact that he was being stalked. He was watching a clip from last night’s Letterman when he noticed it was already 12:25 P.M.

Outside, he walked four blocks, just out of the Financial District and into the beginning of North Beach, the city’s Italian neighborhood. Before entering the white apartment building he checked his Blackberry to see if she’d sent him a last-second message, a warning. Nothing. He walked in and took the elevator to the fourth floor. Apartment 415. He pulled out his key chain and unlocked the door. He was the first one there. He always was. He sat on the edge of the bed and waited. Fatigue hit him. He wanted to lie down and sleep for hours. He hadn’t slept well on the couch last night, waking at every sound. He hadn’t slept well for weeks. Ever since he first noticed him watching, following. But he couldn’t sleep now.

The door opened and Catherine walked in. No words were exchanged. She walked to the bed and began undressing. The dark jacket, the blouse, the skirt. On the floor. Then came Josh’s clothes. Blue dress shirt, brown shoes, khaki pants. He sat back down on the edge of the bed. She pushed him back and straddled him.

Josh didn’t know what a pied-a-terre was before his first visit to apartment 415. When Catherine and Mark moved out of the city to the suburbs, they agreed to buy a pied-a-terre. They thought they’d be more likely to go out at night in the city if they didn’t have to make the long drive back to Marin. A nice idea, but Catherine could count on one hand the times she and her husband spent the night there. She’d used it many more times for ‘lunch’ with Josh.

The apartment was enough to serve its purpose, nothing more. It was a one room studio with a bed in the middle, couch on the side, a table big enough for three, and a small kitchen space. No TV, no computer, no decorations. Not much. Josh joked that pied-a-terre was French for crash pad. Catherine didn’t laugh.

Catherine and Josh lingered in bed for a few minutes after they were done, kissing each other softly. Catherine was up first. She dressed quickly, one last kiss and she was out the door and back to work. Josh always waited five minutes before leaving. But this time when she left and the apartment was empty, Josh imagined Mark walking in. Josh didn’t trust that their precautions kept him safe anymore. Before every lunch, Catherine called Mark to confirm there’d be no way he could drop by the apartment. They were safe to meet if Mark answered and said that he was busy at work or on the road or, nowadays, at their home ‘looking for a job.’ If Catherine discovered he was close by she would call Josh’s cell phone or e-mail his Blackberry to tell him to stay away. But Josh was convinced that Mark knew about them, or at least suspected. Mark would lie to Catherine about his whereabouts. Say he was home when he was waiting across the street from their office, watching. Josh sensed that Mark was near. The fear sent a chill through Josh’s bones. A sensation he hadn’t felt since he was a kid, alone in his house, believing it was haunted.

Josh hopped off the bed, dressed quickly and left. He walked past the elevator and descended the four flights of stairs. He peered past the door on the lobby level. No one. At the door to the street he spotted a man on the far sidewalk. The man wore a black hat and sunglasses. Mark? Josh couldn’t tell. The man crouched down as if to tie his shoes. But he just held his shoelaces, motionless. The man was still for a moment. Then he turned his head so he was looking right at Josh. The tinted windows of the building protected Josh, but Josh still felt that the man could see him. The next instant the man stood and continued walking forward, rounding the next block.

Josh was breathing hard. He ran his hand up his sweaty forehead and into his hair. He pushed through the door and walked in the opposite direction from where the man had gone.

Late that night Josh was waiting on the platform for his train. It was just past 10 P.M. once again. Lunch with Catherine lengthened his days by several hours. And he hadn’t billed enough hours to be reimbursed for a cab. How do you bill time spent having sex with a partner?

Their affair was going to end. Tomorrow. Josh couldn’t handle it anymore. Neither thought it would go beyond the first time but then it became a routine all its own. One that was tough to break. Catherine and Josh worked late every night for weeks in the months leading up to Catherine’s election as partner. The case they worked on was a good one. Josh actually believed that CEO was innocent. A first. The CEO was being punished because his company’s stock took a dive for reasons beyond his control. It should have been an easy victory. The CEO made it difficult when he attempted suicide. Potential jurors could only take one cue from that. He was guilty. But he wasn’t. His company, his career, was everything to him. When it was gone what was left? Josh couldn’t imagine feeling emotional about a job, let alone jumping from a 13th floor balcony because of it. Thank God for scaffolding.

Catherine billed over 3,000 hours that year. Inhumanely high for most civilians but typical for an attorney up for partner at a firm like Sacks. Josh wanted her to make partner. She was his mentor. Her success was his.

They were working late together that first night. All the other offices were dark. It was past midnight. They sat close, taking a break, talking about life. They’d opened a bottle of wine. Catherine’s knee bumped Josh’s accidentally. She kept it there. He didn’t mind. Her hand on his thigh, she leaned forward. They kissed.

“I have an apartment,” she whispered. “Just a few blocks away.”

Josh didn’t say a word. The fact that she was married flashed into his mind. The fact that she was his boss, too. But she was the partner, he was the associate. He took orders, she gave them. Besides, he’d never turned down sex before. He didn’t even know if he was capable of doing so.

Once the initial barrier had been breached, having sex was too easy not to. All it took to instigate was one word, lunch. Catherine had tried to end it once. She took Josh aside and told him no more. She said their relationship could ruin her career, a partner having an affair with an associate. She’d sacrificed so much for her job. She didn’t mention her marriage.

Josh looked both ways on the platform. Mark, if the man in the baseball hat and sunglasses was actually Mark, wasn’t there. Eight minutes until his train. Josh waited at his usual spot in the middle of the platform but then decided to change his routine. He walked to the end where the last car would stop. There was no one near him. The safe thing to do at night for those worried about muggers and rapists is to board in the middle. If you’re worried about crazed husbands, you change your routine. Josh closed his eyes and began to fall asleep. He jerked awake as he felt himself fall forward. He took a few steps back just to be safe.

Josh was able to pinpoint when Mark discovered their affair. The firm had a breakfast to formally introduce the new partners. A debutante’s ball for grownups. A room full of circular tables covered in white tablecloths at a nearby hotel. Not everyone was invited, just the firm’s partners, the honorees and their spouses and one or two people who worked closely with the newly elected partners. It was strange enough that Josh was invited, stranger still that he sat next to Catherine at their table. Mark sat on the other side of her. The firm’s chairman ended his speech by saying that he’d like the new partners to approach the lectern to say a few words. “Catherine Mann,” he called out. “Why don’t you go first?”

Catherine wasn’t expecting to have to speak. Stalling to give herself time to organize her thoughts, she grabbed her glass of water. Empty. Absentmindedly, she then reached for Josh’s water glass. Half full. She grabbed it and took a sip. Josh froze. Why don’t you just shout out, I sleep with this man next to me? Josh thought. Mark stared at Josh’s water glass as Catherine made her way to the front of the room. Josh didn’t dare look over.

Then Josh made it worse a few minutes later when he caught up to her in the hallway that led to the restrooms. He touched her waist and whispered in her ear to be more careful. Mark turned the corner just as Josh released his hand. He stopped at the sight of the two co-workers.

“Hey, babe,” he said. “I’ve got to get to work.” He kissed her cheek. “I’m proud of you.” Then he turned to Josh and shook his hand. “Josh, great meeting you. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”

Thinking about it now, Josh wondered if those last words were a threat.

The electronic sign told Josh his train would arrive in one minute.

Their affair was over. This isn’t how he wanted his life as a lawyer to begin. He was paranoid and depressed. He’d been out of law school less than three years and had already ruined his career, his life. His life and his career had become intertwined. Just like the suicidal CEO. Just like Mark. Just like the way Josh promised himself he’d never become. No, the affair was going to end.

The sound of the oncoming train drowned out the footsteps behind Josh. He was moving forward before he realized he’d been pushed. He was able to stop his feet at the edge of the platform but the momentum kept his upper body moving. The last thing Josh saw was the frightened face of the train’s conductor.

The only witness later described it to the cops as ‘like a slow-motion dive into a pool.’ The witness had been drinking but was pretty sure the pusher, who escaped up the stairs, was wearing a black hat, sunglasses, a skirt and high-heeled shoes.

Josh was right. The affair was over.

BIO: Sam Roseme is currently a lawyer in San Francisco. He has written for various publications including Readers’ Digest and the New York Law Journal, and he recently wrote a book about his experience in New York City politics.

A Twist Of Noir 340 - Gary Dobbs


Originally published in Peeping Tom Magazine (Issue 15) in 1995



July 1994

Cissy struggled out of bed. She wasn’t sure which creaked the loudest; the aged mattress or her ancient back. Nether were up to much, she thought and smiled to herself. She grabbed her teeth from the jar besides the bed and popped them into her mouth. Her face immediately filled out, her cheekbones becoming less prominent, her chin much more rounded.

‘Another day,’ Cissy chuckled. ‘Won’t be many more.’

Cissy had taken to talking to herself many years ago. At first, she had been self-conscious and would cast a head over her shoulder, as if someone were there watching and listening, but now it had become second nature. Cissy Jones was her own best companion – her only companion.

She dressed quickly so the cold air would not linger on her skin and chill through to her bones, and went down to the kitchen to get the kettle brewing. A day started without tea is a day of woe; her mother had been fond of saying. Cissy smiled at the memory of her mother, long dead now, more than seventy years gone to ground.

‘You’ll be joining her soon, Cissy gull. Mark my words you will.’

She made her tea, thick like tar, and took it through to the living room. She sat down and switched on the electric fire the Social Services had provided and heat instantly filled the room. She relaxed; eyes looking at the soft orange glow but focused on the past. There was such a lot of it to see. More each day.

Cissy had been born on the first day of a century that was fast drawing to a close. She had come into this world during one of the harshest winter the area had known. Of course, Cissy didn’t remember it herself but her mother had often told her about it. All in all 1900 was a year that boasted of firsts – first flight of the Zeppelin, first Browning revolver produced and of course Cissy Jones had drawn her first breath.

1900 – 94 years ago, closer to 95. It was still relatively recent and yet as distant as Christ’s birth, ancient Rome and the birth of Mankind itself. None could ever be touched again. They were gone and gone is gone. There are no degrees of distance concerning time, Cissy had learnt. A minute ago was no closer than an hour, a year, a century even. All were gone forever and gone was very much gone.

‘Awck, at Cissy gull. You’re becoming morbid.’

For a moment there was silence and then Cissy answered herself. ‘That’s as maybe but morbidity is all I’ve got left.’

Cissy felt one of her regular bursts of pain, a severe burning in her chest, and she buckled up as he coughed a globule of phlegm into her handkerchief. At one time she had been able to hawk the vile stuff up into the fire, watching it hiss on the coals and it withered into a blackened reminder of her pain. But now she had to catch it and toss it into the bin. Couldn’t cough lumps onto the electric fire.

Cissy knew the ferocity of her coughing meant that she was going to die soon and she feared that more than anything. She was 94 years old and riddled with the cancer – the end was approaching fast. She did not want to die, though and had not accepted the inevitable. Death would force her to confront her heebie-jeebies, and she had such a lot of those waiting to torment her.

‘No, Cissy gull. Best not think of such things. It’ll do no good to dwell on things.’

Cissy rolled and lit a cigarette. The doctor had warned her that the habit would kill her sooner rather than later, but she was still realistic enough to know that tobacco abstinence would not stave off death’s icy grip. It was coming, almost had her. She could feel the cold grip of eternity upon the back of her neck.

Cissy smoked and tried to think of better times but her heebie-jeebies came to taunt her.



In the afternoon, after watching her favourite daytime soap opera, Cissy went outside to the yard. It was a wonderful day, of the variety she would have called, "a real cracker" when she was still young enough to care about such things. The village of Gilfach Goch in the valley below basked in the heat, the red roofs of the houses shimmered in fiery contrast to the blue skies.

Cissy wondered what the inhabitants of those brick boxes to combat the heat. Rabbit hutches, that was what her mother had called the houses that sprung up around the once thriving coal industry. She looked back at her own farmhouse. It may be a little ramshackle and the farmlands were no longer working, most of the arable plots having been swallowed up by the other farms, but it was still home. She had been born there, was determined not to die there.

In all her 94 years Cissy had never left Gilfach Goch. The nearest town was Blackmill and that was reached by going over the long bridge that spanned the River Ogwr. Of course this wasn’t the original bridge, it had been rebuilt when the old wooden structure succumbed to age, but it still served the same purpose it always had.

Cissy though had never crossed that bridge, never ventured out of Gilfach Goch.

That fact had played on her mind a lot lately, and she had come to the conclusion that if she could cross the divide that separated communities she would be able to leave her heebie jeebies behind. It was as if Gilfach Goch was a prison, and the bridge had become symbolic of the trials that had shaped her life. It was there, taunting her for her inability to take its freedom road.

But she feared that bridge. Crossing it would force her to confront her heebie jeebies. Of course, Cissy knew that was nonsense but the bridge seemed unconquerable within her mind. It had taken on the physical form of her fears. Her heebie jeebies.

Cissy had such a lot of those.

‘Come on gull, don’t be scaring yourself.’

She went back inside and fell asleep in the armchair besides the fire. She slept a lot lately, perhaps in preparation for the big sleep.



Good old Cissy – that’s what the locals called her. Eccentric old Cissy, a little bit dotty but she’d never harm a fly. Good old harmless Cissy. But they didn’t know about her heebie jeebies, and indeed they would never have believed the old woman’s dark secrets had she told them herself.

Such a lot of heebie jeebies.

There were minor heebie jeebies such as the fact that Cissy had once stolen eggs from Mort the Shop during the Thirties, and that she had slept with her father for years before and after the heart attack claimed her mother. There were minor heebie jeebies, on the scale of heebie jeebies they barely registered, and when placed next to heebie jeebie number one, the mother of all heebie jeebies, they were nothing.

Cissy’s eyes tightened to slits as she remembered that day back in 1918. She had been a young girl then, full of the joys of youth. She had been partaking in a vigorous bout of lovemaking with a local lad, Smithy he was called, when her retarded sibling, better known as Billy Bob had happened along.

‘I can see his cocky,’ Billy Bob had shouted, terrifying Smithy. ‘And your titties. I see your titties, Cissy. I’m telling,’ his face had been a split melon as he smiled.

It was all too much for Smithy and he yanked his breeches up and had it away sharpish, running past Billy Bob with the look of sheer terror in his eyes. Whilst Billy Bob may have been carrying less than a full load upstairs, he made up for his lack of mental skills in stature. He cut an huge, ogre-like figure, but Cissy wasn’t afraid of the boy father often called, ‘shit for brains.’

‘I see your titties, Cissy,’ Billy Bob was delighted. His face looked like it did on harvest day when Harris the Grocer gave him an apple or orange. ‘Can I have another look. I’m telling lessing you give me another look.

It was then that Cissy did it. Without thinking, in anger, driven by instinct, she grabbed a spade, swung it wide, and brought it down on Billy Bobs head. His head split open and briefly he looked at her, surprise in his eyes, but then he collapsed as blood and gore burst from his head.

That was Cissy’s biggest heebie jeebie. She had murdered her brother, hadn’t mean to, not really, but dead was dead. Her father had come into the barn at that moment. He looked first at his dead son, and then at his daughter who was still holding the murder weapon. Cissy had expected him to beat her within an inch of her life and then drag her off to the police houses, but instead he took her in her arms and hugged her tightly, all the while whispering soothing words.

That night father had buried the boy beneath the old oak tree on the rise above the farmhouse. Later Cissy would hear him telling friends that Billy Bob had gone off to live with relatives in London. Mother covered up too, but the guilt brought on the heart trouble that eventually killed her. And for years following that incident in the barn Cissy found herself giving her nubile young body to her father whenever he wanted it. Once she had gotten pregnant, but a bottle of strong spirits and a scolding hot bath had finished that.

‘Damn the heebie jeebies,’ Cissy said. ‘They’s nothing see. Jus’ memories is all.’



The evening, Cissy watched her usual television: Coronation Street, Brookside and an episode of Frank Parade Investigates. That took her up to ten, well past her usual bedtime and she was suffering for it. She felt dog tired, drained and moody.

She went to the kitchen and put the, still warm, kettle onto boil. A day that ends without tea is a bad day indeed, her mother used to say. As she waited for the kettle to boil, Cissy watched the steam rising from the spout. It curled upwards, making patterns in the air. At first they were indistinct, more imagination than substance, but then Cissy saw Billy Bob’s face appear within the steam.

‘I see your titties, Cissy,’ the steam brother said. ‘And his cocky. Ah, look at his cocky.’

Cissy pounced at the kettle and switched it off. Billy Bob’s image was sucked back into the spout like a genie to a lamp. She looked around the room and then at the puddle on the floor. Her bladder had given away again, something it was doing more and more lately, and as she looked at the pool of urine her father’s face started to form in its surface.

‘Don’t you worry Cissy. I’ll keep your secrets, just between us,’ it said, the word bubbling within the piss and sending out ripples like an echo. ‘You mustn’t tell that Daddy comes into your room, Cissy. But you like it. I can tell you like it.’

‘Heebie jeebies,’ Cissy screamed and ran her foot through the urine, smearing her father’s image. ‘Heebie jeebies, nothing more.’

But the heebie jeebies persisted, and Cissy knew that she had to get out of the house, had to get away. They were here to stay, somehow she knew that and what’s more, she knew that to do. She went to the hall and grabbed her coat, and then went outside. Once on the porch she buckled over and coughed a globule of phlegm onto the yard.

‘Heebie jeebies,’ Cissy gasped. ‘They’re here for good now, gull. They’ve come to take you. It’s time, gull. You know what that means.’

She did indeed. It meant that death was even closer. The pain had intensified lately, and she was finding blood in the sheets of a morning. Her bladder had become a random animal, shedding its load without warning, and her lungs felt as if they were constructed out of glass-paper. She had no real quality of life and she found that there was nothing more to fear from death. She welcomed it but she would be damned if she’d take her heebie jeebies to the grave with her.

She had to banish those ghosts. And that meant crossing the divide, leaving Gilfach Goch and curling up her toes in Blackmill, away from her sins and fears. That way, she was sure, would release her from the nightmares of the past.

The heebie jeebies, Cissy had concluded, were a part of Gilfach Goch. They were as much a part of the area as the coal scarred mountains. The trouble was that crossing that bridge – a mere quarter of a mile – had become an insurmountable challenge to Cissy. The divide seemed to repel as garlic would a vampire. There was no sense in it. It just happened.

‘Rubbish, Cissy gull. You’ve got to cross that bridge and you’ve got to do it tonight. Don’t be a victim to your past, forever. Do it, now.’

Gilfach Goch, that silent brooding village, stood like a lecherous whore laughing at the people who made their homes within its cancerous womb. Gilfach Goch was not so much a place as an entity formed out of tainted land. No one lived here. They existed.

Cissy was surprised at the articulate thought and she shook it off and headed for the great bridge.



When she had been a slip of a girl, Cissy had been able to run the half-mile from the farmhouse to the bridge, but now she couldn’t even walk the distance without stopping. And stop she did, several times, before she found herself standing on the road before the bridge.

She looked at the bridge but didn’t see it as it was. Rather, she saw it as it had once been: constructed solely from wood with huge supports so that it could support the industrial trucks that once rolled in and out of Gilfach Goch, carrying the coal that fed, clothed and ultimately poisoned the area. Now though, it was all steel girders and concrete, its surface smooth with cat’s eye running down the middle. It didn’t even look like a bridge these days, but a road magically suspended over the river.

Cissy took a step onto the bridge and a mild electrical jolt seemed to run up her leg. Immediately she saw the image of Billy Bob floating in the air before her.

‘You can’t leave us, Cissy,’ Billy Bob told her. ‘You can’t go on. You must stay with us until the end. And it won’t be long, will it? Look at you; you’re riddled with cancer. You titties are flat and deflated like punctured tyres on your stupid stomach.’

‘Get away,’ Cissy ordered. She placed her other foot upon the bridge. She was now out of Gilfach Goch, standing on the divide between communities. She took another step, now gone further than ever before. Cissy smiled. She was going to die, there was no question about that. But she was leaving her heebie jeebies behind. They were not coming to the grave with her.

Then Cissy saw her mother standing before her. Mother had always been thin, cadaverously so, but now she was so much worse. Her skin was drawn in and hanging on her bones.

‘Go back, Cissy,’ the ghost shouted. ‘You’ve got to answer for your sins. You didn’t just kill Billy Bob, but me, too.

‘No.’ Cissy placed her hands over her ears, but the words were not aural and they appeared fully formed within her mind.

‘You killed me, too,’ the ghost persisted. ‘Not directly but it was the grief over Billy Bob that claimed me. And you’ve laid down with your father. You’re an evil girl, Cissy. You can have no redemption.’

‘I’m crossing,’ Cissy howled with determination and walked straight through her mother. ‘I’m going.’

But crossing was the hardest thing she had ever done. It wasn’t just the visions that tried to drive her back, but her own inner fears. It was as if she were suffering from agoraphobia and Gilfach Goch was more than a village, it was her home, her safety.

‘Come and hold my cock,’ a vision of her father, naked, and aged somewhere around his mid-Forties appeared on the air. His penis was erect and as Cissy looked at it, its single eye winked at her. ‘Come and hold it, Cissy. I’ve kept your secret. You owe me.’

‘Owe,’ Cissy screamed, tears running from her aged eyes. ‘I owe you nothing. I’ve paid in spades. If it weren’t for you and your stinking perversions I’d have married. I’d have made a life for myself.’

And now the three of them were there, floating on the air, and they had been joined by Mort the Grocer.

‘Where’s me eggs?’ Mort asked. ‘Thief! Robber! She stole my eggs, everybody.’

‘Bitch.’ They all screamed as one. ‘Bitch. Bitch. Bitchbitchbitch.’ The word became one long verbal snake.

Cissy kept walking, putting one step before the other. Her chest felt as if it was on fire, but she wouldn’t allow herself the luxury of coughing. She had to keep moving, reach the other side.

‘Walk,’ she told herself. ‘Walk, one foot and then another. Walk.’

Until, she had finally done it.

The heebie jeebies vanished, leaving the faint trace of ozone behind.

Cissy sat by the side of the road and looked at the village of Gilfach Goch in the distance, the lights of the houses twinkling like satanic eyes in the velvet night. And she felt better than she had in a very long time. It was Gilfach Goch that had sown her cancer and polluted her blood, but she had escaped its grasp. She was still going to die but it would be on her own terms.

It started to rain. At first, soft droplets, but then it became a torrent and each side of the road was torn up. Cissy smiled. She would be dead by morning if she stayed out in this rain.

She didn’t care.

Cissy laid herself down on the cold ground and closed her eyes. Now she was ready to meet her maker and face whatever judgement should befall her. But she was thankful that Gilfach Goch would have no say in the matter.

Cissy relaxed.

Cissy slept.

Cissy died.

BIO: Gary Dobbs writes under both his own name and that of Jack Martin. His first novel, The Tarnished Star, a western under the Jack Martin name, is available by Robert Hale LTD. You can find Gary and more of his writings at The Tainted Archive.

A Twist Of Noir 339 - Mark Joseph Kiewlak


Originally published at Plots With Guns #3 in Summer 2008

“Do you love me?” Bobby screamed.

Ellen hesitated. Which was bad.

“As a friend,” she said. Which was worse.

“Wrong answer,” Bobby said.

Then Bobby pulled the trigger.


“What should I have done?”

Captain Oswald was taken aback. “You should have lied, Jones.”

“I don’t lie to my partners,” Ellen said.

“Yes, well, traditionally,” Oswald said, “you don’t let your partners kill themselves either.”

Ellen’s eyes widened in shock. “Ozzie...” she began.

Oswald made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “Get the fuck out of here, Jones.”


“I’ve been a cop for thirteen years, Jones, and I never heard of one like this. I’ve known guys who ate their guns, but never because they were in love with their partners.”

Ellen was barely listening to the Sergeant.

“What the hell happened, Jones?”

She couldn’t answer.

She went home.


Ellen sat sideways in the big chair with her legs tossed over one of the arms. The chair was near the window. Outside it was drizzling. Rainwater was seeping into the ground beneath which Bobby lay.

As partners went, he had been a bad one. A bad cop period, Ellen concluded. Not a wrong cop, just a bad one. He should’ve been a waiter or a priest or a househusband. A gun belonged in his hand about as much...

Ellen caught herself rationalizing. She tried to take a sip of coffee and burned her lip on the edge of the mug.

Run it down again, she thought. Nothing else to do anyway.


“I’m not in love with you,” Bobby said, by way of introduction. He still had hold of Ellen’s hand. His handshake was a firm one.

“You’re the youngest partner I’ve ever had,” Ellen said. “And the only one with a psychology degree.”

“A better breed of cop,” Bobby said.

Behind him, for Ellen’s benefit, Oswald rolled her eyes.


“He’s a cute boy,” Louisa said.

Bobby jerked his chin away from the woman’s fingertips.

“Get in the car, Mrs. Cabreezi,” Ellen said.

When all three of them were inside, Ellen turned toward the back, leaning her forearm on top of the seat.

“I don’t care how many husbands you’ve got to testify against,” she said, “you touch him again and I’ll kill you.”

“Ellen, what the hell --”

“Shut up, Bobby.”


Coming out of the courtroom, Bobby found Ellen bent over at the water fountain.

“What was that scene in the car?” he demanded.

“Relax,” Ellen said. “I just wanted that black widow to feel good about herself. Loosen her tongue up for the D.A., you know?”

“I thought I had the shrink degree.”

“Not in this classroom.”


“I think about you a lot,” Bobby said.

“When we’re kicking in the door of a crackhouse,” Ellen said, “I hope so. I don’t want to catch one in the back because you’re mulling over the plot developments in some soap opera.”

“I think about you when I’m masturbating,” Bobby said.


“I don’t want to put him on report,” Ellen said. “He’s a kid and a cop – that’s twice as many headaches as any of us should have.”

“He came on to you again, though,” Max said. “How long you think it’ll be before this little affair gets someone hurt – and I don’t mean emotionally.”

“I think he really cares about me,” Ellen said.


“Come in here,” Bobby said. “I want to show you something.”

Bobby took hold of her forearm. Ellen almost spilled her coffee. “We’ve got to get back to the unit,” she said.

“In a minute.”

She let herself be pulled into the alley. Bobby let go of her arm.


Ellen scanned the alleyway.

“Down here,” Bobby said.

Ellen saw the bulge in his slacks.

“For you,” Bobby said.


“...felt like a fuckin’ rape victim,” Ellen finished.

DeVries nodded. “I’m glad you came to see me, Ellen.”

“I know I shouldn’t ask this, Doc, but, is Bobby whacked out? I mean, have you ever heard of a case like this?”

“Where a man comes on to his female partner?”

“But he’s not just hitting on me,” Ellen said. “He’s, well, he’s really weird about it.”


“I’m putting in for a new partner,” Bobby said.

Ellen was speechless.

“You just don’t love me like you used to.”

She jammed on the brakes in the middle of the avenue.

“Bobby, what the fuck is WRONG with you? All shift you act normal, then, out of nowhere, you... you...”

“It’s just how I feel, Ellen.”


“But he’s been a good partner?” Oswald said.

“No. Yes! I... I can’t trust him, Ozzie.”

“And you’re sure he’s not just playing with you?”

“Ozzie, you and I both know we can tell the difference.”

“Are you going to drop him?”


“Don’t let go of me, Ellen! I don’t want to die!”

Ellen watched their perp, three roofs over, climb down a fire escape and vanish. Her side hurt like hell.

“Hold onto me, Ellen!”

She looked down into Bobby’s eyes. So sincere. So normal.

She grunted with the strain.

“Why the hell,” she said, “did you try to leap across” – she pitched slightly over the edge and yanked herself back – “when I could’ve cut him off at the bottom?”

“I love you, Ellen.”


“I almost let him fall,” Ellen said.

Sergeant Maxwell ran his hand through his three or four strands of hair. “Maybe you should get yourself a new partner.”

“That’s what I thought,” Ellen said.


“But now I’m really worried about him, Max. I think he wanted to fall off that ledge. Almost fall, I mean. I think he was trying to prove to himself that I really care about him – that I wouldn’t let him die.”

“Get yourself a new partner, Jones.”


“Pull over somewhere along this next block, Ellen.”

“No! No. No more, Bobby. No more of this shit. I... I want you to go talk to DeVries. You’ve got a problem, Bobby.”

“Yeah,” Bobby said, “you’re giving me a speech and I have to go take a leak.”


“Why’d you become a cop, Bobby?”

“To meet girls?”

Ellen shook her head.

“Why did you become a cop, Ellen?”

“My father,” Ellen said.

“He encouraged you?”

“No,” Ellen said. “He beat the hell out of me because I wasn’t his son.”


Behind the wheel, Ellen was dozing off.

Lester still hadn’t come out.

“I talked to DeVries,” Bobby said.

Ellen lifted her head up off the doorframe. She waited.

“We both agreed how attractive you are. Then we talked shop.”

“He didn’t tell you, did he?”

“Tell me what, Ellen?”

“That I’m a lesbian,” Ellen said.

When Lester came out, Bobby shot him.


“I haven’t spoken to Bobby,” DeVries said.


“Lester was a drug dealer,” Ellen said. “He pulled a piece.”

The investigator leaned in close across the table.

“That’s not what I asked you, Detective Jones. Did your partner have any other options than to shoot Lester Simmons?”


Ellen had never seen her partner when they were off-duty before.

“So... no sweat, right? I’m cleared,” Bobby said.

“I lied for you,” Ellen said.

“And I love you for it.”

“That was the last, Bobby.”

“What – the last throw-away piece you had? Don’t worry. You can get more.”

“The last time!” Ellen said.

The bar’s patrons began to take notice of the argument.

“Ellen, I’m sorry I got so upset the other night. That was just really bad news you gave me.”

“Tomorrow,” Ellen said, “we both get new partners.”


“How could you love other women?” Bobby said.

All the noise in the squad room made it easier for Ellen to pretend she didn’t hear him.

“It’s not natural,” Bobby said.

“Bobby, you’re a decent cop,” Ellen lied. “Forget about me. Do your job. I’m nobody, okay? We had some times. Now let go.”

She had already turned away when she heard the gasps from all around. She turned back.

Bobby had his gun out.

Pointed at his own head.

“I killed a man the other night,” Bobby said.

“I know,” Ellen said.

“What do you know about me?” Bobby said.

Ellen took a step closer to him. “Not enough,” she said. “I need to know a lot more. And only you can tell me.”

“Bullshit, Ellen. Who’s the shrink here, anyway? You know. You know, Ellen.”

“Know what?”

“All you need to know about me,” Bobby said. “All there is to know about me – that I love you.”

“Bobby... where’s this coming from? The only time you act as if you have any feelings for me at all is when you start up about how much you love me.”

“Do you love me, Ellen?”

“Where’s the middle ground, Bobby? I don’t even know who you are when you start talking this way.”

Who am I?” Bobby said.

He kept the gun to his head the entire time they were talking.

Who am I? I’m the guy who loves you! What else do you need?”

Ellen had no answer.

“Do you love me?” Bobby screamed.

Ellen hesitated. Which was bad.

“As a friend,” she said. Which was worse.

“Wrong answer,” Bobby said.

Then Bobby pulled the trigger.


Bobby was dead.

Ellen stood directly under the showerhead for a long time.


Bobby’s parents were at the funeral. Ellen was introduced.

“I didn’t know Bobby had a partner,” his mother said.


“No one knew who I was,” Ellen said. “Bobby treated me like some sort of secret lover.”

DeVries nodded and scribbled some notes.


“I need some time off,” Ellen said. “Maybe forever.”

“To do what?” Oswald said.

“I don’t know exactly. Climb a mountain. Paint a picture. Get out of the city, at least.”


Maxwell eyed her, askance. “All you know is cop. That’s all you know how to be.”

“I think that’s the problem,” Ellen said.


Bobby was gone, wasn’t coming back. This was as true on the top of a mountain as anywhere else. But the view was better.

Ellen waited until sunset and prepared to let him go.


He’d sent her a package the day he died.

Ellen opened it atop the mountain.

It was a diary.

In it Bobby described Ellen to a T. Her hair color. Her gait. The way she looked the morning after.

The shaking, nervous, sex-charged scribblings of an adolescent.

Long before they’d even met.

Ellen saw the drops falling upon the pages and knew it wasn’t rain.

“Goddamn,” she said.

BIO: Mark Joseph Kiewlak has been a published author for nearly twenty years. In the past eighteen months his work has appeared in Hardboiled, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Thug Lit, Powder Burn Flash, Muzzle Flash, Mysterical-E, Disenthralled, Clean Sheets, and The Bitter Oleander, among others. He has also written for DC Comics.

A Twist Of Noir 338 - Stephen D. Rogers


Listen. Just because we’re fighting this war to protect our homeland against external threats doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make a few extra marks to send home to Dusseldorf. The only problem, my friend, is that these Soviet barbarians own nothing of any value.

The rare chicken that survives their retreat is butchered outright or traded for cigarettes. Their vodka tastes like piss. The huts they live in are torched before we even arrive, just to spite those of us who know of a market for thatched mud.

I have family back in Dusseldorf. A wife and four children. A sick and dying mother. They’re the only reason I find myself in this position.

And you? Were you posted to France where you’d spend your days sipping champagne and your nights deciding between the many Mademoiselles who will do anything for a bar of good German chocolate? No.

No. Instead, you’ve been condemned to the meat-grinder that is the Eastern Front. To this inhospitable, Godless country. Scorching heat and endless rains and winters that redefine Hell.

You’ve got the bulk of the Soviet Army in front of you and partisans crawling up your rear. Every breath you draw might well be your last.

A man needs some relief from the horror, the nightmare that continues after you pry open your eyes. A man has needs.

Her name is Natasha. The barbarians left this little one to die but I saved her, fed her out of my own meager rations.

You could have her for an hour.


Natasha outlived them all.

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.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 337 - Richard C. Katz


“Happy fucking New Year,” says Billy. He presses a finger against a nostril, blows snot into the snow, then wipes his nose on his sleeve. Doc sits on a piece of cardboard pulled out of the dumpster, his back against a brick wall glazed with ice. Everything is dusted with fresh snow, including Billy and Doc. There is not much of a moon, but feeble light from a nearby streetlamp illuminates part of the alley, making even the snow look yellow. Billy says, “I’m so fucking cold,” then slips into a bow stance, punching and kicking the air to stay limber and warm. He squints at his watch. “Jesus, where is this guy?” Doc sighs and regrets it as cold air fills his lungs like poured cement. He starts coughing from the bottom of his chest. Billy looks down. “You sound like shit,” he says. “When we get our money, you should come with me and Tiff down to Miami.”

“So you finally made up your mind?” asks Doc.

Billy shrugs. “You never know, but she’s been good. You like her, don’t you?”

“Sure, I do,” says Doc. “She set this up, didn’t she?”

The two men laugh. Doc takes a quick look around the corner of the alley into the empty street. Freezing wind slaps his face, turning numb cheeks to leather and watery eyes to burning ice. He looks back at Billy and shakes his head. Nothing. Nobody. No Mitch. Not even a stray dog risks this storm. Just a couple of chumps hiding in an alley instead of partying on New Year’s Eve.

Billy and Doc are on Boylston Street just past Tremont, in the narrow alley between Boston Music and Milton’s Flower Shop, just three doors down from the Shawmut Bank and a block and a half from The Golden Box, a strip club they no longer frequent. The Boston Commons is across the street, deserted in this weather and time of night, so there is little chance of someone seeing them, but nothing to block the wind and snow. Doc is the lookout, but regrets it now. Both men wear heavy coats, black wool ski caps and leather gloves to conceal their identities as much as to conserve warmth.

“Got to piss. Be right back.”

Doc nods as Billy slips off his gloves and crunches through snow, deeper down the alley. Doc turns away like a proper Bostonian when Billy stops to piss against the wall. Steam rises from the stream and Billy cups his hands to catch the warmth without getting wet, but is unsuccessful on both counts.

Doc tries to ignore the block of ice that used to be his ass. Boston winters suck – he knows that with every breath – but in a couple of months, the sun will hook him again. Stay with me, the city says. The days will get longer and warmer. Night breezes will cup his face like the hands of a lover. Then, like a classic bait and switch, the trees will change, and all that color will distract him from noticing the days are getting shorter. The wind will turn cold and sharp, digging deep into his old bones, and just like that, snow will smother what’s left of the color and everything will die. Winter. Black and white but mostly gray, like an old movie on TV where nothing really matters because you know all along how it’s going to end and the actors are all dead anyway. On TV you can just switch channels, but Doc is trapped in this cycle. Until now. If I got to mop floors, he thinks, might as well do it someplace warm. Maybe move to the southwest, maybe Los Angeles, where the sun shines three hundred and sixty days a year. Palm trees. Fresh fruit. The warm Pacific. Fast cars and movie stars. Could take some classes. Maybe meet somebody who reads books.

“Hey, old man. Wake up.” Billy is standing over Doc. Doc is confused, then realizes he nodded off. Damn it to hell! He braces himself and looks around the corner. “Look, man,” says Billy. “My balls–”

“He’s coming!” says Doc, turning back to Billy.

Billy forgets about his balls. “Is he alone?”

Doc stands up carefully, working through the stiffness without a grimace. “Yeah,” is all he says.

Mitch is co-owner of The Golden Box. According to Tiffany, a dancer who works at The Box, Mitch and his brother, Donald, deposit the day’s take in the bank’s night deposit slot each night after closing. New Year’s Eve is their biggest night. Both brothers are always armed, but three weeks ago Donald broke his leg while skiing Mt. Stowe so Mitch makes the deposits by himself. The take should be about six grand in cash. Doc’s share will go a long way towards making up his mind about L.A.

Doc and Billy pull their ski caps down into ski masks that cover their faces. They pull guns out of their pockets. Doc delicately slips the safety off his 9mm Tokorov, an ugly, pitted piece of old black metal. Billy takes a big RG 38 out of his pocket. He has owned the cheap gun for years, but fired it only once, preferring to club his victim and avoid escalating a rap. He grips the eight inch, pound-and-a-half gun in his gloved left hand and slaps the side of the grip into the palm of his right.

Doc peeks out again. “He’s at the curb. One, two, three...” He matches the speed of his count to the pace of Mitch’s steps then ducks back into the alley and continues counting at the same speed. Billy, the same height as Mitch, already paced off seventy-four steps from their side of the corner of Tremont to the alley, so they will be set to move on Mitch when the count gets to seventy.

Both men lean against the brick wall, Billy looking over the top of Doc’s head at the street. Billy is nervous and concentrates on slowing his breathing, like Doc taught him, but it is not working. He tells himself he’ll be all right once the action starts. The falling snow, seemingly suspended in the dim light, distracts him and at that very moment his breathing begins to slow.

A few scraps and a Breaking & Entering are all either of them had ever pulled off before tonight, but Doc learned what to do and say from the best while in Walpole. And Billy, an adrenaline junkie, is a willing disciple. Billy glances down the alley, reassured they are alone, and turns back to Doc. He sees Doc’s lips move. Doc whispers, “70,” and points to the street with his nose. A moment later, they hear Mitch’s footsteps flopping in the snow.

Mitch suddenly walks past the alley. Billy is behind him, gun raised high in the air. He slams the butt into the back of Mitch’s head. Mitch crumbles almost to his knees. His right hand reflexively moves toward the blow, but Billy grabs his wrist tightly and twists it down and back.

“What the fuck?” Mitch says, trying to turn around to confront Billy.

“Shut up, you hunk of shit. Don’t move,” Billy says in the deepest voice he can manage. Mitch feels the cold hard barrel of a gun against his neck and gropes for his gun. Doc grabs his arm with his left hand and jabs hard with his right, aiming for Mitch’s solar plexus, but instead hitting low in the gut. The punch still takes the air out of Mitch and doubles him over. Billy’s grip is firm and Mitch wrenches his own shoulder. Doc reaches into Mitch’s coat and removes his gun, a shiny Colt Commander, a compact beauty. He slips it into his back pocket as he sticks the Tokorov a half-inch from Mitch’s right eye. Flanked between two guns, Mitch stops struggling, his eyes focusing on the ugly gun’s barrel.

Good, thinks Doc. Look at the gun. Not me.

They push and pull Mitch into the alley. Doc forces Mitch’s other arm behind his back, securing both wrists together with a nylon tie.

“You don’t know who you’re fucking with,” shouts Mitch, trying to attract attention. Doc punches Mitch hard in his mouth and Mitch screams, “You asshole!” Blood flows from Mitch’s split lip and Doc hits him again, this time in the jaw with an uppercut, throwing Mitch’s head back and splattering blood up into the air. Drops of blood twinkle like stars in the yellow light, but turn black when they land in the snow.

“I told you to shut the fuck up,” growls Billy. “Make another sound and he’ll cut your throat. Got it?”

Billy does not wait for an answer. He grabs the back of Mitch’s collar, and pulls him deeper into the alley. Running along side of them, Doc slips a blue knit ski cap over Mitch’s head, yanking it down over his eyes. Billy tugs harder. Mitch tips backwards, loses his footing, and Billy ends up dragging him the rest of the way. When they are about 100 feet from the street, Billy lets go of Mitch, who falls like a rock onto his back. Even in the weak light, the front of the blue ski hat and his coat shine black with blood. “Hey, man,” Mitch pleads. “You got the wrong guy. Be reasonable.”

Billy kicks him hard in his side and a girly squeal comes out of Mitch. He bends over the crumpled form. “I know who you are,” Billy whispers. He presses his mouth to Mitch’s ear and the muzzle of his gun to the top of Mitch’s head. “Do not say anything or move a fucking muscle.” Mitch lays still as Doc binds him at the ankles and knees with more nylon ties. Doc reaches into his pocket for a roll of duct tape.

He wraps tape around the blue wool cap, securing it to Mitch’s head and covering his eyes and mouth in the process. He leaves Mitch’s nose exposed so he can breathe. It is messy and bloody, but effective.

Mitch stays limp as Billy drags him closer to the side of the alley. Doc feeds another nylon tie between Mitch’s arms and a thick water pipe that comes up from the ground and enters the brick wall of the building at about waist level. He tightens the tie, securing Mitch to the pipe, then nods to Billy.

Billy squats next to Mitch and pokes the tape covering Mitch’s mouth with the barrel of the gun. Mitch’s head pulls back at the touch. “Let me be explicit,” Billy says in a oddly calm, straight forward way. “Stay still and we will not hurt you. Move, and I will kill you. It is that simple, OK?”

Mitch risks a muffled sound and single nod. Billy rests the muzzle against Mitch’s forehead and looks up, giving Doc the go-ahead. Doc kneels down and opens Mitch’s coat. He goes through all his pockets, transferring three bulging blue deposit bags and Mitch’s wallet to a white plastic grocery bag. Mitch starts sobbing through the tape. Doc stands and jerks his head towards the other end of the alley. Billy nods. He puts his mouth close to Mitch’s covered face. Even in the cold and the wind, he can smell Mitch’s sweat.

“Frankie is watching you from over there,” he lies, “so don’t make a sound or move for twenty minutes. You will get cold, but you will not freeze. If you stay put, Frankie will call 9-1-1 and the cops will find you. Otherwise, he will call nobody and come over here and cut off your balls.” Billy taps Mitch’s groin with the barrel of his gun to emphasize the point and Mitch’s body jerks, making Billy smile. Billy stands and he and Doc walk toward the other end of the alley, looking back once at Mitch, and then they run, ripping off their masks and stuffing them in their pockets, slowing down only as they enter Stuart Street.


Tiffany takes the tea kettle off the counter and fills it half-way with water from the tap. She drops four Roofies into the kettle, moving the kettle in a circular motion to dissolve the pills. She places the kettle on the stove, but does not turn on the burner. Her preparations complete, she sits down at the kitchen table, opens a bottle of water and takes a sip. Then she lets out a big breath and shakes her shoulders and arms. She glances at the wall clock – Mitch should have left by now – then scans the kitchen, her face full of disgust. She hates this apartment, hot and stuffy in the winter because of the steam heat radiators. The whole building is a dump, but it is close to work, and a sublease for cash. Off the grid. No one in Boston even knows her real name. Her mother would be proud, she thinks, and she smiles and sits up a little. She thinks more about her mother and her face becomes blank. Her mother never let an opportunity pass by. Her mother always had a plan. Her mother did what was necessary.

“Everybody got a bottom line,” Tiffany’s mother would say, “and a woman who wants to survive in this world got to recognize what a man wants.” It wasn’t hard once she started dancing and learned to recover from her mistakes. Rock bottom was like anywhere else once you stay for awhile and have a good look around. She no longer feels panic when things fall apart, and that makes her feel strong. It puts her in control of, she believes, not just her own destiny, but the destiny of others. She makes her own opportunities. Men may own the world, but if she plays her cards right, a woman can own all the men she needs.

Tiffany stands up. She can not believe her luck. The Golden Box crowd was a mix of worthless college kids, gnomes in ties, and greasers living paycheck to paycheck. Brown Eyed Girl was the song, and she hears it now in her head and shifts her hips in time to the music. She remembers strutting toward a table of college boys, her posture, rhythm and attitude perfect, when she passed the odd pair, young white muscle boy, old black man with glasses. She caught Doc’s smile from the corner of her eyes and she reflexively turned and smiled back. She stopped and struck a pose, but Doc kept his eyes on her face. She was impressed by his self-control. She threw together the outfit – red corset, red bikini bottoms, and clear platforms – to highlight her assets. But he kept looking at her face and into her eyes. She remembers how that felt and smiles the same genuine smile she returned to Doc that night. That night, she began to think that maybe she danced for him before, but then realized his bottom line. He was lonely, not horny. Not yet, anyway. Then Billy motioned her for a dance. Her smile became hard again, but she felt pretty good after they talked for awhile and she realized how easy it was going to be.

By tonight she will be in Toronto, and from there, she can go anywhere she wants. The cash will be in her luggage, not a problem since Customs going into Canada rarely searches cars, and even when they do, they look for drugs, not cash. The mob will not recover their money, but they will have their two robbers. They will not get anything useful out of them. She and her money will be safe.

Tiffany walks out of the kitchen, flicking off the light switch to save electricity – another lesson learned from her mother – and enters a dark living room. Ugly yellow light from a streetlamp below her windows reflects off the ceiling, barely illuminating the room. Almost by instinct, she steps around the ottoman and sinks into a grimy naugahyde couch, stretching her legs to rest white sneakers on the large low glass coffee table. Under the table, an old thin rug covers the scratched wood floor. A corn plant in a giant terracotta pot sits at the far end of the couch, its leaves casting long shadows against the wall. Tiffany leans her head back into the couch, no longer aware of the creaking sound of naugahyde, and stares up at gray space where the ceiling should be.

An odd couple. Billy was a known. She handled Billies her whole life. Abandoned as kids, growing up in foster homes and living in boarding houses with no sense of family. Acting like the world is theirs, but still not in on the joke. Big baby boys who can not wait to get what they want, mostly tits and toys, pussy and pizza, blowjobs and beer. This one is not so full of life as full of himself. To Tiffany, Billy had three buttons: stay, heel, and roll over.

Doc was another thing. Like a lot of ex-cons, he had his story, if you believed him, which she did, mostly. He was a Theater major at UMass when a fight broke out at a basketball game. Some kid from UConn got stabbed and Doc was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He did seventeen years for attempted murder. Tough luck, she thinks, but better him than me.

She listened to their stories, like she did with every customer to keep them buying dances. The two men worked at Parker Bros. Suits and Dresses. Billy loaded boxes onto trucks for ten years which got him nothing but minimum wage. Doc mopped floors and cleaned toilets. The two men began to hang out together and became friends.

Billy saw an opportunity for a quick buck – a small stereo store with a thin back door and no alarm – and brought Doc in to help carry the goods, but Doc offered more than a second pair of hands. No matter what Doc had been like as a kid, he developed the skills and attitude needed to survive almost two decades at Walpole. It was an education no one predicted for him. Doc taught Billy the tricks to breaking and entering without getting caught. They made $1300 a piece when they unloaded the equipment. When Tiffany approached them with her idea of a robbery, it was Doc again who came up with the details, the art and science of confrontation and intimidation. Billy needed Doc’s direction and Doc needed Billy’s muscle. Tiffany needed two fall guys and knew it was a good match all around.

Tiffany also knew both men wanted to feel something, Billy her tits and Doc something else, so being Billy’s girl and Doc’s friend made it easy for her to talk them into robbing Mitch. They did not need to know that Mitch was connected and they were stealing a lot more money than they thought. And they certainly did not need to know that the money belonged to the mob.


Billy’s whole body aches, and he wonders how the old man keeps going. They see only one man in the distance, his head down and walking fast toward Tremont, as they run in the early morning light down deserted streets and finally turn onto Lagrange. Billy follows Doc to the back service door of Tiffany’s building. Doc has the key out before he gets to the door and jams it into the lock. Together they push, and the heavily dented metal door screeches open. Billy piles in behind Doc. Doc is already scanning the dark room before his eyes even adjust. Billy leans against the door and pushes it closed, making the room even darker. He turns around, but sees only shadows. A streetlamp shines through a high window protected by a security grate, projecting a crisscross pattern of shadows and light everywhere. The room starts to spin.

For the first time in the past four-and-a-half hours, Doc is not getting colder. He stand on a small landing at the foot of the stairs, his eyes blank as he soaks in the relative warmth and lack of wind. He looks up at the door at the top of the stairs to see if someone heard them enter, but it’s difficult to concentrate and his mind drifts. His fingers and toes tingle, and he wiggles them as feeling returns. His face and ears are no longer numb, but ache instead. These must be good signs, he thinks. Each breath fills his body and soul with warmth and he imagines this is what a vacation does for you. Maybe he’ll find out soon, he thinks. He shakes his head to clear his thoughts and hears retching.

Billy is on his knees throwing up. Not sure what to do, Doc does nothing. Billy looks up and wipes his mouth with his sleeve. The crisscross pattern of shadows project onto both of their faces. “Sorry,” he says. “Sorry.”

“You did good, Billy,” Doc says. “You okay now?” Billy nods. Doc starts climbing, and Billy follows him up to the fourth floor. He carefully closes the heavy fire door behind him, preventing it from making any noise. They walk down the corridor to apartment 43. Doc knocks gently and waits. Nothing. He knocks again. Billy starts to speak, but Doc holds up a hand to silence him. Doc puts his ear to the door, then knocks again, longer and louder this time. They hear footsteps and then the sound of a deadbolt and a latch. The door opens. They rush into the apartment without looking.

“Hi, boys! You look cold,” says Tiffany. “I’ll put the kettle on. Want some hot tea?”


“Two hundred sixty-two thousand seven hundred and sixteen,” says Billy, laying the last bill – a battered single – down on the coffee table. An open box of Oreos is in the middle of the table surrounded by stacks of cash. Billy sits on the floor with Tiffany next to him. Doc is stretched out on the couch next to the corn plant. Their coats are draped over an upholstered chair and ottoman set. Three empty deposit bags lay on the floor. Counting went quickly because the cash consisted mostly of packs of hundreds wrapped in gold bands stamped by a New York bank.

Billy grins big. He finishes his tea and rubs his eyes, then grabs a cookie and shoves it into his mouth. Tiffany collects Billy’s and Doc’s empty mugs, and takes them into the kitchen for refills. She wears a delicious smile that neither man misses.

“Tiff looks happy,” says Billy, unfocused eyes directed toward the kitchen door.

“She should,” says Doc. He sits up. “You know, Billy,” he says, trying to get Billy’s attention. Billy’s head is still turned toward the kitchen. “Bill, this is a lot more than we expected. I don’t know—”

“Hey,” Billy says suddenly grabbing a stack of hundreds and examines it. “Why is Benjamin Franklin on money?” His speech is slurred. “He wasn’t a president, right?”

“Neither was Hamilton or Chase,” says Doc, shifting his weight. His voice sounds far off to Billy. “You don’t have to be... Listen, Bill—”

“Here you go, guys!” Tiffany returns holding two mugs. “Tea with milk and sugar for Billy. Straight up for Doc.” She places the mugs on the table and sits across from Doc on the ottoman.

“Thanks.” Doc wraps his left hand around the mug for warmth. He does not drink. “You’re not having anything.”

Tiffany laughs and holds up her bottle of water. “You locals and your tea. Water’s healthier.”

Billy sips delicately at his tea. “Man, I’m bushed. I think I...” His head wobbles, and empty eyes look around the room. “Doc, who’s Chase?” Billy watches his own arm fall and his mug drop to the floor, spilling the tea on the rug. He collapses sideways and his head smacks the wood floor through the thin rug.

Doc looks from Billy to Tiffany. Her face is blank. She is holding Doc’s Tokorov in her right hand. Doc thinks, It’s ugly, all right. He looks her in the eyes. His expression is gentle. His eyes register resignation.

“Reds?” he asks.

“Something like that,” she says and grins. “Where’d you spill the tea?” Then, with mock seriousness, “You better not have ruined the couch. I don’t want to lose my deposit.”

Doc snorts politely. “I’ll tell you, but tell me where the extra money came from. I’m curious.”

She hesitates, figures what the hell. “Big deposits for the bar are expected on New Year’s, St. Paddy’s Day, Fourth of July, that sort of thing. Mitch and Donald launder funds for McNeil’s organization. So that’s when they take the mob money to the bank.” She smiles proudly. “I got the idea when Donald broke his leg.”

“Wish I’d thought of it first,” he says.

“Bet you do,” she says and sits up straighter. “Now drink your tea, sweetie, so I can be on my way.”

Doc picks up the cup with his left hand and blows on the tea. It’s still too hot.

“Drink it!” louder this time. She shakes the gun at him.

Doc smiles at Tiffany with wide eyes like a delighted child. “Don’t you want to know where I dumped the tea?” he asks, and, not waiting for her response, shifts his eyes left toward the corn plant. Tiffany lifts her chin and parts her lips, but reflexively looks toward the plant.

She feels it first, a pressure on the left side of her neck so intense the pain radiates instantly to her face and shoulder. All she sees is dark red. Then she hears the gun as her vision returns and realizes she’s on her back, looking up at the ceiling. Then everything goes away.

Doc stands, Mitch’s gun steady in his right hand. Tiffany’s throat is a mess of blood and flesh, the big bullet severing her left carotid and jugular. She’s on her back, head hideously twisted, legs propped up mid-calf by the ottoman. The spent shell from Mitch’s Colt is on the floor to his right, the Tokorov is on the floor to his left. Doc bends to pick up both and jumps back as Tiffany’s legs kick twice, her right sneaker falling to the floor. Then she is still again. He leaves her like that. She’ll bleed out fast that way, he thinks.

He listens for voices or footsteps, and hears nothing. But he knows his hearing is not so good anymore. In the bathroom he finds a stack of towels that he stuffs around Tiffany’s head and neck to keep the blood from spreading and leaking down to the ceiling below. Satisfied, he puts on his leather gloves and searches the apartment for anything that might link him or Billy to the crime. In the bedroom, he rifles through the two suitcases by the bed. He swipes keys off the dresser and two driver’s licenses from the top drawer. The California license is current but the Texas license expired over three years ago. Neither of the names are hers, but the pictures are close. He finds about seven hundred under some sandals in a shoebox. He stuffs the keys and money into his pockets. He rinses the mugs, drying them with paper towels to prevent leaving prints or saliva, then burns the paper towels and licenses on the stove, washing the ashes down the drain. He wipes down everything he and Billy touched. He leaves nothing to point toward him or Billy.

Doc looks at his watch. He throws the money, the deposit bags, Mitch’s wallet, and the RG and Colt into the plastic bag. He puts on his coat, the Tokorov in his right pocket. He looks down at Billy. He could run, leave Billy to take the rap, but he can not do it. Not to Billy, his only friend in the world.

It takes Doc an hour to hike the two miles to his furnished room on Beacon Street. He drops the Colt and deposit bags into different sewers along the way. He washes up, grabs a bite, puts on some fresh clothes, and throws what few possessions he has into his duffle bag, along with the cash and guns. On the way out of the building, he slips a note under the landlord’s door saying he is moving out unexpectedly for family reasons, and understands he will be forfeiting his deposit. He throws the duffle into his trunk and drives to Tiffany’s, parking in front of the adjacent building. It stopped snowing and the sun, just below the horizon, turns the sky from black to gray. Nearly exhausted, he rides the elevator up four flights to Tiffany’s apartment. Billy is still unconscious. He avoids looking at Tiffany, but cannot ignore the stench of coagulating blood. He half lifts, half drags Billy into a worn office chair with wheels he finds in the spare bedroom. He pushes Billy in the chair out the door to the elevator. The lobby and street are empty this New Year’s morning, and he pushes Billy to his car without incident. Ten minutes later, with Billy snoring in the backseat, Doc heads for the Mass Pike.

They are on I-90 about a half hour from Cleveland and a-fifth of the way to Los Angeles. Good Lovin’ is playing on the radio. Doc thinks about buying a duplex on Venice beach. He can live in one half and rent the other half while taking acting classes. Billy can handle maintenance. “Got to pee,” he mumbles, then more clearly, “Where are we? Where’s Tiff?”

“There’s a rest area coming up,” says Doc. “We can take a piss and get something to eat. I’ve got a story to tell you, my friend.”

BIO: Richard C. Katz was born and raised in Boston. He wrote and published a text book, book chapters and over 50 articles in professional journals, and won four awards for commentaries on science fiction film and television, but only recently has begun writing fiction. He has been a fan of classic and neo-noir in film and text for years. His last crime fiction story, ‘The Oath’, describing a murder at a VA hospital, was published (read as an audio file) on Seth Harwood’s CrimeWav (episode #37) and a shorter version of the tale appears on Darkest Before the Dawn. Rich can be reached at