Sunday, February 28, 2010


What's this? Has Christopher Grant lost his mind? Is he violating his own unwritten rule of not posting one of his stories on A Twist Of Noir?

Well, since it's for a contest at another site and is not, in any way, taking a spot away from a deserving writer, which was my unwritten rule, I think it's okay.

Please read my story, Jimmy's story and Cam's story and then head over to Dan O'Shea's Going Ballistic to check out other stories in the contest.

Dan O'Shea Flash Fiction Contest Submission: Christopher Grant


I feel him as he approaches the restaurant table. His steps cause a sort of echo effect, a sound wave. Everything does. I haven’t heard anything since birth, didn’t hear my mother say she loved me or my father say goodbye (though neither did my mother; he just left us). I’ve never known music, not really, and I’ve never heard the result of what I do.

He sits across from me and takes out a notepad. The first time we met, he was introduced to me by a friend who suggested I might be able to take care of his problem. Jerry is forever looking out for my interests.

My client rips off the page and slides it across the tabletop. I put down the forkful of eggs and look at what he’s written.


I raise my eyebrows and my client nods. I pick up my fork and pop the eggs into my mouth. Exactly how I like them, which they ought to be; I’ve been coming to this place for twenty years.

My client reaches into his jacket and pulls out an envelope. He slides this across the table, too, then stands and walks away, through the door of the restaurant. His steps are lighter now that he has finally concluded his business with me. He gets in his car and drives away.

I grab a slice of toast, butter it and chew vigorously while I open the envelope. It appears as if he’s given me his life savings. I stash the envelope in my own jacket, take another bite of eggs, a sip of orange juice and stand. I pull out a hundred dollar bill and leave it on the table.


I cannot remember the last time I stood before a cathedral. A long time ago, that’s all I know. The steeple reaches for the heavens and falls short, a fitting metaphor for the institution that owns the property. Inside, the glass ceilings mimic the steeple, the stained glass depicts how the world supposedly was once. Turns out that it’s all open to interpretation. Personally, I think it’s a bunch of shit.

There are very few people here this early in the morning and those that are are either lighting candles, bowing their heads in prayer or waiting on line for Father O’Reilly to hear their confession. I can feel the light echo of everyone’s footsteps and their whispered words. I move to stand behind a middle-aged man that shifts from foot to foot, as if he’s in a hurry or extremely nervous about what he has to say to the good father. A blonde woman brushes against me as she moves to stand behind me. I like her smile and she smells immaculate. I think I can guess what her confession might sound like.

When it is finally my turn, I enter the booth and kneel on the padded plank of wood. This is an old school confessional; the new ones have chairs. I keep my eyes on the wood seperation beyond the latticework.

After what seems like eons, the divider slides open and I watch his lips move.

I leave the confessional a moment later and the cathedral a moment after that, relieved that I cannot hear the blonde woman’s screams.

Dan O'Shea Flash Fiction Contest Submission: Jimmy Callaway


So it’s come to this:

A guy hits the town on a boring Wednesday night, commits himself a little rape, and now he’s locked in a death struggle with some kinda priest.

Some days, man. Some days.

Way Steve saw it, the cable company should stand the blame. Just couldn’t wait to get their money. All of a sudden, six months overdue is four too many. If they’d just been patient and not shut his cable off, he’d have something better to watch than America’s Next Top Model.

Come to think, that dippy college twat was almost as much to blame. Who the hell starts screaming like that after being raped? Beforehand, sure. During, yeah. I mean, a guy’s got his hands full right then. But she don’t say peep until after he’s rolled off her, and then she’s screaming her lungs out. Sheesh.

Only one way to shut ’em up at that point.

And then cops, bang, outta nowhere. Thank Christ that Steve can run like he can. Hauled ass down the street, keeping to the bushes, going deep into the ’burbs, where all you gotta watch out for is dogs and late-night swimmers. Mosquitoes picked at him, struggling to keep up as Steve leapt over fence after fence, knocking over more than one gas grill.

And then up and over one more fence, there it stood. A church. A fuckin’ church. Steve’s internal atlas quickly flipped to this page, told him this old Baptist place had been empty for a few years now. One of those churches that looked like an old folks’ home: white stucco, ornate bars on the windows, a rusted-out swing set. A huge ash tree, branches as thick around as fenceposts, leaves whispering in the breeze overhead as Steve beat feet to the church’s back door. Soft light leaked from behind the barred windows.

Closed down, schmosed down, somebody was at fuckin’ home. Steve whipped the door open. Candles sat sparsely about the huge room, the chapel, and their feeble light was almost completely swallowed by the dark. Up on one wall, Steve could barely make out the ghost of where a cross used to be, a broken outline in old wood glue. He felt the sweat cool on his brow.

There was a shuffle of feet, and Steve saw the monk, or priest, or whatever he was. An old guy in brown robes. He lifted his hood to reveal a massive black beard shot through with gray as well as—Jesus fuckin’ Christ—an eyepatch? Man, this was gonna be easier than Steve thought.

“Hey, old man,” he said, “you gotta help me.”

The old man said nothing.

“C’mon, man, the cops are after me! This is a church, right? So you gotta gimme—y’know, you gotta hide me!”

The old man said nothing.

Steve stepped forward and grabbed him by the shoulders.

That—okay, that was Steve’s fault.

The old man broke his hold, slapping Steve’s arms away, and then he socked Steve right in the breadbasket. He shoved Steve backwards as the younger man doubled over, trying to suck the breath back into him. The old man stood back a bit, knees bent, fists up.

Steve finally stood upright, gasping. “The fuck—?” he managed, and the old man slapped him, open palm, right in the mouth. The smack echoed back to them in the empty building. The old man smiled.

“You—!” Steve blurted as he charged. The old man side-stepped him, and Steve tripped almost elegantly over the old man’s sandaled foot. He went headfirst into the back of a pew, inhaled dust and cobwebs as he pushed himself off the floor.

Steve stood there, hands on his knees, panting. He looked up at the old man, who hadn’t broken a sweat. This old...this old fuck had not even broken a sweat. Standing there with his beard and eyepatch like some kinda goddamned pirate and—

And so it has come to this.

Steve lets out a roar, so deep in its rage and bloodthirst that it surprises even him. He charges again, the fury within quickening his feet, his fingers pulsing in their desire to wrap around the old man’s throat, to wipe that glorying smile off his face.

The old man pulls a butcher knife from within the folds of his robe and plunges it into Steve’s left side. Steve collapses into the old man’s arms, his roar now a shudder on his lips, as he feels his warm insides spread themselves around the blade. Steve’s eyes water.

“You fight like a woman,” the old man whispers into Steve’s ear, “but you will have to do.”

Through the tears, Steve can see out in the yard, underneath the old ash tree, more monks, more men in brown robes. There are seven—no, eight of them. One holds a rope.

“Oh,” Steve says, “Oh, fuck me.”

“I dedicate,” the old man says in a low thunder, “this battle to Odin.”

“Oh, fuck me,” says Steve.

BIO: Jimmy Callaway lives and prays for death in San Diego, CA. Many dear thanks to Cameron Ashley and Josh Converse for their edits, Dan O’Shea for throwing down the gauntlet, and featuring Christopher Grant as “The Beaver.” For more hi-jinks, please visit Attention, Children. Sequential Art.

Dan O'Shea Flash Fiction Contest Submission: Cameron Ashley


Jesus left town six months ago.

Pretty unceremonious departure. One certainly unbecoming our Lord and saviour. He left us, in pieces, wrapped in black garbage bags, in the back of a ute.

The new guy, he looked down at us. I mean not just from an angle, like the old Jesus did, hanging there above us. This new guy, he literally looked down on us. His face was all, how do you describe it? Kind of not a face. Like something from a Jap horror movie, all stringy hair and empty eyes and he had distended, stretched-out limbs. He was grotesque. He looked pissed off and ugly and he made me feel weird about all the shit I had going on, all the shit I’d done.

He’d been in town three months. The congregation warmed to him. I didn’t understand. I wanted to shout: he is not our Jesus! I wanted him gone, exiled Old Testament style. I wanted to start a petition, a fuckin’, a fuckin’ protest, something. I needed to do something.

New Jesus didn’t even fit in with the decor. I mean, mate, the church went back 100 years. It was mud brick and dirty and it only seated fifty-five. Outside, there was nothing but dust, weeds, horizon and abos, and we needed a Saviour who looked like a saviour not a serial killer. The place was ugly enough.

Under the watch of this new guy, I feared for our future. People started looking over their shoulders all suspicious. Lights stayed on at night. Old Max sat on his porch with his shotty loaded, shooting at lizards and sinking tinnies ’til the sun came up. Trust was gone. Civility was going. And nobody seemed to notice but me. We were going to the dogs. The new guy was bringing us down. The new guy’s ugliness reminded us of all the shit we’d done. Past sins, once forgotten, were dredged up and unforgiven. Who fucked who, who fought who, who fleeced who, it all came back like bad dreams remembered. Christ-like niceness undone, bang, just like that.

When the real Jesus fell off his cross and broke into little Jesusy bits, I got out of my seat and ran to Him and tried to put the Jesusy bits back together again. The pastor, he taps me on the shoulder and he says, “It’s okay, mate, we’ll get another Jesus.”

How the fuck do you get a new Jesus, I thought. Too shocked to speak, I cried and kept trying to fix Him up.

Pastor leans down, clasps me shoulder, whispers into me ear, “He’s not an action figure, can’t pop the bloody joints back in again. Go sit, you’re making everybody nervous.”

He turned to the congregation, all of them sitting there shocked quieter than when the town lost power during the Funniest Home Videos grand final, and told them what he told me: don’t worry, we’ll just get a new Jesus.

Like fuck, I thought, and stashed the broke off right hand of God into the pocket of me shorts.

I sat and held His hand the day they carted rest of Him away in Ron’s ute. Pastor saw me with the hand, looked like he was gunna say something, changed his mind, walked away muttering to himself.

When things got real bad and I went, right, time to fix this shit WWJD-style, I thought I could just piss off with the new guy, rock up one night, fuckin’ kidnap the cunt. Problem was he was too big, too heavy. Problem also was I didn’t wanna get near that freak.

So I decided.

Like I said, the church was one hundred years old. It was held together more by luck and prayer and the odd bit of timber here and there Phil brought in for patch up.

I stole Ron's ute. I put Jesus’ hand on the gear stick. I put my hand on Jesus’. We put her in first, said a quick prayer, and we booted it up the hill, quick as.

After the initial booming noise, the sound was oddly tinkling, brinks clinking against each other on the way down. The new guy got fucked up real good under a messy pile of chipped and smashed bits of old church.

I got out of hospital yesterday.

I thought there’d be trouble, like animosity. Nah.

People thanked me. They actually thanked me. They told me they understood, that they knew about my “troubles.” Then they told me:

They start building the new church today.


I have had to make a change in the way that comments are moderated here at A Twist Of Noir, due to the fact there has been some spam and a handful of vile comments (that fortunately I caught before too many people say them) in the last month or so.

So now, if you have something to say, it has to go through a filter (me) and will then either make it to the site (which will be the majority of the comments made, I'm sure) or will never see the light of day.

It is my hope that everyone that reads the stories here at ATON enjoy them and, if they feel compelled to make comment, they do so respectfully. Unfortunately, there are still some that feel that they need to ruin it for the rest of us.

Because I value the writers whose stories you read here and because I put their comfort above all else, the comments will now meet my eyes first.

A Twist Of Noir 366 - Richard Godwin



The ad grabbed me from the word go, and I found myself reaching for the phone and dialing Happy Homes.

The voice on the other end was upbeat in a sing-song maniacal way.

‘Hu-l-lo, Happey Homes, Sin-clair speaking, how may I help you?’

‘I’m calling about one of your houses.’

He ran through his repertoire and I answered his questions, making up most of the information.

When he got to the bit about a job, I paused for a few seconds before saying:

‘Freelance detective.’

‘Oh, rilly? That’s most in-teresting , Jack, I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with a detective before will you be requiring a mortgage?’

His voice reminded me of some musical or catchy little jingle, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

I looked out of the window to watch a dog being kicked by its owner while he rabbited on and made my appointment for later that afternoon.

The hotel was cramping my style and I thought that owning a place would give me just the break I needed now that I was able to do what I wanted with my life again.

It started to rain, and I watched it come down, washing the streets clean and sending everyone in doors, especially those who’d been caught out without an umbrella, although that never bothered me, I liked the unexpected element about rain. Then, later, just before I left, the sun came out.

It was a beautiful colour at that time of day, a melting reddy-orange that streaked the clouds just a little.

I thought about that song ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ and tried to remember the words all the way there on the bus, but couldn’t.

It was a long time ago that I’d last heard it, somewhere in my childhood.

I got to Acacia Avenue a few minutes before Sinclair was due to arrive and took a walk around.

I was wearing the new suit, which I thought made me look professional. It was a little tight and I’d even bought a tie, a coloured one with patterns of boats on it.

The neighbourhood was a good one, a far cry from the council estate I had known growing up. That was before my mother od’d and they took me to the home which burnt down. But that was all a long time ago and I just decided to stop thinking about it, because I could feel something rising in me like a snake.

I passed a mother with a baby in a pram and she smiled at me, so I just smiled right back, figuring that was what you did around here.

Her face looked hollowed out and the baby was screaming.

I walked round the block.

No syringes, no used condoms, no graffiti.

I felt respectable all of a sudden.

Sinclair was standing by his car and I spotted him a mile away.

He had agent written all over him, from his mobile phone to the property details he was clutching.

‘Mr. Steele’, he said, extending a hand.

Limp shake.

‘Shall we go in?’

He passed me a sheet.

I glanced at it and dropped it on the floor as he fumbled with the keys.

The house was real nice, all new floors and wallpaper.

I wasn’t sure I liked the design since I hadn’t known much wallpaper in my time, certainly hadn’t seen any for years, just peeling white paint and pipes where I’d been living if that’s what you could call it.

Thinking about it made me want to light up but I thought I’d better wait until I’d seen the house.

Sinclair was rabbiting on about something or other and I just tuned him out of my head like a bad radio station and looked about.

It was clean and easily big enough, and I knew I wanted it.

‘Will you be needing a mortgage, Sir?’

‘No, this is a cash purchase.’

‘Oh, rilly that’s eksellent, you’re an agent’s dream.’

‘Do you understand dreams?’

He looked at me, not knowing what to say and I could see him reach for his script.

‘Do you like the house?’

‘Yeah, I like it just fine.’

It was all happy families, kids in the nursery and cooking, real home cooking in the kitchen, not pies with weird shit in them, and I started to feel that snake whipping its tail again. So I asked to see the bathroom.

That was when it hit me.

I knew it would, it always does, somewhere in a house. I should have known it would either be the bathroom or the bedroom, since that was all that was left, and since these looked like decent folk, from what I could see from the pictures they had everywhere, smiling wife and seriously hardworking hubby, I figured it had to be the bathroom.

A click later and I was standing in it.

Bathtub, loo, some small sink thing on the floor probably for babies to wash or something and a mirror.

Sinclair had followed me in and was standing behind me as I looked at the mirror and saw his face change.

His suit started to catch fire and I saw the mark on him. Yes he was one of them all right the mark was right there all across his face and I heard it loud and clear.

Kill the fucker, cut his head off.

And his skin started to peel away like burnt paper.

I turned round quickly nearly knocking him over and made some excuse about having forgotten an appointment and could I come back again?

‘Yes, no problem, but how do you like the property?’

I left him standing in the hallway looking puzzled and ran for the bus like a greyhound who’s just seen the hare.

A couple of days later I called him. I hadn’t changed since the appointment and I smelt real bad. In fact I hadn’t been out and it was a while since I’d eaten, so I had a quick shower and went to the local caf which I liked because there was never anyone in there and it was cheap.

After a hearty fry up I fixed up a second appointment.

Then I cleaned up my room, thinking this was the chance for a new start, for the kind of life they’d told us all we could live.

I looked at the tie again and the boats sailing around on it and wondered where they were going, and then I put it on, making sure I got the knot right.

I was crossing that bridge and I could see normality beckoning on the other side, I could even taste it.

Then I looked around my room scratching my head.

There wasn’t much in it, just a chair and bed, and the small TV I’d bought, and the little picture of ducks on the wall.

But I had a funny thought all that day which I remember now clearly, that I’d forgotten something really important, you know, like the one when people say they left the gas on, or didn’t pay a bill, none of which I’ve ever known, but I just kept walking about my little room trying to remember what it was and eventually got sick of the walls moving in and out like they were breathing and so I went back to Acacia Avenue.

I hadn’t realised just how beautiful it was the first time I went there, I was probably focusing too much on all the money involved in buying a new place, but I kept telling myself that I’d just won the lottery, so it didn’t matter. I was going to throw some parties when I met some people, maybe join the freemasons, yes.

The road was immaculate and the people were so friendly, one woman passed me and said:

‘Vellcome to da neighbourhood’, and I answered her back:

‘Thank you, ma’am, I will be holding a house-warming party later this year and you are cordially invited.’

She beamed me a smile, and I adjusted my tie.

The place smelt of roses and something rotting at the middle but I just ignored the second bit and concentrated on the first.

Then I saw Sinclair again and thought what a nice fellow he was, and gave him a warm handshake.

‘Shall we have a look around, Mr. Steele?’ he said, and I just nodded and smiled at him, not feeling too bad that was not my real name.

It was a pity I couldn’t find that lottery ticket, but I knew it would turn up one day, probably still will, and anyway, it didn’t matter.

Then I was inside again.

We walked around the house and I told him how much I liked their ad in the paper.

‘Well, we do help people have happy homes,’ he said.

‘Yes. A happy home is a good place to start, but I liked reading how you know your places through and through, it’s that wording that drew me to you.’

I’d watched those programmes on the TV where they help people buy a place and I knew the script pretty good, so he never suspected.

When he got off the phone he saw me looking at a picture of the family and said:

‘Are you married, Mr. Steele?’


‘Any children?’

‘One on the way.’

‘Oh that’s lovely.’

Then we went upstairs.

That was when it started.

I knew it would.

I can always tell when a place has them.

They don’t rattle chains or wear white sheets, that’s all cartoon stuff for kiddies.

No, they always come out of the mirrors.

That’s how you can tell if a place has got them.

And I can tell you for sure, most places do. And if they don’t they will, because why would squatters stay in the street when there are empty houses?

So we kept on chatting and talking shop and I asked him how quick the people could move because I really wanted to throw that party, and he said:

‘I’ll have to check with them.’

And that was when it happened.

There was a mirror in the hallway just between the two bedrooms.

I hadn’t seen it properly the first time I went there but now it loomed out at me from the hall, almost grabbing me.

It had an ornate frame and on the edges there were clear bloodstains, deep ones like when the blood has pumped furiously out of a major artery. The blood had sprayed all over it.

Then we went into the bathroom again.

He went in first and I followed him.

And as I did I remembered what it was I had forgotten.

I could see the pills in their blister pack lying at the back of the drawer in the cheap bedside table at the hotel.

Dr. Brown’s face loomed at me out of the darkness as he fumbled with the cord.

‘If you take these, you will be OK. No voices.’

His smile always made me feel sick.

He clicked the light on and we went in.

I had my hand in my pocket and just as he turned and became visible in the mirror, I knew.

He had no face.


Just bloody holes and a head full of snakes.

They were writhing around in there hissing and spitting venom.

Some of it landed like semen on the glass and trickled down heavily.

Then he began to laugh.

I could see his body was full of insects, maggots and beetles and disgusting stuff that would make you throw up if I told you.

He just stood there laughing and saying things like:

‘I work for them. They pay me very well.’

The light was hissing and fizzing and the bulb exploded shattering us both with shards of glass and as that happened, I pulled out the knife and just hacked his head right off.

His eyes were popping out like a pair of ping-pong balls and his mouth was moving in slow motion, a thread of saliva between his teeth as he tried to speak in their secret language. But I just kept sawing away at his neck, slicing through his Adam’s apple, and watched the saliva turn red and bubble.

His head came away easily like a slice of rotten meat and hung there from a thread while his neck just showered us both with a curtain of blood and I just stood there hacking away at this last thread which was some piece of wire to their headquarters until his head fell off and thumped to the floor.

It was a good knife, and I dismembered him with it. I cut him through and through, and placed his organs in a neat row by his head.

Then I just left and went home and had a shower.

They must have been following me because later that day the blue people came and got me.

I heard their radios crackling from the street below and knew they had trapped me again and would send me back to the factory, but decided the next time I would be cleverer.

You probably read in the papers the headlines they wrote. All lies. Don’t believe a word of them. Things like:

‘Estate agent killed by escaped madman. Married man with promising future decapitated. Lunatic strikes. Horrified family come home to dismembered corpse in the bathroom.’

That’s what they print to stop you knowing the truth.

But they’re out there and they’re taking over.

They have your wife, your children, your jobs and your futures, and they must be stopped. Some people can see them, but they’re only visible in mirrors.

I can hear them in the corridor. I know the shuffle of their shoes.

They’re coming to give me my pill.

I gave up trying to fight them since I’ve been back here, since they just sit on you and get the fat guys in white to hold you down, then they pull your pants down and stick it up your arse, laughing at you.

So I’m taking them.

But I’ll stop.

And I’ll get them. I’ll get them all.

They’ve killed two of my allies since I got out.

They say they’ve gone, but I know they did away with them and they’re serving them up in the pies. That’s why I’ve gone vegan.

It’s my human rights, you know. I read that out there.

I won’t keep taking their pills for ever.

People don’t know about the plan to take over the planet.

You’re being used. They’re all agents, they all work together.

Outside, through my window I can see one of them.

They’re coming, I can hear the door opening and I can see their shadows in the mirror.

BIO: Richard Godwin lives and writes in London, where his dark satire ‘The Cure-All’, about a group of confidence tricksters, has been produced on the stage. He has just finished writing a crime novel. His writing appears regularly at Disenthralled and Gloom Cupboard, among many other magazines. He has a Twitter account and can be found there under the User Name Stanzazone. He is in the process of setting up a blog. For right now, you can check out his portfolio here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 365 - Keith Buckley


Max Baum reactivated the camcorder, switched the LCD joystick over to ‘night mode’ and slowly panned around the bottom of the quarter-mile long rectangular quarry again. Not a sign of the couple he absolutely knew was back here tonight. He’d heard their BMW turn off Fairfax Road onto the gravel drive, followed their lights as they took the right fork to the barbed wire fence where the kids always parked on the way to skinny-dipping, saw the two figures emerge with flashlights, and disappear behind his landlord’s place, the old farmhouse on the back road to the quarry. Sure, this Saturday night wasn’t prime time for juvenile shenanigans up at Sanders Quarry, it being the quarter moon and all, but the car looked like the same one he’d spotted two weeks ago, and the couple he’d surreptitiously filmed that night had garnered over 2,000 new subscribers to Amateurs On The Rocks, his for-pay adult site.

Even with all the free porn on the web, the act those kids had put on was so hot that horn-dogs all over the world were willing to pony up $19.95 to watch.

“All I want’s a repeat of last month,” Max told himself. “Double the viewers, cash out the account, shut down, and move on before the Feds close in." Because close in the authorities would. As soon as he’d started shooting on June 26th from his perch overlooking the up-tilted slab on the west side of the quarry pool, he guessed that both the male and female were underage. Even during his brief stint on the fringes of the adult video world, though, Max had never seen a hotter, more hardcore display of raw sexual acrobatics. The chick was incredible, and would’ve been a perfect 10 if not for the oversized jaw. Everything else was perfect except for that Jay Leno jaw. Those two performed a series of no-holes barred moves literally beyond his imagination, and under the perfect glare of the full moon, he’d captured the entire scene.

Captured it, gone back to his tumble-down cottage off the other fork of Norton Lane, and beat off to it, he grinned. Three times in one night, a new Max Baum record. Then, on Sunday morning, he slapped together an assemble edit, posted Moonlight Madness on the site, and got the buzz going through eXnet, his service provider, with some carefully cropped stills. And watched his Paypal account explode.

A thin reedy voice, a very familiar voice, interrupted Max’s calculations of his take on the subscriptions. “You’ve got the wrong guy!” wailed Jack Fleetwood, Max’s landlord. “You’ve got the wrong guy!” The sound of Fleetwood’s strained, terrified voice carried beautifully across the vast, carved-out amphitheatre, echoing against the Indiana limestone walls. Max jerked the JVC GZ-HD30 in the direction of Fleetwood’s cries. Within a few seconds he found Jack, down on his knees on the edge of the highest cliff of the quarry, on the west side just beyond that same angled slab jutting up from the water 90 feet below. Zooming in and steadying the camcorder by pressing his left elbow into his chest, Max only had a moment to register the two men on either side of Jack before one hauled up a revolver with a two liter soda bottle stuck on the barrel and fired point blank at Jack’s head. The enveloping stone made the muffled pop very clear and very real.

Years of close calls filming from lockers, closets and the ceilings above restrooms had taught Max rigid self-control. But he couldn’t keep his hands from trembling when, a few minutes later, he struggled to film the pair as they reappeared at the cliff’s lip and hurl what was obviously Jack’s weighted body into the water. Max filmed the great splash of water up over the tilted slab, panned back up to catch the pair disappear back into the woods surrounding the quarry, and then hauled ass back to his cottage.

Hurtling along the trail with the camcorder huddled close to his sweating body, Max fought back the adrenaline trying to piece together what he had just witnessed. What the hell had Jack done to deserve a death sentence? And why dump his body in the quarry? Sure, it could be something like a steep gambling debt, but Bloomington didn’t support the kind of gangsters and enforcers who’d execute a welsher like that. This was something off the charts, weird beyond even Max’s extreme boundaries of weirdness. None of the wild speculations he dreamed up on the seemingly endless trek through the trees made any sense...though he definitely had a course of action roughed out by the time he unlocked his back door.

Once inside, he switched the camcorder to night vision again so that he could navigate his way back to the computer without turning on any lights. Those maniacs were probably already tooling back up Fairfax, but better safe than sorry. He powered up the computer, then fumbled in the dark until he found the loose USB cable hanging at the right corner of the old dining room table he used for his desk. He plugged the cable into the JVC, nudged the camcorder’s display screen until he had the shooting sequence cued up, and hastily moused through the apps that set up a live feed to Amateurs On The Rocks.

Max had just entered the crude title ‘Snuffed July 17, 2010’ and switched the camcorder to PLAY when he heard them smashing down his front door. He batted at the JVC to close the LCD screen so the images wouldn’t give away his position, but seconds later they were in the room with him. They were in the room and the lights flashed on and now there were three of them and they had guns and he did not.

“Okay, so this time I think we really got Mr. Amateur On The Rocks,” sighed the short one, the guy who’d shot Jack Fleetwood, the guy who was jamming a new empty Coke bottle on the barrel of his old Cobra .38 Special.

Max violently shook his head. “That’s not my name,” he said. “That’s not my name.”

“Yeah, you’re the guy with the camera,” said a squat pug-faced tough in a black turtleneck. “Saw him from behind your car, boss, following you guys out to the quarry.”

Ahh, shit, Max thought. They left a look-out with the Beamer. These bastards are professionals and my ass is grass.

“If it’s any consolation, Max,” said the third guy, a very muscular though flushed man with a lantern jaw, “you were next no matter what. You share a dynamic IP range with your former neighbor, Mr. Fleetwood, which meant one of you had to be the host of Amateur On The Rocks.”

Oh, screw it, Max decided. “How do you know?” he shouted. “How do you know, and so fucking what if I am?! Why does that get me and Jack killed, your assholes?!”

The little guy cinches the Coke bottle in place, then puts both hands on the grip. “We know because your firewall is crap, you stupid turd. We know because we all are from eXnet, and we know how to get here because you didn’t even give a rat’s ass that eXnet was local. How fuckin’ retarded do you have to be to run kiddy porn through a local provider, you dumb, ignorant shit for brains?”

“Kiddy porn?” Max squealed. “I have never posted--”

“Yeah, you did,” said Jawbone. “I ought to know because I own eXnet. And that girl in your hit video? Moonlight Madness? That was my fifteen year-old daughter’s ass you smeared all over the web.”

The jutting mandible. The BMW. Mother of God.

“Wait a minute, here! Wait a minute!” Max shouted. “How soon did you realize she was your daughter?! Why the fuck didn’t you shut me down?”

“I diverted all of your subscription payments to eXnet, Mr. Baum,” Jawbone grinned. “And when nobody really cares how old anyone is anymore, Moonlight Madness might just be the Number 1-selling amateur adult flick in the world.”

“Your daughter?” Max asked.

“But that’s just between you and the boss,” said the little guy, raising the pistol.

The last two things to go through Max Baum’s brain before the +P .38 shell were: 1) I can see the red RECORD light on my camcorder, and 2) This is going to make me the forever star of the internet.

BIO: Keith Buckley lives in a dimly lit money pit in Bloomington, Indiana, surrounded by mountains of golden retriever fur, unpublishable pornoviolence, noir, and music. He is also a contributor to AIR IN THE PARAGRAPH, to name but a few.

A Twist Of Noir 364 - Allen Kopp


When Freda Ellington awoke, she was confused. She couldn’t remember anything that happened the day or the night before. She looked over at the clock and saw that it had stopped; not knowing the time only added to her confusion. She sat up in the bed and pulled a pillow up behind her so that it was between her back and the headboard and smoked a cigarette and then she remembered the reason for her confusion. She had been sick, she had had a high fever, and the doctor gave her some pills to help make her sleep.

She got out of the bed and slipped into her bathrobe and went into the kitchen. She was glad to see that her husband had gone to the store and bought groceries. He was always good to help out with the housework whenever she wasn’t feeling well. There were milk and oranges in the refrigerator and a loaf of bread on the counter and plenty of cigarettes. She made some coffee and sat down at the table and smoked another cigarette and looked out the window at the gray, hazy sky and waited for the coffee to brew.

She drank half a cup of the coffee and took a few bites of a piece of toast, but she had no appetite and she soon went back into the bedroom and lay down again on the bed. She had a terrible headache and a searing pain in her throat and chest. She took another of her pills and pulled a pillow lightly over her face; in a little while she was able to stop thinking about how bad she felt and she fell again into a very deep sleep.

The next time she awoke, the room was dark. She had slept throughout the entire day and it was night again. She got out of bed and turned on the lights and went into the kitchen, expecting her husband to be there, but he was nowhere in the apartment. She looked at the kitchen clock and saw that it had stopped at exactly two-ten, the same time that the clock in the bedroom had stopped. She thought the pills must be playing tricks on her mind.

Her husband would surely be coming home soon. She felt bad that she kept missing him and hadn’t seen him for what seemed like days, but she couldn’t be sure how long it had been because she had been sleeping so much from the pills. He had been coming home and then leaving again, not wanting to disturb her; that much was obvious. His coffee cup was in a different place, he had left a plate in the sink to be washed, and a jacket he always wore had been taken out of the closet and draped over the back of a chair. She was comforted by these little signs of his presence.

She would sit up and stay awake and wait for him to come home and then she would fix him some dinner and they would talk. He would laugh when she told him she had slept the whole day through and had lost all track of time. He would tell her about things that had been happening to him at work and then she would feel better.

Being awake and alert when he came home suddenly seemed very important to her. She turned on the radio for some company, turning the dial until she found a station that was playing some soothing music, and then she picked up a magazine and sat down on the couch and began looking through it. She smoked a cigarette and then another one. She read a story in the magazine to make herself stay alert, but before she finished the story she was overwhelmed again with drowsiness. She lay full-length on the couch and let her magazine fall to the floor. She would just take a little nap. When her husband came in the door, that would wake her up and he need never know she had been asleep again.

When she awoke it was the next morning and voices on the radio startled her; she thought there were strangers in the room with her. She stood up from the couch rather shakily and turned off the radio and then, thinking that her husband must still be asleep, she went into the bedroom, expecting him to be in the bed, but he wasn’t there. She went into the kitchen, hoping to see him sitting at the table looking through the morning paper, but he wasn’t there, either. He had made some coffee, though. Or had he? When she realized the coffee was cold, she thought maybe it was the coffee she had made the day before, but she couldn’t be sure.

She dressed and had a bite of breakfast and then she took another of her pills. She lit a cigarette and tried calling the doctor to tell him how the pills were making her feel and to ask him whether or not she should keep taking them, but there was no answer; she thought maybe it was Sunday and his office was closed.

She made the bed and washed the dishes and cleaned up the apartment a little until she became tired. She was still not over being sick and her stamina was not what it should be. She lay down on the bed in her clothes and soon she went to sleep.

Then it was night again and she was awakened by a clamor on the street in front of the building. There were excited voices and a sound like bells ringing and a roar that she couldn’t identify. She got up and ran to the window to see what was going on, but there was nothing out of the ordinary happening in front of the building. The stoplight at the intersection turned from red to green and back to red again serenely, with no cars in sight. She thought she must surely have been dreaming the sounds.

In this way several days passed. She continued to take the pills. She slept and woke and then slept again. Time had lost its meaning for her; it seemed fragmented instead of continuous. A day might seem like a minute or a minute an hour. Days and nights were jumbled together. Every time she woke, she expected her husband to be nearby, but he was never there. She wasn’t sure why she kept missing him, but she felt certain he had been there and had left again.

At times she was awakened by a popping sound and the sound of screaming and running somewhere in the building, but she could never be sure if these sounds were real or if they were happening only inside her head. When she heard these sounds, her heart beat rapidly and she went to the door and opened it and stepped out into the hallway, but by then the sounds would cease and the hallway would be quiet. At other times she believed she smelled smoke but when she investigated she wasn’t able to find any source of smoke. Sometimes she would wake with a sensation of heat all over her body, but it went away just as soon as she became aware of it.

Most disturbing of all, though, were the sounds coming from the street. Every night at what seemed exactly the same time she heard the bells and the roaring and the loud voices, and every time she went to the window and looked out, all was quiet. She concluded that the only explanation was that she was going insane.

She hadn’t been out of the apartment for days; she couldn’t remember how long it had been since she had dressed and gone out. Maybe being out in the fresh air would make her feel better, she thought. Just the idea of being someplace other than the apartment cheered her up.

She cleaned herself up and put on her clothes and combed her hair and put on some lipstick. After she put on her shoes, she was ready to go. She opened the door and stepped out into the hallway and locked the door behind her and went down the stairs to the street.

The sunlight hurt her eyes and the traffic noise made her head ache. People she saw seemed indistinct, as though they were out of focus. When she was standing on a corner waiting to cross the street, a couple of women jostled her rudely and knocked her off-balance.

Six blocks away was a little park that she and her husband often walked to on hot summer nights. She made her way to the park and, finding it nearly deserted, found a place to sit on a bench facing a small duck pond. Out in the middle of the pond were two lone ducks swimming side by side. She watched the ducks for a while and then she looked disinterestedly at the sky and at the trees off in the distance and at the few people who passed.

Just to the right of the bench where she sat was a trashcan. She didn’t look toward the trashcan the whole time she was sitting on the bench, but if she had looked at it, she would have seen an old newspaper sticking out of the top of it.

The newspaper was crumpled and dirty, but she could have easily read the headline if she had noticed: Eight Die in Apartment Blaze. If she had pulled the paper from the trashcan and read the article underneath the headline, she would have seen that the fire department was summoned to the Grove Apartments on June the twenty-first at two-ten in the morning. The list of the victims would have revealed her own name and the names of the seven other people who died in the blaze. Her husband made it out of the burning building alive; that’s why she was never able to find him. The building was destroyed. The cause of the fire was under investigation.

She was the first to die in the fire before it spread to the rest of the building. Her husband had warned her that she shouldn’t smoke in bed. The pills she took made her do things she would never have done under other circumstances.

She would continue to exist in an in-between world of darkness and confusion.

Every day and every night she would relive bits of what happened on the night of the fire—the shouts, the commotion in the street in front of the building, the panicked footsteps, the smoke stealing her breath and, finally, the searing heat and flames enveloping her. In time, though, all would be revealed. When she came to an understanding of the responsibility that rested on her head, she would move forward out of the darkness and into the bright light that was waiting to envelope her.

BIO: Allen Kopp is a technical writer and lives in St. Louis. His work has been published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal, Temenos, The Legendary, Danse Macabre, Bartleby-Snopes, Skive Magazine, Hoi-Polloi, Conceit Magazine, and Dark and Dreary Magazine. Future work will appear in Sunken Lines, The Storyteller, and The Bracelet Charm. Allen was a contest finalist in the Bartleby-Snopes dialogue-writing contest and a 2009 Pushcart Prize nominee for the story “Hermaphrodite Ward.”

A Twist Of Noir 363 - Robert Crisman


Geographical cure? You move, you bring you along with you. You and the friends that you thought you’d left dead in those cold, nasty rooms on the tideflats.

Roanne had run out of road. Dope, tricks, cops, jails; same-o, same-o, forever and ever amen. Shit gets past old. Seattle was chewing her up. She needed to get somewhere fast and make plans to—what?

Sleep first of all...

She called Donny, who’d always licked the soles of her shoes for the chance to get next. She’d sack at his crib, then tomorrow she’d figure the best way to outrun the demons.

Roanne was a ghost on the phone. Donny came, dread like gas building inside him. She opened the motel room door and his hopes for the future just up and died. The ghost on the phone, this corpse in the doorway; his whole body sagged.

Like she gave a rusty rat’s ass.

Everything he could think of to say was way past inane. “Uh, how are you doing, Roanne?” She shrugged, her eyes dead like the leaves from last winter.

They drove to his house. She had nothing for Donny to carry inside. She stood in the living room looking around. Donny hovered, dying by inches. She turned and ghost-walked into her bedroom.

That was the first night. She didn’t come out except once, to the bathroom. He stayed in his room, tried to read. Sentences, paragraphs, over and over; he’d start them again and again and again... Another small foretaste of his room in hell.

Next morning she went to his room. She’d made up her mind; she had to get out of town, like right now. Donny, this house, the bed in her room, like a drill up her ass. She’d heard sirens last night, racing up Beacon, some gangbanger slamfest no doubt. This town was on fire. And her room was so cold...

She’d hit on a plan in the bathroom last night; it just kind of came to her there on the toilet: Frisco. She knew people there; well, sort of, maybe… She knew where to go. She had enough money to get there, get dope… She’d—how to go? Let Donny drive her? No, uh uh, no. She’d puke on his face before Portland and tell him get out of his piece-of-shit van. Then, what, drive the monster herself till the fucker broke down in Grant’s Pass?

Well then, a plane? And have security hoover her ass at the gate? How about Greyhound? She’d taken Greyhounds. She’d rather walk with a stick up her butt all the way.

Which left Amtrak. She chewed it, shrugged, yeah, beats the bus.

She told Donny she needed $500. He didn’t bother to hide his lack of surprise. Nor did he ask why she needed the money. It wasn’t just the fact that he knew; he’d always known. What’s to know? She’s a dopefiend.

But always before he’d ask why and she’d tell him. Usually she’d lie and it didn’t matter a lick. It was a game they’d evolved that Donny had hoped would somehow cement their connection...

Now, Jesus, this corpse here, her hand out. Her eyes, somewhere, nowhere… A feeling brushed him; he didn’t exist...

Old habits don’t die; nor do they fade like old soldiers. He went in his pocket. Two hundred dollars. He handed it over. She tucked it away.

He drove her down to the station. She had just the clothes on her back and her purse. At the station she gave him a flatline goodbye, got out of the van and went in. He turned and went home, his breathing and heartbeat suspended. Behind his eyes this flat salted desert. Instinct alone got him home to his room, to whatever the last sentence was that he’d read all those 10 million times.

R.I.P., boy. The train has done gone.

The night train to Frisco. Trees flying past, lost in reflected overhead light on the window. Roanne sat like a wax effigy. She’d get up, hit the can, ghost-walk back. The car, a cacoon with compartments, one for each silent person adrift. The porters, ghosts also; they never stopped, never once looked her way. The conductor who’d taken her ticket had taken great care not to check her out closely...

Her whole life went by in her mind on that train, like those trees. The memories, shards, unearthed from some Pleistocene digging, inscribed in a language she knew, not her own; a language she’d traded away, perhaps for that first dope she’d banged.

Memories, shards...all cardboard now, some ancient drama that limped and slid into fadeout the day her attention was what? By the boys? That happened early enough, and the first time it hurt, but she wanted more.

Those boys in their cock-happy pride, the bad boys who spit on the old folks’ religion, they’d somehow mustered a power she sought for herself, a fuck-you-all freedom denied her. The ticket away to some faraway place.

She followed the bad boys downtown.

She found dope.

She found Power...

Her mind, a kaleidescope now as the train pushed on south. She felt a rush, or something near-like, as memory retook her: the memory of what it was like that very first time on the mountain. Oh Jesus, God… She tried to grab it, hold on, but the memory fled like a rat pack. She tried to retrieve it. She coaxed, pleaded, cursed in the silence...

A junkie chasing the ghost of a bag down the miles...

The train went through tunnels, past Portland, Eugene and on down. Roanne sat there, wax, frozen.

Dawn. Frisco, not far.

One last image came as the train neared the station. She basked in front of a high-end boutique and remade herself there in the window. She stood tall, cloaked in red, sabled, her black feathered shell of a hat tipped forward to one side with a gossamer veil that shaded one eye.

Roanne in that window, a Lady...

The train wheezed to a stop. The image now a flat photograph in a magazine tossed in the dust on the floor of an old Chinese laundry abandoned for decades.

On into Frisco. The City. Gray day, the fog rolling in, brand new life...

Roanne and the ghosts in her stomach. She ran to the bathroom and puked. They laughed and skittered, and burrowed on into her marrow, nestling there as if they had finally come home.

They got to stay there rent-free…

BIO: When Crisman got out of the mix he brought some ghosts with him. Roanne was one. He wrote her this little elegy, an acid-noir look toward road's end. Noir by and large is a romantic genre--doom as the Goddess of Night and all that--but there's nothing romantic at all about the milieu where the stories were born. Hence the acid, to strip the romance and get to the horror that's lived on those night trains to Frisco.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 362 - Cathy Rogers


In the darkness of his bedroom that he shared with ten-month old Bella, Cord braced himself for the sounds he dreaded to hear as they seeped through the wall almost every night.

Unsettling and disturbing, he knew he was not supposed to hear, but he was too embarrassed for his mother to tell her. Before Dad moved out, he guessed that he could not hear anything because his room was the furthest away. Mom had moved him into the room next to hers, telling him she worried about him being so far away at night that they could not hear each other in an emergency. No emergency happened, but she was right about hearing each other.

Since his Dad had moved out, he had tried to be a good boy but it was not easy. At first, Mom had cried all the time, stopping only to yell at him for anything. Walking into the house after school, his stomach churned waiting for her to yell at him for something he did or did not do wrong. As time went on, she got better until she was almost like the mother he remembered. By this time, he had helped her with chores around the house that he was strong enough or tall enough to handle. That seemed to make her happy. With weeks left before Bella came, life was starting to be normal again.

Seeing his Dad every weekend, he could have told him what went on. Instead, he talked about his school grades and the track team, and avoided talking about Mom. Any mention of her brought pain to his Dad’s face that hurt Cord to watch. Wanting to avoid hurting his feelings even more, he had decided it was best to keep his problems at home to himself. For the most part, the problems worked themselves out anyway. That was before. Now it was different.

Hearing Bella’s breathing, he smiled at the subtle congestion he thought of as a baby snore. While he loved his little sister now, he had known from the first that she was the cause of the problems between his parents. They did not think he understood, but he did. He knew that he was his Dad’s son but she was not his Dad’s daughter. She had invaded their family as the unwelcome visitor that never left, like when Uncle Len stayed for weeks when he broke his toe in the basement. Now that he had time to get used to her, he felt sorry for Bella more than resented her.

On the weekends when he went to live with his Dad, he felt safe. Even when Dad was sad about Mom, he pretended he was happy; he made him feel loved. Dad knew everything, too. Every weekend, he taught him how to use a new tool or how to repair something, and through all of that, they talked. Hearing about his war experiences and about the other soldiers he knew, Cord felt like he knew them too. But after Bella came, Dad had told Mom that he did not want anything to do with her. Cord felt a little guilty leaving her, but Mom had said that, after all, his Dad loved him and wanted to be with him and that he was not to take that for granted. Ever.

She is still a baby, he thought, but when she was older, she would see it. She would never know his Dad’s strength and kindness as he had all his life. Even if eight years were not a long time, he had so many memories. Remembering how safe he felt sitting on his Dad’s shoulders, and how secure he was as they hiked through the woods on camping trips. She would never know that and he felt sorry about that, but he did not feel bad enough to want to give up his time with his Dad.

Staring out his window, he remembered the time his Dad had sent him to his room because he wanted to talk to Mom. They had never known that he always left the door open a crack and listened to them. This time, he had opened the door and kept alert for their voices. Feeling something different in his father’s manner that scared him, he strained to hear. Unsure what it meant, he heard Dad say,

“Did you think I wouldn’t figure it out? Were you going to pass off another man’s bastard on me?”

Crying, his Mom said, “I made a mistake. I’m sorry. I wish I could take it back, but I can’t. Do you expect me to have an abortion?”

“Yes, I do. Do you expect me to look at that child every day, a constant reminder of how you betrayed me? I couldn’t begin to try to start over with that bastard in the house.”

“Well, I won’t do that. It's a mortal sin. I refuse to murder a baby to make your ego feel better.”

“Then you go to its father for help. And don’t think you’re going to take away from my son to compensate, either.”

“Please don’t do this,” she said, her words coming out in gulps.

“You’re the one that did this, not me. If you know nothing else, know this: I will never forgive you.”

All he heard after that was the slam of the back door and Mom crying. From the pit of his stomach, he felt the sickening ache that told him his life had changed forever.

Life did change, he thought, but what he held onto was the short time between his Dad’s return from Iraq and the time he moved out. Those memories he concentrated on hard to keep them fresh in his mind. Walking and bike riding in the evenings, the road trips on the weekends, trips to the hardware store, times he felt complete and proud. He had listened to the stories between Dad and his friends about the war while Mom and the other wives served picnics in their back yard. Even if he were at school or playing with his friends, he felt that his Dad was his guardian angel always with him. When he was still in Iraq, he had Skype’d them when he could. Being able to see him and talk to him then, it never felt that he was far away. Now, the calls on Fridays to say he was on his way to pick him up were those times when Mom just handed him the telephone without comment. That made him feel disconnected from his Dad until he saw him in person again.

Before Bella came, Mom had started giving him all of her attention again. After school, they ate dinner and watched television or played board games, talked about the baby that would join them soon or what happened at his school that day. She cried a lot, but reminded him that she and Dad still loved him and always would, but that she had made a horrible mistake making it impossible for things to ever be the same again.

Once Bella was born, he felt he did not have his mother anymore. Since the baby needed her all the time, he lost the feeling he could count on her. When he asked her to play a game, she had told him to learn to take care of himself while his sister needed her. When she was not cooking, cleaning, or taking care of Bella, she was sleeping or staring at the television. Always too tired to listen, except when she heard him opening a cabinet door or the refrigerator.

His Dad’s nearby apartment was clean, but Cord felt bad that his Dad lived alone with nothing on the walls and nothing in the refrigerator that Mom would allow them to eat. He wished he could live there with Dad all the time; he could make it nice for the two of them. He told his Dad that it would be great to spend all their time together like before, but his Dad had looked at him funny and had not said anything. Something about that look, hesitating and faraway, he knew that having him there all the time was not what his Dad wanted. It gave him tightness in his stomach. As if all in that moment, with that quiet expression, he knew that his world had changed into a dark void where his parents were strangers. The security he once felt was gone. He was on his own and he was scared.

Listening for the sounds through the wall, he looked at Bella again. Still sleeping. What a relief, he thought. The peace in her expression made him feel calm. Her innocence reminded him of their next-door neighbor, Bea. The old woman had been embarrassed when she realized he was close enough to hear her call Bella a poor bastard to another old woman who was visiting. Thinking about it, instead of getting angry with her, he had decided that she was right. Bella was a poor bastard; she was pitiful and illegitimate and she would never know how it felt to be loved as both of his parents had loved him and cared for him when he was smaller. That day was when he knew his job was to protect Bella.

Before that, he had considered her an alien, an intruder in his family and the cause of the destruction of his family. When he said his prayers now, he asked for forgiveness for those mean thoughts and promised he would be a good boy. Mom said he was a good boy when he agreed to let her put the crib in his room until she rearranged the office into a nursery. It was better than being in with Mom now.

When Bella turned six months old, Mom had a birthday party for her. He had never even heard the kids on television getting six-month birthday parties, but he guessed it was okay. There was a feeling of relief in the air. Mom felt better now and looked happy like she had before Bella was born. At last, he had looked forward to having her happy attention again. With the cake on the table and Bella in her high chair, they had started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ when the doorbell rang.

Mom had invited a man named Mike to join the three of them without telling him. Cord wondered how Mom knew him. Mike kept grabbing her around her waist and trying to kiss her on the neck when they thought he was not looking. Feeling the disappointment of not having the time with her as he had expected, he felt isolated and alone, but also resentful. He felt she could have at least told him and told her so later. She had scolded him and said she did not owe him any explanation and it was none of his business. So that was how it was now, he thought.

After that, Mike came over a lot. Cord had looked forward to spending time with his Mom once Bella was easier to handle. Instead, she spent that time with Mike. He said as much to her, but she said she had to find a new husband and he needed to understand that grown-ups have needs he would learn about when he was older. She wanted him to learn to look at Mike as a new dad. Cord studied her and thought that Bella was not the only other person in this house who needed protection.

Deciding his Dad would be hurt, he kept Mike out of their conversations when he saw him on the weekends. Not until this last weekend had either of them talked about Mom. When Dad had said he was proud of the way he was coping with having a new father, Cord had replied that he already had a father. His Dad corrected himself and said, stepfather, and that he wanted to see pictures of him in the wedding.

Realizing that Cord had not known when his eyes filled with tears and he started trembling, his Dad had called his Mom, yelling at her insensitivity.

“I know he’s just a kid, but he has feelings, for Christ’s sake. You can’t shut him out of every decision you’re making. I could understand it when you decided to go whoring around.”

The arguing went on but he had stopped listening. Stunned to learn this man would be there all the time, he lost hope of getting back his mother’s attention. This was not the first time he was scared, but now he felt panic for his physical well-being. The idea that Mike would be in their house making decisions about how they would live made him feel sick. Mike had talked about moving out of state; if he married his Mom, he could move them away from his Dad forever.

For the rest of the weekend, his Dad had watched movies and played video games with him, hugging him or messing up his hair once in awhile saying it was going to work out. He thought he must be pitiful, but he did not care. Unsure who he could count on and who he could trust, he was starting not to care about anything. Then, he thought of Bella and had told himself he had to care. He had to be around to protect her; he had to find a way to protect them both.

Those sounds were starting again. He put his hands over his ears, but knew they would fall away as soon as he relaxed his arms. He tried a pillow over his left ear but the space under the right ear allowed the sounds in. The sounds his mother made were horrible and frightening. He had no idea how to make it stop. Until now.

At dinner tonight, Mike had reminded Mom that he was leaving at ten thirty and asked if she would make a sack lunch for him.

“Where are you going this time?”

“Taking a load of beef to Springerville. Don’t know after that,” said Mike, turned and winked.

“Haulin’ swingin’ meat, eh, Cord?”

Cord always thought that sounded funny and grinned in spite of his mood, noticing his Mom was not smiling.

“I worry about that drive through Salt River Canyon. All those hairpin turns and steep roads. Isn’t there another way to go?”

“Only other way is out of the way. I’ve made that trip a hundred times. I’m a good driver; I don’t take chances. I’ll be fine.”

“If you say so,” said his Mom, giving him a concerned look that Cord found annoying.

“Gonna make my lunch again?”

“Sure. I’ll get it ready after I clean up dinner. The usual?”

“I sure love your cookin’, hon. Whatever you want to make for me is fine. My only request is my thermos of coffee.”

Grinning, his mother touched the top of Mike’s hand. Trembling from anger, Cord thought he wanted to make sure he got his thermos, too.

Now on the counter, the thermos stood next to the large plastic Tupperware container holding sandwiches, donuts, cookies and devilled eggs. Hot to the touch, the insulated metal thermos with its built-in cup gleamed like a beacon from the low-level light source of the microwave clock as it reflected on its surface.

Once he heard them go into the bedroom, he had sneaked into the kitchen and opened the thermos. With gloved hands, he poured out a third of it and replaced it with Everclear alcohol he had hidden behind the Vodka in the cupboard earlier in the day.

Seeing Dad use it on their camping trips, Cord remembered his Dad talking to Jed at the General Store near the campground. While they were talking about propane, Jed said that Everclear was great fuel to use for a portable stove, but tasteless and too strong for drinking. He had said his cousin had died from drinking it on a dare, choosing not to believe the potency of it. Dad had agreed it was not a risk worth taking. When Cord found it in with the camping gear while looking for his backpack, he knew what he had to do.

Watching Mike gulp down coffee all day gave him the idea to put something in the thermos. If Mike got a DUI while driving a company truck, maybe they would put him in jail and Mom would not marry him. He hoped this would get him out of here and away from his family.

“Cord, clear the table and take out the trash. Then, I want you to take a bath and get to bed. School tomorrow, you know.”

“Okay, Mom,” he said.

“What, no argument to play a game? What's gotten into you?”

“Nothing,” said Cord, looking at his Mom and giving a quick look at Mike.

Now back in his room, he hoped this would be the last time he had to hear those awful sounds. The clock blinked in red numbers that it was ten fifteen. Listening, he heard the whispered conversation, the footsteps in the hallway passing his door, the shuffling of suitcase and plastic bags of supplies, and the closing of the front door. Moments later, he heard the bare feet of his Mom walking past his door, sticky with sweat giving a faint pulling sound as each foot lifted off the floor.

The tractor-trailer roared as the ignition sent currents of life through the sleeping engine. Cord peeked out his window to watch the big machine move from its resting space in front into the middle of the residential street and turn onto the main road out of his view. Looking at Bella, he got back into bed with a sense of relief and fell asleep as soon as his head was on the pillow.

By the look on his Mom's face the next morning, he knew something bad had happened. Calling to him to feed the Bella, she told him he was staying home from school today to help her. Before she went to her room, she put her hand on his shoulder and said,

“Cord, sweetheart, I have bad news. Mike lost control of his truck last night and died in the crash. The police said it wasn’t his fault, but that he was trying to swerve to keep from hitting a car and the semi overturned and went over the guardrails. I’m sick thinking of his last moments. Please help me get through this, will you? If you take care of Bella, that would be a big help to Mommy. Will you do that?”

“Sure, Mom. I’m sorry."

“I guess it’s just us again. I thought I could make us a new family, but it wasn’t meant to be this time.”

Hearing her sigh, Cord watched her walk to her bedroom and shut the door behind her.

Bella was half standing, half leaning on the rails of her crib and smiled when she noticed him watching her. Picking her up and carrying her to the kitchen, and only then noticing the familiar, unpleasant smell from her diaper, he tapped her nose.

“We’re going to be alright, little sister.”

BIO: When she is not working in her accounting and tax business or polishing her novel, Cathy writes short stories in the arid climate of the Arizona desert where she shares her home with her two Bichon Frises, Whitney and Sophie.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 361 - Kieran Shea


“What do I do?”

I smoothed my chinos and took a tangy swallow from the mug of jasmine tea Leanne Bing brewed for me. She brewed the tea in a proper tea pot. Didn’t know many people who still did that anymore, going through the trouble of warming a pot and all. Everybody just zapped, zapped, zapped.

I leaned over and ejected a disc from my laptop. Gingerly, I plucked the disc from the slide then snapped it into a compact disc case. I had the foresight to pack up all my recording equipment and put it in the trunk of my car before showing her some select outtakes from seventy-six hours of recording. When you routinely smash people’s hearts for a living, you tend to practice exit strategies.

I passed Ms. Bing a red file folder and the disc. The file folder included a copy of my report, translator documentation, and a final invoice with itemized expenses. To be honest, the translator costs were what blew me to hell’s ledge and gone. Know any conversational Chinese or Korean? Make some bank, man.

“First things first,” I said, “your lawyer? Call him. I sent a brief via FedEx and the cover note said to expect a call from you by 2 o’clock today. Together both of you should decide your next course of action.”

“My next course of action?”

“Whether or not to go to the police.”


“That’s your decision. You watched the footage, but I’d recommend the cops.” I motioned to the CD case she turned in her hands. “That’s clear cut abuse. You could choose to handle her all on your own, just confront her and see what happens, but I wouldn’t recommend that, not after looking at that video. I think your lawyer will agree with me. Blowback on these things... harassment isn’t uncommon down the line.”

Ms. Bing was quiet for moment. I adjusted my chafe on the edge of the sofa.

“I checked with some law enforcement people up this way. The person you should contact is this woman here.” I handed her a business card I’d been given a few days earlier. “She’s solid enough, handled a couple of cases similar to yours actually. Well-connected with INS, judges, the whole deal. A bit dry and hardly chatty, but you don’t get to be in a position like hers by being a clown.”

I tendered a feeble smile, but Leanne Bing’s gaze glassed inward. I waited two minutes while she cried it out.

I drank some of the cooling jasmine tea and thought of how it was a bit insensitive of me, seeing that she was crying and all. I set the mug down on a coaster and set about putting my laptop away. The view from her living room offered a small sweep of a frozen tidal marsh on Barnegat Bay. It was a huge, waterfront house that clocked in around five and half or six mil, easy. Somewhere above us, a tubby military cargo jet whined on its long, gradual descent into McGuire-Dix Airforce Base, a little over twenty miles away.

“I feel so ashamed. How could I’ve let this happen to me? To him? To my son?”

“It’s hard,” I said rubbing my hands together slowly. “To be frank, feeling shame about something beyond your control, Ms. Bing? It doesn’t suit a successful business woman like you. You’re better than that. Yes, you own an impressive retail company and people think you’re savvy, but you’re a single mom. You’re overworked. You hired a woman in good faith to help you and she physically and mentally abused your adopted son. She’s to blame. The woman you hired presented herself as Korean, gave you references, showed you her materials, and spun a tale. But the translations here clearly indicate she’s Chinese. I don’t understand it myself, the whole Chinese bashing Koreans thing, but your son obviously had some trauma in his early childhood over there and this woman committed fraud. She exploited you and him. You’ve done the right thing here. You have evidence now and not just your suspicions. You can make his life better.”

She worked her jaw. “Will she be deported?”

I puffed out a breath. “Hard to say. Again, it depends on how you decide to play this out. Your lawyer should really advise you. I know this though, the sooner the legal process starts the sooner your bases are covered. She isn’t a citizen, so’s possible she could get deported.
If her documentation is indeed bogus, which it probably is, she’s in major league hot water. Me, I’d avoid a direct confrontation though.”

“Why’s that?”

“Couple of things. One, she could run and two, she could get ugly.”

“You make her sound so dangerous. She’s so tiny.”

Tiny, huge—I really didn’t care. Everybody’s dangerous. Give them a reason, liquor them up, back them into a corner and threaten to take their world away. Bring me Mahatma Ghandi and use a blow torch on his children’s lips while he stands by? I’ll show you dangerous in spades.

“She neglected and beat your son.”

“My father spanked me.”

“With an electrical cord?”

I let that sit and felt like a total asshole. She looked as if I slapped her, but the cue took.

“Do I write you check, Charlie?”

Get me out of here. “Yes. A check would be great. Byrne Research, LLC.”

She stepped away for a moment and I stood feeling the tingle of blood rush in my legs. I wanted to get home to Ocean City, like, yesterday. Go for a run on the boardwalk until I puked bile then file this nasty bit of business away in a dark corner. I wanted to see my girlfriend and huddle up with anything she wanted to watch on cable, hoping for something funny because I really needed funny. Child abuse cases just sucked the core right out of me, made me want to do brutal things. I needed levity like oxygen. I needed to die laughing.

When Ms. Bing returned, I slipped the pale blue check she handed over to me into my coat pocket without unfolding it.

“This is just so horrible,” she said, hugging her elbows. “I just can’t believe she flat out lied to me like that. How could someone be so dreadful?”

Dreadful? Christ, lady, are we on The Young & The Restless here? She whipped your nine-year-old son’s feet...

I pinched the bridge of my nose and shouldered the strap of my laptop bag. “All this will be behind you before you know it. Listen, I hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty to pull together some reputable firms you may want to consider in the future after things settle down some. All checked out and above board certified. Good people. Their childcare workers are degreed and some even offer home schooling in English.”

“Thank you. I think, well, for now I think I’m going to take a break and spend some time with him. A leave of absence from the company.”

“You can do that?”

“Yes. I’m really just a showpiece now. My name is on the products, yes, and I do the T.V. thing every once in a while, but I do very little in the way of day to day operations. Big decisions mostly. Media bright facing with board of directors and all. A month off might be welcome break.”

There were vast, lush valleys I would never tread. Then it hit me. She wasn’t overworked, she was just lazy about her son. My shoulders clenched.

“Great. That’s great. Good for you.”

“Anything else?”

“No, it’s all in my report, I think,” I cleared my throat. ”Naturally get the locks changed, both here and up in Manhattan, as well as any of the vehicles she used. Alarms need to be reprogrammed, both residences. I pulled some numbers and bulleted them near the end of the report, locksmiths and local Mercedes dealers. Also, stay on top of your bills. If she had any access to your records or any of your account information at any point, that could be trouble. Anyway, I’ve written it all down.”

“Thank you so much.”

“You said you’re taking your son to Florida, yes?”

“Yes. He likes baseball. I’ve bought a package deal for Spring training. The Yankees for him, spas and massages for me. He’s a big Yankees fan. I try to share his interest, but I’m just happy to be with him when he’s smiling and not so closed off. It’s been hard.”

The telephone chirred from across the room. She crossed and picked up the receiver from a table. A glance down at the caller i.d. screen and she looked up. Paled.

“It’s her!”

I took a step and my shin caught the blunt edge of a marble coffee table. I winced at a small twang of pain. “Let your voicemail catch it, Ms. Bing.”

Her index finger hovered over the pick-up button on the telephone. “S-she’s calling. I can’t believe this, she’s actually calling the house right this second! This isn’t serendipitous, this has to be fate. Why that little fucking—”

“Ms. Bing, please. Let her call kick to voicemail.”

Leanne Bing scowled at me dismissing my insolence. I could see the cold, towering wave of rage marshaling up behind her eyes, ready to unleash its wrath. Shaking, her skin shadowed. I pleaded.


For the love of God, please don’t.

BIO: Kieran Shea’s south Jersey investigator, Charlie Byrne, is an evolving character. He has appeared here at A Twist of Noir and elsewhere, including the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and upcoming in the resurrected and Kindle-friendly Crimefactory. Kieran has no idea where Charlie is going, but he’s pretty sure it’s not going to end well. Kieran blogs at BLACK IRISH BLARNEY.

A Twist Of Noir 360 - Andy Henion



It is just after five on a hot summer day when the car rumbles up the drive. Two men get out, a tall passenger and a bowlegged driver with red hair. The windows are shut, the air conditioning on, so no one in the house hears their approach. Still, it would not raise suspicion. The house sits on a corner lot a half mile from the interstate and people regularly use the driveway for a turnaround or to stop and ask for directions. Anne Parr and her son have lived here only three weeks and cable men and drain inspectors still come and go. And then there are the men from Anne’s past, men like these with ink sleeves and earrings.

Anne is standing in the dining room with her back to the window. She is addressing Steven and his younger cousin Jack, who is staying a few days while his mother and her latest boyfriend get acquainted. The boys want to ride their bikes four miles to the theater. Anne has agreed to let them go, but only if they are back before dark. Steven is asking his mother for money when he stops to track the movement just outside the window. Following his cue, Anne turns and watches each of the men pass by, trying in vain to make a mental identification. And in this sliver of time, she knows she has made a terrible mistake.


The men enter through the unlocked door. Without a word the red haired man grabs Anne and throws her to the couch, tearing her sundress. The tall man points at the boys and orders them into the kitchen. The boys back against the sink, looking from the tall man to the couch where the red haired man has crawled on top of Steven’s mother and is working at his jeans. Steven takes a step forward but the tall man pushes him hard in the chest and his back strikes the counter. He winces from the pain but more so at the image of the rose tattoo on his mother’s pelvis.

Anne Parr screams. Jack slides to the floor and begins to cry. The tall man is sucking air through his teeth and rubbing his chin over and over. Steven is not sure how to interpret this. The tall man’s pupils are messed up and he is sweating heavily. Steven knows high when he sees it.

This time it is the red haired man who screams. Steven’s mother has clawed his face and broken free. She makes it two steps before he clubs her to the floor and descends upon her from behind. The tall man has turned, still stroking his jawbone, and Steven slips past him and darts around the corner and into the master bedroom where his mother sleeps. She keeps a gun in her nightstand for men like these, men from her past. Anne Parr has always been open about the weapon, and the two of them used to fire it together down at the river. Steven opens the drawer and withdraws the gun, then turns it on the tall man as he enters the room. The man swears and holds up his hands and bolts from the room. He runs down the short hallway and into the garage. Steven hears the garage door going up and wonders if the man knew the layout of the house or just took a chance.


Steven exits his mother’s bedroom with the gun held out in front of him. To his left he sees Jack curled up, a puddle of his piss spreading across the kitchen linoleum. The red haired man is oblivious to his partner’s departure. He is thrusting and grunting on the back of Steven’s mother, holding her head up by the ponytail. Steven walks up behind him and says, loudly, You. The man turns and Steven fires. Part of his head is splashed across the glass of the fireplace. As the man goes limp Anne’s head is dropped and her cheek bangs off the floor. Steven hears his mother groan and nods to himself that she is alive and goes for the tall man.


The rusty car is rolling backwards down the driveway. The tall man cannot get it started. Across the street the bald neighbor and his wife have come onto the porch. They frequently watch Steven and his mother from this vantage point, but they have yet to come over and introduce themselves. Anne Parr calls them rich assholes. When they see Steven running with the gun they hurry back into the house. Steven can hear sirens in the distance and wonders if the rich assholes are the ones who called it in.

Steven makes it to the car as the engine revs. He opens the rear door and jumps in, shutting the door behind him. The tall man says, No no no, but keeps driving, backing onto the street and accelerating toward the interstate. Steven points the gun at the back of his head. He is thinking about the man sucking air through his teeth and rubbing his face. He is wondering about the man’s intentions.


The tall man looks in the rearview and says, Listen kid—how old are you, anyway?

Steven says, Thirteen.

Fuck, thirteen? No shit. Okay, listen. Whaddaya like to do?

Steven is used to this question from adults. He says, I like to play baseball. I like to fish, but there’s no river here. Oh, and I like to sit and stew in my own juices—that’s what my teacher says.

The man’s laugh sounds like a bark. Juices, he says. No shit, little man.

The tall man has entered the interstate and is heading east toward the city. Steven watches him tap the steering wheel with long, leathery fingers.

Okay, man, listen, the tall man says. You don’t wanna do this thing. You seem like a good kid. Let’s just—

I blew that fucker’s head off, says Steven.

The tall man wipes sweat from his forehead and says, Goddamn.

Steven says, Why did you come to our house?

Okay, shit. Okay. Junior there, my friend? He’s just. Listen—

Why? Steven says firmly. He holds the gun in both hands and feels a strange sense of calm, of power. He pulls the hammer back.

It’s random, man. Junior—he saw your old lady in the yard, working in her flowerbed or what have you. The other day? Said he had to have her. I am so sorry about that, you know? Junior, he’s—

You don’t know my mother?

Never saw her before, man. Until that day, like I said—

She used to do what you do. Get high. But then she quit and went to the meetings and got a better job.

I don’t—listen, man—

Then my grandpa died and we bought the house. My grandpa had his own company that makes foam cups. He disowned my mom because she got high, but he still gave us money and we bought the house.

Yeah? Sorry about your granddad and all that. But, you know, your old lady? Good for her, right? I’ve been tryin’ for somethin’ better like that, little man. Believe that shit.

The tall man is pushing the old car as fast as it will go. They are passing vehicles, swerving on the interstate. Steven glances out the window and licks his lips, unfazed by the erratic driving. He has a feeling nothing will ever be the same again.

He says, Your friend hurt my mother.

Listen, kid—

Shut up. I want to know something.

Anything, little brother, I’ll tell you. Straight up.

What were you going to do? When he was done?

The car drifts toward the ditch. Their eyes meet in the rearview. And before the tall man can open his mouth, Steven has his answer.

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

A Twist Of Noir 359 - Robert Caporale


Originally published in INK POT #4 - 2004, a literary journal

It’s almost impossible to get into Margo’s Lounge for a quick beer without listening to the tuna boogie blues. Every day the Professor stands out on Canal Street in front of Margo’s panhandling or answering questions for loose change like some back alley quiz show contestant.

A can of albacore packed in water equals a shot and a beer in Professor Pissy Pants’ world. “I need a can of tuna fish," he bums. “Can you help me out with a buck, some change, anything?” It’s his signature spiel, he has a half-loaf of white bread up in his room at the Y but no tuna. “Just till Tuesday,” he Wimpys. “That’s when my check comes, on Tuesday. What do you say?”

“Ignore him,” Tomtom says.

“I own him this time,” Paulie says. “I’m going to stump him for sure.”

“I’m in no mood for Professor Pissy Pants, not tonight,” Tomtom says.

“He’s good for a laugh.”

“He’s good for nothing.”

“It’s a shot and a beer if you can tell me the speed of light.”

“One hundred eighty-six thousand miles per second.”

“Damn,” Paulie says.

“Is he right?” Tomtom asks.

“I believe so.”

“I told you,” Tomtom snaps.

“The guy was a history professor, what’s he know from physics?”

“Enough to take you for a cocktail.”

They watch the Professor chase down a shot of Calvert with a beer.

“Okay,” Tomtom tells him, “take it back out on the street.”

“Chill," Paulie says. “He’s not bothering anybody.”

Auggie, the bartender, asks the Professor the capitol cities named after United States presidents.

“Jackson, Madison, Jefferson City... Monrovia.”

Another shot and a beer.

“See. See,” Tomtom says. “See what you started?”


“The guy pisses me off.”

“Everybody pisses you off.”

“Not like the Professor.”

“Why’s he so special?”

“Simpatico,” the Professor says.

“What’s he talking about?” Paulie asks.

“Tell me... we’ll both know.” Tomtom shrugs and walks off, drops coins in the jukebox, punches in some tunes. When Tomtom gets back, the Professor has a couple more setups in front of him and he’s starting in on the 1956 Olympic fiasco. That’s when Tomtom loses it, knocks over a bowl of salted beer nuts.

The Professor is showing everyone at the bar with his thumb and index finger the difference between fourth and first place. Tomtom watches him in the mirror on the back of the bar. “Less than an inch and a half,” he says, “that’s it, a frigging inch and a half, the difference between notoriety and obscurity. I was a world-class long jumper back then," the Professor says. “Odds on favorite to take the gold that year. Big man on campus. I was getting all the press. Free drinks in the bars, free food in the best restaurants, people wanted to hang with me, and the women, ohhhhh, how the women treated me fine...”

“Enough,” Tomtom snarls. “We’ve all heard this. Fact is, the closest you came to the ’56 Olympics was reading about them in the Times.”

“Check it out for yourself.”

“I did,” Tomtom tells the Professor. “At the library. You’re not listed. Anywhere.”

“It’s an oversight.”

“You’re an oversight, you old bag of beer bones. You know why? Because they only post the medal winners.”

“My point exactly,” the Professor says.

Tomtom sits down on the stool next to Professor Pissy Pants. He orders up a beer and turns towards the Professor. Considers him. Tomtom slips a Zippo out of his pocket, like he might light the poor son-of-a-bitch bastard on fire or something. Tomtom starts opening and closing the Zippo. Click click. Click click, and at the same time Tomtom grazes on the inside of his own mouth like it’s honey-glazed. It’s clear to everyone sitting at the bar that something is about to happen here. Tomtom stops the clicking. “How long?” he asks the Professor.


“The jump? How long was your jump?”

The Professor tells him down to the sixteenth of an inch.

Tomtom’s an impresario at this sort of manipulation, as good as any crooked DA. “How wide do you think Sally Alley is?” Tomtom asks the Professor. Everybody’s leaning in now, curious on where he plans on taking this line of questioning.

“I don’t know.”

“Less than twenty-four-and-a-half feet, give or take?”

“Much. Maybe, sixteen feet.”

“I say there’s no way in hell you can make the jump from Margo’s roof across Sally Alley onto the adjacent roof. Not on your best day. Not in your dreams.”

Christ. Who saw that coming? Nobody. Talk about lowering the boom. This is better than falling in love on a Tuesday night.

Johnny Snips holds up a hundred dollar bill. “I got a C-note says he makes the jump.”

“I'll take some of that.”

“Put me down for twenty.”

Everybody’s right on cue.

What starts off innocuously at the bar escalates three flights up onto the roof of Margo’s Lounge and into the eye of a blue neon storm.

The Professor steps out of his pissy pants, carefully folds them along an imaginary crease, and lays them over a rusty air vent. He’s wearing stained bikini shorts, knee-high pimp-socks, and a beat-up pair of black US Keds.

“What’s with the Speedo?” Tomtom wants to know.

The Professor bends and twists, he stretches his hamstrings as he eyeballs the distance. “You can’t expect me to make a jump like this in long pants,” he says and marches away in giant steps while counting off in threes. He stops, turns back, shakes himself out, and crouches down into a three-point stance. A splendid looking sprinter’s three-point stance. The professor has a new face on. A game face. Who’s having who is still up for grabs. Either way it looks like the Professor is ready to take a belated shot at the gold up in the hazy blue of Margo’s neon sign. The Professor looks determined, he exudes the persona of a true athlete, an Olympian rather than some ball-busting whiny shit-ass stew-bum. He’s all sinew and sleek down in that three-point stance. In his mind he pictures the jump. In his heart he is the jump.

“We’re just having a little fun with you here,” Tomtom says giving the Professor his obligatory way out-always give a guy an out. “You don’t have to do this,” Tomtom tells him.

The Professor gives Tomtom an understanding nod.

“Come on, old-timer,” Paulie pleads, “enough is enough, let’s go back to the bar and suck down some beers. Have a few laughs. You proved your point.”

“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.”

Tomtom sticks his hand in his pocket and starts clicking the Zippo.

It’s a muffled click, but still it’s a click click. Click click.

“Is someone going to readysetgo me?” the Professor wants to know. “Or am I just going on my own?”

“He’s bluffing,” Tomtom says.

Paulie shrugs.

Tomtom says, “Ready.”

The Professor takes a breath.

Tomtom says, “Set.”

The Professor digs in with his back foot, streamlines. It gets real quiet up on the roof. The Zippo stops clicking, the blue neon stops hissing.


It’s a good start. The Professor is off and running. No bullshit about it. In a matter of a split-second he is in perfect aerodynamic stride. Legs, arms, heart, soul all in concert drawing strength from the collective. We the spectators are blown away by the suddenness and the power and the grace of the spectacle. By the time the Professor approaches the edge of Margo’s roof he is but a blue blur. If he hits the takeoff, Goddamn if he might not make the jump. He nails it. He’s out there-legs arms still working hard, tendon cartilage churning. His ears full of roaring crowd, his eyes wide and sparkling. His chest heaves, his back arches as he stretches and reaches out.

The Professor is running on thin air.



Running on thin air.

BIO: Robert Caporale’s most recent publications can be seen in Wildcat, The Café Irreal, Zuzu’s Petals Quarterly, The Lummox Journal, Confrontation, and The Avatar Review. He is finishing up a short story collection and thinking about a novel. He takes MFA workshops at the University of Massachusetts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 358 - Laura Roberts


Val Capone is the illegitimate daughter of a hired gun and a Dutch prostitute. Born in Amsterdam’s red-light district, Val was put to work starting on her 16th birthday, selling her wares for the same low, low price as every other long-legged, silky-smooth window dressing in town: $25 a pop. Sick of being treated like some gangster’s moll, Val shot the shit out of three of her customers after two days on the job. Her mother chastised her, saying, “Bitch, you waste fewer bullets the higher you aim.” From that day forward, Val has never aimed for anything less than square between the eyes.

Val’s father, Henry, taught her how to shoot a Gat, a Glock and a Remington. She prefers the sleek Smith and Wesson, and particularly enjoys a .45 special. Now 27 years old, Val has killed 36 men in 14 countries. 15, if you count the Vatican.

Raised amongst hoodlums and streetwalkers, Val has never been afraid of anything. Not even spiders. She was a member of the Swamp Angels by the age of 7. The labyrinths of New York City’s sewers are no mystery to her.

Despite rumors to the contrary, Val has never set foot in Brazil.

Val’s best friend is the pop star Pink. Val maintains that she is the real persona that inspires Pink’s tough-girl lyrics. Pink denies these allegations, but refuses to accept Val’s challenge to a duel with pistols in order to settle the matter once and for all. Val often takes Pink with her when she goes to the shooting range and has even gone so far as to inscribe an 18th century musket with her initials, but Pink maintains her position that guns kill. A card-carrying, dues-paying member of the NRA, Val thinks this is bollocks. “Guns don’t kill people unless you take the safety off, bitch,” she is fond of saying. After all, “4.3 million Charleton Heston fans can’t be wrong!”

Val Capone is never drunk. She maintains sobriety in order to shoot straight, but has been known to down 15 shots of tequila in a sitting. When the cad next to her attempts to take liberties with her fine person, Val leans in for a kiss and blows the back of his head clean off before you can say “Sarsaparilla.” You don’t mess with Texas. You don’t mess around with Jim. And you sure as hell don’t mess with Val “Valentine’s Day Massacre” Capone.

Val has never been in love. She prefers to fuck and run. The bullet through the heart depends on how close she gets to giving a damn. In true point of fact, Val Capone breaks hearts for a living, and she always shoots the moon. She likes scoundrels; particularly when they look like Harrison Ford.

Val always gets her way. She only resorts to gunplay when her back is up against a wall, and usually she likes that too much to load her six-shooter.

Most girls want a man with the bling-bling; Val just wants seamed stockings, garter holsters and plenty of bullets.

Val has been married only once. Her partner was a straight shooter with plenty of class. He died in a blaze of glory defending her honor against a gang of Mexicans in Chihuahua. This was the only time Ms. Capone ever wept, and all witnesses to her tears were destroyed in a second blaze of glory. She continues to wear her wedding ring on her left hand in memory of his hell-raising spirit.

Val Capone will be making a special public appearance this Saturday at the Guns ‘N’ Poseurs 15th Annual Gun Show. For one hour only, Ms. Capone has vowed to lay down her weaponry and meet the public on friendly terms. Adhering to the maxim “You’re never fully dressed without a smile,” rather than the similar (but more bloodthirsty) “You’re never fully dressed without a Derringer,” she’ll be glad to answer your questions about guns, gangs and guerrillas, following her participation in the Fingers of Fury tournament. Lock and load, fellas. This dame’s putting the “ass” back in “class.”

BIO: Laura Roberts is a graduate of Concordia University’s Creative Writing program, and is currently working on her first novel, with the dubious title “Blowjobs for the Soul.” She is also in the process of writing a guidebook on the subject of Montreal’s “sexy” side, as a tribute to her former life as the “V for Vixen” sex columnist at You can find more of her work online at, or follow her on Twitter @originaloflaura.