Friday, April 30, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 439 - J.E. Seymour


An entry in Jason Duke’s RED HOT Writing Contest

Monday morning, Kevin was sitting at the kitchen table, loading a new magazine for the Colt. Pushing the shiny cartridges in one at a time, studying the way they fit, making sure this off-brand was going to work for his weapon.

He lifted his head at the sound of the driveway alarm.

Way too early for Michael to be home from school, and Cindy was at her therapist. He loaded the magazine into the gun, racked the slide, kicked out the mag, loaded another bullet, all the while watching the driveway.

The car that was rolling towards the house didn’t look familiar. It was an old Firebird, matte black, like it had been stripped and primed but never painted. Kevin tucked the 1911 into the small of his back, backwards, so he could grab it left-handed.

The kid that got out of the car matched the description Michael had given him of the guy looking for Andy. He was about Andy’s age, maybe twenty years old, easily as tall as Kevin, with massive arms and a long ponytail. He swaggered onto the porch and pounded on the door hard enough to rattle the glass. Kevin moved the curtain aside and shouted through the closed door.

“Help you?”

“Andy sent me.” He was clenching and unclenching his fists, making the sleeves of his zippered sweatshirt bulge. Poster child for steroids.

“Oh yeah? What do you want?”

The guy bent over and looked through the glass. “Why don’t you let me in and we can talk about it?”

Kevin wasn’t about to let this creep into the house. “Hang on.” He pulled on his denim barn coat, unlocked the door and stepped through it before the big guy had a chance to do the same. Pulled it shut behind him. “How about if we talk out here?”

“Fine.” He stuck out a massive hand. “I’m Ray.”

“Hi, Ray. I’m Kevin.” He didn’t offer his hand, just waved the cast at the guy with a slight grin. “Now that we have that out of the way, why don’t you tell me why you’re here.”

Ray cocked his head to the side. “You Andy’s old man?”

Old man didn’t sit well with Kevin. “That’s right.”

“I thought you were in prison.”

“I was.”

Ray wrinkled his nose as though he was stuck for words. He turned and stared out at the driveway.

Kevin followed his gaze. “What’s with the paint on your car?”

“Huh? Oh. Dull paint like that lets you evade radar.”

Kevin raised his eyebrows and snorted. “Really.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“So you ran right out and stripped your car.”

“That’s right.”

“So what is it you want, Ray?”

“Andy fucking owes me money, man. I’ve come to get it.”

“Andy doesn’t have any money. The cops took it when they arrested him.”

Ray made a sudden move with his right hand that caused Kevin’s pulse to jump, but the big guy just brought the hand up to his chin and rubbed at his goatee. “He wouldn’t have left it out where the motherfuckers could find it.”

“How do you know?” Kevin was getting tired of standing nose to nose with this guy. He backed up and found an Adirondack chair without turning his back on Ray.

Ray didn’t sit. “I worked with Andy for a couple of years. I know he’s got some cash hidden here somewhere. He’s a smart motherfucker.”

“Right. That’s why he got arrested.”

Ray blinked as though he didn’t get the sarcasm. He reached up and unzipped his sweatshirt as if he was hot.

Kevin wasn’t hot, and he didn’t think Ray was either. He waited though, letting Ray make the first move. Letting Ray reach behind his back.

Kevin had to clench his fists to keep from drawing his weapon. It would be better if Ray didn’t know he had it. He wasn’t going to shoot this creep right here on the porch.

Ray took out a cannon of a revolver. Kevin had no idea how the guy could walk around with that stuck in his jeans, much less drive a car. “Look, old man, I didn’t want to have to do this, but you’re not giving me a choice. I need you to show me where the fucking money is.”

Kevin had to force himself to breathe. Looking down the barrel of what had to be a .45, he fought to keep his pulse at something resembling a normal rate. The ringing was starting in his ears, and he knew the tunnel vision would come next. He didn’t want to go down that road, not right now, so he fought it off. Stay cool. At least the idiot didn’t have his finger on the trigger. Kevin stood up, moving slow and careful, hands away from his body. “It’s cool. I’ll show you.”

Ray grinned. “Damn right.”

Kevin lifted his right hand to show Ray the cast. “Trouble is, it’s buried. I can’t dig it up with this on my hand.”

Ray looked confused. “Buried? What the fuck?” He turned and studied the yard. “Isn’t the ground frozen?”

“No, not really. Besides, he buried it under the manure pile.”

“The what?”

Kevin decided to use language he knew the idiot would understand. “Horse shit. He buried it under a pile of horse shit.”

“No fucking way.”

“We can grab a shovel out of the barn. You don’t mind digging it up, right?” Kevin headed for the barn, trying to keep his body turned far enough to keep Ray in sight.

Ray followed, scratching at his crotch with the barrel of the gun.

Kevin’s brain was running a mile a minute. If he handed over the money to this creep and let him walk away, he’d be back soon looking for more.

He knew there was nobody around, at least nobody close enough to hear anything. A gunshot at this time of year would be written off as hunters anyway. He had to pause to think. “So,” he said as they walked. “You have any other friends in on this with you and Andy?”

“No way, man. It was just me and him. The less partners, the more money.”

Kevin nodded, scanning as they walked into the barn. At least nobody else would show up looking for this clown. No opportunity yet. Just wait. He pointed out a shovel to the creep, who tucked the gun back into his jeans and grabbed it. Kevin led him out the back door of the barn, sliding open the wooden rail to let them into the pasture. No sign of the horses anyway, that was good. It was almost lunchtime, and if they spotted the people they’d be up here looking for food. Kevin pointed out the spot on the pile where he thought the money might be.

“Are you fucking sure, man? I don’t want to be digging up the whole fucking pile.”

Kevin shrugged. “I don’t know. This just looks like a likely spot.”

Ray seemed to have no brain at all, or maybe just a reptilian brain that enabled him to keep breathing. He turned his back on Kevin and began to shovel. Kevin watched him for a minute. Ray’s technique involved taking tiny shovelfuls and flinging them all over the place. Kevin had to step back to avoid being hit. He reached for his Colt, sliding his left hand behind his back, and Ray put the shovel down and leaned on it, turning to Kevin.

“This is hard work.”

Kevin nodded, expecting him to take out a colorful bandana and start mopping his brow, but instead he turned back to his work. Kevin took out his Colt, left-handed, raised it, held it to the back of Ray’s head, struggled to get the safety off. He finally had to lower it and use his right thumb to take it off. Ray was bent over, shoveling fast and furious now, shit flying in every direction. Kevin raised the weapon again, aimed at the back of Ray’s head, and pulled the trigger. The noise left him deaf, his ears ringing in protest. He tucked the weapon away and rubbed at his head, trying to clear the buzzing in his skull.

The horses were running around the pasture with their tails flagged, snorting and blowing.

“It’s okay, boys.” Kevin went back into the barn and grabbed some hay for them to calm them down. Walked it out to the middle of the field and dropped the flakes in two piles. Then he went back to the barn, climbed onto the tractor and started it up. Ray was lying in a heap at the side of the manure pile. There was a fair amount of blood and gore. A .22 would have been a better choice for an up-close shoot like this one. As it was, the .45 had blown the front of the creep’s head off on its way out. Kevin had to swallow hard to keep from throwing up.

He used the loader to dig a sizable hole in the bottom of the pile, away from where he thought the money was. Pushed Ray’s body into the hole, and pulled more muck down on top. He didn’t think anybody would miss him. He parked the tractor and walked back around to the porch.

The car was sitting there in the driveway. Shit. He felt a sudden twist of pain in his gut. Suppose the keys were in Ray’s pocket? Why hadn’t he thought to search the guy? Rusty, that was the problem. Too many years away. He crossed the driveway in a hurry. A quick check of the ignition relaxed him. At least the keys were in it.

He walked back and sat on the porch steps for a minute, thinking. The best solution was to drive it into a lake. But there weren’t any suitable lakes within walking distance. He could take it way out in the woods and set it on fire, but that would mean walking home. He really needed a partner for that, and he didn’t have anybody around here he could call for that sort of thing.

“Shit.” He let himself say it out loud. He hadn’t planned this very well. He finally decided he’d have to use Michael to drive him home.

Michael had a cell phone, Kevin could call him and ask him to come and get him. He thought about where to take the car. He had one of those map books, with the detailed pages, and he went into the house and got that, sat down with it and studied the back roads in the area. He needed something that would peter out, end in the woods, out in the middle of nowhere. He could see a few candidates that weren’t that far away. It was getting close to time for Michael to come home, and he didn’t want him to see the car. He got his gloves on first, grabbed a can of gas out of the garage, tossed it into the trunk of the Firebird, went into the house and grabbed a lighter that Cindy kept around for the grill.

Studied the detailed map again and drove for about a half hour. No sense doing this too close to home.

The Firebird didn’t like the dirt road, and Kevin got it stuck a mile or two off the pavement. He hadn’t planned on leaving it in the middle of the cow path, but he didn’t think it would matter much. It didn’t look like there was much traffic out here anyway. It was starting to snow as he poured the gas onto the seats and the dashboard, anything soft enough to absorb the liquid. He used a map from the glove compartment to light the fire, made sure the registration was in the initial flame, and stepped back to watch. It didn’t take as long as he thought it would, and he had to step further back as the gas tank exploded. He turned at that point and hiked back out to the main road. A glance back showed a large column of black smoke.


Somebody was bound to see that. By the time he hit the pavement his leg was throbbing and he had to stop to rest. He pulled out his cell phone. No signal.


He wanted to sit down right there by the side of the road. Hell, he wanted to find a liquor store and buy out their stock of Jack Daniel’s. Monday. He started walking again.

BIO: J.E. Seymour lives in a small town in seacoast NH and has had short stories published in three anthologies of crime fiction by New England writers - “Windchill,” “Deadfall,” and “Quarry,” in Thriller UK Magazine, and in numerous ezines, including Shots, Mouth Full of Bullets, Beat to a Pulp and Shred of Evidence. J.E.’s first novel, “Lead Poisoning” is coming from Mainly Murder Press in November of 2010. Check out J.E. Seymour for more information.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 438 - Jason Duke


Dog cries carry on the raw wind.

My breath, fast and heavy, parts the shadows on the cold night air.

I hide in the shadows, at the side of a 24/7 Mexican fast food joint. The Hilbertos, Albertos, Robertos, that are a dime a dozen throughout Phoenix – I don’t give a shit which.

Across the street, I hear dogs whine and bark at the place I’ve been staking out for the past twenty minutes, called Alpha Dog. I’m here because of another man’s wife, and a dog. I regrip my .45 Glock, squeeze tighter. I see my breath, squat down, lower my head, cup a hand over my mouth.

It all starts with a dog: a one year-old female Heinz-57 Pointer I adopt for my dead Army buddy’s wife. Her name is Pollyanna and she gives good head. The dog pisses on the floor, I don’t give a shit, as much as Pollyanna loves the mutt, she bitches about it pissing on the floor, until one day I come home and Pollyanna’s crying because the dog ran away.

I duck walk backward into the shadows.

I adopt the dog from the Arizona Humane Society. I read about animal euthanasia out of a pamphlet while I wait. Some of the different methods of animal euthanasia include Somulose and Tributame injections, carbon monoxide poisoning, snapping the neck, and putting a bullet through the head.


I meet Pollyanna while her husband’s in Iraq.

His name is Sergeant Thoman.

He brags about her all the time. Then he gets home on his 15-day leave, and breaks the news that he and Pollyanna get hitched. He tells me how he’s on his laptop all the time e-mailing her and instant messaging her.

He has photos of Pollyanna, or him and Pollyanna together, or Pollyanna with her friends, with cute little pussy-whipped frames painted in faggoty flowers and hearts.

I steal one of the photos from him and jerk off to it the whole time he’s gone.

I tell him before he leaves back to Iraq: “You’re a lucky man, buddy, but you should’ve waited until you got back for good.”

He asks me why, and I say: “A girl like that, sometimes they don’t wanna wait around, you know?”

He says it’s different with Pollyanna, so I smile and end it at that.

Two months later, I get word that Thoman’s part of a convoy of Strykers transporting some troops from Camp Taji to Camp Liberty. He’s pulling guard in the left gunner’s hatch, they’re passing through a hot grid for sniper activity, one of the Strykers breaks down, they exit the Strykers to pull security, and bang. The sniper knows what he’s doing and hits Thoman in the side just under his armpit, where the side plates don’t cover, and the round bounces around inside his body armor like ping pong.

I call Pollyanna before his body is cold. I offer my condolences, offer a shoulder to cry on, dry her tears. We go to Vegas about a month later. She’s a widow on the rebound who’s been married only two months to a husband she barely knew. Pollyanna has nowhere to go and no one to turn to, so I fill the gap. I pay for everything; throw down two grand easy for a three night stay – room at the Hilton; $200 dollar dinner at Ruth’s Chris and $80 dollar bottle of Chardonnay; lots of gambling; lots of drinking and shows; $40 bucks to get into the VooDoo Lounge at the Rio and $400+ for a bottle of Cristal and seats in the V.I.P booth.

She sinks her head into my chest and I wrap an arm around her, she looks up into my eyes and we kiss, then she says, “Tell me a story... something about you, about your past.”

I look out of the large glass panes behind the booth, enjoying the Vegas view, considered one of the best on the strip. All the lights of every casino and high rise has a fuzzy glow and sway back and forth because I’m lit up from a night’s worth of drinking.

I think about it for a moment and say, “I used to work security for a Macy’s... you know, catching shop lifters and shit like that. Did it for years. The last year or so, I was struggling to pay bills, keep my head above water, so it was important I didn’t lose my job, otherwise I’d be fucked. I had been sick for about a week this one time... had some kind of cold or flu I couldn’t get over. I couldn’t take any time off work because I couldn’t afford it, and I couldn’t afford any medicine because I didn’t have the money, so I went to a nearby Walmart, grabbed a thing of cold medicine off the shelf, ripped open the package, and stuck the bottle in my pocket.”

“So you stole it,” she smiles.

“Yeah, I stole it.”

“Then what happened?” she says.

“I got busted trying to leave the store, spent a night in jail, and ended up losing my job.”

“Awwww,” she says and rubs the inside of my thigh, “poor baby. I know how to make it better.”


I stalk across the street, hunched low, gun at the ready. Alpha Dog is small, no bigger than the Mexican joint, with the same ugly brown stucco and red tile roof. The windows and door are barred, everything’s locked up tight.

I creep along the side, through the shadows, follow a narrow driveway between the shelter and a foreclosed shop for sale that are even more common in Phoenix than the Mexican joints. When I get the dog from the humane society, one of the workers tells me a story about a pit bull at a no-kill shelter that’s been locked in a tiny cage for over 12 years. Now it’s fucked in the head, spends all day slamming its body against its cage, and everyone’s scared of messing with it.

The driveway leads to a small parking lot behind the shelter. A floodlight over the back door lights the lot up like an afternoon sun. I lurk at the edge of the building, where the reach of the light ends and blurs into shadow then darkness.

Pollyanna is a complete mess ever since the dog runs off. Every time I go to touch her, she withdraws and pulls away. She had a dog when she was married to Thoman, but it got loose and got hit by a car. I adopt the new dog for Pollyanna from the humane society and when it runs away she swears she loves it, piss and all.

I snatch up a rock, chuck it at the light, smash the glass case. Sparks explode and fizzle through the air.


I look at the piece of paper with Matt Sherman’s address.

Sherman is a dead-beat dad who’d rather smoke meth than take care of his kids. I hate pricks like this, so when Sherman’s brother-in-law hires me to track him down and persuade him to pay up, I’m more than happy to take the job.

The Monroe Street Abbey off of 4th Avenue and Monroe Street in downtown Phoenix is the rusty steel grate in the gutter that collects all the grime and shit as it passes through to the sewers – a hollowed-out square building around a gravel courtyard with a small island of grass and a few trees.

The residents are prisoners of their social security checks. The rest are the gutter trash hoi polloi of society, live here because the $465 a month rent means more money for dope and booze and the hookers one block up strutting their stuff on Van Buren Street.

Sherman doesn’t expect me.

He answers the door, sees me looming in the threshold, and the shock registered across his face says he knows what comes next.

Sherman is bone-thin, long greasy black hair, thin goatee, sunken face full of rings and studs. His ribcage pokes out. Like his skeleton is a convict doing twenty-to-life of hard time, trying to break free.

At the rate he’s going, the life sentence won’t stick.

I kick in the door before Sherman has a chance to close it. I charge inside, nail him square in the nuts. He crumples to the stained carpet riddled with cigarette burns; screams, holds his balls. I pull out a roll of duct tape, tear off a piece, and slap it over his mouth.

I ask him: “You ever heard the moral of the mousetrap?” but he cries, and I tell him: “Don’t be a little bitch, man up, you did this to yourself… you had this coming.”

I yank a temple piercing from his face, and he screams through the tape: “A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package. ‘Time to eat,’ the mouse thought, but couldn’t believe it when he saw it was a mousetrap. The mouse was scared shitless, so he ran out to the farmyard and started shouting, ‘There’s a mousetrap in the house!’ The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, ‘Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is life and death to you, but I don’t give a rat’s ass.’ Get it? Stay with me. That’s not the moral. She said she couldn’t be bothered.”

I yank out the other temple piercing, and he screams some more. I pinch his eyebrow stud between my fingers: “The mouse turned to the pig and said, ‘There’s a mousetrap in the house!’ but the pig said, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there ain’t shit I can do about it except pray, so I’ll keep you in my prayers.’ The mouse turned to the cow and said, ‘There’s a mousetrap in the house!’ and the cow told the mouse to go fuck himself.”

I rip the stud from his eyebrow, spray out a little squirt of blood. He screams hard, starts to choke and gurgle: “The mouse returned to the house alone to face the farmer’s trap, its little head down, bummed out none of the other animals would help him. That night, a sound was heard throughout the house... like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey. The wife ran to see what was caught, but it was dark as shit, and didn’t see it was the tail of a rattlesnake, so she got bit. The farmer rushed her to the hospital, she returned home with a fever, and we all know how you treat a fever... with chicken soup, right?”

I finger his bull ring, flicking it with my fingers. His eyes grow wider: “But the wife didn’t get better, so friends and neighbors came to sit with her round the clock, and to feed them, the farmer butchered the pig. The bitch still didn’t get better and she died, a shitload of people came to the funeral, and the farmer slaughtered the cow for food. And the mouse...” I pat him on the cheek, stand up, looking down at him: “...the mouse looked upon everything from his crack in the wall with great sadness.”


I post missing dog posters everywhere, waste fifty bucks on the posters at Kinkos, but no-one ever pays attention to missing dog posters, so I spend another fifty bucks on more posters advertising a $500 dollar reward. This will get someone’s attention, I figure, because money talks and bullshit walks, and I know people will eat their children for money. I put giant dollar signs across the top and bottom of the posters, figuring this will grab people’s attention even more.

The back door of the shelter opens and a young brunette chick, maybe 19 or 20, in daisy dukes and flannel tied off at her midriff like she’s fresh off the farm, pokes her head out and looks around. I rush the door, she sees me, lets out a little shriek. She tries to slam the door shut, but I’m faster and throw my shoulder into the door.

The dogs are going crazy now. Alpha Dog sounds like a fucking insane asylum for dogs. I can barely hear anything above their cacophony. I knock her back on her ass, bulldoze inside. Daisy Dukes screams as I wave the gun around, jumps back up and runs inside a room.


I leave Sherman’s apartment after collecting the cash. I’m on my way back to the office when my cell phone rings. The guy on the other end says he saw one of the missing dog posters; says he knows where I can find the dog.

“For $500 I can tell you where your dog’s at... meet me at Pink Cabaret off Glendale Avenue just past...” and I cut him off and say I know the place.

“Good,” the guy says. “Meet me there tonight... bring the cash and I’ll tell you where to find her.”

The place is low-key. Judging by the handful of cars in the parking lot, doesn’t seem to have a lot of business. A parked jet black ’87 Camaro has a bumper sticker: ‘Fuck Off, This Message Brought To You By The First Amendment.’

The girls are sexy, not drop-dead gorgeous sexy, but definitely sexy. I’ve blown both kinds of wads here once or twice.

The cabaret sits just past the overpass and railroad tracks at Grand Avenue and Northern Avenue. There’s a portico out front, pink neon lights along the trim of the roof. Everything looks new and clean. The hot pink neon sign in graffiti sans-serif and the brown marble paneling is a veneer of high-class and high-dollar.

I walk inside.

Mirrored walls; deep plush chairs and tiny oval tables; hot pink dance poles and creamy white stages; flat plasma TV screens; fully stocked bar; twin mezzanine balconies.

I scan around, take a seat at the bar.

Middle-aged low-lifes wave dollar bills at the dancers. Most of the crowd is young and thugged out in hip-hop fashion. I hate these pricks the most. Some wear suits and sit up on the balconies getting lap dances.

“You the guy looking for the dog?”

I feel a hand on my shoulder, turn around. Standing there is a middle-aged slob, with the worst outbreak of herpes on his lips I’ve ever seen.

“Name’s Dickie.”

Dickie licks his lips, picks at his mouth. I shrug off his hand, but he shoves it back at me for a shake.

“You gotta be kidding,” I say.

“What?” he says sheepishly.

“I’m not shaking your fucking hand... you need to get that shit looked at.”

“Whatever,” he withdraws his hand. “You have the money?”

I pull a wad of rolled twenties out of my pocket, pass it under the bar to Dickie, and tell him: “You better be for real. If not, I’m gonna fuck you up bad.”

He sizes me up for the first time, swallows, then says, “Don’t worry, it’s legit, your dog’s at a place called Alpha Dog.”

“How do you know this?” I want to know, and he says he’s been there before, saw the dog there firsthand with his own two eyes.

I tell him to hand over his drivers license: “If it checks out, you get it back, and if it doesn’t check out, I pay you a visit and fuck you up.”

He hesitates, sighs, reluctantly gives his drivers license to me, then says: “Don’t worry, it’ll check out.”


I have second thoughts about my whole approach. I think maybe I got it all wrong. I wave the gun around, the dogs go ape shit, Daisy Dukes screams her head off and runs inside the room. The place is rank with stale dog, dog hairs float around in the air, get in my mouth, and I swear I hear moaning, like some chick in mid-orgasm getting her brains fucked out.

I move toward the room. A man runs out, buck naked, with a rock hard dick flopping up and down. The prick yells at me. He wants to know what the hell is going on, and I shoot him in the leg. He drops to the floor, screaming. Daisy Dukes is screaming. All the dogs are in a frenzy, when two more doors open and gorgeous naked chicks pour out of the rooms, all screaming their heads off, too.

I look inside the first room. Daisy Dukes cowers in the corner, holding the dog in her arms. Camera equipment and microphones are set up all over the room. Dog kennels line the walls. Alpha Dog is a freak show menagerie of dogs.

I walk up to the girl. She begs me not to shoot, please don’t kill her, for the love of God, just let her go. I shove her away with my boot, grab the dog, point the gun at her and hold it there.

The hallway is a bedlam of screaming naked chicks fleeing every which way.

I drop the gun to my side, do an about face, walk out into the hall with the dog tucked under my arm. I look inside one of the other rooms. Tethered to a post is a miniature horse or pony, I can’t tell which.

I take the dog home, it licks my face, happy to be back, happy that I found it. The dog shakes, so I set it down, it lies down in the corner, as Pollyanna runs in crying tears of joy. She scoops the dog in her arms. She squeezes it tight, kisses its face. The dog pisses down her front. Pollyanna drops the dog on the floor, and starts in on her bitching all over again.

BIO: Jason Duke is a Sergeant in the U.S. Army and served 15 months in Iraq as part of OIF 07-09. He was borderline before going to Iraq, but now he's totally fucked in the head. He mostly misses killing shit and blowing shit up. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Spinetingler Magazine, Pulp Pusher, Flash Fiction Offensive, Darkest Before the Dawn, A Twist of Noir, 3AM Magazine, Suspect Thoughts, Shred of Evidence, Outsider Ink, The Hiss Quarterly, Dungeon Magazine, The Murder Hole, A Cruel World. He’s also branched out into horror with his story “Route Cobra” which can be found at House of Horror.

A Twist Of Noir 437 - Jeff Macfee


An entry in Jason Duke’s RED HOT Writing Contest

Lorowski eats radishes and asks you to hurt a man.

The radishes come out of a quart-sized plastic bag. The manila folder holds some cash, an index card with an address written in blue ink, and a picture. When you flip the picture over you see a man’s name, and it’s circled.

“He’s an asshole,” Lorowski says. “Trust me.”

Lorowski had placed the ad three weeks ago. He’d phrased the language just so. Message delivery. Resourceful individual required. Applicants must be male and over six foot. You’d answered ads like that before.

The two of you sit at a table in the back of Jimmy’s Bar. Slouching, Lorowski appears at ease, like he’s watching a ballgame. His coke-bottle glasses are pushed high along the bridge of his nose, and he pokes at them when he isn’t eating radishes. He wears a starched blue and white checked shirt that makes your neck itch.

“So what do you think?” Lorowski asks.

You stab at your salad, the arugula flat and tasteless. You were foolish to order salad in a bar. You ask what the guy has ever done to hurt Lorowski.

“Oh, he bugs the piss out of me.” Lorowski leans across the table and taps you on the hand. “You know what I mean?”

You don’t, not really, but what does it matter? You’ve been alone since your wife died. Barbara caught a ride home and then watched helplessly as the car slewed into a ditch at ninety-five miles an hour. The driver’s blood alcohol was 0.179. Barbara hadn’t died right away–she’d lived a month on life support before stroking out. You weren’t there. You’d gone home to shower.

Since then you’ve lost your job and you’ve sold the house Barbara made a home, sold it for a loss. You took an apartment because a man has to live somewhere, a man has to try and forget the past and rebuild. But the past adds up. The hospital stay, the burial, an old mortgage, a new mortgage. Food. Heat. Clothes. Bills. All of it money you don’t have.

You ask Lorowski what happens if you do the thing. If you get in your car and cover the license plate and drive over to his friend’s address.

“He’s not my friend,” Lorowski says.

Great. But what if you break this guy’s face, let him swallow blood? What if he refuses to pay? What happens next?

“I told you when you called.” Lorowski pops another white sliver into his mouth and chews. The radish’s bite has got to be atrocious. “You’ll get what's coming to you.”

You aren’t sure. You don’t know.

“What don’t you know?”

You hold the index card. One corner is folded and spit-worn. It all sounds far-fetched.

“There’s four hundred in the folder,” Lorowski says. “Even if I don’t deliver, even if he doesn’t pay, you keep that. I don’t know about you, but for me four hundred buys a lot of radishes.”

Lorowski leans over the table almost every time he speaks. The little fucker tries so hard.

“Will you do it?” he asks.

You pull the cash out of the envelope and fold it in half. You put it in your front pocket, where no one can take it. Barbara always worried about pickpockets.

“Yeah,” you say.

That night, you steal a car from a neighborhood where you won’t be recognized. The gas tank is three quarters full and the brakes are quiet. You stay on the highway and off the side streets and make your exit without having to pay any tolls. Driving at night doesn’t bother you and you aren’t much for drink, so there’s no missed lights or rolling stops. The neighborhood you’re looking for backs up to a park and you leave the car there, windows rolled up and the keys chucked into the brush. You’re hungry and want to get it over with quick.

The house is a two-story brick and siding affair, like all the houses on the street. His neighborhood reeks of upper middle-class–brick mailboxes, lawns mowed by somebody else. You live in a six hundred square foot apartment, and have ever since Barbara died. For you, suburbia equals death.

You don’t look around suspiciously and you don’t try the doorknob. You ring the bell.

Webb answers the door. He’s a big guy, a former football player with beady eyes, a thick head, and square-framed black glasses. He wears his silk button-down untucked and his khaki shorts cuffed. A yellowed toenail sticks out of his leather flip-flops. You can see the word GAP branded into the strap.

“Drew,” Webb says. “What are you doing here?”

You can’t believe it. You’ll get what’s coming to you. Lorowski actually made it happen.

You throw the point of your elbow into Webb’s nose and it splits like angel food cake. Hard to soft, as your father used to say. Webb bleeds all over his fancy hardwoods and staggers back, retreating into the safety of his house.

“The fuck you doing, Drew?”

You step in and hit him again with the same elbow. The wood is slick, and you can’t put the kind of force you’d like behind the blow. Webb only screams a little before he falls to the floor.

You force your way inside and ask Webb if he’s alone, knowing he’s a bad liar. He tries to tell you his wife is asleep upstairs, his brown eyes flicking to the mantle over the fireplace. You step around Webb’s body and spot the pictures on the mantle. A framed shot of mother, father, and baby–Webb and his perfect family. There’s another picture where the kid is about two, and another with the kid at age four. Then the loving mother disappears. You figure divorce again, his second. You ask if she’s left him.

“Yeah.” Webb wipes blood out of his goatee. “How did you find me?”

You don’t answer. Lorowski is your hole card, not his. You pull down the baby picture and ask about the little tyke’s age.

“Almost five.” Webb gets to his feet, knees popping. “He’s at his mother’s.”

The kid looks like Webb. Pasty white complexion, blond hair, vaguely Germanic face. Big innocent grin. You marvel that Webb would tell you the kid was out of town.

“Can I get you a drink?” Webb eyes a heavy bottle of Scotch he’s left in the kitchen. “Got a twenty-one year-old with your name on it.”

You pull the padlock out of your pocket, the metal cold against your bare skin. You tell Webb he’s making it too easy. Then you hit him with a fistload.

What’s a fistload?

A fistload is improvisation and guts. It’s attention to detail and desperation. In short, it’s any compact item that can be used to reinforce a punch. Hit a man in the face while holding a commercial grade padlock and he will go down. Some guys use rolled quarters and others use spark plugs. Truly sick fucks will use fist strikes, pronged steel spheres that not only provide structured punches, but also gouge and tear. Household scissors will also do the trick if you’re looking for maximum bloodletting.

You stick with the weapon of your youth, the reliable Master Lock. You punch Webb across the mouth and watch as he hits the wall. His eyes come unglued, one pointing at the ceiling, the other going soft and staring straight ahead.

“Lorowski has a message for you,” you say.

A punch to the soft of Webb’s gut. Almost a reprieve after the way you split his face.

“You shouldn’t go sleeping with sixteen year-old girls.”

Open-palmed strike across the right cheek. When the bone in his face cracks you feel it down your arm and into your chest.

“Like his daughter.”

It goes on that way for a while. You toss the padlock on the floor and return to elbows and knees. Webb wets himself, coughs up a few teeth. Across the street some kid’s band starts up, all fits and starts on the drums, pounding a bass line that drowns out any of the band’s skill. You remember that music column you wrote in college. These are the things you think about, to keep your mind off the work.

When your arms tire you stop. There was a time you could have gone another twenty minutes, popping capillaries in Webb’s face like bubble wrap. Today you can’t stay on your feet more than a minute, instead parking it on Webb’s gut where you can get some leverage. It’s thirsty work and after you're done, you stand and stagger into the kitchen. Four thick pint glasses sit on the kitchen counter and you snag a pair, filling them with water from the fridge. One glass you keep for yourself and the other you set next to Webb's hand. You help Webb sit and bring the glass to his lips. One of Webb’s eyes is sealed shut and his lower lip is practically gone.

“Better?” you ask.

Webb makes a noise. A whimper, a moan, a grunt. Not enough left in his mouth to form anything distinct.

You tell him he’s lucky. If he’d messed with your daughter, he’d be dead. Fortunately for Webb, Lorowski said to deliver the message and take four hundred in cash. And leave him alive.

Webb licks his lips, the tip of his tongue ragged, chewed off during the beating. A new sound emerges from the blood above his chin, a word you almost recognize. You walk over and squat and put your ear next to Webb’s face. The sound repeats itself.

You laugh. “Radishes,” you say. “Yeah, he’s still eating those.”

Finished with the water, you set the glass on the mantle, next to the picture of Webb’s angelic kid. You find the lock skittered under the TV, and you have to get on all fours to retrieve it. You catch the open hook on one finger and snap the lock shut. You flex your fingers before putting the heavy metal back in your palm.

“You know,” you say. “Ordinarily, if someone like Lorowski asked me to do a job, with his bad breath and his bad jokes, I’d send the guy on his way. If I was in a good mood and didn’t just beat the shit out of him.”

Webb nods, trying to look at you with his one good eye.

You continue. “Four hundred’s enough to rough you up, but anything more? Shit. That’s serious business, isn’t it? Intent to kill, murder in the first degree. Cops send you to jail for that.”

The blood pours from Webb's nose. He uses his shirt to try and staunch the flow.

You tell him everything, about the phone call and the money. As even fear would be something, you tell him how Lorowski asked what it would take for you to really hurt a man. But Webb isn’t listening. He’s breathing through his mouth and too obviously digging for the cell phone in his pocket.

You drop it on him.

“I told Lorowski to give me the man that killed my wife,” you say. “Give me the man that drove her home from work blitzed out of his fucking mind. Give me peace. Give me fucking justice. In other words, give me you.”

Webb hears that, but now it’s too late.

You consider things as you beat him. How did Lorowski make this happen? How did he find the man you spent a year trying to locate, only to give up and go back to muscle work? Was Lorowski the devil, finding the man who drove your wife into that ditch? Will you feel guilty after it’s done, chewing on stomach acid blowback and the cold recycled memories of the beating? Is killing Webb evil?

The blood coats your knuckles. You find peace and relief.

Killing Webb isn’t evil.

Killing Webb is a fucking miracle.

BIO: Jeff Macfee knows that with great power comes universe-ruling potential. And responsibility. Definitely responsibility. His stories have appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency and Colored Chalk. He's also a graduate of the Viable Paradise Writer's Workshop. You can check out his website at Jeff Macfee - It Will All Work Out In The End.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Twist Of Noir 436 - Michael J. Solender


An entry in Jason Duke’s RED HOT Writing Contest

If she was so much as a rounding error off on her count, her beautiful face would all-too-soon feature the most indelicate of scars. Yoshi had recently promoted her, but his good nature and affection for Lyudmila did not translate into cutting her any slack when it came to the life blood of his set: money.

Lyudmila drew heavy on her third American Spirit of the morning. Nicotine caressed her capillaries along with the caffeine-laden Geisha coffee Yoshi paid thirty dollars a pound for. Her head was pounding. One hundred large unaccounted for and it wasn't even eight o’clock in the morning.

Yakuza boys were notoriously tough customers to deal with, but they didn’t scrimp when it came to amenities. When Yoshi asked her what kind of coffee she preferred, she jokingly told him Geisha. She’d read of it, though never tried it. He made one phone call and, an hour later, she had ten, one pound bags delivered to her harbor-side San Pedro office.

“Baby, anything you want, I can have for you in less than seventy-two hours,” Yoshi said to her for the twelfth time that week and perhaps the thousandth time since she’d known him. And damn if it wasn’t true, too. The man was connected. Globally connected.

Everything he did was deliberate. Letting her handle the wired overnight receipts and make the series of wire transfers was a vote of confidence, but if they didn’t tick and tie, not only would she be through, she’d have a neat little zipper across her cheek as a reminder of how mistakes are dealt with by Japanese mobsters.


She was a long way in both space and time from running girls on the Red Rooster from Khabarovsk to Moscow for her boyfriend and Russian tough guy, Nicolai. She had a similar profile to many of the destitute and hopeless farm girls on the Siberian plateau that will do anything to save themselves from a meager subsistence of growing potatoes or working in the canneries around Lake Baikal, Russia’s largest body of fresh water.

Of all ironies, Nicolai was her piano teacher. Her grandfather had insisted upon lessons once she reached her thirteenth birthday and showed interest.

Lyudmila’s initial crush on Nicolai gave way to puppy love and finally, at sixteen, she surrendered her virginity to his charms and promises of a better life. She was smitten with him. She loved to watch his slender fingers race across the keyboard. The brilliant opal on his right hand and multi-facet claret-colored ruby on his left were in matched settings. The rings were Nicolai’s signature, he was never without them.

Lyudmila learned the hard way just what a signature they made on her flesh. When he turned them to face inward and then slapped her about as he often did, the marks they made were indelible.

He was, however, her ticket out, and he was the one who initially introduced her to Yoshi in Vladivostok. Yoshi made good on his promise to smuggle her into the U.S. and ultimately set her up as a key player in his burgeoning Yakuza dealings stateside.

Leaving Nicolai was easy for Lyudmila. Forgetting him was another story.


She ran the numbers one more time and caught the missing hundred large that eluded her during each of her last smokes. She’d be ready with the receipts for Yoshi when he came in at nine, an hour from now.

In the old days, it was cash on the barrel head. They kept counters humming all night long when the longshoremen dropped off the dough from ‘importers,’ who took just the right containers from the cargo ships. 9/11 fixed all that. In spite of what the public knew or thought it knew, smuggling cargo in through the Port Of Los Angeles wasn’t near as easy as it used to be.

International trafficking in girls, dope and small arms, once favored for their easy marketability, had all but been eliminated from the repertoire of Lyudmila’s employer. Today’s dollars, yen and rubles were made in boiler rooms filled with laptops and a sea of guys running credit card scams, boosting active card numbers and selling them online.

Yoshi’s Yakuza boys employed teams of very sophisticated hackers who they financed to crack the codes to numerous computer sensitive transactions. Online retailers, airlines, credit unions and some smaller tier banks.

More and more the real money was starting to come with industrial espionage. Hacking into one of the big Pharmas and selling their secrets to those willing to pay was the new millennium way to cash in. It was also a hell of a lot easier than hacking through the firewalled, permafrost found at the banks and financial service giants. Increasingly, Yoshi had to rely on Russian hackers, the world’s best.

That’s precisely where Lyudmila came in.

She was his go-between, spoke their language and had their trust. Years of working with Nicolai in Irkutsk had taught her something of value and she was determined to use it to her advantage. That Yoshi made out was just gravy for her.

“Doll Face, how did we do?” Yoshi snuck up on Lyudmila who had just sent the last wire to Japan. Her satellite phone was ringing and Yoshi was signaling for her to pick it up.

“Nyet, no problem, thank you.” Lyudmila was very careful on the phone especially with Yoshi looking over her shoulder. She put the phone back into its charger.

“A good night, Yosh. Three-fifty from the CCs all sent to Zurich.” Lyudmilla paused.

“And?” Yoshi was not one to jerk with unless you wanted to see the back of his hand.

Lyudmila experienced enough physical abuse from Nicolai to last her several lifetimes. Twice each day, when she put her clothes on and took them off, she saw scars Nicolai left upon her breasts with his twin rings. They were nothing compared to the scars he imprinted on her psyche.

“And our friend in Khabarovsk has sent an advance from one of the petro-brokers off the Sea Of Japan. That was him on the phone just now, it’s all good.”

“You need anything?” Yoshi could be a gentleman when he wanted; he meant it when he asked her.

“No, just some sleep. I know if there is anything I really need that you can get it for me...”

Yoshi finished her sentence, “ seventy-two hours or less. Don’t doubt that, Baby Doll. Many have lost that bet.”

“Not me, Yosh. You always deliver and I’ve never been disappointed. You want me to drop off Sachiko at school on my way home?”

“No, the nanny’s gonna do it. My princess overslept today and she didn’t come to work with Daddy.”

The nanny. Lyudmila had met her only twice but didn’t trust her with Sachiko’s lunch money. Yoshi burned through nannies at a rapid clip, that was for sure. He wasn’t trusting his precious cargo to just anyone. Not since his wife died from that rare form of leukemia. He held that little girl closer to his heart than anything in the world.

It was incongruous, really. This tough guy Japanese Yakuza mobster getting all squishy; a big blubbering bowl of Jell-O when his three year-old daughter came running up to him with her wide grin filled with those delicate little shoe-peg cornrows of teeth.

The way he treated Sachiko reminded Lyudmila of her grandfather back in Lake Baikal. Grandpa loved his little Lyudmila and promised her the world. For a seven year-old girl, he delivered, too. Special tiny cakes, filled with pudding that made her tummy flip with glee, hand-carved wooden ponies and, best of all, whisker rubs that endeared her to him more than any other man on this Earth then or since.

One of two men she ever really loved, Grandpa was the only good memory she retained from Mother Russia. Nicolai had seen to that.

“OK, Yoshi, I’m going then. See you tomorrow.”

“OK. Later.” Yoshi had his head buried in a technology briefing from one of the uber-hackers.

They were on the verge of a breakthrough that Yoshi was convinced would take them into the stratosphere of computer crime, the untraceable IP address. The rumors had churned through Interpol, the FBI and G-7. Some said that the earliest code came from Al Qaeda sleeper cells. It was Yoshi’s hackers that perfected it, though.

With this sophisticated intervention, they could go anywhere in cyberspace they wanted and leave no digital footprints. Yoshi got a woody just thinking about it.


As was her custom, Lyudmila stopped on her way home at the little bakery on Western that bordered San Pedro and Gardena. It was only six blocks from Yoshi’s and not far from her place in Redondo. Slipping back in her car after bagging two sticky-buns, she caught Yoshi’s Land Rover out of the corner of her eye.

It was unmistakably his: jet black with custom black chrome wheels, plus she saw Sachiko in the car seat and the nanny peeling out the opposite direction of the pre-school where Sachiko went.

She pulled a U-turn and began to follow her, not easy given LA traffic on a weekday morning. Lyudmila flipped open her cell phone and punched in Yoshi’s speed dial.

“ better get the boys out here, I’m at Western and Westmont. Your nanny’s got Sachiko in your Rover and they ain’t going to daycare. She's headed into PV, Palos Verdes.” Lyudmila tried to stay calm as she knew Yoshi was going to lose it.

She was surprised, shocked, really, at what she heard next.

“Back off, Angel Face, it’s a set-up. You ain’t supposed to be there. My guy has been on her all along. Sachiko will be in safe hands in moments. The nanny is in for a big surprise when she drops her off up on the hill. C'mon in, we’ll talk about it.”

Puzzled, she wasn’t sure what to make of what she just heard. Lyudmila found it hard to believe Yoshi would use his daughter in a set-up and put her in any type of danger, yet that’s what he just said.

She pulled her Honda into the lot that housed the crinkled aluminum building that faced Front Street. The mix of sea air, scents from the nearby fish market and the heavy diesel odor from the tugs created a perfume that was all too familiar for Lyudmila. She smiled to herself every time she walked up through the potholed lot thinking this little shit-box of an office generated more income than three quarters of the business in downtown LA. Tax free, too.

Yoshi was there at the door, his iPhone displaying streaming live video of Sachiko holding hands with Endo-san, Yoshi closest ‘advisor.’ Minutes later, the black Range Rover pulled up with the nanny, bleeding from her nose and a shiner developing around her left eye. She was accompanied by Oto-san, Yoshi’s number three bucho, or ‘manager.’

He waved them into the back room and kept Lyudmila back.

“Look, Lyudmila, it’s a long complicated story but here’s the gist of it.” Yoshi was pulling the drapes on the two tiny windows that let whatever small sliver of sun into the corrugated aluminum box where they spent the better part of each day.

“Yoshi, I don’t need to know, really. As long as Sachiko is safe.” She let her words trail off. Actually, for the first time in a long time, Lyudmila was scared. She thought she stumbled upon something that wasn’t going to turn out right for her.

“Stop, Sugar. I want to tell you. You did good, real good.” Yoshi kept turning his head to the sounds of the nanny whimpering in the back room. He’d be dealing with her soon enough.

“There’s some people that know about this masked IP address shit. It’s worth millions, maybe even billions. They know the only way to get to it is through me and the only way to get to me is through my baby. That ain’t ever gonna happen. I’m gonna send back that bitch to them in tiny little pieces as a reminder of what I do to people who mess with me and my kid. It’s gonna get rough around here for a while and I want you to take a vacation. Can you handle that?”

Lyudmila was stunned. In the last several years she’d heard of Yoshi playing hardball, heard him talk about it, threaten people but she’d never actually seen anything. This was way too real for her and she would happily hit the beach for as many weeks as Yoshi wanted her gone. She shook her head, unable to speak.

Yoshi pulled out a huge wad of one hundred dollar bills, peeled off at least twenty and gave them to Lyudmila. “Keep your phone on at all times. Check in with me every day exactly at nine, and don’t leave LA. When this shit settles down, we’re moving on to new digs and a new project. I’ll let you know when to come back. And if you need anything, anything, let me know and I’ll have it to you in seventy-two hours or less.”

Lyudmila shook her head again. She knew what was in store for the Nanny and couldn’t head back to her car fast enough.

“Hang on, Doll Face. One more thing.” Yoshi’s nostrils flared out. They did that when he was up to something devious. She saw the maniacal look in his eye. “You really did a good thing looking out for me and Sachiko. I’m gonna get you something, something you really want. Just make sure you’re home to sign for it day after tomorrow.”

Lyudmila managed to stutter, “No. Yoshi. No. Nothing, I don’t want nothing.” She loved the perks of her job but the last thing she needed was to be beholden to Yoshi. The way he smiled she knew he had something very expensive, or hard to get, or most likely both in mind. The seventy-two hour time frame he gave her led her to believe that it was no small order for Yoshi to arrange for.

“Oh yes, Angel. This is a unique set. You’ll be the first on your block to have such a complimentary pair. No choice, the wheels were already set in motion before you even got back here. Enjoy your gift with my gratitude. Later, Baby.”

With that, the door to the office closed and Lyudmila heard two muted shots. The heavy thuds were very similar to her car door closing and she was on her way home for a long shower and some deep, deep sleep.


“Ms. Kaspari?” The FedEx guy was an eyeful of candy and Lyudmila was doing her best to undress him in her mind as she signed for the specially packaged box. “It’s dry ice, Miss. Be sure you use gloves when you open it, you don’t want to burn yourself.”

The box was heavy for its size, which was not much larger than a donut box. The red tape with chunky black letters warned of dry ice and she recognized the customs markings and stamps which were in Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet. Bold letters stated that the box was cleared through an expedited customs process. She recognized the ‘importer’ signature as one of the shell companies Yoshi used to use when he had containers coming through the port.

She grabbed her garden gloves from the garage and tore into the box. A smaller Styrofoam container held two packets of dry ice and a still smaller box that was gift wrapped in silver and blue. Clearly this package sailed through customs with appropriate ‘grease,’ as it had not been disturbed since leaving Russia two days earlier.

Her gloves now off and the dry ice aside, Lyudmila fingered the wrap carefully for a moment and then, giving into to a primal urge, ripped it off. A small cherrywood box, no larger than a deck of cards lay before her. Her initials, LK, were hand-carved in a regal way upon the front of the box, which had a spring hinge that required a slight depression before popping up to reveal its contents.

Lyudmila gasped so loudly, she startled herself. It wasn’t the beauty of the rings, one opal and the other ruby that startled her. The fact that the rings were so recognizable and could only have come directly from Nicolai wasn’t even what had her covering her mouth and hyperventilating uncontrollably. What caused her physical reaction was that each ring was attached to a perfectly amputated ring finger, Nicolai’s fingers, which first made her gasp and now cry tears of relief and joyous revenge.

A small card was on the underside of the box. It simply read: Anything you want in seventy-two hours or less. Y.

BIO: Michael J. Solender doesn’t fancy jewelry. He blogs at Not From Here, Are You?

A Twist Of Noir 435 - Robert Crisman


The nighttime’s the right time to be with the one who will pay...

They pulled into the Ramada at 10 minutes till. Roanne paid the driver and tipped him five bucks. He smiled and said thank you. They exited then and the taxi drove off.

In the light of the doorway Michelle started patting and brushing and futzing herself into shape for the rigors ahead.

First-timer’s stage fright...

Roanne finished her own quick toilette far more calmly, then laughed. She took Michelle’s arm and steered her inside the hotel.

Michelle in that lobby, afraid to look right or left. Roanne strode. Michelle, 22, was a tall, lithe trick’s dream in black jeans, with wide bright-blue eyes, bee-stung lips, and brown hair a thick mane that flowed to her shoulders. Roanne, 29, an olive-skinned beauty with black pools for eyes who left echoes...

Second-floor hallway, Roanne checking numbers. Michelle lagged behind, her whole body clenched, her neck all pulled in. Her legs had no flex and her arms were hugging her body. Her face was a hard-set emotionless mask.

She walked as if blind, eyes straight ahead, except for the glances she’d dart at her lifeline Roanne.

Roanne pointed ahead. Two-forty-two up there on the left.

She quickened her pace then looked back and slowed just a little. She beckoned Michelle, all but whispering, “C’mon, girl!”

Michelle caught up. Roanne took her arm gently, an encouraging gesture. Roanne grinned, leaned in close and laughed softly.

Michelle flinched a little when Roanne licked her ear.

Roanne kissed Michelle’s cheek, a quick, breath-soft peck. “This’ll be easy, baby. Just go with the flow. I’ll show you. You’ll be okay.

Michelle nodded, quick tics in succession. She tried on a grin you might find on a corpse.

Roanne knocked on the door. A couple of beats and then the door opened. Standing there was a short, fat, bald man, 50ish, owl-eyed. He wore gray slacks and a long-sleeved white shirt.

Roanne in her hat with the veil, the Lady of Shanghai. She smiled her professional’s smile, the one that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Hi. Mr. Jenkins?”

A beat, then Jenkins nodded as if not quite sure what this was. “Yes?”

“Hi. I’m Alexis. And this is Marina.”

“Oh, hello. I, uh—“ He darted a reflexive look down the hall. “Come in, come in.”

He stood aside and the women entered the room. Roanne threw another of those smiles as she passed. He fixed on her veil and then looked away.

The room—like those in every Ramada from Seattle to Sao Paolo to Simla, except for maybe the dark green wall-to-wall carpet, which could be construed as a stab at a Northwest motif. For the rest, the low ceiling, the cream-colored walls, king-size bed, the forgettable abstracts, the wet bar, etc.—exactly like all the nine million others. Every detail forgotten the moment you leave, though the bland faceless essence somehow sinks in. You know in your bones that sterile corporate death is leeching our world away.

Roanne told Jenkins she had to call in to the service to let them know they’d arrived. “To let them know that we’re safe here, you know? We are safe, aren’t we?” She laughed, a sexy, flirtatious ha ha. He nodded and pointed the phone out there by the bed. She sashayed over, called in. She hung up and looked back at Jenkins. He and Michelle still stood by the door, a bit like wax dummies, their eyes fixed on her. She came to them smiling.

“Okay now,” she said, “let’s... I’m Alexis and she’s Marina, but we can’t keep calling you just Mr. Jenkins, now can we? Are you a Willie, or Bob, or a Joe, or...?”

Jenkins managed, “Oh, I’m, uh, George.”

“George!” She gave him a smiling appraisal. “It fits you. Very no-nonsense, get-it-done kind of man. George. Yes...”

George looked apprehensive, almost as if this complement would cost him a bundle.

“Yes. George. I like it.” Roanne reached her hands out to George and Michelle. “Well, let’s not just stand here. We might as well come in and get comfy.”

That soft, sexy laugh...

She backed up a couple of steps, turned, and walked to the center of the room. George and Michelle followed, chastely, like lambs. When the three had more or less gathered, Roanne shucked her coat, looked around, and then looked at George.

“Oh, here, I’m sorry,” he said. “Let me get your coat and...” He took the coat and waited for Michelle’s, then went to the closet and hung them. Roanne looked at Michelle, grinned, rolled her eyes.

She said, “Thank you, George.” She looked at Michelle and mouthed, “Mouse.” Michelle rolled her eyes and looked grim.

George rejoined them, actually rubbing his hands. Then he blanked, apparently stuck for something to say. A beat, then, “Ah...can I get you something to drink? There’s wine...or bourbon?” He turned toward the bar.

George, a gentleman, see? Roanne smiled. “A soft drink, George, if you have it.” She looked at Michelle. Michelle nodded and said, “A coke would be fine.”

George said, “Is 7-up okay?”

Michelle stared out the window. “That’s fine.”

George brought the drinks from the bar and handed them over.

Roanne said, “Thank you, George.” And now she took him in hand. Smiling that smile, she laid out the game plan, as if it was his to begin with, which it more or less was; girl and girl and then take it from there. She didn’t say it that way. She told him how great and exciting it was that he’d asked for her and Marina. It was all, well, exciting, you know? Making love to a woman and a man and, you know...

She had the appropriate facial expressions and noises—her breathing, etc.—down cold. A little cartoony; this guy read Penthouse, dreamed dreams, spanked the monkey...

Roanne pulled Michelle to her and gave her a kiss. Michelle did her best; she was still a bit stiff. Roanne smiled at George with a hint of dreamy abandon.

Roanne said to George, Don’t go away now, we’ll be right back. She took Michelle’s hand and led her into the bathroom.

She brought her purse with her, of course. She put the purse on top of the tank. Then she took off her clothes, all but her panties and bra. She laid her hat gently next to the purse on the tank.

She’d’ve left the thing on, but she’d decided that George didn’t rate a full-blown production; Lady Shanghai and all that. Besides, her main focus tonight: bring Michelle into the movie. Lady Shanghai would scare the shit out of Michelle. Maybe George, too...

Roanne, undressed. She said, “You too, girl.” Michelle did as told.

Roanne went in her purse and fished out two rigs, both chock-to-the-brim with good, pre-cooked dope. She gave Michelle hers and they banged, Michelle in her arm, Roanne in her inner right thigh.

Yeah, man, much better! Roanne looked at Michelle. “Okay, girl, how are you doing?” Michelle nodded and actually managed a tepid half-smile. She was...ready...

“Okay, girl, showtime.” Roanne kissed Michelle, hugged her, then squeezed her hand and led her on out of the bathroom.

George waiting with—what the fuck else?—baited breath. He was naked as jaybirds. He had a dick like a hose.

Oh well, the show must go on. Roanne tightened her grip on Michelle’s hand to keep her from pulling up short at the sight of the hose. Then she vamped her way, sort of, to George by the bed and stopped just a little way off. She looked down at his cock, half-standing now. “My my,” she said and dredged up a smile. She gave the hose a lingering tweak, then turned with her eyes on him still, and wrapped Michelle in her arms.

She enveloped Michelle, stroking her, kissing, entwining their bodies with all the appropriate noises. George had a tuning-fork woody like that.

Roanne pushed Michelle gently onto the bed.

She kissed and caressed her. Shoulders, breasts, ribcage, and thighs...

Michelle on her back, Roanne kneeling over her now. They’d left George standing to make his own move. With luck he’d jack off and be done with it quick.

Roanne stroked Michelle’s hair. Michelle’s face, her eyes wide, with silent prayers in them, her lips slightly parted... Roanne kissed her lips, eyes, and neck. She slipped Michelle’s bra down over her breasts. She slid her lips slowly down, to the left breast, the nipple... She felt Michelle’s hand begin softly stroking her back. Roanne reached back, unsnapped and shucked off her own bra, and lowered her body onto Michelle...

All in the script. And, right on time, she felt George’s hand on her ass.

Roanne moaned; it was a good one; that’s why she got paid. She tracked her way down, to Michelle’s belly now. She kissed it and licked it, continued on down. To the promised land now, moaning and moaning, hoping Michelle got the message: Let’s hear some noises from you, girl!

On cue Michelle popped one out. Not bad as moans go. Squeaky, a little but, not too shabby... Roanne nibbled the top of her panties, which showed a soft tuft of hair peeking over. She slid Michelle’s panties down past her hips, then pulled her own panties down. She spread Michelle’s legs, nudging gently. She nibbled and teased, brushing her lips back and forth, round and round. Michelle put her hands in Roanne’s hair. She spread her legs wider and lifted her hips.

They felt George’s weight on the bed. Roanne felt his hand on her back, and then on her ass. Then his cock, hard as rocks. He rubbed it now, on her thighs, on her ribs, with insistence. Then he took Michelle’s hand and placed the thing there, started stroking.

Okay... Roanne would make this quick as she could and, hopefully, painless as well. She’d brought a Trojan out of the bathroom wrapped in her left hand. She grabbed George’s dick with her right hand and stroked it. She slipped the Trojan into her mouth. She stroked George another moment or two, then brought her head over and down, and pulled the rubber over the head of his cock with her lips. Then up, down, up, down, up, down... He had her head in a vise-grip.

It took like two minutes. She’d had him pegged. Two fucking minutes, then, oh! oh! oh! oh!

That was it. Of course he collapsed on the both of them then and just kind of lay there, shivering, shaking and, oh! oh! oh! oh! for two long but—hell, it could have been worse.

He finally heaved himself off. The girls untangled. Roanne told George, Wow, that was something!

Not even a word for how something it was...

Hard to see how he’d think she was sincere. But, she felt it was all for the best if she said it. He might even come up with a bonus.

After a minute or so of half-baked snatches of small-talk, the girls headed back to the can. They washed off and got dressed. Roanne slapped her hat on her head and then laughed and gave it a delicate push to the side. Then they topped off their groove. Before they went out, Roanne hugged Michelle, told her, Good work, cheri, and gave her a kiss and a wink. Michelle just said, Whew! She smiled a bit in relief.

George was already dressed. The only part of him still in that room was the part that stayed always on guard. As per tradition, he’d put the $500 there on the dresser. No bonus. Cheap-fuck cocksucker.

They’d been in the room 20 minutes. Forty long ones to go. George, rocks popped and all out of small talk, chewed on his lips. His eyes darted this way and that. He was anxious to get to his post-coital depression, along with a stiff shot or three of the booze, by himself.

Roanne smiled that smile and gathered her purse. Michelle, stonefaced, did likewise. Roanne said, “Guess it’s that time.” George came up with a hesitant nod. “It was nice,” Roanne said.

Maybe we’ll see you again...

George’s nod now: yes, yes, please go away.

No need to coax. The girls checked out.

On the ride back, Michelle rested her head on Roanne’s shoulder. Roanne told her, See? That wasn’t the end of the world. They made veiled jokes: Old shorty back there with his waste of a hose.

All to the good, Michelle joking. It showed she could hang.

Roanne stroked her hair and looked out at the silent bip-bip of the oncoming headlights, the unending neon, the absolute blackness that rules up above. She saw herself veiled, a carved bas-relief, her face like Queen Nefertiti’s, haloed by neon as night stretched forever.

Michelle, chewing the evening, stared out at nothing.

Nothing: black night that stared back and rang changes.

BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.

A Twist Of Noir 434 - Keith Rawson


A sequel to PICTURES OF YOU, by Keith Rawson and Chad Eagleton, found at Darkest Before The Dawn

Purcell wasn’t much for bars.

The booze was always watered down, the music too loud, too many bodies packed into too tight of a space. Of course, Purcell wasn’t much for public places, period.

Restaurants, shopping malls, libraries, movie theaters, etc; Purcell liked his room, the park and that was it. The only reason he tolerated his room was because his P.O. required he have a stable place of residence, otherwise he’d be living in a public park, or out somewhere in the middle of the desert; maybe in an abandoned copper mine or one of the dozens of hollowed out mid-century shacks that dotted the burnt out yellow landscape around the nuclear power plant town of Buckeye, Arizona. But for the next five years, his ass belonged to the state and the state told him he needed a roof over his head so his fat sow of a probation officer could come and do spot checks and have him piss into to a cup at her will. Not that the bitch ever had the time or energy to move her fat ass from behind her desk to go out and do these kind of checks, or have him piss in a cup or do much of anything other than come to him for his monthly visits to turn in his pay stubs.

But for some reason he liked this little bar a couple of blocks away from his room. He came in here a few weeks back after Aileen left his room stinking of butthole and Astroglide. He didn’t know the name of it—if it even had a name?—it was just a quiet little place, a wrinkled old black man behind the scuffed dark oak bar, absent mindedly wiping its surface while watching whatever soap opera or kangaroo court show was on during the middle of the day. The old man didn’t talk, hell, he barely acknowledged Purcell’s presence; he just poured Purcell a draft and went back to watching his stories.

Most of the bars patrons were exactly like the bartender, they watched TV, or stared into their half empty glasses not saying a word.

It was Purcell’s kind of place.

It was different today, though. When he walked in and plopped down into his usual spot, looking for refreshment after spending the last two hours turning his current fuck buddy, Aileen, inside out. A glass of piss yellow lager somehow found its way into his hand and he distractedly sipped at it as he scanned the bar. Something wasn’t right; his skin crawled, he felt eyes on him. Purcell slurped down the rest of his beer in two big gulps, pulled three bucks from his jeans, slapped it down on the dull wood with a nod and hit the street.

He moved with his usual purposeful stride, head down, hands loose at his side; typical prison gait, avoiding trouble, but ready for anything. He glanced sideways and watched a fat man slouch out of the bar. Purcell rounded the corner heading towards his flop and waited. He heard footsteps, hurried, slapping against the concrete. The fat man darted around the same corner and Purcell grabbed his spongy arm and sweaty neck and slammed him against the rust colored brick wall of the rundown apartment building next to the bar. The fat man’s breath erupted from his mouth along with gouts of blood and shards of teeth; Purcell steadied the man’s head and made sure he broke his nose with the second collision.

“Who the fuck are you?” Purcell asked in a harsh whisper as he began to lead the fat man down the sidewalk.

“ one, man”

“Bullshit!” Purcell curled his right hand into a fist and drove it into the fat man’s armpit; ribs went snap, crackle, POP!

More blood and wheezy breathing.

“Who are you?”

“I’m...a P.I., I’m a P.I. hired by the girl’s husband.”

“What girl?” Purcell knew what girl he was talking about; he wouldn’t exactly describe Aileen as a girl—a thirty-five year-old bar hag who liked taking it up the shitter a little too much, sure, that was a fitting characterization—but not a girl. Of course, compared to her fifty-five year-old husband she was a toddler. Aileen loved the geezer though and the only reason she spread her ass for guys like Purcell was because

A) The old man had issues getting his little man worked up

B) His little man was the size of a cashew

So poor little trailer trash Aileen had to go looking elsewhere for a good time, but tried her best to keep the old man on a string. Telling him she loved him once a day so he would keep her allowance flowing and keeping his suspicions of her fucking around behind his back to a bare minimum. Because as a stipulation to their pre-nup, if he caught her getting strange cock thrown into her, she got zip, zero, zilch and she was back to asking hood rats if they wanted fries with their cheeseburger.

She was nearly in tears when she gave him her sad sack spiel and he said he’d keep an eye out for guys like the one he was pulling down the street by the scruff of his neck. He also promised to take care of any evidence a guy like this one may have gathered; photos, video, audio recordings, etc.

Note to self: don’t make promises to women when your dick is in their mouth.

“Where are the pictures?” Purcell asked as he steady the slob.

The guy was having a hard time catching his breath. Maybe the last hit was just a little too hard?

“In my car...In my car...” He finally spit out.

“Take me there.”

It wasn’t too long of a walk; the P.I.’s rusted out 1980 El Do was parked down an alley a couple of blocks away from Purcell’s flop. He threw the fat man hard against the grill of the ancient gas guzzler.

“Get all the shit you’ve got out and give it to me.”

The fat man was a shaky ball of nerves; it took him five or six tries to get the keys into the driver’s side door and another two or three minutes to gather his stuff off the passenger seat. When the slob was done, he handed over a digital and a miniscule video camera. Purcell powered up the video camera and took a good long look at the fuzzy digital image of him turning Aileen into a human pretzel on the LCD screen.

Second note to self: make sure to close the blinds when fucking, especially if the woman you’re fucking is married.

“Ya got some hot shit here...”

The fat man moved like a slug, Purcell saw him a mile away as his hand jerked out of the inside pocket of his Goodwill blazer and swinging something towards Purcell’s face. He caught the fat man’s arm by the wrist just as he was trying to send a 50,000 watt jolt of electricity through Purcell’s body. He jerked the arm out straight and planted a hard chop to the side of the P.I.’s blubbery neck. Purcell heard the fat man’s vertebra turn to powder and watched his eyes go vacant and glazed; his body crumpling into a lifeless pile.


A body was the last thing he needed.

But done is done and at the very least he could make a couple of bucks off the inconvenience of having to get rid of the corpse. Purcell squatted over the body, breathing through his mouth to help avoid the stink wafting off the cadaver. Jesus, the guy had been dead all of 3 minutes and he already stank like he’d been rotting in the sun for a week.

Purcell rifled and lifted the usual crap: a wallet with forty bucks and a generic Visa card; a clutch of aged business cards; a flip phone that he could maybe pawn for a couple of bucks, and the keys to the ghetto sled, the trunk of which would end up being the P.I.’s final resting place. First order of business, he needed to get the corpse stashed before some cop or a concerned citizen stopped to see if he needed any help with his unconscious friend. He hoisted the body with a grunt and sucked in a big nose full of dead man; moldering Chinese food, stale tobacco and unwashed underpants. Naw, death had nothing to do with the way this dude smelled. The walk to the rear of the car felt like a marathon; the guy had to weigh over two-hundred fifty pounds.

By the time he’d tossed the dead man in the trunk, his lungs were trying to burn their way through his chest and his muscles were doing their best impression of an epileptic fit. He threw up a couple of times and felt something vibrating in his pocket. Purcell had never owned a cell phone, preferring to carry a pager in case his former employers needed to contact him. They bitched and complained up a storm that they had to wait so long for him to get back to their pages, but he’d seen too many guys go down because of intercepted cell transmissions and back in the day, he was bound and determined not to be one of them. Ultimately it was his bosses who bitched so much about him not owning a cell phone that threw him under the bus and set him up to take the fall for their bullshit.

Purcell was muscle, a hired bonebreaker.

He was by no means the brains. But the Phoenix DA didn’t give a shit. He knew Purcell was a dimwit, but the DA wanted to play let’s make a deal; he wanted to play I know the charges are all bullshit, but I’ll still put the heels to you until you give me what I want. Purcell didn’t budge. The way he’d been brought up was you didn’t turn, you didn’t rat, even if you were getting fucked in the ass with 24 inches of bladder-busting betrayal.

Purcell pulled the phone out of his pocket and it vibrated in his hand like a battery-operated dildo. It was also bleating an electronic version of MC Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This.’

Jesus, what a fag the dead P.I. must’ve been.

He answered: “Yeah?”

“Mr. Snow, it’s Mr. Karris again. I wanted to check in with you to make sure you had picked up the package?”

“Um, I think so...Uh...” Purcell hacked up a lung into the receiver. He leaned against the car.

What the fuck was he doing?

He should have folded up the phone and hung up on whoever was on the other end of the line. The cheap piece of Chinese plastic in his hand was nothing to him but a twenty dollar bill. Instead he held on the line and listened to the voice ask over and over again: “Mr. Snow, are you alright?”

He finally answered: “Yeah, I’m alright...I’m okay.”

“Are you sure? You sound different from the last time we talked.”

“Fightin’ a cold, it’s killing me.”

“Hhmm, well, I hope it doesn’t impede our current operation. Now, did you pick up the package?” The voice on the other end was cold and business like; the motherfucker had to be a lawyer.

Purcell hated lawyers.

But he played along and scanned the dead P.I.’s car for any sign of a package. A shitload of fast food containers, crumpled cigarette packs, Styrofoam cups, and a polished brown leather briefcase. It was the kind of item that didn’t belong in a piece of shit like the El Dorado; the case had to be what the lawyer meant.

“Yeah, I’ve got it,” he said as he opened the driver’s side door and slid in behind the wheel.

“Good. After we’re off the phone, open the package, full instructions are inside. Do not deviate from the instructions in any way. Remember that, Mr. Snow. Do not deviate from the instructions in any way. Say it with me.”

Do not deviate from instructions in any way. Say it.

“Do not deviate from instructions in any way.” Purcell felt like a slow child being lectured by an impatient teacher’s aide. Purcell would’ve like to have said that he felt insulted by it, but he wasn’t; he’d been treated like this his entire life and he’d learned to shrug it off. Now the dead P.I., that schlep probably would’ve been plenty pissed if someone was talking to him like a retard, but who knew? It wasn’t like he could go and ask him.

“Alright, Mr. Snow, remember to call me as soon as you’ve made the drop and then I’ll call you with further instructions when they let me know where we can pick up the girl.”

The lawyer or who ever the fuck he was rang off without a goodbye. Purcell tossed the cell on the passenger seat and picked the briefcase up off the soiled floorboard. Shit, what was he doing? Briefcases had been his downfall for most of his existence. He used to run them for his bosses from the time he was 17 until he was locked up and here he was again opening up another one. But this time all he planned on doing was ripping off whatever was inside. Sure, it might be a body part; the hand of some poor bastard being held ransom; it might be a few pounds of coke, or smack, or horse tranquilizers, whatever; dope was as good as cash.

He popped the clasps and spied two things:

A fat wedge of cash


Three black and white digital shots of a girl; a square of duct tape over her mouth and tears cutting a rivers down her sweaty face.


The girl was very young, maybe sixteen or seventeen years old; she looked scared to death.

The last time he saw pictures like this was of his late wife; she looked scared shitless, too, all wrapped up in black electrical tape, tears streaming. And then he found out that her kidnapping was nothing but a scam; a slick scheme to get him to kill a crooked cop he was locked up with. He came pretty damn close to slicing the cop to ribbons until the cop opened his slick mouth and offered to pull some strings on the outside and save Purcell’s girl if he didn’t kill him. The cop was the one who found out Purcell was being fucked with and the cop’s boys were the ones who took care of his wife and the people who’d talked her into screwing over Purcell.

The cop was a good guy, he only wished that it had been him to take the cop out instead of the six black gorillas who screwed him up the ass six ways to Sunday and then set him on fire; Purcell would have been gentle, a couple quick jabs to the heart and that would have been that.

Purcell took his eyes off the pictures long enough to eye the cash. The wad had to be around two-hundred and fifty-thousand dollars. It wasn’t Fat City, not enough to buy him a hacienda in the Caribbean, but it was enough to keep him off the grid a good long time; maybe score a little shack outside of Mexico City and start an import/export business to keep capital rolling in; Mexicans would keister just about anything for a hundred bucks American. He ran his hand over the crisp bills, he looked at the pictures and flipped a mental coin.

The money.

The girl...?

...Goddamn morals.

What kinda crook had morals?


The instructions in the briefcase along with the pictures were simple enough:

52nd & Van Buren, 1 PM

Suburban Demilitarized Zone

Hookers and crack dealers selling ass and madness across the street from gated two million dollar homes. The cops only came down here if there was a body in the middle of the road, so the upwardly mobile had to hire jack booted security men to watch over their depreciated mini mansions and make sure the shit eating unwashed stayed across the street.

Purcell would have stuck out like a sore thumb if he didn’t happen to look like a schizo fresh from a three dollar shopping spree at the Salvation Army. The briefcase was giving him a bit of class, but it was also attracting the attention of a couple of grimy bums who’d been shuffling after him. They were skinny ghosts and neither was eyeing the case; most likely all they wanted was a buck or two to put towards a tall boy.

Purcell felt exposed; he didn’t know what or who to expect. He tried keeping his eyes moving, scanning every angle of the corner. He hated not knowing and he hated not being strapped. Purcell didn’t own a piece, hadn’t since he’d gotten out. He’d thought about it a few times; it never hurt to have a little protection around, especially in his neighborhood, But the way he figured it, the minute he scored a gun would be the exact minute his P.O. decided to revive her faltering career and stop by for an at-home visit and toss his place for contraband.

The dead P.I. was no help, either.

The thing he’d pulled out of his jacket when Purcell broke his neck was a fucking stun gun, a lot of good that would do him against a bullet.

Purcell continued to pace the corner and then he spied as a bland-looking young guy wearing aviator shades, with bleach blond hair jelled into a cute little wannabe Mohawk approach from his left. The boy kept his eyes on the ground, staring at people’s feet and hands; he was looking for something. Purcell shifted the case to his left hand and drew it up to his waistline. The boy’s eyes fixed on it and he made a beeline towards Purcell.

“Follow me,” the boy said in a girlish whisper.

He did as commanded and started following after the boy was six steps ahead of him.

From behind, the boy’s walk reminded him of the way the queers in stir moved when they were advertising; ass pushed slightly out, hips swaying from left to right. Purcell never went in for the queers, but somedays, when the one-dimensional stash of soiled hardcore porn pics he kept hidden under the mattress of his rack weren’t doing the trick, he’d picture the swaying of those almost feminine hips and superimpose his dead ex’s face staring back at him as he pounded away to a chorus of her grunts and pleasure groans. It sickened him a bit, but he was sprouting a big rubbery watching the boy.

After a couple of blocks, the boy made a left down an alleyway behind a liquor store; he wasn’t having that much luck with alleyways today, and Purcell figured he knew what was coming the minute he followed after and he resolved to keep his cool and not dead the boy like he did with the P.I.

Purcell turned the corner and, sure as shit, the pretty boy had his back to a filthy white Ecoline van and was pointing a brushed steel .25 caliber at Purcell’s head. A .25 cal was a chick gun, but it could still drill a nice, neat little hole through his skull.

“Are you Snow?” the boy asked, trying to make his voice sound more commanding and menacing than it actually was.

Purcell was drawing a blank; who the fuck was Snow?

The kid asked again: “Are you Art Snow?”

Oh yeah, the P.I. The lawyer called him that over the phone and it was the name on the greasy little business cards.

“Yeah,” he said. “I’m Art Snow.”

“You got something for me, Snow?”

Purcell held the case up to his chest.

“Have you got the girl?”

“You get the girl after we get the money. Put the case on the ground and kick it over.”

“I call bullshit. Girl first and then the cash.”

“That’s not the deal, fuckwad. You hand over the cash and then we call with where you can pick her up. Now give me the case!”

The kid was all nerves and started goose-stepping towards Purcell, his index finger tightening around the trigger. He had maybe two seconds before the kid actually had the balls to take a shot.

He chucked the case at the boy.

The boy dropped his hands out of instinct and Purcell charged. He hit the kid with a right cross and grabbed the boy’s wrist with his left. The one thing Purcell truly prided himself on was the strength of his hands. When he turned twelve and the rest of his friends start to grow tall and their voices changed, the only part of his body that seemed to expand in size were his hands. By the time he was thirteen, they were the size of boxing gloves and they caused him endless amounts of embarrassment; for nearly a year he walked around with his mutant paws stuffed in his pockets, that is until he got into his first-ever fistfight. He was smaller than the boy he got into the fight with by a foot and a half and fifty pounds; the boy got one shot in before Purcell drove his oversized right hand into the boy’s nose and followed with a heavy left to the body.

He broke the boy’s nose and fractured three of his ribs.

It got him suspended from school for a week and a beating from his old man; but after his dad whipped the living shit out of him for twenty minutes, he did a rare thing by slinging one of his beefy arms over his only son’s shoulder and told him he was proud of the damage he’d done to the boy.

Within a couple of years, the rest of his body caught up with his hands and he turned into a lumbering six foot three fifteen year old, although his hands were still slightly too large for his body. But he worked them and kept them strong. When he first started working for his old bosses, he’d cracked walnuts; in the slam he’d cracked rocks, waiting for when he needed their strength again. As Purcell gripped the boy’s gun hand, he stared into his eyes as he turned his wrist to powder and his weapon clattered to the asphalt. He watched as the boy’s shades slid off his nose and a gout of tears sprang into his eyes. The boy’s mouth wanted to scream, but the pain was too much and all that came out was a barely audible squeak.

“Now,” Purcell said, “give me the fucking girl before I go to work on the rest of your bones.”


Kidnappings and sleazy, burnt-out motels seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

Purcell had been hoping the girl was in the van. A nice and simple solution; Purcell liked nice and simple. Too bad most bad men liked to muddy up the waters by over complicating everything they touched. He was a bit like this himself, so he really had no right to complain. Purcell had to admit that he had more than a little admiration for the boy’s tight lips. Purcell tuned him up for nearly twenty minutes trying to find out where the girl was stashed. A long twenty minutes that swelled Purcell’s knuckles to the size of golf balls after he busted out most of the boy’s veneer capped teeth. It was only after he started going to work on his body and the boy was hacking blood that he finally gave up the motel’s location on the outskirts of Glendale.

They pulled up behind the dilapidated L shaped building that was once the Shining Stars Motor Lodge. Purcell shut the engine down and stepped into the back where the former pretty boy was laid out and gently snoring. Purcell toed the boy’s swollen head; he came awake with a gurgled squeal.

“There’s only two of them in there with the girl, right?”

The boy nodded. Purcell gave him a sharper kick.

“Answer me!”

“Yeah...There’s only two...only two,” he said through a mouth of broken teeth and swollen lips.

Purcell opened the sliding side door of the van and stepped down onto the sun-cracked gray asphalt of the parking lot.

Two guys in a tiny locked room, both of them probably squirrelly as hell from being cooped up for the past couple of days. If the pretty boy was any indicator, neither one of the two were very well armed. But then again, the pretty boy might’ve been the fuck up of the group and his two partners didn’t trust him with handling a real weapon, so they sent him along with the .25 just in case the bagman decided to get a little mouthy.

There was always the chance that the two waiting in the room were armed to the teeth and out for a little blood.

At least Purcell had the .25. Seven bullets in the clip so he was going to have to be tight with his shots and not waste a round.

“Alrighty, kiddo,” Purcell said as he dragged the boy out of the van. “Time to go say hi to your buddies.”

Well, at least he had a shield in case the boys got antsy.


Room 7 was exactly like all the rest of the burnt out shells of old rooms, its main distinction being that the windows were boarded up with sheets of what looked like fresh plywood. They’d built themselves a little fort amid all these comfy crackhead grottos. He imagined what it must feel like inside there: a steamy cesspool stinking of farts, half eaten take out and stale beer.

And sweat.

It was close to 90 degrees outside. Without air conditioning, the room must have become Hell’s asshole.

“D’ya got a key, fuckwad?” That was the other difference between number 7 and others—brand spanking new locks. Too bad they didn’t buy a new door while they were at it; the piece of timber was so worn it was practically falling off the hinges.

“No...just knock...knock and they’ll let ya in no problem.”

No problem.

No problem was a flaming bag of dog shit left on your door step at midnight on Halloween, except instead of ruining your slippers you got dead.

“Great,” Purcell said, “Why don’t you do the honors?”

He pulled the boy in front of him by the neck and ran him straight into where the door met the brand new locks. Just like he figured it would, the door splintered, the door buckled, and two hundred rounds of automatic gun fire came screaming at them. Purcell ducked his head below the kid’s shoulders and listened to the heavy rounds tear the pretty boy to shreds. The body wasn’t going to last long at this rate.

They’d started shooting the minute he hit the door and with the pattern of fire, he figured they were toting AK-47s or something equally as loud and stupid. All he needed to do was bide his time, wait for the firing pins to dry click, and take ’em as soon as they started bumble fucking around with slapping home new clips—of course he’d be screwed six or seven different ways if they were carrying small arms along with the ghetto-chic rifles.

The boys started concentrating their fire on the body’s upper torso. The kid’s head turned into hot pink globs; shards of teeth and bone cut into his scalp; a slug pulverized its way through the kid’s chest and tore a hunk out of Purcell’s shoulder, making him almost drop the .25 cal.

But finally the click.

He let the boy collapse around his feet and he aimed.

Purcell was right about the AKs and the kids he was killing. They were just that, kids; even younger than the pretty boy and covered head-to-toe in zits. The first boy he shot was still in braces, for Christ sakes; the second one pissed his jeans as he tried jamming a banana clip sideways into his rifle. Purcell’d done his fair share of murder, but most of the creeps he’d taken down had in some way deserved it. But kids playing gangster, he couldn’t help but feel a little bit like a Nazi.

Fuck it, you get what you pay for, right?

Time to play detective. The girl was in one of two places, the closet or the toilet, and from where he was standing, the closet looked like in could hold two farts and a t-shirt, so the bathroom it was. He tried the knob, locked. He put his shoulder to it, and there was the girl, handcuffed, mouth taped and another scared shitless pizza face drawing down on Purcell with a .45 nearly bigger than he was. Lucky for Purcell when the kid went to pull the trigger, his finger pulled tight and held.

Purcell had no pity on this one. Rule #1 of when you’re going to shoot someone: make sure the safety isn’t on.

Purcell pulled the tape from the girl’s mouth like a band aid; the sticky side came away with flecks of skin.

“Goddamn!” she yelled. “Who the hell are you? Where’s Arty? Daddy always sends Arty for this kind of thing.”

“Arty was sick, kid. He sent me to get you out of this shit,” he said as he rifled the pockets of the new dead boy.

Her face turned red.

“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Arty didn’t send you, you stupid asshole! Arty was supposed to bring my money! Where’s my money?”

Fuck, figures.

Purcell stood up and clipped the girl across her chin.

Women and briefcases, fucking bane of his existence.

And here he was, trying to play the nice guy—free the girl, keep the money, blame the dead P.I. and walk away—but all being a nice got him was a motel room full of dead kids and earful of shit from a spoiled rich girl.

He stepped over the prone, still conscious girl, reached into his pocket, pulled out the P.I.’s flip phone and tossed it on top of the girl.

“Alright, kiddo. Let’s give dad a call and find how much he really loves you.”

What the hell? The way Purcell figured it, if Dad was willing to give up two-fifty, he might just go up to five, especially if he sent a piece of his little girl home to show how serious he was.

Yeah, working with a knife always made him feel better.

BIO: Keith Rawson is a little known pulp writer who lives in the alkaline desert wastelands of southern Arizona with his wife and very energetic three-year-old daughter. His stories have appeared in such publications as Plots with Guns, Pulp Pusher,, Bad Things, Powder Burn Flash, A Twist of Noir, Beat to a Pulp, Needle Magazine and many others. Keith is a frequent contributor to BSCreview, a staff writer with Spinetingler Magazine and, along with Cameron Ashley and Liam Jose, he edits and publishes Crimefactory Magazine. You can also find him stroking his overinflated ego at his blog, Bloody Knuckles, Callused Fingertips.