Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Interlude Stories: Paul Newman


Nikki heard two sharp pops like firecrackers and Spider ran out of the 7-11. He dove in the passenger’s seat and slammed the door hard.

“Go, Baby! Go! Get the fuck out of here!”

She didn't know it was coming, he was just supposed to buy a pack of smokes. It was too late at night for this shit.

“You gotta be kidding me!”

“Just shut the fuck up and drive. Go!”

She dropped the Tercel into gear and chirped its little tires on the way out. She took a right then headed north to the freeway. Spider reached into a crumpled paper bag between his legs and pulled out a handful of wadded up bills; mostly ones and fives with a few twenties mixed in. He smiled and counted it while Nikki drove. Her hands shook on the wheel but he didn't notice.

“You said you just needed some smokes! What happened? What the fuck did you do?” She was twisted up tight. She talked too fast for the words to come out straight.

Spider stopped counting the cash and turned to look at her. She knew that look. It still made her almost piss herself but she didn’t want him to see the fear-sludge bubbling up inside her. Her hands shook on the wheel but he didn't notice. Spider took a drag on his smoke then he reached down the front of his pants and pulled out a gun and tossed it in the glove box.

“A gun? I’m on parole, Spider! I can’t be around a fucking gun! What did you do? What the fuck did you do?”

Spider looked out the window. He blew a cloud of smoke at the glass and watched it bounce right back in his face.

“You saw how empty that place was. How could I just walk out of there? That stupid son of a bitch should have just opened up the register.”

Nikki felt her gut clench up like somebody was wringing out a dishrag. “You shot somebody! Is he dead?”

“It was me or him babe, he went for something under the counter. He should have just opened up the fucking till.”

Spider reached back into the glove box for the gun and rested it on his lap. Nikki noticed he kept his right hand close nearby.

“Pull over at the next exit. I gotta take a piss.”

She heard something in his voice. She'd heard it before. He sounded hollow, like an echo in a big empty room. Nikki knew what was coming. Spider always started slow; it took a good head start to work into full-blown apeshit, but once he got rolling it was usually too fucking late. She had to buy time. Distract him. Make him believe, at least for just a few minutes.

She lit a Camel out of the pack on the dash and laughed like she didn’t give a fuck. “Next time warn me and I’ll have the engine running.” She reached out with her right hand and stroked the back of his head where it met his neck. She knew he loved it; just like a fucking dog. “You just got out a coupl’a days ago. I didn't think you'd get bored so fast.”

Spider laughed, then he reached up and grabbed her hand and shoved it down between his legs. Nikki knew what he wanted, she knew what she had to do; she unzipped him and grabbed onto him and squeezed. Spider groaned and leaned back into his seat.

Nikki stroked Spider while she drove and tried not to think about the gun just inches away from her hand. Spider always thought with his dick; maybe this time it would catch up with him. She didn’t look at the gun, tried not to even think about it. She knew she’d only get one chance.

She stamped down on the brake and swerved into the emergency lane. At the same time, she twisted Spider's cock in her hand and ripped down on it. He screamed and curled into a ball and grabbed for his wounded prick with both hands. The gun fell off his lap onto the floor.

Nikki dove for it and caught Spider’s knee on the side of her head. The side of her face went numb and hot and swollen but she groped around on the floor for the gun. Something heavy came down on her kidney like a hammer but it didn’t matter. It was too late. She found the grip and twisted around to shoot.

Spider caught her hand and then brought all his weight down on her with an elbow that felt like it speared her to the floorboard. Nikki tried to scream but there wasn’t enough wind, all she could do was gag and heave. She felt his hands close around her neck and squeeze. Her head started to fill with white noise but one sound cut through the static; Spider was laughing. The motherfucker was laughing!

She put the gun against the meaty part of his calf and pulled the trigger. There was a hollow crack then a wet slap like a chunk of raw steak hitting the sidewalk.

Spider shrieked and shoved her away from him. He fell back into his seat and pawed at his calf to try to stop the bleeding.

Nikki’s head started to clear. She straightened up in the driver’s seat and waved at the door with the barrel. “Get the fuck out, asshole! Now!”

Spider winced when he moved his leg but he did what he was told. Nikki saw him look back sideways at her as he opened the door. She knew to watch him close, the bastard wasn't done yet. She eased out her side of the car and kept the gun on him as she limped around. Spider stood with his weight on his good leg. A puddle of blood started to form under his foot.

She didn’t have to pretend anymore. “What the fuck were you thinking, Spider? I already got two strikes! I can’t be messed up with this kind of shit!” She looked at the gun in her hand; ”Aw, fuck me! Now my prints are on this thing too!”

Spider zipped up his pants and sneered at her like he smelled something bad. “What the hell happened to you? You get out a couple months before I do and you think you’re better than me? How’d you turn into such a bitch all of a sudden?””

“People change, Spider! I was trying to change. I’m clean now! You knew that! You said you were gonna change, too!”

Spider shrugged and smiled a toothy, shit-eating grin that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up and try to run away. “Looks like you changed enough for both of us.”

Spider lunged at her and missed. Nikki stepped back as he grabbed for the gun. His bad leg couldn’t hold the weight and dumped him face down in the gravel.

“You never knew when to quit.” She fired twice. Both shots dug into the dirt inches from his head and sprayed grit up at his face. She cocked it for one more. Spider brought his arms up to cover his head.

Instead of a shot, Nikki laughed and kicked out with the toe of her boot into his shattered leg. He tried to crawl toward her but it was too much. Spider drew up into a ball and clenched his calf. His screams had broken down to just sobs now; his voice was as raw as his leg.

“Use your belt to tie it off, you pussy. Rush hour starts in a couple of hours. Maybe somebody’ll stop for you.”

She knew she should just put another one in his head and dump him into the bay, but she couldn’t do it. Wouldn’t. That wasn’t Nikki; not anymore. Instead, she pointed the car south and left Spider behind her in the dark.

BIO: Paul Newman lives in Northern California with his wife and daughter. He sleeps with the closet light on and a cricket bat next to the bed… just in case. You can find more of his stories at http://www.logicalvoodoo.com/.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Interlude Stories: Albert Tucher


“It could be worse,” said Mary Alice.

“How?” said Diana.

“Instead of a hooker, you could be a kindergarten teacher and feel like this all the time. Six-year-olds spread even more germs than clients.”

“At the moment that doesn’t help much.”

Diana reclined against the three pillows that her friend had arranged behind her. Mary Alice sat beside the bed on a wooden chair from Diana’s kitchen.

“Think you could eat some chicken soup?”

“I know I should, but my head hurts too much.”

It was the worst cold of her life. She couldn’t remember feeling this bad even as a child.

“Speaking of teachers, I hear you’re a good one,” said Mary Alice. “Very strict. And you look hot in glasses.”

“I know the guy you mean. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who gave me this cold.”

“So much for trying to distract you.”

“I know. I appreciate the effort.”

Diana turned her head from side to side on the pillow and felt the pressure in her skull relent for the moment. She knew the virus was only faking mercy, but right now she was grateful for anything.

“Thanks for all your help,” she said. “You must have things to do.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Really. I’ll be fine.”

“You don’t look fine. I can stay.”

Diana studied her friend, who usually had a shorter attention span than this. The scrutiny made Mary Alice squirm.

“I guess there are some things I could take care of.”

Mary Alice got up from the chair and dawdled her way out of the bedroom. Her footsteps slowed even more as she neared the front door of Diana’s rented Cape Cod.

This was getting weirder and weirder. What did Mary Alice think was outside?

Diana listened, but she didn’t hear the door open. A long moment later, Mary Alice’s footsteps reversed themselves, and she and appeared in the bedroom doorway.

“I did a bad thing.”

The forty-ish brunette in her skirt and heels looked like a little girl waiting for a scolding. Some clients would pay a lot to see that.

“What?” said Diana.

“I have a stalker.”

“Occupational hazard.”

“Tell me about it,” said Mary Alice. “You know how a guy can act like a normal client for months and then get all weird on you?”

“Unfortunately, I do. So how is that your fault?”

“That part isn’t.” Mary Alice took a deep breath to prepare her confession. “I came here to hide out. And I thought I managed to shake him off, but he’s out there sitting in his car.”

“Fantastic,” said Diana. “So now he also knows where I live.”

“Are you mad?”

“What do you think?”

“Well, with you it’s hard to tell.”

Mary Alice had a point. Clients never knew what Diana was thinking. Her poker face helped in her business, but it spilled over into the rest of her life.

“Do I know him?”

“Macho Leon,” said Mary Alice. “With the guns.”

“Great. Just the guy I want following me around.”

Diana sat up and swung her feet over the side of the bed. A moment ago the exertion would have set her head pounding again, but a surge of adrenaline prevented that for now. She thought about Leon. In her mental filing cabinet his name appeared under two headings: Possibly Scary, and Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Unfortunately, Mary Alice had moved him into the Active Threat column.

She replayed some of the conversations she had survived with him. They were hard work. Pretending to agree with a client’s opinions was basic business smarts, but with Leon it made her want to take a Lysol shower. One of his views in particular stuck out.

“I have an idea,” she said.

“I hoped you would,” said Mary Alice.

“What’s the worst thing in the world to Leon?”

“I give up.”

“Oh, come on. You know him. Lesbians.”

“Oh. Well, that’s second, really. Gay guys are first on his hate list.”

“That doesn’t help us. But the first thing he ever said to me was, ‘I hope you’re not some rug-munching lesbian.’”

“What did you say?”

“I always tell the client what he wants to hear, but this time it was even the truth.”

“Why you don’t do women?” said Mary Alice “I always wondered. There’s good money in threesomes.”

“I just don’t. Or at least, I won’t until I have to. Which might be now, because we know how to make him run to his mommy.”

A smile spread across Mary Alice’s face.

“You know what that means,” said Diana. “No more of his paydays for either of us. But he’ll be off your back. And mine.”

“That’s if he doesn’t shoot us. He loves his guns.”

“Or he’ll just disappear. I guess we need to find out.”

Diana got out of bed and went to her robe where it hung on the back of the bedroom door. She put the robe on over the T-shirt that she wore for sleeping, which was soaked with the sweat of illness. Before she could change her mind, she took Mary Alice by the hand and led her down the hall. She opened the front door. Hand in hand, she and Mary Alice descended the four steps and turned toward each other.

“Make it look good,” said Diana.

“No problem.”

Diana was out of practice. Clients got a peck on the cheek, but she evaded their lips. With no boyfriend since high school, and few dates that weren’t business-related, she didn’t do much kissing.

She tilted her head to the side. Mary Alice did the same. They stepped in close, and their lips met.

Come on, Diana told herself. You’re supposed to be a professional.

She tried to remember what actors did on TV, but her imagination failed her. Mary Alice put her arms around Diana’s neck. As Diana wondered what she thought about that, Mary Alice snuck her tongue through Diana’s lips. Diana almost pulled away, but she caught herself.

Mary Alice hummed softly as her tongue did some exploring. Diana counted to ten, and then made it twelve just to prove she could. Then she pulled away. She had a vague feeling that she should make some parting gesture to make it look good, and damn, there was her right hand rising to stroke Mary Alice’s cheek.

Mary Alice smiled. She put her hand over Diana’s and held it against her face.

On the street an engine roared, and tires squealed.

“There he goes,” said Mary Alice.

“Now you go,” said Diana. “Or I’ll sneeze on you.”

Mary Alice smiled indulgently.

“And if you catch my cold, don’t complain.”

“I won’t. I’ll deserve it.”

“Yes, you will.”

BIO: Albert Tucher is the author of over thirty published hardboiled crime stories and five unpublished novels about suburban prostitute Diana Andrews. His latest Diana story Value For The Money (and when it’s Al and Diana, it’s always value for your money) can be had at Untreed Reads.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Interlude Stories: Kieran J. Shea


I deserved it. You steal and you get caught, you pay. It was as simple as that.

“What were you thinking, huh?”

What was I thinking? Not clearly enough apparently. Thought me and Mike the Spike had the job down neat. It wasn’t like it was either of our first shipping container boost for crying out loud. The scored-off serial numbers—we moved all those Honda outboards two states away and everything, the whole job, it was good to go right out of the box. Or so I thought.

Sitting there I wondered if Mike the Spike had tipped his hand after a similar surprise visit. No way. Mike the Spike was good thief. Mike the Spike was as hard as they come.

I had about my fill of these two rent-a-toughs dispatched by Hunt to send his message. What, did they actually expect me to speak clearly with the three count number they did on my jaw? My head throbbed and my mouth was a slosh of watery iron. I can take a punch but two on one and some doubled-up tube socks full of golf balls? Mmm...not so much.

“Mr. Hunt wants whatever money you got for those engines and he wants the name of the jerkoff you unloaded them to, McCabe. He wants those engines back.”

I nodded and inched back to the wall of my kitchen. Lifted myself up until my shoulders rested against an unfinished section of drywall I’d hung the day before. Planted my hands at my sides on the linoleum and took a bloody, wet breath through the searing gaps of my nostrils.

Just a beating. Those two, no way did they have the horses for bigger risks. I squinted up at the two kids with the one eye that hadn’t completely puffed shut. Couple of gangly buzzcut fucks very impressed with their young buck strength and riding the rush. Unlaced Timberlands and matching hooded Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirts. Shit, I had tools in my truck older than the both of them. Combined.

Slowly I lifted my wrist and motioned to the counter.


I gestured a second time, weakly pulsing my hand in a gimme fashion.

“Gig, give this dumbass his cell.”

The one called Gig snatched my Nokia from the kitchen counter. He whipped the cell phone at my chest and the Nokia bounced down between my splayed legs. I shook my head.

“What, you want to write it down for us?”

I nodded and widened my good eye to confirm.

“Get this old fuck a pen and a piece of paper.”

The one called Gig started rifling through the drawers in my kitchen. He found a pen almost instantly but rummaged about some more.

“Can’t find no paper, Carm.”

“What’re you, fuckin’ retarded? Grab a paper towel or something. Jesus.”

Gig ripped off a stream of paper towels from the dispenser affixed to the underside of the cabinets and then walked over and tossed the pen and the paper towels in my lap. Drops of my blood stained the towels as I bent over and bloomed like small roses on the white, dappled paper. Super absorbent Bounty—the quicker picker-upper.

I plucked up my cell from between my legs and, making a show of it, thumbed through the cue. Clicked the pen twice and wrote a lie on the paper towel spread across my aching right thigh. Then I added a note that said I’d get the money back to Hunt by the end of the week and the engines too—promise. Another lie, but fuck them.

The second one, the one who answered to Carm, stood as he swiped the towels from my outstretched hand.

“Gah, blood all over these towels and shit. You better not have AIDS, old man.”

I didn’t say anything as he read what I’d scribbled down. Then I waited for the parting shots.

Old man? I guess so.

Covered up as best I could.


An hour or so later Morgan Leary made coffee in my kitchen as I dressed my ribs and tended to my wounds in the bathroom.

“Chock Full o’Nuts? Ugh. Life is short, Dave. You should at the very least buy some good beans and grind them down. Get some Sumatra, some of that flavored spiced pumpkin coffee they do this time of year. Drop twelve bucks and get some Starbuckin’ wage slave to set you up with a good drip blend.”

I groaned and dabbed a wet washcloth to my split lip. Outside the salt-glazed bathroom window a wet onshore wind rattled the lone scrubby tree in the clay pot on my patio.

“Look, don’t worry about it,” Morgan said, “You win some, you lose some. That merchandise was hotter than shit, they know it and we know it. It’s all part of the game. If your friend down Maryland hasn’t unburdened himself by now he’s a total fucking idiot. Even if they find out some other way, Hunt and his guys go beating the bushes for that stuff they’ll be at a dead end. I’ll tell you what, though. I’d love to see the look on Hunt’s face when he finds out what you gave those two clowns was bullshit.”

I stepped into the kitchen as Morgan poured us both a mug.

“Heard from Mike the Spike?” I asked quietly.

Morgan slopped some half and half into his coffee from a carton pint and handed me a zipper locked plastic bag of ice cubes.

“Mike the Spike? He’s good. Mike the Spike is up north.”

I took the ice. “Up north?”

“His relatives or someplace. Trust me, Mike the Spike is well aware of what’s happened so he’s going to be away from Atlantic City for a while until all this Hunt business settles down.”

Morgan took a slurp from his mug and set it down on the counter. He tilted my head with one of his spade-sized hands as he checked my butterflies. I knew about Morgan’s past as a semi-professional ECHL left-wing enforcer more than a decade past, so I trusted his patch and go judgment.

“You’ll heal. Golf balls in a couple of tube socks, man, I never thought of that.”


“I’ll say.”

“So what’s the deal?”

“With what? You and me? We’re cool. You take some of your end and see the doctor I wrote down for you and make sure there’s no internal bleeding. Zonk back some Percs, take it easy for a few days. Heal up.”

“But they knew.”

“So they knew, big whoop. Maybe there was hidden camera that you guys didn’t know about. Maybe somebody saw you and Mike the Spike and decided to snap a picture.”

“But everything was cold. The truck I ditched, the plates...”

“Of course they were. I wouldn’t expect anything less from you but things have a way of turning to shit, don’t they?”


“Listen to you. Still. You’re lucky it wasn’t worse.”

“Give me a little credit.”

“I always do, but yet here we are, Dave. Here we fuckin’ are.”

It took Herculean effort to lower myself down at the kitchen table. The adhesive tape around my ribs pulled at my dry skin and my back felt like it had been pole-axed. With Mike the Spike out of the picture I knew I was on my own with Hunt and his goons and my uneasiness must’ve shown through the swollen bruises on my face. Morgan dragged out a chair and adjusted his tan cashmere topcoat as he sat down.

“Look, I know you’re working on this bungalow here. Smart thing that. Putting your cash into something with a long haul value given what’s going on out there and at your age and all, but you need to understand something here, okay? Look at me now. You need to be a ghost, Dave. You need to disappear for a while until all this nonsense levels out.”

I glanced away again. Stretched my stiff neck.

“How long?”

“You have someplace you can go for a couple of weeks?”

“Not really.”

“How about a motel?”

“C’mon, Morgan. I don’t want to spend my days watching crappy cable and jumping every single time housekeeping knocks. I’m in no condition to defend myself and suck at that anyway if you can’t already tell. Those two freaks know where I live, man. They know where I live and when they come up short and Hunt doesn’t get his engines back or the money I got for them they’ll be coming back here.”

“That’s your fault.”

“I know.”

“Listen to me now. You’re exposed and this is a mess, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that big of a deal. Think about it. You’ve been good to me and for intents and purposes by that you’ve been good to a certain individual we both know across town. This territory comes with the nature of your abilities and while you should’ve been more careful, this first and only time I can remember things ever falling apart on your end. You’re a stand up guy, Dave. We appreciate your services. Hell, I appreciate your services but these low-balling twats and their dirtbag, wannabe honcho Hunt? Him sticking his fingers in our backyard? Those morons have no idea who they’re fucking with.”

Of course I knew who Morgan was talking about when he said a certain individual we both know across town but didn’t dare speak Dante Donofrio’s name. Morgan and I were cordial, but one smack down a decade is about all I wanted to handle at forty-five years of age, thank you very much.

“So where am I at really?” I asked.

Morgan drank some of his coffee and leaned back. Leveled a warm, bemused look.

“In good hands, Dave, in good hands.”


As much as it hurt I did what Morgan told me to do. I set fire to my end seeing Donofrio’s special quack over in Somers Point, bought an idiot-proof .38 from another guy Morgan referred me to, and vacuumed a little over two grand from my safety deposit box. Went up north to Seaside Heights in Ocean County to lay low for three and a half weeks until I didn’t lurch about like some gimped-out zombie humping to the convenience store for microwaved food.

After nearly a month of introspective soul kicking and skipping AA meetings for fear that I might come across a rat (it’s a small world don’t you know) I was going out of my gourd. Of course there was a time when I was much younger when I could put trouble like mine out of my head, but outside of meetings no one ever has the balls to admit just how much bad choices gain weight as you grow older. One minute you’re young and the future seems like a dare. The next thing you know you’re taking a fall. Fair enough. Do a small three and a half year jolt and it sucks to high heaven but you do it clean and come out on the other side. You come back and jump through all the shameful hoops. The so-called friends who never had an inkling about your dark sidelines keeping their distance. The contractor jobs hit so thin you find yourself groveling. A couple of lean years go by and life gets back to some semblance of the order you remembered and then one fine day a friend of a friend presents an opportunity you just can’t pass up. Goes well. Helps with the bills and your daily hovering act with the booze and one small score leads to another. Soon you’re lying to yourself again, thinking you’re invincible and eye-balling liquor store specials in the newspaper. Fuckin’-a, I should’ve quit while I was ahead.

On a frigid Tuesday night when I’d had enough of hiding in my motel room up north I drove my pickup truck out to the local mall and bought a pre-paid cell. Making my way down through the thinning rush hour traffic on the Garden State Parkway, I dialed Morgan. Music thumped loud over the line when he answered on the fifth ring.

“Morgan, it’s Dave.”

“Dave McCabe! Hey-hey! How’s the hamburger?”

I touched my face as I drove. “Better. Pills are gone.”

From the sound of his voice Morgan seemed to be moving. The heavy bass in the background abated some as I heard something else, perhaps a door, clack closed.

“Mmm, those pills. Surprised you even took them at all seeing you’re chummy with Bill W. Habit forming those Percs. You should try Aleve.”

“I have and I am.”

“Good. That’s the spirit. In step all the way.”

“So where am I now?”

“Where are you now? You tell me.”

“I’m driving.”

“Oh yeah? Driving? Where to?”


Morgan paused. “So I trust you’ve been shopping.”

“Of course.”

“You know there are laws in this state, Dave.”

“It’s seven o’clock at night. Jesus Christ, Morgan, it’s dark out. No one can see me. Everybody and their friggin’ mothers are on the goddamn cell phones. Nobody cares.”

“You get pulled over by a state trooper and you’re on a burner you’ll care plenty.”

“Look, I’m cool all right? And for the record I’m traveling light too. No way am I that stupid.”

“Never said you were. So, if you’re light, where did you make your deposit?”

“Couple of swamps near Toms River.”

“Good. That’s good. Smart. Fight Club is still sitting on your place though.”

I banged my fist on the steering wheel, “Damn it! Fuck. What the—shit!”

“Relax,” Morgan laughed, “I’m just pulling your chain. Lighten up. A week back me and a couple of boys went over and introduced ourselves and shared the gospel. This Hunt character, he’s a regular Chamber of Commerce and Knights of Columbus type family man. Once we put things in proper perspective for him…it was a Come To Jesus in about three seconds, give or take.”

As Morgan spoke the southbound lanes of the Parkway eased left and opened out over the expanded Mullica River Bridge. The bridge was part of a fifty-three million dollar project that spanned the vast westward marshes of the Great Bay and Little Egg Inlet estuary. To the east and south I could glimpse the first low edges of the Atlantic City skyline glowing stark and white like a neon-ribboned jaw. The noxious, sulfuric stench of low tide poured through the vents.

“So what’s that mean exactly?” I asked.

“It means you’re in the clear.”

A bus heading for the casinos streaked past on my left.

“You’re positive?”

“Yeah. No one is going to mess with you so keep driving and come on home. Take care of your house and get your footing. Stop by the place when you get a chance and I’ll buy you a Coke and lap dance.”

I felt lightheaded with relief. Briefly I wondered what the Morgan meant when he said he shared the gospel with Hunt and a chill slithered in my gut.

“Jesus, Morgan,” I said, “thanks. Thanks for everything. I’m really sorry about all of this. I guess I owe you.”

“Forget it. C’mon, didn’t I tell you that you were in good hands?”

“You did.”

“See? There you go. Hey, now that I think about it you know what? If you’re feeling so obliged my sister’s attic needs some new insulation rolled. Her husband, God, he’s a real whiney piece of dogshit and has been putting off the job for months.”

“Of course. No problem. I’d be happy to help her out. Just give me her address and I’ll take care of it right away when I get back, no sweat.”

“Excellent! That’s my man. Dave McCabe, Mister Fix It.” Morgan went quiet for a moment. “Listen, Dave. I know all this business has been rattling to you and all, but once you get settled I think I might have something else you might be interested in too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“It’s not until way after New Year’s,” Morgan added, “but I think the specs on this thing could really use someone like you who’s going to be walking on eggshells and birddoggin’ the corners.”

“So who? Just me and Mike the Spike again?”

“Yeah, you two. Maybe. Maybe another dude on point.”

I wanted to ask who he had in mind for the third. I never liked the vagueness of maybes, but I knew better than to ask.

“You, uh, think that’s wise, I mean, with all that’s gone down recently? You know, me being back on the job so soon?”

Morgan laughed heartily and I nearly missed my exit.

“Guys like you, Dave,” Morgan said, “you’re always on the job.”

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Interlude Stories: Gavin Bell


Barnaby lifted the padlock off the catch, prized open the front panel of the wooden crate stamped ‘FRAGILE’, and drew a critical breath through his teeth. Mr Pendergast had done one hell of a job on his girlfriend this time.

Susan was precisely five feet two inches tall, and weighed exactly ninety pounds. She was currently a brunette, and sported a black skirt, jacket and white blouse, as though on her way back home from the office. Around her neck, she wore a small silver cross on a chain. Barnaby bent down so he could examine the damage. A clean, deliberate cut had been made across the latex of her throat, and two smaller incisions had been made in the form of tears, advancing from the chestnut-on-pearl glass balls in her eye sockets to the bottom of her rouged cheeks.

Barnaby shook his head. He’d have liked to be able to say that this was the weirdest thing he’d encountered this year, but then again he’d have liked to be able to say he repaired computers for a living. Different strokes for different folks, he mused, recalling one of his late mother’s favourite sayings. He unbuckled the doll and carefully hefted it over his shoulder.

He was only a little out of breath by the time he’d carried Susan down to the workshop in his garage, which would have struck a casual observer as a cross between a small provincial mortuary and the back room in a shoe repair store. Barnaby flicked the switch for the overhead fluorescent lights, which blinked and flickered until the room was bathed in a slightly green-tinged light. The shelves lining the walls of the garage were piled high with tools and boxes of spare parts. The concrete floor was littered with the debris of past operations: a threadbare wig here, a four-fingered plastic hand there. In the centre of the workshop was a wooden table, about seven feet long and half as wide. The table had four steel rings fitted to the corners, to which were attached straps to restrain the dolls and prevent them slipping off the table during maintenance. At four thousand dollars a pop, you couldn’t be too careful with the merchandise.

Barnaby carefully laid the doll down on the table and removed its clothes and underwear before securing each of the straps around its limbs. As he prepared the patient, he began to mentally plan out the procedure.

Now that he’d gotten the clothes off, he could see that the face was the only area to have suffered severe damage. Standard wear and tear was evident in the usual areas, of course, but that would be addressed as a basic part of the maintenance routine. The cuts meant that the entire fascia would need to be replaced. It looked to be a D14, if Barnaby wasn’t mistaken. He ran his hand along the appropriate shelf until he came to the right box and confirmed his initial judgement. D14 was a fairly popular face: great cheekbones. There were only two left. Barnaby made a mental note to order another box from the company as he went to work.


Susan was back in her crate and making her way back to Virginia, good as new, as Barnaby settled down in front of America’s Next Top Model with a microwave macaroni and cheese and a cherry Coke. He took a lot of pride in his work; after all each time one of his clients sent him a doll to be repaired, they were entrusting him with one of their most prized possessions. In some cases, the men who sent Barnaby their dolls even thought of them as their partners.

The company that made them, Living Dolls Ltd., specialized in ultra-realism; using lifelike latex skin and real human hair so that from a distance they could almost be mistaken for real people. Not that many of the customers used their simulacra at a distance, of course. Living Dolls didn’t offer any real after-sales support, but they were happy to refer clients on to Barnaby and one or two other independent contractors for repairs.

As with any of his repair jobs, Barnaby had put a lot of effort into working on Susan this afternoon, so it was not unusual that he dropped into a contented snooze after finishing his dinner.


It was several weeks later when Susan returned.

Barnaby’s line of work was highly specialized, and therefore lucrative, but the workload wasn’t particularly intense. In fact, he’d only repaired one other Living Doll in the intervening weeks; an improbably large-breasted six footer with worn-out knee joints. Customers tended to go a couple of years in between getting their girls serviced, so Barnaby was surprised to see a familiar Virginia return address on the packing slip.

When he got Susan out of the crate and onto the operating table, it was clear that much more work would be required on this occasion.

Susan was blonde this time, and her throat was cut and the face mutilated in the same fashion as before. This time, however, the stomach had been sliced open, revealing the belly padding and parts of the silicon skeleton.

This was starting to get unusual.

Deterioration in Living Dolls was a natural consequence of their frequency of use, but intentional, repeated damage like this was unheard of. Quite apart from the high cost of repairs, Living Doll owners tended to treat their products as though they were real people. Barnaby shuddered as he imagined this kind of treatment applied to a real, living and breathing person. He ran his hand over the doll’s face, his fingers dipping into the scarred cheeks, and snapped them back as he encountered a tacky substance in one of the gashes. He examined the small rust-brown patch on his index and forefingers.

Makeup. Surely.

He ran his hands over the doll’s body, peeling back the slashed layers of latex skin. There were traces of rust-brown on the abdomen wounds too, as though the blade that had been used was still dirty from a previous job.

Barnaby sniffed the substance on his fingertips, gathered his thoughts for a few moments, and then wiped them on the chamois he kept nearby to buff the dolls’ eyeballs.


When one begins with a person’s last name, full address, and credit card number, it’s often possible to learn pretty much everything worth knowing about them within thirty minutes on the Internet.

Barnaby now had plenty of useful information on John James Pendergast, on his small hometown sixty miles outside Charlottesville, and on the two murdered and mutilated prostitutes that had been dragged out of the river there; one brunette, the other blonde. The website of the state police had a special section on the murders, and a number to call with information.

It was this number that Barnaby now dialled from the payphone outside Freddy’s diner. It rang three or four times before a woman’s bored voice answered at the other end.

Barnaby said, “I think I may have some information about the two women who were murdered.”

The woman’s voice immediately perked up. “Can I take your name, sir?”

“I’d rather you didn’t,” Barnaby said. “Now before I go any further, I have to ask if there’s a reward for information.”

The woman’s voice took on a more cynical edge. “Well that would of course depend on the quality of the information.”

“I see.”

“Sir, are you still there?”

“Yes, yes, I’m sorry, I was just thinking. Tell me, the two women who were killed, how were they mutilated exactly? I’m sorry to be so blunt, but the newspaper reports were terribly vague, you see.”

“I’m afraid we can’t discuss details like that over the phone. If you’d like to come in and…”

“Were their faces cut?” Barnaby asked, a note of urgency creeping into his voice. “Did the wounds look like… like tears?”

Barnaby clearly heard the woman’s sharp breath on the other end. “Hold on a second, sir.” The line went very quiet, and Barnaby surmised that the woman had depressed the secrecy button. When her voice returned, she sounded professional and calm. “Sir, we’d like you to come in to talk to us.”

Barnaby hung up the phone. Dusk was beginning to fall, and he had to get the repairs completed on Susan as soon as possible if she was going to be shipped back to her owner tomorrow. It wouldn’t do for the letter to arrive too soon after the girl.


Sixteen weeks passed.

Susan returned to Barnaby twice over that period, each time with more extensive mutilations. Two more women were dragged out of the river, each with more extensive mutilations than the initial two bodies. And Barnaby’s post office box in a neighbouring state received three brown envelopes, each filled with two thousand dollars in tens and twenties.

The repairs alone paid well, but it was good to have a little extra income on the last day of every month; it took the edge off the bills. When Barnaby felt the vague stirrings of conscience, as he sometimes did in the moments before he dozed off in front of the T.V., he rationalized his new source of income as just one more personal service to a wealthy customer. Confidentiality was paramount in this line of work, of course, but that didn’t mean it had to come gratis.

The world don’t owe nobody a living, Barnaby, his dear departed mother had reminded him on many an occasion.

As for the unfortunate women… well. Virginia was a long, long way away.


Barnaby awoke from one of his post-operative slumbers and knew something was amiss even before his consciousness fully returned. There was no noise from the T.V., and the room seemed much colder. He could tell that his body was no longer enveloped in the comfort of his brown leather easy chair; in fact he was finding it difficult to move at all.

Barnaby opened his eyes and saw that he was in his garage, strapped to the operating table. His view was obstructed by one of the tall shelving units, but he could see that there was a figure hunched over his desk. Reasoning that, whatever was happening, he was clearly in an awkward situation, Barnaby decided to try communicating with his captor. He half-whispered out a tentative hello. There was no response. He cleared his throat and tried a more commanding tone.

“Who’s there? Why have you done this?” No response from the figure. Barnaby continued. “I want you to know that my wife is due home any moment now. If she sees something’s wrong, she’ll get the police down here faster than you can say ‘breaking and entering’.”

Still no response. Maybe whoever it was knew his wife had gone out for groceries a decade ago and hadn’t yet returned. Barnaby tugged at the leather restraints to no avail, cursing his own thoroughness in securing them with six-inch bolts. He strained his neck to try and get a better look at whoever the hell had tied him up in his own workshop. In his own goddamn workshop, for Christ’s sake. He managed to arrange his line of sight through a gap between two boxes of fingernails. He could just make out a woman’s blonde hair, sculpted in a too-perfect bob.


The lights went out. Barnaby began to panic. Insane thoughts danced across his mind. Suppose the doll itself had somehow come to life and kidnapped him? He began to visualise Susan jerking up from her chair, staggering towards him with the single-mindedness of a car crash victim struggling away from the scene, flashing a grin that revealed her realistic-looking rubber teeth...

With an effort of will, Barnaby managed to corral his imagination and think rationally about the situation.

His captor was obviously behind him, having turned the lights off at the switch next to the doorway. From this angle, he couldn’t hope to get a look at him even if the lights were on. Frantically, his brain put two and two together.

Susan’s boyfriend had come to visit.

“Hello?” he asked again. The only answer was a low, raspy exhalation that sent tiny needles up and down the length of Barnaby’s spine. He swallowed and tried to figure out how J.J. Pendergast had tracked down his blackmailer.

The demand letters had been couched in anonymous terms, letting on only that the writer knew of Pendergast’s nocturnal activities and would withhold this information for a reasonable monthly fee. There was no mention of Susan. The letters had been typed and printed at a library, and mailed from out of state. But even if Pendergast had deduced Barnaby’s identity, how did he get this address? The dolls were shipped to the company, who forwarded them to Barnaby. Could someone at Living Dolls have passed on his details?

Barnaby nearly jumped out of his skin as a gnarled hand passed over his forehead, kneading the flesh of his face like it was warm pastry. The owner of the hand spoke then, in a raspy monotone. “Are you sorry for what you did?”

Barnaby didn’t waste any time on negotiation. “Yes. My God, yes, I’m sorry, I’ll make it right, you can have it all back, I didn’t mean...”

The hand jerked away from his face and a tall, stockily built man in a dirty brown leather jacket walked past him, Barnaby couldn’t see his face, but a miasma of body odour followed in the man’s wake. He smelled like an abandoned garbage truck in high summer. The man continued past the bottom of the table and past the shelving unit. Carefully, he lifted Susan from his chair and turned around so they were both facing Barnaby.

J.J. Pendergast was almost too ugly for a Living Doll. Unkempt, dirty, long grey hair framed a face that was pockmarked and scarred. An overbite revealed a top row of teeth with more absences than presences. At least he had a face, though. Susan’s blonde wig hung down around a blank oval with a round mouth and a rudimentary bump where the nose would be. Somehow the sight of the two lovers was even more terrible than Barnaby’s crazed fantasy of the walking doll.

Pendergast looked at Barnaby with disgust. “How you gon’ give us it back?”

This was good, Barnaby thought, the freak was open to negotiation. “I’ve still got all the money, every penny.” This was a lie, but if it would get him off the operating table, he’d find a way to get it back. “It’s all in my bank account, I can write you a check?” Pendergast looked back at him almost as impassively as Susan. Barnaby licked his lips. “Or we can go get it first thing in the morning, if you’d prefer.”

Pendergast mulled it over for a minute. When he spoke, he sounded confused: “You think this is... you think this is about money?”

Barnaby was taken aback. What else could it be about?

“I don’t care about money. I care about Susan.” Pendergast’s voice started to rise at the end of the sentence. He looked away from Barnaby’s prostrate form and scanned the board nailed to the wall, on which hung Barnaby’s tools.

Barnaby shuddered and tried to divert the man’s attention. “How did you find me?”

“The girl at the company. She told me I’d find you here,” he said, looking around the workshop with something like disappointment.

Just as he’d thought. Living Dolls had set this maniac on him, the spineless bastards.

“She wouldn’t tell me at first,” Pendergast continued. “I hadda persuade her.”

He reached into an inside pocket and pulled something fleshy and shapeless out. He dangled it from his fingertips, the way a ratcatcher would hold a dead rodent, and fixed Barnaby with a thousand yard stare. Barnaby focused on the object and realized it was the face from a Living Doll. Dear God... the face. That had to be it. He had run out of D14s, substituted an E12 on Susan’s last refit. The E12’s were almost indistinguishable from the D14s anyway, just the slightest shade of extra definition around the eyes. An improvement, if anything.

Pendergast gently placed Susan back down on the chair and selected a long blade from the tool board. He tested the point of the blade against his index finger and turned to Barnaby.

“Wait...” cried Barnaby, “what are you...”

“You took Susie’s face. So I’m gonna give her yours.”

Over the course of the final half hour of his life, Barnaby Reddin had ample time to reflect on the folly of cutting corners with his work. After all, as his late mother had been so fond of asserting, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

BIO: Gavin Bell was born in Glasgow in 1979. He has worked as a petrol station attendant, taxman, salesman, research manager and pizza delivery boy. His story ‘A Living’ was shortlisted for the Quick Reads 'Get Britain Reading' prize, and published in the Sun Book of Short Stories, and his other stories have been published in Scribble magazine and First Edition. His non-fiction commentary Shining in the Dark - Stephen King: Page to Screen is available on Amazon as a Kindle e-book. He currently lives in Glasgow with a wife and two daughters, and is currently putting the finishing touches to a novel, a thriller entitled Killing Season.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Interlude Stories: Chris Benton


The night my daughter Karen disappeared, we had another fight about her mother, who fled from us five years ago with a crackhead lawyer.

I did love my wife once, I truly did. Her laughter calmed lunatics. When I came inside her on that New Years Eve, I knew she would conceive. And she did. And I knew it would be a girl. And I knew what her name would be as well. But after she was born, my wife became distant and restless. Post-partum depression was what everyone kept telling me. But her distance continued to gain miles. Even on Karen’s birthdays she was drunk or stoned beyond repair. She was a highly gifted speed typist, but kept losing job after job until she finally didn’t care.

It was during those years that she finally connected to Karen, and my exhaustion from working double shifts felt earned, and for a handful of years I was happy, tired, but happy. But then, shortly after Karen’s tenth birthday, my wife’s brain darkened again, and she was gone. And soon after, she was truly gone.

Karen missed her mother, missed her bad, and always loved a vision of her which lived in a warm, well-lit space, far away in the darkness of memory.

We were in our kitchen, about to leave to pick up her friend Pattie. They were going to a movie, and I honestly can’t remember why our small talk took a turn for the worse.

“I remember her telling me over and over that she loved me more than Jesus!” Karen screamed. She was a powerful screamer, a clear, steady condemner, just like her mother.

“She did, honey, she loved most everything more than Jesus,” I said as sincere as I could.

Perhaps the birth pangs of our fight had something to do with the guy she was dating at the time, Brian Wilson, a slouching moron who wore eyeliner. It didn’t matter what the reason was, though, it always came back to her mother who plunged into the heart of nowhere when Karen turned eleven.

“I remember mom telling me that you loved your beer and your dumbass black and white movies more than you loved me. You know why I believed her, because I don’t remember one fucking time you tucking me in to bed, or reading me a story. Essential shit, dad.”

Essential was a word she picked up from her mother. I remember Alison throwing that word at me like a hand grenade every time “a talk” became screams. How this was essential and that was essential. I guess Karen thought she was making profound points by wielding this word. Maybe she was.

“Why do you hate me so much, I’m here, ain’t I, honey? I’m not the one who boogied away to Never-Never Land.” My voice sounded feeble, defensive. She had done it again, had triumphed. I felt like I was arguing with her mother again, I felt like a scolded, pathetic child. And for a few seconds, I hated my daughter. I hated her because she saw how I felt and when she shook her head at me with a cruel smile I slapped her, slapped her mother’s smile right off her hard sharp chin. She cradled her face with her left hand and her eyes were filled with final disgust.

“I wish both of you had left, I probably would have been happier in a foster home, being fucked every night by a fake father.”

She marched away to her bedroom and slammed the door. I went to the fridge, grabbed a beer and killed it with four swallows. The stale pizza I had brought home after work looked like my last will and testament.

Ocean Theater was on Cinema Drive just two blocks away from the sea at the north end of Carolina beach. It was a small venue, with only two screens. When Karen opened the car door, I grabbed her arm gently and said, “Enjoy the movie, sweetheart.” She looked at my smile like it was a sick joke, yanked her arm free and slammed the passenger door with vindictive triumph.

I drove over to the Fat Pelican a mile away for a few beers while I waited for them. Inside there were men I recognized, but did not say a word to because I knew their family had forsaken them years ago, for reasons both familiar and deserved. I just drank my beer and listened to their desperate laughter and watched sports updates. On my fifth High Life my phone rang. It was Pattie, asking me if Karen was with me. A long cold moan began racing through my blood.

“Ain’t she with you at the movies?”

“She was, Mr. Melton, but she got up to go to the bathroom, but now the movie’s halfway over and I’m standing out front here and I don’t see her.”

The next forty-eight hours was a terrified blur of cops and questions and suspicious expressions I didn’t deserve. Yes, I had a fight with my daughter; I guess Pattie told them about that one, why did I lie about it? “Because it’s none of your goddamn business.” What did you fight about? “None of your goddamn business.” Their eyes were perched on my shoulder for a few days and after that they just ruled it a runaway, which I knew it wasn’t. I knew Karen hated me in some ways, I guess she had good right to, but I also knew I tried my utmost to give her anything she needed and wanted, and I knew deep down she did love me.

My boss gave me two-week’s vacation, which resulted in restraining orders from her ex-boyfriend as well as from Pattie. I needed them to remember a single detail that could help me, but all they gave me were shrugging shoulders and fearful inspections of their toes. The only person I called a friend stopped by a couple of times with beer and he basically acted the same, just buried his eyes in his crotch, or nodded thoughtfully at the floor.

I went back to Ocean Theater several times and sat in the same screening room my Karen and Pattie did. The movie they watched was still showing, some horseshit about of bunch of vampires wearing lipstick and hopping around in trees. I sat in the back row and studied the back of everyone’s head. Most of the viewers were kids, except for a few. I followed them out and took their license plates. One night a man followed me to my car and flashed a badge. Asked me what I was doing. I told him and he told me he knew. I asked him why the fuck did you ask me in the first place, cocksucker? He told me to go home, to leave it in “their” hands, told me I would be arrested if he saw me again.

I got laid off from my job a month later. I simply didn’t sort shit on the line anymore. I was just taking notes. My boss said good luck and he was sorry. I told him to go to hell. A former co-worker of mine had been selling me these diet pills, told me they would keep me awake if I dozed during my investigations. He was what you called a sympathetic asshole. They worked, though, nothing escaped me. The police had forgotten to bag the crushed corpse of a seagull in the parking lot. I mean, hell, the fucker might have seen something before it died. I put it in a ziplock freezer bag and took it home and tossed it in the fridge for future reference.

It was getting close to Christmas. I put a tree up in the den and wrapped Karen’s pillows with her dirty tee shirts. I laid the bundle on the couch and spoke to it and hugged it occasionally. We watched It’s A Wonderful Life over and over until she finally laughed with me in unison, especially at the part where George is about to leap off the bridge. Later that night I would carry her to bed and tuck her in and read her a story. When she was finally asleep I drove down to the mouth of Cinema Drive and parked in the dark behind Bonnie’s Fish Fry and walked to the shore. The sea never failed to swallow my prayers and screams. When my brain was dry I would walk back to Ocean Theater after it was closed, and gaze for hours at its flat cement skull, full of ridiculous, dead dreams.

I was sitting there on Christmas night, inside my car being slowly crushed by a clear cruel night under a scythe moon. I was sitting there, drinking the last of my pint of Kentucky Gentleman when I saw her. I thought I was hallucinating so I slapped myself several times, closed my eyes and took a deep breath and chewed a couple more diet pills to clear my mind.

And she was still there. And someone was with her. I quietly popped opened the trunk of my car and pulled out the tire iron. They didn’t notice me until I was maybe ten feet away from them. They were huddled together on the curb in front of the ticket booth giggling together and smoking a joint. My daughter was the first to notice me, and her giggles dropped dead in her throat.

“I’ve been worried sick about you; I’ve been dying from the fear of it all. Why didn’t you at least call me?”

Karen looked at me like I was a maniac. The man she was with, whom I didn’t recognize, had long ropey turds for hair.

“Uh, dude, I think you got the wrong person,” he told me, as he slowly rose. I swung the tire iron like a bat and his skull obeyed with a swift, red burst. His face ate the pavement and he laid there, arms outstretched, embracing the earth with a newfound gratitude.

Karen was running; she was a fast runner because she inherited her speed from me. I used to race those yuppie Yankee kids whose parents had bought out most of Whiskey Creek after my grandmother died. I left them behind me, every time. I was quick when I was a boy, and I was quick now. I was running as fast as that faggoty vampire Karen loved so much on the big screen. I tackled her and we went tumbling down the cold, blunt heart of Cinema Drive. She was already clawing my face before I could speak; I felt my left cheek come apart between her fingers as I grabbed both her wrists and shook her. Her head whiplashed from the asphalt and her eyes eloped from the world. She became as calm as a doll, and I whispered my thanks to her, over and over.

I brought her home and wrapped her head with her favorite pillow case and when I pushed play on It’s A Wonderful Life I heard the screeching from the fridge. I got up and opened it and the crushed gull fluttered into my face, nearly slicing off the tip of my nose with its beak before launching itself into the walls of the living room. After a few frantic minutes it finally found its true throne, upon the head of my sleeping daughter.

I fetched my 30-30 from the bedroom closet, and took aim at that dead French fry eating chicken, and when my trigger finger began to curl, it spoke; it was a warm flood of a voice, the voice of an angel. And it told me the truth, and showed me the path, straight out its eyeless, dangling head.

I gathered my false daughter into my arms and took us to my bedroom.

I shattered the picture of my wife her mother took the day before our wedding. I scotched taped it around the face of my fate before peeling off my clothes.

I’m looking forward to my execution. I’m looking forward to it like a boy before Christmas, because I know once my breath has left the earth, my crushed angel will pluck the rag of my soul from my sorry sack and fly it cross-country, where we’ll be waiting for you Karen, from Wilmington, to Wichita, to Seattle Washington, we’ll be waiting for you honey, long after the final credits have rolled.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Interlude Stories: Jason Chirevas


Leo pressed his dinner plate palms and butcher-block chest to the thick door. Fists and shouts pounded the other side. Slick with sweat, he stepped right and pulled a file cabinet down across the doorway.


He stumbled round. Vin lay on his side across the grimy basement floor, his hand clamped over the back of his thigh, red.

“W-when?” Leo dropped to one knee.

“Right before we ran in here, I think.” Vin ground his teeth. “You got to take the thing.”

“I…I can’t.” Leo sunk to a hip. “I dunno where—”

“You know where.” Vin spasmed into jackknife and gripped his leg.

“But.” Leo shied from the noisy door. “In the service they says to never leave a man down.”

Vin slapped Leo’s bristly jaw with his dry hand. “This ain’t the fuckin’ service.” He grabbed a handful of Leo’s dirty, zippered sweatshirt. “Take the thing and get outta here before Dolan kills us both.”

Shots joined the voices and kicks at the barred door. Leo put both hands and feet under him and pushed himself erect. Streetlight stabbed through a rectangular window below the ceiling to the floor near Vin’s head. Leo’s kielbasa tongue swept his lips. “OK…OK, gimme the thing.”

Vin smiled between croaks of pain. “Good boy.” He rolled onto his healthy leg and yanked the thing from inside his suit jacket. Leo tucked it into his sweatshirt. He frowned at the thick crimson pool under Vin’s thigh. “Bye, Vin.”

“Wait.” Vin reached into his jacket again, wincing and squealing. He pulled his chunky .45 and shoved it at Leo. “Take this, too.”

“OK.” Leo gripped the gun by the barrel. The door shuddered as a slug made it through the dense wood and skipped off the concrete floor. “OK.” He exchanged a nod with Vin and crossed to the far wall.

A battered desk bore his weight long enough to smash the window out with the butt of Vin’s .45. Eye level with the sidewalk, Leo tossed the gun through the window frame and dragged his bulk out after it. Stubborn glass wedges gouged through his sweatshirt and carved red lines in his arms, chest, and back.

No one on the street. Leo grabbed the .45, this time by the grip, and got to his feet. A crash of wood came from the broken window at his feet, followed by a tasseled loafer stampede. Voices attacked each other; Leo heard Vin’s say fuck off. He trotted across the street.


His card table back up against the snot green bathroom door, Leo rolled his tearing eyes. “Fourth and third? Or third and fourth?” He stepped to the stained sink, flipped on the cold. Just a brown trickle. He wrapped his hands round the sink; his wet eyes found the spotted mirror. “Third and fourth or fourth and third?”

A choked flush from behind. Leo wheeled to face the opening stall door. A used up suit tottered to the other sink. He flipped his faucets, but got nothing. “Aw, shi—...Uh oh.” He jerked at the waist and filled the sink with puke.

Leo twisted away, sleeve over his nose and mouth. The bathroom door was open. Three men in sharp threads filled the frame. The flankers pointed guns. The one in the middle held out his hand. “Give me the thing. Dolan says maybe you walk again, if you do.”

Leo stepped back. The middle sharp did too, allowing the gunmen through the door. Leo’s hand moved to his sweatshirt, the thing on the other side of the soft material. The used up suit finished his puke and straightened up. His red-rimmed eyes narrowed at the gunmen. “What the fu—”

Leo slipped behind the puker, his back to the tile, hands braced on the cold radiator. He kicked up from the ground with both feet, put his size fifteens to the puker’s back and shoved him at the gunmen. One of them sidestepped, his piece clattering against the closed second stall. The other, eyes wide, fired his cradled nine. The bullet did a quick pass through the puker’s mouth, blew a flesh flower out the back of his neck, and shattered the little window over Leo’s head.

More glass. Leo turtled his neck to his shoulders and powered off the wall. He dipped his shoulder and caught the guy against the stall in the sternum, which cracked along with several of his ribs. His mouth a ring of stunned anguish, the guy dropped his piece and tumbled through the stall door. His hip hit the bowl, his head dented against the fixture, and he stopped moving.

Leo wheeled on the other guy, who was against the doorframe, the puker face down gurgling at his feet. He raised his nine. Leo grabbed his wrist, broke it, and rammed his elbow into the guy’s nose, spreading it across his face. He dropped the nine as his hands went up. Leo tossed him to the radiator.

The third guy, the talker, staggered back up the hallway. One hand traced the wall; the other searched the inside of his snazzy jacket. Leo made a lunge for him, but the toe of his Oxford snagged the puker’s deflated head and he went chest first into the doorframe.

The third guy cleared his piece, a little .22, and jabbed it out in front of him. Leo rolled off the doorframe into the bathroom. Three slugs whizzed past him into the near stall. Two hit the partition, the other caught the first gunman in the ass. He still didn’t move.

Leo slapped his forehead and jammed a hand in his sweatshirt. He pulled Vin’s chunky .45 and whipped it round the corner. The third guy froze, wrist limp, .22 dangling. Leo yanked the trigger.

Nothing. Safety.

The third guy ran. Leo switched his grip to the barrel and boomeranged the .45 down the hall. It nailed the guy in the back of the head and he spilled from the hallway into the dank barroom, sprawled out on his belly.

Leo thumped from the hallway to the prone guy, who stirred. Before he could get his hands under him, Leo brought the heel of his size fifteen down. The boot broke the guy’s neck; the hardwood broke his jaw.

Leo snatched the chunky .45 from between the third guy’s legs and leveled it at the skinny bartender who, along with the smattering of derelicts he served, had his back to the nearest wall, palms up. “It’s…it’s cool, man. No trouble. It’s cool.”

Leo wiped drool from his jaw. He stuffed the .45 in his sweatshirt and stumbled out into the streetlights, massaging his chest with four fingers. “Something about Parkhurst. North of Parkhurst? Fourth and Parkhurst?”


Leo sat opposite Sonia at the wobbly kitchen table, the thing between them, rays from the rising sun playing on it. Sonia’s eyes ping-ponged between the thing and Leo. “Is that really a—”

“Yep.” Leo’s buffalo head bobbed. “Nice, right?”

“Yes.” Her toes curled against the dirty linoleum. “Maybe we could just keep it a while.”

“No.” He waved his hands over the thing. “No, I have to get it to the fence. I just…” He pushed up from the table and wrapped his arms round the back of his head. “I just can’t remember where he’s at.”

Sonia’s eyes rolled as she took her coffee cup from the table and labored to her feet. She pulled her robe closed over her pregnant belly and poured stale joe into the sink. Her voice didn’t quite make it to Leo.

“Just once I wish you’d put us ahead of—”

The doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it.” Jimmy trotted from his closet bedroom to the door, his footed PJs shooshing up a wave of dust.

“I’ll get it.”

Sonia tossed a dishtowel over the thing. Leo stepped toward the door. “Ask who’s there, Jim.”

Jimmy twisted the knob between his palms and pulled the door open. A man limped into the room, an overcoat hanging from his bony frame.


Sonia’s eyes flashed to Leo, who squinted, one hand extended, palm down. “You’re OK?”

“Been better.” Vin took the door from Jimmy with a gloved hand and eased it closed. “Turns out Dolan’s got a good on-the-spot doc.”

Leo cocked his head. “Dolan’s got…?”

Sonia took a step toward the kitchen table.

Vin watched her sidelong and stepped forward. “I got a new job.”

“New job?” Leo raised an arm toward the kitchen table. “But what about—”

“No, Leo!”

He looked to Sonia, who gripped her hair in both hands. The first shot put two holes in his heart. The second tunneled though his thick skull into his brain and settled there. Leo stumbled back with a vague look on his face and fell on his ass against the wall.

Vin crossed to the kitchen table, flipped the dishtowel aside and tucked the thing into his overcoat.

Her jaw slack, mouth working wordlessly, Sonia stood on her toes, the small of her back against the sink. Her robe fell open.

“Aw, fuck.” Vin shook his head at the big, round belly with a heavy sigh, then raised the silenced nine.

“Please!” Sonia’s arms surrounded her stomach. He shot her between the breasts.

He hobbled toward the door. Jimmy stood in front of it, a tear dangling to either side of his chin. “Why?”

Vin pressed the nine to the boy’s forehead. “Never leave a man down.”

BIO: Jason Chirevas has appeared in Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Pulp and Dagger, a Cyberpulp horror anthology, and in short, often irritated, missives on Twitter @JasonChirevas.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Interlude Stories Two-Fer: Richard Godwin

Previously published on this site on January 7, 2010

I waited for the sound to die down. The screaming had gone on all night, my first night in the Laughing City. I was there on a job, the remit to assassinate Artemus Lime.

No one had heard of him, and he had not been sighted since his murder of the president. Their lies dripped from their tongues like semen from a hooker. Not that I cared, another lying politician out of the way.

The case had been chewed over and effectively buried by the press, since it had coincided with the leak about the missing millions.

Yes, the president had siphoned off a sizeable chunk of the economy. So sizeable that the hungry mobs on the streets committed more murders in yet more savage fashion. Women were raped and mutilated, their body parts sold off to fast food chains that had no other supplies for the hamburgers the soup kitchens fed the workers on. The lies here were worse than those back home. The whole place stank of dead flesh and cover up.

The city was a mess. Anyone out after dark risked dismemberment. And thanks to the president, there was no police force. Only the extremely wealthy were protected by private security firms who shot on sight.

As the cold grey dawn rose like a leper, I looked out at the horizon of the Laughing City and wondered how it had got its name. I hadn’t heard laughter in years. Back home it was bomb blasts and bullshit.

I poured a protein drink and ran through the quickest way of finding and killing him. I’d start at the downtown bars. Lime had a reputation for liking prostitutes and there were some really tasty ones, I heard. The mutations which resulted from the last dirty bomb were endless and threw up some surprising sexual combinations, for those with a taste for that kind of thing.

Artemus Lime, bounty hunter and killer, space nomad and politicians’ whore. If the money was right he’d do it.

I’d heard he was a multi-hole man. I guess it beat golf.

I hired a shuttle downtown and watched as the light changed to that opaque, colourless fog that characterised the poorer parts. The stench of rotting flesh was overpowering. They still hadn’t cleaned up many of the body parts after the last explosion. Silver crows and lizard dogs scavenged in the trash for human parts, chasing each other for bits of spleen and ruptured kidney. The crows usually won, tearing strips from the dogs’ balls.

I found the place I was looking for, my only lead.

‘Horny Holes Fuck House’ loomed out at me beyond the spare rib kitchen. The carcasses hanging outside certainly didn’t look animal.

Felix Baw had been typically unforthcoming with me. I’d worked for him before and he came across as if he despised everyone he employed, giving them only the barest of facts about a case and expecting them to get on with it. Baw, child of the Laughing City.

I got out of the shuttle and a pimp in a white suit walked up to me.

‘Hole or hat? We got em all, juicy hole, multi-hole, can do a hat job if you like, drugs, have you tried free spurt? Come in, we got some inside, want to see my ladies?’

‘I’m looking for someone.’

‘Yeah, I got. Free spurt?’

‘I don’t need it.’

‘You try, you like. Guaranteed.’

I wasn’t about to blow my brains on a plutonium enriched smoke that would give me cosmic come and turn me into one of the gibbering wrecks I now saw walking toward me.

‘How about hat job?’

‘I thought it was illegal, even out here.’

‘We don’t blow all brain into hat for fuck, just some of it, use smaller hat so some brain go on floor, and dancer can do dirty stuff to em.’

I felt like hitting him. ‘Might as well sell a bag of warm vomit.’

‘I do good deal.’

‘I’m going in there,’ I said and pointed to the fuck house.

The pimp switched on his really upset look, but I wasn’t buying.

‘No. I got better ones, come see.’

I walked on, dodging the beggar.

Inside, it was dark and stank of mustard for some reason. Someone or something grabbed my arm.

‘Try me.’

Adjusting to the light, I made out a hybrid lady with several eyes and tits the size of rocket launchers.

‘I’m looking for someone,’ I said.

‘You find her,’ she said, wiggling her arse at me.

I showed her the picture.

‘Ooh, he real ugly. I no fuck with him,’ she said. ‘Come on, I give you good one.’

She was trying to drag me upstairs when a man dressed only in shorts and with a belly the size of a large animal kicked her so hard she jumped several feet in the air and crashed against the bar.

The blind barman dropped a glass and the only customer sitting there tried to help her up, grabbing hold of one of her tits by mistake.

‘Get off me, you fuck. You pay touch.’

‘Can I help?’ Fatso said.

‘I’m looking for this man,’ I said, and showed him the picture.

He rubbed his chin. ‘Mmm, look familiar. Yes, I have seen this man before. Now, where was it?’

I put a hundred then another one in his palm.

‘Much more for address,’ he said.

I kept throwing them at him, all expenses of course, and eventually he wrote it down on a slip of paper.

‘0 Screech Avenue.’

‘This it?’

‘Sure, why not?’ he said. ‘You go. See if I give you bad dose, come back fuck my ladies.’

‘Just one question.’


‘What’s that smell?’

He sniffed the air and then held his arms up. ‘What smell?’

‘Smells like mustard.’

He snorted. ‘Not mustard. P2.’

I was out of there and in the shuttle.

P2 had been developed by Panacea Drugs, which had a monopoly on all medical supplies. It was a chemical specifically designed to wipe out the smell of rotting flesh.

Horny Holes Fuck House should have had ‘Necrophiliacs Welcome’ in neon lights underneath it.

As it was, Screech Avenue turned out to be a good lead. Fatso had been worth the talk. Number 0 was harder to find, located just at the intersection of a shop selling weapons parts and a derelict house. From the street you couldn’t see it, camouflaged as all zeros were, hence their popularity. But when you looked from the air, there it was, all gleaming pole and glass metal.

I took the flier up and saw it the first time. That’s always the way with zeros, if you don’t see them straight off, they use their programmed disguises to throw you off the scent. Popular with all killers and politicians, they had been snatched up when first built and were prime real estate.

I wasn’t going to waste any more time than I had to.

I assembled an A1 bomb back at my hotel and returned at nightfall, just as the tribes were crawling out of the sewers.

The smell of shit and menses was overpowering and after checking to see if any lights were visible from the flier and deciding that even if Lime was in, he wouldn’t be that obvious, I just blew the door off.

Shards of glass and burning metal swept across the street like a tornado, catching in the flesh of the tribes who had now surfaced. Heads and limbs flew through the air as their mouths, stuffed with scraps of human meat, dropped their goodies on the floor and salivated long thick shreds of drool onto their wasted hands. They shrieked like slaughtered animals and ran back into their shelters.

I put out the blaze and entered his place.

Typical assassin’s pad: metal furniture and nothing on display. I mean nothing. Like a display hotel room. No pictures on the wall, no personal effects, save one: a monitor on the wall giving read outs of activity across the city. I flicked the screen: it was focused on the spaceport.

He knew I was here.

Back at my hotel I considered my options and knew that the lead was squandered. I decided to check out in the morning and go underground. This was going to take longer than expected, and I would need more expenses.

I tried Baw, but it was a no go.

Black-out had fallen down below: another terrorist strike.

Except that night, Lime came looking for me.

He obviously wanted this out of the way.

I knew he was a busy man and his services much in demand. I was in the bathroom when I heard the door open.

Through the crack in the sealant I saw his shape move against the wall. He was making his way into the bedroom. I engaged my weapon and crept out after him.

Just as I lined his head up, he turned and the blast caught his ear, shooting it off and making him jump. He leapt through the window and landed down below without difficulty. From the window I saw him disappear.

He had dropped something, a scrap of paper. It made interesting reading. It was a job sheet, ordering my assassination, signed by Felix Baw. Agent: Artemus Lime.

I knew what I had to do.

Staying underground was easy. Second nature. Finding Lime was harder.

And all the time the laughter got louder, more insistent.

At times as I paced the city I wondered whether it was more a cackle than a laugh. At other times it sounded like a guffaw, then it would trill into a melodious giggle, like a little girl’s. Sometimes in the middle of the night you would hear a booming laugh, then in the morning a gentle titter. The noise started to drive me crazy and I was no nearer to finding Lime.

Baw was inaccessible. No surprise there. I kept trying him so that he wouldn’t suspect I knew. The lies mounted up like spare flesh.

Then, one day, one of my leads paid off.

The owner of a weapons shop Lime used called me. I gave him the money and he showed me straight to him: in an apartment at the back of some government buildings.

Artemus Lime was a government man.

It all made sense.

The ease with which the President’s assassination had been forgotten, Baw’s sudden interest in hiring me. He’d made a lot since the assassination, and there was something I obviously knew which bothered him. What?

Meantime, I took care of Lime.

My source said he often took delivery at nights and after a few hours waiting, I watched as an armoured van arrived and two guys went in. After they left, I silently walked down the government corridors and stopped outside his flat. This time I would use a blaster. I had no questions to ask.

The A1 blew the door off, and I saw Lime jump up at the back of the flat and race toward his weapon. I shot him from the blazing doorway, a good first shot that took his head off, spraying brain matter and tissue right across the hallway. It was a pointillist effect and quite becoming to the apartment, which needed a little cheering up, all metal surfaces and nothing homey about it.

As I walked over to him, Lime lay twitching like an insect in a pool of blood. One arm reached uselessly across the wet floor. I think he was looking for his head, which lay in bits several feet away. You only get one shot at me, and he failed. His neck was still showering the flat and it was a little messy, so I just burned him up and looked around the place for any evidence which might be useful, but found nothing.

‘Bye, Lime,’ I said. ‘Can’t shut your door, but I guess they’ll find you in the morning. Hope the tribes enjoy what’s left of you. I don’t know if they like it barbecued.’

I spent one more night in the Laughing City, convinced that the noise was getting louder.

That is, apparently, one of its effects, the volume.

It’s personal, you see, a strangely hallucinogenic experience.

Some people hear a titter, some a whine, but it’s different every time. It doesn’t always start with laughter, as with me. After the screaming, the laughter came at first as a welcome relief. But then it got louder and louder until by the last night it just sounded like an audience roaring at a joke I’d missed.

I went out for dinner and every road echoed with it. At times obscene, at times gentle, it followed me like a beggar.

The waiter must have noticed my disquiet. As I paid, he said, ‘Everything all right, sir?’

‘That obvious?’ I said.

‘Food no good?’

‘Food was fine. It’s the laughter that’s getting me down.’

‘Oh, you get used to it. Tribes are out tonight.’


‘How what?’

‘How do you get used to it? Why the Laughing City?’

‘You don’t know? Oh, well, after the war, you know the old one, when the first wave of mutants were created, the noise at night was terrible. Screaming, choking, all night, drove you mad. When people first heard them scream, they didn’t know how they could make so much noise. You take a good look at the tribes tonight when you leave here. Most tourists don’t see them, but have a good long look at them. The noise was terrible, the screaming as they found survivors and dismembered them, tore them apart, flesh scattering everywhere, disgusting, never have that in my restaurant. So they keyed it in.’

‘The laughter?’

He nodded.

‘They run it on a loop. Sometimes, when the tribes are quiet it go down. And sometimes, it get louder and louder when they really tear bodies apart. Then the noise is much worse, you prefer the laughing if you stay here, believe me.’

‘It’s a disc,’ I said.

‘We need tourist. Tourist like it.’

On my way back to my hotel, I saw a tribe descend onto the street like a pack of animals. Their teeth were red with the proceeds of their night’s feasting, blood dripping from their fangs and splattering the road. They’d obviously been on a feeding frenzy, and must have found fresh supplies, even though I hadn’t heard any blasts, but then the laughter would have covered it up. Chunks of flesh were scattered around the street like debris, and as I got into the shuttle, I had a good look. I’d seen the fangs, but there was something I’d missed: not obvious, especially since you only ever got to see them in the gloom of nightfall.

It was as the shuttle sped away that one of them turned its head and that was when I saw it: they had no ears. The mutations had left them without hearing. Only something stone deaf could scream like that.

Now I knew why it was called the Laughing City.

I spent a final night in it, driven mad by the noise and left the next morning.

The silence back home was a welcome relief, and as I got the news, Baw’s plan made sense.

He had financed his own army, a bunch of renegades mostly, and was rounding up all vagrants and criminals and sending them off to the camps. That was why he wanted me dead: I’d worked for him before and he was always a satisfied customer, inasmuch as satisfaction was discernible in the limited range of his human responses. But my criminal record from the old regime was the blot in my copybook and he wanted it to go away.

Baw had plans, all right, and the President had been sitting in his chair.

I knew most of the recruits, having trained and worked with them. I also knew they were mercenaries and only wanted the money. The army was in its infancy and hadn’t even got running yet. But it needed to be stopped.

I knew these guys and knew they had no loyalty to Baw.

And so I took him out.

Guys like him are easy. They never see it coming. He didn’t even know I was back.

I marched right into his office, past the secretary who always waved me on, and found him seated at his desk. Looking up from his computer, he let out a gasp. Even his shock looked like a lie.

‘Surprise,’ I said, and blew his brains across the four walls, leaving them to dry a little.

I collected my pay from his bank account, which took a little hacking into to get, and then proceeded to issue instructions from his office to disband the army.

They all got paid, of course, with a little bonus.

And that’s how I got to keep my friends on my return from the Laughing City.


Previously published at Thrillers, Killers N Chillers on March 2, 2011

I was trying on one of the newest suits.

I strapped it on like armour, standard mechanized metals mined from the Azure Fields.

It felt like an Iron Maiden without the spikes.

I never needed that kind of protection, a kill’s a kill, wearing that shit was like fucking with a condom, playing the piano with gloves on.

I took it off and handed it back to the bounty salesman. They were amassing weapons for the new breed of assassins. I thought they were a bunch of pussies.

If you don’t like blood don’t take the job.

I needed to feel every vibration, every fluctuation in the kill, like the tremors in a lover’s body and soul.

I went outside and stared at the Azure Fields.

A pale blue ghost in some hallucination.

They blew in the wind that kicked up from nuclear fall out when the punctured sun bled.

It had a certain poetry, a half orange dripping red from a broken skyline. Beyond it you could see the event horizon of an imploding supernova.

Nothing was real in this desert of scars and broken humanity.

I looked out at the wounded horizon, it felt like witnessing a rape behind reinforced glass.

You want to punch your way through it but your knuckles are bleeding.

This place will strip the flesh from you and chisel your bones.

I thought about the assignment.

Baw had been long forgotten when I took the job.

I’d been smoking a few renegades out and handing them in to local government bureaus where they just shuffled papers and threw them back in the water with a few more scars than they already had.

I’d got my own army by now and these men were hungry for killing.

I’d kept them since I assassinated Artemus Lime.

When I put the suit on I didn’t expect to be going back to the Laughing City.

But then I knew not to expect a fucking thing from the cold comfort farm of my life.

If I was going back I was going naked.

I wanted to move with the air on my skin.


Jarves Long was a fat cat businessman.

He was part tetronium, the new metal that guys were smoking because it gave them erections that lasted for a year.

Painful flaming unrelieved hard ons they could only alleviate by mass fucking.

Panacea Drugs was behind it and once again hadn’t banked on its side effects.

What the fuck did they care?

The hookers were happy, wives less so. I’d made a load of money buying shares in KY Jelly.

It was such sweet pleasure to see their value rocket while men with obscene bulges ran amok in the streets.

The air was full of the acrid smell of spent semen for weeks on end.

Long spent little time with me in his air conditioned office.

He looked like a fat walrus. There was something wrong with his face.

‘I want you to remove this man,’ he said, sliding a photograph across the table at me.

I knew who he was.

‘You serious?’

‘Do I look like I’m joking?’ he said, scratching his prick.

‘You want me to kill Manuel Blaize?’

He met my comment with a blank stare.

I looked at his face and realised what was missing. He had no eyelashes.

‘Why do you want him dead?’ I said.

‘Let’s say he has reneged on a deal and is a threat.’

Outside, in the lift on the way down, I thought it through.

Manuel Blaize was the nastiest killer you’ll ever meet.

Face covered in scars, Mexican, army trained, half android, liked eating the brains of his victims and good with a knife.

I headed up to the Laughing City.

I had my flame gun with me and my usual array of weapons, hardcore killing machines that can do the job just right depending on the situation and the man.

Always read your man, that’s the way you get to clean up in this business.

If you get him wrong, you’re wasting your time.

I like shootings best, a quick shot, spurt of blood and home.

Home is where the empty metal surfaces are, the lack of human life, an assassin’s pad.

Like a hotel room built for fast exits and entrances.

I live in a theatre of the macabre, and I count the bodies.

I wanted to scalp Blaize.

He’d killed so many men I knew.

I also promised a friend a little something from the Laughing City.

Lynn Queen was after some Crow and I knew just how to hand it to her.

She’d been brave enough to expose the lies of the system down below and I wanted to give her something back, even if she was a Royalist.

I arrived in the City as mercury rained from the sky.

It was crazier than the last time.

The light flickered orange and red like a deranged traffic light and the Lizard Dogs and Silver Crows were out.

I watched one fly off with the mangled remnants of a dog’s penis in its mouth, sit on a burned out car and tear it piecemeal with its claws.

I headed to the hotel where I began my search.

I found two locations for Blaize, one where he met his recruits, young Mexican militaries who would kill anyone for the right money, the other a whorehouse he used.

My hacking showed me he also liked Drip02, the new hallucinogenic drug, a million times more powerful than LSD.

He’d shoved some up a whore’s cunt and performed a little operation with his knives.

As I was about to leave Long messaged me.

‘Dispose of the body,’ was all he said.

I passed by the River HaHa, filled with aborted foetuses. These were the mutated terminations of hookers’ encounters with some of the more extreme customers of the City.

From time to time one of them would float to the surface with a distended hand or an eyeball the size of a blood orange popping out of a collapsed head.

I got a shuttle and headed to Blaize’s headquarters.

It was black there, no light and I figured I’d go in.

Nothing except empty space the size of a hangar.

Blaize never left any trace, he killed with precision.

I left.

As I made my way back I bent to check the time and felt something hiss by my ear.

I ducked and saw one of his knives land in the side of a Lizard Dog.

It ripped right through it spilling a mile of coiled and swirling guts on the menses strewn pavement.

I turned and saw Blaize’s scarred face vanish.

I made my way back as the laughter started that night.

It was worse than the last time.

It was as if an audience were screaming insanely at a joke.

A high pitched whine of a cacophony of deranged hilarity took over the air waves until I made my hotel room and closed the door.

I was going to kill him tonight.

I got my flare gun and my A1 which can shoot through reinforced steel.

I ate some powdered heart and made my way to the blood bath.


The Tripped Out Fuck House lay at the edge of the City.

It was the last stop beyond the Whore’s Hole.

The driver wouldn’t take me there and I had to walk.

Some mutant hookers were strutting past some garbage that spilled onto the broken road.

I could make out the tip of the desert beyond the City, the place where no one goes.

‘Fuck me any way you want,’ one of them said.

She wore neon boots and a skirt the size of a rag and put her hand inside herself as she licked her face with her ten inch tongue.

‘It’s OK I’ve eaten,’ I said.

The other one approached me, swaying with what I assumed was intended to be an erotic gesture, although she looked like she desperately needed to pee.

Her eyes were made with beaded jewels and she pulled out an obscenely large breast.

‘I can clean the floor with my clit while hanging from the ceiling,’ she said.

‘I have a cleaner, thank you.’

They squealed with obscenities as I passed them.

The Tripped Out Fuck House was busy.

I don’t know what was worse, the fact that they used lights that turned everything yellow or that they were playing Black Lace.

Even in a good mood, Agadoo made me want to kill.

Its popularity in the Laughing City stemmed from the fact that it encouraged tourists to dance obscenely and make merry, like some grotesque backdrop to the endless tapes of the chuckles and guffaws.

A couple of whores laid their sweating hands on me.

‘You want some wet snatch?’ one of them said.

‘No, I’m just here to push pineapple, shake the tree.’

‘Don’t you like us?’ the other one said.

‘I met a hula mistress somewhere in Waikiki.’

I edged past the whores and disappeared up the back staircase.

I’d checked out the layout and it was simple.

The fuck rooms were upstairs.

I’d timed it right, Blaize had gone in earlier and downed a huge dose of Drip02.

I disturbed a few fucks and found him in a room with a glitter ball hanging from the ceiling.

He was fucking a whore up the ass while another one sprayed him with come.

They saw me. He saw a series of mutant animals and began throwing knives, and as the whores ran out I incinerated him. I fried him to a crisp.

Then I shot him for good measure.

I held my gun against his ravaged face, pushed deep into a cicatrix the shape of a swollen gash and blew his head apart.

I looked around the room.

Shards of obscenities lay among the waste and used condoms, dildoes of all shapes and specifications adorned the fuck room.

Blaize’s jaw bone hung dripping from the glitter ball like a detumescent penis.

And I dragged his smoking body down the back stairs and into the street.

His skin looked like it was covered in burnt potato chips and syphilitic scabs.

Outside mercury rained from the sky and bombed and ricocheted like malign stars falling from a hole in time.

The whores were gone, the Dogs and Crows were out and they were not in a good mood.

I watched a Crow peck a Dog’s eyeball from his head. He squawked in wild delirium.

I walked to the edge of the River Haha dragging Blaze’s body on the ruined ground.

His skin was falling from his bones and lay lodged with chunks of flesh that were skewered on the sharp stones.

The sound was deafening now, the laughter had been turned up full volume.

I leaned down and scalped Blaize, running my razor sharp knife in a perfect circle round his skull and peeling it away like a label.

‘Well, looks like you lost this one,’ I said.

The old assassin’s methods are the best.

I took one last look at his bleeding head, and using the knife he had tucked in his pocket, cut his stomach open, releasing all the gases. Then I tied some rocks and waste metal to him.

‘Can’t have you floating,’ I said.

I threw him in the red and foaming water and watched him sink below the decayed foetuses that hovered like deformed nightmares on the black current.

Then I returned to my hotel where I packed.

I wrote ‘invoice’ on Blaize’s scalp with a marker pen.

As I made my way to the space port I stopped in the street and took a shot of a Silver Crow.

Back home I went to get my money from Long.

‘Good job,’ he said, sliding the cash across his desk.

‘A little present for you,’ I said.

I’ll never forget his face when I laid Blaize’s scalp on his desk.

He had the outraged shock of a meat eater who has never seen an animal slaughtered.

His lashless eyeballs stared into space.

I paid a visit to Lynn and gave her the shot.

She looked down at it and seemed unable to remove her gaze from it.

‘You’re not avoiding eye contact, are you?’ I said.

I could see she was delighted.

Her efficiency never failed to amaze me.

She put it on the cover of her magazine the next day.

I invested my money in some new weapons.

I began training my army for what I had in mind.
BIO: Richard Godwin is the author of crime novel Apostle Rising, in which a serial killer is crucifying politicians and recreating the murder scenes of an original case. The novel has received great reviews.
It has just sold foreign rights to the largest publisher in Hungary.

He is widely published in many magazines and anthologies and also writes horror and Bizarro as well as literary fiction and poetry. You can find out more about him here. His Chin Wags At The Slaughterhouse are popular and penetrating interviews he conducts with other authors at his Blog.

His second crime novel, Mr. Glamour will be published in April of this year by Black Jackal Books as a paperback.