Wednesday, 30 September 2009

CAUTION: CHILD AT PLAY - by James C. Clar

Back to what we do best...

CAUTION: CHILD AT PLAY

David was looking forward to a quiet evening. It had been a long and stressful day; uninterested and unprepared students as well as administrators more concerned with endowments than with education. All that plus he had a new department chair who was on his ass about curriculum revision. He was thinking that maybe he could convince Anne to go out and eat, splurge on a bottle of wine. That was only if she hadn't started something for dinner already, of course.

He pulled into the driveway and shut off the car. His old Toyota sputtered and then died. Soon they'd need a new car. Nevertheless, he smiled as he watched the faux-grass-skirted hips of the hula doll affixed to the dashboard – a souvenir from their trip to Hawaii last February – slow, quiver and eventually stop altogether. He blew her a kiss, grabbed his briefcase and walked toward the door. The house needed painting too. Best to put up with the crap at work for a while longer, I guess, he thought as he threw his keys on the table in the hallway. He sniffed the air. No, definitely nothing cooking yet.

“Hey, Anne” he yelled, “where are you, hon?” His wife had said she was going to spend the day cleaning out the attic. There were boxes up there filled with junk they had brought when they had gotten married three years ago. With the baby coming they agreed they could use the extra space.

David had made Anne promise that she wouldn't overdo it. Besides his concern for her physical well-being, he had also been more than a little anxious about her psychological state. Things had been going so well of late that he was beginning to think that she had finally turned the corner – that she had at last begun to put her past behind her.

He had long since stopped trying to get her to “talk about it.” Oh, he had heard some of the story, but not all. Every time he broached the subject, her mood would darken. For days, sometimes even for weeks afterward, she'd be weighed down by a depression that hovered over her like a cloud the color of tarnished silverware. He quickly learned that dredging up the past, figuratively or literally, like she had planned on doing today, was a dangerous proposition. He figured that when the time was right, she'd open up completely. Until then, he didn't push her. He simply tried to be as loving and patient as possible.

“Anne,” he said again, as he walked down the hallway toward the kitchen, “you're not still up there in the attic, are you? You know you need to be careful!” He tried to keep the worry, as well as his mild irritation, out of his voice. If she’s still screwing around up there, he thought, it'll take her at least an hour or so to get ready to go out.

It was late in the afternoon and outside the sky was dark. You could almost smell the impending rain in the air. Damn, David swore silently, it’s dark in here too. Why aren't there any lights on? Before he reached the kitchen and the door leading to the attic stairs, he heard a sound in the living room just off to his right.

Apprehensively, David flicked the wall switch and soft light illuminated the room. Anne was sitting on the end of their old couch. It was clear that she had been crying. His first thought was that she had hurt herself.

“You OK, honey?” he asked as he knelt down on the floor in front of her. He reached up and stroked her hair. The fact that Anne flinched slightly and drew back almost imperceptibly at his touch didn't bother him. He was used to it. He knew that there were times when it took all of her strength not to recoil when he came near. He didn't take it personally. He realized that it was all part of the wordless battle she was waging with her unspeakable past.

“What’s that?” David asked noticing a small figure sitting with its back against the opposite arm rest of the couch. Looking more closely, he saw that it was an old, battered doll wearing a faded red dress. She had tufts of coarse hair sticking out of her head. The doll’s eyes, lifeless and unfeeling, were what really drew David’s attention. A far cry from the lifelike, anatomically correct affairs produced for children these days, he found the old toy’s deep, fathomless dots of obsidian cold, almost menacing.

Anne reached over and, picking up the doll, placed it on her lap. She held it tightly against her blessedly swollen abdomen, whether out of affection or as a means of control wasn't at all clear. Unbidden, she began to speak.

"When you pull the string in her back she cries." Distractedly Anne attempted to straighten the doll’s dry and disheveled hair. “She belonged to my mother; she might even have been my grandma’s before that. I don't remember.”

David had figured the doll was something from the 60’s, maybe even the 50’s. Looking a little more closely now, but not wanting to interrupt his wife, he realized that it might indeed be even older than he had suspected.

“Anyhow,” Anne continued, “I slept with her, took baths with her and basically carried her with me wherever I went. That’s until …” Anne’s voice broke. She began to sob.

“’Where did he touch you’? ‘Show us on your dolly’ they said.”

“There’, I pointed. I was only seven, for Christ’s sake! I can still feel the shame, the tears running hot and slow down my cheeks, ‘and there’.”

Stunned, David drew back and sat on his haunches.

“I put her in a box in my closet,” Anne finished quietly, “back with all the dust and broken dreams. This is the first time I've laid eyes on her since just after my father’s trial.”


BIO:
James C. Clar teaches and writes in upstate New York (USA). He contributes regularly to Mystery News and has published fiction in print as well as on the Internet. Of late his stories have found a home in the Magazine of Crime & Suspense, Taj Mahal Review, Flashshot, Everyday Fiction, Bewildering Stories, Powder Burn Flash, Antipodean SF, Apollo's Lyre, Shine: A Journal of Flash and Golden Visions Magazine. So far as he recalls, there's not one doll in the house!

Plagiarism - No Thank You

Here at TKnC we take each submission on great faith and it saddened me to read this latest post bringing to my attention that we have a plagiarist in our ranks.

http://arageofangel.blogspot.com/2009/09/ive-been-plagiarizedand-im-not-alone.html

I'll leave you to take a read, but say wholeheartedly that both Col and I were duped along with everyone else. The 'offender' will be deleted from these pages once our readers are given their opportunity to respond. Probably better that you do it over at the link supplied to show support for the person outing this scam than you do so here. I'm not sure that the offender reads the comments here, or if he/she does then he/she doesn't respond.

My apologies to everyone who was sucked in the way we were. I stand by my original vision for TKnC, in that it is a place for genre authors to share their work. I should now amend that to say 'original work'.

ADD ON: since originally writing the above I've deleted the offender from these pages.

Any way, enough of the downers. Onwards we forge...

Matt

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

LILY - by Christopher Grant


First there was Greta, then Olivia and now we have Lily...

LILY

Her name was Lily. I met her in a poker game, lost twenty dollars to her on a side bet, took her to my hotel room and fucked her silly. She didn't care. She won twenty bucks off of me and took the night's title and a check for five hundred dollars.

Besides, I kinda got the feeling that Lily was the kind of girl that didn't care about much of anything.

It wasn't just the way that she carried herself or that she went to bed with a man that she hadn't known five hours ago or the way she put the gun in my face in the morning.

Oh, yeah, she did that, too.

Her exact words were: "Thanks for the lay but I'll be really orgasmic if you hand over that roll in your pocket."

I had no idea what kind of gun it was, didn't really want to find out.

"Okay, okay," I said, my voice quavering.

Yours would, too, if you had a piece of metal that can deal death faster than the speed of sound making an indentation on your left cheek.

Lily was straddling me, still naked and still wet from our last time. I had no idea how long ago that was; we'd passed out afterwards, though, as I recall. It had a lot to do with the bottle I rapped my knuckles on in search of my jeans.

It took me three attempts to find them.

Lily grabbed my cock and fit it inside of her and then rode me while I tried to fish out the ten thousand dollars that I planned on using to enter the main event of the World Series of Poker in a couple days.

Nothing like being fucked and fucked over by a pretty blonde with a gun pressing against your cheek.

When we finished, Lily kept me covered while she covered up, pulling on her own jeans and then her t-shirt, telling me not to get any ideas while she was blinded for a second.

"I'm good at shooting the balls off a man. Can do it with my eyes shut," she explained.

Lily slipped my money, or, I guess, her money now, into her pocket, still pointing the gun in my direction. She stepped into her shoes, not bothering to tie them. She came closer.

"One more kiss," Lily said, then slid her tongue into my mouth. She broke it off and said, "Damn shame."

She kept me covered until she was out of my room and bound for who knows where.

Despite what she'd just done, I wished Lily all the luck Vegas can offer.


BIO:
Christopher Grant is the editor and publisher of A Twist Of Noir. His stories appear at Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers, Powder Burn Flash and The Flash Fiction Offensive.

Monday, 28 September 2009

THE RETURN - by David Barber

Dave's 'returned'...

THE RETURN

A sad day had befallen the Cooke family. Well, for most of the family it was sad, but for Joanne, the rivulets of salty tears that ran from her eyes were not those of sadness.

'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust....'

Father Thomas recited the funeral service as one by one the Cooke family took a handful of earth and threw it onto the coffin below. Mary Cooke wept as she threw hers. Joanne’s brother, Adam, dropped his soil into the grave and stepped back as Joanne tossed some and then pulled her mother from the edge of the grave.

'....Amen,' Father Thomas finished.

'Thank you for the service, Father. It was lovely,' Mary told him between sobs.

'You're very welcome Mrs. Cooke, but don't be too sad, Terry will be with you all the time. Not in body, but in soul,' he comforted.

'Yes, we'll get through this together,' Joanne said.

'Yeah, we'll all be here,' Adam added searching his pockets for cigarettes.

'Oh, Adam,' Joanne sighed as he was about to light one up.

'It's only a fag for Chr....'

'You watch your tongue, in the garden of the Lord,' Mary chided, pointing at Adam.

'Forgive your son Mary. It's his own way of dealing with his loss,' Father said.

'Yeah, right. I need a fag, that's all. Oh, maybe a pint and a bite to eat,' he said to himself walking towards the waiting car.

Joanne put her arm around her mother's shoulders again as they walked towards the car. Autumn was setting in; gold and brown leaves lay on the cemetery road. The two women hugged each other as they walked, feeling the warmth of their bodies seeping into one another as they did. Mary looked old as she nestled her head into the welcoming comfort of the cashmere coat that Joanne wore.

'How am I going to cope?' Mary asked, looking down at the road.

'Oh, mother. We'll get through,' Joanne told her and kissed the top of her head.

'I'm going to be on my own. Adam's never at home much these days and you're getting married in a couple of weeks. I'll never see hide nor hair of you when you move in with Simon. I don't want to be on my own.' Mary started crying again.

'Oh, mum. Don't be daft. We'll talk with Adam and see if he can stay home for a while and I'll come to see you, when we're back from our honeymoon. Besides, I'm not married yet, so don't be silly,' Joanne told her mother.

They climbed into the waiting car. Adam was already waiting and as Joanne got in, she nodded to Adam. He put his arm around his mother as she sat next to him. The hearse pulled away and drove out of the cemetery, followed by the other mourners in their own cars. They followed the car to the Cooke's house where they would join together in a drink to the memory of Terry Cooke.

***

Jooannna, daddy's here to see you. Are you awake my little pumpkin?

Joanne woke with a start, her heart beating like an overworked piston. That voice, she knew she had heard a voice, but how, she had been asleep. Joanne sat up in her bed, the quilt pulled up to her chest, and waited for her heart to slow down. Waiting and waiting. It wasn't really her heart she was waiting for. Joanne was waiting for morning, the safety of daylight. She knew that if she went back to sleep the voice would return, but maybe next time the voice would not return alone. Next time the voice would be accompanied by an image. What was she thinking? What on earth was she talking about? It was a dream, that's all. A dream, wasn't it? Joanne’s' heart returned to its normal pace much sooner than morning arrived.

'So, what's this voice you've been hearing? Oh, come on you can tell me,' Simon asked as he held her hand across the restaurant table.

Joanne picked up her glass of wine and drank from it, relishing its coolness.

'It's my father,' she told him, blindly staring out of the restaurant window.

'Your father, what's so bad about that? I mean, its not as if your own father is going to hurt you is he?'

Joanne gave out a short laugh as she continued to stare out of the window, her eyes roaming from left to right, but not seeing the outside world.

'Well, is he? Joanne, is there something you're not telling me? Did he do something to you; did he beat up on you? Tell me Joanne.' Simon’s voice oozed concern.

Joanne’s' eyes came to rest on her own reflection in the window. Tired eyes stared back at her.

'No. No, Simon. He didn't beat up on me, he left that for Adam.'

'You mean he....'

'Yes. He abused me. Every time he came home from the pub. Mother defended him. She'd come into my room after my father had left, the smell of his breath still hanging in the air. She'd hold me in her arms and tell me how it was his way of showing his love. His love, that's a joke.' Tears ran down her face as she remembered those horrible nights.

'Come on, let's go. I'll take you home,' Simon said, waving for the bill.

They walked back to the car in silence; the only sounds audible were the quiet sobs that escaped from Joanne.

Joanne broke the silence. 'Simon, I don't want to go home tonight. I want to stay with you.'

'Are you sure? You know what your mother thinks about you staying with me before we're married.'

'I think it's time my mother woke up to modern day. Please, I don't want to go back to that house,' Joanne pleaded.

‘OK you know how I feel, you could have moved in with me months ago. What's mine is yours remember. And anyway, we'll be married soon and nobody can tell us where we can or can't stay.'

Simon opened the car door for Joanne, kissed her and helped her into the car.

***

Jooannna, daddy's here. What the hell do you think you are doing? You should be at home with your mother, not here with him!

Joanne’s eyes opened and tears immediately welled in them. She looked at the sleeping body of Simon next to her. He hadn't heard the voice.

'Please, please, leave me alone. You've caused me enough heartache, leave me alone,' she cried as she brought her knees up to her chest.

Simon stirred and opened his eyes. The sight of his wife-to-be crying jolted him upright.

'What's wrong Joanne?'

'Please, leave me alone,' was all she could say.

For the rest of that night Simon sat awake as Joanne fell into a troubled sleep, her head in his lap and her tortured childhood being brought back to life by the voice of her dead father.

***

The trilling of the phone woke Joanne up with a start. She lay still for a moment, listening. Beyond the ringing of the phone she could hear the shower running, she imagined the naked body of Simon, glistening with warm water. A smile came to her face as she leaned over and picked up the phone.

'Hello,' Joanne answered, the visiting voice from her troubled night momentarily forgotten.

You hussy. What do you think you are doing? Thinking about men in such a way. You should be ashamed of yourself, you jezebel! Your mother is at home, all alone! You should be with her, comforting her, looking after her! NOT HERE!

'What do you want with me? Why don't you leave me alone? You're supposed to be dead. You've had your life now let me have mine.' she screamed down the phone.

Ha, ha, ha. Don't be so stupid. I'll never leave you alone, not as long as you're intending to marry, never. You leave your poor mother heart broken, knowing how much she needs you, just as much as I needed you. And what thanks do you show, you intend on getting married to that man. Well, I'll make sure you never have a happy day in your life, never.

'Nooooo. I'm not listening to you, leave me alone.'

The bedroom door flew open and Simon came running into the room, a towel draped around his waist.

You had better stop those filthy thoughts young madam.

'What's wrong Joanne? Simon asked with a puzzled look on his face.

'Shut up. Shut up.'

Simon snatched the phone out of Joanne’s hand.

'Look, whoever you are, you'd better think twice about ringing here again, if you know what's good for you.'

'Simon, is that you? It's your father here. What's going on there, are you alright?'

***

The doorbell sounded at the Cooke house. Mary eased her weary frame out of the comfort of the armchair and slowly made her way to the door. The past week and a half had been such a testing time for her. She hastily opened the front door and the body of Simon Keller greeted her.

'I think we need to talk.'

'Joanne has always had a fascination with being abused, since she was a young child. A childhood friend of hers was physically and sexually abused and Joanne, for whatever reasons, thought that she was abnormal. So, she started making up stories about her father. Oh, no. Her father, God rest his soul, no, he was never reported to the authorities. Why? Would you believe a seven-year-old girl, who had the most loving parents, if she told you out of the blue that her father was touching her? I don't think you would. Look, Simon. Joanne has got a problem. She always will have and it's up to you how you deal with it.' Mary’s words hung in the air as Simon stared down at the floor, not knowing what to think.

***

The sun rose early in the beautiful blue sky, enveloping the streets below with its warmth. It was the perfect day for a wedding.

A beam of light slowly crept across Joanne’s face through the gap in the bedroom curtains. Her face looked pale in the light and her hair shone. Her bedroom door opened, and footsteps padded across the room. The curtains were opened.

'Come on pumpkin, wakey wakey. There's somebody here to see you.'

Joanne opened her eyes and stared up at her mother.

'Here, take your pills and when your visitor has gone I'll bring you some breakfast,' she said, handing Joanne three pills from her apron pocket.

A creaking noise startled Joanne; it had come from behind her mother. There was a rocking chair in the corner of the room and the noise seemed to be coming from that direction. Joanna took her pills and sipped some water from a glass and as her mother moved out of the way she noticed the chair rocking. Joanne, bewildered, squinted her eyes as slowly, through a ghostly mist, a body began to form in the chair. Joanne glanced up at her mother.

'He's come to see you.' Mary said smiling.

Joanne looked back at the chair and to her horror her father sat there smiling at her. She wasn't getting married today, her mother had seen to that, because, today was the return of Terry Cooke.

Hello pumpkin, daddy's here to see you, he said, walking towards the bed.


BIO:
Manchester born and bred, but now living in Crieff, Scotland with wife, Lisa, and our two daughters, Imogen & Melissa. Wrote some years ago but have recently been inspired to write again by an old and good friend (Col Bury) and the beauty that surrounds me up here. Always reading - when not entertaining my girls and working - crime and horror…and now writing.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

FRESHLY BUTCHERED FLESH - by Michael A. Kechula


FRESHLY BUTCHERED FLESH

Robert saw an ad in the newspaper. “Loved Ones Returned. Minimal Cost. Why Be Alone?”

The next day, he sat in Madame Majestic’s musty parlor.

“I miss my girlfriend,” he said. I want her back, but she’s dead. Can you bring her back?”

“Yes,” Madame said. “The price is a hundred dollars and a piece of her finger.”

“I’d gladly dig up her grave right now and get it for you, but she’s buried overseas.”

“Then I’ll need a piece of YOUR finger.”

“When can you do this?” he asked.

“Now. Do you have the money?”

Robert gave her five twenties.

“Put your finger here,” she said, pointing to a cutting board. “Bite hard on this sponge.”

He’d never felt such horrendous pain.

“Drink this whiskey,” she said, binding his wound. “It’ll deaden the pain. Go home, turn off all the lights, and wait for her in bed. She’ll come at midnight.”

On the way home, he noticed the bandage was soaked and dripping blood. Alarmed, he stopped at a hospital.

“This is a nasty wound,” said an emergency room doctor. “How’d you cut off the tip of your thumb?”

“The knife slipped when I was slicing meat.”

“Frankly, this looks like a ritual cutting. I’ll have to report this to the police.”

Robert ran for the door, but slipped and crashed headfirst into a gurney.

Next thing he knew, he woke up in a hospital bed. Though dizzy, he went to the bathroom. Looking into the mirror, he saw his bandaged head. Then he remembered: Sandy was supposed to show up at his apartment at midnight.

Scrambling into his clothes, Robert bolted from the hospital, and floored his Mustang.

He managed to get into bed with only two minutes left. Trembling with sexual anticipation, he thought of the things they’d done so many times before she died. A year without her had made him ravenously hungry.

As the clock struck midnight, a glowing green mist appeared on the ceiling. It grew larger as it moved toward Robert.

“Sandy, my love,” he called softly, when a face began to form, “I’ve missed you terribly.” Closing his eyes, he spread his arms for her loving embrace.

When her soggy, cold lips pressed against his, he gagged from the stench. Pushing her away, he was startled to find he’d kissed a rotted corpse full of leaking cavities.

“Get outta here!” he screamed. “Go back where you came from!”

“It’s too soon, my love. I’m yours until dawn. The only way I can return before sunrise is to bring a sacrificial offering to the Gatekeeper of the Eternal Pit.”

“What kind of sacrificial offering?”

“A piece of your freshly butchered flesh.”

“Take your piece of flesh,” he said, spreading the fingers on his good hand. “Then get the hell outta here.”

He shuddered when a cleaver appeared in her putrid hand.

Closing his eyes, he gritted his teeth and braced himself for the horrific shock. The chop came so swiftly, he didn’t feel the slightest pain in his hand.

That’s when he realized she’d chopped off something more precious than a finger.


BIO:
Michael A. Kechula is a retired tech writer. His fiction has won first place in 8 contests and placed in 7 others. He’s also won Editor’s Choice awards 4 times. His stories have been published by 117 magazines and 32 anthologies in Australia, Canada, England, India, Scotland, and US. He’s authored two books of flash and micro-fiction stories: “A Full Deck of Zombies--61 Speculative Fiction Tales” and “The Area 51 Option and 70 More Speculative Fiction Tales.” eBook versions available at www.BooksForABuck.com and www.fictionwise.com Paperback available at www.amazon.com

Matt's doing 'the Author thing' so direct submissions to Col

As per the title for the next week or so.

Also, just a heads up that on my blog I've started Col Bury's Crime Fiction Choice, whereby I direct you to top notch stories around the blogosphere which I've particularly enjoyed.

Friday, 25 September 2009

A DEADLY SECRET - by J.R. Lindermuth

Another author joins the 'fun'...

A DEADLY SECRET

What does she know?

That—even more than the identity of the person—was the question kept recurring to Karen Stahl as she stood holding the phone in one hand and nibbling at her lower lip with an overbite she usually was at odds to conceal. The phone crackled and an automated voice said, “If you’d like to make a call please hang up and dial again.” The comment was repeated again before Karen responded.

Like everyone, Karen had secrets. But were any so dire they should have prompted a call from a person she didn’t know? She hadn’t even recognized the woman’s voice and she’d been too surprised to reply before the caller hung up.

“I know your secret and I’m going to tell.”

That was the extent of the message. Short and sweet. Not exactly a blatant threat. Yet these simple words sent chills up and down Karen’s spine. Her hand shook as she replaced the phone on its cradle. She clasped her arms around her and bent forward to peek out through the curtains. A warm summer day. A child blithely peddling by on a bicycle. Mrs. Blackwell seated on her front porch swing and smoking a cigarette across the street. Nothing…

Karen’s throat suddenly went dry. Mrs. Blackwell. That old bitch. Was there anyone more nosy than her? Could she know…what? What could she know? I haven’t done anything. Though it was probably only her imagination, Karen thought she saw the woman glance in her direction. She stepped back away from the window, trying to recall the woman’s voice, trying to grasp what her neighbor might know about her.

The woman was always stationed on her porch, eyes peeled and ears perked for any activity she was quick to share with anyone handy to listen. Mrs. Blackwell actually knew about Reese’s promotion before Karen did. Where she’d picked up that tidbit was anyone’s guess.

Reese. Was it possible…no. How could she? Then, with a horror that chilled her like a wet spring rain, Karen remembered. It was last summer when she and Reese had been going through a rough time. They weren’t speaking to one another, not for weeks. They were on the verge of breaking up.

It was then, in a moment of weakness, she’d fallen prey to Larry Wagner’s charms. It was easy. He was so handsome, so caring and always there on the verge of her life. She’d known him since high school. She knew his reputation. But she had been so vulnerable.

The affair hadn’t lasted long. Only a matter of a week or so. Then Reese, realizing what was happening to them and not wanting to lose what they’d had, revitalized their love and brought Karen back to her senses. Things between them had never been better since then. They were happy with one another and the life they’d created together. Karen didn’t want to lose that.

But it was in jeopardy now.

During the brief interlude back then Mrs. Blackwell had seen her and Larry together. Karen had forgot all about it, thinking it of no consequence.

Now fear rose up in her like a wave. Mrs. Blackwell was going to tell Reese. She was going to ruin their perfect life. Reese grew up in this house. Mrs. Blackwell had always been his neighbor. The woman doted on him and was always cold to Karen.

Karen clenched her fists and looked out the window again. Mrs. Blackwell was coming down the walk toward the street. As she stepped into the road, Mrs. Blackwell glanced toward Karen’s house. Did she smile? Karen wasn’t sure but another chill passed over her.

Mrs. Blackwell didn’t have a phone. Reese had allowed her to use theirs on a few occasions in the past. There was a public phone box down at the end of the hill. Was that where the woman was headed now? Was she going to call Reese and tell him of Karen’s misadventure?

No! She mustn’t. I can’t let her.

Karen hurried to her front door.

The old woman was already out of sight. Karen’s hands shook. Fear gripped her like some angry beast. I’ve got to stop her. She looked around. Her car sat in the driveway. Karen staggered toward the vehicle.

Karen backed out of the driveway, bumped over the curb and sped down the hill. Tears welled up in her eyes and she brushed them away with one hand. There. Down at the bottom of the hill. Mrs. Blackwell had just stepped into the phone booth.

Karen tramped down on the accelerator. She bit her lip as the car bounced over the curb and plunged into the phone booth. Mrs. Blackwell’s scream arced over the sound of shattering glass and scraping metal.

***

“Mrs. Blackwell?” Karen asked.

Reese shook his head. “She didn’t make it to the hospital. What happened?”

“I don’t know. I must have passed out. I’m sorry—about the car.”

“Karen, I’m not worried about the damned car. I’m just glad you weren’t …”

Aside from a bump on the head, a split lip, bruises and a sprained ankle, Karen had come through the accident all right. She regretted Mrs. Blackwell’s death but at least her secret was safe now and Reese would…Why was he looking at her like that? “Is something wrong?”

He shook his head again, reached out and took her hand in his. “I can change the plans. We’ll do it later.”

“What? What can we do later?”

Reese squeezed her hand and smiled. “Your birthday party. I know you don’t like to make a fuss about it. But I wanted it to be special this year. I wanted all our friends to be there. I wanted it to be a surprise. It won’t be now but we can still do it later.”

“Birthday party?”

“Yes. Didn’t my secretary call you? She was supposed to let you know the secret was out and we were telling everyone.”


BIO:
J.R. Lindermuth has published seven novels, including three in his Sticks Hetrick mystery series. His short stories have appeared in a variety of venues, including Mysterical-E, Flash Fiction Offensive, A Twist of Noir, Crime and Suspense and Mouth Full of Bullets.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

THE CINCH by James Hilton


Be careful what you wish for...

The Cinch


Ashley Armstrong smiled to herself as the Royal Mail delivery van pulled away from the front of her house. She knew exactly what was inside the parcel.
She’d found it on the internet five days ago. She’d trawled through the plethora of websites promising everything from legal Marijuana substitutes to wholesale Viagra rip-offs.
Finally she’d found it, www.Cinch.com.
The site was tricky to navigate, almost as if it didn’t really want to sell its miraculous weight loss product.
Ashley ran a hand over her flabby midsection as she recalled the Cinch Guarantee; ‘Cut your waist size by at least 50%!!!’
Even at half its current size, Ashley knew that skinny bitch Samantha Leaming might still be slimmer.
Samantha was that girl. Every one in the office loved her.
Isn’t Sam beautiful?
Isn’t Sam funny?
I don’t know how she looks as good all of the time…she could be a super model.
Ashley hated Sam! Not just her though, she hated all of the skinny bitches. She saw the snide looks they gave, whispering about her, about how she looked.
Ashley kept a size ten dress in her wardrobe, even though she wore four sizes up. Ten was her target size.
And now she was one big step closer to wearing it.
The computer screen blinked into life as the DVD drive whirred. The information presented on the disc promised to make using the Cinch as easy as A, B, C.
Ashley knelt on the floor as the presenter gave a dazzling white smile.
It was the same handsome face as on the website. “Hi, my name’s Pim Stansa, founder of Cinch Industries.” For the next ten minutes the smooth talking Stansa explained in a west coast American accent, how all other diets and health kicks were now obsolete due to the miraculous development of the Cinch. He finished with the declaration that within a few minutes of trying the Cinch, all thoughts of weight loss would be the farthest thing from your mind.
Ashley studied the cinch that lay across her knees as the infomercial spouted potted wisdom and told just how great her new life would be.
The cinch itself resembled an extra wide belt. A simple adjustable buckle system allowed the belt to be made a perfect fit. The inside of the belt was decorated by a string of strange glyphs.
Chinese? No.
Maybe rune symbols?
She didn’t know, or care, as long as it worked.
But the real innovation with the cinch was the thousands of tiny magnetically charged crystals embedded within the pliable fabric. She’d heard of magnetic therapy before but it was usually used to alleviate aches and pains or symptoms of arthritis.
With the cinch, it was claimed that the crystals magnetised the fat molecules in your body working in conjunction with the normal healthy levels of iron in your blood. The magnetism promised to bind particles of fat together in pea sized clumps and allow the body to pass them in a natural and painless way.
Ashley could only hope it worked. She’d tried everything else apart from gastric surgery; no way would she ever afford that anyway.
On the screen, Pim Stansa was encouraging the viewer to go ahead and try on the cinch.
Like most products, you could buy accessories and Ashley had decided to buy the whole range. Her set comprised of the Cinch belt, two arm bands to be worn on the biceps, two leg bands for the upper thighs and a soft neck cowl, all presented in a coordinated eye-catching design of course. The material looked like leather but felt more like neoprene as used in wet suits.
She stripped down to her underwear. She was a direct contrast to the dusty skinned model that was posturing confidently on the screen. She looked like a professional fitness instructor; the Lycra suit and the Cinch accessories enhancing her form to perfection.
Ashley however looked more like a professional pie eater. Rolls of pale skin sagged over her Marks and Spencer ‘Magic Knickers’ and support bra. Maybe she needed more magic than any high street retailer could provide.
Ashley fitted the belt, then the arm and leg straps and finished by slipping the neck cowl over her head.
Stansa was back on the screen telling the viewer how great they must look and feel.
Ashley did feel good, a strange tingle was emanating from the belt. Maybe this was the real thing!
She looked down and decided that she could go another notch up on the cinch belt.
A quick breath in…another notch.
Damn, but she was looking a lot slimmer just by wearing the cinch. It had shaped her waist like an old fashioned girdle but looked sleek and stylish, if a bit Goth-like for her tastes.
She looked down again.
Could she manage another notch?
She fumbled with the small buckles. As the pin slipped into the next hole on the belt, it cut a V shaped gouge deep into her thumb.
“Ow.” She pulled her hand away instinctively and traced a line of blood three inches long from the buckle along the cinch belt.
The effect was instantaneous. A ripple of energy pulsed through the cinch belt. But it didn’t stop there, the arm wraps, leg wraps and neck cowl vibrated in response.
No not vibrated, squirmed!
The blood was absorbed by the fabric of the belt.
Then the cinch emitted a strange cracking sound. That awful knuckle-cracking sound that the men in the office did to annoy her.
She looked at her waist, bewildered.
The cinch tightened again…on its own!
Ashley tried to release the belt but it was stuck fast.
More of her blood across the cinch fabric.
The belt tightened another inch.
“No!” was all she managed. Then the rest of the cinch set began to reduce in circumference as well.
The neck cowl tightened around her throat. She could feel her pulse throbbing against the fabric. No, it wasn’t her pulse. The cowl was pulsating with an intrinsic energy of its own.
She dug her fingers under the fabric, but as she fumbled and pulled at the band around her throat, it seemed to constrict even more in response.
Ashley started to choke. Cold darts of panic shot through her nervous system.
“No, no, no.”
Her computer screen blinked back into life again. Pim Stansa appeared again; smiling as ever. He seemed to be looking directly at her; through the screen.
The waist cinch clicked up another notch. Ashley was finding it hard to breathe now. Pressure seemed to be building all over her body. Her limbs were tight and sluggish as the bands restricted the blood flow to her extremities.
As spots of light danced across her vision, she staggered and knocked the computer monitor to the ground.
The picture flickered then turned a solid blue.
The cinch bands on her thighs cut so deep into her legs they now resembled a roast of meat in a butchers shop. Both her arms and legs had turned a mottled shade of red. Swollen veins accentuated their path like a ghastly road map.
Ashley fell to her knees. Her eyes and tongue sought to escape the confines of her head. Vomit rose in her throat but failed to pass her oesophagus.
The Cinch around her waist tightened with a force that caused Ashley’s bladder to empty.
She fell onto the floor, her fingers clawing without effect at the band around her throat.
The computer screen again flickered to life.
Pim Stansa gazed at her from his horizontal perspective. Then, ever so slowly, he turned on the screen so that he stood perpendicular again.
From his impossible manipulation of the screen, Stansa gave Ashley another perfect smile and a double thumbs up.
The arm bands had nipped through the delicate skin, soft fat and muscle tissues and now encircled the bone itself.
She tried to scream for help, but all that escaped was a thin whistling wheeze. Her mouth worked like a fish out of water, but to no avail.
The waist cinch tightened again, now cut so deep that she couldn’t see it in the folds of her abdomen.
Her legs began to jerk spasmodically. She looked down at her self- animated feet. They were doing ‘Riverdance’ of their own accord.
A varicose vein on the inside of her left knee expanded like a child’s modelling balloon. The skin ruptured and a pencil thin stream of blood was ejected under pressure. The crimson stream covered the whole length of the bedroom, some fifteen feet across.
Then her whole body joined in with the jerking of her legs.
From Stansa’s view she looked like a jockey spurring on an imaginary horse.
The waist Cinch tightened again.
Deep inside Ashley Armstrong’s torso, her liver and spleen burst, flooding her abdomen with both precious blood and harmful toxins.
The neck cowl seemed to loosen for a couple of seconds. In that time, the contents of her stomach coupled with the emissions of her ruptured organs spewed forth. She had scant time for one shuddering intake of breath; then it constricted again.
The range of sensations she endured was beyond words. Pain, agony, mind-numbing terror, anguish, torture, suffering, misery; these were words that featured every day in the tabloids. Ashley’s ordeal reset the very parameters of these words.
With an unearthly snap of bone, her left leg detached itself. As she continued to flop on the floor gouts of dark crimson essence spurted over the dismembered limb. The cinch had constricted to such a point that it nipped the top of the lost limb tight around the femur. The amputated appendage now resembled an over sized bratwurst – with toes.
On the computer monitor, Stansa looked directly into Ashley’s bulging eyes.
As she clung to the last vestige of life she watched his name appear on screen in large animated letters. PIM STANSA.
She watched them rearrange themselves; undoing the simple anagram that she’d missed at the start of the presentation.
New torrents of time rendering agony swept her body. With three decisive snaps, her remaining limbs were detached as the Cinch on each reduced itself to a bizarrely small circumference.
Then the waist cinch constricted for a final time, crushing all remaining soft tissue into her spinal column. She was now beyond individual sensations and the loss of her pelvis escaped her.
Ashley’s perspective of vision changed, twin messages of contradicting sights each vying for dominance in her brain. Then she realised that her right eye had popped out its socket and was now lolling downwards on her cheek.
On the screen, Stansa, now framed by his real name gave a cheery wave goodbye.
Ashley was still trying to draw one final breath as her head was severed by the cinch around her neck. What little blood that remained in her torso now trickled lazily from her mangled throat.
The DVD tray on the computer tower opened and ejected the disc. The disc landed on the floor and then curled into an unrecognisable shape resembling a dead crustacean.
Then silence settled on the household of Ashley Armstrong.

Monday, 21 September 2009

NO RESISTANCE - by James C. Clar


NO RESISTANCE


Kimberly Valentine lay next to her sleeping husband. The air conditioner in their bedroom window – an older, exquisitely energy-inefficient model – was laboring in the hot, humid July night. The room was redolent of sweat and the pungent, uric odor of too-much Sauvignon Blanc. Tom, of course, had drunk too much because, well, Tom no longer needed a reason to drink too much. Kim, for her part, had imbibed to excess simply to forget the humiliation suffered during dinner with Jennifer and Marty Sheehan. Or maybe it was to forget the accumulated humiliation suffered during five years of a failed, abusive marriage. As she tossed and turned amid the damp and tangled sheets she more than recalled, she relived each painful moment …

“You're one hell of a lucky guy, Marty,” Tom Valentine had said between mouthfuls of chicken saltimbocca and long sips of white wine. “Jen still looks like she did when you guys got married. Kim and me, damn, the TSA people do a double-take every time they check our picture ID at the airport. I didn't think they were going to let Kim on the plane when we went to San Francisco this past February.”

Kimberly Valentine quietly dropped her fork and took another drink. She looked down at the stained white table cloth so that her companions wouldn't notice the salty tears beginning to leak from her already red-rimmed eyes. Make-up and mascara could only hide so much. Had it not been for the soft, diffused lighting in the restaurant, she was certain that the small, faded contusion would still have been visible under her left eye. It was a souvenir from an argument (what else?) that she and Tom had earlier in the week. He never swung with his left.

“I keep telling her,” Tom continued, “that I'd spring for Botox treatments but she just ignores me.”

Embarrassed and feeling more than a little guilty, Jennifer Sheehan excused herself and headed for the ladies’ room.

“I guess I could ‘see a man about a horse’ myself,” Tom Valentine barked crudely a moment or two later. He, too, stood and, tossing his napkin on his seat, made his way through the crowded restaurant.

“I'm sorry, Kim,” Marty Sheehan said quietly as he and his old friend’s wife looked at one another across the table, the remains of their meal lay scattered about, the artifacts of an under-funded and, ultimately, abandoned archaeological dig. “You know Tom. His mouth is moving before he’s had a chance to shift his brain into gear.”

Marty’s genuine solicitude served only to make Kimberly even more uncomfortable and self-conscious. She wondered if the man sitting with her were aware that his own wife had been having an affair with Tom now for close to eighteen months. Probably not, she decided. Marty still doted on Jennifer. His puppy-like affection and near total dependence would, of course, blind him to just about anything. Kim suppressed the almost overpowering urge to tell him, to hurt him, as a way to assuage her own pain.

Ten minutes passed in awkward, pregnant silence. Jennifer returned first and, predictably, transparently, Tom followed three or four minutes later. The evening played itself out in much the same way as it had begun. Finally, mercifully, they paid their bill after coffee and desert. The two couples exchanged somewhat stilted goodbyes in the parking lot.

Kim said very little – despite Tom’s nearly nonstop, alcohol-fueled chatter – as they drove across town in the stifling heat. At home, she showered first and, complaining of a headache and an upset stomach, was in bed hours before her husband…

Awake for most of the night, however, Kim wondered yet again how things had gone so horribly wrong. Had she changed? Had Tom? No, the signs had been there while they had been dating. She had just refused to take note of them. If the results hadn't been so grave, she might have laughed at the magnitude of her mistake, of her own myopia. At one point and, unaware, really, of what she was doing, she reached over and began tracing concentric circles lightly beneath Tom’s shoulders with the smooth tips of her fingers. A maze, she mused, a mandala…maybe even a target.

“Um,” Tom Valentine stirred and sighed with the oblivious contentment of a sated animal. “You just can't resist, can you?”

“No,” Kimberly thought wordlessly with tears once again rolling slowly down her cheeks, “I can't. “ And without so much as a second thought, she silently grabbed the scissors that lay so fortuitously on her bedside table.


BIO:
James C. Clar teaches and writes in upstate New York (USA). He has published interviews with the likes of Ken Bruen, James Sallis, and Ace Atkins. His short fiction has found a home in numerous venues both in print as well as on the Internet. He makes certain that scissors and all sharp objects are safely locked away at night when he and his wife of twenty-three years go to bed.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

KINGDOM COME by Lee Hughes


Part Nine of Lee's epic The Osseous Box

Kingdom Come


The sky was a tedious gray, causing the sea to appear moody. It was fitting, for the water's surface was heavily creased like a frowned brow.The preacher stood with the brackish mist catching at his beard. He'd never felt so abused, so battered. He didn't dare get too close to the water's edge for his depth perception had been stolen from him in a brawl he couldn't avoid in a run-down, shit-hole of an inn.

The eye hadn't slowed him down as much as the limp. He'd picked up that hobble from wolves that had attacked in the depths of a midnight several nights ago.

It was the box, he knew it was. It brought out the darkness in people, even if they didn't know that they were harbouring blackness in their soul. When he crossed paths with animals it changed them too, mainly the ones that featured in the darkness. It excited them, angered them, fired up the hunting instinct and set the scent to the Box and ultimately him.

There'd been a night when he'd found himself at the Box. A rock grasped in his hand and on the cusp of driving it into the bone of the Box to fracture it and liberate its damned contents.

Sense had returned before the down-swing of the rock and he'd cast it aside. As he immersed himself into prayer to beg for strength he'd openly wept, knowing how close he'd been to undoing what the good-man Wulf had died to accomplish.

He asked God to forgive him as he stood at the sea's edge with the breath of the wind upon his face. The simple fisherman would live, but whether or not he would want to without his boat was another thing. The preacher knew he wasn't going to be able to return the small vessel. He'd assured the fisherman that he was securing a place in Heaven for his sacrifice to the cause.

The fisherman hadn't seemed convinced.

*

The tide turned.

The preacher pushed the feeble boat out and climbed aboard.

He saved his energy and allowed the tide to draw him out onto the unforgiving sea. He'd heard men talk of the sea, referring to it as if it were female, "The sea, she can be a harsh mistress." The preacher had his faith but he hoped that he wouldn't have to find out how harsh the lady could be.

He sat and watched England get small. With the bad weather it didn't take long for it to disappear from sight altogether.

The mist grew thicker.

It altered the way that everything sounded. It made the preacher think of cosier times, like a hungry man would think of food. The preacher started to vision a great hearth flooded with logs and flame. He now sorely missed the one back at Wulf's hut. Wulf had been eager to learn about the Lord and his charitable and holy ways. He'd been willing to share his roof in exchange for the preacher's teachings.

The preacher stared at the Box. He shuddered when he thought about what the world could have been like had those two peasants not been in the beast's path on its return to Hell from which it had escaped.

He rested his eyes as the small boat rode the waves. Its movement made him feel both queasy and tired. Tiredness won out.

*

The preacher saw the bodies. A woman with her throat cut, a man with his face caved in and the feet of a woman protruding from some form of table. They were dressed in a most peculiar fashion. The man in the centre of the room snatched his attention. He was standing with a shovel held aloft, ready to bring it down. The preacher followed the arc that the swing would take and gasped. The man was about to demolish the Box. The preacher made a run for the man. Just as he was inches away from tackling him everything faded.

The onset of rain woke him. He could feel through the swells that the sea was gaining in fury. The boat would ride up one-side of a pale-tipped wave and spill down the other.

The preacher held on for dear life. The skies had gone from grey to the colour of a bruise. Slaps of thunder and snaps of lightning began in earnest. The preacher brought his rough cloak about him as tight as he could as the storm progressed from angry to savage.

The only thing he could concede to the storm was that it was throwing him over towards Ireland. He'd travelled there, knew that there were many perfect places to hide the Box away from any that would profit from its unearthing.

He remembered then the vision. The box had been unearthed. It had been on the verge of being shattered and the demon inside let loose. He held on as the storm worked its violence, he pondered over whether he'd just been dreaming or whether it had been a portent.

The preacher decided he didn't have the luxury of supposing this, or supposing that.

As the ocean tossed him he vomited even though there was nothing left to come out apart from bile and the lining of his stomach.

He wiped at his eyes and thought about tossing the Box over the side of the boat to let the sea keep it concealed.

He'd seen what salt-water did to wood and such. He couldn't risk the Box rotting and then releasing its evil cargo.

It would have to be buried as planned but with something set in place just in case the time came when someone did manage to find the box and the premonition that he'd witnessed in his sleep came true.

*

Sometime through the night he'd drifted off to sleep again.

The preacher opened his eyes and saw the first light of the day. He breathed with relief when he realised that the night had kept a grip of the storm and not allowed it to continue into the day.

The preacher shivered as he sat upright, his stomach still raw with sea-sickness. His old bones creaked and protested after being stuck in the same position for so long and in such unforgiving weather.

He looked all around. He'd never felt so alone. It was just himself, the waves, the chill in his bones and a demon in a box.

His spirits rose sharply when over on the horizon he could make out what had to be a landmass. It was many miles away and he'd have to row but he hoped that it was Ireland, not so much because he'd be closer to securing the safety and secrecy of the Box but for the reason that he'd relearned one thing since climbing aboard the small boat and that was that he wasn't a good sailor. He vomited more bile over the side.

*

The landmass neared. He'd travelled to Ireland before but only as a passenger to spread the word of the Lord.

He'd no idea where it would be best to land. Which places would be safe from rocks that would tear open the boat and then break him in the same manner. Besides, the storm had probably altered his course so he'd have no idea as to which part of the coast he was approaching.

He began to row. He kept the small boat away from the rocks, whilst seeking a shingled stretch of beach to land.

*

His arms were burning and his back felt like stone. But he'd spied somewhere that looked safe enough. He rowed in as far as he could and climbed overboard. The freezing water shrivelled his balls and his cock retreated to cower behind a kidney, he gasped. The water stopped at his chest.

The preacher dragged the boat up onto the sands and looked around.

He'd a feeling that he hadn't gone far enough. It was the way that he could see the landmass curve around on itself in the horizon. He'd an inkling that he'd not made it over to Ireland at all, that he'd made it halfway.

The beach he stood on was likely to be part of the Isle of Mann.

The preacher had never stepped foot on land there. One place was as good as any. And the Lord had brought him to these shores for a reason.

The preacher lifted the Box and carried its burden himself.

In under an hour he missed Wulf's old and belligerent horse.

*

The preacher saw sporadic bursts of agriculture as he headed towards what he hoped would be the best place to bury the Box. It was the biggest mountain that he could see. He hoped it would be a place that no one would bother with. The preacher himself wasn't even sure that he could make it that far.

*

The few people he encountered looked at him with suspicion. Strangers were a far from common occurrence. The preacher knew that they would all be pagan. The Lord's work was still fresh and hadn't been sowed everywhere. The preacher smiled, one day it would be. His thoughts of what that world would be like spurred him on.

*

It took days to finally make it to the top. He'd lived of water from streams and meat from rabbits that he had managed to snare. His belly had never been full but it had given him enough energy in his legs to reach the tor.

The preacher stood and looked out.

The sky was clear, pure azure without the molestation of clouds.

He smiled, his straggly beard twitching.

He counted them.

The preacher could see England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and the Isle of Mann beneath his feet. He could see the five kingdoms. He looked up and smiled. He could see six kingdoms, including Heaven.

*

The preacher had no tools and the task took him through the whole of the day and the majority of the night. He lowered the Box into the sunken hole and covered it. He slept beside it, weary but relieved that he had managed to secrete it.

In the morning he knew that he would have to head back down the mountain and put into place some form of safe-guard in case his vision of the man with the shovel came true.

*

Jon stared down at the box. He could see the malformed shadow of the shovel sprawl out before him. He couldn't help himself. It was inside his head, telling him to do it. Punish the Box, ruin it for all the harm that it had done.

The door flew open.

Jon looked.

The figure was silhouetted by the light from outside.

It all happened at the same time for Jon. The thunderous bang and the feeling of crumpling to the floor mixed with the swift darkness.


Bio:

Lee's short fiction has or is due to appear in or on Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, A Twist of Noir, Everyday fiction, Blink-Ink, The Daily Tourniquet, FlashShot, Powder Burn Flash, MicroHorror and the anthology Cern Zoo: Nemonymous 9. Find out more at http://www.leehughes.net/

Friday, 18 September 2009

GAME, SET 'N' MATCH - by Col Bury


This piece of flash won the August One Word Challenge over on Writers News Talkback forum...

GAME, SET 'N' MATCH

It was a simple plan, for a simple man. If things worked out there’d be no blood on my hands.

Andrea originally joined the Tennis Club after Cheryl had told her what ‘great fun’ it was. Six months on and Cheryl’s hubby made her quit, but Andrea’s appetite for the club grew stronger somehow.

Initially I was pleased she felt slimmer, fitter, though the fees were somewhat steep, credit crunch and all. But I noticed, despite her new zest, our love life had died.

Being a cop, I decided to investigate. And sure enough: advantage Dempsey, a poser if ever I saw one.

‘Thirty-love?’

More like ‘Dirty-love!’

And so I was set to serve my ace with plenty of top spin. I considered delivering Dempsey my best backhand, but that wasn’t nearly enough. So I volleyed his head and ironically he made quite a racket. Especially when I smashed Andrea’s racket into his nether regions.

‘New balls, please!’

Andrea had just left his flat. I’m forensically aware, remember, plus my alibi was concrete. Motive-wise, Andrea’s the jealous type and Dempsey was rampant at the club. The next court she attended wasn’t half as favourable to her.

Game, set and match.


BIO:
Col Bury is currently writing a crime novel and his ever-growing selection of short stories can be found here on TKnC, A Twist Of Noir, Six Sentences, Blink Ink and Flash Fiction Offensive. His Mum once told him his writing was really good. He blogs and interviews crime authors here:

http://colburysnewcrimefiction.blogspot.com

Thursday, 17 September 2009

SUICIDE...OR NOT by David Barber


In this flash, David asks...



Suicide………Or Not?

I look down at the gun in my hand, having no idea how and why it got there and why there was a faint smell of cordite still emanating from the end of the barrel.

I’m sat in my living room, the television showing that there was an imminent end to the current life of bad weather and recession.

A sudden searing pain in my stomach snatches my attention away from the television and I put my hand to my midriff where blood is now flowing freely.

Behind me, beyond the kitchen I hear the back door slam shut and it’s only then that I notice the photograph on the coffee table in front of me.

Through blurring vision I can just make out my secretary and I in a position most commonly favoured by mans best friend - “Oh fuck…………”

Outside my wife walks away from our house, tears in her eyes, while the life slowly drains from mine.

Bio:
Manchester born and bred, but now living in Crieff, Scotland with wife, Lisa, and our two daughters, Imogen & Melissa. Wrote some years ago but have recently been inspired to write again by an old and good friend (Col Bury) and the beauty that surrounds me up here. Always reading - when not entertaining my girls and working - crime and horror…and now writing.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

MISCONCEPTIONS by Vallon Jackson


MISCONCEPTIONS


I sat in the room, doing the old Sam Spade bit waiting for the femme fatale to knock, and thinking to myself, ‘There has to be a better way than this?’ I couldn’t think of anything. A man past forty, whose waist size exceeds his age, needs something kind of sedate to get by on. Couldn't think of a better way to make money. Or amends.
The room wasn’t a PI’s office. In fact it wasn’t even much of a room. It was a box at the end of a damp corridor above a pole-dancing club with rusty poles. It was more like a storage closet, plaster board tacked onto a wooden frame, no paper, no photos or diplomas in frames, just boxes of stacked junk lining the walls and an old Formica-topped table and two plastic chairs. I’d sat in chairs just like them at school back in the eighties. They were uncomfortable then; now that my arse had grown much bigger they were torture. I was itching like crazy and all I wanted to do was get up and pull the material of my shorts out of my crack. But I held the nonchalant pose of a noir anti-hero; people kind of expected it when they arrived.
The femme fatale arrived. She didn’t knock because there was no door. She just leaned in and scowled at me like I was something filthy. She wasn’t far wrong, I suppose. I looked back, and maybe the sour look on my face told her everything. Femme fatale she wasn’t; she’d a face like a hog and the body to match.
‘You can’t be Ward?’
Well I sure as hell wasn’t Sam Spade, but I didn’t quite get her meaning.
‘Why not?’
She came into the room uninvited and sat on the other chair. It squealed and little wonder. She pressed her hands into the thick rolls of flesh on her upper-thighs, giving me a head-to-heels inspection. By the look of things she wasn’t impressed. The feeling was mutual.
‘I heard you were meant to be something.’
I looked down at my gut hanging over my belt. I was more of a man than I used to be that was for certain. But meant to be something? Fair enough I was no oil painting, but who was she to complain?
‘Depends what you want,’ I said and she snorted.
‘Well it’s a good job I ain’t looking for a wild time.’
That pissed me off, but I didn’t say. She wasn’t exactly my type either, but she was carrying the money I wanted, and like I already said, I was there to make a living. Every job has pro’s and con’s. Seeing as I could think of nothing that suited me better, I just took the bullshit as a necessary evil.
‘You said on the phone that you’d do whatever I asked...’ She was obviously happy now that I was what she’d come looking for. She wasn’t the least nervous. Maybe it was my lack of response to her sarcasm that reassured her; an undercover cop would have argued his case more, to get her to incriminate herself before pulling out his cuffs.
‘Only one thing I don’t touch.’
‘Yes, you said. Kids.’
I nodded. ‘Kids.’
‘So you do have some standards.’ She was eyeing my rumpled suit, her mouth twisted into a sneer, and I guessed she was confusing standards with morals. That was OK; a body like mine didn’t carry a nice suit well, so I just made do with an old one. I didn’t dress nice, and I didn’t kill children – some legend I’m graced with.
Not that I was squeamish about doing a child, but they carried too much fuss along with them. You could kill a man, a woman, and it barely hit the papers these days. But do a kid and there was a national outrage. Doesn’t do much for your career chances if the entire country is looking for you, and I had a living to make.
‘I don’t want you to harm a kid; not unless you have a limit on mental age?’
I held up the flat of my hand, surprising even myself. ‘I don’t do handicapped people either.’ I pinched my lips round the un-PC term, but I wasn’t sure what the acceptable moniker for someone soft in the head was these days. Should have said I’d never killed anyone with mental health issues before, not any in the clinical sense. Plenty of whack jobs and nut-cases mind you, but that’s not the same.
The femme grunted and it suited her.
‘I was making a joke. My husband still thinks he’s a teenager the way he’s running around.’
I got her this time, but didn’t say. So she’d cottoned on that her husband was having a good time, looking elsewhere? Can’t say I blamed him too much. Still, she was the cash cow so I tried to look sympathetic without putting the emphasis on ‘cow’.
‘You still sure you want me to kill him?’
‘That’s what I’m paying you for. I don’t want a frigging half-baked job. Put a bullet in his brains to make sure.’
‘I was just checking. See, maybe after you think about it, you’ll have a change of mind.’
She shook her head and I caught a whiff of cheap fragrance and sweat. ‘That bastard is screwing everything in a skirt that he can find. And I’ve got the proof. Bastard gave me a STD and then tried to say he got it off me!’
I could understand her outrage, I mean, what were the chances of that?
She gave me the beady eye, still didn’t care for what she found. ‘When you’ve done it, how’d I know you can keep your mouth shut afterwards?’
‘I was just going to ask the same thing.’ We stared at each other, my hard eyes on her limpid ones. When she didn’t offer anything, I said, ‘I’m not in the habit of confessing my sins. I’m taking it that once he’s out of the way you want to start a new life. You aren’t gonna speak if it means your new life is in a cell not much bigger than this shit-hole.’
She looked around the cramped room. Then she shrugged; a roll of fat bulging out of her collar. ‘I could live with that,’ she laughed, ‘if it means getting him out of the way. Really, though, I can’t live with him any longer.’ She placed a pudgy hand over her heart. Her eyes rolled back and I was looking at the vein-marbled whites. ‘I solemnly promise I won’t say a word to anyone,’ she said in a sing-song voice. ‘So? We have a deal?’
‘When I see the cash,’ I told her.
She dug an envelope out of her coat pocket and slapped it down on the Formica. I tried to weigh the contents with my eyes. Couldn’t, so reached over and lifted the flap. Plenty of purples, not enough gold notes. ‘Looks a little light to me.’
‘Half now, half on completion.’
‘That isn’t the way I work.’
‘How can I be sure that you’ll even do the job? For all I know you could just pick up the cash, walk away, and that’s the last I’d ever hear of you.’
‘Sometimes you have to take things on faith,’ I told her.
‘You don’t look like a professional hitman to me.’
‘What were you expecting? Matt Damon?’
‘I should be so lucky,’ she snorted. She started picking at a scab on her chin and I thought no one with a face like that has that kind of luck!
‘You’ve heard my credentials,’ I said.
‘Only what you told me on the phone.’
‘I don’t do kids, I don’t do handicapped folk and I don’t do lies.’ My legend was growing.
‘You don’t do much exercise either,’ she said with a wicked smile, the old kettle and pot argument raging on.
‘These days I hardly run for a bus,’ I acquiesced. ‘But I don’t have to. A bullet’s quicker than any man.’
‘How many have you killed?’
‘You’re sure you want to hear?’
‘I want to know I’m going to get value for money.’
‘Thirty-three,’ I said.
She adjusted her weight on the chair, covering a sniff of disdain with the creaking of the plastic.
‘You still doubt me?’
‘Can’t blame a girl for being nervous with her hard-earned cash, can you?’
‘OK. You want proof?’
She patted her opposite coat pocket. I didn’t look; I was still watching the flake of scab hanging off her chin. ‘I have the rest of the money right here. Show me something that will convince me that you’re really up to the task and you’ve got a deal.’
‘That’s fair,’ I decided.
I lifted my silenced Sig-Sauer from under the table and pointed it at her tremulous gut. I pulled the trigger.
The thud of the bullet pounding her flesh was louder than the gun’s retort.
The femme took a moment to realise she was dying. She looked down at the hole I’d just put in her coat, then up at me.
‘Will that do it?’ I asked.
Her mouth hung open, a string of saliva tethering her tongue to her dentures. She blinked slowly and there was disbelief in her eyes. Maybe it was because I’d shot her, or maybe she still doubted me. That damn flake of scab still waved at me and I used it as a target. Scab and chin disintegrated together.
‘So I guess we’ve got a deal?’ I asked her. Her head was nodding, her floppy neck riding the ripples still shuddering through her body. The nod was enough to seal it for me.
I jostled myself out of the chair, thankfully unhitched material from the crack of my cheeks and went over to her. Her arms had fallen to her sides, but her girth pushed them away from her. She reminded me of that spoiled bitch that blew up with juice in Willy Wonka’s factory. I dipped a hand in her pocket and pulled out another envelope.
I flicked through the notes. They were all there.
I pushed both envelopes into my pockets and walked along the cramped corridor to the far end, ignoring the pain in my knees. The corridor was long and I was puffing by the time I reached the far end. Maybe the femme was right and I should be in better shape for this game. I dabbed perspiration from my forehead before pushing open a door: I had to look the part. There was another room, not much bigger than the first.
The femme’s husband was a little squirt with glasses and a comb-over. His jumper was a market stall special, all diamond patterned down the chest, the two for the price of one type you buy on special offer. Black nylon trousers, white socks for frig sake! Couldn’t see how someone like him could be living the double life his wife claimed, but she was right in a way. Just shows you that looks can be deceiving. People look at me and don’t credit me with much either.
‘It’s done?’
I looked down at the little man. His eyes looked huge behind the glasses. He was sitting in the chair where I’d left him earlier while I prepped for his wife’s arrival.
‘Just like you asked,’ I reassured him.
‘Did she suffer?’
The malignant gleam in his eye told me the answer he was waiting for.
‘Yeah, she suffered.’
‘Good,’ he said. ‘She deserved it. Did she tell you I gave her a sexually transmitted disease?’
‘Yeah, you called it right.’
‘Bitch. It was her who gave me the clap. It was her who was sleeping around.’
I didn’t comment. It was beginning to sound like I was stuck in the middle of the Jeremy Kyle show.
‘What else did she say?’ he asked. “Did she have any idea that...”
‘She was sure you were being unfaithful to her; chasing all these young skirts all the time.’ I laughed at the absurdity of it.
He laughed with me. ‘You think I’d stand any chance with a young girl?’
Decorum isn’t my main strength. ‘Not a chance.’
To his credit he didn’t take any offence. ‘Crazy bitch has accused me of running after girls for years,’ he said. ‘She’s made my life hell and I think it was all guilt over her own infidelity. Did she admit to having someone else?’
‘I didn’t ask.’
‘She must have said something.’
‘She did. She asked me to kill you.’
‘What?’
I just smiled at him and he shook his head.
‘Good job I met you first, then,’ he said, blinking mole-like. ‘I can’t believe she’d want to kill me. But it would make sense, I suppose. She wants me out the way so she can sleep around any time she likes. What a bitch!’
I shrugged, held out my hand. ‘Forget about her; you don’t have to take her shit ever again.” I snapped my fingers. “Money on completion; just like we agreed.’
The man pulled out a thick envelope and I took it from him. Didn’t bother counting the notes, because I knew he was good for it.
‘A deal’s a deal,’ he said, smiling.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘It is.’
I shot him in the head, just like I’d agreed to do for his wife.
But that wasn’t the main reason.
The little squirt should have mentioned it when first we met. I wiggled my trousers out of my butt again, exhaling at the chaffing-pain. ‘That’s for giving me the fucking pox, lover boy.’
***
BIO:
Vallon Jackson is the pen name of a published thriller author who likes to let his imagination roam occasionally. Sometimes in odd directions.

JORDAN'S TURN by Christopher Grant


This is the follow-up to Chris' FOR THE RECORD. Maybe you want to read that first if you missed it first time round.



JORDAN'S TURN


My earliest memory of my parents:

I am four years old. My parents are fighting again. I can hear Daddy yelling; Mommy is giving as good as she's getting. At least until the slap. And then I can hear him grunting as his fist meets her face again and again. I can't hear Mommy anymore. I've crawled into my bedroom closet and I'm crying. I don't like it when they fight.

Mommy was there one day, gone the next. When I finally got up the courage to ask Daddy where she was, he told me that she left us, that she was just gone. It was a pretty adult thing to say to a four year-old kid.

Growing up, I went wherever my Dad went when I could. Went to ball games. I got a look at the inside of a bar at age eight. I went hunting with him and he taught me how to skin animals after he'd shot them, taught me real good with a knife. Eventually, he taught me how to do the shooting, too.

I was eleven years old when I made my first kill; I wasn't on a hunting trip with Dad.

We had a dog, a hunting dog for when we went out pheasant hunting, named Bill. One afternoon, I took Dad's knife, the same one that he'd taught me how to skin with, took Bill and we went into the woods.

When I came back and Bill didn't, I told Dad that a bear had come out of nowhere and Bill had defended me, bought me time to get to safety. I cleaned the knife and then hid it under my bed.

Dad went down with a stroke when I was fifteen and I had to go to work to supplement his disability and, eventually, Social Security checks. He was helpless for the first time that I could remember and I had to be the man of the house. I resented it. I trooped to school and then to the six to midnight shift at the 7-11. Aunt Sarah, Dad's sister, took care of Dad while I was at work.

It all got to be too much for everyone concerned. Sarah had gotten a new job and would be working mornings. She couldn't be stuck with Dad from six until midnight without having to cut down on her sleep time. I couldn't handle both school and the job and, besides, no one would be with Dad in the morning anymore, not with Sarah working again. School wasn't paying so I dropped out. And Dad, you could tell he was upset, feeling like a burden to us.

I tried to get better hours, hours that would work out for Sarah and me, so that we could switch duties. One day, after asking for better hours for about the fortieth time, the manager at work got on my ass, talked about how I was coming in late and leaving early as it was. I punched him in the face, broke his nose and got fired. The pussy even threatened me with a lawsuit.

When I came home early that day, Aunt Sarah asked why I wasn't at work.

I lashed out. "You don't have to worry about your precious beauty sleep anymore. Get as much as you can. You fucking need it."

She started to argue with me, told me that I was a rude little shit. I grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to the door, tossed her out on the porch and slammed the door shut before she could recover. I never saw her at the house after that. I did see her around town every now and again but tried my best to avoid her.

I took care of Dad for the next two years, working out of the house, opening up the garage and working on buddies' cars. It was a modest living, at best. I barely scraped enough money together to call it a job.

Dad was making slow progress in his recovery, able to speak but not quite back to one hundred percent. He still had a hard time getting around on his own and used a walker. He could feed himself but needed help with bathing and getting dressed.

Just after I had turned seventeen, I discovered something about Mom and Dad. I was looking for a set of wrenches and dug deep into a pile of junk in one of the corners of the garage. I came away with what turned out to be a high school yearbook, instead.

I paged through the yearbook and found Dad's photo. It was the sixties and the hairstyles and fashions were outrageous. It was worth a couple chuckles.

I went looking for Mom and couldn't find the name Marian Crane anywhere in the book. I paged once, twice, three times through and wondered if I was somehow missing her listing.

The fact was she wasn't there.

There was no way that they could have been high school sweethearts like Dad and Aunt Sarah had always claimed. If Mom had even lived in town, she hadn't gone to school with Dad.

There were a few newspaper clippings tucked into the yearbook. One was my public birth notice. Dad would've been eighteen when I was born; I didn't know if that made Mom younger, older or the same age. Dad's name, Lowell, was right there in boldface. But Mom's name wasn't Marian Crane. The notice said her name was Angela Townsend. I quickly paged through the yearbook and located Angela Townsend.

Dark hair, full lips, very pretty.

Why had Dad and Aunt Sarah lied about her name?

Another newspaper clipping. A picture of a ravine just outside of town. Cop cars in the foreground, Police Line Do Not Cross across the faded tape that was strung between two trees at the top of the drop-off.

The article talked about a dark-haired female found dead at the bottom of the ravine, face-down in the stream that ran through it. She had been nude, mutilated. Perhaps animals had gotten to her if she had laid there a while, police said. They wouldn't give a name but I knew immediately that her name had been Angela Townsend.

My Dad was no longer my Dad. He was a foreign body rotting away in the E-Z chair in the living room. He was a goddamned liar and probably had killed Mom. I confronted him, presenting him with all of the stuff I'd found but made sure to keep it in my grasp.

"Did you do it?" I raged. "Did you kill her?"

He tried to say something. He tried but he couldn't find the words.

I took the stairs two at a time and pushed through the door to my room. I grabbed a backpack, stuffed it with clothes and the yearbook and what cash I had. I took the keys to his truck off my dresser. I got down on hands and knees and grabbed the knife out from under my bed. I came up slow.

How easy would it be to end his life, I wondered. I came back downstairs, knife in hand, and seriously thought about it, standing at the foot of the stairs. Then I walked to the door, listening to him yelling for me to stop, come back, that he would explain everything.

I kept walking. Out of my life and into the unknown.

*

I took the truck to the airport and then I bought a plane ticket to Seattle, which was halfway across the country. I wanted to get as far away as possible from Dad, from the lies, even though, at the same time, I wanted to know the truth.

The guy that sat next to me on the plane was fat, sweaty, balding. The tie he was wearing was unknotted, hanging loosely around his neck. The top two buttons on his shirt were undone.

He tried a couple times to strike up a conversation, talking about sports and current events. I didn't bite. I didn't want to chat. I was single-minded. I wanted out.

He gave up talking for a while. I felt his hand on my thigh.

"Wanna follow me to the bathroom?" he asked. His eyebrows went up with the question. I looked down at his hand, back up at him. He smiled at me.

"I'm afraid of enclosed spaces," I said.

But I didn't remove his hand.

When we landed at SeaTac, I followed him into the restroom. He locked the door behind us to make sure that we weren't interrupted. He led me into a stall and then locked that door, too. He brushed against me as he passed, then pulled down his pants and underwear and sat down on the toilet. He reached down and grabbed hold of his cock.

"Come on, boy," he said. "It won't bite you."

The stall reminded me of being four and in the closet and crying as Daddy beat Mommy. Is that when he killed her? I started to breathe heavily, panicking. I turned my back on the fat man and tried to get out of there. When I couldn't get the door open, I quickly rummaged through my backpack.

"What have you got there, boy?" the man asked.

My breathing returned to normal as I stabbed him in the eye with the knife. The same knife I'd learned how to skin with, that I'd killed Bill with, the knife that I wish I had killed my old man with.

The fucker screamed and writhed in pain, his legs and arms flailing, banging against the stall's walls and the toilet. I pulled the knife out and buried it in his throat, cutting off his screams. Blood geysered all over, all over me and the stall and the floor.

I kicked at the stall door and it finally gave way. I quickly stripped out of my bloody clothes, washed my hands, face and arms. I changed into something new, something clean in my bag. I left the restroom and Seattle shortly thereafter.

My biggest regret was that I had to leave the knife behind in that asshole's throat.

*

MONDAY:

The phone is ringing, well, vibrating, actually, and moving along the table in front of me. Three buzzes and it's almost over the edge. I reach out and grab it.

"Yeah? You did it? How many? Jesus! Yeah, yeah, lucky bastard."

I flip the phone shut. The waitress, a cute blonde, is standing next to the table, her hands full with my order. She sets the plates down. Steak and eggs, bacon and toast. I've got an appetite going, even if Craig just tried his best to spoil it.

When she finishes, she gives me a look like she wants an explanation of my conversation, as if she's owed it or something.

"Buddy of mine hit six on the lottery," I say.

"Holy shit," she says, making no apology for her remark.

"That's what I said."

She smiles, asks if I need anything else and then remembers my large OJ. When she returns with the juice, she gives me the check. Her nametag says Tina.

I'm waiting in the parking lot when Tina gets off work a couple hours later. The sun's not quite up yet.

"Need a ride home?" I ask.
*

I'm behind Tina and deep inside of her, my hands on her hips. Her moans are loud enough to wake the dead. When we finish, I fall forward and on top of her, still inside. I'm slow to slide out of her. I don't want to but nature takes its course. I roll off of her, but not before I have a taste of the sweet sweat on her smooth back.

I fire up a cigarette.

"Give me one of those," Tina says. I hand her mine and light another.

Her hand is on me, stroking me and I'm starting to get hard again already. This woman really knows what she's doing in bed.

"Been in town long?" she asks me.

I shake my head.

"Didn't think so," she says, her hand continuing to move up and down. "I would have noticed. What do you do for a living, Jordan?"

I've told her my name, told her a few other ancillary things, shit that won't ever matter. Now she's asking a loaded question.

I could tell her that I kill people, have done since the fucker at SeaTac years ago. That might drive her off, might make her want to marry me. I don't know much about her. Truth is all I know is that she can carry three plates at once and that she's a goddess in bed.

"I'm a businessman," I say.

"Oh, yeah? What kind of business?"

"None of yours," I say, grab her cigarette and mine and put them out between my fingers. I take her hand and pin it to the bed and then roll over and on top of her as we go for Round Two.

*

WEDNESDAY:

I've been watching this family, the Munsons, for the last couple weeks, almost as long as I've been in town. Old man, old lady. Found out that the old lady's going to be having a birthday party in a few days. A small get-together, a couple of their children and grandchildren are coming into town. It's amazing what you can find out on someone's computer when they're out grocery shopping.

I smoke the last cigarette in the pack down to the nub, then crush it underfoot as I watch from across the street. Family number one has shown up early. A little boy, mommy and daddy. They knock on the door, the old lady is crying as she hugs everyone. The door shuts behind them and I get in my car and pull away.

Tina's home when I return, in the backyard, topless, getting some sun. I love this woman's moxy. The neighbors have a clear view and she doesn't care. I touch her thigh with the back of my hand, then slide my fingers underneath her bikini bottoms. We do it in the backyard and fuck what the neighbors can see.

*

THURSDAY:

The night before the last family is to arrive, I decide that the job has to go down no later than Saturday afternoon. Tonight, though, Craig is all over the national news. The bodies in Texas were discovered by a mailman, puzzled as to why the mail hadn't been picked up for days.

The cops have Craig listed as a "person of interest". I know damn well he's the prime suspect. The sketch art of Craig, along with his vitals, is up on the screen. From what I remember of him (it's been about a year since we've seen each other), they've got the nose wrong and the eyebrows are a little thick but they got the rest dead accurate.

The difference between Craig and me is that I have always taken precautions. Disguises to fix something in people's minds. I've grown mustaches, shaved my head, worn glasses. All kinds of shit.

Even when I would meet with Craig, I was in disguise. And again, here and now with Tina, I'm not myself. Right now, I have long hair and a mustache. Saturday, after the job, it's gone.

Tina slides up behind me, her breasts pressing against my back. She feels so good. She reaches around and takes me in her hand and I'm not thinking about Craig or the job or anything else, except how Saturday is going to be a real shame.

*

SATURDAY:

She wants to know what I do for a living? She can find out firsthand. Tina's not working on Saturday and I drop by with the promise of a great lunch and then some fun.

"What kind of fun?" she asks, biting her lower lip seductively.

"You wanted to see what business I'm in," I say, "I'll show you."

The restaurant is expensive but I can afford it. Since I got out from under my Dad's thumb, I can afford anything. Tina reaches across the table and we hold hands like the lovers we are throughout the meal.

Tina gets excited as we drive through the rich side of town, thinking perhaps I'm something more than I've let on. A stockbroker or an accountant. Maybe I've got an estate of my own out here.

I stop the car and park it in front of the Munsons so that it's blocking the driveway. There are three cars there, a new addition to the one that carried the boy and his parents and the old man's vehicle. Everyone's home.

Tina grabs my hand as we stroll up the small walk and have her ring the doorbell. I put my arm around her just before the door opens and the old lady appears.

"Hi, Mom," I say and shove Tina into her, kick the door shut behind me. I'm always very careful not to touch anything with my hands, unless I have gloves on.

"What the hell is going on, Jordan?" Tina yells. I pull out my gun and shoot her in the head. Good thing I thought to screw the silencer on. Tina's body jerks a couple times on its way to the floor, even though she's already technically dead. The old lady is trying to scream but the sound catches in her throat. I don't hear anyone else in the house.

"Where's your husband?" I ask her, my voice exceedingly calm. This is the way it has always been. With Bill, with the fucker in the airport bathroom (at least once I had the knife in my hands), with others since.

"They...they're all in the backyard, backyard," she stutters. She's trying not to look at Tina, sprawled out on the floor. The old lady has Tina's blood in her white hair.

"Get them in here," I say, as I pull gloves from my pocket and yank them on. "All of them."

*

I put the two kids, the little boy and a little girl, in a closet. Children shouldn't see what I can do to their parents.

I line them all up, make them kneel, use plastic ties to bind their wrists and makeshift gag them. Execution style is how I'm killing them, six in all.

The only one that I'm really interested in is the old man. He's the key. When I ask him where the safe is, everyone's going to think that this is just a robbery. Even the kids, who might remember that and tell the cops later. It makes my job easier. When people are calm and don't think they're going to get hurt, they're less likely to do shit, less likely to fight back.

So I ask. I rip down the old man's gag and he decides to play hero, refuses to answer. I turn the gun to hold the barrel and smack him upside the skull with the butt. He goes down. Lights out. Maybe I killed him then. The old lady is bawling. So much for that plan. She makes noise like she wants to talk so I let, while keeping everyone covered.

She tells me where the safe is. I put the gag back in her mouth, pause, then shoot her in the head. Each family member takes a bullet, all except for the old man; I put two in him for his antics. I'm out of cartridges when I'm done. I owe it all to Dad, who taught me how to put animals down.

All kinds of animals, except for him.

I release the kids from the closet. Or at least open the door, offering them the chance to come out. They don't want to come out. Curled into the corner, holding each other, they're sure they're safer in there than out here with me. I stare at the tears streaming down their faces. I won't be around when they ask where Mommy is. But I've heard it before. I've asked it a million times myself.

***

BIO: Christopher Grant is a crime fiction writer and the owner of A Twist Of Noir. His fiction can be found at Powder Burn Flash, The Flash Fiction Offensive and Thrillers, Killers 'N' Chillers.

Monday, 14 September 2009

PANTHER MCDANIELS WORKS FOR NO MAN by Jimmy Callaway


Panther McDaniels Works for No Man


“My boys have got this place surrounded, man,” Poncey said under his breath, “I roll deep.” He picked up a fry with his uncuffed hand and inched it into his mouth, taking one slow bite at a time.
Panther McDaniels, however, didn’t need to be told when he was being followed, much less when he was being surrounded. Didn’t need to be told to keep guys like Poncey close.
Margie the waitress came and gave them both a warm-up. Her hand shook and coffee slopped into their saucers, but her smile held rigid.
“You just open these cuffs,” Poncey said, chewing on another fry, “I walk out, and everybody goes home.” He pulled the brim of his purple fedora a little farther down over his eyes. “Everybody happy.”
Panther McDaniels smeared the last bite of his dinner roll in some gravy and placed it in his mouth. He looked straight ahead. A stainless steel pie case. To his left, a napkin holder. Wasn’t much, but after you’ve spent five years in the bush, I mean, shit. Might as well be mirrors.
Margie hovered near, not gonna have the cash register want for company aside from the two niggers handcuffed to each other at the counter. The cook stood behind his grill, arms folded. His paper hat sat atop a steel-gray buzz cut and a face only a blind mother could love.
“Ain’t nobody around, man,” Poncey said, “Ain’t nobody gonna know the new bad-ass skip chaser in town didn’t get his man tonight.”
On the street, directly behind them, two youngbloods, hands in their pockets, trying hard to look like they doing nothing. To the left, another one at the door. Surrounded, yeah.
“It happens, y’know?” Poncey said, “No matter how bad a motherfucker you are, there’s always a badder one out there, right? See, thing is, my boys was just supposed to follow you if you pinched me, wait until the time was right to pop your ass. But now, you done made all of our jobs easier, stopping off for a midnight snack. See? We can do this real quiet now, see?”
In all fairness, Panther McDaniels had to, quietly, see and admire the logic of a lowlife scumfuck like Poncey Wilkins. A man who beats his woman so bad, she still lying up in that hospital bed; so bad, her sister finally gets brave enough to press charges. So a man figures he can jump bond and lay low with one of his other bitches. And no cop, man, no establishment cat is gonna give a fuck, some street nigger put his old lady in traction.
And when word comes back to Poncey, there’s a new nigga on the block, this real bad motherfucker out there now, McDaniels, man, he after your ass.
Oh, yeah.
This motherfucker just begging to be made an example of.
“Tell you what, man,” Poncey said, “In my left hand suit pocket is three g’s. Three grand, man, which I know for a fact is more than whatever percentage you gonna pick up on my bond. It’s yours, baby, and there’s more where that came from.”
Some shit just never changes. These streets run deep in Panther McDaniels’ veins, since he was old enough to wipe his own ass. And it’s always the same with these assholes: the money. The money gets you everything, gets you the pride, the respect, gets you the cars, the pussy. Everyone’s got a price, everybody’s on sale, right? Yeah, that’s fine, let ‘em think that.
Let ‘em think that until they can’t think that no more.
“Yeah, there’s more where that came from, man,” Poncey said, “I could use a man like you in my organization. A big buck nigga like yo’self? Shit, who couldn’t use you?”
The V.A couldn’t, that’s who; the Marines couldn’t, not no more. The D.A.’s office, the police department? Shee-it.
So you use yourself. You put up the money, Marcus puts up the front. Yeah, with that big mouth of his, his taste for the finer things, the flashier things, yeah, nice and loud. Let Panther McDaniels do his work unhindered, behind the scenes, yeah. Let Panther McDaniels do his work.
“How that sound?” Poncey said, “Yeah, pretty good, huh, ‘cause you got to know the alternative by now. It’s just you in here, cuz,” Poncey said, “All alone, middle of the night, biscuits and gravy at the all-night diner. I ain’t even here, man, dig? For all intents and purposes, my narrow black ass already out the door. All you gotta do is open these cuffs.”
This is how it is. Didn’t matter you spent five years getting shot at, five years’ worth of gooks out to cut your balls off. Marcus said to him when they started up, “You think these niggas out here ever heard of Khe Sahn, any of that shit?” Telling Panther McDaniels, like he needs to be told, “You got to show these motherfuckers who’s the man, man, or they ain’t never gonna let up.”
Youngblood at the door pushes in, the bell above the door tinkles, and the two on the street slowly inch their way to the door, just outside, covering their boy’s back. Without moving his head, Panther McDaniels looks to his left, sizes the guy up. Recognizes him right away, running buddy of Poncey’s, a tall, skinny cat, scar up his left cheek, goes by Bear-Bear.
Where these cats get these stupid fucking names, nobody knows.
“There’s my boy now,” Poncey said, “Last chance, my nigga. Let Bear-Bear here escort me out or you know what the deal is. There’s two ways we can—”
The swinging doors to the kitchen slammed open, the hinges screaming, and there stood the cook. His shoulders hunched above his head like a bulldog, and when he racked his big ol’ shotgun, Margie the waitress screamed.
“Dave, oh, Dave, what’re you doing?” she wailed.
Poncey actually laughed. “Yeah, Dave, what you doin’, baby?”
Bear-Bear didn’t look as jovial. His gray eyes narrowed at Dave and the shotgun, his hand slid down towards the small of his back.
“Margie,” Dave said, “Get out the back way.”
“Dave, I—”
“Move, woman! Go!” Dave turned his attention back to the counter. “Now you listen to me: I dunno what you niggers are up to in here, but you’re gonna take it outside right now.”
“Get on back behind your grill, papa,” Bear-Bear said, and his voice slid out of his throat like a snake, “This here ain’t none’a your concern.”
“The fuck it ain’t! This here is my place!” Dave’s face reddened and then reddened some more. “My place, y’unnerstand? And it’ll be a cold day in hell before some spook tells me what to do in my own fucking place!”
And as Dave, eyes screwed up in fury, raised his shotgun, Bear-Bear’s arm whipped up and he hurled the knife from its place in his belt. The blade sunk itself halfway into Dave’s shoulder, and Dave’s shot went straight up into the ceiling as he fell backwards into the kitchen. Plaster snowed down onto Dave. His leg twitched once before he passed out.
Before the blade had sung its passage halfway to Dave’s flesh, Panther McDaniels brought his .357 from out his jacket, the barrel gleaming in the fluorescent, and blew Bear-Bear’s right knee off. The shot was enormous in the little diner, and Panther McDaniels felt Poncey tugging on the cuff, trying to flee to nowhere. Bear-Bear’s kneecap shattered, and a bit of bone bounced off of Panther McDaniels’ lower lip.
Panther McDaniels whipped his cuffed hand around, brought Poncey Wilkins in front of him like a shield, and raised his gun at the two youngbloods at the door. But they had already run off, the door left hanging open, their shadows not even visible in the streetlights outside. Poncey’s hat had fallen to the floor, and the purple velvet laid upside-down in a puddle of blood. The air inside was thick with Bear-Bear’s screams, high and reedy.
Poncey was a new man. With Poncey held in place in front of him by a forearm in his throat, Panther McDaniels could smell the sour-sweet of Poncey’s sweat. Poncey trembled in his arms like a girl on prom night, his low whimper in chorus with Bear-Bear’s screams. They stood like that until Bear-Bear was able to regain his speech.
“My fuckin’ leg, man!” Bear-Bear screamed, “You shot my fucking leg off!”
Panther McDaniels leaned down, taking Poncey by the natty hair with him, and waited for Bear-Bear’s eyes to focus on them. When they did, Panther McDaniels said, “Do you see this man?”
“You shot my fuckin’ leg off!”
“Tell your boy,” Panther McDaniels said in Poncey’s ear, “that he’d better answer me.”
Poncey whimpered. “C’mon, man, c’mon, man, don’t, man.”
“Tell him!”
Poncey whimpered again, and then Panther McDaniels felt Poncey’s chest expand as he breathed in and let out a yell: “Aaah! Bear-Bear! Listen to this motherfucker, man, he fuckin’ crazy!”
Bear-Bear continued to groan and pant, blinking the sweat out of his eyes. “Ah, fuck, man, my fuckin’ leg, man!”
“Do you see this man?” Panther McDaniels asked again and held the barrel of his .357 to Poncey’s head.
Bear-Bear bit at his lower lip and shouted, “Yeah, I see him, man! I fuckin’ see him. And I see a fuckin’ dead man, too, motherfucker!”
“This man,” Panther McDaniels said, “is worth two thousand dollars to me if I bring him in alive. He ain’t worth shit to me dead.” He felt Poncey relax, just the tiniest bit. Panther McDaniels said, “Did you hear that, Bear-Bear?”
“Yeah, I heard you, motherfuckah! Goddamn!”
“Good,” Panther McDaniels said and blew Poncey Wilkins’ head off. He allowed his cuffed arm to go slack as Poncey’s headless corpse dropped with a vicious thud onto Bear-Bear’s knee. Bear-Bear was silent for but a moment, and then his screams rose again. They rose out of the door and into the night. His screams bled all over the city streets. He screamed and he screamed until he passed out, cheek pressed to the cold floor.
Panther McDaniels holstered his gun and brought out a key ring. He opened the cuffs and stood straight, rubbing at where his wrist had chafed at the cuffs. The wail of sirens was coming closer, impending. Panther McDaniels took a second to inspect his handiwork, to stand away from the canvas for just a moment.
Then, with a nod, Panther McDaniels left a twenty on the countertop and left the diner.

BIO:

Jimmy Callaway lives and works in San Diego, CA. Please visit http://attentionchildren.blogspot.com/ for more good times.