Tuesday 30 March 2010


Friday, Friday
I’m cold.

Despite the pain I’m in it’s strange, but I can feel the cold. Like when you sweat and feel that coolness on your skin as it evaporates.

I can feel that, now. But it’s not sweat. It’s blood.

There are so many puncture wounds and rips in my flesh that at times I can’t really tell exactly where the pain is coming from.

My muscles ache. I want to lie down and rest but they won’t let me. Just when I think they’ve finished they start all over again. But I know this is just the beginning.

What a difference a week makes. A few days ago I was in a very different place. Not geographically. In fact, I was just a few hundred yards from this building. But it was a world away from the present reality.

That was when people wanted to be with me. I had some very good friends, but this – this has driven most of them away. The fear of this happening to them has made them run.

It’s dark. There are still a few hours to go before daylight. More time to rip more flesh.

It could have been so different. But this is all part of the plan. I can’t change it. I can't back out now. I don’t want to, even with all this pain and terror. It is…..necessary.

It’s tempting knowing that I could clap my hands and have done with it. If it was just me, perhaps I would. But it isn’t just me. And so much depends on carrying this through, right to the bitter end.

I can hear them coming. What’s already gone is nothing to what’s coming up, I know that. But I have to look beyond it.

The pain will pass.


They only see the here and now. But I know the bigger picture. They think this will finish it. How wrong can they be.

It’s Friday.

But Sunday’s coming.


Sue Harding works in a library in Warks. Having spent years 'shelving' books, she's starting to 'write' them instead! Sue blogs here:

MISCREANTS By Julia Madeleine

TKnC welcomes Julia to the fold with this story about...


We tried to warn them, but they didn’t believe us. It was because of the recent pranks that our credibility was in the toilet.

The pranks were actually Matthew’s idea. Because we liked him, just as every other girl in the entire school did, Stacey and I went along with it. The first one was innocent enough. Our school library had little metal strips in the books that sound the alarm if someone tried to steal one. As a joke, we removed some of the strips and, when heads were turned, we placed them on other student’s backpacks, shoes, purses; anywhere we could hide them. Then we sat back and watched the fun begin. But apparently, we were the only ones who thought this was funny.Then for kicks, Matthew decided it would be a good idea to substitute the icing inside of our teacher, Miss Patterson’s, Oreo cookies with toothpaste. Somehow, probably because we were the ones laughing the loudest, Stacey and I got the blame for it.

In the office we stood before the principal, Mr. Barclay, looking up at his grim face. He churned out his reprimand like rocks he’d been chewing, spit from his mouth, his cigarette breath filling my nose. I watched spellbound as a fly buzzed around his sweaty head. I tuned out his words and observed the fly’s volatile flight. And then, of all the perfect timing, as if that fly was our conspirator in silent collusion, it chose to land right on the tip of Mr. Barclay’s fat nose. I burst out laughing, holding my stomach, afraid I would pee my pants. Mr. Barclay’s face turned an alarming shade of red. It looked as if his head might split wide open and volcanic lava would spurt forth and melt the flesh from our bones. How could I not laugh? I wasn’t trying to be an insolent little fool. Which is exactly what Mr. Barclay called me.

On this particular day, however, almost a week following the library and cookie capers, Stacy and I stood in Mr. Barclay’s office, and we were not laughing. We were not joking either. But I was suddenly untrustworthy. And Stacy was no better. We were both liars, at least in the eyes of our principal and the teachers who had drawn the dividing lines between themselves and their students long ago, as if we were the enemy.

Mr. Barclay wore a shit-eating look, probably remembering how disempowered that fly had made him feel last week. I was certain he wanted to get even. I, of course, being his target of spite, to help him take back his sense of dominion, the lame-brained stooge that he was. I wondered if he had been picked on as a child.

“We’ve got to do something,” I said.

“The only thing you’re going to do young lady is go outside for recess.” He latched onto my arm and I actually felt his fingernails dig into my flesh.

“Mr. Barclay, we’re not making this up--” Stacy said. There was genuine fear in her blue eyes.

“We’re not indulging you’re miscreant schemes around here any longer.”

“But Mr. Barclay--”

He pushed us out of his office and shut the door in our faces. I looked over at the secretary. She turned away, shaking her head, her foolish 1950s blond beehive giving her a bobble-head look. I felt defeated as I left the office with Stacy.

“What are we going to do?”

“Maybe Matthew isn’t serious.”

“You think he’s not going to go through with it?”

“Matthew likes to talk a big game,” she said. “But I think on the inside, he’s chicken shit.”

Stacey’s eyes were round and staring. As much as she was trying to convince me that Matthew was only pulling another prank, I could see she doubted her own words.

It was cold outside; the Canadian winter at it’s finest. A nasty February wind tore at our coats and lifted out hair into the air. I zipped up my ski jack, pulling my chin to my chest to breath in the warmth of my body heat. The snow squeaked under our boots as we headed toward our portable.

“They’re going to be pissed at us for being late,” Stacey said.

“What are we going to tell them?”

“I don’t know. Let’s just find out what’s going on, how far they’re going to take this thing.”

I stepped up to the door, trying to be quiet on the stairs. Stacey was on my heels. I turned the handle of the door and held my breath as it opened.

All of them were in there. An eerie silence occupied the classroom. It gave me a strange feeling like being submerged in icy water. Miss Patterson sat slumped in a chair at the front of the class like some horrific show-and-tell exhibit. Her eyes were closed, her arms behind her, duct tape wrapped around her middle. Her blouse was soaked dark red down the front. There was a puddle of red on the floor at her feet. Across the room Matthew stood glaring at Stacey and I. His lips were contorted into a terrifying grin as he wiped blood with a cloth from the hunting knife in his hands.

All this for a failing grade on a history test. It defied reason. Sure we all hated Miss Patterson for being the most severe humourless bitch our school had ever seen, but she didn’t deserve to die. Not like this. Not at the hands of some sixth grade psychopath who had his narcissistic shorts in a knot over a measly test.

I felt all the organs inside my body shift. A dull heaviness pulled at my limbs. And then a scream split the air in the room and I realized suddenly that it had issued from my own throat.

We had tried to warn them. We had tried to tell someone. But they wouldn’t listen. We were, after all, insolent little fools. We were untrustworthy. Liars. And we were miscreants.

Julia Madeleine works as a tattoo artist in Mississauga, on the outskirts of Toronto. When she's not busy hurting people, she spends her time writing nasty little tales of mayhem and suspense. Her fiction has appeared in A Twist of Noir, Pulp Metal Fiction and is scheduled for upcoming issues of Crime Factory and Powder Burn Flash.

Sunday 28 March 2010

NOT A-MUSED By James C Clar

Not A-Mused

“Hello, Doll,” I said.

I knew I was in trouble when she didn’t respond. Mel was gorgeous today – jaw dropping, drop dead, feel your scrotum tighten – gorgeous. But she was a real bitch when she was mad. No, that’s not quite right; when she was angry she was the bitch of bitches, the ur-Bitch from whom all other bitches derived their power. Pardon the indelicate language, but it was all true.

And right now she was mad.

I had been sitting at the desk on the lanai of my apartment on the sixth floor of a building where Kalakaua ends and turns into Coconut Avenue. I was supposed to be writing. Instead, I’d become entranced by a giant Matson container ship making its way steadily east through the sun-bright waters of the Pacific. The vessel eventually rounded Diamond Head and disappeared from view. No excuse now, I thought. Or, rather, I’d need to find another excuse. I had been finding lots of excuses lately.

I caught the scent of jasmine, and of something muskier, headier, when I turned back around and faced my laptop. She had pulled up a chair and was sitting across from me. I had been hoping she’d drop by. It had been awhile. But some warning would have been nice. Then there was her foul mood and the way she just sort of snuck up on you.

She brushed back her lustrous black hair with a practiced gesture and, almost in the same movement, lit a cigarette. God knows where she acquired that habit. She exhaled a cloud of wispy smoke in my direction. It swirled in a sensuous arabesque as it caught, lingered and then dissipated like the idea for my next novel in the light trade winds. She crossed her legs and, as she did so, I heard the soft susurration of silk.

“Don’t be sore, Baby,” I crooned in my most placatory tone. “You can see I’m working, can’t you?”

“What I see,” she said in a voice that had the cold, breath-taking clarity of water cascading over the cliff tops of the Na Pali Coast, “is a has-been.” She paused for dramatic effect. She was good at dramatic effect.

“You said moving to Hawaii would ‘jump-start’ your career. A series featuring a hardboiled detective working the ‘mean streets’ of Honolulu was guaranteed to sell. Well, from where I sit, you’ve stalled out completely. You can’t sell what you haven’t written, Bobby, and I’m losing my patience.”

“Come on, Mel. You know I’ve sold a couple of short stories. As far as the novels are concerned, well, I’m trying.”

She shifted her weight and took another drag on her cigarette. This time the smoke formed a golden halo around her exquisite head in the mid-afternoon sun. I couldn’t help staring at her well-formed calves as she dangled her foot. Her tropical print blouse clung suggestively in all the right places. She hated it when I stared like that.

“Losers talk about ‘trying’ Bobby. Winners produce. You’re not producing. I’m beginning to think I made a bad business decision here. Maybe it’s time to cut my losses. I’ve been around far too long to keep my wagon hitched to a gelding. There are plenty of young stallions out there who’d be more than happy to take a ride with me. Know what I mean?”

“Hey,” I said. “There’s no reason to hit below the belt.” I put everything I had into it … injured pride plus a hint of genuine regret.

“You know better than to try that with me.” Her smile could have frozen the water in a Jacuzzi. “You know the drill, Bobby. I come and go as I please. You don’t have any hold on me. Maybe that’s the problem. I’ve been far too easy on you and you’ve begun to take me for granted. I don’t like being taken for granted.”

I didn’t know how to respond so I let it pass. I sat in silence for a few moments. Along with the soft rustle of palms and rhythmic pulsation of the waves crashing against the shore near Sans Souci and Kaluahole Beaches below, I heard distant laughter from families cooking out in Kapiolani Park. Without thinking, I reached into the bottom drawer of my desk and poured myself a shot from my “office bottle.” I immediately felt the warm rush spread as my blood vessels dilated. I figured if I kept drinking, I might be able to forget about her.

“That’s it,” Mel intoned with finality. “You’ve got a lot of nerve trotting out a tired old cliché like that. Please! If that’s all you have left to offer there’s no use continuing our little discussion.”

“You’re right,” I said with a snarl and more courage than I actually had. “Our ‘little discussion’ as you call it is over. Why don’t you and that perky little ‘tush of yours take a hike? Who needs you? There are plenty of other fish in the ocean, Doll. So drift, blow, dust off, beat it, scram, shove off, take a powder.”

I wasn’t a violent man by nature, but I was working myself up into a rage. It was her smugness more than anything else that was really getting to me. I stood up and walked to the railing of the lanai and looked out at the glittering water. I felt better than I had in weeks. It was as though I’d been possessed by some eldritch power.

“And another thing. You’re supposed to inspire … not badger hell out of me. You know what they say, ‘behind every successful man …’?” I turned to deliver the coup de grâce, but, by then, she was gone. It didn’t matter. I had run out of clichés.”

Oh, she was fickle, my Melpomène, fickle. But old Mel knew what she was doing after all. I guess you didn’t last in her business for thousands of years without learning a few tricks. I poured myself another belt, sat down at my laptop and started writing. For the first time in months, I was actually writing.


James C. Clar has placed stories in a wide variety of print and Internet venues. Most recently his work has found a home in Weirdyear, Word Catalyst Magazine, The Taj Mahal Review, Golden Visions Magazine, Bewildering Stories, Antipodean SF, Apollo's Lyre, Static Movement and Flashshot among others. He never tires of writing about the darker, more outre, side of Hawaii. His Detectives Higa and Kanahele have been featured previously in stories on Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers

DOLLS By Paul De Denus

TKnC welcomes new-comer Paul with this weird and creepy tale...


When I saw the doll in the tartan outfit, my first thought was; I’ve got to have it. At the time, it never crossed my mind that I would actually steal it.

I’d noticed it in the section of the toy store where they display all the ‘New Arrivals’. I overheard the storeowner tell a customer, “Oh yes, she’s Scottish alright, I imported her directly. Pretty in all that tartan, don’t you think? I’m sure she’ll sell quite quickly.” She was pretty as far as dolls go. Most have what I’d call ‘dead-eyes’, blank and dull. The Scottish doll had bright eyes; wide-open, projecting a dreamy gaze as if she were remembering some far away place. “Scotland” the storeowner had said.

It was not her face that first caught my eye. It was the way she was dressed.

A snow-white hat and boots offset the regal reds and deep forest greens of her cross-striped dress. A woven cloth draped down from her shoulder and from her waist hung a small white purse. Around her neck were four black pipes of what I assumed was a form of musical instrument.

The doll spoke to me.

I could hear her whispering softly. I don’t believe anyone else in the store heard her. Her words were what I longed to hear, words of beauty… of adventure… of belonging, things that I would never have and places I would never see. Maybe that’s why I stole it.

There was a shelf for exotic dolls just above the New Arrivals table. They’re the dolls from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Mediterranean and the like. Their lively colored costumes and mysterious origins were fascinating. I loved the doll from Spain, Adoracion. That was her name. She wore a dress of bright red flame broached in black lace. Her hair was jet black, pulled back in a tight bun. She was a dancer. She was the most beautiful doll I had ever seen.

There was nothing beautiful about my doll collection. They were what you might call ‘modern drab’, a mix of cheap plastic figures, plainly dressed and uninspired, nothing special really. Some had floppy hats and wide bows. Some carried cheap plastic purses. One or two had coiling, curly hair. They suited me I suppose. To tell the truth, people have described me as somewhat plain. I can admit that now. My world was pretty small. I’d never been anywhere. I longed to travel, to see exotic places, this Scotland maybe.


It is on a Friday night that I steal the Scottish doll’s dress. After the store closes and the owner is gone, I drop down from my crowded shelf and make my way to the New Arrival’s table. Her eyes are open. I know she is asleep. I carefully remove her white hat and the black musical pipes from around her neck. (I pull the burlap sack-dress over my head) I remove her woven tartan and work it over my bulky body (my red spaghetti hair of yarn catches in the straps. The dots for my eyes and the line for my mouth register no expression on my face) I put on her white hat and boots (they barely cover my ragged hair and stumped feet) I slip the musical pipes around my bloated neck. The look is complete. Perhaps now someone will purchase me.


I didn’t expect the fire. It broke out early Saturday morning and burned most of the storefront. I suffered only minor smoke and water damage and my hair was singed on the ends a bit. But the storeowner saw fit to get rid of me anyway. As he pulled me from the New Arrival’s table, he said, ”She’s not the same. There’s something about her.”

Next to me in a box is Adoracion, her flame red dress and hair now gone. As we are carried out to the alley, I whisper to her, “We will never see Scotland.”
"Writing makes me nauseous. I usually vomit up a bunch of words and hope to clean them up later."
I have been published at Six Sentences (their Love Book and an upcoming one), have works at Smith Magazine, my own blogspot with writings (see above) and this piece in an edited form also appears at Fictionaut though nobody there has responded much to it- check it out- I’d appreciate it. Thanks.

Saturday 27 March 2010

THE GOOD FATHER by Matthew C. Funk


Rodolfo dipped his hands in the St. Charles baptismal font, crossed himself from the three black tears inked under one eye down to the “LK” on his belly, and went to kill the Good Father.

His ride to pick up Antonio and Carlito was a rough one. The lifted El Camino found the streets of New Orleans unkind. They were pitted like track marks. Appropriate, he thought, for a city crazed and sick on the dope of its own soul.
Appropriate for the Good Father’s city.

Antonio and Carlito were sober as doctors, bearing their kit bags into the car from Carlito’s shotgun house. They were going to fix this city by making it theirs.

“Que pasos” were exchanged. Then came a long stretch of silence as they drove into the Lower Ninth. Rodolfo broke it to settle the nerves that twitched in the bass beat of the El Camino.


“Yeah, Cuz?”

“Tell me what this loco negro is like in person.”

Carlito snickered. “They say he fucks his hermana—his sister.”

“Nah,” Rodolfo caught his hand straying to the closest kit bag—the one with the poison in it; heroin and enough arsenic to kill a whole warren of rats. That’s what he was looking to do, after all. He was going to wipe out the disorganized rat warren of East New Orleans’ gangs, cleaning house so that the Latin Kings could move in. He would start with the Good Father. Not that Carlito knew it. “Tell us what he’s like as a man, Esse. I want to know who we’re going to be doing business with.”

“He’s big.”

“Hits the gym a lot?”

“I guess. I mean in all ways, Cousin.” Carlito sounded almost reverent and Rodolfo scowled into the rear view. His cousin had spent too long down in this swamp. He’d fallen to the superstitions.

“Like how?”

“Like…he pays back a lot into his people. That new garden at the Missionary Baptist, he put that up there.”

“He a religious man?”

“No religion I’ve ever seen.” Carlito was whispering now.

“Then what, Cousin?” Rodolfo caught himself yelling, his fingers on the kit bag.

“You’ll just have to see.”

The rest of the jarring ride was in silence and when Rodolfo and his Latin Kings entered the home of the Good Father, he saw why. He saw for himself.

Rodolfo watched his hand reappear from the cave of the Good Father’s handshake like a card trick.

“Well met, little brother.” The Good Father didn’t have to raise his voice to make the den boom with it. It came as though from above the uneven planks of the roof and was still echoing in Rodolfo as the Good Father settled his seven-foot bulk on the velvet couch.

“Tight, Bro.” Rodolfo said and tried to sound it. He had to clench his teeth.

Antonio and Carlito set the kit bags on the table as Rodolfo took in the scene.

There was a lot to take in. Renaissance finery spooled and glittered on crusted walls. Statues stood in sleek nude with shotguns and cash stacks at their feet. And in the eerie glow cast by unseen black lights, weird symbols—women arched in snake-handling, deranged flames of graffiti, dire eyes and dancing figures—warped on the walls.

“Have a seat and we’ll have a taste.”

Rodolfo shivered onto one of the cushions set around the table. The room rolled with a leaden humidity, but a chill lurked here, as though a veil of shadow were stitched over everything. In the shadows, sprawled and hunkered, gathered the Good Father’s inner circle. Rodolfo spoke to them like reading a foreign decree.

“Get ready for the flavor of civilization, Holmes.”

“That so?” said the Good Father. The chuckle that brewed from the stripped, ink-dark man got Rodolfo shaking again.

He had nothing to be afraid of, he reminded himself.

“True that.” Rodolfo wished the Good Father wore more than boxers, though—it showed off the ranges of muscle he sported; muscle like some exotic land’s mountains, too dark to take a tattoo and jeweled with scars.

It was the Good Father who should be afraid.

Rodolfo’s hand was shaking all the same as he opened the kit and prepared a shot.

“Your people been living on Turkish trash too long.” Rodolfo cooked a hit of the arsenic and heroin. “Latin Kings going to bring nothing but the sweetest Afghan shit.”

“Got a high opinion of yourselves.” The Good Father took the needle, as Rodolfo had been silently begging he would since landing in New Orleans. “I’ll see for myself.”

“Sure, Bro.”

“Let’s not exclude your boys, though.” Good Father offered the needle back.

Rodolfo only cursed to himself once. He had given up remorse before his balls dropped. The Latin Kings demanded loyalty, business and force. There was no place for remorse on the list.

“Carlito can fix.” Rodolfo cooked another poison hit as the first was passed to Carlito.

Carlito did. No regrets. Rodolfo accepted his cousin as expendable—they all were. Life was disposable in the Latin Kings and loyalty was forever. Carlito slid the needle into his arm as the Good Father took the second in hand.

As Carlito’s plunger sank, Rodolfo counted the Good Father’s thugs. Only two of them, and both looked stoned already—two, and a girl Rodolfo figured for the infamous sister, draped in carnival dress.

Arrogant negro, Rodolfo thought as the Good Father shot up. Rodolfo had fixed that.

Carlito doubled over. Rodolfo smiled at the Good Father. He wanted it to be the last thing the big upstart saw—a Latin King smiling as his backwater empire became theirs.

Good Father only smiled back.

“Not bad skag,” Good Father spread his hand over his belly as Rodolfo’s grin began to wither. “The arsenic hits me right here, though. Like a bad dose of hot sauce.”

Rodolfo’s mind scrambled as his plan faded under the room’s shadows.

“Probably,” Good Father milled his colossal arms as he stood. “Because that’s what I mix my daily dose of poisons with.”

Rodolfo and Antonio got to their guns too late. The stoned thugs had taken aim by then. Their hands could only hang dumb. Rodolfo shivered, sought a plan, found hope drowned back in the baptismal font. He could only hope for mercy now, as Good Father lifted a double-headed wood axe from behind the couch.

“You want us to kill these fools?” A thug asked Good Father.

“For starters.” Good Father tapped his axe in hand. “Then, every Spanish speaker you find on the streets today.”

The axe reared up. “Time to show the Latin Kings how we do things down in the swamp.”

Rodolfo got out a few words of the Lord’s Prayer in Latin before the axe came down, bringing the room’s hungry shadow with it.

Matthew C. Funk is a professional writer in marketing for corporate America, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as Powder Burn Flash; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Twist of Noir; Six Sentences and his Web domain.

Thursday 25 March 2010

CARPACCIO By Lily Childs


I prepared a new entry for tonight. A eulogy.

I didn’t usually record the times and dates of their deaths because that made it kind of final. I liked the idea that the agony would go on forever.

Some of them I held onto for weeks, a couple of months even. Kevin and Peter only lasted half a day each. That was my fault, I couldn’t leave them alone.


I liked to hang around the fairground. It visited our seaside town two, three times a year; just about the only thrill we had in our genteel haven of beaches and blue rinse.

I imagined how it would be to work there. The rides, the slot machines. I’d be one of the cocky boys on Waltzers who’d steal your money as soon as screw you in the bushes.


My first was Jean-Paul. I was only thirteen, a late starter. Jean-Paul captured my attention and I felt this need, this desire to possess him, care for him. For him to love me back. I relished his sinewy moves, the lazy slant of his lingering eye as he moved past me – one time, two times, three times, more.

"Jean-Paul" I whispered. He stopped, looked back. My heart snapped like an elastic band. I tremored in excitement.

He’d seen me.

He wanted me.

The woman he was with was probably three times my age. I studied her for a moment. Handy, bendy, and curvy. A carousel cutey, but hardly burlesque. When I told her I wanted him she laughed in my face. I ran and hid, but later Jean-Paul was mine, coming easily, enjoying the attentions of a young, fresh and tender child.

He asked me why I’d named him Jean-Paul. He was born in Essex, he said.

"Sartre" I replied, thinking how clever I sounded. I was a teenager, and I was doing existentialism. I was having a Parisian moment. No matter, he didn’t know Sartre from the Pope.

He was my first, and they’re always special. He let me love him, though he wasn’t always there for me. It was over so quickly. He stayed in my room, hidden. I brought him food, I paid for it myself – and I brought him my love.

I was found out, of course. Six weeks was all it took for Jean-Paul to be discovered.

I was questioned – over and over.

In the end I told my parents he’d gone, he no longer loved me, could no longer cope with the pressures they were putting on us. It was half-true. He had gone, and it was because of them. They’d stolen him from my private sanctuary – my heart, my soul - and exposed him to everyone. That was unacceptable. He belonged to me… and me alone.

That was how it came about. How I killed my first goldfish. How I released it from the expectations and the prying eyes of human society.

There were many after that. Mum and dad gave up noticing. They were even oblivious to the frequency of their passing – perhaps the fish all looked the same to them. Nicky, Joseph, Brandon, Keith, Norman… Hubert. Hubert! He was a laugh. Though once the witty swish in his tail calmed down and he was content to swim in the bowl, it was too late. Round and round and round he’d go. Getting slower, day by day until I was bored with him. Up and out – down the toilet – off to a life of freedom in the sewers of Sussex.

He had plenty of good company down there over the following years – Richard, Andrew, Colin… mum and dad. Yes, don’t be surprised. They were rather in the way in the end, if you know what I mean. I’ve my own life to lead after all. Me casa, su casa, except their house was my house now.

I’m kidding.

Fresh water was too good for my parents.

I had other plans; they didn’t appear to mind much. A few Morning Glory seeds in their cereal over a few days had them bouncing off walls and sliding about a lot. A quick family ‘trip’ up to Beachy Head this morning and they were soon off their trolleys, and off this planet.

I pretended I didn’t want to be there, embarrassed by them running about the gorse bushes playing Catch like love-struck teenagers when Bill, my father, apparently spotted something fascinating hovering in the sky above the English Channel. So they tried to catch it. By flying over the cliff.

It was so easy, and I was barely involved.

I called the police, weeping. I ran about in mock distress for the benefit of the tourists and ramblers. When the Sea Rescue Team arrived, I really did cry, surprising myself. I’d been acting quite well up to then. I frowned through the tears.

The police asked about my parents’ strange behaviour. Were they drug abusers? I confessed. They drunk too much. They smoked sweet, foul skunk. I’d already arranged for the cops to find a stash hidden under their bed when they came to the house later.

When I got home I was racked with relief yet the anger remained. I spoke to Fabien and Horace, two of my favourites. They’d have to go – sacrifice themselves in memory of my parents.

They understood.

Wriggling in my pale hands, their fins tipping flip-flop, flop-flip, I watched them, detached from their agony. Their large mouths gasped and shouted in silence. I cruelly let them suffer and then took them outside to our back yard. I threw them into a gutter and washed them down the drain with the hosepipe.

I walked away.

It's mine now, this house. This grubby mire. This place where my father hit my mother, and my mother ignored me.

Mine now.

I went upstairs. My bedroom was right in front of the top step. Apparently it stunk of piss because I wet the bed. Still do. I never noticed the smell.

I went to my wardrobe; it had a brassy padlock hanging from the double handles. I unlocked it with the key I kept in my wallet. On the top shelf was a book. I’d been keeping it for years - since Jean-Paul. I recorded them all after they passed on.

My beautiful boys.

In the last few years I’d made some additional entries.


He irritated the hell out of me back in our school days. I caught up with him in the toilets at a mutual friend’s 21st. After a messy fumble we agreed to meet again when he was next in town. He could come to me, he said.

"Keep it quiet" I said. "I’m not out yet."

Joshua winked at me. "Keeping stum, Alan. Keeping stum"

Two weeks later he turned up with wine on the night when ma and pa were out on their weekly lash.

I’d promised Joshua dinner first.

We sat down, almost formally for two guys who were about to shag the arses off each other. He’d forgotten to tell me about his nut allergy. That was OK, because I’d remembered. Tongues really do swell to fill your mouth when you suffer anaphylactic shock. I watched him writhe and choke with one hand around his throat, the other reaching out for me. His eyes screamed. I let him get to his final breath before I stepped in and kicked him between the legs.

I stamped on his own nuts and watched him die.

Cue the sewer.

We hadn’t discussed his private life, but it seemed nobody missed him, or at least no-one came looking for him.

I turned back the pages in my journal, reading further into the past.

My first girl was actually during those school years. Nessa Keenan. I’d been told she fancied the hell out of me, thought I was the athlete, the artist, the historian.

She was right.

I followed her down King Street, hanging back until there was no-one else around. The light was fading and the traffic non-existent. I knew she was waiting for me, she wouldn’t be on my side of town by choice; she was a posh chick. I walked up behind her and slid my hand around her thick waist. She gasped and turned to face me. I smiled.

‘I’ve been looking for you’ I said. She lowered her long eyelashes to look up at me, a willing Minnie Mouse. I led her away, holding hands like young lovers to the allotments on the marshes – nowhere near my house. I took her there and then behind someone else’s runner beans. Then I took her again, and again until it was dark and she no longer seemed to be breathing. I rammed my ear against her chest. No heartbeat. I hovered my hand over her mouth but there was no warmth, no wisp of a breath.

It was an interesting experience, but I didn’t think I could go for the female thing full-time. I’d had Simon Jeffers, Ben Tennant and David Harrison before then, and had felt far more satisfied by those encounters, which were almost violence-free. Though I have to say killing Nessa was a bit of an accident. I didn’t mean to.

These things happen.

I had to dispose of my short-term girlfriend. I didn’t have much choice, she was too far gone. I dragged her plump body to the allotment compost heap and busied myself in burying her in the centre. By the time they found her she was worm-ridden.

Everyone was questioned.

I wasn’t even a suspect.

A few of the lads told the police she fancied me, so they asked me about that. I told them I wasn’t interested in fat girls.

"I’m a runner, I play football. I haven’t got time for fans." And that was it.

So Nessa was the first and only girl so far. Jasper the goldfish – I chose him in memory of her. He was the only effeminate one in the tank.

I opened my diary to note the details surrounding Fabien and Horace’s demise and felt a shudder of excitement. The officer assigned to investigate the death of my parents was a Sergeant Luke Mitchell. After convincing him I didn’t need to go to hospital to be treated for shock Luke told me, with his eyes running over my shy body, that he would visit this evening to talk with me further about what had happened. Or was it ‘question me’? I can’t quite remember what he’d said. Whatever it was, I knew it was a ruse.

I knew he wanted me.

I locked the book away, but not before creating a new entry entitled ‘Luke.’

I walked back down the stairs to the kitchen where I needed to scrub, clean, and erase all trace of my parents’ existence.

I smiled happily to myself, for once.

I opened the larder door; the glare from the bare bulb filled the space with light, flooding the tank that sat on a shelf. Goldfish, tens of them, thrashed about, as fast a goldfish is capable of thrashing. Orange bodies shot to the top of the water, their mouths desperate for food. I sprinkled in a thin layer of TetraFin and watched them for a while as they ate. It took me a few moments to chose the right one, then…

"Lucien." Nearly his namesake.

"It’s your night."

I darted my hand into the tank and grabbed him.

You have to be quick. I kissed the creature gently, the taste of him horrid upon my lips.

"I have a feeling Sergeant Luke’s the one, Lucien. For keeps."

Lucien didn’t reply.

He’d never had much to say so his silence didn’t bother me. I placed him inside a transparent Chinese take-away container with just enough water to keep him alive for the slow sacrifice. I put him on the windowsill so he'd see when Luke arrived, and would be able to hear our conversation.

I’m not stupid.

I know the police will get me for what I’ve done this time. I’m happy to play the innocent with Luke this evening. I might even offer myself to him; see what he does - arrest me, or fuck me over the kitchen table.

Whatever happens, all I care about are the goldfish.

Tonight, Lucien’s life depends on it.

Lily Childs (c) 24 March 2010

Lily Childs is a budding writer in the mystery, chiller and horror genre, and is thrilled to have her short stories published on Thrillers Killers 'N' Chillers.

She is currently writing her first novel and lives on the Sussex Coast with her artist husband and beautiful 6-year old daughter. Lily blogs at:


Wednesday 24 March 2010


The Alibi with Stiletto Heels - a Noah Milano short story

Most men who were cruising Hollywood came there for pleasure. I was there on business, just like the ladies walking these streets in their short skirts, Daisy Dukes and leather leggings. I was here to find a hooker, like most men here. Unlike those men I was looking for a very particular one. Pearl, her name was. And if I didn’t track her down fast enough a man would die.


Flashback to one day earlier. A woman with blond hair, a blue blazer and black slacks was in my office. She wore little but expensive jewelry. She also wore a wedding ring. Being a trained security specialist you notice things like that. Being single didn’t hurt either. She told me her name was Helen Rogowski. That name rang a bell, I couldn’t place it yet however.

She told me she wanted to hire me because her husband is on death row and innocent.

“You want me to prove your husband’s innocence?” I asked. “I’m afraid you came to the wrong person. I’m mostly involved with security details. Bodyguarding, the occasional background check, stuff like that. I’m not exactly Magnum, PI. The real investigative work is not exactly my expertise. You’d be better off with an ex-cop or something.’’

“I don’t exactly need your help to prove his innocence directly. I need you to track down a witness that can provide him with an alibi.”

“I’ve been tracking down some missing persons every now and then. But again, it’s not my main area of expertise.”

“I need you to track down a hooker. I’ve heard you know your way around the seamier side of the city.”

Couldn’t exactly argue with that. Being the son of L.A.’s biggest mobster I’d taken a walk on the wilder side frequently. “Okay, details. What did your husband do to get him on death row and who would I be looking for exactly’’

“That has to do with why you’re my last hope. I’ve been turned down by most PI’s. Too much bad publicity. Maybe you’ve read about it in the paper. My husband has been described as the Parking Lot Psycho. He was accused of raping and murdering a teenage girl in a parking lot near Venice.”

I’d read about it. That guy gave guys like Ed Gein a bad name. He just cut that poor girl open. The guy they busted was some hotshot movie producer, so that’s why Helen’s name was familiar.

“There’s this black hooker, Pearl, they call her… My husband was with her at the time of the murder. She can be his alibi.”

“I seem to recall the DNA of your husband was found at the scene. Some pubic hair I believe.”

“I know, but he swears he didn’t do it. My husband can be a big asshole and he may sleep around on me, but he’s not a killer. I’m sure of it. At first he didn’t want to admit to being with a hooker, afraid to hurt me and my son. Not wanting to damage his reputation, sure that he would not be convicted, innocent as he was. With the death penalty above his head he finally realized he had to confess he’d been seeing hookers for years.”

“Well, I guess I could see what I can do for you.”


After wandering around Hollywood, talking to johns, pimps and hookers for hours I got depressed. I was happy to finally get one solid lead from a nineteen-year old girl from Missouri whose face was still way to cute for the venom of this city to darken it. I’d learned I had very little hope of saving these runaways however, so I had to contend myself with giving her enough cash to take a few hours off.

According to her Pearl had her regular corner in mid-Hollywood and I followed her directions to the street corner she’d promised me she would be.

There were two women on that corner. An older brunette, who could be anything between thirty and sixty and a black woman with big hair, boots with stiletto heels and a red leather skirt. I approached them.

“Hi honey, looking for a date?” the brunette said, a cigarette dangling from her mouth.

“Yeah, but I prefer non-smoking,” I said and pointed at the black girl. “Are you Pearl?”

“They call me that,” she said and licked her lips. “Did I come highly recommended?”

“You could say that. There’s a life you can save. You just have to come along with me.”

She started to laugh. It wasn’t pleasant. Life on the streets had robbed her of pure laughter. “Are you kidding me? What the hell are you talking about?”

“There’s a man on death row. You can be his alibi.”

The laugh again. “I’m afraid I’m still up for a few hours on this corner. Don’t want to get my pimp angry, now do we?”

“The hell with your pimp. There’s money in it for you and I’ll make sure he won’t hurt you.”

“Willie is one bad mother, buddy. He won’t…” Her eyes widened. “Shit, there he is now.”

A black man with a cheap suit and expensive boots was walking in our direction. I asked if that was Willie. Pearl nodded. He looked meaner than the snake his boots were made from, but half as tough.

“What are you doing? Are you bothering my girl? I don’t like it when people haggle too long. Make a deal or take a hike,” he said.

“You take a hike.” There wasn’t any real reason to show an attitude but after seeing all that lost innocence, all those shattered country girl dreams along Hollywood Boulevard I felt like tearing one of these pimps a new asshole. Willie would do just nicely.

He drew a knife. Before he knew it I had his wrist in my hand and my leg against his knee. It left him down on the pavement and the knife in my hand. I picked him up by his ear and put the knife against his throat.

“If I hear you taking out your anger on Pearl I will cut your throat like a pig, Willie. Do you understand me?”

Willie nodded. I smelled some urine. As I mentioned, he was mean but not that tough. I gave him a shove and he fell on his ass. I dropped the knife.

Hooking an arm around Pearl’s I walked off with her to my car.


I called Mrs. Rogowski we were coming over to her place when I was in the car. She was delighted and thanked me a thousand times. On the way over to her place I filled Pearl in on why I needed her. She’d heard of the case and remembered Mr. Rogowski. In fact, she was pretty damned surprised when they arrested him two days after the murder, because he was with her when the murder took place. She didn’t feel compelled to tell the cops that, though. After all, what was in it for her? And prostitution was illegal, so giving a john an alibi would get her in a lot of trouble.

When I rebutted that she couldn’t be serious about keeping quiet while that would get an innocent man killed she just offered that nobody had ever done anything for her, so why would she ever do something for anyone else. Not exactly the hooker with a heart of gold. And after all, they found his DNA at the crime scene, right? So maybe she made a mistake, maybe the john hadn’t been Rogowski. Those words made me think there was some conscience she had to appease after all.


I parked the car at Rogowski’s bungalow. We stepped out and I removed my sunglasses. There was a loud bang. I pushed Pearl down and drew my Glock. There was a bullet hole in the car’s window. Another bang, taking out the window in its entirety.

I took cover behind the engine block, hoping it would be enough to stop the bullets. I managed to figure out where the bullets were coming from, a motorbike across the street. The biker was fully clad in leather and wore a dark helmet. He was firing a .38 or something. I fired back. I think I even winged his helmet a bit. He seemed a bit disoriented, fired a couple of rounds in our general direction and raced off.

Chasing bad guys down the streets of LA with high speed is something for movies and video games, so I let him get away and decided to make sure Pearl was okay.

“Who the hell was that?” she asked me.

“Don’t know, apparently not a fan. Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I guess. Ruined my stocking though.”

“I’ll get you a new one,” I promised.

Helen Rogowski came running at us. “Are you all right? I heard the shots!”

“We’re fine,” I said. “Mrs. Rogowski, this is Pearl.”

Pearl nodded at her. They didn’t shake hands. In fact, Helen gave her a look like she would give a turd someone forgot to flush. Guess people don’t enjoy meeting the hookers their hubbies are banging. I also guess I can’t blame them much.

“Let’s get inside,” Helen said. Obviously she didn’t want to be seen talking to someone like Pearl by her neighbors.


Helen was classy enough to pour us a drink. She had a pretty nice place, obviously the movie business made as much moolah as crime. I recognized some furniture from my dad’s place.

“I am happy you’re here,” Helen told Pearl. “And don’t worry, you will be well compensated for your time.”

“Great. Nice place you got here, lady. Good to see it seems you’re able to put your wallet where your mouth is.”

I took a sip of the Scotch Helen had poured me. Good stuff.

A young guy, about eighteen years old came in. “Who the hell are these people?”

“This is Noah Milano, along with the woman who will get daddy out of jail,” Helen said.

The kid gave Pearl a dirty look that made her mom’s seem like a loving one. He obviously had an even harder time coming to grips with Mr. Rogowski’s whoring.

He was a lanky kid, dark hair in front of his eyes. He was wearing a Bullet For My Valentine T-shirt and dark boots.

Helen caressed his cheek, brushing his temple. “Everything will be all right now, Jared.” I saw him wince. Did he feel embarrassed by his mom’s show of affection?

“Kid, do you know how to drive a motorcycle?” I asked him.

“What the fuck kind of question is that?” he said.

“Jared, watch your language!” Helen said, shocked.

I grabbed him by the wrist, pulling him closer. “Is that gunpowder I smell on you?”

He tried to get away from me, but I was way stronger. “What are you talking about?”

“That hurt, didn’t it? When your mom touched your temple where the bullet banged your helmet?”

“Let me go!”

“What is going on?” Helen was very worried. She had a reason to.

“Your son wanted to prevent Pearl from testifying on behalf of your husband. It’s pretty logical he was the one taking a shot at us. After all, you and your kid seem to be the only ones aside from me who knew I was bringing Pearl over here.”

Helen was shaking her head. “No, no. No, that can’t be.”

“You’re one psycho kid, aren’t you, Jared? The Parking Lot Psycho had to be someone close to Rogowski. It was the only way his pubic hair could be found at the scene. You set your daddy up, didn’t you? Did you hate him that much for cheating on your mom? Or did you just need someone to take the fall for you?”

“You sonofabitch!” Jared screamed and bit my wrist. I kneed him between the legs. That calmed him down.

“Jared, baby… No… That can’t be true…” Helen cried.

My blood was on his teeth when he bared them at his mom and growled. “You stupid bitch! You should let dad rot in hell for what he did to you! And how the hell can you let this skank in your house? She’s an even bigger whore than the tramp I cut open!”

Helen fainted. Pearl managed to catch her and ease her down on the sofa.

“Pearl, could you please call the cops. I’ll make sure Jared stays here.” I cracked my knuckles and went to work.

Jochem Vandersteen is the webmaster of the Sons of Spade weblog as well as the writer of the Noah Milano short stories and the novel White Knight Syndrome.


Tuesday 23 March 2010

Interlude: Is Ye Olde Editor going Squirrelly?

Does it seem like squirrels are on everyone's mind at the moment or am I just going nuts? No Snicker-ing at the last pun? I don't want to get off Topic.

It was fun reading two different takes on how our furry, bushy tailed friends have inspired two very different styles...but please, no more cute nut gatherers for a while, huh? Unless of course you've a serial killer in mind with a penchant for men's nether parts.

Matt 'Get your thievin' hands off me Brazils' Hilton


Here in a loosely-tied bundle comes our second squirrel-themed story of the week, this time from newcomer, Emily...

Chocoholic Squirrel

‘Chocoholic squirrel steals treats from shop’ read the headline. It seemed a ridiculous waste of space to Amy, a story about a thieving squirrel, but upon skimming the article she found it was ironically about a stout man breaking into a candy store. He’d been caught on tape shoving candy into his cheeks like his rodent namesake. She dropped the newspaper to land on the floor beside her cozy leather chair and glanced at the clock above the fireplace. She hoped traffic would give her a few more minutes, but she wasn’t that lucky. The doorbell rang, announcing that Aunt Charlotte had arrived for her annual gossip gathering expedition.

“Aunt Charlotte, I’m so glad to see you!” It wasn’t a complete lie.

“Amoura, my dear, it has been too long. Oh my, what is that?”

I’ve gone by Amy since I was six. Amy followed her eyes toward the planter under the doorbell to where sat a gray stuffed animal squirrel. “I wonder if the neighbor’s kids left it here by accident.” Amy picked it up, intending to return the rodent. “Ugh,” she exclaimed while examining her fingers. “It’s covered in chocolate. I better just throw it away.”

“Wait, there’s a note stuck to its behind. What does it say?”

“It says ‘The Squirrel is where he belongs.’” Amy flipped it over and said with a puzzled shrug, “That’s it.”

“That’s it? Well then, would you mind helping me with my things.” It wasn’t a question, and Aunt Charlotte already was entering with her handbag, but Amy wasn’t listening. “Amoura, really.”

“Oh, pardon me, Aunt Charlotte, but…it’s just,” she stammered. She walked back to her big chair and picked up the paper. “I think it’s about Reece. He never came home last night.”

She didn’t think it was strange that he hadn’t called; he rarely called to tell her he’d be late. She hadn’t started to worry until she woke up and saw that he hadn’t come home. No one had slept in his side of the bed. There were no clothes forgotten on the floor; he hadn’t even come home long enough to change. Should she call the police?

Aunt Charlotte skimmed the article. “I’m sure some people will think this actually is about a squirrel. His name never even is mentioned.” Aunt Charlotte’s high-pitched laughter was no comfort.

“Oh, Aunt Charlotte,” she cried. “I pushed him far too hard.”

“Amoura, don’t worry so. It won’t do you or those dreadful wrinkles any good.”

Wrinkles? “I just can’t believe-”

“I know, this big house must be awfully lonely without Reece around.”

“If I hadn’t put him on that silly diet, my clever-squirrel-of-a-husband wouldn’t have managed to disappear, or to have gotten lost, or somehow to have gone missing.”


“Stupid, tightwad raccoons,” Reece chattered. He looked around and then down, considering his narrow options. He vaguely remembered being hit upside the head and then being forced to write a note, but he had no recollection of how he had gotten up into the tree.

Why did Amy have to nag him so relentlessly? So he was busy and out of shape, big deal. She’d been emotional lately, complaining about being neglected in that gorgeous dream house she’d always wanted. He had no idea what more he could give her.

Did they have to steal my silky Swiss chocolates? He knew he shouldn’t have made a sugar stop on the way home, but he didn’t think the consequences of breaking into a sweet shop would include being trapped in a tree in an unknown forest. No, he thought. This wasn’t punishment for his impulse to hoard, but for meddling where he wasn’t wanted. But they hired me to reorganize their company.


“Now that you’re…settled in, would you like some hot chocolate?” Amy asked, heading toward the kitchen.

“No thank you, dear. It just wouldn’t do for my waistline. Oh, dear, you look positively exhausted. You go upstairs for a nap – I can take care of myself for a bit. I’ve been meaning to finish my knitting.”

“I’m feeling okay.”

“I insist.” Aunt Charlotte rose and began to edge Amy toward the staircase.

“Okay, but if you need anything, don’t hesitate to come get me.”

Amy climbed, passed four useless rooms, and turned into the third on the left. She eased into the king-size bed and tried to relax. After twenty restless minutes, she sat up and looked around the room for something to occupy her. If I go back down now, she’ll surely fuss that I need more rest. The closet. It could use reorganizing.

She opened the double-door walk-in and scanned it from top to bottom. Her neglected evening gowns mingled with his dusty jeans. He hadn’t worn them since, well, all he wore lately were suits to work and sweats around the house. Around the house, ha! He’d have to be home for that.

She decided the best plan of attack would be to start by emptying the whole thing, and then putting it back in order. Out came the gowns, the jeans, and other pieces of their old, forgotten wardrobe. And, oh my, she had forgotten about those.

They had spent a Friday night designing and an entire Saturday afternoon constructing those silly costumes. She was a fair maiden, locked in the dungeon by an evil warlord. Her dress was made of crisscrossed strips that barely covered her bosom and met to flow out in a tattered miniskirt, and the dungeon was a sheer canopy closed around the bed. Reece was a brave warrior who had burst through the door in his leather briefs and cape and had worked his way to her, armed only with his sword.

After putting the dungeon to good use, they’d lain there together and cuddled for hours. He’d cradled her face in his hands and declared his undying love. They kissed and caressed each other while whispering of dreams and happiness. She felt her heart begin to melt like forgotten ice cream and quickly tried to throw it back in the freezer.


The temperature dropped after the sun set. He was hungry, his angry stomach screaming for steak, chicken, even those stupid salads his wife had been forcing him to eat. She must be a rabbit.

He wondered what she was having for dinner. Had she even noticed he was gone?

For lack of other options, he began calculating. Is it too early to retire? I need out of this business. Never before had he had any problems; in fact, companies usually appreciated how efficient they became after his reorganizing.

Funny, he thought, how such a useless man could make anything efficient.

He’d thought this client sounded fishy, if not outright crooked. Despite his misgivings, he’d been pressured by the higher-ups. Those raccoons would take on any client if their pockets were deep enough. If he’d stood up to them, he wouldn’t have discovered their corrupt methods.

When did things go wrong? He couldn’t remember a specific date or event, just that neither he nor his wife had been happy in far too long. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d made her happy; his picture of her face lit up by her genuine smile was fading. He knew he hadn’t done the little things, like planting surprises for her and telling her how wonderful she was, but he thought the house was a big enough statement. Lately, he was wrong about everything.

It was a long way down, but it was his only choice. He closed his eyes and said a quick prayer, promising that if he could get home safely, he would be the man he knew his wife wanted him to be. He wanted to bring her smile back.


She finished the closet, and, having no other meaningless tasks, went back downstairs.

“I was getting ready to come to check on you, dear.”

“I’m fine Aunt Charlotte, really. Hmm, have you seen any cake mix?”

“Yes, chocolate. It’s on the top shelf.”

Amy retrieved the mix and began combining ingredients. Though not homemade, she hoped it would make Reece happy to be home, with her. I shouldn’t have been so hard on him.

“Amoura, are you going to get the…oh never mind.” Aunt Charlotte left the room to answer the door. “She’s sitting at the table,” Amy half heard her say.


She looked so beautiful sitting there. Reece didn’t want to interrupt her; she was so deep into her thoughts. Was it his imagination, or were the teeny corners of her lips bent upwards slightly?

“I’m sorry, Amy” he said, peeking around the corner. “I’m so sorry.”

He was next to her; she wished he would try to sneak his arms around her. She would let him.

“I’ve been a schmuck, but I want to change. I want to be the man you fell in love with, the man you married, the man you deserve.”

“Look at you! What happened? Who did this to you?”

He stood still, about a foot away. He wanted to throw her over his shoulder and spend the night making up for the years of inadequate passion, but he couldn’t read her well enough to predict her reaction. He hoped it wasn’t too late for him to try, but after the day he’d had he wasn’t in the mood to risk being slapped.

“I think it had something to do with that company I’ve been working with, but I can’t be sure. I know they were pissed about being reorganized – you know how those old guys are. It would cost them more to do things right.”

“Someone you were working with did this to you?”

He reached out, wanting to hold her. “We can sort everything out tomorrow.”

She wished he’d pull her in and embrace her; she’d missed feeling his heat, listening to his heartbeat. She heard him inhale, and she knew he’d smell it.

“I baked you a cake, you know, just in case. It should be ready right about now.” Right on cue, off went the timer. She pushed back her chair.

“I’ll get it, dear.”

“Thanks, Aunt Charlotte.”

“So, hun,” - he hesitated - “do you think those costumes still fit?”


Reece awoke before his alarm the next morning, turning it off so it wouldn’t wake Amy. She was smiling gently, a glow even more beautiful than when she embraced him the previous night. He dressed silently, his clothes hanging in the closet already coordinated so he didn’t have to guess what matched. Amy, he thought, turning for another look before he left. Whatever had made her stay with him despite his shortcomings, he was going to deserve her, starting today.

He closed the door behind him. Approaching the stairs, Reece turned and scampered back to kiss Amy’s cheek. “I love you,” he whispered.

She smiled, eyes still closed. “Love you.” She lifted her head an inch off the pillow, so Reece bent over and kissed her sweet lips.

He heard the rocking chair creaking before he saw Aunt Charlotte, busy knitting something small and light pink.

“Shall we expect you for dinner this evening?” she asked.

“Yes. I have a few loose ends to wrap up, but I hope to be home early.”

Was she knitting booties? he wondered, backing out of the driveway. They weren’t expecting. Probably another one of her polite ways to recommend they start trying.

He merged onto the highway. He thought he heard a popping sound but couldn’t locate its origin. Maybe they were ready now. It might be nice to have little pink booties crawling across the floor.

He definitely heard a crackle, on the right side somewhere. No, it was on the left. No matter what his boss said, Reece was done working with this client. It was time to put his wife first, maybe even start a family.

The sound grew in volume, the snaps more frequent. Reece merged into the right lane, but he never made it to his exit. The glass of his windshield fractured, collapsing into the car. Shards struck Reese in the eye, the forehead, and the throat before the sound of shattering reached his ears.


Emily Fink is a recent graduate of the Ohio State University. She loves to read, write, and hibernate all winter. She currently is in the revision process on her first novel, a mystery.

THE FOX-SQUIRREL by Michael S. Collins

Michael takes us to bonnie Scotland on his debut...

The Fox Squirrel

I used to suspect that there was more to life than what there seemed to be at first glance. A perfect day may hide lurking shadows. Many people, less easily spooked than I, have often wondered just what seems to beckon to us, just beyond the corner of the eye. Something with mean designs on our souls or dark desires. Especially on those cold winter days when darkness falls early, and the creeping shadows of long oak trees fall down upon suburban streets.

However, there is nothing to fear in the dark of the street. Nothing more frightening than a squirrel or, on the rare occasion, a fox.

And yet the mind plays tricks on us, to the extent that we believe. We believe, as we walk, somewhat more hurried than before, that the movements that we sense on either side are more than imagination and fox combined. Out there, there is something waiting for us. Something less than friendly.

The trouble is this path is one those who fear shall be forced to continue to tread. We have nothing to fear in the shadows. Nothing that can do us terminal harm. Alas, my friends, that is a false ideal. Only one that helps us not to dwell on the possible as we hurry along on our way.

Three months ago was when I was first laid eyes on the creatures. When I hit upon one of my more fatal curiosities. Please forgive me, for you must be asking the question: what are the creatures? In my state, I'm trying to sum up words that could describe them. Grey like a squirrel, small as a terrier, with bushy tails like foxes. I christened them the Fox-Squirrels, because they had reminded me of such timid creatures.

A long time ago, when I was a child, my dad had taken me to Whipsnade, and I had seen the baby animals in their petting area, all wide eyed and yawning and looking for attention, so utterly harmless, and these creatures – these Fox Squirrels, reminded me of those babies. They looked like someone had taken a fox, and a squirrel, and morphed them into the one creature.

I'll start at the beginning. That always seems a good place to start. My many years of freelance photography work had earned few plaudits outside of an esteemed circle of peers. You don't happen to remember those peregrine falcon photos in the newspapers the other year , do you? Probably not. That was me, though, and that was what I was famed for. Animal photography! A low paying, low acclaimed profession, but one that I was good at.

If I can forgo modesty for a second, I would claim to be a genius at capturing the animal in its natural existence. Others may be more celebrated for their arts, but I persevered to capture the animals as they were had the camera been absent. A shot like that takes days to set up, and the whole affair is not without some degree of luck. Yet results like the falcons make the whole job worthwhile to me. Except that, for all that it satisfies, forever inside I forged a burgeoning desire to be better known. Not merely a little popular, like, say, the Great Gatsby, but full blown fame. To be respected by the general public for my enduring talents. An innocent pipe-dream, one might surmise. Yet, it has lead me down the path on which I am now.

It had been a mid-October afternoon, and I had been sitting in the garden. It was unseasonably sunny, so I was making the most of the break in the deluge, and read through a photography magazine. Slowly, I dozed off. For how long the empire of tiredness ruled I don't know, for it was many hours later when I was awoken by the howls from my dog, Sparky. The dog had seen something. It was scared.

I awoke fully, dazed by the darkness. Foolishly I had slept from mid-afternoon to late night in my own garden! The sloping fences of the neighbours let their shadows drop forwards into my own yard. The trees that started at the end of my garden and the large, looming, semi-detached house left the entire garden shadowed. Above us, the sky was filled with foreboding clouds, and the wet of the dew and the mist that hung around knee height suggested it had recently stopped raining. As my eyes got used to the dark I listened out for Sparky. Something had spooked the dear dog, but what? I found him, yelping at the trees. I moved forward to comfort the boy, but suddenly stopped.

There, right in front of us, was the cause of his distress! A new shadow fell upon the garden. My eyes followed the shadow, and at once I gasped. There, almost completely drenched by the darkness, stood a creature unlike anything anyone had ever dreamed of. I called them “Fox-Squirrels”, but that was born out of a necessity to have some form of name for them. The grey body easily blended into the shadows as it looked upwards. At me! Looking into those yellow eyes, I thought I recognised something, but my memory failed me at that moment. The eyes still burned into mine as it turned and moved beyond the trees.

At this point I should have called it a day and moved house. But that never was my style. Instead, I was fascinated by the prospect of having discovered a brand new type of creature indigenous to Scotland! The very thought of it, that such an implausible notion was being tested out in my own garden of all places gave me such a thrill that I failed to think any serious consequences. The only note that caused me any distress was that of proving the existence of the creatures.

A cursory glance over a history of British mammals showed me no discovery of these Fox-Squirrels. So they were unique, and I was their finder! All I needed was proof, and what more proof do you need than an actual photograph of the creatures! I knew at once that my destiny for now was to take a picture of these unknown entities, and enter my name into the history books. I realized that to get the best photograph possible of the creatures, I would need to go further into the trees.

Deep into the forest I strode, until I came across a small clearing. I had no idea how far away the house was, for the oak trees grew so tall I could not see even the small of the chimney. But what a perfect clearing! I set up the camera, and waited for what seemed forever for something to happen. In such times as these to which I am fully adjusted to, I often hummed along to some ancient tune to keep my spirits up.

However, with the enormity of the situation, silence was my only companion. In the dark enclosure I stood still behind my camera. It was, however, getting dark and I realized that sleep would soon be upon me. And yet, as I was convincing myself to go to bed and try for more positive results the following day, a flash of grey! Sadly I had no time to picture this flash. Cursing my bad luck, I moved out of the trees leaving my camera where it was. This scenario was carried out each day for the next two months.

Until three nights ago. By now it was early January, and with darkness becoming more easily welcomed in the habitat, a torch was required to move inside and out of the trees. Sparky had become increasingly bad tempered this night, and was cowering in the garden moaning somewhere. Man’s best friend indeed! I stood by the camera watching slowly for a Fox-Squirrel to appear. Silence. Then one did appear. Its yellow eyes burned brightly into mine, yet its nature seemed placid. In the flesh it seemed more like a small dog than anything else, waiting for my next move.

I slid behind the camera and took the photograph. The creature however was unmoving. Curious, I moved slowly closer to this animal I had discovered. Its eyes mournfully fell on the direction of my walk. I leaned over but it remained still. Instinctively, I patted it on the head. The eyes looked upwards, peaceful. I wondered what it was I had discovered.

Then it scratched me. The sudden pain drove me to my knees. A glimpse of the torch revealed free flowing blood. The thing had cut me! But why? I heard the silence more than before. And then as I watched the yellow eyes burning brightly into mine, I saw out of the corner of my eye a second pair in the trees. And a third pair of eyes. And a fourth!

Suddenly the dark of the clearing was brightened by hundreds of pairs of eyes, and a chill developed down my spine. The first creature stared into me, and I recognised the same stare as that of the very first creature I had seen. Only now my memory did not fail me, and I recognised the look of the hunter sizing up his chances and his prey. And then I screamed. The Fox-Squirrels moved slowly out of the shadows towards me.

Summoning up adrenaline - addled strength, I jumped to my feet and ran. Ran faster than I ever thought I could, through the trees. And they were chasing, I could sense it. Straight through the trees, into the soggy garden, up the path, down the stairs, through the door and put the key in the lock. Turn! The door locked, I could hear them scratching at the door. But for now, they were defeated in their purpose.

I pondered what my next move should be, when suddenly an uneasy thought crept into my mind. When I was encountering the Fox-Squirrels, there had been a silence. An eternal silence. So… what had silenced the dog? I probably should not have, in my then state of mind, but I moved towards the window.

No sign of Sparky, as far as I could see. But what was that on the grass. Certainly the grass did glisten more than it usually did. The torch miraculously still in my hand, I shone it into the garden. And immediately involuntarily gave up my lunch. For the entire garden was a sea of red. The fences dripped, the blades of grass shone, and from the trees a small murmur could be heard. Sparky was never going to yelp again.

And so there is my tale. Each night the screams come up from the foot of the garden, and the door is pounded. Tonight, the door hangs on but one hinge and I daresay I have not long to wait now. I queried long and hard about why these creatures had not attacked me on first sight. But then it came to me. Some predatory creatures are timid to start. But what I realized most was the significance of the yellow eyes. Not the stare of the hunter, but the look of the blind! The Fox Squirrels were blind creatures and hunted by scent. And I had just given them two months to get used to mine!

It is from all moments of true genius that the moments of stupidity arise. They know my scent, and they are hungry. Now I plan to put this document in the wooden chamber and lock it, far away from innocent eyes that might gaze upon it. I can hear the cries rising up from beyond the darkness. If you want a proper look at a Fox-Squirrel, I guess my camera is still in the woods capturing the creatures for all posterity. Just, I’d not linger too long in there if I was you. Like I did.

Forgive me now, they are coming!

Michael S Collins is a member of GSFWC (the Glasgow Strange-Fiction Writers Circle). and has been published in several countries (including Literature E-zine websites, ad writing for Bob Furnell). Michael writes book reviews for magazines such as The Fortean Times and his short fiction has appeared in magazines such as Aesthetica, Clockwise Cat, The Short Humour Site, MicroHorror, TBD, and was included in the DemonMinds anthology in 2008.

Saturday 20 March 2010

A Thrilling, Killing Trio - Short competition finalists


The way Gallance felt, he could’ve put holes in all these scumbags the minute he’d set eyes on them. But being a pro’, and not wanting to tempt fate, he’d given them the respect their actions had merited, albeit begrudgingly. They’d not earned his respect as such, but their sheer evil rep’ had warranted a cautious approach. And besides, he didn’t wanna piss three months surveillance down the drain.

Gang rape is such a primal act, but Gallance wasn’t even sure cavemen would have stooped so low. The poor victim being just a piece of meat to be chewed and spat out by the pack of baying animals; or in this case, Carlos and his cronies.

Gallance shook the torturous images and accompanying screams from his mind.

Time for focus.

Time to act.

He took out his pocket binoculars and - call it instinct if you will - the first face he saw was Carlos. He was gesticulating to the throng of fuckwits before him, his goatee twisting with his face as he spewed bullshit, his gold incisor flashing with each sneer.

Gallance flicked the binocs’ around the attentive group, recognising most of them… Mido, Two Shots and Dogger Dave… to name a few. Good… four out of his five targets, the rest were hangers on. But if they got in the way then they’d know about it. However one question still nagged Gallance: where the fuck was Granite? So-called because of his formidable fists and chin, the giant of a man should’ve been there. Gallance was adaptable and knew that no plan, however meticulous its detail, was perfect. So Granite had a reprieve, for now.

His vantage point was a quiet foothill with a backdrop of the sun disappearing behind The West Pennines, a hundred metres high above the decrepit farmhouse. He could see reservoirs dotted about in the distance; nature’s beauty unaware of the invading poison therein. The wind howled in his ears as if Mother Nature Herself was geeing him up to cleanse and protect Her beauty. He checked his Hi-Power Browning 9mm; his right hand and loyal friend. It’s 13 round magazine, as they say, unlucky for some.

Moving down through the woods now, stopping every twenty or so paces behind a tree to reassess, head pivoting, eyes darting, Browning pointing up clutched two-handed tight to his chest.

Forty metres now - within shooting range. He could hear their voices carrying in the wind as he eased forward, careful the crunches of foliage underfoot didn’t betray him. He rolled down his dual-hat balaclava.

They wouldn’t expect him as they planned their next armed blag away from the buzz of the city. No expense spared on this mission, he’d already bugged Carlos’s Subaru, hence his discovery of this meeting place miles from their mutual patch in gun capital of the North, Manchester.

Thirty metres and closing - Browning pointed leading the way, the falling dusk his ally. He saw them retreat from the wooden veranda into the ramshackle farmhouse.

Good. Contained. His ‘reccy’ of the house yesterday would now come in handy.

Twenty metres.

Movement on the veranda. He halted, side-stepped, turned, seeking sanctuary behind a sycamore’s trunk. He heard a trickling sound and sneaked a look. It was Dogger Dave taking a leak. His cock was tiny, but Gallance was a good shot.

Tempting, very tempting, but he needed to be closer before any shots were fired. He hadn’t felt the need for a silencer out here and didn’t like using them anyway as they made the Browning more cumbersome. Dogger Dave had a handgun protruding from his belt buckle. Gallance considered his options.

He stooped and withdrew his Boar Hunter knife, its nine inch blade winking at him in the fading light as if to confirm the right choice of weapon. The pissing sound became a trickle. Dogger Dave was still vulnerable, both hands shaking his tiddler.

Gallance took aim then the Boar Hunter cut through the air with a whoosh. It caught Dogger Dave in the throat and he dropped like a bag of shit onto the decking. As usual the Browning led the way and within seconds Gallance stared down at his blood-gurgling prey whose eyes still managed to muster surprise at Gallance’s presence.

A quick scan of his surroundings and he crouched and withdrew the Boar Hunter from Dogger Dave’s throat with a squelch. The rapist wheezed and wriggled, his cock still exposed like a discarded Cheesy Wotsit. Pathetic. How could something so small cause so much damage? Gallance eased the knife into Dogger Dave’s heart, stopping all movement, preventing many future crimes.

After wiping the blade on the dead man’s jeans, Gallance slipped the blade into its sheath, strapped above his right ankle under his combat pants, and reverted to stealth-mode.

Emanating laughter. Good. They hadn’t heard their friend’s demise. Complacency: the silent enemy of man.

With his back against the farmhouse’s rugged, stone wall beside a broken front window, Browning at the ready, he leaned slightly to peek inside. A snapshot… the room illuminated by a powerful Dragon Lamp… Carlos holding a map as he explained some master-plan, while sitting on an old tweed-style armchair… Mido and Two Shots standing either side…. three others squashed onto a matching settee. A hint of cannabis smoke drifted out through the hole in the window. Gallance smiled knowing the effects of the depressant.

His smile swiftly uncurled when he spotted Mido fiddling with the Uzi sub-machine gun that hung from his neck, thus making him the priority target.

They’d soon be suspicious of Dogger Dave’s absence so Gallance took a deep composing breath. He had enough shit on these pretenders to get them a ten stretch apiece… not nearly enough…

He briefly replayed the cine film he’d formed in his mind of how this damn thing would play out. Creative Visualisation: something Major Spears had engrained in him. ‘Know your aim as well as you know your own good woman, but always be prepared for the worst and adapt accordingly, as some women will stab you in the back,’ the Major had said in his own inimitable way.

He kicked the rickety door in and faced another snapshot of six startled faces. Before Mido could blink he dropped in slow motion as the 9mm bullet entered his forehead, the Uzi clattering on the stone floor. The three on the settee near on shit themselves as Gallance surged forward, manically pointing the Browning at moving targets. Bizarrely the three seated men’s wincing-back-weight tipped the settee backwards and six legs wiggled in the air. Carlos legged it into an adjacent room and Two Shots reached inside his jacket.

Gallance popped a slug into Two Shots midriff and he keeled over, a look of disbelief flashed across his once smug face. ‘One shot…’ said Gallance.

One of the three settee boys charged at Gallance who pistol-whipped him to the floor in an instant. The other two ran out of the front door. Sensible move.

Gallance turned back to Two Shots who was staggering about like a pissed up zombie. He cracked another bullet into his forehead. ‘Two Shots…’ He then stepped over the dead zombie and headed for the next room where Carlos had fled.

He entered, Browning primed, senses heightened. A swift sweep of this much darker room revealed nothing. He checked behind in case the settee boys had had an unexpected surge of spunk. They hadn’t. The third one had bottled it too. A noise of furniture scraping alerted him and his eyes pierced the gloom spotting a wooden door at the far end.

Gallance edged over and pushed the barrel of the Browning against the door, easing it open before stepping back. This room wasn’t as dim as the previous one, fading light still radiated through a generous window to the right, casting shifting shapes on the disused furniture within.

Gallance was greeted by three loud cracks from what he guessed was a revolver, the door frame splintering. He returned fire twice and stooped into a forward roll which took him into an alcove to the left. Chunks of plaster were blasted off the wall in front of him as Carlos chanced his arm again.

“Who the fuck are you, man?”

“That a Type 26 revolver you got there, Carlos?”

“Huh? What the fuck…?”

“A six-shooter…one round left, Carlos.”

“That’s all I need, dickhead. You’re a dead man walking, fucking with us… you hear me?”

Gallance knew he could now take a quick glance and what he saw confirmed his suspicions. Protruding from behind a wardrobe in the corner was a crude Japanese revolver based on the Smith and Wesson. He knew its rate of fire was low and the alignment was poor.

But Gallance wasn’t stupid and tried to extract that last bullet by goading. “One round, Carlos...a shit shot and a shit gun…”

The sudden punch hit Gallance on the temple. A sharp flash in his mind’s eye then his head bounced off the wall. He collapsed onto the wooden floor, the Browning clunking out of reach.

In a daze, Gallance felt himself being lifted up by the throat. The constricting pain jolted him from his stupor. The rape victim remained at the forefront of his mind, spurring him on. He opened his eyes and saw Granite’s glaring back, his huge forehead rushing toward Gallance.

“Ha-haaah, you’re fucked now, you prick!” shouted Carlos emerging from the shadows.

Despite his waning strength, Gallance raised his left knee into Granite’s balls. The head-butt still impacted, glancing off his cheek. Granite grunted and released his grip enough for Gallance to scramble free. He looked up and saw Carlos sneering over him, pointing the cheap revolver, gold tooth sparkling.

“Can’t miss from ‘ere now can I, dead man?”

Gallance froze on the floor. He’d fucked up big time. Complacency: the silent enemy of man…

“But first let’s see who this cheeky bastard is…” Carlos leaned down to remove Gallance’s balaclava.


Gallance withdrew the Boar Hunter and jabbed it upwards into the head rapist’s crotch, the scream was vintage falsetto. The sixth bullet from the crap gun hit Granite in the shoulder and the giant staggered back. Gallance retrieved his Browning as Carlos danced around like a pimp on acid.

Granite wiped the blood oozing from his right shoulder as if it was a bee sting and thundered forward. Gallance shot him in the belly and he buckled. Carlos tried to dance out of the doorway, but Gallance blocked his path, shoving him back.

“Pleeease, man... I’ve got cash…” Carlos said, pathetically clutching his cut cock.

Gallance took off his balaclava.

The gangster’s eyebrows nearly hit the timber beams above. “YOU?”

“Yes, it’s me… Gallance…” he said, before stopping Carlos’ heartbeat with a bullet.

Granite surged forward arms out-stretched, brick-fists swinging, and Gallance backed-up firing his last volley of shots until the big man collapsed atop of him with a thud, those dark eyes finally closing. He rocked the twenty stone corpse off his aching, blood-stained body, stood up and took in a calming breath.

Outside the farmhouse he took out his mobile phone and dialled the number. There would be no fee for this mission, but it meant more than any before.

Much more.

“It’s done…”

Her relief was tangible and he fought to suppress his emotions.

“I love you, too…” said Gallance.



- a Nathan Storm short story

I shot the Russian in the forehead just as the black Hummer blasted into the service alley behind the restaurant. Jordan Lane brought up her own gun and fired, just as the passenger started shooting at us. The car hit a green dumpster and stopped. We ran in the opposite direction.

A yellow cab screamed into the opposite end of the alley from 9th Avenue. The driver stopped and leaned out the window, opening fire as we ran towards it. Jordan screamed, and I grabbed her arm before she started shooting at him.

‘He’s with me!’ I yelled, yanking the back door open, just as the Hummer passenger started shooting again. The cab shot back in reverse, only slowing down as we hit the main street.

‘Aren’t you going to introduce us, Storm?’ the cabbie said, smiling in the mirror.

Jordan’s breath was starting to return to normal, and a line of sweat creased her forehead.

‘Jordan Lane, this guy works with me. Mickey Ridge.’

‘He works with The Phoenix Group too?’ she asked, skepticism in her voice.

‘Yeah. Me and Mickey worked with Harvey, back in the day.’ I looked at her. ‘Your husband was a good man.’

She nodded and looked out through the window as we drove past the new pedestrianised area of Times Square, a tear rolling down her left cheek.

Me, Ridge and Harvey Lane were in Delta Force together. We were in Helmand Province on a black ops job, sent in to rescue an American hostage. Things went awry when we bumped into a troop of British soldiers from the Parachute Regiment. Good guys, but a fire fight broke out with a group of insurgents, and Harvey died, along with four of the British guys. The mission was classified, so Jordan wasn’t told he was killed by friendly fire.

‘Tell me what this is all about, Jordan. Like, why you wanted me to meet you there today.’

She took a deep breath. ‘You know about the Faberge Winter Egg going missing.’ It was more of a statement than a question. The story was all over the news. “Russian artifact stolen from exhibition in City hall”.

‘Yeah, I saw on TV.’

‘Since I last you saw you a few years back, I started a business with an old friend of Harvey’s, Joey Mancuso. Manny. Our business is private security, just like The Phoenix Group, only on a smaller scale. On the night the Egg went missing, we were there as Close Protection for Marcus Smith, one of the President’s advisers. He was there for the exhibition.’ She looked at me as we sped downtown. ‘Apparently, Putin wanted the Russian government to buy the Winter Egg when it came back on the market last year. He wanted Russia to show off all the stuff they have, and the Egg is going to be the showpiece in the Kremlin museum.’

‘Somebody wants it bad enough to try and kill you over,’ Ridge said from the driver’s seat.

‘Understandable. It was bought for $12 million and it’s covered in 3000 diamonds.’

‘And somebody thinks you know where it is?’ I said.

‘I don’t know why.’

Ridge looked at her in the mirror. ‘Who were those guys?’

‘Russian mafia,’ I told Ridge. ‘I heard that guy threaten Jordan, just before I shot him.’

‘How would they know you were going to be there today?’ Ridge asked.

‘Manny said that somebody wanted to meet with him regarding the Egg. He couldn’t go, so he asked me to go along.’

‘Who else knew you were going to that restaurant today?’ I asked.

Jordan looked at me, then looked at the back of Ridge’s head. ‘Nobody.’

* * *

MANCUSO & LANE was situated in an office above a bookstore in Greenwich Village.

‘Stand to one side,’ I told her. She stood beside Ridge in the dimly lit corridor while I knocked.

The door opened. A balding man of about forty answered the door. ‘What?’ he asked. Jordan stepped into view. He tried slamming the door but I chased him into the large office. I caught him before he climbed out onto the fire escape and slammed him down onto the floor.

Ridge walked in behind Jordan. ‘Didn’t expect to see your partner back, obviously,’ he said. Jordan kicked Mancuso in the balls. Ridge and I both winced.

‘You tried to have me killed today. So now I’m guessing you have the Winter Egg,’ she said.

We waited a few moments for an answer, Mancuso’s voice a bit higher than when he had started his day. ‘I…don’t have it,’ he said, looking like he was going to puke.

‘Where is it?’ I asked him, taking out my Glock 19.

He shrugged, his face turning red.

I pointed the gun at his right eye. ‘You sent Russians after Jordan so they’d kill her. Unfortunately for you, I was meeting her there, and they tried to kill me. So you’re going to tell me where that Faberge Egg is.’

Mancuso struggled into a standing position, still slightly hunched over. ‘You wouldn’t shoot me,’ he said, smiling.

I shot him in the left arm. He screamed and fell back onto the desk. Ridge looked at his watch. Held up three fingers. Three minutes was the average response time by the NYPD to reach the location of reported gunfire.

‘Where is it?’ I said to him.

‘The St. Francis Apartments on 42nd. Ritch Brady lives there. He’s the one who took it.’

Jordan looked at me. ‘Brady’s the Mayor’s assistant.’

A man suddenly stood up outside the window on the fire escape and started firing through the glass. Three things happened; Jordan dived onto the floor, Mancuso’s head erupted and both Ridge and I blasted the guy off the fire escape.

‘Out the front door!’ I shouted, just as it crashed back on its hinges. Ridge fired at the intruder as I changed magazines fast and two of my bullets hit the guy’s chest, following Ridge’s head shot. He changed magazines and I grabbed a hold of Jordan and followed Ridge out. Two minutes later, Ridge’s yellow cab sailed past a fleet of New York’s finest.


What had once been the St. Francis Hotel was now a block of rental apartments, up for sale.

‘Help you?’ an old man asked from a small office near the elevators.

‘We’re looking for Ritch Brady,’ I said. ‘You know him?’

‘I’m the super. ‘Course I know him. A bunch of guys came looking for him earlier. Five minutes later, they left with him.’

‘What did they sound like?’ Ridge asked.

‘Russians. Why you asking? You cops?’

‘No. We’re friends of his,’ Jordan said.

‘Come in then.’ We went into his small office, which was pretty bare. ‘Want a coffee?’ he asked.

‘No thanks,’ I said.

The old man walked over to the table where the coffee pot was. When he turned back, he was holding an old 9mm automatic. ‘Just show me your hands. All of you.’

‘If it means that much to you, I’ll take a coffee,’ I said.

‘Don’t smart mouth me, sonny. I’m seventy-nine with nothing to lose.’

I smiled at him. ‘Just give me the gun. We’re not here to harm you.’ I walked over and took the gun from him. The safety was on. I turned away and ejected the mag, giving him the gun back.

I remember my grandfather telling me about this place, and how the subway cars would stop at a platform below when it was a hotel. I mentioned it to the old man.

‘Sure I remember that,’ he said. ‘I used to sell tickets to the hotel guests down there as part of my duties when I was a porter. The station closed down over thirty years ago. Me and my friends used to ride the subway down to the City Hall stop before they closed that too.’

‘Did you ever talk with Ritch Brady?’ I asked him.

‘No. I’m invisible here. I’m losing my job. No pension, nowhere to live. Today’s my last day. I’m leaving town. They can all whistle from now on.’

‘Can you still access the platform below?’ I asked.

‘Sure. It’s through there,’ he said, pointing to a doorway.

‘You got your iPhone?’ I asked Jordan.

‘Yes. Why?’

‘‘I want you to look something up on the net,’ I told her, explaining. ‘Mickey, come with me.’ I opened the door and felt the rush of air coming up from below. .

Four flights down, we reached the old platform. Shoe prints in the dust told us somebody had been here not so long ago. It was dark but a couple of lights still shone.

‘What now, Nate?’ Ridge asked.

‘Mancuso set Jordan up to get the Russians off his back, but they took him out anyway. Brady was taken away by them. They think somebody has it, and if it wasn’t Manny or Jordan, then Brady must have it, right?’

We both heard the subway train coming into the old station. I looked at more footprints. There was also a trench in the thick dust, as if something had been thrown onto the ground and skidded.

My cell phone rang. I was surprised we still got a connection down here, but that was technology for you. Jordan spoke to me.

‘The Lexington Avenue IRT number six still loops around the old City Hall station. It goes through 42nd Street but doesn’t stop.’

I thanked her and hung up.

‘Come on, Mickey, I think I know where the Egg is.’ Upstairs, the old man was leaving the office with a sports bag.

‘Leaving so soon?’ I asked him.

‘Got a train to catch,’ he said.

‘Give me the bag.’

He pulled the gun out. ‘Can’t do that. I need to go now.’

I smiled at him and pulled the magazine from my pocket. ‘I told you next time check the safety’s off. Maybe you should check it’s loaded too.’

He knew it was over then. ‘I just wanted a retirement package,’ he said, handing over the bag. ‘I worked here all my life and now there’s nothing.’ Inside was a twelve million dollar artifact that was going to be back with its owner very soon.

‘Jordan, call Marcus Smith. I’m sure there will be a healthy reward for the safe return of the Egg.’

‘Tell me the story of how you got this,’ I said to the old man.

‘I heard Ritch Brady talking about it with his brother. He’s a subway driver. Ritch would get the Egg before the exhibition, take it down to the old City Hall station. The brother would pick it up, drive it up here, throw it onto the platform from his cab, then Brady would pick it up. I went down and picked it up instead.’

Jordan looked at me. ‘How does a couple hundred thousand sound?’

‘Sounds like a lot of Tequila’s to me,’ the old man said, smiling. ‘And protection from those Russian Gorillas.’

‘I don’t think you’ll have to worry about them. They’ll lay off when they know the Russian government has their property back. I don’t think we’ll hear of Ritch Brady again though.’

Fifteen minutes later, a squad of black Suburban’s pulled up. A Russian diplomat came in with a bag full of money. They could have shot us all and just took the Winter Egg back, but with Marcus Smith in the background, I didn’t think that was going to happen. Men in suits and no smiles took the bag away without a word.

‘Thank you for helping me, Nate,’ Jordan said.

‘You going to reconsider coming to work for Phoenix?’

‘Yes, I’ll talk to you later about it.’

I nodded and watched her leave the building. I just hoped that she would never find out that five years ago, I picked up a fallen British soldier’s handgun, sighted it against an insurgent’s head, seconds before Harvey Lane poked his head round a wall and I accidentally shot him.

Ridge was there that day. He saw what happened. ‘Come on, bud. We can’t help Harvey now, but we sure as hell can help Jordan. Speak to the boss. Make sure he brings her onboard.’

Jordan turned at the doorway and smiled at me.

I couldn’t smile back.



Throwing my half smoked cigarette on the pavement, I ground it under my heel as I watched the car drive through the gates and into the gardens beyond. Before it disappeared out of sight up the gravel drive, I made out two occupants, both male and both sitting in the front.

One of them was my target, the whole reason I was standing in the pissing rain in the middle of the night, but the other was an unknown, either a driver or bodyguard.

My target went by the name of Peter Ferris, a big-time cocaine dealer and self styled crime boss. Apparently he thought this also gave him license to do whatever he wanted, including touching little girls, but tonight he was going to find out just how wrong he was.

My right hand drifted under my jacket and touched the comforting weight of the Glock 17 holstered beneath my armpit. Inside it were seventeen reasons that Ferris would never touch anyone again, and I shivered with a mixture of fear and anticipation as I crossed the deserted road and vaulted over the high wall.

Landing lightly on the far side, I froze as my eyes swept the sculpted gardens for any sign of guards or devices that might warn Ferris that I was coming.

Seeing nothing, I eventually moved on, creeping through the topiary like the vengeful spirit I felt myself to be.

Normally, I keep my business professional, down to earth and as impersonal as possible, but tonight things were different. The moment I’d found out who the target was I realised that nothing would stop me from bringing him to justice.

Even if I hadn’t been asked I would have done this. I’ve spent the last five years of my life hunting down scum like Ferris and dealing out the justice that the courts refuse to give, and I’ve never said no to a job, not once.

But it’s never been personal before.

Slipping the pistol out of its holster I screwed on the silencer and half crouched, half ran across the lawn towards the stand of trees that hid the house from view.

I paused at the edge of the woods, my ears straining to catch any hint of noise but all I could hear was the hissing of the rain as it soaked me to the skin.

As I moved through the woods, one slow step at a time, I could smell the fresh scent of the trees and it felt strangely at odds with my mission.

A snatch of conversation reached my ears and I froze, tilting my head to one side to pinpoint where it came from. It came again, a man’s laugh followed by the low murmur of conversation from somewhere in front of me, and I slowed my pace even more, creeping through the trees with the pistol held loosely in a two handed grip.

Moments later, light began to filter through the branches and I saw the outline of the building, a renovated Georgian mansion that Ferris called home.

The conversation was coming from two of his guards, both middle aged and going to fat, dressed in the dark gangster style suits that their boss liked them to wear.

One of them was carrying an MP5K, a nasty little SMG that could tear me in half in a few seconds, while the other carried a pump action Remington slung casually over one shoulder. They were less than thirty feet away, but the rain and the darkness made me all but invisible in the trees.

The one with the Remington had his back to me, a plume of smoke from his cigarette battling valiantly against the rain while his colleague leaned against the car I’d seen a few minutes before.

I’d done my homework, and I knew that all of Ferris’s guards were either ex-cons with a capacity for violence, or dishonourable discharges from the armed forces.

No one would miss them, and by taking them out I’d be doing society a favour.

Turning thoughts into actions, I dropped to one knee and took careful aim, pulling the trigger twice and switching to the second target before the first one fell.

Another double-tap, and the second man was sprawling back against the car, one half of his face covered in blood as the rounds struck him in the forehead.

The soft noise of the silenced pistol was lost in the pouring rain, and the sound of my harsh breathing was louder by far as I waited to see if anyone else was nearby to raise the alarm.

When no cries came, I left my cover and sprinted for the car, dropping to my knees to check that both men were dead.

A few seconds later I moved on, ignoring the glassy-eyed stares that seemed to follow me as I passed above them.

Looking at the house, I saw that about half the lights were on, and those mostly on the top floor.

Having watched the house for almost a week, I knew that Ferris wouldn’t be entertaining tonight, instead doing whatever it was he did when he was alone.

Slipping up the steps to the front door, I turned the handle and found it was unlocked. Typical of Ferris, he was relying on the efficiency of his guards instead of on physical security, and tonight it would prove to be his undoing.

Moving inside, I found myself in a long hallway that was tastefully decorated with oil paintings and gold plated candelabras. Tasteful, that is, if you’re a coke-fuelled drug dealer with delusions of grandeur.

A sweeping staircase led up one side of the hall, with three doors leading off the far side and one at the back.

Guessing that my target was upstairs, I sacrificed thoroughness for speed and chose the stairs, taking them two at a time.

No one challenged me as I ascended, and I wondered for a moment where all his guards were. I’d counted five in total, and with two lying in their own blood outside that left three more to contend with.

At the top of the stairs I paused, looking right and left to make sure that the corridor was deserted. Nothing moved, but from somewhere on the right I heard the sound of a television blaring, so I drifted down the corridor in that direction, stopping at the first door and pressing my ear to the wood.

No sound came from inside so I moved to the next one, this time rewarded with the sound of theme music coming from the other side.

Taking a deep breath, I turned the handle and moved quickly into the room, seeing two of the guards sitting on a sofa watching JedWard butchering a love song.

As the door opened the nearest one looked up expectantly, then his face dropped and his expression turned to one of horror as he saw the pistol pointed at him.

He opened his mouth to shout a warning, but I put two bullets through the opening before he could utter a word, slamming him back into his seat as the rounds pierced his brain and shut him up forever.

To give him credit, the second man was fast. He leapt to his feet, grabbing the pistol that he’d left on a nearby table. He’d almost brought it up into a firing position when I fired, two shots hitting him high in the chest and turning his white shirt crimson as he toppled lifeless to the floor.

Ejecting the magazine, I slapped in a full one and turned to leave, intent on finding my target and getting out of there as fast as possible.

Had I not turned, I would never have seen the last guard, pistol raised and aimed at my head.

I ducked just as he fired, the round flashing past my face so close that I could feel the hot wind of its passing. The noise almost deafened me and I cursed as I realised that the element of surprise was lost.

Too close to fire back, I dropped my gun and grabbed his wrist with both hands, forcing the pistol upwards and curling my finger over his to fire the rest of the rounds into the vaulted ceiling as we struggled in our grisly dance.

Aside from the shots that thundered through the night, we fought in silence, our laboured breathing the only sounds we made as we fought for control of the weapon.

Finally, the last shot fired and the slide locked back, so I dropped one hand from his wrist and slammed it into his stomach.

It was like hitting a brick.

I looked up in surprise and my opponent grinned, showing a row of uneven teeth as he twisted his wrist out of my other hand and jabbed his stiffened fingers into my throat.

Gasping, I fell back, my hands flying to my throat as I struggled for breath, but my opponent followed, his hands lashing out and striking at my ribs, my face, anywhere he could reach. He kept grinning as he came on, clearly enjoying his work, and I fought desperately to block his blows as they rained down on me.

Realising that I was outclassed and outmatched, I dropped to the ground and lashed out with both feet, kicking him in the groin as hard as I could.

His face went white and he dropped to the floor with a high pitched keening sound, both hands cupping his damaged goods.

Climbing shakily to my feet I retrieved my pistol and pushed it against the back of his head, pulling the trigger twice.

Hot blood spattered my face as he fell twitching to the floor, and without another thought I turned and staggered from the room, desperate now to get this done with.

Out in the corridor I moved towards the only door left unopened, approaching warily in case Ferris was expecting me. After all the noise, there was no way he couldn’t be, and I slowed as I reached the door, stepping to one side and trying to slow my breathing so that I could listen.

It took me almost half a minute to calm myself down, adrenaline still flooding my system and making me want to move, but eventually I forced it aside and concentrated on the door in front of me.

It was the same construction as the others, plain wood with a carved centre panel, and I pressed my ear to the wood carefully.

Nothing moved on the other side, or if it did I couldn’t hear it, so with a silent prayer I flicked the handle down and swung the door open, ducking back just in time to avoid the hail of pellets as the roar of a shotgun blast split the air, making my ears ring.

“Come and get me you fucking bastards! Think you’re tough, huh? There’d better be a few of you!” A voice called, and I immediately recognised it as Ferris despite the drugs that slurred the words.

“Give it up Ferris, put the gun down and come out slowly, or we’ll have to come in and get you”, I called back, pulling a police-issue flash grenade from the back of my belt.

“Fuck you!” He shouted, firing again and taking chunks out of the wall and doorframe, “just fuck you!”

Crouching down, I pulled the pin on the grenade and counted to three before throwing it inside the room and covering my ears.

The first bang went off accompanied by a flash of light, then another, then a third and as silence descended I rolled around the doorframe and into the room to see Ferris sprawled on the floor at the end of a four poster bed wearing only a shirt and a pair of Y-fronts. His hands were over his ears and his eyes were screwed shut as he rocked back and forth with the effects of the grenade, a shotgun discarded at his feet.

Forcing my battered body into action, I ran over to him and kicked the shotgun away before placing my pistol to his forehead.

As the cold metal of the silencer pressed against his forehead he went very still, opening watering eyes that stared at me with shock and disbelief.

“Y… You!” He managed to gasp as his brain tried to cope with the shock.

“Yes, me. Hello Dad, I think we’ve got a few things to discuss”.