All posts by Bill Baber

has had over fifty short stories published and his stories have recently appeared in Betrayed from Authors on the Air Press,Rogue from Near to the Knuckle, Hardboiled Crime Scene from Dead Guns Press and Locked & Loaded from One Eye Press. He has also had a number of poems published online and in the occasional literary journal. His crime writing has earned him a Derringer Prize and Best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.

Of Brothers and Sisters

There might be lots of things I didn’t know, but I knew enough that anyone with a lick of sense stayed the hell away from Alphonse Bouchon when he was in a foul mood. Less, of course, they were tired of living.

+++++Little Dickie Ferrette didn’t give two shits about the big man’s state of mind. He had hit the number, 442 — same one he had playing every day for years, and he wanted his money. He didn’t care that one of Alphonse’s runners had made off with five thousand dollars, wasn’t his problem. But it was about to be.

+++++Alphonse hung out in a Lower 9th Ward bar on Burgundy Street called Mercedes’ Place. It was nearly empty when Dickie walked in and confronted the big man. The Meters were on the jukebox, and Alphonse sipped a Hennessey and coke. He never put his glass on the bar when Dickie demanded his winnings. Instead, like he did it every day, he pulled a stainless steel .357 revolver from his waist and shot Dickie between the eyes. He finished his drink and walked out of the bar into a steamy Louisiana night.

+++++A wise man would have stayed clear of the whole mess. Dickie had lived his entire life on the edge, and I’d never been much for trouble. But he was my brother, and I wasn’t going to let Alphonse waste him that way.

+++++Two nights later I watched Alphonse usher a woman into his Cadillac. There was a hard rain, and I couldn’t see who she was.

+++++I tailed them through the storm to a dump called The Aloha Motel, located in a rundown section of Metairie. I watched them hustle into a room. The storm seemed to be centered right overhead, thunder and lightning almost constant. It masked the sound of the door being kicked in.

+++++Alphonse’s huge body covered the woman when I walked in. When he rolled off of her, I saw who she was and for a moment thought I might be sick. Ginnie Mae Bouchon, his twin sister. When Alphonse saw me, he looked like he saw a ghost. Dickie was my twin brother.

+++++I didn’t give a second thought to any of it. Didn’t try to figure out what kind of sordid things were going on. I hadn’t planned on killing anyone. Wanted to get what Alphonse owed Dickie and be on my way. Instead, I knew I had to stop what I had seen even though it could never be erased from my memory.

+++++The .12 gauge barked twice — Alphonse first, Ginny second. At least that’s how I had it figured but man, in this day and age, how the hell do you know? The double ought buckshot made a mess out of both of them; it would be easier to live with that than what I had seen moments before.

+++++A money clip in his pants pocket yielded over three thousand dollars. I took that and his car keys. Found another couple of grand in the trunk.

+++++That hurricane sure made a mess out of my hometown. It took my mom and pops, my baby sister too. Dickie and me had never been close, but we’d been tighter since Katrina even though New Orleans hadn’t felt like home for a long while.

+++++I drove to the bus station and bought a ticket to Phoenix. At a little store across the street, I got a pint of gin. An hour later I was on my way west with nasty visions as my only baggage. I was sad about Dickie, but he should have known not to fool with Alphonse when he was in a mood.

+++++I guess Dickie and me had that bond twins sometimes do. Now Alphonse, him and Ginnie Mae’s bond was something else altogether.

+++++Something I would never forget.

A Christmas Crime Carol

For thieves like Huey and me, Christmastime was comparable to tax season for accountants. We were busier than a one legged man at an ass kicking contest.

+++++We started out years ago with car break-ins, heisting purchases and ruining Christmas for people stupid enough to leave gifts in their cars. Alarms as standard equipment put a crimp in that racket. After that we moved on to shoplifting, grab and go’s with Salvation Army kettles, you name it- if it was a holiday related crime we’ve done it.

+++++The best gift we ever got was a huge boon for our holiday business. It was something called Santa Con. In big cities all around the country, thousands of Frat boys and hipsters donned Santa costumes and went on pub crawls.

+++++A few years back I saw a story on the evening news about the first one to be held in Portland. It hit me like a fat man falling down a chimney. Possibilities danced in my head like sugar plums. I called Huey, gave him the scoop and he reacted like a kid on Christmas Eve. The poor guy couldn’t contain himself.

+++++There were only two days to plan so we decided to just wing it see what tidings the day would bring.

+++++We were dressed like a pair of St. Nick’s that Saturday as were hundreds of others, up and down 21st Street. All the padding served to hide the pistols we both carried. The bars were packed with Santa’s. This would be like taking candy canes from toddlers.

+++++Mu Mu’s was the first to go down, after that the Pope House Bourbon Lounge. We took particular delight in that one as it was a notorious hipster hangout where idiots paid up to twenty bucks for a shot of fancy whiskey. Huey and me might have been the only ones in the joint with fake beards.

+++++We hit three or four more and ended the day taking down the Mbar. I’m telling you, easiest scores ever. Pull our guns, demand money from a barkeep and disappear into a crowd of red and white.

+++++That night we started planning for the next year, and what festive plans they were. We enjoyed a few modest scores while waiting for December to roll back around. Long before Thanksgiving, the Christmas spirit filled me. Hell, I even put up a little tree.

+++++The big day finally came around. We were bank robbers dressed as Santa’s. We hit four banks starting at Burnside, one on the corner of Everett another at Davis and last on Lovejoy. The sacks slung over our shoulders were filled with cash instead of toys. We split enough that one day to get us through the year. Huey and me even did something we had never done before, we left the winter gloom of Portland behind and took a two week beach vacation to Mexico.

+++++This year we hit the jackpot. There’s a Safeway store at 21st and Vaughan. Every Saturday at two o’clock an armored car makes a pickup there. Right next door is a bar so there were plenty of other Santa’s milling around. Yeah, we took down an armored car carrying over a million bucks without a shot being fired. We stashed the money at Huey’s crib and joined the celebrants. We got pretty drunk that day.

+++++The next morning we got bad news. The mayor was pissed. He decided to play Scrooge and put forth a resolution that due to the fact a couple of bad actors had ruined it for everyone, Santa Con should be banned. The City council agreed.

+++++All good things must come to an end. Fortunately for us the armored car heist meant we could retire. If it wasn’t for that score- well, we’d still be plugging away without the benefit of Santa Con and the pickings would have been much slimmer than Santa’s cookie plate on Christmas morning. There is one thing I’ll tell you in the wake of Portland banning the event; there isn’t much I agree with this Trump character about but he got one thing right. Too much government regulation is bad for business.

I Did It My Way

Fat Frankie Falcone liked to pretend he was connected, that he was a made guy. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Frankly-and no pun intended- it’s hard to believe he got away with the shit he did for so long.

+++++Every once in a while, despite the best efforts of his muscle – two curly headed clowns named Vito and Vinny constantly adorned in track suits and thick gold chains- someone wouldn’t pay. That’s when he would call me. He paid top dollar but Fat Frankie insisted things be done his way. And, as he was fond of saying, Fat Frankie always got his way.

+++++He wanted me to blow up a guy’s house, a guy fifty grand in the hole. Vito and Vinny had broken his arm and a week later cut off two fingers. The guy still came up with nothing.

+++++“Gotta send a message.” Fat Frankie said. The guy lived in a modest home out on Long island. While I was casing it I discovered that not only was he married, he had three kids. I wasn’t going to kill any kids because their old man couldn’t pick winners at Belmont. Didn’t matter how Frankie wanted this handled.

+++++Instead, I followed the guy to his office job the next morning. He got out of his Lexus and I walked up from behind and popped him in the head with a silenced Sig Sauer. Nice and easy, job done. Except I hadn’t done it Fat Frankie’s way, two hours later he had me on the phone, plenty pissed off.

+++++“Goddamit,” he screamed, “You didn’t fucking do it my way. Now I’m gonna send you a message.” It wasn’t the first time he’d talked to me like that. I decided it would be the last. A man can only tolerate so much.

+++++An hour later, Vinnie and Vito kicked in the door to my apartment. The bomb I was supposed to use came in handy. Bye- bye Vinny and Vito. I felt sorry for the guy they bought their gold chains from. His business was going to take a hit.

+++++Then I got Frankie on the phone.

+++++“Listen you fat bastard,” I began.” I don’t know what made you think I was the kind of guy you could talk to the way you do. And I sure as hell don’t know what made you think I would put up with it. Every day for the rest of your miserable life I want you to wake up knowing that you might turn around and see me standing there and that day will become the worst day of your life.”

+++++I hung up before he could respond.

+++++I moved to a new place. Frankie hired a couple of new goons. They looked a lot like Vinnie and Vito. He never went anywhere without them.

+++++For a couple of months I tailed him. He was spooked all right, as nervous as a kid having to meet a girl’s father on the first date. I was making him sweat.

+++++One chilly afternoon his Caddy pulled up in front of Pasquale’s Pizzeria. When Frankie went inside, I pulled my squad car up behind his. Walked up to the driver’s window, shot his two stooges and tossed a throw down on the front seat before walking inside. Frankie didn’t recognize me in uniform. He was concentrating on a large slice of pepperoni.

+++++“Today’s the day you’ve been dreading Frankie.” He looked up, his eyes growing wide with fear. “It’s the day I told you would come.”

+++++“You’re a goddamn cop?”

+++++“Yeah,” I said. “And I’m doing things my way.”

+++++He stood, tried to reach for a gun. I shot him in his massive gut and he sat back down, the unfinished slice still in front of him, grease dripping from his chin.

+++++“You could let me finish my pizza.” I shot him again.

+++++Those were Fat Frankie’s last words. I wasn’t going to let the bastard go out his way. Those days were over.


We did not celebrate Christmas in the house I lived in as a kid unless my old man was locked up. He was a mean drunk and he was drunk most of the time. If he was around and you were lucky enough to make it through the day without getting your ass kicked that was a gift.
+++++One year he was doing ninety days for some drunken shit he had pulled. On Christmas morning, my mom made pancakes but she got high and burned them. Kenny and I each got two, with no butter and a splash of syrup. Some judge got in the holiday spirit and gave a bunch of prisoners from the county slam early release. My dad walked in later that day, already drunk, and found mom in the sack with his friend Billy Flynn. He carved them up like Christmas turkeys.
+++++Kenny was two years older than me. We went into the foster system. I got lucky, Kenny didn’t. He bounced from one home to another .He went to juvie when he was 13. He spent most of the next twenty years incarcerated.
+++++An amazing couple adopted me. Frank Carson was a doctor and his wife Maureen a stay at home mom to me and two other kids they had taken in. My first Christmas in their home was like something out of a movie. I had a stocking with my name on it above the fireplace. On Christmas morning, much to my delight, I found it stuffed with candy and little toys. Under the tree were new bikes for all of us and a baseball glove for me.
+++++And that’s how my life went. These wonderful people taught me respect, humility and unconditional love. They told me everyone has opportunities in this life. It fell on the individual to take advantage of them. I counted my blessings and thanked God for my good fortune.
+++++They put me through college and like my adopted dad I became a doctor. I married an incredible, beautiful woman who graced me with two wonderful kids. Our lives were close to perfect. We had a circle of friends; we were involved in our children’s lives and found time to volunteer in the community.


Then Kenny came back into my life. I was on my way home from rounds at the hospital when my wife called, asking me to pick something up. Instead of stopping at the super market, I pulled into a convenience store a few miles from home.
+++++It was dusk. In front of the store, a small group of unkempt men all with long, greasy looking hair drank cans of beer concealed in paper bags. When I exited the store, one of them approached me as I reached my Lexus and asked for money. I reached for my wallet and he slugged me, knocking me to the pavement. He grabbed my wallet and ran.
+++++As I unsteadily got to my feet, I saw him returning. This time there was something familiar about him.
+++++He held my wallet, opened to my driver’s license.
+++++“Michael, man is that you? Damn, I’m sorry, I didn’t know”
+++++“Kenny?” I said.
+++++“Yeah, it’s me. Been a long time. Looks like you’ve done okay little brother.”
+++++He hugged me. He reeked of body odor, beer and cigarette smoke.
+++++“What can I do for you Kenny? Are you using?”
+++++He nodded his head.
+++++“Let me get you in rehab,” I offered.
+++++“Nah, I’m good. Guess I got the old man’s genes huh?”
+++++Those words would haunt me.
+++++“You could slip me a twenty if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. I could use a fix.”
+++++I gave him two twenty’s and a ten and went home to my comfortable life.


A week later, just after dinner there was a knock on the door. When I opened it, I found Kenny. He looked worse than he had before.
+++++“Swell place you got,” he said as he glanced around. “I’m in a bad way. Can you give me fifty?”
+++++I did and sent him on his way.
+++++Two days later my wife returned from a charity lunch and found our home had been broken into. Jewelry, cash and some other small items were missing. When I got home the police were there. They explained there was a heroin epidemic in the area and burglaries like this were becoming common place. When they left, I drove to the convenience store where I had first encountered Kenny. Sure enough, he was lurking in the shadows with two other men.
+++++I motioned him over.
+++++“Let me get you some help.”
+++++“No man, I don’t think so. I like my fucked up life. Rather live it than that masquerade you take part in every day. You ever think maybe you forgot where you came from?”
+++++“Look, here’s how it’s going to be you won’t get help, don’t come around my house again. Understand?”
+++++He stared at me with a menacing glare that caused me to shiver as I drove away.


Two days before Christmas, I arrived home just after dark. No lights were on, nor was the Christmas tree. The front door was open. The house had been ransacked. Wrapping from gifts were strewn about the tree, a bottle of Scotch tipped over on the carpet.
+++++I went from room to room calling my wife and my children. I didn’t get a response.
+++++I found them in our bedroom, swimming in a sea of blood. My wife’s lifeless body covered my kids. She died trying to protect them.
+++++Shock turned to rage. In the garage I had a shotgun I used for duck hunting. I sped to the store.
+++++Kenny grinned at me. I got out of the car and by the time the gun was empty there wasn’t much left of him. Guess I inherited something from my birth father as well.
+++++Christmas in prison isn’t that bad. Just this morning we had bacon. And pancakes- they weren’t burned and they even came with butter and as much syrup as I wanted.

Entry 2 – Hard Time In The Big Easy

Listen instead!
Listen instead!

As the Carousel Bar in the lobby of the Hotel Monteleone slowly revolved, it was easy to pick him out. Among the late morning French Quarter tourists, the dude with the mullet and Canadian tuxedo stood out like, well, like a turd in a bowl of gumbo.
+++++The Candy Man set up the meeting. He was damn good at what he did so I had to trust him. Appearances can be deceiving but I had my doubts. I grabbed a seat next to him and ordered a Jax.
+++++“You must be Markham. Candy Man didn’t say anything about a Kentucky waterfall.”
+++++His look was harder than a straight right to the jaw. I held his gaze and a moment later he broke into a grin.
+++++“Tennessee Tophat, Mississippi Mudflap- I’ve heard ‘em all. We gonna work together or what?”
+++++He sipped a bourbon and water and shook a Marlboro out of a soft pack. His rolled up sleeves showed arms rippled with muscle and adorned with jailhouse ink.
+++++“Looks like it, for better or for worse.”
+++++The Challenger was parked in a handicapped zone on Royal Street with the required placard hanging from the rearview. The Candy Man thought of everything.
+++++“Go down to Canal and take a right.”
+++++I followed directions and after several blocks Markham instructed me to “flip a bitch” at the next corner. Jesus, this guy was a throwback- hadn’t heard that one in twenty years.
+++++“Just wanted to make sure no one was following us.”
+++++“How about just telling me where the hell we’re going?”
+++++The mansion was in the Garden District, two blocks north of St. Charles, owned by some old bastard who was the single heir to a plantation fortune. I guessed that the rich fuck had never worked a day in his life. And the fact that his ancestors had made their money from the toil and sweat of slavery made me want to steal every dime he had.
+++++We cased the place, seeing no signs of life. The old man was supposed to be in Puerto Rico, swallowing Viagra and rum and banging young girls. I tried not to think about that. After walking up the long drive, I knocked at the heavy wood door. There was no answer. The butler must have had the week off too. The front lock and the alarm system were pretty standard. Getting in would be a piece of cake.
+++++Markham had a place uptown so we burned the rest of the day there. After dark, we picked up the van The Candy Man had arranged. It had the name of some plumbing company on the side. We loaded Markham’s tools into it and drove to the mansion.
+++++Danny Markham was the best safe man in the southeast. And the old man was supposed to have a couple of million in a big box in his house. We each carried a box of tools to the door. With a snip here and a jimmy there, we were inside in under a minute. The safe was in the library, behind a false wall. Sometimes rich people skimp on things and the safe was no exception. Markham drilled into it and after a couple of taps it opened up. And it was empty.
+++++“What the fuck?” He said.
+++++We quickly went through the house. No jewelry, nothing of value. Even the damn art looked like it came from Target. I started to get the feeling something wasn’t right. It just wasn’t adding up. We made a dash for the door. Markham never made it. A blast from a shotgun tore him damn near in half. Diving behind a couch, I pulled my Browning. Another round blew the shit out of the couch. But I saw the muzzle flash so I rolled away, pulling the trigger as I went. I hit the guy good. He was dying but still alive.
+++++It wasn’t the old man-it was some Cajun guy. I put my foot on his throat.
+++++“What the hell is this?”
+++++“Markham burned some guys on a deal,” he sputtered. “They used The Candy Man to get to him.”
+++++I shot him in the face. Not to put him out of his misery but because I was pissed.
+++++The Candy Man had a two story craftsman in Marigny, on the far side of the quarter. I had to blast my way in, taking out two body guards. He was a fat son of a bitch, wearing a summer weight suit and a Panama hat. A goatee did nothing to cover voluminous jowls. I put one in his enormous gut just to kick things off.
+++++“I was supposed to get three quarters of a mil out of that job. You set me up so you could have a payday off of Danny getting clipped. What was I, collateral damage? And by the way, I kinda liked that guy.”
+++++“Perhaps we can strike a deal,” he offered with a southern drawl.  Since it sounded like he was begging, I kneecapped him.
+++++“Two million, right now or I kill your fat ass.”
+++++“Imposs…,” he started. I put one in his other knee.
+++++He picked up a phone.
+++++“You’ll never get across the Pontchartrain.”
+++++“I’ll take my chances.”
+++++Fifteen minutes later a guy arrived with a suitcase. Shot him too. Just to let The Candy Man know I wasn’t fucking around.
+++++He was so big he needed two canes to get around under normal conditions. I grabbed the bag while keeping a gun on him.  He howled painfully as he made his way to the front door. There were guys waiting alright, but they couldn’t get me without shooting him. I shoved him in the back of the van.
+++++I drove across Lake Pontchartrain and pulled off the road.
+++++“Looks like you were wrong fat man.”
+++++I emptied the gun into him, got out and started walking into the night thinking that nothing comes easy in this town.

Leaving no Tracks

Riordan had always liked the heft of the Beretta. Liked how it fit in his hand, the feel and the weight of it. It was an older model, all steel. None of that polymer crap. To him, it was a real gun and it had always done what real guns were supposed to do. He saw it as a tool, something he needed to do his job. It had never let him down. He loaded fifteen .40 rounds into the magazine even though he knew he would only need one. This job was going to be quick and easy
+++++He packed it, along with a clean suit, a couple of dress shirts, two ties, socks and underwear in a medium sized suitcase. He wouldn’t need the gun until he reached L.A. The suitcase went in the trunk of his non- descript beige Buick and just before ten on a foggy morning Riordan drove away from his San Francisco apartment.
+++++It would be quicker to cross the Bay Bridge and head down I-5. Riordan was in no real hurry to complete his L.A. business so he headed south on 101. It was more scenic. Not long after he left the city, the sun broke through the overcast revealing a pleasant spring day. He stopped for lunch at a little Mexican place he knew of in Salinas. Traffic was light and by four he was checking into a hotel. After napping for an hour, he had a steak and a couple of glasses of Zinfandel at the hotel restaurant. Back in his room, he rented a pay-per-view movie and was asleep before it was over.


Bill Crandall had been married for twenty-one years. His wife was still attractive- when they were out he noticed how other men looked at her- but she was more engrossed in her role as a mother to their two teenaged children than she was in playing the part of seductive lover. So, Bill Crandall took a mistress. He ran a small investment firm and Alisa Burgess was a client. Problem was she was also married- married to a rich, arrogant asshole that was twenty years older than her. When he became suspicious, he hired a private detective who quickly provided proof that Mrs. Burgess was indeed fucking around.
+++++Before he went legit, Carl Burgess had some underworld business dealings. That was how he found Riordan. He was told that Riordan was the best in the biz. No muss, no fuss and no tracks that could lead to him. He was going to teach the bitch a lesson. He didn’t want her killed but he wanted her to understand what might happen if she were ever tempted again. Fifty thousand dollars was a cheap price for her to learn. And to get rid of some prick that either had the balls or was stupid enough to screw what belonged to him.


After a leisurely breakfast the next morning, Riordan headed south towards Alyssa Viejo. It was smoggy, his eyes burned and he felt a scratch in his throat. He never had been fond of Southern California and looked forward to getting back to the cool breezes of San Francisco. The Giants would be in town and he thought about seeing a game when he returned.
+++++He had no trouble finding Crandall’s office in a small strip mall. After watching the business for an hour, it was obvious that there were three employees other than Crandall- a secretary and two brokers. Just after noon, they left for lunch. Only Crandall stayed behind.
+++++Putting the Beretta under his suit jacket, he was in the office in four long strides. Crandall was sitting at his desk and looked up as Riordan walked in. The last thing Bill Crandall saw was a tall man with graying hair pointing a gun at him. Then, he was dead, a small hole in the middle of his forehead. One quick shot, again the Beretta had done its job. Now Riordan could go meet with Burgess and collect his fee. He would be back up North before dark.
+++++As he turned to go, he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, standing just inside the door with a hand over her mouth. It was Alisa Burgess. She turned to run and Riordan shot her at the base of the neck. He had never left a witness. And as beautiful as she was, he wasn’t going to start now.


Riordan didn’t like Carl Burgess when he first talked to him about the job. He liked him even less when they met. He was arrogant all right- along with being cocky and downright cruel. He told Riordan now that Crandall was out of the way that he was going to beat the bitch for what she had done and that he hoped Riordan had made Crandall suffer. After he handed Riordan an envelope, he became offended that Riordan had the gall to check the contents. Without speaking a word and showing no emotion what so ever, Riordan shot him in the groin. After Burgess howled for awhile, Riordan put the pistol behind his ear and pulled the trigger. It was the first time a kill had ever taken more than one shot. It was also the first time he really enjoyed shooting someone.
+++++He got behind the wheel of the Buick and headed north, leaving no tracks.

A Short Stay

Hank had been hustling all day and had barely scraped together enough for a couple of tall boys or a short dog of cheap wine. He might get drunker off the wine but after spending all day baking on the concrete under an August Tucson sun he was leaning toward a couple of cold beers.
+++++He had been in town just under two weeks and was not fond of the place. The heat, bare brown mountains and palm trees made him think too much about Afghanistan and he sure as hell didn’t need any reminders.
+++++Holding a cardboard sign with his head down and as often happened, he started thinking about those boys in the jeep that passed his unit on a dirt road in the desert. A minute later they were blown to shit. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get that image out of his head.
+++++When a horn sounded, he looked up to see a forty-ish blonde in a Mercedes with the top down waving a ten at him. Jumping up, he grabbed it, noticing lots of diamonds and a strong stink of gin. He figured she’d spent the afternoon at the country club putting away cocktails with a bunch of other bored rich broads.
+++++Mumbling hasty thanks, he hurried across Sixth Street into the air conditioned comfort of Wildcat Liquors. His mind swam with choices. While eying various pints of bourbon he again caught the aroma of gin. This time it was mixed with expensive perfume. Turning, he found the blonde standing behind him smiling.
+++++“I don’t feel like going home and listening to my asshole husband talk about his day on the golf course. I’d rather drink”. There was just the slightest slur to her speech. “Pick out something good.”
+++++Hank grabbed a fifth of Jack, a twelve pack of beer to go into a small Styrofoam cooler along with a bag of ice. She paid.
+++++As they pulled out of the lot, the sun was starting to ease behind the mountains to the west, taking a small bit of heat with it. She followed the sun to the edge of the city turning, onto a dirt road on the banks of the dry Santa Cruz River. The spot was pleasant, shaded by mesquite and Palo Verde trees.
+++++They drank, passing the bottle back and forth while sipping beers and talked, her about her husband, whom she hated and him about his life since Afghanistan, which he was not real fond of. By dark they were drunk. He leaned over and kissed her. When he grabbed a breast, she pulled away and slapped him then began to scream. Instinct and training kicked in. Grabbing her by the neck, he twisted until he heard a snap. Just like that she was dead.
+++++There was nearly three hundred dollars in her purse. He left the credit cards alone. After removing her wedding ring, a diamond necklace, earrings and a jewel studded bracelet, he rolled her body down the dark slope toward the dry river bed.
+++++After driving back to town, he parked a few blocks from the bus station, found a place to buy a pint of bourbon and then went to an all night diner where he drank coffee and in the pre- dawn hours ate bacon and eggs. When the five- thirty Greyhound left for Santa Fe he was on it, thinking anywhere was better than Tucson.

Darkness or Light

There’s no way to say for sure that I would have killed Bobby Ray Lomax if I wasn’t drunk; maybe alcohol provided me with the courage I needed to shoot him. As far as a motive? I’ll get to that in a little while. But I did it and I have no regrets so there it is.
++++When I saw Lucinda in the hospital, she was still alive, barely clinging to the last thread of life, about to let go and fall into the final abyss. She looked nothing like the beautiful girl she had once been. Her face was destroyed almost beyond recognition. I leaned over the bed and softly kissed the side of her head.
++++“I’ll take care of this,” I told her. “Ain’t no way he‘ll get away with it. And Baby, I’m so sorry I didn’t fix it sooner. “
++++There were tears running down my cheeks as I put my hand on top of hers. Just a brief moment later she was gone. It wasn’t long before I was on a stool at McAdoo’s Tavern pounding double shots of Early Times.
++++It was just me now. I had been the oldest. All of them but me had run away from the nightmare we had grown up in. Meth got Carla. Jimmy was killed in Afghanistan and Lucinda got Bobby Ray. I’m not sure there is a difference between nightmares and broken dreams. I am sure my brother and sisters dreamt of some better life, at least of something that approached normal. But all they got was their own kind of hell.
++++Daddy was a mean man. I’m guessing that if I worked underground in semi-darkness breathing black dust I might be mean too. Bu t there was no excuse for the things he did. He’d come home from a day in the mine – after stopping at McAdoo’s- and start in on Mama. He’d beat on her and then start on us. By the time I turned fourteen, I started to stand up to him. Mama was all soft and good. The only thing I ever got from Daddy was a belt, the back of a hand or fists when I started fighting back.
++++One night he had Mama on the floor, left arm pressed against her throat, punching her face with his right hand. We all screamed for him to stop. He looked up, his face red with rage and said;
++++“Every one of y’all is gettin’ a whippin’ next.”
++++I took the poker from alongside the fire place. I think at first I only meant to hit him once. Just to get him to leave Mama alone. But then I couldn’t stop. I stood over him and swung like I was chopping wood and kept up until there was a hole in his head and I could no longer hear the coal dust rattle in his lungs.
++++The state sent me away until I was twenty one. Mama died while I was gone. When I got home, Carla was so far gone there was no saving her. Jimmy was overseas and Lucinda was living with Bobby Ray. She was just seventeen. It seems that by trying to protect us all, I let everyone down. I couldn’t help but think if I hadn’t got sent off I might have at least made it different for my sisters. As far as Jimmy, well you tell me what’s a worse hell- war or a coal mine?
++++I remember the night I heard Lucinda’s tires on the gravel in front of the house. I met her outside. There was blood around her nose and mouth and when we got inside, I could see that her eyes were black.
++++Bobby Ray was a miner and a mean man too. When I got to his single wide, I pounded on the door. He opened it wearing clothes black from the mine, a cigarette in his mouth and a beer in his hand.
++++“What the hell do you want here Donald?” He said.
++++“You ever hit her again and I will kill you, “was my reply.
++++He laughed a mean, cruel laugh then threw the beer can in my face. His punches knocked me to the ground. He added a kick to my ribs.
++++“You ever come ‘round here again and I’ll kill you. Just remember that.”
++++Then, he laughed at me again.


After leaving McAdoo’s, I stopped at home to get Daddy’s old Colt. I t was in a shoebox in the closet wrapped in oil cloth. I checked to see that it was loaded then headed for Bobby Ray’s trailer. It was snowing lightly as I headed out Combs Flat Road. I remember thinking that the whiteness of the snow was the first clean, pure thing I had seen in a very long time.
++++I pulled my truck right up to the front step of his trailer with the high beams on. He opened the door before I could even get out.
++++He was drunk too. I guess he couldn’t see with the light in his eyes.
++++“Who the hell’s there?” he slurred.
++++“She’s dead you bastard. Now I’m goin’ to kill you, just like I promised.”
++++Then, I shot him. This time I didn’t give him a chance to laugh.
++++So there it is preacher. My confession and no I ain’t asking any God for forgiveness. Like I said no regrets, they can slip that needle in me now.
++++There’s either going to be darkness or light. If it’s light, I’ll see Mama and them again and it might be like a dream come true. And if it’s dark, all I’ll see is Daddy and Bobby Ray.
++++And I’m prepared to kill them both all over again.

Turn Me Loose

Lonnie is making me nervous, the way he keeps playing with the Glock, popping the clip out, slamming it back into the butt then pulling back the slide so a live round enters the chamber. We’re going to have to keep an eye on him tonight; he’s all cranked up, twitching like a Geiger counter on a Nevada test range.
+++++Damn, I wish Clay would call before Lonnie sticks his nose in that mirror again. Or before that fucking gun goes off. He’s really making me nervous. Him and that gun. Mostly, Clay can keep him in line. That’s because Clay is the oldest. Lonnie is the middle one. I’m the youngest, he usually just tells me to shut the fuck up.
+++++The bar is on Taraval Street, out in the foggiest reaches of the Sunset District in San Francisco, not far from where we grew up. It’s called The Four Deuce’s, the kind of place where old time neighborhood guys still hang out. Friday nights they do a good business Clay says. He’s supposed to call sometime after one when the place thins out and right before last call. The plan is that I’ll drop Lonnie, take a spin around the block and they’ll be out in front when I come back around. I’ve never been inside on a job. I always drive. Takes a special talent, Clay says.
+++++I walk to the front window and look out. It’s just after midnight and the streets are pretty quiet. Fog swirls in the street lights and far away, from the direction of the bay, I hear the lonesome sound of a foghorn. It’s July but you would never know it here. Every day is just a grey, cold repeat of the day before.
+++++Just before eleven I leave Clay a block from the bar then double check the route out of there. It’s pretty simple. Once Lonnie and Clay come out, we’ll make a right on 25th then a left on Ulloa. When we get to 19th, left again. That’s a busy enough street that we should blend in. After a couple of miles, go right on Judah until we get home. Home to this crappy dump of an apartment on 7th Avenue. Ten minutes, tops.
+++++Clay says one or two more good scores and we’re going to move. Maybe get out of the city all together. He wants to live in Sonoma or Mendocino, somewhere we can have a little land, grow a little weed. A place we can just chill. Maybe a place Lonnie will lay off the crank. He’s really been getting out of control lately. Couple of weeks ago, we hit some yuppie restaurant on Chestnut Street over in the Marina. Pretty good haul Clay said. But he was really mad at Lonnie when they got in the car and I started to drive away. Clay told him he was fucking up. Lonnie said something back and Clay reached over the seat and slapped him. He’d never done that before. I watched Lonnie in the rear view. For a second, I thought he might shoot Clay. Instead he just lit a cigarette and glared at the back of his head.
+++++Lonnie puts the gun down long enough to snort another line. Lay off that shit, I tell him. You’re gonna piss Clay off again. He flips me off, keeps playing with the gun.
+++++I think I jump a little when the phone rings. Lonnie does another bump and shoves the gun in his waist. I’m starting to get a bad feeling.
+++++Lonnie doesn’t talk as we head west. The only sound other than the radio is the wipers swishing through the mist on the windshield. We pass a black and white heading out Judah. Other than that, we only see two or three other cars until we hit 19th.
+++++ I drop Lonnie off in front of the bar. There is one car parked in front, two more across the street. I start around the block hating the fog, imagining what it would be like to live where you could see the stars. Maybe we could have chickens at that place Clay talks about. Maybe a garden.
+++++Things aren’t right when I turn back onto Taraval. They aren’t out yet and in the distance I hear a siren. Another minute later I hear gunshots inside the bar. Pop, pop, pop. I know its Lonnie and that fucking Glock.
+++++He starts to come out the door, stopping to empty what’s left of the clip into the interior of the bar. As he starts toward the car, I see blood on his shoulder and a crazed look in his eyes. I don’t see Clay and I know that I never will.
+++++I pull away leaving Lonnie reaching for the door handle. I hear him scream something. I also hear shots coming from the bar as I head east on Taraval. Glancing in the mirror, I see Lonnie lying in the street.
+++++Parking around the corner from the apartment, I grab some clothes and take the money from the place where Clay hides it in the kitchen. There is over sixty thousand dollars there. I take the keys for Clay’s baby, a ’55 Chevy wagon. I guess it’s mine now.
+++++Before long, I cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Forty five miles north, somewhere around Petaluma, the fog is gone and the night sky is full of starlight. I roll down the window. The warm, country air smells of summer. I turn on the radio, Merle Haggard is singing “Big city turn me loose and set me free.”
+++++ I start thinking about what I might grow in a garden. And wondering just how much work raising chickens is. I wish Clay was here. He would know. I had always hoped it would be just me and Clay. Now it’s just me. Maybe I’ll get a cow. And some rabbits. Big city turn me loose. And set me free.