Billy the Kid & Watching the Sun Die

Billy the Kid

Twenty years driving through the devil grin moonlight, made me aware of the magic of darkness. I swerved to avoid a turquoise raccoon ambling across the road. Listening to Bob Dylan’s The Ballad of Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, Zimmie honking hard on his harp. Mexican guitars and tambourines filled the air. Thoughts of my cat, Paloma that had recently died made my bifocals misty with tears. I lit a roach of Columbo and a seed popped and burnt my nuts causing me to crash into a tree. I woke up in jail. I’d been there before. I recalled a story about John Dillinger and his side kick, Homer Van Meter. Homer had taught himself how to rope flies with thread, while inside. I started unraveling my shirt, much to the amazement of my cell mate.

Watching the Sun Die

The lemon yellow sun dribbled daylight juice onto the elephant colored rails. Taking out my last cigar, I watched the sun die. Reaching into my pocket I felt two quarters squirming, my guts were growling like a wolf man eating a vampire. I entered the hobo camp smelling food beckoning my quivering taste buds. I saw men with brown bags, holding strong fortified vino. Laying my money and stogie next to the campfire, a man dished me up a plate. Saluting him and smiling my thanks, I knew I’d have to find work, but for now one thing was certain, someone sure could cook. After meeting up with my Pueblo amigo, Puma and building a fireplace in Espanola, New Mexico, I felt restless. I suggested a trip to New Orleans. Puma had never seen the Mississippi and I wanted to consult with a voodoo woman, I’d heard about.
+++++Walking down Bourbon Street, listening to Dixieland jazz and blues, once in awhile we would start dancing. Musicians and tourists gawked and grinned. Puma borrowed a guitar and I sang some songs in Spanish and recited a few poems. An old man jumped off his porch and played congas, flute, and harmonica. Several coins and bills were deposited into the gent’s sombrero. He fed us hot gumbo and crawdads and we drank chicory coffee laced with hooch. The house of the voodoo woman was in an alley near the river. Puma recognized most of the herbs hanging from her ceiling beams. There were jars of chicken and goat feet and eyeballs of all sizes and pungent repugnant odors. I asked for a cure for baldness, she mixed several ingredients and took it behind a curtain for a minute. When she returned, she instructed me to stir it well before drinking. Once you return home, she said use your own warmed urine. Puma was trying to keep a straight face.
+++++When we got back to the mountains, I decided I wasn’t cooking any piss and I damn sure wasn’t drinking it. Puma and I drank the datura tea, near the Painted Desert. Flocks of ravens perched on azure rocks pecking slowly at purple lizards. Stag horn cholla, agave stars, and barrel cacti leaned west toward the sun and Pacific. A turtle dove nestled in the paloverde. Puma pointed at a red rattler swallowing a kangaroo mouse. Clouds exploded in crimson, green, yellow, orange, intaglio; surrealistic bleeding hallucinations. Overpowered and frightened, we drank mezcal until oblivion accepted us.
+++++The next day we boarded a freight train south for Oaxaca and the pyramids. Near the zocalo in Mexico City, I went to buy blue agave tequila. An old woman called to me, I reached for a few pesos. As I put the coins in her hand, she held onto mine and rubbed it with red powder. Her voice took on an unearthly quality. I felt dizzy and my legs were watery. The day became dark; the sun was swallowed by evil thunderheads.
+++++She spoke in what sounded like German. “You will live a few more years, and then die like a dog.” She wanted more money, I staggered away, feeling a terrible need to be scratched behind my ears.


“You been drinking?”
+++++She hit me with those big baby blues, looked away quick. I guess she hoped I hadn’t noticed the redness around her eyes, the liquid tension etched at the corner of her stare.
+++++“A little,” she said, aiming the comment more at her dull, brown carpet than me.
+++++“You okay?” I asked.
+++++She sniffed hard. A breath of chill air rattled through her sinuses, shook a load of liquid mucus.
+++++“Sure. Sure I am,” she lied.
+++++Lines of mercury danced above her mascara-bare lashes. Her right shoulder twitched, maybe like she wanted to wipe away the saline tell. Her cheeks reddened a little. She kept her hands clasped behind her back. I hadn’t noticed they were out of sight.
+++++“You want a beer? Some coffee? I think I have some of that Brazilian stuff you like.”
+++++Her face cracked a smile about as genuine as her purple cow-print onsie. Her unpainted lips twitched and tightened as the question stretched out unanswered. Something on the mahogany coffee table caught her attention. Her shoulders curled under the weight of observation.
+++++“Sorry,” I said, taking my turn with a plastic grin.
+++++“Coffee ‘d be great.”
+++++Lines deepened across her forehead and around the baby blues that found my grey. Her mouth twitched at the corner as advantage in our little game of bull shit changed again.
+++++“Cool,” she said.
+++++She flicked her head as she turned, fanning her hair in a golden arc. The conjurer’s trick failed as she used her body to block my view of whatever she held. I reached out, laid a hand on her shoulder. I gripped hard enough to make her wince.
+++++A gentle shrug shifted my grasp. I let my hand drop to my side as her body shrank in on itself. A second inhalation, still chock full of emotion and snot, slithered through her darkened lounge. Her back to me, she raised her right hand.
+++++My throat went dry at the length of pink, nylon washing line dangling from her fist. Its noose-twisted end swung like a pendulum counting out her time.
+++++Numb from the chest out, I took another step forward. I wrapped an arm around her waist and my free hand around hers. Our fingers merged into a single fist. Her shoulders shuddered against my chest.
+++++“I don’t see you so much any more.”
+++++“Sshh…” I cooed, nuzzling my cheek against hers. Jen’s hot tears lubricated the patchy, three-day growth on my face.
+++++“Come on.”
+++++I ran my hand up her side, traced the underside of her arm until our hands joined. Silent, I led her through her darkened house, felt her Siamese brush past us on the stairs. Guided by memories that couldn’t puncture the igneous tumour in my ribs, I led her to the double bed we’d shared so many times before.
+++++Fully-clothed, we slipped onto the mattress, snuggled together on a purple duvet that had spent most of our encounters stained and crumpled on the bedroom floor. She pulled her body tight against mine. I wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her tight. The beat of her heart rippled through my body, couldn’t reawaken the dead slab of meat in my chest.
+++++“Tell me,” I whispered, brushing my lips against the warm flesh an inch below her ear.
+++++She wriggled enough to get some space, loosening my hold. A minute passed, silent but for Caspar the cat mewling somewhere in the blackness. I tried again with the kiss on her neck. She angled away so I got a mouthful of hair.
+++++“It’s not like I’m suicidal…”
+++++I let her words hang, tried to stop reflexively re-tightening my grip on her soft tummy. My granite block cracked from the strain of keeping my eyes dry.
+++++“I mean sure, I had the rope. I wasn’t going to use it. I wasn’t going to tie it to the bannister or anything. I just wandered what it would be like, how it would feel cutting into my throat. Would I panic as my eyes bulged and my lungs burned? Could I go through with it?”
+++++Her words danced black with menace in the still, cold air. I closed my eyes against the taunt, pulled her close to my body. Relief seared tension from my muscles as she pushed herself against me, wrapping her fingers in mine.
+++++“But you’re back now. I don’t need to find out.”


The clock on her night stand read 04:00 when I slid my arm from beneath her sleeping body. In the wan light, I took a final look at her pretty face. My first genuine smile in longer than I could remember twitched across my lips at her soft, rasping snore. A trickle of saliva glistened from the corner of a mouth I was desperate to kiss.
+++++I eased myself from her bed, careful not to make the springs squeak. I took the noose instead of granting my last request. With practiced footfalls, I crept downstairs, avoiding loose boards I’d memorised long ago.
+++++I paused at the front door, remembered the times we’d slouched on her sofa, laughed at shitty TV and made love in every inch of her property. I stepped into the wind and rain before ghosts of arguments and harsh words snapped in my mind.
+++++Nylon cord tight in my hand, I strolled slowly through empty streets. Icy rain diluted the salt streaks in my beard. My teeth chattered. High, black railing speared the night sky, protecting the cemetary from the outside world. I struggled with frozen fingers to make a knot, slipped Jenny’s last gift over my head.
+++++Maybe she’d never forgive me for leaving, but she’d hate me too much to follow.

Just This

I sit here, perched above the world, watching your moon cut a path
across the darkened ocean. A wall of rock, jagged and mysterious in
the dark, falls away from me, us, to meet the sandy beach where we sat
earlier today. You fed me a mango then, off the tip of your knife. I
watched you peel and slice and nick yourself leaving drops of blood on
the hot, sandy beach. The cool ocean licked at our heels as we sunned
ourselves in the orange glow of an afternoon. We were happy lying
side-by-side on cheap towels, not even the sight of your bleeding
finger could touch us. We had daylight then, our ally. But when the
horizon pulled the sun from our view it became impossible to linger,
to ignore the passing of time. So up the rugged path, over ancient
gnarled roots, we climbed and left the dwindling noise of the
laughing, drinking crowd behind us. Trading voices for silence, save
the sound of our breathing and the crickets, the night became still
and foreign in its quiet. I stumbled in the dark and you caught me in
your arms.
+++++Time came along and flipped our world, put us in the sky, and now the
sun looks up at us while we sit here next to the stars gazing into the
+++++Under the moonlight, this bamboo balcony reaches far enough out into
the night so that we are suspended, encircled by air, and floating in
this stringed hammock, perfect for two – a night ship holding us in
its curve. Bats clip in and out of the palm tree fronds. They chase an
evening meal with radar tuned so precisely on a fly, a tiny,
imperceptible fly. The boats are out balancing on top of the water
with their flashlights beamed downwards into the dark sea, their
artificial lights enticing baby squid up from watery dreams and
trapping them in the dry, breathy world of fishermen. Everything is as
it is every night, as it has been for weeks past. Rows of half bamboo
strapped together with twine hold the sky above us, sheltering us, and
in the distance stars flicker down to meet the water’s edge lighting
up the horizon.
+++++Between us, our limbs are a mix of brown and pale, a directionless map
with no beginning or ending; an undulating circle of difference and
sameness, of choices and promises and things unspoken. The cool,
tropical night air leaves us drowsy.
+++++I rest back, and you light my cigarette. The smell of you, of tobacco,
and soap overpower my breath. ‘My friend’ you say, about to start a
thought, and I laugh. You call everyone your friend. And then you
laugh too, taking the cigarette from me.
+++++Holding your hand up in the light I trace the milky half moons at the
base of your nails and the brown creases of your knuckles, they are
soft, like you. I will miss your hands. I had noticed the scar that
first day when you held out a coffee for me to take: a sharp line
running down the length of your index finger, all healed and rigid.
Perhaps you cut it while peeling a mango – for someone. I trace it
with my index finger. Bump.
+++++Then you go dark, it hurts and you want to fight with me, to make it
easier for you. You try accusations and petty name calling. But your
rough words are drowned out by the gentle pulling of waves on the
beach, of stars in the sky, and the soft distance between us. You lose
momentum. You don’t really have the heart for it. Tomorrow you can be
angry with me. Tomorrow you will have all day, and more, to be angry
with me.
+++++But tonight, now, while you are distracted and struggling to hold your
anger, I steal all this from you. I gather it from the corners of our
limited world, and wrap it up in a dancing globe in my mind’s eye. I
do this so deftly that you don’t even notice its leaving – this moment
you thought was yours too. I steal it so that I can secret it away and
later take it out and bounce it around, so it will still be fresh, and
new, and mine. I will carry this moment, and one day it will carry me,
and you will still be here, cutting yourself and bleeding on mangoes.

How to Kill the Kid at the Counter

Listen instead
Listen instead

If you want money quick and easy rob a joint.
+++++If you want to rob a joint quick and easy try a diner. Try it between two and four in the morning. Make sure it’s open 24-hours. The bars close at one. Everyone’s drunk and hungry, don’t wanna go home. They stay out to eat and chill, sober up. They sit for an hour. They pay and leave. The staff’s bare. Nobody wants to work the shift. They’re fighting sleep. They’re dead men walking. In back two cooks who take turns sleeping and a dishwasher who speaks no English. No busser on weekdays. In front one waitress diddling on her phone and forced to clean her own tables. She’ll do her shit far from the register-top up the syrups on the table, keep the coffee pots brewing, count her tips.
+++++The kid behind the register’s young. Small for his age, no muscle on his body. He’s a pretty boy, clearly-good shirt, clean black slacks. A hard worker. He might be eighteen or nineteen but looks fifteen. He’s braindead. They all are. He keeps the register locked, even if he’s right behind it, so no one can jack it. He stands behind the long granite counter, eyes half closed, waiting for a customer.
+++++The windows perpendicular to him are glass, wall high, the ceiling one giant skylight to let in the dark night. They bounce lights off of them like a prism. Pull up and flash your highbeams. Keep them on. Park close. The lights travel far in the long night. They’ll blind him, daze him. Grab your gun, keep your car running, keep the gun hidden in your jacket, a smile on your face.
+++++No matter where the joint is act quick. Bring that gun. Get him behind the register. Get the waitress to panic and run away to call. Keep the cooks behind the walls. Get the manager to lock himself in the office. If he’s even there.
+++++Hope he isn’t. Hope the kid isn’t pissing his pants.
+++++Try to keep the gun level. Try to remember everything you’ve heard. Try to keep yourself calm. Try to pretend you’ve still got this.
+++++Pretend you’ve still got a chance when something hits you and you black out, cold.
+++++Wake up in a hospital, cuffed to a gurney. Stay there two days tops. Go to jail for a long time.
+++++The kid didn’t just work the shift because he can stay up late. Just because he isn’t big doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to kick your ass.
+++++Sorry I forgot to tell you.

Through the Walls

Carl got the job because he needed money. He kept it to look at girls naked.
+++++Being a janitor had its perks. The hotel was high-class, he worked good hours. It paid rent for a studio apartment and alimony and child support for his retard son.
+++++It was enough to get by. Then the movie stars came-ridiculously good-looking people who walked his hallways, freshly vacuumed just for them. They ignored him. No look, no smile, no “hi”. Nothing. Good asses to stare at, fake tits, painted faces, guards to shove him aside and threaten him when he said he had to clean next door.
+++++Maybe they were paranoid.
+++++Maybe they thought he was trying to sneak a peek. Maybe they thought he was putting cameras in there when he dragged his cart in there with him, one plastic wheel squeaking, the spray bottles sloshing and the rags swinging. The door would auto-lock behind him. They thought he was just some balding white-trash psycho in a bandana who limped and whistled Johnny Cash. Weird but harmless.
+++++Behind that door Carl could see through walls.
+++++The stars came. The websites followed. They’d showed him where to put the cameras-the waterproof ones in the showerhead for the top-down look, the thin long one (“the Snake,” he’d started calling it. They liked that.) in the drain so the invisible men could look up to them like goddesses.
+++++He didn’t step into adjoining rooms to put the cameras in. Carl did it to clean. The cameras were already there. Later he’d grab the feed from the transmitter in the floor air duct, lurking in a layer of dust and around a bend. It was wireless, two inches wide and a three millimeters thin, silent, the antenna wrapped around the matchbox-sized box powerful enough to handle thirty cameras on three AAA batteries. The little fucker was tough. It could survive anything. It gave him everything-peace of mind, a future, hope. All he had to do was unplug a USB, put it in his pocket, jam another one in the slot and slip out the door. No one suspected anything.
+++++Last Tuesday it came time to change the batteries/grab the raw footage again. There were no celebrities that day. But rituals can’t harm you. The managers weren’t in on it. He was the only one who got checks for “tips” every Wednesday. He was looking forward to it.
+++++The room with the transmitter had been rented out then. No one had told him it was taken. They usually did. Carl pulled the cart with the bad wheel as always, the USB and batteries turning over in his clammy palm. He was whistling “Ring of Fire”. He shoved them in his pocket, limped up to the door and knocked.
+++++Water running in the bathroom, muffled- the shower. No camera in there. Not on this floor.
+++++It still didn’t feel right. The batteries scraped against each other. He knocked.
+++++“Housekeeping,” he said for the millionth time.
+++++The water stopped. A door shut, frantic.
+++++“Sure, yeah,” a young woman called.
+++++“Come in,” the voice said, “But not in the bathroom.”
+++++“Alright, thanks.”
+++++He opened the door with his key and stepped in. Carl dragged the cart behind him, kept whistling “Ring of Fire.”
+++++There were two beds in here, perpendicular to him, the bathroom door on his left. Clothes slithered to the floor, a couple yards away, through a thin wall. Music started-metal, screamo, whatever they called it these days. It rattled the window in front of him. It clouded his mind, strangled his eardrums.
+++++Good sound cover. One bed was spotless-lacy bras and flat skirts and formal frilly shirts laid on precisely. The other was a mess, sheets on the floor. He’d get it after.
+++++He stooped over the grate.
+++++Carl was a smart guy. But he didn’t know everything.
+++++He didn’t know that the girl in the shower knew about that transmitter, that a Russian model found herself on the website last week and called her uncle.
+++++He didn’t know that the door had opened or that she was behind him with a cold, professional look in her eyes again.
+++++He didn’t know that shotguns could be silenced too.

Christmas Apocalypse

It was approaching Christmas and a period of the year that Jack always
detested; even as a child he had hated the event, even receiving the
presents his parents bought him. At school all the other kids would
laugh at what he had got as they paraded about in all the latest
fashionable labels. Having worked in retail for the last five years
had not helped him get over his hatred; if anything it heightened his
disgust at the whole charade for a festival. He occasionally thought
that maybe it was the shop in which he worked; a supermarket of the
convenience kind but even their worst customers had to shop in other
places as well therefore all places had potential for contamination.
+++++Jack’s morning shift at the check-out had passed with little of
interest happening and it felt like just any other day. That was at
least until he got home and turned on his TV to one of the rolling
news channels. The news was odd; on the screen were the streets of
Brighton, the town where Jack lived, and news that a weird spectacle
was unfolding in shops across the whole town.
+++++A reporter, stood next to a bemused looking security guard, told of it
all beginning in a low-price fashion retailer. Apparently, she
announced, it all began when two people went for the same dress and
there was only one left. Fighting started and then suddenly blood…
It was then the frenzy began. People became swept up in their
consumerist binges and all hell broke loose. Security guards tried to
contain the situation the reporter announced before turning the
microphone to the guard next to her.
+++++“I just couldn’t believe it. I’ve worked in some places before now
where things have got out of control but never like this…”
+++++“So what exactly happened?”
+++++“Well, I was just about to pull these two women apart who were arguing
about a dress when suddenly one of them, well… her eyes changed and
then all hell broke loose. I can’t explain it, it was like something
had possessed her, almost like a horror movie, but… well, real…”
+++++“Well, at that point I just decided to get out of the situation. It
seemed my safety was in immediate danger.”
+++++“Well, thanks for that,” the reporter finished before handing back to
the studio.
+++++The news anchor announced that these scenes were happening all over
the country but no one yet knew what was happening with these people.
+++++Jack sat back in his sofa and rolled a joint. The news continued and
every so often a new reporter would bring horrific footage from
another location.
+++++The hours passed and the pictures were becoming more and more graphic
and horrific. In Newcastle there were pictures of topless men
storming off-licences to get supplies of local ale. The proprietor, a
diminutive Asian man in his late fifties, could not believe what had
happened and his tears were repeated by a succession of shop-owners
across the country. The mobs would maraud around their towns,
attacking shops in a consumerist binge of nightmare proportions.
+++++Jack knew that Monday morning meant his weekend was over and he would
have to return to work but now it was with a new fear.
+++++‘What if my shop gets targeted?’ Jack had thought to himself almost
constantly since that first news broadcast, probably echoing the
thoughts of millions of retail workers all over the country. As he
had an hour before he had to head out in to the battlefield Jack
turned on his TV for any latest news.
+++++“Here, in Brighton,” the reporter was saying, “the situation is
perhaps at its most dire. Over the weekend we have seen hundreds of
shops in the town centre over-run by these consumerist zombies. So,
how has this affected your shop?”
+++++“Well, we got hit Saturday afternoon. All of our booze went in about
an hour. Some people even threw money at me as they ran out my shop
carrying stock. I saw some odd things; a large skinhead grabbing all
my bottles of Martini and running… I’ve essentially lost everything.
I have no stock left and my distributor refuses to come and deliver
due to the situation. I heard about a delivery van being attacked
last night; one of the big shops never got their stock as it was
stolen before it even got through the front door.”
+++++“There you are, here in Brighton, it is complete chaos. There are
creatures running around attacking shops everywhere.” Jack’s picture
began to shake and suddenly all you could hear were voices.
+++++“Buy… buy… get… consume… possess…”
+++++It was clear that the camera had become the latest item stolen and
that the mantra for the zombies had been established. Jack looked out
his living room window on to the seafront and all seemed calm. He
decided he should go out, even if he didn’t make it to work, in order
to see what was actually happening. He decided to smoke another joint
before heading out. If his memory of those Romero movies was correct
zombies were usually pretty lackadaisical and he would have more
chance of not looking completely out of place if he was stoned.
Finishing the joint he stepped outside his flat and began the descent
to street level. Outside all seemed well so Jack decided to walk in
to the centre of town along the seafront knowing this would only take
his past a couple of gay bars and a cafe. There wasn’t much for the
consumerists to get in a frenzy around here but who knew what was
happening on the next street up, St James’s Street, the main
thoroughfare through the Kemp Town area and the place that was full of
shops. Jack thought of a couple of people he knew who ran shops there
and decided to go investigate. Turning right on to the side-street
connecting the two main roads Jack could see immediately, at the top
of the street, a couple of creatures fighting over a barbeque kit. It
was clear that they had got in the warehouse of another branch of
Jack’s shop; no other place would have summer stock in at this time of
year. The shop itself was empty of stock yet despite this people were
still walking around as if things were normal desperate for new things
to buy, anything would do…
+++++St James’s Street was awash with these creatures, out of their mind
with delirium and desperate to find new stuff to get any which way
they could. The law had lost, it was all-out consumerism now and
anything was up for grabs. Jack began walking down the street towards
the centre of town and no doubt the most chaotic area. Even before
the outbreak Western Road and the shopping centre occasionally reached
levels of delirium akin to the zombie apocalypse that was now
unfolding all over the country. Shops in every part of the country
were being stripped clean and the government simply didn’t know what
to do whilst the police remained confused as to what to do with those
who tried to buy their goods. It was a very weird situation and it
became immediately apparent that no government department had a plan
for what to do and were a long way from coming to any conclusions.
Social networking sites were full of activity; stores telling their
customers that everything was going to be OK whilst colleagues in
retail messaged each other. The general consensus amongst Jack’s
colleagues was that they were not going in; some had even been whipped
up in to the consumerist delirium.
+++++Jack knew that something needed to be done but he had no idea how to
stop these people behaving the way they were and he was only one man.
It would need an army to stop this wave of delirium taking everyone
under its control.
+++++St James’s Street saw a few business-owners holding off the creatures
with barricades in front of their premises. The owners generally had
back-up in the shape of any friends who cared to help out but it was
going to be a struggle to keep them at their door for long.
Eventually the shops would be lost but for now humanity clung on
knowing its time was running short. Jack soon noticed that all the
supermarkets were empty of stock and staff and knew his place would be
exactly the same. North Street, the main road that lead on from St
James’s, was full of big chains mainly and looked like it had been
decimated, a victim of war. Despite this people still walked the
streets, in and out of the deserted shops, desperate for something to
consume. There was nothing left and all delivery firms had cancelled
all work for the foreseeable future, very soon there would be nothing
+++++When the government minister without portfolio realised this panic
gripped him; it would be the ultimate disaster and he had no idea of
how to deal with it. It was his job to come up with a plan though and
in desperate times he came up with a desperate plan. That night, on
TV and online, he asked for assistance.
+++++“We need your help. Any ideas about how we can deal with these
creatures would be greatly appreciated,” he droned trying to make it
not sound like the end of the world was just around the corner.
+++++Jack returned to his flat after walking through the Lanes and seeing
the utter devastation the town had experienced in the short few days
since the epidemic began. He brewed some tea, rolled a joint and
decided to watch a classic zombie film, Dawn of the Dead. It was
half-way through the picture when it suddenly occurred to Jack that
maybe the creatures outside could be dealt with in the same way as
Romero had dealt with his on film. Immediately Jack pulled his phone
from his pocket and connected to the web and went to a micro-blogging
site where he asked a short question.
+++++‘If it works for Romero it could work for us. Shot the bastards in the head.’
+++++Why no one had suggested this plan of action before Jack was unsure
but if it worked that was all that he cared. With the film ending
+++++Jack turned over to a news channel where an important update was due
to be announced.
+++++“We have a plan and it works, now what we need from you all is to go
home and remain there whilst we deal with this situation,” the
minister without portfolio said.
+++++Questions came pouring in from the floor of the media centre but it
was suggested they all go home, it wasn’t going to safe on the streets
for the next couple of days, and take shelter. Jack had always hated
being told what to do and his general untrusting approach to
politicians meant he had to go out and see what was happening.
+++++This time though he would head straight in to the centre of town,
straight to the failing heart of the consumerist society. Western
Road was awash with police in riot-gear, preparing for the influx of
troops who it was believed would cleanse the streets of these
creatures. They were barricading the creatures in to the shops they
were in the process of trashing without the supervision of staff or
security guards. Jack noticed the police were concentrating their
efforts on the big stores, the chains. Many of the small outlets were
being over-run whilst staff tried to save their merchandise as owners,
out on the street, were pleading to un-hearing police for help.
+++++Jack continued his walk around the epicentre of the delirium by
walking up to the train station. The shops here had been trashed and
robbed a couple of days earlier and there was nothing left, nothing
but broken lives and broken glass. From here Jack entered the North
Laine, a labyrinth of interesting shops and pubs, and was disturbed to
see it was similar. Whilst some shops had so far survived it was only
due to even more vigorous securing of their defences than on St
James’s Street. Some shops though had been trashed by their own staff
that was swept up in the consumerist delirium. Bizarrely three of
Jack’s favourite shops had remained untouched by the horror and for
that he was grateful. Continuing his walk through the tight little
alleys and streets Jack came again to North Street. He had still to
walk past his work, he had so far just assumed it had gone in the
original battle, but felt this was as good a time as any. After this
he planned on walking back to his flat and barricading himself in; he
hoped it wouldn’t be for long. Turning left at the 99p store he knew
what was coming; about six doors down was where he worked. The
security gate had been broken down and the shop appeared empty of both
stock and staff. Strewn over the floor were boxes of broken
merchandise, clearly the last of a line that two people simply must
have had at that moment when the delirium kicked in. Jack was unsure
of how to feel; his job may be over as his shop had been destroyed but
at least this year no one would be talking about Christmas.
+++++Moments later Jack looked up the street and saw the army moving in,
seconds later he was hit. A bullet straight to his gut, it stung and
hurt like mad, and Jack knew he should have stayed in. Drifting out
of consciousness all he could hear were the wheels of the tanks
rolling in and the firing of gun-shots.

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.

The Bully, the Psychopath, Libby and Lorraine

Fred was a bully who always bothered Lenny on the way to school. Fred was four years older than Lenny. One day Lenny told him that when he grew up he would kill him. Fred laughed and probably didn’t expect to see Lenny that night, twenty years later, when Lenny waited for him in the alley next to his garage.
+++++As usual, Fred got home around midnight from his work on the second shift. He lived in a different neighborhood by then but Lenny kept track of him because he knew it was simply a matter of when for Fred.
+++++When Fred got out of his car, Lenny said,
+++++“Hey Fred, remember little Lenny, the kid from grammar school.”
+++++Fred said he didn’t remember Lenny and that’s when Lenny swung the machete his grandfather had brought home from the Pacific after World War II. Then he stood there and admired his work, smiled and watched Fred’s head roll a few feet like a bowling ball.
+++++In the morning a milkman found the head and the body and the story was in the papers for weeks as people wanted to know who did it but Lenny couldn’t tell them. They wouldn’t understand that it was simply a matter of a bully paying the price for what he had done years earlier to Lenny.
+++++The only person Lenny ever told about the murder was a girl he had spent a lot of money on, Libby. It was their first date even though they had known each other for years. He didn’t even get a kiss good night and that bothered him but he didn’t say anything.
+++++Libby really didn’t think Lenny was telling the truth about killing some guy with a machete. He was always exaggerating about one thing or another and Libby thought this was just another one of his tall tales. He was probably just trying to act like a big shot.
+++++Lenny knew that Libby had never enjoyed good health, living as she did with a congenital heart disease. But he was afraid that she might some day call the cops and tell them about Fred getting it with the machete. The cops keep good records about stuff like that.
+++++Still concerned that Libby might tell the cops, Lenny asked her out for a second date and when she went to the powder room, he put a dose of strychnine in her coffee. When Libby complained about feeling sick, he took her right home and didn’t even try this time to get a kiss good night.
+++++Libby’s mother found her dead in bed the following morning. The family was very upset but it was not an unexpected event what with Libby’s history of poor health. The family buried her without much ceremony after the doctor signed the death certificate. The cause of death was listed as heart disease.
+++++It was a year before Lenny dated anyone else. Then he met Lorraine, a waitress at a bowling alley. He liked her and asked her out and she said yes. After dinner and a movie and a few drinks at Lorraine’s apartment, Lenny told her all about Fred and the machete and then about Libby and the strychnine. He loved the look in Lorraine’s eyes as he rolled the stories out. Finally Lenny finished his fourth martini, leaned over and whispered to Lorraine,
+++++“And now the question is, what should we do about you.”

The Motel

Charlie Green pulled into the motel parking lot, cut the engine to his
Crown Vic and waited for his wife’s lover to arrive. He leaned back in
his seat and pulled out a half eaten double cheeseburger from a
wrinkled bag and ate. The trailblazer that his wife drove sat in the
parking lot beneath room 6B just a few spaces down and across from
where he waited. Ten minutes later a Ford F-150 pulled into the motel
and parked in the space next to the trailblazer. A man with shaggy
dark hair, white cut-off sleeve shirt and denim jeans got out and
walked up to room 6B on the second level.
+++++Charlie waited five more minutes, enjoying a cigarette. He finished
and flicked the butt out of the open window. Wiping the crumbs of his
lunch from his black t-shirt he got out of the car and headed for 6B.
He walked up the metal steps to the second level and pulled out a
fresh pack of Camels he bought on the way to the motel. He threw the
plastic wrap on the ground and packed them against the palm of his
hand. Ten times, every time. He had OCD about it. He had OCD about a
lot of things. He pulled out a cancer stick, lit it and rapped his
knuckles against the door. A woman wearing a tight wife beater, jeans
and a shocked expression opened the door.
+++++“Charlie,” she said.
+++++“Hello, Mandy.”
+++++“What are you doing here?”
+++++“You going to let me in?”
+++++She turned without a word and let the door creak all the way open.
Charlie entered the room, cigarette dangling from his lips. The man
from the F-150 lay on the single bed, shirtless, drinking a beer.
Charlie recognized him from an office Christmas party picture of
Mandy’s. He had been dressed in an elf costume with his arm draped
around her and another girl. An I’m-fucking-your-wife smile spread
across his bearded face.
+++++“Who the hell is this?” the man said getting to his feet.
+++++“This is my husband. Charlie,” said Mandy.
+++++Charlie took a drag from his cigarette. The ember glowed only half as
bright as the fire of anger in his eyes. Flicking ash he exhaled a
plume of smoke in the other man’s face.
+++++“What the fuck is he doing here?” he said standing eye to eye with
Charlie. Reaching behind his back Charlie pulled his 9mm and slapped
the guy across the bridge of his nose with the barrel. The man grabbed
his face as blood squirted between his fingers.
+++++“Ah, fuck.” The man cupped his nose with his hands and fell to his knees.
+++++“Shut up. I need to talk to my wife,” Charlie said.
+++++“Charlie,” said Mandy. “What are you doing?”
+++++The Other Man lay on the floor groaning and spitting blood. “You broke
my fugging nose, asshole.”
+++++Trying to maintain his cool Charlie grabbed him by the hair and shoved
the Beretta into his mouth. “Shut the fuck up. I will fuck you in the
face with this. Do you understand me, you smug piece of shit?”
+++++The Other Man mumbled something inaudible, possibly yes, and then
Charlie shoved him onto the bed.
+++++“You’re crazy, Charlie. Just go home,” Mandy said and retreated into
the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.
+++++“Not without you,” Charlie shouted through the door. “We have some
things to talk about.”
+++++She opened the door and stuck her head through the crack, tears
bubbling in her eyes. “It’s too late to talk. Just leave me alone.”
+++++He replaced the gun and slid his fingers over his buzz cut head.
Confusion, anger and heartbreak writhed over and under in his gut like
a school of hungry koi. He put out his cigarette, quickly fired up
another and looked around the room. The Other Man was gone. Must have
had enough of the married life for one day.
+++++“Mandy, please come out so we can talk like adults here.”
+++++“Just go home. What are you even doing here? Spying on me?”
+++++He didn’t respond because the answer was obvious. Charlie paced the
room instead, smoking and listening to his wife’s sobs coming from the
+++++Minutes later, Mandy opened the door and came out like a groundhog
scared of its shadow. Her eyes were red from crying. “I don’t know
what happened to us. Ever since she died you haven’t been the same.”
She looked up into his eyes. “She was my daughter too, Charlie.”
+++++Charlie didn’t say anything. He hung his head and inhaled smoke. He
didn’t want to think about the accident. It had to be more than that.
Sure, he had been a little withdrawn lately. As a private investigator
he had a lot of people to check on and follow up with. Mandy was a
nurse, working long hours. Amy had been gone a year. He took another
drag and let the smoke leak between his lips. It swirled around his
head like little phantoms.
+++++“So, that’s why you’re fucking a co-worker, because Amy is gone? What
kind of shit is that?”
+++++“No, I’m not.” Mandy ran her fingers through her long hair and
groaned. “I’m not sleeping with him.”
+++++Charlie stepped toward her, causing her to take a step back. An inch
from her face he said, “Then what was this? He’s sitting in a motel
room with you, his shirt off and his dick trying to break out of his
+++++“Okay. I admit I planned to sleep with him today. But we never have before.”
+++++“You’ve never slept with the guy before?”
+++++“Never,” she said.
+++++The rage cooled a few degrees and he stepped away from her to try and
think. She sat down on the edge of the bed. She said, “Since she’s
been gone you’ve been so distant. You’ve been working extra hours,
coming home so late. I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.” Tears
streamed down her face and dripped from the edge of her jaw. “I was
+++++Charlie stamped out his cigarette in an ashtray on the dresser. “I
didn’t leave that gate open. It wasn’t my fault.”
+++++“I know, Charlie. It was an accident. It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” Mandy
said. Her voice caught in her throat. “She just fell in.”
+++++He leaned against the dresser and lowered his head, fighting back
tears. “We should have built a fence around that pool.”
+++++“She’s not the only one I lost that day, you know.” Mandy lightly
touched his face.
+++++She burst into tears again and Charlie wrapped his arms around her.
The pain of their loss bringing them close as the memory of their lost
daughter hovered over them, a dark fog of misery and regret.
+++++They embraced each other at the edge of the bed in silence. Minutes
passed as they slowly regained their composure.
+++++“I’m sorry.” Mandy said.
+++++Charlie remained quiet in his cloud of despair.
+++++Mandy said, “I shouldn’t have done this.”
+++++“No, you shouldn’t have.” He stood up. “But, you’re right. We have
grown apart. Things haven’t been very good between us.”
+++++Mandy lay back onto the bed with a loud sigh. “Let’s just go home and
forget this ever happened. We can work on some things. Get close
+++++Charlie wondered how he could ever forget that his wife was trying to
have an affair with a man she worked with every day. Before he could
speak the devil appeared.
+++++Now wearing a shirt and a bandage across his nose The Other Man walked
through the open door and said, “That’s him. That’s the fucker that
broke my nose.”
+++++Another man the size of a Volkswagen Beetle squeezed into the room
behind him. Charlie noticed they both had guns stuffed into their
waistbands. Without a word The Volkswagen lumbered toward Charlie.
Charlie reached for his gun, but before he could aim it the big man
snatched it from his grip and tossed it across the room. He hit the
guy with a right, then a left in the face, but the guy just laughed.
+++++Kicking his steel toe boot into the big man’s knee Charlie brought him
down like a fallen oak. As he fell Charlie slammed an elbow to the
man’s temple, then wrapped an arm around his throat and put him in a
choke hold.
+++++The Other Man, still standing in the doorway, pulled his .45 and
pointed it at Charlie. “You motherfucker,” he said and pulled the
+++++The bullet sounded like a wasp buzzing past his ear. Charlie pushed
the unconscious man to the ground and stepped over him to face the
shooter. He lunged at the man and grabbed his wrist holding the gun,
slamming his other hand into the guys elbow. The gun went off again
before it fell from his grasp. Charlie rammed his elbow into the guy’s
chin. The Other Man hit the ground but didn’t go unconscious. He
kicked at Charlie’s leg knocking him to the ground.
+++++Charlie leapt onto the man with the agility of a panther. He pummeled
his knuckles into the guy’s teeth and broken nose. The man tried to
fight off the blows, but only grunted in pain as his face was bashed
to bloody pulp. Charlie kept hitting him and hitting him until finally
he stopped moving. He groaned in agony and spit a mouthful of blood
onto the floor. Charlie stood up, grabbed the .45 and turned to check
on Mandy.
+++++He immediately saw the blood splatter sliding down the wall. Mandy
splayed across the bed. There was a weeping hole in her throat. She
tried to speak but only a wet gurgle escaped. The bed soaked up her
blood. She looked at Charlie with fear in her wide eyes, trying to
+++++“Baby”, he whispered. “Baby, no.”
+++++Charlie sat on the motel bed cradling his wife in his arms and wept as
she stopped struggling for her last breath.

Lights, Camera, Action

Fifty grand was riding on Burris Sandoval’s first movie. It had to be perfect. He’d met a wealthy Canadian at the Adult Entertainment Expo in Vegas. The guy wanted rough stuff. Burris offered five murders on video for 50 Gs. The Canadian agreed to pay upon completion. Burris planned to keep 45 grand. As far as Garrett knew, they were splitting 10 Gs down the middle.
+++++“Get in here, Garrett!” Burris activated the final camera on his surveillance software. He’d spent the morning hiding cameras throughout the building. His laptop monitor showed views of five apartments. Burris zoomed in on apartment 6’s bed, zoomed out. Perfect. He grinned. Number 6 goes first.
+++++Garrett Nguyen appeared in the doorway wearing only a black leather S&M mask and floral board shorts. “Check this shit out.” He pointed at the mask. “Badass, right?”
+++++“Stop fucking around and get ready.” Burris checked his plastic Timex. “The dyke in apartment 6 will be home soon”
+++++“This manager dude’s a fucking creep, bro. This dump is crawling with dildos.”
+++++“Get your head out of your ass, Garrett.”
+++++“Chill, bro.”
+++++“Put on your coveralls,” Burris said. He slapped a butt plug from the foot of the manager’s bed. It bounced off the manager’s broken, purple body, crammed between the bed and wall, and rolled under the dresser. Burris sat on the bed. Its springs screeched. He glared at Garrett. “Are we murdering bitches, or going to the fucking beach?” He snatched a trench knife from the bed and unsheathed it.
+++++Garrett cocked his head and hesitated. “Murdering bitches?”
+++++Burris examined the blade. “Get dressed and get your ass in 6.”
+++++“I am dressed,” Garrett said, rubbing his bare stomach.
+++++Burris gawked.
+++++“I’m rockin’ these shorts, bro.” Garrett raised his right arm and flexed his bicep. “I wanna show off the bod.” He sniffed his armpit and recoiled. “Whoa.”
+++++Burris sheathed the knife and checked his watch. “Put on your fucking shoes and get moving.” He handed Garret the knife.
+++++“Can I wear the mask?” Garrett said, slipping on a pair of orange Crocs.
+++++“Just go.”
+++++“Fuck yeah.” Garrett zipped the mask’s mouth shut.
+++++“You got fifteen minutes to dissect that cunt.” Burris pulled the manager’s keys from his Wranglers and tossed them to Garrett. “Then hit apartment 3. The others go later. Got it?”
+++++“Number 6 for fifteen. Brutality. Murder. Then number 3.” Garrett sighed. “I got it.”
+++++“Now, git!” Burris said. Garrett shambled out of the apartment.
+++++Burris clicked on apartment 6’s living room. He clicked record.
+++++When Burris had studied the residents’ movements for a day, he felt a simmering hatred for the bitch in apartment 6. Looking at her was like chewing tinfoil. At the time, it was hard for Burris to pinpoint a specific reason because Garrett distracted him for most of the stakeout with his usual nonsense. Burris came away knowing only that he wanted her dead. Even without the movie.
+++++Garrett trundled through apartment 6’s living room. Burris clicked on the bedroom. Garrett shuffled in, slashing the air with the knife. He stopped, waved at the hidden camera, and slipped into the closet.
+++++Burris checked his watch. Any minute now. He clicked on the living room and punched his left palm. What was it about this bitch? Was it her shit-brown sedan? Her battleship-gray pantsuit and flats? Her mullet? Chicks don’t dress like that. Dykes dress like that.
+++++Outside, a car door slammed. Apartment 6’s door opened. A woman wearing a navy blue pantsuit entered.
+++++“Lights. Camera,” Burris said and leaned forward, clenching his jaw. “Action!”
+++++She kicked off her flats by the couch and headed for the bedroom, unbuttoning her suit jacket.
+++++Burris wanted to reach through the screen and choke her until she pissed. He clicked on the bedroom.
+++++She walked in tossed her jacket on the bed.
+++++Only dykes, Burris thought. He zoomed in. He wanted to see her face when Garrett gutted her. Instead he saw a badge and a holstered Glock on her belt.
+++++Garrett burst from the closet across the room and paused for dramatic effect.
+++++She drew her pistol.
+++++Burris deflated. “Dykes and detectives,” he mumbled, his words drowned in gun shot.

Charlie Dancer Was A Dirty Cop

Everyone knew it. The crooks knew it. They’d get shaken down by the sumbitch on the regular. The cops knew it. They’d crack jokes about Dancer selling the best meth in Hohman. Hell, the average citizen knew it. You couldn’t walk into a bar in North Hohman without crossing paths with Charlie Dancer, sitting at the end of the bar, with his back to the wall, radiating bad intentions.
+++++I stopped at the Whiskey Double Tap, hugged Kristy the bartender while getting an eyeful of her cleavage, then slipped downstairs for a snootful of marching powder. I hated going to the WDT. It seemed like the cops raided it once a month so scoring coke here was always a gamble. The secret was get your shit and get out. Don’t get caught loitering with the coke whores hanging around like its superbowl Sunday in Bolivia.
+++++My breath caught in my throat the moment my foot hit the bottom stair. There’s Charlie Dancer in the back of the room. He’s snorting a line of coke bigger than his nostril. It’s like a traffic jam going on up there. He’s huffing and wheezing and he’s got two weekend strippers from the Industrial Strip on either side of him, giggling and having a good old time.
+++++“The fuck are you doing here, Ohms?” Mickey asked me.
+++++“Feeding my addiction. Why I usually come down here? What the fuck is he doing down here?”
+++++“Keep your voice down.” Mickey walked me back up the stairs.
+++++He owned the joint so he could do that. Also, he’s got arms big around as my torso.
+++++“What’s Dancer doing here?” I asked again in a whisper once we were back in the bar proper.
+++++“Whatever the fuck he wants to do here, that’s what,” Mickey said. “You gotta lotta balls showing your face around here.”
+++++“Oh shit. What now?”
+++++“You ain’t heard?”
+++++“Nobody tells me nothing.”
+++++“Dancer and Starla’s got together. They’re the new item. Like the Hohman power couple. The Region’s Bradgelina.”
+++++So there’s only one Starla I know in all of North Hohman. My on-again, off-again girlfriend.
+++++“Well, it looks like we’re off again.”
+++++“It would appear that way, Ohms. See why it’s a good idea you make yourself scarce from around here a little while.”
+++++I left Whiskey Double Tap thinking Mickey probably wasn’t just referring to me keeping away from the bar, so much as steering clear of the entire Region altogether.
+++++Laying low didn’t appeal to my self-destructive streak, so I stopped at Toecutter Joe’s to nurse my ego. It was the one bar in the area women generally avoided. It’s a good place to go to when you want to massage your misery without having to worry about combing your hair.
+++++“Yeah,” Yahtzee said, bringing me a bottle of Okocim. “Dancer always said he’d bring down Starla, eventually. And he did!”
+++++It occurred to me Starla and I had been off again a lot longer than I had anticipated. Once Mickey clued me in, everyone felt the need to fill in the informational gaps for me.
+++++Starla was famous in North Hohman. Her fame resulted directly from her big tits, her whorish immorality and her lucrative marijuana trade. She kept at least ten pounds of good weed around her apartment at all times. It was another one of those open secrets North Hohman thrived on.
+++++Of course, when I say she was my girlfriend, it ain’t like we at the Ruby Tuesdays every Saturday night. Mostly we smoked pot and fucked on the couch. I thought we were really good for each other.
+++++“Whatcha got there, Ohms?”
+++++My cell phone.
+++++I have a self-destructive streak a mile long. That’s the only explanation I have for taking my phone out in the middle of Toecutter Joe’s and cycling through a year’s worth of naked pictures. There’s Starla in all her buck naked, spread eagle glory. Every pose imaginable for everyone in the bar to see.
+++++I imagined the text went something like this:
+++++The bar began buzzing with a nervous energy. I quickly became aware of the grins and whispers, never a good combination. That self-destructive streak shriveled from a mile to a millimeter.
+++++“Well, I guess I better get going.”
+++++“Stay and have another one. I’m buying.” Brian Taylor offered. The sleazy drunken Judas to my broken-hearted, coke head Jesus.
+++++“No, I gotta skedaddle.”
+++++Brian: “Yahtzee, get Ohms another one of those Polish beers. Put it on my tab.”
+++++“Gotta fucking go.”
+++++I walked to the side door, slipped out, in time to witness Charlie Dancer driving up on the curb in his dull gray Dodge Charger. Even his car windows were illegal, tinted darker than the state law allowed.
+++++My longevity in this town went hand in hand with my lack of pride. I’ve never been afraid to run away. I thought, maybe if I keep running fast enough and Dancer keeps chasing long enough, he’ll be too tired to do much damage once he caught me. It was a drunk’s logic and I loved my mind for it.
+++++Charlie Dancer stepped out of the Charger, drew his police issue 9mm and opened fire on me.
+++++I thought I’d gotten a fairly decent head start on Dancer, but those gunshots sounded like canon shots. The window of a Camaro to my right exploded in a party blast of glass. Bullets ricocheted off apartment brick to my left. I heard some hollering, more than likely Dancer screaming for me to freeze or something equally Ludacris. I ducked into the alley, cut through yards, I didn’t stop running for a long time.
+++++A week passed before I worked up the nerve to show my face at the Whiskey Double Tap again. I seemed to have upset the status quo. Kristy didn’t have a hug for me. Ever her cleavage seemed to shrink before my eyes. Mickey didn’t invite me downstairs.
+++++“It’s hard to believe you took down the most corrupt cop in the entire Region,” Mickey said.
+++++“Yep,” I treated the folks to my biggest, most self-destructive smile. “Who knew discharging your service weapon at a fleeing drunk was grounds for dismissal, eh? Not I!”
+++++“You know he’s gonna fuck you for this if it’s the last thing he does, right?” Mickey said.
+++++“He was a year away from getting his twenty,” Kristy added. “Even with sick days and vacation, he ain’t getting his pension because of you.”
+++++“Boo fucking hoo.”
+++++Kristy and Mickey exchanged this-guy-is-an-idiot glances.
+++++“I’m just saying,” Mickey said. “It ain’t gonna be this week. It ain’t gonna be next week. Probably six months would be my guess. And it probably won’t even be Dancer who pulls the trigger. He’ll be sitting out in Tennessee somewhere with Starla on his lap, and you’ll be getting assassinated by some Cholo who owes a favor.”
+++++“Mickey, please. If I took every death threat seriously I’d have never made it outta kindergarten.”
+++++“And you ain’t learned nothing since then.”
+++++“Nope,” I smiled, withdrawing my phone. “You wanna see some naked pictures?”

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Vanessa fell to her knees in tears, gripping Enrique’s jeans. “I didn’t know what to do. I’m sorry,” she said.
+++++“He followed you?”
+++++“I managed to lose him at a light but he caught up to me.” Vanessa pressed her forehead into the floor and wept. The same way she wept when the affair first started, droning on late into the night about how dissatisfied she was; until she became tired—physically and emotionally—and gave in sexually.
+++++All Enrique wanted was sex with the hottest woman in the office, who had an ass shaped liked the apple Adam bit into. Someone supposedly inaccessible but who was quick to respond to his flirting in the break room, and once told him, “You can get anything from me if you’re persistent enough.”
+++++That got him so hard he needed five minutes before walking back to his desk. But nothing comes free and now her jealous husband was pounding down his door. A few more kicks and it’d break from the hinges.
+++++Vanessa ran into the bedroom where she once told Enrique she wanted to stay forever, forget about Marco, and turn the page to a new chapter in her life.
+++++“There’s a gun at the back of the sock drawer. It’s loaded,” Enrique shouted to her.
+++++“When I get in there, I’m burning the place down, you infidel fucks,” Marco shouted. Another kick and the door caved in, closing off any hope of escaping the house without having to go through him.
+++++Marco’s bulk filled the door frame as he turned an aluminum baseball bat in his white-knuckle grip, zeroing in through blood shot, puffy eyes. “This is what you cheated on me with?” he shouted and laughed. “Watch how easily his head cracks open, cunt.” Like an All-Star swinging for the fences, Marco cocked back—the bat level with Enrique’s head—when shots popped off from the room.
+++++The bat hit the floor with a clang. Marco hit the floor with two holes in his heart.
+++++“Holy shit,” Enrique said before collapsing to the floor a vomiting mess. He’d fucked plenty of chicks before. All with baggage as temporary as a cab fare, a friendly hug, and a promise to keep in touch. But the body and blood on his floor would linger forever.
+++++Vanessa walked over and gently ran her fingers through his hair, massaging the crown. “Don’t worry. Now it’s just the two of us for tomorrow and tomorrow. Forever. I’ll clean up the mess after I make you some tea so you can relax,” she said.
+++++Vanessa smiled back at him. There wasn’t enough oxygen coming into the room as his eyes ping-ponged between Marco’s body and the gun. “Two of us?” he said, pointing at her dead husband. “I mean, like you but this is just. . . I just thought we were–”
+++++“What did you think, Kiki? There’s no thinking. We talked about this: the two of us together, with no one in the way. No interferences, remember? Look,” she said pointing the gun at Marco, “I made it happen. It’s done.”
+++++“Are you serious? There’s no way we can do this now after–”
+++++Enrique hit the floor with two holes in his head.
+++++“Sorry, Kiki, I can’t settle for something half-assed. I don’t need that kind of shit in my life,” Vanessa Solis said.

Don’t Drink and Drive

Ted Urban was expecting someone different. Someone taller, for sure, and someone dressed differently. If the person standing before him were a baseball player, the visitor might be listed as five foot, six inches in the press guide. That, as is typically the case with press guide descriptions, would be an exaggeration. The individual was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, white shorts, and light tan sandals. Urban stood up from behind a massive mahogany desk and offered his hand. “Hunter, please take a seat. Make yourself at home. Can I offer you something? Um, cigar?”
+++++Hunter glanced around the office and immediately noticed the pictures. There was one prominently displayed on Urban’s desk. There were photos on every wall, on tables and in the bookcase. Hunter imagined there were photos in Urban’s wallet as well. “You can offer, but I’m not taking.” The voice was shockingly high pitched. “How’d you find me?”
+++++Urban grabbed a stick, meticulously cut the tip with a shiny wedge cutter and lit the cigar, slowly rolling it around in his fingers as the flame jumped in spurts from the stogie’s end. He spoke between puffs. “You know. A friend of a friend of a friend, one of those deals.” Urban put the cigar back in his mouth. His leather chair barked as his massive weight leaned back. “I’ll pay handsomely, Hunter. I want this sonofabitch dead. He took me for a fucking fortune. Now, I’m willing to pay double that fortune for his hide. I was told I could count on you, for, you know, discretion and a clean job.”
+++++Hunter’s ass lifted off the seat. “Not interested.”
+++++Urban removed the cigar and carefully placed it in a large oblong onyx ashtray. “You haven’t even heard my offer. I’m willing to pay you…”
+++++“Do I stutter? Not interested.” Hunter headed for the door.
+++++“Wait!” Urban was out from behind his desk with alacrity that defied his bulk. “Of course I hoped you wouldn’t take the job. I was, you know, just testing you. Well, kind of testing your morals as a killer. Make sense?” Hunter said nothing. “Please, don’t be insulted. Take a seat, again. Please.”
+++++The two returned to their respective positions at Ted Urban’s desk. “Forgive my little game. I just had to be sure, that’s all.” Hunter remained still, so Urban continued. “I’m generally not in the murder business. That’s why I’d like to hire you. What they say about you is true, huh?”
+++++Hunter checked the time on a thick gold watch. “Depends.” The voice sounded like Tiny Tim.
+++++“C’mon, you know. You kill people who’ve killed.”
+++++Hunter was playing a sandals game. The two sandals were propped against each other so that they were standing on their own, forming a perfect equilateral triangle with the plush carpet. Hunter snuck a glance at the newly created work of sandal art. Hunter’s toes dug into the carpet. “I do. There, we’re married. Get to the point.”
+++++Urban puffed furiously at his cigar in an effort to get it going again. “What about potential killers? Do you kill potential killers?” Urban detected a slight break in Hunter’s poker face. “Six thousand dollars, and you’ll be doing society a favor.”
+++++Hunter got up, walked barefoot to the window and peered out of the sixth floor office. A cop was placing a ticket under the windshield wiper of a metallic copper colored vehicle. Turning back, Hunter examined the books lining Urban’s bookcases and lifted a framed photo of a young boy in a little league uniform showing a big smile and a bat on his shoulder. “Does my being here have anything to do with him?” The boy was in all of the photos displayed around the office. Some shots were candid, some posed, sometimes the boy was alone, and in others he was alongside Urban. The boy appeared happy, full of life. Hunter gently replaced the framed photo and sat down.
+++++“That’s Sam. Recognize him?”
+++++“No. Should I?”
+++++Urban rubbed his hands through thick graying hair. “His picture was in all of the papers. He was front-page news for a few days. His fifteen minutes of fame.” Urban removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes.
+++++“I don’t read the papers. Too much bad news.”
+++++Urban cleared his throat. “Sam is my son. Was my son, that is. No, is my son. He’ll always be my little guy. Fact of the matter is, he’s dead, killed by a drunk driver. He was on a school bus coming home a little over a year ago, 386 days to be precise. It was Sam’s sixth birthday. He was sitting in the last row of the bus probably thinking about opening up his presents when he got home. This was in the middle of the afternoon. Some drunken bastard in one of those huge SUV’s rammed the back of the bus. My little Sammy had no warning and no chance. He was my life. My wife died of cancer when Sam was three years old. He’s all I had and he was taken from me by a low-life drunk.” Urban pounded a fist on his desk.
+++++Hunter looked down. The standing sandals had fallen. “Sorry. You want me to kill the guy who killed Sam?”
+++++“You can’t. He’s already dead.” Now, it was Urban’s turn. He picked up and stared at the desk photo of Sam. He wiped away a thin layer of dust with his handkerchief. “Frank Fink. Hell of a name, huh? Hell of a name for a hell of a human being. He’s dead, too. He died in the accident as well. I’m hiring you to kill someone who hasn’t killed anyone. Yet. I want you for the first time to kill someone who has never killed another person. A potential killer.”
+++++“Someone in particular you have in mind?”
+++++“Nope. I simply want you to prevent a killing by eliminating someone. I don’t know whom. I don’t really care whom. I want to prevent another parent from experiencing the living hell in which I currently reside.”
+++++“Look, Urban, I don’t…”
+++++“I’m hiring you to sit in a bar or a restaurant or a strip joint or a hotel, wherever the hell people drink, and watch. I want you to watch closely at who drinks too much. Let’s say the magic number is six. Ha! Fuck the number six.” Urban started to get up but thought better of it. “Watch for anyone who has more than six drinks. Then, I want you to follow them to see if they get into a car or truck or whatever to drive. Then, do what you have to do and remove them from this earth. Make it nice and clean. I hate violence, and by the looks of you and what I’ve heard about you, it doesn’t appear that violence is your forte, anyway. Do away with whomever you select, as long as he or she meet the criteria. Look at it this way; you’ll be preventing a murder of who knows how many innocent people by killing one potential killer. I’ll give you half of the six thousand dollars now and the remaining half when you come back after the job is done. Do we have a deal?”
+++++Hunter ran a salmon-pink tongue across small front teeth. The two shook hands. With three thousand dollars stuffed into the front pocket of the Hawaiian shirt, Hunter, who had a son once long ago, took one last glance at a photo of little Sam Urban and headed out.


The Driftwood Tavern was crowded and dark. A typical neighborhood bar that catered to mostly guys looking to down a few after work or after a weekend softball game. Hunter selected the Driftwood based solely on its old style neon sign which cast a depressing bluish light into the night’s air and because it wasn’t too far from home. It was a Tuesday evening. Hunter sat at a corner table near the restroom. Every time someone opened the men’s room door to take a leak, Hunter got a whiff of a sickening sweet bathroom air freshener, the kind that clung to clothing. The stench could be smelled all night. There were two bartenders, both overweight, slick backed black hair and wearing aprons. Hunter thought they could be brothers. One had a thin moustache just above his upper lip. He reminded Hunter of a 1940’s actor who had been in hundreds of movies but his name was a mystery. Both had probably been at the Driftwood since it’s opening. There was a pool table seeing action, a dartboard on the wall that was being ignored at the moment, and a large screen television. Hunter couldn’t see which teams were playing, but the volume was set loud enough so that the crowd cheers were heard over the din of the tavern. The third base coach was waving two runners home. Hunter nursed a beer and ate salted peanuts. Everything tasted like cheap bathroom air freshener. From this vantage point, Hunter could see almost everyone seated at the bar and at the tables. There was a constant flow of patrons coming and going, but Hunter focused on a table at the far end of the place occupied by three guys in their mid thirties wearing suits with their ties undone. Hunter had already counted six pitchers of beer, and now a seventh one was being delivered by the mustachioed barkeep. Two of the three guys were drinking heavily. The third was eating popcorn and sipping water through a bent straw. A lemon wedge hung precariously from the edge of his glass. Every now and then, they’d look up at the television screen when the crowd noise increased. Hunter figured that they were discussing their jobs and how miserable their lives were, or perhaps talking about some hot young thing that they had been seeing on the side. More likely, wished they were seeing.
+++++Hunter looked at the clock behind the bar. It had been more than three hours since the guys had been drinking. The ballgame was over. Hunter looked up and saw highlight replays of the game interspersed with a couple of the game’s announcers moving their lips and shaking their heads upward and downward. No one was playing billiards. The two bartenders were doing more cleaning of the bar than serving drinks. Hunter watched closely as the three men stood up. The two drinkers were on unsteady legs. The hairs on the back of Hunter’s neck tingled with excitement. The feel of the handcuffs bulge was reassuring. The men were having a somewhat heated discussion. The non-drinker had his arm around the shoulder of one of the guys, and these two seemed unhappy with what the third person was saying. Hunter didn’t want to get too close. Finally, the three men headed for the exit door. One of the bartenders waived his rag, said “goodnight, drive safely,” and continued drying glasses. Outside, the three men hugged and fist bumped each other. “I’m fine. Really. Thanks.” The tallest of the three was walking away from the other two. Hunter watched. Two of the men, one of whom wasn’t drinking, headed together toward a white Nissan Maxima. The non-drinker helped the other into the passenger seat, then walked around the car and got behind the wheel. He was the designated driver. Hunter turned toward the tallest of the three who staggered near one of the light posts. Hunter heard a loud belch and then watched as the drunk dropped his pants and urinated in the parking lot. The man began singing an old Four Seasons song as he walked toward a Honda Accord, began fumbling with his keys, and then dropped them. Hunter approached. “Here, let me help you with that,” picking the keys up off the pavement.
+++++The man was briefly startled. “Who da hell are you? The tooth fairy?” The man began laughing. Hunter pulled out a wallet and flashed a badge. “A cop? You? A midget cop with a fairy voice, hell I must be dreaming. Right?” Again, the man laughed. “You can help me sing, ‘Sherry Baby!’ You got the voice for it. Let’s try it.” The man was loud. He started singing again.
+++++Hunter opened the car’s door. “Sir, you’re intoxicated. I can not permit you to drive yourself home in this condition.”
+++++“I’m not drivin anywhere. Shit, you smell like a bathroom…”
+++++Hunter cut him off. “That’s right. I’ll drive you home. It’s my duty and obligation.”
+++++“Hell no, you see I…”
+++++“Shut up. Shut your goddamned mouth right now!” Despite the size differential, Hunter manhandled the drunk into the passenger’s seat of the vehicle. “Just keep your mouth shut and I’ll drive you home.” Hunter gunned the car in gear and headed east on the main drag.
+++++“Where in hell you taking me? I don’t live this way. Shit. Jeez, I gotta pee. Pull over.”
+++++Hunter ignored him and blasted the radio to drown out the man’s bitching. After a five-minute drive, Hunter pulled into the driveway of a secluded split-level house. HUNTER was printed in block letters on the mailbox. Hunter got out of the car, opened the garage door, and drove in. The man was still screaming.
+++++“What the hell you doing? Where the hell are we? I gotta pee so goddamned bad. Listen, my wife is com…”
+++++Hunter pulled the cuffs and secured the drunkard to the steering wheel, then opened all the windows in the vehicle and left the car engine running. When the garage door was shut Hunter entered the house via the front door, disconnected the carbon monoxide detector and walked back out.
+++++In the morning, Hunter opened the garage door, let things air out for a few minutes, and then poured gasoline from a spare lawnmower tank into the Accord. Hunter undid the handcuffs and moved the stiff over toward the passenger’s seat, turned on the ignition and drove back to the Driftwood Tavern. No cars were in the parking lot. Hunter parked and placed the dead man behind the wheel of the Honda and disappeared.


Hunter took his now familiar seat at the desk across from Urban. “You know why I’m here. Three thousand dollars.” Hunter looked at freshly manicured fingernails.
+++++“Does the name William, or Bill Stickney mean anything to you, Hunter?”
+++++“Not a thing. Should it?”
+++++Urban pulled a folded newspaper from the top right-hand drawer. “Maybe, maybe not.” He opened the newspaper and flattened it against the desk. “He’s been in the news of late.”
+++++Hunter pulled at a toothpick. “I told you I don’t read newspapers, Urban. The news is always bad. I make it my business to avoid bad news.”
+++++Urban stared at Hunter. “He’s dead. He died sometime Tuesday night of carbon monoxide poisoning. The cops found him and his car parked at the Driftwood Tavern, not far from here. Know the place?”
+++++Hunter showed no emotion. “That’s all very nice, Urban. I’m here to collect my money.”
+++++“Thing about it is, the cops are saying he was murdered. See, this Stickney guy had been drinking all night at the Driftwood with a couple of buddies. He had had much too much to drink, so he sent a text message to his wife asking her to pick him up at the bar. He texted that he was in no condition to drive, but when the wife got there, Stickney and his car were gone. Vanished. Next thing anyone knows, the fucker is back at the bar the following morning, in his car, but he’s dead. Murdered.”
+++++Hunter’s pulse increased. “What are you saying?”
+++++“I’m saying, that if you had anything to do with killing this man, well, he was no killer and from the story, he was no potential killer, either. Hunter, you killed a drunken but very innocent man that didn’t need killing.”


The reality overcame Hunter and felt like an iodine injection flowing through swollen allergic veins. With a full tank of gas, Hunter parked in the garage, shut the garage door, and sat in the car with the engine running and with windows open. The carbon monoxide detector was again disconnected. She didn’t need handcuffs.

Nothing Hardcore to Me

It happened because of a photo.  A photo of a naked woman. A red-headed woman down on her knees, licking a bloody knife, over an off-white infinite background.  Nothing hardcore to me.  But very powerful all the same.
+++++She was neither über-model-thin nor pin-up-plump; rather slender, willowy, a bit curvaceous.  Skin very white and spotless, not a tiny freckle on it.  So perfect I could only attribute it to the eldritch arts of Photoshop.
+++++Most of her small breasts were covered by the hand that held the knife.  The nipples couldn’t be seen.  Pubic hairs – if any – weren’t visible as well.
+++++I loved the way the colors of her hair and the blood on the knife and the tongue clashed and contrasted: auburn, copper, red, pink, dark brown.  It suited me fine for something I was just thinking of doing then.
+++++But first I had to ask the photographer.  He was an old friend and I was visiting him in his studio.  We used to get drunk a lot in college days.  Now, not so much.
+++++“This is a nice one,” I told him, showing the photo with the naked woman.  It was among the first ones in a portfolio wide open on his desk.
+++++“It was a photo shoot for a death metal cover,” he said, showing me the rest of the pictures.  Most of them virtually the same scene, with minor variations, and two which deviated a lot from the established template, with arms and legs spread in a number of different angles (yes, she had pubic hairs).
+++++But the first photo still attracted me more.
+++++“Was?” I asked.
+++++He shrugged.  “It didn’t pan out.  They wanted more of the same.  Black and red.  Arcane symbols and the like.  And less nudity.”
+++++I chuckled. “And you told them to fuck off, right?”
+++++“No,” he said. “I delivered.”
+++++“So much for the old punk spirit, huh?”
+++++He stared at me as if I was joking – or, in retrospect, a jerk; that, I think, is the best option – and said: “Punk has nothing to do with it. I’m a professional. During the briefing, I listen carefully to all the client has to say. After she’s done, I make a few suggestions. The client is free to accept them or not. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they accept everything you say and, when you just finished what you think is the best goddamn photo shoot of your life they shrug and tell you it just wasn’t what they imagined how it would be in the end.”
+++++“Don’t it makes you want to kill someone?”
+++++“No,” he said. “I always charge upfront.”
+++++“So these are already paid for?”
+++++“What are you going to do with them?”
+++++“I don’t know yet.”
+++++“You know, this is just what I’ve been looking for,” I said.
+++++And told him about the porn noir novel.
+++++Nothing hardcore to me: hardboiled detective meets femme fatale who happens to be not only the mastermind behind the very murder-cum-theft he was just hired to solve, but also his long-lost sister, of whose existence he didn’t even know until few weeks before the whole shebang. And, of course, they fall in love before he discovers the truth. Did I mention they also fuck? A lot?
+++++And a red-headed woman down on her knees, licking a bloody knife, over an off-white infinite background, would be just the right thing to spice things up a bit. And, with luck, to help boost sales.
+++++“What do you think?” I asked him.
+++++He shrugged again. The man liked to keep his cool.
+++++“It can be done,” he said. “I can charge you a symbolic fee for it. Just to make things official.”
+++++“But…?” I sensed the but coming as a wall of tear gas in a crowded place.
+++++“But you’ll have to get permission from the model.”
+++++“I thought photographers had the rights over their work.”
+++++“They do. But she’s a friend. I just want to let her know she’s going to mutate from a metal goddess to a pulp vixen.”


We met a couple of days later in a bar near the studio.
+++++She wasn’t red-headed. At least not then. Her hair was black, very black, Bettie-Page black, Dita-Von-Teese black. Her skin, though, was really milk-white. And she had freckles.
+++++“Do I meet your expectations?” she asked me wryly as we shook hands. She did, but I had no words. I only smiled at her and mumbled something I can’t remember, but must have been complimentary, because she smiled too.
+++++The weather was so good we took a table outside and drank draft beer and talked a lot about photos and vintage covers of noir books. We even talked about my short-lived interest in parlor tricks and of how much I had laughed when I saw that scene with the pencil that Heath Ledger did as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
+++++It was a fine evening. Good beer, fine company.
+++++Until the homeless guy appeared.
+++++If his clothes weren’t so tattered and stinky, he could qualify for a model himself. He might have been a handsome man one day. He was a tall, slender man, maybe younger than me. His face had seen better days. His long and tangled hair, though, had no sign of gray; same with the beard.
+++++But he wasn’t any noble beggar. He came up the street wobbling with some difficulty, a bottle of Johnnie Walker’s Red Label almost empty under his armpit, and went right to our table. I was watching the bastard from across the street – I was pretty sure he was coming for us. I’m a magnet for beggars and such. But I wasn’t his target audience, naturally. He took his time, backpedaling, swaying a bit to the side, then straightening up and resuming his journey, which at this point in time was almost a quest. A quest for the model, who happened to be seated right by my side. He finally approached her, leaning over her in a very uncomfortable way, putting himself between us. The stink, the stink.
+++++“Do you want to see a magic trick, beautiful lady?” he asked her in what I could only guess he thought it was a mellifluous voice (it was a rough, bone-dry voice). Then he touched her on the shoulder.
+++++Maybe I shouldn’t have done anything. She didn’t move, didn’t even flinch. Maybe she was being polite, maybe she didn’t care about the guy. Perhaps she was thinking that, if she gave the poor bastard a few moments of her time, he would happily go away and that would be that. I really should be more patient.
+++++I stood up and grabbed the guy by the lapel of his almost disintegrating coat. And said: “Do you want to see ME doing make a magic trick with you? I can make you DISAPPEAR! On the count of five: FIVE, FOUR…”
+++++I felt the pain before the three.
+++++It was so unexpected I yelped and let the man go.
+++++There was a knife in the model’s hand. There was blood in my arm.
+++++“You don’t meet my expectations,” she hissed.
+++++I couldn’t stop looking at the blood flowing down my arm. It didn’t look like a deep wound, but it hurt like fuck.
+++++“He’s a friend,” she said.
+++++I looked up. The homeless guy was gone.
+++++“He had drama classes with her a couple of years ago,” the photographer said. “He modeled for me occasionally.”
+++++The girl only shook her head. And drank.
+++++I was feeling cold. I looked down: my arm was scarlet now, blood flowing freely down my fingers, pooling in the pavement.
+++++“Don’t be a sissy,” the model said as if she read my mind. “You’re not going to die. He is, poor Dan” and pointed with her chin down the street.
+++++“So I guess no photo to me, then,” I thought of saying. But I didn’t. So much for the punk spirit.

Brother’s Keeper

My brother Ronnie had been murdered, while I was in jail, shot in the head. The cops knew it, they’d bugged his apartment. They didn’t want Ronnie; he was a low level drug dealer and addict, just another nobody to them. Two piece of shit cops thought bugging his place would lead them to bigger fish. They had no idea.
They had a tape of Hector Flores killing my brother. Hector had worked his way up to big time drug dealer over the past few years. It’s too bad they placed the bugs illegally. They couldn’t use any of it in court. That’s where I came in.
+++++I just got out of jail, assault and battery. Two guys jumped me outside McCoy’s Bar. It was self-defense but my court appointed lawyer was shit, so I did 90 days. They wouldn’t even let me out to go to Ronnie’s funeral.
+++++I went to check in with my probation officer, and knew right away something was up. There were two cops waiting for me, Detectives Miller and Bronson. The cops knew Ronnie had been dealing small time outta his place, a little here and there never anything steady. He sold just enough to cover his fix, and only when he was low on cash.
+++++A few of his buyers were well to do college boys. They were running their own operation, catering to the academic…if you know what I mean. They’d slum it down town then sell it on campus at an inflated price, sort of a finder’s fee for their upper classmen.
+++++One of them got popped, and spilled everything. They were planning on stepping up their operation in a big way, and were gonna use Ronnie to bridge the gap to his supplier. I guess college tuition must have gone up.
+++++The two cops wanted the who, what, where, when and how on the college boys. They were gonna let them set up shop and get rolling. Once they had business going Miller and Bronson would steam roll in, facing major drug charges they’d roll on their supplier, Hector Flores.
+++++There was only one problem. A judge wouldn’t authorize the bugs for an operation like that and they knew it, so Miller and Bronson took it upon themselves. They set their equipment up, it was voice activated. Just turn it on and go, then check it every day and see what you got. They weren’t prepared for what they heard on one of the tapes.
+++++They played it for me. It was brutal to listen to. I wanted to kill Hector; I wanted to kill them too. They fucked up couldn’t touch Hector, anything on their tapes would be inadmissible, now they needed my help.
+++++‘So let me get this right, you want me to wear a wire and meet with Hector?’
+++++‘That’s about it,’ Miller said.
+++++‘What makes you think I’ll do it?’ I asked.
+++++‘He was your brother. Don’t you want to help put his killer away?’ Bronson said sarcastically.
+++++‘Fuck you,’ I said disbelieving what I’d heard. ‘How are you gonna convince the bosses down at H.Q. You can’t play the tape for them. They’d shit if they knew about it.’
+++++‘That’s the easy part. You came to us with info on Hector. You volunteered to wear a wire, to even the score for your brother.’ Bronson said. At that they both smiled.
+++++‘And if you don’t, you might find yourself… violating your parole in the very near future,’ Miller added.
+++++‘You can’t do that.’
+++++‘We can do whatever we what,’ Bronson replied. I knew they could too, if I didn’t do what they wanted I’d be back inside. These two fucks had me by the balls.
+++++‘What makes you think he’ll even meet with me?’ I asked incredulously.
+++++‘You heard the tape, the fifty grand he thinks your brother stole from him. He’ll meet you. In fact he’s probably looking for you. We already put the word on the street that you’ve been flashing a lot of cash for a guy just outta jail.’
+++++The bastards fucked me. I had to go through with it. I had no qualms about fucking Hector Flores. I would have preferred to do it in my own time, on my terms. I’d rather see him dead than in jail but you played the cards that were dealt to you.
+++++I remember when Hector was nobody, a punk hanging around Joey D and his boys. He started dealing when he was just a kid, selling bags of weed down on 23rd street. Soon he was running numbers and girls. Somewhere along the line he stepped it up, coke, heroine, you name it. Then Joey D disappeared. There’s no doubt Hector had something to do with it. Rumor has it Joey’s buried in at least half a dozen places in the city.
+++++Their plan was simple. All I had to do was let Hector know that I wanted to give the cash back he thought my brother took. The cops would supply the cash and I’d wear a wire. Hector’s a big mouth, he likes to brag. They were banking on him running his mouth and incriminating himself. I was banking on getting shot; at the very least I’d probably get fucked up pretty good.
+++++I met one of Ronnie’s junkie friends at McCoy’s Bar. He was only too happy to pass the message along. I guess he thought it would put him in Hector’s good graces.
+++++A meeting was set up. Hector picked the spot, I wanted someplace public, but he chose an old flea bag apartment he used to run girls out of back in his pimping days, 10 PM. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be walking out if it. The fucking cops would win either way. He’d incriminate himself or kill me and they’d have it on tape… all legal this time.
+++++I stopped by Ronnie’s old place. I guess it’s mine now, I been staying there since getting out and the landlord didn’t care as long as he got paid in cash. I knew Ronnie used to keep a 38 hidden under the floorboards of the closet. I had a feeling I might need it. It was still there, along with some other things. One of them was a picture of us when we were kids. It had been taken at the beach. Ronnie’s eyes were bright. They didn’t have the dazed, glassed over look I’d gotten used to seeing in them over the last few years. Seeing that picture broke my heart. Ronnie had been a junkie, but he was still my brother.
+++++Up until then I’d considered bailing, take off and run. I’d be violating my probation and might get caught some day. Or worse Hector might find me. He’d think I had his money. One thing about drug dealers, they want their money. For fifty grand he’d hunt me down till the day he died.
+++++With five hours till the meeting, I went to the apartment. I walked the block a few times looking for any sign of Hector’s boys. It was all clear. The doors weren’t locked, big surprise there.
+++++After going inside I saw why. It was mostly bare. An old cum stained mattress lay in the bedroom and a beat up couch and chair sat in the living room. I tore out the lining from under the chair and tucked the gun inside. If I was gonna die tonight I damn sure wasn’t going alone. With the gun hidden I went to meet the cops.
+++++They explained how everything worked, like they gave a shit about me. I was expendable to them. In fact it would make their job easier if Hector had me shot tonight. Just before the meeting they wired me up, I taped the small transmitter up under my balls, I knew Hector wouldn’t go there.
+++++I showed up exactly at 10PM, Hector made me wait almost an hour. Let me tell you something. If someone pulls a gun on you, you react. But knowing its coming and having to wait for it is a whole lot harder.
+++++When they walked into the apartment the first thing I noticed was his bodyguard, he was fucking huge, 6”7” at least, and of course he had a gun in his hand. Hector stood next to him. I got up off the couch with my hands raised, the bag next to me on the floor. His bodyguard frisked me then stepped out of the way.
+++++‘Where’s my money?’ Hector asked, straight to the point.
+++++‘It’s in the bag,’ I said and slid it over to him with my foot.
+++++‘You’re brother had some balls stealing from me,’ he said contemptuously.
+++++‘I don’t want any problems,’ I said. ‘I just wanna make things right, and get on with my life.’ I did my best to look pitiful.
+++++‘Get on with your life… You’re a funny motherfucker. What makes you think you’re gonna have a life after tonight?’
+++++Just then his bodyguard stepped up and hit me with is gun. Pain exploded in my head and jaw as I fell to the ground. I landed sprawled out in front of the chair, spitting blood and a tooth out onto the floor.
+++++‘We both know you’re not walking outta here. The only question is… you gonna die like a man, or you gonna die like your brother? He died like a bitch, begging, and crying,’ Hector said.
+++++‘Fuck you.’ I spat through a mouthful of blood, craning my neck to look up at him. I lay on my stomach and didn’t want to move. My hand was close to the chair, the gun within reach. All I had to do now was wait for my chance.
+++++‘Oh…you’re a tough guy,’ he said. ‘Gimme my gun.’ He held his hand out, never taking his eyes off me.
+++++The bodyguard reached into his jacket as I slid my hand under the chair. He handed Hector a stainless steel Beretta 9mm. Hector squatted down, eye level with me.
+++++‘This is the gun I offed your pussy brother with,’ he said with a smile, revealing a mouthful of gold teeth. ‘Let’s keep this in the family.’
+++++That was it. He confessed and had the murder weapon. They’d break in any second, that’s when I’d make my move. The rest seem to happen in slow motion. It lasted about five seconds but seemed like a lifetime.
+++++The front door burst inward, and there was shouting. The bodyguard turned to it, his gun raised. Hector only shifted his eyes in that direction, but it was enough. A shot rang out, then another. The bodyguard twitched then went flying backwards.
+++++As Hector’s eyes shifted back to me I pulled the gun out and fired. For a split second the shock of what was about to happed registered on his face. It was a look that said ‘I can’t believe a scumbag like you is gonna win’. The shot went upward, hitting Hector in the mouth. The top of his head exploded as the bullet tore through it. He didn’t even get a shot off.
+++++The shooting was in self-defense but I still got nailed for the illegal gun. Hector’s man took out Bronson. Too bad he only got one of the pricks. Thanks to my “effort helping” the police, the judge said he let me off easy, 90 days in county.
+++++Easy…any time inside isn’t easy. But I would have killed Hector anyway, or gotten myself killed trying. And the fifty grand hidden in Ronnie’s closet makes the 90 days a whole lot easier.


Darius the killer felt a thousand police eyes on his scarred face. He scanned the deserted concrete maze and saw nothing but taunting graffiti that disappeared with a severe blink. A side effect of the meds, that were supposed to drag him out of his depression when his wife left, was potential psychosis. It was a rare side effect but he had it, manifested in intense paranoia. His blood blistered his veins, his skin felt like it was trying to drag itself off his bones and he jittered and twisted on the spot. This was the Akathisia. Intense restlessness akin to the worst cocaine fuck over blended with relentless insomnia. Rare also, but Darius the killer needed no reminding he was born drug sensitive. The taunts would never leave his memory.
+++++The girlfriend the wife divorced him over demanded he get specialist psychiatric help with the psychosis. She told him she could accept he was a professional murderer but she wouldn’t accept being a pro bono victim because of his chemical living nightmares mistaking her for an alien or some other fucked up shit.
+++++The experts looked him up and down and ignored his bundle of research print-outs, diagnosing him as schizophrenic. They ordered him into the hospital and he politely declined. Six police officers walloped his door off its hinges, splintering the frame, and bundled him into the waiting van. Dumped him into the hospital seclusion room. He was de-bagged and injected with what they described as anti-psychotic drugs whilst still in cuffs, to cure his new diagnosis. They increased his initial meds too because they figured these things go hand in hand. They eventually let him go home on the condition he never missed his fortnightly jab, else they’d drag him back. He played the good soldier and gifted them his trademark cracked smile. He was a killer and had money to earn after all.
+++++The girlfriend said life was too short to wait for him to get specialist help for the impotence the new drugs he’d been forcibly subject to, had caused. A rare side effect, but Darius the killer, even when alone, heard the taunts right in his eardrums because he’d been drug sensitive in the womb.
+++++Unending taunts, every waking hour, peppered his mind. Alone now in his bed, staring at the cracks spidering in the ceiling, he contemplated his next move. He was a redundant hitman, fired for killing the wrong person in the last two hits. Word spread throughout the network he was loco. He knew he wanted his life to mean something. And he knew what he wanted to achieve. He jerked his limp dick and wept at its flaccidity. An impending killing was the only failsafe in the absence of wet pussy and he cried harder his failsafe failed to get a response.
+++++The taunts screamed more abuse and he knew he only way to silence them. He was going to put his skills to use and the taunts would have to fuck off because he now had a mission. He felt the righteousness hijack the Akathisia for fuel. He double checked the location of the meet he’d earwigged at the hospital and checked the date. Tonight was the beginning of the game.
+++++Darius the killer flushed at the frying spice drifting into his nostrils, reminding him he hadn’t eaten in days. He peered through the steamed window of the Peking Palace restaurant and stared at diners stuffing their grinning mouths with chop sticks. The taunts laughed in his ears. He spat hard on the pane and paced down the alley beside the building. He jogged up the steel fire escape and burst into the back entrance of the brothel above.
+++++The walls and floor were carpeted in neon blue and he shrugged off hookers in his storm down the narrow, smoke filled corridor. Room twenty one.
+++++He clicked open the door, entering the suite flushed with lush lilac. A beige chaise lounge was covered in skewed study results, blank signature lines illuminated by the dull pink lamp on a nearby teak table. The walls and ceiling were covered in mirrors. The occupants froze.
+++++‘Nice to see you again, Doc. Strange place to be finalizing scientific studies.’ Darius looked over to the chubby man on the left of the Doc. His name was too small to read but he clearly made out the company logo on its sales rep ID. ‘Sorry about arriving before the whores.’
+++++He laughed at the perplexed expressions. Pulled out the purple latex glove and wriggled his twitching digits into it, watching their faces change simultaneously. He observed their eyes widen as he slid out the machete from inside his jacket. ‘I’ll be quick fellas. Don’t worry, I’ll make the mess post mortem.’
+++++The sales rep nudged the frozen Doc, noticed he’d pissed himself and turned to the interloper. ‘I’ll double whatever you’re getting’, he pleaded.
+++++Darius chuckled, ‘Impossible. This one’s for free. You lads have the distinction of being the first. Everyone remembers the first victims. That’s why I’m going to do you with this’, he said, swinging the blade. ‘Serial slashers get more press than clean killings.’
+++++The Doc found his voice. ‘Killings? Are you mad? We aren’t responsible –’
+++++‘For your drugs sending me daft? Making me impotent? Not this either?’ Shouted Darius, brandishing the withered mass of congealed bone at the tip of his left wrist. ‘Thalidomide. Do you two bastards have any idea what it’s like growing up with something like this?’ He spat, his saliva whitening in the corners of his mouth. His right hand stopped shaking and he glared at the pair.
+++++The sales rep croaked, ‘Listen to the doctor and calm down.’
+++++‘Calm down? Fuck off. You’re here, bribing this clown to sign fake studies and prescribe medications that you either know full well can be harmful, or have no idea what harm they can cause. And you tell me to calm down? Look at me.’ He gestured with his malformed appendage. ‘You two are only the first in a long line of me exposing this sickness you corrupt fuckers’. Darius swung with rage and hacked the machete into the chaise lounge.
+++++The doctor and the sales rep shared a desperate look and rushed with flailing arms. Grappled with the wrist and prying fingers back from the handle of the knife embedded in the mahogany frame. Darius released his grip and reached inside his jacket for his pistol. The doctor struggled to apply a weak bear hug, the two crashing backwards to the floor. Arms struggled and elbows clashed and the men rolled around in a twisted wrestle.
+++++The gun arm jerked and locked. The roar of the gunshot echoed around the room.
+++++Shards rained from above.
+++++A glinting blur descended, ending in a sickening hack.
+++++Six eyes looked around in panic and six eardrums rang and six nostrils smelled the blending of metallic rust and nitroglycerin and graphite.
+++++Darius the killer screaming.
+++++Six eyes locked on the severed hand, still gripping the pistol.
+++++The sales rep dropped the machete. Dragged the dazed doctor up from the floor. Snatched the unsigned papers and they scampered out of the door.
+++++Darius the killer flicked his stare to the gleaming white of the bone protruding from the tip of his right wrist and screeched and convulsed and wept.
+++++The taunts returned, cackling loudly in his ears. He wiped away tears with his bloodstained wrist and shook his head. The taunts laughed louder.
+++++He knelt in front of the displaced hand. Tilted the still warm extremity with his forearms. Leaned forward and took the barrel in his mouth.
+++++He took a final glare at the end of each wrist and held his breath. He closed his eyelids tightly. He smiled at the blank darkness.
+++++He exhaled and pressured the cooling hand, depressing the trigger.

Holes And Halves

September knew she should be sleeping soundly by now. She looked at the clock face; it said two-twenty-two a.m. A bat buzzed overhead, above her bed—it did that every night after she turned out the light: it flew into the house through the rickety attic trap-door, took a turn overhead, then fleetingly returned to its own home. The electric fan ran on low, creating a slight breeze that barely lifted the bat’s wings a little further than usual, and with the subtle illumination from the nightlight in the hall, she could see the creature’s underside. It made her think of death. Nighttime made her think of death. Death of the body, yes, but even more than that, death of purity and innocence, death of the spirit.

* * *

The black hole, feverishly flapping, suddenly approached her, then, equally as suddenly, swerved away. September tried to bury her entire body, tip to toes, under the covers; slowly, she allowed herself to open her eyes: she had believed she would feel safer in hiding, but her body was damp, and the covers clung to her as a winding sheet clings to a sweaty, recently embalmed and bound corpse on a simmering summer day—uncontrollable claustrophobia overcame September. She re-shut her eyes and returned the sheet to shoulder-height, once again attempting to ignore her trepidatious impulses.
+++++At first she didn’t register it . . . At age twenty-eight, she could split her personality into perfect halves and remain sane, could talk to herself as if she were two persons: parent and little child. “All gone, all gone . . . It’s all right . . . It was only a nightmare—nightmares aren’t real, dear . . .” It almost felt like Mama sat beside her on the bed, tracing smooth, cool fingers along her face, her chest, her ribs. She wished so hard for her mama’s presence that she reached out and found she clutched at nothing but air. She drew her hand inward, to study it, but when she opened her eyes, released her fist and stared at the palm of her right hand, she discovered that she held the hole. It fluttered weakly in angry helplessness.
+++++“You cannot escape now,” she told it, as she attempted to sound sure and strong. “You have no power over me anymore. You are trapped—trapped within my grasp.”
+++++“And you are trapped in fear of me,” countered the dark void.
+++++“Never!” She flung her arm extravagantly, and the void flew away.
+++++It grew gargantuan, no longer round and quivering but an indefinable and vicious mass, and hovered atop her bed, mockingly observing what kind of moral and emotional strength she possessed. It transformed shape, taking on the appearance of a knife, a gun, a man she knew as “Uncle” who crept into her bedroom after twilight whenever Mama left him to baby-sit her; Mama hadn’t meant to lie about the nightmares, but they were real—they truly were real. That was why September liked to live alone: the only nightmares that could pursue her still were irreverent, haunting imaginings. Imaginings, were they not? Was it not? It turned back into a recognizable black hole . . .
+++++Only imaginings . . . Nothing but imaginings . . .
+++++“Never again!” September cried. “I will never allow you to haunt me again!”
+++++The void started to shrink, and finally it returned to its original form—once more it became a bat—a helpless, frustrated bat, as afraid to feel her presence there as she had been to feel its, as it frantically searched for its home. Had she really caught it, touched it, or had her fears merely hypnotized her? She gazed at her still-raised arm, and felt chill-prickles run through it.
+++++The air from the fan felt unnaturally frigid—the same as Mama’s tracing fingers used to. Oh, Mama, you never understood, because you could never let yourself believe.
+++++September shook, but she could not cry: instinctively she knew she had survived her final dark night.

Henry Showed Wendy His Paintings

Henry and Wendy Throckmorton had been married a week when Henry took Wendy to his garret 100 miles south of their estate in posh Kenilworth, a suburb of Chicago. Wendy thought she was going on a delayed honeymoon. Henry had never told her that he was a painter by avocation. She knew only that he was a successful patent attorney and had a large, profitable practice.
+++++There was a heavy snowfall that evening and it made the trip for Wendy, looking out the window of the car, all the more beautiful. They arrived at the garret around midnight and walked up three flights of stairs in the dark. It was good that Henry had brought his flashlight. He used three keys on a long silver chain to open three locks on the steel door. Once inside the garret, Henry turned on the light with triumph.
+++++“Voila!” he said as he turned slowly in a circle with arms outstretched.
+++++Wendy was certainly surprised. There were paintings all over the walls. Other paintings, half completed, sat on their easels waiting for Henry. He explained to Wendy that she was the first person to see his work–his work of a lifetime. He had never shown his work to anyone before but now that they were married, he felt she had a right to see it.
+++++“Wendy, you are the one person I know who is qualified to see my work and I am very happy about that.”
+++++Wendy had been curator of several art collections at prestigious museums in a number of cities. As soon as she was settled in her new home, she planned to seek similar employment in Chicago, perhaps at a small private gallery so she would have less pressure and more time to make a nice home for Henry who had been a bachelor for a long time.
+++++Wendy was an expert in watercolors, Henry’s medium of choice. With his encouragement, she walked around the garret slowly, looking at every painting on the walls and even those on the easels before she said anything.
+++++Finally, choosing her words carefully, she told Henry his work was “interesting.” She did not praise or condemn any particular painting. She spoke quietly, trying her best to say something nice when her professional assessment told her just the opposite–the work was mediocre, mundane at best. Later on, Henry thought to himself that Wendy had looked bemused after reviewing his life’s work.
+++++Henry Throckmorton earned his living as an attorney but that was simply to buy the time necessary to paint. Before marrying Wendy he had spent weekends, holidays and vacations at his garret, painting night and day for many years. He had done well as an attorney but painting was his passion. He knew now, however, that the canvases he thought so highly of had failed to impress his young wife.
+++++Henry drove home alone that night and told everyone at work the next day that Wendy had left him without notice. He called her parents and cried on the telephone about her sudden departure. He begged them to ask Wendy to call him if they heard from her and he said he would call them if she called him. He asked her mother if Wendy had ever gone off on her own before and she assured him that Wendy had not.
+++++No one ever saw Wendy Throckmorton again. Over the years, her parents had died, still worried about Wendy. Since she had been an only child, there were no siblings to ask about her. It was obvious to the staff in Henry’s office that he was in no mood to discuss her. They felt the man was brokenhearted.
+++++Once again, Henry was spending weekends, holidays and vacations at his garret painting in watercolors. No one since Wendy had seen his work nor had anyone else visited his garret. Paintings were still everywhere, their number increasing as a result of Henry’s ever-increasing frenzy for painting.
+++++A wonderful cook, Henry still stored a few steaks in a small refrigerator in the kitchen but he no longer hung big cuts of beef from hooks in the walk-in freezer at the back of the garret. That freezer had been a selling point when Henry bought the place from a retired butcher many years ago. But now Henry never went into the freezer. In fact, he didn’t know where he had put the keys to the locks he himself had installed on the freezer door after Wendy had disappeared.
+++++In addition to being good at the law and enjoying painting, Henry Throckmorton had always been handy with tools. He had hoped some day to try his hand at ice sculpture but he would have to do that outside now and not in the freezer as he had once planned.

All That Green

It didn’t bother me at first. Matter of fact, I didn’t really even think about it. You see, Harry had done it before.
+++++I know it’s hard for some people to believe, but a guy like Harry, who’s into a little of everything, legal and illegal, occasionally has more money than he knows what to do with. So it wasn’t too unusual for Harry to call me every so often and ask me to help him out. Hold some money for him. Stash it. That’s how I ended up with the sixty grand, in ziplock bags, buried in a dirt corner of my cellar.
+++++Harry said he was flying out to California for a few weeks. I knew he had some action out there. What, I didn’t know. And it didn’t make any difference because I really didn’t care anyhow. So I forgot about it–or at least I thought I did.
+++++When I got into work the morning after burying Harry’s dough, Gail, the battle-ax that runs the Hampton Beach bar I work at, had a burr up her ass. Now Gail isn’t the easiest person to get along with, though I really hadn’t had much of a problem with her. And I wanted to keep it like that. So I kept my mouth shut, started setting up the bar, and kept my ears open.
+++++It didn’t take me long to pick up on what was causing the tension. You know waitresses–they love to talk. And stuff like this is right up there alley.
+++++It seemed Gail came in early and found Randy, the chef, dicing carrots for the day. Now usually there’d be nothing wrong with that, except today was Monday. Monday was green beans day. I know that might sound ridiculous, but Monday has been green beans day for as long as anyone can remember. Even the old-timers, who still drink whiskey with a beer chaser, couldn’t recall a Monday without green beans.
+++++And there also wasn’t a soul who could remember a time the place hadn’t made money. And Gail probably figured that green beans on Monday could have been the reason for that fact as well as anything else.
+++++Well, they had words, Gail and Randy, and one thing led to another as it often does with owners and chefs. And before it dawned on Gail what ranting and raving over green beans might cause to happen, Randy was out the door, and she was in front of the kitchen grills with a tall, white chef’s hat plunked on her head and a stained white apron wrapped around her ample middle.
+++++Now none of this type of stuff is usually any skin off my nose. I come in on time, tend my bar, and leave. No problems, right? Wrong. At least today wrong. I barely had stuck that first order slip under the little wooden sliding door that the food orders are shoved through from kitchen to bar, then the little door slams open.
+++++Gail’s fat head fills the opening as she glares out at me standing behind my bar. “Can’t ya write so somebody can read it?” she screams. “Whattaya, five years old?” And then she bangs the little door closed.
+++++At my age I need this like a hole in the head. Besides, it’s embarrassing. The regulars are all squirming on their stools, pretending not to notice, waiting to see what I’ll do. What can I do? I need the job. I’m not like Harry, with more money than I know what to do with. About this time I start thinking about Harry’s sixty grand buried in my cellar.
+++++I got through the day–barely. I was hot and I didn’t speak to Gail all day. When I left the bar, I thought that was the end of my troubles. But I should’ve remembered–trouble always comes in threes.
+++++I no sooner walked through the door of the house than Gin, that’s my wife, starts in. “You said you were gonna leave shopping money,” she says, steamed. “How can I do shopping without money?” Before I can answer, “Whattaya think, it’s fun shopping? I have to count every damn penny. Everything’s so expensive and you give me peanuts. Now you don’t even leave it and I could’ve done it. It’s food money, you know, not mink coat money.”
+++++When she starts like this, there’s no turning her off, so I don’t even try. I take out the few dollars I got (checking accounts been empty for a while) and drop them on the kitchen table. “All I got,” I say.
+++++She looks at the bills like they’re the makings of a rancid sandwich. “Oh, just great. We got kids and this is supposed to be enough? Whattaya crazy? Have you seen prices today? No, of course not. You don’t go shopping. I have to.”
+++++With her words still chasing after me, I walk through the cellar door and down the stairs. I got a little office over in one corner and as I head for it, I see the dirt area over in the corner of the cellar. That’s when I start thinking about Harry and the money again.
+++++Now when you start contemplating something like I was, it isn’t too hard to justify it. I used the old standards: job I hated, wife nagging about money, and Harry having more than he needed. It was easy.
+++++It was also easy to figure how I was going to do it. Especially as I saw it–I only had two choices: take the money and tell Harry somebody ripped it off, or take the money and kill Harry and tell him nothing. Now Harry’s a good guy, and besides, I never killed anybody anyhow.
+++++So I waited till Gin went out. Then I dug up my money. It was all in hundreds, which was good because I knew I’d be able to fit it in a safe-deposit box at the bank tomorrow morning.
+++++I knew Harry’d want to know how the rip-offs got in, so I took a hammer and smashed a bedroom window from outside in the backyard.
+++++I knew it was dumb, but I was so nervous I wiped the shovel and hammer clean of fingerprints. Who knew how a guy like Harry’d react with sixty grand of his history.
+++++Then I called Harry and told him the story. My voice was shaking but I figured if I’d really been ripped off, my voice’d be shaking anyhow. All Harry said was he’d catch a flight and be back by tomorrow afternoon. It didn’t surprise me; I knew Harry moved fast.
+++++The next day I stashed the sixty in the bank box and gave Gina a couple hundred for food shopping and a couple hundred for herself. I wanted her out of the house when Harry showed up. I also got on the horn with Gail and told her what she could do with her restaurant.
+++++When Harry did show up that afternoon, he looked grim. I tried to look grim too. I told him I’d come home and found the break and the money gone. I showed him the broken bedroom window and then the dirt hole in the cellar.
+++++Harry didn’t say anything. He just shook his head, hands on his hips, and stared into the empty hole. I was nervous and getting more so. Then, finally, I was amazed to see Harry start to smile.
+++++“Well, good luck to the chumps,” Harry said. “They were lousy quality anyway…those counterfeits. At least now I don’t have to worry about how I’m gonna move the damn things.”
+++++That word Harry said–counterfeits–was anything but to me. It hit me real hard. I tried to swallow, then spun my head as I heard a car pull in the driveway, doors slam, and someone shout, “Police. Open up.”
+++++I figured Gin had done her shopping.

The Hell of Agent Orange

“Throw me down the stairs a sandwich, Ollie, I’m hungry,” said Dr. Olga Sumvitch, hollering up to me from Hell again in her best fractured English.
++++Although she had spent the last 30 years of her life in the United States working for Monsanto, Dr. Sumvitch still speaks English with a thick accent. I’m one of the few Americans who can always understand her. She has trouble pronouncing my first name, Oliver. But she can always say Ollie, and I have no problem answering to that.
++++Years ago, Dr. Sumvitch emigrated from Moldova to the United States after being hired by Monsanto to fine-tune the formula for Agent Orange. There were some problems in its effectiveness and she had the expertise to work them out.
++++The day the government finally approved the formula for use in Viet Nam, Dr. Sumvitch had gotten hit by a bus coming back to work after a sumptuous lunch with her celebrating co-workers.
++++The injuries were bad. She suffered seizures in the hospital for several days and foamed at the mouth intermittently. The night nurse needed towels to sop it all up. She died at midnight on Good Friday with a groan that woke everyone in her ward. After her last groan, a deaf patient on her floor said that he could hear again on Easter morning.
++++Dr. Sumvitch and I were chemists by trade. We became friends at professional meetings. In the beginning I knew nothing about her work. In fact, I had declined a job at Monsanto right after getting my doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, and I had always wondered if I had made a mistake in turning that job down. The pay and the benefits were excellent. And Monsanto had a great reputation for quality in their products.
++++Dr. Sumvitch trusted me not to talk about her work, saying it was top-secret, hush-hush by order of the government. It was the government, after all, that had underwritten the years of research and development that made Agent Orange possible.
++++Without millions in taxpayer money funneled through the government back to Monsanto, Agent Orange might never have been produced. I promised her I would never say a word about her work. That would have been hard for me to do even if I had wanted to because I honestly didn’t quite understand the true nature of the product at the time.
++++Even now, more than 40 years later, I have to ask myself why would our government be interested in producing a product that would silently decimate land and crops as well as the people who depend on both for their livelihood.
++++It sounds a lot like chemical warfare to me, and I didn’t think my country would ever engage in such a thing.
++++Right now, America is all worked up about what’s going on in Syria–poisonous gases of one kind or other. I’m happy that I’m an expert in formulating new toothpastes. It’s my job to make people smile brighter and whiter–not kill them–over a period of time.
++++Dr. Sumvitch went to Hell immediately but stayed in touch with me after she died. I was afraid to tell anybody about that for fear they would think I was hallucinating after too many years experimenting with toothpaste. Once a month or so, however, she hollers up from Hell when she gets real hungry.
++++“Food is scarce down here,” she told me, “unless one has no objection to cannibalism.”
++++On Earth, and in Moldova especially, she had developed a taste for organ meats–gizzards and livers and hearts–provided they had been harvested from beasts, not human beings.
++++Chicken gizzards piled on a mountain of rice were her favorite, although turkey hearts, if they were big enough, were almost as good.
++++Whenever Dr. Sumvitch hollers, and lately she’s been doing it more frequently, I wake up and get out of bed and head for the kitchen. I always make her a fine sandwich. I stack beef or pork, whatever I have in the fridge, on marble rye with a slice of onion and a dollop of Tabasco sauce. I top it off with a slice of Kosher pickle, wrap it in Saran Wrap and toss it down the stairs to Hell. It takes around an hour for it to arrive so I hang around in the kitchen till I hear from her.
++++“Thank you,” she yells, when the sandwich finally gets there.
++++“Believe me, Ollie, I’d ask someone else for help but no one believes in Hell any more except me and my co-workers down here. It’s like a big Monsanto reunion from decades ago. There are thousands of us.
++++“Sandwiches like yours are impossible to come by. Eyeballs, armpits and feet are plentiful, if you like your meat well done.
++++“You can always see what you’re eating because of the bright light, and that can ruin one’s appetite. Agent Orange burns night and day. It’s always High Noon down here. No one gets any sleep.”

%d bloggers like this: