Not In The Cards

I knew as soon as I knocked on the apartment door I was going to die. A young black guy, couldn’t have been older than twenty, wearing a camo jacket and baggy jeans, answered the door.
+++++“What do you want?”
+++++“Here to see T-Bone.”
+++++He turned inside the apartment.
+++++“Hey, T. Some white guy here for you.”
+++++From inside I hear,” Let’em in.”
+++++The apartment was dim and blurry with smoke. T-Bone sat at a table buried in tall cans of Natural Ice and poker chips. He was a large black man with short dreads, ink painted on his prison sculpted arms. Two men sat on either side of him about the same age as the guy who answered the door.
+++++The one on the right of T-Bone wore a blue FUBU shirt and was nursing a beer. A cigarette dangled between his lips. The other wore solid black and stared at his cards like they were a naked lady. The Door Man closed the door behind me and stood next to it, his hands in his pockets.
+++++“Full house suckers.” FUBU scooped up all of the chips in his arms. The other guy slammed his cards on the table.
+++++A huge, hog of a man sat on the couch reading a magazine, television off in front of him. The cover appeared to have two men in a provocative pose. He wore a cowboy hat and had a fat cigar gripped between his teeth. His feet, clad in snakeskin, rested on the coffee table.
+++++I turn my attention to T-Bone who stared at me with cold eyes. “You got my money with you?”
+++++“Well, that’s what I’m here about see.”
+++++T-Bone laid his cards down and flicked ash from his own cigar.
+++++“You ain’t got the money you owe me?”
+++++“Now see, here’s the thing.” I scratch the back of my head even though I don’t have an itch and stare at the floor. “I was robbed. On my way here actually.”
+++++T-Bone took a puff and blew a cloud of smoke.
+++++“You mean I was robbed.”
+++++“Right, you. Anyway, these two meth heads, they jumped me. Then they snatched the bag.”
+++++Actually, I spent more than half of it on Opana and numerous other pills. The rest on god knows what. I was too high to remember. But, he didn’t need to know that. Either way I was a dead man.
+++++T-Bone leaned back in his chair, staring daggers into me. He crossed his thick arms across his chest, smoke leaking from his mouth.
+++++“You don’t look beat up.”
+++++I wrung my hands together and looked around the room, avoiding eye contact.
+++++“Yeah, they um, hit me from behind. Still got a knot on my head and my ribs are killing me.”
+++++All four men just stared at me. The Fatman kept reading his porn mag. T-Bone leaned against the table on his elbows.
+++++“Let me tell you a little secret about me. I don’t like liars and I especially don’t like people who steal from me. You want to know what happens to people who steal from me?”
+++++Beads of sweat started rolling down my face. I wiped my wet palms on my jeans.
+++++T-Bone moved his gaze to the man standing at the door. His nod was barely noticeable, but I saw it. My muscles immediately stiffened and I faced the Door Man, ready for what came next.
+++++He pulled out some sort of cord from his jacket, stepped up behind the man in the FUBU shirt and wrapped it around his neck.
+++++The man reached back grabbing at his assailant. He tried to pull at the cord around his neck to no avail. Falling backward he kicked out and hit the table sending empty beer cans flying.
+++++T-Bone calmly sat back and looked me in the eye as the man struggled for air.
+++++FUBU eventually gave in and lay limp in the chair. His eyes bulged and his tongue slid out of his mouth. The Door Man kicked his body out of the chair, then rolled him up in the rug on the floor.
+++++“This is what happens to people who steal from me. Jerome over there thought he could cut my shit and sell it for profit on the side.”
+++++I stared in shock at the rolled up carpet. The top of the guy’s head still visible.
+++++“I…I swear. Two junkies jumped me. Here feel my head.”
+++++I stand next to him baring my head.
+++++“Motherfucker, get away from me. I don’t wanna feel your fuckin’ nappy-ass head.”
+++++The other card player, the one in all black, quickly stood up and pointed a pistol at my head. I quickly stepped away from the table putting him at ease. T-Bone yelled at the Fat Man across the room, still sitting on the couch reading his magazine as if nothing just happened.
+++++“Yo, Marty.”
+++++“Take this asshole and go get my mother fuckin’ money back.”
+++++“Sure thing T.”
+++++He closed his magazine and threw it on the coffee table. It took him three tries to get his fat ass off the couch. Once he did he breathed as if he just ran a marathon.
+++++“And don’t leave that faggot ass shit layin’ out, man.”
+++++Marty gave him the same look my mother gave me when I said God Damn as a kid.
+++++“What the hell did I tell you about using that word?”
+++++T-Bone threw up his hands in surrender.
+++++“My bad Marty, man.”
+++++Marty stuffed the magazine under a couch cushion and lumbered over next to me. T-Bone stood up and walked over to us, kicking empty beer cans on his way.
+++++“I didn’t think you were all sensitive and shit.”
+++++“It’s cool T. Just, you know, don’t let that shit get out.”
+++++“Alright, alright. Now take this fool and bring back my money.”
+++++Marty put a meaty hand on my back, pushing me toward the door.
+++++“Let’s go partner.”
+++++Before we could go T-Bone put a hand on each o our shoulders.
+++++“I tell you what. Before you leave, help Marty here take this carpet out to the dumpster.”
+++++I look at the carpet-wrapped corpse.
+++++“Yeah, okay. I can do that.”
+++++I picked up the end with the head poking out and Marty grabbed the other. The body had to weigh at least two hundred pounds. T-Bone put his head close to Marty’s and whispered something in his ear. Then he told The Door Man to let us out.
+++++Carrying the body out of the apartment building was slow going. At two in the morning no one was around except a group of kids drinking 40’s in the front of the next building over. Too far away to notice anything but two guys taking some carpet to the trash.
+++++We made it to the dumpster and sat the load upright. Marty gasped for air, sweat dripping off his second chin.
+++++“Go ahead and jump in there and pull this thing in while I push.”
+++++“Why don’t I just help you push it in?”
+++++“It’ll just be easier this way.”
+++++Marty opened the side door of the bin and I climbed in. The smell made me want to puke, like sweaty balls and cheese. He picked up his end of the carpet and slid it through the hole. I lost my balance and fell into something soft and wet, the carpet landing on top of me.
+++++“Damn. Hold on, I wasn’t ready.”
+++++Marty appeared at the opening, the streetlight behind him casting his face in shadow. He raised his arm and I saw the glint of light off the gun.
+++++“Sorry, partner. You knew not to come here without the money.”
+++++Before I could beg for my life the blast ended it.


It didn’t bother Ben that Cheri was a cutter or that she had so recently gone to town on herself with what looked like a shaving razor.
+++++What bothered Ben was the girl had OD’d on his drugs, would probably croak from it, and his DNA was all over her. In her hair. Mouth. Her nude chest. Some other dank, moist places the TV show cops call ‘orifices’.
+++++“That’s a problem,” Ben says as he sits back, staring. The rise and fall of her chest so minuscule that it disappeared to the naked eye, like the ass-light of a firefly as it zips away at dusk. “Cheri?” he says, shaking her.
+++++All he succeeds in doing is jiggling her breasts as they dangle off to the sides of her rib cage. No response. What did paramedics do to check people for responsiveness? Smack them? Dig a knuckle into a collar bone? Something like that. Something a waking person couldn’t ignore.
+++++Ben looks up at the ceiling where, a floor above, the house party is in full swing. Coming down into the basement was good for privacy, but bad for sneaking out with a dead body. He couldn’t just leave. He bragged about going downstairs with her to too many people. They’d know.
+++++Dead body. That had such a negative ring to it. Especially with the state Cheri was in. Ben had always wanted to prove to himself he was a porn star and proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt by hosing Cheri’s slowly decelerating body with his juices. Good for self-assurance, bad for avoiding a wrongful death investigation.
+++++“Well,’ Ben says, peeling back one of her eyelids and watching as her pupil refuses to constrict with the wash of incoming light. “Maybe she’s not dead. Cheri? You dead? C’mon, honey. Walk for daddy. I’ll give you my buck knife as a reward. Somethin’ real to cut with.”
+++++Cheri doesn’t stir at his generous offer. “Hey. You need to wake up and get out of here. Go home and shower. Wash off my DNA so when you eventually do die-one day, not right now of course-I won’t be connected to it.”
+++++Still nothing. Ben snorts, rubs his face. Dread wells up, chokes. “Look, I don’t need Ty comin’ after me for this, so get up.”
+++++Ty, Cheri’s older brother, has a habit of coming after people. Stories abounded, always told in hushed whispers.
+++++So, the paramedic-pain-response-thing. Smacking. Bone-massaging. Whatever. Pain that someone alive can’t ignore. And the girl’s a cutter. Good pain resistance. She’s also OD’ing, so she has even better tolerance being high and all.
+++++Ben rubs out his cigarette on her shoulder. That should do it. But nothing.
+++++“Fuck me,” he says, already imagining Ty doing to him whatever it was he did to that Mexican kid. Whatever it was that landed Ty in prison to begin with. Now that Ty is out word is he’s already soured towards Cheri’s ex-boyfriend Matt. What did Matt do besides sleep with Cheri? Nothing.
+++++And now Ben has slept with Cheri, and to make it worse he provided the drugs she’s whacked out on. He’ll be discovered. Prison raped. Matt’s incomparably light sin will be forgotten.
+++++The paranoia might be the weed talking, but still. “Oh… fuck me.”
+++++Ben begins to fret, and fretting is not Ben’s strong point. “Time to get creative.” He reaches into his cigarette pack and pulls out the smoke he dipped in PCP. Sparks up. Before long, he gets creative.

“We’re going to take care of this like they do in the movies,” Ben says, squatting down outside the house’s basement window.
+++++He had managed to bust open the thing-the lock was too difficult to maneuver through in his current state-and drug Cheri out onto the lawn.
+++++She goes in his back seat, and he hammers down on the gas. Hoots out loud with relief, zips down the street and out the neighborhood. “The hard part is over…” a sigh of relief eeks out, mentally ticking off his incredible plan bullet point by bullet point.
+++++He leans back and sees the curve of her thigh as the street lights cut a shade of piss-yellow along her. “See, I told you you’d love my car.” He hits a gas station, gets a gallon of unleaded in a shiny new red plastic container.
+++++Gets over to a weathered, secluded parking lot in a bad neighborhood and hears the first peal of roaring thunder above. Ben looks up; his eyes still glass like marbles from smoking the PCP, waves a dismissive hand at the roiling storm cloud. “Don’t disapprove. She’s dead. It’ll be OK.”
+++++Ben laughs and drags Cheri’s corpse to a dumpster. He tries like hell to lift her up and toss her inside but she is much heavier when she’s not helping out. He lets her slump to the concrete. Her head bounces, makes a plopping sound. He checks her pockets, finds a Lotto ticket and 78 cents.
+++++Splashes the gasoline, lights her up. Runs. No ceremony, no nothing. He guns it onto the highway as fat, aggressive sheets of rain blind him.
+++++“Thank God that worked out.” Ben says, turning his windshield wipers on full-blast.

Ben comes to the next morning, tries to speak.
+++++“Mmaauuuaeuueooiiiammoooea,” is all he can say around the barrel of the gun rammed into his mouth.
+++++The first thing Ben sees is a feral quality haunting Ty’s eyes. Big brother, fresh out of the pen, found him. Only took five hours. Maybe. Ty leans over him, his weight on the revolver. Ben tastes vomit and gun oil. A single tear streaks down his face and all he can think are flashes of Cheri’s dead body and the looming notion of Ty prison-raping him all day and all night.
+++++“Dudes at the party said you was with Cheri.”
+++++Ben trembles as he tries to explain. Nothing works too well around the gun.
+++++“I am going to fucking kill you and your whole family, you worthless drug-addicted cocklicker.”
+++++Ty pulls the gun out and whips Ben with it. Even as the bone of his eye socket cracks Ben is screaming, “I CAN EXPLAIN! I CAN EXPLAIN!”
+++++“You got to the count of three,” Ty says, tearing Ben from his bed by the collar and throwing him.
+++++Hands held up defensively, pissing his pants, Ben gets diarrhea of the mouth. “I ain’t gonna lie, bro! I thought maybe I could hook up with Cheri but before I could, she got a call! Swear!”
+++++“Who called?”
+++++“Ahhhh…” Ben’s brain misfired on several people he’d like to see dead but the only name that made sense came in a moment of clarity. “Matt!”
+++++“Matt? Her ex-boyfriend?”
+++++“Yeah! Cheri was surprised too!”
+++++“Cheri said Matt was out of town helping his grandmother. Said she had a bad stroke.”
+++++“Don’t know,” Ben says, instinctively covering his asshole with a cupped hand. He stares at Ty’s crotch, praying he’s hung like a Tootsie Roll. “He called, she blew me off. Never saw her after that. Swear.”
+++++“You’re a fuckin’ liar.” Ty says, raises the gun. “Matt’s not that type of dude.”
+++++“Bro, you don’t know Matt,” Ben says, holding up one hand as it blocks the gun from his field of vision. A mental defense mechanism; Ben can’t see the gun, so it must not be there. “He has this goodie-two-shoes act goin’ on, but that dude- Matt… he’s just not. Ty, swear. Swear!”
+++++Ty expends the mental energy and ponders this new development. During his own trial he heard the cops testify at length about Eye Witness Testimony. Something his defense lawyer said worked very well with the jury. At the time Ty thought it was bullshit, but here, now, well, he could see the power of it. The power of Eye Witness Testimony.
+++++“That mother fucker…” Ty says, gritting his teeth. “You know what he did? He fucking set her on fire in a parking lot. On fucking fire! She would have died if it didn’t start raining right after he did it. I mean seconds. Haven’t had a storm like that since three years ago.”
+++++“Oh…” Ben’s stomach drops. “She’s… alive?”
+++++“Yeah.” Ty heads for the door. “Next door to the parking lot was fire station. It was like he was trying to torture her! The only thing better would be if he did it on the hospital’s front fucking door!”
+++++“She’s alive?”
+++++“For now. Doctors said she inhaled a lot gases. Scorched her lungs pretty bad.”
+++++Ben’s sphincter was quaking. “Well, I hate to dime out Matt, but he called. Matt called. I never saw her. Swear.”
+++++Ty turns around in the doorway. “It’s cool. Sorry about the cut on your eye.”
+++++“Don’t mention it,” Ben says as his words trail Ty out the door. Ben slumps down, shakes bad. Smokes a joint.
+++++“Phew,” he hisses between puffs. “Crisis averted.”
+++++In his pocket, Cheri’s Lotto ticket. Scratches off, gets winning numbers. Ben smiles, goes to cash it just like nothing ever happened.

Killing Mr Cornflakes

Mr Cornflakes eased the two plastic carrier bags onto the wet pavement and wiggled his fingers. Squeezed his left arm. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he picked the bags back up and waddled on down the high street.
+++++He’d changed somewhat over the twenty years since Roddy had last seen him. His psoriasis, which had earned him his nick name at the comprehensive school, looked like it was under control but his skinny neck seemed elongated to snapping point now and his eyes were yellow, bulging. He was completely bald, too.
+++++Roddy thought he looked like one of those dinosaurs, a raptor, he thought they were called. He was sure that’s what the kids would call him now, if he was still teaching. Still making kids’ lives a misery.
+++++Roddy drove slowly past him, replaying all the humiliations that he’d endured at Mr Cornflakes’ hands. The times he’d wanted to smash his skull in. Jab a fountain pen in his eye. Thought about how easy it would be to ram his car into him and drive off. Crush those bent legs.
+++++But the old man just looked pathetic now, in his worn suit, with his arthritic hands. And Roddy thought about how much he’d achieved, his expensive cars, homes around the world, and how living well really was the best revenge.
+++++For the most part, anyway, he thought, as he turned the car, sped up and splashed through a puddle, soaking Mr Cornflakes.
+++++Sometimes, it was the little things that made a day.


Asia switched off her laptop and took a sip from the glass of Bombay Sapphire. She didn’t usually drink before her shift at the hospital but her other job, as a video cam worker, was eating into her, making her feel stained. Dirty. The drink seemed to cleanse her, though. At least most of the time.
But tonight’s last caller had been a real creep – obsessed with necrophilia- and had freaked her out more than somewhat. She finished her gin and poured herself another glass.
+++++Earlier in the week, Annie-May, one of the psychiatric nurses at the hospital, high on self-prescribed pharmaceuticals, put the wind up Asia, saying that some of the callers were probably cyber nerds. Brilliant hackers who could track the workers down. This had scared Asia even more than the phone calls.
+++++She put on her coat and was about to walk out of the door of her flat when she heard a screaming sound. She raced over to the window and looked out. An old man was stood on the kerb side. Shouting at a car that was haring down the road. He looked like a real nutter. And then she was sure he started looking up at her flat. She checked the Taser in her handbag.


George Middleton’s foul mood was getting worse by the minute. He was sure that the idiot driver in the expensive car had soaked him on purpose. Typical of the youth of today. Money but no manners.
+++++He put down his shopping and fumbled in his pocket. His fingers were stiff and it was a struggle to pull out his hip flask. It was looking a bit worn now but it had seen him through many a bad day. He’d never have survived all those years at that hell house of a school if he hadn’t been able to have his little nips of brandy. This time he took a deep swig.
+++++The comforting warmth filled him and he took another drink. He looked up at the clouds spreading across the sky like a cancer. He’d really have to get a move on if he was to avoid getting pneumonia.
+++++He picked up his shopping and headed off down the street. But stopped as he started to feel numbness in his left arm again. And then the weight of an elephant on his chest. He rushed and staggered toward the block of flats as he saw a woman in a nurses uniform step out.
He headed towards her, to ask for help but he couldn’t form words. The woman started screaming and pointing at him with something that looked like a sparking, toy ray gun. And then darkness and peace slowly enfolded and smothered Mr Cornflakes until he was dead.

© Paul D. Brazill 2012

Vengeance Is A Cruel Mistress

“. . . dump him in that chair and tie his hands firmly to the chair arms. Now!”
+++++The voice was harsh, cruel, vindictive. Filled with fury.
+++++Two large men threw the small framed man into a high backed wood chair standing in the middle of a barren room. Grim faced, they roughly tied his arms just behind his wrists to the chair and then backed away quickly.
+++++The third man, low, wide, with powerful arms and big hands, stepped up to the trussed tightly into the chair like a sacrificial lamb and back handed the man with a vicious blow. A blow so hard it snapped the victim’s head to one side and sent spittle and blood flying across the room.
+++++“You sonofabitch! Think you were going to get near me and put a bullet in my head. Me?! That’s fucking funny!”
+++++A fist as hard as a pile driver slammed into the small man’s rather hard looking chin. The blow was so hard it tossed man and chair onto the floor violently. Stepping back, his mouth in a dark raging mask, his fists opening and closing menacingly, the squat man with the powerful arms violently gestured for the two men behind him to sit the chair and man upright again.
+++++The two men leapt forward and hauled the man upright in the middle of the dark room sans any furniture other than the one lone chair. Dust lay like a fine carpet on the rough hewn flooring of the room. An indication that the room had not been used for some time. There were no windows. Only a set of rather ugly industrial sized kitchen sinks attached to one wall and lone electrical wire with a single 100 watt light bulb attached to the end of it. That was it for decor. Nothing more. Except for the three man circling the sacrificial goat tied into the chair.
+++++“Who sent you, Smitty. Why is there a contract out on me? Talk, dammit! Talk!”
+++++The blow was hard. But not hard enough to knock him and the chair over. Bloody, bruised, dishevelled from being roughed up by the two who grabbed him out of the diner two hours earlier, the average sized man with the incredibly dark eyes said nothing and stared down at the floor in front of him.
+++++Underneath the bright glare of shaft of light from the light bulb above him the three stared at the man in sullen silence. And then the wide, squat man . . . the leader . . . laughed harshly.
+++++“Look at this piece of shit. The great Smitty! The ghost, they call him. The Angel of Death! The guy who completes every contract he accepts! You’re a fucking legend, Smitty. You’re supposed to be unstoppable! Incapable of dying! Well buddy, we’re gonna see about that. We’re gonna see if you can or can’t be killed. Ha! The great Smitty! Caught like a stupid cunt sitting at the counter in a cheap dinner drinking coffee! Just like that! Natch!”
+++++Yet a flood of doubt filled the man’s eyes. Smitty was Smitty because he had a reputation. A very deadly reputation. A reputation he had earned. Eyes narrowing suspiciously the boss turned to glare at his two men as he reached up, grabbed the electric wire with a hand, and flooded the faces of the two men standing behind Smitty with the glare of white light.
+++++“Just how did you grab this guy, Bobby? He just come willingly?”
+++++One look at his two men should have told him everything he needed to know. Both of them looked like shit. Bobby Hayes looked like he’d been in a fight with a pack of rabid baboons. His shirt was torn and stained in blood. One lapel on his sport coat was half ripped off. His face was black and blue with split lips, dried blood, and one eye socket turning color.
The man standing beside Bobby looked even worse. He looked like someone went after him with a baseball bat. Biting his lip in pain, one hand holding his rib cage, the man looked as pale as a sheet. How he was still standing the pain he was in was impressive to contemplate. Still . . .
+++++“Boss, we waited for him to come out of the diner. He’d parked his car in the alley and we waited for him there. He damn near took the two of us out. But I used a lead pipe and caught him with a lucky blow. Davy here caught most of it. He needs to get to a doc fast. I mean, he’s really hurting!”
+++++The beam of light fell onto the face of the man standing beside Bobby. It was obvious his second in command was telling the truth. Davy looked like he was about to keel over at any second. Grunting in disgust he let go of the light and looked down at the prized catch strapped into the chair. And back handed him again with a powerful blow.
+++++“You’re gonna talk, Smitty. Ya’ hear me? You’re gonna tell me everything I want to know just as soon as I return. Bobby! You stay with this asshole and make sure he’s here when I get back. Got that?”
+++++Bobby, obviously hoping he’d tag along, nodded his head and moved away from the lone exit and came to a halt directly behind the dark eyed man.
+++++The boss . . . known by his men as Gromley . . . nodded once toward Bobby and then stepped in front of hostage and glared down at him.
+++++“Smitty, it’s been years. Years since you just popped on the scene and started your incredible run. But it’s over now, buddy. I’m personally going to beat you to death with a baseball bat. And I’m gonna enjoy every minute of it!”
+++++And with that Gromley and Davy left.
+++++In the silence Bobby stared folded arms across his chest and stared at the back of Smitty’s head. Smitty, head bent forward, stared at the floor apparently oblivious about the blood dripping onto his shirt from his nose and busted lip. Silent. Still. Only the sound of labored breathing through a bloody nose echoing in the room.
+++++Bobby, still standing behind the legendary hit man, frowned. A thought wormed into his head. A thought he found disturbing. Even frightening. One he didn’t want to think about. But one that refused to go away.
+++++“Why, Smitty?”
+++++The man in the chair in front of him didn’t move. Didn’t make a sound.
+++++“You let us take you, didn’t you? You knew Davy and I went to the dinner every morning to eat breakfast. You knew we were coming. Knew we’d spot you through the front glass window. Knew we had orders to come and get you if you ever showed up.”
+++++Smitty, head down, eyes closed, blood dripping from his nose, said nothing. But a cynical, cruel smile began to pull back his thin lips.
+++++“I don’t get it. Why would you let Davy and me catch you like that? Why? We know the boys in Boston want the boss dead. We know they hired you to do it. But why, Smitty? What did the boss do to piss off Boston?”
+++++Silence. Loud . . . raucous . . . silence. And then, almost making Bobby jump in fright, the man sitting in the chair in front of him lift’s his head and spoke.
+++++“Remember Donovan, Bobby?”
+++++Color in Bobby’s face drained in the blinking of an eye. Unwillingly he took a half step back, arms falling to his waist and then one hand half lifting to pull out the 9mm Smith & Wesson from his shoulder holster.
+++++“What about Donovan, Smitty? What does my asshole for a brother have to do with any of this?”
+++++In the semi-darkness of the room, with only the one bright shaft of light illuminating the form bound in the chair in front of him, Bobby heard the strange . . . soft . . . hiss of laughter. A sound that froze the blood in his veins.
+++++“Gromley told you it was Donovan who took the one mil owed to Boston and disappeared with it. One million dollars, Bobby. Just disappeared. Left you behind to face Gromley and Boston’s wrath. Almost got you killed for it. Am I right, Bobby?”
+++++A million dollars in cut diamonds. Final payment between Gromley’s organization and Boston’s on some past deals. Handed over to his younger brother to personally carry back to Boston. Gone. Disappeared. Diamonds and brother. Never heard from again.
+++++The hiss of laughter filled the air again. And the hair on the back of Bobby’s neck rose in sheer terror.
+++++“You had to deny your brother, Bobby. Had to call him a traitor. Had to convince Gromley you weren’t a traitor like your brother. Had to kowtow toward him and prove him your innocence. But the truth is, Bobby, your brother wasn’t a traitor. He didn’t steal the diamonds. What he did do was get a bullet in the back of his head and a deep hole to fill for eternity in a local junkyard. And the diamonds, Bobby? Who do think took the diamonds?”
+++++It was lack a slap in the face. Like a brick between the eyes. Sucking in his breath he staggered back a step. He tried to breathe. Tried to breathe but couldn’t. Shaking his head violently back and forth he tried to clear his eyes and see. But it didn’t work. All he could see was red. Violent . . . brilliant . . . red.
+++++Donovan. Donovan! His little brother! The kid who always had a grin on his face and so much wanted to please his older brother. To please him! Gone. Gone forever. A . . . a bullet in the back of his head.
+++++Brother . . . . . !
+++++For several seconds no sound other than Smitty’s labored breathing filled the air. Tilting his head slightly to one side Smitty listened intently. Firmly tied down in the chair he knew there was very little he could do. Knew the odds were stacked against him if Bobby decided to pull out the Smith & Wesson and blow his brains out.
+++++. . . and then the sound of a switch blade. Click!
+++++Bobby’s big form came into view and moved slowly around to stand in front of Smitty. In his right hand was the gleaming blade of the knife. Smitty’s knife he had removed from the dark eyed man hours earlier. Sitting back in the chair Smitty looked up into the face of the man in front of him. And waited.
+++++The look on Bobby’s face was beyond description. Beyond hate. Beyond the need for revenge. Indescribable. For a few seconds he just stood there staring at the wall behind Smitty. Hypnotically. And then lifeless eyes dropped down to stare at the man in the chair. A second ticked by. And then two. And then bending slightly, the knife blade flashed.
+++++Two swift strokes. No more than that. Two strokes of the knife and the ropes holding Smitty’s arms down dropped to the floor. Standing up he took his time folding the knife blade back before tossing it into Smitty’s lap.
+++++“You have a job to do. Make sure you do it.”
+++++That’s all that was said. That’s all that was needed. Returning to his position behind Smitty, Bobby reached inside his sport coat, slipped out the heavy framed 9 mm, and dropped it down and hid it behind one leg. And in silence the two killers waited.
+++++Vengeance is a cruel mistress.
+++++A cruel mistress demanding swift action and copious amounts of blood. But vengeance would never absolve for the sins committed. Or bring an innocent Donovan back to a loving brother.
+++++But sometimes. Sometimes vengeance feels . . . .

Ropes Over The Rafters (A Whoville Story)

Listen instead
Listen instead

Hey look, don’t blame me.
The raw material was
already there. In words
carefully crafted.
You chose them with care:
“You know, a bit of adultery,
slippery and wet, just
might make our marriage a much
stronger bet.”
She was your best friend
and I always said
she’d be a real hellion,
a wildcat in bed.
Until today I thought you
meant threesome
or maybe me and her
in our own little twosome.
It never occurred you meant
her in a yousome.
Now that I’ve caught you
I feel like a jerk.
I’ll loosen your nooses when
I come back from work.

The Devil’s Shinbone

Barry Eichorn was a real American badass. Not one of those self-conscious pricks with two hundred dollar shades and a tribal tattoo. He wore a shotgun like others wear Kenneth Cole or Eddie Bauer. He had the face of James Dean, the hands of Marvin Hagler and the soul of Al Capone. Barry ran a crew called The Misfits, like the band, or Barry’s Misfits. They were neither Bikers nor Mafiosi. In Rosewater they didn’t need to be. Being breakneck criminals was enough for the terrified residents. They could barely be called organized crime. They fought in bars, raised hell in town, committed occasional stickups and got together at night at The Devil’s Shinbone to party and tell stories of each other’s exploits. The story goes that Barry is buried there.
+++++The only killer elusive enough to slice through Barry’s guard was heroin. All it took was one taste in Chicago during a memorable two-day city run for it to piggyback him like an evil twin. Overnight, he went from rebel to slave, started sticking up more local stores at random, sometimes on his own, in order to please his newfound God. Barry Eichorn spent twenty-two years building his legend, and less than six months flushing it down the toilet. One night, crew members found him dead with a syringe in his arm at The Devil’s Shinbone, so they buried him on the spot, without ceremony. Heroin robbed Rosewater of its Great American Criminal.
+++++“Why is it called The Devil’s Shinbone again?” asked Lou.
+++++Steve sighed. “Because there’s this tall rock in front of the cave. I guess it looks like a shinbone or something. I don’t know. I’ve never been myself.”
+++++“It’s a silly name. I mean, why shinbone? If it’s a long, tubular rock, why not call it The Devil’s Dick or Satan’s Cock? I don’t know, man. Anything but shinbone.”
+++++“Why are we doing this again?” asked Danny.
+++++They had been driving for an hour in Danny’s car. A dying 1974 El Camino his uncle sold him for $400. It didn’t matter to Danny who drove it with the pride of a warship captain. Steve and Lou had been his loyal sailors because they always had. Even before he had a car, they were at his side. Steve came up with the plans, Lou with the logistical questions and Danny with all the answers. They were a tight-knit unit; Misfits of their own.
+++++“Because it’s fucking Halloween, Lou. What else are we gonna do? Trick or treat? We’ve been dicking around all night, might as well do something productive.”
+++++“Tell me again, why digging up a guy’s skull is productive?” asked Lou.
+++++“That’s the problem with you guys. You lack vision. If we own Barry Eichorn, we own this fucking town. We’re going to be legends, get mad pussy and have everybody in Rosewater talk about us for years to come. How’s that for a risk-reward ratio, Mr. Voice-of-Reason?”
+++++“Don’t call me that,” said Lou.
+++++“Yeah, man. You’re like that little angel, standing on my shoulder saying ‘That girl may have gonorrhoea Stephen. You may want to think this over again.’”
+++++“I like it,” said Danny. “I know where The Devil’s Shinbone is. I passed by there with my father a few times. Let’s do this. It ought to be something else, right?”
+++++They were those kids. Brash, bright-eyed and unfit for whatever Rosewater could offer them. They wore Slayer and Type O Negative t-shirts to freak their neighbors out, and it worked. In a bigger city, they would have been considered normal youth, but in Rosewater normal was an image more than a concept. Danny, Steve and Lou lived in dysfunctional symbiosis with their hometown. They enjoyed not fitting; it gave them a sense of purpose. They were harmless bogeymen to a population that enjoyed being afraid of anything different.


The Devil’s Shinbone was a fine oddity in the Illinois landscape, nothing devilish about it: a pond, a small waterfall that flowed in two narrow streaks. That’s it. More like Jesus’ Hipbone, really. There was indeed a phallus-looking rock, standing tall in the middle of the pond for no apparent reason. It stuck out like a middle finger. It was situated in a small grove, about five kilometers outside of town and three hundred feet from the road. Nobody came around there anymore since poachers sucked the life out of those woods, and even that was years before Barry Eichorn’s heyday.
+++++In the stories Steve heard, the cave where The Misfits parties happened was behind the waterfall. Something was blocking the entrance, or rather someone.
+++++A girl, whether she was a woman was debatable, but one thing was sure. You didn’t need all that moonlight to see she was drop-dead gorgeous; a perfect ten, A-Bomb. Dark fell on both sides of her face with loose curls like whirlpools in a midnight sea. She had a large forehead, a jutting chin, pulpous lips and her eyes were the color of the sky behind. She had a bandana for a headband and wore a leather jacket. To Steve, she was the perfect vision of beauty and to Danny and Lou, she was pretty damn close. In her right hand, she held a forty ounce of Jack Daniels and in her left, a gun, which at the moment happened to be pointing at them.
+++++“Who the fuck are you?”
+++++The question was legitimate, but Danny’s answer escaped his mouth before he could think. It happened sometimes. “Well, who the fuck are you?”
+++++She took a swig of Jack Daniels and smiled. Steve got weak in the knees. “I’m holding the gun, cocksuckers. That means you answer first.”
+++++“Please, calm down. We’re just kids,” said Danny, “It’s Halloween and we had nothing to do, so we decided to check out Barry Eichorn’s tomb, you know? We figured it’d be cool.”
+++++“You should leave him alone,” she said.
+++++Lou’s sister went to high school with Barry. He was two years older than her, so they never really hung out, but she told him stories of Handsome Barry, every night: fed his fantasies of rebellion, chaos and muscle cars. She could talk about him all evening, sometimes. Barry died at twenty-two and that girl looked to be about the right age.
+++++“Did you…know him?” he asked.
+++++She scoffed. “Huh, yeah.” She held out her hand and fondled a ring, the kind that respectable women wore; mothers, with engineer husbands and a minivan in their driveway.
+++++She turned the gun to Lou, and her jacket fell from her shoulder. She had a tattoo that started on her shoulder and disappeared into her sleeve. Lou saw it, or at least part of it. It wasn’t flowers or faeries or whatever else girls get inked when they have a full sleeve done. Lou had a weak spot for tattooed girls, often checked them out on the internet. On her shoulder peeked a red, demonic face, peeling its skin off with claws.
+++++“We’re just kids looking for a scare, ma’am. For some stories to tell our friends on Monday,” said Lou, “Do you have stories you could tell us?”
+++++The lines of her face grew smoother. “What are your names, young men? I don’t even know your names.”
+++++“I’m Lou. These two are Danny and Steve. We’re childhood friends. We didn’t mean to interrupt anything, I’m sorry if-”
+++++“Nice to meet you, boys. I’m Henrietta. I know it’s a stupid name, but you can call me Ree. That’s how Baby used to call me.”
+++++“Baby?” asked Steve.
+++++“Yeah, Barry. You know, the reason you came all the way here? Let me show you where he’s buried.”
+++++None of the boys had ever seen her before. Rosewater was a small town and hot chicks were like the Marines: the few, the proud. Teenagers knew every one of them, from Mrs. Galloway, Jarred’s Milf of a mom, to Bobbie Joe Patterson, who was fourteen years old and refused to date anybody under eighteen. Ree wasn’t from Rosewater, but it didn’t mean anything. Barry wasn’t exactly a stay-at-home boy. The Greater Illinois Region was his playground.
+++++The boys walked behind Ree into a thicker patch of wood. The trees almost entirely absorbed the moonlight. She led them to a slight bump in the soil, where a two by four was planted in the middle. The initials B.E were written, one over the other, in thick, black marker ink.
+++++“That’s it boys. That’s where my baby lies,” she said.
+++++“Were you two dating for long, when Barry passed away?” asked Lou.
+++++“I don’t know, I forget. Time’s not important when you’re happy, right? When you’re loved,” said Ree, before taking another swig. She burped and wiped the whiskey from her chin.
+++++“I suppose so,” said Lou.
+++++The boys looked at each other, silently daring one another to tell her. Ree was a beautiful woman, someone they could only dream about. Anybody right in their mind, anybody normal would slip a ring on her finger in a hurry, demon tattoos or no demon tattoos. Not Barry though. He went through the most gorgeous girl like lonely men went through boxes of Kleenex. He never belonged to a single woman. Ree’s dreamy gaze sang another song, though.
+++++“I thought Barry was a player. I seen him with different girls every week. For years,” said Steve.
+++++Ree turned around, hellfire tearing her face apart. She jammed the gun in Steve’s chest and barked. “What do you know about him, huh? Did you ever talk to him? Did he ever hold you in his arms or make love to you? Did he?” Her voice never cracked, just grew gradually louder.
+++++“No, ma’am. I’m sorry we came here and caused you grief. It was very inconsiderate of us. It was a mistake.”
+++++“Sit down. All of you.”
+++++“You wanted to hear about my Barry, right? So I’m gonna tell you, but you need to sit around the bonfire like the good little boy scouts you are.”
+++++“Ree, we’re not gonna sit down,” said Danny.
+++++She fired a shot right over his head and lit up the night. Lou thought he should make a run for it, but fear kept him cemented in the soil. Fear made you do strange things. Bark rained on top of Danny’s head; a lot. This was a big toy.
+++++“This was Barry’s gun, you know? He was nuts about it. He called this thing The Grim Reaper, so I suggest you boys be very quiet and obedient, because I’m not really sure how it works.”
+++++Even Steve got the cue and sat down. The ground was moist. They sat in a semi-circle around Ree. To an outsider’s eye, it almost looked like a black mass or another sort of occult ceremony.


“All of you have no idea what it is to be loved; really loved. You probably think your moms and your dads really love you, but let’s be serious. They had you because they didn’t know what else to do. They got married, they bought a house together and what else were they gonna do? Most children are born out of boredom and crumbling weddings; Little Baby Saviors. I’m no different and neither are you. Barry didn’t think like that. He was different. He never ran out of life.”
+++++“Where did you meet him?” asked Lou. For a moment, his question hung there, unanswered. Ree gazed at the stars, the barrel of her gun resting on her lower lip, thinking.
+++++“In Cook County, Chicago. I used to work there. I was a cook in a shitty, comfort food joint. Made mac n’ cheese all day and meatball spaghettis also.”
+++++“So he was a regular?”
+++++“Of course not. What is this? A trick question? Do you think I’m making up a shitty, cliché romance?”
+++++She pointed the gun at Lou’s head. The two other boys cast their gaze downward at the soil in front of them. Danny noticed Ree was wearing high heels.
+++++“No, I’m sorry,” said Lou.
+++++“The regulars in that joint were animals. Fat, shapeless, stinking animals or weirdos in their forties, living with their moms. Christ, they were a nightmare. ‘ Sit on my lap, Ree, c’mon’, ‘With a body like yours, you should be stripping’, ‘Why don’t you serve us food in those booty shorts, like the girls across the street’. Goddammit, I was a cook, not a waitress.”
+++++“I’m sorry to hear that,” says Lou
+++++“Shut up. You stop hearing them after a while. The loverboys were a lot worse. Those loons who fell in love, who thought that because they loved me, I should love them back.”
+++++She raised her tank top and walked up to Lou, stopped at an inch of his face. It was the closest he’s ever been to female bare skin. Ree had a scar starting at her hip that disappeared into her pants, an inch past the bellybutton. “They were the real danger. There was Larry and John, too. They hurt me. They said I wasn’t who I should be, that a beautiful girl like me shouldn’t be such a spiteful dyke.”
+++++“What about Barry?” said Danny.
+++++Ree sighed and continued. “I started seeing him one day. He sat at the far left booth, always alone. He was quiet. Minded his business and looked into the kitchen once or twice. He smiled to me. It made me warm when he did. He left me messages in his plates, written on napkins or on table-mats. Simple things, ‘Looking forward to coming back’ or ‘It was delicious, why don’t we share next time?’ Then Larry came back and Barry stopped coming. The old boy brought me roses and chocolates and begged me to stop the restraining order. He was crying, believe it or not. The last time we’d met, I was the one left crying from his knife.
+++++That night, I was closing the kitchen and Barry spoke to me, ‘Ree, Ree, are you there?’ It was him. Barry. ‘Come here, Ree. I have a surprise for you.’
+++++Larry was in the alley, behind the restaurant, facing the brick wall, with his face swollen like a basketball, a gun pointed to his neck. All he could say was “Please Ree. Please, c’mon Ree. Please.”
“This is my gift to you, beautiful lady. I love you. Let’s start over, all right?”


Ree shot Steve in the face, point blank. Half the teenager’s face flew off and disappeared under a tree. His body hit the ground with a dull thud. He didn’t have time to beg for his life, to cry in pain or to utter any last words. His life was snatched away from him in a second. Danny turned around and bolted in the opposite direction. Ree shot him in the back, right under his neck. He kissed the soil in the same morbid, lifeless way as his friend.
+++++“He kissed me and we rode on his motorcycle for so long. I wrapped my arms around his waist and closed my eyes. I thought it would last forever,” said Ree. Her eyes were in another world, seeing a reality that Lou couldn’t. “He told me at The Devil’s Shinbone only, we could be together all the time. That nobody would get in our way anymore. Not Larry, not mom, not the doctors and especially not you.”
+++++“Ree, please. Let me go, I won’t tell anyone about Barry and you, I promise. He will remain your secret.”
+++++She hit Lou on top of his skull with the butt of her weapon.
+++++“I know Barry wasn’t perfect, but he was mine. These girls who said they’ve been with him, they don’t have a fucking clue. They don’t know what it is to be loved, the way Barry loved me. Do you believe he loved me, Lou?”
+++++Lou couldn’t think straight. All he could think about was not fucking up. That if he lied, she would shoot him dead. “I think Barry could have loved someone like you, yes. But I think girls like you are more likely to love Barry than vice-versa. Barry Eichorn was a gangster, Ree. He liked to scare people and hurt them-”
+++++“No, he didn’t,” barked Ree, pointing her gun at Lou’s head again.
+++++“But there were so many stories about him. I don’t know which ones to believe anymore. Is he even buried here?”
+++++“I don’t know,” said Ree, her voice choked up.
+++++It was the last thing Lou heard before everything went dark.

Used Cars

I barreled through the intersection with the stop light on red, running west with my chest heaving and a sawed-off .410 across my lap. Pounding adrenaline had fixed my hands for 30 miles, one to the wheel and the other on the pistol grip. Two metro cruisers wailed angrily behind me, baying for blood, but only choking down road dust. I crested a rise, tapped on the brakes and swung hard right in a squeal of abused rubber; two of the dog-dish hub caps cut out left, preferring to take their chances alone. I didn’t blame them.
+++++I put the hammer down and the burbling growl of a 440 six pack curled itself around the night. The cherry tops were loosing ground (objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are), their staccato flashes fading out like a Polaroid left in the sun.
+++++I allowed myself to relax a little and Carla Jean’s face face instantly flooded my mind.
+++++“Please Johnny, don’t hurt him.” She had said. Told me how she was real sorry.
+++++“Well, I’m sorry too baby.” I said to the empty highway.
+++++I fished in my shirt pocket for a match, set fire to a Marlboro and drew deeply.
+++++Funny thing was he hadn’t said anything, he just stood there with his dick hanging out and a ‘fuck you’ grin on his face. I tried hard not to think about what happened between them. Instead I thought about how that greasy car salesman screamed when I went to work on him with the blow touch and how I couldn’t stop even after he was long past feeling the hurt. But mostly I thought about the crash of side by side barrels that ended five years of marriage to Carla Jean. A marriage as worthless as the third hand beaters on that bastard’s fly-blown lot. I screwed up a fist, dried blood – maybe mine, but probably not – flaked away from the knuckles. Outside another badlands town shot past in a sodium blur of bleached out rust. I lifted off the gas and let the needle ease back down the dial until it rested comfortably on eighty. The world contracted to the stretch of the headlights and my ’71 Dodge time machine ate black top. The past was falling behind and I wasn’t waiting for it to catch up. Lurking somewhere in the darkness, beyond the high beams was the future. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t matter, these bucket seats were firmly in the present.
+++++Heavy blades whirled above, chopping at the cool rush of midnight. Searchlights hunted in the desert scrub, one flitted across the hood, back tracked and locked me in a cone of harsh glare. I slewed the car to a halt with a rattle of gravel. Nevada’s finest had assembled themselves in ranks and ranged across the road ahead.
+++++I peered into the future, but all I saw was a pair of bloodshot eyes, hollowed out like a Halloween pumpkin, staring back at me from the bullet crazed windshield. I stayed in the present. Smelling the ashes of a burnt out car lot, listening to the contentment of an idling V-8 and watching the orange tip of my cigarette. I sucked it closer until it touched on the filter and all I had left was the taste of heat.
+++++Fuck it.
+++++I flipped the used-up butt from the window, pancaked the gas pedal and left more piece of trash smoldering in my wake.

Coming Through The Dark

The car ripped through hogweed and barbed wire, turned on a fallen tree and smashed into the beck. Karl’s head hit the dash. He groaned, his sight flickered, but he was alive. Icy water rushed through the shattered window. ‘Sue?’ He said. She stared up at him; the belt held her tight. ‘We have to get out.’ He unlatched; fell sideways, landed on her and something warm hit his face. In the back of the car was a kilo of cut heroin they were taking to Dale. That was Karl’s second and biggest thought. He reached through and grabbed the sports bag. Sue’s head was turned an impossible angle, facing him, half-drowned by the black water. She was bleeding from her mouth. He touched his face and his hands came back red; the water was coming fast. There was a sweet perfume above the fuel, hot to the nose, and some part of him knew it was death. Long black hair waved in the rushing stream and he saw how that side of the vehicle was mangled. Her face was under the water now and her blue eyes beckoned through its prism, flat as polished stones. Madness chewed him as he climbed into the back and through the side window, landing in mud that squelched over his ankles. He’d been out of Durham prison for a month, and no matter how much he’d loved her he wasn’t going back just to set the record straight with the law. She’d been driving after all, it was her car. Dale hadn’t known she was the one Karl arranged to pick him up; if he hadn’t got drunk with the Turk back in Borough, none of this would have happened. He pushed forward through the weeds, parting them with his good hand, picking his way slowly through the black. A pale moon hung like a fishbone over the country. It wasn’t his fault, he just wanted to scare her by grabbing the wheel; if she was scared it was always good, it lit against his lack of fear and he needed her to know how tough he was, that he could take care of anything. He stood on the dark road. Wind moved the wet branches of overhanging trees as he shivered and looked down at the car; its broken headlight shone ahead into the woods, illuminating rough barked thorn trees and reeds growing by the water and mouldering fence posts. He couldn’t take care of shit.
+++++It was morning before Karl limped into Gristhorpe. He’d stuck to the back roads; clutching the bag, sneaking between scrappy trees beside the potash mine and heading up to the village as the sun rose. Dale Mullany was waiting with his brothers, the three of them seated at a scarred kitchen table, smoking rollies, the blinds drawn and the Formica counter top littered with half empty glasses of vodka. There were violet bruises round the older man’s eyes and greasy black hair hung across his shoulders. He stroked his beard, looked over at Karl and said, in a still voice, ‘Why is it you’re three hours late?’ His brothers said nothing. A bull terrier in the corner snarled and slobbered over something’s thigh bone and Karl felt his throat dry. He was 23, a good ten years younger than the youngest Mullany, and he knew how these boys had filled those ten years. He tried to think of something, but the whisky still had a pillow pushed over his mind; he stammered something about a bus. Jig Mullany reached behind him and pulled a knife from the counter. It was a hunting knife, a foot long; bone handle worn and dulled by use. He stroked his goatee with the sharp edge and Karl watched a few severed hairs fall to the table. The youngest brother, Shaun, drank from a glass before him and said, ‘You got it though? The Turk was all right?’
+++++Karl grinned and walked over with the bag, which he set it on the cluttered table. ‘I took care of it, like I said I would. Just like I always said I would when we was inside, Shaun, eh? You know I’m good for it.’ He closed his eyes and saw Susan staring through the water.
+++++Shaun said. ‘I had no doubts, mate; you stink though, what you been gettin’ up to?’ He looked inside the bag and nodded to Dale.
+++++‘I fell into a ditch, comin’ through the dark. That’s all. Been inside stone walls too long mate, not used to it, am I?’
+++++Dale spoke. His voice was a rumble starting deep in his thick chest. ‘I spoke to the Turk; ’bout an hour back.’
+++++Karl felt the world rushing past stop suddenly and turn to face him. The tick of an old plastic clock above a never used cooker kicked through the drink fuzz and a shiver wormed up through his bones. He shook a little, looked into Dale’s black eyes and asked why he’d called. Didn’t he trust him? It was Karl’s way to spin fierce when backed up and afraid. It was why he’d been inside the past 5 years.
+++++Dale held his gaze, reached forward slowly for the sports bag, lifted it from the table and lay it by his feet. He wore a dirty checked shirt and baggy jeans and the chair creaked as he stood. ‘Turk said someone picked you up; didn’t say nothing about a bus. Said it was a lass, nice one an’ all, and you’d be back soon; who were it?’
+++++‘He’s lying,’ Karl said. ‘Oh aye, trust that get over me why don’t you. I told you how it was; Shaun, back me up. Why would I be lying? Why would I be lying, eh?’
+++++Shaun winked at Jig who slashed down with the knife and slit Karl’s hamstrings. He collapsed. Blood pumped over the pale tiles towards a nicotine stained fridge; he grasped helplessly at the back of his leg, mouth falling open and shutting back with a crack of teeth. His crimson shot eyes were wide with a slaughterhouse terror. ‘What have I done?’ He said at last, flailing on the blood-wet floor, trying to get himself back against the wall.
+++++Dale stood over him. ‘You lied to us son, an’ if you’ll lie over something small as this, how can we trust you with our business?’ He crouched, stared at Karl, and smoothed the long hair behind his ears. ‘Plus you got a white top on riddled over with blood I can see isn’t your own. You think I wouldn’t be all over knowing what you were doing? Think I wouldn’t know Susan was coming for you?’ He shook his head; his brothers stood behind him, silhouetted against the hazy light. Karl looked to the door, tried to move his leg and found it wouldn’t obey. The dog walked over slowly and started to lick his blood from the floor. ‘So you tell us where she is,’ Dale said, ‘and I’d better like the answer, or you’re going a place you really don’t want to.’
+++++Karl swallowed and started to talk, too quickly for it to make any kind of sense.
+++++Dale reached into his pocket and pulled out a butterfly knife that he fanned and flipped open with one hand in a graceful, well-practiced movement. He held it close to Karl’s right eye and said, calmly, ‘So come on, son, where’s our baby sister?’
+++++Karl glanced at the door; the sun was behind the glass, already hot against his face. He shook his head, closed his eyes and waited.

The Hollow Man

“In this last of meeting places we grope together.
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper”

“Hey lad give us a tab.”
+++++“Piss off you daft sod.”
+++++“Haway man I always give you one.” He’s right I suppose so I fling him one. He tries to catch it. It bounces off his knuckle and lands on the wet ground.
+++++“Aw shite!” He picks it up, it has a wet stripe down one side. I laugh. He strikes a match. The smell of sulphur heats my eyeballs and tickles my throat. He puffs fit to give himself a hernia and his tab-end eventually glows like a burglar’s torch.
+++++“There’s Shaz. I bet she’s a bit of a goer,” he says then regrets it.
+++++“Hey big tits.” The blonde with the greasy, orange roots turns in my direction. “I had a wank over you last night.”
+++++”Piss Off Johnsie,” she says, but I can tell she’s pleased. Distracted she stands in dog shite and scrapes her white stiletto against the kerb as though she’s icing a cake. Her dimpled thigh wobbles and her face looks as hot as my knob.
+++++“Do you wanna come with us?” I ask.
+++++“Where to? On the rob?” She asks.
+++++“Maybe. Maybe not,” I say.
+++++“Can Janine come?” She asks, nodding her head towards her spotty friend.
+++++“Aye I suppose so,” I say. Mecca grabs my arm, turns his head and says through clenched teeth.

“If you think for one minute I’m walking in the woods with spotty Malone while you and Shaz bonk in the back of this car, you’ve got another think coming.”
+++++“Shut up Mecca or I’ll give you a slap,” I say. He shuts up.
+++++We pass the old tart doing business on the corner near the chippy. She used to charge thirty quid a time, now she does it for twenty Bensons and half a lager.
+++++“See her,” says Mecca, “She gives a blow-job for a fiver.”
+++++“’N’ for an extra two and a half quid she taks her false teeth out.”
+++++“Euh yack,” says my lady friend.
+++++“Shurrup Mecca and just drive,” I say, slipping my arm up the back of Shaz’s t-shirt and unhooking her bra.
+++++It starts to rain; great heavy drops. The car begins to cough and the windscreen wipers creak as they swish backwards and forwards, like the hem of a cheap hooker’s skirt. Prince Charming in the driver’s seat asks Janine if she’s ever been fucked up the arse, while I massage Shaz’s thigh, moving my hand closer and closer to her throbbing snatch.
+++++A police siren howls in the distance like an injured wolf cub.
+++++“What’s wrong?” Shaz sits up and pulls her skirt down while I’m still buzzing.
+++++“Nowt,” I lie.
+++++“’Ave you twok’d this car?” she asks.
+++++“Dinnut be daft,” I say.
+++++“I want to go home,” says Janine.
+++++“It’s alright Jan,” says Shaz.
+++++“No I mean it I want to go home. I have to be in by ten or me dad’ll kick off.”
+++++“Dinnut be soft,” I say.
+++++“You don’t know her dad,” says Shaz, “ ‘he’ll kill her.”
+++++“Go on then. Piss Off,” says Mecca, reaching over and opening the door, almost kicking her out.
+++++Janine’s heels clunk on the pavement and her hair glows in the light from a lamppost. Shaz looks out of the window. Her last view of her friend is her arse cheeks as she bends down to pick up a penny from the pavement. Mecca presses down on the accelerator and the tyres screech on the ground as we fly into the night.
+++++We whiz past the factory, where the girls spend their days soldering bits of tellys and talking about how pissed they were last Friday when they played darts against the New King Billy. My King Billy is still waiting to conquer, so I resume normal service, flicking Shaz’s nipples and licking her ear lobes.
+++++“Gerroff.” She swats me with grubby palms but goose-pimples reveal her excitement.
+++++We pass the Bingo Hall, where my mother will be spending her dole, accompanied by Auntie Sandra and our Maureen, legs eleven. We pass the bridge from where Uncle Albert jumped when they closed the mines. There’s still a stain on the concrete which looks like a map of Durham, and Auntie Maureen says there’s a star in the heavens called Albert. She’s been reading too much Roddy Doyle, and I doubt if he’s going up over any road, ‘coz Auntie Maureen was always walking into doors.
+++++We pass our old school where Mecca and me learned to get away with murder. The prefab we used to smoke behind has been replaced by an IT suite. We nicked a computer from there once and flogged it for fifty quid. Mecca got bit on the arse by the guard dog and I pissed myself laughing. It was nice and warm when it ran down me trousers but by the time I got home me legs was like stalactites.
+++++We drive up a dirt track with fields either side. Electricity pylons reach back as far as the eye can see, like a chain gang of robots. Trees stare. The car engine dies and the lights fade.
+++++“Shitting hell. What’s going on here?” says Shaz.
+++++“It’s alright,” I say “Just a technical hitch.” I jump out and beckon Mecca.
+++++“You stand guard while I take her in there for a jump,” I say, pointing to a circle of hedges.
+++++“Fucking hell. Hurry up then.”
+++++I grab her hand and pull her out of the car.
+++++“’Haway then, I say. Rain drops onto my face and her breath puffs out in clouds. Twigs crack under our feet, wet branches whip round my face and thorns scratch her legs. When we get to the spot, I take off the stolen jacket I’m wearing and lie it on the ground, covering mud and leaves. I sit down and pat the space beside me.
+++++“D’ye fancy a J?” I ask.
+++++“A what?”
+++++“A ‘J,’ A joint, a spliff, you know cannabis.”
+++++“Oh I’ve never…” her words are buried in the wind.
+++++I place a ‘rizzla’ reverently on my knee and line it with baccy. I take the brown lump out of my pocket, light a corner, tear it off and crumble it onto the baccy. It reminds me of me mam crumbling ‘oxo’ when I was a kid. Shaz watches me with respect. I roll the joint, light the end and toke. I hand it to her and she puts it between her lips. She sucks the life out of it and her eyes meet in the middle. She sucks again and giggles. She lies back on the jacket, her legs slightly apart. She licks her lips. Her jacket falls open, revealing the mounds of her tits and a fading, yellow love bite.
+++++It starts to snow.
+++++A ‘hot-rock’ jumps from the end of the ‘J’ and lands on her thigh. She doesn’t flinch. I grab her tits and force my lips hard onto hers, flicking my tongue inside her mouth. She struggles underneath me. I push up her skirt and grab her minge. She pushes at my shoulders and pretends to protest, forcing my lips from hers, like a plunger from a dirty sink. She shouts, “NO!”
+++++“Come on,” I say, “You know you want to.” I unzip my fly and prepare to impale her.
+++++Snow drops land on my bare flesh. I shiver.
+++++“No, please,” she says.
+++++“Don’t be a cock-teaser, Shaz, you know you want to.” She scratches my face. I slap hers. This one’s livelier than the last.

“Where’s she at?” Mecca asks. “Jesus Christ, Johnsie not again.”
+++++“Shut up an’ just drive.” I hiss. He revives the engine and switches on the headlights. Spots of snow light up like fire-flies.
+++++“Johnsie, what’ve ye done?”
+++++“Ah’ve told you to shut the fuck up,” I say, “you know where your loyalties lie.” My breath escapes in spurts and I wipe blood from a cut above my eye. My jaw aches.

At home I take the washing from the drier and fold an empty version of myself: A Hollow Man. I lie my jeans in a drawer; a corpse on a morgue slab. I turn on the telly, flicking switch after switch. The reception’s poor. There’s snow on the screen. Women’s faces make noises. I’m not sure what they’re saying. Their lips are moving but there’s no real words coming out. I bang the top of the box with my hand. The screen flickers, flashes and turns black, with a tiny pin-prick of light in the middle. The light goes out and I’m left alone.

Swing and A Miss

I told my nine-year-old daughter Abby she wasn’t getting any SweeTarts just before I heard his booming voice from across the convenience store.
+++++“Give me the fucking money!”
+++++I turned and saw a tall, broad-shouldered man with a black stocking stretched over his face and his hand in his windbreaker pocket pointing something at the clerk.
+++++“Don’t make me use this fucking gun. Give me the money. Now!”
+++++The clerk, pale and sweating, exhaled a grunt like an extra in a bad zombie movie. He showed no ability to move.
+++++“Hey, asshole!” The thug reached across the counter and grabbed the clerk’s uniform shirt, bringing their faces to within inches. “Give me the fucking money!” I thought the clerk would puke.
+++++The man standing near us in the candy and chips aisle sat on the floor, pulled his knees to his chest and whimpered.
+++++I said to Abby, “It’s alright, sweetheart. I want you to get down and crawl to the bathroom back there.” She nodded and started crawling.
+++++I was confident I could take down the thug — I’m a two-time Women’s Collegiate Sport Pistol National Champion, and I still shoot at the range twice a week — except my gun was locked away at home.
+++++But of course he didn’t have a real gun in his pocket anyway. Who does that anymore?
+++++“Damn it, I’m not joking. Give me the money or I shoot!”
+++++I leaned over and whispered to Whimpering Man. “I’m going to put a bag of potato chips on the floor. Count to 10, then stomp on it. Understand?”
+++++He whispered back: “Are you nuts, woman? He’ll kill me!”
+++++“Listen. He doesn’t have a gun, but he could still kill us. And I won’t let my daughter get hurt. So you need to grow a pair, pal. You hear me?”
+++++“Shit. Fuck. Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”
+++++I put a single-serving potato chip bag on the floor. “You do this or I kill you myself. Start counting.”
+++++I moved to the end of the aisle, grabbed a two-liter bottle of soda and headed toward the cash register. I was counting, too.
+++++“You have three fucking seconds to open the damn cash register! Do it or you die!”
+++++I reached “nine” in my head and sprinted at the thug. He caught me in his peripheral vision and began turning just as Whimpering Man, bless his heart, stomped on the bag. Hell, even I thought it was a gunshot.
+++++Then I heard real shots as the thug pulled a pistol — a Ruger LCP, to be precise — out of his pocket and fired three rounds toward the candy and chips aisle.
+++++I wound up and clocked him in the head with the soda bottle. As he wobbled, then fell, he dropped the gun. Better yet, his head smacked the edge of the counter on his way down, hard, knocking him out cold.
+++++“You OK?” I asked the clerk. He nodded weakly, his eyes wide and unblinking. I picked up the Ruger.
+++++“Ahhhhhh!” Whimpering Man screamed. “I’m shot! I’m shot!”
+++++I looked at the clerk. “Call 9-1-1, now,” I said. He stared at me. “Now!” He turned and picked up the phone. I think he even blinked.
+++++When I reached Whimpering Man, he was writhing on the floor, his face and hands crimson. “I’m shot!” he screamed. “This is your fault!”
+++++I knelt beside him to examine the wound. I saw it immediately.
+++++“I don’t want to die,” Whimpering Man whimpered.
+++++“You’ll be fine. I promise.”
+++++I slid my index finger through the red on his cheek and popped it into my mouth. I smiled. “Delicious.” The thug’s bullets had missed Whimpering Man, but they’d decimated a pile of baked cherry pies. The greatest kind of pie.
+++++I called to my daughter, “Abby, can you please bring this nice man some paper towels from the bathroom?”


I blot my red lipstick on a tissue then bundle the rest of my make up on the sloping shelf in the bathroom cabinet. I don’t have a proper weapon. Bloody wanker, Jade’s father, went and hid the only gun we had. And he won’t fucking tell me where he’s stashed it cos I can’t be the one to sort out Ivan the nonse. Says all Jade’s got now is her mum and I can’t be doing no murder and getting myself locked up an’ all, not while he’s inside. “Jade’ll end up in care. You know what happens in care to young girls, Trish,” he said on my last visit to the Scrubs. Yeah, I do know, all too well, Tommy, and that’s why I know what needs to be done.
+++++Since it happened, Tommy’s been saying how that cunt needs to be taught a lesson. Said he should’ve known what family he was targeting. Should’ve done his research, the sick fuck, he said. Well, that’s all well and good ain’t it, Tommy, but what you gonna do about it from your prison cell? And where’s your fucking firm? Plastic gangsters, the lot of them. They ain’t been round to see me and Jade once. They ain’t even given us no helping hand. We’re back on the breadline, proper skint. But it ain’t their dough I want. I just want them to sort out that cunt. “All in good time, Trisha. It’ll happen, but we gotta give it time,” they say. “It’ll be too obvious where the hit’s come from if we make our move now.” That’s what they said the day my Tommy went down. And since that afternoon at the Old Bailey, I’ve not heard from one of them once, not even a bleeding phone call.
+++++No, I can’t rely on them, not for nothing. I could rely on Tommy. He’ll see it through but that’s when he gets out. That man says he’ll do something and he’ll do it. Said when we was thirteen in the school playground he’d marry me. And he fucking did, three years later. Said we’d have a house and a garden and a little girl. He came through on all of it. Okay, so he didn’t make his money in the most legal of ways, but he made it. He made a good life for us. Mind you, the last few years have been shit. He’s been in and out of nick, getting caught for most of what he does. He was a top burglar back in the day, but since he went on the charlie, he kept fucking up. And he’s shoved all our savings up his hairy nostrils. That’s why we’re skint now. Might have to sell the house if nothing happens soon.
+++++In North West London it’s all la-di-da. If I look smart, I’ll blend in. So I put on my suit, the black one I wear to court. Think this is the first outing it’s had that ain’t to a court. I’ve got the briefcase, that’ll help too. Of course, Ivan won’t know it’s loaded with a length of rope and a couple of bricks. As long as he lets me in, it’ll be fine. Once I’m in, I reckon it’ll all come natural. In fact, I don’t reckon, I know it will.
+++++From our terraced house in Bow, I drive to Hampstead where the rich cunt lives. I can’t park our old red Cortina on his road so I leave it in the car park on the Heath. It’s free to park there. I know about it cos me and Tommy and Jade have come to the fair here a good few times. Sad though, for the next seven years, it’ll be just me and my Jade.
+++++My poor Jade, she told her teacher before she told us. That’s why the old bill got involved. If she’d have come to me and her dad first, he could’ve taken care of it. Tommy weren’t in prison then, not when we found out. I lug the heavy briefcase up the hill then turn off on Well Road. Houses up here are grand as fuck. Four bleeding stories high. People like him think cos they’ve got money, they’ll get away with anything. Might buy a better brief than we could afford. It fucking did. That’s why the cunt got off. But Ivan’s money won’t buy him jack shit today.
+++++The nonse answers the doorbell quick when I ring. Fucking hell. My heart is thumping. I am ready for you, you cunt. “Mr Ivan Mannering,” I say in my poshest voice. “I’m here on behalf of the Metropolitan Police. There’s been a recent spate of burglaries in this street and the surrounding area. The Met have commissioned my firm, Stay Safe, to ensure residents are taking every necessary precaution and their security systems are fit for purpose.” I give him a business card out my purse. Handy that, as these are the cards Tommy uses and this is the spiel he gives to get into houses. Little do the people know he’s gonna be robbing them in a few days. Little does this nonse know what I’m about to do to him.
+++++Seven years Tommy wanted me to wait. Seven fucking years. Seven more days would have been too long. The cunt needs his comeuppance. He ushers me into the hall. Bloody hell, what a high ceiling. Would be nice to see him hanging here. That’s a pretty picture but it ain’t what’s gonna happen. He shows me into a huge room with massive beige, velvet sofas.
+++++“Can I get you a drink?” he says.
+++++“Cuppa tea would be nice, thanks.”
+++++He turns to leave the room, and as he does, I swing my arm back full and come down on his balding head with the briefcase. He’s out. His head’s bleeding on the wooden floor. Thank fuck I’ve got my leather gloves on. Don’t wanna get his blood on me. I bind his hands with the rope then his feet. I drag his long, fat body into the kitchen and turn on the oven.
+++++While I’m waiting for the oven to heat up, I take a nosey round the house. Takes me bloody ages, but when I’m done, I’ve got two of his suitcases full of ornaments that look like antiques. I’ve also got a couple of watches, and what must be his wife’s jewellery box filled with gold necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings. That was a wicked find, but the biggest touch was what I found in a drawer in the nonse’s study – a good few grand in cash. I’ll need to count it proper when I get home. Least that’ll keep me and Jade in our house a bit longer.
+++++I check the time on the digital clock on the oven. It’s only one. Glad I made an early start this morning. Was good getting out just after the school run. I’ve still got four hours before I pick up Jade from the school gates. She’s late out on a Thursday now cos that’s the day she has her counselling.
+++++The tricky part is if he wakes up, so I gag him with a tea towel in his cake-hole. Think I’ll do the feet first as they’re nearest the oven. I open the oven door and drag his body a bit closer. I lift up his legs from the knee, and shove his feet in the heat. He’s wriggling about all over the shop. Bloody nonse. I stamp hard on his balls. On top of his muffled screaming through the tea towel, his bright red face is wet with tears.
+++++Cry you cunt, cry.
+++++His feet look like gammon steak. Time to turn him round. He’s wriggling too much. I can’t move him, so I pick up my briefcase with the bricks in and batter his head. When I stop, he looks dead. I wanted to cook his face and his hands, especially his hands. I check the pulse on his wrist. He’s still alive. I swing his body round and get his head and his hands in the oven.
+++++On the street, I realise the two suitcases will be heavy to carry back to my car. I take the bricks out the briefcase to lighten my load and leave them on the grass verge outside the nonse’s house. My job is done, and done well too. Those wankers, Tommy’s so-called mates, telling me I couldn’t sort the cunt out myself. Just cos they’re always boasting about their crimes, think cos I don’t make no claims I ain’t done nothing. Tommy knew though. Tommy knew what happened to me when I was in care. And he knew what I did to the nonse what done it. If there ain’t a hell, least I’ve given both those sick cunts the burning they deserved before I killed them.


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Shaka’s Fall

Stoker Towers loomed above the city like monstrous aeries of some mythical bird. Only five years since construction had finished, and the last tenant had moved in two weeks ago. Shaka-D, and his Posse, the Camden Bloods rolled in a week later.
+++++He now had six dealers on the estate, bringing him a cool six thousand a week, if you add it to what he made at the Gables nightclub on the edge of the Estate. Yes life was good, he thought as he deposited the latest cash drop off in the hidden safe in his brand new Merc.
+++++He looked at the bling covering his fingers and felt a small degree of satisfaction at the tinkle the gold chains round his neck made when he moved. He was definitely living the dream; he had the cars, the money, the women and most of all respect. Garnered through fear, he knew, but respect was respect, however it was gained.
+++++He lit up a blunt, took a toke before passing it to Little-G, his long-time friend and number two.
+++++“Aye man, we cleaning up in dis town.” He shook his long dreads and stretched his muscular frame.
+++++“Seen brah, we own dis town!” Both their accents were tinged with the Jamaican of their ancestors even though both had grown up in London and the closest they had been to Jamaica was watching Cool Runnings.
+++++Shaka looked out his window, at two oldies shuffling past; the old geezer looked at him and spat on the pavement. He was out of the car and striding across to them before G realised what was happening.
+++++He moved in front to bar their way. They looked at him and he smiled as he saw the fear in their eyes.
+++++“Whatcha mean, dissing me; dead man walking,” Shaka pushed the old man and he fell to the ground.
+++++“Leave him alone, we have done nothing to you,” the old lady said. Shaka turned to her and snatched her handbag from her bony fingers.
+++++“These are my streets Grandma, and you man litter em up with his diseased lugie, so you got to pay the toll.”
+++++He took her purse from her bag. She helped her man stand up. The soulless windows of the tower blocks gazed at the lethal interaction.
+++++“He’s coming for you Shaka, then you’ll be sorry,” the man coughed.
+++++Shaka shoved his face into the old man’s, smelling peppermint and a hint of whiskey on his breath.
+++++“What you are chatting about old men, some rival posse got Knives for me?”
+++++“Shut up ken,” the old woman shot him a warning look.
+++++Shaka grabbed the front of Ken’s Jacket.
+++++“Tell me now, Ken, who gunning for Shaka, tell me, I let you keep your coin, you don’t, I take your soul,” He whispered the last three words. The old woman was crying now but Shaka ignored her.
+++++“I am saying no more, you’re days here are over!”
+++++Shaka growled and whipped out his gun, bringing it down on the side of the old man’s head, once, twice. He dropped him to the ground, drew back his foot and launched a kick which nearly took Ken’s head off his shoulders.
+++++The old lady screamed. Shaka spat on his lifeless, bleeding body.
+++++“Camden Bloods own these streets and now I own you!”
+++++G pulled at his sleeve.
+++++“C’mon man, we got to get out of here.”
+++++On the other side of the estate Bookie Jones completed his tenth sale of the night. He added the twenty quid to the five hundred he had already made. Shaka would be pleased with him, normally he only made around a ton here. Must be some kind of party going down. Well he didn’t care, with his cut of tonight’s take he would buy his baby momma something shiny.
+++++He called over to Youngblood, so called because he was the youngest of their posse at fourteen; Bookie had forgotten what his real name was. He had been keeping an eagle eye at the far end of the garages for five-oh. Now it was time to move and meet Shaka at the Supersaver shop to hand over his take. Normally Little-G did the collections, not tonight, for some reason the big boss man had tagged along. All good as far as he was concerned, Shaka be seeing what a top seller he was.
+++++He watched as Youngblood came towards him, and chuckled as he tried to imitate the pimp stride of his elders. Bookie looked at his watch then back to Youngblood, who was no longer walking towards him. He frowned.
+++++“Youngblood, where you at?” He called. Silence, except for the sound of traffic from the nearby High Street.
+++++He walked along the garages, cursing his homie; this was no time for fucking around. Shaka would blow if he was late. He reached the point where he last saw Youngblood, adjacent the alley which led towards the Sikh temple on Grasmere Drive. He peered into the darkness; there was no sign of him.
+++++Fuck ‘im, Bookie thought, he didn’t have time for this shit. He headed towards the end of the garages when a sound made him stop. It sounded like a cross between a cat meowing and a dark chuckle. Wisps of what looked like smoke, curled out of the alley between the garages. He felt a shiver inside. He turned to run and ran slap bang into a black clad figure. Bookie bounced back and fell on the floor.
+++++“Whoa, goin’ on blood, you blind innit?”
+++++He looked up as the doors of hell opened before him.
+++++Little-G pulled into the kerb outside Supersavers. The lights from the shop created a small oasis in the darkness, all the street lights here had been smashed, and the council long since gave up replacing them because the Bloods would smash the replacements. No mention was made of the incident on the other side of the estate.
+++++Shaka looked at his watch and shook his head.
+++++“Bookie late,” he hated bad time keeping and his paranoia made him think his soldiers were up to no good.
+++++“Give the blood time, Bookies a good soldier, he be here.” G ran a spade like hand over his shaven bullet head; this was going to be a bad night. He loved Shaka like a brother; they had been friends since childhood. He knew all his moods and like something alive he could feel the air of danger flowing from him.
+++++“Who you think coffin dodger Ken mean when he say someone is coming,” Shaka said as he turned to look at G.
+++++“Could be any number of Posses, D, the Hackney Forty Niners been heard dissing us, remember other night at the club, those mugs were Forty Niners.”
+++++Shaka slowly nodded his head.
+++++“Yeah we showed them fools for shu, skin one up Brah, then we take a ride over to collect from T-Bone.”
+++++He rolled down his window and spat outside.
+++++“We deal with Booboo Bookie later.”
+++++G rolled a toke and passed it to Shaka then putting the Merc into gear, he pulled away from the kerb. They headed back into the estate, both noticing how quiet it had gone. Normally a few youths would be hanging out.
+++++They headed for T-Bones spot, behind block three by the bins. Pulling up just shy of the bins, they found no one in sight.
+++++“Wha’ fuck up with these fools tonight,” Shaka spat.
+++++G pointed to the far end of the line of big steel drum bins. Shaka followed his finger to see a pair of feet sticking out. Shaka jumped out of the car followed by G, who pulled out his Glock.
+++++Slowly they approached. The sound of wind whistled through the balconies above them. No other sound could be heard, except their breathing.
+++++Shaka hung back, his weapon in his hand now, G moved forward to the end of the bins. He stopped and looked down.
+++++“Bookie dead?”
+++++G looked over at him.
+++++“Then some, come, check ‘im.”
+++++Shaka walked over to G and looked down. T-Bone was sprawled on his back, arms out to his side like a starfish. His right hand lay under the bin. His skin was grey and the look on his face spoke of the fear in his last moments. A large dark stain covered his abdomen and groin area.
+++++“What you think happen?”
+++++“Nothing good Shaka, that’s for sure,” G’s voice had slipped out of his Jamaican and into the London of his birth.
+++++They both looked all around but could see no signs of life.
+++++“Forty Niners are gonna pay for this!” Shaka growled.
+++++“You think they did for Bookie too?”
+++++Shaka looked up at the flats surrounding them.
+++++“If you want a fuckin’ war, you got a fuckin’ war, I own you all,” Shaka screamed up at the silent lightless flats. It hit him then, he had not noticed before. Not one single flat had a light on.
+++++“Something not right here, D.”
+++++“Niners, trying’ to fuck with us is all.”
+++++Light suddenly bathed them from behind. D turned and shielded his eyes. Some fucker had turned the Mercs headlights on full beam. He aimed his weapon, gangster style at the Car.
+++++“You want some of dis,” D emptied the clip at the car, the sound bouncing off the tower blocks. Luck more than a good aim, popped the lights out and once more they were bathed in darkness.
+++++G ran over to the car and checked inside, it was empty. A little flame of fear ignited within him. The whole estate was strange tonight, now T-Bone was dead and Bookie was missing.
+++++“Shaka, brah, I think we better get out of here.”
+++++“Don’t be a butoo, you let one dead body spook you, c’mon we check yard clean.” D slammed another clip home and headed towards the centre of the estate. G locked up the car and headed after him.
+++++“Feel no way, dready, Shaka-D gonna hunt down dis fish and stomp him den all be Irie in the grounds.”
+++++G wished he had the same confidence as his brother from another mother, strange juju was about tonight, and you could almost taste it in the air. The central area was a series of walkways and circular areas of greenery with benches to sit and take in the view. Here too there was no sign of life or any lights from any of the flats. Normally you could hear the traffic from the nearby High Street but now all you could hear was wind whistling round the tower blocks. Shaka-D jumped onto one of the benches.
+++++“Shaka-D be here, come ketch-up with me, I will beat you like a maga-dog, COME!”
+++++A whispering sound came from all around them. G felt his skin prickle.
+++++Behind them, they heard a low growl. Turning, they saw two black furred dogs at the end of the path they were on. A grey mist swirled behind them between the tower blocks. Through this a figure appeared. Out of the mist walked the old man’s wife. She stopped behind the dogs.
+++++“What you want old lady?”
+++++She said nothing, just smiled. The dogs made a low growling sound, baring their teeth. She patted their heads and told them to sit.
+++++G and D looked at each other, both thinking the same; the woman was crazy.
+++++D raised his weapon and pointed it at her.
+++++“Leave old woman or you will taste Shaka-D’s righteous anger.”
+++++“Oh I am not going anywhere,” she said, “Your days here are over Mr Shaka-D, you should not have killed Ken. . . He has . . . Friends.”
+++++Shaka-D threw back his head and laughed, a crazy look coming to his eyes. G had seen this look before and knew the old lady was in serious trouble.
+++++“You should have stayed out a Shaka-D’s business, now you gonna join your bloodclaut husband.”
+++++He shot the two dogs who slumped to the ground with a yelp. The gun slowly rose to point at the old lady, D, head on one side, smiled crazily.
+++++The sound of the wind picked up, a can rolling across the nearby concrete made G jump. He turned as a leather clad fist slammed into the side of his head. He was knocked to the ground: stunned.
+++++Shaka-D turned at the sound of the commotion behind him; he felt a strong hand knock the gun from his hand and a blur of movement as he joined G on the ground, his head throbbing from the blow. He looked towards the woman and his eyes grew wide with shock, the dogs, once again stood in front of her.
+++++“Meet one of Ken’s friends, he was a clairvoyant, and the dead loved him.”
+++++Shaka-D looked up at the black clad figure towering above him.
+++++“Call me Jack, boss, all the ladies of the night do. . . But seeing as we are going to get to know each other very well; you can call me. . . The Ripper!”
+++++Silver flashed as his blades went to work. The screams turned to a wet gurgling, followed by silence. The old lady and the dogs walked away, she had a small smile on her face.

Rundown Dog

The man from Govan caught Spick Monroe’s jaw with a left, sent him crashing to the hard mud of the pit dug out in the barn floor; then he was on him, laying punches down on his face with brute percussive force. Spick felt his lip burst and tasted the hot sting of blood pour backwards down his throat. There were boos and screams from the men watching, leaning on the scaffolding pole rail; a dark parade of faces twisted in the burning sodium light like an ID parade in Hell. Spick blocked with his elbows, found the strength from somewhere and swiped out with his good leg. Caught the Jock just right on the knee and watched his pale face melt out into confusion and pain. Then Spick was up. His tattooed chest was further patterned by flowing blood and grey dirt. All was screaming noise and lights bursting like camera flashes close to his eyes, but his fists worked independently, a jab with the right, a lifetime’s hurt behind it, another, then a clear left circling through sweat-moist air, connecting with a snap of bone and spit to the other’s jaw. The man turned quick as though someone had called his name from behind and went to the earth like a rundown dog; the ginger stubble across his head was tainted with dust and blood and Spick heard the deep, soul-trembling snores that always signalled to him when a man was down for good.
+++++He walked to the poured concrete steps leading up to the barn as the Jock’s corner man ran past him, glancing up at Spick with hate the latter could almost taste. Things were being thrown into the pit: loose change, empty tins of lager and cider, fag-ends. Spick ignored the few trying to talk with him and made his way to the home-made bar where the farmer’s daughter stood, staring as he approached and pointed to a bottle of Bud on the table behind her. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t breathe through a chewed up nose. The beer stung his lip as he drank and he dabbed at it with a black bandanna as he heard the noise of the fighting Staffys starting next in the pit. There was a time he’d have had a bet on the dogs, but that was a luxury he could no longer afford. He finished the beer in a few mouthfuls and made his way across to Jack Gallon, the man behind the fights. He squatted at the back of the room with his minder, a fat, grey man dressed always in a tight blue shirt and tie stained by curry sauce. Spick reached down for his holdall beside the table and pulled out a white T that caught the complexion of blood as he drew it down across his face.
+++++‘Nearly had you there, Spick,’ Jack said, counting out a pile of twenties. ‘Here you go, son, a monkey extra for the win, as promised.’ Spick took the money and shoved it in the watch-pocket of his jeans. ‘Maybe you’re getting a bit long in the tooth for this game, mate; that Scotch git was gonna murder you then, I couldn’t hardly watch.’ He laughed and Spick turned away from the coffee stained grin and said. ‘Maybe.’
+++++‘In any case, this is gonna be the last one for a bit. The Detective Inspector over there told me that boy ‘as got himself killed last month. Kicked up a bit of a stink.’
+++++Spick remembered the boy – a 20 year old from Grangetown, who thought he was the hardest bastard ever walked the earth until shown otherwise. He’d claimed experience he had no right to, something the man he fought should have seen straight off and called halt; instead he’d beaten the lad to death. Jack’s boys had dumped him in a play park outside Redcar.
+++++Spick nodded. ‘If owt else comes up,’ he started to say.
+++++‘Yeah, yeah, you’ll be first to hear.’
+++++The night was deep and black and the frost-snap of November worked across his skin like a cool cloth as Spick walked over to the bike. His ribs didn’t sit right and creaked with pain as he moved. His lip was swollen double and his black hair hung loose over his forehead, heavy with sweat turning to spiders of ice as the night worked its hard charm. Maybe he was too old; at 35 he was almost ten years older than the ones set against him, but he had something they didn’t, something to fight for. The dark hills of the moorland surrounding the farm stretched away into blackness without the least spark of light far as he could see. He heard the shouts of men in the barn behind, turned to see golden light seep between the boards of the building, heard the snarls and yap of a dying dog and wished there was another way, but not these days, not in these times; with the steel works shut and the car factory closed for good; it hadn’t taken much to push him back into Gallon’s arms; quick money, and all you had to give for it was everything.
+++++They got him just as he reached the bike. He faced the pair of them as a soft rain began to drift across the light; the corner man and a lad with shoulders like Tractor tyres. He pointed at Spick and said, ‘That was fuckin’ cheating, pal. Our kid had you; he’d won that fight fair.’
+++++‘So what?’ Spick lifted the bike helmet from the seat and turned back.
+++++‘So we want that win money; he had you cold, pal.’
+++++The man Spick recognised as the corner man had a knife balled up in his fist. He lifted it level with his venomous eyes and said, ‘Kicking like a dirty bastard in a fair fight.’
+++++‘So have it out with Gallon.’
+++++‘Already have; he sees it our way; reckons your past it now; wants us to give you the message not to bother him no more. That was the point of tonight. We go back, me and him.’
+++++‘Suppose your boy was meant to finish me off in there was he? Didn’t do too well.’
+++++‘I’ll make up for it,’ the corner man said. His voice was a cold whisper beneath the rain.
+++++‘Try it,’ Spick said. The man lunged forward with the thin-bladed knife at the same time as the other did with a crowbar, lifting the octagonal metal too far behind his head, preparing a swing Spick wouldn’t come back from. Spick jammed the bike-helmet into the corner man’s face, splitting the cartilage of his nose, heard the knife drop on the earth, and then sidestepped. The bar swung by his head, tearing the air. Spick stumbled, moving too quickly, and went to his knees. The youth lifted the bar above his head. Spick found the knife close to his hands, gripped the rain-wet handle and punched it upwards through the gristle of the man’s breastbone. The bar fell from his hands with a fierce music. His long, grubby face was a perfect mask of surprise as he looked down at the blade sticking out from his chest. Spick pushed him to the side as the corner man looked over, holding his face with both hands and sitting on his arse in the rain. ‘What the fuck have you done?’ His voice was muffled and far off.
+++++Spick stared down at the body; his hands shook with the black rush of blood and he was breathing hard. There was a roar of victory from the barn and he saw the side door open and Gallon’s minder stepped out with a cigarette. Spick threw himself onto the bike and looked down at the blood running thick over gravel like a spring beck over stone. He tried to say something, but panic and adrenaline trapped the words on his tongue, and he spun the wheels on dirt as men ran across then sped like a dart into the country’s heaving darkness.
+++++His flat was on a council estate in a village 30 miles distant. Spick ran up the steps, onto the walkway and waited a moment outside the open window of the living room. He heard his daughter’s wheelchair turn on the laminated wood of the floor; she was laughing at the TV. Spick hated leaving her alone at 12 years old, but their family had reduced by accident and disease to just the two of them. She was all he cared for, and he watched her through the window and felt a tear hot as blood cut through the grime of his face as the cars pulled up in the street below and the doors slammed and boots clamoured on the stairway behind him.


Gareth Spark lives in Whitby, is 33, and writes rural noir based on things he’s seen, done or heard about over the last decade or so. He’s new to short stories, but has previously published a collection of verse “Rain in a dry land” (Mudfog, 2008).

Age, Serenity and Mick-Fucking-Jagger

Listen instead
Listen instead

It’s true, years pass—you lose a step or three.
Colors in the mirror turn from gold to gray.
Places where you used to go never seem to stay,
empty spaces laying where they used to be.

Yet you’re not quite so aged as the oldest tree—
passing perfume’s scent still makes your senses drown
nothing’s quite so lava hot as a low-cut gown,
except the throaty moan of passion breaking free.

Jagger’s prancing on the stage—sweaty, hot and open.
After show he claps his hands outside the exit door
Soon careless breasts and female flesh cover him entire.
He knows he’s just another check on some goupies score.
And you say you wouldn’t want that life. Liar. Liar. Liar.

Blood Magic

“One sound begets night, Rabbit.”
+++++A flat, wet edge slid up Clerk’s windpipe. An immense, rubbery force squashed him to the stones of a support column. The palm over his mouth was pulling his head back under dark hollows between low roof beams. At the opposite side of the column, below Clerk’s tied wrists, a tapping had begun. Mossy coils swept his shoulders as the bulk shifted to set the knife off in darkness. The hand edged from his mouth. Fingers prodded the cotton deep between his teeth.
+++++“I can almost hear Mother crying . . . ‘Baby! Where’s my baby?’ Listen to that ditch of a womb. Your darling star’s winking his last winks.”
+++++The cloth binding was yanked like reins, jerking Clerk’s lips into a forced smile, and he felt the ends working at the base of his skull, winding, knotting, while breath poured thick and slow beside his ear.
+++++“I know what you’re thinking. ‘Tis hard, this ill handling.’ You expect pity from me. Ought I to pity you? Have you been so moved at the chicken in your stew bowl?”
+++++The pressing hulk released Clerk and the heavy breath drifted away. Feet scuffed and idled about the room while Clerk trembled on the column as if someone were shaking him, and then a gust rushed around his body, cooling wet paths along his leg, and the door slammed. Beyond the stone pillar locked within his embrace, a square of gold paper flexed, and light slanted over the top of a tall cabinet. Across the face, crude wolves chased girls through flowers. On top, a stone owl with yellow-painted eyes glared at the form twisting silently in a patch of light like a mouse in a trap. The door banged again, and an avalanche of wood tumbled. Clerk heard repeated explosions of crumpling paper.
+++++“See, I think you’re of two minds. The horrible, wee brat’s mind—which has not one desire more interesting than dropping sugar in mother’s tea. Then there’s Second Mind. The one that knows Mother for a vexing shrub. Could have interpreted those fine, precious rushes in your veins. But then again there’s First Mind, grinding Second Mind in the dust. My advice is—you’ve nothing to lose by it—let Second Mind up for a frolic.”
Clerk could hear wood beginning to pop and feel his back warming. Behind him, garments rustled and slid. Liquid splattered and deepened in a hollow, and a yeast smell swept about his nostrils. On the skin between his shoulder blades, fingertips lit, and Clerk jerked on the column. Close to his ear, a bubbling slurp ended in a gulp.
+++++“Gently. …”
+++++The fingers, soft as a wing’s end, drifted up and down his spine.
+++++“Are you angry with me? Rabbit, you’re not being fair. Am I supposed to believe that you didn’t choose to be here? You created this, all of this, with your magic. It has formed exactly as we wished it.”
+++++The beard crept up his neck and vowels slid out one by one.
+++++“You have wanted something. Awake at night, you lie there wanting it, agitated, shivering for it—am I wrong? Half in a dream, you called out. And I answered you. And you have followed my voice to this altar. Now, unwittingly willing it, you offer yourself to me.
+++++The palm drew up Clerk’s jaw.
+++++“When first I saw you, I could feel it, that chestnut of a heart knocking, wanting to become a part of me! I opened my arms, and across the fields you came. In your little suit, your breastful of ruffled lace. A virgin to the king, bearing his own, golden, blood-chalice in little hands.”
+++++The beard sank over his face. He felt a greasy organ sliding across his cheek and over his nose. The beard lifted. Upon his skin, a cooling residue gave off an odor: wine, earth of graves, and swollen mice.
+++++“Let go your fright, Rabbit. To be sure, it’s not what Mother had in mind for you. But this, this is ours, not Mother’s. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste it.”
+++++The wooly mass sank forward again and then came up with a jerk. Someone was thumping the door.
+++++“What are you doing in there, you great boar?”
+++++“Who is it!?”
+++++“You know abundantly!”
+++++“Go away!”
+++++“What you got up in there? A tender suckling pig? Open the door!”
+++++Like an immense toad, the hulk sprang from Clerk and plunged about the room.
+++++“Let me alone. I’m poorly off now!”
+++++“You’ll be worse if you don’t open this!”
+++++“Be off!”
+++++“This one I’m in on! Open it! Open it!”
+++++The pounding continued, sharper: a rock striking wood. Clerk saw an arm in darkness shoving its way into a shirt sleeve.
+++++“One minute!”
+++++“You open up this singular instant or I’ll be spreading word!”
+++++The fingers were pinning straining fabric.
+++++“Selfish, selfish man!” continued the voice. “Don’t you ruin him!”
+++++Breath came across Clerk’s cheek.
+++++“Not one squeak. Not a twitch of your wee whiskers.”
+++++A cool gust washed over Clerk’s back. He heard Fat Man say, ‘Petey, Love, pleasant surprise as always,’ the door banged, and the voice dimmed.
+++++Clerk tried his hands against the binding. As he tugged this way and that on the column, his head veered over the wires of a cage larger than a man. In a bowl upon its surface floated two fingers. A woozy film passed between Clerk and the bowl. He slipped down the pillar. Streams of blood went forking down his arm.
+++++Outside the room, one voice had started into a tirade, incomprehensible, furious, and then both voices climbed together as if two mad apes had been stuffed into a crate.
+++++Clerk ground his teeth on the cloth gag. He turned his eyes from his arm. Through cage wires, he could see a curve of bowl and the base of a clay wine jar. At the far edge of the cage, out of reach, lay the knife.
+++++Clerk straightened on the pillar. He reached with his foot and kicked and scraped the cage in a circle. The jar tumbled off, spilling wine across the dirt floor, and the knife jerked gradually closer. He rocked his way around the column. Facing the cage, he stretched his arms, caught the mesh, and pulled it near. He groped until his hand came down upon the knife handle. He fumbled, trying to turn the blade edge-upwards, but dropped it down the side of the cage.
+++++“I’ll kill you; I’ll kill you; I’ll kill you!” one of the men was bawling.
+++++Clerk’s chest shuddered wildly, and air quaked in his nostrils. Tears were sluicing into his eyes, blinding him. In the blur, a slice of firelight shone on the floor. He squatted. His bound hands patted the earth until his fingers struck metal. He drew the knife close and rolled it, blade facing upward, point against column. Steadying the hilt with a finger, he pressed and sawed. The knife fell to the side, and he set it up and bore down again. He felt the edge cut into his palm, and then something broke. He snatched at his wrists, yanked, and his arms flew apart.
+++++Clerk fell backward against furniture, into a rain of teacups and trinkets. He scrambled up, started toward the window and then halted like a frightened deer, a strip of cloth dangling at one wrist. He leapt to the door, drew the bolt, dashed back to the column, and snatched what remained of his blouse from his sliced and ruined suit on the back of a stool. He fumbled, trying to keep the bloody sleeves in his fingers and to make a knot at his waist as the door began to rattle in its frame.
+++++Clerk let the garment go and seized the knife from the floor. He hooked a wooden stool with his wounded hand and lugged it to the tall cabinet. As the door began to thud, he climbed onto the stool, placed the knife on the cabinet ledge, lifted the stone owl above his head, and hurled it through the paper window. He placed his toes over the cabinet’s iron hasp, his elbows on the rim of the cabinet, and heaved himself up. As he wriggled to the top, he heard a cracking and then a pounding. A hand caught his ankle and yanked. Clerk grasped the knife handle and jabbed down. A blast of anguish let loose in the room, and Clerk shoved himself through the window, into the light.
+++++Clerk’s shoulder bashed earth and then he was rolling, scrambling from the dust. He glanced up and down rooms torn open and structures spilling jumbles of block and beams. A roaring came from inside: murderous, disbelieving.
+++++Pushing his injured hand to his chest, Clerk started up the alley. Broken paving stones and mortar gouging the soles of his feet, he fled past concrete fists and heads thrusting from coifs of rubble and along lines of burned trees with strips of inner bark coiling in wind. He crossed streams of spilling debris and alleys choked with masses of tough, winter brush that tore lines down his flanks, and the shouts behind faded. As he rushed up a smooth lane, he tore off the gag and gouged cotton from his mouth. Above the sound of his feet slapping stone rose his own cry, piercing as the call of a bird. As he ran and climbed in the ruin, blood splashed down his front, dribbled and smeared, and dropped like red coins.
+++++Between pillars broken like snapped-off bones, Clerk limped from worm-eaten, stacked hulls toward a golden, open space: the abandoned square. Under a gulf of blue chariots and strung froth, weeds bent and shuddered in a channel of light. An icy wind struck his chest. He stumbled waist-deep in weeds, trying to bind off the flow of blood from his hand with the length of cloth at his wrist. At a sound like moaning cattle, he stopped and stared across weeds, up building faces. In one high window, an amber nugget burned. In a lower opening, a hanging cloth gave off a blue glow. The brown, softening ring of walls held faint, tumbling echoes, a battered, plaintive stampede of the fleeing and dying. One harsh, repeating, bark gradually came clear. Clerk whirled. At the foot of a broken pillar, two figures were sliding along, bending to the earth.
+++++Clerk dashed away across the square, seed pods pelting his groin and thighs. At the opposite side, he stopped at a tree fallen against a stone wall, roots pulling up clods of red earth and limbs twisting above a swath of sharp, glass edges.
+++++He looked back.
+++++Under the broken clouds stood a man, the folds of his white robe lapping weeds. Behind him a wider figure bobbed, stick flashing, arm clutching his shoulder. The robed figure stretched a hand toward Clerk. A cold wind hissed over his feet. His legs quaked. He felt a pain, like a nail through the center of his forehead. He closed his eyes but could still see a hairy mouth forming malevolent shapes. He opened his eyes. They were close now. Clerk could make out bared teeth in the fat man’s beard.
+++++Clerk grabbed a branch. He pulled his way along, bleeding, stepping and slipping up the smooth trunk. Past the top of the wall, he let go. Between wrenched corpses of ancient war machines, he sprang to his feet and started up a dirt bluff. Through blowing dust and refuse, he crawled to the hilltop, where he slipped along the tight mesh of a metal fence until he found the wire caving out. He dropped to his elbows and wriggled through.
+++++Clerk stuffed his fist under his arm. Bleeding and naked, he loped between tilting crosses and headstones leaning like slabs in a stream, and a valley of lights bloomed and widened below him.
+++++The carnival grounds came near: dark, floating carts, the hoop of the thrill-wheel with its constellation of fists unmoving in red sky. In the gloom, restless lions were muttering, and tigers in their cages groaned like gored giants dying in caves. Without pausing to rest, Clerk ran between angels broken-winged and crestfallen and under branches spreading bare and wiry in deepening night.

Turn Me Loose

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

The Banyan Tree

Retreating inside his hoodie, Ricky sprinted into the midnight squall across the empty preserve lot to the car parked beneath the big tree. He pounded on the window. The large man behind the wheel looked over lazily, taking another slow drag on his cigarette, making Ricky wait in the pouring rain a moment longer before finally unlocking the door.
+++++ “Fuck, Wade,” Ricky said climbing in front, “I’m drenched now.”
+++++Wade cuffed the back of Ricky’s head, knocking him forward. “It’s Miami. What you want me to do about it?”
+++++Ricky rubbed the back of his skull, mumbling incoherent, soft consonants.
+++++Reaching under his seat, Wade retrieved a brown paper bag and held it out. Ricky tried to grab it but Wade pulled his hand back.
+++++ “Not so fast,” Wade said. “You know why I’m bailing you out with this?”
+++++ “Because I promised to pay you back twice as much?”
+++++ “It’s not a loan,” said Wade. “I’m giving it to you.”
+++++ “I don’t need any favors because I’m Big Rick’s kid.”
+++++ “Wrong. That’s exactly what you do need. Your father did right by me—and a lot of other people around here. He deserves better than a drug addict son who’s about to land his ass in Metro if he doesn’t fly straight.” Wade pinched his smoke and took a hard pull.
+++++“Got an extra cigarette?”
+++++ “No. It’s a bad habit. You got enough of those.” Wade shoved the bag hard into Ricky’s gut like he was handing off a football.
+++++Ricky doubled over.
+++++ “You’ve forgotten how to take a handoff.”
+++++Ricky righted himself and narrowed his eyes. He started to open the bag but Wade jabbed a hand and cinched it shut.
+++++ “Don’t worry. It’s all there.” Wade gestured out the windshield at the big tree they were parked beneath. “You know what kind that is?”
+++++Ricky studied the tree, which looked like it had five trunks, limbs all knotted, gnarled and intertwined, roots anchored in the earth like arthritic alien leg bones. He shrugged.
+++++ “Maybe you shouldn’t have dropped out of school,” Wade said. “It’s called a banyan tree. Banyan trees don’t grow from the ground like other trees. They start high in the nest of a palm when a bird shits a seed into a frond. When the banyan starts to sprout, it chokes the palm to death as it slithers its own roots down into the soil.” Wade stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray. “See, you can focus on one or the other. The violent birth, or the resiliency to rise above origins.” He turned to Ricky. “Me? I see a survivor. You dig what I’m saying?”
+++++Ricky giggled.
+++++ “What’s so goddamn funny?”
+++++ “Nothing, man. Just, you know, Wade Wojcik. The Miami City Muscle. Getting all sentimental about a tree.”
+++++ “You get older, kid, you start seeing things differently.” Wade grabbed Ricky by the shoulder. “I was with your father the night you were born, and I seen how proud he was when you started playing ball, before you started fucking your life up with this wannabe gangster shit.”
+++++ “Well, he ain’t around anymore, is he?”
+++++ “Listen, you little shit. Your father could’ve gone to the cops, could’ve bought himself a little witness protection farm in Kansas, but he didn’t. You know why? Because he’s a stand-up guy who didn’t make excuses. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. No matter how screwed up your beginnings, you stake your claim, you dig in and don’t let nobody take nothing from you.” Wade leaned over, eyes earnest. “All any father wants is for his son to have a better life than him. It’s why I’m giving you this money. You pay back your debt. You make this right, however you have to. Then you get your ass back to school, back on the team—”
+++++A loud knock on the driver’s side glass stopped Wade’s speech. He turned. Out in the rain, a kid Ricky’s age stood blank-faced, hands at his side.
+++++ “What the—”
+++++Ricky pulled the gun from his waistband, firing two shots into Wade’s gut. Wade looked down dumbly, trying to stuff the holes leaking bloody intestine. He stared at Ricky and opened his mouth but only bright red frothed out. Ricky pulled the trigger again, and Wade slumped against the steering wheel, a dead man’s gaze fixed on the gun.
+++++Ricky slid over and unlocked the door, and the kid outside jumped in back.
+++++ “Holy fuck!” the kid said, gleefully. “That was some cold-ass shit!”
+++++ “What took you so long?” Ricky snapped.
+++++ “Lot of big trees in this park.” The kid leaned forward, tentatively peering over the seat. “Is he…?”
+++++ “What the fuck you think? Yeah, he’s fucking dead.”
+++++Ricky tried to look tough. “You got the pipe?”
+++++The kid in back fumbled through his pockets, passing pipe and lighter over the console.
+++++Ricky tossed him the paper bag full of money. “Stick that in your pocket.”
+++++ “I thought you were only capping him if he didn’t loan you the green?”
+++++ “Wasn’t a loan. Said he was giving it to me.”
+++++ “I don’t understand,” the kid said. “Why’d you shoot him then?”
+++++Ricky dropped a rock in the bowl, sparked the glass. He inhaled deeply, blowing out a thick cloud. “Because while you were beating your meat, I was stuck listening to a goddamn history lesson on trees.” The smoke hit, and Ricky felt right.
+++++ “Trees? What about ’em?”
+++++Ricky stared through the rain at the ugly banyan tree. He didn’t see anything special. There were a million overgrown weeds just like it in these swamps.
+++++ “Who the fuck knows.” he said. “But I’m on to better things. I popped a cap in Wade Wojcik. When word gets out, I won’t just be Big Rick’s son anymore.
+++++“They’ll know I’m a player in this game for life.”

The Clean Up

Looking down at the broken man cowering on the pavement, Bernard felt nothing. He had never felt sympathetic towards any of his victims, most of them had brought it on themselves, but now he was not even experiencing that rush of adrenaline he used to thrive on. He had become a joyless creature of habit.
+++++The victim had pissed himself and the stench of urine had now overpowered the alcohol that had been seeping from his pores. This along with the pleading and the tears almost made Bernard want to keep him alive. Surely killing such a pitiful excuse for a man would be doing him a favour. Bernard thought, do I really want to snatch this runt from his miserable existence? Then he remembered the insult and the anger stirred inside him again. Bernard swung his left leg back and forward to connect hard with the injured man’s midsection. His victim coughed hard and blood leapt from his mouth. The man was trying to speak, but a combination of pain and the flooding of his mouth meant he could not muster the words.
+++++Bernard bent down close to his victim’s head and grabbed a handful of hair to pull his head towards his own. The man’s face strained against the pain that ran throughout his battered body.
+++++‘You trying to talk, you pathetic little fuck?’ Bernard asked.
+++++The words still would not come and fresh tears merged with the blood on the man’s face. The menace in Bernard’s eyes had resigned the man to his inevitable fate. He knew he would die tonight.
+++++Bernard let go of the clump of hair and his victim dropped to the ground, ‘What makes you think I’m interested in anything you have to say? Last time you opened your mouth to me you thought you were the big man, didn’t you?’
+++++Bernard didn’t wait for an answer, aiming another kick this time connecting with the rib cage. Crack.
+++++‘Not the big man now though, are you? You should see yourself, crying like the bitch you are. All mouth when you bumped me in the bar and spilt my pint, no apology, just a load of bravado.’ Bernard laughed. ‘And just think all this could have been avoided if you had just said sorry, but you had to act the big man, didn’t you? Well, where is that big man now that he’s not in the crowded pub?’
+++++The victim’s eyes were glazing over, the sobbing stopped and his head started to turn away. Bernard reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a deck of smokes, placed one in his mouth, lit it, took one long pull and then bent down stubbing it out on the face of the other man. It had the desired effect of bringing him back round with a yelp.
+++++‘I’m sorry. Was I boring you?’ Bernard continued in a menacing tone that varied in pitch to match his mood, ‘See. I had to listen to your bullshit earlier today. What was it you called me? A clumsy twat? Yet you don’t find it necessary to extend me the courtesy of listening when I’m talking to you. And let’s be honest, it was you that invited this conversation, was it not? If I’m not mistaken your exact words were, if you’ve got a problem, we can take this outside. Am I correct?’
+++++The victim nodded in agreement.
+++++‘Well here we are outside lad. You’re a big lad. In fact you’ve a good 3 stone on me, don’t you chubs? I thought I was going to lose my foot in that gut of yours when I kicked you earlier.’ Bernard smiled and laughed at his own joke, he even felt a little annoyed that his victim was not laughing along.
+++++Bernard unleashed a series of kicks to the man’s head, the first one had taken the life from the body, the kicks that followed served no purpose at all.


Darren was stood at the end of the alley. He had been nursing a can of 7Up whilst he kept watch. He was there to guide people away from walking down the alley if they tried. But it was late and quiet and he had been under employed. Bernard made his way towards him, breathing heavily, shoulders heaving deeply, his face a blotchy red.
+++++‘All done?’ Darren enquired matter of factly. It was an attempt to hide his nerves. He was never sure with Bernard, whether the attack would spill over to him as it sometimes did if Bernard hadn’t extracted maximum satisfaction from handing out a beating. These days it seemed to take more to satisfy Bernard’s lust for violence than it used to and Darren often copped a slap just for being the only person available.
+++++To Darren’s relief, Bernard seemed to calm quickly and nodded. ‘Get Yuri on the phone, tell him to get down here to help us clean up.’
+++++Bernard and Darren worked as enforcers for a crime family led by a couple of old timers that had made a name for themselves back in the late 1960s: Terry Weir and Alan Castle. Tonight’s violence had not been in anyway related to that organisation. Bernard and Darren had simply been enjoying a pint together on a night off, neither of them would really list the other as a friend, but in their line of work they didn’t find themselves with queues of willing drinking partners. Darren had noticed that recently Bernard had been unable to make the distinction between work and life and whenever they’d got together for a beer, something had happened to set him off. Darren had let Weir and Castle know and they’d asked him to keep an eye on the situation, they certainly couldn’t afford to have a loose cannon bringing unwanted attention to the organisation. None of the previous incidents had ever gone this far though, a man was dead just for spilling a pint and not knowing when to keep his mouth shut.
+++++Darren pulled out his phone and put in the call to Yuri. Yuri was also employed within the Weir and Castle crime family. For the most part he was employed as a driver, which also meant he had to get involved in the odd clean up where things went further than usual. Darren explained to Yuri what had happened. Bernard had been walking back from the bar with a pint for Darren and himself and some bloke had bumped him. Bernard had insisted on an apology but the bloke that had bumped him basically told him to go fuck himself. Bernard walked away but it had simmered with him for most of the evening and after closing time Bernard caught the bloke taking a piss in an alley so decided that he wasn’t going to let him off so lightly. Darren’s tone inferred that he thought Bernard had overstepped the mark, thankfully Bernard was pacing up and down the alley and not really paying attention to what was being said, he was clearly distracted by something. For most people in these circumstances, being distracted would be understandable, but Darren knew that Bernard didn’t let a little thing like brutal murder distract him for long. Darren gave Yuri the name of the street before cutting off the call.
+++++‘Everything okay, Bern?’
+++++‘Look at this.’ Bernard was pointing towards the ground. ‘Tubby fuck has fucked up me trainees and me jeans. That shit is not coming out. Fuck! Two-hundred quid’s worth of threads and shoes and I’m going to have to have them burnt with that pile of lard now.’
+++++Now Darren understood, what else could it have been, but money. He decided to put some distance between himself and Bernard. The rage might have died momentarily but the sight of the ruined clothing was more than enough to send Bernard back into a storm of anger.
+++++Darren’s mobile vibrated in his pocket. It was on silent. He pulled the phone out, the display read: ‘unknown number’. This was not unusual in his line of work. Darren looked at Bernard who still appeared completely preoccupied with the state of his trainers and jeans. He hit the answer button and raised the phone to his ear.
+++++‘Hello?’ It was more a question than a greeting.


Bernard paced with agitation whilst looking between his shoes and his victim in the alley. He thought about tearing back into the alley and seeing if he could take the lardy bastards head clean off with a kick. But no, his top was clean, no point in risking fucking that up too. He forced himself to stop looking in the direction of the dead man.
+++++He fixed his gaze on Darren. Good old dependable Dazza. Always there to watch his back, help clean up his mess, take a slapping when he was angry. No. Bernard didn’t know what he’d do without Dazza.
+++++In the late night darkness, the glow from Darren’s mobile illuminated the side of his face that was turned away from Bernard. Who’s that little prick on the phone to? Bernard thought. He moved closer and tried to listen to the conversation but Darren wasn’t speaking. The soft twat was nodding into a phone.
+++++‘They can’t see you nodding, you wanker,’ Bernard taunted.
+++++Darren looked in Bernard’s direction flashing him an insincere grin and rolling his eyes. A gesture that implied he realised his own stupidity.
+++++‘Who the fuck you talking with?’ Bernard questioned aggressively.
+++++‘OK I’ll call you later.’ Bernard heard Darren say before he watched him disconnect the call and stick the phone in the pocket of his suit trousers. Why did he insist on wearing that suit everywhere? Bernard thought.
+++++‘Sorry about that Bern mate, it was Claire, she don’t know how to get the TV to switch over to DVD. Silly cow,’ Darren said nervously as if trying to cover up who he had really spoken with.
+++++‘You sound a little nervous Dazza lad. You aren’t lying to Big Bern, are you?’ Bernard had stepped in close to Darren now and stood over him, he had four inches and nearly two stone on Darren.
+++++‘Of course I’m nervous Bern. You’ve just fucked up two-hundred quid’s worth of clobber and I’m the only living thing within 100 metres of you.’
+++++‘Don’t be a prick lad. It’s not your fault, is it?’
+++++‘No, Bern.’
+++++Bernard pulled his smokes and lighter from his pocket, took one for himself and offered one to Darren. He lit both smokes and grabbed Darren around the shoulders in a gesture aimed at reassuring him but from a man of his temperament and bulk only ever came across as threatening.
+++++The two men stood silently smoking for a few moments. Waiting for Yuri to arrive. Darren was the first to break the silence, ‘I reckon we should get ourselves into the alley a bit further while we wait for Yuri. We’re a little to conspicuous stood here.’
+++++‘It’s fucking dead down here Dazza mate, all these shops are closed and that shit stinks.’ Bernard commented with a nod towards the corpse in the alley.
+++++‘I know it’s dead on the street, Bern, but who knows who’s looking out of their window from one of those places over there.’ Darren waved in the direction of a high-rise tower block that could be seen from the edge of the alley. ‘All it takes is for one do-gooder from that tower block to call the filth with a report of two men acting suspiciously outside the local shops and we’re going to end up chatting with the Old Bill in front of a stinking body with you all covered in blood.’
+++++Bernard gave Darren a look that said there was no need for the reminder about the bloodied clothing, but then surprised Darren.
+++++‘You got a point, we’ll wait for Yuri further in.’


Half way between the entrance to the alley and the bloody corpse, Bernard felt a sharp deep pain pass through the back of his neck and pierce his windpipe. Darren had punched a six-inch knife blade into the larger mans body. Bernard was unable to turn his head but turned his whole hulking frame clumsily in the direction of his betrayer. By the time he had turned around, Darren had taken half a dozen long paces backwards towards the mouth of the alley. At no point had he dared to turn his back on Bernard.
+++++‘Sorry Bern, that wasn’t Claire on the phone, it was Terry Weir. He told me I had to do you, you’ve become a liability with that temper of yours, you’re going to get us all in trouble,’ Darren said sounding almost genuinely troubled by what he’d been asked to do.
+++++Bernard lifted both arms in Darren’s direction and opened his mouth as if to speak. Both actions intensified the pain streaming through Bernard’s body. He lost control of his feet and landed heavily on his knees, the right one broke as he fell before he stumbled forward and smashed his face on the concrete.
+++++Darren waited a few moments and shuffled forward a couple of steps. Only the handle of the knife was visible in Bernard’s neck, the full length of the blade had disappeared inside. The dismal light in the alley made it difficult for Darren to see whether there was still any rise and fall from Bernard’s breathing. He stood still and took out his mobile phone. He scrolled through the phone book until he reached Terry Weir. He double tapped the name and the screen changed, Calling Terry Weir. The phone connected; there was no voice on the other end. This was standard whenever calling Weir; as far as Weir was concerned, you called him, you obviously have something to say, say it.
+++++‘It’s done,’ Darren said, still staring at the figure of Bernard broken into the ground in front of him, now that he had not moved for a while and was almost certain he was dead.
+++++‘Good lad,’ replied Weir, as if Darren had just scored a hat trick in the final of the local seniors cup, ‘I was fucked right off, chasing around cleaning up his mess every fucking week. He overstepped the line so many times. I should have ordered this a lot sooner. But once Yuri called me up, all indignant, whining about having to go out to clear up fucking Bernard’s shit again finally the camels back was broken.’
+++++‘What now Mr. Weir?’
+++++‘Wait for Yuri to turn up and when he does I want him done too.’
+++++Darren paused for a moment, waiting for a crack of laughter and confirmation that Weir was joking. That was absolutely his sense of humour. But the confirmation did not come. So Darren thought he should confirm for himself. ‘So, when Yuri gets here, you want me to kill him?’
+++++‘You got shit in your ears, lad? That’s what I said, isn’t it?’ Terry snapped. Darren’s questioning had clearly angered him. ‘For fuck’s sake, do you lot ever just fucking listen? Yuri bitched so much about having to come and clean up Bernard’s mess, you know, doing his fucking job. Telling me I need to do something about Bernard’s behaviour. Giving me fucking instructions. No fuck it, that little Russian prick has got too familiar so you do him.’
+++++‘Okay, Mr. Weir, no problem,’ Darren knew it was unwise to ask another question with the beast clearly stirred, he was more than aware that it would not take much for someone to arrive and take care of him too once Yuri had been dispatched. He risked a question anyway. ‘What should I do with the bodies?’
+++++There was a pause on the other end of the line. Darren listened for a sharp intake of breath, a signal that Weir was about to explode, but none came. Instead the pause appeared to be one of contemplation.


‘Fuck them leave them where they lay. Maybe the message will get out, there’s too much indiscipline in this organisation.’ Weir disconnected the call.
+++++Darren approached Bernard’s corpse and gave it a few gentle kicks, followed by two hard ones, just to be sure. He was dead. Darren grabbed both of Bernard’s size 12 feet and with all his effort laboured to drag the 17 stone lump deeper into the alley and hide him behind an industrial wheelie bin. Next, Darren stood with his feet on either side of Bernard’s neck and struggled to reclaim his knife, the movement of the fall and being dragged along the alley had clearly lodged the knife in places that the initial thrust had not.
+++++The mouth of the alley flickered with light as a car approached. Darren wiped his blade clean on Bernard’s clothing and stared in the direction of the light. An engine hummed low and finally the vehicle came into view. The light turned red and then brightened with white as the car was put in reverse and backed into the alley. Darren clasped the knife tightly at his side, slightly behind his right leg. The driver side door opened and Darren watched as the slight figure of Yuri stepped from the vehicle and started moving towards him arms open.
+++++‘Where’s that prick Bernard?’ came Yuri’s heavily accented voice.
+++++Darren’s knife hand twitched as he sized up the Russians neck. Suddenly Yuri’s forehead exploded and he collapsed to the ground as the gun shot echoed through the night air. The passenger side door stood open, Terry Weir was stood at the back of the car, his gun hand still aimed at the point through which he had shot Yuri. It was aimed directly at Darren’s chest.
+++++‘Why couldn’t you boys just do your jobs, keep your noses clean and your mouths shut when given instruction, always with the questions.’ Weir said.
+++++He pulled the trigger.
+++++Moments later the alley was left in darkness as the car pulled away at speed.

Just Waiting

He was just waiting, standing in the park, staring up at the window he knew so well and waiting–for what?  A light, her face, a sign from the heavens? Everybody’s waiting for something: chips and pie, pie in the sky, a windfall from their uncle dying, a lottery win, fame and fortune and oh, honey, if you just put your head out the window and saw me standing here, he thought, you would know I’m the one.
+++++But she never looked even though he stood here too many nights and someone was bound to report him as a perv or potential kiddie fiddler, but her presence drew him here like a junkie to his fix. He just needed a sign.
+++++“Well, what have we got here?”
+++++He spun around. Of all the people you’d not want to meet in the dark in the park or with a fox or in your socks at the top of the list had to be Graham and Dave Crewe. Only nobody called them that, just called them “those motherfuckers” because there wasn’t much more you could say about them that didn’t capture it all. There was bad and there was mad and then there was the Crewes.
+++++“Looks like we caught a peeping Tom,” Dave said, as Graham nodded sagely.
+++++“We don’t like peeping, Tom.” Dave clapped a large hand down on his shoulder and he felt his body shake from the weight of it.
+++++He considered what he might say that wouldn’t arouse a fit of random violence, but found himself tongue-tied. Before he could make a decision, Dave threw his head back and laughed like a hyena.
+++++“Only jokin’!” He thrust his big face right up close. “Or am I?” Then leaned back for a further explosion of mirth. “Truth is, we’re lucky we ran into you, lad. Isn’t that right Graham?”
+++++Graham grunted, staring off into space.
+++++“We need a third man, Tom,” Dave said confidentially. “Your lucky night.”
+++++The-man-who-would-be-Tom did not feel especially lucky. He attempted to conceal his alarm at the turn of events. “What for?”
+++++“We have a little work to do and a third pair of eyes would come in handy just now.” Dave grinned like a crocodile. “Do I speak the truth, Graham?”
+++++Graham snorted and then spat onto the pavement. It probably meant he agreed.
+++++“Come along then, Thomas. We’ve got work to do.” And he found himself hustled along between the two giant brothers. Dave kept up a steady stream of random opinions on the papers, the state of the country, the many failings of Wayne Rooney and the price of lager these days. Graham spat occasionally.
+++++Before long they arrived at a small grocers, shuttered for the night, snug as a bug in a rug. An old-style chalkboard still bore the prices of yesterday’s produce neatly written in rounded letters. “Keep an eye on the street,” Dave warned, his huge paw gripping Tom’s shoulder again. “We don’t want no surprises, right?” A warning pinch threatened to dislocate his arm from its socket.
+++++“Right,” he said, feeling his heart leap into his throat.
+++++He stood on the pavement and watched as the brothers went to work. Graham pulled out a bolt cutter from inside his jacket and it bit through the puny lock. They rolled up the gate and Dave elbowed the glass pane above the handle and reached in to unlock the door. “Old school,” he chortled with obvious pleasure. “Not many of these left anymore.”
+++++The brothers went in and at once sounds of mayhem ensued. Panic made him twitch on the quiet street, too afraid to run off, but nervous about sticking around. He winced at the sound of metal smashing glass. Were they just busting up the joint or did they have looting in mind also? Odd, attacking a grocer’s.
+++++A light drew his eye up. A face appeared at a window and for a moment he almost wanted to imagine it was his girl, but of course it wasn’t. An old woman looked down at him in the dark. He put a finger to his lips, cautioning her to silence.
+++++She threw up the sash. “What’s going on?”
+++++He threw up his hands and tried to signal quiet, alternatively pointing to the interior of the store, feeling like an idiot. She stared at him a moment, then lowered the window without another word.
+++++An even greater panic seized him. Should he tell the Crewes? Likely she called emergency services and the polis were on their way. Maybe he could wait until he heard the sirens, then warn them and run off with good excuse.
+++++The door next to the grocer’s opened and out came the old woman with a shotgun in her arms. He gasped. “Don’t go in there!” he hissed. “It’s the Crewes.”
+++++The woman stared at him a moment. Her deeply lined face looked grim but her grip on the gun held steady. She walked to the door where the sounds of anarchy continued. He held his breath.
+++++Unsurprisingly, Dave spoke first. “Out of the way, gran. We were hired to do a job and we’re–”
+++++The explosion of the shotgun echoed loudly in the quiet streets. If the cops weren’t on their way already they would be now.
+++++“You shot my brother!” Graham shrieked. His voice seemed awfully high for his huge body and Tom found himself distracted by the thought, so that’s why he don’t speak much. A second explosion and there was no more from the Crewes. He wondered if he should look inside but found himself frozen on the pavement.
+++++She stepped out of the door. For a moment he wondered if she would gun him down. In the distance a siren began to wail. He goggled at her, but the woman seemed suddenly tired.
+++++“The boys in blue on their way now?” she asked him.
+++++“I think so,” he stuttered. He saw an overturned crate in the doorway and ducked in to get it. Setting it down on the pavement he gestured for her to take a seat, which she did with a satisfied grunt.
+++++She looked at him with frank curiosity. “You need a bigger pair, son.”
+++++He could feel his face flush and felt grateful for the night’s veil.
+++++She pulled the blue housecoat closer around her and balanced the shotgun across her lap. He stood awkwardly at her side. “I should have never left the farm,” she said almost to herself. “People just don’t have any manners here.”
+++++“Yes, ma’am,” he said meekly. The sound of the siren grew louder.


The first bullet went through, but the second one is still in there. I can feel it up under my ribs, like a petulant five year old slamming a door and screaming, “I won’t come out!”
+++++I don’t know if they thought I was already dead or if they knew I would be soon enough, but the Russell brothers took off and those tail lights have faded away. It’s just me now. Help is not on the way.
+++++I could drive somewhere, but that fireball over there? That’s my car painting the two a.m. night sky a burnt orange. Shoot me, fine, but what the hell did my car ever do to you?
+++++I would have thought there would be people on the street, even this late. In the city, it seems like there’s always someone around. This neighborhood, though, those gunshots would have sent everyone ducking for cover and pulling the curtains tight, maybe throwing that extra deadbolt. Somehow I’ve got to make it from flat on my back, twin leaks in my gut and no way to stop the bleeding, and get my ass to a hospital. Closest one is, shit, at least twenty blocks away.
+++++Best get moving.
+++++This might have to be an on-all-fours kind of journey. One hand on my stomach, less to staunch the blood flow than to keep my guts in, and one hand on the dirty sidewalk. Fucking place is a minefield. Chewed gum, bits of green glass, smears of old dog shit. Fuck m– hey, a quarter.
+++++I try to stand, end up walking a half dozen paces like an extra in Dawn Of The Dead. Not a featured extra neither. One of the really messed up background players, like with one leg missing or a length of pipe still sticking out of their spine.+++++
I drop down to all fours again, grateful for the cold stability of the city sidewalk. Both hands down now, one planting deep red handprints in a trail up 34th.
+++++A car drives by. Didn’t hear it until too late. I doubt anyone would have seen me down here with the piss and McDonalds wrappers anyhow.
+++++Cold out. Maybe it’s just the slab of pavement draining my body heat through my knees and palms. Somehow I’ve made it to the end of the block. I can still see the fireball behind me. I think for a second of crawling back there if only for the warmth. Eventually a fire truck would show up, right? Eventually can be a long time.
+++++I pull myself up on a lamp post. My bloody hand slips on a flyer for a lost cat, only one of the phone number tabs torn off. I look up at the street signs, try to get my bearings. I spot a cab a block away moving my way. Score.
+++++I lean out, keeping my blood hand on the lamp post otherwise I’d be face down in the gutter. I lift my hand to wave down the taxi. My palm is nearly black from only a half block of crawling. This city is fucking disgusting.
+++++The cab slows and I think I’ve found Jesus. I lean out from the lamp post, an insane asylum grin plastered my face. The cab driver sees me.
+++++“No drunks,” he says and hits the gas.
+++++“Wait! I’m not fucking dr–” I tip forward into the street. I can still smell his exhaust as my face hits the cement. For a split second, the two holes in my gut take a backseat to the pain in my mouth.
+++++I flip myself over and spit two teeth out. They teeter near a storm drain and I wonder if I should go fetch them and try to plug the holes in my abdomen. Nah, they’re front teeth, not molars. Too small for the caliber of gun Ricky Russell used on me.
+++++If I make it to a hospital they’re gonna want to know why I got shot. That’s a long damn story and I’m not keen to tell it. Let them figure it out. I’ll fake being too out of it to speak, which isn’t really faking at this point.
+++++I manage to get myself back to the sanctuary of the sidewalk before a delivery truck runs my ass over or something. Time to cross the street.
+++++I stand up again, latched onto the lamp post. When the little red hand turns to a green walking man I let go. What I do across the intersection can’t be called walking. More like tripping for twenty yards. Or falling down a flight of stairs, when there’s no stairs there.
+++++I hit the curb on the far side and pitch forward again. A tooth on the top row that felt a little wobbly after I kissed the gutter, pops loose now and I nearly swallow it. I spit the tooth out and a gob of bloody saliva comes with it. Wish I could lose this bullet in my gut as easily as I lose teeth.
+++++I’m flat on my belly. My feet have gone ice cold and a little numb, so have my hands. The only part of me that’s warm is my belly pressed flat on the sidewalk and soaking in a warm bath of my own blood.
+++++I do a pushup with my hands and notice a rubber stamp imprint of my midsection rendered in O positive.
+++++How many more blocks to go? Fuck me.
+++++I hear a door open. Oh, thank Christ.
+++++Off to my right, coming up the steps from a basement apartment, is an older Chinese lady with a toy poodle at the end of leash. She’s wearing a housecoat and holding an as-yet empty plastic bag in her hand. Gotta love dog owners – any time, day or night.
+++++I reach out my bloody hand to her and mutter something like, “Please, help me.” I doubt it came out that clear.
+++++She jumps back and puts a hand up to her collar, tightening up the housecoat as if I might want to jump up to two feet, ignore the two bullets that paid me a visit tonight, and get my rape on. The nerve on that old bitch.
+++++After she says something appropriately shocked in her native tongue, she takes a closer look. I’m obviously a victim here. The details of how I got shot aren’t relevant to her, only that I need help. And fucking soon.
+++++I try to explain through the stone barrier of our uncommon language. I use words I think everyone should know like hospital, ambulance, and don’t let me die in the street. She creeps ever closer to me, the dog tugging at the end of the leash wanting like hell to get to me and see what the fuck is going on. I wish she had half the urgency of that ugly fucking mutt.
+++++She takes a cell phone out of her housecoat pocket. That’s gotta be a good sign. She raises someone and starts speaking rapid-fire and angry sounding Chinese to whoever is on the other end of the line. While she speaks I can do nothing but lay crumpled on the sidewalk and continue to lose blood. She scans her street up and down, I assume looking for my shooter. She’s shit out of luck on that score.
+++++Lucky for her. The Russell brothers wouldn’t blink at putting a bullet between the eyes of a nosy Chinese lady and her scrawny-ass dog.
+++++Speaking of the dog, the little fucker is licking my wound. I’m trying to alert her to the fact that her mutt is tasting me like I’m what’s for dinner, but she is fully engrossed in her conversation. I wish I could understand a goddamn word she was saying so I would know if she was trying to help me or just discussing the latest episode of Housewives of Fuckville or whatever.
+++++The damn dog is lapping it up. I have the strength to push him away a few times, but not the will to compete against a wiry hound with a recently discovered taste for human blood. Every time I push, he keeps coming back at me, his muzzle growing darker red each time I give him a shove and see his face come away from my abdomen.
+++++Finally she hangs up, looks down and sees the dog, gives the leash a tug, and then talks to me in Chinese. She seems like she’s giving instructions of some sort. I hope she gave directions to the ambulance in fucking English, and I tell her as much.
+++++As soon as I swear at her, I regret it. She didn’t do this to me. The Russell brothers did, and really, didn’t I do it to myself?
+++++She bends down and starts to try to drag me off the sidewalk toward her place. Hopefully to wait until the ambulance arrives.
+++++It’s an awkward affair. I’m too weak to be much help at all. She’s got my feet, dragging me along at a snail’s pace, while the dog is bouncing around, covered in my blood, and looking to get another taste.
+++++She keeps chastising the dog in Chinese, but the dog seems to understand her about as well as I do. Or he just doesn’t give a fuck.
+++++I don’t know why, but I start talking. I tell her everything. The fact she can’t understand me helps a bit. It feels good to get it off my chest at least. I tell her about the doomed-from-the-start business venture I entered into with the Russell brothers. How I should have known it would all go south. How I tried to hide the facts when it did. And how I came to be under a bridge with both brothers and me without a gun.
+++++In the distance I hear a siren.
+++++We’ve reached the top of her steps and she’s barking at me in Chinese again. I’m sure she wants my help to get down the steps. “Just leave me here,” I say. “Why make the ambulance guys bring me out of your basement apartment when they can just grab me off the sidewalk?” The words all come out in a slur. Even if she spoke English she might not have gotten any of that.
+++++Then she’s falling. I guess I didn’t do enough to help. The lady has pitched over backward and is heading down the steps head first. Her dog is lifted off the ground by the leash and it goes sailing over me, the bloody muzzle looking down at me with a very confused expression.
+++++I hear a sickening slap and then I’m sliding. I was close enough to the edge, I guess, and I slip down the stone steps like it’s winter time in New England and I’m trying out my trusty sled.
+++++I slide in next to the old lady, my head tapping her door. She’s got a shocked look on her face, but it’s frozen there. The smell of the blood leaking from her is different than mine. Hers is more fresh.
+++++I’m almost nose to nose with her and it takes me a second to notice her shoulders are pointed the other way. Why is it someone like her, who was just trying to help, gets killed in an instant while I have to suffer in agony for god knows how long?
+++++I hear whimpering. The little dog crawls out from behind the lady. It looks dazed, but catches sight of me and is energized.
+++++The sirens are almost on us now and the dog scrambles over his owner and noses into my gut wound again. I try to move my arms to shoo the damn thing away, but I’m either pinned at a funny angle or my arms don’t work any more. Hard to tell.
+++++I try to give it a, “Hey! Go away!” but nothing more than a squeak comes out. A leaky bike tire hiss and nothing you could call actual words.
+++++The siren comes and goes, zipping past and never slowing down. Great.
+++++I hear voices above. Residents poking around. Someone says something about a fire. So it was a fire truck. I have no idea if the old woman even called an ambulance or not.
+++++I try to yell for help, but the air is almost all the way out of this tire.
+++++Goddamn dog won’t let up. There’s no where for me to look. I’ve got this dead woman inches from my face or the view of my guts being eaten out by a crazed poodle. Which is worse?
+++++When I first slid down here, the lady was freshly dead, or maybe not even yet. Now she’s settling into the idea. The skin on her face is starting to slacken, her tongue swells out of her mouth and hangs there.
+++++Ow, fuck! The dog has taken to biting and little nips, not satisfied with only licking anymore. Damn, will he ever be the same? How to you adopt out a dog with a taste for human flesh?
+++++Oh well, not gonna be my problem. I have a feeling all my problems are over really fucking soon.

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