Friday, December 31, 2010

Issue #7: January, 2011

The Ballad of Jimmie Jazz
by Tony Deans

“The fucker cut off his ears then chopped off his head”. The words rang sharply through the ears of Jimmy Jazz. Jazz was a tall man, slowly riding the train of time to middle age. A dirty fighter, he had only ever lost one fight and that was when his father left the family when Jazz was twelve. So he grew up tough on the streets of Glasgow, dealing smack to his friends and fighting winos in the boxing ring for money. Eventually his father returned thinking that time would heal all wounds. As his son slowly choked the life out of him, he probably realised that coming back was a big mistake.

Jazz and his partner in crime Rudy Smith stood over the decapitated head of their coke supplier and both let out a sigh. Together they pretty much controlled the supply of drugs coming into their city. Jazz never touched any stuff himself, the power he held over the junkies begging him for a hit was sufficient enough. Rudy however would sample the product, claiming to do it in the name of ‘quality control’. The death of the coke supplier was bad news for multiple reasons. One reason was that it meant that they had lost someone they could rely on to bring in a steady supply of drugs for them to flood the streets with. Another was that they now had to find a different, more expensive supplier. Most importantly it meant that someone was trying to muscle in on their business.

“So who do you think done it?” asked Rudy. Jazz stayed silent, instead opting to concentrate on his driving. “Maybe Thompson or Davies?” Jazz decided to speak, if only to get some silence from his partner to allow him to think. “Probably both. If not someone new on the scene”. Silence then enveloped the car, with Rudy resting his head against the window and Jazz staring ahead, smirking, safe in the knowledge that the road he was driving on belonged to him. Rudy awoke to find himself outside a bar. He got up, loaded six bullets in his gun and got out of the car. As he closed the door behind him, the cold wind hit him in the face, shocking him. He looked at his watch and noted the time. 3 O’ Clock. He realised that Jazz wasn’t going to allow him to go home until they had settled the score with the killer of their coke supplier. He placed his head in his hands due to the knowledge that Jazz only accepted retribution in the form of one thing – Blood.

Rudy entered the bar; it was mainly empty apart from a boy and a girl playing pool and the bartender sitting on a stool flicking through the channels of the television. Rudy took a seat at the bar; this action caused the bartender to get up and ask Rudy what he wanted to drink. “A Manhattan” replied Rudy in a voice that sound cracked and hoarse, like someone had made him eat gravel. “On the house” said the Bartender as he handed Rudy the drink. “Huh? What makes me so special?” responded Rudy; “On account of my boss and your buddy becoming best friends” announced the Bartender. He then walked away and sat on his stool, picking up the remote control and flicking through the channels, pausing briefly for the reports of child prostitution rings found in London and the increasing amount of people on the dole. Rudy heard a door open. Jazz approached him clutching a brown paper bag which he placed next to Rudy. “Well this resolves the problem of finding a new supplier” laughed Jazz. “What you found someone new already?” replied Rudy despondently. “Yup”. “How you do that?” enquired Rudy. “That’s for me to know and for you to ponder” answered Jazz.

“Oy, you Hootie and the blowfish, you fancy being the first testers of an amazing new product, soon to be sought after by every cokehead, from Chalmers Crescent all the way to Glenconner Close?” shouted Jazz to the couple playing pool. “No thanks mate.” replied the boy, trying to cut the conversation short. “It’s one hundred percent free boyo” responded Jazz sharply. “No offense intended mate, but I wouldn’t go within a hundred miles of that shit” Jazz went silent upon hearing this. He opened the paper bag and placed the coke on the table; he tore open the plastic packaging covering the snow and stood up from his seat. He approached the boy who sensed danger and swung a pool cue in Jazz’s direction. Jazz caught it. The punch that followed winded the boy, allowing Jazz to grab him by his hair and drag him along to the bar. The girl screamed, tears streaming from her eyes as she saw her boyfriend’s face being forced in the white powder. The man then threw her boyfriend to the floor, and rubbed his right hand in the powder. The right hand stuck the coke up the 18-year-old’s nose before forcibly opening his mouth and rubbing the white particles on the boy’s gums. Jazz laughed. “Go wrong ‘em boyo”.

Rudy and Jazz left the bar and drove away in the car that needles and pound notes purchased. “Where we gonna go now?” enquired Rudy. “To get some information” answered Jazz. The duo arrived at Stephan Coyle’s apartment; they made their way up the stairs and knocked on his door. A young girl, no older than fifteen answered. Her left eye was black and her lips were pale. “We’re here to see Stephan”. The girl remained silent but opened the door as to allow the pair to enter. Inside, the dirty rooms were full of young girls and clouds of smoke filled the apartment. They entered the room where Coyle was. Coyle was a skinny, red-haired old man, with track marks on his left arm. Beside him sat a teenager, exposed for all to see. Her mind and will broken. “All right Jimmy?” asked Coyle sincerely. “Tom was killed last night, and I want you to tell me who done it.” “How should I know?” “Well they cut of his ears and chopped off his head, Stephan, a man of your experience should be able to tell me who would be capable of something like that”. A pursed expression developed on the old man’s face. “Well my memory’s a little hazy, it’s all these fumes you see” Jazz was not amused. “Well mine’s sparkling clear, and it remembers the fact that I supplied these fumes to you for a small price. And that I could make all these fumes disappear. Then all your employees wouldn’t be so out of it, and they would remember that there is a lot more of them than there is of you. You know what they’ll do? They’ll take one of your boys, then the other before taking your tiny wrinkled pecker and then make you eat the lot. And th-““Alright, fucking hell, Jazz, I knew you were a sick bastard, but geez. Davies likes to do them like you said. He’s the one who killed Tom, probably”. A smile spread on Jazz’s face.

On the way to Davies home, Rudy made Jazz stop at a McDonalds to get a Big Mac. Whilst Rudy was ordering, Jazz sat at a table. He looked outside, the rain starting to pour down. On the grass he saw two magpies; beside them in the road was a squirrel which had been run over and killed. Both birds walked into the road and started pecking at it. When a car came one bird walked back onto the grass whilst the other just stared before being run over. The other magpie paused for a second before flying off into the distance.

The pair arrived at Davies house with murder on their minds. They waited outside until the bedroom light finally went out. They briefly discussed their plan before getting out of the car. They knocked loudly on the wooden front door. “Shoot whoever answers” whispered Jazz. The door opened, prompting Rudy to fire a shot into the dark doorway. As they burst in they made their way into the living room, ready to ambush whoever came down the stairs. As Rudy looked around the room, he noticed children’s toys and DVDs spread across the floor. As his mind tried to decipher as to where the child was, he heard a woman scream. He made his way into the doorway only to find himself viewing a young blonde-haired woman cradling a small body. A Child. The trauma of this scene negated any sense of feeling within Rudy’s body. He never even felt Davies knife plunge into his abdomen. Rudy slumped to the ground.

“Is Jazz with you?” demanded Davies. Rudy didn’t answer. “Fuck it”. Davies entered the front room with caution and switched the light on, only to find the room empty. A loud gunshot engulfed his ears, his wife’s crying cut short like a scratched disk. Davies entered the doorway, only to be greeted by Jazz standing tall, brandishing a gun. “Why are you doing this?” asked Davies. “Cause you killed Tom” sputtered Rudy. “No I didn’t, why would I kill him for?”

“This conversation is over” declared Jazz, putting a bullet between Davies eyes. “I need help,” pleaded Rudy, unable to move. Jazz simply replied “I’ll get you some in a minute”. “I think we’ve made a mistake here Jimmy, I don’t think he killed Tom”. “Tell you a lie Rudy, I know for a fact he didn’t” announced Jazz crouching down to face Rudy. “Who did it then?” “I did”. Before Rudy could ask his partner for the reasons why, Jazz killed him.

Jazz stood up and wiped himself down before leaving the house. Only Thompson was left but he wouldn’t be a problem, once he was gone Coyle would be next and pretty soon he would have full control of the city’s underbelly - controlling who or what came in. On the drive home Jazz stopped at a park where he knew there would be drunks lying about, waiting for the pubs to open. He got out of his car and opened the park gate. He walked around for a while looking for any signs of life. “Damn it”, Jazz groaned. He would have to go home, however just as he was making his was back to the car he started to hear a faint sobbing. He followed this noise only to find much to his surprise the boy he had drugged earlier shaking uncontrollably and panting hysterically resting his head on his girlfriends lap. “Still tripping I see?” exclaimed Jazz. The girl turned around wide eyed and fearful. “Just leave us alone” pleaded the girl, the sheer desperation of the remark made Jazz laugh loudly. The girl broke down at Jazz’s reaction. “Well I hate to kick them when their down but I’m going to kill you”. “Why?” Jazz remained silent to this question. “Tell me why you son of a bitch, why are you doing this?” Jazz moved forward and stood over the girl. “Because I can”. These were the last words the girl heard. The boy just started whimpering once the blood of the girl dripped down into his face. “Well I can’t go to prison now can I boy?” The boy looked up at Jazz. “I’ve got a city to run, you’re going to have to take my place” The boy could only muster a stuttered no. Jazz wiped the knife down removing any fingerprints; then dropped it by the girl’s body and walked off back to his car, leaving the boy stammering and shivering, in the frame for the murder of his girlfriend.

Jazz arrived home about two hours later and walked up to his front door, before entering he looked around and withdrew a gun from his ankle holster and shot a bullet into the dark October sky. He made his way up to the bedroom and fell onto the bed. As he fell asleep he smiled and whispered “God, once I’m done with this world, I’m coming up there to destroy that one as well.”

Tony Deans is a young writer from London, UK. You can contact him and read more of his stories at

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Issue #6: December, 2010

          ***Winner of the 2011 Spinetingler Award for Best Short Story on the Web***

by Matthew C. Funk

Alvin knew even before Jay’s body had stopped shoving blood onto the asphalt that he had to get up. Jay’s dead limbs and the stink of new murder and the heat were heavy on Alvin, but he pushed hard to get up, not even knowing where it was he had to get to. Pain bleached his memory. He only knew he had somewhere to go and a life to save by getting there.

Alvin pushed and the gunshot wounds in his belly and chest pushed back. They pushed like expanding sponges, not painful so much as hot; the kind of heat that put the fricassee of New Orleans’ surrounding summer to shame.

His canvas shoes slipped in the blood of his friends’ three bodies as Alvin got his bearings. What survived of his thoughts stripped the necessary from the inconsequential.

He checked his Rolex. It was 12:02. This mattered.

“Motherfucker,” Alvin croaked. “Ain’t got long.”

The triggermen had long since peeled away in their car: A Cadillac. No, a Civic. No, not a Civic—a Rav 4; Dirty-30 thugs drove Rav 4s. No, it didn’t matter. What make and model had done Alvin’s boys in and nearly finished him off didn’t matter. Wondering on why this happened wouldn’t make a difference—living on the corners and project blocks of Desire District built up more reasons for murder than for survival. Only that they had been here and were now gone mattered—that meant he could get away. Alvin had a chance to get where he was going.

Alvin set to running. This mattered—he had to get to her.

To Marinette. He had to get to Marinette.

Alvin’s shoes left brushstrokes of blood in a staggered line down Law Street. It was 12:03. He had only an hour. Maybe less if his wounds were doing as quick a work as they felt.

“Come on, motherfucker.” Alvin snarled at himself. “Step it up.”

Alvin shook his head, dreadlocks blending afro-sheen with the sweat on his face. He would figure out later why he thought he had only an hour. For now, he had to keep going. He had to get to his girl.


12:10. Alvin made it to the end of the block and turned down Piety Street.

Impressions staggered around him like the footsteps: The warp of sirens, lurching in and receding. Shotgun houses of clapboard and radiant color shuffling by in tight rows. Advertisements painted on buildings with an inexpert hand that spoke modestly of ‘Cold Beer’, ‘Crawfish by the Pound’, ‘Jazz’, ‘Cards’, ‘Gas’, all the rough diet of New Orleans.

Worst of all were the faces—faces he thought he should recognize, but that turned away from him with a common cruelty; with the refusal to recognize him or his pain.

Maybe it was the cruelty that made them familiar. He had seen that look every day of his life in Desire District. Those looks had watched Alvin take punches and deal drugs and pull triggers and they had not cared then. They did not care now.

Marinette had cared. Alvin’s mind stitched together their shared history in the skips and drags of his wounded feet.

Marinette’s fingers, spreading like breath as they covered him with her bed sheet. Marinette, watching Green Acres on Nick At Night, her body sown with Alvin’s, as he watched what fantastic things her scent did to his mind. Marinette like a glass of coffee, standing by the barred window of her house, waiting for him.

Alvin knew she was waiting. He could not fix on why. He just knew she was in deadly danger.

He put more speed in his stumbles. That put more blood out of the holes in his gut and chest. And it stood to reason, Alvin figured, that those that had done dirt to him and his crew today would be a threat to her.

That was it, yes, Marinette’s life was in danger. He remembered that much now.

It was 12:12.

“Just fifteen more blocks to go.” Alvin said to the sun. The sun squatted, mean and big, on his face. New Orleans summer carved the wet out of his pores and gave it to the Mississippi air. Alvin spat at it and his spit came with blood.

“Ain’t nothing going to stop me.” Alvin swore. “I’m coming, baby. Don’t you worry.”


12:20, Alvin felt his feet floating in his shoes. The canvas was a cask of his blood, coughing it up with each step.

“Floats are for Mardi Gras.” Alvin had said to Marinette when she asked him to buy her a Coke float on their first date. “Gangsters live on the O.E.”

Dragging his left leg down Piety Street, Alvin tried to remember if the faded yellow-and-blue coffee hut he passed was where they had shared that first float.

“Is that what you think you are, Alvin?” Marinette had asked, giving him a look that could disprove gravity.

“Straight up. I’m all gangster.”

“Then you got it all wrong.”

“How you figure?”

He had taken a step back from her then, even as his fingers spread out for her with a thirst he hadn’t known existed until she stood by him.

“You got a mind and a heart bigger than any meanness you think you got to do.” Marinette had said. “I can see it in your eyes, trying to get out.”

“Maybe you need a closer look at my eyes.”

Maybe, Alvin wondered, that first date had been up on Humanity, at the grocery. Maybe it had been up at the Saint Roch Seafood and gas station, where the Interstate roared a promise of escape so amazingly vast and so out of reach.

“Maybe I do.” Marinette’s answer had brushed his chin for the first time. The look she put on him brought a new and necessary music to his heart.

The presence of that first date echoed around Alvin—he could not find it in one place; only in everywhere around. It was a vast and terrifying Interstate all its own, its traffic conducting what was left of him back to her.

“You sure?” He had asked her then. He had been afraid then. Alvin had been more afraid than he had ever been—more afraid than manning a corner, all alone with the police cruisers and the scowls of passing rival soldiers; more afraid than when his friend Deucy took one in the back of the head by the lockers between Remedial Math and English; more afraid than he could imagine himself to be.

He was sure now.

Marinette had put her lips on him then and from then on, Alvin had been surrendered to needing their return more than he needed breath.

“I’m sure.” Alvin spoke now, to keep his left foot sliding forward through all that heaviness.

Alvin was sure he needed Marinette’s lips, her fingers, the holiness of her watching him, than he needed anything—more than he needed to be bigger than the Projects; to be richer than his family’s food stamps and his stolen Rolex; to be feared.

His only fear now was that he would not reach Marinette in time, before the boys who shot him would knock her door in with bullets and not stop shooting until she was lost forever.

“I’m sure.” It kept Alvin’s legs moving with all the heat in them, all the heat leaking into his shoes, all the clustering heaviness.

He had to get back to feel those lips one last time before he gave up on breath.


12:30. Delirium would be a problem, Alvin knew.

Alvin talked to Marinette, her memory throbbing around him, as he lurched on, ten blocks to go.

“I ain’t fixing to die yet.” Alvin whispered to Marinette. His fingers worked the empty air and felt the gorse of her hair. “Don’t you fret about that.”

Marinette had been so long in replying then—they had been curled on her back porch, watching the night tint the June sky with flowery color, and its colors had been vivid as a plasma screen, putting on a program just for them.

Marinette had studied that program and spoke like reading its dialogue perfectly. “I’m just as worried about you killing part of yourself and going on living.”

“I gots to do what gots to be done, if I’m to stay alive.” Alvin had stumbled over those lines.

He stumbled now, the colors of the Piety Street houses pulsing around him: Pink and sea foam green and daffodil and dun. The smell of his blood, ripening the white cotton of his shirt, had a dark color all its own. It smelled like that night on her porch.

“You really believe walking away would be more trouble than pulling a trigger on that Dirty-30 boy?” Marinette had said.

Alvin felt regret as he recited what he had said to her then.

“What Parnell say need doin’, it’s as good as God’s own law.”

“You really believe that?” Marinette had kept reading the sunset, even as badly as Alvin needed her to look at him.

“Damn straight.”

“You telling me that Parnell’s bigger than this?” And her fingers fit in his with perfect mathematics.

“No.” Alvin had said, overcome by the sum of those fingers.

“You telling me that you would let a little thing like God keep us apart?”


12:33, and Alvin knew that his left leg had already died, but that he would not let a little thing like that keep him from Marinette. Not now. Not before saving her. Not before one o’ clock. Not before her lips. Not ever.

Alvin clenched his fingers as he walked. It kept his heart pumping and his heart kept his good leg moving. That kept him moving toward Marinette, through times past, to a time when his grip could add itself to hers and never fear letting go.

12:34. Alvin whispered to Marinette through the blaze of sunset red that lidded his eyes. “I ain’t fixing to die yet.”


12:40. Five blocks to go, Alvin felt the urge to beg grab the base of his throat and pull.

His insides were cold now. His skin was sautéing in the hot blanket that the Mississippi smothered his skin with.

“Fuck the French Quarter,” Alvin sang to the slideshow of colorful houses. “Fuck those honky tourists. Fuck the Zulu King. We gonna make our own Mardi Gras here, better than any spectacle white folk come to take pictures of.”

Alvin had given Marinette a mask then and another mask every month after. Marinette had given him a Valentine’s card in sixth grade—a puppy with a full heart in its paws—and even then, it had felt like a promise shiny as gold and scarier than the streets ever could be. Alvin had given Marinette her first Mardi Gras mask that day in March and had hung beads on her naked body.

“This is just for us, baby.” Marinette had told him, tucking the words into Alvin’s mouth with her tongue.

“Just for us.”

12:42. Delirium summoned the smell of what that Mardi Gras spent alone had brought to her bedroom. Alvin pushed his nose toward it down Piety Street and kept his body following in step. The tempo of his steps echoed the mournful time of a jazz funeral.

One o’ clock, Alvin reminded himself—he had to get to Marinette’s by one o’ clock. It was life or death. The convulsive grasping of his fingers seized on this fact. He tried to remember why.

Those boys who shot him—that was why, Alvin thought; his fingers were to blame. Alvin sobbed out a blossom of blood as he remembered why.

He had let her fingers go that night on the back porch and he had let them pick up a gun. He had made them pull the trigger on C-Dog, the Dirty-30 boy Parnell had demanded that Alvin kill.

“Just for us.” Alvin whispered through the screen of blood.

But it had not been for Marinette and him. And watching C-Dog’s head open like a can of corn, his brains spraying out all yellow and gray, Alvin had felt sadness close him in its tomb. He had felt that boy’s death bury Marinette and him. In the silence after that gunshot, Alvin had heard the Interstate and the music of Marinette’s look and every promise their joined skin exchanged all close away.

That was why he had been shot—revenge from the Dirty-30. That was why he had to get to Marinette before one o’ clock. At one o’ clock, Alvin was certain without really knowing why, she would be dead.

It would be too late, just like the silence after the gunshot promised.


“Just for us.” Alvin tried to say, unable to form words with all the blood running from his mouth. He had two blocks left to go.

Alvin turned the corner at Clouet Street as the bass beat rumble of gangsters in a Rav 4 rose up behind him.

Alvin coughed with effort as he tried to turn for the cover of a nearby house.

He heard the window of the Rav 4 whirr down.

He heard the rubber of his limbs wail as he tried to run.

He heard the car speed up and feared his heartbeat was too slow to jump out of sight in time.


12:50, Alvin came back to consciousness to find himself caged by the sword grass of an alley way. A sense of dread hunkered on his chest, as big and as cruel a prison as ever lay over Desire District.

Alvin tried to place it as he shook upright.

Was it the grass? Marinette had a garden—a precious patch of honeysuckle and lilies that she fed and defended against the crush of wild growth that choked every space in Desire Distict.

“Baby girl,” Alvin muttered. “You forgot to trim the grass.”

Yes, Marinette’s garden needed her to tend it—Alvin remembered this—but that wasn’t the source of the dread. And yes, now his skin felt overgrown with running liquid—with seeds of sweat and blood hatching so fast he couldn’t hope to contain them. But no, that wasn’t the dread.

“Shit, baby, where you at? Why you let the garden get this way?”

Alvin remembered

It was nearly one o’ clock. That was it. One o’ clock meant Marinette was dead.

That was enough to get Alvin on his feet again, and to get those feet moving fast, burping blood from his shoes.

12:52. Three steps on, Alvin slowed, finding the sense to listen for the Dirty-30 before stepping onto the street. He picked up the rumbling wash of bass beats, rolling up and down Clouet street.

“I ain’t fixing to die yet.” Alvin promised Marinette, turning for the other end of the alley, where backyards collided in flaking chain link and spills of sword grass.

Alvin picked up speed toward Marinette’s house, stumbling over the low fences and under the sagging clotheslines, making for her backyard.

His thoughts felt slippery. His muscles wanted to slough from the bones. Alvin kept them moving, dread pushing his heart and his heart pushing what part of him was still alive.

He had let Marinette’s fingers go then. He would not let her go now. He would not let it be too late.


Marinette was not waiting in the window. The seat on the back porch they had shared was smothered in the scent of refineries and river water that stuck to everything in the Desire District summer. Alvin dragged himself up to the door and banged on the bars with a gripping hand.

No answer came. Alvin checked his watch as he leaned his arm on the door.

12:56. He banged again.

“Who the fuck creeping up back there?” Marinette’s mother’s voice came from inside.

“Open up!” Alvin croaked. “You got to open up! It’s urgent!”

“Alvin?” Marinette’s mother sounded more sad than worried—sad and bitter. “Why you come around here, boy?”

“Please open up, miss.” Alvin moaned. “I got to get in to Marinette and get us out safe!”

12:57. Marinette’s mother was working the locks so slowly. By the time she drew out the last bolt, Alvin couldn’t keep his feet. He tumbled in as the door opened.

Marinette’s mother’s body staggered back as they collided.

“Jesus wept, boy. What happened to you?”

Alvin felt more embarrassed than almost anything—more than anything but the fear he might be too late. He tried to peel himself off of the woman and stand, but the hot sponges inside him had soaked right through to his bones. Alvin could only lean into her embrace and leak what was left of him.

“Marinette, miss.” Alvin gasped. “I done wrong.”

“I know, boy. I know.” She held him but her hands didn’t move; didn’t dare comforting him.

“I done wrong and now they come for her.”

“Alvin…” Marinette’s mother said, the despair welling up into her mouth. He wanted to see her face—to make sure she understood the urgency. All he could see was the color of sunset now.

“I had to get here by one. One o’ clock, Marinette gonna be dead.”

“One o’ clock’s come and gone, Alvin.”

A last reflex of disbelief shook through his pain and got Alvin to lift his arm. It couldn’t be too late. He tried to see his Rolex. He couldn’t—he could only see the blood red blindness.

“Nah,” Alvin gave up on seeing his watch but would not give up on looking for Marinette. He had to see her—to see her looking at him and to feel that music again. He had to get to her. It had to not be too late. “Nah, it’s minutes before one.”

“Alvin, that one o’ clock has come and gone, son. You just rest.”


“You just rest now.”

“No,” Alvin tried to struggle but could only move the remains of his voice. Everything else seemed to be bleeding out—running out of him like the colors of the passing houses had, like that past sunset had, like he had let Marinette’s fingers slip from his. “No, I got to be here at one. One o’ clock, my Marinette’s dead”

“One o’ clock, a week back, was Marinette’s funeral, Alvin.” Marinette’s mother was stroking his face now. She wiped the blood away from his eyes but could not clean them of its color. “You were there, remember?”

12:59, Alvin remembered. He remembered arriving a week ago to find a house inhabited by the same endless silence that had begun when he pulled the trigger on C-Dog—a silence only cracked by the teary whispers of Marinette’s family and the click of tea cups like the phonograph hiss beneath an old Blues recording. He remembered how Marinette’s smell had been shrouded by the mothball stink of fine black clothing. He remembered standing there, stiff in that smell, knowing that Marinette’s murder was the work of the Dirty-30 and knowing that it was just a matter of time before they would finish him.

He remembered needing for it to not be too late. He remembered the promise of Marinette’s lips, louder than the Interstate and still so alive. Alvin had only stared then, trying to see the flowery colors of their shared sky in his future.

“Ain’t nothing going to stop me.” He tried to tell them.

1:00. Alvin stared into those colors now. Now and forever.

Matthew C. Funk is a professional marketing copywriter and social media consultant, a writing mentor and the author of several manuscripts that illuminate the beauty of human extremes. A graduate of the Professional Writing MFA at USC, his online work is featured at sites such as A Twist of Noir; Thrillers, Killers and Chillers; Flash Fiction Offensive; ThugLit; Powder Burn Flash; Pulp Metal Magazine and his Web domain.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Issue #5: November, 2010

By Garnett Elliot

Stanley met Chas in the waiting room of Dr. Zaleski’s office. Stanley was feeling more than a little conspicuous, what with his level three sex offender ankle bracelet and the fact that his hands were cuffed—in front of him, at least. Chas didn’t seem to mind. He had a big bandage wrapped around his head and looked pretty goofy, too. Zaleski’s waiting room was always full of characters, on account he was the only private shrink in Yuba City.

“What’s Dr. Z going to do for you?” Chas said, leaning close so the rest of the riff-raff couldn’t overhear.

“He’s gonna get this bracelet off of me. And clear my name. Because the truth is, I’m not really a chester.”

Chas grinned like he’d heard this before. “You’re not?”

“Hell no. I like ‘em young, don’t get me wrong, but around sixteen or thereabouts. You know, almost legal.”

“Sixteen’s still a minor.”

“By the letter of the law, maybe. But Dr. Z’s got this big gray book, lays out all the different ways people can be fucked in the head. And the book says, you got to be liking them thirteen or younger, in order to be considered a true ped-o-file. And I like ‘em sixteen.”

“That seems pretty straightforward.”

“Yup. Also, Dr. Z says it’s not my fault I like teenagers, seeing as how my own teenaged years were so screwy. My momma raised me in a tool shed. Kept me separate from all my brothers and sisters.”

Stanley didn’t add that was because his momma had caught him messing in un-Christian ways with his brothers and sisters, but that hardly seemed the point.

“What’s Dr. Z doin’ for you?” he asked.

Chas gestured at the bandage. “I’m going on disability. You read about what happened to me in the paper? At the Pack ‘Em Inn Steakhouse?”

Stanley didn’t read too much, but he did recall hearing something about the restaurant. He snapped his fingers. “You’re that guy, the one got hit by a—what was it? A sled?”

“That’s right. The owners strung a bunch of antiques from the ceiling, trying to make the place look snazzy. Well, my table had a hundred and fifty pound hardwood toboggan suspended over it--”


“That’s a sled. Anyways, one of the wires snapped and the thing hit the side of my skull. And here I am.”

Stanley scratched at his chin. He had to raise both hands to do it, because of the cuffs. “I thought I heard you came out of that fine. That the sled hit at a funny angle and only glanced off your skull.”

“That’s what those idiots in the E.R. told everyone,” Chas said, “but that’s not the truth. I’ve been emotionally traumatized. Dr. Z’s helping me with the specifics. Did you know I can’t sit in a restaurant anymore? No kidding, I’ll freak out if I try it.”


“Worst thing is, ever since the accident, I haven’t been able to get it up. Dr. Z says it’s part of my ‘psychic scarring.’ He says if my lawsuit against the Pack ‘Em Inn fails, I got plenty of ammo for those tight-assed bastards at Social Security.”

“Man, that sounds nice.” Stanley tried not to sigh. All he wanted to do was win his freedom, get some of his self-respect back. But old Chas here had the keys to the Promised Land. It just didn’t seem fair, how some people got punished for their natural urges, while others had the good luck to have a hundred and fifty pound hardwood toboggan fall on their head.

The door to Dr. Z’s office opened. A fat woman in a leg-brace and a crutch under her left armpit came stumping out. She’d looked depressed as hell before she’d gone back for her appointment. All listless and droopy, like maybe she’d shoot herself in the parking lot. But now her eyes blazed with hope. She two-stepped over to the cashier’s window and slapped down her co-pay, beaming at the world.

Dr. Z had that kind of power.

He leaned his handsome face out into the waiting room. Curly black hair shot through with streaks of silver. Long gray sideburns and a strong Pollack’s nose. His gaze wandered over the hopefuls sitting at attention.

“You want to come back now, Stan?”

Did he ever.


Two months later, Chas came over to visit Stanley’s place with a bucket of KFC wings and a case of Coors Light. They gnawed chicken-bones on the dusty back porch, pausing only to guzzle or fart.

“How’s it feel to be a free man?” Chas said, smearing away hot sauce with the back of his hand.

“S’alright.” Stanley pointed to the ankle where the bracelet used to be. “Got busted down to a level one. Unsupervised probation, which is as close to ‘free’ as I’m gonna get. Feels better, though. How about you?”

“Getting a check every month. Dr. Z went toe-to-toe with D.E.S. for me.”

“Man’s a miracle worker.”

“Sure is.”

Stanley chucked an empty can at an emaciated chicken who’d wandered too close to the porch. It sailed right over the bird’s head. The chicken kept pecking at the ground like nothing had happened. Chas laughed and rooted around in the bucket, but when he looked up at Stanley again his eyes were sad.

“I got to tell you, though, the disabled life ain’t what I thought it’d be,” he said.


“First off, I don’t get that much. Enough for rent and cable TV, a little food. Cheap food. And cheap-ass cable, too. None of the premium channels with naked women and such.” He looked wistful. “I thought having all that time on my hands would be like, you know, the ultimate freedom. Lots of things I could do. But all I end up doing is watching daytime TV and jerking off.”

“I thought you said couldn’t get it up no more?”

“Nah, that’s passed. I guess that psychic wound’s healed over.”

Stanley thought about asking him if he could eat in restaurants again, but held off. When disability was the one thing a man had going for him, you didn’t want to question it too much. “I figure my life ain’t so great, either.”

“You don’t own this double-wide, do you?”

“Nope. Belongs to the old lady that answered the door. Ma Pootie. ‘Cept she’s not really my ma. See, when I moved out here I had to go around to all the neighbors and explain I’m a sex offender. But Ma Pootie, instead of gettin’ mad, offered to take me in. Said I could do handyman’s jobs for her.”

Chas raised his eyebrows. “What kind of ‘handyman’s jobs’?”

“It’s nothing like that.”

“Where the fuck do you sleep here, anyways? When I came in it was all stacked boxes and bird cages.”

Stanley nodded at the battered Tuff Shed on the edge of the property. A dead cottonwood draped its skeletal branches over the roof, which had rusted through in a couple places.

Chas shook his head. “Back in the tool shed again, huh?”

“It’s not so bad, ‘cept for the heat. And the black widows.”

“Jesus, when I start feeling down on myself I know where to come.”

“That why you paid a visit? So you can feel superior?”

“Don’t get bitchy about it. Shit, I come over here with free Coors and chicken--”

“No one told you to come over.”

“—which you wolf down and don’t even offer to pay for, like any goddamn decent person.” He waved at the bucket of bones. “On my income, this is a major purchase. I’ve shot my wad for the month.”

Stanley felt hot blood surge to his temples. “Don’t you be calling me cheap, you goddamn faker.”


Stanley shot up and balled his fists.

The door to the porch rattled open. An old woman wearing a padded housecoat stepped out. Two parakeets perched on the narrow slope of her left shoulder, while an African Gray rode the hump on her right. She glanced at the empty beer cans strewn across the porch and her thin mouth curled down at the corners.

“Thought I heard some hollerin’ out here,” she said.

Stanley un-clenched his fists. “No, Ma Pootie.”

“That’s good. Because there’s an important person wants to talk to you on the phone. Dr. Zaleski.”

The African Gray squawked and shit a fresh white streak down her shoulder.


Dr. Z wanted to meet at the Big Tiki Miniature Golf course. Stanley had no idea why. During the phone conversation he let slip Chas was over on a visit, and Dr. Z said that was a good thing.

“Invite him along,” he said.

“What’s this all about, Doc?”

“An exciting opportunity. I’ll explain later.”

He hung up.

Of course Chas wanted to go. They took his new F-150, as Stanley had been without a vehicle for months.

The Big Tiki itself wasn’t looking so hot. Sun-faded, covered in spots with graffiti, the fifteen foot fiberglass idol cast stern eyes over the clubhouse and the four acres of worn Astroturf behind it. There were a decent number of cars parked for a Tuesday evening.

“I don’t see Dr. Z’s Lexus,” Stanley said, surveying the lot.

“We must be early.”

“We could play a couple holes. I used to come here as a kid, but I don’t remember it being this busy.”

Chas chuckled. “It’s doing business, alright.”

They argued about who was going to pay for clubs and a caddy of balls, until Stanley finally gave in. He saw what Chas had meant about ‘business’ once they got out onto the greens. Cholos were everywhere. Old School gangsters, wearing hair nets and un-tucked Dickies dress shirts with black slacks. The farther out from the clubhouse, the more furtive they got. By the thirteenth hole, plastic baggies were being slipped from pockets, money flashed, and dope changing hands. Stanley watched with disapproval.

“This used to be a family kind of place,” he said.

“Fucking wetbacks.”

A big cholo caught them staring and glared back. Stanley and Chas took a sudden interest in knocking their balls through a series of arched flamingo legs.

Dr. Z came strolling up five minutes later.

He wore wrap-around sunglasses, despite the failing light, and a Stetson pulled low over his forehead. T-shirt and jeans. Pale bands of flesh showed where his silver rings and watch should have been. But even with the dressing-down, a presence surrounded him like a giant soap bubble. Several of the cholos recognized him, shook his hand, and he responded with quips of fluid Spanish. It took him awhile to work his way to the thirteenth hole.

“Christ,” he said, removing the hat to scratch his head, “so much for being inconspicuous.”

Stanley offered his putter. “You want to give it a shot, Doc?”

“No thank you, boys. I’ll just watch and talk while you play.” He settled his hands into his pockets. “Now, I don’t want you two to feel like I’m rushing things here, being all business. But time’s a valuable commodity, so I’m not going to waste yours or mine with a lot of small talk.”

“We appreciate that, Dr. Z,” Chas said.

“Well, here it is then. Do either of you gentlemen have criminal records? Beyond those unfair allegations against you, Stanley.”

“I got a DUI, about four years back,” Stanley said. “Plus some credit shit, but that was all handled in civil court.”

“I had a string of B and E’s when I was in my early twenties,” Chas said.

“B and E’s, that’s good.” Dr. Z licked his lips. “That could come in handy.”

The sodium lamps were blinking into life overhead. Smaller floodlights on the ground flicked on, bathing the flamingos, the giant windmills, in cones of red, blue, and green. Dr. Z cast a triple shadow.

“Why you want to know about our records?” Stanley asked. “When you said you had an ‘exciting opportunity,’ I thought you meant selling Amway or something.”

“No, no.” Dr. Z took off his sunglasses. His eyes underneath had lost some of their intensity. He had those puffy little bags going on, and dark circles, too. “I guess you could figure, looking after the emotional needs of an entire community like Yuba City can wear on a man.”

“I don’t know how you do it,” Chas said.

“I’d go off my fucking rocker,” Stanley added.

“Well, it’s not come to that. Yet. Some of my patients, though . . . you familiar with the old widow, Mrs. Groyle? She first saw me about eight years ago, right after her husband died. Bad case of depression. It’s grown worse over time, and I’ve tried everything. Therapy, medication, ECT—that means shock treatments.”

“They still do those?” Chas said.

“Sometimes. Nothing’s worked, though. Mrs. Groyle has lapsed into a vegetative state. She leaves her house to see me, and that’s about it.”

“Why doesn’t she just off herself?” Stanley said.

“That’s the problem. She’s made four attempts already. I’ve taken away her husband’s guns, her knives, and controlled her access to medications, but she’s a diabetic. Insulin-dependent. That means she’s got to inject herself every day, and she knows an overdose of insulin can be lethal.”

Chas snorted. “How’s that a problem? If she kills herself, you don’t have to treat her anymore. Case closed.”

“Not quite. She’s under my care, so her family can sue for malpractice. And they will. You wouldn’t believe how litigious people have become.”

“Oh, I would,” Chas said, “I would.”

“She’ll keep trying until she succeeds. Or she’ll just give up and stop injecting herself. Either way, she dies. I don’t need the legal hassles and I don’t need any more dings against my license.” He spread his broad hands. “So I’m stuck.”

“What you want us to do, Doc?” Stanley said.

The shadows had lengthened under the Stetson’s brim. Zaleski’s face, what was still visible in the lurid glow of the colored lights, grew still.

“I think I know what he’s getting at,” Chas said.


They staked out Mrs. Groyle’s house from the F-150’s roomy cab.

Chas had parked across the street, hidden in the shadows of a plum-tree grove. He wore a black Toby Keith t-shirt and black baseball cap, with crankcase oil smeared over his face. Every now and then he’d lift the old Bushnell scope he’d brought along and peer at the house.

“He didn’t have to threaten us like that,” Stanley said.

“He didn’t threaten so much as give us incentive. Like he said, he’s got to write letters to keep my disability checks coming and the police off your back. He can’t very well do that if he’s been sued out of business.”

Stanley hated to concede the point, but there it was.

They waited another thirty minutes. An over-ripe plum hit the truck’s hood with a soft plop. Birds called. Stanley finished off the last two cans of Silver Bullet from the cooler they’d brought along.

“Fuck it,” Chas said at last, tossing the Bushnell onto the dashboard. “Let’s go and get her done.”

“I thought you said we’d wait ‘til nightfall.”

“How many people you seen? This place’s deserted. Maybe two cars have passed the whole time.”

Chas was already slipping out of the cab, so Stanley did likewise. His shoes squished into the grove’s soft loam. Hunkered over, Chas padded from tree to tree like a rural commando. Stanley followed. Just the other side of the road lay an Okies-era farmhouse in peeling yellow paint. Weeds had overrun the front yard. A huge oleander bush screened the neighbor’s trailer to the left.

Chas pointed and made a twirling motion with his fingers.

They circled around to the rear of the house. The grass had grown even more wooly-bully back here. Stanley checked for dog turds and didn’t find any, which he took as a good sign. There was an enclosed porch with rusted screen mesh and a flimsy-looking door.

“We get through that,” Chas said, pointing, “and I bet you ten bucks the interior door’s not even locked.”

“I’ll try it.”

Stanley wrapped his fingers around the handle and pulled. He’d lost most of his muscle tone since he’d stopped working in the feed lot, but Ma Pootie always had him moving heavy boxes, so he had a little strength left. The door groaned. He slipped another hand over his right, braced his left foot up against the frame, and yanked.

The door came sailing off its hinges. He had to jump backwards to avoid losing his balance.

Inside, the narrow porch had been heaped with bundles of yellowed newspaper. An antique barometer hung askew. Stanley tried the knob on the adjoining door. As predicted, it turned with no resistance.

Warm air and the smell of old mayonnaise came wafting out.

“The fuck’s that?” he whispered to Chas, who had a hand over his nose.

“Maybe she’s already dead.”

The door opened onto a small kitchen. Every available surface was stacked with china plates, paper plates, forks, spoons, cups, mugs, bowls, crusted TV dinners, napkins, soup cans, milk cartons, wrappers, and pieces of rotting fruit. The table had no space to actually eat. Water the color of strong coffee filled both sinks, with an inch of grayish scum riding the surface.

Stanley felt the beer in his stomach turn sour.

“Holy fuck,” Chas said, forgetting to whisper.

The floor was worse. Same stuff as on the counters, but also hair, magazines, and old clothes. A sort of trail had been worn through the debris that wound from the hall, circled the table, and led to the refrigerator.

A part of Stanley’s memory recalled his Aunt Flo’s house, and he instinctively began hopping. Left foot, right foot. Aunt Flo had been a pill-head.

“Why you dancing like that?” Chas said. But just as he said it a two-inch cockroach bolted from a nearby mound and crawled up his pant leg. Chas screamed. He shook his foot and slapped his pants. A mass of feelers seemed to poke from everywhere at once.

“Keep moving,” Stanley said.

They danced down the hall, following the trail. Stanley half-expected Mrs. Groyle to come popping up with a shotgun, what with all this advance warning they were giving her, but it didn’t happen. The trail led through an open doorway and into the bedroom. The first thing Stanley noticed was how clean it was. Clean compared to the Kitchen of Horrors, anyway. No crap on the floor. A nightstand with a syringe and a couple medicine bottles, shoved up against a queen-sized bed—

A woman lay on the bed.

He recognized her from Dr. Z’s waiting room. She rested atop the sheets in a floral-print nightgown, hands folded across her chest. Greasy-gray hair. But she wasn’t asleep. Her eyes were open and regarding the two of them with languid calm.

“Ah--” Stanley said, and looked away. What was he supposed to say? ‘We’re here to do for you, ma’am’? It was awkward. Chas didn’t seem too bothered, though. He snatched the pillow out from under her head and started smothering her with it, just like that. She put up no fight.

“You going to watch,” Chas said, pressing his weight against the pillow with both elbows, “or you going to make yourself useful?”

“Doing what?”

“I don’t know. Find something to hit her with, just in case.”

The woman moaned a muffled “Thank you” from under the pillow, and continued her non-struggle.

Stanley hunted for a heavy object. He found a porcelain doll on the dresser, but it didn’t have enough heft. It occurred to him they should be wearing gloves. His fingerprints were all over the back doors. Funny, how Chas had thought to bring beer and an old rifle scope, but forgot something as basic as gloves. He figured they better get a rag and wipe everything down.

“You hear that?” Chas said, still hunched over Mrs. Groyle.

“Hear what?”

“That scratching. From the front of the house.”

Stanley listened. After a moment, he caught it: the unmistakable sound of a key fitting a lock.

“Shit,” he said.

Chas held a finger to his lips. Underneath him, Mrs. Groyle’s chest had stopped moving up and down.

A door creaked open. “Claire?” rasped a man’s voice. “Claire baby, it’s me. The wife’s gone down to Family Dollar.” Footsteps shuffled. “Jesus, you really should pick this place up a little. Ruins the am-biance, you know what I mean?”

Stanley heard the footsteps come closer. He looked at Chas, who had frozen in place next to the bed. His eyes were wide. They should be doing something, he knew. Like hiding behind the door, getting ready to pounce. Anything but just standing there.

“I’ve been waitin’, baby,” called the cigarette-voice. “Your honey-dripper’s all ready to go.” Something swished and hit the floor in the hallway, just outside the door. Stanley tensed. Before he could snatch up the porcelain doll, a scraggly, white-haired old man flounced into the room. He wore only an undershirt and black socks. His erect cock jutted from beneath his paunch.

“Claire, sweetie--”

The old man stopped.

His eyes flicked from Stanley to Chas, then rested on the inert form of his would-be lover. Some of the stiffness left his dick.

“You two ain’t supposed to be here,” he said.

“It’s not--” Stanley began, but all the air whuffed out of him as the old guy’s fist connected with his gut. Stanley doubled over. Mr. Honey-Dripper used the opportunity to wheel and go scrambling from the room.

“Stop him!” screamed Chas, shaking like he’d been the one hit. “He’s going to get the cops.”

Stanley realized his partner wasn’t so good in a pinch.

He ran out into the hallway, his stomach cramping. Reached the front room just in time to see a wrinkled white butt disappear out the door. He leapt after it, almost tripping on a stack of un-opened boxes. Goddamn house was like an obstacle course. Out on the lawn, the old guy veered right and dove into the giant oleander bush. Stanley figured he was making for the trailer next door.

He charged the bush. Leaves parted. His head and upper body broke through, but a stout branch snagged his legs. He fell forward. The ground came up and clipped his teeth. Twisting, he craned his head around to see his right ankle caught in a crotch between two branches.

“Chas,” he hollered. “Get your ass over here.”

He thrashed his foot around, trying to free it. The weathered trailer lay only ten feet away, and the door hung wide open. As he struggled, he heard a frantic scratching noise coming from inside. Then the old man’s voice called out:

“Prince, kill.”

Ninety pounds of black-furred German shepherd exploded from the trailer doorway, its muzzle already dripping, yellowed canines bared as it machine-gunned barks. Stanley flailed, threw his forearms up in front of his face. The dog subtracted the distance between them in two bounds, clamped its jaws over his wrist and bit deep. Hot blood spurted. Stanley pounded at the Shepherd’s nose with his good hand. Frenzied, the beast let go his wrist and tore into the veins and soft flesh of his throat.

Stanley’s howls turned to gurgles.

He fought on anyways, for what could have been minutes or just a string of drawn-out seconds. His vision dimmed. The dog smacked and chewed. At some point he heard footfalls echo across the street, and some point later an engine turned over.

He called out for Chas one more time.

The last thing he glimpsed, before the lights went dark: the F-150 roaring out of the plum grove, black-faced Chas hunched over the wheel, not looking back.


Sheriff Joe Strawbridge paid a visit to Dr. Z’s office the next day.

He brought with him two pulled-pork sandwiches on fresh torta rolls, and two tall Styrofoam cups of sweet tea. Dr. Z didn’t waste any time tearing into his half of the lunch.

“You, ah, find out what happened?” he said, between bites.

Strawbridge lowered his cup. “Damndest thing. Dog was actually eating the guy, time we got there.” He belched. “I figure the whole mess was a theft gone bad. Neighbor gave a fair description of Charles Stankworth, also got the first four digits of his truck’s plate when he high-tailed it. Probably in Mexico by now.”

“I never would have pegged Chas for murder.”

“Attempted murder, you mean.”

“Mrs. Groyle--?”

“She pulled through, yeah. Only unconscious. You should’ve seen the look on her face, when she came ‘round to the paramedics. I swear she was disappointed.”

A vein swelled along Dr. Z’s left temple. He coughed and pounded his chest.

“You okay, Doc?”

“Just pork grease.”

“A weird thing I realized yesterday. Three of these people are, or were, patients of yours. What’s the odds of that?”

“Yuba City’s a small community.”

“Yeah, true.” Strawbridge locked eyes with him. “Other weird coincidence, I got a couple people saying they saw you, Stanley, and Chas over at the Big Tiki Tuesday night, talking.”

“I bumped into them.”

“You did, huh?”


The crystal clock on the desk ticked loud. It had been bestowed to Dr. Z by the Yuba City Chamber of Commerce. The vein bulging along his temple did a snake’s dance.

Strawbridge looked away. “Of course,” he said, flushing. “Sometimes I forget how popular you are. And I hate to bring this up, seeing as how one of your clients just got killed, but I was wondering about that work-related disability claim I put in. You hear anything back from the state?”

“Good news,” Dr. Z said, reaching across the desk to pat his shoulder. “Nothing but good news for you, Joe.”


Mr. Elliott lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. He’s been published in Out of the Gutter #5, Plots with Guns, Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Crimefactory, Hardluck Stories, Shred of Evidence, A Twist of Noir, and Darkest Before the Dawn, among others. He’s also got a story in the print anthology Beat to a Pulp: Round 1.

The author would like to thank Mr. Jimmy Callaway for invaluable assistance with re-writing and edits.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Issue #4: October, 2010

by Mike Toomey

The phone rang.

‘You know who this is?’
‘Keep talking, I’ll see if I can figure it out.’
‘I’m a guy you used to know.’
‘You still working?’
‘I said—‘
‘I know.’
‘Do you know if you’re still working or not?’
‘Yeah. I mean, I got a job-job but if the right thing were to come along, yeah, I take work if it comes my way.’
‘You know who this is?’
‘I might. Way back, right? Long time.’
‘Long time indeed. You wanna meet me tomorrow?’
‘That diner still there? On Alvont?’
‘It’s a Starbucks now.’
‘The fuck. I guess I oughta try a Starbuck anyway. How about 10:30?’
‘A.M. or P.M.?’
‘A.M., asshole. It’s a meeting not a job. You know who I am yet?’
‘I got an idea. You still got that mustache?’
‘I didn’t have a mustache.’

The phone went dead.

Usually you get a call like that it’s someone who got grabbed up on something and are trying to trade their way out of a jackpot. Usually the number comes up restricted because it’s coming from some police precinct. Usually you take the call then throw your phone in the trash because it is burnt.

But I thought I knew the voice. And it was from the past. I thought it was the kind of guy who wouldn’t try to trade his way out of a jam – and hadn’t. I wasn’t really looking for work, but if it was the guy I thought it was it would be worth meeting him, anyways.

The meet was 10:30; I got to Alvont St at 9 and parked across the street. He rolled up at 10:15 by himself. He got out of the car, looked over his shoulder and went inside.

There was something wrong with his leg. Bad wrong. He walked like he didn’t have a knee. He would plant his left foot and then whip his right leg forward by jerking his hip. Took him forever to just get in the door.

He was the guy I remembered. Older now—thirty years will age anyone, I guess. His name was Jimmy something but he was occasionally called Sven. I never called him that but I’d heard it a few times. Last I’d heard he was doing twenty-five to life on an armed robbery that got fucked. Last time I saw him he had been a young man and I’d been a kid, now he looked like a grandfather.

I waited ten more minutes before I followed him in.

‘Glad you could make it.’
‘I thought you said you didn’t have a mustache.’
‘I said I didn’t have a mustache then, I got a mustache now.’
‘Looks good.’
‘You sound like the guys inside.’
‘I was kidding.’
‘I know. Take a seat…’

There was a long pause and we just kinda looked at each other. Eventually, I guess I sat down across from him.

‘So this is Starbucks.’
‘How’s the coffee?’
“Probably better than what you’re used to.’
‘Probably. Probably. How’s your old man doing?’
‘My father died like eight years ago.’
‘That’s too bad.’
‘But I think you mean my uncle.’
‘Big Wahlid? That was your uncle? I thought you were his kid? I thought Big Wahlid and Little Wahlid were like some Arab father-son team.’
‘Nope, he was my uncle. My father would have discouraged me from doing what I did.’
‘Well, how’s your uncle, then?’
‘He’s dead too.’
‘There’s a lot of that going around.’

I went up and ordered us two house blends, partially because I knew he wouldn’t know what vente meant.

He took it black and winced when he sipped it, underestimating how hot it was.

‘That is good coffee.’
‘Oughta be, for what they charge.’
‘Glad I’m not paying.’

We both sipped our cups. I waited until he got to it.

‘You remember Danny Weslet?’
‘Tall guy? With the bad teeth?’

What I actually remembered about Danny Weslet were his hands. He had girl’s hands. They were white and soft and his nails were always cut into perfect crescent moons. He didn’t take any special care of them, as far as I knew; they just were like that naturally.

‘Yeah. That’s the guy. Though I heard he got his teeth fixed.’
‘What about him?’
‘I got a meeting with him Friday night.’
‘Like this meeting?’
‘Similar. But at night.’
‘What are you looking for?’
‘I mean from me.’
‘Oh. No heavy-lifting. Mostly driving and standing around looking like you’re tough. I don’t get around so well anymore and I can’t be chasing this guy through the woods…’
‘I’m not gonna chase him through the woods either.’
‘Nobody’s asking you to chase anybody. I’m just saying I show up there with half a leg, Weslet’s gonna start wondering about a foot-race. At least if you’re standing there he might think twice. You can stand there, right?’
‘I can do that.’

The other thing I knew about Weslet was this: he did six years on the same rap that put Sven away for twenty-seven. I hadn’t seen or heard of either of them since they went in. My uncle, Big Wahlid, had been killed shortly there-after and I wound up with no connection to the people he worked for so I had to get a real job. I had completely lost touch with that life until the phone rang that night.

A lot of it was just sitting in a car. We drove out 412 late Friday afternoon to this town just inside the boarder. We took his car but I drove, he said it bothered his leg to drive so much.

‘What happened with that?’
‘This White Supremacist did it in the joint.’
‘Did you try telling him you’re white?’
‘Yeah, he didn’t seem to care.’
‘What were you standing up for the rights of your disenfranchised minority brothers?’
‘Nothing that noble. I bumped him on the way back from the food line so he had two of his buddies hold my foot on a bench while he jumped on my knee.’
‘The doctors did a good job of fixing it.’
‘Yeah. The prison doctor and the prison barber are the same guy.’
‘He give you that haircut too?’

We ended up parking down the end of this road in the woods. The houses were far enough apart that you would have to really want some sugar to walk over to your neighbor’s place. The house was number 18 but I don’t remember the street name. It was dark when we got there but not night yet so we just sat in the car watching the house. He pulled a six pack from behind the seat while we waited. He said any more than three beers a piece and we’d run the risk of the cops finding two moes passed out tomorrow morning.

‘What’s it like inside?’
‘The joint?’
‘No, a woman. Yeah, the joint.’
‘It’s bad, but it’s not bad in the way that you think.’
‘It’s not all dudes jumping on your knee?’
‘No. It’s not. I mean, don’t get me wrong; that shit can happen and it does happen but it’s the little things inside that ruin your life.’
‘Like what?’
‘Like, for example, I went in there determined to establish a routine. I was like I’ll do these same things at the same time every day and that routine will be the thing that sustains my sanity in here. I’m in there and I’m sticking to this regiment: up, fifty push-ups, breakfast, read for an hour, run a mile in the yard, lunch…you know, like that.’
‘So the guard can’t tell you not to do push-ups before breakfast but he’ll just stand there every morning and watch until one day you don’t want to give him the satisfaction and so you skip it. It doesn’t sound like much but when it’s all you have, giving it up just…cuts. Humans are creatures of habit so when you rob them of those habits you strip us of our humanity. I don’t know.’

A woman opened the door of number 18 and stood in the frame holding the storm door ajar with her hip. A man met her there and kissed her on the cheek. She got in the car and drove off. He went back inside. He was older but the man was definitely Danny Weslet.

I looked at Sven after the car had disappeared.

‘Not yet.’
‘How’d you get out?’
‘I dug a tunnel.’

I just glared at him

‘No. I got that cancer of the prick. They decided it was too expensive to treat it if I was a ward of the fine state of Missoura, so they sprung me so I could deal with it myself.’
‘You dealing with it?’
‘I am dealing with it.’
‘Must be hell.’
‘Hell is when you have to watch some wrong shit happen and can’t do shit about it.’
‘Nothing. It’s time.’

We crossed the street and made our way up the lawn. I thought it was odd that we didn’t have masks or anything.

‘Should I have a gun?’
‘Do you have a gun?’
‘No. Do you?’

Weslet opened the door. He didn’t recognize us at first, I’m not sure he ever recognized me. He looked the same, still youthful-looking and tall. His teeth were fixed but in a way that you could tell they’d been fixed and his hands still looked like a surgeon’s.

‘Can I help you?’
‘Don’t you remember me, Danny? I remember you.’

You could see the moment of realization in Weslet’s eyes. You could see the pupil dilate as he tried to slam the door shut. Too late, Sven’s gimpy foot was already in.

‘Listen, Jim, I don’t know what they told you. I did my time. They had me on a lesser charge; the DA threw out the gun thing because she knew it wouldn’t stick. I did my six and kept my mouth shut. Jim, c’mon. You don’t have to…’

‘Where’s your phone, Danny?’

‘I don’t know. The other room?’

Sven took out his own phone and dialed a number. Sven took the phone when Weslet’s pocket started bleating.

Weslet never tried to run and Sven never touched him. Weslet just led us to a room in the back with a desk, a computer and a small tv. Weslet talked a little, bargaining. Sven would answer occasionally in the way you would answer a small child. Neither of them gave any indication that I was there.

‘C’mon, Jim. It was a long time ago. I’m a different guy now. That was a long time ago.’
‘Yeah, it was. A long time.’
‘Go get your boy.’
‘Your boy. Tell him to come down here.’
‘Jim? No, he doesn’t need to see this. Just do it and go. He’s not…he doesn’t need to…’
‘Danny, go get your boy before I go get him myself.’

Slowly, Weslet got up and exited the room. He walked so close to Sven that I thought he was going to take a swing at him. Instead he just whispered, ‘Jim.’ But Sven didn’t even look at him.

‘Is he gonna run?’

We waited what seemed to be an eternity. The house was bigger than it seemed from the outside but it wasn’t this big.

‘You sure?’

I heard him before I saw him. Like Darth Vader. It sounded like the kid was having an asthma attack. That wasn’t it.

The kid was in a puffer wheel-chair. He was pitched to one side and drooling on himself. His hands were pressed against his chest; curled at the wrist. There was a clear, accordion-like tube attached to the back of the chair that was helping him breathe.

‘Jesus Christ.’

The kid and his chair took up the whole room once they got in it. He was maybe twenty, probably younger. It was hard to tell. Weslet was crying now, or had been when he had been out of the room. His eyes were red-rimmed and you could tell he knew.

‘Jim. Please. Not in front of my boy.’

Sven took a pair of handcuffs out of his jacket and pointed Weslet towards the chair. Weslet got on his knees. Sven latched one of the cuffs between the rubber spokes of the wheel and had Weslet put the other around his wrist.

‘You can hold his hand.’

That was the end of his humanity.


Weslet took the boy’s palsied hand in his own and stroked it. He was whispering to him, softly so we could hear the sound of it but not the words.

Sven opened a pocket knife and cut the tube that was pumping air into the boy. The accordion kept moving but the air just hissed out; the hose flapping where it had been torn.

Sven jerked his neck towards the door then grabbed me by the collar when I didn’t follow. I wanted to say something. Tell Weslet that I hadn’t known that this was going to happen. Hadn’t known what he was going to do. What we had done. Outside I puked in the grass while Sven dragged his ruined leg into the car.

He drove us back to St. Louis, neither of us saying a word.

Mike Toomey lives outside of Boston where he has been a double agent for the Irish mob and the FBI, a genius janitor at MIT, kidnapped a drug dealer's daughter and robbed Fenway Park.  Besides that he has seen a lot of movies.