Thursday, August 15, 2013

Issue #58 -- August 2013

By Lonni Lees 

I woke up in a pool of blood.

Some of it was mine.

I pushed myself up from the body that lay beneath me and the blood felt thick and sticky, like last week’s chocolate pudding. The coagulation meant we’d been there awhile. I couldn’t remember how I got there, much less who I was. Everything was fuzzy. I looked down at the naked man and smiled.

This sap had really been short-changed when Santa-God was passing out packages.

I wondered what made him seem sadder, the knife in his chest or his inadequate physique?

At this point it hardly mattered. Hell, he was better off dead anyway. I sure wouldn’t want to walk around like a bloated monkfish with a guppy-sized dick. By the looks of things I must’ve killed him. I’m sure I did because I just had to. People don’t just stab people for no reason, do they?

And it was unlikely he stabbed himself, not that I would have blamed him.

My legs shook as I rose to my feet and looked around. Things were thrown everywhere, like somebody’d put up one hell of a struggle. My clothes lay in a heap, spattered with blood. I was wearing one shoe. A cheap rubber flip-flop. How sad was that? For God’s sake, didn’t I have better taste in footwear?

The decor was a 1970s nightmare graced with an old TV bolted to the wall. Next to it hung a cardboard print trying to pass for art. The faint aroma of orange peel hung in the air, like somebody forgot to take out yesterday’s garbage.

It was a motel room, and not a classy one either.

It was hard to decide which was worse; the decor or the dead man.

The blood was caked to my skin like dried plaster. I headed to the bathroom and turned on the shower.

I had to get out of there.

And quick.

I stepped into the mildew-tiled enclosure, wondering if I’d end up dirtier than I already was. Sometimes you’ve got to make due, so I reached for a wash cloth, a bar of soap the size of a quarter, and got to work.

As warm water cascaded down my bruised body I saw knife cuts below my left breast and across my stomach. Not deep, but deep enough to make me hurt. A lot. They stung like the hot end of a cigarette. Nothing but jig-sawed images danced across my brain as I tried to piece things together.

What the hell had I gotten myself into?

I dried off and went back to the other room. There was no way I was putting on my bloody clothes. The rack that hung between the bedroom and bath was a snarl of wire hangers. I pulled down a gaudy Hawaiian shirt with flamingos and palm trees on it and slipped it on. Baggy and tasteless, but it would have to do. I slipped on a pair of Bermuda shorts that lay on the floor. They were big for a guy with no dick, but his belt and my full hips were enough to keep them from landing around my ankles.

What a fucking fashion plate, I thought, glancing in the mirror.

I looked like a bull dyke at a pool party.

The ladies’ handbag that sat on the dresser must’ve been mine. I spilled out the contents and reached for the wallet, and shuffled through it. The driver’s license bore my photo. Black hair, brown eyes, and damn pretty if I do say so—and the name Rosemary Russo. Rosemary. Rose.  Rosie! Things were focusing. But slowly, in little flashes.

I bent over to pick up my other flip-flop and spotted the man’s wallet and car keys on the night stand. I stepped over the bloating corpse and grabbed the wallet. There must’ve been a thousand dollars in it, maybe two. No time to count. It traveled from his wallet to mine faster than a Japanese bullet train flying through a tunnel.

I picked up his keys and headed out the door, slapped in the face by the early-afternoon sun. As my eyes adjusted to the light I kept hitting the unlock button on the key chain. Finally, a car beeped. I ran over and opened the door. I slid in onto soft leather that made me feel like my ass was being kissed by angels. It would be easy to get used to. Some kind of foreign job and if it hadn’t been an automatic I’d never have gotten out of there.

I found the lever and adjusted the seat until my foot reached the gas pedal. I turned the key. Opera music blasted from the speakers, giving me a jolt. I turned it off and listened to the engine purr while I collected my thoughts. Pulling out of the lot I saw the battered sign: MOTEL JERSEY.

And it clicked.

Big time.

I remembered how Rosie Russo from the Bronx ended up in a motel room in Jersey with a dead guy on the floor.

The story played over in my head as I drove back across the river.

Last week best friend Gina and I went on a shopping spree while our husbands were at the factory. We’d sneak out like that. When their shift was done they were welcomed home to the aroma of dinner and wives who looked like they’d been cleaning all day. We’d been doing that for a while now and they’d yet to catch on. Probably never would. Hell, it wasn’t like we were cheating on them or anything. Just a little girl time, you know?

We drooled over fashion magazines so we knew all the latest. Sometimes when we were shopping, an item would find its way into my purse or into my pocket. It gave me the same high I used to get when we’d steal candy from the corner store. I guess we had a touch of larceny in our blood even then—it sure was fun. Now we were all grown up. We’d hide a bit from the grocery money every week, then buy stuff and stash it in the back of our closets.

Our husbands were none the wiser.

My Franco and her Patrick are good guys. We loved ’em, don’t misunderstand me. But they couldn’t tell a $52 bottle of Tutankhamen Brew from Bud Light if they were being threatened with castration, much less a genuine Gucci from a knock-off.

That worked to our advantage.

We wanted nice things, Gina and me. Like I said, we both had decent husbands who put food on the table, paid the bills and didn’t cheat. That’s worth a lot, but we wanted just that little bit more.

That’s human nature, right?

“Let’s go in here,” Gina would say.

Looking in store windows was fun. Going inside was better. Especially high-end shoe stores. We tried on shoes. Lots of shoes. Expensive shoes. Jimmy Choo and Marc Jacobs and Chanel. The salesman waited on us with anticipation until we’d tell him we didn’t see anything we liked.

Then we’d walk out the door, noses in the air.

Harmless fun.

But one recent day was different.

I saw the cutest pink ankle socks all studded with rhinestones. What sane person would pay $40 for socks I asked myself, slipping them into my purse. I walked over to where a salesman was sliding a pair of Christian Louboutin heels onto Gina’s feet. They were gorgeous. But instead of handing them back she marched them to the register.

“Gina, what are you doing?” I whispered.

She pulled out her wallet and placed $800 on the counter. $800!

“Gina, where’d you get that kinda money?” I asked, speaking low so the cashier couldn’t hear.


Ignoring me, she counted out the bills.

“Wait ’til we get outside,” she whispered, shoving the change into her bag. “Besides, that’s a killer price for Louboutin’s.”

We exited the store, giggling like school girls as we doubled our pace and headed up the sidewalk.

“How the hell’d you come up with all that money, feeding Patrick Top Ramen?”

“It’s time we had a talk,” she said, swinging the bag that held her new shoes.

And she told me about Jimmy the Driver.

“He picks me up at the house and takes me to Atlantic City. It’s all set up. I turn a quick trick, Jimmy picks me up again, takes me home and I’m $500 to $1,000 richer. No harm done.”

“There’s a word for that.”

“It’s not being a whore, if that’s what you mean. It’s only every once in a while and the men are safe. Jimmy sees to that. And nobody’s none the wiser. You’re my friend and you didn’t have a clue. That oughta tell you something.”

“Oh, Gina.”

“Mama warned me not to marry a mick, said he’d never amount to anything. Stick with Italian, she said. Irish is nothing but heartache. He’s a good Catholic, I told her. But it’s not our kind of Catholic, they’re not like us, she said. You know I love the guy, Rosie. But he won’t ever make us rich.”

“And I love Franco, so I could never...”

She stopped me, reasoning away my protests.

“I told you because I trust you. Whether you want to is your business. It’s our secret either way, Rosie. I’ve got the best of both worlds, don’t you see? I’ve got my man and I’ve got my Christian Louboutin shoes. I’m happy. I’d never have them on his salary. You’ll never have squat on Franco’s. Our little game is nickel and dime stuff. This way is faster.”

“But a price has to be paid.”

I looked her in the eyes, and then crossed myself.

“Religious indignation? My God Rosie, you’re starting to sound like the nuns at St. Francis Xavier. C’mon, you’re already stealing food money. Turning a trick isn’t stealing, so who’s the worst sinner here, huh?”

I flashed back to the two of us in our starched white blouses and ugly plaid skirts heading to parochial school. We’d been friends a long time. We smoked our first cigarettes together, sneaked our first drink from her father’s bottle of home-made grappa. I’d never cared about anybody as much as I cared for Gina. We were like sisters.

“Tell me something Rosie, and be honest with me. Granted, it’s fun to buy an outfit maybe a couple hundred dollars higher than we can afford, but don’t you ever want more?”

“I always want more, but not like that.”

“It’s easy money,” she said, patting the side of her purse. “Remember when we were kids and we’d dress up for Halloween? I was always the gypsy princess, all decked out in my mother’s costume jewelry with a ring on every finger. And you were the pirate queen with the big hoop earrings and the jeweled eye-patch.”

“Pretending my bag of candy was my loot of silver and gold doubloons.”

“It felt good, didn’t it? We always knew we deserved more, admit it.”

I looked back at the store window, at the display of shoes and sighed.

“There is a pair of to-die-for Manolo Blahnik’s I’ve had my eye on...”

And that’s how it all started.

A week later Jimmy the Driver picked me up and now I was headed to Gina’s leaving a dead guy behind in a motel room in Jersey. No harm done, my ass. I parked a block from Gina’s and walked to her door, knocking hard ’til I thought my knuckles would bleed.

“Where the hell have you been?” she asked.

I pushed past her.

“I need clothes,” I said, indicating the baggy Hawaiian shirt. “I can’t go home like this.”

“Jimmy the Driver’s been calling. Says you weren’t there for the pick up, says nobody’d open the motel door.”

“It’s a long story.”

“Then he calls again, says the guy’s dead in the room, has to call somebody to clean up the mess.”

“Son-of-a-bitch tried to kill me. He pinned me down and took out a knife.”

I opened my shirt and showed my cuts.

Gina didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so she just groaned.

“How was I to know Vinnie the Cutter’d be your first customer? I’d never do that to you. I’d at least have warned you.”

“You knew that asshole? He was going to kill me.”

I pointed at the cuts again.

“How am I going to explain this to Franco? Damn it, he tried to kill me!”

“Vinnie? Kill you? He’s harmless.”

“You call this harmless?”

“Okay, so he likes to cut a little. That’s how he gets off, but he’d never really hurt you. Look at you, they’re nothing more than cat scratches and you didn’t have to spread your legs. I never had to anyway, so I’d call that easy money.”

She left the room and when she came back she threw a sun dress at me. I stepped out of the dead man’s clothes, tossing them onto a chair.

“You’re in more trouble than you can imagine, Rosie! Just put this on and get the hell out of here.”

“The cops would never know who did it,” I said, slipping the dress over my head.

“It’s not the cops you have to worry about. They wouldn’t know anything happened. That’s been taken care of.”

“Then I don’t get it.”

“How stupid are you, Rosie? He was connected. Vinnie was connected!”

“You mean mob?”

“Bingo. They’ll want your head, so get the hell out of here. I love you Rosie, but I don’t want to end up knee-deep in your shit!”

There was panic in her eyes. I hugged her and told her I loved her. I headed through the kitchen to the back door. As I opened it I heard the doorbell ring and somebody was pounding hard enough to send the door flying into the next borough.

I froze, door knob in hand.

There was a loud crash as the front door was kicked off its hinges, landing across the coffee table, breaking its glass top. Not as far as Queens, but far enough to scare the shit out of me.

Loud voices.

“You’ve got to tell where she is.” It was Jimmy the Driver.

“I don’t know,” said Gina.

“Make the bitch talk or I will!”

It was the voice of another man. A big man who meant business.

“He ain’t kidding around,” Jimmy pleaded. “It’s okay Tony, just hold on a sec. Gina, you gotta tell me.”

“I haven’t seen her. I’d tell you if I had.”

“So why’s Vinnie’s shirt on the chair over there?”

“That’s my husband’s.”

“How ya know that’s Vinnie’s?” asked the goon.

“I’d know those fucking flamingos anywhere, Tony. Gimme a break.”

“Time to talk, bitch,” said Tony.

“I don’t know anything.”

“Gina, you gotta tell me before we both get hurt,” said Jimmy.

“Sorry, I don’t know.”

I wanted to scream, tell her to stop being stubborn, that it wasn’t worth it. I wanted to run back into the room. But I just stood there holding that damn door knob, doing nothing.

I heard a click.

Then a single gunshot followed by a chilling silence.

As I slipped out the door I heard the big man’s booming voice: “Now grab Vinnie’s rags and tell me where I can find the bitch. Unless you wanna be next.”


The alley was the fastest way home. All the while I was running I was thinking, she’s dead, she’s dead, and it’s all my fault. By the time I reached the back door I told myself it wasn’t my fault at all. None of this mess would’ve happened if Gina hadn’t told me about Jimmy the Driver and easy money and everything.

Sure, I loved her, sure, but in a roundabout way she brought it on herself.

Now she was dead and I was next.

How’s that for easy money?

My heart pounded ten-forty and I gasped for breath as I tried to figure out what to do. Franco would be home in an hour. He’d know what to do, but by then he’d be greeted by a dead wife lying on the floor in her second pool of blood for the day. Kind of a crappy ending to a good marriage, don’t you think?

A car pulled up in front of the house.

I opened the door.

There really wasn’t much else I could do.

They had me good.

Jimmy the Driver walked in with Tony the Gorilla close behind. Tony grabbed me by the arm, slamming me against the wall. He shoved his sweaty face against mine and I recoiled from hot garlic breath as he blew in my ear.

He held the gun to my head, so I babbled on and on, trying to explain how it wasn’t my fault and saying anything I could think of to buy myself a few more seconds. Just a few before he pulled the trigger and it was all over.

“I got an idea,” said Jimmy. “Something that’s gonna hurt her more than a bullet in the head. Something that’ll make the boss some money too.”

“Shut the fuck up, Jimmy. Can’t you see I got a job to do here?”

“Just listen,” he said. “I know a way the boss can taste revenge a lot longer than just knowing the bitch is dead. It’s not like Vinnie was an important player or something.”

“But he was still one of us. You don’t mess with one of us.”

“You come up with a good idea, the boss would look favorably on you. It might even hoist you up a rung.”

They left me standing frozen against the wall as they huddled together, talking in whispers. One more minute to breathe. Just one more minute.

I stood there dumb, thinking about the wad of money in my purse. They mustn’t have noticed that his wallet was empty when they cleaned up the mess in that motel room. A lot of good it would do me now anyway. It would’ve been nice to live long enough to spend some of it.

Easy money my ass.

Jimmy punched in the numbers and handed the gorilla his cell.

There was back and forth I couldn’t make out, then Tony spoke: “Yeah, she’s a real looker, boss. Kinda like one of them Kardashian broads, ya’ know?”

Tony handed the phone back to Jimmy.

I glanced at the mantel clock. Twenty minutes and Franco would walk through the door.

Twenty minutes too late.

“Okay, Boss,” Jimmy said, disconnected the phone and folded it back into his pocket. He gave me an apologetic shrug. What the hell was I in for, rape and slow torture before they killed me? I crossed myself, praying they’d make it quick and be done with it.

“Looks like today’s your day,” said Tony, walking back to me.

He ran a stubby finger along my jaw.

“Lucky for you you’re a looker or you’d be finished.”

He started to suck on my earlobe and run his tongue along my neck. I’d rather be dead in the trunk of his car than be pawed by this goon. He was even more disgusting than Vinnie the Cutter.

I cringed.

“Ain’t no time for this,” said Jimmy. “We gotta get outta here.”

Tony pulled back.

“You’re one lucky dame. The boss is gonna make you pay big. You’ll be turning tricks a very long time to make things right. Got the picture?”

“I’ve got it.”

“We’ll be in contact. And you’d better not try any funny stuff or you’re dead.”

“Guess you oughta count your blessings,” said Jimmy.

Well, it was going to take some tricky business to keep things from Franco, but what choice did I have? Hopefully they’d let me keep some of the dough. A girl needs to look her best, even in a Jersey motel room.

They walked out the door and I ran for the kitchen. My hands were shaking like I had the palsy as I pulled hamburger out of the fridge, threw it into a pan on the stove and reached under the sink. I pulled out a bottle of Pine-sol and dabbed it on my neck, so I’d smell like I’d been cleaning. That would also explain the sweat dripping from my scalp like I’d just come out of the rain.

A housewife’s day ain’t easy.

Franco was ten minutes late when he walked through the door, following the aroma of dinner wafting from the kitchen. I stood at the sink looking out the window. He spun me around and something in his expression didn’t look right.

“You’re late, sweetie,” I said, leaning in to kiss him on the cheek.

“Oh, Rosie.”

“What’s wrong?”

“This isn’t easy, so I’ll start at the beginning. Sit down.”

I turned off the burner, pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down. I waited until he sat down across from me before I spoke. I prayed real hard that he hadn’t caught wind of what Gina and I’d been up to.

“What is it, Franco? What’s wrong?”

“When I tried to turn onto the street it was blocked. Down at Gina’s end. Squad cars, ambulances, you name it, were all over the place. Red lights flashing, neighbors crowded around. Something bad had happened. Anyway, I turned down the next block and circled back from the other end.”

I squirmed in my seat, imagining what poor Patrick must’ve found when he got home.

“I don’t like where this is going. You’re scaring me.”

“I got out of the car and walked up there. Talked to the neighbors. It’s bad. Rosie, it was Gina’s house. I heard that somebody came out in a body bag.”

“Oh, my God, not Rosie! I just talked to her on the phone a couple hours ago. It can’t be Rosie, it just can’t be. Or Patrick. Who’d want to hurt Patrick?”

“I don’t know. Patrick’s car was out front, so I pushed through the crowd but they already had the yellow tape up and wouldn’t let me through.”

“Maybe one of them shot an intruder. That’s got to be it.”

“I don’t know Rosie, I just don’t know.”

I cried real hard and Franco comforted me and neither one of us could taste our dinner.

A few hours later the cops came to the door to ask questions. At first I was scared, then I realized they were talking to everybody on the street. No, I didn’t see or hear a thing. I’d been cleaning all afternoon. They verified that Gina had been killed, a single shot to the back of the head. Patrick was the first suspect, spouses always are, but he was at the factory all day so that left him off the hook. As the days passed they weren’t able to make a mob connection or anything else.

They’re still baffled.

They’re no closer to solving it today.

The day of Gina’s funeral: I stand grave side, next to my husband and poor Patrick, I look at the coffin and it still doesn’t seem real. Gina, my best friend in the world. Ever since we were kids we did everything together. I’d never have dreamed we’d both end up in a pool of blood on the same day.

At least I’m still alive.

And she’d have liked the turnout. The whole neighborhood’s there. And a few cops in the background, standing under the shade of the trees, trying to look inconspicuous as they scan the crowd.

They’ll never figure it out any more than Franco or Patrick would.

I run my black-gloved hand along my black dress. Not an expensive one, but simple and tasteful, like a classic Coco Chanel. My eyes drift from the coffin and flowers to look down at my new pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes, in a shade of crimson darker than blood.

Gina would have been proud.

Lonni Lees is a multi-award winning writer in both fiction and non-fiction.  Her stories appear in Hardboiled magazine and on Yellow Mama, A Shot of Ink, Shotgun Honey, Black Petals, Einstein’s Pocket Watch and in the anthologies DEADLY DAMES, MORE WHODUNITS and BATTLING BOXING STORIES.  Her short story collection, CRAWLSPACE, and her first novel, DERANGED (which won the PSWA 2012 award for best published novel) are available from as is her second novel, THE MOSAIC MURDER. THE CORPSE IN CACTUS is her third novel and the second in the Maggie Reardon Mystery series. Lonni was twice selected as Writer in Residence at Hedgebrook, a writer’s retreat on Whidbey Island. After living in four states and visiting many countries, she’s settled in Tucson.  An award-winning artist, she fills her spare time showing her art in a local gallery, illustrating stories for on-line magazines and dreaming up new stories. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Issue #57 -- August 2013

By AJ Hayes
The reporters and cameramen circled Carmody like a flock of crows harrying a hawk. They darted forward and back, shouting questions at him that echoed off the gray stone walls of the courthouse. He kept his head down, occasionally glancing up from under his hat brim to slide his stare over them all.

His eyes resembled those of a bird of prey – shiny golden colored coins that could watch you die without changing. His reddish brown topcoat flapped around his large body as he entered the waiting limousine and closed the door.

“Take me home, Buzz,” he said to the driver.

The silence inside the car made the ringing in his ears louder. He shook his head abruptly.

“Everything okay, Boss?”
“Yeah, damn tinnitus again. Keep your eyes on the road.”

He sighed softly, plucked a phone from his jacket pocket and punched in a number. The pearling ring helped to distract him from the toneless chiming in his ears.

“Hello,” the voice was deep, roughened by a whiskey rasp.


“Yeah, I got something for you.”

His guts clinched.

“I just finished the last one,” he said.

“Here’s the deal,” the raspy voice said.

Carmody listened, then nodded.

“Okay,” he said, “Saturday.”

He leaned back into the cushions and sighed again.

“You sure you’re okay, Boss?”

“Just get me home,” Carmody said.

Damn I hate this job, he thought. Sometimes, I wish I wasn’t the best there ever was at it.

In his ears, the tinnitus was getting louder.


Bobby lifted his arms above his shoulders.

“Now,” he said.

Pete, his assistant, let the shirt fall.

The smooth rush of red and white striped silk felt good. Let the other guys wear plain old cotton if they wanted to— silk gave you the edge. He slid his legs into jeans that had been washed so many times they were a kind of no color at all. Motion, that’s where it was at: no restrictions or tightness, just the feel of well-worn denim. High-topped tennis shoes laced all the way up fit his feet like Italian glove leather.

“Wind me up,” he said.

The yellow canvas of the apron felt good on his waist as Bobby spun into its embrace. Pete held the strap tight and buckled it quickly, then stepped back with his hands held high.

Outside, the crowd noise grew louder, running like surf down the concrete halls and into the locker room.

“Show time,” Pete said, slipping the tray straps over his friend's shoulders.

Bobby shrugged the straps, heavy with the weight of the paper-wrapped peanut bags that the tray contained, into a comfortable fit. He felt the weight of the rolls of change in the apron pockets bump against his upper legs.

“Let’s rock,” he said.

Pete pushed open the locker room door and watched his friend walk up the concrete hallway and out into the stadium and the noise of the crowd.

Bobby’s voice bounced echoes off the cement, “Red hots! Goobers! Get chur PEANUTS here!”

The words echoed down the corridor and bounced off the cement— lost in the sound of the Saturday afternoon baseball game.


Carmody settled into his seat. The woman in the space next to his glanced at him and, with a small murmur of what might have been sympathy, slid a little to her right before turning back to the field. Her eyes never found his face. She only saw the metal brace extending from his right knee down the lower part of his stiffly extended leg. He allowed himself a small smile.

People never see Dumpster divers, beggars or cripples. His year at the Actor’s Studio had taught him a lot—though he had not used the information for the purposes his teachers had expected.

On the pitcher’s mound the new district attorney, rail-thin and tall—with a mop of unruly hair that made most women who saw him want to brush back from his forehead—threw out the first ball. The pitch was straight and fast, smacking into the catcher’s glove with a pop. It was not surprising; the DA had been a first team All-American at Harvard. He flashed his famous grin, toothy and white, waved at the stands and left the field.

Carmody relaxed and watched the players take their positions. It would happen after the seventh-inning-stretch. After the traditional “Take Me out to the Ballgame” had been sung, it would be quiet for a few seconds.

Then it would not be.


“HEY! Getchur Red hots! PEANUTS here!”

Bobby’s voice penetrated the sea-surf sound in the stands. He watched the heads turn toward him. It was the usual mix of fans: regulars, occasional game goers and kids.

The season ticket holders smiled at him.

“Hey, Bobby,” they called, “what’s the score?”

His back to the field as usual—he never watched a game, it hurt too much—

Bobby answered them high and bright.

“Who cares, the show’s right here.”

He rolled a couple of peanut bags up his arm, over his shoulders and down the other arm in a fast fluid motion.

“Gett’um while they’re hot,” he said holding the bags aloft.

The once-or-twice-a-year-we-go-out-to-the-game families, faces bright with anticipation, looked at him and the kids squealed in delight.

Only one figure in the seats that looked out of place. An old guy sat at the end of a row. His leg, encased to the ankle in a large brace, stuck out into the aisle.

Poor guy, he thought, do I know how those things feel. He grimaced as the memory of sliding into second and the shattering pain in his ankle that ended his dream.

After months of rehab and sweat and a series of such braces, he had been almost as good as new.


Just a fraction of a second slower. A few feet shorter on his throwing range.

Good enough for single A ball. Almost enough for double A. Not enough for a triple A club. A million miles away from the majors.

His right ankle clicked and a lance of pain shot up his leg.

“Hey Bobby, shoot a couple my way,” a regular yelled down from the last row up.

“You got it, buddy.”

His fingers plucked two bags from the tray and his arm swung in an arc speeding the paper-wrapped missiles on their way. They flew straight and fast, directly at the face of the man, then, at the last second, lost velocity and softly fell into his outstretched hands. The fan laughed closing his fingers over the bags.

“Nice shot, Bobby,” he called. “Now it’s your turn.”

He stood and brought his arm up and over, putting his shoulder into the motion, and a spread of quarters glinted in the sunlight—one, two, three, four, Bobby’s hands flashed, picking the coins from the air effortlessly. He smiled. He could always count on the regulars to start the show.

“Hey Mister,” a kid’s voice, “here, Mister, here.”

“Pull your pocket open, kid,” he called, miming the action with his own shirt.

The bag soared high and fell directly into the target.

Astonished eyes and gaping mouth on the kid’s face.

Childish laughter as Bobby plucked the collection of pennies, nickels and dimes the boy threw from the air.


“Hey Peanut Man, over here!” Another bag airborne, seemed to bend around a support pillar in the middle of the seats.

And so it went, bags streaking fast and straight, curving and fading, dropping into pockets and hands and ball caps held out eagerly.

You’re the best there is they called.

The best there ever was, he answered silently, hands busy and body moving, proving it.


Carmody watched the game and the peanut kid’s act. The boy was good at his show and the crowd was in his pocket.

He nodded in satisfaction. Between the players on the field and the peanut man in front of them, nobody would remember the gimp in the eighth row.

He stood up and slowly climbed the steep steps leading to the mezzanine. The metal angles of the brace dug into his leg making his limp more pronounced.

He was ten steps away from the top of the stairs when a hand cupped his elbow.

“Here sir,” a voice said, “let me help you a bit.”

He resisted the sudden savage urge to spin and slash with a hard-edged hand. He swiveled his head to look at the source of the voice. The peanut guy— with compassion in his eyes. He let the kid guide him to the top of the stairs.

“Thanks,” he said.

“No problem.”

The kid looked him full in the face, their eyes meeting, then turned away. He stared at the kid’s striped shirt as he walked away. Nice guy, he thought, too bad he saw my face. He limped across the corridor toward the bathroom.

The restroom was empty – that was good, no one to see or remember him. He entered the stall farthest away from the entrance and sat down. He took a small screwdriver from his pocket and began to disassemble the brace on his leg. It had served its purpose. No one questioned a handicapped senior citizen—or looked too closely at them. He had been allowed to walk around the metal detectors at the stadium gate, waved on by impatient security guards. All they would remember would be the brace. They would recall nothing about the old man attached to it.

The work went quickly and in five minutes the brace had become something else. He made a few final adjustments and made his way slowly out the exit.


“Hey, Bobby,” Pete said, “Refills already? Man you’re killin’ ’em today.”

“Every day, man, every day,” he answered absently.

His mind was still on the old guy with the brace. The guy’s eyes bothered him. They weren’t like Bobby’s eyes had been in the mirror every morning. There was no trace of pain in them, no doubt or fear. They reminded him of the python’s eyes at the zoo, emotionless and calculating.

“There you go, my man,” Pete’s voice intruded, “Nuts and change. End flaps open just like you like them.”

He handed Bobby several rolls of quarters and nickels with the end folds opened and a roll of dimes wrapped tight in hard plastic cylinders.

“Sorry about the dimes, that’s the way they came.”

“Damn it, Pete, you know I like them loose. How can I put on the show if I can’t get the change out fast?”

“Sorry pal, that’s the way they all came in, besides you don’t use ‘em in the act anyhow. It’s all quarters and nickels with you.”

“I guess,” Bobby said, “but I still—“ a roar from the stands ran down the concrete. “Screw it,” he said, “I gotta get back. Don’t want to miss the seventh, for sure.”

Bobby hurried up the supply corridor and out onto the main mezzanine, just in time to see the old guy emerge from the restroom. The leg brace was gone and in its place the man leaned heavily on a long crutch. It looked like the same tubing that had made up the brace. Maybe it was a convertible device that snapped into a crutch, he thought, like one of those canes that blind people carry— the ones that with a flick of the wrist convert from a six-inch baton into a five-foot cane. Yeah that must be it. When the brace gets too uncomfortable, you just press a button or something and it converts to a crutch. Bobby hurried down the steps and faced his fans.

“All right, all right, I’m back. Did you miss me?” He juggled four bags of nuts with one hand.

“Hey peanut man, me, me, me!”

Bobby spiraled two bags high and soft into a kid palm and plucked kid-flung quarters from the air. He looked at his section, from the lighting and speaker tower on the upper rim of the stadium to the front row of seats, three feet away from him and smiled. This was his place, his crowd.

“Hey Bobby,” a home-team-shirted regular called, “what’s the score?”

“Who cares,” he called back, sending a bag curving toward the man.


Carmody glanced left and right, then opened the service door he had jimmied with tape on his check out run, the day before. Slinging the crutch over his shoulder he began to climb the rungs in front of him. It was the fourth inning and the game was going slowly. Plenty of time. He opened the door at the top of the ladder and threaded his way though the steel legs and wandering cables of the lighting array. At the edge of the structure was a four-foot retaining wall. He duck-walked to its shelter and sat with his back against the rough blocks of it.

Using the small screwdriver, he made the final conversions to the crutch. Its last metamorphosis was into something much more than either of its previous forms.

From his jacket pocket he took three spheres. They looked like the popular candy called Jaw Breakers. It was an apt name. They were that and more. Sabot rounds— the Marines called them Tank Busters— three-quarter-inch balls of hard plastic filled with quarter-inch buckshot. When the round struck a hard surface— like armor or bone—the plastic blew a small pit into the hardness and the buckshot followed, expanding as it went. The rounds rested in a tubular magazine at the bottom of the skeletal weapon.

When he tapped the trigger once the first bullet would be on its way, the second would follow a milisecond later. The third was a backup. It wouldn’t be needed—he never missed.

The result would be an explosion of bone fragments and gray jelly and blood over a twenty-foot circle. He smiled a bit, allowing a small warmth of satisfaction to run through him. First the DA and then his attractive fiancée.

The voice on the phone had said the boys wanted it messy and very public to discourage the next politico who had the balls to challenge their hold over the city.

Messy, they wanted. Messy, they would get.

The crowd had finished "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and the usual quiet filled the stadium.

The DA leaned across and said something to his companion. She laughed in response.

Carmody looked down. The peanut vendor was plying his trade, the bags flew though the air and quarters flew back. No danger of the kid seeing him, he was too absorbed in making the throws and retrieving the coins.

The rappelling rope was coiled against the farthest tower leg from him. Escape route ready. Over the side and down the outer wall. Blend in with the fleeing crowd.


He slid the aluminum-wrapped steel of the barrel over the edge of the wall and lined up the front sight on the center of the DA’s forehead. He exhaled a soft sigh and his finger gently tightened on the trigger.

His tinnitus was silent.



“Hey, Bobby! Up here!”

A voice from the very top row, one hundred upward sloping feet above him. A white-haired woman with a red-flowered blouse. Better sight this one exact or it’ll fall short. Wouldn’t want her to lose her balance reaching for it.

He let his eyes find the pillar on his left then moved them up to his aiming point on the lighting array above. Throw calibrated, he dropped his vision to the woman again.

Okay, he thought, grab the bag and—wait a minute.

There was something wrong. He looked quickly back at the lights again. Above the short wall at the edge of the tower, a face. The old guy with the brace/crutch—and something else. A long tube poking over the ledge. It looked like a…a rifle barrel.

Holy shit!

He got it in a flash. He knew, without looking, who the target was. The DA had been in the papers, something about racket busting in the city.

He looked for help.

The eyes in the stands were all turned to the DA— who was grinning and waving at the crowd— and his pretty, redheaded friend.

No help.

No time.

Up to him.

Bobby’s hand jammed into the pocket of his apron and came out in a flowing over-handed motion, releasing its contents smoothly. Four rolls of quarters spread in an arc of brown-paper projectiles speeding toward the rifle barrel.

His hand dipped again and several cylinders of nickels followed a heartbeat later.

He followed through; his body bending at the waist, feet planted solid and arm extended.

Perfect form.



The ends of the quarter rolls, already loose, burst open a few feet from the face and the gun, scattering silver around them. The nickels did the same, except for one roll, which hit the shiny tube, deflecting it.

“Help!” Bobby screamed, plunging his hand back into the apron pocket.

Heads spun toward him. Eyes sought the source of the sound.


Carmody startled as something struck the barrel of the gun just before the final ounce of pressure on the trigger was complete. He thought someone was shooting at him as a sparkling shower of small objects that glinted in the sun fell around him and his ears were filled with a musical tinkling.


Someone was showering him with quarters and nickels.

He heard a yell and he saw the peanut vendor looking up at him, hands in the pockets of his apron, reaching for more ammunition. Faces in the stands directly below him were starting to turn upward.

His mind went automatic: eliminate the problem, then complete the job. The DA could wait a moment.

Sorry kid, but I would have had to come back for you anyhow.

He moved the sights to the center of the vendor’s forehead and stroked the trigger.


Bobby saw the barrel deflect as the old guy looked wildly at the shower of coins falling on him. Then, with a deliberate smoothness the long tube steadied and swung toward him. His blood ran cold and hot at the same time and tingles of fear raised the hair on his arms.

He’s after me now.

His fingers scrabbled desperately in the canvas pockets of his apron. The roughness of it scraped the nerve ends in his fingertips like bits of bone. They closed on something— a slippery, hard cylinder.

The roll of plastic-wrapped dimes.

He scooped it out and put everything into the throw. All his talent, everything he knew from all the years of wanting, all the summer nights of double A and all the dreams of greater things.

The cylinder flew, arching fast and hard toward the assassin. He saw a flash from the end of the gun and then he saw nothing.


The powder ignited and the three-quarter inch plastic ball was forced down the barrel, quickly reaching its 1600 foot-per-second terminal velocity. It picked up rotational spin from the rifling grooves on the inside of the barrel and would exit the end of the barrel straight and true, impacting on its target in an unstoppable burst of deadly force.


The roll of dimes encased in their hard plastic wrapper measured exactly .700 of an inch—five hundredths of an inch smaller than the bore of the barrel.

It was enough.

The roll entered the hole at the end of the barrel and wedged tight, blocking it.

The plastic ball hit the dimes and did its job. The plastic punched a hole in the first ten dimes and released the buckshot, scattering, white-hot in a deadly spray. Which exploded the barrel and sent the pressure of the still-detonating gunpowder back the way it had come.

With any other round, the barrel might have simply burst—deafening Carmody and maybe blowing off a finger or two. But this was a Tank Buster and very good at scattering metal. The shot exited the torn tube that had housed it, caromed off the metal structures surrounding Carmody, ricocheted in every direction.

Three of the quarter-inch balls, jagged and flattened from ricocheting off the steel tower legs, hit him in the face, leaving large holes to mark their passage. The breach of the gun, blasted apart by gas pressure and the explosion of the other two rounds, finished the job the shot had done.

Carmody stood for a moment, teetering and headless, then his body fell backwards.

Messy, bloody— and very public.


Bobby felt a warm trickle down his face from his forehead. Something wet was in his eyes and his head ached as though a spike pierced it. He wiped at the wetness and saw smear of scarlet on the back of his hand.

A face floated into his field of view, one of the old-timers. The lips were moving on the face but Bobby could not hear anything.

Then he remembered.

The old guy with the strange eyes, the gun, the muzzle flash—something hitting his head, hard.

A bullet? Was he dead?

The silence in his ears was replaced by a sharp ringing which gave way to a fading hum and then he could hear.

“Thank God. He’s alive.”

“Give him some room, let him breathe.”

Then, “I’m a doctor. Let me through.”

Cool hands on his head, in his hair, probing gently, the warm trickle stopping.

“Only a surface cut. It must have lost most of its velocity before it hit you. You’re going to be fine, young man.”

Bobby sat up, eager hands helping him.

“It?” he said.

“This,” the doctor said holding out his hand. Something in his fingers twinkled, reflecting the sunlight.

Bobby took the object from the doctor.



A dime.

Bent and scorched.

“That was quite a throw young man. Straight up the barrel of that rifle. Quite a throw.”

Bobby felt the headache diminishing, releasing its tentacles of pain. He managed a weak smile.

“Of course,” he said. “I’m the best ….”

He stopped and thought a long moment.

“I’m the luckiest guy there’s ever been,” he finished, smiling.

AJ Hayes lives in Southern California and admires the citizens of that particular patch of crazy a lot. They are a never ending source of WTF! Fiction is an art that puzzles him but – against the advice of friends and family – he keeps trying.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Issue #56 -- July 2013

By Steve Prusky

Willy is a bitter man. By birthright, he inherited the same fifty-two-card deck as the rest of us, including two jokers. During the sixty five years he has trod this earth he drew no face cards; no aces, kings, not even jacks, just low numbers, two’s and three’s mostly--in spades--and even then never a pair, a wild card, three of a kind, a full house.

Willy is content to wallow in despair, embellish the history of his misfortune, guzzle rat piss bourbon, narrate myriad tales of him--the luckless loner--versus the world. Most importantly, to Willy at least, he has me, his involuntary confidant, personal bartender, the imagined friend who slings short shots and diluted cocktails to him and the bedraggled few during the late hours on graveyard at the Pair-a-Dice Lounge. Fremont and Eastern, the corner the Lounge occupies, is the premier skid row that sets the bar all other Vegas skid rows mimic.

By mid-shift, the early morning crowd has thinned. My slit-eyed house pimp is off to fuck his favorite filly. Springer, the resident rock ho, gave up selling sleeve jobs for a hit and left with an all-night trick. The prowling undercover cop slithered out early, shed the glued-on beard and guinea tee to cruise other parts of town on his endless quest to cuff potential felons, streetwalkers, smack back nodding junkies. The prison-inked Aryan Brother biker is finished feeding the last of his meth money to the bar top poker machine. He pounds his beer mug on the video screen, shattering both, and slowly saunters toward the door. He is in no mood to stop if I threaten a Metro call. I am no mood to keep him occupied until the police arrive. That leaves me alone with lost-in-the-sauce, swimmy-headed, talky Willy and a destroyed poker machine.

Willy wanders in here this morning already half drunk, probably eighty-six’d from the Sunset Bar two blocks north on Eastern. Willy visits the Pair-a-Dice on occasion. This morning he continues to drink his breakfast on my shift in this mausoleum for the breathing dead. He starts right in where he probably left off with the previous bartender. “Life cheated me,” Willy says wearing a downtrodden pout. “I never got a break. No chance. Ninth grade as far as I got. I had to claw my way through existence on my wits alone. . .”

It is immediately evident what wits he has have done him little good. I focus on his silhouette in the krypton orange neon glow of humming beer and liquor signs attached to the wall behind him. Inch-long curling hairs sprout from his ears. A thriving grey beard approaches its fourth day of fruition. His blank, thousand-yard stare accentuates fleshy dark puffy circles around his yellowing eyes. His turkey neck flaps when he talks, his bulbous jowls undulate in rhythm with each vowel. His body must have the shelf life of a Twinkie, although by his appearance death is just one more shot of no name bourbon away. He is gaunt, sagging flesh that once held genetic substance dangles loosely from his boney arms. His only nourishment now is hard liquor, and an occasional Karl's Jr. Happy Star. He exists as if he still stands in the soup lines of the Great Depression unable to venture beyond the past. When he gives it all up to feed the worms, my guess is his last words will be, “It was a shitty life and now this!”

"So, what is it today Willy, bourbon or bourbon?" I say.

"Always a wise ass huh! A shot for each fist . . ." Then he starts again, ". . . Deserted by my parents, my ethnic heritage stripped from me. Divorced twice; bitches got it all both times." Willy tinctures each lament with various shades of anger, self-pity, contempt, but is his tirade more a cloaked appeal for empathy than a complaint?

"How so? How did that come about?" I say.

"Set up another shot, pour yourself one too and let’s talk about it." I suspect I will hear an excess of ‘oh poor me’s’ this morning.

"Why do I set myself up for this?" I mumble.

"What?" Willy says. I'm unable to understand why he glumly back strokes laps around his shallow pond of emotional penury with no interest in reaching shore.

"Nothing Willy . . . nothing. Crown Royal for me, well, bourbon for you, right Willy?"


I take a twenty from the bottom of his neatly organized stack of bar top bills. Willy, like the select few who call the Pair-a-Dice home until dawn, is too content in his misery to end it with a knife to the spleen, or a quick bullet to the brain. He is intent on drinking himself to death and he is failing at it, but he certainly excels in the effort.

"Now, what were you saying?"

I pour two shots. Willy swills his as if shooting cheap liquor is an art. He quietly stares somewhere far beyond this life, well past me, ignoring the reality of the present, silently waiting for the warm alcohol rush to take effect. I sip mine dry and pour two more.

"So, go on Willy, I got 'till eight." We clink and tip our glasses empty. I earn forty dollars a shift to be an understanding ear feeding the peevish their appeal for sympathy.

"What luck I have." He lights his first Pall Mall of the morning and holds the smoke in to calm his nicotine jones. He sarcastically rasps his lament in a guttural growl while his lungs absorb another dose of carcinogens, "Went from Litvak immigrant parents to a Catholic orphanage, survived the Great Depression, the Army and World War II all inside the fifteen worst years of my life." He forcefully blows jet-like contrails of grey/white smoke through his nose.

"What's a Litvak?" . . . Will I regret asking? Will his reply be one of the reasons why I drink too?

"A Lithuanian Jew. I grew up during the Great Depression a first generation American born Jew in a Catholic orphanage. . . Another round, one for you too."

"A Lithuanian Jew in a Catholic orphanage. That's a new one." All right, I take the hook--he has me. I must be polite. It's a bartender’s essential task to stand by and listen when drunk fucks like Willy vent. "I gotta hear this one Willy." I slur a bit--I'm four shots of ahead of Willy's visit. I silently toast Willy’s generosity--I refuse to hear his diatribe sober. I sink twenty in the dollar bar top video slot machine a stool down from Willy--no luck.

"Ma and Pa emigrated from Lithuania in 1918. I'm the youngest of thirteen brothers and sisters. I was born in '24. Pop deserted us just before I turned eight in January of '33. We were always hungry after that and not just for dinner either." I dig in the till, play another twenty on my machine, get a free pass on two of a kind; it all disappears on four diamonds and a spade. I sink a dollar in, it deals a hand, I hold off on the draw to leave the video screen active; no one else will play it lit.

"Your mother couldn't find work?"

"It was the Great Depression idiot; no one had work."

"Yea, that's right. I forgot about the Depression." I hold back a yawn, pour us both another shot. "On me," I say. He quaffs his drink slower when the house buys.

"Ma handed me over to St. Joseph Orphanage in south Milwaukee that winter. The place is an asphalt parking lot now."

"No Jewish relief society?"

"Not in a town filled with immigrant Polish Catholics, German Bunds peopled by Nazi sympathizers. The orphanage was on the corner of 18th and Euclid, near a part of town called Polonia: another word for 'Little Poland' if that tells you anything about the ethnic character of the institution. I never saw mom and pop again. I don’t recall what happened to the others, my brothers and sisters I mean. They were older. A few spent maybe a year, two, or three at St Jo's, turned eighteen and left. The rest were old enough to strike out alone. Don't even know their names . . . Set up two more." I pluck another twenty from the stack next to his empty glass, ring up two shots, keep the change, heart-felt sympathy from a captive audience costs.

"Do you remember your parents’ names?" I sink fifteen more in the machine full up at five dollars a hand, draw five times; get nothing better than a pair.

"Nope, forgot those too."

"How long were you in the orphanage?" I glance up at the clock. End of shift is an hour nearer.

"Long enough to forget my heritage and . . ." Another drunk arrives from the Eight Mile Bar a mile east of here. I hustle toward the new drinker in mid-sentence. ". . . Hey! I'm talking here," orphan Willy says.

"Be right back."

The morning star peeks over Sunrise Mountain. Shift change traffic rumbles both ways on Fremont to and from the downtown casinos. I return to my complaining stray. It's 6:30 a.m. My shift ends at 8:00. I make eighty dollars in tips off Willy the past few hours, owe the till forty and there is still a stack of Willy's bills on the bar. The place fills up fast with speedy-eyed graveyard Keno runners, leathery-faced Black Jack dealers, egotistic pit bosses dressed in ill-fitting, unaltered, off-the-rack J.C. Penny suits. This is the late night set just off shift from Jackie Gaughan's El Cortez Casino a mile and a half west on Fremont. They huddle at the pedestal tables farthest from the door. They hunch over their drinks like pointy-eared, concave-cheeked Nosferatu knock-offs avoiding the destructive light of the morning sun blazing through the poorly tinted glass door. The late comers line the bar and risk a tap on the shoulder from the deadly Gamma rays of day. They get drunk, loud and boisterous within an hour. I ramp the jukebox volume to the top peg, glasses rattle, the bass pops eardrums. The carousing throng joyously bellows inebriated laughter, the chancy ones slam the red buttons on the video machines betting on the draw, others pound the bar demanding another round. I have a profitable drunk fest going. I collect my tips from a tall chrome tumbler and donate the money to my machine. I am still in debt to the house, take twenty more from Willy and play it; he is too drunk to notice.

"The nuns changed my Litvak name from Jakoov Posval to Willy Poplawski so I would fit in with the Polish kids, but the official records the nuns kept tagged me a Jew--the only Jew in St. Jo's. Nuns even taught class in Polish for those that couldn’t speak English. No Yiddish, no Torah, no Talmud for me though." His eyes droop past his cheeks with an 'I feel sorry for myself' frown.

"What?" I run past Willy, drinks in hand stop and say "Oh yeah! Could they do that? Weren't there laws about name changes back then? Doesn't a judge need to rule on name changes?"

"Don't know. Got no birth certificate. Can't say for certain when my birthday is, although I think I'm sixty-five. No Social Security number, no credit cards. Not certain I can recite my service number from the Army. Not even sure of my . . ." I move on quickly; tips are flowing in as fast as I can play them.

"Don't let Immigration find that out," I say the next trip past. "These days they scoop up anyone that can't prove who they are," I say, and trod to the far end of the bar with more drinks in hand.

"They fed us lamb twice a day; broiled, charbroiled, fried, boiled--lamb is lamb. Never chops though. Haven't set a knife and fork to lamb since I left. Attending Mass was mandatory morning, noon and night. I was a conscript Jew for Jesus, a hesitant chameleon--Jew or Catholic, Catholic/Jew--never certain when or where to change color and blend in."

I hint I must clean up, stock the coolers with beer and keep the drinks flowing before my relief arrives. I abandon my machine. Willy contentedly mumbles his monologue to the top shelf liquor on the wall behind the bar. Stoli, Maker's Mark, Sambuca are his attentive audience now.

"The Felician sisters at St. Jo sanitized me, synthesized me, they systematically dogmatized me, nearly Christianized the Jew right out of me. They were staunch, determined to persevere even if the Vatican elected the Dalai Lama Pope. Hell, I'm glad Catholics aren't dunkers; I would have drowned for Jesus too."

I briefly stop on my next trip past him, "Sounds like pretty harsh treatment," I say, well past paying close attention to the reasons for his emotional deficiencies.

"Some of the other kids got adopted, but when a barren young couple interested in me showed up, they passed me over when the nuns told them a rabbi had carved my foreskin."

A player takes over my machine scores a Royal Flush full up the first hand played--four thousand dollars.

"A lot of that money you won is mine asshole. Been playing that machine all morning," I say.

"Your money's mine now," the winner taunts. I get a four hundred dollar tip, probably two hundred more than he would have given had I not complained. My luck is like that, always five dollars short from winning big, but I take what I can get. The lucky one orders drinks all around for over thirty thirsty drunks.

I played two hundred on that machine. I have the rent plus whatever tips are left. Deduct the money I stole from the house and I end up a hundred and fifty ahead. I move faster, I pour single shots, charge for doubles, toss the difference in my tin tumbler. No one in the crowd is sober enough to notice. Fuck the owner's profit margin.

"I left the orphanage at nineteen, in 1942 with no prospects. The Felician Sisters set me up with a job sweeping floors in the college dorms and maintaining Gesu Church at Marquette University . . ."

I field the phone. "Your shit's on the porch. I changed the locks," my fuck-buddy roomy says.

"But, I have enough right now to catch up on my share of the rent."

"Too late prick. You’ve said that before, but come back drunk and broke." She screams, “I'm done with you.” She slams the phone against the kitchen counter as if she aims the earpiece at my temple. I hear white noise on my end, hypnotic white noise.

" . . . They didn't teach high school at St Jo’s." Willy continues. "Couldn't do much with a ninth grade education; no skills much beyond pushing a broom and changing light bulbs. The Jesuit cook took to me and fed me well. I learned to drink flat back right next to him under the spigots of the sacrificial wine casks in the basement under the church. I got drunk and liked it. Been staying drunk to this day."

"So then, it worked out okay for you." I finish washing glasses and changing bar towels, pour two more shots, seize another twenty from Willy‘s pile.

"Naa, the war; that was the worst of it. I got my draft notice just after my nineteenth birthday in January of '43. Wasn’t out of the orphanage nine months. I was pissed, about to implode. It wasn't fair," he says. "But I expected it; in early '43, the war going badly, just out of the orphanage, the summons to serve was no surprise, but its implications were. A draft notice during World War II was as close to a death sentence one gets without trial. Ill fate. My bad luck I guess. Life owed me better than I got. I had just traded the strict discipline of the orphanage for the stricter discipline of the Army, but the Army came nowhere near preparing me for Eniwetok, Saipan and Okinawa. Learning to survive during the insanity of combat is brutal on the job training."

I sense an epic war story coming, but Willy's eyes roll up behind his lids, too drunk to share any lengthy tales.

My sleepy-eyed relief arrives, stops this side of the glass door and looks around in shock. Her face turns raspberry red. She places her palms to her ears, drags her fingers through her over-dyed red hair. She is not ready for this rowdy crowd at eight o'clock in the morning. She looks at me terrified, angry, turns toward the door to leave, thinks on it a moment and turns back my way. Willy crosses his arms on top the bar and lays his head on fleshless bony pillows. I come round to the drinking side of the bar and order my off-shift comp Long Island Ice Tea. I sit next to a sultry, Paris Hilton, "What the fuck do you want" type tit dancer I know. She has a cultivated, sinewy, boy/girl body built for rapid, acrobatic sex. We get friendlier than we should, briefly talk of screwing the day away, but agree our friendship is too good to destroy over a twice stepped on eight ball and an earth-tilting orgasm. Instead, she helps me play my money on the dollar bar top slots. We agree that if she wins on her machine, I get half. "Honky-tonk Women" roars from the jukebox. Mick Jagger drawls "Sitten' in a bar, tippin' a jar in Jackson." The music bounces off all four walls, the vibrations knock a cue stick off its rack.

My relief shakes Willy by the shoulder. "Up," she says. "Can't have you sleeping on the bar." He's too drunk to move. His bar top cash disappears. "Let him be," I say to her, "He's an orphan. He paid the price of admission." My tit dancer friend and I keep playing slots, drink, fondle. We get the spins by noon. My four-hundred dollar tip is gone. I have enough money left to stay overnight in a bug-infested room on Charleston and Fourth.

The aged stuffiness of my room is an orgy of every secretion deposited on the sheets since the motel became a third rate way stop for short stay whores and their johns. The neighbor to my left is a heroin addict I have served drinks to before. Through the wall to my right I hear a woman moaning "Oh daddy, oh daddy, ooohhh," as her headboard thumps the wall in rhythm with her lover's strokes.

I lay down, drooling drunk, clothes on. The overused sagging mattress strains my lower lumbar. I stare blankly at the old-fashioned popcorn speckled ceiling. It's 1:30 in the afternoon. Darkly smoked windows convince day to remain night. I'm no less a waif than Willy. This hotel is my orphanage, the room my dorm. I'm a lone cast off foundling no one will adopt; the Pair-a-Dice, Vegas nights, elusive jackpots, poor Willy's plight are my bunkmates here. Before I pass out, I imagine hearing the dead bolt click to the locked position at the hand of a phantom Felician sister on the other side. She will keep me here until my fellow orphans' beckon we gather at the Pair-a-Dice next graveyard shift.

Steve Prusky is a native of Detroit. He has been a resident of Las Vegas for the past twenty-seven years. Steve credits Joe Clifford, Bukowski, Faunte among those who have influenced his prose. His fiction has been featured in Circus of the Damned, Flash Fiction Offensive, Out of The Gutter, A Twist of Noir, The Legendary, and others.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Issue #55 -- July 2013

By Ryan Sayles

Jim tried one more time to shove his sandpaper-dry tongue through the gym sock stuffed and duct taped into his mouth.

No good. The tape only clung to his stubble and pulled little pinpricks out of his lip, his chin. The taste of the sock was well-marinated in sweat and foot powder. It must have been worn for a week straight before it rubbed the roof of his mouth. Before it wrapped his swollen tongue and squeeze-dripped between his teeth. What were left, anyway.

Jim strained and then dropped his head back on the table. The wood and his skull thumped together, and all he could think about was how that one sound scattered out into the concrete room. Grey and dank. Water-stained. Crumbling.

They were underground somewhere. The seeping coolness told him that. Empty. The average concrete basement, an average of six feet below the surface, it averaged about sixty-five degrees, right? Been a long time since he thought about that.

And besides, the soft way the chill licked his skin drew out the goose bumps. Did nothing for him now.

A single bulb dangled from the ceiling, naked as Jim was. It was half-burnt out. Jim couldn’t tell if the buzzing he heard was from the bulb, his own ears, or maybe flies off in the distance. Flies circling someone else this guy killed.

The guy, who was near enough to Jim, stood over the only other piece of furniture in the room. Another wooden table. Jim’s weary eyeballs studied the man like he was a piece of art. The man was maybe fifty-five, still a solid ten or fifteen years younger than Jim. His hair and eye color didn’t matter; Jim would not later be describing him to the police. Pigs were never any help, especially not to Jim’s kind.

The man wore sweats and a white t-shirt, both flecked with Jim’s blood from the beating on the street. Jim could still taste all that copper, tacky and cold now inside his mouth. Jumped. Coward. You look ’em in the eye first, Jim thought. I always did. See if they’re brown or green or blue.

Then you whip ’em.

If the man could tell Jim was studying him, he didn’t let on. He was absorbed in his preparations. Almost in admiration. The man picked up an implement, a tube maybe six-inches long. Some funky design on the end. A balloon-shaped feature. Jim couldn’t tell from the distance. It wasn’t that far, but his vision trembled from the final kick to the teeth that blacked him out. It resounded.

With eager fingers, the man picked at the tube’s balloon-end like a sculptor tweezing off yesterday’s dried clay from his tools.

Jim recognized the way the man carried himself. Righteous, righteous, righteous. Endowed with greater purpose than what he saw around him. The ferocity to make it happen. Jim was used to being that man. He racked his strangled mind to discover a way to prevent this.

Jim tried to speak. His words gnarled by the sock, by his newly missing teeth, the split in his lip. It was mush. All his words were mush. The man turned around.


“That was mush, Jim. Hang on.” The man turned back around, looked down at his spread.

He shuffled through the various screw-on tips, feeling the characteristics. Different surface textures, sharp points, dull bulbs, barbed features and the spiraling, alien designs. So many to choose from. If only this could last months.

Even the shaft thicknesses differed greatly, like drum sticks. A jazz drummer who graced across his instrument with toothpicks had no need for the tree trunks a marching snare drummer swung.

He set the tips down, lined up like scalpels on a surgical tray. He ran his hand across them, just a faint breeze, titillated by contact here and there. The metal, the plastics. What they meant. This was finally happening.

He turned, studied Jim as he slowly, lazily walked nearer.

“Now Jim, I can’t remember this room smelling like shit before we came in here,” the man said. His goatee was white as snow. His temples as well. The man looked like yesterday he was eighteen, vibrant and fulfilled, but whatever happened during the night aged him forty years. “Funny. It stinks so bad now it’s hard to believe you did that all by yourself.”

Jim, splayed and bound to the table, burned holes in the man with a gaze reserved for the insane and predatory. The man smiled.

“You can call me Cenric. It’s Old English for ‘bold power.’ That’ll do for now.” He reached out and touched a tattoo on Jim’s chest. “Unless, of course, you can remember my actual name?”

Jim’s eyes crawled along every crevice, every detail and crow’s foot on Cenric’s face. Name? I should know his name? Jim’s mind raced along the back roads of his memory. Clawing at the dirt, pulling handfuls of grass and roots, throwing them over his shoulders. Digging. The frost heave of sixty years made it a tumultuous effort. Hard to jump from what was happening to who this guy was to what his five senses were screaming about to—

“It’ll come.” Cenric said. “You look road weary. What’s the cliché? Rode hard and put away wet? Yes. Of course, in an hour that will have new meaning. But these tattoos…cheap ink. What do they make that with, anyways? I saw a special on TV once. Made me think of you. I saw some Mexican using candle soot, baby oil, and shampoo or some such. Not very sanitary, I must say.”

Beads of sweat, instantly cool in the concrete air, cut lines down Jim’s temples and pooled on his ears. He could feel a puddle develop on the nape of his neck. The sensation of them tracing the outline of the tape over his mouth. Carving paths between his thighs. Wet fingers.

“You’re still fairly rock-solid for your age,” Cenric said, examining him as if he were a science specimen. “I never cared for the way some people’s hair would turn a tobacco yellow rather than just white. Even grey.”

Jim thrashed as best he could. This was killing him. Cenric smiled. Jim’s kidneys slapped up and down against the table. His fists clenched, jerked against the ropes. His ankles burned as they twisted against their binds.

“All right, all right,” Cenric said, patting Jim on his quivering chest. “Let’s talk about power, shall we?” Cenric turned and strolled in a wide arc. Power. How to demonstrate power? Cenric considered using a .22 to kneecap Jim, then draw a .357 magnum for the other kneecap. Just for comparison. Cenric considered many things, really. He made lists, crossed out ideas, added new ones. Jotted notes in the margins. If only this could last months.

He turned back. Met Jim’s eye. “Let’s talk about power.”


The drizzle from the sock ran down Jim’s throat in a sour mash river of vomit and rubber.

The man, this Cenric or whatever, he was possessed. By what was the question. Jim knew he would die here if he didn’t become a player in this game rather than the ball. Whatever was the motivation would determine how he would die.

Jim knew four murderers. Tyson was a gang banger who shot some other banger over turf or dope. Good riddance. But Tyson just wanted to do it and get it done, so he shot the guy on his front stoop in the middle of the day. Boom. Done. On to bigger and better things, until the other banger’s mother squealed to the pigs. Tyson took a deal; he knew how black trials went. Jim didn’t like that guy when they met, and he didn’t care when word came ’round that Tyson got plugged. Good riddance.

Daniel wasn’t a real murderer; he came home while his whore wife was fucking the neighbor. A baseball bat and a black out later and the happy couple were dead. That was revenge. Insanity by way of love. He was proud of squaring away that tramp, but he wasn’t cut from the same cloth as a real killer. He wound up sucking a lot of dick.

Bounce was a crackhead and killed another crackhead for a rock. A single fucking rock. The pains of jonesing. That was an itch. He OD’d on toilet hooch. He probably would have lived if anyone gave a shit enough to tell someone.

But Dick Morgan, that guy was a killer. A real killer. Everybody flowed around him. The man was blank, but he was there all at the same time. On a subconscious level it was disturbing. Nature didn’t do that often. Dick Morgan tied up women and dissected them. Played kitchen scientist and was rumored to have been fond of injecting them with cleaning chemicals and juices from raw meat just to see what the reaction would be. He carried himself the way Cenric did, but Jim could see the trembling rage beneath Cenric’s skin. Dick Morgan didn’t have that. Dick Morgan was calm as a small pond.

So Jim knew what that meant. This was going to be a poor death. He tried to work up a tear, let it run down the side of his face the way they always seem to do in the touching moments of Hollywood movies. The tear that turned the tide. Jim tried tilting his head just right so the ammonia smell from the sock could rise up, sting his nostrils, his eyes. It didn’t work. No matter how potent the gym sock was, Jim had smelled worse in his life.

He’d smelled real tears.


“Power. Power is defined as the ability to do or act. Also, the possession of control or command over others.”

Cenric rubbed his mouth, swallowed his salivating excitement. “For instance Jim, right now I have total power over you. I have the ability to do or act all over your wrinkled, punched-in ass. I have possession and control of you. If I so desire, I can go outside to my car, remove the battery and bring it in here. I can then alligator clip it to your nipples or your testicles. Spend the next several hours lighting you up, one Die Hard at a time. That’s power…within the context of our situation.”

Cenric used a fingertip to trace hard circles around Jim’s nipples. His face was placid as he did.

“Jim, have you ever had power?” Cenric asked this as he took hold of Jim’s right hand, looked at the tattoos on the fingers. He crossed the table, examined the other hand. “Love mutt, how cute.”

Jim’s fists clenched. He’d had love tattooed across the first segment of his right fist thirty years ago. Mutt inked across his left fist just after. It was the nickname he’d given himself. An inside joke.

Cenric drew a pocket knife. The blade snapped open with a sobering clink. The tip, gleaming and unnerving, hovered like a gnat just above the surface of Jim’s unblinking eye. “Still think you’re a love mutt?”

Jim’s tongue stabbed at the inside of the sock, even as the blade lowered further. The rhythm of the jabbing cranked up, then mashed against the sock and shoved shoved shoved as the tip dug in. Jim blinked hard, and even as his eyelids fought the pressure his head knew better than to squirm.

The wet pop echoed off the walls.

Jim’s lungs burned and his throat so raw as he screamed against the gag.

“That was mush, Jim. Hang on.” Cenric put the knife to his lips and let the fluid languidly run down his tongue. He resumed his lazy strolling arc. “Sorry, Jim. Got ahead of myself there.”

Cenric watched through a glaze of giddiness as Jim writhed in absolute torment. The man’s body was alive with a slithering electricity; seizing every muscle from his toes to his forehead. Yanking the tip of every nerve and pinching. Doing something to act out how much losing an eye really hurt.

Jim’s good eye was crying. His deflated eye was weeping. His eyebrows flexed hard enough to break stone and his mouth tore at the tape. Let him get it undone. Cenric wanted to speak with him anyway.

Still tasting the fluid on his lips, Cenric said, “I think you have wielded power in your former life, Jim. Considerable power.”

At those words, Jim’s overly taxed body dropped back onto the table. It ground to a halt. No winning here.

Cenric took a photo from his back pocket, an old 5x7, ran his fingertip down the picture as his lips trembled. “Candace. White girl, twenty-two. In nursing school. Brown hair, brown eyes, short with large breasts, looked sweet and naïve.”

He hung his head over Jim’s. “You know Jim, like the others.”


The searing agony in his eye socket could not drown out the next words, or the hollowness in which they were spoken.

“My Candace, her hair was brown but only when it was cloudy. It was chestnut in the summer sun and walnut in the winter light. Her eyes were brown but not the dull color of it you see in so many other people’s eyes. They were deeper than that. They held hopes. She was short. Her head fit right under my chin. Her breasts fit into my chest and my—odd to say it but—my gut fit under her breasts. We were matching puzzle pieces.”

Jim tried to shake his head. The jostling just made his burning eye socket explode again and again. He absently kept tonguing the sock. All at once the dry thing blew out through the bottom of the gag, peeking out like earthworm. Newly energized, Jim frantically worked it around. Futilely trying to sever the duct tape glue from his stubble as if getting it off would change things.

A bleak smile inched across Cenric’s face as he hovered, delighted. “Wanting to talk, Jim? Do you want to join our discussion?”

Jim nodded frantically. Eye screaming. Cenric unceremoniously gripped the tape and yanked it back like he was pull-starting a lawn mower. Jim’s mouth flooded with the sweet smells of the shit-tasting air. Might as well have been a cold draft beer.

“I got married at eighteen!” Jim shouted. “Alice! We were high school sweethearts! We saw Grease at a double feature at a drive-in and listened to Andy Gibb on the radio! Billy Joel, the Bee Gees! Alice loved sour cherries and potato salad! She tattooed my name on her shoulder! I’m human, man! I’m not some fuckin’ sex slave torture mannequin! You gotta understand I have feelings and a daughter and I-” A hand over his mouth. Firm and silencing.

“Candace was naïve,” Cenric said. Jim’s interruption just a paper-thin reed in a Zen stream. The captor’s narrative flowed around it without so much as leaving a wake. “She was sheltered growing up. That’s probably why she thought it was safe to walk through a four-block stretch of bad neighborhood at dusk. Cost her, though. Just like the others.” He lifted his hand.

“GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!” Jim screamed. He was met with a punch so hard the exclamation point of his statement was knocked across the room like a broken tooth. Jim’s head went with the roll; heat spread through his jaw. Oddly thankful for the blood cascading inside his lips. His mouth was so dry he welcomed any moisture.

Cenric wagged a finger, scolding. “No outbursts. We’ll discuss this like gentlemen.” Shook the sting out of his fist, paced.

Jim, bleeding from everywhere on his face, he couldn’t help but laugh. Absurd. “Gentlemen? You stab my fuckin’ eyeball, beat me senseless and tie me naked as a jay bird to a table and you want to discuss this shit like gentlemen? Fuck you! FUCK YO—”

Jim’s gut blew out with a hammer fist raining down. Jim could feel himself trying not to shit right there on the table as the force caved in his pelvic bowl. Did he piss himself? He didn’t know. Jim did taste the vomit and he choked it back. There was never a better gag than stomach contents. It made the sock look weak.

Cenric leaned over Jim, placid surface, raging just below. “All I want, Jim—”


“—is an apology,” Cenric said. “I want you to tell me how sorry you are for Candace. For what you did to her.”

Cenric clenched his right hand around the roll of pennies he had inside it. If necessary, he’d strike Jim’s gut again, but he wanted the words.

“You owe me that, Jim.” Cenric’s eyes dragged themselves slowly across Jim’s quaking body. The papery skin, old and worn. The shitty tattoos, the sheen of sweat. The way his toes twitched nervously, uncontrollably. His bony fists squeezing themselves bloodless. How this feral animal of man selected Candace, dragged her off to—

“I don’t owe you shit, you fucking crazy cock sucker!” Blood spit up with every word. Cenric stepped back, watched the geyser.

Jim thrashed about, a marlin hooked and on the deck; a badger gnawing at its foot caught in a trap. Cenric recognized it as a last stand. One final, grand effort. Jim was being defeated, dominated. If only this could last months.


“For what? For fucking what?” Jim screamed.

“For kidnapping and raping my Candace.”

“You’re fuckin’ high if you think—”

“James Lee Cartwright, born September 21st, 1959, you were convicted of three counts of aggravated rape thirty-four years ago and now you’ve been out of prison five months. You’re registered on all the FBI websites. I testified against you. After Candace talked to me all those long, long nights ago. Those nights where she would relive it. Relive you. It rotted her. It took her sweet naiveté and it left a cancer. An all-consuming, devastating sickness that polluted her every fiber. Her soul. Now, don’t fuck with me. Tell me why I testified against you. Tell me before I start treating you the same way you treated her.”

Fine. Jim’s eyes changed complexion. He didn’t know what this man had in mind, but Jim knew he was completely insane, and he did not believe for a moment he was bluffing. Jim was intimately familiar with baseless posturing. He knew what it looked like when those guys in the pen would talk out their asses when they were backed into a corner. If this crazy bastard ass-raped him and then forced a blow job, Jim would never sleep again. Then he really would cry.

“Fine.” Jim felt small, and it wasn’t Jim’s place to feel small. To be weak.

Jim tried hard to push the miniscule whimpering out of his head, the door mouse of fright scurrying about in there, he couldn’t make it disappear. It grew. Like Mr. Hyde it grew gigantic. This unnamed man had Jim exactly where Jim liked his women to be.

All that rage bubbled up. All that poison filling him, he cultivated and polished it for years as he fed on it and grew strong. It made him into a certified Greek titan. But now it left him when he needed it most. Fuck. This was the way it was going to be? Fine.

“Fine,” Jim said. His voice hard. Sharp. The way all those years in the pen made it. “You testified because she was dead. Cunt couldn’t handle my cock so she punched her own ticket.”

“That’s the Jim I know.” Cenric said, so relieved the room’s atmosphere shifted. “Alice left you when she found out. Laura cut you out of her life. I remember your daughter looking at her own newborn baby girl, then back at you. Like you were going to fuck that kid also. Probably would have. Sold everything to pay the attorney. You were exposed that day, Jim. I was a part of that.”

“Fuck you, monkey dick,” Jim growled. “Candace was a sloppy piece of ass. Not worth the rusty knife I cut her with.”

Cenric smiled, fulfilled. “Now, we can get down to business.”

He dropped his pants, stepped out of them. He went back to the tray and pulled out the strap-on belt system he bought from the fetish store.

“Thirty-six years ago you robbed me of my wife. Candace and I were married seven months when you came along. She never got past it. Never got past you. Not even for me. Your power was too…well, powerful, I guess. You still possessed her even after you left her for dead, the taste of shit in her mouth. When she killed herself what she was really doing was finishing what you started. I’ve spent thirty-six years salivating for this. And now, I’m so amped up to possess you, to let you experience me, I don’t think I need the strap-on. My erection is rock-solid.”

Cenric selected one of the tips and screwed it into the receptacle on the groin of the belt. “Of course, my erection isn’t ten inches long with rough-edged studs and a sharp point.”

Jim’s eyed widened as Cenric smiled. Strutted over. With a laugh he said, “Funny thing. My name is Jim also. I figured you would’ve remembered that. But oh well.”

Cenric used a single finger to pull a dangle of sweat-soaked bangs out of Jim’s face. He wanted to see it. “All right, love mutt, let’s do this. Let’s experience power.”

Suddenly Jim regretted everything he had ever done. And as he began to scream, he shouted those regrets out loud.

Jim’s entire life, excruciatingly bemoaned with every push, push, push.

Ryan Sayles's debut novel, The Subtle Art Of Brutality, is out through Snubnose Press. He is a founding member of Zelmer Pulp, works at Out Of The Gutter Online Magazine and The Big Adios. His fiction has appeared in around than two dozen online journals, ezines and print. He may be reached at Vitriol and