Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Issue #44 -- January 2013

By Tom Pitts 

Shari flagged down the cab. The two girls climbed into the backseat and told the driver the name of hotel. He looked back at them, dumbfounded. 

“Don’t you know where The Morris is?”

“No, ma’am, I do not. I am thinking on Sutter.” 

“It’s right across from The Opal,” said Shari. 

The cabbie got on the radio and asked where the Opal was.

Shari rolled her eyes at her friend. These cabbies were dumb as shit. How could anyone not know where the Opal was? 

Her friend’s name was Tatiana. Not her real name. Tatiana didn’t tell anyone her real name. That was okay. Shari didn’t use her real name either. Not in this business. They both made one exception. They both told their real names to Money. He had their real names, their birth dates, their addresses. He had to. He was the one that bailed them out, God forbid, they get popped again. Bail could be expensive and Money didn’t like to spend money. Not on the girls, not on bail, not on a decent meal. Money had his own agenda.

Once the cab was on its way, Shari began to school the new girl. 

“Money says we can take some johns off. Assholes that you can get what you can from. You know, the usual shit, rifle through their pockets.”

“Raffle?” asked Tatiana Still a hint of Russian accent deep in her speech, one she was sure would never entirely disappear. It made her feel odd in her line of work. When she spoke, she used as few words as possible.

“No, rifle. Like, go through their pockets when you sucking their dicks. When they take a piss, whatever.” Shari paused to light a cigarette.

The driver shook his finger. “Oh no, Miss, excuse me, you cannot smoke in here, please.”
Shari glared at the rearview mirror, thought about ignoring him, telling this polite motherfucker to go fuck himself, but instead took one more deep drag, rolled the window down and threw an almost full cigarette out the window.

“Some you can rob. You know, our man will let you, but you gotta tell him. Some he wants you to rob. And he’ll let you know. Some, though, you can do it yourself, keep what you get, but don’t ever let Money know.”

Tatiana knew all of this from her previous life. She went on letting Shari think she was new to the game. The rules didn’t change much from country to country, city to city. If this was the oldest profession in the world, stealing from johns was a close second. But she let Shari talk.

The taxi pulled up in front of the Opal Hotel—expansive, well-lit, expensive-looking. Shari paid, dropping fifteen dollars on the seat without saying a word to the driver, and the two climbed out onto the sidewalk.

“It’s nice,” said Tatiana.

“Yeah, it is, but that’s the Opal. The one you want is The Morris. And that’s across the street. Right there,” she said, pointing to a small, old hotel sandwiched between a 24-hour porno shop and a vacant building. “I know, charming, right?”

Tatiana didn’t say anything, so Shari continued.

“Guy you’re supposed to meet, I call him soldier boy. This one is off the books. Money don’t know nothing ’bout it. So, you know, you can do what you like.”

“Soldier boy?”

“Yeah, supposed to be just back from Iraq or Afghanistan or some shit. He been creeping ’round the corner for days, so I hit him up. I guess I’m too brown for his tastes so I thought he’d be good for you.”

“He’s going to meet me where?”

“In front, I guess he must already have a room up there or something. You’ll know him when you see him. White boy, keep his hair real short. You know, a military man. That’s why I call him soldier boy. He be a quiet one, I can tell, likes it straight. Just show him a good time, grab what you can, and get out. He come looking for me after, I don’t give a shit, I ain’t afraid of no army boy.”
Richard Christopher Harding was not a veteran of any foreign war. He was a veteran of the California Corrections system. He’d recently had a 25-to-life sentence overturned because his lawyer was able to show his confession was coerced. That lawyer was worth every penny. His mother had died while he was inside and left him the house. He put up the house to upgrade his lawyer—and it paid off.  His sentence was reduced to ten years for manslaughter and he was released with time served.

He kept his hair short, wore the right boots, and kept his shit clean, so it was easy to sell the Afghanistan story. When people thought you’d been overseas, they pried less, didn’t ask for proof, or ID, for every damn thing. Prison had built him up, taught him some manners, and now the world knew him by his new name. Christopher Tobin. Sergeant Christopher Tobin.

He’d been staying at The Morris for only two days. He didn’t plan to be on the outside long. Just long enough to build some memories—ones that would last him the rest of his life.

He’d been waiting down on the corner, watching the girls get out of the cab. He stood in a doorjamb as they crossed the street in-between traffic. He rubbed the hotel key in between his thumb and index finder as he sized up the smaller girl, the white one. Dyed red hair, black mini-skirt, leather boots with heels, 5’5” tops, about 100 lbs. Perfect. He watched them talk for a moment. Then the black one walked away. His was alone.

Tatiana spotted soldier boy immediately. It wasn’t hard; he practically marched up the street toward her. He had a bag under one arm, a laptop case or something, jeans, and lace-up boots. The first thing she noticed about his face was his thin lips. They were squeezed into a smile. Looked like it hurt.

“Hi, how ya doing? I’m Chris Tobin.”

“Christ Obin?” Her accent was thick; she wished she could hide it.

“No, Chris,” he said with that same tight smile.

“Oh, okay Chris. You live here?”      

“I stay here.”

“Let’s go inside. It’s cold out here.”

He showed her the key in his hand and said, “C’mon.”

Inside of the building stank. Piss, stale cigarettes, and curry. Behind the Plexiglass booth where the manager normally sat, Tatiana saw only an empty chair and a video camera. No power light on top of the camera—probably not even plugged in. She heard no voices. The smell was the only sign of life.

She watched soldier boy hit a small button beside the wrought iron gate that separated the lobby from the stairs leading to the rooms. After a few moments, the gate buzzed and she followed him up. She watched him climb the stairs, wondering what was in the bag, watched his boots, scuffs on the heels.

They didn’t speak until they reached the room. He unlocked the door and let her in. She looked around. Like any shit-hole hotel room. She’d seen plenty. No personal items though, not even a cigarette butt in the ashtray.

“You mind if I smoke?” she said.

“Have at it,” he said, flopping the bag onto the bare dresser.

She pointed at the bag. “No picture, no video.”

“No, no, of course not.” He stood staring, sizing her up again. Tatiana hated those thin lips.

“Well?” he said.

“Well, what?”

“Are you gonna smoke? Or are we gonna get right to it?’

She got right to it. “It’s three hundred, up front—for everything.”  

“Your friend said two.”

“She was mistaken. Three.”

“Where you from?” Johns either loved her accent or were intimidated by it, but they always had to ask.

“Brooklyn,” she said.

“Brooklyn, huh?”

She took off her jacket and threw it on the bed. Her turn now. “You were in the war?”

“Yeah, Afghanistan. Just got home.”

“What rank?”

“Huh?” He seemed a little offended by her question.

“What rank are you?”


Didn’t sound right to her. He didn’t talk like a soldier. He took off his jacket and Tatiana saw the blue lines of tattoos peeking out from the sleeves of his t-shirt. The lines were blurry and faded, self-inflicted. She was an expert at reading tattoos. In the old country, she had to be.  

“You’re a little old for Sergeant, no?”

He reached into his pocket and produced three crisp hundred-dollar bills and handed them to her. She took the bills, folded them and began to stuff them into the top of her boot.

“Nice boots.” They were knee-high black leather with silver tipped heels. “You can keep them on.”

“Oh, they’re going to stay on,” she assured him as she began to unbutton her blouse.

He walked to the bag and unzipped it. Most men like to watch as she undressed. “What’s in the bag?” she asked.

“A condom.”

“I have my own,” she said.

“This one is special.”

“I have my own.”

“Alright, have it your way.”

He turned to her and stepped close, standing in front of her at the foot of the bed.  She instinctively tugged at his belt.

“No, not yet. Just lay back first, I want to get on top of you. Warm up.”

She did as he asked and lay on the bed, her shirt unbuttoned, bare breasts exposed.

He flipped up her skirt, exposed her black lace panties and crawled onto the bed. He was on all fours, hovering over her.

“Well,” she said, “are you going to undress?”

“Why? So I can fuck you?”

She looked up at him; the smile was gone. She felt his body weight drop on top of her, his hands clamp around her neck, squeezing. She knew it; she should have trusted her instincts. She struggled underneath his weight, trying to get leverage before her air ran out. She lifted her legs around his torso, and, in a position many of her customers enjoyed, drove her heels right into his kidneys. He flinched but didn’t budge. She did it again, pushing the spiked silver tips into his flesh.

For one quick moment he released his grasp, recoiling backward from the pain. She used the momentum to buck him upward with her hips, and, in one deft motion, she clamped her legs tightly around his head. Just like she had been taught, she used her legs, the strongest muscles in her body. She locked her ankles together while he punched her in the ribs and hips. She twisted to the right, toward the floor, his head still clamped tightly between her thighs. A loud crack. His body shook like a man who just had the best orgasm of his life. She held her legs together, waiting for the shaking to stop.

He looked pathetic on the floor, head twisted half-way around. She stood over him and buttoned her shirt. She picked up her jacket and purse and checked the room for anything she may have dropped, remembering what she may have touched. Before she left, Tatiana walked over to the dresser and took a look inside that bag of his. No laptop, just syringes filled with blue liquid, two knives—big ones—and a large roll of duct tape. Nothing to steal. She looked back at the dead man on the floor.

“You were no soldier. Just a boy.”

With the sleeve of her coat, she carefully opened the door and walked out. When she reached the street, she kept on walking.

Tom Pitts received his education firsthand on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, writing, working, and trying to survive. His novella, Piggyback, is available from Snubnose Press. He is also co-editor at Out of the Gutter Magazine’s Flash Fiction Offensive. Read more of his work at:  http://tom-pitts.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Issue #43 -- January, 2013

By Travis Richardson

When he got the call at three in the morning, Soghomon wasn’t surprised. It was inevitable. As he slipped into his Armani suit and knotted a tie, he knew Manoug would die young. At twenty-three he’d already lived longer than expected. Grabbing implements of negotiation—cash roll, drugs, and a .22 caliber Ruger MK1—from his armoire and stuffing them in the appropriate pockets, he knew he needed the who, how, and why, and then fix it. He kissed his wife of twelve years on the forehead and then peeked in at his young sons in the next room sleeping soundly in their beds. 

Soghomon sighed as he pulled his Benz up to the warehouse. A maroon BMW with the gold striping and smoked windows sat in the driveway. It cried out for attention—something to be avoided in their line of work, but Razmig was an insecure, sadistic idiot. He was the last person Soghomon wanted to see tonight, but as life had taught him, you work with what the Lord gives you. 

A tall, bald thug wearing a T-shirt two sizes too small guarded the door. Looking at his massive biceps, Soghomon wondered if the bulldog could even scratch his back. The guard stepped back and nodded his head in respect as Soghomon passed. 

Inside, long shadows hung from precariously stacked freight boxes filled with less-than-legal imports.  Soghomon navigated through the narrow path that led to the room in back. He heard the sounds of fists pounding flesh. He inhaled and stepped inside.

Huddled in the corner was a woman in her twenties of mixed race with streaked dark eye shadow and glitter. Razmig stood under an overhead light, flexing his fingers and whispering threats into the ear of a man tied to a chair who was bruised and bleeding, his mouth taped shut. Behind them stood a metal desk with scattered papers and a pool of drying blood on the floor. Soghomon got the picture, but he needed details.

“After my arm gets tired of punching your ugly face, I’m going to cut your stomach open, pull your intestines out, and strangle you with them. You fucked up big time, redneck.” Razmig cocked his arm back to deliver another blow.

“Stop,” Soghomon said just above a whisper.

Razmig turned and disappointment drained the fire out of his eyes. The squat brute wore an open-collared shirt and designer jeans, and gelled his hair spiky. 

“I was about to gut the motherfucker.” Razmig swung out a six-inch blade, holding it in front of the man’s face. “But I will wait.”

Soghomon gave him a rebuking look.

“What?” Razmig said in Armenian.

“Buy me a cup of chai tea. Large,” Soghomon said in English.

Razmig’s eyes bugged in outrage at the notion.

“What are you waiting for?”

Razmig threw his hands up, but left quietly.

On closer inspection, the blond man in the chair looked like a kid. No older than twenty-five, Soghomon guessed. His blue eyes watched Soghomon closely, fear keeping his pupils large.
Soghomon turned to the woman and knelt. She crawled back, raising a hand defensively.

“Tell me what happened.” His voice was soft, yet commanding.

She looked at him and then down again. One of her eyes was swollen shut. Her trembling lower lip was busted. Was that Razmig or somebody else?

“Tell me. I will not ask again.”

The woman swallowed, staring at the floor. She was in shock and needed guidance, Soghomon determined.

“Are you a dancer?”

She nodded.


“F-fantasy Factory.”

Soghomon took out a notebook and wrote it down.

“Did this man,” he said nodding to the guy tied in the chair. “Did he harm you?”

Her good eye widened and she shook her head. “N-no. He saved me. Please don’t—“

Soghomon held up his hand and she went silent. “Do you snort?”

She looked away and then slowly nodded. Soghomon reached into his jacket and produced several small vials of different colors. He chose the blue one and poured a thin line of a white powdery substance onto a compact mirror, careful not to touch it. He held it under her nose.


She reluctantly closed a nostril with a wobbly finger and took a long sniff, her eye widening as the powder disappeared.

“You will feel better now.”

Soghomon turned to the man in the chair. He twitched and struggled against the ties. Soghomon reached over and yanked the duct tape off. The boy flinched, but kept silent. 

“How are you?” Soghomon asked.

The boy shot him a look as if saying, do you really care.

Soghomon crouched to his level. “Had better days, huh?”

A smirk escaped the boy’s bloodied lips. Soghomon smiled.

“Let me tell you how things are. I need to know what happened tonight before that monster returns. It is late, but he will find tea and return shortly. You need to tell me everything and it must be honest. It is the only way I can help you.”

The boy studied Soghomon’s long face and then nodded.  

“Please,” Soghomon said.

The boy cleared his throat. “I’m just visiting here,” he said with a twang in his voice, somewhere from the middle of the country. “I didn’t mean no harm.”

“What is your name?”

“Chris. Meadows.”

“Where are you from?”


Soghomon scribbled Prior OK in his notebook next to his name and nodded for him to continue.

“I came out to visit a buddy of mine who’s been in LA for like a year or so. “

“His name?”

The boy bit his lip. A good, loyal man, not ratting out his friend.

“We will get the name out of you one way or another. Please make it easier for both of us.”

Chris tightened his lips, as if wanting to tell, but holding back.

“When Razmig mentioned the…cutting out of entrails and choking you with it. That is real. A miserable Russian practice he learned from them several years ago, but unfortunately he loves gore and torture. Please, tell me: name and location.”

Chris, shaking, gave Soghomon the name Jimmy Freeland and the approximate area of his Burbank apartment. Soghomon nodded after he wrote it down.

“So what happened tonight?”

Chris sighed and looked as if he were trying to recall an ancient memory.

“Jimmy was taking me out on the town. Hollywood, Sunset, all that. So we’re drinkin’ at a bar someplace when this Arab fella comes up to us all crazy like...”

Soghomon winced. Chris stopped talking.

“Armenian, not an Arab. There is a big difference.”

Chris looked like he was about to comment, but censored himself. Smart boy, Soghomon thought.


“Well, he knows Jimmy and Jimmy tells me to be cool ’cause he’ll pay for everything. So we go from bar to bar and then to a strip club where everybody seems to know him.”

“Fantasy Factory?”

“Yeah, that’s it.” 

“Continue, please.”

“This Armenian guy, he’s all obnoxious, not just there, but everywhere we’ve been. I wanna leave and sleep, but Jimmy says we need to stay with him. This guy flashes a wad of cash and gets a couple of girls to come with us over to this warehouse next door. He takes her,” Chris nodded to the woman huddled in the corner, “into this room here, leaves me and Jimmy with the other stripper…”

“Did you get her name?”

“It wasn’t real…Delilah I think.”

Soghomon jots the name down and nods.

“So we’re just standing around talking to the other stripper about the weather ’cause we’re too nervous to ask for a blow job or anything. Then we hear screaming from this room. Delilah, yeah that’s her name, takes off and I run into the room, and I see this asshole just wailing on her. He’s pounding her with his fists and I don’t know…I kind of lost it. I kicked him in the ribs, then he stood up and I swung. He fell and cracked his head on the corner of that desk behind me. I didn’t mean to get violent, but he’d been getting on my nerves all night and you don’t beat a woman. You just don’t. It ain’t right.”

Soghomon nodded. The boy had values, a core. A rare commodity anymore. He hoped his sons would have character like Chris someday.

“I didn’t mean to kill him. Honestly…” Chris trailed off, a lone, single tear streaking down his face.

“What happened to your friend, Jimmy?”

“Don’t know. He saw blood everywhere and took off. Just left me with her and that asshole. Before I could even call 911, a bouncer from the titty bar shows up. He takes my phone and won’t let me leave. Some guys take the body away and then that pyscho shows up and beats the shit out of me. Who was that guy…the one I killed?”

“That was Manoug. He is an asshole as you say, but his father is Melik Kazarian. Head of Armenian Power.”

Chris took in the information for a moment, his pale face turning gray. “So I’m fucked.”

Soghomon nodded. “But you did the right thing, saving a woman’s life in danger. It is quite…valiant.”

“But I’m going to die, aren’t I?”

“Eye for an eye. It is how things are.”

“What could I do? He was beating a woman.”

“Manoug was not meant for a long life in this world. Somebody was going to kill him. You did the right thing saving her, truly.”

“I wanna go back to Oklahoma,” Chris said adding another tear trickle down his face. “There aren’t no Armenians there.”

“I will make sure you go back home,” Soghomon said standing.

Chris looked at him for a moment and then nodded. Soghomon heard the rumbling of Razmig’s BMW outside. He needed to be quick.

“So, tell me about this Prior Oklahoma,” he said circling behind Chris, facing the front of the door.

“Ain’t much to it. There’s a Wal-Mart and a hospital.”

Soghomon pulled out the Ruger and screwed on a silencer with well-practiced movements. The stripper in the corner widened her good eye, her mouth starting to form words, but Soghomon shook his head.

“They recently built a Google data center there. Kind of a big deal for us, you know.”

Soghomon heard footsteps coming toward the door. He raised the barrel and squeezed the trigger. Chris’s body jerked, then slumped, his brains scrambled, useless to the body. The stripper let out a weak squeal.

Razmig walked in holding a white paper cup of steaming tea in his hand. He saw Chris’s lifeless body and dropped the cup.

“What did you do? He was mine!” he shouted in Armenian.

Soghomon bent down and scooped up the spent cartridge, pocketing it.

“You spilled my tea.”

Razmig looked down in disgust at the splatter of chai on his jeans and loafers. He kicked the cup across the room. “He killed Manoug. He needs to die painfully. Melik is not going to like this.”
Soghomon shook his head. It was true that Melik would be furious that his son’s murderer died so easily with just a bullet to the brain, but Chris Meadows deserved to go out that way. He had done the right thing.  

“What about her?” Razmig said pointing at the stripper as if still hoping to cause pain and suffering.

“Do not worry. She is already taken care of.”

 Frustration built in the psychopath’s eyes. He wanted to maim somebody, bad. Soghomon reached into his breast pocket and pulled out his notebook. He tore off a page and handed it to Razmig. “Find this man, Jimmy Freeland, and do whatever you want to him.”

Razmig lit up like he was a child on Christmas morning.

“Have the bulldog outside come here in five minutes. He’ll need to move the bodies.”

Razmig nodded, anticipating the fun he would have as soon as he found this Jimmy from Burbank.
Soghomon clapped his hands. “Go!”

He practically ran out of the room.

Soghomon heard a moan from behind. He turned to the stripper and knelt. Her arms and legs were lifeless, as they should be. She looked at him with a pleading eye. She couldn’t speak, not anymore.

He glanced at his Cartier watch. “You will be dead in another minute. You could not have lived, not for being involved with Melik’s son’s death…Wrong place at the wrong time. Ratzmig would have brutalized you before he killed you.”

Her good eye teared up, but then it blinked and settled on Chris’s lifeless body.

“I did not lie to him. He was a good man. I will make sure he has a proper burial for his family in Oklahoma.”

He watched the light fade from her eye. He shut her eyelid. There was a lot of work to be done today. Pay off Davit at the Fantasy Factory for their dead stripper, determine if the other stripper, Delilah, could be bought off or not, have Chris’s body shipped back to the middle of the country, clean up the mess Razmig would make, and appease and comfort his friend and employer, Melik, in his time of sorrow.

He stood, feeling a headache coming on strong. He rubbed his forehead, wishing Razmig hadn’t spilled his tea.  

Travis Richardson was born in Germany, raised in Oklahoma, and currently lives in California. His novella Lost in Clover came out in November 2012 and deals with a young man coping with the effects of a mass shooting. He has had short stories published in Shotgun Honey, Powder Burn Flash, and the anthology Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes, edited by Gary Phillips. He also writes and directs short movies. Find out more at http://tsrichardson.com