Wednesday, January 29, 2020

this letter to Norman Court by Pablo D'Stair

Below is an excerpt of this letter to Norman Court, the first book of the five-book Trevor English series being resurrected by All Due Respect Books. This scene is what hooked me almost ten years ago, when the series began as a serial on crime fiction blogs.

One of the girls working behind the counter—I think maybe the one who’d wrapped my burger, passed it to the guy working the register to set on my tray—she’d made sort of quick, flirting eye contact with me while I’d been in line, but she hadn’t looked up to see where I’d sat down or anything. It had been flirting, though, like she’d for a moment, anyway, thought I was attractive, was probably even having a little fantasy about me, who I might’ve been, what I might say, do to her, but it was the sort of thing she knew it’d be ruined by looking at me again. I kept my eye on her anyway, kind of, not even so much thinking about anything.

I’d taken a large bite, was taking a drink to help me swallow it, when some guy sat down right at my table, nodded at me, smiling and it wasn’t until I’d mashed the swallow down, caught my breath and was saying Can I help you? I realized it was the guy I’d stolen his wallet about two days before.
‘Sixty, seventy dollars, it isn’t much money,’ he said.
I coughed into my hand, had another quick sip of my drink, wiped the excess from my lip.
‘It was forty dollars.’
No point in playacting the innocent for this guy.
‘Forty?’ He hardly seemed like he was paying attention, his saying Forty might not even’ve been a question.
‘It was forty, forty-two, something. Look, it’s gone, it’s spent. And I’m sure you probably canceled your credit cards, everything, but I don’t bother about those and I don’t leave them around for people might take them.’
‘Why not?’
I didn’t like this person, he looked like the clothes he was wearing and nothing else, that’s all somebody would describe him by if he went missing or robbed a bank or something.
‘Because. I don’t know why not.’
‘You can’t sell them to people or something?’
I shrugged, glanced over to the counter, behind it, the girl not looking up, still.
‘Why would somebody buy a credit card someone’s just gonna cancel?’
I knew there were reasons, knew what he was talking about, but I didn’t know anything about it, in a practical sense—this guy’d probably watched a movie or some news magazine, had all sorts of little ideas about everything he’d picked up here and there. Thing was, he could chit chat it up, whatever he thought he was doing, I didn’t care. There was obviously certainly nothing he could do about it, unless he was gonna shoot me, cut me down at the Wendy’s or whichever place this was. The wallet was gone, it’d been forty-two something dollars, it’d been two days ago. Even if he was tape recording me, spy camera glasses, I didn’t know what he thought, like he was being tricky.
‘Well, forty dollars is even less money, then.’
I nodded, back to my burger, the bite I took shoving wet bread up, wedging it up into the gum of the tooth I was missing and I dug at this with my tongue while he went on with his bit.
‘How would you like to make some more money than that? How about we talk about that?’
I sighed, vaguely interested—at least it wasn’t what I’d been thinking, wasn’t so banal.
‘How about we talk about it? Fine, talk about it.’
‘I’ll pay you two thousand dollars to deliver a letter to my brother.’
I grinned.
‘A small fortune. But what else is it for?’
‘It’s not for anything else. Though, I suppose there’s the stipulation that you don’t tell him it’s from me.’
My mind drifted to cinematic pretend, trying to weasel around how he’d be edging me into something I didn’t want into, but at the same time I didn’t so much care, really, because it was going to be either he gave me the money, all of it, in front or there wasn’t going to be anything about me delivering any letter to anybody and so I could just walk off if I got feeling something was askew, money in pocket, dust my hands of it all.
‘What’s he going to do with me I give it to him? I’m suppose to have a chat with him or what?’
‘Just in case, just in case he asks you something. I just need you to put it into his hand, personally, that’s the only important thing, no reason you have to say a thing to him after that.’
I ate my last bite, the girl wasn’t even behind the counter anymore so I did a phony stretch to see was she maybe wiping down some table but she wasn’t anyplace, was in back, employee toilet or something.
‘And so how would this letter have gotten to him somebody didn’t steal your wallet?’
He chuckled, very real chuckle, said he didn’t know, he’d been thinking about it all for a while.
So it was something, it wasn’t normal, not like he could mail it from a pretend address—send it to a hotel inside another envelope, little note asks them to send it along so that the postmark is someplace strange—nothing that could be left to chance or have a straight third party involved with.
It was pointless, making it all a little mystery—I wanted to know about the letter, I’d say Yes to the guy, take the two thousand, open the letter and have a look. I was no more reliable than a hotel clerk, this little scene must’ve just given the guy a kick, this little intrigue, maybe he was full of it.
And sort of mind reader, he out of nothing said ‘I like you, I think you seem the sort of person who could do this and know that’s that.’
‘I seem that way, yeah?’
He nodded. ‘Yeah.’
‘You know you have to give me that two thousand, that’s first, then I take your letter. What, your brother’s gonna kill me I give it to him?’
He shook his head, face a scrunch, a real genuine expression of it’s-nothing-like-that. In fact, I didn’t think it was—the suit of clothes I was striking the deal with, it was too earnest for that, it was something I’d never decipher and he was right, I really didn’t care and probably I would deliver the letter.
I said Alright, tilted my drink cup back, got an ice cube I broke and swallowed in two chews, looked over to the counter, behind the counter, the girl wasn’t there, still.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Issue # 59 -- January 2020

By Stephen D. Rogers

I woke up with one end of a rifle in my mouth, Mad Dog at the other. Teach me to sleep on my back. Probably snored like a bastard.

Withdrawing the muzzle of the barrel, she stepped back, keeping the weapon aimed at my head. One thing about Mad Dog, she never let crazy get in the way.

I ran a tongue over my teeth to check for any new chips.

There seemed no need to call my dentist. Leave it to Mad Dog to be careful. "I don't suppose you brought me a coffee."

"Here's the situation." Mad Dog paused. "We're going to take a drive."

I didn't want to die before I finished waking up. "Maybe you're going for a drive, but I have other plans."

"Then you're going to break them." Her cheek twitched. Better that muscle than one in her trigger finger.

"Sorry, but I can't." I swung my legs out of bed and planted my feet on the bare wood. "It's first thing in the morning. I have to pee."

"Not my problem."

"Listen, Mad Dog, either I pee or I go back to bed, which I wouldn't exactly mind, truth to tell. You don't know this, but you woke me in a cliff-hanger of a dream. I want to see how everything turns out."

"I knew you were dreaming. I watched your eyeballs moving under the lids."

There was a creepy thought. "What I don't understand is how you think you can march me down three flights of stairs with a rifle in my back."

"Third floor means two flights."

"Same problem."

"You're going to turn around, and I'm going to smash your head with the butt of this rifle. Then I'm going to dump you out the window. I doubt you'll be able to crawl away by the time I get outside."

"Where is it we're going?" And how could I survive the trip?

"I was hired to deliver you to someone."

I flexed my toes. I'd made so many enemies over the years, she hadn't exactly narrowed the field of possibilities. "If my mother wanted me to visit more often, she could have just called."

Mad Dog grinned. "You're going to wish it was your mother."

"Can I go the bathroom before you scare the piss out of me?"

"Slowly." She took another step back and to her left, away from the bathroom, finally allowing me to see past the business end of the rifle.

Mad Dog wore a tailored blue-and-white striped shirt over jeans. No jacket. She probably sauntered from her vehicle to the lobby of the apartment building and up the stairs with the rifle carried on her shoulder.

I'd already lived longer than most people who woke to Mad Dog, but I wanted to beat my own record.

"Moving slowly." I crossed to the bathroom and lifted the toilet lid and seat. Unsheathed myself.

"Put your arms back to your sides."

"It's going to get messy."

"Not my problem."

I followed orders before letting it rip. Pee splattered everywhere.

I raised my voice to mask the sound. "Remember that time we broke down on 41?"

"I'm not here to reminisce."

"Right, you're here to pick up a package." I raised my arms higher, moving my left hand closer to the shaving kit on the edge of the sink. "Still, a little conversation never hurt anyone."

"It will if it causes me to bash your brains out."

I'd been crazy to even consider going for the razor. Mad Dog was a legend for a reason, and I didn't want to die today.

"Point taken." I queried my bladder. "Thanks for letting me drain the monster. Okay if I shake?"


"Kind of defeats the purpose."

"Your choice."

Again, I moved slowly. Made myself presentable and turned to face her. "See? That didn't take long."

"Now throw on some clothes."

"Seriously? You're worried about someone seeing me walking around in my undies when you're carrying a long gun?"

"It would be disrespectful for you to stand in front of him this way."

"We could stop. I could buy a tie."

"We could simulate a red one when I crush your jaw."

"Never did like how ties feel around my neck."

"Shirt. Pants. Touch a weapon, and I'll shoot you where you stand and deliver you unconscious."

"Better that than screaming, I suppose." I opened my closet and searched for something that wouldn't clash with my captor. Green checked over chinos seemed to do the trick.

On the closet floor, assorted footwear. There was a knife in the loafers. I chose the sneakers.

Tossed the clothes on the bed and started dressing. "You could tell me where we're going. Or if you want to keep that a surprise, you could tell me who's paying the bill."

"You are."

I paused mid-button. Paying the bill? "Does this have anything to do with a certain jewelry job gone wrong? Mad Dog, I'm telling you right now: I don't have the diamonds."

Mad Dog wobbled the muzzle. "Finish getting dressed."

The Colombian. I was dead.

Not yet, but soon.

I couldn't overpower Mad Dog. Couldn't escape her. Couldn't catch her making a mistake.

I resumed buttoning.

The Colombian wasn't going to kill her to keep her from talking. He wasn't going to cheat her. He wasn't going to give me a single angle to use against her.

"Instead of delivering me, you could go one better by bringing him the diamonds. He'd appreciate that. Probably reward you for your initiative."

"He told me to bring you."

"He doesn't want me. He wants the jewels."

"And he'll get them."

I didn't doubt she was right. The Colombian specialized in bending people to his will.

My shaking hands kept messing up the laces. Back to the basics. Make two bunny ears. Cross the left bunny ear with the right to make an X. X marks the spot where you dig the hole.

I gave up before I panicked and rose to my feet. "You could keep the diamonds for yourself."

"And then he'd send someone to deliver me."

I scoffed. "Nobody would be able to take you."

"We're all meat." Mad Dog tipped her head toward the door. "Time to go."

My sight dimmed as tears welled. I didn't bother to hide the fact I was crying. Least of my concerns. "Could I have a minute?"


What did it matter? There was nothing in the room that meant anything to me.

I straightened my back and marched.

Stepped on a lace and pitched forward, staggered to catch myself, tripped over my own foot and lost my balance, arms flailing.

My right hand connected with the barrel of the gun and I formed a fist around it. Dragged it down with me as I tumbled.

Mad Dog fired probably hoping for a lucky shot, and the barrel turned hot in my grip.

I might have screamed as I jumped at her but my ears still rang. Pulled the rifle toward me as I swung with my left, glancing off her shoulder.

She fired a second time.

Her collar clenched in my left hand, I let go of the scalding barrel to punch her in the face. Scraped her temple as she twisted away.

Mad Dog stamped my leading foot. Kneed me. Caught me in the neck with a hand that came out of nowhere.

I couldn't hear. Couldn't see. Couldn't taste anything but metallic red.

My senses gone, I let the room go dark as I kicked and punched and bit, pulling at clothes and hair and flaps of skin, an animal made savage by the alternative.

Blood I couldn't see felt sticky, interfered with my ability to maintain a hold, while sweat stung my eyes, and legs—too many legs—sent me down again and again.

Falling and rising.

Slamming into walls.

Dancing drunkenly with more chairs than had been in the room the night before, a showroom of furniture that interfered with charges and cracked my spine as I rolled away to evade blows.

Fists and fingers and elbows.

On my back. On my knees. On my side. On my feet.

In the air and until I landed with a resounding thud.

A head between my hands. I lifted and slammed. Lifted and slammed. Collapsed against an uneven softness and drew in deep, thundering gasps of air.

Lungs burning. Limbs jerking.

Stinking of sweat and fear.

I closed my eyes to concentrate on staying conscious.

Stretch and creak. Ride the waves of pain. Test to determine what still works.

Color the pain in angry hues to take my mind off the likelihood of internal bleeding.

Assuming enough still remained.

Deep breath. Wince. Roll off her to stare at the ceiling, the water stains chasing each other.

Count to ten, skipping the numbers I couldn't remember.

Crawl to the bed and climb it. Twist and drop into what could be mistaken for a sitting position.

A slow, faltering attempt to inhale the world.

Some time later, one eye closed, I went for a drive.

Stephen D. Rogers is the author of SHOT TO DEATH and more than 800 shorter works.  His website,,includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

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