Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Issue #76 -- June 2021

WHEREVER HE'S GOING    

By Daniel Vlasaty


“Yo, Dildo, what the fuck?” Frankie says and swats his arm out.

“Wh—huh? What?” Dildo says. He sits up in his seat, wipes at the drool hanging in the corner of his mouth, rubs at his eyes.

Frankie looks at him.

“What?” Dildo says again.

“What do you mean what? I said: what the fuck?”

Dildo sits up even more in his seat, pinching at the bridge of his nose. “Wh—”

“Don’t fucking say what again, man. Don’t you fucking say it.”

“I don—”

“You were talking about whatever the fuck you were talking about and then you stopped talking. Fucking fell asleep over there. Right in the middle of whatever.”

“I did? How long was I—”

“How long were you, what? Asleep?” Frankie says. He shrugs his big body, which is something in his tiny ass Honda. “Like ten fucking seconds, man. You were talking about whatever and then”—he snaps his fingers—“like I fucking said, you were just asleep. Like it’s that thing. You know that one thing, right?” He’s snapping his fingers more now, like that’s going to help him remember shit. “Oh fuck, what’s it called?”

Dildo shakes his head. Because Dildo don’t know what the fuck Frankie’s talking about.

“You know—” Frankie’s still saying, still going on with whatever this is. “That one fucking thing.”

But Dildo barely even knows where he is right now.

Frankie snaps again. “The fucking thing where you could like fall asleep at any second. You know like you could be right in the middle of eating dinner, or driving your car, or shit, I don’t know, like right in the middle of fucking your girl. In the middle of whatever you’re doing and then BAM, you pass the fuck out. Kind of like you just were.”

Dildo’s looking around, barely listening to whatever Frankie’s talking about. Trying to piece shit back together in his brain. Everything’s cloudy and he can’t remember where they are or what they’re going to do.

He closes his eyes, squeezes them as tight as he can. Thinking maybe, hopefully, if he squeezes them tight enough his brain might start working again.

Frankie reaches out and snaps, this time right in Dildo’s face. “You know the fucking thing I’m talking about, right?”

“Wh—” Dildo starts to say, but stops and waves Frankie’s hand away, says, “Fuck, yeah, dude. I think I fucking know what you’re talking about. Just…I don’t know what it’s...Just hold…My head’s all—”

But Frankie ignores him, fucking with him now. He snaps again. Not too close to Dildo this time, but still close enough that it’s obvious he’s trying to be a dick about it. “You know what I’m fucking talking about. I know you do. So, what’s it called, though?”

“Fuck, I don’t know—”

“Come on, Dildo, you fucking know.”

And again, with the snapping. All around in Dildo’s space.

“Why are you coming at me like—” Dildo says. “Why don’t you know what it’s called? Why is it—”

“I’m trying to think here, too, man. But I know you know.”

He snaps, barely touches the tip of Dildo’s nose. “What’s it called?” he says. “Come on, motherfucker, I know you know.”

Snap.

“Fuck!” Dildo says. He takes a wild haymaker swing at Frankie—not an easy thing in Frankie’s stupid and tiny car. Frankie easily blocks it and he’s smiling now.

Dildo comes at him again, another wild, terrible punch. “It’s called necrophilia or something,” he says. “You asshole.”

And Frankie stops. He’s looking at Dildo and Dildo’s breathing all hard. Throwing those two punches took it out of him. He’s a mess—sweating and shaking, can’t catch his breath.

“Narcolepsy,” Frankie says. And he’s starting to laugh a bit now.

“What?”

“Narcolepsy,” he says again. Laughing harder. “You said it’s called necrophilia, but that’s where you like jerk off over dead chicks or whatever.” He punches his fist against the steering wheel, the whole car shudders. “What I’m talking about, where you just fall asleep like that”—and he snaps again—“that’s called narcolepsy.”

And now Frankie’s rolling with it. He’s full-on laughing, busting up. Way down from deep in his gut. His whole body shaking with it.

“Necrophilia,” he says, slowing down, kind of chuckling now. “You sick motherfucker, what the fuck—”

And Dildo comes at him again with another swing. This one open-handed. He’s swats against Frankie’s shoulder without doing much else.

Frankie’s laughing again. “What would your mother think? You sick, sad boy.”

Dildo swings again. “You asshole. Fuck you. You had me all fucked up with your snapping and my head’s all…I…I don’t fucking—”

Frankie holds his hands up, he snaps again and says: “Hold up.” He points out through the windshield. “There he is.”

“There who is?”

“There—who the fuck do you think it is?” Frankie says. “What do you think we’re doing here, my man? You fucking—”

Dildo looks around again and he remembers.

“Fuck you,” he says as Frankie shifts around in his seat, reaches over, starts the car.

***

They’re quiet as they follow the Escalade through Rogers Park, heading north. Frankie’s keeping them back a bit and it’s easy enough to follow a giant shining black SUV through the early afternoon traffic, all the tiny hybrid fucking whatever cars that are taking over the neighborhood.

Frankie turns to Dildo. “You’re acting all fucked up here and I need to make sure you’re going to be okay to do this thing with me.”

Dildo’s rubbing at his eyes again, shifting in his seat. Frankie’s not an idiot. Frankie can see what this is, what’s going on with Dildo.

“Yeah,” Dildo says. “Yeah, whatever. Can’t we do it like right here?”

“What? You got somewhere else you need to be right now, got something else you’d rather be doing?”

Fucking with him, really going with it.

“I’m just saying,” Dildo says. “We’re here right now, we could get it done now and then that’s it, we’re done. Don’t got to be doing this following around thing all fucking day.”

Frankie shakes his head.

“What?”

“Fuck you, what. You fucking asshole,” he says. “You think I’m fucking stupid. You think I can’t tell.”

“Can’t tell what, what the fuck are you talking about?”

“You, man.” Frankie watches as the Escalade turns onto Clark and Frankie pulls up to the corner too, slows down to give the Escalade some space. Got to be a little extra careful when you’re driving a bright red fucking car, little sporty car with a stupid loud ass tin can exhaust and all that, trying to be inconspicuous.

Frankie continues: “You’re sitting here all fucking day falling asleep. You can’t sit still. You’re sweating even though there’s ice on the windows. You’re whining about every little thing like a fucking bitch.” Frankie shakes his head. “You motherfucker. I know what you’re doing.”

“I’m—”

“You’re using again, I know you are. I got fucking eyes and I’ve known you long enough to know.”

“I’m not, I’m—”

Up ahead the Escalade slows down and turns into a narrow alley, barely wide enough for the big ass SUV to fit through and Frankie pulls over half a block away.

“Shut the fuck up for a second,” he says, then he stares out through the windshield at the opening to the alley.

Dildo shifts in his seat. He wipes at the sweat running free down his forehead. His skin feels sticky. He either wants to be sick or die or just fix up real quick to get himself right.

He just wants a taste. One little taste of what he’s got chilling in his pocket, waiting for him when he’s done here with Frankie. One taste and everything can be easy and cool again.

“Look,” he says. “Can I—”

“I said shut the fuck up a second.” And he’s still staring out the windshield.

Dildo looks over at the opening to the alley too. “Shouldn’t you like, I don’t know—are we going to lose him just sitting here?”

He points at the alley.

“No way out through there,” Frankie says.

The alley leads to a small parking lot behind the dark little building.

“He not going anywhere for a while anyway,” Frankie says. He leans his seat back a bit, tries to get comfortable as best he can in the tiny space.

“How do you know?”

Frankie scratches at the stubble on his face. He closes his eyes, says: “Every Friday, right around this time, say three o’clock or so, this motherfucker drives his Escalade over to this little building, he parks around back, goes inside, and then he pays the lady in there to suck his dick and put a few fingers up his ass while she’s down there doing her thing.”

“Well—what?” Dildo says. He wasn’t expected that. “I mean, how do you know all that?”

“What do you mean how do I know all that? It’s my fucking job to know all that. Supposed to be your fucking job to know all that too,” he says. “Plus, I mean everyone fucking knows that, right? You really going to sit there and tell me you didn’t know that?”

“I mean…I don—”

“That’s the problem, though, right? That you don’t know. And you don’t know because you’re a fucking retard, is why.”

Dildo doesn’t say anything to this. He keeps looking out the window.

“You think people don’t see you out here fucking around like this. You think people don’t know. You’re using again and there’s going to come a time when you fuck something up, or do something stupid—like you always do when you’re using—and then the next thing you know, one day it’s going to be someone else sitting out here in a car while you go inside some place to do whatever. Get your dick sucked, shoot some dope, take a fucking shit. Whatever. They’ll be sitting right out here, watching you walk in so that they can meet you with a gun to your face when you come walking back out again.”

Dildo takes a deep breath. Doesn’t know what to say, so what he does say is: “I mean…it’s not—”

Frankie looks at Dildo, says: “You ain’t got to say shit. I know. We’ve known each other our whole lives and that’s all I’m saying. You know?”

And they’re quiet again for a few minutes. Because there’s nothing else to say. Frankie’s said his piece and Dildo’s just Dildo. He’ll either hear the thing or he won’t. They don’t call him Dildo for nothing.

After a while Dildo says: “So what the fuck are we doing now?”

Frankie shrugs. “We’re just waiting, I guess.”

“But like why don’t we go in there and do him now?”

“Fuck, man. Let the guy get his nut off before we do him like that.”

“Fuck that. Let him finish? For what?”

“We’re getting paid to make him dead. That don’t mean we got to be dicks about it.”

And Frankie’s serious. Figures they’re going to kill the fucking guy anyway. Why not let him finish doing his thing in there first? Let him get whatever he can get before they send him wherever he’s going.

After about twenty minutes Frankie nods at Dildo and they both get out of the car. They walk around through the little alley to the back of the building and lean against the Escalade while they wait.

Dildo sparks up a cig now that he’s outside and away from Frankie’s bullshit no smoking in the Honda rule. He closes his eyes while he takes that first drag and when he’s finally breathing out again he says: “Look man, I know I been fucking up but I’m really go—”

The building’s back door opens and Frankie tells Dildo, “Shut the fuck up.”

The guy steps out, but he’s still looking back over his shoulder, talking to someone inside.

Frankie pulls the gun out of his pants and steps up to meet the guy at the door, points the piece so it’s right between his eyes when he finally turns to face the alley.

“I hope it was a good one,” Frankie says.

“Wh—what?” the guy says. He’s staring straight at the gun and it’s got him shook. Coming out of a building like that, after doing what he was just doing in there, not expecting there to be a gun waiting for him.

“I hope it was a good one,” Frankie says again. “The blowjob and all them fingers up your ass, I was just saying that I hope it was a good one.”

And then Frankie pulls the trigger and shoots the guy right in the forehead.

“Fuck, man,” Dildo says after a few seconds.

Frankie’s still looking at the guy. Like he thinks he might not be fully dead yet. Ready for him to spring back up.

“What?” Frankie finally says, turning back toward Dildo.

“I mean…that whole thing was…I don’t know.”

“Fucking badass, is what you mean.”

“What?”

“The saying, all that, how I did him,” Frankie says. “I been practicing that line for like the last twenty minutes.”

Dildo shrugs.

“It was badass though,” Frankie says.

“I am going to get clean again,” Dildo says. Kind of out of nowhere. “I know I need to.”

“Fuck you,” Frankie says. “Like I ain’t heard that before.”

“But I am—”

“Fuck you,” Frankie says again. He points at the guy’s body lying there in the alley. Tells Dildo: “Grab his fucking wallet while we’re just standing here because fuck him too.”

He shrugs and starts walking back toward the Honda. Dildo grabs the guy’s wallet, cell phone, lighter, cigs, watch, whatever else he can get his hands on, and Frankie calls over his shoulder: “I can give you a minute if you need to, you know, necrophilia all over him or whatever.”


Daniel Vlasaty is the author of The Church of TV as God, Amphetamine Psychosis, Only Bones, A New and Different Kind of Pain, and Stay Ugly. He lives outside of Chicago with his wife and daughter. 




Sunday, May 9, 2021

Issue #75 -- May 2021

SQUID LORD
By K. A. Laity

It was him, all right. Somehow he had known it all along. He could blame it on that bloody corner shop. That’s where she met him—the celebrity chef. Or what passed for a ‘celebrity’ in this squalid little seaside town. Calamari King, my arse.

Squid Lord: that was more like it.

The first day she had run into him there, buying the daily wotsits. She always had some reason to go—mostly to see what was going on, get the local gossip, buy the lottery tickets Dan told her not to waste her money on—but that day had been memorable, mostly for how much she irritated him going on about it. Dan liked to think of himself as a tolerant man, but Harley really got up his nose that day.

‘Only guess who I met. He only lives round the corner. Can you believe it? And him such a success. Our neighbourhood. And he says he might have a job for me.’ He hated the way her face glowed with excitement over him. Not like she’d had that glow for himself for some time. Nothing but nags for him. Not his fault he’d been out of work these past few months. That manager had it coming, the whiny little streak of piss.

‘What job?’ he had finally muttered after she went on and on about his stylish look, those grey turnup trousers and his mane of white hair. Mane! She actually called it that like he was a lion or something. Just another sheep shagger in this broken-down ex-mill town, even if he did have aspirations to make a name for himself. Good luck with that. Local celebrity don’t travel down the road much.

‘A hostess!’ Harley giggled and he should have guessed it then.

‘What’s that? Serving cake and coffee?’ He snorted.

‘No, silly. Greeting people at the door, walking them to their tables when it’s not busy or handing the menus to the waitstaff if you are. I’d be the face of the restaurant.’ She preened, actually preened. Harley did have a nice face but right then he wanted nothing more than to push a grapefruit into it and make her pucker up.

‘Face of the restaurant? And what about the arse?’

‘Fuck you, it’s work.’ Harley lost her grin. ‘One of us has got to and it looks like you’ve given up on that front.’

Naturally enough that resulted in another barney that went on and on until it was too late, and he was on the couch yet again because the world made him mad and there was nobody but her to take it out on. He couldn’t afford to go out on the lash with the lads anymore and complain with them.

So he laid off on the matter, hoping to get back into Harley’s good graces and into the marital bed. She wasn’t a woman who could do without for long, so he had hopes that her cold mood would thaw. He needed that second chance to prove he could be supportive.

Dan complimented her on that first night as hostess. She did look smashing. He thought she’d wear a uniform like when she was working at Peg Leg Reg’s café, but Harley dressed like she was going out with those mad gals she’d known since forever who scared him a bit, who careered through the town like a permanent hen party every fortnight or so, their faces made up like fashion dolls.

‘You look fab, Harl.’ Dan gave her a peck on the cheek, hoping the peace offering would be accepted. She was nervous enough to take little notice of it, checking her brows in the little mirror she kept in her handbag and rooting around for the just right shade of lipstick for the downplayed lighting.

‘I’m so nervous. The face of the restaurant! It’s a huge responsibility.’ She looked solemn as a nun taking vows—oh, the irony.

‘You’ll do great,’ Dan had reassured her, giving her a little smack on the bottom as she headed out to catch the bus.

And here he was six weeks later hoping to surprise her at the end of the shift and instead staring through the window of the Squid Lord’s office as he watched the celebrity chef knead his wife’s arse like it was bread. Their tongues were wrapped together like tentacles. Harley was pulling her skirt up. The chef pressed her down on the desktop and then reached up to tear down her knickers. Dan could feel his face hot with fury but damn if there wasn’t something arousing about it too, which only made him more furious.

The damn Squid Lord getting what he wasn’t? And making a meal of it, too: damn, but Harley had nice tits. He could almost taste them. But that fucking chef! Literally, in this case. Look at them! Christ, that couldn’t be comfortable, could it?

At last Dan tore himself away—fuming, horny and resentful. He thought of confronting her when she got home that night, but she looked so damn happy that he was confused and sort of ashamed. Why hadn’t she been that happy for him? Harley pecked him on the cheek and jumped in the shower, saying she had to get the food smell off her. Squid, no doubt. It was the signature dish after all. He wanted to ask her how the squid tasted tonight, but the rage rendered him mute.

Dan lay awake beside her—at least she had warmed up enough to allow him back in the bed—angry, aroused, resentful. He thought of trying to get her interested but her snores suggested he had missed the window of opportunity. At last he got up and went to the bathroom and took care of himself as he had done for many months now.

He couldn’t stop picturing her with the Squid Lord.

Dan sat on the edge of the tub after washing up. He wanted to kill the man—with his mane of white hair and all. Squid Lord: would he bleed ink? He’d have to make it look like an accident, so he wouldn’t end up in the clink himself. Harley would be sorry then. She’d want him back. They’d have a second chance.

But how to do it?

It was late. He didn’t have a lot of ideas. Maybe he needed to sleep on it. In the morning he might feel different anyway. The feelings you had at a sleepless three a.m. didn’t always last in the harsh light of the morning. A grey day though, and he might well think hard on it.

Dan woke up late, feeling hungover though he’d not even had so much as a pint the night before. Harley was away. She often went ‘shopping’ during the day. Now he wondered if she was really at the stores or if she was shagging the Squid Lord somewhere. His anger was pure and cold now. He’d seen enough crime shows to know he had to be careful, but revenge was necessary now. It would make him feel whole again. Harley would respond to that, he was sure.

Dan prepared to be all shifty and quiet like a detective. The truth was most people didn’t give a toss about the world around them and that went double for the Squid Lord. It was a doddle finding his house among the trim buildings on the other side of the dual carriageway. They were a nicer set than the lot they lived in, though not as much nicer as he would have expected for a celebrity like him. Maybe he was salting his money away to keep a whole string of dollies. If he was cheating with Harley, chances were he was cheating with others.

That was how Dan spotted the wife. Of course the Squid Lord was married. His wife didn’t seem to work. She was always about the house with one of those little rat dogs scampering around her feet. He could just peek into their back garden from the bus shelter across the way. Well, he had to stand on the bench to get that peek. Dan didn’t think it drew too much attention though; people seemed to expect daft behaviour in this town.

He was trying to think of some excuse for ringing her doorbell so he could size her up when she popped out to walk the little yapper. Dan casually strolled along like he had nowhere better to be. The wife looked nice in that reality star kind of way, which is to say too much makeup and bizarre-coloured clothes that were probably something fashionable. The little dog had a diamante collar and lead. They made the picture of prosperity.

Dan rehearsed some conversational starters in case the opportunity arose to start something with her. He’d pump her for information like those detectives do if she ever got off her mobile. God, he’d hate to have been on the other end of that conversation. He couldn’t quite hear her, but there was no mistaking the body language of a woman who was angry.

Then he got a break. Well, the dog made a break for it, lunging away from her toward some bright wrapper that wafted by on the pavement. Dan pelted after it and grabbed the lead just before the little bugger would have run into traffic and ended up a pancake under a cab’s wheels.

‘Hey there, little guy, er gal,’ Dan said, reeling the wiggly little creature in. The fat pug was wheezing with the small effort it had made. Horrible little thing but at least it didn’t try to bite. He turned to the dog’s mistress to see her scowling. ‘Caught the little darling just in time.’

‘Thanks,’ she said without any warmth, taking the dog from him and dropping it back on the ground. Her face had the pinched look of someone in a permanent bad mood. Maybe her husband was the reason. ‘Honestly it might be better for all if she had been squashed.’

‘Oh, it can’t be as bad as that, can it?’ Dan said with as much sympathy as he could muster.

‘It’s worse than that,’ she muttered, a dark look across her brow. Her nails were lacquered blood red, as if she were ready to rip someone’s heart out.

‘Fancy a cuppa? You look like you could use a good sit down and a chat.’ He wanted the chance to pump her for information, why not let her think he was attracted. With that dog snorting in her arms it was more of a challenge, but he saw her face move a little away from stormy weather toward the sunny side of the street.

‘You one of those swinger dudes?’ She arched one eyebrow at him and gave him the once over. Dan always wondered how women did that. He could only ever raise both eyebrows and look surprised. That one eyebrow trick made any statement sound dubious.

‘Oh, you think I’m trying to pick you up? I suppose beautiful women have to face that a lot.’ When in doubt, flatter flatter flatter. It was a rule Dan stuck to with some success over the years.

She gave a short bark of laughter then stuck out blood-red tipped claws. ‘I’m BZ.’

Dan took her hand and wondered if he’d misheard. ‘BZ or you saying you’re busy? I’m Dan in any case.’ Belatedly he wondered if he ought to have given a false name. This criminal business didn’t come natural to him.

‘It’s a nickname. Since childhood. Even I don’t remember where it came from.’ Now that was a smile—a genuine one. She looked miles better with it on, even with the snorting dog. ‘Oh, why not. Shall we go to Smith’s?’

They sat in the dingy little café Dan came to know most of her life. It came pouring out of her like a fallen film star to talking to the gutter press. She covered the lot—all about her life in the Midlands and how she hated the north and this town and most of all that she wouldn’t mind someone killing the Squid Lord, who was called Benjy, daft name for an adult.

At least that was Dan’s impression of the situation and he approved of her malice. He also fancied there was a good chance of getting a leg over after she invited him back to the house, so he kept up a stream of compliments and sympathetic sounds. BZ broke out the wine and he knew he was in like Flynn. They adjourned to the bedroom—her bedroom, it turned out. That’s how far south things had gone with them. Dan marveled at the luxury of it. This chef must be loaded.

It wasn’t his best effort, to be truthful. For one thing BZ wasn’t all that exciting. She looked well enough a goer but in bed she wasn’t a patch on Harley, who was even better when she was angry. A little enthusiasm would have helped a lot. Dan had to admit that ol’ Benjy definitely took a step up with his wife. Nevertheless, if it helped seal the deal, it was worth the effort. And having a real woman instead of his own hand was a welcome change even if she did make him wrap it up. ‘Safety first,’ she had slurred at him, opening the nightstand drawer to show off a wide variety of condoms in rainbow colours and a few sexual aids as the magazines called them.

The thought did cross his mind to wonder if he ought to be using them with Harley once he got back in her good graces. Can’t be too careful. Working with squid probably wasn’t all that hygienic and he had seen no sign of protection when they were doing it on the desk that night. Sadly, remembering his window-cleaner lookeeloo had put him over the edge at last when the unhelpful BZ just kind of lay there. He’d never had to resort to fantasizing when he was actually with a woman.

It was a sad state of things he had come to. Murder was the only way back.

In the end it wasn’t difficult to convince her. When he casually suggested that life would be better without the Squid Lord around, BZ said, ‘We could make it look like an accident.’ Apparently she was an even bigger fan of crime tales. She had it all worked out, see? Just waiting to find a willing accomplice. It turned out she knew all about Harley—and where the chef parked his squid these days.

BZ still took care of the banking for the restaurant so Benjy couldn’t hide any cash from her. She also kept the insurance full on and up to date. Not only was the Squid Lord swimming in it—everything he had was fully insured. So all they needed was one of his late night rendezvous, a cosh to the head, the gas ‘leaking’ and a fire lit. Boom, problem over, riches to share. As long as the blow to his noggin didn’t break anything, there was no way the forensics could sniff out a deliberate act. In tedious detail, BZ regaled him with the plot of some novel that hinged on just such a scheme. He would Google it later just to be sure: totally legit.

There might not be enough of him left to forensic anyway.

They picked Friday night. Harley had a habit of working really late on Fridays so he deducted that was their ‘special’ night. Of course he had to do the GBH himself. BZ, as the primary beneficiary as the insurance forms termed it, had to be above suspicion and elsewhere with an air-tight alibi for the whole thing to work.

Dan had a bad night or two thinking about the plan—half nervous to just get to it and a little guilty at ending a life. Then he stared at her back and thought about how the Squid Lord had robbed him of his wife’s attention and favours. Her face turned away from him every night now. And it wasn’t like he was killing him. He was only knocking him on the head. The rest was science. It wasn’t his fault if the Squid Lord was blown up by a chemical reaction.

The night of the crime arrived. Harley went off to work as usual with a smile on her face, while Dan sat flipping channels aimlessly, watching the clock. Would she drop a few tears for the Squid Lord? Miss his tentacles? Probably just a distraction for her, a momentary crush. She was always going on about his intelligence and what was it? His ‘business acumen’—what a laugh. She couldn’t even explain what that was to Dan, just got all snarky, then blamed him for being dim.

We’ll see who has more business acumen, Dan thought with satisfaction as he put on his all-black crime clothes. To avoid any kind of witnesses, he had decided to walk down to the pier. It wasn’t that bad of a distance and the night was relatively balmy for early spring. And the city sloped toward the water’s edge so it was a doddle. He’d catch a cab on the way back maybe, over by the central station.

The walk did him good. He was feeling rather chipper by the time he got to the restaurant. Even the sight of his wife riding the Squid Lord couldn’t dampen his mood too much. Just you wait, mate—we’ll see who gets screwed now. When Harley came out the back door and clacked away on her heels, Dan came out from behind the bins and slipped in the back door. BZ had been right: he didn’t lock up behind her as he planned to be exiting soon himself.

He just didn’t know how he’d be leaving this time.

Dan took the heavy Mag Lite torch out of the inside pocket of his donkey jacket, ready for action. He could hear the Squid Lord humming away, happy as a clam. He wouldn’t be humming for long. Peeking around the end of the corridor, he could see the chef shoving some papers into a filing cabinet. As he rolled the drawer shut, Dan ran into the room and thumped him on the melon and down he went. Just like clockwork.

It wasn’t so easy to drag him back out to the kitchen, though. For one thing, he was solid as bricks. The Squid Lord was a lot taller than he remembered, too. Dan lamented giving up the weekend football league a few years ago. He’d been in better shape back then. So far from fit now that he had to stop twice while dragging the man across the tiles. A sad state to be in for sure, but it was better than being dead, he had to admit. He could buy a home gym to get back in shape soon.

Dan propped the chef up against the industrial-size refrigerator and turned his attention to the stove. Criminy, it had a lot of knobs and whatnot. It took a minute to sort out how to work things. He lit one burner and started turning the knobs of the others to get them pouring out the gas into the room. Then he screamed.

A hand gripped his ankle. Dan shook it off and wheeled around.

‘Wasssgoinon?’ The Squid Lord sounded drunk. He had fallen on his side and was groping about as if he had become blind from the blow. Dan considered whether to hit him again or if that might mess up the forensics if he did it too hard. The chef shook his head like he was just waking up and then lunged at Dan, who backed away quickly. Too quickly—he bumped into the stove. And then he could smell hair burning.

His jacket was on fire!

Dan shuffled the jacket off, dropping his keys, wallet and a handful of change on the tile floor. He tried to shake the fire off, and when that didn’t work, threw it to the ground and stomped on it until the smoldering stopped. The dazed chef was trying to get to his feet, so Dan took a chance and cracked his skull again, hoping it wasn’t actually literally so. The man crumpled to the tiles again, hopefully this time to stay.

His hands were shaking as Dan gathered up his belongings—fuck the change, he wouldn’t need it—stuffed them back in his jacket and headed for the door. He had no idea how long it would take until the place exploded, so he wanted to be sure to be watching it from outside.

His heart was hammering like an alarm bell when he got to the back door. He grabbed the knob and twisted it, then collided with the door. He stared at the handle, twisted it more carefully, then with growing panic turned it this way and that. His heart was in his mouth as he slammed his whole body against the door. Then he stopped.

Out the tiny grimy window he saw Harley and BZ. His own wife held up a key and it twinkled in the moonlight as she swung it back and forth on a chain. The two women had their arms around each other’s shoulders. BZ clutched that little rat dog under one arm. They were both grinning like this was the funniest joke ever.

Dan screamed every rotten word he knew at them as they turned and walked away. Then he stopped. Maybe there was still time to turn off the gas.


 
K. A. Laity is an award-winning author, scholar, critic, editor, and arcane artist. Her books include Chastity Flame, Lush Situation, A Cut-Throat Business, Love is a Grift, The Mangrove Legacy, Satan’s Sorority, White Rabbit, and many more. She has edited Respectable Horror, Weird Noir, Noir Carnival, Drag Noir, and My Wandering Uterus, plus written many short stories, scholarly essays, songs, and more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Issue #74 -- April 2021

GOOD OLD DAYS
By Rob Pierce

“Hey, Reno.”

It was Casey. “Yeah?”

“You hear?”

“I hear what?”

“You don’t pay no attention to the news?”

“What the fuck happened, Casey?”

“They dredged up the car.”

I lit a cigarette, sat up in bed. It wasn’t early, just for me. “What car?”

“The Lincoln Town Car.”

“Meet me at Benny’s. An hour?”

“Yeah, sure.”

Benny’s was a beer and breakfast joint, breakfast all day, 24 hours. They catered to an interesting crowd. Bunch of guys you might see in the joint, if you were unlucky.

I ordered coffee, bacon and eggs, waited for Casey. The waitress didn’t have a name tag for some reason.

“What’s your name, honey?”

“Shelly.” She said it blank faced, like I was hitting on her. Believe me, I wasn’t. She was pretty, blonde, and thin, the last thing I wanted.

I nodded and she walked away.

The job with the Town Car went back a bunch of years. My plate was almost empty when Casey walked in and sat across from me. We were at a table, far from the counter. The counter was for guys with less private things to discuss.

“So,” I said, “the Lincoln.”

“Yeah.”

“They find any blood?”

“It’s more than a decade, it washed away. Along with the upholstery.”

“And they didn’t find the body.”

Shelly came by, refilled my coffee and poured one for Casey, asked if there’d be anything else. Casey shook his head.

“Maybe later,” I said. “I’ll letcha know.”

Didn’t want her dropping by mid-story.

“The body,” I said.

“Fuck no. We dumped that a mile away. Fish food by now.”

“The good old days.” We both laughed.

But the day we dumped that car in the river was especially good. We stole it that morning, robbed the bank that afternoon, and an hour after the robbery, pulled up to the riverbank. We left the car in drive and pushed. Me and Casey pushed; not such a good afternoon for Harvey. He was part of our crew and it was his blood on the backseat, a lot of it. The bastards shot him. He bled fast, faster than we could get him to any docs we knew.

Harder work than it would have been with him, pushing the car in. But it did increase our shares from a third each to a half, so we were happy about that part. I mean, he was gone, that was just bad luck, could have been either of us. So when we went out later, we started by raising a glass to lost friends. A couple of others in the bar heard our toast and raised their glasses. A lotta guys out there with friends shot to death.

Truth, though, Harvey was more a partner than a friend, same as Casey, but ideally he’d have been there with us and we’d have skipped the toast. We’d fit all the money into my travel bag, which sat on the floor beneath me, my feet resting on it. After a few rounds we got a cab back to the crash pad and split the money, then two more cabs to our separate apartments. That all went smooth, including getting back sober enough for an even split.

It was a hefty chunk of cash and took a while to count, a reasonable trade-off. We made it back to our places, lived on that money a while. No one looks for marked bills when you’re in a restaurant in another state. Or a whorehouse.

“So,” I said to Casey, “you ain’t worried, are ya? You saw the news. How long ago they say the job was?”

“They didn’t talk about the job. They just said the car was stolen fourteen years ago.”

“And we pulled the job the same day.”

“Yeah.”

I’d finished my breakfast and when we finished our coffees, I flagged down Shelly. She brought the coffee and started to refill but I shook my head and she stopped.

“What kinda beers you got, Shell?”

She recited the list and we each ordered one.

“So,” I said when she’d stepped away, “you antsy?”

“I guess.”

“About what?”

“I dunno.”

Shelly brought our beers.

“Thanks, hon,” I said, and she skirted away.

“Man, you got her on edge.”

“Kids these days. So fucking sensitive.”

He nodded. He agreed with me, but he was getting sensitive too.

“What the fuck is it, Casey?”

“It’s about the car.”

“What’s about the car?”

“We should go back, make sure it’s clean.”

“Jesus Christ.” I drank. “How long a fucking bath it gotta take? You wanna see it wrinkled?”

“Nah, man. It’s just…”

I swear, every word felt designed to piss me off. “Just what?”

“Just…” and he whispered the rest, too soft for me to hear.

“Okay. We ain’t gonna talk. We got the beers, let’s drink. You gotta whisper, we go somewhere and talk.”

Asshole had me worried. Like I said, we weren’t friends. We drank and paid. I said good night to Shelley. I was amused, she wasn’t. Like I said, fucking kids.

Anyway, in the parking lot he could talk above a whisper.

“That car,” he said. “Harvey died there. Our accomplice in a armed robbery. That makes us, murder one.”

“Fuck, Casey. It’s a long time.”

“Ain’t no statue of whaddayacallits on murder, Reno.”

“Okay. Chill. Lemme think through this. I’ll figure the best way to deal with it.”

The best way would be if I had a piece on me, I’d take this stupid shit into the woods and blow his head off. But I wasn’t packing, I was out for breakfast with a former partner. A guy who’d lost all his nerve. Only one way for this to end.

“Give it a day,” I said. “I call ya tomorrow.”

After I grab a pistol and figure how to get rid of the body, asshole. Never shoulda split that money with him. Coulda raised that toast alone, him dead in the river too. Woulda been harder to push the car in that way, but I’d have managed. Just needed fourteen years notice that Casey was gonna lose it.

Home, I grabbed a .38, checked the cartridge, one in the chamber too. Put it in tomorrow’s jacket, hung it over a chair. I grabbed a fifth, half full, didn’t bother with a glass. I wouldn’t sleep tonight. Casey used to be a good guy. I drank, drank some more. I got so drunk I proved myself wrong. I passed out.

***

I woke up. I didn’t look forward to it. My head throbbed. Aspirin on the bedside table, I popped a few. Looked at my watch. Just past noon. Shit, I wanted to sleep in. I sat up in bed, kicked aside the empty bottle that lay on its side on the floor. I needed coffee. God, I needed coffee.

I staggered to the kitchen, grateful for the furniture I could cling to on the way, the walls I leaned on. Regret in advance, I guess. Casey should not have gone crazy, should have got to stay alive. I didn’t know if it was choices. Brains sometimes go. I’d seen it in my mom, dementia, but she was old by the time she started mixing me up with Dad. Thank God she didn’t like him, I’d had no desire to tell Mom I couldn’t fuck her. Like I had no desire to kill this stupid piece of shit. Damn you, Casey.

I braced myself against the counter as I made the coffee. Felt like I should be able to just chew on the granules. Maybe if they were beans, but then I’d have to have a grinder and keep it clean and fuck that, this was bad enough. Didn’t have to deal with the sound of grinding beans, just waited for the water to boil, then poured.

I put on more water as soon as I’d poured a cup, knew I’d need two. I’d put this off another day but that wouldn’t help, I’d get twice as drunk tonight.

I drank the coffee, then the second cup, took a shower, threw on a shirt and jeans and boots, grabbed the jacket from the chair and walked out the door. Called Casey from the hall, set up a meet. Decided against the woods. Along the riverbank would do. Would do justice.

I stood there, chewing on a cigarette, lit it when I heard him approach.

“Case.”

“Hey, Reno. We going?”

“To the car? I don’t know, man. That still what you want to do?”

“We got to, man.”

“That’s how they involve us. Cops have that car now. We gotta go where they stash evidence. Their yard. Cops guard that.”

He nodded. “So, you was up all night figuring how to get past the guard?”

“Ain’t like that, Case.”

“You tell me, Reno. What’s it like?”

I couldn’t answer, not in words. I looked down, frowned, put a hand in my coat pocket and looked up, held it on him.

“Shit, Reno, no.”

“You’re gonna crack, Case. You crack, we both die.”

I shot him in the gut. I knew a gut shot hurt like hell and wouldn’t kill him right away, but I couldn’t bring myself to shoot him in the head.

“Fuck, Reno. Fuck.”

“Sorry it came to this, Case. Only way.”

“I hoped the only way would be us going to the car.”

“That was impossible, Case.”

He was grimacing. I was tempted to shoot him in the head and put him out of his misery.

“I already talked, Reno. Whatcha call a cooperative witness.” Took him forever to say that much.

“Talked? To who?”

“FBI,” he said, his eyes closing.

I heard people running toward us. “Shit.”

I shot Casey in the head, raised the .38 to my temple, and fired.



Rob Pierce wrote the novels Blood By Choice, Tommy Shakes, Uncle Dust, and With the
Right Enemies, the novella Vern in the Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet. All books are available at allduerespect.com, as well as via the usual slumlords. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.



Friday, March 5, 2021

Issue #73 -- March 2021

THE LEGEND OF FOUNDER'S DAY
By Copper Smith


Even after Kendall walked into the room and took a seat facing everybody, they just kept talking. Like a class of junior high girls before the teacher got there. Like they didn’t see that six-foot-seven Indian step inside and address them.

Kendall didn’t care. He just sipped his coffee and waited for everybody to shut up. When they didn’t, he said fuck it, and started talking anyway. “I knew a guy who stole a canoe once,” his voice deep and loud but not screaming. That was just his voice. “In broad daylight.”

A few guys looked at him, but kept on gabbing, not paying attention or anything, more like who is he talking to?

The Indian went on. “This was at this sporting goods store in Ottawa. It’s not there anymore. I think there’s now a place there that sells ceramics. But I’m not sure.”

A few guys shut up, sent him his gaze.

“How did he do it? How did he steal a goddamn canoe in broad daylight? With the store open?”

He was getting their attention now.

“He just walked in and took it. Walked over to the place where the boats were, lifted it off the rack, walked out with it.”

Quiet enough to hear a mouse pissing on cotton now.

“The salesman, the girl who works the registers, the other girl who works at the other register. The customers. They all figured it must be his. He must have bought it, right? Told them he’d come back, pick it up later after he could get his truck, something like that. Who’d be crazy enough to just walk in a take a canoe?”

Eyes were narrowing now, every face motionless.

The Indian repeated, “Who’d be crazy enough to just walk in a take a canoe?”

“What that got to do with the job we here for?” Dupree asked.

Kendall took another sip. “That’s how we’re going to do this job. The bank.”

“We gon’ walk in, take the money, and leave?”

“No. We’re gonna be like my friend with the canoe. We’re gonna act like everything is just like it’s supposed to be. And everybody’s going to see us acting that way and think everything is just like it’s supposed to be. Here’s how we do that: we walk in armed, everybody with a gun. We give a note to the teller, take the money, then leave.”

Everybody sat in confused silence, glances exchanged. “How we gonna do that?” Tommy asked.

Another sip. “It’s gonna be Founder’s Day. I’m a Indian. You guys are cowboys. We have guns because I’m a Indian and you guys are cowboys. Also we have masks.”

A few titters from the guys, but that didn’t bother Kendall. He just waited for them to think about it. When things quieted down and he saw all four of their heads nodding, he knew they had thought about it.

Dupree asked, “What if the security guard gets antsy, wants to make sure the guns ain’t real?”

Kendall shrugged. “He probably won’t.”

“But what if he do?”

“You do what needs to be done. You’ve done this kind of thing before. You can improvise. Long as we can get in with no questions asked, we’re fine.”

“You know that shit’s on security cam, right?” Tweek asked.

“We’re wearing masks. Because it’s Founder’s Day.”

Murmuring, more nodded heads. This was what Kendall expected because the shit sounded too good to be true. But they had run out of questions. So he went on. “Get here at ten. No lateness. Do you understand that?”

Reluctant nods.

“I’ll give you all your costumes and masks and guns. From then on, you listen to me and only me.”

Kendall stood. He probably didn’t have to, but this seemed like a good time to remind the guys that he was a big motherfucker and not scared of anybody.

Not Dupree, the tall skinny one with the scar on his nose that everybody knew was from falling off a ladder but it looked badass anyway.

Not Tommy, crazy Irish fuck with a history of punching dudes in the throat if he thought they didn’t deserve their girlfriends.

Not Tweek, crack addict who was alright when he got what he needed, but otherwise, watch out because he’d figure out a way to stab you when you weren’t looking.

Not Ray Ray, Dupree’s son, quiet and barely nineteen, but he’d just helped plan and pull off a complicated home invasion that ended with him taking out three guys and a Doberman.

“Anybody got any questions?” the Indian asked.

“How much of a take are we looking at?” Tweek asked.

“Should be about eleven thousand. I take the money, I count it, I divide it. We all go home and tell our wives we got the money from, you know, bingo or something. I don’t know, make up your own shit. But don’t all say ‘bingo’ because if the wives start asking around they’ll be like, ‘wait, they couldn’t all win that much at bingo.’”

With everything quiet, it was time to take off. Lurlene was at the door, all ninety pounds of her, pointing to her watch to let Kendall know she needed the office back. “Okay, see you all at ten tomorrow.”

The guys took their time strolling out of the office, not even pretending not to look at Lurlene’s ass as they passed by. Once they were alone, she closed the door and folded her arms. “You gonna tell me what was going on in here?”

***

Founder’s Day was a local holiday that commemorated the founding of Fort Linwood, Arkansas. According to lore, the occasion was established on the day of the first white man’s arrival and the subsequent kinship that took place between them and members of the Choctaw Tribe or some such bullshit, but mostly it was just people dressed up as cowboys and Indians and going to parades and holding sales.

The parade routes clogged the streets on the way to the bank just like they knew it would. All those cap gun cowboys, towheaded Indians, concession stands selling synthetic headdresses and plastic spears, Mexican cowboys selling Freedom burritos, cowgirls with star spangled lip gloss and red, white, and blue fishnets.

Kendall had talked Lurlene into driving the van, because much as she complained about his “lifestyle,” she was kind of intrigued by it and wanted to be involved.

There wasn’t much talking on the way there because there wasn’t much to talk about. Just guys making sure their masks were on and their guns were properly loaded.

They’d already been through the plan, the little plan there was. Basically, it was keep quiet, take the money, and Lurlene will pull up at the front door in the van. If all went well, they just had to stand there and be prepared for if things stopped going well.

Tommy, Ray Ray, and Dupree sat on one side. Tweek next to Kendall, twirling his gun around a finger until he could see Kendall didn’t like it, so he stopped.

“Got damn,” Tweek said. “Just like some Clint Eastwood shit. What was my man’s name in High Plains Drifter? What was his name?”

“He didn’t have no name,” Dupree answered. “He didn’t never have no names. That’s my man, Clint Eastwood. No names. He come and go, don’t know who the fuck he is.”

“Harry Callahan was a name,” Tommy said, not looking up from his gun.

“What?” Dupree asked.

“That was his name in the Dirty Harry movies. Harry Callahan. You said he never has a name.”

“That shit don’t count,” Dupree said. “I’m talking about westerns. You see that motherfucker in a western, he ain’t got shit to say and ain’t got no name. And if he do have a name, don’t nobody know it. That’s my man.”

Ray Ray leaned back, eyes busy like he was studying everybody.

Dupree pulled his revolver out, tapped open the chamber, sent the bullets to his lap. “Check it out,” he said to his son.

Ray Ray sent his eyes to the weapon, but otherwise didn’t move.

“This shit here’s a single-action. Old school. That means you can’t just fire and keep firing like you can with a double-action or a pistol. You got to pull that hammer back each time.” He demonstrated.

The Indian watched their faces, going back and forth. The way they talked, the way their words wove together. It was kind of like music. He wondered if this was a thing with all fathers and sons or just Dupree and Ray Ray.

“Wait, we all have single-action revolvers?” Tommy asked the Indian. “Why’d you get that kind?”

“Realistic,” Kendall said. “Cowboys had single-action revolvers, so that’s what you have.”

Tweek started twirling the gun again. “Cowboys was some bad motherfuckers. Boys had some heart. Out in the old west, sun beating down, Indians on they asses. That took some heart.”

“No,” Kendall said.

“No?” Tweek asked. “What was wrong with them?”

“They were not brave. Not strong.”

“Uh-huh, you done started some shit,” Dupree chuckled, hands raised in surrender. “You fucking with his peeps now. I’m gon’ step back from that one.” Laughter all around, even Ray Ray cracked the first smile anybody had seen.

But not Kendall. “Let’s focus on the job. No more joking.”

***

The Indian walked in first, followed by the cowboys. They brought smiles to every face—assuring smiles. They nodded with familiarity, like somebody stepping into a comfortable pair of slippers. Nothing new, nothing unusual. Just another Founder’s Day. So far, so good.

They got in line, more smiles and nods. The only gawker was a ten-year-old firing finger gun shots at the Indian as his mama gave his hand a yank. “Will you come on before we miss the parade!” she urged.

The line of seven people soon became five. Kendall let Dupree step in front of him, then Tommy and Tweek. The plan demanded he be in the rear to keep an eye on things. But a grin from the security guard in back suggested he’d soon regret that.

The guard could have been nineteen or thirty, hard to tell. He smiled with too many teeth and laughed at everything. Curly blonde hair, freckles. He leaned in, eyed Kendall, then pulled back and aimed a shout behind the teller’s counter. “This one’s looking pretty real, Wade!”

The Indian said nothing and did nothing but watched everything, hands clasped at his waist.

He saw Wade glance up from behind the counter, balding, men’s dress shirt and vest like he wanted to remind people he was important. He said, “He might be real. You ask him?”

The guard turned. “You a real Indian?”

Kendall shook his head. Saying yes would mean the police would be looking for an actual Indian.

“I didn’t think so. Those ain’t even authentic feathers.”

Kendall smiled, but only on the inside. He had thought of everything. Even the fake headdress when he could have easily gotten his hands on a real one.

Everybody moved up in line, but the guard wasn’t done with him yet. “The gun looks real though.”

Kendall nodded.

“Let me see it.”

Tweek panicked, turned to them, eyes alert.

Kendall said, “Sorry, can’t do that. They don’t let me. These replicas are expensive.”

“Aw, come on! You can bend the rules this once.”

“Maybe next year.” Everybody moved up in line again.

“Tell you what,” the guard said, tugging his gun from the holster and offering it butt first. “You can hold my real one while I hold yours.”

Dupree looked back. Tommy too. Everybody moved up in line.

The Indian eyed the guard’s gun. A Sig Sauer P365, which held a ten-round flush fit magazine. Not like his single-action revolver with five rounds. He reached into his holster, pulled out the revolver and made the exchange.

The security guard weighed the revolver in his hand, mouth puckered, eyebrows up. “Good night, Gladys! Does this thing ever look as real as real can look!” He twirled it over his head, calling to behind the counter again. “Hey, Wade! Check me out! I’m a cowboy eeeeee-hawwww!”

The guard looked behind the counter, waiting for a reaction.

But Wade’s attention seemed pulled away. Dupree had reached the front of the line and slid the note across the counter.

Wade stood next to the teller, a lady with stacked auburn hair and too much lipstick. Her eyes got big after reading the note, but Wade just nodded slowly to Dupree.

“Wade?” The guard called.

The lady handed over a thick envelope. Wade kept nodding.

“Wade!” The guard called again, impatient now. “Check out how authentic this thing is!”

Kendall was watching Dupree so closely as he took the money and tucked it away, he barely noticed the hammer of his revolver getting pulled back.

He turned to the guard too late.

“Hands up, Tonto!” The guard giggled, barrel at the Indian’s temple, finger on the trigger. “Watch this, Wade!” In a bad John Wayne, he said, “I’m gonna shoot me a redskin!”

Kendall tried to reach into his holster and fish out the guard’s Sig Sauer, but he couldn’t get there before the shot clapped out. Luckily, it was Dupree’s shot.

It stung at everybody’s ears, loud, sharp, angry. With it came jolted bodies, screams, hands covering faces.

All eyes went to the guard’s quaking body, slamming against the wall, geyser of blood painting his chest, legs flailing, torso buckling, curled fingers clawing at his neck as he pushed out choppy sandpaper breaths on his way to the carpet.

An alarm rang—a long, deep wail—but the screams smothered it to a whimper.

Kendall turned to the counter, found Dupree holding his pose, admiring his bullseye like a painter leaning back from the canvas. He also spotted Wade ducking behind the counter, then popping up seconds later, rifle in hand. “Look out!” he shouted, then ducked behind a desk.

Voices threaded into one long screech, eyes now aimed everywhere, bedlam, scrambling bodies crashing in the chaos, racing for the door.

Kendall and Dupree fired three shots in Wade’s direction, but he had ducked again, then risen to the window two tellers down and taken another shot.

“Shit!” Tommy called, taking one to the chest, knees pounding the floor as he fired again, but missed.

Wade shot again and clipped Tommy’s shoulder, sending him down for good.

Dupree and Tweek found shelter behind a wooden stand, but Ray Ray found nothing. Wade nicked him on the knee as he sprinted for the stand, bringing him to the carpet, all groans and useless flopping.

His dad reached out and dragged his drained body behind the stand as two more shots from Wade missed.

The frenzied screamers had raced free, leaving the center clear of obstacles and the lobby eerily quiet. A short calm interrupted, the only sounds were mumbled prayers behind the counter and the alarm’s nagging drone.

Positions were fixed now: Kendall behind the desk, the guard’s Sig Sauer in one hand, plus he’d scooped up his own revolver.

Dupree, Tweek, and Ray Ray behind the stand, guns out, but nothing from the younger man but more groans, knees pulled to his chest as his face became all teeth and widened eyes.

Behind the teller’s counter, it was Whac-A-Mole now, with Wade firing from a window, then ducking down and popping up, firing from a different window, face fixed in a crazed grimace.

The Indian surveyed things, saw the other three closer to the door, Lurlene safely outside in the van as Dupree clutched the envelope. He could see them whisper between them, planning a trip out.

Tweek rose up, tried to get to Wade, but his timing was bad and he caught one that snapped his head back, putting a crimson fountain where his jaw used to be. He tried to hold himself up on the stand, but that only slowed his body’s drop to the carpet, limp and lifeless before he got there.

When Wade came up again, firing a few more times, Kendall followed, shot back. The guys behind the stand made a break for the door.

Wade ducked down again, popped up at a window closer to the door, taking aim at the escapees. He clipped the kid again, getting him in the ankle.

Kendall shot back, sent Wade ducking for cover as Ray Ray’s groans washed everything out. The alarm, the screams, the sirens in the distance. It echoed through the bank like a bad trumpet player punishing his upstairs neighbors.

Ray Ray stretched his arms out, his dad reaching back for him, eyes gigantic as his head swiveled from the counter to his kid, then back again.

Wade popped up, rifle aimed at Ray Ray, so Kendall had no choice. He stood, guns out, charged the counter, firing away. This brought the rifleman’s scope to a new target, giving Dupree the time he needed to pull his son to freedom, dragging him to the van outside.

Everything ended in a blur for the Indian, too much pain until he felt nothing, black filled his vision as he tumbled away from it all.

***

Years later, people still talk about the Founder’s Day shooting. They talk about the day a crazed Indian stormed into the bank and took hostages along with some helpers who got away. According to lore, the Indian didn’t get away. He tried to attack the bank manager—Wade Macalister (later the town’s mayor). The Indian, it seemed, needed one more scalp to be recognized as tribal leader. But Wade was determined not to let him get that scalp, so he charged the Indian, rifle blazing, and shot him down against all odds.

Ray Ray tells the story a little differently.


Copper Smith creates fictional mayhem in Minneapolis, mostly in the form of gritty post-apocalyptic noir. He enjoys playing guitar in bands that deserve better and describing himself in the third person. He does a twitter thing. @CopperNoir. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Issue #72 -- February 2021

ANY DEADLY THING

By Emily Bay Moore

Johannah was eleven the first time she took up snakes.

It was long as she was tall and the color of old pennies. It stank of ammonia. When Daddy opened its tank, Jo wanted to cover her nose. The zookeepers on Animal Planet picked up snakes just behind the head—so they couldn’t snap back and bite—but Daddy said the whole point of taking up serpents was to put your faith in God to see you through. Taking precautions like that meant you were a coward and an atheist.

Jo held the snake two-handed. It was as soft and dry as the leather seats of her grandpa’s Cadillac. It squirmed so hard Jo almost dropped it, which would have been worse than getting bit. The entire congregation was watching. Daddy’s hands were heavy as cinder blocks on her shoulders.

She was glad when Daddy took it away. She got to sit down next to her sisters and try not to touch her face with dirty snake hands while her parents passed around a bottle of strychnine for the grown-ups to drink.

That night they had fried chicken for dinner. It was Jo’s favorite and Daddy said she’d done good, up on stage. Halloween only being a week away, but the kitchen was summertime hot. Every burner had a bubbling pot. Opening the oven could singe the peach fuzz off her cheeks.

Together, they were a conveyor belt. Ma fixed plates. Jo delivered them.

“Open this for me, Hannie-baby.” Ma was struggling with a bag of chips. Her thumb was in a splint and she couldn’t grip things right.

“Yes, ma’am.” Jo stole a pickle chip so vinegary it burned her tongue. She poured the rest into a plastic bowl. It was University of Kentucky blue and white.

“Take those out to Daddy.” Ma was hunched over the open oven, just where she liked to be. Ma was a hundred pounds wet. She loathed how cold Daddy kept it in the rest of the house. Maybe that’s why she hung around the kitchen during family parties.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Their kitchen table only seated four—not including the high chair for baby Sarah Lynn—and with the entire extended family over, there wasn’t enough space. They ate in the living room. Adults got chairs. Little kids sat on the floor.

Today’s service meant Jo didn’t have to sit with the babies anymore. Daddy dragged out a rickety folding chair just for her. Too bad she was on her feet playing hostess the whole night. Her cousin Naplan stole the chair out from under her.

She dodged between chatting grown-ups without interrupting conversation. Good hostesses didn’t bother their guests except to refill drinks. It didn’t matter that she was supposed to be the guest of honor. At Ma’s last birthday party, neither of them got a slice of cake.

She made it to Daddy’s easy chair without spilling a single chip. He was talking with his brother, Jo’s Uncle Emmett. She tried to covertly replace Daddy’s empty bowl with her fresh one while they were both distracted arguing about John Calipari. She failed.

“Were you scared, Jo?” Emmett was smoking in the house again. Jo’s parents hated it.

“Johannah,” Daddy emphasized her Christian name, “didn’t have any reason to be scared.”

“C’mon, Lionel, you can’t blame a little girl for being scared of snakes.” Uncle Emmett ashed into what Jo hoped was an empty can of beer. Last Christmas he accidentally dropped a butt into Grandpa’s dip spit bottle. The burnt smell made her gag.

“We prayed for forgiveness together before the service. As long as she had the Holy Spirit with her, everything would be fine. Mark 16:18, they will take up—”

“I know the scripture too. I dropped out of high school, but I can read. I was asking the girl.”

Daddy’s teeth clacked together. Uncle Emmett was cruel to wind Daddy up this way when he would never have to deal with the repercussions. It always fell back on Ma.

He better pray on that before next Sunday. God didn’t protect the unrepentant.

“Jo?”

“I wasn’t scared. I was happy that Daddy thought I was finally ready. We had a real great prayer session, just the two of us.” They kneeled together in the preacher’s office until her knees were printed with red bumps from the carpet.

Uncle Emmett hummed. “What's a sweet thing like you got to say sorry for? Did you take your Daddy’s car on a joyride? Rob a liquor store?”

“No.” Jo picked at her cuticle. “But we’re all sinners, aren’t we, Daddy?”

He patted Jo on the back. She knew he’d like that answer. It’s what he said just yesterday when her little sister Loralie drew on their bedroom wall. Everyone’s a sinner and everyone has to take responsibility for their sins.

Ma had to mix oatmeal into Loralie’s bathwater for the welts, after she took responsibility for her sins.

“We didn’t all raise junkies, Emmett.” Daddy sneered.

Uncle Emmett froze. Leave it to her Daddy to dump a bucket of ice water on any conversation. There was a reason Uncle Emmett’s daughter—Jo’s cousin Kaitlyn—wasn’t allowed in Daddy’s house. Jo hadn’t seen her since last Christmas when Aunt Clarice caught her stealing from Granny’s jewelry box.

Daddy lifted his chin. He hitched his thumb behind his belt buckle and tugged. Everyone’s clothes were feeling tight after so much home cooking. “You don’t mind your uncle. Go get Daddy a cherry Pepsi.”

Jo slid across the back wall to avoid talking to anyone else. Her stomach hurt all of a sudden. Her mouth tasted yeasty like old cereal.

“Hannie?”

She brushed by her Ma and out the screen door. The night was alive with singing cicadas. Down the mountainside, Jo saw the lights in town flickering like the reflection of stars.

“Baby,” Ma’s hands fluttered around Jo’s shoulders like nervous birds, “you’re letting all the heat out. Is something wrong?”

Jo swallowed. Her stomach settled as soon as she was away from the crowd. She closed the door. “I’m fine. Sorry, ma’am.”

Ma scraped Jo’s hair off her forehead. Her sharp nails raked her scalp. Jo leaned into it. “Alright, alright. How about you have a Sprite?”

“No thank you, ma’am. Daddy wants me to get him a drink.” She set a hand on the kitchen table. It was wet with steamy condensation.

“Let me pour it.” Ma bent to grab the two-liter from the floor beside the fridge. Her shirt rode up. Her back was stained with purple bruises.

“I’ll get it!” Jo darted over. She cracked it open and gave the bottle a second to hiss. “Ma?”

“Yes?”

“Were you afraid the first time you took up snakes?”

“No.” Ma shook her head. Her ponytail swung. “But I was the first time I drank strychnine.”

Jo stuck her tongue out. She cracked the ice tray to release a few cubes. Guests got bagged ice from the corner store, but Daddy only liked ones made with tap water. Jo wasn’t looking forward to drinking poison. Daddy said she wouldn’t have to for a long time. He said you shouldn’t drink strychnine until you could legally drink whiskey.

“I know the Lord protects us so long as we’re properly faithful and repent for our sins against him. I know that. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t something awful about seeing the skull and crossbones on the bottle.” Ma shook her head at the memory. She smoothed out the collar of Jo’s church blouse. “Were you scared today, baby?”

“No, ma’am.” Jo frowned. “Ma, why don’t you go outside and have a smoke. You’ve been working all night keeping everybody fed. You deserve a break.”

“Hannie! You know I can’t do that.”

“Please? I’ll get the cornbread out before it burns, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

Ma looked tempted. “I couldn’t just leave you here to fend for yourself.”

“Why not? If I can take up snakes I can keep a pot of peas from boiling over.”

Ma reached down and touched the pack of smokes bulging in her apron pocket. “Five minutes. Not a second more.”

Ma grabbed the egg timer on her way out. Jo knew she’d set it and be back before it buzzed.

She didn’t have much time.

There weren’t any baby locks on the cabinet under the sink. Sarah Lynn was starting to get into everything, but Daddy refused to be inconvenienced in his own home. He liked to keep the drinking-strychnine in the fridge, but run-of-the-mill rat poison was different.

They got infestations every winter. Last year, Daddy got the apple-flavored stuff to make sure the rats ate every last thing. Uncle Emmett ribbed him. Daddy made the congregation drink the nastiest tasting stuff on the market, but the rats ate good.

The label said: Causes internal bleeding. If ingested, call poison control.

Jo giggled. Nobody in this house would ever do that.

She poured it in first, then the Pepsi on top. It didn’t smell off, although it didn’t fizz as much as it should. She mixed it with a plastic spoon until it was nice and combined.

“Johannah?” Daddy called.

“Coming, Daddy!”

When someone repents for their sins, they can drink any deadly thing and it shall not hurt them.



Emily Bay Moore is a writer and archivist living just outside Washington DC. She is in the process of getting her Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research focus is post-mortem privacy policy. Her other works can be found in Lacunae Magazine and scattered through various Noir at the Bars. She’s on twitter @MLE_Bay

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Issue #71 -- January 2021

LOTTERY TICKETS AND CIGARETTES
By Stephen D. Rogers


Brad placed his energy drink on the counter and turned to Kyle, who'd only started yesterday, much too new to really form a judgment. "You want anything?"

Kyle sniffed. "Nah, I'm good. We don't get paid until Friday anyway."

"I'll cover if you want something." The nice thing about working for Handy Dandy—probably the only part of the job that didn't suck—was getting paid in cash. "You want one of these, a soda, maybe some gum? They got donuts there in the case."

Kyle wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "Ah...give me a lottery ticket."

The Indian woman behind the counter blinked. "Which one?"

"The winning one." Kyle guffawed, pounding Brad on the back hard enough to send him crashing against the counter.

Brad cleared his throat. "Make it a two-dollar scratch." While he didn't want to appear cheap, he didn't want to throw away his money either, just in case Kyle "forgot" to pay back the loan.

The clerk repeated, more softly, "Which one?"

For the first time, Brad really noticed the plastic bins taking up half the wall behind the counter, the scratch tickets tagged with prices ranging from one to thirty. Thirty dollars for a scratch ticket? Who bought these things?

Kyle slapped the counter. "Fuck this." Reaching under the T-shirt emblazoned with "Handy Dandy—No Job Too Ugly," he pulled out a gun. "Just give me a whole bunch of them."

Brad stepped back, his hands splayed. "Whoa. What are you doing?"

The barrel wavered as Kyle enunciated, "I am trying my luck with the state lottery."

"Kyle, put away the gun. I told you, I got this covered. Think of it as a gift. Welcome to the job. It's good to have you on the team." What the hell was wrong with this guy?

The Indian woman yanked a ribbon of tickets out of the nearest bin and pulled sideways to tear them off. "Take them. Just go."

She tossed the snarl of tickets onto the counter and stepped back, tripping over something on the floor and maintaining her balance only by throwing an arm up against the plastic bins.

Bang. Her metal bracelets.

Kyle winked at Brad before pointing the gun at her head. "None of those look like winners. You saying I look like a loser? That my friend here looks like a loser?"

"Kyle...We're...we're going to be late."

Was that really the best he could come up?

The clerk pulled streamers of tickets from two different bins. "Here." She held them out to Kyle as if it was an offering.

Kyle turned to Brad. "Are you just going to stand there gawking, or are you going to take them from the lady? My hand is sort of busy holding the gun."

"Forget the tickets. Let's just go."

"What, you think she can just slip them back inside their little glass cages? That's not how it works. Brad, she tore them off."

"So what?"

"Those tickets are ours. Fifty-fifty, you and me."

"I want no part."

Kyle laughed. "No part? You wanted to drive the truck, boss. That makes you the getaway driver on this here heist."

Brad shook his head, searching for a way to de-escalate this mess. "We should just leave. If we go right now, I'm sure we can all forget this even happened." He pleaded with the clerk, "That okay with you?"

The Indian woman nodded.

Kyle frowned. "Brad, take the fucking tickets."

A five-tone melody announced somebody else had entered the store.

Brad turned to see a cop lifting a newspaper from the pile, and almost ran over to give him a hug. Everything would be—

Bam, bam, bam.

The cop's throat exploded with a spray of red, and his head just...

A crash as the cop tumbled back against the door, the weight of his body pushing it open.

Brad's heart stopped. His hands, pressed against his ears, made him think of seashells on the beach, echoes of the waves, endless days leaving footprints in the wet sand.

"Woo-eee!" Kyle blew across the end of the upturned barrel. "We are having some fun now."

Brad stared at his coworker, recalling that not so long ago Brad had thought he didn't know the guy well enough to judge.

Kyle leaned across the counter and pointed his gun down at the woman wailing out of sight. "Shut the fuck up!"

The clerk struggled to choke the wailing to a whimper.

Brad forced his hands from his ears. "What did you do?"

"Aimed where he wasn't wearing a vest, that's what I did."

Hearing the five-tone melody, Brad spun expecting to see a second chance. Instead, he saw the door propped open by the dead cop.

Dead. Brad had never seen a dead person. Never seen actual violence acted out in the real world. This just didn't make any sense.

Bing, bong. Bing, bong, bing.

Kyle tucked the gun in the back of his pants. "Help me pull him inside."

Brad searched for the words. "You shot him. Why did you shoot him? Why would you shoot a cop?"

"I guess you could say I was resisting arrest."

Bing, bong. Bing, bong, bing.

Kyle grabbed an ankle with each hand and lifted. "You want to help or just stand there and watch?"

"I don't believe this." Brad paced the front of counter.

"This guy's not light. Just saying."

"I stopped to get an energy drink. Asked if you wanted to come in with me; that was a mistake. I went for my wallet, and you went for a gun."

Kyle dragged the body down the middle aisle and yelled, "Any time you want to step in and lend a hand, that would be great. Maybe if you're feeling peckish, you could crack open that energy drink that was so damn important."

For a second, Brad considered heading out the door. Even if he made it outside, even if he got in the truck and drove away, what difference would it make?

"Kyle, you killed someone. Right here in front of me. Who even brings a gun to work?"

"Cops for one." A double-tap of boot heels hitting the floor. "You want his?"

"No, I don't want his gun. I don't want any gun. I need to think." Brad covered his face. "We're in so much trouble. What are we going to do?"

"I've changed my mind. I think I will have a donut."

"We should be at work right now, Kyle, carting trash out of some shithole."

"You didn't want to go to work." Kyle bit off half the cruller, chewed twice, and swallowed. "I could tell. You were just going through the motions."

"You're insane."

"Maybe a cigarette would help you calm the fuck down."

"I don't smoke."

Kyle stuffed the rest of the cruller into his mouth and leaned over the counter, crumbs flying as he said, "My friend here needs to start smoking."

A carton arced up to land on the counter.

"I'll assume that service came with a smile. It was funny, anyway." Kyle presented the carton to Brad. "Don't say I never gave you anything."

Brad brushed the carton aside. "You do know what you did, right? You killed somebody."

"Only if he dies. If he doesn't die, it's just attempted murder, maybe assault with a deadly weapon. Shit, if the judge is soft-hearted, maybe I can plea to disturbing the peace."

Brad pointed at the aisle. "Did that cop look like he just wanted to rest a minute before he got up to go about his business?"

"Can't say that he did." Kyle shook his head. "No, I'll give long odds that he's a goner."

"We are so fucked."

"Brad. If you're not going to use those smokes, maybe we could return them for store credit."

"How can you make jokes?"

"I hear ya, Brad. I hear the disappointment in your voice. You're thinking: I can't become friends with someone like him. I think he might have a gambling problem."

Kyle reached for a clump of scratch tickets and dragged them closer. "You know, I think you might be right."

He pulled the gun from the rear of his pants and used the edge of the grip to scratch at the silver circles. "I like to skip to the results. Then I go back to see what I'm trying to match."

Talking to Kyle was pointless. "I'm going to call the police."

"No, you're not."

Brad nodded. "I don't know how, but I'm going to try to explain this."

"It's too late, Brad."

"Why?"

"Brad. Is that short for Bradley?"

"Bradford. It was my grandfather's name."

"You ever meet him?"

Brad shook his head. "Forget my grandfather. Why is it too late to call the police?"

Kyle placed his gun on the counter, separated one ticket from the rest, and blew away the silver dust. "Five bucks." He showed the winning ticket to Brad.

"Great. Wonderful."

Kyle leaned over the counter. "You hear that? You owe me five bucks."

"Kyle, why is it too late to call the cops?"

"The clerk on the floor already did. I heard her press three buttons while you were cleaning wax out of your ears. Seriously, you didn't hear her muffling the phone when dispatch tried to get more information?"

"They can track the phone. They'll send help."

Kyle spun away in laughter. "Help? You think anybody is going to send us help? Brad, we are the outlaws. That means we are outside the law." Kyle removed another donut from the case. "Nobody comes to save the likes of you and me. We are on our own."

Brad leapt forward and grabbed the gun off the counter. He took two large steps back, raised the gun with shaking hands, and pointed at Kyle. "I'm in charge now."

"Good. I was tired of doing all the heavy lifting." Kyle took a large bite of the sugar frosted. "What's the plan, boss?"

Powdered sugar covered Kyle's T-shirt.

"You are going to stay here."

"Not leaving until I get my five bucks."

Brad backed toward the door. "When the police arrive, I'm going to tell them what happened."

"I hear they're good listeners."

"No, wait. She comes with me. Hey, you, behind the counter. We're leaving."

Kyle turned toward the counter. "Before you go, you owe me some money."

Brad heard the clerk scramble.

A hand reached up and tapped buttons on the register until the drawer opened. "Take everything."

Kyle walked over to the counter, peered inside the drawer, and plucked out a five. "We're good. You can go."

The clerk scurried from behind the counter. Stopped rather than pass too close to Kyle.

He raised his hands and backed two steps down an aisle.  

Trying to block the memory of the dead officer, the sight of his throat exploding, Brad motioned the Indian woman should run to him, which she did.

Brad raised his voice. "Kyle? You just stay put. I'll tell them you're unarmed. I'll tell them...things got out of hand, that you didn't mean to hurt anybody. Kyle?"

Brad heard the clerk push through the door to freedom, to what remained of normalcy.

Bing, bong. Bing, bong, bing.

"Kyle, I'm leaving now. Everything's going to be okay."

Sirens in the distance. The cavalry.

Brad took a step backwards. Another. "Kyle?"

"What?" Kyle stepped around the end of an aisle, a gun in his hand. "Sorry it took me so long, boss, but I had a hell of a time with his holster. Thanks for holding down the fort."

"Put it on the counter."

In one fluid movement, Kyle raised the gun until it was pointed to the left of Brad and fired three shots. "Get down, it's the cops!"

Brad scurried away from the large windows and vaulted over the counter. There was no way he wanted to be between Kyle and the cops.

A loudspeaker crackled. "This is the police. Come out with your hands up. I want to see empty hands. Come out and lay down on the ground, arms out straight like they're wings on a bird."

Unable to shake the urge to know what was happening, Brad shifted into a crouch so he could see over the counter.

Kyle strode into the center of the store with a large bag of ice. Grinning, he swung the bag and let go, the ice crashing through the window where he'd placed three shots.

He yelled, "We have hostages in here. A pregnant woman and her little boy."

A beat of silence. "Do you have a cell phone?"

"There are some pay-as-you-go phones new in their packages. Do you think I can activate one without going online? Fuck you!"

Chuckling, Kyle returned to the aisles.

Brad dropped until he sat on his heels. Kyle was going to get them killed. Kyle would probably shoot Brad if he made a run for the door. That's if the cops didn't shoot him first.

Was it so much to ask, sipping from an energy drink on the way to the job? Driving a coworker who wasn't batshit crazy?

Kyle shot that cop. Killed him. No reason at all.

Brad covered his eyes.

The loudspeaker: "Does the pregnant woman have a cell phone?"

Kyle yelled, "Doesn't want a mutant fetus."

What the hell was wrong with Kyle?

Did Handy Dandy hire just anybody?

Brad slumped onto the floor, looking down the alley behind the counter. At the far end: a plain white door.

"Do Not Enter." "Employees Only." "No Smoking."

There was probably an office on the other side. Maybe an emergency exit. Maybe just a window. If Brad could get into the office, he could shove something against the door to keep Kyle from following. A desk. A table. A chair under the doorknob, however that was supposed to work.

If there was an office, there had to be phone. He'd call the police and explain the situation. There was no pregnant woman with her little boy. Brad was the hostage. Kyle was armed with the cop's gun; Kyle was insane.

Unless the door was locked. Of course it was locked. What was Brad going to do, stand there slamming his shoulder against the door while Kyle sauntered over to shoot Brad in the back of the head?

Fuck.

Brad looked away from the door, lowered his gaze, noticed Kyle's gun still clutched in his hands.

He didn't know anything about firing a gun. Didn't even know if he was holding it correctly.

What the hell was he supposed to do, shoot his way out? Challenge Kyle to a duel? Fire at the doorknob as if that wouldn't fuck up the lock?

Brad shielded his eyes from the fluorescent lights.

"Kyle, you still there?"

"No way. Once I won the lottery, I gave my notice and went to Hawaii. Fuck Handy Dandy."

"I'm looking at an office door. There's got to be a second exit. It's fire code."

"You don't think there's cops out back?"

Fuck. Brad hadn't considered that possibility.

"Why'd you say the hostage was a pregnant woman? You could have said two guys. You could have made demands, and then when the cops asked you to send out the hostages first, we could have gone out with hands raised."

"You'd probably have to piss in your pants for them to buy it."

"Already took care of that."

"Ha! Hold tight, boss. We're in control of this situation. Cops got a bullhorn? Big fucking deal. We've got enough processed food to create a weapon of mass destruction."

"Why don't you yell that a little louder? Maybe they'll send in government assassins." Brad rubbed his eyes until he saw colored lights.

This was not his life. This was a nightmare. This was worse than a nightmare because there was no waking up.

"Yo, Brad."

"What?"

"Tell me the truth. You think we're going to get fired for not showing up on time?" Kyle chuckled.

Fucking lunatic.

Brad took a deep breath.

Maybe the key was to simply wait until Kyle got bored and rushed the door. Or the cops came in through the back.

They'd kick open the office door, see him sitting here with his hands up, piss running down his leg.

Kyle would do something stupid, and they'd engage him, forgetting for a moment Brad who was obviously no threat.

Brad would keep his hands raised, and they'd take him into custody. Ask him to explain what couldn't be explained.

"Yo, boss!"

"What?"

"I'm thinking I might cut a deal."

"Great idea." They probably couldn't wait to negotiate a lesser sentence for a cop killer. "You do that, Kyle."

"I figure, why not? It was your idea to come in here. You're the senior man. You're holding the gun that killed that cop. I mean...I got information they want to hear. I got no problem testifying."

"You have got to be fucking kidding me." Brad climbed to his feet. "All you had to do today was carry trash out of a shithole and leave it in bins by the side of the road. That's it."

Brad marched down the alley behind the counter. "Is that what you did, Kyle?"

"Don't remember doing that."

"No. Apparently, that was too easy. Instead, you decided to rob a convenience store and kill a cop."

Brad raised the gun as he advanced into the first aisle.

Empty.

He spun into the second aisle to see a streak of blood leading to that very cop. The breath went out of him.

"Yo, boss."

Brad looked up to see Kyle standing at the other side of the aisle, a cocky grin on his face. "Do we get a fifteen-minute break or what?"

Brad raised the gun and pulled the trigger as fast as he could.

Cops yelling at him to put down the weapon, raise his hands, lay on the ground.

Brad turned to explain, his arms going wide, gun still in his hand. 

*** 

Shots were returned.




Stephen D. Rogers is the author of
SHOT TO DEATH, which will be released by All Due Respect in April, and more than 800 shorter works. His website, www.StephenDRogers.com,includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.