Dirtbag by Rick Homan
Why doesn’t that dirtbag shut up? All I want is a quiet ride. Is that too much to ask? Instead I have to listen to him yelling, “Do it! Do it, baby!” He just sits there staring at his phone and giggling. He must be watching porn, and he’s definitely high on something. I don’t know why they let these guys on the subway.
Now he’s holding his phone up and showing it to the woman sitting across the aisle. “Look at this,” he says. “Look!”
She keeps her eyes on her magazine and tucks her purse under her arm. The purse looks expensive.
“Hey, look at this,” the guy says, waving his phone around. “Do you do this? Huh? Do you do this?”
“No,” she says without looking up from her magazine. She’s a pretty lady with a really nice haircut.
“Aw, c’mon,” he says, like he’s being really sweet. He pushes his phone closer to her face.
From behind me a man’s voice rings out. “Hey!” A big guy comes down the aisle to the front of the car where the one with the phone and the woman are sitting. He’s not only big, he’s built, and he’s got that clean-cut look—buzz-cut, clothes pressed, shined shoes. Maybe ex-military. Maybe he’s an athlete. He’s wearing a big, heavy ring on one hand, like a championship ring.
The big guy stands there staring at the phone guy. “Did you touch her?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“Did you touch her?”
The big guy glances at the woman, “Did he touch you?”
She shakes her head.
The train slows down. We’re coming into a station. There’s no one on the platform, which isn’t unusual at this time of night.
The big guy loses his balance and grabs the bar. The phone guy jumps forward. Big guy grabs phone guy’s hand. They lean in, close to each other. They’re pulling each other back and forth.
The woman tries to scream but sounds strangled. She jumps up and runs toward me. With her coming down the aisle, I can’t see what the guys are doing.
The train stops and she runs through the door behind me. The rest of the people in the car run out the back door.
I look up front and see the big guy is still hanging onto the bar while his legs are buckling. There’s blood on his shirt.
Phone guy pushes past him, and goes out the front door. Once on the platform, he puts his hands in his coat pockets and tilts his head down, doing that walk that makes him look like he doesn’t want anybody to look at him.
The doors close, and the train moves on.
Big guy is lying on the floor. There’s blood all over.
I look out the back door of the car. No one in the next car seems to notice what happened. The same goes for the car in front.
I walk forward to see how the big guy is doing. He’s lying on his side. His eyes are open but they aren’t moving. There’s a knife on the floor.
The way he fell, one of his arms reaches out toward me. There’s that ring. It’s got a big red stone in the middle and initials on either side. It looks like there are diamonds around it. Of course it could be a knock off. But it’s bound to be worth something.
I check the car behind and the car in front. Nobody’s watching. I go down on one knee and pull on the ring to get it off his finger. It’s stuck. I lean down, spit on the ring, and twist it around a few times. It slides off his finger. Easy-peasy.
The ring in my pocket, I stand near the door, waiting for the next station, only a minute or two away. An old woman is looking at me through the door to the next car like I’m a dirtbag and I wonder what her problem is. It's not like I killed anybody, right?
About the author:
Rick Homan lives in San Francisco. Along with performing as a guitarist and leading tours at the Maritime National Historical Park, he writes mystery and suspense.
It’s a warm night in February, the songbirds singing and the box elders crawling up from their nests.
I follow May to the Concord, an old dinner theater in downtown Blackwater. The whole administration is here: Jim Bradley, Dusty Rose, Herald Convoy. And May’s new lover, Mayor Jackson Miles.
I find a spot in the overflow lot, reverse in so I can see the exit, and cut off my lights. When they leave the show, he holds her under the streetlamp, his fingers sprawled around her waist like a spider closing in on a fly. He whispers in her ear and starts kissing her neck, his hands moving south. She laughs and latches onto his shoulders.
Jackson opens the door for her, watches her legs as she swivels into the passenger seat, then closes her in and circles around to the driver’s seat. He backs out of his parking spot and takes off down Route 32, kicking up dirt and gravel as he leaves. I turn my lights back on and follow behind them.
He turns left onto the river road, snakes around every bend going sixty. I’ll confess he’s hard to keep up with. Good thing I already know where they’re going.
I cut off my lights as I turn down his driveway, a quarter-mile stretch of river stone surrounded by evergreens and paddock fencing. I stop near the end and park between two pine trees. He pulls around the driveway and stops in front of the house, a three-story monstrosity built of stone with white pillars and brick stairs at the entryway. I guess my place wasn’t good enough for her.
He guides her out of the car and they stand in the shadow of the house, admiring the starlit evening. Her dress blows gently in the wind as she leans her head on his shoulder. He places a hand at the small of her back and walks her up the stairs and through the double oak doors.
I take a drink of whiskey and watch them through the window, two silhouettes dancing and drinking from tall skinny glasses. He leads her to the master bedroom, their garments piling at their feet on their way up the stairs. Their sounds echo through the night. Each scream of pleasure is like a knife through my chest. Letting them finish is the least I can do.
The hounds, unleashed, race around the streets of Blackwater, sniffing at everything in town trying to pick up their scent. There are uniformed officers at every intersection, directing traffic and searching vehicles as they pass. They called in reinforcements from Tucker County, who pitched in an extra thirty-some officers and fifteen patrol cars to help with the search.
As I stroll along the Black Fork River, I see a police boat pushing slowly along the water. A diver surfaces, empty-handed, and strips off his scuba mask.
I see the mayor’s dock up ahead, a pair of jet skis bobbing gently in the current. A crew of officers is swabbing them for prints and checking all the compartments for evidence.
The mayor’s backyard is a stretch of brown and yellow grass surrounded by woods. A group of officers gather under the covered patio, chatting and making notes as I walk up.
“Find anything out there?” One of them asks.
“Nothing,” I reply.
“They better finish searching the river soon. They’re calling for snow next week.”
“Get home to your wife, Carter. We got it from here.”
I circle around to the front yard and find my patrol car where I left it the night before. I pop the trunk and confirm their bodies are still there, cold and lifeless, staring blankly into each other’s eyes. They don’t yet know it isn’t only the mayor who’s missing. Figure I’ll wait for the crew to finish their search, then I’ll dump them in the Black Fork, let the fish pick away at their flesh. I’ll leave the mayor with his gun. I don’t need it anymore.
I climb in the driver’s seat and coast along the river road. As I look out over the Black Fork, I roll down the windows and let the wind break over my palm, enjoying another unseasonably warm February day.
About the author:
Anthony Barton is a tax accountant with a passion for writing fiction. He lives and writes in Front Royal, Virginia with his wife, Tracey, and a cat named Hazel.
Rat by Brandon Barrows
Richards tried to get off the floor, but his arms had no strength. He rose a few inches then fell against scuffed linoleum. He rolled over, chest heaving, and stared at the harsh yellow ceiling light. His vision swam.
“It could get worse, Richards.” The man by the door was tall and thin, with an air of authority.
From a corner, the third man laughed softly. “He doesn’t like playing rough.” He was thick through the shoulders, and through the middle, too, but the extra weight only added to his power. Still chuckling, he cracked his knuckles.
The thin man lifted the gun in his hand and looked at it like he wasn’t quite sure what it was for. “He still doesn’t think we’re serious.” The severe lighting caught the planes of his face, making it sinister. He shifted again. The effect disappeared.
“You bastards,” Richards gasped. “I told you, I don’t know about any investigation. Why can’t you believe me?”
“We know you were in the district attorney’s office this morning.”
“And rats live by squealing,” the beefy one said, stepping forward. Richards flinched. The big man grinned.
“They called me in. I didn’t have a choice – but I didn’t tell them anything.” Richards’s face was puffy, swollen. He knew his voice sounded strange.
“Maybe, maybe not,” the gunman countered, gesturing.
The strongman bent and lifted, holding Richards upright against the wall. The smaller man moaned, “Oh, Jesus… Jesus, don’t start on me again.” He raised his hands, but they were as swollen as his face, and almost useless. He tried to fight earlier. They knocked him down and stomped on his hands. Now, even if he had strength for a punch, he couldn’t make a fist.
The heavyset man growled, “Quit whining. I don’t mind giving you another lesson.”
“Jesus,” Richards whispered. “Please. I can’t take any more. I’m gonna die. Just let me lay down and die.”
The big man turned. “You hear ‘im? He says let him die.”
“We could. We could even help him along.” The thin man crossed to the other two and pressed his gun against Richards’s head. “We’d have to explain, though, and it’d be messy.” He smashed the gun-barrel against Richards’s temple, making him cry out. The thickset man released him and Richards staggered sideways, then crashed to the floor, gasping for breath, one ruined hand pressed to his bleeding head.
“Let’s hear you admit it now,” the gunman demanded. “How you were going to turn on us to save your own selfish ass.”
Richards’s head wobbled back and forth. “I wouldn’t…”
“Not now.” He pointed the gun directly at the cowering man. “We wouldn’t let you.”
“Jesus, help! Someone!” Richards cried suddenly, even knowing it was useless. The room was nearly soundproof.
“Go ahead. Scream if it makes you feel better.”
Richards scrabbled backwards, bumping against the far wall. “I didn’t say a god-damned thing!”
The heavy man appeared at his side like magic, planting a sharp-toed shoe in Richards’s ribs. The smaller man shrieked, then slumped and lay still.
“Too much,” the thin man said.
“Give it a sec.” The other slapped both of Richards’s cheeks. After a moment, he began to come around.
“Just say it and it’s over, Richards,” the big man whispered.
Richards looked from one man to the other. The pain made it hard to think. He just wanted it to stop. There was only one way.
“Fine… I was going to tell the DA’s office everything. I wanted out and thought I could swing a deal.”
“Weren’t we good to you?” the gunman asked.
“Not what? Not right? Not legal? We do a thankless job for peanuts. So what if we treat ourselves to some cream now and then?” The gunman sighed and shoved the automatic into its holster. To the heavyset man he said, “Get him out of here, sergeant. Show him what we do to cops who come down with honesty.”
“Sure thing, captain.”
Detective-Sergeant Bell again lifted Richards to his feet, almost gentle now. The smaller man squeezed his eyes shut, knowing what came next, and wishing to god he never took the detective's exam, never even took up the badge.
About the author:
Brandon Barrows is the author of several novels, most recently 3rd LAW: MIXED MAGICAL ARTS, a YA urban fantasy, and over one-hundred published stories, mostly crime, mystery, and westerns. He is a two-time Mustang Award finalist and a 2022 Derringer Award nominee.
Find more at http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com and on Twitter @Brandon Barrows
Ben Hurt! by Jim Guigli
Drumbeats: Boom—boom, boom—boom.
Pulling harder and faster on his oars, Ben grunted, “I can do it.”
Ben liked to see himself both as Jack Hawkins in Roman battle dress and as sweaty Number Forty-One, Chuck Heston, straining behind an oar below decks. Jack’s imperial aura matched Ben’s status as chief designer at Lifecizer, one of San Francisco’s hottest hi-tech lifestyle firms. Chuck’s hard, glistening muscles were, Ben thought, just like his own.
“Crap!” Ben released his oar handles and poked PAUSE on his thirty-two-inch touchscreen to stop his HD video of Ben Hur. When he hit DOORBELL CAMERA, he saw on the screen a young man wearing a hoodie. “Yes?”
“Delivery for Ben in Suite 1207.” The man held up a silver designer bag.
Ben recognized the bag and touched CLOCK. “You’re two hours early!”
“I do what they tell me.”
“Wait.” Ben climbed off his Lifecizer R500 prototype rowing machine and grabbed a towel on the way to the door. He opened the door to the security chain’s limit.
“What’s going on? Eric knows how I want my delivery. Not late, not early.”
“I’m Kevin. All new management and staff—no more Eric.”
“Another change—they say you pay up front now. They told me to collect the thirteen-hundred on your tab this month, plus three-hundred for today’s bag.”
“Three-hundred? It was always one-fifty.”
“Not my prices. You want the delivery?”
“Okay.” Ben released the security chain and opened the door. He led Kevin to his desk and pulled a fat envelope from a drawer. He counted out $1600 in hundred-dollar bills.
Kevin lowered his hoodie and watched, then swapped the silver bag for the bills.
Ben opened the bag. “What’s this? This isn’t right.”
“They fill the bags. What’s wrong?”
“These are not my brownies. Mine are a special low-sugar mix of gluten-free flour with Maui buds, a mix Eric and I developed years ago. These look like some cheap microwaved brownie mix, and I see stems sticking out.”
“You should talk to the boss. Call him.”
“You bet.” Ben sat down on his rowing machine and touched PHONE on his screen, then CONTACTS, then ERIC. “Hello, Ben calling.”
“You’re Ben in Suite 1207?”
“Yes. Where’s Eric? My delivery is wrong. I row an hour, uninterrupted, take a shower, and then answer the door at the scheduled time to enjoy my brownies. These are early and are not my brownies.”
“Sorry, Ben. Eric’s gone. We have a new plan for you. You order what we have, no specials, and you pay our price on delivery. Understand?”
“Wait a minute. Eric started this service after we founded Lifecizer. He was number one from Tiburon to Palo Alto.”
“No more. He sold his customer data and remaining product to me. Said he dumped his Lifecizer stock, too. For land in Maui.”
“I’ll go to another service.”
“Awesome. Tell Kevin. I have other calls.” Clunk.
“He hung up on me.”
“He does that.” Kevin looked down through Ben’s picture window. “Is that Orkle Park?”
“Or-a-cle Park, yes. I can watch the Giants games from up here, but Lifecizer has a double luxury suite above third base. Custom outfitted with leather recliners and wide-screen TVs. Super hot cocktail waitresses serve drinks, garlic fries, crab sandwiches, everything.”
A seagull landed on Ben’s balcony railing and sat watching them.
“Your rowing machine, I never saw one like it before.”
“That’s because it’s my new design. It’s just a prototype now, but as soon as it’s released, it will easily outsell our Lifecizer stationary bikes.”
“How’s it work?”
“Like a high-end rowing machine, except it has the largest touchscreen, suspended right over the oars, real wooden oar handles, not cables. People will love it. You’ll have Netflix, podcasts, instructional videos, music with Dolby sound, YouTube, even your choice of live personal trainers when you subscribe and pay the monthly fees. Special videos, too, like from all over Oracle Park. You can row around the bases, or from home plate to the centerfield wall, or even race the kayakers for a splash home run ball in McCovey Cove.”
“Cool. What about virtual reality?”
“No. It was too realistic for some of our test subjects. They’d get sweaty and dive off the machine onto the floor. They saw the floor as water. Lots of injuries.”
“Awesome.” Studying the touchscreen, Kevin asked, “What are these other icons?”
“For machine-paced rowing. You can choose the rowing resistance, or the rowing speed. The oars and slide seat will move faster than you’ve ever rowed before. See the resistance and speed symbols?”
“Hard for me to see. Let me get behind you.”
Kevin pocketed the fat envelope from the desk drawer and Ben’s roll of duct tape, pulled his hoodie back up, and set the lock on the door. He turned toward the unconscious Ben, still rowing at max speed.
“So Ben, I’ll put you down as a ‘no’ on the new plan. Cool.”
Ben woke up sweating with a headache. Smoke! The motor powering his machine was burning up from running all-out. He made a mental note to add limits to the motor control software before he saw his hands were duct-taped to the oars and his waist to the seat. Ben was rowing faster than he ever had, too fast to loosen the duct tape with his teeth. Pecking at the touchscreen with his nose didn’t stop the motor.
Exiting the elevator, Kevin stepped into the path of a firefighter.
“Stand clear, sir. Smoke alarm up on the twelfth floor.”
“I can’t believe I might die taped to my oars!” Jerked back and forth like a rag doll, Ben frantically pecked his nose at his touchscreen. Finally, he hit TEXT. Then, ALL. After defeating autocorrect, his text went out as BEN HURT!
About the author:
Jim Guigli retired after a design/engineering career at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and lives near Sacramento, California with his wife, Fran, and two Labrador Retrievers.
From my boat I watch through binoculars as she strides down the gravel path. Her long legs, deeply tanned under purple running shorts, pump a strong and confident pace. It’s a steep mile to the lakefront from the cliff-top parking lot. She covers it as easily as a stroll around the block.
Last night I anchored off-shore in my J-30. I researched for a few months before picking this spot and made three trial runs. Once again, mine is the lone boat in the secluded inlet. Almost perfect. Sapphire Bay, one of the most beautiful sites on the enormous lake, is marred only by its sole building—the sprawling replica of a Rhine castle facing the beach. It’s there that she’s heading.
Donashaus was built in the 1920s by a widow from Kansas City with beefsteak money to burn and a fascination with Wagner. The widow left her property to the state of California when she died and the castle and grounds are now a state park. The building holds little appeal for me—a random assortment of stone turrets and Gothic arches—but it’s a major attraction in the summer months. Fortunately it’s too early in the morning for any tourists to descend, huffing and puffing, for a guided tour. Donashaus won’t open to the public today for at least a few more hours.
She reaches the deserted shoreline in just under fifteen minutes, stopping at one of the picnic tables in front of the castle. She cups one hand above her eyes, gazing out over the clear blue-green water toward my boat. I put down my binoculars to wave a friendly hello. I think she acknowledges me with a nod but I can’t be sure.
A young man emerges from a door on one side of the castle. I check my watch. 7:15 am. Right on time. Although I don’t know his name I know by now he’s the resident caretaker, a state park ranger assigned to the cushy, yet lonely job of guarding Mrs. Sirloin’s fantasy. Clad in a brown park service uniform, he drags a large plastic garbage bag. Prep for the morning run to the dump. He slings the bag into a pickup truck parked alongside the castle, stopping short when he sees her.
Did I mention how beautiful she is? He certainly seems to think so. I pick up my binoculars to focus on his face as he stares at her lithe body and long blonde hair. She ignores him and moves closer to the water, beginning a series of stretches on the sand as though she’s about to embark on a long run. He can’t take his eyes off her as she rocks lightly on her toes, her palms flat on the sand.
“Back to reality, kid,” I whisper. “Get back to reality.”
As if he hears me, the park ranger gives himself a little shake. He grabs a bucket and mop from the back of the truck, and walks off toward the public restrooms behind the castle.
She waits until he disappears and then whips off her white t-shirt and the rest of her clothes to stand naked on the beach. I put the binoculars away and go down below to mix up a pitcher of Mimosas.
“WOMAN VANISHES AT DONASHAUS!” scream the headlines a few days later. By now, I’m some two hundred miles from the lake and the J-30’s been hauled. The story is sexy enough to get coverage throughout the state and beyond. Sitting on my terrace with the San Francisco skyline spread out before me, I scroll through the news on my iPad.
According to the Chronicle, her name is Samantha Watson. Early thirties, a married real estate agent who competes in mini-triathlons. On the day she disappeared, Samantha told her husband she was going for an early morning run. He knew she took their Hyundai SUV—Samantha liked to work out in pretty scenery—but he didn’t know she headed for Sapphire Bay. The Watsons lived in a subdivision about forty minutes from the lake. When she didn’t return by noon he called her cell. When she didn’t answer he called her friends. At five he called the police. The search really didn’t get mobilized until the next day. They found the empty Hyundai half-hidden by the Ponderosa pines ringing the Sapphire Bay State Park parking lot.
Sipping my glass of Merlot, I reread the story. Samantha carried a hefty life insurance policy, listing her younger sister who struggled with MS, not her husband, as the beneficiary. Although an unnamed friend of the couple described the husband as controlling and the marriage as “rocky at best”, he didn’t seem to be a serious suspect. Apparently the neighbor directly across the street spent that morning overseeing a landscaping project on his front lawn. He saw Samantha drive away alone in the SUV and swore the husband never left the house.
The story doesn’t mention the young park ranger. I think long and hard, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of getting involved at this point. In the end I place an anonymous phone call to the police. And then I wait.
It pays off in less than a week. Jamie Thompson, the resident ranger at Donashaus, is arrested for the murder of Samantha Watson. It seems that the idiot was questioned initially, but denied ever seeing her. Too scared, I guess, or feeling too guilty about his lecherous thoughts. Thanks to my call, the police tracked down the garbage bags from Donashaus that morning. Buried in one of the bags, along with Samantha’s cellphone, was a pair of purple running shorts, a white t-shirt, flowered bikini panties and a jog bra.
After the police confronted him, poor Jamie finally admitted to seeing Samantha at Donashaus. He claimed he saw her standing at the edge of the lake while he was collecting bags of garbage for the dump trek. He said he went to clean the restrooms behind the castle and when he returned to his truck she was gone. It sounded so feeble it had to be true. It was true, of course; I saw it all. Unfortunately no one believed him, except maybe his public defender.
This morning I’m back on the terrace, waiting for my French roast, when I turn on my iPad. “DONAHAUS DISAPPEARANCE SOLVED!” proclaims the Chronicle. Although the police didn’t find a body—no surprise with the average depth of the lake at about a thousand feet—Jamie Thompson virtually confessed. The freaked out kid hanged himself in his cell while awaiting a preliminary hearing. It’s over.
I turn my head at the rattle of coffee mugs behind me. She gently kisses my cheek and hands me a steaming cup from the tray she’s holding. She’s as lovely as the day we first met at the road race my tech company sponsors, even with freshly dyed and permed brown curls.
“Thanks, Sam,” I say. I see the question in her eyes. I decide to tell her about Jamie later. I don’t feel a twinge of guilt but she might.
Instead I simply smile. “Don’t worry, honey, it’s going to be a beautiful day.”
About the author:
Christine Eskilson is an attorney living in Massachusetts. She loves Bruce Springsteen, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Terriers, not necessarily in that order.
Sumpin Extra by Carman C. Curton
“Put ’em glasses in that tub and bring it behind the bar,” Granma says. “Mind you don’ drop it, now.” I don’t answer. It’s early. I’m tired. And I know the job. You can keep all the money you find. “Theys loads of money down the seats, there, say huh?” I nod. I know that routine, too.
The Old Man had laughed the first time he saw me running my hands behind the back of the seats, tracing my fingers over the red plastic seams, dragging up sticky quarters and damp five dollar bills. And other things, too. “Ho, yeah,” he said. “Digging for a little something extra, ain’t ya?”
I stack the glasses in the gray bus tub. Ashtrays, too. They all go in the same dishwasher. No one cares. There’s no spoons or forks or knives to add. No one eats in this place. No one but me. I slap a rag over the top of a table and drag it around, chewing on an orange slice I grabbed from a tray on the bar. I move to the next table and the next. I’m wiping the rag in big circles, and I have to stand on tiptoe to get the middle of the table. While I’m stretching my butt squeezes between the table I’m wiping and the one behind me.
When I look over my shoulder to the sound of hot breaths behind me, I see the Old Man’s hand is inside his pants, but the top of his dick is outside, squeezing past his zipper. Gross. But I seen gross-er.
After everything, Granma tosses a knife with a weird white blade in the tub I’m still holding. “They’ll find it, you leave that there,” I say softly.
“Thas the point, say huh.”
I’m not scared or sick, I just don’t like this part. But Granma’s in no rush, gumming out words to herself, tossing the green zippered bank bag into her bucket, grabbing a tall bottle from a high-up shelf to put in, too, dropping her rags and yellow rubber gloves on top. I walk out behind her, climb into the front seat, even though I’m not s’posed to.
Granma’s gray hand pushes her gray hair off her forehead until it stands up straight. The gray road stretches out ahead until it touches the gray sky. I remember the Old Man moving his hand under the table when I bent over to pick up a dime he flipped on to the sticky floor in front of me. Remember his dumb open mouth with the knife sticking out of it after Granma finished, “Here’s sumpin extra for ya, say huh.” Then I remember something else. The long knife with a white blade that Mancy yelled about when I put it in the tub at the M&H Chop House yesterday morning. We clean the Chop House on Fridays and Saturdays and this place on Sundays. Or did. Mancy’s big red mouth saying, “Don’t wash this knife. Don’t pick up this knife. Don’t touch this knife.” Something else to remember: Mancy’s big feet sticking out from under the table one Sunday morning. And the look on his face when he crawled out and the Old Man opened up the green bag with the zipper. Flicked a stack of bills across the table at him. The way Mancy’s eyes stayed on the floor when he pushed the money in his front pocket.
I look over at Granma. “I left my Rainbow Pony notebook in my locker at school,” I say. “I really liked that one.”
She grins that gummy grin at me, pulls the rubber gloves out of the bucket at my feet, still dripping soapy suds off the fingertips, and—driving with one three fingered hand—digs around in the bucket some more and pulls out a tall glass full of bright red, long-stemmed cherries. Tucking it between my legs, she grabs three, shoving them into her mouth straight away. Sometimes all we walk out with is a drip tray of orange triangles. Or popcorn.
“That one where we got those cinnamon sugar almonds,” I say, picking up a cherry, “that one was the best.”
“Yeah, the best,” she says. “We’ll look for another place like that, say huh? Get us some pancakes in a few miles. Be like you don’t even miss that Rainbow Pony thing.”
I roll another cherry around on my tongue. “These cherries’ll probl’y taste really good on some pancakes, say huh?”
Granma laughs. “Mmm-hmm. Little sumpin extra.”
About the author:
Carman C. Curton consumes caffeine while writing a series of microstories called QuickFics, which she leaves in random places for people to find. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook @CarmanCCurton.
Arizona Shuffle by William Kitcher
The big guy slapped his money on the bar. “Keep the change.”
The bartender nodded at him. The guy got off his stool, and started to walk away.
“Hey,” I said, “what about my money?”
“You owe me money. You lost a bet!”
“Come on, man.”
The few people in the bar turned to watch us. A young blonde woman in a gray t-shirt and jeans stood up from her table, and sipped on what looked like whisky.
The big lump turned back to me. “What are you gonna do about it?”
He was a much bigger man than I was. I didn’t have a real answer so I said, “I’ll figure out a way, ya prick.”
The lump pulled his fist back to take a punch at me. The blonde grabbed his arm and wrist, and twisted them behind his back, quickly, professionally.
The guy grimaced and turned his head. “Piss off. None of your business, blondie.”
“You shouldn’t have said that.” And with a twist of her own wrist, she forced him to the floor.
From the end of the bar, the bartender said, “Hey, enough of that.”
“Stay out of this, man,” she said. She looked at me. “How much does he owe you?”
“Five-hundred bucks. I would have bet more ‘cause I knew I was right, but I figured that was about his limit.”
“What was the bet?”
“Who won the 2001 World Series.”
“Arizona,” she said. “Bloop single. Game Seven. What did he say?”
“Nah, ’96, ’98, ’99, 2000. Lost in 2001. Haven’t won since ’09. Good thing too.” She released her grip on his arm. “Get up.”
The guy got up and rubbed his arm, and looked at her stupidly.
“And now, my lad,” she said, “we’re going to a bank machine to see if you have five-hundred dollars.” She waved a twenty at the bartender and put it on her table. “Keep the change.” She finished her whisky.
She pushed the lump to the door and out to the street. She walked beside him down the sidewalk. I paid my tab and followed them outside. They went down the sidewalk and I trailed them with a grin on my face.
The guy made a break for it but she quickly caught up with him and tripped him, his palms and knees scraping on the sidewalk. She forced him to his feet, twisted his arm behind him again, and pushed him forward.
“I’ll get you,” he said.
“Unlikely,” she said, giving him a little shot to the kidneys.
We reached a bank, and there was a teller machine in the lobby. She pushed him through the door and up to the terminal. He hesitated and she jammed her middle knuckle up into the pressure point behind his ear. He yelled, then took his bank card out and made the transaction. He stood there stupidly with the five-hundred in his hand, looking from the blond to me and back again. He finally handed me the money.
She pushed him toward the exit. “See ya.”
The lump went through the door and shuffled away.
She looked at me. “You know what’s gonna happen now, right?”
I gave her the five-hundred.
“And you have a bank card too, right?” She smiled at me.
Damn, I thought, didn’t see that coming. And to top it off, I got hit with a five-dollar service charge because it wasn’t my bank.
About the author:
Bill lives in Toronto, used to work for a terrible company, and now works for something much better: himself. He knows he can’t live forever on pizza and beer, but he’s going to try.
Overconfidence by T. Fox Dunham
Bruno didn’t feel confident he could take them, so he surrendered his piece over Mario’s guys. They frisked him anyway, but he kept his cool—the only way he’d survive. He thought about running when he got the call, but you followed a code when you were in this life, even though he gave himself fifty-fifty odds. They showed him to the rear bar where Mario, that bloated animal, made a sandwich.
“A thousand thank yous for coming up on short notice,” he said and squeezed Bruno’s hand.
“No problem,” Bruno lied. It was a big fucking problem dragging his ass to Jersey City with the Cuba shipment sailing up the coast. But when Mario summoned you, the commission summoned you.
“We heard three of your crew got picked up by the feds yesterday from some beach bar. Jimmy Shells,” Bruno added.
“At the Wildwood Marina?” Mario layered ham and cheese on a roll, and his necklace—a diamond-studded stencil of his name—dipped into a bowl of mustard. He wasn’t dead yet. Maybe he had a shot, he thought, and surveyed the room, coming up with a plan: tables, a bar, back entrance. Bruno couldn’t help but notice that Mario left a safe behind the bar open: several stacks of hundred-dollar bills, two old-fashioned flip phones and a .32 H&R Magnum revolver, which he assumed was loaded. How could he just leave it open like that? Mario probably figured no one would dare rob a made guy of his rank.
“A lot of nice boats,” Mario said, sprinkling peppers. “I’m gonna get me a yacht when I retire, take Connie down to Key West.” He brought his plate over to the bar, and his necklace smeared mustard on the tufts of black hair that grew over the collar of his white t-shirt.
“So not that I don’t enjoy the pleasure of your company—but why did I just drive two hours?” Bruno tried to sound confident, oblivious, invoking the wisdom passed down from his Uncle Joey: Act like you got a secret when you don’t know shit. Be clueless when you do.
Joey never showed up to his trial after he got pinched for dealing. He vanished after stopping off for a farewell drink at Mario’s bar. That wasn’t going to do down with him, so he played ignorant, trying to figure out the scenario.
“Storms on the horizon,” Mario said, biting off a hunk of hoagie. Bruno gagged, watching the animal eat. “Our guy in Trenton says they’re being arraigned in the morning.”
“My guys’ll stand up,” Bruno said and scanned the room for a weapon. An unopened wine bottle made a pretty good club, even a better missile.
“They raided the house in Princeton. Went right for the stash under the dishwasher. They knew. The fucking Feds knew.”
An old analog clock hanging above the bar ticked away each second with an audible click: tick, tick, tick. . .
Acid erupted in Bruno’s throat. He got a Tums out of his jacket pocket. “Why the fuck are you telling me?”
“The bosses drew a line right to your door, buddy.”
“I’m no fucking rat.”
“Take it easy, buddy,” Mario said. “I know you’re not a rat.” Bruno’s heart pounded in his ears.
“How sure are so sure?”
“Cause I’m the fucking rat,” Mario said. He took another bite of the hoagie then pulled his piece out of his jacket and aimed it at Bruno’s eye. But he didn’t fire. “However, there’s some room to maneuver here.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Bruno said.
“Your next shipment: when and how? Tell me, and I’ll give you a head start. No one will believe you if you say anything, anyway.”
“And in return you get a juicy tidbit to hand to your paymasters and a scapegoat on the run. Tidy.” No matter what Mario said, Bruno knew he wasn’t leaving this room alive. The commission outlawed dealing, so even if he could prove himself innocent of betraying the family, they’d still whack him for dealing—even though everyone did it. Bruno only had one shot, courtesy of Mario’s overconfidence.
“I’ve got a cartel guy, Juan Santos. He sells Spanish bibles and drives a truck up from Florida every month.
“Bibles and H!” Mario said. “Joey would be proud of you. Shame about your uncle. Stand up guy.”
Bruno kept his cool, refusing to let the cruel fuck antagonize him. He had to make sure that Mario felt in control.
“Maybe we could work something out,” Bruno said.
“Sure, buddy. Just tell me where he makes the drop.”
“Twenty-five percent for my trouble?” Bruno asked, acting relieved. “Mind if I make myself a drink while we talk?” Mario nodded but kept the piece trained on him.
Bruno stepped behind the bar, picked up a shot glass but fumbled it. “I don’t have the nerve for this anymore,” he said, trying to slow his breathing. “I did when I was young. Back then, I would have known you were the rat when I walked in here. But we get comfortable. We miss shit.” He knelt down, picked up the glass from in front of the safe then stood up.
“Pour me one too,” Mario said.
Bruno picked up a bottle of Jameson then swung it, cracking Mario’s skull. The hoagie flew off the bar, raining sliced lunchmeat, tomatoes, and onions onto the barstools.
Mario recovered fast and pointed his piece, but Bruno unloaded the revolver he grabbed out of the safe. His guys must have been expecting a gunshot, because no one came to check on things, and Bruno used the confusion to empty the safe into an empty gin box then slip out the back. It would just be enough to get himself setup in the islands now that his career in LCN was over.
Bruno wouldn’t miss the life. If he stayed, he'd just get fat and overconfident – like Mario.
About the author:
T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. He’s a cancer survivor, modern bard, herbalist, baker and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books, and is in production by Throughline Films. He’s contributed to official Stargate canon with a story published in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from Fandemonium Books. More information at tfoxdunham.com & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
Feeding Bakari by Robb T. White
He’d charge over to the window like a nimble NFL linebacker taking a bead on a wide receiver—only no wide receiver could outrun a Western Lowland gorilla.
She loved the gentleness in that big body. They were separated by the mere thickness of laminated glass; separated by less in DNA: a gorilla is 98.67% human. His majestic head turned shyly, watching her nibble a PB & J, his intent mocha eyes locking on hers.
Break time over, she placed her hand on the glass. He covered it with a huge paw, dwarfing hers. He tore pumpkins to pieces with those hands as easily as peeling the “jackets” off Spanish peanuts.
The 600-pound silverback watched her walk away.
The afternoon was taken up with doing inventory for supplies and feeding the bonobos and chimpanzees.
Daryl told her to handle the lion tamarins’ medication, the squirrel-sized monkeys with flowing manes. Planning to become a veterinarian, she wasn’t fazed by the pungent smell of diarrhea. Grabby-hands Daryl leered at her with his moist eyes. Her stomach twisted with squirmy distress.
Avoiding him was a constant challenge because he used every excuse to isolate her from the others. She ignored the lewd suggestions he made when no one else was around to hear. A formal accusation was hopeless because Daryl’s “posse” stood ready to lie for him. She told herself to tough it out until college started in the fall.
Yesterday, while dressing for shift, two girls demanded to know why she was “bad-mouthing” him.
“I’m not,” she replied. Lying was another of his devious tactics to separate her.
Kelly sneered: “You should show more respect.”
“Maybe he should show me respect!”
“C’mon, Kell. Don’t waste your breath on this stuck-up bitch.”
God, it’s high school all over again with mean girls at your locker demanding you stay away from a boyfriend . . .
Smutty innuendo and bumping her backside weren’t all. Knowing her fondness for Bakari, Daryl mocked him by miming the gorilla’s knuckle-dragging pacing in front of the glass. If Kelly and her sidekick were near, he’d embellish the performance with howls and grunts.
At the safety meeting at four, Daryl lectured his staff on “animal escape preparedness”.
“I’m cutting it short today, gang,” he announced, checking his wristwatch. “Janice and I are feeding Bakari.”
That meant Daryl had starved him all day for no reason. She stifled her anger. When the others left, he ordered her to meet him at the access gate.
“You have the red key,” he said, handing it to her. “I’m yellow.”
“It’s late to be feeding him, isn’t it?”
“Are you refusing an order, Janice?”
“No, I’m concerned Bakari hasn’t been fed yet.”
“He’s a dumb ape. Silence now. I’m initiating protocols.”
“We’re supposed to agree on the mission first—”
“Don’t tell me my job, you little—”
“I’m reporting you for breaking silence protocol,” he said. “You can forget about your internship here, and if I have anything to say, I’ll see that your veterinary scholarship is revoked, too.”
“Why? Because I won’t let you paw me every time we’re alone?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
Once protocol was declared, all conversation had to stop; each one of the two-person team must repeat what the other reported.
“Confirming Bakari’s location,” Daryl said. “The big stupid ape is sitting by the window.”
“Bakari is sitting by the window,” she confirmed robotically, her rage against Daryl building. Bakari heard them at the gate; he swung his massive head around and exposed his long, sharp canines.
“Unlocking the access door with the yellow key,” Daryl said.
“Unlocking the access door with my red key.”
Each access door was secured with a different colored lock and neither could be opened without both keepers present. The color-coded system was slow but prevented one keeper from entering a space where a dangerous animal might be present but unseen.
“Set his food inside the shift door,” Daryl ordered.
“We’re supposed to do that together.”
She placed the container inside and retreated behind the locked gate, waiting for Bakari to come so that she could lock him into the shift cage.
Bakari lumbered over to the cooler stuffed with forty pounds of leafy vegetables, apples, high-fiber biscuits, and bamboo shoots.
“So what do you think now?”
Janice stood between Daryl and Bakari in their respective cages. Similar to being in a shark cage—except that Bakari’s physical strength was untested against the metal bands. “Daryl, what are you doing? Let me back inside.”
“Look, your big-ass ape is shoveling food into his face. You have nothing to worry about.”
He switched keys while she carried the food over to the other cage. Bakari’s presence in the narrow shift cage was unnerving, locked padlock or not.
“You asshole! Let me back in! Bakari’s cage door is unlocked!”
She cast a nervous look over her shoulder at Bakari, noisily eating, but regarding her.
He jammed his thumb down his pants and poked it through his zipper, wiggling it, thumb miming for his pecker.
She cast another nervous glance over to Bakari again. He stood up and beat his chest. The big canines flashed.
Her heart thumped. Then nothing.
When she opened her eyes, she was lying on a cot in the zoo’s emergency room. A doctor told her the zoo was in lockdown.
She sat up, groaned. “What . . . happened?”
“You fainted. No wonder. That gorilla picked you up and set you down inside the enclosure.”
“Not so lucky. He tore a bar off that cage and yanked Daryl through. He was spaghettified, not a bone left unbroken.”
“They hit him with the tranquilizer gun,” she replied. “He’s sleeping it off.”
The girl mumbled. The doctor wondered whether to order a PET scan for a possible concussion.
“You don’t have to thank me, sweetie. I’m a doctor.”
I didn’t thank you, Janice thought, smiling.
About the author:
Robb White has several crime, noir, and hardboiled novels and has published crime stories in various magazines and anthologies. His private eye, Raimo Jarvi, has appeared in Northtown Eclipse and Northtown Blitz. A third Raimo Jarvi novel is scheduled for later this summer.
He looked like a hulking troll, so was it any wonder he had a Lou Ferrigno complex?
Something about Pinto’s voice, the way his eyes bored into Sam’s - he couldn't help but hang on the giant’s every word.
The sweaty, plump fingers around his neck helped.
Pinto gave Sam’s throat a squeeze. “Back when there were only thirteen channels. Not this batshit app crap we got now. And Lou Ferrigno was all that and a bag of chips. A man's man, you know?”
Sam tried but couldn’t croak out an answer.
Pinto kept talking. Saliva collected on Sam’s lower lip. Like the rain, it dropped to his unshaven chin. That lip trembled a bit, not that Sam gave two shits. He minded more about the five hundred bucks Pinto offered to knock him down.
“No one can argue it. Not me. Shit, Sam. I wanted to be that bag of chips. Not Bill Bixby even once. Would have been a better show if he was green the whole time.”
Pinto towered over him. A tanned Frankenstein’s monster in a white polo and black jeans, with muscles like eighties Stallone and a bald head like Kojak. Sam's eyes drifted over Pinto's massive shoulder. A gust blew trash behind the man's man. Funny. Amongst the newspaper and brown tissues, he spotted an empty Doritos bag.
“Kids were afraid of me. Was big even then. It’s the hormones in all the fast food my mom fed me as a kid. It’s in all the meat products, I heard. Fuck if I know what's true or not. But I was bigger than them, much bigger. I mean, check me out.”
Pinto released his hold and Sam fell against the concrete wall. At the end of the alley, cars zipped past in the rain, sending misty spray into the night. The rain washed the sweat from Sam’s brow but didn’t help the hot dampness under his green flannel. His loafers slipped off when Pinto yanked him up by the neck. Water pooled in one; the other lay sideways, sopping wet.
He wondered if he took on more than he could manage. Gulped air. Throat hurt. Sam watched Pinto down half a bottle of Hennessy at Vesuvio. Got him talking. Practically dared him to bet on who’d win in a fight, the ripped newbie, or the wiser thug. The more he mentioned it, the more they talked about the life, working odd jobs in the dark, things that would get them in front of a judge, the more they bonded. Wouldn’t be a mean fight. Just a friendly contest between goons. Five hundred for two tries. Bartender agreed to hold the cash.
“Haven’t been in the biz long, but I know ‘bout you and that Kerouac guy, the writer everyone loves here in San Francisco. People in our biz. They talk ‘bout this Sam guy who quotes him. I grew up three hours south of here. No one knows Kerouac,” Pinto said before the bet.
“Alley outside is named after him,” Sam said.
“South he’s a nobody.” Pinto leaned closer. “After I piss, we’ll go in that alley. I’ll take that bet. Get two tries each. No way you can knock me down, big rep or not. I’m a wall. Watch my drink.”
Sam did just that.
Minutes later, he leaned against the back wall of City Lights Bookstore opposite the bar. Bile gagged in Sam’s throat. The man’s man didn’t lie. Sam staggered to his shoes. Slid them on. Cold alley water felt good.
“When we played Hulk, I was always Lou Ferrigno. The raging beast. The regular-sized kids tried to beat me up and I chased them around the playground. Did it every day at recess. I was never the scientist or the cop. I was Ferrigno every time. And you know what, Sam? Loved every second of it. It made me who I am, even balder than a baby. I’m still all that and a bag of chips.”
“With the constitution of a raging beast. How much did you drink? Be curled in a ball by now.” Sam rubbed his neck. Pinto moved fast after that first sock in the jaw. Sam’s knuckles were red and sore, but it didn’t so much as split the guy’s lip.
Sam hadn’t fallen yet. Neither had Pinto.
“Last round, Sam. Better make it a…”
Left hook hit him flat in the nose, even knocked his head back. Pinto lurched, but remained firmly planted. The giant grinned. A ring of blood formed around his right nostril.
“Shit is right, Sam. Now I get my second, second…” Pinto shook his head, his eyelids fluttered. Confusion furrowed his hulking brow. He fell to his hands and knees.
“Called flunitrazepam,” Sam said. “Knockout drug I put in your drink. You’ll come to in a few hours and I’ll feel guilty for a minute. Keep some pills in my wallet where most guys keep condoms. Useful for when you run into a bag of chips.”
Pinto sputtered. “Cheating.” Rain formed rivers on his scalp.
“You’re new, Pinto. Thugs always cheat.”
About the author:
Patrick Whitehurst writes from Tucson, Arizona. He's the author of five nonfiction books for Arcadia Publishing, "Berge Manor," and the novellas “Monterey Noir” and “Monterey Pulp.” His stories have appeared recently on the Punk Noir website, in the anthology “Shotgun Honey Presents: Recoil,” in Pulp Modern magazine, and elsewhere.
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