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.
“Everybody flat on the floor if ya don’t wanna get plugged!” The kid waved his pistol at the glum, threadbare crowd lined up at the teller’s barred window. Compliance came with murmurs of irritation.
“Jesus Christ,” said Gunselle. “I just bought this dress, and I don’t think the floor’s been swept since Coolidge was President.”
“Cut the wisecracks,” said an unshaven older man by the door. He pushed his hat up off his forehead with the barrel of his pistol. “And get down before I put you down.” He tossed the kid a leather satchel.
Gunselle set her handbag on the floor, then dropped to her knees after lifting the hem of her new dress, a pink shirtwaist model with black buttons. It wasn’t her bank. She’d driven a safe distance to Sausalito to exchange a couple dozen fresh C-notes for twenties. Something done for a printer when she didn’t have a contract to fulfill. She already visited two banks. She kept twenty percent.
The kid ran around to bust through a gate at the side of the teller’s cage. The other robber kept lifting a window shade to peek at the street. He was as nervous as a man jumping into murky, shark-infested water. The kid started throwing things around. He sent the middle-aged teller and two glowering clerks out to lie down with the others.
“Hey, Glamour Puss,” said the older man, pointing his revolver at Gunselle. “I told you to get down. On your tits.”
“I’m okay here on my knees,” said Gunselle, “but these are silk stockings, and it’s gonna gripe my middle kidney if I get a run in one of ‘em before my lunch date.”
The man walked over to stick the barrel between her eyes.
“I’m telling you for the last time, Doll. Get prone. And quick. One slug from this gat will ruin that pretty face of yours. Forever.” As a second thought, he cracked her on the side of her skull with the butt of the grip.
Gunselle fell to her hands and knees. The blow hurt, and she could feel something oozing down around her left ear. She just had her hair done. Fifteen bucks. Washed. A permanent wave. Then the man pushed her over with his foot.
“Some gunman you are,” she said, lying on her side. “Scared to pull the trigger?”
A customer not far from the door scrambled to his feet and darted outside. The bell made a happy ding-a-ling sound as the door closed behind him. Gunselle chuckled.
“Aw, shit,” said the man who just clobbered her. “Huey, let’s go. The cops are gonna be here any minute.”
The kid seemed to be taking his sweet time filling the satchel with cash. The bank must be flush. Gunselle heard him slam a drawer closed.
A voice blared into the bank from outside.
“Drop your guns and come out with your hands up!” The escapee must have found a policeman stuffing finger buns into his mouth at the bakery next door. A siren wailed in the distance.
Gunselle could see the shadow of the officer’s cap at the bottom of the window shade. A real thug would just blast the squatting fuzzy through the thin lower panel of the door, then skedaddle. The siren had to be ten blocks away, but the stupidity of men rarely surprised her.
“Now you’re screwed,” she pointed out.
“Get up.” The man grabbed her arm, pulling her to her feet. His hat fell off as he jerked her into the teller’s cage. Huey cowered there, his gun shaking. The older mug pushed her down against a cabinet door behind them. She could feel her right stocking give way.
“God damn it,” she said. It was an ugly run.
“What’ll we do?” the kid asked his partner.
“Better send the others out,” Gunselle suggested. “It’ll be the gas chamber if one of ‘em gets drilled in the crossfire. Don’t worry, though, boys. They’ll let the cops know you’ve still got me to deal with.”
“Everybody outside!” screamed the older man through the teller’s window. The lobby emptied in a hurry. “Now what?” he asked Gunselle, settling down to face the door again.
“Thanks. I was hoping you had a better idea.”
Gunselle reached into her purse for the little Savage .32 she carried to protect herself against the vagaries of the day. After shooting each man in the side of his head, she emptied half the contents of the satchel into her purse, moved Huey’s revolver to the hand which corresponded with his new bullet hole, sighed at the dark spots on her lovely pink dress, put away her pistol, then scrambled out of the cage, across the lobby, and into sunshine.
“It’s all over!” she screamed, clutching the purse tight against her chest as officers hurried her away from the horrible scene. “The damn fools had no idea what to do, so they just up and blew their brains out.” After a gentle cop helped her to sit on a bench outside the bakery, Gunselle pulled up the blood-stained skirt and lifted a shapely leg to expose the torn stocking. “There I was, minding my own business. Running errands on a pretty day. It wasn’t my fault the bank got stuck up.”
“No,” said the officer.
“Do you think they’ll pay for a new outfit?”
“I bet they will,” said Gunselle, getting to her feet, trying to remember where she parked her car.
About the author:
Russell Thayer received his BA in English from the University of Washington and worked for decades at large printing companies. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana.
The staccato whomp of the helicopter made the spotlight bathing Ronald bounce. Blue and red police lights danced before his eyes. Some of the flashes revealed the silhouettes in officers' hands of guns, hammers cocked, the steel cyclopean eyes staring Ronald down from the dark. To his right, in the valley, city lights shimmered in the summer night, and for a moment he felt suspended between two starry skies. It calmed him.
Parked cars sat empty to both sides, doors akimbo. The other kids cleared out when the cops showed their iron. A fat one in uniform, face flush with excitement, demanded Ronald hug the ground. Ronald stayed behind the wheel, ignoring him. He was more annoyed than intimidated. It was all so dramatic.
Maggie was still in the passenger seat, mortified, her perfume wafting on the breeze. The indignity needled him. He worked so hard for this, to woo and win her affection. She was standoffish, uncertain of his intent. It was as honorable as any young man's, intoxicated by love. When she finally came around, her father rose up to forbid it, as fathers do. It transformed them, Romeo and Juliet given flesh, until her father, in a rage, sent her away.
Ronald believed she was lost to him. When he found her again, it took forever to summon enough nerve to take her out. Now, this disaster. She would never speak to him again. He wanted to leap on the fat cop, beat the tint out of his cheeks.
Cheeks. He looked at Maggie. Red lipstick smeared onto her so-soft cheek, a gaffe born of the police surprise, taunted him. He didn't want her to face them unkempt. He wanted to fix it for her, like cleaning a smudge with spit and the pad of a thumb, as his grandmother did for him some mornings, waiting for the bus.
For her dignity, to spare her the extended embarrassment of being caught here with him, he gave in. Such was his love. She deserved to be thought better than cheap, the kind of girl who would go park in public in the dead of night. He heeded their call to lay in the dirt. Even as they twisted his arms, and tightened the handcuffs until they pinched his flesh in their teeth, he was cooperative, limp.
As they pulled him to his feet, he shuddered to see them carry in the black rubber bag, zipper open like a hungry mouth. He kicked then, kicked and thrashed and screamed Maggie's name until they slammed him once more to the ground. He tasted earth for the third time in a day.
Monsters. Devils. They were going to put her down in the dark again.
About the author:
Doug Lane lives, plays, and writes in Salem, OR. He'd tell you to visit
www.douglasjlane.com, but the place is haunted.
Our cat Pickles held the thumb in her mouth, and I said, "What the fucking fuck?"
My man said, "That's Bobby Patterson's."
"How can you be so sure?"
He was right. Pickles was an indoor cat and though my man and I had our scars, neither of us was missing a thumb. We were sitting on the couch getting high when Pickles put the thumb down in front of my man, and damn if that cat didn't look like it was smiling.
The thumb was dry like a prune, had lint on it, but you could still tell it was a thumb because of the broken nail. Other girls might’ve been grossed out, but I saw worse. Like the time my stepdad got his eyeball knocked out into his beer cup and he still drank from it.
"I thought you sent that as proof of life. Did you not use enough stamps?" I giggled, but my man didn't think it was funny.
"Fuck you! I did send a thumb! His other one. I cut this one off first. Thing is, soon as I cut it off, it kind of flew out my hand and disappeared into thin air. I looked for it for hours. I fell asleep on the floor looking for it. It must have rolled behind something and now your fucking cat found it."
“Our cat,” I said.
The thing with Bobby Patterson happened months ago, before I finally hooked up with my man. I had to wait until his clingy old lady, Jenna, lit out. I moved in two weeks ago and brought my perfect little kitty with me.
"The cops was looking if Bobby was here,” my man said. “They’d found this thing, my ass would be in Pollunsky today. Fucking cat."
As I hit the bowl, I tried to recall what my man told me and what they said in the news. Bobby Patterson went missing, and my man was prime suspect number one because, frankly, he was sloppy, had been the last person seen with Bobby, called Bobby's parents from a phone booth outside a bar he (meaning my man) was known to frequent, thought Bobby's parents had money when they were just as poor as he was. In the end, he had to kill Bobby and get rid of the body. The cops never found Bobby and my man was never charged.
I exhaled and said, "They can get Bobby's DNA from that."
"Darling, the cops ain't coming back. I could turn that into a Christmas ornament and we'd be safe."
The idea of this made him laugh so hard he about peed.
"That’s gross. We’re not doing that," I said. "Not on my Christmas tree." I took Christmas seriously, and I didn’t like his joke at all.
I noticed he said, "we'd be safe," as if I had anything to do with it, as if I would do something as fucked up as kidnap a friend of mine for ransom.
"Just fucking with you. Who says you'll still be here come Christmas time anyways?" He laughed again, but that comment set me to crying, and to stop it my man hauled off and hit me, and we screamed at each other for a while, then we both cried about not having anyone else in the world, and then we ended up having sex on the couch in front on Pickles and the thumb.
When I woke up, Pickles was still there, and my man was getting back from somewhere without his pants on. The thumb was gone.
"Where is it?" I said, knowing he knew what I meant.
"I chucked it into the woods. Racoons'll get it."
“You go outside without your pants on?” I giggled at the idea.
“Ain’t nobody next door on either side,” my man said. “Fuckin’ relax.”
That night we were asleep when I felt Pickles on my chest. I didn’t want to wake up my man, so I peeked and saw Pickles had the thumb in his mouth again. He placed it gently on my chest where it threatened to roll into my mouth.
I tried to move without waking my man, but he’s a light sleeper.
“What the fuck?” he said, and he grabbed the thumb and kicked my cat and me off the bed.
“Shit. Shit. Shit,” he kept saying, and this time I followed him outside. He tossed the thumb into the grill and set it on fire.
“There,” he said.
“Did you leave the backdoor open? I don’t want Pickles going outside.”
“No. I did not fucking leave the goddam backdoor open. I… I tossed the thumb in the garbage and the fucking cat musta got in there. Fuck.”
I had a moment, just a moment, where I thought maybe I moved in with my man too soon.
But things went back to normal after that. I worked at Fiesta Mart, and my man did what he did, and we ate and got high on the daily. Every night I made sure the backdoor was closed because I didn’t want to lose Pickles. One time he got out and was gone ten days.
Come a Sunday afternoon I was too high to move, watching TV, and my man was in the kitchen. My man always loved to cook.
Pickles put something on the floor, right at my feet. It took a while to come into focus. This time it wasn’t a thumb. It was an ear, with an earring still in it.
Right away I knew. Jenna.
Good kitty, that Pickles, looking out for me.
I knew I had to leave. I was about to tell my man I was going shopping when he came in from the kitchen with a knife in his hand.
“What’s that?” he said, squinting to see, bouncing the knife in his hand. “I said, ‘What the fuck is that?’”
About the author:
Kate Show works as a freelance writer and editor, splitting her time between Toronto and Brooklyn. She edited the erotic poetry collection Shiny Avocado of Lust and its sequel, 50 Shades of Avocado. Her writing has appeared in Asinine Poetry, Poetry Toronto, Not One of Us, and far too many IMDB reviews.
Lasher handed the gunsmith his Saturday Night Special.
“It jams. Can you fix it?”
“Yes. I can make it better than new. Who filed the serial number?”
“Mine, too. Not on my books.”
“If I pay you enough?”
“Three hundred. Up front.”
“I could buy a new gun for that.”
“You couldn’t. You’ve been inside. If you don’t want to go back inside, you need this to work. Every time.”
“Okay, leave it. I’ll fix it. Tomorrow morning we’ll talk money.”
The shop was empty again the next morning.
“It’s ready. I polished the ramp, chamber, action, and lightened the trigger pull. I removed the rest of the serial number and the maker’s marks, the front sight, rounded every corner, and polished every surface. It’ll slip in and out of your pocket like a jade egg.”
“You refinished it, too.”
“The steel slide went into my hot blue tank. The aluminum frame I blackened with cold chemicals.”
“Okay. Now what?”
“My landlord. He wants to put me out of business since he opened a new sporting goods store downtown. Raised my rent twice this year. He always carries a lot of cash on him, at least a thousand. I’ll tell you where and how to do him and we’ll split the take. Put him out of business… and all the cash is yours.”
“Now listen.” The gunsmith held up the pistol. “See this little spring-loaded hook on the right side of the slide, the extractor? It snaps over the cartridge rim to eject the fired case. The primer is in the rim of these twenty-twos, so you have to be careful loading the first round and only use safe ammo. Otherwise, it might fire prematurely when the extractor hits the rim.”
“Why wouldn’t any good ammo work?”
“Some twenty-twos have softer, thinner brass. Good in most guns, not safe in this gun. Listen to the gunsmith.”
“Now, here’s a box of fifty safe rounds. Take these out back, down the path to the river. I test-shoot tin cans off the logs on the bank. Nobody will hear you down there. Come back after you’ve used all the ammo.”
“What about no front sight?”
“Just sight along the top of the slide. Good to twenty feet.”
The gunsmith met Lasher at the back door. “Well?”
“I can’t believe how smooth it feels and works.”
“I promised you. Now, about my landlord.”
The gunsmith told Lasher all he would need to rob the landlord.
When the gunsmith finished, Lasher said, “I didn’t use all the ammo. Saved two rounds.” He shot the gunsmith twice in the forehead.
Lasher was in the back room looking for more cash and ammunition when he heard the shop door open. He hustled down the path to the river and followed it into town. In the hardware store, he bought a box of their best twenty-twos.
The landlord gave up his cash without a shot fired. Then Lasher robbed a dozen more in different towns. He never had to shoot because his threat always worked: “I’ve already killed with this little gun. Do you want to be next?”
In another town, Lasher saw a woman step out of the bank into the sun. Shading her eyes, she didn’t see him watching her. Expensive clothes, rings, big purse, old enough to value her health.
“Into the alley.” His voice and the thing pressed into her back made her comply.
“What do you want?”
“We’ll talk in that area under the stairs.”
She faced him. “Please.”
“Your purse and your rings. I’ve already killed with this gun.”
Reaching into her purse, “My pills.”
“Leave them in —”
He saw the snubby thirty-eight’s muzzle clear her purse just before the shot slammed into his lung.
Falling, he pulled his trigger. His first shot went high over her shoulder. The remaining six shots left his gun in a full-auto scream, each shot higher than the last. His gun empty, he lay bleeding out. She hurried away while he tried to remember what the gunsmith said.
About the author:
Jim Guigli has been a gunsmith, trained at Gunsite with pistol & shotgun, designed and supervised firearms competitions, and toured Quantico as an FBI Citizens Academy graduate. www.jimguigli.com
“I had no idea there was so much blood in a head,” Deshawn said.
“When it’s blown up, it’s like a stopper going off a bottle,” Valerie said.
The ivory shag carpet was soaked, splatter covered the curtains, the ceiling, and the furniture. Crime scene techs left traces of their passage like punctuation marks. Valerie and Deshawn worked for the property management company. They were cleaners.
“If Rick thinks he can get a new renter in here by next week, he’s delusional,” Deshawn said. He raised his rubber-clad hands in a fair imitation of a surgeon about to approach the operating table. “It’ll take more than a few gallons of bleach.”
Valerie was bent over the carpet with her hands on her knees. “I told Rick shag was a bad idea. Throwback to the seventies is cool, he said.”
“More like throw up.”
They wore plastic booties and jumpsuits. Their ball caps said Stender Realty with a pink flamingo because this was Florida and their boss, Rick Stender, never saw a cliché that he didn’t like.
“You know the guy who lived here?” Deshawn said.
“He was in finance, that’s all I know. The cops think it’s drug-related.” Valerie pointed at the broken coffee table, upturned lamps, eviscerated credenza. “There was a fight and the guy was shot. The place has been ransacked. Can’t tell if they found what they were looking for.”
“At least the crud is only in this room. How do you want to tackle it? That carpet needs to be removed.”
“Let’s start with the walls. They shouldn’t need more than a paint-job.”
Valerie took pictures and sent them to the office while Deshawn started with the bucket.
“Rick?” Valerie was on the phone. “It’s Night of the Living Dead in here. You’ll have to spring for wall-to-wall carpeting.” She pulled the phone away from her ear. Rick was loud. “No, only in the sitting room.” She rolled her eyes at Deshawn. “Yes, we can fix the rest of the apartment.” She listened. “Uh-huh.” She hung up. “He said we could trash the carpet. He wants to try cleaning the curtains.”
They worked until late afternoon. The broken lamps and pieces of the coffee table were in a garbage bin. Curtains, throw pillows and other textiles Rick hoped to rescue were in plastic bags. They were focused on the task, trying to ignore the chunks of brain matter that the forensics team didn’t bother collecting. They must have had enough evidence with the crap they scooped from the carpet.
They removed their masks and gloves. Valerie raided the bar and Deshawn got glasses from the kitchen and ice from the fridge. They had a little pick-me-up.
Murders and suicides were not common. Mostly, they dealt with slobs and vandals. People who trashed the place they lived in for a few months, not caring about the security deposit because they had too much fun kicking holes in the walls.
“Do you want to haul off the shag now?” Deshawn said.
“The longer we wait, the smellier it’ll get.”
Deshawn unpacked the box-cutters and they set to work. They moved the furniture, pulled and tore up portions of the shag, piled up debris in a cleared corner.
They found the cache under the bar, a shallow cavity closed by a compressed-board lid. Deshawn inserted a sturdy kitchen knife in the groove and lifted the cover. They kneeled by the opening.
Valerie pulled out a black nylon bag. She lined up the neat stacks of fifty-dollar bills. Deshawn ran a finger through them, counted.
“Non-consecutive numbers,” he muttered. “Two million there about.”
“That’s why he was shot,” Valerie said. “Whose money is this?”
Deshawn tilted his head and grinned. “Ours, duh.”
“They’ll come back for it, Desh.”
“They looked everywhere and didn’t find anything. The dead dude didn’t tell where it was. Nobody knows about this. You want to give it to the cops? If they’re honest, it’ll be used to fix potholes.”
“We would get a reward,” Valerie said, her ethical resolve weakening. The cash in her bank account would fit in a piggy bank. A small one.
“Yeah, ten percent maybe, and taxable. Jeeze, Val! Don’t you want to tell Rick to go fuck himself?”
She did, oh how she did. She ground her teeth every time he copped a feel when she made the mistake of walking too close to his desk. “If we leave right after doing this job we’ll have a target the size of a Buick on our backs. Bad guys aren’t always stupid, Desh. The bigger the haul, the smarter they tend to be.”
The young man sat cross-legged by the hole in the floor. He hummed Bob Marley’s Jamming. “So we keep working for Rick for a while, then maybe you find a job somewhere and you move out of town. I work a few more months and I do the same.”
“That’s a lot of patience,” Valerie said. “A lot of pretending. A lot of time to sit on the money.”
“Worth it.” He smiled. “It’s what we would do anyway if we hadn’t found the cash, so, what’s the harm? It’s all good in my book.” He stared at the ceiling, eyes glossy with rapture. “We have the promise of good things to come. I can bear it, baby, can you?”
Valerie nodded with sudden resolve. “I’ll have to put it out of my mind if I want to be able to continue doing this shit.” She pointed at the hole in the floor. “The carpet people will talk.”
Deshawn jumped to his feet. “I know how to lay carpet. Rick won’t resist an opportunity to save some dough.” He held out his hand and pulled her up, close.
She smiled. Deshawn had grown a couple of inches, right in front of her. It was amazing what money from heaven could do to a man. To a girl too, come to think of it.
About the author:
M.E. Proctor is currently working on a series of contemporary detective novels. The first book in the series will come from TouchPoint Press in January 2023. Her short stories have been published in Mystery Tribune, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern Flash, Bristol Noir, Fiction on the Web, The Bookends Review and others. She lives in Livingston, Texas.
Gunselle turned the key. Nothing. She turned it again. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
Kicking open the Studebaker’s door, she stepped into the lingering mist outside the garage. She looked at her wristwatch. The target would be stopping for his lunch in thirty minutes. No time for a cab. She looked across the street. A man weeded the garden above the sidewalk in front of his house. Shirley Temple peonies were in full bloom. Gunselle trotted toward him on sensible flat soles. She hadn’t primped for today’s job. It wasn’t a cocktail lounge pickup. And the pay was better.
“Hey, Frank,” she said, smiling up at the gardener from the sidewalk. He stood politely, brushing dirt from the knees of his soiled trousers.
“Mrs. Turner. How are you?” Though she wore sunglasses on a gloomy day, and hid her dark hair under a drab headscarf, he clearly remembered her from the time they spoke on the sidewalk when she was at her best in a tight summer dress, blazing like two sunny afternoons.
“Well, now that you mention it, Frank, I need to get to an appointment in half an hour and my car won’t start. I’d call a cab, but I really need to get going right this minute. May borrow your car?”
The man kicked at the dirt.
“I’d be happy to drive you, but my daughter’s birthday party starts right after lunch, and we’re taking the kids to the movies.”
“Just toss me the keys and I’ll have it back in an hour.”
“I don’t know. It’s a brand-new automobile.”
“Fuck you, Frank. I’m an excellent driver,” she said as she turned back toward her house.
Stepping off the curb, she noticed the old man on his corner porch. He was a mean bastard, always yelling at kids and dogs to stay off his half-dead lawn. He’d eyeball her from his rocking chair when she went out for walks in the evening. He lived alone. A rusted pickup waited at the bottom of his steps.
She turned down the middle of the street and headed up to his scruffy porch, watching his eyes grow wider as she approached.
“I need your truck, old man. Right now. What do I have to do?”
He stood with a comic leer, then opened the screen, motioning her into the house. Gunselle brushed past him into the living room.
After five infuriating minutes, she burst out the screen door and spit the mess in her mouth onto the weedy lawn. The old man had pulled off her scarf to run his fingers through her hair, so she grabbed his worn fedora off the knob of the rocking chair. Placing the hat on her head, she noticed Frank watching from across the street. Lifting the keys, she shook them, then raised her shoulders. It was his loss for having children and birthday parties.
At the bottom of the steps, she walked around the old man’s truck, stopping to brush the heavy grime off the license plate. When she was satisfied that the numbers could be read, she climbed in and started it up.
The truck sputtered and backfired all the way to the center of town. Gunselle felt like Ma Kettle bringing eggs to market as she rattled her way through the business district, eventually turning onto a side street. After a few blocks, she spotted the detective’s unmarked cruiser sitting at the curb. Pulling up beside him, she reached across the passenger seat to roll down the window. She made it just in time, as he crumpled the burger wrapper in his hands and tossed it out onto the street.
“Hey, mister. There’s a fine for littering,” she said as she removed the revolver from her bag and shot him in the face. He’d almost finished chewing. A car came to a screeching stop behind the truck as Gunselle squeezed two more rounds into the cruiser for effect. With the roomy hat down over her ears, she slowly puffed and clattered away from the scene.
Standing in the shadows of her open garage, Gunselle watched the activity on the corner while eating a bowl of canned peaches. Five police cruisers were parked at odd angles in front of the old man’s house, men with pistols and shotguns squatting behind open doors. A take-charge fellow with a bullhorn ordered the occupant of the house to step outside with his hands up. The fedora hung on the knob of the rocking chair where Gunselle left it after returning the keys and demanding her scarf. Eventually, the door opened and an angry old man stepped outside, waving a spatula at the line of cops. It wouldn’t have mattered if he raised his hands in surrender. The blood splattered against the front of the house after the smoke cleared explained why it was never a good idea to kill a police detective.
As officers raced to the porch, Gunselle strolled across the street, happily spooning at her peaches, then set the bowl on top of the concrete wall and pulled one of Frank’s peonies down toward her nose. The scent was elusive. Gunselle looked up to see Frank and his wife staring out a large picture window, the heads of five pretty little girls below them in a line, like tulips, taking in the carnage. One of the girls laughed as she silently clapped her hands together. That made Gunselle smile. Frank looked down at her after his wife herded the children away. He glanced at the old man’s house, then back at her.
She put her index finger to her lips, then pointed it at Frank like a pistol.
Frank nodded as Gunselle picked up the empty bowl and started back across the street. It was a pleasant neighborhood. She was finally getting to know her neighbors.
About the author:
Russell Thayer received his BA in English from the University of Washington and worked for decades at large printing companies. He currently lives in Missoula, Montana.
The television studio was bigger than I imagined, and busier than I expected. People scurried in all directions, each seemingly on a life or death mission. I didn’t know why I was there, only that I was looking for Marvin Stone, a producer for Foodie Television who asked the police commissioner for a favor.
A young woman with a clipboard stood by the doorway muttering.
“Excuse me…” She ignored me. I tried another tack. “Police,” I said, bringing up the badge hanging from my neck. She looked up, eyes wide.
“Are you crazy?” a voice asked.
A small, balding man in an immaculately cut suit appeared as if from thin air. His face wore a mixture of dismay and anger. “I asked Brampton to send someone with discretion!”
I cleared my throat. “Marvin Stone?”
“Yes. Detective Smulders?”
“I’m Mark Smulders.”
“Come with me.” He led me to another part of the building. This area was dominated by a raised platform on which there were enough shining chrome ranges and refrigerators for a small army of chefs. Painted on the rear wall of the set was a logo reading KITCHEN PUZZLES. Lying face-down on the floor in the middle of the “kitchen” was a body. It might have been a man who just stumbled and fell, but from long experience I knew it wasn’t.
To one side of the platform, two men and a woman were seated in canvas chairs, looking uncomfortable. Four beefy guys in security uniforms surrounded them, two behind and two in front, ensuring none of the three were going anywhere.
I opened my mouth, but Stone beat me to the punch. “I know, we should have gone through normal channels when we found Chef Roberto’s body, but we can’t afford bad press. I’ve known Commissioner Brampton for years and asked if we could handle this quietly. He said he’d send his best detective and that you’d find the culprit and take them away quietly. What do you need to get started?”
The commissioner was a flamboyant man who knew a lot of media folks and was always getting his face on TV or in magazines. More of a politician than a cop. I wondered what favor he owed Stone.
I mentally sighed. I didn’t like this off-books tit-for-tat stuff. I said, “Give me a rundown on the situation.”
Stone said they were supposed to film the pilot for a new reality-show this afternoon, in which three amateurs attempted to replicate celebrity chef Roberto Orsi’s recipes simply by tasting them. Orsi was well-known for his culinary skills, especially his off the cuff improvisations, and equally for his temper. The network hoped that people would tune in more to see how he dressed down the contestants than how they dressed up their dishes. The pilot’s three contestants were chosen from a cooking competition at a local mall: Michael Moulton, Raphael Flores, and Amelia Carter.
“There’s already been a lot of friction,” Stone admitted. “Roberto resented having anyone in his kitchen, even for the show. The practice runs we’ve done have been volatile, which is what we wanted, but we never thought it would come to this.”
“Anyone butt heads with Roberto more often than the others?”
Stone shook his head. “Unfortunately, Chef Roberto was pretty hard on all of them.”
I sighed aloud this time. “Let me look at the scene.”
The set was a functioning kitchen. The ranges and ovens worked, and the refrigerators were filled with ingredients. There was also a large pantry stocked with dry goods; the door stood open and white powder covered the floor between it and a paper bag clutched in the outstretched hand of Chef Roberto. Nearby was a frying pan, apparently the murder weapon from the dark stains on it.
I studied the tableau for a few minutes before I stepped down to the floor of the soundstage.
“Well?” Stone asked.
“Ask your security guys to hold Mr. Flores while I get a tech-team in to process the scene.” Before Stone could protest, I said, “They’ll be discreet, I promise, but to make this arrest stick, we’ll need evidence and when it comes to due process, there’s no such thing as too many chefs in the kitchen.”
“Wait,” Stone began. “How do you know it was Mr. Flores? I mean…” Words seemed to fail him. I had a feeling it was a new experience.
“I don’t remember much from high-school Spanish, but I do remember that ‘flores’ is flower.” Gesturing towards the sound-stage floor, I added, “Orsi made one last improvisation in the kitchen, trying to cook Mr. Flores’s goose.”
In his canvas chair, Flores squirmed uncomfortably, but he didn’t deny it.
About the author:
Brandon Barrows is the author of several novels, most recently 3rd LAW: Mixed Magical Arts, a YA urban fantasy, as well as nearly one-hundred published stories, mostly crime, mystery, and westerns. He was a 2021 Mustang Award finalist and a 2022 Derringer Award nominee. Find more at http://www.brandonbarrowscomics.com & on Twitter @BrandonBarrows
He didn’t notice her until she got up to dance. She was big. You might say fat, if you were that kind of person. He wasn’t. Chalk it up to a lot of experience. And a disdain for cliché.
She wore ragged cutoff jeans and a t-shirt that said DANGEROUS in rhinestones. Cute. But she was more than cute, if a lot less than dangerous. She moved that big package like it was floating on the ocean, twerking it, rolling it. An unmistakable message. She wanted it. He wanted her.
It was what he did. Pick out a woman for the night. Take her back to whatever midrange Travelodge he was camping in. Screw her brains out. Then get a good night’s sleep—alone. Uber made the job a lot easier. Harder for them to cling and no excuse to hang around.
Sometimes they were up for it. Sometimes they needed persuasion, and he was always generous with the drinks. If they needed more coaxing, he kept a little bottle of persuader in his pocket.
This one would come easily. He knew it. Which was fine, because he wasn’t up to working hard for it tonight.
Dancing wasn’t his thing. He waited until she sat back down with her friends, two other women who were more attractive, if that was your thing. It wasn’t his. He liked them a little desperate. The wing-women would make it a bit harder to talk to her. But he was so good at this.
It worked like it always did. No illicit substances necessary, just three tequila sunrises. In his car on the way to the motel, he pushed up her skirt and pushed his hand between her legs. She spread, and her right hand found his hard-on. By the time they crashed through the door of his room, her panties were down around her ankles.
He traveled down this road so many times before that each move was instinctive. Right now, they were at a fork in it. If he didn’t manage expectations, there could be demands. He didn’t like demands. The thing was to maintain total control.
She broke away to slip her backpack off her shoulder, headed toward the dresser. He grabbed the pack, slung it to the floor and pushed her onto the bed.
The whole thing was a scramble. She seemed up for everything, so he kept pushing her. And she kept going there. In fact, she wasted him. So much that he had to take a minute, when it was all over, before he started the disengagement process.
She crawled to the foot of the bed and rummaged in her purse. Good. Maybe she was going to get out on her own. Then she climbed back on top of him. Again? She straddled him and he started to push her off, not too hard at first.
There was a knife. What the fuck? He thrashed, but the blade slashed. Blood spurted so fast his muscles turned to water.
He stared through dimming eyes, croaked out a word.
“Sorry,” she said, not sorry. “It’s what I do. Besides, it’s my birthday.”
About the author:
Susan Kuchinskas mixes genres with impunity from the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s the author of the science fiction/detective novels Chimera Catalyst and Singularity Syndrome.