Will swung the gun toward the crowd as he backed, leaving employees and patrons face down on the floor. It was the eighth bank he’d robbed, and a similar exit each time.
In and out in less than three minutes.
Sprint around the corner to your ride.
Drive the limit to the safe house.
This time, though, it was different. He had an inside woman with access to the
vault, and in his possession was more than two-hundred grand. He had to get gone. Not later. Now.
But what about Tommy?
His son needed life experience, and Will often wondered if he’d been too easy on the boy. The original plan was to leave him, fuck it, with his ex-wife, but turning onto the highway now, he couldn’t do it.
Will sighed. “Shit…”
He banged a U-y, conscious not to squeal the tires, and headed for Tommy’s school. When he pulled into the school’s pickup circle, Tommy was waiting. The kid hopped in, and they merged into traffic. As Will drove, Tommy stared silently out the side window like he always did.
“How was school?” Will asked.
“How’re your classes?”
“Exams coming up?”
“Yup, in January.”
“How are your marks?”
“Got plans for tonight? It’s Friiiiiiday,” Will sang, laughing.
Will wished Tommy had something to do. A date, a party, anything other than studying alone in his room. But with an average in the high nineties in courses that Will had never heard of, Will couldn’t give Tommy a hard time. He spent his high school years drinking beer and chatting up girls, ripping ass on dirt bikes in the summer, and sledding in the winter. He liked to joke that he graduated with an A in living.
What’s my plan here? Will thinks.
I can’t take him with me. But I can say goodbye.
“Listen,” Will said. “I’m going out of town for a while.”
Tommy turned. “Who’d you rob this time?”
The kid was smart, and Tommy chuckled. “I didn’t rob anyone.” Technically, that was true. “I just want to get away… for a while.”
Cold, dry air hammered the truck as Will did the limit on the narrow, single lane road, one of the overused routes now that the city had grown. Snow covered the fields that surrounded the highway, and the sun hid behind gray clouds and a darkening sky. Will saw their turn in the distance when a brown blur flashed in his periphery.
Glass flooded the cab and snow plastered their faces. Will fought to keep the vehicle from rolling and they hit the bank hard, coming to a complete stop. His head bounced up and down like a bobblehead, the engine hissed, and he drifted into unconsciousness.
In the dream, Will trampled through tall, summer grass, finding himself walking beyond the wooded area that marked the outline of his property. He looked down, realizing he held a child. Tommy.
Will sat under a tree and rocked Tommy back and forth. A soft breeze mussed his hair, and the sun cast a glow on his forehead.
“Dad! Wake up!”
Will opened his eyes. How long was I out?
Tommy hovered over him, talking.
“Dad, you all right?”
Blood leaked from Will’s forehead as he checked himself for broken bones. Seeing none, he fumbled for the seatbelt and clicked the button.
“We hit something,” Tommy said. “It’s—it’s over there.”
Will wrenched open the driver’s side door, and an ache gnawed behind his eyes. He followed his son to the shoulder of the highway. The deer couldn’t stand. It tried, but fell, moaning something awful. Will knew right away the animal would die, but Tommy didn’t know about that kind of thing.
Will put a hand on Tommy’s shoulder. “You okay?”
Tommy flinched. “Y—yeah, I think so. She’s dying.”
Blood trickled from the deer’s nostril.
“What should we do?” Tommy said.
“It’s suffering. Only one thing to do.” Will unsheathed a knife from his hip, flicked it open, and knelt.
“No,” Tommy said, tugging on Will’s arm. “I’ll do it.”
Will froze, shocked. Tommy had spent his life avoiding conflict.
I don’t think he’s got the stomach for this.
“You up for it?” Will said.
“You treat me like a baby!” Tommy said with force. “I’m not weak. Give me that—”
“Okay,” Will said, passing his son the knife. “Here you go.”
Tommy gripped the knife with his right hand, knelt, and Will knelt beside him.
“The jugular is here. Drag the knife across like this…” Will said, motioning with his empty hand. “There’ll be blood.”
“I know,” Tommy said.
Tommy’s lips moved slowly.
Was he praying?
And then he did what his father showed him. The blood poured forth, steaming in the frigid cold. It looked like reddish tar.
They both stood, inert, and Will shuffled, nervous. They stayed like that for thirty seconds, staring into each other’s eyes, waiting. It felt confrontational, and that’s when Will saw it, the darkness in Tommy’s eyes. He still held the knife.
“Take me with you,” Tommy said.
“I—” Will began. “I can’t take you.”
“You’ve never been much of a father,” Tommy said, letting the sentence fade.
Tommy was right. Will spent half of the boy’s life in prison, absent for most of the rest.
“Sometimes I do things I know are wrong. I can’t help myself.”
Tommy said, “I saw the bags in the back of the truck. I know one’s full of cash.” He paused. “Take me with you.”
Tommy flinched and Will readied for a blow. That’s when Tommy reached out and hugged him. A good, solid embrace. After Tommy let go, Will looked off into the distance.
“You sure?” he said.
“All right then.”
Neither spoke as they headed toward the truck. Tommy checked his phone and Will gawked at his son, seeing him for the first time, and wondering how he got so lucky.
About the author:
Joel Nedecky is a writer and teacher from Winnipeg. His first novel, The Broken Detective, was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award in 2023.
Jerome crouched between a row of shrubs and trained his binoculars on a house across the street in a residential San Francisco neighborhood. The last light went off about an hour before; plenty of time for the old biddy to have fallen asleep. He stuffed the binoculars into his shoulder bag, slipped on a pair of gloves, pulled the sweatshirt hood over his head, and headed toward the place.
He halted, frozen for a moment, when a motion detector triggered a set of floodlights as he crossed the lawn. He scampered to the dark side of the house, jimmied open a window with a small crowbar, and crawled through. Inside, he detected faint, tinny sounds of music and crept toward a room with the glow from a TV screen.
She was lying in bed watching a black-and-white movie. She turned to him when he entered and opened her mouth to scream, eyes shocked and bulging. He pinned her down and pressed a pillow over her head. She struggled a little, but quickly went limp. Afterward, he ransacked the room and others in the house to make it look like a robbery.
He felt no remorse whatsoever as he walked toward his car, parked about a mile away. She’d lived long enough and he sure as hell didn’t want to wait another five or ten years for her to die of natural causes, since he was already forty—especially because longevity ran in the family on his mother’s side. No, he needed the money now, as the sole living beneficiary of the property—worth close to $700k based on his market research. He’d been working dead-end shit jobs for way too long and deserved a better life.
He checked his watch after he settled in the car. There was more than enough time for him to get to his warehouse job. Everything went off without a hitch. He listened to first his favorite country western music and, later, sports-talk radio along the way.
Two weeks passed. Jerome’s illusion of well-being received a jolt when he got a call from the SFPD, requesting that he come to the station and answer a few “routine questions” concerning the death of his aunt. He reluctantly complied, not wanting to arouse any more suspicions than they already might have. He didn’t sleep well that night.
He sat in a downtown police station interrogation room, facing Detective Al Faraday, heavy set, square-jawed, with a military-style buzz cut, and Vivian Wu, a young woman with a severe gaze. At first, the questions were easy-going and covered general personal stuff. Later they asked him when he saw his aunt last and how her death affected him. He responded that he last saw her at his mother’s funeral five years before, and only found out that she died from the executor of her estate, informing him of his beneficiary status.
With a tightened expression, Faraday leaned closer and asked him if he knew whether his aunt had any enemies.
The question caught Jerome off guard.
“Ah, no. Like I said, I haven’t seen her in years.”
“The trouble is,” Faraday said, “there were some rather suspicious circumstances surrounding her death.”
Jerome felt a tightening in his gut.
“What do you mean?”
“She had deep bruises around her nose. Someone pushed a pillow down on her face.”
“With blood traces on the pillowcase,” Vivian added.
“She'd been taking blood thinners," Faraday said, "according to the hospice nurse who found her the next day. It often causes such bruising.”
The tightening in his gut became more acute.
“So… you think someone murdered her?” he asked in a raspy voice.
“And tried to make it look like a robbery. A lot of valuable stuff was left. Things thieves usually take like jewelry and expensive vases."
“Someone with a motive,” Vivian answered, staring intently at him.
The pressure in his gut. Like he was ready to explode.
“And then there’s the pictures the camera took after the motion detector lights went on,” Faraday said. A person creeping across the lawn. Couldn’t quite make out a face but our digital team are aces. They should come up with something soon.”
Jerome began to feel faint.
“Would you like some water?” Vivian asked.
That evening, Faraday and Vivian sat in a bar and clinked shot glasses together.
“So that’s how you run a bluff,” Faraday said. “But let me tell you, they aren’t all this easy.”
“I could tell he was going to crack as soon as you shifted the line of questioning,” she said.
“He was putty in my hands.”
“The camera bluff broke him.”
“Yeah, but all he had to do was lawyer up at that point and he’d be a free man now. Since there was no camera.”
“He was too far gone,” she said. “Couldn’t do anything but confess.”
“Some folks just aren’t fit for a life of crime.”
“Such a waste though—huh?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Haven’t you read the coroner’s report?”
“He would’ve gotten the inheritance in another month or two at the most. She had terminal cancer. Stage Five Pancreatic.”
Faraday shook his head and signaled the barkeep for another round.
About the author:
A.R. Bender's short stories, flash fiction, and poetry have been published in numerous literary journals. He's also in the process of self-publishing his historical novel. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking off the grid and coaching youth soccer.
Luna glided into the boutique hotel. She caught a glimpse of her reflection in one of the lobby mirrors. Everything was perfectly in place: hair in a tight bun, cinched waist in her qipao dress, Louboutins accentuating her long legs.
“I’ll see you in five minutes,” read the text that popped up on her phone from an anonymous number.
To think: they had once been neighbours, but he never gave her the time of day, back when she went by her birth name of Xiao Chen.
Xiao Chen wasn’t like Xiao Hua, her prettier, docile sister who did what was expected of her. After school, Xiao Chen worked as a cashier and stripper. She partly did it to spite her mother. But at least Xiao Chen wasn’t sleeping with the dean of her medical school to maintain good grades on paper.
Things began to change with a customer’s casual remark about how Xiao Chen could rake in more money with a couple of tweaks. The customer was a talent agent and handed her a plastic surgeon’s business card.
“I send my influencers there all the time,” the customer explained. “They’ve got to look good from all angles on social media.”
Xiao Chen figured she didn’t have much to lose. Her own mother and classmates had always bullied her over her nose.
Dr. Wu, the plastic surgeon, walked Xiao Chen through her options. She chose an installment plan for a rhinoplasty and double eyelid surgery.
“How do you feel?” Dr. Wu asked at her follow-up appointment.
“My friend said I now look chic,” replied Xiao Chen.
Dr. Wu beamed with pride. “I’m sure your quality of life will improve.”
They shook hands after she signed up for future sessions of Skin Botox to get the glass skin of her dreams.
Thus, Luna was born. The way people treated her pre- and post-surgery was like night and day. The new name commenced her new look and new life. No pain, no gain, was her mantra.
Her satisfaction swiftly turned into grief when she learned how deadly the quest for beauty could be.
Xiao Hua had always loathed the deep frown lines between her eyebrows. “They make me look so old and angry!” she wailed.
“Just get some botox,” said The Dean. “It’s an easy treatment. I can do it for you the next time we’re together.”
Xiao Hua dutifully trusted and followed his advice like a good student, but ended up being one of the rare cases of sudden death after the injections. The Dean was responsible for what happened, but had friends in the right places to make sure it didn’t end his career.
It was almost comical how he didn’t recognize Luna when she rang the doorbell. They exchanged a smile as he led her to the jet black dining table where her body was to serve as a plate.
One of his young guests, already in the room, set up the sushi on Luna’s body. She watched as the girl carefully laid out the pieces, carefully positioning a couple of unagi nigiri in the middle of her chest.
Luna knew those were his favorite.
She quickly unlocked one of the tiny charms on her bracelet when everyone turned their backs. A drop or two of flavorless, odorless tetrodotoxin landed on the unagi sushi. Tetrodotoxin came from the pufferfish, which required a licensed fugu chef to prepare. It paid to have friends in all the right places.
It wasn’t long before The Dean started complaining about numbness in his lips and tongue. The guests freaked out when he collapsed and stopped breathing.
Luna joined in the commotion before heading to the bathroom to calmly wash her hands and put on her qipao. She’d tell the police why she was there—“for business”—and in a few hours, she’d step out free as a bird into the glitzy nightlife outside.
If only people could see beneath her pretty face.
About the author:
Jess Chua is a writer with a Venus in Scorpio and a little bit of a book hoarding problem. Her website is jesschua.com
I knew I would be questioned. I knew I would be one of the main suspects.
I am Matt’s sister. Yes, that Matt―the high-school kid who got beaten up, humiliated, and urinated on by the thugs who hung out with his so-called girlfriend, Pamela. And the Internet saw it live. It became all too clear that she was the one who set the whole thing up. Just for the fun of it.
So Pamela had to go.
Of course, Matt would be the number one suspect. But he had an alibi. He was at his chess club, where he was in plain sight when the murder took place.
And I was in my room the whole night. My parents can vouch for that as they never saw me leave.
Only I did.
At 7:30 p.m. on Halloween, I carefully opened my bedroom door, crept downstairs as quietly as I could, and slipped out of the house through the garage.
Then I jogged in my costume―a black shirt, black baggy pants, and gloves, with a backpack containing my raven mask and murder weapon, and a small flashlight in my hand, to David’s Farm and its haunted mega-maze.
Some distance from the entrance, I put on my mask and, cash in hand, proceeded to the register.
Since Pamela could never keep her mouth shut, the whole school knew what she was up to. We all knew that she and her friends visited the corn mega-maze at David’s Farm every Halloween. The maze was known for having actors in scary costumes jumping out of dark corners to frighten the visitors. Perfect for my plan.
The murder weapon created somewhat of a dilemma. It had to be quiet and efficient. Something like an ice pick. Better yet—a carving fork. It gives you a better grip, and with two sharp ends, you are less likely to miss.
So, there I was, in my black baggy clothes and black raven mask, strolling through the maze, looking for Pamela and those losers she called friends. From time to time, I would pretend to be a part of other groups. If it came to it, nobody could tell later if the raven was alone or with his friends. Or if the raven was a man or a woman. The less accurately people could describe me, the better.
Finally, I saw Pamela. She looked like she spent a lot on her witch costume. Trotting behind her were a pig, a butcher, and a raven. Yes, another raven. Not a coincidence. Pamela and her thugs showed up at school on the Friday before Halloween in their costumes. I assumed they would wear them again on Halloween Sunday. I was right.
So on Friday night, I went to the store and bought a raven mask, identical to the one thug number three was wearing. He was closest to my size.
I climbed on one of the observation posts to get a better view of the maze. Then the fireworks began, and I smiled. I shimmied down the post and cut through the maze, then waited. I peeked through the corn. The pig was coming, followed by the butcher, then Pamela and the raven. I had to find a way to distract Pamela and separate her from the rest. I squeezed the carving fork.
Suddenly, two zombies appeared on the path in front of the pig and started to walk towards him, moaning, stumbling, and looking for brains to eat. This delighted the pig, the butcher, and the raven, and they rushed forward and waved their hands in front of the zombies. I could feel Pamela’s eyes rolling. The zombies tried to push past the group.
Pamela fell behind as the others turned the corner.
I looked around. Nobody was coming. I emerged from the maze behind Pamela, grabbed her in a stranglehold, and thrust the carving fork into the side of her neck. She tried to scream, but only a faint gurgling sound came out. Then she was quiet. I dragged her to the side as far away from the path as possible, slipped the carving fork into a Ziploc bag inside my backpack, and got the hell out of there.
Once on the street, I took off the raven mask, tucked it into my backpack, and started jogging towards the nearest Halloween store.
The safest way to get rid of unwanted clothes is to return them to the store without officially returning them.
After I put the raven mask on again before entering the store, I headed to the changing room. There, I took off the mask and my black costume, inspected them for blood stains, then changed into a pair of jeans, a black hoodie, and black baseball cap. When the lady who was supervising the changing rooms stepped away, I put the black costume and mask back on the rack, then headed to the family bathroom.
After locking the door behind me, I took out a small bottle of bleach, cleaned the carving fork and the Ziploc bag and tossed them in the trash. Then I piled a few paper towels on the top and left the bathroom.
“How did it go?” asked my brother after I got home.
“Judge for yourself!”
I handed him my little camera watch. My brother worked hard all night but finished the job perfectly.
The following day arrived with the news of Pamela’s murder, and her friend, the raven, being charged after posting a short clip of the murder online. The footage only showed Pamela’s dying body contorted on the ground and a quick second of somebody in a raven mask, but this was enough for the DA.
“How about a freak accident for the other two?” I asked Matt after he switched off the news channel.
“Why the hell not?” Matt replied, a warm smile lighting up his face.
About the author:
Milkana N. Mingels was born in Bulgaria and currently lives in Massachusetts. She is the author of the Tales from the Mountain of Perun duology. Visit her online at https://twitter.com/MilkanaMingels and https://www.facebook.com/Milkana-N-Mingels-1742875452649567/
Darla parted her long blonde hair on the side, letting a segment fall like a curtain across the edge of her right eye, à la Veronica Lake. Next, a bit of vibrant red lipstick to match her nails, and she was done. She rose from her dressing table and turned to examine her profile. The black lace evening dress with the crystal-beaded neckline was more than flattering on her. Lovingly, she placed a hand on the slight swell of her belly. Barely showing, she thought to herself.
She picked up her spangled clutch and snapped it open. Darla proceeded to slip in her lipstick, mirrored compact, embossed party invitation—and her grandmother's pearl-handled derringer. Loaded, of course.
Upon arriving at the gala event, Darla made straight for the open bar. No booze for me, she reminded herself. She ordered soda water, served in a champagne flute. In the glittering twilight of the hotel’s ballroom, no one could tell it wasn’t champagne.
She turned and surveyed the well-heeled crowd milling about the various objet d’art for sale, for this 1940s-themed party was disguised as a charity fundraiser. Darla sauntered over to the one display that snagged her interest: a small sculpture of a man and woman, not embracing, but pushing each other apart. The empty space between them was shaped like a heart. How appropriate, she thought. If I had the money--
Looking through this heart-space, she spotted him. Boyd, ever dapper in his tux, though he was short and slim with thinning brown hair. He always carried the latest accessories: a monogrammed gold cigarette case, matching tiger-eye cuff-links, his statuesque wife on his arm.
Darla stared long enough to catch his attention. When their eyes met, he raised his eyebrows in surprise, then patted his wife’s slender arm and made his way towards Darla, who in turn made her way to one of the ballroom’s many patio balconies.
She posed herself against the stone balustrade, throwing her head back to better reveal her plunging decolletage. Darla sank into the eclipse of his approaching shadow.
“What are you doing here?” Boyd asked flatly.
“I was invited, remember?” Darla sighed. “You made the arrangements, yourself.”
“That was months ago,” Boyd said, smoothing his sparse hair. “Things have changed.”
Instinctively, Darla’s hand went to her belly. A protective, maternal move. Boyd’s eyes slid down Darla’s body, then rose to meet her eyes.
“I told you to get rid of it,” he said coldly. He roughly grabbed Darla’s arm and dragged her into the blue shadows on the far side of the balcony. Inside, strains of Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” wafted from the retro big band.
Now it was Boyd’s turn to lean against the balustrade. He opened his cigarette case, tapped a cigarette on the lid—one of his little idiosyncrasies that Darla once loved—lit it with his gold lighter, and blew smoke into her face.
Darla opened her clutch, and retrieved the derringer. In the moonlight, the muzzle glinted; she used it to push the hair back from her eye.
Boyd laughed. “So what are you going to do with that? You gonna cause a scene here, in front of all these fine people?” He took a long drag. “You gonna kill yourself?”
Inside the ballroom, the music paused. The MC told a joke.
“I’m not,” Darla said coolly, shoving the muzzle under his chin, “the one who’s going to die.” She pulled the trigger. From the ballroom, an uproar of laughter and applause drowned the derringer's single muted boom.
Darla shoved him over the balustrade before he could crumple to the floor. Boyd landed in a thorny hedge of bougainvillea.
Darla re-entered the ballroom, skirting the dance floor on her way to the exit. A man’s hand landed on her shoulder. She stopped as a baritone voice behind her asked, “Leaving so soon?”
She turned to face a youngish man with slicked-back black hair and a leading-man mustache. Very Clark Gable, she mused.
“Pardon my intrusion,” he grinned shyly, “but it seems you’re alone, and well, they’re about to play the last song of the evening. I was hoping you’d—”
“I’d be delighted,” Darla said, answering his unfinished proposal.
“Call me Clark,” the man said as he took Darla’s hand and swirled her onto the dance floor.
She cocked an eyebrow. “And I’m Veronica.”
The band slid into their rendition of Arty Shaw’s sultry “Nightmare.”
“What an odd choice for a final song,” Clark murmured into her hair.
“Yet when the song is over,” Darla replied huskily, “so’s the nightmare.”
Clark leaned back and locked eyes with her. Darla smiled for the first time that evening. Cocooned in the heart-beat bliss of their burgeoning attraction, neither could hear the shouts and screams rising from the outside. Even if they had wanted to.
About the author:
With a Masters in English Lit, Hillary Lyon founded and for 20 years acted as senior editor for the independent poetry publisher, Subsynchronous Press. When not writing, she is the assistant art director for Black Petals. She resides and thrives in the harsh but beautiful Sonoran desert of Tucson, Arizona.
The woman entered Hotel Latvija from busy Brīvības iela, took the glass-walled viewing elevator twenty-six floors, all of Rīga in summer bloom stretching out before her during the climb. In her arms she carried a bundle of carmine-red-colored bunting, the rolled cloth heavier than it should be, a weighty secret within its folds.
When she reached the top, the woman stepped off the elevator into an empty, low-ceilinged room. Nearby was the entrance to the Skyline Lounge, the tourist-friendly discotheque closed at this hour of mid-morning. She used a stolen passkey to unlock an access door and followed the stairs up past the Event Room level to the hotel’s roof.
Not a soul in sight.
Under blazing sunlight and gentle June winds, she proceeded to the roof’s southwestern side, overlooking the Freedom Monument, Esplanāde Park with its winding canal and beyond to the spires and gabled roofs of Rīga’s Old Town. Catty-corner across wide Brīvības was the Palace of Justice, trapezoidal in circumference, four stories high, its inner courtyard in view from the towering hotel top.
The woman set her bundle down against the safety rail and hiked up the cloth’s edges to make sure her weapon remained concealed. She checked the time on her mobile. 10:23.
Three stories below in Room 2401, Artem Melnikov used a specialized glass-cutting saw to open a hole in his hotel suite window. When the extracted piece came free, he pulled it inside with affixed suction cup grips and set the glass on the carpeted floor, allowing no shard to fall to pavement so far below.
He lowered himself into a sniper’s position and pointed his DXL-5 Ravager rifle into the opening he’d created, focusing his telescopic sight on the gathering inside the Palace of Justice’s courtyard, where Supreme Court Chief Justice Samuels Lediņš would speak precisely at 10:30 A.M. The press was already present, filling in the seats before the podium, only one chair empty.
Latvia’s Supreme Court had ruled. Lediņš was to announce the impending destruction of the monolithic Soviet Victory Monument across the river, a symbol in the Latvian people’s eyes of fifty years of Soviet occupation, of mass murders and mass deportations, and a still-looming threat from their neighbor to the east.
The foreign government behind Artem wanted their Soviet monuments to stand forever. And to make a point about “little country” defiance.
So, Lediņš must die. As an example.
About time. Artem had heard rumors this was an open contract, other assassins vying to earn that bounty on Lediņš. Well, nobody beats Artem to a kill.
He focused his sights. The moment Lediņš entered the courtyard…
Someone knocked on Artem’s hotel door.
At 10:28 the woman unrolled her streamer bunting along the rooftop edge, careful to keep her rifle hidden beneath the cloth. If her tip was correct, Melnikov was three floors below, gunning for Justice Lediņš.
She wouldn’t allow him the kill.
She had her own living to earn.
“Security! Open up!” repeated hotel detective Oskars Tauriņš, pounding on door 2401 for nearly three minutes.
Troubling, thought Oskars. They received two separate alerts within seconds. The security cameras caught a woman on the roof, preparing to spread some banner or streamer down the building’s side. Likely a political protest meant for the Justice Ministry across the street. Almost a daily occurrence in these troubled times. They would soon escort the protester off the premises to the nearest police station.
But the more immediate concern was this room. Situated on the side facing the Justice Ministry’s offices, hotel sensors went off whenever anyone broke the window glass. Those panes were sealed at this level and almost impossible to damage accidentally. It must be deliberate vandalism, a suicide attempt, or something much worse: a national security issue. The woman protesting from the roof would have to wait.
Oskars swiped his passkey, went inside.
A tall, thin man stepped out of the bathroom. An automatic pistol-with-silencer in his hand.
Oskars felt the impact of two slugs hitting his chest, saw the eruption of blood as they penetrated his sternum.
The last sights of Oskars Tauriņš’s life.
Artem pulled the dead man’s body into the bathroom, then pushed the couch in front of the hallway door. He pocketed his pistol, returned to his rifle at the window. Lediņš was already in the courtyard, stepping to the podium. Artem set his finger on the trigger.
A red shroud lowered over his window.
It was some sort of streaming red bunting dropped from above. Either the discotheque or the roof. He tried to push it away with the rifle muzzle, but the cloth was too heavy and enveloping to clear. He fled to another window. No, the wrong angle. And no time to cut the glass. Security would be here when their man didn’t call.
Artem pulled the key from the dead guard’s hand, shoved aside the couch, and sped out into the hall, rifle in his hands. He should flee this hotel. But five million euros and professional pride egged him on. He swiped the key card, vaulted up the stairs to the roof.
When Artem Melnikov burst through the rooftop door, the woman shot him in the head. The rubber bullet bounced off his cranium hard enough that it sent him tumbling back down the stairs to the next landing.
She cautiously followed. Found him stunned, a little broken but living. She picked up his rifle, pulled the pistol from his pocket, and retreated up the steps to a safe distance. Then she called the hotel lobby on her mobile.
“Front desk? This is Santa Ezeriņa, journalist. I’ve interrupted an assassination attempt from the roof. Yes, I’m serious. Call the Palace of Justice, the police and send someone up.” She texted her editor. What a headline tomorrow “Justice Lives!”
Santa watched Melnikov stirring. Pity if she had to shoot him again. The assassin’s had a bad day.
About the author:
William Burton McCormick is an Edgar-nominated writer of thriller and mystery fiction set mainly in Eastern Europe. He presently lives in Latvia, the setting of "Assassin's Bad Day" and his award-winning novel KGB BANKER.
Momma Finola made a V with her index finger and thumb then aimed it at Tony Sola, who strutted out of the Lancaster courthouse, celebrating his third hung jury. “Malocchio,” she said, then gazed into his eyes, cursing the man who whacked her son. The evil eye smacked Sola in the head harder than a bat, and his bones weighed heavy. A moment later, she dropped to the sidewalk, and he got the fuck out of there: heartache.
Sola crossed the street, heading to his car, and a crow dropped some white shit into his perfect hair. He yanked out a handkerchief and used his phone as a mirror. She shouldn’t have done that, he thought. Richie Finola knew the rules of this thing. Sola had no beef with the kid, but word from their source was he flipped after getting pinched for dealing out in Gettysburg. It wasn’t personal.
When Tony got to the club on Duke Street, he excused himself from the party, stepped into the kitchen and poured some olive oil into a bowl of warm water, just like his grandmother had taught him to do. The oil coalesced into an eye, and he made the sign of the cross. The next morning, he picked up a silver horn painted red from a street vendor and wore it from a bracelet. Once he was properly secured with countermeasures, Sola walked to the club, and a Red Rose bus lost control and slammed into a brick wall, nearly crushing him. He staggered into the club and nearly collapsed.
“You having a coronary?” the boss said, then dealt a hand of poker. “Za, drive him over to the ER.”
“I just gotta sit down.”
“You need a Perrier?”
“I need a priest,” Sola said. He’d faced deranged hitmen, Feds with wiretaps and holy vigilantes, but he’d never been up against an Italian mother before, and for the first time in his life, terror burrowed so deep into his guts Sola struggled not to vomit.
“Just pull yourself together for tonight.”
“Curse or not,” he said, pouring himself a cup of coffee, “I’ll do my duty.” He sipped the cup, and the lid popped off, pouring scalding brew down his neck and chest. He yelped and dropped the cup. After he cleaned up and applied some balm to his seared skin, he took the boss aside. “Hey listen, skip. I can’t do it. She gave me the evil eye.”
“She cursed you good, eh? Well, fuck it. Get someone to buy it.”
“You can do that?” Sola said. “Fuck.”
“It’s gotta be their choice.”
Just after midnight, they parked out front of the Sheetz and watched the driver carry a coffee back to the Best Buy truck parked at the diesel pump—just like their tip said. Sola sat in the back seat and fingered a rosary in his trench coat pocket, hoping he could cure the curse with enough beads. He watched the driver flip his hat around then climb up into the cabin, where Joey Za perched in the passenger seat. They followed the truck as it pulled out onto Route 30, drove about three miles to an abandoned sunglasses factory, then pulled into a derelict warehouse.
“4K flatscreens,” the boss said. “Nothing beats an old-fashioned heist.” The truck pulled into a makeshift tunnel designed to shield GPS and alarm systems. “Balaclavas on. Fuck, I love saying that.” Bobby waited for them with a lit blowtorch. He went to work on the trailer lock.
Sola got out of the backseat, stepped in an oil streak and flipped onto his back. “Mother Mary’s c—”
“You need a full body cast, Ton’?”
“Just give me a minute.”
“Yeah, sure. Why don’t you have a nice lie down while we steal for a living?” The boss offered Sola a hand. Tony reached for it, and the boss yanked it away. The rest of the guys nearly shit themselves. “Okay. Go babysit.”
Sola pulled himself up, took out his piece then escorted the trembling driver over to a crate. He eased his sore body down next to the other man, and a splinter ripped a second hole in his ass. He yelped, jumped up and nearly pulled the trigger. The driver whimpered.
“Didn’t mean to scare you,” Sola said. “The evil eye’s a bitch.”
“I have two kids,” the driver said. “I’ll tell ‘em you knocked me out. I’ve got a poodle with eye cancer. Sammy Davis needs me! I’ll do anything.”
“Will you?” Sola said. “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll take care of you if you take my evil eye.”
“You want to give me your eye?” he said.
“Why the fuck would I give you my eye?”
“For the poodle or some shit. Maybe you like dogs.”
“No, you fucking moron. I got cursed, and I want to trade it.”
The driver hesitated then finally agreed. “What shit do I have to do?”
Sola imitated the hand gesture and tried gazing into the driver’s eyes, but the fuzz from the balaclava obscured his line of sight. He knew better than to take it off—guys who did that got pinched—but he figured he’d be dead by morning anyway. Finally, he yanked it from his head, looked deeply into the driver’s eyes and imitated the gestures until he felt the weight lift from his bones.
“Vaffanculo, Momma Finola,” Sola said.
“Is that it?”
“Yeah, but you’ve seen my face,” he said, aiming his piece.
“But you said you’d take care of me.”
“This curse is a bitch,” Sola said and put one through his eye. The driver fell over face-first onto the cold concrete.
“You’re dragging that down to the well!” the boss admonished.
Sola grabbed the driver under the shoulders, feeling like a new man, and dragged him towards the basement stairs. He thought about grabbing his wallet to find out where the guy lived so he could go put that damn mutt out of its misery, too.
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
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.
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
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