From my boat I watch through binoculars as she strides down the gravel path. Her long legs, deeply tanned under purple running shorts, pump a strong and confident pace. It’s a steep mile to the lakefront from the cliff-top parking lot. She covers it as easily as a stroll around the block.
Last night I anchored off-shore in my J-30. I researched for a few months before picking this spot and made three trial runs. Once again, mine is the lone boat in the secluded inlet. Almost perfect. Sapphire Bay, one of the most beautiful sites on the enormous lake, is marred only by its sole building—the sprawling replica of a Rhine castle facing the beach. It’s there that she’s heading.
Donashaus was built in the 1920s by a widow from Kansas City with beefsteak money to burn and a fascination with Wagner. The widow left her property to the state of California when she died and the castle and grounds are now a state park. The building holds little appeal for me—a random assortment of stone turrets and Gothic arches—but it’s a major attraction in the summer months. Fortunately it’s too early in the morning for any tourists to descend, huffing and puffing, for a guided tour. Donashaus won’t open to the public today for at least a few more hours.
She reaches the deserted shoreline in just under fifteen minutes, stopping at one of the picnic tables in front of the castle. She cups one hand above her eyes, gazing out over the clear blue-green water toward my boat. I put down my binoculars to wave a friendly hello. I think she acknowledges me with a nod but I can’t be sure.
A young man emerges from a door on one side of the castle. I check my watch. 7:15 am. Right on time. Although I don’t know his name I know by now he’s the resident caretaker, a state park ranger assigned to the cushy, yet lonely job of guarding Mrs. Sirloin’s fantasy. Clad in a brown park service uniform, he drags a large plastic garbage bag. Prep for the morning run to the dump. He slings the bag into a pickup truck parked alongside the castle, stopping short when he sees her.
Did I mention how beautiful she is? He certainly seems to think so. I pick up my binoculars to focus on his face as he stares at her lithe body and long blonde hair. She ignores him and moves closer to the water, beginning a series of stretches on the sand as though she’s about to embark on a long run. He can’t take his eyes off her as she rocks lightly on her toes, her palms flat on the sand.
“Back to reality, kid,” I whisper. “Get back to reality.”
As if he hears me, the park ranger gives himself a little shake. He grabs a bucket and mop from the back of the truck, and walks off toward the public restrooms behind the castle.
She waits until he disappears and then whips off her white t-shirt and the rest of her clothes to stand naked on the beach. I put the binoculars away and go down below to mix up a pitcher of Mimosas.
“WOMAN VANISHES AT DONASHAUS!” scream the headlines a few days later. By now, I’m some two hundred miles from the lake and the J-30’s been hauled. The story is sexy enough to get coverage throughout the state and beyond. Sitting on my terrace with the San Francisco skyline spread out before me, I scroll through the news on my iPad.
According to the Chronicle, her name is Samantha Watson. Early thirties, a married real estate agent who competes in mini-triathlons. On the day she disappeared, Samantha told her husband she was going for an early morning run. He knew she took their Hyundai SUV—Samantha liked to work out in pretty scenery—but he didn’t know she headed for Sapphire Bay. The Watsons lived in a subdivision about forty minutes from the lake. When she didn’t return by noon he called her cell. When she didn’t answer he called her friends. At five he called the police. The search really didn’t get mobilized until the next day. They found the empty Hyundai half-hidden by the Ponderosa pines ringing the Sapphire Bay State Park parking lot.
Sipping my glass of Merlot, I reread the story. Samantha carried a hefty life insurance policy, listing her younger sister who struggled with MS, not her husband, as the beneficiary. Although an unnamed friend of the couple described the husband as controlling and the marriage as “rocky at best”, he didn’t seem to be a serious suspect. Apparently the neighbor directly across the street spent that morning overseeing a landscaping project on his front lawn. He saw Samantha drive away alone in the SUV and swore the husband never left the house.
The story doesn’t mention the young park ranger. I think long and hard, weighing the benefits and drawbacks of getting involved at this point. In the end I place an anonymous phone call to the police. And then I wait.
It pays off in less than a week. Jamie Thompson, the resident ranger at Donashaus, is arrested for the murder of Samantha Watson. It seems that the idiot was questioned initially, but denied ever seeing her. Too scared, I guess, or feeling too guilty about his lecherous thoughts. Thanks to my call, the police tracked down the garbage bags from Donashaus that morning. Buried in one of the bags, along with Samantha’s cellphone, was a pair of purple running shorts, a white t-shirt, flowered bikini panties and a jog bra.
After the police confronted him, poor Jamie finally admitted to seeing Samantha at Donashaus. He claimed he saw her standing at the edge of the lake while he was collecting bags of garbage for the dump trek. He said he went to clean the restrooms behind the castle and when he returned to his truck she was gone. It sounded so feeble it had to be true. It was true, of course; I saw it all. Unfortunately no one believed him, except maybe his public defender.
This morning I’m back on the terrace, waiting for my French roast, when I turn on my iPad. “DONAHAUS DISAPPEARANCE SOLVED!” proclaims the Chronicle. Although the police didn’t find a body—no surprise with the average depth of the lake at about a thousand feet—Jamie Thompson virtually confessed. The freaked out kid hanged himself in his cell while awaiting a preliminary hearing. It’s over.
I turn my head at the rattle of coffee mugs behind me. She gently kisses my cheek and hands me a steaming cup from the tray she’s holding. She’s as lovely as the day we first met at the road race my tech company sponsors, even with freshly dyed and permed brown curls.
“Thanks, Sam,” I say. I see the question in her eyes. I decide to tell her about Jamie later. I don’t feel a twinge of guilt but she might.
Instead I simply smile. “Don’t worry, honey, it’s going to be a beautiful day.”
About the author:
Christine Eskilson is an attorney living in Massachusetts. She loves Bruce Springsteen, the Chicago Cubs and Boston Terriers, not necessarily in that order.
“Put ’em glasses in that tub and bring it behind the bar,” Granma says. “Mind you don’ drop it, now.” I don’t answer. It’s early. I’m tired. And I know the job. You can keep all the money you find. “Theys loads of money down the seats, there, say huh?” I nod. I know that routine, too.
The Old Man had laughed the first time he saw me running my hands behind the back of the seats, tracing my fingers over the red plastic seams, dragging up sticky quarters and damp five dollar bills. And other things, too. “Ho, yeah,” he said. “Digging for a little something extra, ain’t ya?”
I stack the glasses in the gray bus tub. Ashtrays, too. They all go in the same dishwasher. No one cares. There’s no spoons or forks or knives to add. No one eats in this place. No one but me. I slap a rag over the top of a table and drag it around, chewing on an orange slice I grabbed from a tray on the bar. I move to the next table and the next. I’m wiping the rag in big circles, and I have to stand on tiptoe to get the middle of the table. While I’m stretching my butt squeezes between the table I’m wiping and the one behind me.
When I look over my shoulder to the sound of hot breaths behind me, I see the Old Man’s hand is inside his pants, but the top of his dick is outside, squeezing past his zipper. Gross. But I seen gross-er.
After everything, Granma tosses a knife with a weird white blade in the tub I’m still holding. “They’ll find it, you leave that there,” I say softly.
“Thas the point, say huh.”
I’m not scared or sick, I just don’t like this part. But Granma’s in no rush, gumming out words to herself, tossing the green zippered bank bag into her bucket, grabbing a tall bottle from a high-up shelf to put in, too, dropping her rags and yellow rubber gloves on top. I walk out behind her, climb into the front seat, even though I’m not s’posed to.
Granma’s gray hand pushes her gray hair off her forehead until it stands up straight. The gray road stretches out ahead until it touches the gray sky. I remember the Old Man moving his hand under the table when I bent over to pick up a dime he flipped on to the sticky floor in front of me. Remember his dumb open mouth with the knife sticking out of it after Granma finished, “Here’s sumpin extra for ya, say huh.” Then I remember something else. The long knife with a white blade that Mancy yelled about when I put it in the tub at the M&H Chop House yesterday morning. We clean the Chop House on Fridays and Saturdays and this place on Sundays. Or did. Mancy’s big red mouth saying, “Don’t wash this knife. Don’t pick up this knife. Don’t touch this knife.” Something else to remember: Mancy’s big feet sticking out from under the table one Sunday morning. And the look on his face when he crawled out and the Old Man opened up the green bag with the zipper. Flicked a stack of bills across the table at him. The way Mancy’s eyes stayed on the floor when he pushed the money in his front pocket.
I look over at Granma. “I left my Rainbow Pony notebook in my locker at school,” I say. “I really liked that one.”
She grins that gummy grin at me, pulls the rubber gloves out of the bucket at my feet, still dripping soapy suds off the fingertips, and—driving with one three fingered hand—digs around in the bucket some more and pulls out a tall glass full of bright red, long-stemmed cherries. Tucking it between my legs, she grabs three, shoving them into her mouth straight away. Sometimes all we walk out with is a drip tray of orange triangles. Or popcorn.
“That one where we got those cinnamon sugar almonds,” I say, picking up a cherry, “that one was the best.”
“Yeah, the best,” she says. “We’ll look for another place like that, say huh? Get us some pancakes in a few miles. Be like you don’t even miss that Rainbow Pony thing.”
I roll another cherry around on my tongue. “These cherries’ll probl’y taste really good on some pancakes, say huh?”
Granma laughs. “Mmm-hmm. Little sumpin extra.”
About the author:
Carman C. Curton consumes caffeine while writing a series of microstories called QuickFics, which she leaves in random places for people to find. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook @CarmanCCurton.
The big guy slapped his money on the bar. “Keep the change.”
The bartender nodded at him. The guy got off his stool, and started to walk away.
“Hey,” I said, “what about my money?”
“You owe me money. You lost a bet!”
“Come on, man.”
The few people in the bar turned to watch us. A young blonde woman in a gray t-shirt and jeans stood up from her table, and sipped on what looked like whisky.
The big lump turned back to me. “What are you gonna do about it?”
He was a much bigger man than I was. I didn’t have a real answer so I said, “I’ll figure out a way, ya prick.”
The lump pulled his fist back to take a punch at me. The blonde grabbed his arm and wrist, and twisted them behind his back, quickly, professionally.
The guy grimaced and turned his head. “Piss off. None of your business, blondie.”
“You shouldn’t have said that.” And with a twist of her own wrist, she forced him to the floor.
From the end of the bar, the bartender said, “Hey, enough of that.”
“Stay out of this, man,” she said. She looked at me. “How much does he owe you?”
“Five-hundred bucks. I would have bet more ‘cause I knew I was right, but I figured that was about his limit.”
“What was the bet?”
“Who won the 2001 World Series.”
“Arizona,” she said. “Bloop single. Game Seven. What did he say?”
“Nah, ’96, ’98, ’99, 2000. Lost in 2001. Haven’t won since ’09. Good thing too.” She released her grip on his arm. “Get up.”
The guy got up and rubbed his arm, and looked at her stupidly.
“And now, my lad,” she said, “we’re going to a bank machine to see if you have five-hundred dollars.” She waved a twenty at the bartender and put it on her table. “Keep the change.” She finished her whisky.
She pushed the lump to the door and out to the street. She walked beside him down the sidewalk. I paid my tab and followed them outside. They went down the sidewalk and I trailed them with a grin on my face.
The guy made a break for it but she quickly caught up with him and tripped him, his palms and knees scraping on the sidewalk. She forced him to his feet, twisted his arm behind him again, and pushed him forward.
“I’ll get you,” he said.
“Unlikely,” she said, giving him a little shot to the kidneys.
We reached a bank, and there was a teller machine in the lobby. She pushed him through the door and up to the terminal. He hesitated and she jammed her middle knuckle up into the pressure point behind his ear. He yelled, then took his bank card out and made the transaction. He stood there stupidly with the five-hundred in his hand, looking from the blond to me and back again. He finally handed me the money.
She pushed him toward the exit. “See ya.”
The lump went through the door and shuffled away.
She looked at me. “You know what’s gonna happen now, right?”
I gave her the five-hundred.
“And you have a bank card too, right?” She smiled at me.
Damn, I thought, didn’t see that coming. And to top it off, I got hit with a five-dollar service charge because it wasn’t my bank.
About the author:
Bill lives in Toronto, used to work for a terrible company, and now works for something much better: himself. He knows he can’t live forever on pizza and beer, but he’s going to try.
Bruno didn’t feel confident he could take them, so he surrendered his piece over Mario’s guys. They frisked him anyway, but he kept his cool—the only way he’d survive. He thought about running when he got the call, but you followed a code when you were in this life, even though he gave himself fifty-fifty odds. They showed him to the rear bar where Mario, that bloated animal, made a sandwich.
“A thousand thank yous for coming up on short notice,” he said and squeezed Bruno’s hand.
“No problem,” Bruno lied. It was a big fucking problem dragging his ass to Jersey City with the Cuba shipment sailing up the coast. But when Mario summoned you, the commission summoned you.
“We heard three of your crew got picked up by the feds yesterday from some beach bar. Jimmy Shells,” Bruno added.
“At the Wildwood Marina?” Mario layered ham and cheese on a roll, and his necklace—a diamond-studded stencil of his name—dipped into a bowl of mustard. He wasn’t dead yet. Maybe he had a shot, he thought, and surveyed the room, coming up with a plan: tables, a bar, back entrance. Bruno couldn’t help but notice that Mario left a safe behind the bar open: several stacks of hundred-dollar bills, two old-fashioned flip phones and a .32 H&R Magnum revolver, which he assumed was loaded. How could he just leave it open like that? Mario probably figured no one would dare rob a made guy of his rank.
“A lot of nice boats,” Mario said, sprinkling peppers. “I’m gonna get me a yacht when I retire, take Connie down to Key West.” He brought his plate over to the bar, and his necklace smeared mustard on the tufts of black hair that grew over the collar of his white t-shirt.
“So not that I don’t enjoy the pleasure of your company—but why did I just drive two hours?” Bruno tried to sound confident, oblivious, invoking the wisdom passed down from his Uncle Joey: Act like you got a secret when you don’t know shit. Be clueless when you do.
Joey never showed up to his trial after he got pinched for dealing. He vanished after stopping off for a farewell drink at Mario’s bar. That wasn’t going to do down with him, so he played ignorant, trying to figure out the scenario.
“Storms on the horizon,” Mario said, biting off a hunk of hoagie. Bruno gagged, watching the animal eat. “Our guy in Trenton says they’re being arraigned in the morning.”
“My guys’ll stand up,” Bruno said and scanned the room for a weapon. An unopened wine bottle made a pretty good club, even a better missile.
“They raided the house in Princeton. Went right for the stash under the dishwasher. They knew. The fucking Feds knew.”
An old analog clock hanging above the bar ticked away each second with an audible click: tick, tick, tick. . .
Acid erupted in Bruno’s throat. He got a Tums out of his jacket pocket. “Why the fuck are you telling me?”
“The bosses drew a line right to your door, buddy.”
“I’m no fucking rat.”
“Take it easy, buddy,” Mario said. “I know you’re not a rat.” Bruno’s heart pounded in his ears.
“How sure are so sure?”
“Cause I’m the fucking rat,” Mario said. He took another bite of the hoagie then pulled his piece out of his jacket and aimed it at Bruno’s eye. But he didn’t fire. “However, there’s some room to maneuver here.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Bruno said.
“Your next shipment: when and how? Tell me, and I’ll give you a head start. No one will believe you if you say anything, anyway.”
“And in return you get a juicy tidbit to hand to your paymasters and a scapegoat on the run. Tidy.” No matter what Mario said, Bruno knew he wasn’t leaving this room alive. The commission outlawed dealing, so even if he could prove himself innocent of betraying the family, they’d still whack him for dealing—even though everyone did it. Bruno only had one shot, courtesy of Mario’s overconfidence.
“I’ve got a cartel guy, Juan Santos. He sells Spanish bibles and drives a truck up from Florida every month.
“Bibles and H!” Mario said. “Joey would be proud of you. Shame about your uncle. Stand up guy.”
Bruno kept his cool, refusing to let the cruel fuck antagonize him. He had to make sure that Mario felt in control.
“Maybe we could work something out,” Bruno said.
“Sure, buddy. Just tell me where he makes the drop.”
“Twenty-five percent for my trouble?” Bruno asked, acting relieved. “Mind if I make myself a drink while we talk?” Mario nodded but kept the piece trained on him.
Bruno stepped behind the bar, picked up a shot glass but fumbled it. “I don’t have the nerve for this anymore,” he said, trying to slow his breathing. “I did when I was young. Back then, I would have known you were the rat when I walked in here. But we get comfortable. We miss shit.” He knelt down, picked up the glass from in front of the safe then stood up.
“Pour me one too,” Mario said.
Bruno picked up a bottle of Jameson then swung it, cracking Mario’s skull. The hoagie flew off the bar, raining sliced lunchmeat, tomatoes, and onions onto the barstools.
Mario recovered fast and pointed his piece, but Bruno unloaded the revolver he grabbed out of the safe. His guys must have been expecting a gunshot, because no one came to check on things, and Bruno used the confusion to empty the safe into an empty gin box then slip out the back. It would just be enough to get himself setup in the islands now that his career in LCN was over.
Bruno wouldn’t miss the life. If he stayed, he'd just get fat and overconfident – like Mario.
About the author:
T. Fox Dunham lives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with his wife, Allison. He’s a cancer survivor, modern bard, herbalist, baker and historian. His first book, The Street Martyr, was published by Gutter Books, and is in production by Throughline Films. He’s contributed to official Stargate canon with a story published in the Stargate Anthology Points of Origin from Fandemonium Books. More information at tfoxdunham.com & Twitter: @TFoxDunham
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
Free flash fiction on the first and third weeks of the month.