Recommended Read: Blood by Choice by Rob Pierce

Uncle Dust is out for revenge after two woman an a child are murdered. Teaming up with his old crony Karma, he sets about killing the perpetrators.

Rob Pierce’s Blood By Choice is a brutal gut-punch of lowlife crime fiction with a great cast of characters. Cracking stuff.

A Fistful of Poems from Ryan Quinn Flanagan

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Air Traffic Lover

 

It is mission accomplished –

she is in the bathroom cleaning up

and I roll over and start digging through

his side drawer by the bed,

pull out all these giant dildos that wobble in my hands

so that when she returns, she finds me

standing buck naked in the middle of her bedroom

unable to answer her; another hard working

air traffic lover guiding the planes into their waiting bays

with twin jiggling ribbed glow in the dark wands

and a no nonsense focus

while some crazy woman runs onto the tarmac naked

screaming: WHAT THE HELL!

and is tackled by airport security.

 

Harvester of Organs

 

Harvester of organs –

I believe one of us is double parked

and the other beyond caring;

I leave the scalpel to you, doctor fly by night,

I am stuck in the middle of this life

with the window rolled down,

some strange breakout on my elbow

that causes me to itch at inopportune times,

I’ll take kidneys for 800, Alex!

Keep the change.

It is better that I never know your name

nor you my address.

We must be careful to not become friends.

I see you eyeing my pancreas, mister love handles!

Behind those child’s sunglasses that have

found their way around your head.

 

X Woman

 

Would you ever date a girl with an x carved in her forehead?

he asks after too many beers.

 

The bartender scoffs

and moves the bowl of peanuts away

so such conversations do not become contagious.

 

That was just those crazy Manson chicks, I say.

What real woman is going to walk around shopping

for organic veggies with a bloody x carved in her forehead?

 

The blood dries, he says.

It’s not permanent.

She can clean it up real nice,

think of it as a tattoo.

 

It’s not the blood that’s the problem.

But I know you’d be all over that,

I laugh.

 

And you wouldn’t?

 

No!

I say.

 

I can see he doesn’t believe me.

Even if the rest of her was smoking hot?

 

Such a woman does not exist,

I say.

Why don’t you finish the rest of your beer

which does, so we can get out of here.

 

He gets up and stumbles off to the bathroom

without finishing his beer.

 

Your loss,

he yells back across the bar.

She’d be a maniac in bed!

 

And everywhere else,

the bartender says

under his breath.

 

No shit,

I say

downing the last

of his piss warm beer.

 

Making that pained face

that knows we will be seeing each other

again later.

 

There is no one else in the bar.

Just a ceiling of open insolation hanging down.

The way the fibreglass gets in the lungs.

 

No way to tell if it is still light out.

The front window tinted dark

and duct tape over the door from the last

disagreement that got out of hand.

 

The clock on the wall is broken.

I wobble off my uneven stool and step in gum

that has yet to dry.

 

A single green wad

I have been careful to avoid

until now.

 

Killjoy Dance

 

I could never

imagine being a cop.

 

So much

of my adolescence

was spent running

from them.

 

The Only Kid in High School with Tattoos

 

There were always a few greaser candidates in shop.

Held back a couple years and rebuilding engines

so that you wondered why they never became mechanics

and started making money.

 

Perhaps there was a criminal record that held them back.

With full beards and half a decade older than everyone else.

The jocks left these skids alone.

 

Even with their constant presence,

I was the only kid in high school with tattoos.

Had come back from a year away in the city

with multiple tattoos from a summer

of roofing money.

 

In a black leather jacket

and army camo bandana.

Looking much more threatening

than I was.

 

Like how I took biology class all those years ago

and wore a necklace full of animal parts around my neck

to deter the bullies.

 

Putting everything in vinegar to kill the smell.

Frog legs, bird eyes, wavy fish tails

etc.

 

Reciting all the home addresses of all the bullies

and their extended family back to them

so that my friends could stop paying them

and were left alone.

 

I must admit,

I always held that against

my friends.

 

That they never fought back.

That they would not defend themselves.

By any means necessary.

 

I was ready to die

and they all seemed to be

getting ready for college.

 

It was a positional thing.

Like Nascar.

 

Maybe he said that, maybe he didn’t

 

No one can know for sure anyways,

he’s long gone and that’s that,

no use sweating lemon peel

for rind, let the streets and pulpit

and silly lectern talk,

no one really knew the man

and those that pretend to often have

more immediate motivations,

nothing to do with him and everything

to do with them and you’re no bird,

so why are you regurgitating into the

clamouring mouth of rumour?

People go missing every day.

And who the hell knows what they say.

 

Dealer’s Plates

 

Wipe your ass

and celebrate another

New Year.

 

Spread happy herpes

to unsuspecting

idiots.

 

With glow in the dark hats

and live in the gym abs.

 

The dropping of the ball.

In distant bedbug motels.

 

Some carless brown shit box

down in the lot.

 

With dealer’s plates.

Collecting a careful

trader’s card

rust.

 

As I stand under the shower.

Let the water meet my naked body.

 

Dress in silence

as though anyone can be

a church.

 

Private Property

 

She comes over and hands me her number,

tells me to call her.

 

Well, I don’t think my wife would like that very much,

I say flashing my ring.

 

Call me,

she says.

Walking off with her friends

as though she doesn’t care

in the least.

 

Which is why I have to care twice as much.

To make up for all the rest of

you assholes.

 

When my wife returns from the bar,

I hand her the card.

 

She crumples it up

without even looking

this time.

 

Kisses me on the cheek.

A real wet one so everyone

will notice.

 

Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many mounds of snow.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, Punk Noir Magazine, The New York Quarterly, Cultural Weekly, Gutter EloquenceThe Dope Fiend Daily, and The Rye Whiskey Review.

Excess Baggage by John Patrick Robbins

JPR Nov

Excess Baggage

 

Sandy sat there in the living room with Vincent and Reggie, the two men were usually all jokes and relaxed when Sara was around.

But this morning was not normal.

 

Henry had been missing for a few days and being his, wasn’t a normal kind of job this wasn’t totally out of the norm.

 

“This just doesn’t feel right guys, Henry should have turned up by now.”

 

“Hey, I’m telling you he will be fine Sandy you know the kind of guy Henry is. I bet he will turn up this evening, you’ll see.”

 

Vincent said as he sipped his coffee and vaguely tried to sound reassuring.

As Reggie remained unusually silent through their entire conversation.

 

“I need to report him missing, I can’t take this anymore! He is just going to have to get pissed at me. I have to know he is okay.”

 

Sandy said as she got up and made her way towards the kitchen, to use the phone.

 

”Hey sweetheart.”

She heard Vincent call after her as she entered the kitchen.

 

She didn’t care about the so called rules and edicate that people in her husband’s world had to supposedly follow. It was his world not Sandys after all; she was his wife not his employee.

 

Sandy already had taken the phone off the hook, when Reggie removed it from her hand.

 

Sandy looked at Reggie befuddled, unsure as to why he was even standing beside her in the kitchen instead of Vincent.

 

“What are you doing?”

 

“Look Sandra.”

 

Reggie said as he placed the phone back on the wall.

 

 

“We need to talk before you make that call, let’s not play any games here. You know Henry wasn’t simply just a nightclub owner.”

 

“Look Reggie, I know Henry was no angel but he was my husband okay and if something is wrong the cops need to be out looking for him!”

 

Reggie just stared into Sandys eyes, giving her a look that told her she needed to listen.

 

“Hey Vin, why don’t you warm the car and don’t forget that other thing I asked you to do.”

 

“No problem.”

 

Sandy heard Vincent reply without the slightest bit of hesitation.

 

Reggie waited to hear the front door close.

 

“Look I’m going to be frank right now, you’re not going to make that call. Instead what you are going to do is relax, clean whatever you want. Hell just go about your day, pick your kid up from school but you’re not going to the cops. Are we clear?”

 

“Go to hell you son of a bitch!”

 

Reggie grabbed Sandy by the throat with a vice like grip.

 

“I’m already there bitch! And you truly don’t want to test me so shut the fuck up and listen!”

 

Reggies grip tightened around her throat.

 

“Your Henry, got himself in some deep water and started stepping out of line okay, we looked the other way with the whores and the drugs, but he had a real big mouth and never knew when to shut the fuck up!”

 

“Seems he ran his mouth off around a fucking narc and your beloved husband, was going to squeal to the feds about some shit he shouldn’t have been talking about. Now his fuck up wasn’t my problem but he damn sure didn’t mind selling us up the river to save his spoiled ass.”

 

 

 

 

Sandy struggled to breathe as the man who had turned into something she could not recognize but damn sure feared maintained his grip.

 

As all of a sudden he released her, spinning her around to look out the kitchen window.

 

“Please stop.”

 

She managed to blurt out as she gasped for air.

 

Reggie wrapped his arm around her waist as he pulled her hair.

 

“Look.”

 

He said as she viewed Vincent lugging what appeared to be a heavy garbage bag. To the trash cans that stood at the front of the driveway.

 

Vincent wasn’t a small man but he struggled to put the bags in the cans.

And Sandy without a doubt knew what was in them.

 

Reggie whispered in her ear.

 

“Now what you are going to do is wait till the garbage is taken and report that piece of shit husband of yours missing! And if I were you I wouldn’t know a damn thing as to where he might have gone. You fucking understand me?”

 

A tear rolled down Sandy’s cheek as she just nodded her head.

 

Reggie let her go and stood staring at her and suddenly the monster was gone as he spoke as nothing had just happened.

 

He smiled at her.

 

“I’m glad we have an understanding.”

 

He said as he pulled an envelope from his jacket pocket, as he placed it upon the counter.

 

“This will take care of things for awhile and as long as you play by the rules these will continue to come in, as I will be managing the club from now on. All you gotta do is sign some paperwork I send over and I will promise you, you will be taken care of.”

 

“You do that and you will provide a good life for yourself and your son. Because trust me Sandra, you take another route and your husband won’t be the only thing that gets taken out with the trash, I promise you that sweetheart!”

 

 

With that said, Reggie was gone and as Sandy shook uncontrollably as she burst out in tears. She viewed Vincent pause as he got in the car as both men waved goodbye.

 

Yes this wasn’t supposed to be her world. But from here out, she was plagued in the knowledge that one false move.

Could easily bring the devil back to her door.

 

And she would ensure no matter what, if that day ever came to reality.

She damn sure wouldn’t be here to answer.

 

 

 

John Patrick Robbins,  is the editor in chief of the Rye Whiskey Review.
His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine, Red Fez, 1870 Magazine,  Romingos Blog,  Piker Press, Sacred Chickens,  San Pedro River Review,  San Antonio Review. Schlock Magazine .
His work is always unfiltered.

Panic, Passion…Pancakes by Mike Zone

Panic, Passion…Pancakes

(Dedicated to the crew…you fuckers know who you are)

It was a morning full of sun but there was a melancholy quietness about it which kind of haunted the air reminding me of that Hitchcock movie where the birds come down and peck all the people to hell…I couldn’t quite recall the title but there I was sitting at table nine with the usual crew on the nineth day of the nineth month at the nineth hour of the morning, distracted by the absence of bird sounds feeling something bad was about to happen but no one seemed to notice trapped inside their own similar phone prisons that told us we were all the same but different so I knew making mention of anything outside of what we were here for outside of that tiny mobile screen would be useless. Who gave a fuck about nature anyway?

Once you were inside Flapjack Stacks the only thing that mattered was the kind of syrup and toppings you were going to desecrate your body with as one consumed a stack of plate sized specialty pancakes. Crisping pork flesh filled the air along with sizzling chicken fetus, chopped onion, raw batter and alcohol stained sex from various nights before oozing from a multitude of pores…lots of families went to Flap-Jack Stack on Sundays right after church to stress eat about going to hell and take it out on the slaves working in the strip mall, it was a Sunday but church wasn’t out yet and that’s why we were there.

I hated table nine. The waitress brought us there. She acted like she didn’t know us and treated us like shit, even though we’d been going there for years. Table nine and I had history. She didn’t share that history just hated other people who worked for a living because she didn’t want to work for a living because it all added up to nothing for her, so no one eating here was going to swoop in like a superhero and save her with a middle class life to make her their middle class wife, when she couldn’t even afford to go anywhere outside of work.

Life was over. Maybe that’s why, she got table nine.

I rolled a small joint as I sat down and tucked it behind my ear to demonstrate what a low life I was and smiled at her like I was going to kill her and have stuffed in some twisted love-struck way. She held head up high pretending like she had self esteem and was going to attend a private school and abruptly walked off as the rest of the guy’s snickered. I noticed the little extra wriggle she gave her ass as she walked away, it was instinctual she didn’t mean it, soon very soon she’d cave into the wrong guy, who wasn’t me. I leaned back with my eyes closed trying to imagine tapping that from behind.

“Fuck, I hate table nine.”

Armand chuckled know the history of most it, except what had happened a month before, I was still in my neck brace about to address Boris only to realize he had been deported and Tom had brought Boris’ cousin “Richie” in place of him. A few years ago, it was a golden age of filing serial numbers off guns in my loft and grooving out barrels to make bullets untraceable. Shortly after my ex left, I had asked Boris who I had known since the seventh grade for about ten thousand dollars to cover about a year in rent.

“Tony, I don’t have the money, but I know how we can make it.”

I kept my place, got a little deeper but pulled out once I got a warehouse gig and finished school to work for a text book company swindling students from all over the socioeconomic spectrum, it was cool until we got bought out and shut down by one of our rivals and here I was almost thinking of getting back to into things with a wide array of connections. Boris literally got pulled out of his apartment by a swarm of FBI agents for having a cache of illegal weapons and drugs, went through eight different prisons in a year and wound up back to where he came from returning to hopefully not the pile of rubble that was his shelled home back in the old country during the siege.

As for his cousin…

Richie wasn’t his real name; it was going to be his chosen name when he officially became an American citizen. He’d always puff out his chest and tears would well up in his eyes whenever he’d bring it up and how the land of opportunity allowed his family’s cleaning business to flourish, Richie didn’t know that his dad got Boris into the real cleaning business which wasn’t as much cleaning as much as covering for people who weren’t supposed to exist but that’s another story for another time. Richie was a good kid.

“Bro’, once wrong with table nine?”

I sighed, thinking of where and how this was going to go.

Luckily Tom, grabbed Richie’s hoodie and turned his American flag pin right side up.

“Dude, you want to be an American you can’t disrespect the flag like that. You got to keep watch over it, she’s your motherland now.”

“I’m sorry bro, I’m sorry.”

Armand smirked at all this, he smirked at everything whether it was actually funny or wicked, he was kind of fucked from the copious amounts drugs over the years along with being sexually abused in a refugee camp in Germany which led to some strange dark paths here.

“Man, Richie…I cried when I became a citizen.”

“Really bro?”

“Yeah, I still cry.”

“Why bro.”

“I cried for the homeland before we left, looking at our cat before the bombs blew it up. I cried when we got on the boat. I cried when we came here. I cried at my first American feast of fried chicken and orange soda. I cried when I became a citizen because the life, I knew was completely gone on paper, I was an American now.”

“What the fuck you saying that shit for,” Tom exclaimed, pounding his fist on the table.

“We’re free.”

“Yeah, Tom…totally free, I can choose my soda, what to put on my pancakes, but I can’t choose to live outside any of this,” Armand gestured around.

“Fuck you, you sound like the black guy’s at work.”

Tom was everything America was but wasn’t. He was the surface the corporate media wanted, a moderate with family-oriented values who was softly bigoted but fairly decent about it, hated paying taxes, shrugged his shoulders at war and didn’t vote. His grandpa used to be a high powered lawyer before dementia set in, it was rumored Tom’s family secretly owned the police department in several counties which explained the astronomical number of times Tom crashed his truck into trees and literally defecated and urinated on factory and cutting room floors, shrieking about the right to work whenever a union steward wanted to talk.

Tom didn’t believe in college. He believed in working with his hands, which really meant falling into a pool of blood money he got from just sitting back and inheriting. He didn’t have many friends rich or poor, because he pretended to be one or the other among the wrong ones, so he stuck to us like a parasite which meant he was loyal and reliable out of loneliness.

“Bro, what this about table nine?”

“Bad things always go down at table nine.”

Tom laughed recalling the drunken and heartbroken time I descended upon a butch lesbian who insisted she liked girls and how me made out hard in front of everyone in broad daylight only to find out she was transwoman and wanted to me to later come over and help her write a book about her life.

That was a table nine story BUT that wasn’t the story, Richie was going to hear…

I bristled as Armand’s eyes shifted knowing to where our association with table nine stemmed from and what it was connected to and how every story when it keeps going eventually ends in tragedy and it’s not an opera until somebody cries.

“It’s where I met…the girl.

Pearl, my pearl in an ocean of sorrow when I hit bottom and needed a reason to breath for air, so lifted it up to the light out of the water to see the shine sparkle on her. It was a marriage between Heaven and Hell that eventually became an inferno when we were on the verge of getting married which was the reason we were all here together today due to the fallout of what I had to do after she or rather her dad worked on taking my future away, here condemning me to what we once affectionately deemed the “The Company” which had to do work for “The Organization” which co-existed in a love/hate kind of way with “The System” which really loved it all but pretended to hate it.

“You could say that’s when the trouble started but it was just the seed, really…”

The seed planted was hope, the trouble was the actually sprouting out and crawling from the gutter, she help me find who I wasn’t in all of this, encouraged me to go back to school and go to law school so I could become a lawyer maybe give other working class thugs like me a fighting chance…only I never got go to law school, I was unofficially marked, black listed from any real positive prospects, her dad and the deacon played golf with the judge and the lawyer they hired did work with for our fascist governor and normally busted unions for a living. It didn’t matter what happened or how it went down, only I won but had to pay for it and the pound of flesh wound up being a future in law. The nearest thing I could do was allegedly ghost lawyer and do people’s bankruptcies for them, a boring ass phantom melting in the shadows, working as a barback to most people I just seemed like a middle aged failure who only knew how to sling half drunk beer glasses and fuck…I didn’t fuck all that much but I could sure secretly lawyer, snort cocaine and masturbate out of frustration reading Russian literature.

The pancakes arrived. The highlight of the day. Perhaps a final meal part of the last rites for the devil’s bargain made but not kept. Funny, how you can never exactly focus on the face or other details of a person when their heralding something great, whether it’s food to sustain a ravenous hunger or sex, the experience consumes you rather than you actually doing the consumption but to hell with philosophy it was pancake eating time at Flap Jack Stacks where even if things were to go wrong, you’d die fully satisfied, fuck everything else including the end of the world.

“Bro…” Richie was astonished by the sight of the All American: plate sized butter milk pancakes, sausage, bacon baked in like berries topped with corned beef hash, shredded American cheese, steak tips and ketchup. His eyes glazed with a misty pride.

“I’m an American.”

Armand snickered and look down at his plate and beamed with his own peculiar type of pride at the Po’ Panda, same pancakes covered vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, black berries for nose and chocolate chips for eyes and for some reason strawberry jam for blood foaming out of it’s mouth. He cleared his throat and nodded to me.

“Tony…it was a great idea coming here, you know the first time I knew we were truly friends, we ate at this table and I ordered these pancakes feeling like a true American, you were my first real American friend because you were genuine and not an asshole looking for a token foreigner.”

“Why don’t you just suck his dick and ask him to marry you?” Guffawed Tom, who held his fork like a caveman and stabbed into a sausage atop the Texan, which was whatever someone from Ohio thought should go on a Texas styled stack of pancakes topped with butter and barbecue sauce and a single jalapeno.

I took a slug of coffee and looked at my crew, missing Boris. We both used to get the same thing, Big Blue; buttermilk blueberry pancakes because we were basics bitches or rather anything but and that was the joke which as every joke has a nugget of truth, and at the heart matter, aren’t we all pretty basic?

“Tony Bordello in the House of Jack!”

Chris James swaggered in , obnoxious white sunglasses and all, knowing Tom would be there in his army fatigues and assault rifle, Chris felt the need to outdo him; in stars and stripes track pants, backwards white ball cap with Uncle Sam flipping the bird and of course a bazooka strapped on his back to offset his black DANCE , DANCE, DANCE t-shirt. Bordello wasn’t my last name either, it was Bordeaux, but Chris was an obnoxious asshole, you couldn’t help love.

“Have no fear everyone, my weapon of choice is disabled like my cheating ex-girlfriend’s new man!” He proclaimed to frightened patrons and uneasy friends alike. He shook hands all around the table like a spastic coke fiend, shaking so much you didn’t know if he was going to lift off and collide with the moon.

“Bordeaux, man…you remember that time we sat here and those goofy fuckers we’re drunk and talking about killing some guy’s girlfriend’s boyfriend and they bought us pancakes and the next day they were on the news ‘cause they really did fuckin’ murder that guy…anyway I gotta take a shit!” He thumbed toward the bathroom and blasted off in more ways than one.

I remembered the night.  I had just starting going with Pearl, those two wanted to get ecstasy and have all of us run a train on her, when they found out we were dealing at raves, only we didn’t have any and the weaselly guy jumped up and down sputtering…

“We’ll get the bitch so drunk, stick that booty out the back window with duct tape, charge five dollars a pump! God, I’m so horny! Started drinking at 5am!  Woke up from a dream, bathing in my girlfriend’s blood!”

The prospect of atrocity seemed to be attracted to the dynamics of Pearl and I which is why I was in this neck brace, sitting among old friends waiting for something wicked this way to come at table nine. The crew was gathered, and it was time for them to know why, Chris had known the story without even asking, he transcended “The Company” and could be considered an extended “family member of middle management in relation to “The Organization”.

“There’s always a story with you Tony.” He told me as soon as he picked up the phone before anything could be said. He knew why and agreed to what I was going to ask before it could be asked; we were homeless and used to feed each other when we lived off the streets, even did a couple of low level jobs, I just got out of the tractor beam of “The Organization” on time, while Chris got further pulled in, deeper into a specialized trade that eventually left him on borrowed time, as he had recently had surgery for an aneurysm due to the excessive amounts of coke and acid he had taken over years. It didn’t work and I’m sure the now brutal and more frequent intakes of coke, meth and whiskey weren’t helping, one week later.

I poked an over easy egg and drowned a strip of bacon into it. Tom shook his head and laughed.

“Worst Jew ever.”

I grimaced, it was forced there was barely any laughter left inside of me and Armand noticed. He took my hand.

“Tony? How’s your dad?”

Something broke inside of me and blurted on the edge of weeping.

“I done fucked up guys, it’s over.”

“Bro, what’s over.”

“Everything.”

The levy broke and it all came flooding out.

“Pearl’s dad had to take one last dig, knowing he couldn’t touch me…my dad’s cancer is back, he can’t get Medicare, right? Got a dishwashing job so he could have insurance, they fired his ass for no reason, told him he wasn’t welcome there anymore showed him write-ups he never signed, manager said his friend Renaldo Salucio knew a guy by Tony Bordeaux, ‘Any relation? A junior perhaps?’ Laughed in his face, my dad’s going to forgo treatment he can’t afford now without insurance. “

“Bro, what are going to do?”

“It’s not what I’m going to do…it’s what I did.”

“Tony, when you strike back- “

“I’m a fucking monster, Armand.”

“Tony, every time you’ve done something to get back at someone it’s because they deserved it. You show them a bit of mercy, they laugh at you and poke you again…you’re like an animal in the forest, you can show the people where the food is, help them survive, protect them, show kindness, then they beat the animal with a stick, back him against the wall, cage him and wonder, why did this beast rip my arm off?”

“Shut the fuck up with your gay ass poetry. Damn, Tony don’t go all sissy with tears what did you do and what’s with the neck brace?”

Armand’s eyed widened, his mouth dropped as he slumped against the booth.

“Tony, you did it, didn’t you?”

“I couldn’t help it…Armand, I’m a fucking monster…that’s why I told you guys to come packing, it’s the end.”

Tom stopped shoving food in his face when it dawned on him what it could’ve been, remembering the one thing which frightened even Boris.

“Tony, god damn it, you didn’t…”

“Bro, what did you do? Bro, what did he do? Bro what the hell is going on?”

“The crack-whore? Was it the crack-whore? Don’t tell us it was the friggin’ crack-whore.”

“You unleashed Nancy, didn’t you?”

“You got back with her?”

“No, guys far worse than that.”

“Bro, who’s Nancy?”

“Nancy is the Devil, one time your cousin, thought of shooting  her ‘cause she said he was a pussy for bringing a gun to a dope deal but he didn’t think the bullets would stop her when she pissed off this one dude who smacked her with a brick in the face…didn’t even phase her, bitch was so high and crazy. You didn’t fucking get back with her, did you?”

“No, no…I declared my love for her, told she was the one and how wrong I had been about everything, especially us.”

Armand shook his head in dismay as Richie nodded pretending to know what was going on as I wondered why it took so long for Chris to take a shit. Tom pounded the table with his fork and huffed.

“You stupid mother fucker!”

Nancy was my girlfriend from way  back when, we used to make ecstasy or rather she did as she was good with chemicals and I’d sell it at raves until she got into crack but her lawyer parent’s eventually cleaned her up and she wound up getting three master’s degrees; one in political science, chemistry and business management…her job was inheriting money from her dead cancered up mother and suicidal father, while gravitating toward a slew of prescription drugs to keep her normal with others to counter act the side effects of the initial prescriptions along with the legal highs of a multitude of painkillers and unheard of amounts of alcohol. Her body was a perfect drug intake machine almost making her  superhuman, a demon in the sack, coupled with a trauma inflicted mind , spoiled rich kid syndrome and corporate filtered news, she was a soul sucking succubus that not only devoured your sex organs but consumed your sanity and recycled the will to live into something so twisted and bizarre you never knew exactly where you were and how you’d get out.

“I couldn’t help it, I needed revenge so bad…I went to her…these people are never going to recover, the old man’s legacy is gone, his shit he valued with his money…all gone, he can’t get it back without plundering his own retirement and Pearl…Pearl’s  infertile and totally fragmented from her family, her new husband beat her so bad she’s on life support.”

“She got The Movement involved.”

“That bad ass freedom fighting group?” Tom was elated by the revelation.

“She’s bankrolling a new local chapter; they want to overthrow the government and they’re actually white supremacists.”

“You can’t join them, who ever heard of a Jewish Nazi?”

“Bro, they’re not coming here, are they?”

“No, most of them are gone…I outed what they did to the police giving names, it all went down, but Nancy escaped.” I pointed to my neck brace.

“She tried to snap my neck after I got up in bed and told her I made a terrible mistake and how every time we have sex, I always get a guilty sick feeling in my stomach and that I could never be with her. Then I begged her not to commit suicide, she once told me how if I ever rejected her again she would go off in the woods, take a bunch of ecstasy, crack and acid and just wander all drugged out until she died heartbroken but tragically fake happy.”

I drained the last bit of coffee from my bone chipped mug, took a sip of water and cleared my throat.

“I saw those baby blues glisten and harden into something dark, Armand. She manically laughed, it was otherworldly, asked me about The Movement. When I declined, she pounced on me trying to break my neck, giggling ‘I’m going to make it so you can’t move and learn what it is for someone to take your ass against your will.’ I got away in a way I’m not proud of with what she and I used to call ‘love taps’. She screamed at me how she would never let a cheap Jew from a poor ass family join The Movement anyway and that I had a small dick and didn’t know how to use it and how she was going to crush and create a union to crush all other unions.”

Bro, what does that even mean?”

“Man, other than the killing you part, this chick is starting not to sound bad after all.”

“Tony, you’re my best friend, I love you like a brother, you’re going to be fine, we’re all going to be fine.”

“We’re not fine. None of us are fine. She is a pill crazed, toxic chemical laced blood hate filled abomination and she is coming here to kill us and anything that gets in her way. I’m hoping everyone is packing.”

They all nodded. Armand snickered.

“Remember when Nancy called me: ugly, fat, stupid and disgusting and I asked, “Yes Nancy, I am ugly, fat, possibly stupid and even disgusting but even so, shouldn’t I be allowed to have love and affection?”

I nodded with a sheepish smile at half of it being true.

“NO!” I mocked shrieked emulating my crack whore femme fatale set to do us all in.

We all shared a laugh and a few snorts until like a movie there was a crash, and glass breaking, a haunting silence followed by a shrill spiteful inquiry.

“WHERE IS HE?” She screamed, decked out in an American flag jump suit, sporting mom’s apple pie baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire and an un-American katana blade in the other.

“I don’t care how many of you have to die, I am here to destroy this god damn Jew!”

The busboy tried to intervene, a young kid about sixteen threw his bus tub at her. Nancy sliced it half and smacked him against the side of his head with the bat.

“All lives matter! The Movement will keep moving!”

The climax of the third act of this carnage filled real life cartoonish murder film (I had always wanted to screen write, one of the many things I couldn’t afford to do) had arrived and what lesson we learned would depend on who lived after the credits rolled. The bus boy’s execution resulted in a flown blown counterattack. Strangers protecting a stranger they didn’t even know existed all to render another’s stranger’s life with meaning in the dispatching of a foul stranger’s presence. Silverware flew, followed by chairs, and furious bodies with pounding fists with even a few guns thrown in there. We pulled our own heat out and started blasting away to join the fray in the hopes of stopping her but Nancy her baby blues and curly red hair accentuated by her jumpsuit at her diminutive height gave her the statue of a hungry god in need of human sacrifices, trained a bit in martial arts, jumping, dodging she followed with a thrust of the sword into a vital organs, spinning like a tornado limbs flew in every direction, blood spraying likewise as the bat she held tore skin, crunched bone and brain damaged lives. What she couldn’t block or miss, lodged into her skin.

We caught each other’s glances.

My beautiful death-machine, a blood veil across her face.

Our bullets ran out, she kept going among the wreckage of bodies, gritting her teeth with an animalistic glare. We threw our guns at her. No words could be said.

“YOU ARE NOTHING, I COULD’VE HAVE GIVEN YOU LOVE!”

Armand threw himself in front of me as Tom dove under the table and Richie frozen in fear.

“Fuck love!” I pushed Armand out of the way ready to pay my dues, none of it mattered anymore and the good sure as hell didn’t outweigh the bad, I was ready to go and just give it all a rest.

“I never wanted love, I never wanted you.”

Nancy stopped, perplexed.

“I never met anyone that didn’t want love.”

“I never wanted it from anyone, and I never got it when I needed it. You were just supposed to be a one-night stand but I felt sorry for you when you asked to call you, I stayed with you because I was desperate for a place to live, I became your friend out of guilt but you got your share of misery out of me over the years, it’s over.”

“It’s done, when I say it’s done, you stupid, uneducated, gay, loser ignorant waste of man.”

“It’s over, bitch. Step off, or I’ll use it.”

Chris stood outside the bathroom aiming his bazooka at her. Nancy turned around with a grin.

“Aww, is the brain-damaged piece of shit going to use his big toy instead of his tiny penis to try and please me? Maybe you can join your dead mom and Tony’s dead mom in a sick three way in Hell like the faggot you are!”

“I’ll, do it.”

“DO IT!” Nancy threw her sword at Chris; the blade went through his shoulder as he pulled the trigger and what we thought was disabled was actually quite capable.

Nancy was gone. People were gone. Part of Flapjack Stacks was gone.

Chris was bewildered, looking between us and the bazooka on the floor.

“I was just trying to scare her. It wasn’t supposed to work. Honest, man…am I good guys?”

Armand put an arm around Chris and looked solemnly at me. Tom was curled into the fetal position weeping for Boris possibly mention something about love, but I didn’t want to notice nor care. Richie vomited, wiped himself with his napkin and calmly took the scene in.

“Bro, my dad can get one of a hell contract out of this.”

It was hot, I zipped open my black hoodie and was irradiated I still got coffee on my white t-shirt and sighed.

“I don’t think your dad’s going to be able to clean this up, Richie.”

 

Mike Zone is the author of  One Hell of a Muse, A Farewell to Big Ideas  and Void Beneath the Skin and coauthor of The Grind.  Editor in Chief at Rogue Wolf Press and a managing editor at Concrete Mist Press, a frequent contributor to Alien Buddha Press and Mad Swirl . His work has been featured in: Horror Sleaze Trash, , Better Than Starbucks, Piker Press,  Punk Noir Magazine, Synchronized Chaos, The Whiskey Rye Review and Cult Culture magazine.

 

 

 

Not Backing Down by Robert Ragan

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Not Backing Down

 

Jerry Riley truly lived the good life. So big in the dope game that he hadn’t laid eyes on the product in forever. He did all this while fronting as a businessman. 

Believe it or not, he was even a deacon at his local church. The man was so good at fooling people guess he thought he could fool God too. 

There were lots of men like J.R. out there counting blood money with clean hands while others were hunted down like animals for doing the same things on a smaller level. With his every move covered, J.R. had a lot of time and money to do whatever he wanted. The man would have been on a street corner betting on a dice game between hustlers. Instead, he traveled all over NC attending high school basketball games.

In 2017 and 2018, J.R. lost over seventy thousand on a couple of State Championship games. Was it Karma? Around that same time, his used car dealership was exposed for selling lemons. Plus the criminals he hired to work at his plumbing company were stupid and did a lot of half-ass work driving customers away.

Even the dope game was causing him to take losses. J.R. could have fixed that part. Instead, he was a coward, afraid to meet with the right people. Next thing you know the poor guy’s wife files for divorce citing infidelity.

Behind closed doors, he made jokes about paying someone a lot of money to make her death look like an accident. Everyone around him witnessed his mind unraveling.

The 2019 State Championship game was coming up and this season J.R. decided he’d take a more hands-on approach to win. Instead of betting on the two time defending champions, Western Harnett Eagles, J.R. decided to bet on the underdogs again, being his home team, the North Mecklenburg Vikings.

The Eagles won their first State Championship against the Vikings. J.R. lost fifty thousand on that game. 

The next year another team played Western Harnett in the Championship game. J.R, still holding a grudge, was quick to throw down twenty thousand against the Eagles and lost again. 

That year, with his Vikings getting a rematch, J.R. figured he’d leave Charlotte and visit Harnett County. The plan was to meet with a very athletic and talented young man from Shaw Town, NC. 

For Harris Woods to attend Western Harnett, his mother got up and drove him to school every day. She never thought much of Harris’ dreams of playing pro basketball. But damned if the boy wasn’t doing his thing so far. 

Two State Championships in a row, Harris was the second-best player as underclassman during the first title run. The following season, he won MVP of the tournament. 

Harris looked up to Kobe Bryant, mimicked his jump-shot plus had that natural Mamba mentality. 

More than his success on the court, his mother admired who he was as a person. She had another son who decided to live a fast life. Jamal was out there feeling out-shined by his more athletic little brother. He was always on some outlaw shit but never absent from his mother’s prayers. 

Harris never tried living that life. He was good-hearted and compassionate. Not once did he look down on his teammates. But he didn’t want the teachers fixing his grades so he could play basketball. No, he actually wanted to study and learn. Harris knew nothing was promised on the court, not with so many talented players to never see the spotlight.

Whatever happened, Harris would make it in life and never fall into the trap his brother fell into. He definitely never looked down on Jamal. Watching Lakers games with his bro is how he got interested in basketball in the first place. Needless to say, Jamal was never absent from his little brother’s prayers either.

With the 3rd State Championship game in a row coming up, Harris’s mind was on basketball a lot. It threw him off when one of his neighbors approached him asking if he’d gotten in any kind of trouble. Squinting his eyes, Harris asked, “Ole no, but why do you ask?”

The word was that a white man was at the store. A square who looked like the police asking everyone how to find Harris Woods.

Thinking it over, Harris said, “If it was the police they’d gladly come up in the school to get me, so I don’t think it’s them.” Joking around, he said, “Besides, I haven’t done anything wrong, unless they’re gonna charge me with larceny for all those steals I’ve been getting on the court this year.” Harris was humble, laughing, and tapping his neighbor on the shoulder.

Instead of meeting with Harris, that piece of shit J.R. found out where his mother worked. He approached her outside a factory during her break. Saying he was a major fan of her son and wanted to meet him. Straightening the tie he wore, J.R. said, “My name is Jerry Riley, by the way, and I didn’t want to bother Harris at school.

Confused, his mother asked, “Are you a college recruiter? Because you know my son’s only a junior right?”

Being totally honest for once in his life, he said, “Ma’am, I’m not a college recruiter. I’m just someone willing to give your family a lot of money if Harris throws the game coming up against the North Mecklenburg Vikings.”

Laughing out loud, Vivian Woods said, “First of all, I’m sure you’ll make more money on it than us. Second, I know my son and he would look at that like selling his soul. So, you just get outta here and place your bet on the Western Harnett Eagles, baby.”

J.R. said, “Mrs. Woods, I was trying to help you. My other ideas, well I don’t think you’ll like those very much.”

Vivian asked him, “Are you threatening me?”

With a shit-eating grin, J.R. said, “You can contact the authorities about this matter. But even behind bars I’ve got people paid off with full knowledge of your family’s whereabouts.”

Nobody was willing to kill an ant for Jerry Riley, but he put on a big act and actually managed to intimidate the woman. Yet, if they’d thrown hands, bet your money on Vivian because she would have whooped his skinny little twerp ass.

When Harris found out what happened he was devastated. Yet, glad to figure out what was up with the white guy looking for him. Faced with this crisis the first thing Harris did was contact Coach C.

Mitch Carson was deep and kind, he actually cared about his players. He was a  History teacher who idolized Coach K from Duke the same way Harris looked up to Kobe Bryant. 

Coach C claimed that meant being honorable both on and off the court. Always brutally honest, C admitted that his program was no longer honorable. Not with the guys playing because their grades were fixed. He reached out to each of them, explained to them how important it was to get their education. Coach C even offered to tutor them in his spare time.

When Harris called him about the threats against his family’s lives, he made sure to tell Coach C that going to the cops was out of the question. Immediately C put his player first, saying, “If we have to, we’ll just throw the game.”

That touched Harris’s heart, but really he was just calling the coach to talk with him about it. Tell him he’d already spoken with his teammates and that the Western Harnett Eagles weren’t throwing anything but sharp, crisp, on-point passes in the State Championship game. 

C asked if he was sure. Harris said, “Yes.”

Coach C said, “Alright, so let’s make this happen again.”

Despite them winning back to back championships, C made sure to keep them thinking they were the underdogs. The team to beat gets everyone’s best shot. So if they didn’t stay hungry, someone else would eat off the plate they wanted. 

The night before the game, Vivian had a talk with her son. She said, “We didn’t take the money so now they’re gonna have to kill us, right?” 

Grabbing Harris’s hands, she squeezed them tight and said, “Either way you’re gonna go out a champion baby.”

Letting his hands go, she was out of character going for a high five and saying, “Three-peat bitch!”

Harris said, “Momma, you crazy,” and gave her a huge hug.

The family tried to keep quiet about everything but it was impossible. And the day of the Championship game everyone could sense the black clouds hovering over that high school gymnasium despite the bright sun they saw.

The game took place in Raleigh, so neither team would have a home-court advantage. While warming up during shootarounds, Harris had his heart touched again when his big brother showed up out of no where with close to thirty Folk goons with him. Of course, security called the police, and half of them couldn’t get in. Jamal told them to leave peacefully.

The whole thing was his way of showing those fucking crackers what would happen if anyone harmed his mother or his little brother. He and his Folk superior all sat with his mother. It was the closest Vivian had ever been to a gang. 

She spotted J.R. when he walked in wearing his North Mecklenburg High t-shirt and hat with sunglasses. Vivian didn’t tell Jamal, knowing he was a live wire and might ruin the whole game. She was wrong because as long as everyone stayed in line, Jamal was only eager to see his little bro do his thing and get his third championship. True, he used to feel a little outshined but he was still proud, telling everyone his little brother was a star basketball player. 

Showing more trust in Harris, Vivian pointed out J.R. to him. 

Right before tip-off, a couple of Viking players tried to check Harris at half court. One of them pushed him and right away his teammates came to his aid.

When the ball went up in the air, Harris grabbed the tip-off.  Going straight to the rim, he rocked it with a thunderous reverse dunk then looked at the man sitting in the bleachers wearing sunglasses and flexed his muscles with both arms, just to let him know the Eagles weren’t backing down. 

Coach C normally would have yelled at him saying, “Don’t showboat!” But he knew the heart Harris brought to this game and couldn’t fault him. 

Harris played like a man possessed, stealing the ball, and blocking shots. He even stepped in and took charges.

Scoring wise, he was on fire, knocking down all four threes he took, plus three more dunks during fast breaks. 

At half time, Western was up by fifteen. Jerry Riley, dear old JR, removed his sunglasses. Staring across the court, he made eye contact with Vivian. He dragged his finger slowly across his throat, as a way of further intimidating her. Yet, he got up and walked out, knowing he’d blown another fifty thousand betting against Western and there really wasn’t a damn thing he could do about it. 

Harris started the second half picking up where he left off. Steals, dunks, and threes. Before you knew it, Western was up by 29 points. No backing down, no looking back, they built a 36 point lead before Coach C put in his second and third-string players. 

The first two championships were tight, nail biters. Going down to the wire. This time it felt good to pull a blowout.

Walking off the court when the game was over, Harris hugged his mother then Jamal. After that, he found Coach C and thanked him for offering to throw the game if they needed to.

C said, “This is just a game and I would have done the same thing for any of you.”

Harris grabbed Coach and gave him this huge almost bear hug and said, “I know you would.”

Once Harris let him go, he reminded C that they have to win this thing again, at least one more time in 2020.

They bump fists together and C said, “We’ll be ready when the time comes.”

Harris didn’t know tragedy was coming and that he’d be dedicating the next one to the memory of the Mamba, Kobe Bryant. R.I.P. 

 

Robert Ragan, from Lillington North Carolina, has had short fiction published online at Vext Magazine, Punk Noir Magazine, Yellow Mama Webzine, Synchronized Chaos, and Terror House Magazine. In January 2020, he had his second short story collection, It’s Only Art, published by Alien Buddha Press.

 

Cut From A Different Cloth by Robert Ragan

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Cut From A Different Cloth

An alarm clock goes off. Outside, what little dark there is left waits for the sun to show up. Fuck my life, having to get up and go to work.

It would be okay, but I always do something wrong giving the people I work with a reason to bitch and talk shit.  Most days it’s unbearable, I want to tell them all to fuck off and walk all the way home.

Can’t do it, what’s my pride, health, and peace of mind when I have bills to pay. Without going through all this hell, I’ll lose everything I’ve got, which isn’t a whole hell of a lot. But every bit of it I worked for.

It all came honestly. I feel like I may have been switched at birth. First of all, my momma never done no harm to anyone. It would have taken too much of her energy, maybe even forced her off the couch.

Momma had no ambition, no goals in life. All she had to look forward to was whatever was coming on TV. Her bed was lonely, she was never unfaithful to my father. Not even when he stayed gone; off somewhere getting in trouble and not when he was locked up facing the consequences for his actions. Let’s just say my older brother, Sean, kept her busy trying to keep him out of trouble.

People always said that I was the quiet, more mature one. I’d make straight A’s at school but have my accomplishments over-shadowed by him busting a kid’s eye socket on the school bus.

He tried to get me to smoke marijuana and do speed. But I left all the mind-altering drugs to him. Growing up I was always the pussy little sissy boy.

Other kids saw my older brother picking on me. It became open season. I got my ass kicked by a gang of bullies. Sean stood there and watched. Never lifting a hand.

He only said, “Brad, you better punch that little prick in the mouth.”

After it was over, on the walk home from school, he made fun of my black eye and busted lip.

“Dad would be so proud of you,” he  said before laughing.

“Oh, I’m sure he would have been proud of you for just standing there watching,” I said.

Sean stopped beside the road, with both clean hands against my chest, he pushed me down in a ditch bank filled with over-grown weeds.

Looking down on me, he said, “I fight my own battles buddy boy, you fight yours.”

When we got older, I got a job and he went to jail. Apparently, Sean was pissed off over a woman and decided to break some guys ribs with a baseball bat. Needless to say, I didn’t see my brother for a few years.

Mom did one time, but just like dad he told her not to come back. Said he didn’t want her to see him that way. Too bad he wasn’t out when dad came home.

I was working and paying all the bills for mom. But the old man was more proud of his oldest son doing time for roughing someone up. I told my mother if she needed anything to call me. I left her there with the madman she married.

It didn’t take long, and my father tried to steal another car. This time he raised the stakes toting a little 38 with ragged tape on the handle. Daddy done lost his mind! Pulling over and shooting at the law. Luckily, they didn’t kill him. But this time he was going up the river forever.

While all this goes on, I’m getting up early everyday going to a job I hate. Sometimes I think…man my father wouldn’t put up with this shit. He’d see his wife and kids starving and sleeping on the streets before he’d get out of bed early and hear a bunch of bullshit at a job.

My brother wouldn’t either. That lazy fuck wouldn’t work at a pie factory tasting pies for a living. His crimes and failures have always up-staged my success and trying to be a decent person. At least I can say I got him one time.

Sean ran up a huge debt fronting ice for himself and his little lowlife buddies. When drug dealers were threatening to kill him, all his buddies disappeared. With no where on earth to turn, he called and asked for my help.

I said, “I fight my own battles buddy boy, you fight yours.”

Fuck fighting, I’ve got to go to work like a responsible adult. Still, I don’t want to see my brother get horribly beaten or shot. So, I told one of my cop friends what was going on. Asked him to look out for Sean.

This cop and I were good friends back in high school. Pulling no punches, he says, “I’ll do what I can but if someone’s after Sean then you know he’s probably got it coming.”

I tried to tell Sean to get a job and live like a normal human being. But  deep down I guess he just always wanted to be like our father.

Doing stupid shit and being locked in a cage just never appealed to me. Work doesn’t appeal to me either, but I’ve got to get up and go whether I like it or not, because the bills keep coming.

Fuck my life!

Crystal Magic Meth by John Patrick Robbins

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Crystal Magic Meth

 

He had been up for days looking out the window, wondering were the cops staking him out .

Talking to friends and mostly the voices in his head.

 

He dialed his dealer and left yet another voice message.

 

Tommy was speeding out of control but so is the nature of the beast on any good binge no matter your poison.

 

He picked at his skin,  he lost track of reality .

It was far from the bullshit they sell you on some after school special.

 

He didn’t know what it was, he only understood it was his center and the only thing that felt right.

 

Totally spun and running on fumes of death and decay.

Tomorrow did not exist as it all became a blur.

 

“Dude you need to fucking sleep !”

 

Bob yelled at him.

His old friend was beyond frustrated, as  he battled his own vices.

 

And watching Tommy go off the tracks was far from easy without any true way to help himself let alone his old friend.

 

“Fuck man you see that house over there ?, somethings up with those people man !, I’m telling you they’re watching us!”

 

“It’s that shit you’re on dude !, nobody is out to get you , well maybe that dude right there jogging down the street!”

 

Tommy looked through the blinds before he caught on his old friend was fucking with him.

 

“You fucking goober .”

 

Tommy shook his head and had to laugh .

 

Even in a fog of his own, Bob could always be a first class smart ass.

 

Tommy knew the shit was getting to him but so was life in general.

The party was always full throttle with him and his roommate.

 

Maybe that’s why they truly understood one another and clicked from the start.

 

He checked his phone just in case he didn’t hear it go off.

 

 

Still no reply .

 

“Shit man , let’s go to the bar I need something to fucking come down.”

 

“You need to stop fucking with that shit dude and you would be fine, but hell if you’re buying let’s get the fuck out of here !”

 

The ride to the Thirsty Camel was quick, they joked about all the same bullshit.

 

Women and the lack there of them.

Old drinking stories.

 

“We really both been through the ringer huh cowboy ?”

 

“If you consider we both poison ourselves nonstop with toxic chemicals and slightly toxic relationships. Yeah you could say we certainly had our fair share of troubles brother.”

 

It’s weird how two of the most toxic people can forge a friendship that’s more honest than those of so called normal people.

 

The Thirsty Camel was dead as always.

And Tommy was glad for that, Bob was bad enough around close friends let alone total strangers.

 

And as spun as Tommy was, the last thing he needed was to be playing referee between some stranger and his often inebriated friend.

 

Becky behind the bar tried to pretend Tommy didn’t look like he was on the verge of death.

 

“Hello stranger what will it be?”

 

The usual for me sweetheart and whatever my buddy’s having .”

 

Becky looked at Tommy and paused for a second .

 

Then she got his Beam and coke placed it in front of him as she leaned in close.

 

“Tommy are you alright?”

 

“No I am Tommy, that alright fucker I ditched while I was hopping bars with another dude called Mr okay.”

 

An old fart halfway across the bar snickered as he shook his head.

 

“Tommy I’m not joking , you do realize you came in here by yourself right ?”

 

Tommy just looked beside him where there was nothing but an empty stool where Bob  should be.

 

He just acted quick and played it off as a joke.

 

Ordred a club sandwich and some fries to go .

 

Sometimes on a good binge of any kind we are confronted by our own personal demons .

 

And other times we share space with some old familiar ghosts.

 

Tommy stopped calling his dealer least for that night.

 

Bob always said you can’t chase the sunset and expect nothing more than the darkness eventually.

 

Sometimes he heard voices and spoke to old friends .

And old memories came to life and told more truth than any living fool cared to share.

 

Eventually he would kick the habit or die trying.

 

Old ghost’s and familiar faces are seldom left behind.

 

John Patrick Robbins is the editor in chief of the Rye Whiskey Review , The Abyss and The Black Shamrock Magazine .
His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine , Ariel Chart,  San Pedro River Review , San Antonio Review,  Piker Press, The Blue Nib, Red Fez , As It Ought To Be Magazine.
He is also the author of If Walls Could Speak Mine Would Blush published under his pen name Frank Murphy from Syndicate Press.
His work is always unfiltered.

Detour(s) by K. A. Laity

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God, it’s easy to kill a person!’

The noir classic Detour (1945) impressed most of my students with the wildest femme fatale they saw all semester. Ann Savage, to borrow a line from Peter and Dud, Savage by name plays a part completely Savage by nature. Her Vera completely terrifies the itinerant musician Al (played by Tom Neal) as well as scarring for life the bookie Charles Haskell, Jr. (Edmund MacDonald). Al just wants to get to Los Angeles for a reunion with his gal Sue, but when Haskell unexpectedly kicks the bucket and Al gets mistaken for him things begin to go south. When a passing moment of kindness leads him to pick up a hitch-hiker, Savage’s Vera knows he’s not Haskell and blackmails the hapless schmoe into a scheme to make her rich. If they don’t kill each other first.

The film is told in flashbacks from Al’s point of view, from his first shambolic appearance to the improbable end. Filmed on the cheap, Edgar G. Ulmer gets the most mileage out of smoke, mirrors, cheap sets, and budget dialogue. If you remember nothing else, I guarantee you Ann Savage’s turn as Vera will be seared on your eyeballs. Also the strange plot holes (more about that shortly) which begin to make you wonder how much of the story has been (inexpertly) revised by Al.

The 1992 remake in some ways is even stranger. Weirdly riffing on the relationship of fathers and sons, Tom Neal’s part is reprised by his son, who shares a striking resemblance with his dad, but not the sense of aggrieved every man. It starts out in black and white and like van Sant’s Psycho mostly reproduces the original film. It’s got its fans but I’ve not made my way through it yet. It has interesting moments: the first flashback is when the film changes to colour. Some of the added material has to do with Sue’s life in Los Angeles.

The ending of the film is changed to be more in line with the original novel—that’s right, there is a source novel. Martin H. Goldsmith’s 1939 novel of the same name tells more or less the same story. This Detour had a very different fate from the movie. I tracked down a copy of the 2013 Black Curtain edition which is frills-free even of original publication information and mostly typo free, except for one persistent repeated one. The font is big to give it a novel-length page count (145) but it’s really more of a novella.

I’m always interested in the ways novels get adapted to film. What’s interesting about the novel is how much more noir it feels than the film and how awful all the characters are—and none of them are on to themselves except maybe Vera. She doesn’t get a chance to speak for herself. Chapters alternate between Al and Sue. Al is originally Alexander Roth, changed to the generic Al Roberts in the film. Roth surely chosen for the point of someone waxing wroth, as Groucho might say.

Everybody in this novel is very angry, too. Alex is a lot more of a jerk than the hapless innocent the film makes him. Picked up hitching, he’s asked where he’s from but says Detroit instead of New York. ‘I don’t know why I said that; there was really no call to lie. Maybe I was so accustomed to lying it had become a habit, I don’ know. But that’s me all over. For the life of me, I can’t figure myself out.’ He is indeed in pursuit of his Sue, whom he idealises ridiculously, in the same way he disparages women in general. ‘If there is any worse spot than for a man to find himself a slave to a woman’s whims I’d like to know about it.’ Of course this is when he’s dealing with Vera, but as he concludes, ‘All women are dangerous.’

‘What makes it so tough is you never can be sure what a woman will do. At one moment she’s calm and everything is velvet; then in a flash, it all explodes sky-high and she’s got it in for you. And when she’s got it in for you, brother, look out. There are never any halfway measures. A woman loves or she hates. Pity and all the feelings in between she’s never heard of.’ Alex pities himself more than anybody else, even when he’s murdering someone.

While there’s still some uncertainty about Haskell’s death, there’s no lame attempt to make Vera’s death accidental as with the ridiculous scene in the film. His loathing just wells up. ‘She was the type of woman I have always despised: the kind who knows all the answers and makes no bones about being hard-boiled. Even though I know just how women are underneath, I still prefer them to have that phony sweetness in their manner.’ Alex prefers lies.

The big difference in the novel is Sue. The second chapter catches up with her in California—right after a date rape. She’s full of tears and recriminations, mostly aimed at herself. ‘When a man gets finished, he’s through; his appetite’s been satisfied, except now he wants a plate of ham and eggs. We girls are quite another story. We have emotions and what not. We feel things. Any woman will know what I’m talking about. So I felt terrible.’ 

Singer Sue goes to Hollywood to break into the films but ends up waiting tables. In the film she gets a moment of that on the phone with Al. In the novel we see a lot more of her life. She really has an ambition to get into the pictures, but is hesitating to give in to the casting couch. Her weary dissection of Hollywood’s shabby reality still can’t dim her dream. Sue hopes the B-actor Raoul will give her leg up instead of getting a leg over.

Angry with herself, she finally gets even more angry at Raoul’s obliviousness. He thinks he gave her a swell time and asks for another date. At first she tries to find the easiest way to slip out of any commitment, but his cocksure attitude – flourishing his fountain pen to write in his address book – tips her anger over the edge and she tells him he’s been a terrible lover. ‘There was a jubilance in me for the first time in ages. I watched him flinch and I knew I had struck home, into the most vulnerable spot in the man’s armour.’ She is pleased he’s so deflated and talks of it as a way to ‘avenge poor Alex’ too. 

It would give more sympathy to her character if Goldsmith didn’t make plain that she is everything that Alex thinks of women: duplicitous, vengeful, cruel and above all, an actor. When Haskell’s death is reported as Alex’s, Sue performs grief styles she has seen in films, trying to convince herself she feels something other than relief. All it really does is boost her confidence that she can make it in Hollywood after all.

And Alex? ‘I wasn’t sorry she was dead; just sorry it was me who killed her.’ Nothing is as he claims, except maybe this. The original film had to soften the ending a bit. The remake is closer to the book. The twists and turns match Alex’s own thoughts: ‘God or fate or some mysterious force can put the finger on you or on me for no good reason at all.’ Not getting caught; it’s the same as not being guilty for him as long as he can keep wondering about that fateful day Haskell picked him up on the road. ‘Well, sometimes I want to curse and sometimes I want to cry.’

Not That Mean by Robert Ragan

it's only art

Not That Mean

 

What am I doing? So in love, I’m starting to question my own morals. Yes, even criminals have morals.

One time, I was forced to pull a gun on someone. It was during a burglary, my best friend and I thought no one was home. This friend, who I’m sure would rather me not mention his name, told me to shoot this guy. But being the kind person that I am, I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I just grabbed the barrel and whipped its handle across his cheek. Instantly, blood started gushing from his face.

We both just ran. If we had stuck around any longer, I would have passed out cold at the sight of blood.

That was the worst thing I ever did. The stealing and selling dope, I knew it was all wrong. After getting away with assault with a deadly weapon, karma would have gotten me if I hadn’t stopped right then.

Going legit, I got a job as a painter. Working a day job meant having to go to sleep at a decent hour. Even worse was having to wake up early to the sound of an alarm clock. Sometimes, so tired and worn out, it feels like I’m dying. Still, at the end of the day, I’m making an honest living.

I never wanted to steal from anyone. Honestly, I was being a sorry piece of shit. No, more like the whole turd.

Every day I still worry about getting caught up. Till my last day, these crimes could always catch up with me. Right now though, I’ve got a lot on my mind.

Again, what am I doing? So in love, I’ve been ignoring all the warning signs. I went and fell in love with a single mother. Now, I can’t stand the thought of anyone else ending up with Ellen.

Her long blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and just the sweetest voice. Sunny and cheerful but you should see the way she acts behind-the-scenes. Bitch done raked her long manicured nails across my face, clinched her tiny fist, and punched me in the nose the way a man would.

Another time, Ellen actually hit me repeatedly with a broomstick. My buddy, my old partner in crime who I still refuse to name, he would have said, “That bitch would hit me one time. After that, she’d be too scared to ever raise her hand at me again.”

He would never hit a woman unless she struck him first. Me? Most times, I can take the heat. Other times, I just get up and say, “Fuck you, bitch, I hope you die,” then leave.

I would go to work then crash at my cousin’s house. Every time Ellen would start texting me after a few days. Just to make her sweat, I wouldn’t respond for awhile. Before it’s over though, she’s calling and I’m always eager to answer it.

Honestly, the pussy is too good to worry about the broad beating me up. But, the way she treats her nine-year-old son Justin, oh man, a few times, I wanted to punch the bitch in the face.

The first time I ever went to her house, I had just gotten off work and accidentally sat down on her couch with wet gray paint on my jeans. It was obvious she freaked out, yet, she screamed at Justin! Ellen ordered him, “Go and get a wet rag!” But she told me, “Don’t worry about it it’s fine.”

When the kid didn’t come back fast enough, Ellen backhanded the child hard across the face! Right away I said, “Hold on! Don’t hit him, it’s my fault.”

She looked at me dead in the eyes said, “Don’t ever tell me not to hit my child.” her eyes widened, “My mother and father both whooped my ass. With his father running off to be with some stripper, that leaves me to give him double the ass whoopin’s.”

I looked at young Justin, his own blue eyes said he was suffering. A part of me wanted to say there’s a difference between whipping the boy and backhanding him across the face.

Really, I can’t help but love the little blonde headed bastard. He has his mother’s hair color but apparently he looks just like his father. I never actually called the kid a bastard, I tried my best to be good to him. Lord knows his mother wasn’t.

Like any other child, Justin cursed saying, “Fuck!”

I’ve heard of washing someone’s mouth out with soap, but this crazy bitch squeezed the bottle of Dawn, squirting dish detergent into Justin’s mouth. Damn kid swallowed it and ended up getting sick. I said something about it and she spat in my face.

Before leaving, I asked Justin if he wanted to go with me. Flying into a rage, Ellen said, “If you ever take him anywhere without my consent, I’ll have your sorry ass locked up for kidnapping!”

I said, “I try to be good to Justin, but sitting here watching as you lash his bear back with a leather belt, I can’t help but feel like shit. We’ve been together a while now and I’ve witnessed the kid take some pretty vicious beatings!”

Talkin about leather belts…well, Justin got the metal belt buckle across his back once. Immediately, I snatched the belt out of her hands saving him. Then Ellen focused all of her anger on me, it was that night when her tiny fist socked me in the nose! My eyes teared up and blood started to flow. I wanted to pick the bitch up and body slam her in the middle of the floor!

What am I doing letting this continue to go on? I can’t get the law involved because people like me don’t have shit to do with cops. I could report her to Social Services. But anything I do might have Justin taken away and placed in foster care. Nobody in his father’s family wants him. Ellen was an only child and neither of her parents would have anything to do with him. So basically, Justin doesn’t have anyone but his mother and me.

My buddy, who I used to sling dope and rob people with, he comes to mind a lot as I think about what he would say. If I told him about the way Ellen treats her son…well, I couldn’t take his advice on this one because he would say, “Kill the sorry bitch, wrap her in plastic, and dump her body in the river!”

Honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing. The more I think about it, I’m not really in love with Ellen.

Thinking about it even more, I don’t believe it’s the sex that keeps me around. As a matter of fact, I know it’s not. Not when the bitch pulled a knife on me!

I think I should leave Ellen for real, once and for all. But what about Justin? What will happen to him? I guess I’m sort of like his protector, but who in the hell is going to protect me?

To see Ellen out in public, she’s dressed to kill, very polite, and outgoing. You have to really get to know her before you learn how savage she really is. I’m still dealing with it all but I don’t know what to do. I’m far from a saint, maybe I pistol-whipped someone, but I could never be that mean to a child.

ROBERT RAGAN’S LATEST BOOK IS ‘IT’S ONLY ART.’

Robert Ragan

Noir Classics: They Shoot Horses Don’t They – Horace McCoy by K. A. Laity

they shoot book

‘Let’s go sit and hate a bunch of people.’

Among the pantheon of terrific women in noir, Gloria Beatty manages to stand out. Debbie Downer got nothing on her. From the first page of the novel we know her fate: Robert Syverten remembers shooting her on the pier as his sentence is read out in court. The book moves back and forth in time but Gloria’s doomed hateful spite never relents.

McCoy’s novel was published in 1935 in the depths of the Great Depression. The two of them have both drifted to California to get in the pictures: Gloria as an actor, Robert as a director. While there’s something almost child-like about Robert’s obsession with the movies, Gloria sees the industry as an avenue to power – and one from which she has been unjustly barred. They meet by accident but strike up a conversation.

Gloria’s quick summary of her past includes being orphaned, preyed upon by her uncle, disparaged by her aunt, shacking up with a Syrian who chewed tobacco all the time, and then taking rat poison, but not enough. Movie magazines in the hospital convinced her the good life awaited in Hollywood.

Discouraged with their lack of success the two enter a dance marathon. These brutal contests were the pre-cursors to modern reality television. In the film version, Gig Young’s ruthless MC sums it up, ‘‘They just want to see a little misery out there so they can feel a little better maybe. They’re entitled to that.’ Of course it’s his job to goose up the narratives: mere human suffering isn’t enough. The audience needs to know who to root for. 

If their stories weren’t good enough, they’re happy to invent some., including trying to bribe contestants into getting married. The goal of winning seems impossibly far away, so the dancers focus on trying to win sponsorships. That proves difficult for Robert and Gloria as she’s never met a person she didn’t talk down. She comes to blows with James, the partner of the young pregnant woman, Ruby, for trying to persuade her to have an abortion. ‘What’s the sense of having a baby unless you got dough enough to take care of it?’

The floor judge, Rollo, tells Robert, ‘Try to keep Gloria piped down,’ but the truth is as he says, ‘That’s a hard job.’ Tensions get higher for everyone as the show runners amp up the drama. People drop from exhaustion, falling to the floor without warning. ‘Customers at a marathon do not have to be prepared for their excitement. When anything happens they get excited all at once. In that respect a marathon dance is like a bullfight.’ More and more and more,’ Gloria mutters, ‘I wish I were dead.’

‘Isn’t there something I can talk about that won’t remind you that you wish you were dead?’ I asked.

 

‘No,’ she said.

It’s not enough to have them dancing all but ten minutes out of every two hours. First they have sprints, then it’s the derby. They paint an oval on the floor and make the partners run against each other. The slowest get eliminated. After the notorious arrest, the crowd watching has been swelled by celebrities. Movie star Ruby Keeler fires the first starting gun. If one of the pair falls, the other has to make two laps on their own to count as one.

they shoot film

The dancers grimly fight and the crowd bays for blood. One bright spot for Robert is the elderly woman Mrs Layden, who takes a shine to him and helps get a sponsor for the pair. In the end even she warns him against Gloria’s black downward spiral, though we know it will be too late. ‘Gloria’s not the right kind of girl for you.’

Moral guardians show up to protest, thugs join the celebrities, and charleyhorses, trauma and just plain exhaustion continue to take their toll as the novel grinds to its grim conclusion. ‘This was one day Gloria had no reason to be morbid, but she was more morbid than ever.’ When someone winds up dead, she mutters, ‘I wish it was me.’

Though the novel is more bleak than the 1969 film, it’s not by much. They use the tag line, ‘People are the ultimate spectacle’ which retains a chilling truth. The screenplay by James Poe and Robert E. Thompson lifts a lot of the original dialogue directly from the book. Sydney Pollack directed a fantastic cast most in one big set, some of whom were really playing against type, especially Red Buttons and Gig Young as the ruthless MC. Bruce Dern and Bonnie Bedelia shine as the young pregnant couple and Susannah York has an ethereal fragility. There’s even bonus Michael Conrad and Al Lewis!

Michael Sarrazin captures the dreamy Robert very well. There’s a scene in the novel where he’s spellbound by the touch of a sunbeam that would seem impossible to capture but it’s perfect.

Of course the real star is Jane Fonda as Gloria. On the heels of Barbarella no one could have predicted a bigger transformation. She nails it from the get-go. Supposedly then-husband Roger Vadim talked her into it because he thought it really nailed existentialism. She becomes the dark, hopeless void of existence in the film. Not whining or carping, but embodying the bleak lack of hope that she voices in the novel: ‘I’d be better off dead and so would everybody else. I ruin everything I get around. You said so yourself.’

If you’re in the mood for bleak, this will suit.

K A LAITY