THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Paul D. Brazill, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

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It was shortly after the pitter-patter of tiny feet had been drowned out by the rat-a-tat-tat of the debt collector’s knocks that Carole Parker considered killing her husband. But it wasn’t until many years later, when her daughter Kate had grown up and flown the nest, that she actually decided to do it.

Carole had barely been out of her teens when Doctor James Parker, as glimmering and sophisticated as a Brandy Alexander, swept through her hum-drum life like a tornado, picked her up like Dorothy and plonked her in an Oz that bore more than a passing resemblance to Chiswick, West London.

As the years trundled on, however, James’s gambling and drinking habits ballooned to the size of the Hindenburg, his mood swings and behaviour grew more and more erratic and Oz turned out to be no place like home.

Carole’s initial, overriding feeling of disappointment eventually melded into a hate that slowly marinaded until it congealed into a cold, hard contempt.
*
Carole, who had been studying Chemistry at Durham University when she met James, found that she couldn’t safely rely on him for an income and she eventually took a part time job at Bogajski’s Veterinary Practice in Holland Park, an upmarket joint that pampered the pets of B and C-list celebrities. Over the years, a bottle of chloral hydrate that nestled on a shelf at work had stood out like the lone, beautiful whore in a rundown brothel, teasing and tempting Carole. The years had stretched out like a long summer shadow until, at last, she spiked a bottle of Mortlach – James’s favourite whisky – and headed home.
*
Carole got off the 94 bus at Turnham Green and glimpsed her reflection in the newsagent’s window. Her heart sank like the Titanic. As she looked at the frump in the window she remembered overhearing a couple of shiny, happy WAGs talking about her as they sat in the vet’s waiting room.

‘Not bad looking but a bit on the drab side’, the northern one had said.

‘Dowdy and past her sell-by date,’ commented the other, in a grating Estuary accent.

‘About time for a make-over,’ they giggled.

It had hurt but Carole could hardly disagree and she’d been depressed for days after. What had happened to the vivacious young woman who used to light up a room like a firework display? She’d been drowned in a flat cocktail of debt and drudgery but there was still a spark, she knew.

Well, she thought, with James out of the way – and his insurance money in the bank – there would be a rebirth. A phoenix from the ashes. A flush of excitement burst free like a champagne cork but by the time she stood at the gate of her semi-detached house that excitement was waning and being replaced with fear. Fear of prison if she was caught. Fear of what Kate would think. And then the guilt, the doubt and the panic hit her like a tsunami.

Then she saw the car. A big grey BMW that was parked outside her house looking like a shark that was waiting to strike.
*
‘There are, of course, myriad negotiation techniques,’ said Detective Sergent Frank Cook, in a voice not dissimilar to that of the tiger in the Jungle Book film. ‘One of the most popular is a two-hander, as it were, known as the good-cop/ bad-cop. But I, however, am here alone today and I am as far from a good cop as you can imagine so I think I’ll just stick to the Corleone method.’

Carole was focused now. She looked at James but he just looked pathetic, like a scolded schoolboy. His face was bleeding and snotty and the fingers of his left hand hung limp. With his shaking right hand, he signed the contract as Frank Cook hovered over him like Godzilla over a flattened Tokyo. James was a big man – he’d played prop forward for Durham University – but Frank was bigger, with a face that looked as if it had recently been scrubbed by a Brillo pad and big, big hands, one of which held a big, shiny bloodstained Glock 29. The moment that Carole signed the paper she could feel her life slipping away like dishwater down a plughole.

‘Congratulations,’ said Frank. ‘You are now the proud owners of ..well … life.’ He grinned like a game show host, pushed the deeds to the house in the pocket of his Armani jacket and then indifferently threw an IOU towards James.

‘I do believe we should have a little snifter to celebrate, don’t you?’ said Frank, putting a CD into the player. ‘I think Doctor James here is certainly in need of a little hair of the dog that fucked him up.’

Carole went over to the drinks cabinet. She took a swig of Glenfidich before passing the bottle over to James, who gulped it down like a drowning man gasping for the last breath of air.
Puccini’s Tosca blasted out as Frank looked at a photograph on the wall: Carole and Jimmy on honeymoon in Las Vegas, looking full of life and future.

‘Those were the days, my friends, eh?’ said Frank, turning and spotting Carole’s Sainsbury’s bag. ‘And is that a bottle of Mortlach, I spy? I hope you’re not keeping the good stuff for yourself.’

For the next few minutes, Carole seemed to step out of herself as if she were watching a film. She poured the Mortlach for Frank and let it all happen. About halfway through Tosca’s third act, as church bells rang, Frank started babbling, puking and convulsing and, by the late evening, he was dead.
*
Outside The City Barge, a bustling pub overlooking the Thames, the speakers were blasting out an old Eddie & The Hot Rods song. A jet ski cut across the water and Carole flashed back to the previous month when she and James had dumped Frank Cook’s body and BMW in the river’s murky water, somewhere near the Isle of Dogs.

A small aeroplane left a trail of white foam across the vivid blue sky. Carole smiled to herself as she showed her friends the shiny red shoes that she’d bought from Harvey Nichols with one of James’s many credit cards.

‘I think I saw your husband looking out of the window again today,’ said Sarah, a mousy woman with mousy hair. ‘Is that all he does these days? He seems to peek through the curtains whenever I park near you. Is he turning into a Peeping Tom?’

Carole laughed. That really was all James did now. Snoop. He was at the window day and night waiting for reprisals from Frank’s cronies. Reprisals that she doubted would come.

If anyone missed Frank Cook or thought that he’d been murdered, she doubted that they would suspect a boring suburban couple like her and James. And if they did, well, she had that big, shiny gun in her handbag, just in case.

‘Oh, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,’ chuckled Carole as she drained her glass of Pimms and lemonade. ‘Same again?

PAUL D. BRAZILL IS QUARANTINED HERE.

KEEPING TABS a Bishop Rider story by Beau Johnson

Beau Johnson, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

all of them to burn

We find the shipping container within a sea of shipping containers. Inside is what we hoped were not: three distressed newborns and fifteen illegals under the age of consent. Malnourished, they’re living in the type of squalor one can only imagine. An unflushed toilet is as close as I can get, but even that is far from the wall which hits us.

Also: correction—these girls, they weren’t living. They were surviving.

What led us here is the last thing Reggie Bone told us before I relieved him of his hands.

“The abductions. The snuff films. The piece of shit admits to it being his father behind it all. He also mentioned a shipping container full of something he hoped to trade.” Batista stops in his tracks, his face seeming to recede as he absorbs the news. I feel for him. I do. But I feel more for the people these pieces of shit choose to rip apart.

“This shipping container, he give you a number?”

He did. And now we stood, doors open, the light from above and behind the Detective and me twisting our appearance into something it was not. Cowering, the girls beg, they plead, and we try our best to make them understand. Once Batista calls it in, I vacate the premises.

We weren’t done, though.

No. Not by a mile.

 

 

It was true. All of it. Angelo Bone being the one behind it all. The man hid his tracks well, too, but shell companies, they can only hold secrets for so long. What adds insult to injury is both the sentence handed down and the amount of time he actually serves.

Early release brings the number to just under eight years, and why, I’m thinking, Batista kept tabs. Means we knew his day of release months beforehand. Little more digging and Bobby Meeks pops into view, he being the person registered as Bone’s pick up that day. Outside the gate, I follow both men and the Caprice to the east side of Culver. Beyond boarded-up houses, beyond run-down streets, they slow and slide into the driveway of a house Bone no longer owned on paper but seemed to be his all the same.

Each man exits the Caprice, Angelo Bone thinner than the man who drove him there. The older man had more hair, too, all of it bunched at the back. But what I remembered most about Bone was still there: his swagger. The one that proclaimed his shit didn’t stink, not even after six decades in.

I let the engine idle. I let them get inside. Halfway to the property I decide the front door would prove the path of least resistance. Situations change though, and I could very well be wrong, but when teenagers in shipping containers is all your mind allows you to see you have to go with your gut more often than not.

I’ve found things work best that way.

 

“You do realize we are connected in a way you are unaware of,” Bone’s voice is deeper than I think it should be, and I want to hit him again but don’t believe I’ll be able to stop if I do. Behind me, coating the floor, lay Bobby Meeks, his throat a second, larger mouth. “It’s true, Rider. My youngest boy, before he’s sent upstate, he participates in a mouth train they ran on that sister of yours. This was before they made that little movie of her, of course. It’s also before you figured out it was the Abrums who did you wrong.”

Not a lot stops me cold.

Not a lot causes me to question.

What Bone says next assures me he is attempting to do both.

“But your momma? She was different. My oldest, Malcolm, he being not only the one who put her in that dumpster but the one who broke the bitch’s neck.”

I say nothing. I can’t. I do, he never gets to the car. I do, he never gets to experience life from the inside of a shipping container for himself.

As I told Batista: we couldn’t have that.

 

 

The look in his eyes is what I remember most.

“No!” he says. “Not this. NOT LIKE THIS!” But it was like that, Bone taking a knee to the face just so I could pry him from the trunk. Once inside, I take other things from the man as well. His shoes. His belt. Anything which would allow him to leave life early if he really went and tried.

When it’s over, when the bribes and pleas go away, and after I tell him we already knew about his diagnosis, this is when he finally sees things for what they are. Defeated, he looks up to me, through me, the light from behind and above me illuminating everything I have chosen to be.

It’s here I shut both doors. It’s here I add the chains. I think of those girls. I think of those newborns.

Nine years removed, they still deserve more.

Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.

Find Beau Johnson online …

Website: https://www.beaujohnsonfiction.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007691865781
Twitter: https://twitter.com/beaujohnson44
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Beau-Johnson/e/B079MHF7RG/
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17692442.Beau_Johnson

COLDWATER by TOM PITTS is out MAY 18, 2020

Crime Fiction, Down and Out Books., Punk Noir Magazine, Tom Pitts

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Synopsis: After a miscarriage, a young couple move from San Francisco to the Sacramento suburbs to restart their lives. When the vacant house across the street is taken over by who they think are squatters, they’re pulled into a battle neither of them
bargained for. The gang of unruly drug addicts who’ve infested their block have a dark and secret history that reaches beyond their neighborhood and all the way to the most powerful and wealthy men in California.

L.A. fixer Calper Dennings is sent by a private party to quell the trouble before it affects his employer. But before he can finish the job, he too is pulled into the violent dark world of a man with endless resources to destroy anyone around him.

You know those times when your reading slows down and you can’t find the right book to read next? Tom Pitts’s Coldwater was the book I needed to pull me out of those doldrums. I tore through it, gripped by every page. Simply put, Coldwater is a damn good book. A thoughtful and violent tale of bad luck and bad choices. I loved it.” —Johnny Shaw, author of Big Maria and Undocumented.

PRE-ORDER NOW!

Meet the Author: Tom Pitts is a Canadian/American author and screenwriter who received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive.

Tom Pitts_mkrajnak_061618_DSCF3236

THE GHOST IN YOU by Graham Wynd

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Graham Wynd, K A Laity, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine

Read part 1 here.

2

It was their first ever encore. The others wouldn’t have paid attention but Frazer had been waiting for such a moment to come. Ego, yeah. So what? You had to have an ego to get out there every weekend and play to the punters who seldom care if you lived or died—actually, most of the time they’d preferred that you died so you would just shut up and they could fill the jukebox with coins and play Van Halen or Katy Perry over and over until their ears bled.

But not tonight. Tonight was magic and the crowd called for an encore. The crowd, the audience: not just Pam and Janet, the girl friends of Pike and Jones. The pair were always there, the gruesome twosome they called themselves. Sometimes more happy to chat to each other than to pay attention. Admittedly they heard the songs a hundred times or more, nothing new. They were great at getting the drinks in and even better at cheering the spirits of the lads on bad nights. There were always bad nights. But the two of them were always full Macca thumbs-up for the band. Not like Olive. Remember Olive? They all remembered Olive.

The people you surround yourselves with have a lot to do with the quality of your life. Doubly so if you were trying to make something, do something beyond your dead-end job that you forgot once you were punched out and out the door.

An encore, a real encore. Pam and Janet were cheering away but it wasn’t even them that started chanting, ‘More more more!’ How do you like it, how do you like it, well they liked it just fine. They felt it too. They wanted more.

Frazer looked up, sticks in hand, in wonder. Pike caught the grin on her face. Did a double take. More more more! The chant was real. And louder. Some feet stamping. They had a hit of it and wanted more. Wanted the high to last. Pike collared Jones, who’d already slung his Gretsch over his back, plucking his sweat-soaked shirt from skin. He stared in wonder at the crowd. Godfrey shook his head, not a no but a kind of disbelief.

There was a moment of swaying disbelief. It might have all got away, but Jones swung the guitar back around, looked at Frazer and grinned. They didn’t have any songs left that they hadn’t done already. It was a thing with them all that they never did covers. All original songs, live or die.

But now was not the time for purity.

FGGFG

FGGFG

FGGFG

Giiiiirrrrrl

Pike stretched out the first word so long Jones had to stumble to hold back the next chord and we were all grinning like maniacs but we were together, a unit, in sync. And the audience was too. They had let out a whoop at the first notes so loud we might have been the Kinks themselves on stage or as near as was going to get here in the back end of nowhere tonight anyway. They sang along, shouting out the words as if their lives depended on it and howling at the chorus, shrieking to punctuate the lines.

Frazer nearly collapsed on the kit with the final bash. A sudden wave of exhaustion hit her. They had worked that night. Good work. Sleep would come. No restless obsessive thinking about what to do next time, what had gone wrong, why could Pike never hit that note quite right and did it really matter, should the song change or the singer until it was three and the night too short.

Pike was hopped up now and caught her eye. He wanted more. Frazer shook her head though. They weren’t going to turn into a cover band. It was a little gift for the audience who had been so good to them but no. No more covers. It felt good to belt out something familiar, shared, a little ragged—they had only ever fooled around with it to warm up—but play another and that’s what they’d remember. A cover band.

They took the applause with gratitude. Even bowed with an ironic Beatle formality before laughing and punching one another in the arm. This is what it could be, Frazer thought. This is what it will be if I have to drag them all kicking and screaming into the future.

The high survived leaving the stage. They just about floated into the little dank chamber that served as a dressing room. Pike jabbered a mile a minute whilst Jones nodded enthusiastically. Godfrey just grinned and shook his head as he put the battered two-tone Fender back in its case after wiping the strings and the body with a soft cloth.

Frazer made a quick change of her top, which was wet through and threw on a hoodie for good measure. Her arms ached in a good way. Probably worth icing them before bed; hot bath tomorrow. At least there wasn’t a band on after them so she didn’t have to rush out and break down the kit immediately.

‘They really liked the new one,’ Godfrey said.

‘Yeah!’ Pike agreed. ‘It’s got a good hook.’

‘That’s all Jones,’ Frazer said. She knew it wasn’t just the hook, but it didn’t matter as long as they all liked it, too.

Jones threw his arm around Frazer and Pike. ‘We fucking ruled the night.

GRAHAMWYND NOIR

THE COOL OF CLASSIC NOIR – Janet Roger

Crime Fiction, Films, Janet Roger, Noir, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

Here’s something that quite startled me not that long ago, from a eulogy given in Washington Cathedral for a remarkable American. The speaker was recalling a capacity John McCain had, for what she called …a stoic silence that was once the mark of an American man. So why should that startle me? Well, I suppose to begin with, because the words reminded me of traits I grew up with, that I imagined were long gone out of fashion. But it was the next thought that really pulled me up. What audience nowadays, I wondered, would understand where that temperament for stoicism – not to mention silence – came from? It can be a shock, realizing how far over the hill you are. But still, it set me thinking about where I first came across that mark of an American man (and of American women too, let’s be clear about that). Where? Well, where else? Like most Europeans of my vintage, everything I grew up thinking I knew about Americans, I’d learned at the movies. I was an impressionable age, I admit. But I marveled at a certain kind of American I found there. More than that, it’s clear to me now that in those postwar years, movie audiences everywhere were marveling along with me.

Of course, that certain kind of American wasn’t only to be found in the films we call noir nowadays (and didn’t then). But I do think especially in those. Explore those classic films noirs and you’ll see how that hallmark American manner once played out onscreen, for the generation our eulogist had in mind. Buy a ticket and you’ll be watching ground-breaking cinema – and not only American cinema either – but we’ll come to that. Because you won’t fail to notice, wherever those classic period noirs hail from, they have the manner at their fingertips. For now, let’s stay with the stoic silences.

As for instance when Los Angeles Detective Sergeant Walter Brown (Charles McGraw), follows his partner down a Chicago tenement stair in The Narrow Margin (Director Richard Fleischer, 1952). The two detectives are escorting a witness back to testify before a Los Angeles grand jury. She’s the widow of mobster, a target and she knows it. As do the two LA policemen sent to protect her. Sure enough, Brown’s partner is gunned down on the tenement stair, his slayer escapes, and – as a small crowd gathers – the Detective Sergeant hustles his charge to a waiting cab, Brown leaves a bystander to call in the murder of his partner to city police. Not until he’s in the back of the cab with the widow, bound for Chicago’s Union Station, does he start reflecting on what just happened. Gravel shuffles the anger in McGraw’s voice. He tells himself he shouldn’t have let the older, slower man go first down the stair. Then remembers that the news will need breaking to the dead man’s wife. It’s about all the detective registers before he switches back to the present problem – how to get himself and his witness aboard their train to LA.

cool noir 1

Don’t misunderstand me. The back-of-the-taxi scene is no cheap shot about a tough cop doing what a cop must do. For one thing, the cab’s other passenger (Marie Windsor, none better) doesn’t reach for her feminine side any more than does Detective Sergeant Brown. But more to the point, screenwriter (Earl Felton) and director knew just as well as their performers, that audiences would have been startled if they did. By 1952 a generation of men and women had grown unaccustomed to voicing their own emotions. It was a behaviour currently out of style. And as in life, so in the movies. Which begs the question, how come was it out of style?

Now an admission. I’m a lifelong museum hound. A sucker for history that’s new to me or that I’m not expecting. And since I’m a relative newcomer to American history, the museums that tell it are apt to pack more surprises for me than the average. So you’ll understand that, on my first visit to the Minnesota History Center Saint Paul, a sign pointing to a gallery on the third floor was irresistible. It said: Minnesota’s Greatest Generation. Now, then. You tell me. Which generation might that be? Me, I guessed at pioneer tales of the mid-West. Or of harnessing the giant Mississippi (thrilling – there are no rivers at all in the country I’m writing from, or even a year-round stream). So I licked my lips, kid in a candy store, and took the stair to find out. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The story the gallery has to tell is strictly twentieth century.

cool noir 2

It’s not hard to see why. For Minnesota, its greatest generation was born in the shadow of the Great War, and raised in the pit of the Great Depression. It was the generation in its teens through the New Deal and the Dust Bowl years. Then, when the hardest of times had just begun easing, it learned for the first time where Pearl Harbor was. So it upped and migrated to find war production work, or got sent to fight across oceans. And four years later, those that returned were braced for A-bombs, the Cold War and Korea. Any one of those upheavals would have left its mark. The women and the men we’re talking about had run the gamut by the time they reached their thirties. In the year The Narrow Margin released, Marie Windsor was aged thirty-three. Richard Fleischer, thirty-six. McGraw was thirty-eight and had served a wartime spell in the army. All were veterans of the early twentieth century. They’d lived the pick-yourself-up-and-dust-yourself-off of the times, and understood at first-hand where the closed, tight-lipped manner came from. Certainly they knew how to play it. In that scene in the cab, they hit the character notes of noir right off the center of the bat.

Of course, it was never only Minnesota’s greatest generation. Neither was it uniquely American. That string of early-twentieth century catastrophes had put a generation through the same grinder worldwide. No surprise then, that as they came to navigate the early years of Cold War, cinema audiences everywhere could relate to those elemental notes of film noir. They needed no introduction to bleak, ungilded motives. Or to dark, inconvenient truths. Watching them play out onscreen in a new, spare brand of film-making was simply powerful, subversive, satisfying.

cool noir 3

And not only at the time. On Vienna’s Ringstrasse there’s a theater still showing The Third Man several times every week. Nearby is a small, private museum, dedicated to the movie and its making, and to a tainted postwar decade that the movie exposes, but that the city on the whole likes to forget. Despite its American co-producer (David O. Selznick) and American leads (Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles) The Third Man is of course a British movie, nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Director, Best Editor) and taking one home (Robert Krasker for Best Cinematography). Meaning that already by 1949 a British film could be fluent and even majestic in the elements of noir. Stoic silences included. (Personally, I can forget the accents and hear Trevor Howard’s Military Police Major Calloway and Charles McGraw’s Detective Sergeant Brown as interchangeable. Try it!). In fact by then, film makers were exploring the new vocabulary from Argentina to Japan and stops in between. Demonstration, I think, that film noir was distilling a spirit of the times that knew no borders. In Hollywood it had been distilled by a perfect storm of home-grown and immigrant talent, technique, and limited resources; then bottled in new patterns of narrative and character, mood and setting, technique, tone and more. Which of all those elements sparked for audiences in Buenos Aires or Tokyo, I couldn’t say. The draw for me remains what it was from the first: watching a Detective Sergeant and a hoodlum’s widow wrapped in a terse exchange in the back of a cab, considering their latest calamity with quiet intensity. That kind of quiet was everywhere in those Eisenhower years, recognizable whichever continent you were on.

It seems like some small miracle to me now. How, out of a world gone sour, that remarkable generation went on to create film noir in its own image. Movies peopled with an unforgettable cast of slick grifters, seen-it-all survivors, racketeers, the opulent, the decent and the corrupt, whose moral compass – when they bring one along – is all their own work, men and women both. All photographed in shadows and camera-angles that still make magic, and dresses that can be to die for. And yet. What about those stoic silences?

I mean, can modern audiences still relate to them? You’d have to ask. But I really do hope so. Because in my adored films noirs, that self-contained cool is a quality those survivors always kept in their locker; one indispensable part of the thrilling, subversive whole. Insolence, of course, is always on hand. Also pragmatic, resilient and smart. Even that certain hardboiled uprightness, when absolutely necessary. All the above are the natural elements of classic film noir, where you’ll find them written, directed, played and caught on camera with complete conviction. How else? They were qualities lived and learned the hard way, over three spectacularly daunting decades.

 

About the Author

janet roger

Janet Roger is an historical fiction author, writing literary crime. She trained in archaeology, history and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War.

Janet Roger’s Shamus Dust: Hard Winter, Cold War, Cool Murder is a Chandleresque private-eye fiction, set in 1947 post-war London. Published in 2019 it won the Beverly Hills Book Award for Crime Fiction, was made Book of the Year by Fully Booked, and listed in NB Magazine’s Top Ten. She is a contributor to The Rap Sheet, CrimeReads, Suspense Magazine and to Mystery Readers Journal. Shamus Dust has garnered very many five-star reviews, from some of the best-read magazines and award-winning writers in crime fiction. Check out her recent interviews with Deborah Kalb, In Reference to Murder, NB Magazine, Women Writers, Women’s Books – among others.

You can find her on:

Twitter https://twitter.com/shamusdust

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/author.JanetRoger

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19371364.Janet_Roger

shamus dust

Overlooked Crime: Rebuilding Coventry – Sue Townsend by K. A. Laity

Crime Fiction, Humour, K A Laity, Punk Noir Magazine, Sue Townsend, Writing

sue townsend

Best known for the Adrian Mole books, the late Sue Townsend wrote a variety of other interesting novels, memoirs and plays. I picked up this one after Beth Jellicoe mentioned it on her piece about Muriel Sparks’ Loitering with Intent, the latter certainly one of my faves amongst her many fine novels—and a book that will appeal to almost any writer. What intrigued me was the thumbnail description: ‘In her underrated novel Rebuilding Coventry (1988), Sue Townsend tells the story of a housewife and mother, Coventry, who commits a murder and escapes to London without even a handbag.’

Even better, she commits murder with an Action Man. It makes me want to be more ambitious about murder weapons.

As it’s Townsend, there’s a lot of great satire along the way. You’ll recognise most of the characters along the way: the woman who has to look down on everyone, the man who has to pretend he’s had every woman, the husband who has never thought anything about his wife as a human being—and some totally bizarre characters who’ll make you laugh out loud, especially the eccentric couple near Russell Square.

Coventry commits murder in the Midlands and then flees to London, where she has never been in her life. A big part of the novel is her suddenly figuring out how one lives in London not only without cash but also without any kind of identification. Even in 1988, however, there are a huge number of people doing that (and more now). While there are a lot of humorous moments, that’s not part of it. Townsend doesn’t make light of life on the streets.

The most fascinating aspect is how in alternating chapters, Townsend takes us back to the Midlands to see how everything changes in Coventry’s wake. So, your mother/wife/friend/daughter is a murderer. Did you know she had it in her? Do you even wonder why it happened? Is this really all about you?

She shares a cardboard box with a woman who calls herself Dodo who turns out to be the sister of a very important cabinet minister whom they visit on Dodo’s birthday. Behind the scenes, as one suspects, the posh people all proudly give way to anti-Semitism, racism and outright fascism. Because Coventry is pretty (having been washed and plopped into an evening gown), so they think she’s one of them – at least until Dodo starts threatening to put their heads on spikes along Westminster Bridge. The two are packed off to the Ritz for the night.

There’s a wonderful dream sequence that we slide seamlessly into, slowly getting into greater absurdity until we arrive at, ‘The front door is opened by Les Dawson wearing a pantomime cook’s costume.’ A lot of the story feels as surreal as you would expect life after a sudden murder might be. Change is the only constant.

For Coventry’s husband, it’s the Flitcraft effect: as Hammett wrote, ‘He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.’ His world was built around his wife managing everything so he could devote himself to his turtles. He’s mostly annoyed: ‘Derek wondered why all of the women he knew appeared to be going mad. It wasn’t just members of his own family. The girls at work were getting stroppy: demanding things, more money, improved conditions, flexi-hours.’ His only aim is to put that life back on, thank you very much.

Coventry has the advantage of not being able to return. Murder might be the best thing that ever happened to her…

Renegade by Mark McConville

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Mark McConville, Punk Noir Magazine
She spoke to me behind a mask. Her hands shook but her legs were still, her voice broken, but I could hear what she was expressing. She then sang the REM hit It’s The End Of The World As We Know It. Clarity and assurance went hand in hand, the rendition of a beautiful touch, and never a challenge for clean lungs. Throughout the execution and delivery of the song, I felt alive, though the track was a bleak assessment of a decaying planet, a world we have ultimately left on life support.
After she stopped, I didn’t know what to say. Should I have said it was the most wonderful sound I have ever heard? Or should I have clapped and cheered on? Well, I nodded, a nod of approval. Whenever I turned my head I’d see men holding guns, and their raucous voices shuddered my spine, so nodding was a safe way of telling her she had talent. And talent in these times? Survival is more of a fundamental attribute. But she was an exception.
As the rules stated that we all had to stay at home, she secretly gave me a note with her phone number and address written in red lipstick. A note for my disenchanted self, a golden ticket to normality and validation. As she left, she blew a kiss at me and sang the song again. These fruitful days were only dreams in my pessimistic head, which held a shrivelled up brain, and a mind, sunken in, and deeply fragile. But I knew she’d opened up new horizons.
I can remember her attire. She was gothic like a renegade for these unprecedented times. A soul colliding with obstacles, but overcoming them. For only those split seconds, I could see goodness in her, even under the constraints of a mask. This mask was worn through the pandemic we faced. A new world order put in place, a disease which moved fast and wide in a matter of days. No one had the durability or resources to eradicate it, and it was up to the government to put measures in place.
I departed through an alleyway that day. I can remember it rained, which washed away the debris and cigarette ends. The rats were scurrying faster than normal; it was like they knew Armageddon neared closer. Under the strain, the pipes burst and precious water flooded out and the rats swam for their lives. This, the only time I felt for them, no food, no life.
I walked towards a house which stood for a hundred years. A home my grandfather built. A centre point of love and heart. These days, lights barely flickered and the front of it crumbled. It was a shame, as we grew up in that building, sharing secrets and anecdotes, playing card games and watching eventful TV shows.
Breaking away from the pact, I’d leave the house to pastures too. I then regretted it and came back, but my parents were both gone. My father smoked a pipe, my mother smoked cigarettes that were called Fever Blue. I can still remember the bright blue packet on the kitchen table. Cigarette smoke is a distinctive smell and stays with you.
I would sit that day on a sunken couch looking at the clock. Looking to see if time would clear up the mess and confusion. Time didn’t matter much anymore. The disarray etched on faces; the chaos bubbling under the surface, mattered.
Temptation took hold of me. I had the address and number of this girl I barely knew. She could have been the leader for the voiceless, the disfranchised, the alienated children and adults who were lost and broken. Slightly nervous, I called her. She’d answer, speaking slowly, and her voice was groggy.
I asked her if she knew my voice. She said yes. I asked her if she knew what day it was. She said the day of reckoning. I then asked her she was standing. She said the rooftop of her apartment block looking down at the soldiers.
Concerned by this, I quickly alighted from the cold house into the mouth of the behemoth. I tried to stay on the phone, but she hung up. I had no vehicle; I had no timescale, and I ran through mud and blood, broken glass and used needles.
I entered the apartment block and ran up the staircase to the summit. I saw her jacket, which had the word Renegade stitched into it. She was standing there sinking into disillusionment.
I shouted at her; she turned around and said I’ll JUMP.
I stood back and sang the Gloria Gaynor hit I Will Survive.
She turned and sang the rest of the lyrics.
I grabbed onto her thin arm and comforted her.
She would, that day, remove her mask to let me see her beauty in all its glory. The disease, I thought, was surging through us. But we couldn’t care less about it, as in that moment.
I felt more alive than ever before.
Mark McConville

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

Blue Collar Noir, Crime Fiction, Films, K A Laity, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

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

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One by Paul D. Brazill

Brit Grit, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Humour, Paul D. Brazill, Paul Garner, Punk Noir Magazine

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One

Ginger Ronny had told Burkey about the murder towards the bitter end of one of their occasional raucous Tuesday night drinking sessions, as the dawn had desperately begun to grasp for life and Malcolm Duffy was grumpily getting ready to close up Le Duffy. But it wasn’t until the cusp of Wednesday evening – as Burkey struggled out of bed to start his night shift at the slaughterhouse – that the reality of the situation finally melted into his consciousness, like ice cubes in a glass of Jack Daniels.

‘Jude Walker,’ he groaned, as he sat on the stained and wobbly toilet. ‘Jude friggin’ Walker.’

He put his head in his hands as he pebble-dashed the inside of the toilet bowl with the residue of the previous night’s boozing session and tried to force a tear or two with the same passion that he’d shat. But he couldn’t. Despite all Jude had done for Burkey over the years, the man had been a nasty twat who’d had payback coming to him for donkeys.

Burkey showered, dressed and left his flat, a hovel that was above a closed down dirty book store and had been advertised as being a ‘loft-style apartment’. He started to have a nagging feeling tugging at him as he limped down the stairs, and it wasn’t just the need for a little eye opener before he started work.

As he shuffled into Le Duffy’s dimly lit bar, adjusting his eyes as he negotiated his way through the closely stacked tables, he realised what the problem was. Ronny had confided in him. Burkey. Or Gimpy, as he usually called him. Of all of Ronny’s dodgy cronies and neo-incestuous family members he’d confessed a murder to Burkey.

Although they occasionally got drunk together, Ronny and Burkey had never been friends, as such. Ronny had even regularly taken great pleasure in taking the piss out of Burkey’s limp. Even back in school he had been worse than most of the other kids when it came to cruel jibes. They were bound together by a love of the booze, though, which wasn’t everything but it was a lot.

Malcolm served Burkey his usual pre-work shot of peppermint schnapps. He hated the taste but it didn’t smell of booze, they said. He sat at the bar, knocked it back and ordered another. This Ronny situation was a quandary and a conundrum, as his old granddad used to say. What the hell was Ronny up to?

He ordered another drink and tried to piece together what Ronny had actually told him about killing Jude.

It went like this: Ronny was sat in his Ford Granada in the car park outside The Bongo Club getting a blow job from Skinny Minnie, one of the club’s barmaids, who gave extras when it came close to her rent day. She was dressed as a schoolgirl since, although she was forty if she was a day, she had the skinny, petit body of an anorexic teen which boosted her earning capacity.

After she eventually swallowed his load, Ronny loosened his grip and allowed her to come up for air. He pulled a wad of notes from his Wranglers and peeled a few off. Most of the cash he used to pay her was counterfeit but there was so much of it in the town these days that it was becoming accepted currency.

He sat and smoked a joint while Minnie cleaned him up with baby wipes and there was a knock on the window. Well, more of a bang. Ronny wound down the window to see the massive form of Jude Walker shouting and screaming about something or other. Ronny had no idea what he was on about. Not that it mattered since Jude had a tendency to completely lose the plot over any old thing when he was snorting the crap coke that was produced by the same Russians that made the fake cash.

Ronny knew that there was nothing he could do to placate Jude and began to wind up the window when Jude stuffed a massive hand through the gap and grabbed Minnie by the throat. Well, Ronny, ever the gentleman, couldn’t allow that to happen so he pushed open the car door sending Jude sprawling backwards until he crashed his head against the breeze-block wall that everyone used to piss against when then went outside the club for a cigarette. Ronny walked over and saw that Jude was out for the count. And then, before he could do anything about it, Minnie turned up with a brick and proceeded to smash the shite out of the unconscious Jude’s big fat head.

Ronny apparently grabbed the brick from Minnie and slapped her till she calmed down. Then he started to hyperventilate. They were so far in shit creek an outboard motor wouldn’t help, let alone a paddle. Jude Walker was an old school-friend, for sure, but he was also the off-white sheep in a very dark family. A very loyal family indeed.

Burkey looked up at the cracked triangular clock that hung behind the bar and realised that he was going to be late for work if he didn’t get a move on. Fuck it, he thought. This was serious stuff. He ordered another drink. A proper one this time. A double Jack D.

The bar had started to fill out without him realising it and he was in his pots, singing along to the Pina Colada song when someone tapped him on his shoulder. He could almost taste the sour breath.

‘Burkey, I need you,’ Ronny whispered in his ear. Burkey turned and saw Ginger Ronny, high as a kite, wearing a cagoule and covered in all sorts of mud and shit.

‘What do you … want?’ said Burkey.

‘I need you to help me bury him.’

***

‘Get a friggin’ move on Gimpy,’ said Ronny, as it started pissing down.

A big grin crawled across his flushed face like a caterpillar. Burkey assumed Ronny thought that using his old school nickname would motivate him. Far from it. He was starting to realise that Ronnie was just manipulating him. Using him to do his dirty work.

Burkey forced a smile. He was getting soaked to the skin in a vandalised cemetery, after spending the last half hour digging a grave and Ronnie was going on and on at him like fingers down a blackboard.

Burkey stopped, the pain in his bad knee getting worse and worse in the cold and wet weather.

‘Give me a minute or two,’ he said.

‘Oh, for fucks sake, Gimpy, I friggin’ told you …’

Burkey swung the shovel without thinking about it and it smacked Ronnie square on in the head. Ronnie just stood there, an unlit cigarette in his hand. A blank expression on his face that reminded Burkey of a cartoon character.

So Burkey twatted him again and he fell forward into the open grave. There was a flash of lightning, followed by a rumble of thunder as Burkey managed to drag himself out of the grave. He paused to catch his breath and got down to covering up the bodies with renewed enthusiasm, safe in the knowledge that he’d make it back to Le Duffy in time for last orders. But he’d keep himself to himself tonight, that was for sure.

Paul D Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Polish, Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including three editions of THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF BEST BRITISH CRIME. 

NOIR LOGO 2

Pest Control by Jason Beech

Crime Fiction, Fiction, International Noir, Jason Beech, Punk Noir Magazine

Pest Control by Jason Beech

 

It took Jeff ten-or-so steps out of his van to loosen his sore back. The old lady who opened the door released him from the mood that grabbed him up the long solitary road to her house. That sweet smile, a waft of home cooking, and a phrase all colored his memory in sepia tones. This job would rectify the previous disaster that had led to a week’s “recuperation.”

“Szia, szia.”

He put a hand over his heart where the rat, trapped in a red circle and terminated by a zig-zag strike of lightning sat on his uniform. “Szia to you, too.”

“Ah, pest control. Come in, come in.”

The step up to her door plucked the sore muscle, but his nose sent massaging signals across his body and eased the pain. Jeff sniffed and let out a friendly “Aaahhh.”

The lady had that strong accent like she’d only just stepped on these great United States shores. “I’m cooking. You do a good job, maybe I’ll feed you. How about that?”

Jeff didn’t think she’d look down on him if he licked his lips. She reminded him of his grandma and she’d squeeze his cheeks as a boy if he showed appreciation of her cooking. He replicated that boyhood joy and though she didn’t pinch his flesh, her beam said the same thing.

He sniffed again. “Pörkölt?”

“You cheeky little Magyar.”

Jeff guffawed and rocked forward on his toes at the jolt of pain up his back. “What’s the job …” He looked down at his clipboard. “… Mrs Barna?”

She held him by the elbow, looked up at him with a sly smile, and led him to the back door. Pointed to a little concrete shed in the back yard, about thirty yards down a thorn-strewn path. “It’s starting to stink. It needs sorting out.”

Jeff caught a subtle whiff emanating from the bunker-like structure. Added a bit of spice to the pörkölt. He glanced down at her and back through the untidy rooms strewn with piles of books with titles like 1957, to where the meat pulled at him.

“Veal?”

She pahed, and questioned his Hungarian credentials. “Chicken liver.”

“Smells good whatever it is.”

She nodded to the shed. “Well it’s all yours when you’ve done.”

“Okay. I’m on it. Mice? Rats? Raccoons?”

“That’s what I’m feeding you to find out.” She spun back to the dish he hadn’t tasted since his old anya had passed on. He watched her, suspicious she didn’t have money to pay his fee. Still, the company would pay him and take her to court for the fee. He didn’t like that idea, but out of mind he’d get over it.

He rubbed at his back as he picked his way over weeds and thorns, scared it would give out. That’s what happened at the last job. He’d failed to do the job properly because to bend down and lay traps in every nook would have had him in bed for a month. His boss would let him go with a Walmart watch as a memento, if that. He had five years to retirement and his wife wanted her end days in Florida.

Jeff reached the shed. The smell had got stronger with every step until the sick-sweet stench monkey-swung from his long gray nostril hairs.

The afternoon sun didn’t much penetrate the clouds never mind the blackness of the shed, but if the nice lady expected him to haul out a deer that had trapped itself, or a horse she couldn’t look after, then that pörkölt better sit on his taste-buds nice all the way through the day back to his wife’s plate. He hoped the lady’s husband still walked the Earth. You couldn’t get a more barren place, isolated under a canopy of trees with meadows beyond the edge that hadn’t seen a farmer or mower in decades, if ever. A place, primeval, where the mind fosters legends and monsters.

He could call in for back-up, but again, his boss would wonder why he had him on the books at all. Jeff couldn’t face the glue factory just now and he’d not yet made out the smell’s origin. Could be a mouse. A big one, though.

A shape formed in the murk. Some big animal, fetid – a miserable death had caught it in this godforsaken middle of nowhere. Jeff took a moment to acknowledge the loss of life. He dealt with rodents, cockroaches, bees, wasps, those goddamn hornets. Lives so small they didn’t have a hundredth the meaning of this poor beast.

The old lady called from her back door. “Any luck, yet?”

“I don’t think this is a pest problem, Mrs Barna.” He looked back and that sweet smile mixed with his boss’ possible sanction pushed him to the low entrance. She meandered halfway towards him in her apron, holding the recipe, the chopping knife, and a porcelain bowl. “It’s okay. I’ve got it it, Mrs Barna, I’ve got it.”

He would drag the beast out the best he could, maybe burn it. He didn’t know – he killed the small things. Its when he bent beneath the doorframe that he saw the leg. The human leg. Shaped at an angle that said the man hadn’t rested like this in acceptance of a peaceful death. Jeff reached into his tool belt for the flashlight and that’s what took out his back. He grunted and that grunt expanded into a pig’s squeal which blasted back at him through the shed’s gaping mouth. A streak of white hot lightning paralyzed him from the small of his back to the nape of his neck. All he could do was stand there stooped as if he’d never evolved past the first stage of man. His voice came out in little staggers until he managed to stutter Mrs Barna’s name.

“What is it?”

Stress Balkanized and competed – A dead man. How would Jeff get home? Would he keep his job? That Florida home, modest and hardly luxurious, backed away and looked for an owner who could afford the upkeep. His wife. Her face. She’s strong and she’d understand, but that initial look of a long-held dream vanquished dissolved his innards.

Mrs Barna crunched the twigs, the weeds, the gravel underneath.

“Mrs Barna.” Hard to breathe. His heart had filled his chest, crushed his lungs. The leg inside the shed slanted over a mound that he recognized, now his eyes had adjusted to the dark and the wet in his eyes had cleared them of late summer dust, as a bloated belly, and disconnected from that leg. A different body, the faded insignia of the USPS on its breast.

Oh, God, what had happened here?

“Lady, you got to get outta here? Somebody … someone is …”

He tensed against the coming shock of her scream, but she only shuffled her feet as she hovered left and right behind him in search of a gap to see beyond his immovable body to the carnage inside. A third man developed from the negative, his wan face crooked, unseeing eyes wide open, jaw a bear trap.

Mrs Barna touched him. Cold. “I like my pörkölt fresh, Mr …” she slid round him, slight as a wraith, but so very real. She stood on her tiptoes and reached his chin, the bowl against his belly. She thrust the knife into his chest. Jeff shuddered. His damn back slipped to the bottom of his problem pile and he shifted his attention from the bodies to Mrs Barna. He knew she’d stuck the knife deep, just below his heart, it’s just the benign smile she gave him made him question the reality.

“I like a little human heart with my chicken liver … shhh, shhh.”

She pushed the knife, so sharp, upwards to his heart, and the Florida palms, the hand of his wife, his whole life grayed and faded to black as the blood spilled and his heart slipped into the waiting bowl for the hungry Mrs Barna.

Sheffield native, New Jersey resident — writes crime fiction. You can buy Jason’s work from Amazon and read his work at Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey, Close to the Bone, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Pulp Metal Magazine. His latest novel is Never Go Back.

never go back