Do You Believe in Magic by JUDGE SANTIAGO BURDON

Flash Fiction, International Noir, Judge Santiago Burdon, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

PhotoFunia-1591088957Do You Believe in Magic

A Psychic was considering to rent the store front next to the bar I owned. She asked my opinion as a business owner about foot traffic and specifically if I thought it was a good idea and if she would be successful. She wasn’t sure if it would be a wise investment. I was bewildered by her line of questioning finding it quite confusing. With a surprised tone in my voice I answered. ” I’m somewhat puzzled by your question. Being a Psychic isn’t that something you would know having the ability to see the future?

She looked at me with a loathing expression, threw her hands in the air and with a disgusted tone called me a smart ass turned and walked away.

The space remained vacant for three months and was eventually rented by an extremely pleasant guy named Marvin from Boston. He opened a magic shop and claimed to be related to Harry Houdini. He became a regular at the bar and drank Sam Adams with a shot of Old Grandad. He was a gifted story teller entertaining customers with humorous tales of his career as a magician in his younger days.

Occasionally he’d do magic tricks for patrons although almost exclusively for good looking women.

I realized an opportunity to book his act in the bar. I asked “Mystic Marvin Master of Illusion.” if by chance he’d be interested in performing once a week with payment to be negotiated.

The bar had a small stage and I let a local musician host an Open Mic on Wednesday and Sunday nights. On Friday and Saturday nights  Comedians performed hosted by a local Radio Personality and City Councilman. He didn’t possess much charisma and lacked audience appeal. Neither he or the Comedians he booked were very funny and didn’t draw much of a crowd as promised.

Mystic Marvin was excited at the opportunity to perform his magic. We arranged for his first performance the upcoming Friday night at nine o’clock as an opening act before the so-called Comedians.

The word spread quickly around the pueblo and I did a small bit of advertising, putting posters outside the bar and passing out  flyers to everyone that entered.

My novia (girlfriend) at the time was a gorgeous woman who I was fortunate to be able to afford. She was a vixen in bed with a voracious sexual appetite. I found it necessary to increase my testosterone dosage to keep up with her. She was also a thief and pathological liar which I considered minor character flaws I chose to overlook in light of her other qualities.  Marvin and Veronica seemed to get on well together despite the language barrier. She spoke little to no English and Mystic Marvin was one of those” I know enough Spanish to get by” type of people. Which I’ve discovered actually translates into “they don’t know shit.”

He asked if it would be possible to have Veronica act as his assistant for the magic performance. There wasn’t any reason that I could imagine not to grant his request. Veronica appeared thrilled at the prospect to be on stage without having to take her clothes off. Besides our relationship had been waning and I’d been trying to come up with a way to terminate our arrangement. I was pleased she would be occupied and not hanging around, getting in my way. She was suppose to be working as a waitress but never caught on to exactly what the job entailed.

They took their gig very seriously practicing twice a day and sometimes into the early morning hours at the magic shop. After five days Veronica came to me and asked me to purchase a costume for her to wear for the performance. The sequined costume she wanted cost one hundred twenty- five dollars.

“Are you serious? I’m not laying out that kind of cash for a costume. That should be Marvin’s expense. You tell him what I said.”

” You are so mean to me. You never want me to look nice because you’re jealous other men look at me.”

” First of all I am not the jealous type. If it were so I would’ve kicked your ass out of here long ago. I’m well aware of your flirtatious nature.

Secondly, this was Magic Marvin’s idea to have you perform as his assistant. This falls under the responsibility of the talent. Don’t make it my problem.”

Marvin walks in at the height of the heated discussion standing behind Veronica with an apologetic look on is face. I’d finished my oration, turned to walk back behind the bar when Marvin decided to add his commentary.

” I know you think there’s something going on between Veronica and me. You have a right to feel that way. I know I’ve been monopolizing a lot of her time.”

” Marvin that’s not at all what the conversation was about. If there’s something going on between you two, well that’s something I haven’t considered and honestly don’t give a shit.”

I knew he was banging her and it honestly didn’t upset me. I was getting more sleep at night. “The disagreement was over her wanting me to pay for a costume for the performance. And I believe it is an expense you should be responsible for not me. I find it interesting however you assumed the disagreement was about me being suspicious of the two of you having sex.”

”  She mentioned that you were jealous she was spending so much time with me. That’s what I thought you were arguing about.  I bought the costume for the show yesterday. She tried it on and modeled it for the customers. You were gone, went to pay the electric and water bills I was told. Strange that she would ask you for money when she knew it was paid for.”

I look around the bar, check the kitchen, office and bathroom, Veronica is nowhere around. I call out for her but she still doesn’t appear. Then I’m told by one of the customers she’d left after I started the conversation with Marvin.

” It’s not strange at all Marvin. As a matter of fact it’s her modus operandi. She’s a con and pathological liar. Don’t try to make sense of it, that’s just the way she is. Are you ready for tomorrow night? There should be a good sized crowd from what I’ve heard.”

” Yes I’m good to go. My act will last about forty five minutes to an hour is that ok?”

” Just fine. I’ll see you tomorrow night then. You go on at nine so be sure to get here around eight thirty or so to get set up.”

” You bet Santiago. I’m going to try to find Veronica she may be upset. See ya tomorrow.”

” She’s most likely at the bar in the Casino. Catch you later.”

Can you believe that insensitive  snake trying to shake me down for money knowing it was already paid for. She thinks I’m a dipshit gringo and it’s my first experience dealing with women and their underhanded ways.  After all I’ve done and tolerated from that stripper prostitute. Her dishonesty goes with the territory.

The night of the performance the bar was jam packed with standing room only. I was a bit upset with myself that I  hadn’t thought to  charge a cover of a couple of bucks a head. I did up the price on the drinks however.

Mystic Marvin and the Lovely Veronica put on an entertaining and professional show. He included an audience participation segment which received thundering applause as well as laughs for it’s humorous content.

After a few weeks the crowd dissipated and his act became less amazing. Although he performed one of the most mystifying magic tricks I’d ever witnessed. It was a disappearing act that ended with both him and Veronica vanishing. The next morning I noticed the Magic Shop empty and Veronica’s clothes had disappeared from my apartment along with some cash. There was no note no goodbye they just disappeared.

I was actually quite elated there wasn’t a long drawn out break up. Melissa a young, beautiful and personable woman I hired as a replacement that afternoon.

That night at the bar I bought a couple of rounds for all as  a tribute to my single status. The comedians even seemed to be funny although I’d heard the same jokes for months.

I bumped into Marvin about eight months later when I took a short vacation with Melissa to the beach in Guanacasta. He was sitting alone at a bar looking somewhat unhappy, overweight and desheveled. When he recognized me his expression revealed both fear and surprise. I waited for him to initiate conversation which he did with questioned confidence.

” Hello Santiago it’s Marvin how ya doing? It’s been a while.”

” Doing just dandy Marv. Man you look like you’ve been  tortured by Jehovah’s Witnesses that beat you with Bibles. Are you still with Veronica? You two left together so I was told.”

” Ya well that’s right. I should apologize for how I acted after you giving me an opportunity to perform at your bar.”

” Okay go ahead.”

” Go ahead what?

” Go ahead and apologize for being a back stabbing prick.”

” I’m truly sorry.” He whimpered.

” I really don’t fucking care.”

“She blindsided me Santiago. I got all caught up in her web of deception and couldn’t get out.”

He continued his voice cracking as he spoke.

” I thought she loved me. I did everything for her and she pulled the rug out from under my feet. Took off with some surfer bum but not before cleaning out my bank accounts and stealing anything of value I had. Took my little dog Abracadabra too.”

I  wanted to say how sorry I was but I wasn’t.

” Well ya know what they say.”

” No what do they say?”

” Love is great until the magic wears off. See ya around maybe.”

Never saw the guy again. Soon afterwards I began learning card tricks and graduated to some elementary sleight of hand tricks as well. I never developed a quality trick always screwed it up somehow.

”  Do you believe in magic. In a young girls heart…”

Lovin’ Spoonful.

Three Poems from Mike Zone

International Noir, Mike Zone, Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

Advice from La Mancha

No one knows you

when you’re down

Don’t step into the ring

unless

you know

you’re going to win

God is the only  true judge

Death comes

to rich and poor

apartment, mansion…

we’re not promised

another day

But I say to you

everyone struggles

From the goodest hearts

comes the evilest intent

be kind

(NONE OF IT HELPED)

 

Masks in the streets

Masks in the streets

the lions don’t roar

there’s masks in the streets

spilling left over contagion

from the sheets

masks in the streets

from hot summer night excursions

pornographic pandemic rendezvous

where the infected

slip and slide

in one another

thrusting towers

in secret wonderment

masks in the streets

same as it ever was

only in your face

behind dwindling daylight veils

how morning dew resembles

viral fever sweat

masks in the streets

death-rattle blues

let’s disregard folly and forget social contract lies

let’s commit our crimes at sunrise

high noon armed robbery at the food bank

dressed as Dali

masks in the streets

we’ll shoot fake healthcare workers in cold blood

spreading whatever it is around

in protest for their haircuts

and yelling at waitstaff

masks in the streets.

 

Nothing like the sun

Men without women

red bench- drunken sex on the floor

picking tomatoes

with migrants in the sun

daylight unhindered

in the glory of afternoon toil

observing nature sound

no sensual trickster pleasure

but the sight of  imaginary thee

free to be

but a humble friend

of the earth

 

Mike Zone is  a managing editor at Concrete Mist Press, the author of Void Beneath the Skin and A Farewell to Big Ideas, a frequent contributor to Alien Buddha Press and Mad Swirl . His work has been featured in: Horror Sleaze Trash,  Cajun Mutt Press,Outlaw Poetry, Piker Press, Synchronized Chaos, The Whiskey Rye Review and Cult Culture magazine.

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If in her agency, she chooses the sociopath by Eddie Vega

Alibi, Eddie Vega, International Noir, New York, Noir Nation, Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

PhotoFunia-1591097784

 

If in her agency, she chooses the sociopath

 

If in her agency, she chooses the sociopath,

who beat her with open palm and word,

I will not interfere with reason or gesture.

 

Perhaps her heart has already fled back

or was never here…

And there’s nothing to discuss

Except what things to return.

 

If in her agency, she chooses the man who treats her

like spill on a barroom floor

(reasserting only what she feels about herself?)—

 

she’s no such thing!

she’s the light that fills every space she moves in!—

 

if that’s what she chooses,

if that’s what she chooses…

 

in her agency.

Eddie Vega is a Cuban-born writer with degrees in English literature, writing, and journalism from Brooklyn College (CUNY) and Columbia University. His poetry has been published in numerous venues including Pearson’s My Perspectives textbook, where the poem “Translating Grandfather’s House” quickly became a popular reading assignment in middle and high schools across the U.S. His news writing has appeared in Washington Post, T.V. Guide, The Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, and Austin-American Statesman. He is author of a novel, Awake Now, Sailor, and a book of poems, Translating Grandfather’s House and other Poems, Puntos, and Décimas, both published by Bare Knuckles Press.

An Ode to The Japanese Marilyn Monroe by Stephen J. Golds

International Noir, Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine, Stephen J. Golds, Travel

japanese maralyn

Art is by Julie Nicolle.

An Ode to The Japanese Marilyn Monroe

 

When I first met you in that darkened bar, 

I thought you were 

a Japanese Marilyn Monroe.

Your lips mouthed sex, 

your eyes whispered laugher and 

your hair spoke dyed 

ash blonde electricity. 

Sex and beauty were always

your currencies and 

you almost bankrupted me.

 

Towards the end 

we were just two people 

slow dancing in the dark and 

stabbing each other 

to death

in a damp attic.

You killed me 

many times

but you always 

knew how to do that best.

 

A friend got to showing me 

your wedding photo the other night. 

And perhaps I caught your eyes 

for the final time in that darkened bar. 

But this time 

you were wearing the long ivory dress 

of a proud bride, 

not the short skirt and 

easy smile 

of an easy party girl. 

 

I saw the guy stood crookedly 

next to you in a cheap suit, 

who seemed a poor imitation of me. 

I wondered 

if that was deliberate 

on your part 

but I doubted it.

I looked at the woman 

in the photograph and

I still saw the Japanese Marilyn Monroe. 

 

I saw the woman 

who tossed the diamond necklace 

I’d bought her off 

a downtown Hanoi hotel balcony 

into the deep blue 

of a swimming pool below. 

Who kissed me softly 

on the face in a back alley clap clinic 

after a Friday lunch and 

after six shades of roses. 

 

I saw the woman 

who had sent me images of her

shallow self harms, and

who made all those suicide late night calls. 

I saw the woman 

who had made me breathless 

with any number of injuries that I’ve come to

avoid acknowledging like a war torn vet. 

You were my Okinawa,

my Viet Nam, my Iraq and my Somme.

 

I saw the woman 

who had laughed at the most 

unsociable of times, and 

the girl who’d gone to her knees 

in the most unlikely of locales. 

Who loved to fuck 

everywhere but between sheets. 

Who’d worn my shirts around the apartment 

and my sunglasses swaying in the park and 

who had lied about being on birth control. 

 

I always imagined 

seeing your wedding photograph 

would bring back 

a lot of the undead and unhealed,

but I just gulped at my warm beer and 

wondered if the guy stood haphazardly 

next to you knew exactly 

what he was getting himself into. 

Marilyn Monroe had been 

a very sad and a very sick woman after all.

Stephen J. Golds was born in the U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. Glamour Girl Gone, his debut novel, will be released by Close to The Bone Press  on January 29th, 2021.

Contraband by Liz Davinci

Euro Noir, Indie, International Noir, Liz Davinci, Music, Noir, post punk, Punk Noir Magazine, Torch Songs

The song “Contraband” was originally called “Emergency”.

One of the songs originally planned for the EP “Contraband” stopped breathing about 85% of the way to being done and I needed to write a new one – an “emergency” song.

At first I didn’t want to give up on the originally intended song and it was a sad thing to eliminate it, but we did it.

I’m so glad I was honest with myself because “Contraband” was born and it’s a unique song that I really like.

It’s the only one of my songs that I completely made the beat for (and I am proud of the beat, but I prefer tapping Underhatchet’s expertise in this area).

“Contraband” is vocally/pianistically pretty much as close to an improvisation as it gets for me.  I just let the ideas flow linearly and used abstract lyrics to try to create a mood.  It went smoothly and I preserved almost all of the initial ideas in the final version.

I composed the bass line last and Underhatchet liked it so much on the demo that he wanted to play it on the final version.  In the video he is playing it on a bass guitar, though in the recording it is played on a keyboard.

liz davinci

 

Art/Heist by K. A. Laity

Art, Films, International Noir, K A Laity, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

kansas city

When I’m not thinking about grifters, I’m probably thinking about heists. There’s a good bit of overlap in the miscreants involved in each, I’m sure. Are we talking fiction or non-fiction? I hesitate to call it reality. Does anything seem real right now? 

With news that there’s was another big art theft this week, we can guess that people are taking advantage of the distracted state of the world under pandemic. Old Masters worth $12 Million looted from Oxford: some fancy paint there. But will the thieves earn that much? Probably not:

While unauthenticated works can easily make their way through the open market, that’s not the case for known pieces of art. As soon as stolen works are listed for sale, authorities will seize them. Thus some art criminals turn to the black market, where stolen works fetch a far lower price than their actual worth. 

Likewise the theft the other day that nabbed a Van Gogh. You can’t help but wonder if a specific collector was making use of the lockdown time to acquire something he’d been wanting for a while. I love how the staff are reported to be “shocked and unbelievably annoyed” as one might expect. Capitalising on the prurient interest, the news site leads to another heist, jewels this time. There have always been those who were not willing to wait for the things they want.

This of course puts me in mind of Jean-Pierre Melville’s influential Le Cercle Rouge (1970) with a mustachioed Alain Delon, a surprisingly seedy Yves Montand as the alcoholic ex-cop with some very unbelievable DTs, and André Bourvil as the dogged Captain Mattei. I like to imagine a string of cosy mysteries with Mattei and his cats. The (alas, out of print) Criterion edition of the film includes interviews and footage of the Stetson-hatted Melville as well as an essay by John Woo talking about his influence. With its Gallic languor and genesis from a Buddhist quote, the film offers a heist that is doomed before it ever starts. 

The American take on the heist is often much more triumphant. This week my students are watching Kansas City Confidential (1952) which offers a more mundane bank heist but with some innovative differences: none of the heisters (is that a word?) know each other and they’ve all worn masks, so they can’t identify each other. They were brought together by a Mister Big, who has set up an elaborate gig, sending them all to Mexico to wait out the heat. 

Hey, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam! A gum-chomping Neville Brand. Jack Payne stars as a down-on-his-luck but amply-medalled vet (hey, this is #noir after all) who finds himself the fall guy when his delivery van appears to be the getaway vehicle. If the lazy cops won’t crack the case, he’ll go to Mexico and sort it out. Yes, some unfortunate brown-face: ironically African-American actor Dona Drake had an interesting career passing as Latina (hint, filmmakers: a great story to be done there).

Colleen Gray shows up as the innocent daughter of Mister Big who’s studying for the bar (of course) but takes a liking to Payne’s ex-con (who’s pretending to be Elam’s characters – it’s easier to follow in the film) and has no idea what her father’s been up to. Cue some sneaking around by everyone, some really terribly choreographed fist fights and not enough Van Cleef glowering. It’s entertaining nonetheless. I look forward to my students’ comments on it. 

Are you planning a heist for the lockdown? Watch a few films to see where they always go awry. And wear a mask – it’s a good idea even if you’re not pulling a needlessly complicated heist.

K A LAITY IS ON THE LAM HERE.

Film for a Friday: Possessed (1947) – K. A. Laity

A Film For Friday, Films, International Noir, K A Laity, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine

Possessed47Poster

Like so many films noir, Possessed begins after most things have happened then backtracks to find out how we got there. A surprisingly unglamorous and decidedly untethered Joan Crawford wanders down the empty roads of early morning Los Angeles. When a tram driver stops to let her on, she can only ask for David. She’s eventually picked up and taken to a hospital where a kindly doctor recognises that her catatonic state is due to trauma and works to unlock the story from her shattered mind.

Eventually we make it back to a house by a lake and Van Heflin. It is my own shortcoming that I can never take him seriously because I always hear Jasper from the Simpsons demanding that a barber, ‘Gimme a Van Helfin.’ Fortunately he’s not particularly sympathetic here. The script by by Ranald MacDougall and Silvia Richards, based upon a story by Rita Weiman gives him a few terrific lines like ‘My liver rushes in where angels fear to tread’ and the telling ‘‘If you don’t leave me alone I’ll wind up kicking babies.’

The basic plot line is full of fun twists: Crawford’s Louise in love with Van Helfin’s David but he’s bored with her. She is a nurse to a wealthy woman with paranoid fantasies who commits suicide—or does she? Her husband, Raymond Massey, falls for the nurse, but his college co-ed daughter, Geraldine Brooks, believes her mother’s accusation that the nurse bumped her off to get with her father, and storms off back to campus. At the wedding she meets David and he cheers her right up. But has Louise only married Massey to try to make David jealous?

It’s almost as if caring for the mentally unstable woman unlocks Louise’s own mental breakdown. The film tries to foster a positive attitude toward mental health, with the doctor’s sympathy and criticism of the word ‘insane.’ When a worried Louise visits a physician to see if there’s really something wrong with her, he’s at pains to say that addressing these problems will head off a worse situation—the very one she fears.

However, Louise allows fear to take the reins and there’s some really effective scenes where what is real and what is imagined is hard for the viewer to determine. A terrific sequence focuses on the sounds around her as a part of the unsettling pathology, from the ticking of the clock to the pattering of the rain. The Franz Waxman soundtrack is quiet effective too, much of it resting on a repeated use of Schumann’s Carnaval. When violence erupts we’re never sure if it’s real or not, but it has a surprisingly brutal impact.

Crawford won a lot of (sometimes grudging) praise for this role. She manages to make poor Louise both sympathetic and dangerous. Well worth a watch.

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

Overlooked Noir: Crack-Up (1946) by K. A. Laity

Art, Films, International Noir, K A Laity, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

Crack-Up-Poster4

No surprise that this one would appeal to me: Noir ambience? Check. Art and art forgery plot? Check. Mind manipulation? Check! Yeah, art and a sort of Hannibal connection, well – I’m sold. Never mind that Crack-Up stars Pat O’Brien, an unlikely everyman as its hero. It’s got Claire Trevor though, with a wild swathe of outfits, and it has the ever-urbane Herbert Marshall for kicks. And Wallace Ford who adds value to any picture he’s in.

It starts in media res like so many noir films, with a befuddled O’Brien breaking into the Manhattan Museum, punching a cop and breaking a statue. The museum director calms things down because they don’t want bad publicity though art critic George Steele (O’Brien) will lose his job because they think he’s drunk and raving.

Flashback time, of course. We go back to Steele lecturing in the museum. He’s a born feather ruffler, though, poking fun at rich people and at bad art. ‘If knowing what you like is a good enough way to pick out a wife, or a house, or a pair of shoes, what’s wrong with applying the same rule to painting?’ He tells the appreciative audience that the only folks he feels sorry for are the people ‘who know everything about art, but don’t know what they like.’ Cue snappy dressed guy shuffling his feet uncomfortably at the back with Claire Trevor next to him in a hat like a neck pillow.

‘The only way they can tell a good painting from a bad one? The price tag!’ Cue abashed laughter. Steele is reassuring to the audience that mostly seems to be people a little uncertain about art. He uncovers Millais’ The Angelus to general oohs of pleasure and he commends them on being part of a long history of folks who’ve enjoyed the painting. Steele mentions trying to get Dürer’s Adoration of the Magi (or as he calls it ‘Adoration of the King’) back for his next lecture. The museum director frowns at this and then audibly gasps when Steele talks about showing them the painting under x-ray.

Uh oh! We know where this is going.

For Steele, it’s just a chance to show that even masterpieces have false starts and revisions. Though he mentions it’s a way to catch forgeries, too. Camera cuts to Marshall lurking in the back looking mysterious. ‘A good technician with nothing to say is a very dangerous man’ — like say, Van Meegeren? – ‘whether he forges masters or paints nonsense.’ This means it’s time to make fun of ‘modern’ art. Cue audience member asking just how far away from modern art you’re supposed to stand. Quite closely, Steele jokes, then start backing up until you run into someone interesting and go for a walk with them.

Obviously this section is my favourite.

Then of course a fellow with an accent – clearly some kind of dangerous foreigner! we’re meant to think – cries that, ‘Pioneers have always been ridiculed!’ An affable Steele tells him that he’s not condemning modernism, he just doesn’t happen to like the painting and it’s fine if others do. The foreign art lover accuses him of lacking perception and sensitivity. As he goes on, passionately derisive of Steele’s failings, the crowd turns against him, hissing and booing. He’s dragged out by security to applause. All-American war veteran Steele makes a joke of it, saying he’ll go into modernism more deeply next week, but ‘Surrealists will be checked for weapons at the door.’ It’s a have-it-both-ways Americanism: look how tolerant I am of the foreign guy who was dragged out of the room but not by me! And my gentle genial jokes at his expense. No big deal! 

Not the point of the film, but I love this scene: it’s so off-handedly rich.

Of course there’s a forgery business to be uncovered having to do with the Dürer, fugitive fleeing, a fire on a ship, and more. But the powers that be decide to head off nosy, x-ray wielding, controversy-building Steele with a clever ruse:

[SPOILERS]

 

making him thing he’s been in a train accident. Ray Collins plays the doctor working for the museum to hide its shady dealings. He almost chuckles revealing the very useful trick he learned during the war as he explains it the captive Trevor. ‘It’s called narco-synthesis, Miss Cordell.’ I assume that’s why Bryan Fuller called Mason Verger’s gruesome major domo Cordell. And the plan is surprisingly similar to techniques in Hannibal, though they’re of course even more sophisticated. The mind is a fungible thing. 

‘All inhibitions go; the subconscious mind takes over.’ And the subconscious is easy to manipulate with the right stimuli. Like a train that passes really close to the doctor’s house. Is there no one who can stop this nefarious plan? In between some chit chat with the decidedly upwardly mobile Cordell, who wants to ditch ol’ Steele for someone swankier but clearly is happiest with him. There’s a great scene in an arcade when they’re trying to hide in the crowd. It’s a worthwhile film.  

It’s available as a Warner Archive disk, though you can find an online version that’s pretty murky. Jacqueline T. Lynch’s blog does a good job of breaking down the narrative points and providing some great screen caps.

Noir Classics: Those Who Walk Away – Patricia Highsmith by K. A. Laity

Art, Crime Fiction, Euro Noir, Existentialism, International Noir, K A Laity, Noir, Patricia Highsmith, Punk Noir Magazine

those who walk away

Don’t let the pull quote form Slavoj Zizek put you off. This too-little read classic by Highsmith is a cracking read. It’s suffused with an existential dread so thick you could cut it with a Derwatt paint knife. It starts in Rome and quickly moves to Venice, currently repopulated with swans and dolphins, which is no less bizarre than this book.

Adding to the head-jerking oddness, it’s dedicated to Lil Picard, ‘painter and writer, one of my more inspiring friends’ in Highsmith’s words. The Jewish artist was once part of the Dadaists scene in Berlin, hanging out with Brecht and Dix, then fled to New York where she hung out at Andy’s Factory and made performance art with Caroline Schneeman and Yoko. It’s a surprising choice for the notoriously anti-Semitic writer (they’d not spoken in a decade) but it speaks volumes to her yearning for art and artistry.

Art permeates the story: Ray Garrett is thinking of starting a gallery as he grieves for his wife’s suicide, fearing that he might have been able to save her if only he’d seen the clues (Highsmith dealt with the same when her lover, the artist Allela Cornell, committed suicide). This is the least of his problems, however.

The book opens with Garrett walking through Rome with his passive-aggressive father-in-law who, quiet suddenly, takes out a gun and shoots him, and then runs off. More shocked than injured, Garrett panics and runs back to his hotel to put a Band-Aid on the graze and clean the blood from his shirt. And to think: how did Colemon get a gun? What would he do when he discovered Ray was not dead?

This begins a weird tale of cat and mouse that quickly moves to Venice. ‘If he saw Coleman alone again just once, he could say it all plainly in words—say the plain fact that he didn’t know why Peggy had killed herself, that he honestly couldn’t explain it.’ But her father won’t accept the truth. So much so that Ray begins to wonder if he does bear some guilt. When Coleman shoves him off a boat into the wintery canal, Ray goes into hiding to let him believe he’s been killed. It may, in part, be fueled by the fever he catches from his soaking. But it becomes quite surreal.

He begins to think like a criminal, inventing lies sometimes for cover and sometimes just for a kind of romanticised desire to disappear from himself. Ray tells himself he’s not trying to change his appearance with the beard at the same time he’s cautioning himself to invent a ‘decent’ story: ‘The nearest to the truth was best, or so he had always heard.’ I love how Highsmith tips her hand here about her own easy story-making. Ray looks at himself (oh the cliché but this is 1967) and sees a lot more than he wants to:

It was an American face, slightly on the handsome side, hopelessly marred by vagueness, discretion, the second thought, if not downright indecision.

As gruesome as this all sounds, there is actually a lot of humour in the novel. Ray and his partner consider opening the Gallery of Bad Art in NYC, if they can’t find enough good painters to share. ‘Call it Gallery Zero, for instance. The public’ll soon get the idea.’ Highsmith obsesses over art and its quality in a very different way from Ripley’s blithe assurance that forgery is better than ‘good’ art. The humour pops out quite unexpectedly (like Highsmith’s own ‘jokes’ apparently) and so do the astute observations, like a sharp knife in the dark. I think Camus and Sartre would approve of this one which seems to sum up so much of her work:

Perhaps identity, like hell, was merely other people.