Album Trailer #1: Contentment by Liz Davinci

Enter Victoria: Chapter 1 – Contentment

7am: Friday

Bus 262 slithers curved roads, determinately making its way to the city.  The roads are lined with Eucalyptus trees on both sides, birds are chirping. There are blue skies, the sun is just coming up and the temperature calls for a light jacket at 7am on this Friday.  

If you would zoom in on the woods, you would see countless dog-walkers and joggers enjoying a morning outing.  You would see wild bunnies and maybe even a fox or two.  

Inside the bus it’s full but only 3 people have to stand.  At this hour mainly business men and women make up the bus’ contents. In their dress-casual clothes, neat make-up and freshly shaven faces, nearly all of them are engulfed in their cellphones.  There are a few parents with children and one stroller driven by an exhausted mother.

The bus smells like Dunkin Donuts coffee and hums along further.

The winding roads are slowly replaced by straight ones and the trees by houses and then buildings, followed finally by grey skyscrapers as the bus nears its destination.

A woman dressed in black boots, black pants and a light pink blouse stands up, book still in hand, eyes glued to the book.  She manages to put on her jacket whilst reading and only closes the book briefly to get out of the bus at 7th Street, nearly the end of the line.

“Morning, Victoria,” the receptionist says to her as she enters the building around the corner from the 7th Street bus stop, and she begins her work day.

**********

4:30pm: Friday

On her way home, Victoria waits at the 7th Street bus stop on the opposite side, ready to do the morning commute in reverse.  Her colleague, Lily, has joined her, so she can’t read her book, but Victoria was raised to have proper manners, so she chats with Lily.  

Unfortunately the conversation with her colleague goes from bad to worse when Victoria has to sit through the different names of the fish Lily took pictures of whilst scuba diving in Thailand.  Her mind begins to drift.

The commute feels longer than usual.  Victoria starts to think about her evening.

Finally back home, Victoria grabs her gown and make-up and heads over to the local bar/club, where she’ll eat some dinner before singing a set.  They always treat her to a meal when she sings and they even serve vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, or wheat-free dishes, if you’re into that kind of thing.

**********

7pm: Friday

I’m sitting in a chair, staring at my reflection in a beaten up old mirror backstage and I look elegant.  Not that I shouldn’t – I’ve been getting made up and dressed up for the past hour here.  

It’s almost time to sing.  I’m not nervous – I kind of wish I was.  I miss those days. But I’ve done this gig so many times now.  It’s fun – I’m content with it.

“Victoria, you’re almost on!”  Stella shouts to me.

I smile at myself in the mirror as I stand up – at my long, black evening gown, hair pulled up, revealing browned, bare shoulders.  I heard that tonight’s show would be full.  

As I sing my set, some family friends will accompany me (the old guys from down the street).  They play fantastic back-up and I get to sing what I want – covers and jazz standards.  I’ll start with “I Can’t Get Started” tonight, for irony’s sake.  After the show I’ll go home to read.  I’m addicted to romance novels, unbeknownst to all.

I am not an isolationist (that’s what I tell myself).  I sing once or twice a month here and I talk to people at my office, where I work as a secretary, as well as my family of course.  My family silently wonders whether I am a lesbian (or at least it seems like they do), and they can’t understand why I crave solitude.  They almost never come watch me sing.

Maybe I am too picky but there is no one that pulls or interests me.  But my romance novels…that’s where my heroines and heroes exist.  Tonight I’ll pretend I’m singing for Siegfried, the latest hero in one of my books (things got really exciting with him on my bus ride this morning).  He’s strong and intriguing and the game will make singing more fun.

“Vicki, now!” Stella says, with slight irritation.  “I’m here – sorry,” I say and rush to enter the stage with the other musicians.

In the bright lights it’s hard to see the audience but I can tell that the hall is full to the brim.  I wonder who is here tonight. Maybe the city folk coming to see the up-and-coming rock band performing after me?  “Twisted Allies” is their name and they grew up in this town, which is why they even do this gig at all.

I get a little nervous.  I let the musicians know what song we’ll start with and we go to town.  Halfway through “I Can’t Get Started” I see a man in the audience who looks startlingly like Siegfried from my book.  I know what he looks like because he’s drawn on the book cover, with his big muscles and piercing blue eyes.  Sometimes I like to examine the book covers, studying every detail.

This Siegfried look-alike is at the bar and he is staring at me as I sing. His stare frightens me somehow.  I try to ignore it and make a plan to get out of this gig as soon as possible.  As intriguing as Siegfried is in my book, the prospect of any real contact with some Siegfried look-alike intimidates me, terrifies me.

******

8:45pm: Friday

Dashing out the back door into the cool night in a baseball cap, small polka-dotted scarf and an unglamourous oversized black jacket, I leave the loud, energetic songs of “Twisted Allies” to rev up the crowd inside.  I’m sure the “Siegfried Starer” has no interest in looking for me and I am just running and hiding for no good reason, but I’d like to get home.  I’ve got a book to read.

“Excuse me, miss…excuse me!”  I hear a voice calling out.  Surely that’s not meant for me.  “Victoria, wait!”  

I turn around to those piercing blue eyes.

Classic Noir: Two by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding K. A. Laity

People have been talking about Bookshop as an alternative to the ‘zon so I hopped over to set up my profile there and see what they have. Disappointingly, they have a very patchy collection. Ironically, as they sell themselves as a booster of independent bookstores, you’ll mostly find volumes from the not-so-indie presses. I tried to add some things with ISBNs, but if it’s not in their database, you can’t add it. Out of the couple dozen (?) or so books I have out, I found a random 5.

Unable to burnish my own self-serving profile, I decided to set up some recommendations, including a ‘Godmothers of Noir’ list. I figure I’ll add to as I go along, but as you can imagine, I ran out of steam because data entry is boring. So to prod myself into doing more, I offer a couple recs here.

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding was ‘the top suspense writer of them all’ according to Raymond Chandler. Jake Hinkson agrees, acknowledging that the reason she tends to be dropped from the noir canon is largely because she doesn’t fit the hardboiled cliché. He argues that despite her ‘comfortable’ appearance, ‘I’d wager everything I own in the world that if you could have sidled up to Holding at some stuffy dinner party and asked her what she was really thinking the answer would have been darkly funny and perceptive.’

KILL JOY (1942) is the story of Maggie MacGowan, a young woman with ambition working as a servant in quiet house when she’d much rather be working in an office. While the housekeeper reads the sensational headlines about a local murder, tutting that the young woman ‘brought it on herself’ probably from wearing pajamas or shorts—‘and shorts they are!’ Maggie chafes at her position, but release comes through trying to help the young niece Miss Dolly, who flatters her ego and then confides in her like an equal: she’s in danger and afraid and needs to flee. She wants Maggie to come as her secretary. Because Dolly appears to be everything chic and sophisticated in her eyes, and she’s getting threatening notes from someone who signs his name as Othello, Maggie is won over to the scheme and they sneak away.

It all seems exciting and romantic but Maggie is dismayed to find they arrive in the dark of night at a ‘nasty dirty’ little house on the water. There’s no food but there are two strange men: Neely, a Dutch artist who seems unconcerned with anything, and Johnny Cassidy, a smooth talking fellow who alternately entrances and disgusts the young woman. One minute he’s putting on a cod Scots accent to tease her and the next he’s muttering dark drunken ramblings.

Dolly’s lawyer shows up but soon appears floating in the estuary. And things really begin to unravel. At first Maggie is primly determined to get herself out of the increasingly-gothic surroundings, but she’s checked first by sympathy for Dolly and then by a growing fear that she can’t escape. The bohemian group intermingles with the local Long Island gentry. Maggie learns that all the ‘class’ she attributed to Miss Dolly is really embodied by Gabrielle Getty, whose husband is another circling around the eternal victim—unless it’s Miss Dolly herself who’s only playing a part.

The book will keep you guessing as to who’s knocking off one inconvenient person after another right up to the end. It’s fascinating to see the changes in Maggie who is initially crushed by finding out that she’s not as smart as she thought she was, yet bounces back with real courage and plenty of pluck.

THE VIRGIN HUNTRESS (1951) could not be more different. Like Hughes’ In a Lonely Place (1947) this novel plops us into the mind of misogynist, self-pitying manipulator. The novel opens on V-J Day, neatly taking advantage of the noir hinge between the war and post war periods. Montford Duchesne is not quite in the same celebratory mood as the rest of the population. The end of the war means the end of his job in the shipyard on Staten Island. It means more difficulty coping with his landlady’s daughter Gwen, who’s determined to marry him. He thinks he deserves better things.

It’s interesting how different Maggie’s ambitions – initially just as self-deluded – compare to Monty’s: Maggie realises it’s herself that needs to change; Monty stubbornly waits for the world to change around him. And there’s that thing he can’t quite bear to think about in his past. The (mostly female) ghosts that haunt him lead him to a random change of plans. In the chaos of the celebrations, he wanders away from his would-be fiancée to offer assistance to a couple of women in a Rolls who are being menaced by a sailor who’s trying to force them to celebrate with him.

The rescuer gets invited along since they’re all heading back to Manhattan and at first it seems like a dream come true for Monty: away from his down-at-the-heel life and into the wealthy world of Argentian oil wealth. So what if Rose has her suspicions about him. Her tia Luisa takes an instant liking to him and invites him to use her brother’s hotel room while he sorts himself out.

Monty veers from arrogance to abject self-loathing: ‘This time he paid, this time he tipped, lavishly. Maybe she was noticing. After all, he thought. I’m not an oaf. Not a hick. My father’s people…I went to a really good school.’ Like Dix Steele, Monty wants all the things he thinks he deserves while knowing the world is against him. Oh and there’s that thing haunting him, that give him nightmares and makes him sweat and act belligerent and desperately try to fix things so no one will find out just what he can’t bring himself to remember.

Both of these books will grab you and have you flipping pages right to the end. While some of the noir tropes will be familiar, you’ll find plenty of surprises, too. Even bit part characters are memorable and distinct (wow, Monty’s mother). See the ongoing list of ‘Godmothers of Noir’ here.

The Black Gardenia by Kristin Garth

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The Black Gardenia

 

Like Dahlia, the Black Gardenia

winters in Florida too, comes home

from California, not cut in two. The

man leaves, mostly, skin intact, monochrome

exotic eyes, like lipstick, black.  Shuts faux

schoolgirl thighs to strut alone, odd streets.

Small, southern drawl, sweet scent more will follow —

three piece suited stranger, bread-bowl soup lunch greets

you with sunflowers.  Petals tease your own

cape jasmine blossom, beneath a miniskirt,

a man, at work, flew here to hurt — just grown

enough to make it not a crime.  You flirt

black gardenia, public, wasting time

then leave alone. You read too much true crime.

 

Author’s Note:  As a sexually adventurous woman who

reads a lot of true crime and knows the dangers women are

subjected to just by their gender and vulnerability to men,

sexuality and fear can be two opposing states.  During a

period in my life when I was very brazen and free and

polyamorous, I was still very informed of the dangers due

to the true crime I read. I didn’t want to be the Black

Dahlia but I flirted with strangers and danger, and I was

a gothic Black Gardenia, aroused but ever aware of

the danger of male desire.  This poem takes place in

Sam Francisco where I went to stay with a dom who

worked during the day and I wandered. You can read

more about this time and place in The Meadow

at apeppublucations.com or order the book signed

or annotated at:

The Meadow

The Song of Spring by Sebnem E. Sanders

The Song of Spring

 

Belma

Belma watched over the crowd gathering in the courtyard of the mosque. On the altar, stood a coffin. Draped over its raised head, a muslin scarf with a crocheted edge, and a small wreath of white and purple freesias placed upon it. Her favourite flowers. The men were lined up before the altar and the women, their heads covered, assembled on both sides. Belma scanned their faces. They all had tears in their eyes. She recognized most of them. Friends, relatives, colleagues. Someone must have died, a woman. She saw her mother, her best mate, and her cousins. Her eyes searched the congregation. Where’s Aila? She jabbed a finger at her mother’s shoulder and whispered in her ear.

The sweet aroma of the freesias reminded her of the Song of Spring she used to sing to Aila when she was a little girl, and how Aila accompanied her, trying to remember the words. That song was theirs, mother and daughter, the lyrics etched in their hearts. It gave them comfort in moments of pain and sorrow.

Belma hummed the melody as the imam began his prayers. She raised her voice and sang in a high soprano tone. She could hear the orchestra playing in the background, as the images in the courtyard blurred.  Little Aila’s voice joined her in the chorus, transporting her to another place, one of tranquillity and lightness, away from the chaos.

 

Aila

Aila gazed through the small opening and glimpsed the night sky beyond the bars. A crescent moon complemented by bright stars illuminated the darkness. A beam of light filtered into her chamber, landing on the single bed. She watched it linger on the white sheets as the wind howled, swaying the branches of the barren tree outside the window. Shadows of monsters played tricks on the walls. She sat on the cold floor, her back against the wall, eyes glued to the gap that gave her access to the world outside. Aila sought comfort from the faint light seeping into the pitch darkness of her surroundings, and rocked, playing the scene over and over again, in her mind.

The wind stopped. Silent, powdery white specks dotted the patch of sky behind the bars. Gradually, the snow muffling the sounds coming from the other cells, decorated the branches of the tree. She imagined a white blanket covering the dismal surroundings with its magic, making everything clean, pure and innocent.

Aila remembered playing in the snow with her mother in the garden of their suburban two-storey house. They gathered the snow, shaping it into balls, and rolled them across the lawn, buried under the deep, crunchy whiteness to make a snowman. A carrot, a scarf, a hat, and pebbles for the eyes. Recalling the Song of Spring they sang, she began to hum it, her mother’s smiling face completing the picture.

The scene rewound in her mind and she wept.

“Mum, I need cash.”

“Why do you need cash, sweetie? You have your credit cards.”

“They don’t take credit cards everywhere. I need cash.”

“Let me see how much I have. Will a hundred do?”

“I need a thousand.”

“Aila, you know I don’t carry that much. Tell me truth. Why do you need so much?”

“I owe money.”

“What for? You haven’t, not again?”

“Just shut up and give me the cash or something valuable I can trade.”

“Why, Aila, why? You know how long it took for the treatment. You were dying of hypothermia and ended up with pneumonia. Remember the days in the hospital and the trip back home? I’m so glad to have you here. You went to rehab willingly and suffered through hell trying to deal with the addiction. Why, sweetheart, why?” her mother asked with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t call me, sweetheart, you stupid bitch! Your world is fake, perfected with your silly dreams and illusions. You think you can make everything right with your Pollyanna approach. You dream of happiness, but you’re not happy either. You stink of self-delusion and lies.”

“Not again, please, Aila. I can’t deal with this anymore.” Belma threw herself onto the settee, covered her face with her hands and sobbed, her shoulders shaking.

“Give me the money. I’ll go and never come back.”

“I can’t. I won’t. I cannot help you kill yourself.”

“I need a fix. You will or I’ll kill you.”

“Do it then, Aila. Do it, and end my pain. I can’t take anymore. I’m done.”

Something flipped in Aila’s mind. She leapt towards her mother and struck her in the face. Blood trickled from Belma’s nose and her broken lip, mixing with the tears running down her neck. She screamed and howled, trying to fight back. Aila picked up a cushion and pressed it over her mother’s face, with all her might. Belma resisted, her arms flying through the air in helpless struggle, her voice now muffled under the weight on her face. Aila pushed, harder and harder, until Belma’s limbs stopped moving and her legs dangled limp from the side of the couch.

Time stopped. She didn’t know how long she pushed until her arms gave in and she lifted the cushion. Belma lay lifeless on the settee. Beneath the blood and muck staining her fine features, an eerie purple whiteness began to spread, her sightless eyes staring at Aila.

Aila held her hand. “I’m so sorry, Mum. Please wake up.” She shook Belma in vain. Nothing changed. She kissed her face. “Forgive me. Please, please, forgive me. Oh, God, what have I done?”

She sat by her mother and shivered, her shoulders rocking with tremors, teeth chattering. She wailed and hugged her mother, burying her head in her bosom.

The Song of Spring flashed in her mind. She rose in a trance, picked up the phone, and called the police.

“I … I killed my mother.”

 

 

First publisted at Twisted Sister Lit Mag, then in my anthology, Ripples on Pond, this story is inspired by true events. All details are imaginary.

 

Short Bio

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction as well as longer works. Her stories have appeared in various online literary magazines: the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, Punk Noir Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, The Cabinet of Heed, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:

https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Ripples on the Pond

 

 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17427985.Sebnem_E_Sanders

https://Facebook.com/sebnem.sanders

https://Twitter.com/sebnemsanders

https://Instagram.com/sebnemsanders

BECAUSE THE NIGHT BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

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Charles Crockford ’s footsteps echoed as he walked across the rusty, metal railway bridge. A steely fog had spread itself across Seatown and he could no longer see the trains creeping slowly below him although he could hear them. They seemed to rasp and groan. He walked carefully down the steps and paused at the bottom to get his bearings. Smudges of streetlamps trailed off into the distance along Lothian Road.

Crockford headed off down the cobbled street, past the rows of partially demolished terraced houses that looked like broken teeth in the wan light.  He could just about make out a radio playing the latest episode of ‘Hello Cheeky.’ It was his wife’s favourite comedy programme and just the thought of that woman made his blood boil. Crockford ground his teeth and upped his pace.

He had been drinking cider with a few of the old boys in one of the bus shelters near the cemetery. One of them – Barky – was an ex-POW who they said suffered from shellshock. When he mixed the mother’s little helpers that the quack had given him with Old English cider Barky could be quite an entertaining old soak but sometimes he got stuck into singing the songs from his childhood over and over again. Tonight’s performance of ‘There’ll Be Bluebirds Over The White Cliffs Of Dover’ had certainly left a lot to be desired. It had been like fingers down a blackboard so, when the free drink had run out, Crockford had buggered off sharpish.

As he headed down Merry Street, Crockford could hear growling. Although he couldn’t see her in the darkness, he knew that Gertie Lark would be stood on her doorstep dressed in her stained flowered apron, a pair of rusty scissors in her hands, her dog beside her. His wife’s aunt had become a barber during the war, since all of the local barbers had been called up to fight, and she’d even kept it up for a while after peace had been declared. Still, each night, come rain or shine, Gertie stood on her step waiting for her husband Wally to come home even though it was more than 25 years after the war had ended and there was still no sign of him.  Boudica, her rottweiler, was always at her side and the dog hated Crockford. The whole family despised him, he was sure. They never appreciated his talent.

Crockford muttered to himself. She was a mad old bird, that Gertie, but then the whole Lark family were off their rocker as far as he was concerned. Some blamed the Seatown bombardment during the Second World War but he didn’t know about that. He just regretted marrying into that batty brood. When thought about Marjorie, the acid in his stomach gurgled. She had never appreciated his writing, his dreams. His hopes. She never saw how his job at the Siemens factory was crushing him. He’d tried to make her understand but the bloody woman just didn’t listen no matter how loud he screamed. His novel would be big, he was sure of that. But all Marjorie cared about was playing bloody bills and popping a stupid bloody sprog.

It started to rain just as Crockford opened the door to The Shaggy Dog. The stuffy pub was warm and welcoming. It smelt of meat pies, beer and pipe smoke. Its brown and red colours were soothing. The pub was almost empty, probably due to the combination of the fog and the impending blackout, which would happen without warning like every other night. The bloody miners’ strike was taking its toll, that was for sure. Crockford thought the useless bastards should get another job if they don’t like the one they already have, but he usually kept that opinion to himself.  Most of the idiots around Seatown didn’t share his view.

He took off his cap and muffler. Alice, the pub’s massive landlady, was stood behind the bar with her hands on her hips. She had her hair in a pink beehive and wore a glittery pink dress.

‘Alright Alice, are you off down The Rialto later?’ said Crockford.

‘Aye,’ said Alice. ‘As per usual. I’ve got me dancin’ shoes on, like.’

She lifted a sparkly pink leg to show a sparkly pink shoe.

‘Very glam,’ said Crockford with a sneer that was lost on Alice.

He checked out his reflection in the frosted mirror that hung behind the bar. He straightened his quiff as Cormac, Alice’s husband, came out of the snug with a tray full of empty shot glasses. His thinning hair was plastered down with Brylcreem and his white shirt stuck to his skin with sweat. He was breathing heavily.

‘The usual?’ panted Cormac.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘No change there.’

Cormac poured a pint of bitter and Crockford licked his lips.

‘Can I have it on tick?’ said Crockford, grinning. ‘I’ll pay you when I win the football pools.’

‘That will be right,’ said Cormac, grimacing. He held out an open palm.

Crockford paid for his beer and took it into the snug.

There were two old men sat in there. They were both smoking pipes and playing dominoes. Eric Ruby was a painter and decorator who always looked on the verge of a heart attack and Big Bill Lark, Crockford ’s father in law, was a retired copper. His bushy eyebrows met in the middle of his forehead and made him look permanently confused but he was as sharp as a razor and always made Crockford uneasy.

‘How’s tricks?’ said Crockford.

He sat down.

‘Not too bad. Mustn’t grumble. Eric here’s been down that London,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye, said Crockford.  ‘How lovely. See the Queen, did you?

‘Near, as dammit,’ said Eric, grinning. ‘You can’t tell the lads from the lasses down there. They say all that glam rock fashion’s going to catch on up here sooner than later but I bloody hope not! The wife spends enough on mascara as it is without me chipping in!’

They all chuckled.

‘Things change, eh?’ said Bill, shrugging.

Crockford scowled.

‘Yeah, but not always for the better, though,’ said Crockford.

‘Maybe. But I wouldn’t turn the bloody clock back, I can tell you. Those were real hard times I’ve lived through. Two world wars and the depression weren’t a barrel of bloody laughs, I can tell you.’

He was lost in thought for a moment.

‘How’s our Marjorie, by the way?’ said Bill. ‘I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her for weeks.’

Crockford ’s stomach gurgled.

‘Er, she’s not been well,’ he said. ‘Woman’s troubles, again, you know what they’re like?’

Bill glared at Crockford.

‘It that right?’ said Bill.

‘Aye,’ said Crockford. ‘There’s always something wrong with that woman these days.’

And then everything turned black.

*

The Reverend Harry Bones said a final prayer and emptied the collection box. He stuffed the money in his coat pockets and picked up his suitcase just as the church’s lights went out.

‘Oh, bugger,’ he said, as he hit a leg on one of the pews.

He furtively edged his way to the front of the church, opened the front door and stepped out onto Lothian Road. It was the darkest he’d ever seen it. He could hear a fog horn roaring over the Headland and just about make out the beams from the lighthouse. There seemed to be not a soul about. Harry locked up The Church of The Nazarene, sighed and walked down the street. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders but an even greater one had been placed on them. He looked at his watch and upped his pace. The train would be at the station at midnight and he hoped Marjorie would be there, too.

*

‘Oh, off I trot to the little boys’ room, then,’ said Eric. ‘Hope I don’t get caught short again.’ He chuckled and followed a path of flickering candles that led the way to the pub’s toilets.

There was only one lit candle in the snug. Crockford took the dregs of Eric’s rum and poured it into his beer. He hoped that his father-in-law hadn’t seen him.

Bill coughed.

‘Did you hear that Benny Trout’s looking for a butcher’s assistant,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, aye,’ said Crockford.

His stomach gurgled.

‘Do you not fancy it, then?’ said Bill. ‘Work’s work, you know? It might be a golden opportunity.’

‘I’m still on the sick, aren’t I,’ said Crockford. ‘And anyway, I’m too busy working on my novel.’

Bill tutted and Crockford could feel his anger brewing, ready to boil. He finished his drink and staggered to his feet.

‘Well, I’m off to the snake pit,’ said Crockford.

‘Say hello to our Marjorie from me,’ said Bill.

‘Oh, I most certainly will,’ said Crockford, pushing past Eric as he left.

*

Marjorie Crockford was glad she’d finished dying her hair before the blackout as she only had one candle left, and she didn’t want to waste it. She’d ran out of them the day before, and all the shops on Lothian Road had sold out because of the power cuts. She’d been lucky to get that last bottle of peroxide from the chemist’s shop, too. A new look was just the thing for this new chapter in her life. He husband would hate the new hairstyle, she was sure. He’d tell her that she looked like Myra Hindley or something equally as unflattering. Not that he’d get the chance to see it.

Marjorie had been listening to ‘Hello Cheeky’ on Radio 2 when, as luck would have it, her transistor radio’s batteries had died. Now all she could hear was the grandfather clock’s ticking. She poured herself another glass of sweet sherry, sat on the settee and waited for her husband to come back from the pub.

*

Crockford ’s front door jammed as he tried to open it but he slammed a shoulder into it and pushed it open. His bladder was ready to burst so he rushed into the living room, through the kitchen and then out into the back yard where the toilet was. He swore as he banged against the coalhouse door. Then Marjorie heard the toilet door creak open.  She smiled. Crockford hadn’t noticed her sat on the sofa. He probably expected her to be in bed, waiting for him, as usual. But tonight was going to be anything but usual.

The clock struck eleven and Marjorie heard the knock at the door. She stood up and let her aunt Gertie in.

‘All set, petal?’ said Gertie.

‘Aye,’ said Marjorie. ‘It’s now or never.’

She tied the cashmere scarf that The Reverend Bones had given her around her bruised neck and walked into the kitchen. Gertie followed her.

Gertie stood behind the kitchen door holding her cutthroat razor. Marjorie held her breath as she heard the toilet flush. Crockford staggered into the kitchen at the exact same moment that the blackout ended and the kitchen lights flashed back on.

He shielded his eyes from the blinding glare.

‘Bollocks,’ he said. ‘What the bloody hell …’

Marjorie slammed a frying pan against the side of Crockford ’s head and he fell to his knees, groaning. She hit him again and Gertie moved quickly, grabbing his hair and reaching around and slicing Crockford ’s throat. She pushed him forward onto the tarpaulin covered floor.

Marjorie took off her blood splattered overall and pushed it into her suitcase.  She put on her overcoat and fastened it but she still shivered.

‘Are you okay to sort this mess out?’ said Marjorie.

‘Aye,’ said Gertie. ‘It’s nothing I haven’t done before, eh? I’ve got enough chicken wire to tie him up nicely. Once I throw him in the sea the wire will slice him up and then the fish will finish him off. You know the score, eh?’

Marjorie ’s stomach turned.

‘I’d best be off then,’ she said.

*

The London bound train’s headlights cut through the fog as it pulled into the railway station. Marjorie could see The Reverend Bones smiling as she walked toward him. She could never get used to calling him Harry – she’d know him since she’d been a nipper, after all – but she expected that would probably change after the twins were born. A foghorn sounded and Marjorie shivered. Harry closed his eyes and said a silent prayer.

‘A fresh start, eh?’ he said, as he took Marjorie ’s suitcase from her.

‘I really hope so, Reverend,’ said Marjorie, relieved that she’d brought her aunt’s cutthroat razor with her, just in case.

 

PAUL D. BRAZILL CAN BE FOUND LURKING HERE.

 

Contraband by Liz Davinci

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

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.

THE GHOST IN YOU by Graham Wynd

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

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

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.

THE COOL OF CLASSIC NOIR – Janet Roger

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