Bishop Rider Week: Monday – Fire In The Hole by Beau Johnson

This story is part of Rider’s early days, before he finds a certain video and tracks down the men who killed his mother and sister. This is also Batista’s first appearance in a Rider story, and as you’ll see, the Detective isn’t as onboard with Bishop’s brand of justice as he’d come to be. Either way: the struggle begins.        

FIRE IN THE HOLE

I push the steel harder into the back of Terrance’s shaved head. 

            “C’mon,” he says. “You and me, Rider, we’ve similar goals.”  The scum was right as well as wrong.  Where I saw him and his kind as a means to an end, he only wanted atop the pile.  “We’re businessmen, you and I.  Way I see it, the info I’m givin’ you, I should be gettin’ a free pass.” 

“Anne-Marie Shields.  Did she get a pass?”  Terrance was smart, played dumb, but I already knew.   Put a bullet in his crotch to make him understand.  I unloaded the remaining five just to let off steam.

            “And this piece of shit, this Terrance, he said Toomey and his men are coming in night after next?”  Batista continued to look out over Culver, the city he’d sworn to protect.  Duty and honor are the things which make up Detective John Batista; what made up most of the men he stood in line with.  That he now found himself in my world was something we rarely discussed.  It was a given, what I did.  And he’d yet to try and turn me in.

In him I see myself, a time when belief had been the norm; that this world did in fact not kick at its dead.  Detective Batista and I, we have our demons, sure, each the thing that drives us on.  But to be fair, that is where the similarities end.  No matter how much he might think otherwise.

Toomey, though…Toomey was the here and now.  And Toomey was trouble.  Aggressive. Ruthless.  Feral.  He was high end too, lacking the moral compass most considered a conscience.  Word on the street was he kept a portable wood chipper now, and that the man was unafraid to take his time if given the chance. 

Bangers wouldn’t use him, slingers either, which left me two choices, both of which I could work with.  Russians or Italians.  Little more re-con and Bobby Carmine popped into view.

“Head-shit looking to take you out, I see.”  Batista runs a hand through his greying hair, goes down about his goatee and finishes with a sigh.  Politics notwithstanding, I swear the man’s as textbook as they come.

“What it looks like, yeah.”

“And just what is it you want from me?”  I looked to the city’s lights behind him, looked down into the valley which had claimed so many.  Culver was not the place I’d been born, but I was certain it’d be the place I’d die.       

“I want unobstructed access to the south side when this goes down.  I’m not looking for collateral damage.  Ensure the night’s patrol is light.”

He looks at me, shakes his head, and then says he’d work on it: Batista-speak for yes.

“You’re going to need ordnance, then.”  I told him yes, but that it wouldn’t be coming from him.  As ever, he’d already done more than enough. 

Outside Carmine’s place I load the launcher as soon as I see Toomey and his crew are given the go through.  Ten minutes later and I light the night.  Upon entering, I can’t help but think back to men like Toomey.  Hell, to men like Carmine himself.  Lowlifes who think they deserve; men arrogant enough to believe the streets were theirs; who would rob and kill and extort and have others do the very same thing in their name.  I picture Mick the Fish, Danny Dolan, and Marcel Abrum.  They were special, each of them, all receiving a little extra piece of my time.  To Toomey I would do the same.  He of the wood chipper fame deserved no less.

As the Kevlar takes two to the chest I turn, dive, but take one in the side of the leg as I return fire.  I hear a click.  Another.  And then the gun as it’s tossed aside. 

“Come if yer comin’ goddammit!”  I did.  It was Toomey, of course.  Why men like him never died like the rest of them I will never know for sure.

Through the debris and flame and smoke I see what he’s become—intestines that stream outwards, flowing in place of his legs.  Thick, they wind around brick and plaster like pregnant string.  He gurgles, spits up, and as I approach I step on as much of him as I can.  In the end I don’t need bullets.  I only look him in the eye. 

To protect and serve, Batista says.  To protect and save, I respond.

I admit the difference is vast.

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

Find Beau Johnson online …

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

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973) by K A Laity

Classic Noir: The Long Goodbye (1973)

I read the novel so long ago (back in my L. A. days so looooong ago) I could only remember the basics of the story. There were probably more of them in the original script by the legend Leigh Brackett, but Robert Altman’s style of filmmaking always left room for improvisation and Elliott Gould—unlikely to be most director’s ideal choice to play Phillip Marlowe—works well here.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen this film that likewise memory proves unreliable. So much has changed in the mean time, too. I’ve been soaking in noir and neo-noir for so long now it’s altered my view on the genre, mostly to be much more accommodating. I dug out my vintage paperback to read later and sat down on a sunny Saturday afternoon to visit 1973 Los Angeles with Elliot Gould and co and Vilmos Zsigmond’s singular cinematography.

The ginger cat is the one thing everybody remembers. I should write a book about ginger cats in noir. You can’t cheat a cat. Chandler loved cats. The scene feels genuine to any cat lover: having fallen asleep in his clothes, Marlowe is awakened by the moggy landing on his belly. Ouch. He has no choice but to drag himself out at 3am in his 1948 Lincoln convertible to the 24 hour food store. The car is a nice touch, signaling Marlowe a throwback to another time, Chandler’s idea of the P.I. as a kind of knight with a code.

Then there’s the candle dippers next door. The topless women would feel more gratuitous if they didn’t have a totally believable and completely natural hippy languor. Asking Marlowe to pick up boxes of brownie mix and doing elaborate yoga poses on the balcony at night. The iconic High Tower provides an unforgettable location for Marlowe’s home, outdone only by the Malibu Colony. Apparently the Ward’s house was the one Altman was living in at the time.

Nina van Pallandt embodies the concerned wife with just enough difference from the mostly Californian cast to make her thinking seem mysterious but believable. Sterling Hayden is a legend and manages to uphold that without chewing scenery which would be easy to do in the role of the writer who can no longer write, who is drunk and angry with the world, not necessarily in that order. Allegedly inspired by Chandler’s own struggles as his wife was dying. Ward’s death is changed from the novel and pays off much better, especially in how it affects Marlowe, who develops a fondness for the difficult man. The drinking scene with Hayden and Gould was largely improvised and has an authentic feel.

Henry Gibson, best known at the time as a gentle poet on Laugh-In, is super creepy and menacing in a really unsettling way as the dry-out doctor trying to extort money from Wade.

Jim Bouton, better known for baseball and even more so for his tell-all memoir Ball Four about that career, makes his film debut as the pal asking Marlowe for a lift to Mexico with some suspicious injuries including a clawed face.

What feels most 70s about this movie is the cops. Well, not that they’ve changed much in L.A. according to my friends who still live there. That gritty, don’t care about anything attitude and the clothes—those awful seventies clothes that modern films never quite get right—they provide a good target for Marlowe’s dogged resistance. The ink interrogation scene is another improvised scene.

I had to look it up, but yeah, there’s a portrait of Leonard Cohen in the Ward’s house because Altman was a fan. Speaking of fans, I love the gatekeeper at the Colony and his impressions of the stars.

A cool thing: except for ‘Hooray for Hollywood’ that opens and closes the film, all the other music is variations of the theme tune by Johnny Mercer and John Williams—even the dirge played in the scenes in Mexico. It’s a great thematic device that gives the picture aural coherence.

The changed ending is often credited to Altman, but it was part of Brackett’s original script which was shopped around for some years before finally coming together with this unexpected group of talents. It works. The final scene is almost an inverse of The Third Man’s iconic ending, with a harmonica in place of the jaunty zither.

Well worth a revisit if it’s been a while for you, too. If you’ve not seen it, a treat awaits. Bonus: here’s a great interview with Gould by Kim Morgan.

K A LAITY IS HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE.

Supernatural Noir: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991) by K A Laity

Supernatural Noir: Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)

Having recently seen (and wrote about) Witch Hunt (1994) I was looking forward to seeing this mash up of supernatural and noir, largely because I figured Fred Ward would play the part of PI Harry Philip Lovecraft a lot better than a rather wooden Dennis Hopper did in the later film. That guess was correct.

Ward immediately gets what the film is meant to be a plays the noir elements with an edge of satire and humour. He channels the classic Bogey Spade but with a sense of irony, knowing this is a crazy mash-up of elements and an exercise in nostalgia. Ward is an underrated actor who always bring a everyman sensibility and a weight of intelligent emotion to every part he plays. He brings life to the part and a reality despite the clichés, over-the-top dramatics and clunky dialogue.

Because the rest of Cast a Deadly Spell is not up to his abilities. That includes a young Julianne Moore who is given next to nothing to do apart from lip syncing to someone else’ song and carrying out every cliché in the femme fatale playbook. You can almost see her composing a strongly worded letter to her agent. Yet at moments she makes us believe in her Connie (heart of) Stone, which is more than can be said for the rest of the cast.

David Warner phones it in. Lee Tergesen is quite good with very little help, despite being literally gay-bashed. I thought the role of Lovecraft’s witch partner, Hypolyta Kropotkin, was too small in Witch Hunt, but it’s miniscule in this film. Arnetia Walker gets very little to do except save Lovecraft’s ass.

The Lovecraft storyline intertwines with a Big Sleep-style detective narrative; nonsense with a virginal debutante (Alexandra Powers) that attempts to evoke both the Sternwood sisters at once. Needless to say the Lovecraft garbage is vile. It’s also incredibly boring and clichéd. Virgin sacrifice? Really? Oh hey, Necronomicon. Admittedly less of a cliché in 1991, but secret book of secrets has been a staple of horror films for a very long time.

Worse are the Gremlins. And they are really called that in the credits. Someone recently shared a meme about how cretins believe the moon landing was faked with an image of what SPFX looked like in 1969. The ‘old ones’ in this film really look like cheap knock offs of the Gremlins films (the first in 1984, which gives you an idea of the quality). Rubber monsters age poorly, but they would have looked out of date in 1991. I know, low budgets and all (this is an HBO made for tv movie) but Witch Hunt shows how much more effective you could be with more subtle effects. That movie is looking better now.

A shame because the concept of supernatural noir is such a great one and has been done really well (*cough* by people associated with this site). Fred Ward was so good. If you’re more forgiving of bad FX and hokey plots, you might find it ‘A great way to spend an evening!’ as Entertainment Weekly did. Potato, po-tah-toe.

SamHaiNe presents: Hainesville – Natural City

A cold winter night in the secret city.
A collection of short monologues and flash fictions highlighting some of the individuals that call Hainesville “Home”. These are stories about people who live outside the margins that define civility and exist in the moment on the edge of a razorblade.


This is a pulp future-present inspired by neo-noir, retro nostalgia and some cyberpunk aesthetics.

“NATURAL CITY”

Credits

released September 6, 2020

Written, Spoken & Produced (except where mentioned)
by Sam HaiNe
Directed by Sam HaiNe.

Tracks: 2 &15, produced by The Green Dutch (Jade Palace Guard)
Track: 3 produced by DJ QUAZZAR
Track: 5 features Theo Copeland reading as Richard Applegate
Track: 6 features Logan West as the Salesman
Track: 7 & 9 produced by $need the Jade Badger (Jade Palace Guard)
Track: 9 written by The Broke MC
Track: 14 produced by JK/47
Track 16: Originally produced and mixed live by Mr.Chi-202 & the Jade Badger (Jade Palace Guard)

Shout Out to :
AmorKillz, JK/47, The Green Dutch, The Jade Palace Guard,
New Retro Wave, Victim1ne/Thor, Vinyl Fatigue, Real Vision Radio,
Tha Night of the Goonz, DJ Polarity, Paul D. Brazil, the Taco Cartel, Ghost Decibels, Cutey Calamity, Cult Classic Goods, The Dead End Kids, 21215, Void Vision, Harlem-NYC, Philadelphia,
Crazy Eddie NYHC, Rec.Real, Anthony Danza, Broke MC,
Demetrius Daniels, J.Hexx Project, King Vision Ultra, Mia Tyler,
Logan West, The Foley-Mcnair-Fladness family, Chef Alison Fasano,
Terrence and everyone from O.L.L. class of 96′;
LyeBway, Chuck Locc, Dunny, Melo, Meter, Black
& everyone from 148th street, Sugar Hill, Harlem.

This album is dedicated to
the memory of Mark Levin of the High Road Cafe, R.I.P.

Pre-order RATTLESNAKE RODEO by Nick Kolakowski

PRE-ORDER NOW! Available 10/26/2020. RATTLESNAKE RODEO by Nick Kolakowski, A Boise Longpig Hunting Club Noir, 2nd in series (October 2020)

• Trade Paperback (ISBN-13: 978-1-64396-128-6) — $14.95 includes FREE digital formats!
• eBook Formats — $5.99 SPECIAL PRE-ORDER PRICING: $3.99

The download link for the ebook (as a .zip file with three popular digital formats) will be included in the customer receipt when the order is completed on or just prior to the publication date.

Also available from the following retailers …

• Amazon — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Amazon UK — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Barnes & Noble — Trade Paperback | eBook
• Kobo — eBook
• Play — eBook

The fiery sequel to Boise Longpig Hunting Club is here…

Three nights ago, Jake Halligan and his ultra-lethal sister Frankie were kidnapped by a sadistic billionaire with a vendetta against their family. That billionaire offered them a terrible deal: Spend the next 24 hours in the backwoods of Idaho, hunted by rich men with the latest in lethal weaponry. If Jake and Frankie survived, they’d go free; otherwise, nobody would ever find their bodies.

Jake and Frankie managed to escape that terrible game, but their problems are just beginning. They’re broke, on the run, and hunted by every cop between Oregon and Montana. If they’re going to make it through, they may need to strike a devil’s bargain—and carry out a seemingly impossible crime.

Rattlesnake Rodeo is a neo-Western noir filled with incredible twists. If you want true justice against the greedy and powerful, sometimes you have no choice but to rely on the worst people…

Praise for RATTLESNAKE RODEO:

“Nick Kolakowski is known for his insightful essays on complex social issues and controversies within the world of crime fiction but, for those unfamiliar with his fiction, Rattlesnake Rodeo (and its fantastic predecessor, Boise Longpig Hunting Club) are terrific starting points. At turns ruthless and intimate, but always with a touch of humor, Rodeo takes readers on a violent, memorable journey through the new American West and the dark violence plaguing his characters’ souls.” —E.A. Aymar, author of The Unrepentant

Yesterday’s Wine by Paul D. Brazill

Pauline Williams really hadn’t wanted to talk to her brother. Not for a while, anyway. She’d been giving him the cold shoulder recently. She’d had more than enough of Billy’s shenanigans over the years, so she started to ignore his text messages and calls. She’d even unfriended him on Facebook. But when she found out he’d been in an accident, her resolve soon wilted. Family was family, after all. 

The bus arrived just after she got to the bus stop. It was almost empty, as usual, since most of the people that lived in the area didn’t take buses. They were doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers, and they drove expensive cars or took taxis. The bus was really only there to take their kids to the swanky private school at the other side of the town.  Pauline flashed her monthly travel pass to the sleepy bus driver, who paid it scant attention. She walked to the back of the bus and sat down heavily. Her joints ached. She was feeling her forty years of working as a cleaner more and more each day.  She was on the verge of drifting off to sleep when she heard a familiar voice. 

“The glory days are far behind us now, eh Pauline?” said George Morrison, as he sat down next to her. 

Pauline opened her eyes and smiled.  George’s glory days were certainly behind him. He used to cut a fine figure, even when they’d been at school together. He used to be a mod in those days, always sharply dressed. He was the lead singer in a couple of bands, too. One of them, The Blue Beats, had a Friday night residency at The Band In The Wall in Manchester and had supported The Small Faces on one of their tours.

The lasses used to be all over George. They used to say he had more tarts than Mr Kipling. He looked as rough as toast now, though. Hair like straw, face like a blackcurrant crumble, wearing a shabby grey shell-suit. The booze and the divorces had certainly taken their toll on George. 

“Oh, I don’t mind growing old, so much,” said Pauline. “Anyway, there’s not a lot I can do about it, is there?” 

“Yeah, and it certainly beats the alternative,” said George.

He chuckled, and started a coughing fit. 

“True enough,” said Pauline. 

She looked out of the window. Another church had been turned into a pub. 

“Are you off home, then?” said George. 

“Naw, I’m off to the hospital to see our Billy,” said Pauline.

George frowned. 

“What’s he been up to?” 

“Broke his arm falling out of a window, apparently.” 

“Has he been out on the burgle again?” 

“Yeah, I think so. Daft bugger.” 

“At his age, eh?” said George, grinning. 

Pauline tutted. 

“Mind you, we’re none of us spring chickens, eh?” said George. “Are you still doing Doctor Moody’s house?” 

“Oh, yes. Every Monday and Friday. Come rain or shine. Not that there’s much to do since he went bed bound. He’s got a home help that does most of it. I’ve said I’ll pack it in but I think he needs the company more than anything. That home help that comes is a nice lass, but she speaks funny English.”

“Where’s she from?” 

“Czechoslovakia or somewhere. How’s your Andy?” 

“Not good. Not bad.”

Pauline patted his wrist. She gazed out of the bus window and was silent until they pulled up outside the old people’s home. George got up.  “

See you around,” said George. 

“Tara,” said Pauline.

*

Billy was sat up in bed nattering away with a young Indian nurse when Pauline walked into his room. He had a bandage on his head and an arm in a sling. He was in a private room, of course. No second bests for Billy. She wouldn’t ask where he’d got the money to pay for it. She’d given up on those sort of questions a long time ago.

‘Oh, Enter The Dragon!’ said Billy, when he saw Pauline.

The nurse was confused.

‘I don’t understand,’ she said.

‘Sorry Jyoti,’ said Billy. ‘Just a little family humour. I reckon Bruce Lee was a bit before your time.’

Jyoti smiled.

‘I’ll leave you to it,’ she said, and left.

Pauline sat in an armchair that was by the window. The room was stiflingly hot. Hailstones pelted the window pane. There was a plasma screen television pinned to the wall. It was showing a Tom and Jerry cartoon. The sound was turned down.

‘This is a swanky place, Billy,’ she said.

‘Nothing but the best for Billy The Cat. You know that,’ he said.

‘Oh, that I do know. So, what the hell happened to you?’

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’

‘Probably not but tell me anyway.  Are the coppers involved?’ said Pauline.

She took off her shoes and massaged her feet.

‘Well, yes and no. Sort of indirectly they are.’

Pauline groaned.

‘Are they going to charge you with breaking and entering?’ she said.

‘No. There’s no chance of that,’ said Billy.

He smirked. Looked full of himself.

Pauline leaned over to the bedside table and took a bottle of Lucozade and a plastic cup. She poured herself a drink.

‘Go on then,’ she said. ‘Spill the beans.’

Billy sat himself upright with a struggle. He took a Polo mint from a half open packet and popped it in his mouth. Crunched.

‘Do remember Vic Napper?’ he said.

‘That bent copper that used to sniff around you when you were in the Quality Street gang?’ said Pauline.

‘The self-same,’ said Billy. ‘Although I think you’ll find there was never any evidence of my association with that particular criminal fraternity.’

‘Oh, I do apologise for my allegation. I wouldn’t want to sully your good name. So, go on. What’s he got to do with it? I thought he’d pissed off to Spain or something?’

‘Well, he had. But it turns out he had enemies.’

‘A copper so bent you could use him as a pipe cleaner? That is a surprise,’ said Pauline. She chuckled.

‘Yeah, well it turns out one of those enemies caught up with him.’

‘Croaked him?’

‘Yeah. Looks that way, though the official report says that it was an accident, though.’

Pauline grimaced.

‘How did he go?’

‘Drowned in a swimming pool.’

‘So what’s that got to do with you?’

‘Well, Napper had a diary. A little black book. With names, dates and places.’

‘And some of these names …’

‘Felt vulnerable. And wanted me to get the book for them from his old flat.’

‘And did you get it?

‘No. It wasn’t even there. I looked everywhere.

Pauline switched on the radio. It was The BlueBeats, the local band who’d almost made it big.

Billy smiled.

‘Those were the days, eh?’ he said.

‘They were good. If it hadn’t been for George Morrison’s dad …’

Billy held up a hand.

‘Bygones,’ he said.

‘Yeah, the past is the past,’ said Pauline. ‘Nothing we can do about it now. So, what you going to do about Nappers little black book?’ she said.

‘Nowt I can do,’ said Billy. ‘He probably had it stashed away somewhere but who knows where.’

‘Wasn’t he supposed to be shagging a lass from round here?’ said Pauline.

‘Yeah, they said he was knocking off some married bint.’

‘Well, maybe he left it with her.’

Maybe but no one ever found out who she was. He was a right dark horse that Vic Napper.’

‘Well, that probably helped keep him alive as long it did,’ said Pauline.

‘True enough.’

It was getting dark outside and the streetlights were coming on.

‘So, when are you getting out of here?’ said Pauline.

‘They say I could go home in a couple of days, to be honest. But I think I’ll milk by client’s financial hospitality a little longer,’ said Billy.

Pauline stood and groaned with pain.

‘I could do with a little break myself,’ she said.  ‘But …’

‘No peace for the wicked,’ said Billy, winking.

*

Pauline was glad to be back home. She took off her shoes, put on her slippers and made a cup of tea. She put a few custard creams on a saucer and sat down in front of the telly.

She was a bit sad about what had happened to Napper but it wasn’t a great shock. He’d always been an arsehole albeit a bloody good looking arsehole. Much better looking than her husband Lenny had been, that was for sure.  

She was adrift on a sea of bittersweet memories when she heard an ice cream van’s chimes. ‘That’s Amore.’ She sighed. She should have known it wouldn’t have been long before Alberto came sniffing around.

There was a loud bang on the front door.

‘Come on in, it’s open,’ she shouted.

The Monolith, Alberto’s minder, walked into the living room first. He was wearing a long leather coat and wrap around shades, as usual.  Behind him, was Alberto Amerigo, a tiny little man with dyed black hair and a pencil moustache. He wore a shiny white linen jacket with a pink carnation in the lapel. He looked like a spiv but he used to be a barber, then an ice cream man and now he was a loan shark. He had the cold, dead eyes of a shark, too.

‘Evening, Pauline. Long time, no see,’ said Alberto.

‘Evening, Al. What can I do you for?’ said Pauline.

Alberto sat on the arm of the sofa.

‘I hear you’ve been to see your Billy in the hospital,’ he said.

Pauline took her feet out of her slippers and wriggled her toes.

‘I have. Family duty and all that,’ she said.

‘Yes. Family is important. How’s the old rogue keeping?’

‘Not too bad, to be honest. They say he should be out in a few days.’

‘That’s good to know. Did he happen to say anything about the whereabouts of a certain little black book?’ said Alberto.

He leant forward and glared at Pauline. The Monolith cracked his knuckles.

‘Not to me he didn’t,’ said Pauline.

Alberto nodded slowly.

‘Well, if he does, you will let me know, alright?’ he said.

‘Of course, Al. You can rely on me.’

‘Magnifico bonny lass,’ he said with a wink.

He nodded to The Monolith and they both left the room.

Pauline heard the front door slam. She sighed and put her slippers back on.

It was probably time to dig Vic Napper’s little black book from its hidey-hole in the cupboard under the stairs. She stood up but then her knees started to ache and she sat straight back down. She picked up the remote control and switched on the television.

After all this time, it could probably wait until after Downtown Abbey.

BIO: Paul D. Brazill’s books include Last Year’s Man, Man Of The World, Gumshoe Blues, and Kill Me Quick. He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime

WEBSITE

paul d brazill noir

Book Review Kraj the Enforcer: Stories (Rusty Barnes, Shotgun Honey) By Chris McGinley

kraj the enforcer

Kraj is unlike any tough guy you’re liable to come across in hard-boiled fiction. If he’s cool, it’s not because he delivers “tough guy” dialogue before he sorts someone out. And if he’s feared, you wouldn’t know it by the reactions of those around him. No, what recommends Kraj as a character, and this new book of stories by veteran Rusty Barnes, is his ordinariness, which is to say, Kraj’s motivations are often the same as ours: to get a pizza, drink a Pepsi, rent a better apartment, down a domestic beer, have sex. But in Barnes’ capable hands, Kraj’s earthbound desires, and his highly ordinary reluctance to go to work, are what recommends him most to readers.

Kraj (pronounced Krai) is a Croatian immigrant, a veteran of the Balkan conflict of the early 1990s, something which uniquely shapes his psychology and the ways in which he works—more on that later. He operates as a loan shark collector for a low-level mobster who runs a dance club in central New York near the Pennsylvania border–what setting could be more ordinary?– but he also moonlights as a petty thief and underground street fighter in a gambling ring. He just wants to do his job and collect his pay, however unpleasant it may seem at times. Indeed, Kraj seems to accept his place in the pecking order, though he’s not overly joyed about it. Nor does he relish the bone breaking and general ass kicking he carries out daily. In fact, he’s unnerved and physically sickened when he has to bust up a client in the presence of his wife and kid. But this is what he must do, go to work, like all of us who serve bosses not unlike Tricky Ricky, who can be demanding and unsympathetic, even downright exploitative. To be sure, Kraj is no mob boss, not even a “made man.” He’s a mere employee. Barnes explains it well: “Johnny was a target, his wife and son would be collateral damage. Tricky Ricky lived for the collateral damage, because his reputation got made that way. Only difference was that Ricky never had to worry about going to jail. Kraj had trapped himself on the wrong side of the power equation. It wouldn’t last forever, but Kraj had to live with it now, even if memory told him he’d be here forever and then some. He shook his thoughts away. There was work to be done.” 

The dark “memory” Barnes refers to surfaces much in the book, and it’s central to Kraj’s ability to do his job, but also part of his malaise. Kraj has seen horrors, including the rape of his sister and the disappearance of his mother and father in a war zone famous more for its war crimes than for any conventional military conflict. In another writer’s hands, the material could easily come off heavy handed, but Barnes’ weaves in the references in clever and subtle ways, and always in such a manner as to give the reader a suggestive glimpse of Kraj’s complex psychology, of what he might be thinking or feeling, but without laying it out there too plainly.

It must be noted that, although Kraj lives an “ordinary” life in some respects, his daily rounds are nothing but that. The book is filled with tension, with clever moments of detection, realization and action. Whether on a white-water rafting trip where he must avoid a den of snakes, or on a collection stake out, the energy is high and the pace is quick. What Barnes has managed to do in the Kraj stories is deliver a psychologically complex character, one whose violent past intersects with his day-to-day work to create a kind of writing that’s gripping for both its action and fully formed main character.

Kraj, the Enforcer is a fine book, a unique and refreshing addition to the hardboiled genre, and something readers would be remiss not to pick up.

The Big Issue by Paul D Brazill

You see, they call them issues these days. Not like issues of comics like Shoot or Whizzer and Chips or Razzle, though. Naw, these are things like anger management issues, relationship issues, substance abuse issues. What that means is that issues are stuff that’s wrong with you. Stuff that fucks you up. And fucked-up people are called people with issues. See?

Like Tony Amerigo. It’s his dirty book shop that I’m stood in. He’s got issues, alright. He used to be a well tasty heavyweight. Could have knocked the Brut out of Henry Cooper, back in the day. But old Tony, like his dad before him, is more than a bit fond of the booze – floats like a butterfly, drinks like a fish. So, he’s got alcohol issues. Self-medication issues. So, now he’s got cash flow issues. Which is why I’m here trying not to breath in the cigarette smoke since Tony hasn’t exactly responded to the smoking ban in a positive way.

And that’s the trouble with people like Tony. They just don’t understand that times are changing. Now me, I’m a man of the 21st century but Tony’s a bit of a relic, like. He’s had the same dirty book shop for donkey’s year. The same rusty shutters. The same sun-bleached horoscope and trainspotting magazines in the window – as if the locals don’t know what he sells. Probably the same old porno mags in there, from the looks of it.

That’s why his business is going down the Swanny, to be honest. These days everyone can get their filth on their computer or even on their mobile phone. And for nowt. So, why go to a dump like this?

He’s got location issues, too. Used to be well posh round here when I was a kid but now it’s like holiday camp for smack heads. Once it gets dark, it’s that Michael Jackson ‘Thriller’ video all over again.

My boss, Captain Cutlass, has told Tony to diversify. Maybe get in a couple of one-armed bandits, scaffolder’s lap tops and the like. Or some of the duty free ciggies that the Poles and the Euthanasians sell. But Tony’s stuck in his ways.

Oh, and here’s another thing. These days, it’s all about presentation skills. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say something that counts. That’s why I’m very careful about what I call myself when I turn up at Tony’s gaff.

I’m a factotum, you see. Now, I know what you’re thinking: What’s a friggin’ factotum when it’s at home? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s someone who sorts stuff out for someone else. Bit of this. Bit of that.

The bloke I sort stuff out for is an entrepreneur, although some people call him a gangster. And he’ a right head the ball, with it. His name’s Captain Cutlass. Well, that’s not his real name. His real name’s Jordan but no one calls him THAT these days.

Cutlass is a sea coal baron which means he’s got a bunch of lads who drive jeeps down to the beach at low tide and dig up coal. He’s made a packet, he has. Not that he needs it. Before he got into the sea coal game, Cutlass made a mint smuggling booze and ciggies and that into the docks. He used to stand at the front of one of the boats waving this massive friggin sword about. Hence the nickname. Although I think the sword was actually a rapier.

Anyroad, old Tony’s a bit thick, like, and I doubt he knows the difference between a factotum and a totem pole. So, what I say is that I’m a ‘representative’ of Mr Cutlass. See? I don’t even say I work for Cutlass. What I say is I just ‘represent’ him. It’s not the same, like. More official.

I say that Mr Cutlass isn’t very happy with Tony’s financial contributions and that he would appreciate it if Tony increased his monthly payments, since he’s been getting a bit behind.

After a bit of the to-and – fro, I have to be proactive and take the initiative, don’t I? I break one of   Tony’s thumbs. And then the other. So, he’s screaming and turning red and telling me that he’s got nowt. The cupboard is bare.

After a couple more slaps I come up with the idea of torching his shop to get the insurance and pay off Cutlass and a little consultation fee for me. The only problem is that Tony hasn’t paid the insurance since God was a bairn.

And now it seems like Tony has a problem. Except, that these days, we say that there are no problems, only challenges. So, yes, our Tone has a righty nasty friggin’ challenge ahead of him.

* * *

I’m outside the old Odeon cinema finishing my curry and chips when the BMW pulls up.

‘Get in,’ shouts Captain Cutlass, turning down ‘Tiger Feet’. No fucker else in this day and age listens to Mud, but Cutlass is a even more of a relic than Tony Amerigo. Big black, spidery quiff. Teddy Boy suits. The full whack.

‘Just the man I’ve been looking for,’ says Cutlass.’

‘Aye?’ I say.

‘Oh, aye,’ he says, sniffing a bit and looking me up and down.

‘Tony Amerigo,’ he says spraying the inside of the car with peach deodorant. He’s a right poncy twat sometimes, is Cutlass.

‘Oh, aye,’ I say, playing it cool.

‘How did it go?’ says Cutlass.

‘Well, it was … challenging,’ I say

Cutlass looks me up and down.

‘And what the bollocks does that mean in the Queen’s English?’ he says.

‘Our Tony has … issues, ‘ I say

‘Aye?’ he says.

‘Oh, aye,’ I say.

‘And what type of issues are these?’ says Cutlass.

‘Financial issues,’ I say.

Cutlass shakes his head.

‘I reckon the daft twat’s going to have some mortality issues soon, then,’ he says.

‘Aye,’ I say. ‘I’ll face that challenge tomorrow. Fancy a pint?’

PAUL D. BRAZILL IS HERE.

 

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‘Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counter Culture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950-1980’

Sticking It to the Man tracks the changing politics and culture of the period and how it was reflected in pulp and popular fiction in the US, UK, and Australia from the late 1950s onward. From Civil Rights and Black Power to the New Left and Gay Liberation, the 1960s and 1970s saw a host of movements shake the status quo. With social strictures and political structures challenged at every level, pulp and popular fiction could hardly remain unaffected. Feminist, gay, and black authors broke into areas of crime, porn, and other paperback genres previously dominated by conservative, straight, white males. For their part, pulp hacks struck back with bizarre takes on the revolutionary times, creating vigilante-driven fiction that echoed the Nixonian backlash and the coming conservatism of Thatcherism and Reaganism.
The book features more than three hundred full-colour covers, as well as in-depth author interviews, illustrated biographies, articles, and reviews from more than 30 popular culture critics and scholars. The wrap around cover is attached to this email.
You can buy the book from the following places:
It is also available on a number of other platforms and book shops.
Sticking it to the Man cover.jpg

The Shadow – A Modern Take on a Classic Comic Book Series

The Shadow

The Shadow, from Kapow! Entertainment

After disappearing into the shadows for decades, a new hero now emerges to take up the legendary mantle and once again protect us from the darkness – the Shadow has returned.

* Winner – Best Screenplay – Fan Film Awards (Los Angeles, CA)
* Winner -Best Actress, Manette Antill – Fan Film Awards (Los Angeles, CA)
* Winner – Bronze – Best Director – LA Shorts Awards (International)
* Nominee – Best Short Film – LA Shorts Awards (International)