Bone Train by Tom Leins

BONE TRAIN

By Tom Leins

It has been a cold, rotten afternoon so far – and it’s shaping up to be an even uglier evening…

I’m leaning against a badly rusted rollercoaster called the ‘Titty Twister’, staring at a guy who looks like a fucking autopsy sketch. His complexion is tombstone grey and he’s wearing a fluorescent 1980s ski jacket with one of the ragged sleeves gaffer-taped back on. He looks like he’d be more at home selling crack to addicts in a graveyard than working at a funfair.

His name is Garry Granville and he’s manning the ‘Spook Loop’ ghost train. It’s his second year working the fair, after he served six years in Channings Wood for assisting with the disposal of a corpse. He fires up the diesel generator and the garish night-time lighting makes queasy promises that the daylight can’t cash.

Raucous psychobilly crackles out of the ancient Tannoy system and Granville does an awkward, spasmodic little jig. I’ve been watching him all week.He likes to smoke a little skunk and drink a can of scrumpy on the test ride before the Spook Loop opens to the general public. I edge closer. There are small clumps of people scattered across Paignton Green. Boys. Girls. Undecided. Young. Smiling. Blissfully unaware about the horrors that lurk in plain sight.

Granville removes a can from the Slazenger kit-bag next to the ticket-taker booth and retrieves the pre-rolled joint from behind his right ear. I take a deep breath and slip on my rubber Halloween mask, then I ease myself into the final carriage – lowering myself as far as I can go. I’m not exactly sure what creature the mask is supposed to depict – I found it at the bottom of the bargain bin in the fancy dress shop on Hyde Road – and it looks warped and faded.

Granville cracks open his can, hollers to himself and cranks the start lever. The ragged black curtains jerk apart and the ghost train jolts into the gloom.

***

One week earlier.

When I arrive at the Embassy Tavern, Harris has the worst seat in the house – first table, back to the front door. Not a fucking care in the world. Any feeble-minded local undesirable could jab a needle in his neck, or slip a blade in his armpit while he reached for his tumbler.

I tap his elbow to get his attention and step aside.

“Same again, mate?”

“Mr Rey! Glad you could make it. Stay where you are, son – it’s my round.”

I help him up and he shuffles across the threadbare carpet towards the bar. Downstairs, a pub singer called Alan Spunk: King of Funk growls his way through a disco song that is older than I am.

Despite the Autumn chill, Spunk is drenched in sweat and breathes like a wank-blistered crank-caller between songs.

Moments later, Harris hands me a glass.

“What the fuck’s that?”

“Spiced rum and ginger beer. It was my late wife’s favourite.”

I take a sip.

Not fucking bad.

Drinks in hand, we retire to the outdoor conservatory. The rainfall is louder than gunfire on the thick, plastic corrugated roof, but it will drown out our conversation.

Harris removes a newspaper cutting from his briefcase. It takes him a minute or so to find, so the case must be crammed with filth.

I glance warily at the photo.

“He’s an ex-con. So am I. So are you, mate! So fucking what?”

Harris bristles at the remark. Years ago, he briefly served time after a £300,000 worth of cocaine was found stashed in twelve rusted caravans on a patch of waste-ground under a motorway flyover outside Taunton. His name was on the deeds for the waste-ground, but his brief managed to get him out of HMP Dartmoor on time served.

“The rotten bastard exposed himself to my daughter last year, and the police didn’t do a fucking thing about it.”

“How old is your daughter?”

“It’s not important,” he grunts. “She’s 41. 42 next week.”

I take another sip of my drink. It’s already growing on me.

“What exactly do you want me to do about it?”

He removes a lump hammer from his briefcase, followed by an envelope full of cash.

“I want you to give the little shit a fright.”

He grins, displaying receding gums and yellowed, overlapping teeth.

I drop the hammer in my left pocket, the money in my right.

Murky alliances are my stock-in-trade – and Paignton always extracts its price.

***

The ancient tracks creak and I feel my neck snap as the battered carriage jolts around the third bend.

“Motherfucker.”

Granville sits up, suddenly alert and cranks the kill-switch. The ghost train grinds to a halt and the psychobilly tape cuts out.

He clambers out of the front carriage, stubs the joint out on the back of his hand and places it back behind his ear.

He wheezes, and his rotten breath hangs in the air.

“It got cold early this year, huh, boy?”

This bastard has the small-talk skills of a fucking crack-addict.

He drifts towards me. A look of surprise flickers across his ugly face as he clocks my rubber mask. By the look of his glazed eyes he’s been sniffing shoe repairer’s glue as well as hitting the skunk.

“What the fuck did you come as?!”

I lunge forward and slam a head-butt into the bridge of his nose. The lumpen bone gives way with a satisfying crack.

He rights himself and pushes me backwards with a grunt. I clatter into a half-rotted Mummy and lose my footing. The soiled coverings it’s swathed in remind me of the old surgical support bandages I’m constantly finding in the corridor at the Black Regent.

It rained last night and the floor is waterlogged – the stagnant water threaded with green scum-trails. Nearby, exposed wiring fizzes and crackles.

Granville comes after me and I retreat into the midst of the mannequins. Monsters from a bygone era – they stink of rotting nostalgia.

Dracula’s flaking head has been screwed onto a female torso, and has improbable breasts like an ‘80s Page 3 girl.

The Wolfman is missing big clumps of fur and appears to be suffering from alopecia. The rotten figure reminds me of a dead dog I once saw in Paignton Harbour – its mangy body all swollen up with sea water.

“Is that a knife in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me, Granville?”

All carnies are blade artists and he removes the inevitable Stanley from his stonewashed jeans.

When he smiles, it looks positively obscene.

I heard he once sliced up a minor hoodlum called Titch Mitchum in a fun-pub. Put a broken match-stick between two taped-together razor-blades. Apparently, it makes it far more difficult for the surgeon to sew the face back together afterwards. I enjoy a knife fight as much as the next man, but I’ve never been a fan of that kind of delicate savagery. 

I pull out the lump hammer and he flinches.

Sometimes my life feels like a hellish version of Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Knife. Hammer. Firearm.

“You need to get that leaky arsehole fixed, mate.”

He jabs at me, and tries to tug off my rubber mask at the same time. I sidestep him and bring the hammer down on his right arm – shattering his elbow.

“Trick or treat, motherfucker.”

He stoops down to retrieve the knife and I crunch the hammer into his spine. I’m already nauseated with myself, and taste hot sick in my throat, but Harris promised me a bonus if I break all four of Granville’s limbs.

I glance over my shoulder, at my ghoulish friends. Under the dead gaze of the assembled monsters, I go to work.

***

Five minutes later, I dump Granville in the front carriage, like a bag of bones, and yank the lever.

I’ve already slipped between the disfigured relics and exited the Spook Loop through a slashed hole in the tarpaulin when the fucking screaming starts.

The End

Bio:

Tom Leins is a crime writer from Paignton, UK. His books include Boneyard Dogs, Ten Pints of Blood, Meat Bubbles & Other Stories (all Close to the Bone) and Repetition Kills You and The Good Book: Fairy Tales for Hard Men (both All Due Respect).

For more information, please visit:

https://thingstodoindevonwhenyouredead.wordpress.com/

Hunter’s Moon by Sebnem E Sanders

Hunter’s Moon

A freelance journalist and photographer, Ali had been on the road for six hours. Although he had intended to reach his destination in Izmir that night, he almost dozed off as the head and taillights from the motorway traffic danced before his eyes. Sipping coffee from the thermos no longer kept him alert. He decided to stop for rest and took the next exit marked, Altınkum 50 Km, a seaside resort on the Aegean, famous for its golden sand beach.

The idea of driving another fifty kilometres sounded challenging. In hope of finding some kind of accommodation on the way, Ali followed the country lane that snaked between vast olive groves on either side. His thoughts drifted to the past, long before the motorway to Izmir had been built. The old road meandered through quaint villages and lively small towns, then. Coffee houses full of men sipping hot drinks and chain-smoking, children playing football in the narrow cobbled streets.

Ali opened the windows and inhaled the clean air, carrying the aroma of fresh herbs and wild flowers. The soothing sound of cicadas evoked memories. More than thirty years ago he’d been here for the first time with her, on the way to Çeşme for a seaside escape. Soon after, they had parted, never to meet again.

 Immersed in thoughts, Ali spotted the flickering lights of a hamlet ahead. He hated motorways, uniform, devoid of character, polluted with engine fumes and noise. Disappointment swept over his face as he cruised through the deserted streets of the village without seeing a single soul or an open coffee house. It was almost midnight, and everyone had gone to sleep. Hopes for a warm drink abandoned, he drove back onto the road and parked in a lay-by beside the fields. Lukewarm coffee in the thermos tasted appalling. He munched on biscuits to relieve the bitter tang in his mouth, and stepped out of the car to stretch his legs. The leaves of the olive trees shimmered under the silver rays of the Hunter’s Moon on a warm October night. 

Ali returned to the car and locked the doors. A window lowered for ventilation, he curled up on the back seat for a nap. Fatigue took him into deep sleep. He awoke to the sound of someone knocking on the glass.

Half asleep, his gaze met the stare of a young boy, his expression one of panic. A bob of curly blond hair shone like a halo over his head under the moonlight. Pale blue eyes beckoned him as his cupid’s lips mouthed, Help me.

Ali unlocked the door and stepped out. “What are you doing here at this time of the night, child?”

He looked to be five, maybe six years-old in his outfit of navy-blue shorts, a Batman t-shirt, and sports shoes over white socks. “I’m lost,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Please help me find my Mum.”

“Where is she? Did you have an accident?”

He nodded and said, “I’ll show you.”

 Ali grabbed a torch and followed the boy into the olive grove, wondering how a car could have had an accident so far from the road. About 100 metres in the depths of the orchard, they came to a clearing bordered with a copse of tall oak trees. The child stopped next to one and pointed to the ground. “It’s here. Please tell Mummy.”

“Where is she? What’s your name?”

“Emre,” he said, and disappeared. 

Ali searched the woods, calling his name in vain. It was still dark when he found his way back to the car as though in a trance. He climbed back on the driver’s seat, switched on the engine and the headlights, before turning the vehicle towards the orchard. He scanned the area. Nothing. The boy had vanished. He waited, staring at the grove. After a while, he turned off the engine and fell asleep, his head resting on the steering wheel. 

Ali opened his eyes to the first rays of dawn. Discomfort from a stiff neck and a parched mouth made him question his freelance occupation. Then, he remembered the boy and wondered what happened to him. He returned to the village to find food and make enquiries. After devouring a full breakfast with eggs and pastries, he asked the owner if there had been any car accidents in the area recently.

“Not that I know of. The traffic here is slow, mainly families going to the seaside. They drive carefully, not like the lunatics on the motorway.”

“Any kidnappings?” 

“No, but you can ask the village chief. He’d know more.”

The Chief invited Ali to his table and answered his questions. Regarding kidnappings, he said, “They’re all over the country, not only here. They kidnap children for ransom, for the organ mafia or take them to the mountains to turn them into terrorists. Why do you ask?”

“I saw a child last night. He asked for help, then disappeared.”

“Maybe you had a dream?”

Ali wasn’t sure it was a dream. The internet newsfeed search didn’t provide him with any relevant information. He called his lawyer friend, Ahmet, in İzmir and told him the story. After noting down the details, Ahmet said, “I’ll ask my investigator to consult the police records. When will you be here?”

“By lunchtime.”

For the next couple of days, Ali worked on an in-depth interview with one of Ahmet’s clients, a rich heiress whose son was murdered by his lover. On the third day, the investigator came to him with information gleaned from police records.

“In 1999, two children of a prominent businessman were kidnapped for ransom. Before making contact, the abductor took them into his car and drove far away from the crime site in Ayvalık. He collected the ransom in İzmir, and dropped the daughter in the area. Later, he was arrested while trying to rent a car. The seven-year-old girl identified the kidnapper. She also said he took her younger brother, Emre, into a forest at night and returned without him. The abductor never confessed to murdering the boy, but insisted he ran away. The man’s still in jail.”

Tears blurred Ali’s vision, the boy’s innocent face vivid in his memory. “I-I must see his mother. I promised him.”

(1045 words)

This story first appeared in Ripples on the Pond.

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 and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have appeared in 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,  and The Cabinet of Heed, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  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

Bishop Rider Week: Sunday – Mamet and Son by Beau Johnson

And here we find Bishop close to the end of things. And if I’m honest, killing him was one of the best ideas I’ve ever come up with.  It may sound weird, sure, but hear me out. When it first crossed my mind it came down to two choices: let him go out in a blaze of glory or allow him to continue to right the world the only way he feels he can.  By choosing the second option, man, it opened up story possibilities I never knew existed. Which, in reality, gave birth Rider’s new adventures, a standalone coming next year and aptly titled (if I do say so myself ha!) Brand New Dark. Anyway, that’s all, folks. Big thanks to Paul for giving me this opportunity, what I’ve dubbed “Rider week”, and thanks to all of you who have stopped by and checked out what I never thought could be

MAMET AND SON

            I have outlived many.  Sending men and women alike to whatever might occur after this life by choice and many more because of the assistance I received in ensuring their destruction. For years I have done this, with people on my side falling along the way as well.  Alex, who for a while did see things from our side of the fence, taking the ultimate ride with his guts fastened to a trailer hitch of a van now decades in the ground.  Ray, a man and brother from a war that never should have been, lost to a madman I rarely discuss.  And Batista.  John.  A man who allowed me to grieve my sister and mother the only way I was able.  His death hit me as I knew it would, and if I’m honest, I never once envisioned myself going out the same way as he.  Not exactly as the detective had, no, as I’ve been fortunate enough to retain my mind, but same as John, the cancer remains aggressive, turning two would be officers of the law into the opposite of what they strived to be.  Opposite of what we chose to be.

Doesn’t mean I get to rest.

“I see you’ve been feeling more like your old self,” I hear the smile in Jeramiah’s voice before I look up from the screen.  He’s in his usual attire: jeans, black sneakers, and a plain white tee.  For a middle-aged man, he could do worse.  He’d also gotten himself a slick new haircut, but it wasn’t his hair he’d come to discuss.

“Mr. Abrum, whatever could you mean?” I take my cane and tap the part of my leg that never gets cold.  Not for the last thirty or so years at least.

“You want the short version or the long version?”  That smile again, and then he goes and gives me what I already knew.  What I’d already lived.  Long story short: days after we bury Batista, Jeramiah gives me a gift, a man whose name I hadn’t heard in years.  O’Bannon.  We end him together, in one of the older warehouses, cutting him to pieces as we listened to him scream and beg from the chair he was bound to.  All fine and good when we get to the end of things, but what it did in the aftermath, what it sparked in me, this was what Jeramiah was on about.

It awoke something.  Something I never thought would sleep.

I felt sixty instead of seventy.  Fifty instead of sixty.

Eventually leading me to a certain type of support group that never need exist.

“They’re calling it a hate crime.  You believe that?”  I did.  And not because I’d read the same articles Jeramiah had.  Lived it too many times to believe otherwise.  What I didn’t tell him was even though I felt like I’d been in my prime that night, once I raise that AK to my shoulder and feed each pedophile lead from behind, it almost knocks me off my feet to do so.

“They call it whatever they need to.  Always have.  Always will.  Me, if in fact it was me, I’d call it a start.”  This gets him to sit, and I pass him what I’d been working on as he adjusts his chair—what I thought might happen once he realized the chance to do what he did best had come back into play.

“Back in business, then?”

Batista was gone.  Ray was gone.

But Jeramiah and I, we remained.

                                                            —

Eight years ago, outside Hanson Falls, Lori Hobin disappears.  Located two days later, “unresponsive” and rearranged into “more manageable pieces,” she fills to capacity the black with silver trim suitcase she’s found in.  Cause of death is determined to be strangulation and Yancy Mamet, Hobin’s boyfriend at the time, agrees to as much, but states that this was how his girlfriend liked it during intercourse and in truth the whole scenario had been an accident from the outset.

Up to a point, the premise worked, until you remained sane and looked to the more manageable pieces part.  Add this to the smear campaign Mamet’s father puts forth, digging up the girl’s entire sexual history as part of his son’s defence, and eat the rich becomes as viable a conclusion as it should always be.

Unfortunately, it’s enough, and Mamet receives the best of all possible outcomes: a plea deal.  Time for time served.  Time for good behavior.  Time for time stole.  In the end, Lori Hobin’s life and dismemberment being reduced to everything it shouldn’t be.

“Makes me think you have something special in mind, Bishop.” I did but offer no comment.  We drive on, into the night, not yet sure if I’d require one suitcase or two.

                                                         —

We go with the larger number, and only because Bill Mamet still drew air.  In the spirit of keeping things equal, however, we ensure each piece of luggage stands as it should—black with silver trim.  The problem, of course, were the heights of both men.  Yancy more doable above the knees, but Bill Mamet, taller than his son, proved the more difficult task.  I’d taught Jeramiah how to deal with such situations long ago, though, and if I keep with the honesty, he’d become much better at reducing people than I ever was.  Where once it took nine hours and a bone saw for me to make an example of five people, Jeramiah has everything tapered off, cauterized, and in each suitcase in well under two.  Puts us back on the road and onto the hardpan just as the sun slips toward night.

Overgrown and double stacked behind a defunct coffee shop that hadn’t operated in years, the shipping container is a destination I’d used before.  When sometimes the people within our sights deserved a little something more.  Far from new, the rusted hull is flanked by other discards—paint cans, oil drums, and stacks of skids arranged like steps.  Most are already in shadow, but before we lose all light, Jeramiah removes our guests from the van.  As he does, I remove the chains from our container of choice.  Each upright lock protesting as I attempt to unjam them and the right bay door doing the same as it finally comes free.  Inside, a different darkness looms, and the smell of faint decay greets me like a grin.  I set up both battery powered lanterns.  I set up my chair.  Jeramiah wheeling in one suitcase after another as I do.

“You sure you have it from here?”

I told him I did; that what I had to say wouldn’t take long.  What did was awaiting each man to wake from the anesthetic.  It reminded me of Mapone of all people, and how at one time a no-eyed piece of shit had to wait for me to come around, there before one of his cronies took their best shot and with an axe made sure my days of running decathlons came to a screeching, separated halt.  A good time this was not, but I received Jeramiah as a trade-off, and seeing how far we’d taken events since, I admit to requiring a moment or two were anyone to ask if I’d do it differently if given the chance to repeat things.  Here now, waiting as I was, the question wasn’t so much—

Groggy, confusion comes first, followed by what I take for discomfort.  Could be the other way around, but because of the gags, I truly don’t know.  The size of their eyes, though, this I do see, and I watch as they come to register that the heels of the feet now beside their heads were in fact their own.

“The thing is, each of you make it easy for someone like me.” I say, and it has the desired effect.  I lean forward, down, each set of eyes as slick and wet as their heaving chests. “But Lori Hobin, she was never given the time to contemplate how her life could end up fitting into forty-two inches of fabric produced overseas.  With the time each of you have left, I’m going to suggest you try.”  They scream behind their gags, they grunt, panic and self-preservation attempting to fight for a type of dominance not many men get to see play out. Beyond this, as I see the feeling begin to come back into the extremities still attached to their naked frames, is when I replant my cane and take my leave.  Hearing them claw at the metal behind me, dragging themselves toward me, I reach the door and before I close it, look to them one last time.  A dead man watching dead men.

Dead men who finally see.

                                                            —

Both locks turn into place.  Each one easier than when I opened them.  But before I can apply the chain, I hear them reach the door.  Gag-less now, fists and voice join forces to berate the metal, each adding to the festivities in their own special way.  I pause, lean my head against my side of the container. It’s cool to the touch, not unpleasant, and then Jeramiah is beside me.  He takes the chain from my hand, runs it up and through each latch, and then he takes my arm as he has so many times these last few years and we make our way to the van.  I’d like to say it was a perfect system, but I can’t.  I’d like to say I’d come to terms with how it’s going to end, but I can’t.  What I could control, I did control.  What I couldn’t, I at least tried to. All things remaining equal, I believe that puts me square.

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.

BISHOP RIDER WEEK: MONDAY – FIRE IN THE HOLE BY BEAU JOHNSON IS HERE.

BISHOP RIDER WEEK: TUESDAY – THE ONLY THING THAT FITS BY BEAU JOHNSON IS HERE.

Bishop Rider Week: Wednesday – A Better Kind Of Hate by Beau Johnson is here.

Bishop Rider Week: Thursday – Like Minded Individuals by Beau Johnson is here.

Bishop Rider Week: Friday – Ruin and Pain by Beau Johnson

Bishop Rider Week: Saturday – Changing Of The Guard by Beau Johnson

Bishop Rider Week: Friday – Ruin and Pain by Beau Johnson

We’re deep into Bishop’s life here, just over the middle point I’d say. It’s also close  to the end of Batista’s involvement in things too.  Not totally, no, as the Detective still helps out from time to time, just not as he had. His retreat gives way to Jeramiah’s rise, who, for all intents and purposes, ensures Bishop gets to finish what he’d started and the bodies, they continue to stack like wood. Fun fact: I had no idea I’d created Jeramiah when I had, the man (then a boy) just a throwaway line from a story I wrote years earlier. As I’ve always said: it is SO weird where stories come from.

RUIN AND PAIN

 A month after Keeko Reyes rearranges my insides I’m still pissing blood.

          “Might be time to change the way we go about things, Rider.  Last time I checked, neither of us is getting any younger.”  Batista wasn’t wrong, not about this.  It would take some doing, sure, but if we meant to continue, it had to be done.

          “First tell me about Fontane.  We get him in order, you, me, and options can go have a nice long talk at a restaurant of your choosing.  We can even do your hair.”  The detective smiles at that, a surly little thing.  I’d seen it before.  I’d see it again.  What I didn’t plan on ever seeing again was a man named Fontane.

          “Looks like the son believes he can continue from where the father left off,” Batista says.  Drug running.  Extortion.  A list the length of both my arms.  Him being here now, coming home, could only mean one thing: Time for someone else to bleed.

                                                                   —

And bleed he did, on almost the exact spot I’d taken a five-iron to his father’s inner ear. 

“Wait!  Just…wait.”  He’s on his knees, his hands above him like he’s holding up a piano.  Built like his father, dressed like his father, his face displays the same blockish shape.  “I know how you work.  I heard.  I give you somebody better, someone who might be into kids, you let me walk, right?”  The kid was serious too, what he was saying akin to what he believed to be a full-fledged plan.

I drop the nine-iron, move forward and put holes in his legs until he realizes the information he’d been given was wrong.  No one walks.  Not when kids were involved.

Not even close.

                                                        —

What he ultimately gives me pans out, his info leading us to a bungalow off Canal.  More stone than wood, with a wide front porch, it stands in one of the safer parts of Culver.  Families just above the poverty lived here now, the ones who still believed.  It was mid-October, chilly, the wind from behind kicking up like boots wrapped in gauze.  I can’t say this had anything to do with what I find, but I can tell you it has everything to do with how I respond.

Over a three-day period I watch one woman and four different men come and go.  Another man is involved—jean jacket and tatts—but him I see only as he lets the others in through the front door.  What I also see is a delivery service, Buttenham’s Pizza, two out of the first three nights I keep watch.  The kid who brings the pizza can’t be more than twenty, the Buttenham’s jacket he wears the same dried-blood color as his cap.  I concentrate on him, a plan forming, as I couldn’t risk going in, not without knowing all of the parties involved.  Isn’t until night four, when Buttenham’s returns, that it slides into place.

The kid was the key.

Also, as Batista suggested: it might be time to change the way we’d been doing things. 

“Phenobarbital.  Horse tranq.  I’m playing kind of loose with the dosage, but sixty milligrams spread out should send these fuckers somewhere south of tomorrow afternoon.”  Batista hands me the powder, pauses, and then wishes me well.

             “Just be ready with the van,”  I say, realizing more than ever that I’d gotten a very bad feeling somewhere along the way.

                                                              —

          I dump the delivery vehicle in the river and walk the remaining three blocks.  The jacket’s a tight fit, same with the hat, but it would have to do.  Dissolving, the phenobarbital is evenly spread over the two pizzas I carry.  Once inside, depending on when and how fast they eat, I’d have access within the hour.

          It’s then we’d see what’s up.  It’s then I’d decide how to proceed.

I give it another hour just to be sure.

          Inside I hear nothing but a TV turned up loud.  The place is immaculate, filled with high end furniture I’d expect elsewhere.  Hardwood floors and wainscoting throughout.  I find jean jacket and tatts at the kitchen table, face- down in a slice of pizza.  Beside him is the woman and beside her, another man.

          I continue on, deeper, toward the back of the house.  Downstairs now, I walk into a fully finished rec room.  Foosball.  Ping-Pong.  Big screens.  On one couch is another drugged piece of scum.  To his left, on the carpet, lay shitbird number five.  Farther on, I hear what I hoped I would not, the cries hitting me like cinder blocks through to the back of my gut.  I pause, one second, two, and the cries become louder, adamant.  Another room.  And then another.  This one has sex swings hanging from the ceiling and cameras on tripods positioned toward all three.  At the back of this room, in rows, are three cribs and the sixth man passed out in front.

          I shake my head.  There is no god.

                                                                    —

          Batista hands me the bag and I hand him the infant.  Two more children are passed off and he grabs me by the fore-arm.  “Make them suffer,” he says.  This and nothing more.

                                                                 —

          It takes nine hours to complete, even with the bone saw.  And it’s all on the cameras they already had in place.  I cut.  I fasten.  I tie off and cauterize.  I also lose jean jacket and tatts to the process, nicking his femoral artery early in the reduction.  Before me lay piles of arms, piles of legs.  In front of these rest eyes, now more like marbles with tails than anything.  Twelve of each, thirty-six in total, and infinitely dryer than when I began.  Save the one I lost, the owners are naked and leaking, leaning against one another on one of the bigger couches I’d brought in from the adjacent room.  They weren’t awake yet, but I planned on letting the cameras roll.

          Someone would come soon.  Either to see why no new product had come their way, or just to see what was up.  It didn’t matter.  What did matter is what I say, there as I finish up.  “Don’t come back.”  From one monster to another the language would not get lost, not with people whose only currency is pain, their only goal, ruin.

          It’s why I offer them my name, why I suggest they try and find me before I found them.

            I force myself to breathe.

                                                                 —

          Two months later.  Christmas Eve and I move from the back page to the front page as soon as the video is leaked.

          “Look how it’s been cut though,” Jeramiah is right.  Whoever released it doctored it down to how they wanted it to appear.  I do not speak in this version, not as I had when it was being taped.  Gone are the cribs as well, cropped from view.  It looks exactly as it should, the impression they’re going for blending with the perspective they require.  The thing about perspective, though, when you pair it with the right set of eyes, not everyone blinks.  Especially when most of the people in this world choose to keep their heads in the sand.  “I mean, what do they gain by putting it out there like this?”  Good question.

          The better one being: what don’t they?

                                                                 —

          I have a feeling it’s an inside job, even before Jeramiah confirms the link.  “Idiot used his wife’s credit card to buy the cribs.  Four at one time.  People and their points.  Christ.”  Jeramiah is the flipside to his father, more light than dark, but I still have a hard telling him I appreciate what he does.  We couldn’t have done half the shit we have without his intel and cash.  Wasn’t always this way either, was worse, in fact, and for some reason I fought him hardest after he replaced my leg.  Stupid.  All of it.  Batista finally persuades me with four little words: he’s not his father.  Man had me there.  Still does. 

          “Daughter lives across town.  O’Bannon and his wife the only ones who occupy the house.  I suggest dosing her before you begin your talk.  Good?”

          It was.

                                                                   —

          They say not everyone is crooked.  I believe otherwise.  Wired from birth, we all lean toward what we desire most.  It’s how far people are willing to go to bend the rules that starts the slide.  The strongest of us can recover from this, stopping well before we’ve reached the ledge.  The ones who can’t stop is where the trouble lies.  Their desires turning to justification when it comes to hurting—or the possibility of hurting—others along the way.

          From a sitting position in his bed Detective Sergeant Sid O’Bannon speaks this almost verbatim.  Almost bald, nose like a blade, he keeps stealing looks at the missus, even though I have assured her safety.

          “You think I wanted this?  These men do not take no for an answer.”  I hated his voice.  I hated his face.  But what I hated more was envisioning the questions he would have had to entertain to even get where he was.  Courtesy of the butt end of my Glock, I share this displeasure.

          “Fucking Christ! I’m talkin’!  I’m sitting here and talkin’!”

          “Tell me why you leaked the video.”

          “Scared.  Pissed.  Take your pick.  You guys end up fighting amongst yourselves, maybe I slip through the cracks.  You’re a hard man to kill, Rider.  An even harder one to catch.”  Figured it had to be someone with access on the inside.  Was never going to be anything but, not with how it went down.

          “I don’t—” I didn’t care for don’ts.  Never have.  A little bit more steel informs him of this.

          “Christ—c’mon!”  And then he quiets down, resigned-like, sleeve up and under his nose to stem the flow.  “They’re watching me.  Some are middle eastern.  More of them are white.  They send me pictures of my wife and daughter every seven days, right to my phone.  I told you: they are the hardest fucks I have ever seen and I’ve seen nowhere near the top.”

          Bingo.  Second floor.  Everybody out.  The downside was that O’Bannon stayed topside longer than he deserved.  Didn’t mean he couldn’t go unscathed; a hard push down a short flight of stairs being the best I could manage.  It left him as I needed him: functional.  For a little while, at least.  After that, who knows.  Maybe I bring back a blowtorch.  Maybe we begin where I left off. 

Time would tell. 

                                                               —

          I choose O’Bannon’s daughter.  I feel she is the easier mark.  Three days later I snap a hard-looking black man snapping pictures of Christine O’Bannon as she exits Dal’s Gym and Fitness.  She’s short, in sweats, her ponytail whipping as she walks.  He’s thick, down low, almost coiled in his seat.

When he’s done, I follow him.  It makes for a long day.  Here and there, pick-ups and drop-offs.  When he stops at an IHOP off the 1-5 I park beside his side of the car and await his return.  When we get to it, he’s difficult, like a snake sporting bones. But the element of surprise sees me through.  It’s only later, after the business end of a claw hammer makes its way through most of his right knee that I come to understand just how hard this man really is.

          All men break though.

          I bring out the sledge.

                                                           —

          He gives me a slip number and not much more.  It’s enough.

          The water is calm, cold, and darker than the night.  The yacht is called the Rabbit Hole.  Massive, it’s eighty feet at least, and I hear the festivities long before I make my way back.  I’d been there earlier, setting up charges, ensuring what had to be done, placing them below the water line, FRONT TOWARD ENEMY, every ten feet the entire way round the hull of the ship.

          The night would light.  Blood would rain.  Flesh would burn.

          I get their attention, unload the AK.  Women scream, men return fire.  I think: you lay with the devil, you become the devil.  But I end it before it begins and make good on my promise, which had been omitted from the tape.

          I told them not to come back.  What I failed to realize was this: perhaps they never left.

          Either way, this would do one of two things.  I’m prepared for both.

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.

BISHOP RIDER WEEK: MONDAY – FIRE IN THE HOLE BY BEAU JOHNSON IS HERE.

BISHOP RIDER WEEK: TUESDAY – THE ONLY THING THAT FITS BY BEAU JOHNSON IS HERE.

Bishop Rider Week: Wednesday – A Better Kind Of Hate by Beau Johnson is here.

Bishop Rider Week: Thursday – Like Minded Individuals by Beau Johnson is here.

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

The X Factor by Sebnem E. Sanders

The X Factor

Notting Hill, London

Scarlett gazed at Frank, lying next to her in bed.  His tousled hair covered part of his face, eyelids framed by dark curly lashes fluttered in sleep. She stroked his hair. He opened his eyes and looked into hers.

“Good morning,” he said, yawned and stretched, and kissed her on the mouth.

Scarlet sighed and held his hand. “Why do you always disappear?”

“Because I’m a spy.”

“Liar, if you were, you wouldn’t tell me.”

“True, but it could be possible — the X-Factor.”

“There’s something spooky about you. I can’t put my finger on it, but you go away for a long time, never call, then you surface and ask me out.”

“I told you. My job requires me to travel.”

“Why don’t you call when you’re away?”

“What’s the point? I won’t be able to see you.”

“Is that what this is about? Spend the evening together, make love, and vanish afterwards. You never tell me you’re leaving town. Last time you were gone for three months.”

“I never know in advance. Once I get new contract, I must leave immediately. IT matters can’t wait.”

“Are you married, with a family in another country?”

“No. You already asked that.”

“Come here,” she said and wrapped her arms around him. “Promise to be with me on Valentine’s Day.”

“I’ll try.” He caressed her ivory skin, partly veiled by her flaming locks and held her chin. Looking into her green eyes, he crooned. “I love you, Scarlett.”

The Y Factor

Bullseye arrived at Fiumicino Airport and took a taxi to Via Veneto. He checked into the hotel, and looked out the window of his room, which faced the American Embassy. He changed into casual clothes and trainers, and went out for a long walk. After dining at Cafe de Paris, he returned to his room. He made a few calls to set up the meeting for the next day, before settling in for an early night.

Next morning, he drove a rented car to a small town outside Rome. The Alfa Romeo parked at a convenient spot, he took a racket bag out of the boot and headed for Giorgio’s shop. In fluent Italian, he spoke to the salesgirl. “Buongiorno, signorina, ho un appuntamento con Giorgio.”

The girl phoned the boss. “He’s waiting for you, sir. This way, please.” She led him up the stairs to her manager’s office.

Bullseye entered the room and shook hands with Giorgio. He sat in a pressed leather chair, its ornate legs akin to the paws of lions, chewing on a cigar. “Long time, no see. Come va?”

“Fine, thanks. Do you have the merchandise?”

“If you have the cash?”

“It’s all here,” Bullseye said, pointing to the bag.

“Va bene.” Giorgio rested his cigar in an ashtray on his desk, pulled himself up from the chair, and stepped across to the door, which he locked. Stepping back across the room, he approached a reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus, swung it away from the wall, and reached into the safe set in the wall cavity behind. After keying in the combination, he opened the door, took out a bulky parcel, and laid it on the table.

Bullseye unwrapped the package and examined the contents. He assembled the pieces, looked through the lens, and turned to Giorgio. “Untraceable?”

“Completely. Abandoned terrorist stuff, with the bullets.”

“Hope it justifies the price.”

“All good things come at a price.”

Bullseye dismantled the gun and wrapped the cloth around the pieces. He stacked the bundles of cash from his bag on the desk. Giorgio counted the money and locked the bundles of notes in the safe.

“Ci vediamo,” he said to Giorgio as they shook hands.

Bullseye drove back to the hotel. The racket bag placed safely in the wardrobe, he grabbed his camera and wandered passed designated places on the streets of Rome. Each night, he downloaded the photos taken onto his laptop and magnified them to highlight the details. Late at night, he assembled the gun, crept to the window, and peered through the lens.

The day of the grand reception at the American Embassy arrived. Sitting at the open window in his darkened room, he watched the approaching cars, checked number plates and focused on the guests. The slow procession at the gate made them the perfect, slow-moving targets. The limo he anticipated appeared and stopped behind a car, dropping off dignitaries in formal eveningwear. The Mercedes with the CD plates moved forward. The target stepped out, talking to the man accompanying him. They paused at the gate, for the security check. Bullseye aimed at the man’s head and fired the first shot. The target jolted, but before he collapsed to the ground, Bullseye fired another shot into his chest.

Hand steady and breath imperceptible, he closed the window, dismantled the gun, and placed it inside the racket bag. He picked up his holdall, left the room, took the lift to the lobby, and checked out at reception. In the underground car park, he dumped the bags in the boot of his Alfa and drove into the side street by the exit. In the rear-view mirror, he could see the flashing lights of police cars by the entrance of the embassy.

Lugano, only six-hundred and fifty kilometres away, he cruised the Alfa at a moderate speed of 80 km/h. Under the cover of darkness, Bullseye dropped the gun and the bullets in a convenient lake that lay just before the Swiss border. Flashing a fake passport at the border control, he drove into Switzerland and headed for Zurich airport. His vehicle left at the arranged agency, he boarded a flight to London, using his British identity papers.

The Love Factor

Notting Hill, London

Scarlett awoke on Valentine’s Day with a solitary question in her head. Will he or won’t he show up? Preoccupied with this thought throughout the day, she attempted to pass the time in the evening by watching the X-Factor on TV.

At 8:31pm the doorbell rang. Her heart leapt when she saw his smiling face through the peep hole. She opened the door and her eyes misted at the huge bouquet of red roses he held out to her. In his other hand, two bottles of Dom Perignon. Speechless, Scarlett took the flowers, as he stepped into her flat. The bottles and the bouquet placed onto the table, she embraced him and sobbed, burying her face in his chest.

“Hey, don’t cry. Look at me.”

“I … I’m over the moon, thank you for coming,” she said, gazing into his eyes.

They kissed. He reached for the champagne bottle and popped the cork. As the fizz rushed out, Scarlett squealed.  He poured the golden liquid into two flutes.

“Cheers, my Scarlett Valentine.”

As the bliss of each other’s company warmed their hearts, he extracted a small box from his pocket. He lifted the lid and held it to her. An emerald-cut solitaire gleamed at Scarlett. Her eyes widened as he took it out and slipped it on her finger. She admired the exquisite stone and lifted her eyes.

“Oh, my God, really?”

“Yes, really, my Valentine.”

“You mean it, seriously?”

“Seriously, one of these days we’ll go off together and settle down somewhere remote. I’m getting tired of travelling.”

The Fate Factor

Tired of his job, Bullseye wanted out, but wasn’t sure whether his past would follow him. The last contract he had accepted was his most profitable. Shooting prominent politicians was not everyone’s game. Great skill and experience was required to escape the scrutiny of the CIA, MI6, FSB, MOSSAD, and INTERPOL. Tempted to accept one last assignment, he viewed it as something that would bolster his retirement pot. Never having to worry where his next dollar would come from meant he could live carefree.

Doubts filled his mind. Could he? He had more money than he could possibly spend in a lifetime. In possession of countless identities equivalent to those of the residents of a small village, he could hop from country to country. Passports, language, appearance, and profession changed, he could cross many borders with ease. Though he made certain no trace of him was ever left behind, he did not take the worldwide intelligence agencies lightly.

He simply wanted a life with Scarlett, the woman who had stolen his heart. He no longer wished to lie to her, or be without her for long periods. He had already made her a promise and slipped a solitaire diamond on her finger during a Valentine’s Day rendezvous. He could take her to Toscana, but Italy was not safe, and the Adriatic, too risky. The Pacific was also eliminated as a threat as he could be easily exposed. His gut feeling indicated Central or South America. Costa Rica? He could buy protection there.

The trigger pulled, a bullet penetrated the victim’s skull, leaving their brains to spatter the air. Bullseye vacated his elevated position. He jumped into his car and drove to Switzerland from France, changing his passport at the border. Hire car ditched, he procured another once in the neutral country.

Taking refuge at a Swiss mountain resort, he called Scarlett on the mobile he’d given her. “Pack light, pick up your passport and meet me in Vienna in two days. Tickets, funds, and details will follow. Don’t try to call me until then. I love you.”

Disguised as an American tourist, wearing a baseball cap, a colourful t-shirt over jeans and a camera around his neck, he left the Swiss village and drove to the German border. In Munich, he changed the car again and entered Austria as a German Catholic priest. On the outskirts of Vienna, his contact met him with a different vehicle. At home, taking on the appearance of a middle-aged English Professor, he stepped into the lobby of Hotel Sacher, and headed for the Café.

In the opulent decor of the Café, Scarlett’s red hair blended into the colour of the fabric on the walls and upholstery. Forking the generous slice of Sachertorte in front of her, she raised her head and smiled when their eyes met. “Very appealing. Silver hair suits you, my love.”

He kissed her and sat down.

“Enjoy your cake and coffee. Then we’ll be leaving.”

“This is more delicious than Fortnum’s, but I couldn’t possibly finish it. Would you like a taste?”

He nodded and ordered a coffee to complement the dessert.

Scarlett knew not to ask questions. She had trained herself over the years. After sharing the rich chocolate cake, they left.

Bullseye drove them to Budapest, changing passports at the border and again at the departure point of the airport. They flew to Frankfurt, and onwards to Mexico City.

By the time they landed in San Jose, Costa Rica, Bullseye and Scarlett had used several identities and disguises. She arrived as a brunette with a stylish short cut. He portrayed a Scandinavian with corn-silk hair.

They drove to the Gulf of Papagayo on the Pacific coast. He had rented a luxury villa in the hills. Bullseye never invested in property or cars. He believed in cash, the majority of which he kept in bank vaults scattered across a dozen countries.

Surrounded by high walls, monitored by security cameras and full-time staff, the property would provide a safe haven. Scarlett was delighted with the panoramic views of the bay and the amenities of the house. Designed by a renowned architect and decorated with exclusive taste, the indoor living area and the grounds displayed an exquisite selection of furniture and fittings.

A week later, Bullseye took Scarlett to a hacienda where their wedding took place in a small church. She wore a white dress and his wedding present, an emerald pendant necklace that matched the colour of her eyes. Finally, her dreams had come true.

He sorted his business at the Bank, and showed her the contents of his safe in the vaults. Cash in hard currencies, gold bars, and several passports for both of them. Joint accounts and authorized signatures allowed Scarlett to access their assets in case of an emergency.

That evening, while sipping drinks on the viewing deck above the infinity pool, Scarlett gave him a mischievous look.

“So, I was right all the time. You are — were, a spy.”

“It’s best you know nothing.”

“Hmm, what’s your real name, Frank?”

“I’ve forgotten it. I have so many, call me anything you like.”

“You are my love.”

“You are my love, too.” He smiled and held her hand.

“Maybe I should call you by a different name every day.”

They hired a boat and sailed around the bay, enjoying fishing, water-skiing, or windsurfing. Life was good. Bullseye counted each day as a gift. The number of days they spent together had now surpassed the number of lives he had taken. Scarlett took photos, painted watercolour sketches of the exotic views and the colourful flowers in the area.

While celebrating their first wedding anniversary on the terrace, Bullseye strolled over to the edge with a champagne glass in his hand. He stopped to admire the view.

Scarlett watched him, her heart beating with the excitement of the news she would be giving him as a present. She stroked her belly.

A crimson sunset painted the sky, his silhouette ethereal against the colours. He turned and smiled to her, raising his glass.  A cool breeze ruffled his hair. He jolted and collapsed like an empty sack, the glass in his hand shattering on the tiles.

Scarlett rushed to him, dropped to her knees and hugged him as the blood oozing from his chest stained her white dress in patterns of haphazard batik. She sobbed and screamed in silence, rocking back and forth, her arms clenched around him.

She stared at the solitaire diamond on her finger and swore to remain solitaire.

This story first appeared in Ripples on the Pond.

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 and Flash Poesy, as well as longer works of fiction. Her flash stories have appeared in 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,  and The Cabinet of Heed, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. She has a completed manuscript, The Child of Heaven and two works in progress, The Child of Passion and The Lost Child.  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

A Bachelor’s Guide To Everything by John Patrick Robbins

A Bachelor’s Guide To Everything

An old friend asked me.

“I don’t get why you just don’t stop all these stupid games, I mean just marry me and we can spend the rest if our lives together. “

Sara was delusional about our relationship more so than I.

It was something and at times it beat nothing.

It was sex to me and love to her.

Cold as it sounds it’s simply the truth.

And Frank didn’t entertain her delusions which would always certainly end with her upset and Frank relieved for a nice vacation from his favorite dwarfs company.

“I would love to come visit you sweetheart but honestly my GPS is broken and I view our relationship kind of like a timeshare.

You know, more a rental that others have the option to buy.”

“Hey, asshole! seriously I’m not going to wait for you forever !”

“And sweetheart I respect that. I mean if you find a guy that’s semi brain dead and not chemically assisted to get stiff on  a regular basis. By all means hop on that dick and ride that fucker into the sunset.”

“I cannot believe you are just letting me slip away you conceited prick!”

Sara replied building up to her usual blow up.

Frank simply got up and poured himself a drink .

Holding the bottle up.

“Care for one sweetheart ?”

“No I don’t want a drink you bastard !

Why can’t you just love me? What’s wrong with me ? “

“Well sugar, nothing aside from the fact I do not love you and I never will.

We’re friends and that’s it.”

It was harsh but Frank knew sometimes the truth was always the best route .

“Oh so you fuck all your friends?”

Frank kicked back his drink.

“Well I would but Bernie’s wife would probably get pissed. I mean with Simon already hitting on him every two seconds .  Honestly why have a conversation when you can have an orgasim , that’s what I always say.”

“I swear to fucking God ! , why does everything have to be a joke with you.”

Sara, was pissed beyond words as everyone has feeling’s, well minus Frank.

“Sugar , who said I was joking. I mean a relationship between an agent and literary brothers  is a special one . We actually  all have been thinking of building a commune  in the Midwest and maybe becoming modern day beatniks or professional open mic poets .”

Even Sara had to almost laugh at that one .

And as Frank mixed her drink along with his own as he took a seat beside her on the couch.

“Look sugar, I know it hurts but trust me.  I’m not the one .”

“Yeah but I’m in love with you so guess I am an idiot .”

“Sara cut the shit !, you’re not in love with me, you’re in love with an idea that can never be me. There’s always someone better. I’m a good time and that’s it, nothing more .”

The conversation continued and eventually like anything else in life it ended with bitter words and in Sara’s case some tears.

And as Frank sat on the deck afterwards, watching the sunset.

His ever faithful four legged drinking buddy finally joined him.

“Hey there you nutless wonder . Glad you finally chose to join the land of the living cause I really didn’t feel like digging a hole today.”

Boozer just looked at Frank and walked on past him and jumped into his chair he kept outside as he cut a fart while in midair.

Then stood there looking at Frank for a treat.

“Wow asshole what you do for an encore go shit the bed?”

Boozer was getting older much like Frank the eternal bachelor’s enjoyed some drinks and what little time they had together.

Listening to the sounds of the waves crash into the shore.

There was a peace in being alone most feared to embrace.

Frank was certainly not  most people.

Sometimes alone with your thoughts and old dog and some stiff drinks.

Was the best company a man could ask for.

Well until you got that urge .

But escorts were a simple fix and far cheaper than divorces .

Frank was forever the bachelor it seems.

John Patrick Robbins, is the editor in chief of The Rye Whiskey Review  and Black Shamrock Magazine.  His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine, Fearless Poetry Zine,  The Dope Fiend Daily, Piker Press, San Pedro River Review,  San Antonio Review ,Romingos Porch and Schlock Magazine. 
His work is always unfiltered

A Rotten Plan by Morgan Boyd

Dave had been trying to get in with the local cartel for years: The Wyler family. The only time he had ever caught their attention was when he ratted on a guy in the organization that his sister was dating.  The guy had been ripping them off in coke sales.  Dave dropped the dime, and sure enough, nobody ever heard from his sister’s boyfriend again, but it didn’t get him any closer to joining their ranks.  See, nobody likes a rat.  Not even those who benefit from his squealing .

The Wyler’s had a family tattoo they wore behind their right ear.  It was of a Barbary lion, and if you had the tattoo it meant you were in.  Dave wanted that tattoo more than anything.  He’d even tried to draw it in pen behind his ear a few times, using a mirror, so that he could feel what it was like to be one of the boys, but his renderings always ended up looking like smeared shit.

Dave had a new plan, though.  This time he was sure to get himself noticed by the Wyler’s, and he’d finally get some steady employment instead of being some asshole, schmuck assistant manager at a grocery store.  He pictured himself pulling out guy’s teeth that wouldn’t talk, or roughing up the kid who came up short on the money.  That was what he wanted to be more than anything, a tough guy.

This new plan to get noticed wafted in right under his nose. Some hippy kids rented the house across the street. It wasn’t long before the smell of their grow operation started stinking up the block.  One day, when the hippies were out, Dave snuck around back, and had a peek over the fence into the yard.  Holy shit, he thought.  It’s the goddamn emerald triangle back here. Hundreds of cannabis plants flowered in row after row of tired and cracked black pots.

Dave didn’t know dick about weed. He was going to take off a few boards on the hippies’ fence late at night, steal all of the plants in the back of a U-Haul truck, and stash it at a storage unit until he figured out how to turn a profit on it to impress the Wyler’s.  Fortunately, just before he was about to go through with his scheme, he let Howl in on his plan. Howl was an ex-con, gulf war vet, and a bandana wearing heavy stoner.

“What the fuck will you do with a bunch of unharvested bud?” Howl asked.

“Sell it.”

“To who?  Who the fuck is going to buy unharvested bud?” Howl said lighting a joint. “Only thing you’ll do is fuck up the crop.”

“What do you propose then?”

“Let the hippies do all of the work.  Let them harvest the bud.  Let them dry that shit.  Let them trim it.  When it’s all done, and ready to toke, that’s when we make our move.”

“How long will that take?”

“Judging by the smell, a few weeks.”

Dave wasn’t thrilled about putting his plan on hold, so he took out his dissatisfaction on the customers at the grocery store, but Howl knew about pot.  He knew how to move it, and if Dave could turn a tighty profit on the bud, he’d be on the fast track to getting that Wyler tat.

Howl worked recon for a few weeks.  He’d climb onto the roof of Dave’s house, and stare down into the hippies’ yard with a pair of binoculars. Finally, after he’d gathered enough intel to make an educated decision, Howl green-lit the operation.

“For some lazy ass hippies, they sure have been working hard to get that weed ready to roll,” Howl said.  They trimmed it outside, and now it’s hanging in the garage, drying.”

Dave rented a U-Haul truck, and he and Howl waited. After a few hours, they saw the hippies pile into their hippy bus, and drive off to do whatever hippy shit hippies do.  Dave packed his pistol, and Howl grabbed his lock picking kit.  They scurried across the street, and had the front door opened in no time.

Turning a corner into the living room, they came face to ass with a couple of the free loving, free loader type loadies caught in the act of coitus. Dave wouldn’t have minded watching if the lovers were into that kind of thing, but the guy reached over for his piece.  Dave got the draw on him, and put a bullet in the hippy’s forehead.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” Howl said as the woman began screaming at the sight of her recently deceased lover. “What the fuck?”

“He went for his gun,” Dave said.  “It was us or him.”

“Well, now you have to dust her too,” Howl said. “She’s a witness.”

“Seems a shame,” Dave said, raising the gun, and shooting her in the head. “Sorry about that, lady.”

“The only shame is the size of your brain, asshole.  I’m not trying to catch a murder wrap.”

“Shit, this place is nice inside,” Dave said.  “Look at that big ass flat screen TV, and that spacious leather couch.  I thought hippies lived on dirt floors and made beads out of potatoes or some shit.”

“Come on, let’s get that dank loaded into the truck before those other Summer of sixty-niners return. 

Dave and Howl opened the door leading into the garage, and a wave of stinky bud odor crashed over them.

“Jackpot,” Dave said.  “Serves these beatniks right, stinking up my goddamn neighborhood.”

“Hold on,” Howl said, examining the drying buds, hanging on rows of strings throughout the entire garage. “You have to be fucking kidding me.”

“What?”

“It’s fucking botrytis.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s everywhere.”

“What is?”

“These motherfuckers are some serious amateurs. This stuff aint worth shit.”

“What the hell do you mean?”

“This is what I mean,” Howl said, taking a bud off the string.  It had brown patches of death on the outside, but when he ripped the flower apart, the inside was filled with a fine brown dust that floated into the air. “Gray mold. Also known as bud rot. If you don’t catch it early, it spreads like fire through your crop.”

“Can we still sell this shit?” Dave asked.

“These idiots must have been watering the leaves at night or something.  Fucking morons.”

“Can we still sell this shit?” Dave asked again.

“It’s all fucked and worthless. You know something?”

“What?”

“You were right.”

“I was?”

“This house is way too nice for a bunch of dirty ass amateur hippies, who can’t even grow weed.”

“That’s what I was saying.  Did you see the size of that TV in the living room? You could park a bus on it.”

“How can these peace lovers, who can’t even grow nugs correctly,” Howl asked as they returned to the dead couple in the living room, “afford all of this really nice shit?”

Howl reached over the dead couple, grabbed a leather-bound suitcase, and opened it. Hundreds of little white bindles dropped to the floor.

“We better haul ass,” Howl said, and quickly gathered up the white packets on the floor, and returned them to the suitcase.

“Hey, Howl?” Dave asked, pointing at a small black security camera on the ceiling. “What the hell is that?”

“Fuck it.  We got to go.”

“Hold on,” Dave said, and reached up, and unplugged the device, and put it in his pocket.  “We have to cover our tracks.”

“The video footage isn’t stored on the camera, numbnuts.”

“Then where is it stored?” Dave asked, and kicked the dead guy. “I bet he knows.  Where’s it at?  Or I put another hole in you.”

“Christ, Dave. The poor bastard’s already dead.  Let’s bounce the fuck out.”

“Oh, shit,” Dave said, pushing the dead guy’s head to the side with the barrel of his gun. “This aint no moonbeam.”

A Barbary lion was tattooed behind the dead guy’s ear.

“Come on asshole.”

Howl slipped out the front door with the briefcase under his arm. Dave stumbled out of the house behind him. As they stepped off the porch, a long black car pulled into the driveway. The barrel of a long gun stuck out the back window, and the cracking sound of two gunshots pierced the marijuana scented air. 

Bio: Morgan Boyd used to live in Santa Cruz, California.  Now he lives somewhere else with his wife, daughter, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Coffee and Fried Chicken, Tough, Pulp Metal Magazine, Spelk and in print at Switchblade Magazine.  He also has stories forthcoming at Yellow Mama and Story and Grit.

Buenas Madrugada by Judge Santiago Burdon

PhotoFunia-1591088957Buenas Madrugada 

She just looks at me with these big charcoal eyes and doesn’t say a fucking word. She’s got a beer in one hand and a joint in the other and she’s sweating like a whore in church. The motel room has the AC cranked . It’s so cold you could hang meat. She stands there naked and paralyzed with fear. There’s another “Angel of the Night” passed out naked on the bed. The knocking at the door continues. It’s not the typical Cop knock . In the United States, Colombia and Mexico the Policia golpea con fuerza (knock with force).  But I’m in Perez Zeledon, San Isidro, Costa Rica and the knock is soft and unassuming. I begin to laugh at the bizarre spectacle taking place.

The knock is now accompanied by a male voice. ” Hello, it’s the Hotel Security please answer.” He orders. Just the security guard, I got this I tell myself. “Voy” I yell. The panic stricken girl takes refuge in the bathroom locking the door. I answer the uninvited visitor with a cheerful “buenas” after opening the door. ” Señor, I had a complaint about noise coming from this room.”  Who would complain about too much noise. I hear music loud talking and laughing leaking out from other rooms flooding the predawn darkness with sounds of precipitation. I make a sincere effort to handle the situation without causing a confrontation. “Yes no problem. I’m sorry for the disturbance.” I say in Spanish. “And a question. Is it possible you could give me a beer?” He asks. “Of course no problem.” I grab a cold cerveza and hand it to him. “Anything else sir?” I say. “If you have a cigarette I would like that very much.” He begs. I give him a couple of smokes, he shakes my hand and nods his head in a grateful manner. “Good night or morning.” I say while laughing. So the reason for his visit wasn’t about the noise. It was purely a search to satisfy his vices. Gotta love the Ticos constant quest for immediate self gratification and without ever saying “porfavor or gracias”.

I knock on the bathroom door. “Andrea todo bien mi amor. It was just the Security Guard asking for a beer. Everything is ok. Open the door Diosa.” I whisper. I hear the lock click and I turn the knob trying to open the door but she has blocked it with wet towels. I push with force and it gives way. I see her cowering in the shower shaking with a terrified expression. “Baby what’s going on with you? No more coca porti. Come’on Diosa get outta there. Take an oxaforte, it’ll make you feel better.” I offer “Bigotes soy muy high!” She informs me.

“I know baby, come on now. Who takes care of you?”

I have known Andrea for 5 years. She stole my heart the first time I spent a night and 50 dollars with her. It was Quepos Costa Rica on the Pacific coast when her cousin Diana introduced us. Sometimes there’s this connection, a fire, electricity between two souls. And there was truth in her flame no doubt in her spark. Unfortunately it always becomes convoluted and gets messy. The sheets , the libretto, the emotions and living. “I had her trapped between my skin and my soul”. Mana, Rayando el Sol.

She stands still holding the beer and joint then hugs me not with affection but with the emotion of a child seeking security. “You’re safe baby. You trust me , right” I say.

 “Si papi siempre contigo ( yes always with you).” She answers. I carry her to the bed and take the unlit joint from her hand but she refuses to relinquish the warm half can of beer. Yaneth, my other companion and friend of Andrea, wakes then heads to the bathroom. “Que hora es Bigotes? Es madrugada?” She yells from the bathroom. “Si yo creo. I believe so. And please keep it down. The Security Guard was just here complaining we are making too much noise.” And just as I ask her to be quiet and not play the music loudly she cranks up the volume on the TV and the music screams. She begins dancing and it’s difficult to stop the sexual display. Naked , with a body that would make men beg for just one chance to touch her gossamer skin. She’s fucking gorgeous and every move defines sensuality with refinement . I give Andrea an Oxaforte and Ambien to take the edge off. She swallows the pills with a hit of beer and gives me a tender kiss. ” Go ahead, I know you want her. I will watch.” She says. “It’s ok? Just me and Yaneth without you?” I ask.

 You must understand that there’s an etiquette or code of conduct when dealing with prostitutes, especially Ticas. A special client or boyfriend such as I am to Andrea is considered property or a possession. It’s a depraved twisted relationship where the doctrine only applies to my actions and not hers. She is a working girl and can fuck anyone she chooses for of course a price. Which is on a sliding scale depending how much she likes the client. Although if I fuck someone else especially a friend of hers, that’s a violation of the terms of the supposed agreement .

I was involved with a Tica off and on in a liaison de amor for a couple of years sometime ago. Vanessa was a working girl that considered my involvement with another woman as a betrayal . “If I fuck other women you say I am cheating on you. But it’s ok for you to fuck other men and I am suppose to accept your behavior. If you fuck other people then I fuck others.” I stated.

 “NO ! You fuck other women to have pleasure. To have an orgasm and pay her for that. Sex with others for me is work and not for pleasure.” She refuted. Of course I never believed for a moment that she didn’t at times enjoy her work. I just don’t subscribe to that type of logic. And so ended that relationship. However I discovered that school of thought was a widely practiced rule by many.

Yaneth continues to dance rubbing her tits against my face placing my hand between her legs. “VENGA BIGOTES FUCK ME! ” She implores. Andrea pushes me toward Yaneth. She buries my face in her breasts and sways gracefully to the music. “Un Chino porfa BEBE!” Yaneth demands.

Now a Chino for you rookies is yes the word for a Chinese person in Spanish but in street lingo it also identifies a cigarette minus some tobacco with cocaine added in and smoked. It’s a pleasant high which I prefer over smoking crack. Crack instantly takes me to a level of euphoria that makes it impossible to function socially.

I comply with her request and twist up a monster removing the filter and inserting a small piece back in its place. I look at Andrea and she appears relaxed having opened another beer. I can’t believe she’s still awake. She smiles and extends her hand for me to pass her the Chino. “I don’t think so baby. A half-hour ago you were freaking out. Wait a while and pass on this one ok?” Then it happens! A Tica pissed off for being told what she can and cannot do by a man is considered disrespectful. She objects with a display of anger that would make a weaker man tremble in terror. “Who are you to tell me no! You’re not my husband or my father. You can’t tell me what to do.” She screams. I immediately hand her the Chino and strike a flame with the lighter and she inhales then passes it to Yaneth. She takes a hit and passes back to Andrea completely by-passing me. “Hey what’s going on here? What about the Gringo? Are ya gonna share?” I protest. They both start laughing and hand the chino to me. Yaneth starts kissing Andrea and pulls down the sheet uncovering her Goddess like naked body. Now we’re back to the original game plan I say to myself. I take a short hit and pass it back to Andrea who blows me a kiss. “Te amo Bigotes.” Andrea sings. Just at this moment in time, it can all change in the flutter of a Butterfly’s wings. “Yo tengo tu amor. I got your love. Yo tengo tu amor. Yo tengo tu love.” The song serenades from the music video on the TV. Who said the darkest hour is always just before the dawn? They were so far off course. “Buenas madrugada.” I say.  Hope there are no interruptions.

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When a full moon fills the night sky, Private Investigator Roman Dalton becomes a werewolf and prowls The City’s neon and blood-soaked streets. Stories by Allan Leverone, K A Laity, Jason Michel, B R Stateham, Graham Wynd, Katherine Tomlinson, Julia Madeleine, John Donald Carlucci, Richard Godwin. Based on characters created by Paul D. Brazill.

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