Have A Brit Grit Christmas!

martinaA couple of years ago, I asked a bunch of Brit Grit writers about their favourite Christmas book, film and song, and this is what they said:

Martina Cole:

Well my favourite Christmas book has to be John Updike and Edward Gorey’s ‘The Twelve Terrors of Christmas.’ Film has to be Lon Chaney as The Wolfman. I love old horrors especially at Christmas! And song has to be ‘Fairytale of New York’ as I adore The Pogues and Kirsty! (I remember when they were called Pogue Mahone! Kiss my arse in Gaelic!)

Lesley Welsh:

I’m going to be really tedious and say ‘It’s A Wonderful Life.‘ Still gets to me every time. Music-wise, Jona Lewie and ‘Stop The Cavalry’. Christmas book? That’s a difficult one, I never much liked Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol.’ and don’t really recall others specifically about that time of year as I would probably have avoided them like the proverbial. So can I have a play instead? For which I nominate Steven Berkoff’s one-man short play ‘Harry’s Christmas‘. Devastating.

Douglas Skelton: 

The book has to ‘A Christmas Carol,’ obvious I know but it’s the only actual Christmas book I can remember reading! I know when I see other choices I’ll kick myself (so if you have any suggestions, let me know) For film I’d have to go with ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’, although ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ comes a close second. And song – there are so many – but ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ has the right blend of sweetness and melancholy for me.

HIT THE NORTH! NICK QUANTRILL INTERVIEW!Nick Quantrill:

Book I can’t really look beyond Dickens with ‘A Christmas Carol’, though you can’t beat a winter’s evening in the warmth with a book from a favourite author. Film Being a cynical and hardboiled crime writer is fine for 364 days of the year, but the remaining day has to be reserved to watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Song, all of Kate Rusby’s “While Mortals Sleep” is great and the use of a brass band gives it that distinctive Yorkshire feel that warms me.

Luca Veste:

Book – ‘The Grinch who Stole Christmas’ by Dr Seuss Film – ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’. Song – ‘White Wine in the Sun’ by Tim Minchin

Matt Hilton:

The Spy Who Came For Christmas” by David Morrell, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and “Silent Night” by Bing Crosby

Mark West:

Favourite book –‘The Mystery Of The Invisible Dog’ (it takes place between Christmas and New Year. Favourite film – either ‘Scrooged’ or ‘Die Hard’. Favourite song – ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ by Slade.

Alex Shaw:

Book: ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Film: ‘Die Hard.’ Song: ‘Feed The World.’

Sheila_Quigley-320x320Sheila Quigley:

‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’  – I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it – ‘White Christmas.’

Sarah Hilary:

‘The Long Shadow’ by Celia Fremlin. ‘The Bishop’s Wife’ (Cary Grant, David Niven).’The World of Winter’ by Bing Crosby

Ian Ayris:

Here we go: Christmas Book – ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charlie Dickens, Christmas Film – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, Christmas Song – ‘White Christmas’ – SLF.

Richard Godwin:

Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Deep Throat’, Frank Zappa’s ‘Bobby Brown.’

Martin Stanley:

Okay, right now, off the top of my head: my favourites are Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, ‘Bad Santa’, and The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’.

Jason Michel

Book/ story – ‘A Christmas Carol’, Film – gotta be a Bond, not traditional, of course, but the nostalgia of a Christmas evening Bond flick, Song – I would say Slade then again, I have a tradition of listening to Frank Sinatra at Christmas.

Graham Wynd:

Um…’Little Women’, ‘The Long Kiss Goodnight’, and oh, everyday a different answer so….Darlene Love, ‘Christmas Baby Please Come Home’. Best Xmas LP ‘A John Waters Xmas’.

Ryan Bracha:

‘The Little Matchgirl’ by HC Anderson for book, or ‘Mog’s Christmas’. The best and most underrated Christmas film ever is ‘Scrooged’. Song has to be ‘Mary’s Boy Child by Boney M’. Tune.

Betsy Reavley:

Oh easy, Charles Dicken’s ‘Christmas Carol’, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ – Elvis Presley and film would have to be ‘Home Alone’.

nigelbirdNigel Bird:

Run Run Rudolph’ by Chuck Berry, ‘Diner’ (Barry Levinson) and ‘The Christmas Star’ (it’s a short story, so I hope that counts) by Mina Lewiton.

Graham Smith:

Can’t think of an Xmas book but ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Fairytale of New York.’

Paul Heatley:

My favourite book is ‘Sausagey Santa’ by Carlton Mellick III, song is ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ by Slade, but film is a toss up between ‘The Santa Clause,’ ‘Elf,’ and Ron Howard’s ‘The Grinch’ – I like the garishly colourful and OTT ones!

Tess Makovesky

I’m not the biggest fan of Christmas on the planet.  I quite like some of the old traditions, but hate the modern, consumer-driven, hyped-to-hell-and-back, be-perfect-or-else-you’ve-failed version, which tends to bring me out in a severe case of Bah Humbug.  So my choices of reading, watching and listening matter over the festive period tend to reflect this.

Favourite Christmas song: there’s a special mention for Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ which brings back happy memories of school Christmas parties.  But the winner, hands down, is ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and Kirsty McCall.  Any Christmas song that includes lyrics like You scumbag, you maggot, You lousy old faggot gets my vote every time, and the harmonies (even with lead singer Shane McGowan apparently on such a massive bender he could barely stand up during recording) are amazing.

Favourite Christmas movie: I can’t really handle all those mushy-gushy sanctimonious ‘isn’t family wonderful’ type movies that you’re supposed to like at Christmas.  But Home Alone won me over the first time I saw it.  It has just the right blend of mischief, quirkiness, and sheer evil joy, from parents forgetting one of their own children, to Macauley Culkin’s 8 year old dreaming up ever nastier ways to keep the burglars out of the family home.  Great fun!

Favourite Christmas book: this one really had me stumped.  I wasn’t sure if there were any specific Christmas books, and when I googled, I’d never read most of them and wasn’t keen on the rest.  However, my favourite as a kid was probably ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C S Lewis for the sheer magic and inventiveness of the story.  Although these days, I probably have more sympathy with the Wicked Witch than I ought to.  Imagine: always winter but never Christmas.  I can think of worse things…!

HAVE A BRIT GRIT CHRISTMAS!

 

Recommended Reads:Nick Quantrill’s Joe Geraghty Novels

joe geraghty

Broken Dreams.

Nick Quantrill’s  debut novel Broken Dreams is a cracking book.  A big shot local businessman asks PI Joe Geraghty to investigate an employee’s absenteeism and the Private Investigator is soon following a muddy and bloodstained trail through the battle scarred northern city of Hull. Geraghty, like his hometown, has taken many a good kicking and is trying to get back on his feet. Broken Dreams is realistic and romantic. It takes you by the lapels and drags you along on a gritty, gripping journey.

The Late Greats.

In The Late Greats, Joe Geraghty is hired by an overbearing musical ‘entrepreneur’, Kent Major, to babysit his possible cash cow – the band New Holland. Once upon a time, New Holland were the bee’s knees, the cat’s whiskers. Imagine, if you will, Hull’s version of Oasis, surfing the crest of the Britpop wave and then, in the blink of an eye,stagnating and self- destructing. But now they’re back together having, apparently, forgotten their creative and personal differences and are about to embark on a lucrative comeback tour. So, with his eyes on the prize, Kent Major hires Geraghty to keep an eye on the boys, so that all runs smoothly. But, of course, it doesn’t and all quickly goes pear shaped when the singer , Greg Tasker, disappears. And, inevitably,Geraghty is despatched to find him.

The Late Greats is a fast paced, page-turner, the weight of which rests heavily on Geraghty’s broad shoulders. Geraghty, unlike many of crime fiction’s messed up PIs, is an Everyman – a decent and likeable bloke just trying to get on with his life after the death of his wife. Trying to adapt to change. Something many of the characters in The Late Greats are trying to avoid.

In Quantrill’s  Broken Dreams, Joe Geraghty’s investigations allowed him to to dig into the city’s past and address its changes- both good and bad. In this follow up novel, however, Geraghty is forced to look at how people change. How some people grow up,and not always for the better, and others never do. The Late Greats, is a splendid, character driven piece of social realist storytelling which cements Nick Quantrill’s position as a crime writer with something to say

The Crooked Beat.

P I Joe Geraghty steps up to help out his brother who is in dire financial straits.However,Joe is soon under the radar of Hull’s underworld and subsequently digs up some of the city’s dark secrets. This is the third of Nick Quantrill’s Joe Geraghty novels and the best yet with perfect pacing and a great sense of place and history.

All three books are now available from Fahrenheit Press.

Short Story in a Song— The Menzingers’ “The Obituaries” by S.W. Lauden

Coming of age. Exploring independence. Adulting.

These are well-worn themes in the arts. A quick glance at the bookshelf reveals classics like The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger, Beloved by Toni Morrison and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Likewise, many bands have explored similar territory with songs like “Suburban Home” by Descendents,” “Burnout” by Green Day or “Photosynthesis” by Frank Turner.” Caught somewhere on the coming of age continuum between King Dork by Frank Portman and “West Coast” by Fidlar, “The Obituaries” by Pennsylvania punks The Menzingers is a melodic anthem that belongs on that list. It would make a great short story.

Our young protagonist is on a rooftop in Brooklyn, the whole world and his whole life spread out before him. The possibilities are endless, but slightly overwhelming to his wasted mind. Prematurely obsessed with death and decay, he reluctantly stumbles forward into the exquisite trap of adulthood. He tries to convince himself that everything will be fine while a confidence-shaking chorus of self-doubt repeats in his mind. Time ticks by as this internal debate rages on, oblivious to both his nightmares and his dreams.

Previous Short Stories in a Song:

“Ever Fallen In Love” by Buzzcocks

S.W. Lauden is the author of the Greg Salem punk rock P.I. series includes BAD CITIZEN CORPORATIONGRIZZLY SEASON and HANG TIME (Rare Bird Books). He is also the co-host of the Writer Types podcast. Steve lives in LA.

greg-salem-trilogy-card

Fiction: SHAFER WORK BY MARK SLADE

me (1)

For some reason Peter Choaladi decided the Englishman would be a great partner for Barry London on this particular job. Obviously it was a secret joke between Pop and Choaladi. When he was telling London about the job, Choaladi and Pop would snicker. Could it be because my last name and the guy is British? Yeah, London thought. That’s exactly what it was.

Yeah. What a great sense of humour.

Peter Choaladi was a Cuban crime boss London and Pop worked for. Choaladi was semi-retired from the life. He didn’t get into the business unless it was through London, whom he lent out to others in the life that needed a fixer. Pop was a retired bus driver from Manhattan who runs Choaladi’s gambling activities using a used bookstore and newspaper stand as a cover. London started calling Leon Brown Pop because he would always give London fatherly advice. He would also use Pop’s vast knowledge of people for leg work. Anything London wanted to know, Pop could make calls and feed London the info.

London took on the job. He wouldn’t dare turn one down. Not because he was scared of Choaladi. No, it was out of respect.  Choaladi has never lied to London. All the other authority figures have. Lots of people have crossed London.

Some have lived. Some have not.

“Okay, okay,” London said. “I get the joke. What’s the job, Mr. Choaladi?”

“You go to Prince Street. See Emily Brunswick to pick up your tickets,” Choaladi said.

Emily Brunswick…….I’d like to pick up Emily and put her in my bed, London thought.

“Tickets for where?” London asked.

Pop and Choaladi burst into laughter. London was not amused.

“I’m sorry, son,” Pop said. “We can’t help it. London going to London.”

“Fucking old men and their fucking old men sense of humour,” London growled and stormed out the door.

****

London went to Prince Street and saw Emily Brunswick. He also saw her husband Terry. Terry worked for a land development company. London didn’t like Terry very much. Mostly because he was married to Emily, who was London’s idea of the perfect woman. Not just a beautiful redhead built like the pinup girls of the 40’s and 50’s, she was smart and so damn pleasant. Emily reminded London of a fifth grade school teacher he had a crush on.

Terry, on the other hand, was a little shit with a pencil thin moustache who wore sandals with his suits. He had a whiny voice and he was also an asshole to people. Mainly Emily. London couldn’t wrap his head around the fact Emily picked that man over so many other men; the fact that she was so different him, nice and caring and such a beautiful attitude….anyways that’s what was on London’s mind. Terry also had an annoying way of finishing every sentence with a shrug of his shoulders or tilting his head and waving his hand.

“I’m the one that asked for you,” that little shit tilted his head and waved his hand.

“Am I supposed to kiss you on the lips for doing that?” London asked him and sat on the white leather chair across from the black leather couch Terry and Emily sat on.

Terry scrunched up his nose and puckered his lips in offense. “I hardly think this is the right situation to be a smart ass.”

“When is the right situation?” London said. Maybe when I put a bullet in your sorry egg-shaped head, he wanted to say. Of course, that would have upset Emily and possibly turned her against London. And London damn-for sure did not want the perfect woman to hate him.

Terry sighed. “I cannot make hide or tails sense of this conversation.” He was trying his own style of smart quips. It wasn’t working out for him. So London thought better to put a stop to it right away before he lost his cool and strangled the twerp.

“Then I suggest you shut the fuck up and let Emily tell me what the job entails.”

There was a tug of a smile on her lips. Sher ran her tongue across them and the brief smile vanished. It didn’t matter how brief. What was important was London saw the smile.

“We have a client who needs a pornographic film retrieved,” Emily said. “When we spoke to Mr. Choaladi about this matter, he also had a friend who had interest in this pornographer.”

“Did the film reach the internet yet?” London asked.

“No,” Terry cut in.

London gave him the eye and he scoffed, looked away.

Again, Emily let a smile slip through. She continued. “The film has not reached the internet. Apparently, there is a fee this pornographer is asking our client to pay.”

“To keep it off his websites,” London said. “How do I recognize this movie?”

“Apparently it is still a film in a canisters. Shot in the nineteen seventies. No transfer to video. So, I’m curious as to how this man is going to get it on the internet.”

“He has his own facilities. They work out of a warehouse, I bet. Has a crew to use codecs whatever the fuck else they do. The person who does not want this film uploaded has moved on to bigger and brighter things. Possibly, a powerful person—-”

“Of course!” Terry exclaimed. “Can we just give this man his plane fare—-?”

“Hey fella, why don’t you get me a cup of coffee,” London said.

“I am not your go-to boy!” Terry stood. He was fuming, but to anyone else it looked like a child’s tantrum. “I am a man. So you address me as a man!”

“Terry,” London began, cleared his throat. “You realize I am dangerous. I have killed people and not even shed a tear for them?”

“So,” Terry sputtered.

“It is out of respect for Emily, the only reason I have not laid your sorry ass in a shallow grave. One more outburst from you and I may forget that respect,” London moved his eyes back to Emily, “of course, I can only forget my respect for you, ma’am, for a fledgling moment.”

Oh boy, London thought. I think I just tried to sound poetic.

Terry turned on his heels and marched to the door of their office and said: “I am going out! Fill me in later, Emily!”

The door slammed shut, but only in Terry’s eyes it was out of anger. To London and Emily it was just a closing of door.

“Forgive Terry,” she said. “He has a short fuse.”

“Mine is a lot shorter,” London told her. He cleared his throat again, felt the need to readdress that remark, but Emily took over. London noticed she was a lot more relaxed.

“Terry also likes to control everything.” Emily said.

“Terry is an asshole,” London found himself saying instead of thinking it. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said—”

“No,” Emily sighed. “He is. He has a lot of faults. He also has a lot of good points about him. He takes of me and the business.”

London thought about that.  He nodded. “Taking care of you is the best point you could make in his case. That’s why I haven’t hurt him yet.”

“Thank you for thinking of me,” She smiled at London and his heart melted.

“Continue with your debriefing,” London said shakily.

He couldn’t help admire her chestnut hair, which was in a ponytail today. Other times London had seen Emily with her shoulder length hair down and in dresses or skirts. She wore a pants suit and she couldn’t have looked more beautiful. She also looked a woman who was in charge, even though that may not be the truth, London still liked the image. With her hair in a ponytail it highlighted her somewhat delicate round face and definitely those large blue eyes that caused London to notice her in the first place.

“Didn’t Mr. Choaladi tell you about the job?”  Emily crossed her legs and rested her chin on her fist. London watched the movement and knew he’d a lost a breath.

“He did. I’m pretty sure you could give instructions much better.” London didn’t mean say that. Again, he was thinking out loud and flirted when he thought he couldn’t flirt. He once had a girlfriend back in Jersey who said he was a consummate flirt. When he served four years in a state prison, London was so conscious of not flirting that it made him stick out as a mime on steroids. When he got out of prison, it took him a good two years and Hillary Hathaway the barmaid at Sturgis Grill to bring that flirt back from the dead.

Emily was amused by that remark. She may have even been a little turned on. She leaned forward and brushed a few strands of her bangs from her eyes. “Well, Barry, we need you to go to London…..” she stopped talking. A smirk crossed her face. She fought the urge to make the joke. London saw that in her eyes. “Anyways, not only to retrieve that film, but shadow someone my client believes is an Interpol snitch.”

“By the way,” London said. “Would you tell me who in the hell this client is? For some reason Mr. Choaladi wouldn’t say—”

“Hildy Barnes.”

The very same Hildy Barnes known to the street as the Godmother Heroin dealers. London did not like Hildy Barnes, nor any of the shit mongers she kept company with.

“He knew I wouldn’t take the job if he told me,” London said. He stood and with quickened pace, headed for the door.

“Where are you going?” Emily was surprised by London’s reaction.

“I’m going to tell that old son of a bitch off!”

“Why would you not do the job?”

“Hildy Barnes, if you must know, murdered one of my best friends. Or had him murdered. Anyways, she ordered the killing and he was cut to pieces with a fucking chainsaw.” London was so flustered he was stepping all over his own words and actually, no periods were at the end of his sentences. “We were only kids. Hell, I was twenty and he was nineteen, just starting out with Choaladi—-” London suddenly stopped talking. He thought carefully what he was going to say next. “I don’t want to disrespect Mr. Choaladi. I don’t want to disappoint you. I don’t think I can do this job.”

“He didn’t know,” Emily blurted out.

London turned around. He faced Emily, who looked stressed. She had a hand on her forehead, her eyes steady on the floor. London shut the door. He ambled to her, waited for to say something. Emily lifted her sad eyes to London’s.

“You better explain,” he said.

“Mr. Choaladi doesn’t know Hildy Barnes wants help to get rid of this government snitch,” Emily said.

“You didn’t say get rid of before,” London said.

“I thought maybe…well….if you found out…..”

“I would kill him anyway because he’s a rat,” London sat down. “It doesn’t always work that way, Emily. I have to have the go ahead from an employer…even then….how does Hildy Barnes know this Colin Shafer is a snitch for Interpol?”

“I don’t know. Look….” Emily drew in a heavy sigh. The stress took a big toll on her facial expressions. While still attractive, the depressed demeanour suddenly made her a victim in London’s eyes. “I…we need this money…this job.  Terry and I sunk every penny in that housing development Garry Hogan had a hand in. Remember?”

“Yeah,” London nodded. “He was caught embezzling funds from his company about six months ago.”

“That included all the money raised and donated for that project,” Emily said. “We’re going to lose our home. Our business. All of our friends will turn their backs on us. We could end up dead when the other business partners tire of our begging for extensions.”

London scoffed, looked away. “Shit,” he closed his eyes and thought again about what he wanted to say. He wanted to say no. He couldn’t help. He wanted to say, if you leave Terry, become my girl, I’ll make sure your safe, Terry’s on his own. He wanted to say, “I love you.”

London didn’t say any of those things.

“Okay,” He told Emily. “I’ll do it.”

 

****

He was very thin, Colin Shafer.  Very pale, almost milky- white, that lent to a ghostly presence. So thin, in fact, everyone thought the man was ill. Thus the words, “doctor” or “Health clinic” were a stepping stone to the man’s rising anger. Which immediately everyone who uttered those words, saw the smouldering fire in his eyes. He wore thick framed glasses that set on a regal nose. To be in the profession that Colin was in, at first glance, those in contact with him almost never take him serious. Well the glasses don’t help, but it’s his rather light and feminine demeanour that catches them off guard. And a lisp Colin refuses to hide.

He was in London to see Harry Cutter. Cutter sent word that he needed Shafer to collect some money from a local pornographer who hadn’t shared in the profits. Harry was sitting in a corner table at the pub Ghastly, a bit of business he’d just taken away from the Lydon family. He had one of the girls on his lap that frequently starred in the films he backed. She was a tall, leggy brunette that was encouraging Harry to run his nasty green fingernails across her tights. How she stayed on Harry’s lap was a miracle. The sixty-two year old geezer had no frame about his frail body.

In the background was one of Harry’s regular musclebound goons. He wasn’t anyone Shafer knew. The man in a turtle neck kept smirking at him at the same had his arms folded fronting the tough guy scene. Harry introduced them in a cautious way. Often men in his position do that to make sure no bad blood turns into a shootout.

“Colin,” They touched palms, not much of a handshake at all. “Good of you to come to London from the Black Country. Still following the Reds in Football?” Harry’s voice was booming if not ear piercing squawk.

“Cheers, Harry. Of course I still follow Liverpool. There is no other club in existence is there?” Shafer smiled slightly.

The goon snickered shook his head.

London couldn’t understand a damn thing they were saying.

“Colin, this is a cousin from the pond,” Harry said.

London did understand that. He stepped forward and offered his hand. Shafer looked at it as if London was London handed him a pile of shit. London put his hand in his pocket gave Shafer the cold stare back.

“What’s here for?” Shafer’s nostril flared.

“Be nice,” Harry ordered. A crooked finger pointed at Shafer. The nail at the end was green. The sight of it made London’s stomach. “If you try to start something, Colin, I’ll cut yer bleedin’ liver out and feed it to my dogs. You understand?”

Shafer eyed London. A huge grin made his lips curl up and his furry eyebrows lower in a V.

“Naw,” Shafer giggled. “Just jokin’ on you, Stuckey.”

“Stuckey? Where the fuck did that come from?” London raised both open hands to God to express dissatisfaction with moniker.  The room erupted in laughter. London was even more in the dark.

“Oh, that is sweet,” Harry wiped tears from his eyes. “Barry London is this fella’s name.”

“Caw. You poor soul,” Shafer smirked. “Your family really thought it right to call themselves after the worst fucking city in Europe? Tsk, tsk.”

“Anyways, Colin, he’s here to assist you with a little matter at hand.”

“Harry,” Shafer went cold again. “I don’t need another asshole in the equation. Especially a red, white and blue grease ball.”

“We’re going to get something straight you fuckin’ potato eater,” London took a step to meet up with Shafer again. “I ain’t no greaser from the Bronx. I’m from Jersey. And where I come from we eat pansies like you  and we don’t hang on to the dream that we wouldn’t have been speaking German if red, white and blue hadn’t our pale white asses!”

“Okay, okay. Enough of the tough talk and insults on each other’s heritage,” Harry bellowed. “In spite of Mr. London silly name and that he has his facts wrong about historical events, he is very competent. Colin here, is the same. You both are needed and I’m pretty fucking sure either of your bosses would be more than disappointed in both of you if this was fouled up.”

 

 

Colin gave him a cold stare as he sat in a chair across from Harry. The girl whispered in Harry’s ear, glanced at Shafer.

“He might be interested,” Harry whispered back. “I’ll ask him later, little girl.” He smacked her ass, and the girl rose up, smoothed her short green dress and sat at another table. “Colin, do you know Gerry? His my new assistant.”

“I haven’t had the pleasure,” Colin adjusted his glasses on his face.

“And you never will,” Gerry the goon said, snickered.

“Gerry,” Harry warned. “Colin is a trusted associate. He should treated with respect.”

Gerry made a slight noise, rolled his eyes. Shafer ignored the slight for the moment. He need to get on with the business at hand.

“Okay, Harry,” Shafer crossed his legs in the same form Harry’s girl had hers. “Get on with it. My Violet is in a play at school and I don’t want to miss it.”

“Little girl, get Colin a pint, will you?”  Harry said. He smiled at London. “Beer for you, alright?”

London shook his head no.

The girl jumped from her chair, swiftly sashed to the bar. Colin noticed she wasn’t wearing any shoes. She wasn’t barefoot, either. She wore an off-colour Tan and black tights. Then he remembered that almost none of Harry’s girls ever wore shoes. They always wore tights of some sort. Colin had a twinge of a smile at that fact.

Harry motioned for London to come closer. Gerry followed, even though he wasn’t called over. “Here it is Colin,” Harry leaned in as much as his hump back would let him. “I need you and Mr. London to do Tomlinson one.”

Colin nodded. “Still missing payments I see.”

“Worse now,” Harry scowled. “Mr. London’s employers need some film back. Tomlinson been putting the squeeze on for that film,” Harry paused, then snarled. Those tiny black eyes danced around in his ancient head. “That fucking twat has blabbed he’s too big for my help. Went to the Parker brothers for protection.”

“Can’t stand a backstabbing ponce.” Colin said.

Gerry broke into laughter. “Bollocks!” He cried out.

“The fuck did you say, Gerry? Do you fancy your job?” Harry used his big boy voice when he needed to mind the boys.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Cutter. I just can’t help me self. This,” Gerry pointed at Colin, laughed again. “This is a joke, eh? How’s this fairy and Yank going to handle a job like Tomlinson? If he’d done it right the first time, you’d have no problems with the beaver peeper.”

“Gerry, you are way out of line—” Harry stopped talking. He watched Colin rise slowly, unbutton his blazer. He knew it was too late. At that moment the girl walked across the room with a glass of pint on a tray.

“What are you going to do, you dick sucking queer,” Gerry unfolded his arms and motioned to swing first, but Colin already had swiped the glass from the tray, dowsing the girl in bitter. She screamed, danced a few steps back, looking down at her stained white blouse.

Some of the beer caught London on his shirt. London was not amused. He stepped toward Shafer, but soon realized Shafer was in a psychotic train of thought. His eyes huge, transfixed on Gerry, and the veins connected to the dilated pupils had become fire red. London stepped out of Shafer’s way just in time.

Shafer smashed the glass across the right side of Gerry’s head. Gerry swung in spite of the pain and one large shard of glass embedded in his skull.  The girl screamed again, ran into the game room.

Shafer ducked, parried, and gave Gerry swift kick in the balls. Then two hard punches in the midsection.  Gerry welled up. Blood ran down his face and intertwined with tears. Gerry coughed, eyes bulging out. He tried to find his composure, staggered instead. Shafer reached up to the man towering over him and dashed his fist quickly into Gerry’s Addams apple. Gerry gurgled, fell hard to the floor. He made no attempt to get up.

Shafer buttoned his blazer back, turned to Harry. “Sorry about the mess, Harry.”

Harry sighed. He never once moved from his chair. He knew neither man would dare touch him, either accidently or accidently on purpose.

London was impressed. He glared at Shafer, grinning. He choked back laughter.

“Don’t sweat it, Colin. I’ve got people to clean this up,” Harry meant “those people” was Gerry.

“I think I’ll pay our Mr. Tomlinson a visit. Have a drink with him,” Shafer said. “Come on then, Stuckey,” he quick-stepped to the door, and said in probably the worst American accent ever uttered: “We got a job to do.”

****

It was a rather nice house where Dickey Tomlinson did his films and magazines. As a pornographer, one would be led to believe he lives in an attic above his mother’s bedroom. It was a four bedroom house that once was a semi-detached.  It was in a cul-de-sac, but the house on either side were empty. Most likely squatters lived in the other houses.

Shafer scoped the place. He noticed Tomlinson didn’t have his usual guards around. That was the reason Harry London go with Shafer. London was impressed Shafer knew how to get in and out of places with no fuss. Most guys he teamed up with were morons and usually set off the alarms. They discussed several ways of getting in and all of them sounded reasonable.

Something was definitely off about this situation.

Shafer noticed the back door was left slightly ajar, which was odd. He kept one hand on his .38 as he pushed the door open gingerly with his shoe. He walked in slowly, angled to the right and stood against the wall. London followed, his Glock in his hand. He angled to the left and braced the wall.

They saw a tall, gangly man in his early fifties in a blond wig that resembled a Beatle wig, only longer. He was in a track suit with the pants around his ankles. There was girl, very young, sitting beside him, with her hands in his crotch. To the right, sitting on bean bag was Tomlinson. He was laughing, speaking in his thick Welch accent, almost garbled. To the left was a Police officer sitting on an ottoman, laughing in a high pitched voice, as if it were sped up on a tape.  He had his trousers down around his ankles as well. His cap covered his crotch and he kept saying he wanted to play peek -a -boo with the young girl.

Shafer didn’t know how old she was, he guessed seventeen, but he wasn’t sure. He did know that he was sickened by what he witnessed, and by the moment, he could feel his blood boil. His anger reached its peak when he recognized the man on the couch getting a hand job from the young girl.

The man had been on British television for nearly forty years. Usually hosting a top rated music show that counted down the country’s biggest hits, having the singers and bands perform those hits seemingly live (which they didn’t play live) in front of an audience of screaming teenagers and young adults. The man also hosted a very popular Saturday morning children’s show where he would enter a child’s home and promise to give the child anything desired.

To London, it was all so surreal. He was flabbergasted at what he was seeing. He moved his eyes Shafer’s way as if to ask for instructions. Shafer had already made his decision. Shafer dashed from around the corner, his .38 aimed in the direction of all three men.

“You dirty fuckers!” He said through clenched teeth.

Tomlinson gasped, slid to the floor and hid behind the bean bag. The cop dropped his cap, exposing his very small genitals. He clamoured for the radio attached to his vest, but he was only able to pick up static. London appeared on the right side of Shafer. He fired once.

The top of the police officer’s head exploded. A massive goo of brain particle. Blood danced in the air around him and landed on the framed painting of Queen Elizabeth II. The girl screamed, her eyes were wild and hands flew up to cover them. She kicked her legs and screamed again in a panic. Suddenly, she hopped to her feet and grabbed her coat. She ran past Shafer and went out the backdoor.

A short, fat man in a silk robe came charging out of the bathroom brandishing a shotgun. He fired at Shafer and London. The blast missed them by a mile, and took a chunk of the crown moulding above their heads. Shafer recoiled slightly, caught his balance and fired twice. Both bullets ripped through the man’s neck. He fell to the floor, flopped a few times like a fish out of water. He groaned loudly until it became his last attempt at catching his breath.

 

The tall man was in shock, breathing irregular. “L-look…we can work this out can’t we…I’ll pay you twenty-five thousand—“

“You dirty fucker,” Shafer replied. “Shouldn’t you be on POP IDOL or that fucking annoying kids’ show my daughter watches, JIMMY’LL GET YA ANYTHING?”

“Please. I-I have so much to offer…” The tall man turned on the water works, fake sobbing. Shafer could always tell when a man was legitimately afraid for his life or just a liar. The tall man was a liar.

“I’ll bet you say that to all little girls, don’t you? You dirty fucking git.”

Suddenly a lamp flew past London. He dodged it just in time. It came from Tomlinson’s direction, who was bent over from a piss-poor throw. London fired, a bullet caught Tomlinson in the thigh. Tomlinson howled in pain, beat his fist on the wood floor.

Shafer turned and found the tall man going out the window, his round belly getting caught, his legs bucking, knocking over a book case. Shafer fired. The bullet caught the tall man in the left cheek of his ass. He howled like a wounded animal, slithered through the window.

Shafer cursed under his breath. He ran to window, aimed, and decided not to cause more of a ruckus than he already had. The tall man was running, stopped and limped, then started running down the street. He jumped inside an open door of a van. The van coughed, sped away.

“Caw,” Shafer said. “He’s fast for an old geezer.”

Shafer heard the kettle whistle. He looked toward the kitchen, then at Tomlinson. Tomlinson was laying on the floor, trying to crawl to a desk, where he probably had a weapon of some kind. At the rate Tomlinson was going, Shafer had time to get the kettle.

“Would you like a cup of tea?” He asked London.

London snickered. “I’d love a cup.”

“Right away, Governor.” Shafer went into the kitchen.

London walked over to where Tomlinson was. He placed his shoe on Tomlinson’s wounded thigh, applied just enough pressure. Tomlinson screamed.

“What do you want?” He moaned. His accent was not so hard to understand after all.

“You have a film we want,” London said.

“Which one….you shit heel. I have over five thousand—-”

“One you haven’t converted to digital yet.”

“How….how did you know about that one? I haven’t even had a chance to look at it. That was all you wanted? I would’ve sold it to you.”

“I’m sure you would have,” London said. “But my employer doesn’t like being squeezed for money.”

“For that film?” Tomlinson looked at London incredulously.

“Are you using others for black mail?”

“That’s a dumb fucking question. Yes! Jesus, take your foot from my leg!”

“Where’s the film?”

“On my desk,” Tomlinson pointed. London searched his desk. He found the dusty grey-silver can shaped like a wheel. Tomlinson kept talking while London looked through piles of photos of celebrities engaged in all kinds of activities they wouldn’t want their mothers to know about.

“I haven’t even had a chance to give it to my staff so I can look at it. Look,” Tomlinson continued.  He limped to a chair and sat. “I’m not asking for any money for this film. More than likely I wouldn’t even upload it to the internet. I’m a collector of vintage porn. If anything comes in with a can, I have my staff prepare it for my own viewing experience, then I store it away in my vault.”

Shafer appeared with an electric kettle.

“I bet you would like a cup,” Shafer said to Tomlinson.

“No, no, no…please…..” Tomlinson begged. He began to tear up.

“Hey,” London chuckled. “Come on. You don’t do that.”

“Am I fucking talking to you?!” Shafer screamed.

“I’m trying to tell you there’s no reason to torture anymore—-”

Shafer cut off London. “Don’t stick your finger in my shit!”

“We got the film,” London told him.

“I don’t have the money he owes, now do I!”

“It’s in the safe!” Tomlinson offered up quickly. He pointed to a vintage nude framed picture of Bridgette Bardot. “Behind the picture. A wall safe. The numbers are 32 left, 23 right, 35 left,” Tomlinson shrugged. “Bridgette Bardot’s measurements,” he tried to smile.

Shafer set the electric kettle on a side table and went to the picture. He blew Bridgette Bardot a kiss before he opened the picture like a cabinet door. He turned the tumbler on the safe to the numbers exactly as he was told. The safe door popped open. There inside the grey metal cabinet, were twenty stacks of bills with the picture of the Queen on them.

One gunshot was heard. One bullet pierced Tomlinson’s skull.

He fell back in his chair, hunched to the left and slumped down. Blood splatted the wall behind him. The gunshot came from an open window and from a rifle. London and Shafer fell to the floor. Two more shots were fired, both bullets Struck Bridgette Bardot in the face, leaving two very large holes.

London rolled across the floor and over to the open window. He stuck the barrel of his glock out the window and fired twice. He someone scream. A rifle slid off the roof of the semi-attached, fell to the paved street below. London saw a middle-aged man with gnarly hair trying to keep from falling off the roof.

The man was holding on to a gutter with one hand, kicking at the shingles. He also hand the other hand holding his left side, trying to keep the bleeding to a minimum. He was failing at both tasks. Just as London was ready to climb out the window, the man fell. A stressed scream was pinched off when impact intruded.

Shafer was the first out the backdoor, then London. The rifle lay about ten feet from the man. It was an old hunting rifle, a bolt action Holland with a sight barely mounted on. London wondered why anyone dumb enough to shoot at people would use such a weapon. That question was posed to the man, who lay on his back, injuries visible by the gash on top of his head and the way his limbs were crumpled like a bawled up piece of paper.

“What’s this, then?” Shafer knelt on one knee. There was a little bit of humanity in his voice.

“Colin….” The man croaked. “Haven’t seen you in a dog’s age. Where’ve you been keeping?”

“Infiltrating the royals. I’ve been cleaning Harry’s shoes for the last three years.”

The man squeezed out a laugh. We heard sirens in the distance. London saw an ambulance out on the main road turning into the gated community. Three police cars were following. Strange how the cops didn’t come quicker. But then again, that tall man Shafer shot in the ass, more than likely owned the local boys. Not too different from the states.

“Better hurry,” London said. “Cops right around the corner.”

“Why take a shot at us?”

“I wouldn’t have, if I knew it was you Colin. I owe Harry. In bed for three and can’t even pay the rent. Ahhh…damn the horses.”

Shafer was enraged, at least for a moment. London saw it on his face. Shafer grit his teeth.  “Well, old boy, you’ll be with Gwen now. Once Harry’s gang find out you didn’t do me in, they’ll be in your hospital bed, administrating their own medicine.”

“Only fitting,” the man chuckled. “I’ve been a bastard all my life.”

****

They went back to Harry’s.

Shafer knew something was wrong. No one was guarding the building’s entrance. They went down the hallway. They saw blood smeared on the walls. They moved down the hallway a little ways and there were five body’s lying on top of each other in a corner. The guards.

Shafer and London moved on to Harry’s suite. Harry was lying face down. Shafer turned him over. Harry had been shot in the neck and chest. Shafer was broken up. He sobbed hard. He leaned in and whispered something in Harry’s ear.

London heard someone in the closet. He opened the door quickly and brandished his glock. Harry’s girl was in there, hiding behind the coats. She was terrified. London offered her a hand. She reluctantly accepted.

She hugged London, and immediately wept. London was caught off guard, but realized the right thing to do was to hug her back and console her. London looked over at Shafer. He was sitting in a chair, taking Harry’s death pretty hard. London guessed Shafer was thinking of all the time Old Harry helped Shafer out.

“Who did this?” London asked her, once she got herself together.

As soon as the question was posed, the girl’s head exploded. Blood covered London and the realization that he was holding a dead person came to him seconds later. London let her slip from his arms and slide to a crouching position between his legs.  In clear view, was Gerry, the barrel of his .45 smoking.  Gerry laughed maniacally.

Pure anger intruded London’s brain. He charged Gerry. Gerry was not prepared for a fight. He fired once and the bullet grazed London’s cheek. Adrenaline and anger fuelled his charge, London didn’t even feel the pain. He took hold of Gerry’s arm pulled it the opposite direction. There was a snap and Gerry cried out, dropped the .45.

London kicked Gerry in the midsection. Gerry doubled over and whinged. London picked up the .45 and slapped Gerry across the cheek. He fell backwards. London pushed the barrel in Gerry’s face. He was ready to pull the trigger when he heard Shafer speak.

“Don’t do it,” Shafer put a hand on London’s wrist, pushed away his aim slightly. “We can use Gerry.”

“Use him? Don’t you want to kill him for what he did?”

“I put the idea in his head. I told him he should clean house, take over. Harry was getting on. He could run things better,” Shafer said.

You had him kill….. Harry and that innocent girl?” London was taking it all in. “Harry was your mentor!”

Shafer bit his lower lip. “Harry was very kind to me growing up, that is true,” Shafer nodded. “Harry was also a rat.”

London found all of it too much to take. He sat in a chair, hung his head. “It was Harry I was supposed to shadow.”

“The old git was working with Interpol. Harry had been caught in that under-age sex ring last year. The girl…well, she was an Interpol agent—” Suddenly there was a pained expression on Shafer’s face. “You thought it was me?”

“I was told it was you,” London said.

Shafer tossed the .45 at London’s feet. “I’m not capable of that kind of betrayal.” Shafer walked out, slamming the door.

London heard voices outside Harry’s building. He knew it was Interpol. He picked up the .45, went over to Gerry. Gerry immediately began to beg for his life. London handed the gun to him. “You’re gonna need this, asshole.”

London left by the backway, same as Shafer.

Bio: Mark Slade has appeared in Weirdbook #32, Startling Stories, Switchblade magazine, and other publications. He is the author of Blackout City Confidential, Book of Weird, and A six gun and the Queen of light. Coming up, Close to the Bone Publications will release Witch for Hire and Mr. Zero. He also writes and produces the audio drama Blood Noir that airs on Para-X Radio. He lives in Williamsburg, VA with his wife and daughter.

Poetry: Truman Capote’s brownstone by James Walton

Truman Capote’s brownstone

Holly’s voice

fingers digging between ribs

the one-eyed cat’s

zig zag troupe

 

the shower running

 

after the call up

rooms full of old grey white men

in avalanche

interring country and western songs

 

a guitar taut as strung throats

 

no one’s Fred

callow as a phone booth at Joe Bell’s

should have listened sooner

a false note on every dollar

 

in old Spanish towns they believed

blindness gave voice a tone

birdcage on a sidewalk

 

a marmalade rescue

warming a window

 

awash in a cul de sac

 

our histories gutter up

perhaps for snow or fire

the past best kept as fine china

Jim portrait headBio: James Walton was a librarian, a farm labourer, a cattle breeder, and mostly a public sector union official. He is published in many anthologies, journals, and newspapers. He has been shortlisted for the ACU National Literature Prize, the MPU International Prize, and the James Tate Prize.

His poetry collections include The Leviathan’s Apprentice, Walking Through Fences, and Unstill Mosaics (forthcoming). He is now old enough to be almost invisible.  He lives in the old coal mining town of Wonthaggi, Australia.

Reflections/Iceberg Slim – Record review by Michael A. Gonzales

a7fb1231ac3ab5b5f2f3ee22d72cb147Living in Harlem in the early 1970s, my father’s apartment on 7th Avenue and 123rd Street was upstairs from an infamous Harlem bar known as The Shalimar. Glancing out of daddy’s fourth-floor window on a Friday or Saturday night, it wasn’t uncommon to see rows of brightly hued Cadillac’s lined-up from corner to corner with their equally flashy owners hanging in front of their rides before parading inside the lounge. In the beginning I had no idea who these dudes were, but after seeing the blaxploitation classic The Mack when I was ten, I realized that the rainbow coalition of sharp dressed men were pimps.

In addition to providing the world with an underrated Willie Hutch soundtrack album, The Mack provided a window into a world of vice that regular folks (i.e. squares) knew little about and inspired more than a few wayward souls. Still, a few years would pass before I realized that The Mack, as well as other pimp films The Candy Tangerine Man and Willie Dynamite, were partly inspired by Iceberg Slim’s bestselling memoir Pimp: The Story of My Life.

Originally released in 1967 from Los Angeles based pulp publisher Holloway House, the book’s author, whose real name was Robert Beck, was a former gentleman of leisure, a devilish man from Chicago who relocated to the city of angels to restart his life and spend time with his mother in her dying days. Working as an exterminator by day, he and his wife Betty (he dictated as she typed) worked on Pimp at night and sold it to Holloway House for the small fee of $1,500. Pimp would go on to sell millions, though it wasn’t sold in bookstores, but was instead marketed in urban candy stores, gas stations, record shops and head shops throughout Black America. In 51-years, the book has never gone out of print, and has served as an influence on varied creative artists including artist Fab Five Freddy, rapper Ice-T and author Irvine Welsh.

R-12238619-1531175215-6727.jpeg

However, since Slim wasn’t making much loot from his gritty literary efforts, in 1976 he teamed-up with his saxophone playing buddy Red Holloway, whose band performed nightly at the Parisian Room. Holloway helped him get a record deal with Ala Enterprises, a subsidiary of the African-American comedy album folks Laff Records. The end result of their collaboration was the album Reflections, recently reissued from Modern Harmonic, a strange, but aurally enticing one-off that featured Iceberg reciting what is known as hustler toasts, a type of ghetto poetry that was popularized on street corners and prison yards, two places Slim knew a lot about from his hardcore life.

Although some critics think that Reflections inspired gangta rap, truthfully it was the toasting tradition itself, as well as Slim’s books, that inspired the genre more so than that record.  On Reflections, Slim dropped lyrical jewels about wicked whores (“The Fall”), his own dying mother (“Mama Debt”) and a sharp dressed pimp who becomes a shabby heroin addict (“Broadway Sam”), Holloway’s quartet supplied the laidback grooves of easy listening soulful jazz that blends perfectly with the rhythm of Iceberg’s velvety voiced speech patterns. On “Broadway Sam” we hear a hint of the Drifter’s 1963 hit “On Broadway” played on guitar while on the “The Fall” we get a taste of Holloway’s smoky sax, but the musical solos on Reflections only last a few beats before Iceberg slides in and starts talking about sin again.

Reflections sounds a little dated, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. A natural born shit talker, Slim’s voice is hypnotic, but he doesn’t rush through his words as he patiently schools us lames about the pimping game that he never tries to glamorize. “You know the price when you’re dealing vice,” Iceberg says coldly on the opening track. But certainly if you don’t, you going to learn tonight.

Bio: Harlem native Michael A. Gonzales has published short fiction in Brown Sugar (Random House), Bronx Biannual (Akashic Books), Crimefactory and Needle: A Magazine of Noir. He lives in Brooklyn.

Fiction: Hank Williams’ Cadillac by Richard Wall

HWC

It didn’t happen. You haven’t seen me.

It was my buddy, Stu, who came up with the idea.

My name’s Vince, and when this story began, Stu and me, we were 19 year-old high-school drop-outs and occasionally reformed stoners sharing a broke-down, drunk-leaning, leaky old double-wide on a third-world trailer-park in a small town in Nowhere, Texas.

Sometimes in life you don’t know where you’re headed until you reach that point where you lift your head, take a look around, and then have to decide if that’s really where you want to be.

Somehow Stu and me ended up in entry-level jobs at Walmart. That was two years ago.

Need I say more?

Notwithstanding our ongoing education from life and the internet – majoring in popular culture and low animal cunning – two years of the real world made us realise that maybe we should’ve made more of an effort at school.

As a fat man once said, “It is what it is.”

It was late one Sunday evening, both of us dreading the prospect of another year-long week at the nowhere branch of a multinational retailing corporation, when Stu experienced a bong-inspired epiphany that he and I would join the US Marines. All we had to do, he said, was serve long enough to qualify for a college education, get ourselves a degree and then all our dreams would come true.

“Well, hell,” I said. “That’s pretty random, let’s do it.”

We had nothing to leave behind, Stu’s mom was dead, and mine was in jail, partly for dealing in meth-amphetamines and Oxycontin, but mostly for trying to kill me (but that’s a story for another day), and so we were raring to go, both of us excited to embark on this next stage of our lives.

Anyway, as a kind of last hurrah to civilian life we decided to set out to explore the back roads of the Texas boondocks and see if we could get some anecdotes under our belts before the maelstrom that we knew would befall us at Boot Camp.

We’d heard horror stories from “One-eyed Joe”, an enigmatic Marine Corps veteran with a drink problem and a kickass record collection, who lived three trailers down from us.

Joe told us he was part Navajo; and wore a tattoo that said ‘Semper Fi’, and was never seen without a USMC baseball cap that crowned a waist-length, silver-grey pony tail. He also wore a dime-sized puckered scar just below his right shoulder, and a patch over his left eye, both of which he told us he got in 1968 at a place called Khe San.

Joe said he’d always been lucky.

Once our enlistment day at San Diego was finalized, we organized the road trip and set out in Stu’s 30 year old, shit-box Honda Civic – he’d christened it “Brian”, after Brian Wilson, because ‘Little Honda’ was his favourite Beach Boys song.

What can I say? When it comes to music, Stu is a borderline savant.

Anyhoo.

Day one passed without incident, culminating in a night spent first in a strip bar (thanks to a couple of forged IDs), and then in a dive bar next to a sleazy motel at a down-at-heel truck-stop, where Stu got lucky with a rinsed-out waitress called Irene.

We set off on day two, nursing weapons-grade hangovers. Around midday we came across the Cadillac Ranch on the I-40 just outside Amarillo. Stu slowed the car so we could pay homage to ten Cadillacs half-buried nose-deep in a field, and then informed me that the cars were positioned at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

“Why, that’s fascinating, Stu,” I said.

“Well, fuck you, Vince,” said Stu.

Once past the art installation, he tuned into a country music station playing Johnny Cash back to back, cranked up the music and buried his right foot. I fell asleep soon after.

When I woke up, we were driving in thick fog, immersed in a swirling cloud that coated the Honda in moisture that the windshield wipers struggled to clear. Soon after; the radio packed up, and then, crawling at ten miles per hour, the Honda suddenly lurched as the engine began making a clank-thump noise that sounded to me like a mechanical death rattle.

The car stumbled onwards, black exhaust-smoke staining the fog behind us.

“Shit,” said Stu. “The temperature gauge is off the scale.”

“How long’s it been like that?” I said.

“Beats me, dude.”

Great.

“We may as well keep it going,” said Stu. “If we stop, we may not get it started again.”

I had no argument with that and so we limped along for a while, wincing at the sound of mechanical carnage taking place deep inside the Honda’s engine.

Eventually the fog began to disperse; thinning at first to reveal brief glimpses of a deserted Texas landscape, and then clearing completely as we approached a green road sign with serious gunshot wounds, and defaced and weather-beaten lettering that put me in mind of the last words of a dying man:

“Welcome to Rambling.” It read.

“Where the holy fuck is Rambling?” said Stu.

My iPhone said ‘No Service’, so I opened the glove compartment.

“What are you looking for?” said Stu.

“A road atlas?” I said.

“Dude, seriously?”

Just as we passed the road sign the Honda backfired and then rolled silently to halt at the side of the road, steam erupting from beneath the hood like the passing of its soul.

D.R.T. Dead Right There.

“Well,” said Stu. “That’s the end of this suit.”

We got out of the car. Behind us, the road converged to a shimmering vanishing point. Ahead of us sprawled a handful of tired-looking buildings, the closest of which was a used car lot, about a fifty yards away and bedecked with sun-faded and wind-tattered red, white and blue bunting that hung limply in the still morning air.

“I’ve still got no service,” I said. “Let’s go see if we can use their phone to call Triple-A.”

“Triple-what?” said Stu.

Stuffing the Honda’s keys in the back pocket of his jeans, he gave me a shit-eating grin as he donned fake Oakley wraparounds (a dollar-ninety-nine from Walmart), and then patted me on the shoulder. “It’s all good, bro’,” he said. “Maybe they got a mechanic who can fix us up?”

“Good luck with that,” I said.

We set off towards the used car lot, Stu leading the way. As we drew closer, he whistled.

“Holy shit,” he said. “Those are some sweet, sweet rides.”

He was right. Every single automobile in the lot was an American classic. Ford Model B Coupes, Chevrolets with gleaming fenders, Cadillacs with sweeping fins. It was a cornucopia of chrome and whitewall tires. All the cars were in mint condition and not one was made after 1967.

At the front of the pack was a powder blue 1952 Cadillac convertible with Alabama plates. The roof was down and as we approached, a large crow settled on the top of the windshield, flapped its wings a couple times, folded them and then tilted its head to one side, its beady eyes tracking us as we wandered around.

Stu checked out the license plate. “No way,” he said.

“What?”

“This looks like Hank Williams’ car.”

“Hank Williams?” I said. “The country singer, Hank Williams?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you serious?”

Stu took a breath. “I seen a picture of him sitting in a car just like this, and I recognise the license plate.”

“Bullshit.”

“Dude,” he said. “How many powder blue Cadillac convertibles do you think were registered in Alabama in 1952?”

The crow lifted its wings and then settled, its head to one side, staring intently at Stu.

“That means nothing,” I said.

Stu shook his head, grinning like a maniac.

“This is it, man. I’m telling you. This is Hank Williams’ Cadillac.”

“He ain’t wrong,” rasped the crow.

Stu and I did a comedy double-take and “WTF’d” simultaneously.

“He ain’t wrong.”

The bird spoke with a sandpaper voice that put me in mind of Tom Waits after a night smoking Lucky Strikes.

Stu looked at me. “You heard that, right? Tell me you heard that.”

“A talking bird,” I said. “Well, shit just got weird.”

The crow dipped its head a couple times, and then flapped its wings as it skittered for a few steps, lifted into the air, turned a 180, dropped back onto the windshield and then nodded towards the rear seat.

“Hank Williams croaked right there,” it said.

Both Stu and I peered into the back of the Caddie. In the foot well lay a few beer cans and handwritten notes on scraps of paper.

“Mah associate is right.”

Startled, I turned to see a tall, thin white man who looked about 60. He had thin, wispy hair, a white goatee, and wore a cream suit that had seen better days. He was sweating profusely and wiped his face several times with a large white handkerchief.

“Somewhere near Oak Hill, West Virginia, Hank Williams took his last breath, right on that back seat.”

“D.R.T.” said the crow. “Dead Right There.”

The old guy’s shabby appearance, and measured, polite southern accent put me in mind of a plantation owner who was down on his luck. Yet the glittering hardness and intensity of gaze from his steely blue eyes as they locked onto mine, raised hairs on the back of my head.

He extended his hand. “They call me Bubba,” he said. “And this here’s my car lot.”

My mind was still trying to process the talking bird, but I heard myself ask, “Where exactly are we, sir?”

Bubba winked. “You seen the road sign, son. This here’s Rambling.”

“Well, we’re kinda lost,” I said. “And our car’s broke down. Can you maybe show us where are on a map?”

Bubba laughed once, and then gave a wink that made me shiver. “Oh, we ain’t on no map, son.”

“Well then, is there any place nearby that can take a look at our car?”

“All in good time, son,” he said. “All in good time.”

He turned to Stu. “I can see you are a man of discernment.”

“That is one sick car, my man,” said Stu.

“Interestin’ choice of words.”

Bubba gave another wink that walked over my grave.

“How much?” said Stu.

“Stu…” I began.

Bubba flashed me a look and then stepped between us.

“How much for what, son?” he said.

“This car,” said Stu. “How much?”

“That depends, son. How bad do you want it?”

Stu shook his head. “Are you kidding me? It’s a mighty fine automobile, an’ I’m fairly certain I cain’t afford it, but I’m kinda interested to know by how much.”

I tried to step around to get to him, but Bubba placed a fatherly hand across Stu’s shoulder and maneuvered them both to a position that put their backs to me.

“Well,” said Bubba. “In my experience, if you want something bad enough, then you’ll find a way to afford it.”

“You’ll find a way,” rasped the crow.

“Stu, we need to get going.” I raised my voice, partly to get his attention, but mostly to hide the tremor of apprehension that hummed through my body.

I failed on both counts.

Bubba turned and gave me a terrible smile. “Son, your friend and I are in a business discussion, and besides, you ain’t got a car. Where you gonna go? Now, we got a lotta fine automobiles in this lot, why don’t you take a walk around and check ‘em out?”

He turned his back on me and resumed inaudible muttering.

“Take a walk,” rasped the crow.

Using up the last of my false bravado, I flipped the bird to the bird and then turned away. I reasoned that there was no way Stu was going to be able to afford to buy the Cadillac, so I may as well take a look around until he came to his senses.

I caught sight of an old car that looked to be from the 1920s. Up close it turned out to be an old Packard. Its square, wooden body looked like it belonged in a black and white gangster movie. Behind the Packard was a midnight blue Lincoln convertible with DC plates. Like the Caddie, the top was down, and at 20 feet long it was a whale of a car, with three rows of seats.

As I wandered around the lot, distracted by thoughts of talking birds, something about the random collection of cars sparked a glimpse of recognition, something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Whatever.

I looked around. Bubba and Stu were nowhere to be seen, and I was about to head towards an old Porsche that I had spotted, when I heard voices.

At the rear of the lot was a small, single-storey office-building that I hadn’t noticed before. I walked across to it, and glanced through the open door. Bubba was standing over Stu, who was sitting at a cheap wooden desk, holding a fountain pen and sucking a blood-smeared finger.

“Don’t worry about that, son,” chuckled Bubba. “All we need is your signature.”

Bubba looked up, caught me staring and gave a grin that froze my heart. For the briefest of moments, I swear that his eyes flashed red and his mouth widened to reveal sharp pointed teeth, and then I blinked and Bubba was back to normal.

Whatever normal was.

“Your buddy scratched hisself,” he winked. “A little blood sure goes a long way.”

Documents signed, Stu slid his chair backwards, and as he stood up I caught a glimpse of a few red spots on and around the flamboyant scrawl of his signature.

Stu licked the tip of his finger as he replaced the cap on the fountain pen, returned it to Bubba and then turned, his shit-eating grin flashing wide as he spotted me. “I got it, Vince,” he said. “I got Hank Williams’ Cadillac.”

Standing behind Stu, Bubba looked directly into my eyes, gave a smirk that almost made me shit my pants, and then picked up a sheaf of documents and a set of car keys and handed them to Stu.

Stu thanked him and then winked at me. “C’mon man,” he said. “Let’s get our stuff.”

Putting his hand on my shoulder, Stu steered me out of the office, and once clear he leaned in close. “He’s taking my Honda,” he said. “Didn’t even want to look at it.” His eyes glittered. “My car, plus six-hundred bucks, and we’re driving away in a Cadillac.”

Stu’s grin stretched wider. “He even took a check for the six hundred and said she’ll be ready by the time we get our stuff together.”

I gave a half-hearted return to his fist-bump and followed him back towards his now previous car. My mind raced as I struggled to catch up with what had happened, words scrambling in my head as I attempted to give voice to the serious concern that I felt.

In the end the best I could come up with was a bad feeling that some heavy shit was about to go down.

Another shiver ran through me. I looked back over my shoulder, Bubba remained by the door of the office, his steel blue eyes locked onto me like a laser-sight.

I turned back and ran a little to catch up with Stu.     “What happened back there?” I said.

Stu sucked on his bleeding finger. “What do you mean?”

“How did you cut your finger?”

He thought for a moment. “You know? That was some weird shit. The dude gave me a fancy pen and as I took the cap off, something scratched my finger. It was like it hit an artery.” He paused, and then grinned. “Bubba said he didn’t expect me to sign it blood.”

A spoonful of vomit hit the back of my mouth and then burned down my throat.

“What about before?” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” I said. “When Bubba was showing you the car, he blocked me out and I heard him saying something, and…”

The words died on my lips. Saying them out loud made me feel stupid.

Stu shrugged. “After you walked away, we talked about the car. He said that it was meant for me, that I was meant to drive it.” Stu grinned. “At first I thought it was pure salesman BS, but then I kinda believed him, the car IS meant for me. It all kinda makes sense.”

“Sense?” I said. “We chance upon a car lot in Christ knows where, run by Colonel Sanders, who convinces you that you’re meant to be driving a ’52 Cadillac. Putting aside the matter of a fucking crow with a voice like throat cancer, in what dimension does any of this shit make any kind of sense?”

“Always with the negativity,” said Stu. “But that’s what I’m talking about. Bubba told me I deserve this car. With all the shit I’ve had to put up with, he said that it’s only right that I get something back.”

He put his hand on my shoulder. “It’s all good, Bro’,” he winked. “I got me a car, it’s as big as a whale and we’re about to set sail. Chill out, man, these are some righteous wheels, and we can road trip in style, now. Just think of the panties that are gonna drop when we roll into town driving this bad boy.”

“Stu,” I said. “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is?”

“No, I have not,” he said. “Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘my buddy is acting like a prissy little bitch because I secured the used-car deal of the century.’?”

“The deal of a lifetime,” rasped the crow.

Startled, both Stu and I spun around to see the crow observing us from the vantage point of Bubba’s left shoulder.

Insanely, I wondered if the bird had ever shit down Bubba’s back, and I had to bite my cheeks to quell hysterical laughter.

Ignoring me, Bubba smiled at Stu. “The Cadillac is good to go,” he said. “Thought I’d come and help y’all with your bags.”

A few minutes later we were heading out of the car lot. As we reached the exit, I saw Bubba start the Honda and drive it towards the entrance. Stu sounded the horn, gunned the engine, and gave a rebel yell as he swung the Caddie out onto the road, the big ol’ car twerking on its springs before straightening, and then leaping forward with a V8 roar as Stu gave it the juice.

“Oh MAN, listen to that motor.” Stu cupped his groin. “Yeah baby, we gonna get us some serious poon-TANG with this m’fucker. Know’m sayin?”

Now that we were driving away from Bubba I felt myself begin to relax.

“This is indeed,” I said. “One righteous automobile.”

It didn’t take long to blow out of the other side of town, and soon we were out in the Texas desert, barreling down a nowhere road that was straighter than a preacher and longer than a memory. Apart from distant hills, there were no landmarks, road signs or any sign of life. Just an asphalt scar bisecting miles of Texas scrubland.

Stu frowned and began to shift in his seat. “Something’s sticking in my ass,” he said.

Just as I was about give an obvious reply, Stu leaned to one side, slid his hand into the back pocket of his jeans and produced the keys to the Honda.

For the second time that day we both said, “What the fuck?”

“I thought you only had one set of keys?” I said.

“I do,” said Stu.

“Then how did Bubba start the Honda?”

“Not only that,” said Stu. “How the fuck did he start the Honda? I mean, that engine was dead, man.”

We drove on in silence, and then Stu said, “He must have had a master key or something, and maybe a car dealer’s trick to get the engine going.”

I could tell that Stu believed that about as much as I did, but in the absence of an explanation I gave a non-committal grunt. Better to leave it there.

After a few more miles of silence, Stu slapped the rim of the steering wheel. “Man, where the hell are we?”

I checked my phone. Still no service.

“Beats the hell outta me,” I said. “Just gotta keep going that way, I guess.”

“Anything on the radio?”

I shrugged, twisted the chrome knob on the dashboard, and shook my head at the static hissing from the speaker as I punched all the preset station buttons and wound the tuning needle from left to right and back again.

“Nope,” I said.

I switched off the radio, and then idly ran my fingers along the chrome trim and across the walnut panel. As I pushed the latch on the glove compartment, the lid dropped down and a plastic object skittered towards me.

“What the hell’s that?” said Stu.

I picked it up. “Looks like an eight-track,” I said.

“Do what now?”

“An eight-track cartridge,” I said. “Used to play music in the days before cassettes, CDs or iTunes.”

“No shit? Who’s on it?”

I turned the cartridge over, it was well-worn, the faded label barely legible. “Looks like a Hank Williams album,” I said.

“Hank Williams, you say? Would that be THE Hank Williams? Erstwhile owner of this fine automobile? Defence rests, your Honor. Well, what are you waiting for? Put it on, my man.”

Now, I could have sworn it wasn’t there when we first got in the car, but beneath the dashboard hung a bulky Motorola eight-track cartridge player. Switching it and the radio on, I pushed the cartridge into the slot. The hissing ceased and the hypnotic pedal steel and rhythm guitar intro to ‘Rambling Man’ burst out of the speakers.

For three and a half minutes, Stu and I were entranced by Hank Williams’ melancholic voice singing about how the sound of a freight train gives him itchy feet. The song finished, and after a brief pause, started again.

“Must be on repeat,” said Stu. “Put it on shuffle, let’s see what else is on there.”

“It’s a tape,” I said. “It just plays, there’s no shuffle. You can’t even fast forward.”

The song repeated three more times before we both had enough and I switched it off.

“Man, where ARE we?”

The road continued to stretch ahead of us, the landscape unchanged.

“You know,” said Stu. “Since we left Rambling, we ain’t seen no road signs, or buildings, or cars or people.”

I was about to reply when in the distance, what looked like a small wooden cross, planted by the side of the road, came into view. As we drew closer, it became clear that the cross was the first of six signs, painted red with white lettering, spaced at intervals of about a hundred yards, and which, when read in sequence made up a message.

Six more miles/you took the bait/signed in blood/accept your fate/enjoy the ride/Burma Shave

“Burma Shave?” said Stu. “Like in the Tom Waits’ song?”

“It was an old advertising campaign,” I said. “For shaving cream. They used to put up signs just like that along the road. I wonder what ‘six more miles’ means?”

“To the graveyard,” said Stu.

“What?”

“Six more miles to the graveyard, it’s a Hank Williams song.”

He paused. “And I signed in blood, what the fuck does that mean?”

I turned to Stu. “It probably means nothing,” I said.

He pointed ahead. “There’s some more signs.”

The Cadillac slowed as we approached them, Stu reading the words.

Too late now/too late to weep/you are the company/that you keep/enjoy the ride/Burma Shave

“Man, this is fucked up.”

“It’s just some old saying,” I said. “They probably used it because it scans across the signs.”

“Maybe.” Stu didn’t sound convinced, or look any less scared.

“Holy shit.”

Stu’s eye’s widened. I looked out of the windshield to see the horizon filled by a bank of black storm clouds that rolled and tumbled towards us, releasing a curtain of rain that drew steam from the hot asphalt.

The Caddie skidded to a halt. The torrential rain sounding like a standing ovation as it raced towards us. Stu stabbed a button and we heard the reassuring purr as the powered roof unfolded and closed over us just as the first fat raindrops hit the windshield and then pelted the roof with a sound like gravel pouring onto a tin roof.

Stu shook his head. “Where the fuck did this come from?”

“It’s just a storm,” I said. “It’ll pass over us.”

“That ain’t just no storm,” he said. “Look at the size of that mother-fucking cloud.”

I’d never seen Stu spooked like that. I slid across the bench seat and put my arm around his trembling shoulders. “Take it easy, man, I said. “It’s just a dumb old sign and a rainstorm. Hell, we’re gonna be US Marines, bro. Two weeks into Boot Camp at San Diego this is gonna seem like good times.”

He seemed to calm down. “I guess,” was all he said.

Stu put the Caddie in gear, and with the wipers barely keeping up with the onslaught of rain, we set off slowly along the road.

We drove in silence, and then I caught Stu staring intently at the dashboard.

“What’s up?” I said.

“I’m watching the odometer,” he said. “We’re about two miles away.”

“Away from where?”

Stu shrugged. “From whatever was six miles away from that sign.”

Stu frowned, and then sniffed. “Eww, gross. Have you unloaded? That stinks.”

I gagged as an unholy stench filled the car. “Dude,” I said. “That was not me.”

Rain hit the side of my face as I dropped the window to let in some air. It helped, but not much.

I felt the car slow and looked over at Stu. He had one hand holding his nose, his eyes lifting and dropping as he checked first the road ahead and then the odometer.

The Caddie pulled over and rolled to a halt.

“Why are you stopping?” I said.

“I’m not,” said Stu. “The car’s driving itself, look.”

He stamped on the throttle, mashing it to the floor several times. It made no difference, the Caddie’s engine idled briefly and then the glorious V8 rumble lapsed into silence.

“Way to go, Stuart,” I said. “You broke two cars in one day.”

Stu flipped the bird as rain continued to batter the car, the heavy clouds closing in, reducing visibility outside to only a few feet.

The stench grew stronger, now a foul taste soiling the back of my mouth. I gagged again, and then heard something move behind me. Stu heard it too, we both turned to look back and screamed in perfect unison with a thunderclap and a flash of lightning that illuminated the body of a man slumped across the rear seat.

The man shuffled to sit upright; his features hidden in the shadow of a battered Stetson hat, his skeletal form draped in what looked like the tattered remains of an ornate country and western stage costume.

Another lightning flash obliterated the shadows. The man looked around and then leaned back into the seat as if to get comfortable. Pausing for a second, he crossed his legs, raised a finger and tipped the Stetson to reveal desiccated skin stretched over the prominent cheekbones of a once-handsome face now gaunt with decomposition.

A thousand miles away, I heard Stu scream again as the man scratched his narrow, pointed nose, cleared his throat with a sound like a coffin lid being prised open, and then parted his thin lips in a macabre smile.

“Howdy boys,” he said. “My name’s Hank Williams. Now, which one of y’all bought my car?”

I choked back a gasp as the fetid breath carrying his words washed over me. Over the sound of the rain I heard a retch followed by liquid splatter and turned to see Stu leaning out of the door like a seasick passenger, his body convulsing in a post-vomit shudder.

Hank Williams winked at me. “That can happen,” he said. “Now start the car and drive about a hundred feet and turn into them gates up ahead.”

I stared at Stu, and Stu stared at me until Hank Williams broke the spell.

“Well go on, goddamit,” he said. “They’ll all be here soon.”

Stu’s hand shook as he fumbled and then turned the key. The V8 rumble reintroducing a brief sense of normality as the Cadillac moved forwards.

I looked over my shoulder just in time to see Hank Williams press a finger against the side of his nose and snort a bloated maggot from his right nostril.

“Who-all’s going to be here, sir?” My voice sounded small.

Hank Williams sniffed, paused, and then said, “The rest of ‘em.”

“Rest of who?” I said.

“All in good time, son,” said Hank Williams. “All in good time.”

I felt the Cadillac sway as it turned to the right, and then straightened to glide beneath a huge wrought-iron archway that stood at least twenty feet high, topped in large, ornate letters that spelled two words:

Rambling Cemetery

“Rambling?” I said, “We’ve been driving for like hours and we’re still in Rambling? How big is this place?”

“Oh, Rambling ain’t a place, son,” said Hank Williams. “Not as such, you could say it’s an existence, an actuality.”

The rain stopped as we passed through the arch, the clouds rolling away into the distance and leaving behind a freshly scrubbed blue sky.

“Drop the hood, son,” said Hank Williams. “Let’s get us some fresh air around here.”

Stu stopped the Cadillac, dropped the hood and then rolled forwards. The world was quiet save for the sound of the V8 and the crunch of tires on a tree-lined gravel track that stretched ahead for what looked like a quarter of a mile.

Hank Williams leaned forwards. “Up yonder, the track opens out to a big ol’ circle. Like a lollipop on a stick. Imagine it’s a clock and we’re driving up from the six. I want y’all to park at the twelve, facing back this way. You got that, son?”

Stu nodded, his face ashen.

Hank Williams relaxed back into the seat until Stu finished maneuvering and the car was pointed at the archway.

“Switch off the engine, son.”

Stu turned the key and the Cadillac fell silent. In the back, Hank Williams hummed a tune that collapsed into a racking cough and ended with something being spat out of the car and hitting the gravel with a sound that will live with me forever.

“Here they come,” said Hank Williams.

I looked up as a procession of automobiles turned into the cemetery and made their way slowly towards us, and it took me few seconds to realise that all the cars came from Bubba’s car lot.

The old Packard led the way, driving counter-clockwise around the circle, stopping in front of us, and then reversing to park about ten feet to our right.

“Bessie Smith,” mumbled Stu. “1937, on Highway 61, between Memphis, Tennessee and Clarksdale, Mississippi.”

I looked sideways, Stu was slumped low against the back of the bench seat, and locked into a classic thousand-yard stare.

“You OK, buddy?” I said.

“James Dean,” said Stu. “1955, Cholame, California.”

“Do what now?”

“James Dean,” he said. “Crashed at the junction of California State Route 46 (former 466) and California State Route 41.”

I looked out just in time to see a Porsche 550 Spyder, reversing to park on the other side of the Packard.

After that came a 1966 Buick Electra, which reversed next to the Porsche.

“Jayne Mansfield,” said Stu. “1967, Ringlet’s Bridge, between New Orleans and Slidell, Louisiana.”

Next to the Buick came a 1937 Cord Phaeton.

Slumped even lower in his seat, Stu stared at the steering wheel, his lower jaw slack, a pool of saliva building up behind his lip.

“Tom Mix,” he said, saliva drooling down his chin. “1940, Highway 80, Arizona.”

A 1950 Oldsmobile 88 pulled in.

Almost catatonic, Stu grunted, “Jackson Pollock. 1956, Springs, New York.”

The final car was the midnight blue Lincoln convertible. As it too took its place, Stu’s eyelids fluttered, his voice a faint whisper.

“November 29, 1963, Dallas, Texas. Hail to the Chief,” he said.

“Time to go, boys,” said Hank Williams, the Cadillac rocking gently as he climbed out.

“Go where?” I said.

Hank Williams walked around to the driver’s door. “Well son,” he said. “Things are gonna change, and we’re a-gonna leave.”

He placed his hand on Stu’s shoulder. “And this’n, he’s comin’ with us.”

I heard doors slamming and the scuffling of feet.

“He’s not going anywhere,” I shouted. “Get your fucking hands off of him.”

“It’s meant to be, son,” said Hank Williams. “He signed in blood.”

I lunged towards Stu, but a strong hand grabbed my arm and pulled me back. I looked up to see a tall man smiling down at me, he turned slightly as I tried to pull away and I saw that the right side of his head was missing, the gaping hole revealing an empty brain cavity.

As I began to scream, the man smiled and then spoke with high-class Boston accent.

“It’s meant to be, son,” he said. “Time to say goodbye.”

“Hail to the Chief,” giggled Stu, as Hank Williams helped him out of the car.

“Leave him alone,” I shouted. “Let him go.”

“Your friend’s going to be just fine,” said the man. “It won’t be long now.”

He released his grip on my arm, and then turned to follow Hank Williams.

“It’s meant to be, sugar.” I turned to see a one-armed black lady wearing a floral dress and a cloche hat. She had a kindly smile as she took my hand. “You friend gotta go now, honey,” she said. “Like the fat man said, ‘it is what it is, and it ain’t no more’n that.’”

She also turned and walked towards Hank Williams, who had led Stu to the centre of the circle, quickly surrounded by the occupants of the vehicles.

The crow landed on the windshield, “Time to go,” it rasped. “It’s meant to be.”

“Go fuck yourself,” I said.

“Aww now, there’s no need to be like that, son,” Bubba appeared from nowhere, stood by the door and leaned into the Cadillac. “It ain’t nothin’ personal,” he said. “Yo’ friend gotta come with us, and you gotta go back.”

“Back where?”

“From whence you came, son,” he said. “From whence you came.”

“What about Stu?”

“Like I said, he’s comin’ with us.”

“To where?”

“To where we’re going, which ain’t for you to know.”

He paused. “Things are gonna change, son. And you’re gonna leave.”

“I want to know where you’re taking Stu,” I said.

“We ain’t takin’ him nowhere. He comin’ with us, on account of it’s his time.”

“Fuck that, and fuck you.”

As I tried to climb out of the car, Bubba snapped his fingers.

The crow attacked before I had chance to react. I heard the flap of a wingbeat, felt talons rip at my flesh and then my eye erupted in a red mist. The noise was deafening, the crow screaming continuously as it attacked, and then lifted just out of reach before dive-bombing me again and again, from different directions and with a disorienting ferocity as it slashed, pecked and pummeled me.

I scrabbled for the door handle, fell out of the car, and grazed my hands as I scuttled across the gravel, stooping low as I tried to protect my head and neck from the frenzied aerial assault.

And then it stopped.

I heard a lonesome “screeee”, and saw a golden eagle circling high above me.

For a second all was still, and then the crow came in fast from the left, hitting the side of my head like missile. As I tried to fight it off, I saw the eagle’s wings fold and then I lost balance, tripped over and everything went black.

I don’t know how long I was out but when I came to, the cemetery was empty. Staggering to my feet, I swayed a little before my head cleared and then took stock. All the cars were gone and no one was around. I was alone, the back of my hands were cut to ribbons, my face felt sore and I could taste blood in my mouth. A few feet away a large black feather, its quill stained with congealed blood, ruffled in the light breeze.

I began to walk, crunching footsteps into the gravel as I headed out of the cemetery. When I reached the archway, I turned right and continued walking. The sun was low over the horizon and my shadow lengthened as I tramped along the side of the road.

After about a mile or so I came upon another bunch of signs.

All things pass/all hardships end/respect the memory/of your friend/enjoy the ride/Burma Shave

At the side of the road, a golden eagle stood over a black, feathered carcass. As I approached, it lifted its wings, flexed a huge talon, gripped the remains of the crow and lifted majestically into the air.  I stared after it until it disappeared and then I turned and watched the sky catch fire as the sun kissed the horizon. Overwhelmed with exhaustion, I lay down beneath the Burma Shave sign.

*****

I woke up hooked up to a machine in a hospital just outside Amarillo. The first thing the nurse told me was that I’d been in a coma for six weeks.

The second thing she told me was that Stu was dead. Apparently we were going at better ‘n eighty miles an hour when the Honda blew a tire. An eyewitness said the car rolled about a dozen times before it left the road. Stu died instantly, the same eyewitness said that he saw Stu’s body hanging out of the car, flopping like a rag doll each time the Honda went over. Someone said it took firefighters an hour to cut me out of the wreckage. They said the crash had shut the interstate for a whole day and made the TV news.

I was in hospital for another two weeks. On the day of my discharge, “One-eyed Joe” turned up to fetch me. Turns out, he’d phoned around all the hospitals in the area, and then called every day to check how I was.

When I thanked him, he smiled gently. “Semper Fi,” he whispered.

As we drove back in his old Chevy pick-up, two good eyes between us, Joe told me that on the day it happened, he’d seen us in a dream and had woken up to find himself gripping the remains of a dead crow.

Said his fingers were locked with cramp.

Said they hurt for days.

Said he’s been sober ever since.

I have no memory of the crash, and while I refuse to think about the manner of his death, Stu is never far away from my thoughts.

In my version of events he’s still somewhere out there, driving the back-roads of Texas, the hood down, wearing fake Oakley wraparounds, bopping his fingers on the steering wheel of Hank Williams’ Cadillac.

The End

IMG_8830Bio: Born in England in 1962, Richard grew up in a small market town in rural Herefordshire before joining the Royal Navy. After 22 years in the submarine service and having travelled extensively, Richard now lives and writes in rural Worcestershire.

His first short story, “Evel Knievel and The Fat Elvis Diner” (available on Kindle), was soon followed by “Five Pairs of Shorts” a collection of ten short stories, and another short story called ‘Hank Williams’ Cadillac’.

Richard has also collaborated with Hull musician, Andrew McLatchie (aka ‘Half Deaf Clatch’), writing a short story to accompany Clatch’s supernatural spaghetti-western concept album “Beelzebub Jones – A Good Day to be a Bad Guy”.
Richard’s stories reflect his life-long fascination with the dark underbelly of American culture; be it tales of the Wild West,  or the simmering menace of the Deep South, or the poetry of Charles Bukowski, or the writing of Langston Hughes or Andrew Vachss, or the music of Charley Patton, Son House, Johnny Cash, or Tom Waits.
A self-confessed Delta Blues music anorak, Richard embarked on a road trip from Memphis to New Orleans, where a bizarre encounter in Clarksdale, Mississippi inspired him to write his début novel, Fat Man Blues.

 

Brit Noir Films by Cathi Unsworth

Cathi USE THIS ONE - May 2015 - Credit Julian Ibbitson [at] www.ibbitsonphotography.co.uk.jpg

Pic (c) Julian Ibbitson.

Brighton_RockBrighton Rock (Boulting Brothers, 1947) Hard to imagine now, perhaps, but Richard Attenborough was perfectly capable of personifying evil and the first time he achieved it was in his seemingly effortless depiction of juvenile delinquent Pinkie in the first adaptation of Graham Greene’s peerless seaside noir. Ably abetted by a young William Hartnell, often a partner in the ‘Spiv Cycle’ of films that lasted from the post-War period to the late Fifties, the 23-year-old Dickie swaggers the boardwalks with a shiv up his sleeve and the gullible young Rose (Carol Marsh) on his arm, a baby-faced killer. The film’s ending may have departed from the book’s, at the behest of the British Board of Film Censors, but still retains a wholly fitting sense of disgust and darkest irony. The well-intentioned recent remake only makes you value this classic more.

 

italwaysrainsonsunday1It Always Rains on Sunday (Robert Hamer, 1947) Ealing Studios smash hit of the year was this adaptation of Arthur La Bern’s brilliant novel by doomed genius Hamer. The director’s favourite leading lady, Googie Withers, plays Rose Sandigate, a bored housewife whose mundane but safe world crashes around her when her ex-lover and now fugitive convict Tommy Swann turns up in the Anderson shelter at the end of her garden. Faithful to its source material, the film depicts the old Jewish East End with real veracity and there is further inspired casting of Sydney Taffler as spivvy bandleader Morry Hyams, John Slater as his brother Lou and Jack Dixon of Dock Green Warner as DS Fothergill. But the film belongs to the pairing of Withers with her real-life husband John McCallum as Tommy, risking it all for one backwards glance at what might have been.

 

they made me a fugitiveThey Made Me A Fugitive (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1947) Trevor Howard is far from the romantic lead that Brief Encounter has sealed in memory in Brazilian auteur Cavalcanti’s audacious noir. As Clem, a former RAF pilot unable to adapt to civilian life, he takes up with bad boy Narcy (Griffith Jones, King of the Spiv Cycle) who runs his empire from a funeral parlour, where the coffins come in handy for all sorts of things and the signs on the wall remind everyone: It’s later than you think… This being Britain, class war soon erupts between the two over Narcy’s plan to start dealing drugs, with the result of Clem being framed for murder, banged up in Dartmoor and forced to follow in Tommy Swann’s footsteps and become the titular jailbreaker, hell-bent on revenge. The performances of the two leads, Noel Langley’s darkly humorous script, Margery Saunders’ super-fast editing and Otto Heller’s intense cinematography all add up to a dark star of post-War cinema.

 

odd man outOdd Man Out (Carol Reed, 1947) Reed and cinematographer Robert Krasker made dramatic use of the city of Belfast to tell the story of the last journey of IRA man Johnny McQueen (James Mason), from city centre heist-gone-wrong to docklands denouement. The doomed man’s progress is seen through the eyes of the children who find him hallucinating in a bomb-shelter with a bullet in his guts; the English nurses who try and patch him up in their terraced parlour; the cabbie who unknowingly gets him past the cops; and the drinkers in the wonderful Crown Bar (landlord: William Hartnell). The surreal beauty of the piece is further heightened by the performances of stalwart Irish actors FJ McCormick as the wily bird-seller trying to profit from Johnny’s plight, WG Fay as his humane counterpoint Father Tom and Robert Newton as the mad artist who wants to paint the last moments of a dying man – inside a crumbling mansion, while snow falls through the roof. In all, it can be safely said that 1947 was a hell of a year for British film noir.

 

ThirdManUSPosterThe Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) The second outing in this list for Reed, cinematographer Krasker and writer Graham Greene is a film which continues to haunt nearly 70 years after its release, a pitch-perfect depiction of bombed-out Vienna and its literal underworld in the aftermath of World War II. There is so much alchemy in this production it is hard to know where to start. Does its magic lie in the casting of Austrian actors Paul Hörbiger, Enrst Deutsch, Siegfried Breuer, Erich Ponto and the octogenarian Hedwig Bleibtrau, all allowed to speak in Viennese dialect with no dubbing or subtitling? The distinctive zither theme by Anton Karas, discovered by chance, playing for tips in a Viennese café? Perhaps it’s the climactic chase through the sewers? The veracity of Greene’s plot about a penicillin racket run by charismatic psychopath Harry Lime, a man based upon the author’s former MI5 spymaster Kim Philby? Or Orson Welles as Harry, appearing from the shadows with a smile upon his lips? What do you think, old man?

 

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The Blue Lamp (Basil Dearden, 1949) Prompted by the murder of Alec D’Antiquis, shot in cold blood by a gang of robbers in 1947, this film tapped into public fears of a London rife with ‘cosh boys’ armed with the weapons that were so easily available after the War. Dirk Bogarde plays Tom Riley, a dark, unknowable young sadist – the sort of role he excelled at. Trying to keep the streets safe from this likes of him is Jack Warner as avuncular PC George Dixon and Jimmy Hanley, his youthful protégée, both vastly different characters from their last meeting in It Always Rains on Sunday. This could almost be an Ealing comedy, but for the sudden, shocking twist of Dixon’s murder at the hands of the coolly dispassionate Riley. Dearden – a lynchpin of British cinema for the next two decades, until his tragic death in a car crash in 1971 – uses great location shots for the car chase down Ladbroke Grove and climax at White City dog track, with the tic-tac men choreographing Riley’s impending doom. Dixon proved so popular that he was resurrected for a successful TV series, Dixon of Dock Green, that lasted from 1955-1976.

 

yield to the nightYield To The Night (J Lee Thompson, 1956) Diana Dors was Britain’s answer to Jayne Mansfield, a blonde bombshell with a wicked sense of humour. But it wasn’t until Thompson cast her as murderess Mary Hilton, condemned to death for shooting her lover, that the full range of her acting depth and talent was revealed. From the stark surroundings of her death row cell, Mary’s story is told in flashback, with many echoes of the true case of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain: an affair with smooth-talking nightclub pianist that turns to jealousy, paranoia and ultimately, a smoking gun. It was to Dors’ credit that her rendering of the vulnerability under her character’s hardboiled exterior hit such a chord that the film became an effective tool in the campaign to abolish the death penalty, which had just been achieved by the time of its release. It also brought Thompson to Hollywood, where he would go on to direct one of the most astonishing noirs of all time, Cape Fear with Robert Mitchum, in 1962.

 

hell driversHell Drivers (Cy Endfield, 1957) ‘Manly’ Stanley Baker, the son of a coal miner from The Rhondda, was the alpha male of Fifties/Sixties British cinema. Even a youthful Sean Connery, appearing in one of his first roles here, seems a bit fey beside him. As ex-con Tom Yately, he picks up a job as a lorry driver for a haulage contractor, hoping just to keep his head down and gradually rebuild his life. Unfortunately, his boss Cartley (William Hartnell) is as bent as they come, and working a scam with his top driver Red (a homicidal Patrick McGoohan) that results in such cinematic luminaries as Baker, Connery, Herbert Lom, Sid James and David McCallum having to drive tons of gravel at alarming speeds down perilously narrow and winding country roads. The strange setting, amid the frantic pace of them post-War rebuilds, authentically renders the itinerant lives of the drivers, with their long days at the wheel and nights in the alehouse, and makes this oddball, gritty drama really work.

 

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Beat Girl (Edmond T Gréville, 1959) A heady cocktail of beatniks, property developers and strippers mixing it in Soho to the sounds of the John Barry Seven. Beat Girl slid in some sly social commentary amid the wild antics of the titular Jenny Linden (Gillian Hills, the English Bardot, who would ironically find more success as a ye-ye chanteuse in France) and her teenage rebel crew, who also numbered singer Adam Faith, a youthful Oliver Reed and Shirley Anne Field, without whom no teensploitation film of the period could properly be made. While Jenny lives for kicks, racing cars, playing chicken on the railway and getting involved with sinister strip club owner Christopher Lee, her architect father Paul is busy constructing the concrete City 2000 from his luxury Kensington mansion. While a stripping sequence involving a boa constrictor saw it heavily cut on release, the car chase scene was later mirrored in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (in which Hills also took a role), and John Barry’s score is still straight from the fridge.

 

LeagueOfGentlemenPosterThe League of Gentlemen (Basil Dearden, 1959) We are now entering a period where most of the best British movies will involve the trinity of Basil Dearden, Bryan Forbes and Dickie Attenborough. In this, Dearden directs, Forbes writes the scathingly witty screenplay and both he and Dickie star in the gang of compromised ex-servicemen recruited by the disgruntled Colonel Hyde to pull off the perfect bank job. The ensemble cast – the awesome Jack Hawkins as the Colonel, Nigel Patrick as his louche adjutant Major Race (a man with many similarities to Harry Lime), Terence Alexander as chinless wonder Major Rutland-Smith, Roger Livesey as faux clergyman ‘Padre’ Mycroft, Forbes as feckless nightclub pianist Captain Porthill, Dickie as randy garage mechanic Lieutenant Lexy, Kieron Moore as closet homosexual Captain Stevens and Norman Bird as the browbeaten Captain Weaver – are all superb, as is every minute of the film they inhabit. Ostensibly a heist movie, this is really an inspired satire on the end of Empire that catches the mood of change in British society as the Sixties began.

 

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Sapphire (Basil Dearden, 1959) A year after the Notting Hill race riots, Dearden attempts to address the thorny topic of integration by working the problems of a socially evolving London into a murder mystery frame. A beautiful young woman (Yvonne Buckingham as the eponymous Sapphire) is found murdered on Hampstead Heath, an autopsy revealing the further outrage of her pregnancy. When her doctor brother (Earl Cameron) arrives to identify her body, detectives Hazard (Nigel Patrick) and Learoyd (Michael Craig) are startled by his blackness – Sapphire had appeared to them to be a white girl. Illusions continue to be shattered throughout the course of their investigation, which leads the blatantly bigoted Learoyd and more circumspect Hazard into the nightclubs and youth clubs through which Sapphire passed, collecting more impressions of intolerance and ignorance from all sides as they go. A real litmus test of the prevailing values of the age, it remains uncomfortable and thought-provoking viewing to this day.

 

The_Criminal_film_posterThe Criminal (Joseph Losey, 1960) Fleeing from the McCarthy blacklist, Joseph Losey’s arrival in Britain was America’s loss and Brit noir’s gain. With Robert Krasker as his cinematographer and Stanley Baker playing villain Johnny Bannion, this is arguably the first film to realistically portray the inside of a British jail, where rival gangs clash under corruptible guards and a dark streak of humour is essential for survival. Baker based his character on his friend Albert Dimes, the swaggering bodyguard of gang boss Billy Hill, and the details of his immaculate wardrobe and jazz hipster pad are as meticulous as Baker’s performance. With roughly half of the film spent on each side of the bars, Bannion leaves prison to find a bunch of upstart criminals moving onto his patch, just as, in London gangland, Billy Hills’ firm were about to be usurped by the Kray twins – though tellingly, in Losey’s film, the new breed are American. Things come to a head, as they tend to do, at a racecourse, the footage of which is ripe with real life characters, notably the black tipster Prince Monolulu who dressed as an African chief.

 

the frightened city

The Frightened City (John Lemont 1961) Normally in lists of Brit noirs, Val Guest’s 1960 Hammer production Hell is a City with Stanley Baker would be up next. But Sean Connery, his Hell Drivers cohort Herbert Lom and Alfred Marks steal a march with this neglected gem, which might not have such a great title but thankfully comes with out an embarrassing subplot about the detective’s need to impregnate his wife. The Frightened City very much reflects the memoirs and pulp novelisations of Scotland Yard’s finest from this era, with a plot about protection rackets, greedy accountants and property developers that still resonates today. Connery has grown into a magnetic persona to match his saturnine looks, Lom is ever-reliable as the mastermind and Marks is superb as the owner of a Tiki bar and organiser of the local muscle. It is the villains and not John Gregson’s lantern-jawed but strangely uncharismatic DI Sayers who own this film, which is also blessed with early Britbop mogul Norrie Paramour’s evocative score.

 

Victim_1961_posterVictim (Basil Dearden, 1961) After spending the Fifties playing amiable medical man Simon Sparrow in the Doctor series of comedies, Dirk Bogarde risked all with this film. Having just left the Rank Organisation that had made him a huge star, he portrayed a closeted barrister who puts himself on the line to defend the blackmailers of homosexuals, at a time when to be a gay man was still a criminal offence. The deeper irony being, of course, that Bogarde himself was a closeted homosexual who was viewed as a heartthrob, lending the scenes between his character, Melville Farr, and Sylvia Sims as his beautiful wife Laura, an extra level of poignancy. Like The Criminal, Victim is laced with brilliant period detail: the furtive language employed by the clandestine gay community and the murky characters who inhabit the pubs and drinking dens around Charing Cross where blackmail victims are stalked. With wonderful supporting turns from the ever-urbane Dennis Price and a demonic Derren Nesbitt, this is perhaps Dearden’s finest hour.

 

_The_Boys__(1962_British_film)The Boys (Sidney J Furie, 1962) One of the best time capsules of post-War, pre-Swinging London is this courtroom drama about four young East-enders on a night out that ends in murder. Retold in flashback, two different narratives take shape as the antics of the four – routinely described as ‘Teddy Boys’, the scourge of the nation – are seen from contrasting angles. All are simply eager to escape the confines of their family homes. Ginger (Tony Garnett) an apprentice builder working on the new high rises, is dying to show off about his new job. Stanley (a mesmerising Dudley Sutton) needs respite from his dying mother. Barney (genuine bad boy rocker Jess Conrad) has an eye for the ladies and Billy (Ronald Lacy) merely wants to have fun. As they traverse the city from the condemned slums of the East to the bright lights of the West, so too do they cross all the heavily entrenched class boundaries within this literally shifting landscape. Canadian-born Furie had an eye for youth culture – he would go on to delve into clandestine biker and gay culture with 1965’s The Leather Boys, casting Sutton in another memorable role, then make the ultimate Cold War cool of 1965’s The Ipcress File.

 

the l shaped roomThe L-Shaped Room (Bryan Forbes, 1962) Forbes’ second film as director was an adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’ novel about a pregnant, unmarried young woman adrift in the boarding house land of early Sixties London, who finds solace in the company of fellow outcasts. Transferring the book’s setting from Fulham to Ladbroke Grove, Forbes pinpointed exactly where a woman in such straits might find succor in a carved-up Victorian terrace, alongside an angry young man novelist, West Indian musician, ageing lesbian actress and a couple of working girls, all ruled over by imperious landlady Doris. Forbes wove magic casting Leslie Caron as the compromised Jane, Tom Bell as her inky-fingered suitor, Brock Peters as jazzer Johnny, Pat Phoenix as the tart with the heart, Avis Bunnage as Doris and Cecily Courtenage as the lonely thespian. John Barry’s score – particularly the scene where Johnny’s band play of the locale’s ‘mushroom clubs’ — perfectly captures both the hopeful spirit and melancholic undertow of the time and place.

 

The_Damned_1963_movieThe Damned (Joseph Losey, 1963) Hammer were so aghast Losey’s mash-up of juvenile delinquency, science fiction, Pop Art and horror that they sat on this film for two years before daring to release it. Today their fears seem absurd – this is one of the finest, most original movies ever to emerge from the Studio That Dripped Blood. Opening with a memorable, finger-clicking paean to black-leather, we are introduced to Weymouth’s fearsome bikers, a gang led by King (Oliver Reed, looking like a prototype Droog) stalking tourists lured away from the safety of the seafront by his jailbait sister, Joan (Shirley Anne Field). But this soon gives way to a much stranger and more resonant storyline about a secret nuclear research facility just across the water on the Isle of Portland, where sinister experiments have been taking place on innocents. This haunting vision of the nuclear age is was also where the first band of punk took their name

 

the small world of sammy leeThe Small World of Sammy Lee (Ken Hughes, 1963) From the opening shots of dawn breaking over the sex cinemas and beat clubs of Old Compton Street to the sound of a dustbin lorry and Kenny Graham’s mournful jazz score, this film more than any other evokes the true Soho of the era. As the strip-club compare who has 24 hours to repay his gambling debts to the local firm or have his face rearranged with a razor, Anthony Newley gives a monumental performance as Sammy Lee. Running from his brother’s shop on Petticoat Lane and back across town to the pool halls, jazz basements and powder-strewn dressing rooms of Soho in his frantic quest to raise funds by any crooked means necessary, he must also deal with a summer fling (Julia Foster as Northern innocent Patsy) who’s turned up on his doorstep looking to rekindle his fickle flame. His frantic journey is beautifully captured by DP Wolfgang Suschlitzky, with a brilliant cast including Warren Mitchell as Sammy’s long-suffering brother and Miriam Karlin as his much wise wife, Robert Stephens as sleazy strip club manager Gerry.

 

The_Servant_(film)The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963) Scripted by Harold Pinter from a short story by Robin Maugham and shot across the road from his uncle Somerset’s pad on Royal Avenue, DP Douglas Slocombe’s lens captures the monochrome Chelsea where Look Back in Anger was first staged at the Royal Court and Mary Quant set up her Quorum boutique on King’s Road. Dirk Bogarde’s memorably menacing portrayal of the opportunist Northern butler who is not what he seems and his clueless prey, louche aristocrat James Fox, mine the uneasy tensions between the classes that are about to explode with the onset of the Angry Young Men, the march of the Miniskirt and the revelations of the Profumo Affair that would bring down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government in this year. By the end of the decade, Fox would be playing a Through-the-Looking-Glass version of his role in The Servant as the gangster Chas in Performance when society completed its spin cycle and the Swinging decade came to its murderous end.

 

_Seance_on_a_Wet_Afternoon__(1964_film)Séance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes, 1964) The most unsettling of all Forbes/Attenborough collaborations casts Dickie as reluctant kidnapper Bill Savage, who is urged by his Spiritualist wife Myra (Kim Stanley) to snatch the young daughter of a wealthy couple in order that she can demonstrate her clairvoyant powers to help police reunite them. Once the palm-drenchingly uncomfortable abduction is achieved, their unfortunate charge is confined in a room of the couple’s suitably gloomy pile made to look like a hospital ward. But it is Myra’s mental health that rapidly unravels. Forbes, who adapted the screenplay from Mark McShane’s novel, had real difficulties casting the female lead and at one stage considered changing her sex, envisioning Alec Guinness and Tom Courtenay in the starring roles. The dynamic between his eventual discovery, Broadway actress and Method devotee Stanley, and Dickie was every bit as fractious as their screen relationship, adding a further layer of barely-suppressed hysteria to the ectoplasmic atmosphere. Although nothing so terrible befalls the innocent here, in the summer of the same year, a real woman named Myra would begin spiriting children away.

(This article previously appeared  in the French Temps Noir.)

Bio: Cathi Unsworth is the author of six highly acclaimed pop-cultural crime novels, That Old Black Magic(2018), Without The Moon (2015), Weirdo (2013), Bad Penny Blues (2009), The Singer (2007) and The Not Knowing (2005, all Serpent’s Tail). She began her writing career at the age of 19 on Sounds and has since worked as an editor on Bizarre and Purr. She has written on music, film, pop culture and general weirdness for Fortean Times, Financial Times, The Guardian, Mojo, Sight & Sound and Uncut among others. Next year will see the publication of Defying Gravity, the biography of Jordan Mooney which Cathi has authored alongside the woman known as The First Sex Pistol. More at www.cathiunsworth.co.uk

 

Throwing us off a cliff? The annoying habit of unresolved cliffhangers by Tess Makovesky

gravy trainTV drama series – and especially crime series – have always depended on cliffhangers for suspense – small ones at the end of every episode, larger ones at the end of a season. The small ones, such as who the hooded figure in the shadows is, or whether a victim is dead or alive, keep us tuning in  the following week. The larger ones build loyalty to a brand and give us a hook to tempt us back next month, next year, or whenever the next series is shown.

Up to now those end-of-season teasers have involved something that doesn’t affect the plot of the series we’ve just been watching. Frequent favourites are whether two major characters are going to have a relationship or not, or whether the particular team/squad/company is going to be closed down.

Just lately, though, I’ve noticed a sudden outbreak of cliffhangers that do involve the plot, and sometimes in quite a major way. The first of these was the Spanish series ‘I Know Who You Are’. I waded through ten episodes of melodrama and family arguments to find out whether the main suspect was guilty and whether the victim was going to be released in good health to the loving arms of her family, only to find that half of the entire arc wasn’t resolved. (I’m deliberately keeping this light on detail in case anyone still hasn’t seen the series.)

It was a bit irritating, and I was left feeling cheated, somehow – that the whole reason for watching the series was being denied to me. That was bad enough, but then ‘Babylon Berlin’ came along. Again, ten episodes, with a wildly convoluted plot involving pornographic films, Russian spies, the smuggling of war weapons and gold, and a young woman who desperately wanted to join the police. It was clever, it was breathless, it kept you on the edge of your seat. And then in the final episode of the series, only one small piece of that huge jigsaw puzzle had been clicked into place. All the rest was left hanging, presumably to trap viewers into watching another ten episodes of the second series which followed soon afterwards.

But what if the second series doesn’t answer the questions either? Do we have to sit through three or four series, or more, before we find out what the answers are? Much as I enjoyed the first lot, I’m not sure I can invest another ten hours in something only to be disappointed again.

And now the practice has even crept into the otherwise reliable (and hugely enjoyable) ‘Shetland’. The last series wrapped up last week… with a sudden and completely unexplained death that should have warranted a major investigation, but didn’t – and again, no real answers. Again, presumably, we have to wait until the next series to find out what happened and why, but by then I’ll probably have forgotten most of the details and won’t really care. I want to know now, dammit!

So come on, TV production companies. Please stop cheating us by not revealing the answers at series end. It isn’t really fair on your viewers to deny them the very thing they’re watching your series for…

TESS MAKOVESKY’S latest novel is GRAVY TRAIN.

Another 3:30 in the Morning Poem by Ryan Quinn Flanagan

Another 3:30 in the Morning Poem

I am drunk

and in my underwear.

There is thunder now

and some lightning

a distance away.

The lights flicker

and the music slows.

I think of whip dancers in the village,

of powdered milk

and the Colossus

at Rhodes.

 

I wonder when the power

will go out,

how much longer

all of this

can go

on.

rqf

Bio: Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many mounds of snow.  His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Cultural Weekly, In Between Hangovers, Gutter Eloquence, The Dope Fiend Daily, and The Rye Whiskey Review.