Sunday, December 23, 2007
Linda bet the house. The apartment, actually. She had dated and dumped Seth a couple of years ago and in the interim, her roommate Faith, developed a little bit of a crush on him. Faith acted upon that crush with Linda's reluctant blessing and then she went to work on getting Seth's attention.
Remembering her former relationship to be something better than it actually was, Linda changed her mind and decided that if Seth was going out with someone, it should be her and not Faith. Their previous hellish relationship and lack of compatibility be damned. She used everything in her repertoire, from physically putting herself between the would-be couple every time they grew close, to lacing Faith's food with an herb that has a laxative effect. She even feigned illness.
She even flung herself outright at Seth and he rejected her. So love triumphs all...or at least over Linda's efforts. Seth chose Faith over her and Linda moved out, losing her roommate, the apartment that Faith and Linda shared, and even Seth. She couldn't decide which hurt worse: losing two of her closest friends, losing Seth to Faith or losing out on that apartment with its ridiculously below market rent.
Linda called in sick at work and cried herself to sleep the rest of the day. She woke up the next day and figured that shopping was the best therapy, and called in sick again. She came home with four bags full of things that she really didn't want in the first place, which forced her to be civil to her mother (because she knew there was no way in the world that she would be able to pay that credit card bill all by herself) and Linda still felt empty.
The third day, Linda called in sick yet again because she had decided that going on the rebound would be the cure all to all of this misery. Though Linda was petite and not exactly what one would call "curvy," she had other weapons in her arsenal of attraction. She made sure her hair was perfectly coiffed, that her clothes and makeup were tasteful, but accentuating the right things in just the right way to get attention. Linda even chose a subtle pink toenail polish to go with her open-toed high heels.
What she didn't count on was that the kind of heels that attract men, aren't the kind of heels that you can walk around in for more that five blocks. With just about everything below the middle of her spine, sore, she retreated into the type of bar and grill that she wouldn't have frequented in a million years.
She wanted to ask the bartender for a glass of water, but he was too busy watching some cheerleader competition on TV and polishing glasses in a way that would've made even Larry Flynt uneasy. As she went towards the tables in the hope that she could at least get a waiter's attention, she saw him.
He was the male version of her.
She could tell that he spent as much effort and dedication on his hair as she did. His nails were manicured, just like hers. His clothing was just like hers, in the vein of "tastefully easy." His watch was understated, yet expensive, just like hers. He was the male version of her and that meant in Linda's mind, he was perfect.
He hadn't noticed her yet, because he seemed to be too engrossed in a magazine, while he lazily cut his food and ate it. Linda walked up to his table, picked up a sprig of parsley and held it over his head. He put his fork and knife down, and then he took a long sip of water.
When he put his glass back down, he finally noticed Linda.
Then his eyes followed her arm and he saw the parsley, and then they returned back to her.
"It kind of looks like parsley."
"But it's July" he countered.
Linda smirked and gave a slight shrug.
"Works for me," he said as he stood up and gave her a long and languid kiss.
A sweet kiss.
A strong kiss.
Hell, she didn't even care about the garlic and amazingly just like that, they lived happily ever after...
...until she found that he was a Socialist. Then they lived happily ever after, except for when they argued about politics or when he left his socks on the floor.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Heinrich De Meester was one of the most notorious bank robbers in Holland , though he was more famous as “The Maestro,” by those in America who ran in all the wrong circles.
I am a musician, a conductor and composer, all in one.
Most would suggest that my music has a staccato tempo, but in my mind? It’s allegro fortissimo.
Even though he was almost cut off from the world in his little shack just north of Mazatlan , Heinrich knew that the American dollar was weakening against all the world’s currencies, but this was ridiculous. A bribe was a bribe and it should be honored no matter what, because even criminals should have some code of ethics, or everything would degenerate into anarchy.
He did the math as they came down his road, right into the sights of his HK fully automatic battle rifle. Two four-door trucks, eighteen men and they made absolutely no effort to conceal themselves or outflank him? This meant that there was a changing of the guard and the local drug lord was deposed. This war party also meant that the fifteen grand in protection money that was to protect him from the F.B.I. and the Federales was not going to be refunded.
He sighed; he was going to miss his little Sinaloan sanctuary. The fact that the new drug lord had sent so many men, meant that he knew Heinrich was no mere gringo. As far as he was concerned, though, the new drug lord really didn’t do his homework.
He waited until they came into the one area of his property where there wasn’t any cover to be had, then he opened fire. His first left-to-right sweep took out the drivers, as well as most of the men. The trucks veered left and right, respectively, leaving the riders in the back exposed.
As I go into my solo, everything seems to be in perfect rhythm: their danse macabre...their bodies and the shell casings hitting the gravel.
“Maestro” or not, of course the one major drawback to a bullet symphony is that even a hack can get lucky. One conscripted man that was of little or not threat because he was near-sighted, squeezed off four rounds during his death spasms. Two of them missed Heinrich entirely one struck his body armor, and the last one ricocheted off the top of the armor and into his neck.
Two objects fell towards the ground. The last shell that Heinrich’s battle rifle ejected and himself...he won their unofficial race. He was in immense pain as the three surviving men, dripping with sweat and blood, stood above him. As they sent The Maestro to his final curtain call, one thing went through his mind...
Everyone is a critic.
Saturday, November 3, 2007
For those that have wandered over here from 6S, please check out the following stories below-
"Snow And Sacrifice." Just say "no," or something else will say it for you.
"Succuba." If something in the basement sounds too good to be true...
"They Call Her The Breeze." There's a new gal in town, but is her house empty?
"Think Inside The Box." The "Heist Man," cometh.
"A Cool Breeze Licked The Back Of Her Neck." Horror comes in all sizes.
"When Gunpowder Gets In Your Eyes." Sometimes the perfect poker hand comes at the wrong time.
Then you might want to check out these seven stories. It's up to you, no pressure.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Even over the hyper-fluttering sound of the money counter tallying bills like an amplified flock of vultures, I could hear the snort. I looked over by the door and there he was, the true Lizard King, forget Jim Morrison. This character was a reptile, from his mannerisms, to his clothes and shoes made from snakes and alligators. To his bulging eyes that suggested his brain was all reptilian, with not a dash of ape or mammal to dilute it.
He had an Altoids tin open and there was a light pink powder inside. He was using one of those tablespoon-teaspoon spoons on a ring that your mom used to use in the kitchen when baking pies and the second smallest spoon seemed to be in heavy rotation, today.
I shuffled and stacked some more money like a blackjack dealer in Vegas and fed the pile into the money counter.
I nodded at him and said slowly "what's that, Pixie-stick dust?"
Even though I said it slowly, I figured it wouldn't register and it didn't.
"I said, 'what is that, Pixie-stick dust?"
He blinked for what had to be the first time since he had been in the room, some thirty minutes, and he blinked again as he glared at me with those cold, reptilian eyes.
He rasped "what are you talking about? Are you high?"
Talk about the kettle...
"The stuff, what is it?"
"Strawberry Quick, yo."
I banded the counted pile and shuffled up another deck of five dollar bills.
"Don't you want some milk to go with that?"
"Really, are you high?"
I repeat, this is who they send to watch me?
In between sorting singles, "no, I haven't been high since the elder Bush was in office." Fives, "what is that supposed to be..." Twenties, "some new kind of designer drug?"
"No, it's meth. Strawberry-flavored meth."
"And it's not as strong as strong as regular meth, so you don't become addicted. Shit, you are so retarded."
Yeah, how dumb can I be? I must be a raging idiot to not want have my eyes bugging out of my head and my brain bouncing against my ears.
A light pink plume shot up as he closed the tin. He slipped it into a Ziploc and sealed the bag. He walked over to the water cooler and doused his fingers with water. Then he snorted the wet off of his fingers.
"What, you don't have no vices?" he sneered and nodded towards my ample frame.
"I like a sifter of Jack Daniels every now and then. But, see, unlike you, I like my death to taste like death."
"I said, I don't need my death sugar-coated with a parasol, I take mine straight-up."
"Who asked you, any-"
There was a gentle knock on the door that silenced us and got our attention like the rattle of a sidewinder. Anyone who was connected to the money, would've called on one of the four of the cell phones that were stationed around this beat-up studio apartment.
The neighbors wouldn't bother us because it was the kind of building where everyone kept to themselves, that's why it was chosen. It was either cop or criminal on the side of that five-inch, reinforced door.
The Lizard King had his guns out before the second knock hit the door. Now I could see why he was stationed here; his reflexes matched his reptile brain. Me? For some odd reason, I slowly reached for my Street Sweeper from its shelf under the table and brought it up.
The DAO-12 Street Sweeper was a revolver gone wrong. It was a shotgun that had its way with a Roaring Twenties machine gun and this was the end result. A twelve-inch barrel with twelve-gauge cartridges and twelve cartridges in the rotating drum. Fuck thirteen, twelve was their unlucky number.
Though we were three stories up, it occurred simultaneously to the Lizard King and me that someone might be coming through the windows. As we both looked over, sparks flew from the hinges on the door. Whatever they were using, the door was going to come down in seconds, and I was wondering if this was all worth their hassle. I mean, really.
As the Lizard King shifted to the right side of the room to be out of both their line and my line of fire, I realized that people hit liquor stores all the time, often for less than a hundred dollars. So I guess certain death was worth it for them. As a man of peace, it certainly wasn't worth it for me, though I'd send all of them to hell before I'd kill myself.
Before the door hit the ground, the Lizard King must have let loose over six rounds, and two of those idiots fell like leaves in the wind on top of the door. Another idiot jumped into the threshold like he was a kid playing cops and robbers, and an instant, his brains were all over the door of the apartment across the hall.
This all took place within eight seconds, tops. I got the feeling that the Lizard King was screwing around with them and he could've taken care of things even faster. Then the drugs he was on must have overrode his common sense. He walked over the bodies and stuck his head out of the door. He flew from the right side of the door jamb to the left and hit the ground even faster than any of the three he killed.
Who's the "retard" now, Lizzy? Then the lights in the hallway went out...great. The apartment light switch is right by the front door and I wasn't about to walk over there to turn it off, and expose myself. On the other hand, they could see me and all I would be able to see would be the muzzle flash of their guns just before their bullets hit me.
Then the silliest lyrics from a song from a record that my grandmother used to play, hit me.
If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a cake
Baked a cake, baked a cake
If I knew you were comin' I'd've baked a cake
But instead of "Howd-ya do, howd-ya do, howd-ya do," I was thinking, "what to do, what to do, what to do?" I bit my lip, then decided that they were coming in...
...then I let loose with the Street Sweeper, hitting the wall just to the right of the door, because that's the side where the bullets that finished the Lizard King came from. A squeal and the perpetrator dropped down on all fours, just right above the Lizard King and the idiot's comrade, said that my aim was true. But how accurate do you have to be with a shotgun, anyway?
I pumped another cartridge, squeezed and finished him off. The apartment door across the way was embedded with black buckshot...plus a nasty, visceral, gray, pink, and crimson. I counted again and let loose one just to the right of my first shot...nothing. As I chambered another cartridge, I heard what sounded like a chair sliding across a wooden floor.
One of the windows was slowly sliding open. What ladder from hell could reach this high? Just before the hand could push the window as high as it could go, I pulled the trigger.
The apartment had a new hole in the wall and outside the hole's diameter, was even more crimson and matter. The scream of whoever it was that used to have two hands, descended down, fast and away like a baseball pitch. Then there was the crash of ladder and perpetrator on the pavement.
Judging from the screams, it was a man, though the pain was driving him to falsetto. The very same gene that causes idiots to stare at auto accidents was compelling me to look out the window, but I had more pressing issues.
I didn't hear any sirens, but you know that crap is for TV, anyway. The cops wouldn't want to tip me off that they were well on their way and that in minutes, if not seconds, I'd be ass-deep in blue. The excuse of "self-defense" loses its weight when you have a gun that was banned in America, years ago, thousands, and thousands in illegal money, five bodies on the floor, and one outside that is about to expire.
Not to mention that there still could be more robbers lurking out in the hallway. So I had to work as quickly and best as I could with just one hand. I slid open the large sports bag that I originally brought the money in with, and then I shoveled, scooped, and crammed the banded and loose money. I flinched as I thought I heard a door open somewhere. Fuck it, the cops are coming, get rid of the evidence.
I took out the small gas cans and flare that were under the sink for just this occasion. I doused everything I could with the cans within thirty seconds, then I tucked the flare in my right rear pants pocket. I quickly pointed the Street Sweeper down the hallway and pulled the trigger. I wasn't going out like the Lizard King.
Blowback or something from the shotgun ignited the gas. I had to run back in and get the money before it burned up, or my life would be worth less than these bodies at beneath my feet, and my death would be a lot more painful. I got it out just before the flare-up and I walked out into the hallway. I didn't see any more robbers, so I started knocking on doors and telling people that the building was on fire.
They still didn't open their doors. See? I told you it was the kind of building where everyone kept to themselves.
By the time I got to my car, there he was. He was still shrieking and clutching the stump that was his right arm. I was lucky that both he and the ladder landed just inches from my rear fender, or I'd be wide open for arrest, on foot.
I pulled the trigger one more time. Not so much as to put him out of his misery, as to keep him from identifying me, and adding to mine.
Sunday, October 7, 2007
Monday, October 1, 2007
A warm thanks to Robert McEvily for providing the venue and to Katie Schwartz for bullying me into it.
Monday, September 24, 2007
I don't want to intrude on Katherine, but I just wanted to say a little something.
We lost one of our pulpsters recently and we at AAM want to say we're sorry. Katherine's sister Mary contributed the illustration for Tit For Tat in the first issue and she passed away on Saturday.
Please keep Katherine and her family in your thoughts.
Friday, September 14, 2007
NEW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES FOR AAM
Okay, kids, we got the first issue out of the way. It darn near killed some of us, but we did it.
In the process of putting the magazine together, we learned what worked and what didn’t; what we need help with and what we have down pat; and what changes will have to be made in order to ensure things go smoother the second time.
The submission guidelines for the time being are going to remain essentially the same:
1) We’re looking for all-new, all-original stories covering all pulp genres. That includes adventure, mystery, science fiction, Western, aviation, fantasy, sword and sorcery - you name it (except romance! Romance is verboten! If I don’t have to deal with it in real life, I don’t want to deal with it in my magazine!). And please don’t make the mistake that many do and equate pulp with noir; most noir is pulp, but not all pulp is noir.
The stories can take place in any time period, and in any location. We’re looking for stories that evoke the spirit of the ‘30s and ‘40s - pulp’s golden age - but that doesn’t mean your stories have to take place then.
Most of all, we’re looking for stories that are FUN and ENTERTAINING! This ain’t some long haired, highbrow literary magazine, it’s a pulp!
If you’re still not sure what we’re looking for, please check out the plethora of pulp reprint magazines available: THE SHADOW, THE SPIDER, DOC SAVAGE, PLANET STORIES, G8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, SECRET AGENT X, etc. Those are the sort of stories we want to showcase.
2) We said it above, and we’ll say it again: we want all-new, all-original pulp stories. Stories you’ve written featuring characters you’ve created. We will accept absolutely no fan fiction (stories featuring someone else’s characters).
3) We are aiming for the broadest possible audience, from tweens to twilighters, so your submission should be appropriate for all. We will not accept submissions with excessive, gratuitous violence; offensive language (cursing); gratuitous hanky panky (the hero can kiss the girl, but everything else should occur off the page); or content that is deemed disparaging, offensive, or hateful by the editors. Basically, if you couldn’t get away with it in a PG-rated film, you won’t get away with it here.
4) The word count for stories is still 3,500 or less, but as you saw in the first issue, we are open to longer stories. Please query us first before sending anything longer than 3,500 words.
5) We can only accept single, stand-alone stories. We do not accept serial stories at this time. Our quarterly publication schedule makes serialization impractical. We will accept stories that are excerpts of longer works, as long as the excerpt can stand alone: it must have a beginning, middle, and end, like any other story.
6) Here’s the new wrinkle, so please pay attention: ALL SUBMISSIONS MUST BE IN THE FORM OF A WORD DOCUMENT (.doc), with the option of an additional .html doc. We can no longer accept submissions that are in the body of an e-mail. Sorry if this inconveniences anyone, but it makes too much work for us when we put the magazine together.
7) Yes, we accept art submissions. We need spot illustrations for stories as well as cover art. If you can provide art for your submission, by all means do so. For more specific requirements and specifications, contact JDC directly at email@example.com.
8) We are also looking for non-fiction material about the world of pulp: articles, reviews, interviews. Just read a great pulp novel you want to share with everyone else? Write a review and send it to us. You met a man who claims to be the real, live Doc Savage? Well, by jingo, we want to read about it. You just happen to be the neighbor of a man who made his living pounding out pulp stories for a penny a word? Get a tape recorder and get him talking.
The variety of non-fiction material we’re looking for is wide open, as long as it’s pulp related. Please query us first with what you have in mind.
9) Finally, and I can’t say this enough, don’t be afraid to use the LESTER DENT PLOT FORMULA posted elsewhere on this site. I know it’s set up for a 6,000 word story, but it can easily be modified for a story of any length. It’s a great tool, so use it. That’s why we posted it in the first place.
Questions? Concerns? Did I miss something? Well, that’s what the e-mail addresses are for. Shoot us a line, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.Now get cracking. The deadline for issue #2 - NOVEMBER 1 - is fast approaching. And yes, we would love holiday-themed pulp stories.
Sunday, September 2, 2007
Click on the words of John Don Carlucci and the text will take you to the site...
It’s amazing! It’s stupendous! It’s ASTONISHING!
ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE, the greatest place for new tales in the old pulp fashion, has finally arrived!
Marvel at the tale of the man who married a Yeti! Thrill to the exploits of the mysterious Red Panda! Gasp in amazement as dinosaurs attack Manhattan! Be astounded as Tokyo is reduced to rubble (yet again)!
All this and more, including interviews with award-winning writer Joe Lansdale, legendary comics artist Michael Wm. Kaluta, and painter extraordinaire Doug Klauba!
Did we mention the monkeys? Yes, there are monkeys! More monkeys than you can shake a banana at!
Brace yourself for tales that are ASTONISHING! Prepare yourself for ADVENTURES! All conveniently located in one pulp MAGAZINE!
That’s ASTONISHING ADVENTURES MAGAZINE!
And best of all, the first issue is free!
Thank you John! Psst, not to mention there is a story in there written by yours truly.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
"The “City of Angels ?” They have all the letters right, but their order all wrong. It’s the “City of Angles.” As in everyone there has an angle, is hiding behind one or they will come at you from a funny angle. Because people down there just don’t deal with anyone straight on.
I don’t like coming down here; it’s way too bright and that’s just the light coming off of all of the bleached smiles. Don’t get me started on the sun. But I am here on business, on behalf of a fine piece of pleasure.
She’s battier than a cave full of guano, which is good for the bedroom and bad for everywhere else. Even when she comes up for the occasional recreational tryst, this gets to be too much. So I know all too well as to just why her husband wants to divorce her, since he has to deal with her every single day.
The problem, as far as she is concerned, is that she is a movie star who has amassed millions over the life of her career, and before they were married he was a boom-mike operator with bad shoulders. When she finally cuts him loose, he won’t be able to work for long and though I don’t know all of the details, the only thing that both of their lawyers can agree on is that he has a fairly good chance of overturning their prenuptial agreement.
My plan is pretty simple: I’ve already driven down here and stolen a car. I’ll kick it off with a squat-and-stop right in front of her husband’s car.
It’s six P.M. on an overcast December 15th and it’s nice and dark. He turns off of Franklin Boulevard and I follow. I pull ahead of him and I look for witnesses...that’s right, I look for witnesses.
If you ask them what happened next, they would tell you that he rear-ended me, even though I was the one that stopped short in front of him. They would tell you that a Mexican gang-banger got out and cursed at him in Spanish for being crazy and for hitting his car.
Then they would tell you that the Mexican shot the husband point-blank in the head...even though I am about as Mexican as Charlton Heston in “A Touch of Evil,” and that my clothes and car are authentic, only in the borrowed sense.
I drive off of Whitley Avenue, where I torch the car and the disguise. I get the rental car I drove down here out of the garage and I’m home free, because L.A.’s finest won’t be looking for “Joe Tourist” as the world’s best “accidental” post-nuptial agreement.
Just south of Lompoc , I have to get gas for the car and caffeine for myself, as we are both running on fumes...twenty hours on the road will do that to you. I nod at the cashier, a nice East Indian who that will go far, judging by all the books he studies in between transactions. Then, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I make a mistake...I pay for the sale with my credit card. If a detective gets lucky and makes it up to Pacifica, this will put a huge hole in my “all alone at my cabin up in Tahoe” alibi.
I space out until the cashier and a Highway Patrol officer waiting behind me, bring me back. I sign the receipt and thank the kid.
Three miles later and I hear the distinct horn of a police car. I mull pulling over for about thirty seconds, then the car flashes the red and blue lights, and I panic. I get the first shot off, but I should’ve just shot myself instead, as it’s real hard to hit anything with a patrol car spotlight in your face.
I slip in and out...
...I see the Highway Patrol officer who was at the gas station.
...I hear him tell another officer that the station cashier said I forgot my credit card, and that he just wanted to give it back to me. I take it back...that cashier won’t go far; he’ll make a bad American, because he’s too damn honest.
...I just hope they can’t connect me to her.
...Yes, I contradicted myself by what I’ve done, but I’ll still talk shit about “The City of Angles.” I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite and the most comforting fact to me as I depart this world, is that at least I won’t die in L.A.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
A short blur did a lap around him...or that is to say, he couldn't have recognized what it was because he was engrossed in a book. There it went again.
"Right" said Lars, a little louder this time.
The blur wasn't really that fast, but it was frantic. It was short man with his curly hair in a quasi-ponytail. Lars wasn't so interested in the man, as in why the man had an over-sized footprint on the back of his velour shirt.
The man slowed down this time around and situated himself in an alcove just to the left of Lars. Lars was sitting at the streetcar stop and was now regretting that he had not made more of an effort to catch the streetcar that he had just missed. The man's feet were perfectly still, it was the rest of him that was going in about ten different directions.
Lars's first impression was that the man either had Tourette's syndrome or that he was one of those schizophrenics that wig out towards the end of the week, because they sell their medications down at Sixth and Market Streets. The man seemed to be on the verge of a panic and he was looking at everything and everyone but Lars.
During his visual sweep of everything to the left of them, Lars got a chance to get a good look at the footprint on the man's back. It was that of a boot, bigger than a size twelve and as the man turned around, Lars noticed that the man had dirt on all over the front of his shirt and a bloody nose. The man's eyes widened and then gunfire erupted.
The flying debris from the bullets shattering the safety glass of the streetcar stop behind him, forced Lars to close his eyes.
As the last piece of the glass settled, Lars opened his eyes and saw the frantic man would never be agitated again. He was completely still now, except for the blood that was slowly pouring from him and the vacant glass that was now the man's eyes. Lars looked down the street and saw a man with identical hair and clothes as his victim, running away with a small pistol.
Lars took out his cell phone and called 911. He felt bad for the victim that lay before and felt even worse for feeling relieved. Because for the last five months and up until a few minutes ago, Lars would've paid a million dollars to get rid of this bout of writer's block. Now he finally had something to write about.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
The cashier I know is probably in her early sixties, though henna and the amazing advancements in makeup would make you guess that she was at least three or more years younger than that. She is pleasant to the eye in a way and if I were a single septuagenarian instead of a married man in my twenties, I would probably find her ideal.
The cashier always remembers me because our grocery discount card is in my wife's name and that name happens to be that of a movie starlet from days gone by. The cashier would bring this up from time to time and it would always lead to a discussion that would end in a quasi-argument, about when another starlet co-starred with her, got her big break. That is, which movie was the exact one that put the other starlet on the map.
I would try to be polite and point out that a particular movie was not the latter starlet's big break as it were, then she would emphatically say differently. I would've brought a book or printed proof off of the Internet to prove my point, yet I doubt somehow that she would be convinced. Furthermore, what would be that prove? Because in our own minds, we believe we are both correct.
So now when I see her and it comes up, I change the subject. As a matter of fact, for the last few months, we pretend this point of contention never existed.
As I said, this woman has called twice so far. She is not the checker, though their similarity in timbre, inflections and intonations do give me pause. They both call me "hon," though many women of that age do.
The woman who sounds similar to the checker, calls and I can tell right away that she seems two sandwiches short of a picnic.
Our first conversation was:
I tried to keep my temper in check, though it didn't sound like it when I said through clenched lips "yeah, uh, what?"
"Henry? I'd like to speak to Henry."
"There's no Henry, here."
"Is this 2xx-xxxx?
"Yes, there is nobody here by the name of Henry."
"Henry Shanks isn't there?"
"No, I'm sorry, no one living here has that name."
"Are you sure?"
"Oh...okay. Thank you."
"Bye." Hmmm, listen to that name. Was that a put-on? If most surnames were derived from the craft or appearance of the people of a particular country or era, how did the last name "Shanks" come about? Was it someone who was particularly marginal butcher, or was it a butcher that specialized in just leg work? Maybe it was someone who specialized in prison stabbings.
And why would they name their kid "Henry," when all the kids in school were bound to call him "Hank Shanks?"
Three days later, she called again. Before she got through the "H-e-n" in "Henry," I told her that she had already called before a few days before and that she had the wrong number.
"Are you sure Henry isn't there, Hon?"
"Yes. I'm sorry, you have the wrong number."
"Oh, okay. Thank you."
She sounded a little more lucid the second time. Of course, that is like comparing her to ten watt bulb deep in a coal mine, because while she shines...she'll never be able to cut all the way through the darkness. I felt bad for her and I still do.
Hopefully somewhere, Hank Shanks actually exists and his love will help her shine through the approaching gloom.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I don’t want you to admit what you’ve done...not to me and not to anyone one of the dozens of other people whose lives that you have ruined. I don’t want you to pay any of your ill-gotten gains back or donate them to the hospital and therapy bills of your victims. Why, you can even give the rape-survivor fund a rest.
I don’t want you incriminate yourself by putting flowers on the graves of those that you put six feet under nor would I want you to go to the various other sites and apologize to those who are “missing.” Don’t waste your money on champagne for your defense attorney who found loophole, upon loophole. He’s done enough celebrating for a lifetime...quite possibly even enough for the duration of all the lives that you’ve ended.
Don’t treat your family to dinner, like they have any business getting you back, when so many other families have to go without their loved ones...just like the family of my late girlfriend.
Like I said, I don’t want fame, or to rule the world, or even one-hundred thousand dollars. All those things would be nice, but all I really want to say is “Mike? This is for Laura.” Then the very last thing I want you to hear is my gun shooting you three times.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I like to hit my favorite old haunts and check things out. Women are a lot wilder than I remember, sometimes for the good and sometimes they bring out the prude in me. I love the hip-hugger and low rider jeans. The tight shirts, the thongs, all that, is all good.
I can’t appreciate, however, the piercings and the tattoos just right above their butts...I can’t handle that. Then the clubs? Everywhere I go, it seems like they’re playing music from another planet. I can hardly keep up and most of it doesn’t sound like anything I was listening to, just yesterday.
The ladies love me, though. I don’t come there to hit on them or to drink: it’s strictly dancing with me. They don’t have to listen to a bunch of lines or nonsense. We get down on the dance floor and it’s cool.
And when we dance? I can’t even describe it, but I’ll try anyway. It’s kin-etic, it’s elec-tric, it’s as close to sex as we can get. Sometimes it gets a little freaky, but we keep our clothes on...for the most part. And when I touch them? The ladies shiver...they always shiver. I got that effect on them.
So I always wind it up at the Beat Box, because all that has changed over the years with clubbing, a few people still know of me there. It’s almost closing time and I’m still going strong, the ladies dig that.
Like this one tonight? She’s been going on about how she like my “retro” threads, whatever that means. I don’t know, it’s like sometimes we’re talking another language altogether, but whatever keeps the party going, you know?
She feels good during the slow dances, almost too good, you dig? But when the music picks up? She complains that she was working hard today and she wants to rest. That ain’t cool. So I know that there’s just one more dance to go before last call and she just turns her back on me. Not cool, I’m not dancing with that chick again.
“I’ll have a Seven and Seven.”
“I’m sorry, Lady. The last call is in two minutes and quite frankly, I think you’ve had a few too many already.”
“I’ve had only one drink all night.”
“Right, whatever. I still can’t serve you alcohol.”
“Well, let me have some mineral water and give the dancing fool whatever he wants.”
“Who? What guy?”
“The guy I’ve been dancing with for the past thirty minutes.”
“Lady, you’ve been dancing with yourself all night long.”
“No, I was with a guy. He had retro clothes and old school hair. He looked like one of those disco guys.”
“Oh...Pierre, I think we’ve got another one.”
“Are you sure? Who?”
“This lady, right here.”
“What do you mean, “we got another one?”
“Did you dance with a guy in a blue polyester outfit and platform shoes? Did he have big, permed hair out to there?”
When things get odd, it's my cue to split.
I wait outside and she keeps me waiting thirty minutes...I guess, I’m not sure, because I don’t have a watch. Pierre is walking with her and I don’t know why. It’s not like I’m scared of him or that I have any problem just walking right up to her and touching her on the shoulder, right in front of...
C’mon Pierre, be a man this time.
This is ridiculous.
Look at them running away, you’d thought that they had seen a ghost.
Well, like I said. Oh, yeah, I love dancing. And I lovvve to hit my favorite old haunts.
Saturday, July 14, 2007
"Calvino" or "Calvin" in English, means "little bald one."
"Biaggio" means to "talk with a lisp (wha?)."
"Cesare" or "Caesar" means "hairy." All hail Hirsute!
"Cosimo/Cosmo" means "order, beauty." Because the DeMedici's were all about order...
...theirs of course.
"Elmo" means "helmet" or "protection. Think "helm, " Matt.
"Fausto" means "lucky." I had a neighbor named Fausto in Parma and the cat was as sinister as hell. I always equated him as the wrong end of a Faustian deal and he was far from lucky. I never did figure out just how he concealed his tail and horns, either.
Sunday, July 1, 2007
Saturday, June 30, 2007
It was a good idea then and it is an even better idea for the Internet age. Patrick Baggata has revived it in Hard Boiled Chapters. Or as he says...
Hard Boiled Chapters features gritty crime stories by various authors, serialized into short chapters. Some stories may run only one or two chapters while others take their time to unfold.
How can you go wrong? Patrick has posted so far, seven chapters of "Becoming." Mary Thomas has posted three chapters of "Lefty" and yours truly, has a chapter of "Strawberry Quick," there. Check it out.
*Chapters of "The Thin Man" were sold to Redbook in July of 1933. Pp. 225 of Dashiell Hammett's "Lost Stories" edited by Vince Emery.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Monday, June 18, 2007
You see, Miss Zola always took care of those who couldn’t take care of themselves, all of the kids in the neighborhood, all of the old people in the neighborhood. If your mama couldn’t afford daycare, your mama could take you to Miss Zola’s and you would be blessed. If you couldn’t find anyone to help you with your homework, Miss Zola would help you or if she couldn’t, she had books that could.
She was a retired operator for the phone company and her house was paid for a long time ago. She never had any family, so everyone in the neighborhood became her family.
One of my earliest memories was being barely able to walk, holding on to that wire-basket granny cart that she always had and two kids no bigger than me, from across the street, doing just the same. We were taking food to a lady that was old just like Miss Zola, but she couldn’t move at all. My mom explained to me some years later when I could understand it, that the other old woman had a stroke and that Miss Zola was the only one that would come by and take care of her.
Miss Zola always looked out for us and when we were big enough to look after ourselves, she would still keep on eye on us. She tried her damnedest to keep me out of trouble, but by the time I reached a certain age, I was one of those that wouldn’t listen to anyone because I knew it all.
Still, if Miss Zola was around I straightened up, as did everyone else. No cussing, drinking, smoking, fighting or dealing went down when Miss Zola walked by and nothing happened in front of her house. In my neighborhood, she was far more effective than all the police put together.
So the police came by, too late as usual. They asked me for a statement as one of them put a tarp over her. I told them I just saw her fall as they put the yellow tape up and that was almost the truth, because Miss Zola taught me to never lie to the police.
Then the coroner showed up, eating a sandwich. I’ve seen walrus-looking motherfucker so many times in my life that I’m starting to wonder if he’s the grim reaper. He had that glazed look in his eyes and then I look around and notice that all the police are like that too.
This woman was more mother and grandmother to me than my real ones...and they couldn’t be any less interested. She’s a report for them to fill out. Paperwork to them, motherfucking paperwork and nothing else! I walked off on the cop, what was he going to do, arrest me? He’d have to care about something other than himself to do that.
I went home and cried, I couldn’t let my boys see me like this. I didn’t eat dinner, I couldn’t. I drank a glass of water out of the tap and I turned on the TV. The news talked about some dumb bitch heiress that got three times more tries anyone I knew, to stay out of jail.
She didn’t want to go to jail! Jail! Not fucking prison, jail! Forty-five days with your own cell? No one trying to beat, knife or rape you and you get your own space? I could do time like that, standing on my head.
When and not “if” I get popped, I’d like to ask a judge if I could serve time like that. But he’d probably double my sentence and put me in maximum security wing in Quentin with the Aryan Brotherhood, for being a smartass.
Then it was on to some political dickhead visiting the Pope and the police busting the heads of the people protesting him having the nerve to show his face in that town. Another dickhead who wrecked his Corvette doing 120 miles an hour on the Bay Bridge. Then on to some supervisor that really wasn’t living in the district that he represented and couldn’t come up with a decent lie to cover himself.
Eight minutes of rich people proving to me that all that money doesn’t buy one lick of common sense. After the commercials, the war in Iraq, some immigrants protesting in Washington and lucky to not have their heads busted by the police, from what my cousin told me of D.C. Some poor five year-old that got shot in Oakland, a story about computers, another one about whether the state or pet owners should be able to cut dog’s balls off or not, and when they came back from commercials? The weather.
Miss Zola didn’t exist as far as they were concerned. The most important person in this neighborhood, the one person that had done the most for this neighborhood and she wasn’t worth mentioning. I could tell that no one working at that TV station was raised around here, because they would’ve found a way to mention her somehow, in this one big fucking commercial for “Rich People Gone Wild” that they call the news.
Then when I went through the paper the next morning, all it said was that there was shooting and that someone was killed. Something happens at three in the afternoon and the paper doesn’t know any details? They don’t want to know the details and they just plain don’t give a shit.
It’s not news to the rich people in Pacific Heights, to the people who have to work for theirs Downtown or for the people out in the suburbs. They don’t give apparently don’t shit either, because Miss Zola wasn’t blonde and she didn’t have a rich daddy to buy her a chain of hotels or a political office.
Maybe these people would give half a shit if they only knew Miss Zola, but no television or newspaper thought that they would care. If any of them came down here and walked from Sutter to Duboce, from Franklin to Presidio, they would know who Miss Zola was. Because this is where Miss Zola lived and this is where the people that cared for her, would keep talking about her and keep the memory of her alive.
I cared, but for all the wrong reasons. Someone had a beef with me and over what? I don’t know. So many people have beefs with me that I should change my name to butcher. That bullet was meant for me, not her. I know who pulled that trigger...though I don’t know what he is about or why he couldn’t have taken five more steps and done me the right way, instead of doing Miss Zola wrong.
He made his play and he played it wrong. That’s the last lesson he learned as I showed him the right way to pop a cap into someone...right up close and no one there that would snitch me out.
I feel bad, not for him, because “it was him or me” type of situation. I feel bad because I know Miss Zola wouldn’t have wanted it that way. She would’ve wanted me to forgive and forget, and I know she would never forgive me. I do know that “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.” I also know that means that only God can judge people and when my time comes, God will scrape me off his shoe and into the pits of Hell.
What hurt me worse is that the killing that I did made the news, because the Mayor was two blocks away dedicating a center that will probably lose funding, a year after his campaign for reelection...that is, unless the news decides to not pay attention to some rich dickhead and focus on something important, for once. The newspapers rolled with his killing because that one marked the all time high for murders in San Francisco, for the first six months of the year.
But I will try to do good from now on. I will try and get a job, I will try and take care of those around me that can’t take care of themselves, just like Miss Zola did. It’s the least I could do for someone who gave so much and asked nothing in return.
Saturday, June 9, 2007
“What are you going on about, Jim?”
“I’m talking about the writing on the wall, it doesn’t look good. We’re a thing of the past.”
“Who says, Tim?”
Me and James Angelo are hired muscle.
“We make sure that people stay informed of their options. We teach people the finer points of paying their loans or protection money on time, as well as the occasional confiscation of personal property to mitigate those debts.”
What does all that mean? I don’t know. It’s what Jim tells people we do and I almost understand most of it. School and fancy terms for plain things, have never been my strong suit. It was always cracking helmets on the football field and cracking heads off of it.
I would’ve become a mover, but my cousin who used to do the job, had a freak accident where he wrenched his back out, something fierce. He couldn’t see the little cat that ran in front of him while he was carrying his end of couch and the rest is just wrong. Not to mention the lady, who owned the cat and couch, had the nerve to sue him for the vet bills and the cat’s cast.
This has messed with my head...tremendously. I’m always looking down now and no cat, dog, squirrel, bird, or any other pint sized freak of nature, is going to get me.
Tonight as me and Jim sit in a “gentleman’s club” parking lot, Jim’s whining sounds a whole lot like my complaining grand aunt. She always had her hair up in a bun and she wore a black dress. Picturing Jim as my grand aunt (God knows he has the moustache for it) is the only way I can deal all this nonsense.
We are waiting for a guy named “Barry,” who was named after his father’s favorite college coach. They won the National Championship back in the day and as recently as in 2000. The problem is, Barry bets stupid. He always bets on that team...though to be fair, barring a trick play in which the other team pulled a win out in the last minute, Barry would be an extremely rich man right now and I wouldn’t be listening to the “stylistic bitchings” of Jim.
Tim is back on this, “what are we gonna do for a living? I can’t get a real job, my record is too long and no honest employer is going to trust me to even go get sandwiches and coffee with the things I’ve done.”
“I tell you what, Jim; the Board of Prisons could hire you to see if a murderer is truly insane. Having you talk to them in a locked room for half an hour? If they weren’t insane before, they’d be insane after.”
“What did you say?!”
“Hold that temper for something else, here comes our chump now.”
Barry pulls up in a Corvette that is barely two years old, impressive, no? No, it isn’t impressive at all, it’s his sister’s. The guy paying us for this job says to grab anything that Barry drives and we have tried like hell, to keep up with this Corvette.
Barry is a little too eager to see the strippers, because we are almost on him before he sees us. He puts two fingers in his mouth and whistles. Here comes one of the bouncers, lumbering up like a big clumsy attack dog. As I drop him with a small crowbar, I feel bad for the guy because I think we used to play next to each other in junior varsity football. Oh well, business, is business.
Jim holds Barry while I go through his pockets. I find the car keys and then I see why that when Barry calls, the bouncer comes. The bouncer must get great kickbacks from the dancers, because Barry has a roll of one dollar bills that would choke a Great Dane. I work Barry’s face over a little, not too much because if you rough him up too bad, the other gamblers aren’t going to want to borrow money.
One of the other bouncers went back inside to get help, so we decide that Barry has gotten the point and we take off.
“I’m driving the Corvette!”
“Says who? I did all the dirty work,” I say as I walk over to Barry’s sister’s car. “And I have the keys.”
It handles nicely as I try to chirp the tires, but there are electronics that keep me from burning rubber the way I used to. I miss good old-fashioned American muscle and with all of these computer chips, I can’t work on cars anymore. My cell phone rings and I answer it without checking the number...big mistake. Jim’s at it again.
“It said in the New York Times, of all places, that the crime families are going into drugs, or going legit.”
“Hey, as long as there are degenerates like Barry, we'll always work.”
“I don’t know, Tim. We are dinosaurs and the writing is on the wall.”
I let out a sigh; I'm tired of his whining. "What the hell, I could never read for shit, anyway,” as I hang up my phone and I turn it off.
Friday, June 1, 2007
Tuesday, May 29, 2007
One hundred and thirteen years ago, today, Dashiell Hammett was born. This was a great day in history, because so much of what you read and see today, was directly influenced by this man.
Crime literature was virtually one big game of "Clue." With stuffy people in smoking rooms and libraries, waiting patiently to be done away with. Then the protagonist could conveniently recite droll dialogue while both innocent and suspect alike, stood by without regard to their own personal well-being.
As Raymond Chandler pointed out in the essay that Ellroy was quoting from, he brought crime back to the people that actually committed it and for more plausible reasons then what existed in literature at the time. Thus, giving you something to be actually thrilled, shocked, and enchanted by...instead of failed academicians making inane accusations, between sips of sherry.
So raise whatever you are drinking, please and toast Samuel Dashiell Hammett.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
I am a "privateer," or at least, that's what the British call it and they have provided some of my means, but I have provided my own methods. They started me out with my first crew of fifteen men. The original crew were mostly Irish men, but all of them were people that the British wanted to be as far away from England as possible and all of them were granted their freedom on the condition that they never return to Europe. All that serve under me, do so of their own free will or I won't have them on my ship, I will not be betrayed by my own for the wrong reasons.
Unlike true "privateers," we weren't granted a "Letter of Marque and Reprisal." It is a commission that would've allowed us to seize everything and anything of any merchant ship that wasn't British, on behalf of England. I had convinced a British go-between, Nathaniel, that I knew every square inch of Trinidad well and that I could wreck enough economic havoc in two years that the entire Spanish Armada would have to shift their attention southward.
My short term goal was to plunder every non-war Spanish ship that came within eighty square miles of Trinidad. My long term goal was to free the Amerindian Natives who were enslaved by the Spanish and have them rise against their Latin masters. I would trade their lives, freedom and land back to them in exchange for the vast amounts of gold that the Spanish kept on the island for trading and commerce.
Nathaniel questioned the soundness of my plan, but he said that England would invest in me. Simply because they couldn't afford to concentrate as much of their fleet this far south as they wanted to and any campaign however successful, could help turn the tides.
My crew fought hard and they fought well during their first battle, using nothing but a few row boats to seize a three-masted merchant galleon that was anchored, unawares. We took the same galleon (which we renamed "Wilhelmina") to Tortola, where we were to be out-fitted with cannons. We were given cannons so that this dog of a ship would have a bark, but no shot or powder to give the dog a bite. So many of our earlier campaigns were carried out with guile rather than brute force and barring that, we had to flee like a dog with her tail between her legs.
This left a taste in my mouth worse than the rations that remained after twelve days at sea, including the mold and the maggots that accompanied them. In a small tavern outside of San Jose de Oruna, I complained to Nathaniel about our weaponry being a mere decoration over the strongest rum in the Caribbean, though it seemed that his mind was made up before we even sat down to parlay. He claimed that they would not provide powder because we had become too successful and due to the fact that most of my crew held grudges against the British, they were worried that we might branch off into raiding British ships.
The three crewmen that I brought to this meeting and myself, `said nothing as we simply stood and turned to go, but we were ambushed. The British Navy sealed both doors and the four windows with every available sailor in the area, almost two score. I had anticipated that Nathaniel would attempt some treachery, but not until we were under way. So my crew were at the ready, but anchored out of range of the British guns and of no use to me now.
The one thing working in the favor of we four in the tavern was that the British had only twelve rifles between them and that my father had taught me well in dealing with being outnumbered. He always said to go after the tallest and if they're all the same size, the strongest. If not the strongest, then do your worst to their leader.
I raised my flagon of rum to Nathaniel and motioned for a toast. He stood at the ready, his hand on his scimitar. "Would you not grant a man in my position, the courtesy of a toast and a drink to women?"
His face twitched, unsure if I would be as duplicitous as him. I thought it over...he wouldn't partake of women...or of men. His pleasure in life came from doing his absolute worst, to as many as possible. "Well then, if not to the fair company of women, how about to the British Empire?"
He relented his grip on his sword, reached for his flagon and our cups met. I took a shallow sip, then flung the rum at my adversary. I heard the hammers of a dozen rifles cock back as I reached for the candle on the table and threw it at Nathaniel. I knew that initial fiery scream would provide a good distraction, having seen the same thing done to someone else in Kingston some five years before.
As he spun like the embers from a burning sail and let out a chilling cry, my men and me did what we could to take advantage of the confusion, sending eight of them to the cracked British teapot in the sky. We dispatched another two before the fusillade began, the British getting the worst of it as Nathaniel and three of his own men were killed by their own, compared to one of mine.
The surviving rifle men were at us with their bayonets and one of my men took one of their rifles and became like a hurricane unto them. Steel upon steel, until it was ringing like wedding bells from a church. The screams of the dying and the screams of fear disguised as howls of intimidation, it was deafening.
All of this raged until there were ten of them and I was alone, except death and the devil in my corner...which is where I stand now. Arms aching, wanting to feel the sea breeze caress my face just one last time. They toy with me, they're too scared to come closer and seem content to just wear me down.
A cutlass in each hand, my shoulders and arms are cramped and stiff. My will to live is all that's left to fuel my limbs...
The release of the "The Pirates of The Caribbean III" made me take notice that I hadn't transferred one of my favorite stories and this is the last Friday Flash Fiction submission remaining, not to be posted to this blog. JJ's starter sentence was "arms aching."
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The Phoenix Police and Arizona Highway Patrol had predictably concentrated the majority of their resources on the west, east and southern parts of town. They've figured that anyone hightailing it out of town would head for all points Mexican.
That's sound logic since we had taken enough money to live in Ensenada for years. By now it also might have come to their attention that we had pinched a fortune in jewels as well. Besides, don't all criminals believe Mexico to not only be haven, but a combination of Outlaw Heaven and Hell?
If we wanted to chance driving right under their very noses, we could do just that. We had changed cars and disguises twice and we've already passed three police cars without incident. So if everything has gone to plan, why tempt fate and talk about it? If the jinx is hovering around us like a score of mosquitoes around a porch, don't let it in.
Croyle, Babbo and I are going north to Utah, where Babbo has a plane fly that we're going to fly down to Ensenada.
The traffic on the Seventeen and the half hour of silence are getting to me, so I chime in my best Julio Iglesias, "Ensenada, where the food and ladies are hotta."
"Shut it!" barks Croyle.
"What, what's wrong with a little singing, Croyle?"
"Sing about anything you want, but not about that. Don't talk about our trip and don't...talk about our destination." Croyle rubs the cross that is dangling on his sweat-soaked shirt, then he rubs something else in his pants pocket that he keeps for good luck...no, not that.
He believes that part of the power of whatever it is that he carries, is that no one can look at it and break its bad luck. My guess is that it is a rock, though knowing Croyle, it's John Dillinger's gallstone. His twisted version of good luck, is to study the bad luck of others and I know that it has carried over to collecting objects of criminals with bad luck.
When we were in the holding cell at the Maricopa County Courthouse for a simple mugging, we met a guy in there that was about to be sentenced to life for a post office heist on Christmas Eve that had gone altogether wrong. Croyle asked him how much he wanted for the cross around his neck and the loser said a TV. The whole post office thing was so he could get his family a flat screen TV.
Croyle told him that if he gave him the cross, he would get a 42" plasma for the loser's family. The guy hesitated all of a millisecond and gave his address to Croyle as he handed the cross over. Croyle and I got that day on time served and probation. The very first thing he did was take the money we worked so hard to get to go get that family the damn TV.
"What the hell, Croyle? That guy can't touch you on the outside and he probably expects you to go back on your word! We worked too hard to get that cash!"
"I don't care about him or the money. The jinx has already touched this cross and it won't be coming back. Whoever wears this will be invisible to the jinx and its bad mojo."
So neither Babbo or me has so much even dared to sigh or fart since Flagstaff. We've just left the edge of the Navajo Reservation and we're on the Alternate Eighty-nine, north of the Grand Canyon. Now even I'm starting to believe in Croyle's convoluted superstition, though I won't say anything about it either way, so as not to tempt the jinx.
That cross has come in handy, in that we've met Babbo. I doubt that there is a scientist that was ever born that could calculate the chances of meeting someone who has both a disgruntled bank manager cousin and a plane. I'd tell you to "go figure," but the odds dictate that you can't.
What a shame that we had to pick this econobox for its low profile, because its handling is wasted on the long, luxurious curves of Alt. 89. As we come out a sweeping right-hander, a woman in a long white coat waves us down, though we're going too fast to stop. I look over to Croyle and he nods for me to turn the car around and see what this is about.
She is entirely too pale to be a native of these southwest states and her hair is as red as the sun just before it sets. She's wearing a white lab coat that is soiled and ripped. I look past her and I see why: she has a white van with two flats, one of them which she has managed to replace.
I look back from the van, straight into those green eyes...this is going to get complicated. I don't have time for love...or for lust.
"I'm sorry, could you give me a ride to Page, or to at least a gas station on the Reservation?" she says with equal mixture of helplessness and sultry.
I'd give her a ride to Argentina and Babbo with his tongue almost lolling out, seems to agree. It's Croyle's call, though and he decrees "we are running a little behind schedule and unfortunately we can't turn back. We can drop you off in Fredonia or any gas station between here and there."
She looks at the van and she looks at us. She seems a little spooked, though I'd love to be candid and tell her that she has nothing to be afraid of, because I'm all business at this point. As is, this detour is closing the barely left open window that is our escape.
"Hold on," she says with all the sultry and helplessness gone. She gets her purse out of the van, then she writes something on a piece of paper and puts it under the left windshield wiper. Babbo scoots over and she gets in the right passenger seat. We all nod to each (except for the leering Babbo) and we're off.
You'd think that another person would add something to the conversation...uh, no. Every bump in the road and every pebble that we run over, you can hear loud and clear. I look at her every so often, via the rear view mirror. Croyle's eyes are focused on the road and down the road into our future. I don't want to know about Babbo and neither does our new passenger, as she's definitely averting her eyes away from him.
Babbo who hasn't said a word since the day before yesterday, decides the break the ice.
"What's your name?"
She's distracted and I can imagine why, out in the middle of nowhere with three men who she's guessing are armed, and lo and behold, she's right. It takes a few moments for her to realize that he's talking to her.
"Jill, huh. I'm Ba-"
Croyle tersely interrupts "he's Bob, that's Rob and I'm Huell."
An already skittish Jill blurts "nice to meet you."
Great going Babbo, why not really try and impress her by telling her you just got through robbing a bank? But he just won't let up as his little head has taken over his all of his reasoning.
"You're wearing a lab coat, are you some kind of scientist?"
"No. Actually, I'm on my way to a conference."
I turn the radio up real loud in an effort to end this conversation before it steers back to the heist, so I don't hear what she says next. Whatever it is, Babbo has turned pale and Croyle is now redder than a lobster.
"-the car" Croyle seethes.
"What?" I ask as I turn the radio down.
"Stop, the, fucking, car!"
I stomp on the pedal and nearly lock the brakes up.
"Pull it over to the shoulder!"
I shrug and does as he says, having no idea why Mount Croyle is about to erupt, and Babbo looks like he's going to vomit. Jill's trying to figure what did she say that was so offensive and so am I.
I don't know who Croyle's talking to and neither does anyone else.
"I said, get out!" he repeats. Jill reaches for her door and "not you! Him!"
I get out and Croyle shoots out of the car like one of the bullets did out of his gun, some six hours ago. He gets in the driver's side and moves the seat forward. I am just standing on the highway, trying to make sense of this and wondering how far this is going unravel.
Are we going to kill her? Has Croyle lost it completely and is he going to plug us right after that? He points to the passenger seat and I get in. Croyle puts the car in reverse and I'm waiting for him to whip it into a J-Turn or a one-eighty. It's not going to happen.
Babbo has finally lost it, he rolls down his window and vomits. With her arms and hands pushed outward and her body firmly lodged in the right passenger corner, Jill looks like a startled spider. Me? I'm contemplating putting one in Croyle as soon as the car stops...if he doesn't drive us over a cliff, first.
He has us going backwards at thirty miles an hour and this econbox has a hard enough time going forwards at that speed. Apparently the whining of the transmission and engine isn't enough of a clue for Croyle, so the car drops another hint with the smoke that is now seeping in.
"Um Cr...I mean, 'Huell,' the car isn't made for this" I offer up, as I visualize my first shot going into his chest.
I don't know if he heard me and I say it again, as I picture the second shot going right between his eyes. The glare that he gives me before he yanks the emergency break and sends us spinning, let's me know that I've gotten my point across.
We skid to a stop right in front of Jill's van, much to the detriment of us and the RV that just misses us. Croyle shoots out of the car again and whirls over to right rear passenger door. He yanks it open and Jill responds by sliding towards the nauseous Babbo. Croyle bows and does an odd flourish like some odd combination of a psycho, a modern dancer, and a chauffeur. Jill cautiously sidles around him, then sprints for her van.
Suddenly it's all so clear. I guess, we were so busy looking at her, that none of us three saw the small "Maricopa County Coroner" painted on the side of the van.
The car howls once more, as Croyle floors it and pushes it past its meager limits. I flashback on something I saw on her jacket.
"Shut up, you'll bring the jinx back."
I chuckle and say "no, you don't understand, do you know what her last name is?"
"What did I just say-"
"Her last name is 'Nix."
Babbo laughs, he gets it.
"What? What little private joke do you two have going on that's going to bring us more bad luck?"
"Croyle, think about it. Jill...Nix. Jill...Nix."
He shrugs and Babbo's quiet chuckles are annoying him even more.
"Jill...Nix. Take away a few letters and what do you get?"
It takes Croyle another few seconds, then the annoyed look is melted by a smile.
Saturday, April 7, 2007
"You don't have to do, anything, Erica. You never answered it when I called, did you?"
"Tommy, I have to answer it. It's probably my father and you know he'll come over if I don't."
Tommy's forearm tenses around Erica's neck and she winces. He winces too, but her bruised, clenched eyes miss that in the dark reflection off the glass frame, covering the painting on the wall in front of them.
All the lights are off and the setting sun is the sole source of light in the house. He was too agitated until now to notice the scratches that she gave him and the fading sun makes the ruby streaks glisten. His left arm and neck look like he went at it for half an hour with a mountain lion.
Still in a chokehold, Tommy drags her across the room and he picks the phone up out of its cradle. He roughly puts it against her face and places his ear in a perfect eavesdrop position.
"Hi, Erica," the deep voice greets her in a cold, flat tone.
"Oh, hi, Daddy."
"Why are you still at home? Mom has been expecting you over here for about an hour now."
Tommy pricks her left side with his knife and shakes his head against her tipping her father off.
"I've...been busy. I had too much work at the office and I had to bring some of it home, so I've lost track of time. Honestly, I have so much work. Tell Mom that I'm sorry and that I'll have to take a raincheck."
"Well, she made your favorite."
"You mean, eggplant Parmigiana?"
"Yes, it's gotten cold. Hold on, Honey. I have to go in the garage and get something out of my truck."
Tommy's sweat drips on Erica, and his breaths are slow and heavy. Over the phone, Tommy and Erica can faintly hear the sound of a car door slamming.
"Well, listen, Erica. Mom's going to put it in the freezer, because we're going out of town for the next few days. We were wondering if you could come over tomorrow and feed the cat."
If wolves could actually smile, the look on Tommy's face would be the closest facsimile possible. Erica starts to cry until Tommy clenches his forearm for her to stop.
"Also, Honey, make sure the timer for the lights work."
"How about that new lamp I bought you, does that work?"
"I...haven't tried it yet."
"Well, why don't you try it right now?"
"Daddy...I told you, I'm kind of busy."
"I'd like to know, because I'll come by right now if it doesn't work. That way I can get it exchanged, first thing in the morning, when the stores open."
Tommy gives her odd look and Erica slowly points at the halogen lamp right by the front window.
"Okay, I'll check it out right now, Daddy."
Tommy's forearm lets go of her neck, but the knife stays firmly at her side. They stop just under the lamp and Erica turns it on...all the way up. Tommy's eyes are the ones to clench this time and his hands go up just a little bit.
In the space of less than a second, there is a bang, a crack of glass and Tommy goes backward. His knife goes flying from his hand and the bright light of the lamp becomes an even brighter light for Tommy, then it all goes black.
The front door flies open. Erica's father scoops her up with his left hand and cradles her. His right hand has a gun that's trained on the corpse of Tommy. The trauma of the situation overwhelms her and she starts to hyperventilate.
"It's okay, Honey, it's okay."
"I didn't-I didn't-"
"It's okay, you don't have to worry about him anymore."
"I didn't...how...did...you know?"
"I know you swore your mom to secrecy, but she told me about this abusive asshole a long time ago. You didn't call her when you said you were going to, so I came by. When I said I was going to my truck, I didn't tell you that it was down the block and I was getting out of it, instead"
"But how did you know?"
"C'mon, Honey, your "favorite?" Even I can barely stand your mother's eggplant Parmigiana."
Inspired by a smart woman who, unfortunately, was in an abusive relationship. She had code words so that her family knew that all was not well when they called her up and they in turn alerted the authorities. She did survive and the abuser is in jail.
This story also appeared at The Powder Burn Flash Blog.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Like a bird eating seed, I was over here, oblivious and happy. Like a bored housecat, you dragged me over there, and batted me around to and fro, with your claws.
I couldn't win. Hell, I didn't even want to play. So I offered up an olive branch. You dismissed it like it was covered in thorns and told me to lighten up.
I didn't expect an apology, I just hoped for some sort of acknowledgement that you had offended me. Maybe I should've asked for a platinum-plated Ferrari, which mathematically, I would've stood a better chance of receiving.
So call me "Yossarian." Or call me "Orr." You probably don't know what I'm talking about, because just like the Heller novel, you never bothered to read me.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I was just here to play a friendly game of poker and get over on a couple of suckers…this was no way to celebrate my first natural royal flush. I had seen “Mr. Shit For Timing” before, but where? That’s right, he had been standing outside the last two poker games that I played, I couldn’t forget his grim face. He makes a gargoyle seem positively jovial in comparison.
All the smoke from the gunfire seems to be settling in my lungs, what the hell? I thought smoke can descend only so far. If only he could’ve waited another fifteen minutes, I would’ve thrown the next two hands after my flush and been done with this.
I have to keep my eyes blank and still…what is with all this smoke? Did someone fire a musket? That’s it, leave, you grim-faced dickhead. Go away. It doesn’t sound like he’s going over to the table, how could he pass up five large? No, he slid that tacky little table, he’s going for that odd-looking case in the corner. Oh, shit, I’m gonna-
“All clear, Sargeant!”
“What happened here?”
“I guess someone started a poker game and then a war broke out.”
“Holy shit, we got one that’s still alive!”
Great there’s the bright white light that I’ve heard so much about, I might as well move toward it I guess…okay, Saint Peter is a cop?
“Hey George, he’s up!”
“All right, give me some room, Sargeant.”
I guess I’m not done for, after all.
“No, no, look over here, please. Do you know who shot you? Can you give me a description?”
Oh, that’s not good-
“Get out of the way, he’s going into arrest!”
One minor heart attack, several hours of surgery and one short, medically induced coma later, I’m in the hospital bed, giving the police sketch artist a description.The sketch artist turns to the Sergeant who is just coming into the room and gives him a look at the sketch.
“Are you sure, this is who shot you?”
“Me and everybody in the room, yeah. It was like he was bulletproof or something.”
“He bears a striking resemblance to my captain.”
“...No, I guess my memory is tainted from all that I’ve been through. Forget about it.”
“No, if you say this is the guy-”
“I said, forget about it! I w-w-w-w-as blinded, all that gun smoke and powder, you know? Just forget about it.”
The Sergeant didn’t forget about it and neither did I. But this was between the sketch artist and us, so none of us talked because I was still alive, playing poker. A year later, the captain got what was his, while he was trying to sell a jade statue to the very people that it turns out, were the original owners…or so I hear. Nothing’s for certain, unless you witness it yourself. I’m also guessing that very same jade statue was in the odd-looking case that was in the corner.
I still haven’t got a natural royal flush, though I’ve hit it with different wild cards. What the hell, which is better? The hand of a lifetime? Or your life?
Note: JJ's starter sentence was, "I saw her/him through the smoke…" This was my next to last Friday Flash Fiction piece. I turned into an attention junkie which is never good for a writer and I got mad because the feedback I was getting was from the same three people. In retrospect, as long at they are objective, that's a good thing.
“Yeah, I wish someone would renovate a house, so we could watch the paint dry.”
Clive and I were throwing a Frisbee around. Not “tossing,” throwing. I kept the banter up to distract him, because I was throwing it, just a little bit harder each time. I was trying to lead him into the old widow, Mrs. Martin’s yard. I saw her curtain pull back just a little, the fuse was lit.
“Yeah, if only there was a cow to tip, that would be an upgrade for this town,” I shouted, hoping that Mrs. Martin would be the one having a cow. In an amazing feat of athleticism, Clive leapt up like a wide receiver at the goal line and snatched the disc just before it went into her yard. Then, he threw right back to me…and beyond…shit, Yao Ming couldn’t have caught that one.
I gave Clive a look. He smiled and gave me a look back that said, “serves you right.”
Unfortunately, that was no ordinary Frisbee. My grand uncle gave that to me before he passed on, the only kindness the old jerk ever showed to me or my little brother. He would miss the Frisbee the most of all, because he looked up to the old rat bastard.
It had to land in the only other place I wouldn’t want it go besides Mrs. Martin’s, the abandoned Grimsrud house. The specifics of what happened in that house have been lost through the generations, but not the sense fear and trepidation. I do know that it had something to do with just about every missing person within the neighboring three states and a wood chipper, but that’s all I could discern from the many people that the tale had passed through and the years of misinformation.
As I turned around, I saw the disc sail through an already broken window. As I jumped over the fence, I gave Clive the one-fingered salute and wondered just why it was, that no one ever demolished creepy, abandoned houses. Was that too much to ask? I mean, it was a known rat hotel and God knew what else decided to set up house there. Hell, even the stoners and huffers gave the place a wide berth, they knew to stay away, even when they were out of their minds.
My trembling hand reached through the broken window and slid the lower portion open. The Frisbee landed on the far side of what appeared to be what was left of the living room. All the furniture and furnishings were left just as they were when the house was abandoned. They were covered in dust, mildew and mold.
The pictures and paintings left behind of this family would make the Devil tug on his collar like a comedian bombing on stage. A whole different level of evil lived right across the street from grandparents back then and they knew nothing about it, until the last Grimsrud that survived that night of carnage, was arrested.
As I picked up the disc, I heard a sound that was decidedly…female. I guessed that it was either a couple of huffers, or people from out of town…doing the nasty in the basement. The woman had just started moaning and my first thought was how to sneak a peek without getting caught. I threw the Frisbee out of the window and stole down the basement stairs as quietly as I could.
I deliberately eased gently, down each step and each step let out a low creak. Yet, apparently they, or she, didn’t hear me. I didn’t hear a man, or another woman, so my mind raced with a different permutation for each step. If there wasn’t anyone else there other than this ecstatic woman, I was more than at the ready, to volunteer some assistance. As I got to the next to last step, I just remembered that Clive was outside, I hoped that he would stay away from the house.
When I got to the basement floor, the moaning stopped. It was fairly dark down there, save for a beam of light from the lone window. I saw a woman so pale, her skin was almost translucent. She smiled at me with her lips clenched, then her upper lip curled and fangs appeared. In the blink of an eye, she came at me and she rebounded back just as fast.
She lunged at me again and I saw what was holding her back. Her arms were shackled to the stone floor and her wings were constricted by leather bindings. She wore a thin, veil-like outfit that look like something out of a Frazetta painting, and her eyes turned from green to red. I had the misfortune of backing up in the wrong direction, I should’ve moved towards the stairs. When I went for the stairs, she came at me again.
The chains had enough slack in them to keep me from reach the stairs or the window. Now all of sudden, I wanted Clive to come barging on what I misconstrued as going to be fun. This creature had suckered me in with her sounds of pleasure. The only climax that would be reached, was when she would get to feast on my neck. I heard footsteps coming down the stairs and I knew it had to be Clive! Here comes the cavalry!
Something flew down the stairs and the creature pounced on it with cat-like quickness. Jesus, it was Clive’s head! Thanks Clive, did you get your cavalry lessons from Custer? Oh shit, I was done for! I looked over to the stairs and it was Mrs. Martin! Oh, how she was smiling and that smile looked familiar, somehow. The thick, coke bottle glasses that she had on, were even more familiar.
Then I remembered, she reminded me of one of those evil offspring in a picture that was over the fireplace. Give or take forty-five years, you could still see the resemblance, she was a Grimsrud. Mrs. Martin threw the Frisbee at me and it landed at my feet, smeared in blood.
Clive must have followed me in here and she killed him. Mrs. Martin went back upstairs and I started to scream for help, knowing that it was next to useless. Everybody in town was at the County Fair, except for Clive and me, but a last resort is better than no resort at all. There was nothing I could use as a weapon, I wasn’t sure if that was because Mrs. Martin didn’t want me defending myself, or so that the creature couldn’t use anything on her, or to get away.
My cries for help were silenced when another object flew down the stairs and it appeared to be one of Clive’s hands. I started to yell for help again when that's when the light came on and then I saw the bones…so many of them. I had no idea where one body began and another started, but I knew from the skulls that a lot of people had met their demise from Mrs. Martin or the creature. I also saw a painted circular line that I determined was the boundary as to how far the creature could reach.
I didn’t know what to make of the creature herself. If I saw her walking down the street with her wings covered up, I would’ve thought she was one of the most beautiful women in the world. Though beauty is skin deep, horror is to the core. The little head rightfully packed it in and the big head took over. I thought it over and I had only one way out of here.
“I know who took your ring, Mrs. Martin.”
Nothing. I bellowed, “Mrs. Martin, I know who took your ring and I know where it is!”
I waited for a minute and just as I wondering if she heard me, she came storming down the stairs. Without looking, she stopped just before the line.
“Did I hear right?”
“Yep. The ring that was stolen four years ago? The one that you were cried about two years after the theft? I know where it is.”
“Then tell me.”
“What, and then you feed me to her anyway? No thanks.”
“You’re not getting out of here.”
“Then you’re not getting your ring.”
She stormed back up the stairs. I shuddered because as I looked over to the creature, I saw that she had cleaned all the flesh off of Clive’s hand, leaving just the bones, which she threw into the pile. She looked at me and smiled, and I couldn’t tell as to which smile scared me more. Hers, or Mrs. Martin’s.
Mrs. Martin came back down the stairs with a whip and a bloody machete in her hand. She just confirmed what I already knew, that her and the creature weren’t on friendly terms, or there wouldn’t have been that painted line.
Mrs. Martin cracked the whip at the creature, but the creature only took half a step back and she was coiled to strike. Mrs. Martin cracked the whip twice, in quick succession and I charged her on the second strike. I guessed that with those coke bottle glasses that her peripheral vision would be poor and I was right.
She brought the machete up, but it was too late as I twisted it away from her hand and pushed her towards the creature. I felt a great rush of air as the creature pulled Mrs. Martin away. I think I only touched three of the twenty steps on the stair case as I went up, and I nearly slipped in the blood and gore that used to be Clive. There was quite a battle going on back there, as I could hear the screams between the monster and the human monstrosity as I went past the front door.
I got all the way to the front gate before I stopped, then I ran back in. I grabbed something from Clive’s coat and ran back downstairs. What I saw down there, amounted to the longest fourteen seconds of my life, then I fled the house twice as fast as I had the first time.
“Jake, you know that I will lock you up for filing a false police report.”“Sheriff, you don’t have to believe me. I just want you to take a look down there and if you don’t believe me, you can lock me away and throw away the key, because I’ll be safer in jail.”
“Boy, you better not be messing with me, Josie will have her corndog stand closed by the time I get back to the fair.”
I hesitated as we got out of the car. I stopped at the front gate and the sheriff pushed me ahead.
“Did you call on the deputies, too? I don’t think you’ll be able to handle her by yourself.”
“Listen, Jake, I can handle any woman, God put on this Earth.”
“Yeah, that God put on this Earth.”
“If I found out that this whole thing was a joke, you’ll be washing all the county’s squad cars...everyday, come rain or shine.”
We got to the front door and he saw the remnants of Clive. The sheriff immediately arrested and handcuffed me. He put me in the back of the squad car. He called for back up from all the surrounding counties and he went inside.
The wait between when he went inside and when a back up car arrived was agonizing, I was afraid that the creature would have me for dessert and there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do about it, handcuffed and locked up in this car. Two more cars pulled up, then the sheriff came running out.
“Jake, what the hell did you to your best friend?! What did you do to those people?”
“It can all be explained…in my right front pocket, sheriff.”As it turned out, the creature was gone and she had picked that old crone, Mrs. Martin, clean. The sheriff reached into my pocket and pulled out what I had gone back for, Clive’s cell phone. In those fourteen seconds that I returned to the basement, I had taken three pictures of the creature and the last struggles of Mrs. Martin.
They still thought I had fabricated the whole thing, until the forensic pathologists from the state, coupled with the skeletons stripped of flesh that were popping up all over the nearby counties with me still in jail, convinced them that I had nothing to do with this.
The sheriff had paid a visit to my house a week after I was freed and we talked things over. From what they found, they believed that the Grimsruds were using the wood chippers to get rid of evidence and that they had kept the creature for generations. Mrs. Martin must have somehow smuggled the creature away when the last of her kin was arrested, though they would never know for certain how the clan had met their demise.
As for me? I moved to the Canary Islands because I figured that the creature couldn’t fly that far. My love life has been tepid at best, because I don’t care how beautiful a woman is or how wonderful she seems. If it is female and flies? I don’t want to know. That includes stewardesses.
Note: JJ's starter sentence was, "her arms shackled to the stone floor and her wings constricted by leather bindings..." and it's based on a Frank Frazetta avatar that a fellow blogger had. Peter Stormare's character Gaear Grimsrud, is the one that fed Steve Buscemi's character, Carl Showalter into the woodchipper in "Fargo."