Manslaughter Review Issue 1: February 2016
Table of Contents Introduction
Sheldon Lee Compton
By Way Of An Introduction
Welcome to the inaugural issue of Manslaughter Review. Our goal in creating this journal is to participate in the ongoing conversation of crime fiction. The joy of being a writer is belonging to a wonderful community. One shouldn’t just take from that community, one should contribute. This is our contribution. How long will we last? How many issues will we produce? We don’t know. That has never been important to us. We will exist until we don’t. Right now, there are some excellent crime fiction journals in existence, but there can always be more. Hence, we are born! If you aren’t familiar with many crime journals, check out the following (in alphabetical order): Crime Factory, Out of the Gutter, Plots with Guns, Shotgun Honey, and Thuglit. All of these journals publish quality work; in fact, many of our authors have published in these journals. There are more excellent crime fiction journals than what I just mentioned, of course. You can find a longer list on the Manslaughter Review website under literary lineup. But don’t worry about that right now. Worry about the next pages. Turn off your cell phone, grab a beer, and enjoy. See you with another issue this summer. Cheers! The Editors
The End of Eastern Kentucky as Told by Sister Hall by Sheldon Lee Compton
At a time when much war lit up the mountains as a pyre, men and women played their roles in the best way they knew how. Two of these were Early Baker and myself. People call me Sister Hall when they’re not calling me a witch. Early was in struggles for an empire during this time and meant to find a seer to give him the details of what was to come. I’ve been known to divine for this one and that, if the mood strikes me. I’d never much cared for Early, though. He shuffled drugs. That was his empire, or as much of an empire as a body could have in Eastern Kentucky. Early had been battling a town council member whose name I cannot remember for the lion’s share of the drug business all over Shelby Creek for years. Together they’d been responsible in one way or another for burning down churches and having men killed or hobbled, shooting up trailer parks, more overdoses than a body could shake a stick at, and even a bombing once during an attempted jail break. That was Early’s doing. He handled bombs overseas and knew his way around explosives. Point is, about everything was coming to an end by the time Early found me in the hills. That much was clear to anybody, seer or no. I’d known his mother before she joined church and before I ran off into the mountain to find roots. It’s how Early come to know where I was located, his mother remembering the spot I talked about settling down at across John Attic Ridge. Now, I’m still not sure what he expected from me when he eased his way to the edge of my front porch in the early morning hours, knocked light as a moth on the front door. I expect he wanted to see the future, tell what that councilman was going to be up to. But it didn’t go that way, and Early showing up that day more or less cursed us both with knowledge ain’t nobody should be burdened to walk around with. What I used to do was play it up for folks who come to see me. If they come figuring I was a witch, I’d step out before they got there and bring in a hen from out back, have it walking around in the living room when they showed up. They’d sit and tell me what they wanted and watch that chicken shake feathers around all over while I sit like a statue and ignored it. Then, just as I was fixing to tell them what I knew, I’d grab the hen up and wring its neck and dangle it out in front of me or something like that, or bend down to its beak and let on like I was listening to it whispering in my ear. Wasn’t nothing cruel about it. I knew when I woke up that morning I’d be having chicken for supper. That hen was getting wrung whether anybody showed up or not. Other times, if they lifted me up higher in their mind than just a hill witch, say if they had told me they heard I was an oracle, that sort of thing, 4
then I’d have a whole other role I’d slip into. Might be I’d play the silent type and let them come to their own conclusions. Be surprised how many times that worked. Other times I’d quote the Bible, but with new parts added that I made up, telling them it was from a lost gospel only I had knowledge of or some such nonsense. Now mind you, when Early came to me I’d already been divining for three decades, almost four. It was a time of cellular phones and the World Wide Web, the sort of time when everything was computers. But even though, Early, middle age then, still believed in a mysterious power and believed I could tap it. He was one of them who lifted me up, maybe even higher than an oracle. It was likely because of his mother. She knew all along that truly, after all the smoke and mirrors, I really could see a little ways ahead in time. Not by a long shot, but enough. For Early it wasn’t no parlor trick trip to go tell his friends about. He needed information, the kind he couldn’t get on the computer or even from going to church. The thing was, he knew the region was about to get clouded over in a blackness, and he knew he was part of the problem, but couldn’t help himself. He’d been making a living selling pills and a fair amount of meth since he graduated high school. Told me he had a dream that revealed to him a map of Kentucky with the eastern section blotted out by ash, except, he said, it wasn’t ash it was something else. It looked like crushed pills, he told me then, like his coffee table used to look when he first started selling Oxy and the folks buying would crush and snort a little before leaving. He never asked me to confirm if his dream was exactly what he took it as. He was convinced that he and the councilman were going to wipe out Shelby Creek with drugs. This he already knew. All Early wanted to know was what happened next. I told him exactly what I knew. I talked real slow and deliberate. The first thing I told him was, “You’ll live, Early.” Boy that changed his tune. His smile spread out three ax handles wide. I went on. “I can already tell what you’re really wanting to know, so I’m going to skip some of the stuff you couldn’t care less about. Things like young women choking to death on their vomitus with their babies in the bed beside them. Like husbands made to lay with men in front of their wives to settle drug debt. Ain’t no use telling you about the older folks hunting piss bottles thrown out by overnight truckers on Route 23 so they can drink up whatever methamphetamine by be left over in the urine.” Clearly I recall Early giving me a look like he saw what I was doing by saying all that. But it didn’t matter as his business had hardened his heart long ago. So on I went. “You ever seen pictures of those old west ghost towns or seen them on television? That’s all you need to know, Early. The details on how it gets that way around here are for the morbid. Are you morbid, Early?” 5
Early was morbid. He wanted to know what would happen to his rival, Ken the Bull. He seemed pleased that he himself would be living after it all ended, but he needed to know that Ken would be dead. What, he said, would be the point of being alive if he couldn’t enjoy Ken the Bull being dead? So I told him what he wanted to hear, that Ken would be dead. That Spencer Adkins, the pot dealer, would be, too. And all the mothers and fathers of them and their children. And all of his own children and his mother and father in the meantime. “I ain’t got no kids, and my folks can’t stand me anyways,” he told me. “You will have children before it all ends, though. Two fine boys. Blondeheaded just like you when you were growing up. Gray eyes like yours, too.” That settled over him. It was a visible settling that started in his shoulders and ripped him sideways down to his toes. It was a lie, mind you, but I’d had enough of Early Baker’s selfishness. Then I told him another lie. “I’ll still be here, too,” I said. “Fact is, it’s mostly going to be me and you. I’ll not move from this mountain and you’ll not move from the victory field, even though there’s going to be all those states around us that are mostly untouched. At least I’ll be able to tell you stories about what would have been, how your sons grow strong and able and make big things happen around here before it all goes down. And legal, too. Those boys will be a regular Batman and Robin for this place. Lawmen. Can you believe that?” I knew it was Early’s secret desire to be on the police force. I knew it before he knew it, matter of fact. And, considering knowledge is power, I kept it under my lid. Being a lawman was never going to happen for Early and he made peace with that, but he couldn’t resist the idea of having sons and, let alone, sons who would be officers one day. But then, and I remember this as clear as a bell, too, all that weight seemed to lift off Early. He sat up straight on my couch, rubbed his hands across the top of his thighs the way a man is prone to do after finishing a satisfying meal. He spoke slowly, in a comfortable way that gave me a heart sickness. “I’m just going to burn it all down, tear it apart,” he said. “I’m near sixty years old. And if I died walking off this mountain today I’ve lived a full life.” He stopped and leaned toward me. I could smell aftershave and pit sweat. “How’s that for selfish?” Thinking back on Early gives me that same heart sickness I got from his voice those years ago. His oldest came to see me before the last of folks moved out to Indiana and Ohio and Michigan, South Carolina and onward. By that time it wasn’t a ghost town like I’d seen and told about, but it was close enough. Cannon, his oldest, didn’t ask about the future. He wanted to know about the past, about Early and the drugs and guns. He wanted to know about the business of being an outlaw. He was a scared and skinny thing, desperate. They all were near the end. I was, too. Still am, here in the dark.
The Boys Were Watching by Heather Luby
All the kids knew that Denny Ruth took girls to the park behind the old junior high. If you crept through the woods quiet, careful not to snap any twigs, you might even get to see the car swaying, hear some girl moan or giggle his name. On a real lucky afternoon in summer, you might even catch a glimpse of some tit through the steamy glass. We took bets to see who could get the closest until the time NickyJo got close enough to tap on the window as a joke. He ran, but Denny Ruth caught him, never even bothered to put his dick away. Instead he put NickyJo's face in the ground, held it there with his boot until tears and snot made a muddy puddle under his twelve year old face. We never came to his rescue from our lookout in the woods, but Denny knew we were there. He didn't yell, didn't even seem all that mad, but he called out to the woods he would fuck each and every one of our mothers if we ever interrupted him again. None of us had any doubt. Denny graduated and rumor was he went off to play college football at Pitt, but this was before the Internet, back when people would rather believe the good lie than prove otherwise. I found out later he was in Pittsburgh alright, but doing a quick one to three for selling weed to underage girls at a local Taco Bell. I was stuck in Blue Springs, but I thought about Denny Ruth every day. I dreamed he was my brother or the kind of older friend that treats you like one. Every time my dad locked me in the old shed to get glassed with his friends, I imagined yelling, "I'm gonna tell Denny Ruth on you!" Then I would sit in the dark and think about how Denny would put a smooth black boot to my dad's head until his eye balls popped. Eventually I realized Denny wasn't never coming to save me from anything; I was nobody to him. I would lie awake at night and picture him with girls in actual beds in college dorms, sacking quarterbacks under bright lights and everybody buying him beers. I thought about him living every good dream I'd ever had and knocking the teeth out of anyone who said he deserved different. When school started the fall after Denny graduated, NickyJo said we had to start calling him Nick. We were freshman then, and by luck, Nick got Denny’s old jersey. He claimed it got him laid every weekend. It didn’t matter I knew it was total bullshit. The truth was just having Denny’s old number on his back was enough to make lipsticked girls wait by his locker to hand him perfumed notes between classes. It wouldn’t be long before they started giving him more. Dad said football was for pussies, men who couldn't take a real hit, he said no son of his would ever be a pussy That fall I watched from the bleachers as my friends ran and passed themselves into a world where I didn’t exist, and I prayed to a God each night, a God that was somehow both God and Denny, for my dad’s words to be true in the truest sense. Just before Thanksgiving our football team went to state, and I paid a 7
girl in shop class to give me a homemade tattoo with a needle I knew she kept in her bag. I put Denny's jersey number on the fingers of my right hand—fortyfour—I had seen what the number did for Nick. All day I thought about what it was going to feel like to give my dad a clean right hook with it. When I showed up to work after school, the tattoo was already throbbing, radiating. I clenched and unclenched my fist to feel the power of it. That’s when Jolene pointed her scabby fingers at me, asked why I’d put another boy’s numbers on me. You a faggot, boy? A cigarette hanging out of her mouth while she counted the cash my dad had me give her. She eyed me through the smoke of it. I was hired to stock shelves in her gas station, even though she always gave my paycheck to my dad. I learned not to ask why. I turned red when she said the words. I felt it in my ears, and I knew if she thought it, other people might too. I couldn't afford to give people, give girls, another reason to think I was different. I told her to shut her mouth, which scared me ‘cause she’s tougher than most men. Cut off the tip of her ring finger and made her ex-husband eat it. Held him at gunpoint. At least that's what folks say. She’s got the finger nub to prove it. “Come here and let me suck your dick. Then we'll both know if you're lying.” She laughed after she said it, stubbing out her cigarette, the laughter making her cough wet. I hated that what she said made me a little hard, that I wanted things that no girl was going to give me. I rolled my fingers into a fist and stared at the inked raw numbers again. I turned to unpack the last box of Pork-n-Beans. Jolene didn’t say another word It was dark outside when my shift ended, a damp sort of cold. I would have pulled my jacket over my ears if I had one. Dad’s Impala was idling in a spot just past the pumps. I almost missed him, but he leaned on the horn. When I got in, he told me to put on my seatbelt. The dome light had been busted for years, so I fumbled in the dark, hands shaking trying to find where to push the metal buckle in to click. I knew then that Jolene must have called my dad. Lemme see your hand, he said. Put it up here where I can see it, he said. He held my wrist against the dash. There was enough moonlight to see the angry raised skin. His touch was warm, and for a moment, I stopped being angry. For a moment I forgot the fantasy of finally fighting back. I just knew how warm he felt, leathery and soft almost. I never saw the hammer in his lap. Everybody got real busy after my dad did what he did to me. Only one of them had the balls to say he stayed away because it freaked him out. The rest just said they were busy; always busy. Busy catching footballs under bright lights, busy buying rubbers while I worked the register for Jolene, busy fingering clasps and buttons in the backseats of cars. They could use two hands on any girl that would let them. They could slow dance with hands on a girl's hips; fuck them that way too. I didn't need to have two hands to think about all the things a person could use them for. I stopped going to school, but I never stopped going to the games. To the west of the field, just behind the chain-link fence at the base of a bunch of 8
oaks, I sat year after year. Nothing to give me away but the burning tip of a cigarette. Nobody came looking to see why I dropped out, so maybe they didn’t care, or maybe they didn’t notice. Dad said I didn’t need no high school diploma to work for Jolene and nobody else would pay a cripple, so what would be the point anyway? Then there was a girl. I was nineteen. A neighbor's niece stayed all summer. She liked to wear the same yellow dress every Friday. The kind of dress girls wear in the summer with straps so worn they never stayed upright and her sunburned shoulders were always peeling. She asked me about my hand, right off, and didn't flinch when I told her. She didn’t ask questions I didn’t want to answer neither, like where was your mom or why didn’t you go to hospital sooner. She did something else instead; she took the place where my hand is supposed to be and kissed it with her drugstore cherry lips. Her hair was the red kind of brown and her name was Wendy. She asked me if I wanted to be her “lost boy” and still smiled when I told her I didn’t know what that meant. I kept her a secret, like she was a dime in a wishing well and I might spoil the wish. I didn’t want anyone to see us, to talk to her or scare her off from me. So after work I would start off like I was walking home and cut across the railroad tracks to find her. She waited for me at the old rodeo grounds on the north of town. We met there one night, then three in a row, then every night I worked and I asked for overtime without the pay. I took her clove cigarettes I lifted from the store and Wendy and I would lean against the rusted barrels and smoke. I told her how the only girl I ever kissed was a barrel racer with a horse named Juniper. She said, I never liked horses. When I didn’t know what to say, she said I have a dog named Rusty. Then she kissed me. In the story of Peter Pan, Wendy doesn’t stay with the lost boys. That’s how she explained to me she was leaving. It was the end of summer and our last night together, so I drove her to the old junior high in my dad’s car. We parked around back. The windows were down because she said she liked to hear the crickets, she said they didn’t have those in Chicago. When she slipped the straps of her yellow dress down, the moonlight was so bright on her nipples I swore God was shining a spotlight on them just for me. Go ahead, she said. Touch them. I used my good hand to cup one, my thumb to stroke her nipple. Use both, she said. I didn't know what she meant at first, but she lifted my arm by the elbow and guided me. I didn't know what to do without another hand. She leaned forward and kissed me, letting her own hands drift down to my belt and then my zipper. I want you, she said. But it was too late. Too soon. The dark stain on my jeans spread out in wet shame. Shhh, she said. She slipped down her panties and climbed into my lap, her eyelashes batting against my forehead. Use it, she said. I didn't understand. Just use it. She whispered hot breath into my ear and then rose up so her tits were brushing my lips and her hips open. IT. She kept saying it. Then I knew. I knew what she wanted from me and I knew all of it was wrong. It wasn’t how I wanted her; it wasn’t how a man was made to make a woman 9
love him. She rubbed herself against me anyway but instead of watching her body move, I watched the woods instead. I heard a twig snap. I pushed Wendy aside and leaned out the window to listen. She said something. I said Shut up! I thought I could hear them giggling. I told her to listen to them laughing. She told me I made her afraid. Her voice was so loud. I told her, They can hear you! She said she just wanted to go home. She said she was sorry. What’s wrong with you, she said. Or maybe that’s what I said out loud about myself. I knew the boys would run away and tell. Wendy would leave me, but what the boys heard, what they would tell, would stay with me forever. I could never catch the boys in the dark. What could a man with one hand do to them anyway? But then I remembered Denny Ruth and his boot, and how sometimes all you have to do keep someone quiet is know the right way to scare them. Wendy pulled up the straps of her dress and tried to make like she wasn’t crying. The moonlight settled into the soft hollow place of her neck and when she swallowed hard it quivered in a way that hurt me. Once she was on the ground, in front of my headlights, it occurred to me she wasn’t much bigger than a boy. I was finally going to be the man. I didn't yell, for once I didn’t feel all that mad inside. I called out to the boys in the woods. I told them to watch what I would do to each and every one of their mothers if they ever interrupted me again. Then I pushed my boot into her hollow place until I felt the give. I never had any doubt, I knew the boys were watching.
Killing Bobby Darin by Frank Reardon
I hated how Big Rusty stretched out the letters of my name every time he grabbed my shoulders when greeting me: Frrraaaannnnccciiiis. I couldn't stand it, but Big Rusty had been my boss since I was a kid. I had to suck it up. “Have a seat, Francis.” I took a seat in the back of the bakery that Rusty and his wife owned on Broadway in Revere. Everything was the same as it had always been. Same fake wood panels. Same framed photo of Bobby Darin that sat behind Rusty's head. It hung behind him like a guardian angel with glaring teeth and perfect hair. At any moment I expected Darin to jump from the photo and sing. The picture freaked me out. “Whaddya got for me, Rusty?” “Always in such a big fuckin' rush, McDonough.” “I jus' got that guy waitin' for me in the car.” “The new guy? I hope it's a new guy, and not the same dildo you brought with you the last time.” “Nah, Russ. That guy, see, I cut him loose. Wasn't working out.” “I'd say...wasn't he from Kentucky?” “Nah, Indiana.” “Same thing.” “It isn't the same, Rusty.” Rusty stirred the spoon in his tea, the sweat beading from his head rushed down his neck collected inside the links of his gold chains. “If I say it's the same thing, then it's the same thing. Got me, Irish?” “Yeah, I got you, Rusty. Whatever you say.” He stood up behind his desk. The girth of his belly was massive. I couldn't see the fake plants behind his waistline. He claimed to be on a diet, but his wife, the baker, was always filling him up with cannoli and tomato pies. “Who's the new guy you got in the car?” “Georgie.” “Georgie who? Where's this Georgie from?” “I grew up with Georgie in Malden. He did some time, then moved away, but he's back now.” “What did he do time for?” Rusty's wife interrupted us to bring in a tray of Italian cookies. I knew neither of them were Italian. Rusty grew up somewhere in the Appalachians, but when he moved to Revere he bought the bakery with Appalachian drug money. After a few years of living here he spent so much time wheelin' and dealin' with the Wops he thought of himself as one of them. He began dressing like them. Talking like them. Hell, he even began attending their Sunday dinners and the First Holy Communions of their children. 11
“Georgie Phalen. He lives with his mother over there by Holy Cross Cemetery. Did some time for stealin' cars.” “Is he a Turk?” “Nah, Rusty. Georgie's good people, he's no Turk. He just wants to make some money is all.” Rusty twisted his gold wrist watch back and forth. “He better not be. The other guy you got to help out on the armored car job almost got us all locked up in Walpole.” “You can trust Georgie. He's a local guy.” Rusty grabbed a cookie, jammed it into his mouth and leaned back in his chair. “You know that Jew over in Lynn? The loan shark from Western Ave?” “Calev Ryburg?” “That fuckin' bagel-dog owes me, Francis. Big.” “How much is he into you for?” “That's between me and Moscone.” “Christ, Rusty, you into Moscone? You've known me since I was a kid. You took me in when my Dad went up to looney hill in Danvers, so no offense, but it has got be pretty bad if you owe East Boston.” Rusty's breath stretched out the stripes of his collared shirt when he exhaled. He was nervous. I could see it. “You never mind Moscone,” Rusty said, rearranging the photos on his desk. “Your boy, Georgie?” “70s George?” “I thought his name was Phalen. What's with this 70s shit?” “We call him 70s George because he wears nothing but his dead father's old clothes. Jordache jeans, orange leather jacket, you name it. He even has one of those black bushy mustaches.” “I don't give a shit about his clothes. Is he good under pressure? Can he use a gun?” I sunk into my chair. I could see in Rusty's eyes that he was anxious enough to put a bullet in someone. “Yeah, he can handle a piece.” “Think you and this friend of yours can put a bullet in the kike?” “Like I said, Rusty, Georgie's good people. He wants to make a buck is all.” “After you kill the burger, he's got a stack of envelopes he keeps locked up in a safe behind a painting of Israel or some shit.” “Rusty, Georgie and I aren't safe-crackers.” A smile leaked over Rusty's chunky lips and he began to laugh. “The goddamned kike keeps a key around his neck on a string. It's a key safe. Just like a damn Jew, wouldn't ya say, Francis? Damn Jews always keeping the keys to money or paradise wrapped around their necks.” “When you wanna do it?” “Tonight.” 12
“We'll go load up at my place and head over to Cavel's” “Another thing, don't open the envelopes. Bring them directly to me. Don't fuckin' stop at the fuckin' titty bar. Don't stop to pick up some blow. Don't even stop to take a piss. Just bring them to me. I have to pay Moscone personally. And when you get back with the stuff, I'll give you and Georgie, say, thirty percent for the both of you.” “Georgie and I ain't a couple of coons from Roxbury.” “Alright, alright, you Irish prick,” he said with a laugh, “forty-five percent.” I knew I could've gotten fifty, but I could see in Rusty's face the Wops had him by the balls. Something had changed in him since the last time I saw him. I didn't have a clue what Rusty owed to East Boston, but he must've been in deep, especially since he wanted us to kill Cavel. Cavel was a connected guy. He was respected in East and South Boston, a scary son-of-a-bitch. Although I had only heard of him by word of mouth, the stories on the street were legendary. Cavel was known for letting those he caught screwing him over live, but he always took his piece of flesh; a hand, foot or ear, it just depended on the offense. One time he turned Danny Collin's wife onto heroin when he didn't pay up on time. Cavel put her to work hooking the streets of Lynn. There was nothing Danny could do. Word on the street was Danny's wife sucked the best cock in Lynn. And because Cavel had eyes and ears everywhere, and being the coward he was, Danny kept his mouth shut about his wife's new job and employer. Eventually he put a .44 into his mouth and splattered his brains all over his living room wall. The cops found his rotting corpse a week later after a neighbor complained about the smell coming from Danny's apartment. I got in Georgie's old shit-box early-80s Nova. I don't know how the asshole kept it running. The death trap was nearly 20 years old, but somehow it kept moving. It had a generous amount of rust build-up on the doors and a frayed black top. I hated the fucking car. It ran with a loud roar and often kicked back a black cloud of smoke that choked people on the sidewalks. What I hated about it the most was the fuckin' color—sky blue. What a piece of shit! “What the fuck is that on your finger, Georgie?” “Mary Ann McGuire's panties. Like em, Fran? Black and silky smooth.” “How did you get those?” “I bulldogged her last night.” “Fuck youse, you did. You were with me at Sammy's Patio until close.” “I called her up. Went over there after. She sucked my cock something good, Fran.” “Serious?” “I'm not kidding.” “Well goddamn, Georgie. I didn't think you had it in you. Not with those 70s jeans of yours. Not with that damn mustache. Fuck, I still don't believe it. 13
Goddamn, Mary Ann...” “Wanna sniff them?” Georgie said holding them up to my face. I pushed Georgie's hand back. “Keep them to yourself.” Georgie stuffed the panties into his orange leather jacket, snorted back some phlegm, and said, “So are we gonna make some money tonight, or what?” “Yeah, Rusty gave us something alright. Something important. You up for it?” “What is it?” “We gotta go to Lynn.” “Fuck, Fran. I hate Lynn. Lynn's a shit hole. Worse than that black hole, Chelsea, if you ask me.” “It'll be an in and out thing. Drive over to my place. We gotta load up on some guns.” “We robbing a bank? A truck?” “No, just get this piece of shit car movin'.” “Tell me first.” “We're going to kill The Jew.” “Just some Jew, or the Jew-Jew? “The Jew-Jew.” “Shit, Fran. That doesn't sit good with me. He's connected much deeper than you or me. Deeper than Big Rusty. I have a bad feeling about this. The Jew isn't to be fucked with, Fran. I'm telling you. I don't feel good about this at all.” Georgie's face had turned white with fear. Ever since we were kids he had always been the mouthy neurotic type, so I was used to his bullshit. If he got drunk enough he'd go on about aliens, the return of Christ, or about some bullshit government conspiracies. Fuck, the guy has a detailed description in a notebook about how the British Crown killed Kennedy. But to us Irish, the British are responsible for everything that goes wrong. Missing socks: Fuck The Brits! Missing bus money: Fuck The Brits! Missing hairbrush: Fuck The Brits! I could see Georgie making quick fists with his hands. The anxiety was taking control. “It'll be okay, Georgie. We're gonna make close to fifty percent. All we gotta do is put a bullet in Cavel. Find some envelopes, and give em to Rusty.” “I don't feel good about it, Fran. You know what he did to Jeff Caldwell?” “I thought Caldwell was up in Walpole.” “No. The fuckin' Jew castrated him. Caldwell moved to somewhere in California. He's dressed up as a girl now, takin' it in the ass.” “No shit? Jeff is hanging out at George Michael concerts?” “No shit, Fran. Last I heard he was working the truck stops. Some men will do anything for money. I draw the line. Stick-up a store. Beat down a nigger. Fuck, rob a church, that's all good and fine. But never that, Fran. I'm not the kind of guy who's meant to wear nail polish. I'm not the kind of guy to 14
go strutting around Linden Square in a skirt.” “Let's get out of here, Georgie. I got the guns at my place. I also got some pills to calm you down.” Georgie still didn't look right in the head. He needed the money just as much as I did, but I could tell he was second guessing the idea. “Just start this junk-box up.” Georgie nodded and cranked the old shit-box over and started to pull away. Some old woman and a group of Italians were plastered with smoke when Georgie pressed down on the gas petal. One ducked from the back fire. “The Valium kick in yet?” “Yeah, Fran, it's working. Thanks.” “Make sure you don't park too close to Cavel's. They'll hear this car coming a mile away. They won’t even need to look outside, they'll just hear it. They'll all be waiting for us inside, guns pointed.” “Shut up Fran, will ya? I'll park a few blocks away.” “Not too far away. Someone will call the cops if they see two men with guns and ski masks walking into a building. We'll have to worry about the Fuzz, too.” “Fuck, Fran, who's nervous now? Just let it go, will ya? I got this.” Georgie parked the old Nova next door in an old parking lot. He let the rattle settle down for a few seconds. “Fran?” “Yeah?” “You didn't mention nothin' about a few guys being in there. I thought we were just here to kill Cavel. If we are doin' more than one, I think Rusty's gotta give us a bigger cut. I mean more men, more money. Right, Fran?” “I would assume so.” “Shit, Fran, didn't you or Rusty check this place out before?” “See, Georgie, it's like this. If there's another guy or two in there then we will take these scatter-guns and load them up, too. They'll never see it coming.” “I'm just sayin', Fran, this is sort of on-the-fly. Real quick. If we ain't in coffins after this, then it could be Walpole. I can't take another stint in the joint.” “Come on, Georgie. I need the money, and you do, too. I'm tired of doing these little shit jobs—electrician’s laborer for a week, then rob a store for beer money because the labor job barely covers the rent. Then it's back to the labor department for another shit job. Maybe next time it'll be a part time janitor's job at a school where I'm cleaning little Annie's puke off the floor. And when that money is barely enough, I'll have to go back out and knock over another Mom and Pop, just so I can pay my back child support. See, Georgie, I can't take much more of it. I can't. I'm tired of it, Georgie. This money that Rusty is gonna give us, it’s seed money. I can do something with it. I might be able to see my kid again. The way I see it, if I have to kill an extra guy or two, well, Georgie, it's worth it to me. I'm just fucking tired of being a goddamn nobody.” 15
I could tell by the way Georgie put the ski mask over his face with some force he knew where I was coming from. I could tell that he was also sick of the labor lines by the way he loaded his gun with confidence. “Ready, Fran?” I pulled the ski mask over my face. “Ready.” We got out of the car and crept across the empty midnight street. I hid my sawed-off inside my open black peacoat. The neon sign to Cavel's Flower Shop was off, but through a little window on the side of the shop we could see a light. We hid in the shadows and looked inside. “There's the Heeb.” “Let me see,” Georgie said. “Looks like he's stuffing the envelopes. Those are the envelopes that Rusty wants, right Fran, right?” “I'd say so, Georgie.” “I don't see anyone else in there, Fran. I can't see anyone. Let's go in there. In and out, Fran. Cavel won't see us coming.” I looked around and didn't see anyone either. My heart was racing. In the past I had always been a brass-knuckles guy, never the trigger man. “Wait, Georgie, right there.” We both watched another man enter Cavel's room. “It's that dildo, Sam Ryan.” “I hate that little bitch, Fran. He put Bettie Mahoney in the hospital. Beat her up something good. Betty never done nothin' to no one.” “I never liked him much either. His face looks like someone took a screwdriver to hamburger and pissed on it.” Georgie agreed with a grunt and nod. “You ready, Georgie?” Another nod and grunt. We ran through the shadows to the front of the shop. I knelt down and began to pick the lock to the flower shop. Georgie pumped his sawed-off. “Be quick, Fran.” “Shut the fuck up, Georgie, will ya?” I whispered. “Come on, Fran. Let's do this. I'm ready.” Georgie's new found courage unnerved me. “Got it,” I said when the lock clicked. We softly pushed the door open. I took one side of the shop, Georgie, the other. At the back of the shop we met up again and walked down a hallway. We slithered down the wall’s fake wooden panels. At the end of the hallway there was a door that had light pushing through the bottom. I could hear mumbling, but I couldn't quite make out what the voices were saying because of the music playing over them. I stopped to listen. I grabbed Georgie's shoulder to stop him 16
from going any further. Fuckin' Bobby Darin is playing, I thought to myself. What's with these bosses and Bobby Darin? I nudged Georgie's shoulder. I went for the doorknob and Georgie slapped my hand away from it. I gave him a what-the-fuck-look, but he didn't care. Instead, with all of his strength, he kicked the door open. I didn't have any time to pump my sawedoff. Sam Ryan sprang from his chair and pointed a snub-nose at us. Georgie pulled the trigger and splattered Sam's stomach all over the floor. Sam instantly dropped dead onto a pool of blood oozing out from his guts. The blood painted the oak floorboards a dark red. Georgie dropped his sawed-off and snatched up the bloody snub-nose from the floor. For a man who was nervous about the hit, he sure was acting like a pro. I finally had the time to pump my shotgun. Cavel didn't look up. He just went on pushing stacks of cash into the large envelopes. I walked over to the radio behind him and shut it off. Cavel was a big man, all muscle. He had a large black beard and each one of his hands had a large black Star of David tattooed on them. I looked over his collared shirt and suspenders. The bastard was still counting and stuffing. His man was on the floor, dead, and he was still counting. Crazy bastard! Georgie was pointing the snub-nose at him from a few feet away. I didn't like the way he was shaking. “I suppose you two Faygelehs are here to kill me,” Cavel said. “I suppose after you kill me, you two Faygelehs are going to take all of these envelopes and give them to Rusty.” “How the fuck does he know that? How the fuck does he know!” Georgie shouted. I pointed my gun at Cavel, “Where's the safe?” “It's right over there,” he replied, pointing to a painting on the wall. I removed the hanging painting. There it was, a key safe. “Where's the key?” Cavel removed it from his pocket, not from around his neck like Rusty said. I opened the safe and pulled out several large stacks of envelopes and put them on Cavel's desk. “Let me do him,” Georgie said. “Calm the fuck down, will ya?” I said. “Just so you two Faygelehs know...” “What's with this ‘Faygelehs’ shit? What does it mean?” Georgie asked. “Will you shut up,” I said to Georgie. “Keep going,” I said to Cavel. “I was saying that,” Cavel said with his eyes on Georgie, “I don't owe Rusty anything.” “Bullshit,” I replied. “You should check your facts before you decide to rob and kill a man. Only darkies pull the trigger without a reason.” 17
“Keep going,” I said. “Rusty sent you two to kill me and rob me because he's in deep to the Italians. Last I heard it was seven hundred thousand.” “Well, no shit. I already know he's into the Wops.” “Did you know he owes me, too? I bet you didn't. He's into me for two hundred thousand. That fat fuck is into everyone. Kill me, that's a debt paid. Take my money, that's another debt.” “Fuckin' let me do him. Let me do him,” Georgie said. “Will you calm the fuck down!” I said to Georgie. I turned back to Cavel. “Keep going.” “Whatever he promised you two, well, youse ain't getting it. Any plans you had to kill me and ride off into the sunset like a couple of faggot desperados ain't happening. He owes everyone. He'll kill you and take everything. At the very least he'll just not pay you whatever he promised, but knowing Rusty, he's going to kill you and keep it all. Maybe not right away, but I would look underneath the hood of your car before you start the engine.” “Get that sack over there and start stuffing it with the envelopes,” I said to Georgie. Before I could put my eyes back on Cavel, he pulled a .38 from his desk, pulled the trigger and hit Georgie in the shoulder. He fell to the ground, screaming—blood shot out from him like a fountain. Over the years I'd never been anything more than a yes-man. A thief. A man trying to make ends meet. Tonight, I became a killer. I pulled the trigger, and with a large crack that shook my bones, the pellets loaded Cavel's head. His brains blasted from his skull and hit the wall. Cavel's lifeless body slumped over his desk, his hand still gripping a stack of banded hundreds. “You alright, Georgie?” “I'll live,” he said whispered in pain “Did you see that mother fucker's head explode?” I grabbed a rag from a table. “Press this against your shoulder. I'm going to call Rusty so he can open up the bakery for us,” I said, whipping pieces of Cavel off my face and coat. I drove Georgie's shit-box to Rusty's so he could sip on an ass-pocket of whiskey to try and dull the pain of his bullet wound. “Give me the sack of envelopes,” I said. “And let me do the talking. I don't need you going cowboy.” “Whatever you say,” he said, taking another swill of whiskey. It was nearly four in the morning when I knocked on the back door of the bakery. Georgie was holding his shoulder with the rag, looking pale. Rusty came to the door. “Come in, guys,” he said. 18
We all walked into Rusty's back office. He took a seat behind his desk. Georgie fell into a chair, and I tossed the sack full of envelopes onto the desk. Rusty noticed Georgie's bloody rag. “You don't look too good. That fuckin' burger clip you, Georgie boy?” “Yeah, I'll survive,” Georgie said. “I got a doctor that'll fix you right up. When we're done here I'll give you an address.” “Thanks, Rusty.” I stood silent, watching Rusty's greasy fingers massage the different sizes of the envelopes. “Why are you on edge, Francis? Sit down, have a drink, relax, tell me about it.” Rusty said. “I'll stand.” “Okay then,” Rusty replied through his breath. “I'm going to make a drink, you boys want one?” “I'm good, Rusty,” Georgie said. “Francis?” “I'm good. We just want our cut, and then we'll be out of your hair.” “About that, I need to send all of the money up to Moscone. I'll give you fellas your share in about a week.” “We just killed two men for you, Rusty. Georgie took a fuckin' bullet. We want our cut.” “I got to give all of this money to Moscone. No-can-do. You've known me all your life, Francis, you know I'm good for it. Have a fuckin' drink and sit down.” “How much do you owe Moscone?” I said. “I dunno. Off the top of my head I'd say two hundred, three hundred thousand.” “There's at least nine hundred thousand in all of them envelopes. Is that why you didn't want us to look inside, Rusty? So you could fuck us, is that why, Rusty?” “Francis, you better calm the fuck down. You think you two can come up into my place packin' and making accusations?” “The way I see it, Rusty, is you can give us our cut now and still have plenty left over to pay Moscone.” “You boys will get your cut, I promise you that. You both did good tonight. I won’t forget it,” Rusty said, his hand shaking as he brought the drink to his lips. The thunder of the sawed-off ripped through Rusty's throat, almost decapitating him. Blood splattered the room. Georgie jumped out of his chair in shock and fear that I just gunned down Rusty—the man who cared for me when my father was locked up in Danvers State. The man who taught me how to pick my first pocket. The man who taught me how to read faces at a poker table. The man who taught me how to take and land a punch. The man who 19
told me when I was child that a boy becomes a man when he can either outsmart the father or beat him in a fist fight. I never forgot that. And I didn't forget it when I decided to murder him in his own store. “Fran, we got to get the fuck out of here,” Georgie said. I didn't say anything. “Fran, snap the fuck out of it! We gotta get out of here.” “Yeah, yeah....okay. We got to grab the money first.” “What are we going to do with it?” “Pay Moscone, then we'll split the rest.” Georgie collected the envelopes. He understood the importance of paying the Wops off. If we didn't, it’d soon be us floating face-down in the Mystic. “What are you going to do with your share, Fran?” “I was thinking we could pool the shares together and start a business. Maybe an auto shop. Sound like an idea, Georgie?” Georgie smiled. “Can we have desks?” “Whatever you want, Georgie boy.” I got up and headed for the door, but Georgie didn't follow. He was busy staring at the wall behind the desk. “Come on, Georgie.” “Wait. Take a look, Fran.” I looked at the wall. Georgie was pointing and grinning at the framed picture of Bobby Darin that was dripping with Rusty's blood. “What is it?” “It looks like you killed Bobby Darin.”
Release by Matt Mattila
Motherfucker sat across from Paul three shots in and had the balls to demand a refund. Motherfucker slammed the glass on the countertop and started screaming again. The place was dead as always. Motherfuckers like this always chased good people out. Paul couldn’t look at his watch. He knew it was closing time. Paul didn’t look at the bar. He knew there were half-empty glasses littering the shithole with no tip underneath. He couldn’t serve all of those college kids at the same time. He couldn’t snap at security to get this guy out of here. Paul was alone Wednesday nights. He’d have to drag this motherfucker out himself. Motherfucker was still staring his bloodshot eyes dead on him and hollering his pretty little mouth off. “Are you deaf or something you dumb fuck?” Motherfucker screamed. “I asked you for Morgan motherfucker.” Paul bit his tongue. Hard. Something ripped and he wanted to scream and something warm filled his mouth. He dug his nails-bit down to the quick by now-in his pale palms. Breathe. Control yourself. “I’ve told you twice, sir-” Listen here, motherfucker. “It isn’t my fault you have no idea what you ordered. I can’t give refunds on something you already drank.” Motherfucker tried picking himself up on his elbows but slipped and arms toppled under Paul, glaring up at him. “Money,” he growled, like it was the only word he knew. “Gimme.” Paul rolled his eyes. “You haven’t given me a cent.” “Yeh, n I ain’t gonna. You don’t deserve shit from me.” His eyes were wide open. He stared at Paul with his entire bloodshot eyeball and grinned, the sly fox. Motherfucker opened his mouth. Rotting rum snuck out. “Make nothing tonight and go home and slit your fucking wrists.” It hit home. Hard. Paul didn’t clench his fists. He didn’t reach for a knife and stab the motherfucker. He reached across and grabbed the motherfucker by the collar. Last straw. This was the absolute last straw. Paul lifted the scrawny chicken shit out of his stool. Glared him back. Angry tears threatening. Heart pulsing in his neck. Paul spat in his face. Paul tossed him on the linoleum. Motherfucker groaned/cried for a manager.
“I’m the only one on you piece of shit now hand me that fucking money before I beat it out of your fucking teeth.” Motherfucker tried more insults. Bloody mouth didn’t want to cooperate. Tried crying for help. Call cops, some part of him demanded. That’s what they’re there for. They didn’t come for me last time. No one did. Paul walked down to the bar gate and stepped over the sweaty sagging mess on the floor laying there like it was paralyzed. Paul spat blood again. Paul kicked him swift in the ribs. Stomped him. Mashed his balls and rubbed them under his toes. Motherfucker tried grabbing Paul’s leg and his wrist snapped under his heel and he howled. He stopped moaning. Motherfucker looked up at him grabbing his bent wrist with raw hate in his eyes expecting Paul to say something. Paul let him stay there and went to clean his station and get his key and lock him out. Place was a disaster. Half-empty tumblers and glazed shot glasses down the bar top. Knocked over cups dribbling on linoleum. Blood seeping out into the middle of the floor. Paul grabbed the plastic bucket from the shelf under him and slid it down the bar, shoved glasses and coasters and bottles and shards of broken glass in. Carried it into the empty black kitchen, dropped it on the first metal table inside for the dishwasher in the morning. He’d be damned if anyone made him clean that himself tonight. Wiping the counter down with the rag was easy. Bleach first to sanitize. Then counter polish with that strong nostril-burning scent to give it a fine fucking shine. Motherfucker started making noises from the floor. He couldn’t stay there forever. He could wake up and trash this shithole. Not that Paul gave a fuck. He knew he was gonna lose this job tomorrow. Somebody would watch the camera tape. He wouldn’t have to quit. The motherfucker laying crumpled on the floor was a godsend. The final reminder that he couldn’t stand here, trapped, serving booze to people who didn’t need it and didn’t tip for all eternity. The counter looked shiny enough. Everything was shut down. Bottles covered. Taps cleaned hours before the rush. Enough ice in the bin. The security camera above his head blinked red and watched him. It was cold out. He grabbed his coat under the bar. Zipped it up to his neck. Pulled the wrinkled hood over his head. Walked over to the puddle on the floor. Skinny as fuck. Black hair greased back. Stubble on flabbing fleshy red face, indeliberate, lazy. Blood leaking from his nose and onto the floor. Closed eyes swelling shut. He tried saying something. Paul didn’t bother making it out. Paul reached down and hoisted the Motherfucker up by his collar onehanded. However thin the Motherfucker looked he was still hard to drag. Motherfucker kept dream mumbling.
“Come this way, sir,” Paul spat. Motherfucker squeaked, jaw open to his throat like he was giving head, red blood dripping on grey tiles. Three steps heaved over dirty linoleum, head lolled to the side, rubber boots screaming across tile floor. A glass door. Paul nudged it open and tossed him outside. Well, he tried. Motherfucker fell at his feet and he groaned in protest. His hand rested on Paul’s shoe. Paul flicked it off and it lolled over. He was stuck halfway in and out the bar door. Paul huffed and walked around to try dragging him by the bottom of dirt-covered boots. Oh yeah. This was so much better. His head bumped in the doorway and he coughed in protest. Paul slid him face down across dirt gravel. The door slammed shut in the gust behind them. Six feet? Not far enough. One more drag. Ten. Maybe twelve. That’d look better. His wallet stuck out of his ass pocket. Paul snagged it. Didn’t look at his license. There: it looked more like a robbery now. He checked inside the flap. Counted sixty seven dollars. It’d been a long time since he’d made that kind of money off of a customer. Paul stuck it in his pocket and went back to staring at the long empty road just beyond the lot. The only car anywhere close to here belonged to Paul. Frigid naked fingers fumbled for keys, winter biting at his skin. They fell to the ground. He remembered the blood that’d be on his boots. Paul stooped down ready to try to wipe it off. Nothing there. The blood was in his head. It was all in his fucking head. There was a guy laying in a pool of it a couple feet away from him with a trail from where Paul had just dragged him. It was there, red on brown on white, just four feet away. He ran over. He swore he could still see everything. The ground was cold and dusty and very dry. It’s here. I know it is. His head raced again. Vision clouded. Words sputtered across his brain. Manic delusions. Schizophrenia. Complex hallucinations. Fucking daydreams. How can you know any of this is real, Paul? It is. I knocked him out. I know I did. He ran back to the glass door not looking at the ground and slammed into it and he almost gave himself a heart attack. It took him a few times to get the key in the lock. It fit and turned with mercy. He tried the handle and it didn’t budge. It locked. You’re outside Paul. It’s cold out here, isn’t it? This is very real Paul. That’s real blood on your hands. The bitch would bark questions he didn’t need to answer while sitting in the reading chair he bought her and he’d grab her old fat ass and drag her through the trailer by her hair and beat her senseless till she shut the fuck up. Six years no job? he’d scream. 23
This was it. This was the end of everything. Paul was at that one point every person has only once in their lifetime-the point where they have to take revenge on everything wrong with their lives with one cold act. His own brutal release. The truck started in one turn. Motherfucker twitched from the dirt all those feet away and turned himself over, snow sliding off. Paul flipped him off from high up inside the cab and lumbered to the end of the lot, her empty soda bottles clanging across the floor. One half of the truck on gravel, the other on dirt. Home on the left. Hotels and the highway on the right. Paul popped the blinker on and took a right with something close to a smile on his face.
Performance Review by Matt Phillips
“What took you so long?” “The ground, Roger—it’s frozen, solid as granite.” “There’s two of you go up there and you’re telling me it took six hours to dig a hole? Three, maybe four inches of frost and that’s how long it took? The two of you, the biggest guys in this shit-for-winter town?” “I’m used to the desert, Roger. I’m used to out there in the desert and so is Marcus. We’re used to Vegas. You know that. We ain’t never dug a hole when the top layer is frozen. I about froze my toes off out there.” “Look at yourself. You’re six-five and, what? Three hundred pounds?” “I weigh 280 now, Roger. I lost twenty pounds last spring.” “You lost twenty pounds.” “It was that juice cleanse, the one with the paprika and—” “Stop with the juice cleanse. I could give a shit.” “I’m sorry. Look, afterwards, Marcus and me went for coffee. It’s cold out there and Marcus had to check his email and—” “Oh, I see. Marcus had to check his email.” “They got wi-fi over at the Sally’s Diner and he needed to check his email.” “And where is Marcus now?” “Marcus? He’s over at the bowling alley. Friday’s they got open teams so you can join up if you want. That new guy, Marcus, he’s a pretty decent bowler. I watched him last week. He’s got the whole thing down. You know, the technique.” “The technique?” “Where you flip your foot out behind you and follow through with your fingers and all that. Like they do it on the TV when you happen to catch a bowling tournament somehow.” “Oh, right. Bowling. Usually it’s in a shit airport, somewhere in Iowa or something where they got it on in the terminal—because there ain’t shit else on the tube—and you happen to be at the little bar where they serve light beer flavored with lime and some kind of fancy-package peanuts. Yeah—I know what you mean when you say the technique. I’ve seen it.” “Marcus, he’s got it down. Looks just like those guys on the TV.” “Good for Marcus. Six hours to dig a hole, though. Marcus doesn’t have that down, does he? And neither do you, Fenton. You know how many people could see you out there? A thing takes six hours. That’s a long time.” “I didn’t think about it like that, Roger—er, boss. I didn’t think about it like that, boss. That ground was like granite. Hard as granite. I should have thought about that, but I didn’t and now—” “Anybody see you?” “No, no. Of course not! It was just me and Marcus.” 25
“Is that right?” “And Xander—I mean, Xander was dead, but he was there.” “Come on in, Rodney.” “Hey, Rodney. What are you doing here? I don’t get it.” “You don’t get much, you dummy. I had Rodney here follow you and Marcus.” “Boss?” “A thing takes six hours. You said nobody saw you.” “They didn’t, I mean—” “Rodney did. Rodney watched the whole time—saw how you two drank a twelve-pack and lit a campfire and took a little nap in between. You got that grave dug halfway and you’re out there taking a snooze.” “It was cold, Roger—that’s what it was.” “Here’s the good thing, Fenton.” “Boss?” “The good thing is, Rodney here already dug two holes. His trip won’t take six hours, but yours—it’s gonna last a little while longer.”
Actresses by Jen Conley
Irene O’Connell married Chet Marwoski on a cloudy March day at City Hall in 1947. She was recently pregnant (or so she thought), and Chet had done it, so he stood next to her, fidgeting but a willing and noble participant to the union. Irene was 25, four years younger than him, and dizzy with love, or something in that category. She had planned to be an actress, had been taking her acting classes, had planned never to marry until she made it in the business, but she fell for handsome Chet with his dapper clothes, his tantalizing touch and a line about how he’d make her a star when his play was finished. “You’re my girl,” he’d say in the first days, kissing her in an alley after they left the bar late at night. “I’ll love you to the moon, darling. And buy it for you when I’m rich and famous!” When the pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm, his enthusiasm for their marriage immediately faded and he grew distant. “Do you still love me?” she whispered one night, afraid of the truth. If he said no, she told herself she’d pack her bags and make her own way. She’d been raised in an orphanage on 63rd Street so she didn’t need no one, she reminded herself. “Do you still love me, Chet?” “Yes, always,” he mumbled, rolling over in the bed to grab his cigarettes from the night table. She wanted to believe him, it was easier and less heartbreaking to buy it, not realizing that in a one-sided romance, lies like this will always rob precious time. They had taken a one-bedroom apartment on the west side of Seventh Avenue in the Village. She was proud of her husband, proud to be on his arm, being the envy of all the girls on the street. Chet— dark-haired, blue-eyed, tall—was exactly what Irene would order from God if he were selling men. But Chet was a writer and, as Irene learned quickly, a bastard one at that. She worked at a sewing factory on 14th Street to pay the rent while he spent his days and nights at the rickety desk, in front of his typewriter, sucking down coffee or whiskey, popping Benzedrine pills to stay awake, and smoking cigarette after cigarette. She made him pea soup and toasted up bread but he could give a shit. The play was stymied for a year and while he struggled with the thought of turning it into a screenplay or a novel, Irene dropped her acting classes to take more shifts and grew a year older. When the ideas didn’t come, Chet paced the small apartment, spitting out curses and kicking chairs over. “Get me a damn drink, Irene!” he’d holler. Some nights, good mood or bad, he took breaks and invited his writer and theater friends over. Soon, 27
Rosemary Bunyan, 21, a budding actress, began arriving with the entourage. Chet claimed she was deadly perfect for the part of Helen, his lead female character, a role he’d once promised Irene. “Rosemary’s too young,” Irene told her husband. “And she don’t sound like she’s from New York. Isn’t your Helen from New York?” Yes, Rosemary Bunyan, a pale blonde with a heavy Midwestern farm accent, was all wrong for the Helen role but Chet ignored Irene’s advice. “Get me another whiskey,” he ordered, lighting up another cigarette. Rosemary came to the apartment often, to run her lines. “What do you think, Chet?” Rosemary gushed one gray afternoon after falling to the floor in fake tears during a particular emotional scene. “What about you, Irene?” Irene forced a tight smile and said flatly, “You’re a natural.” Then she added, “But no one will hire you with a corny name like Rosemary Bunyan.” It was an insult, a jab to hurt the darling young Rosemary, but all the farm girl did was nod and say, “You’re right, Irene. You’re so smart.” That gray afternoon moved into a foggy night and many new names were hashed out. In the end, it was Rosemary who came up with her own new starlet name: Marion Maretta. Irene had to agree, the name was golden. “You’re going to be big, Marion!” Chet cheered, pouring shots of whiskey for the three of them. The next night, it was a gaggle of theater people in their apartment and after it got loose and the party goers got loaded, Chet grabbed Rosemary by the waist and sat her on his lap, tickling her neck and letting his hand drift along her chest, her farm boobs bubbling out of a tight dress. Irene was seething. Of course she was jealous, but the jealousy had evolved into something more awful— humiliation. “Can’t you diddle her when I’m not around?” Irene begged the next morning. “I walk around the apartment handing drinks to your friends and they see you with Rosemary—I mean, Marion—with your hand in all the wrong places. I’m pitiful to everyone. It’s not right.” Chet sucked on his cigarette and narrowed his eyes at her. “Shut up,” he said, and turned back to his typewriter for another round of edits. The muse of Rosemary did help Chet Marowski and within two months, he got that play finished and perfectly polished up. Rehearsals began with Marion Maretta in the star lead. Irene was depressed. She was 26, could pass for 21 others claimed, but she felt old and washed up. She had no child and a husband who not only didn’t love her, but wasn’t going to put her in the lead of his play. A week before the show opened in a crummy, mice-infested little theater off Seventh Avenue, Irene, bone-tired from another shift at the factory, stopped off at her local gin mill for a beer and early supper. Irene sat in the back corner booth, where she could be left alone in her darkness. Right before her plate arrived, Irene heard that familiar farm accent 28
that grated on her nerves. She planned to ignore it, leave even, but then she heard her husband’s muse say this to an unknown listener: “I got an audition for a motion picture! Thursday morning.” She even announced the address. “What about the play?” the listener asked. “Chet and me have a good time when his wife is at work, but I’m not about to ruin my chances with a stupid play in a lousy, broken-down theater. I’m no dummy. ” Thursday morning, Irene, with her brunette hair wavy from the rollers she’d slept on the night before, red lipstick on her lips, her white blouse buttoned up, her snug black skirt with a patent leather belt cinched at her waist, sat on a bench in a hallway, along with nine other actresses. It wasn’t an open audition—invitation only. Irene had figured on this and when she arrived, she’d immediately given her name as Marion Maretta, which as predicted, was on the list. “Do you have a head shot?” they asked her. She did. She’d had one done for free by a fledging photographer she’d fooled around with before she fell in with Chet. “Age?” they asked. “Twenty-one,” Irene lied and they wrote that down. The real Marion arrived fifteen minutes later. Confusion immediately set in, with Rosemary gasping at the picture people at the reception table, swinging around, and canvassing the actresses on the bench. She quickly noticed Irene and pointed her white gloved hand to her. “She’s taken my place. She’s used my name!” Irene sat silently, pretending she was a classy heiress, instinctively knowing how to remain stoic in the face of low-class uproar. “I’ve never seen her in my life,” Irene said to the picture people at the reception table. She added a slight shrug and smiled gently. Rosemary, crazed with frustration, her face as pink as a farm pig, began to howl desperately and stomp her feet. “Can’t you see? I’ve been robbed! Can’t you see?” A burly security guard appeared from the end of the corridor, marched forward, and grasped Rosemary’s upper arms like he were taking her to a patrol car. “She stole my name!” Rosemary wailed. “I’m the real Marion Maretta!” The picture people lifted their eyebrows but they knew the score, were familiar with desperate and crazed actors and actresses who didn’t get the parts they thought they deserved. One nodded his head to the guard and the man yanked on Rosemary’s arm. “Let’s go.”
But not Rosemary would not leave, not until she had her last word: “Just so you know, Irene O’Connell…While you were at that factory, your no-good husband was having his way with me!” The actresses tried not to laugh and Irene simply brushed her skirt with her hand. The security guard stopped for a brief moment and opened his mouth to say something, probably something vulgar, but he closed his mouth and pulled Rosemary out the door. In the end, the commotion was forgotten and Irene relaxed. She did not believe she had a chance at a part in the motion picture and planned to do a lousy job, as to ruin Marion Maretta’s name. But when she stepped into the audition room, when she twirled around for the very handsome director, so handsome with his dark sideburns and so intelligent-looking with his blackframed glasses, all those acting classes came back to her, along with her longlost desire for something bigger and better, and she went after the part like gangbusters. With the script in hand, she improvised the drama, hitting line after line with just the right amount of cadence and reserve, then at the end, the correct gusto and allure to finish the scene off. The directions weren’t in the script, but it was a lusty scene and during her lines, Marion undid three buttons on her shirt. The director was one of those new, artistic types and he mentioned that he enjoyed her creativity. Marion landed the part. And the director. The picture was low-budget but it was filmed in California. The Los Angeles sun was every bit of beautiful and so was Marion’s new life.
Almost Invisible by Josh Gaines
I’m crossing that bridge that splits off right at the end, just before you get into Memphis, and you have to jump way over to the right lane to stay on whatever road it is you’re already on or end up in a rough part of downtown. The pyramid is off on the left, black and reflecting the tugboat lights, the barges held like ghosts of the Mississippi in the drought-shallow river. I don’t know what’s in that pyramid. Pharaohs. Mummies. Jaw bones. Half the night out from home and I knew that I’d never live down fuckin fat girl Sherry. Say she raped me, whatever, but I don’t remember saying no; that’s not something I would have said. I did say, “as long as you don’t tell anyone.” I should have known she’d tell someone. Sherry and her weird babyeye. She couldn’t see out of it, but she didn’t get a fake eye because she still had that baby eye that never developed, just sat in the back of her socket peeking out. She had a shield sort of contact lens that fit over the eye, but sometimes it would fall out if she laughed. We hated that eye and told her so. She piled on layers of midnight chili-mac to cushion the words, like some people do. Charlie was a fat tub himself. That’s who she told. Her older brother, all freckles and anger. I was coming out of CVS with a Monster and a bottle of vitamin C and here he comes, fists balled, sweating temples and lips. I thought he was going for me, but he stopped a fat-armed distance away and said, “Did you take advantage of my sister?” Who talks like that? “No,” I said trying not to sound nervous, but ready to throw the damn Monster in his moon-face. “She says you convinced her to sleep with you.” Sleep with you? Really? I saw her coming up behind, huffing and wet. By now there’s a crowd and she wheezes out, “Charlie, just forget it.” “No. I wanna hear it from him.” So I say, “Yeah. Okay, we fucked, but I didn’t want to because I don’t like fat girls and I only did it because she promised she wouldn’t tell anyone.” Charlie was about to tear me up, but a couple people laughed at Sherry and she just broke, tears and all, and there were too many people there Charlie wanted to hit. So he took her home instead and no one was better off for the drama. Beale Street’s not what it used to be. Everything’s commercial now. Jazz trumpets pump out of a few outdoor speakers, but it’s not live. It’s not even vinyl. It’s mp3-tinny, and besides, Memphis wasn’t all about the jazz. That was supposed to be New Orleans, New York, wherever. Memphis was born beneath a blue moon. Blue lives here. You can see it in the faces on the street. Faces 31
and shadows and mud and history run deep here, like the river used to back when it could carry some of the rest away. I walk to the park with the statue of W. C. Handy, blue daddy sure loved this town. He’s looking downriver and something’s on the tip of his horn. They locked him there, forever waiting for the inspiration, pigeon shit on his head, making him listen to ten dollar speakers. No wonder he can’t come up with the notes anymore. Sherry tried to kill herself two days ago and was still in the hospital. I was back to a space heater and hadn’t gotten into anything chem-class fun yet, but I had thrown back a couple tall boys and was considering calling up my ex so we could get high and fight and fuck for old times, when Charlie walked in my door. He looked like he’d been crying so I thought about offering him a beer. I’d heard about Sherry earlier, but figured it would be a bad time to bring it up. “You almost killed her.” His voice went all high like a girl’s, like he had come all this way to do a stupid thing. Everyone has tells. “Wasn’t me, man.” But there wasn’t any talking him down, so I said, “Probably that eye more than anything.” He came at me fast and I hit him. I didn’t know we were done talking, but my hand came from my waist on its own and hit his doughy chin and came back, ready for his next lunge. But it didn’t happen like that. Dude took a step back and hit the floor so hard a picture of a cat that had come with the frame, fell off the wall and landed, unbroken, on a pile of unopened mail. “Charlie?” He didn’t answer. In the movies, big guys like him take it one hit after another and keep coming. But this fat bastard just lay there and bled out his teeth. So I called 911. “911 operator, please state your emergency.” She sounded just like she does on the news, when they play back the recordings. I thought about it and figured they might be recording me. “Yeah, this fat guy was coming after me because I had sex with his halfdead sister, and I hit him and he’s passed out and bleeding.” “His half-dead sister?” “Yeah. She tried two days ago.” “You had sex with his half-dead sister.” Talking to authority types always made me nervous. “When she was all alive I did, yeah. She kinda forced me to.” “What is the victim’s name?” “What victim?” “The man you hit.” “You mean Charlie?” “Is that the man you hit?” “Well, yeah but he was coming at me.” “What’s his last name?” 32
“I don’t know.” “What’s your name?” she asked, and it ruined the conversation. Here I was just trying to help the useless lump. My hand started to ache, really more my wrist. It burned up to my elbow. “Look, are you going to send someone?” “Is Charlie breathing?” “Yes, he’s fine.” “Did you check?” “Yes, I checked,” I lied. She kept asking me to make sure he wasn’t dead, so I hung up and kicked Charlie a little. A little air came out of his mouth but that was it. He’d stopped bleeding though, so that was good. I rolled him over and put my ear to his stale, bloody mouth but I didn’t need to. As soon as I touched him I knew. “911 operator—” “Yeah, it’s me again. Charlie’s dead. Who dies from getting hit in the face? I guess he choked on blood or something.” “Sir, an officer has been dispatched. Please stay where you are.” "I told her I would and got in my car and drove to West Memphis, to Mickey’s place. He was beyond fucked up but answered the door anyway, leaning on the knob." “What you doin?” “Just came over. Think I just killed that fat fuck Charlie.” “What?” “Yeah, I hit him once, I mean, it was pretty hard, but he fell down and choked on his teeth, so I called 911 and they said they were coming over, so I came over here.” “Fuck, you didn’t tell em where I live, did you? My parents would fuckin kill me if they knew about all the shit in here.” “Sure, that makes sense. Hey cops, I’m gonna go hang with my friend in his drug emporium, in case you need to find me.” Mickey’s furnished apartment that his cocktailed-clueless parents paid for was covered in teakwood. He had a part-time job as a stamp licker or something and got to spend anything he earned on drugs, though his parents thought he was going to mechanic school. I don’t know how he pulled it off. “Well. Long as they don’t... Fuckin... Come...” he trailed off because he saw something no one else could see. “No one knows I’m here. Gimmie a hit.” I never knew what he was smoking, but I was always glad. I coughed out a drag. “Rucker!” I yelled. It scared Mickey out of his dream. “What the fuck!?” he yelled back, pupils big as eyes, black as ink. “Rucker. Charlie’s last name is Rucker.” “Sherry’s too, asshole. Fuckin yellin about?” I stopped yelling, went into the kitchen and picked up a phone that sat too close to the range-top, its layers of brown grease sticking to it like no one
had used it since the base olive color was in style. It had a dial tone and I doubted Mickey knew that it worked. “911 operator, please state—” “Yeah, it’s me again. Hey, I remembered Charlie’s last name. It’s Rucker. Charlie Rucker.” “Sir, are you calling from a different phone?” “No.” “I can see that you are, sir. Why didn’t you stay at the previous address?” “I, um.” “Sir, stay where you are, or things could get very bad for you. We’ll be right over.” I walked back into the living room and Mickey had just finished hitting the bong. He blew out and held the thing up for me, and I took a little so I wouldn’t seem suspicious. “Who were you talkin to in there?” “Your mom.” “Fuck you.” “Hey man, can I borrow five bucks?” I asked him. “For what?” “A Monster, what do you care?” “I dunno. My wallet’s on the TV.” The TV was off but he was looking at it like it wasn’t. His wallet had “I’m Three People” written across it in Sharpie. Inside he had nearly $400 and I took it all. “Hey, Mickey.” “Yeah?” He was nodding off. “So, I was watching the news earlier, and there are these druggies who are going around pretending to be cops so they can take people’s drugs and use them themselves, or sell them back to people through other people.” “What?” This woke him up, though I could have said it better. “Guys dressed like cops. Pretending to be cops, but just after your drugs.” “That was on the news?” “You need me to find it online? Why would I make that shit up?” “No, I believe you. Fuck. What do they say to do?” “No matter what, don’t open that door. That’s it. I guess they just go away eventually.” “You think they’re around here?” “I dunno. Anyway, I gotta go.” “Already?” “Yeah, places.” “Coo. Thanks for tellin me. About the druggies I mean.” “Sure, man. Keep that door locked.” I left, and waited for the sound of the chain above the deadbolt. 34
My car was running on wishful thinking, so I hit up a Shell and got a sixpack of Negra Modelo and enough gas to get me to Memphis, all with Mickey’s cash. I drank the first five in the gas station parking lot and when I started to feel something I lit a smoke and hit the road. The whole time, driving through that part of the country, it’s swamp and pines and highway, with seams that break the backs of anyone who can’t afford luxury struts. No one’s ever left Arkansas unscathed. The Memphis bus station smells like diesel, smokers, and the stuff elementary schools clean up puke with. The fluorescent lights buzz over the yellowing walls and no one’s smiling. There’s one of those coffee-making vending machines that makes crap coffee and crap hot chocolate, and next to it is a refrigerated one that sells Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits, and I get three of those because I hate my life. There’s six clocks on the wall and I don’t give a fuck. I buy a ticket with cash, tell them I don’t have any ID. It’s 126 bucks oneway to Detroit and I doubt anyone will look for me there. It’s not really a place people run away to. I have an uncle there with a boat that used to bring shit over from Canada when it was hard to come by, but it’s everywhere now, and not worth the risk. He runs a mostly legit body shop. He’d let me get in on that, maybe even drop me off in Canada. I sit on one of those wood slat benches designed to make you hate your spine. It won’t make a difference, but I drink my last beer there anyway. It’s not allowed, but something almost invisible hangs on me now and no one says anything. There’s a white-shit-puffball of a dog growling at everyone who looks his way, laying on the lap of a woman in her 70’s who’s wearing a jacket made out of blue plantation drapes, and when I turn my head towards them, the dog stares off like I’ve caught it in the act, and the woman pretends to be sleeping. Outside, a cop pulls up. I can’t see the car, but I see his lights flashing on the wall through the high windows. I know he’s not here for me. He’s pulling over some drunk or checking a transaction, like happens around here. I parked my car outside, right under the street lamp. I figured the brightest place was the last place they’d look. I might be right about that. Only one man looks at me in this place of lines and delay announcements, Wal-Mart tourists, sleeping angels, fat girls, skinny punks, unwashed veterans who just need a warmer place to sleep, and he’s killed too. I am right about that. We regard each other is all. No one steps forward with fists balled, confidently clad in knowing-they’re-right and god-on-their-side. “Anyone wanna sip?” I dare the last brave voices in the room. The bottle’s already empty. It’s a safe bet no one will take me up on the offer.
My Father and Robert Frost by Les Edgerton
One day I found a volume of poetry by Robert Frost in the prison library at Pendleton and checked it out. Back in my cell, I read: Home is the place where, when you want to go there, they have to take you in. When I made parole, I called my mom to tell her my good news. I found out that my dad had never read Robert Frost. At least not that poem.
Published in Blue Moon Literary and Art Review, Issue 6: Fall-Winter, 2010. Included in Gumbo Ya-Ya: In the Zone and other Stories, Snubnose Press, Dec. 2011 36
Passion Beneath the Night by Jay Nunnery
Jolene woke up, but she thought all that yelling was in her dream. Jolene knew her mom was beyond gone. Those yells that flailed through language as if in spite of meaning, the countless voices interjecting into the tragedy because the woman was never suited to help it. Jolene sat up in her bed. The moonlit sky’s voltaic blue shining on her face and body. She visualized her father, silent, watching, down there with her mom. His silence rummaged through her, waves lapping onto a pier in a soundless and languid world. In such a world every drop from every splash would mean something she thought. At last she heard her father’s voice. “Elemay, it’ll be alright now just calm down.” “What do you know?” she heard her mom yell, arrhythmic yaps, stringy and gooey spit bubbling in the corners of her mouth. “Stand up, sweetheart. Dance with me,” she heard her mom’s voice say, quieter, more clanging. “You won’t dance with me? We shouldn’t need music. Hold me and dance with me. Just one song.” Her father said he was tired. He told Jolene’s mom to “come here” and he patted his thigh. “You don’t want to dance with me,” the woman yelled as though her soul’s vitreousness had been assumed and then she closed her eyes and moved through her own intoxicated choreography, this intensely suffered lushness, to those hymns’ changes befuddled in her head. She danced into the kitchen. Jolene heard silence. That kind that you can’t fall asleep to. Jolene heard her father getting louder, telling her mom to “put that away.” “Oh, so now you’ll dance with me.” Jolene imagined them dancing across the living room floor and she looked out the window and imagined them dancing beneath the night. She heard her father, screaming now, “Calm down, woman. Please. Please, what are you doing? Calm down.” Jolene was at the age where she considered passion a sensual daemon simply on instinct. She heard her father yell, “No.” Then he said her mom’s name at different intervals and decreasing volume. Then there was a silence again that she could not fall asleep to.
PISSED by Andrew Riconda
Parnell missed the exit on the Sprain. It was gonna be one of those days, fatty bacon, burnt rye toast, shells in the scrambled eggs at the Golden Eagle, Ma dead in the backseat, and missed exits. He shot a look at the rear view and to the homeless guy sitting back there with her. There was a lot of space in the back of the old man’s ’86 Bonneville, but the homeless guy didn’t seem to think it ample, all up against the door the way he was. Parnell stared forward again and sighed. People had problems with the recently deceased sometimes. Imitating his mother, Parnell said, “You should’ve taken the Saw Mill, Parnell. What on God’s green earth would make you go this way?” “What?” the homeless guy said. “I’m sayin’ that’s what Ma would be bitching right now. She’d be saying, ‘You would not have missed the exit, if you had taken the Saw Mill as you were supposed to’—makes no sense. Just as likely I’d a missed the exit off the Saw Mill, too—there’s data aplenty on this, on me missing exits. But that would be the grouse, you know, if she…” “Was alive.” “Yeah.” “But she’s not.” Parnell looked at him again, said, “No flies on you.” Actually, there were at least two on the guy, but Parnell continued, “but promises to keep and all that crap.” “She’s hard as rock back here. What are you getting me mixed up in, mister?” “Oh, come on. I doubt very much rigor mortis has set in yet. She’s only went over the hedge an hour ago. She was always just, you know, naturally hard. Once, I saw an old wood chair collapse underneath her ass and she remained in a sitting position. In mid-air. I swear.” “You shouldn’t talk about your mother’s ass like that.” “Yeah, yeah,” Parnell nodded. Maybe this had been a bad idea. The homeless guy had had about thirty minutes already to acclimate himself to the situation. Parnell was trying to be patient, though; he wanted this to work out. “I only meant it in an anatomically commiserate way, you know? Look, Homeless Dude…” “I told you: my name is Joe. You keep on calling me Homeless Dude or Homeless Guy. Don’t think I don’t know what that’s about.” It was good that the topic of conversation had changed. Parnell asked, not really caring, just wanting to continue diverting as much as possible, “What’s it about then? Do tell.” “I’m just an abstraction if you call me the ‘H’ Dude or Guy. I get it. I’m not stupid. I graduated from Herbert H. Lehman College.” 38
Big deal, Parnell thought; he could’ve gone there, too, he had his GED after all. He got off the service road and back onto the parkway south. Joe didn’t smell like an abstraction, that was for sure. Parnell cracked his window. “Well, Joe, I’m sensing you are not one who has confronted new life situations with startling aplomb, but try to get a grip. What are you so worried about? Old people die—it’s not like I killed her. She died. And I promised her. I told you so. And fifty buck is fifty bucks. Is this like a negotiating ploy of yours? Because I can find another vagrant to urinate on my father’s grave,” Parnell snapped his fingers, “just like that.” They bumped over the train tracks and from the back seat, Joe shook his head and watched the gates of Gate of Heaven Cemetery growing larger and larger. His mother was buried here, too. He had no idea where, hadn’t gone to the funeral, hadn’t even known she had passed for months after it happened. When he found out and went back home to confront his father, his father had said what was he supposed to do, send a message in skywriting? Joe understood getting in touch would’ve been difficult—he had been living on the street for a year—nonetheless he had answered his father’s mostly rhetorical question by plunging a tarnished shrimp fork from his mother’s silver service that he had been stealing into the old man’s forehead. Jimmy Cagney. He was buried here, too. “You didn’t tell me she was dead when I got in. I thought she was asleep.” “Listen, this is probably the worst part of your day, I admit,” Parnell said, “but it hasn’t exactly been a banana daiquiri of a day for her. She tells me this morning that she’s been reading my journal—we won’t get into her ‘what kind of man keeps a journal’ spiel. I been doing that for psychological calmness, since I got my ass reamed in the joint several dozen times. It’s supposed to help to write about it. Though most of it is just about me wanting to ream my psychologist’s ass, and, of course, his wife’s. And, anyways, she found out that every time we visit the old man’s grave and she puts her flowers down, and I ask her for a moment alone with the old man and escort her back to the car, then I go piss on his grave. I guess that was a lot for her to take in. About what I’ve been doing. She made me swear—to God—I wouldn’t piss on my father’s grave anymore. And then had a breakfast and we were ready to drive up here and she said my Dad’s name, and then she was dead. And I just kind of figured, you know, she would want to come up here one last time. Maybe that would make her happy wherever she really is.” Parnell drove through the big gates, thinking he should take the Saw Mill on the way back. He drove by the little stone bridge, past the geese gathered at the pond, and past the chapel that reminded him more of a rocket ship made of lady fingers, and into the section where the family plot was and pulled over. He turned around to Joe, who was staring at his dead mother like he knew she was about to yell “Yahtzee” or something. He had to snap him out of it. “Listen, when she was just dying, like about forty minutes before I picked you up, I promised her that I would keep on visiting, but I would not piss on 39
his grave. Got it? If it wasn’t, you know, the whole last request of a dying mother thing, I wouldn’t even consider honoring it. This can be a boon for you, dog, I’ll go up to a hundred bucks. And it will be every month. If your address remains that overpass on Pelham Parkway and I can find you.” Joe scratched at his beard and Parnell watched some pizza flecks of tomato and cheese land on the back seat. “Did you like the pizza?” “Yeah, thanks.” “Sorrentino’s has the best in the Bronx. I told you. You could eat pizza every day with a hundred in your pocket. Maybe even a ham calzone.” “That is a lot of money,” Joe conceded. “But it’s wrong. It’s just wrong. And you’re still disobeying your mother in this.” “How so? You’re doing the urinating. Not me.” “But wait. If you pay a man to kill somebody it’s just like you done it yourself.” “That’s the craziest thing I ever heard! Who told you that?” “And, and, lying to her.” “Most of my lies have been for her own good. I been a good son that way. When the old man died, the ground was so cold they couldn’t bury him for three days. Three days after his funeral, he wasn’t in the ground. And I lied to her about that. You telling me I should have told her the truth about that, too?” Joe said, “No. Not about that.” “Then make up your mind.” Parnell rolled down the Bonneville’s window and put a neon purple e-cigarette in his mouth. “It never stops being about lies with regards to my old man. Never has, never will.” Parnell pointed. “Look, it’s the big brown one right there. No one’s around, do it now and it’s one hundred and fifty.” Now how can I, Joe thought, in good conscience possibly say no to a hundred-fifty? “Money up front.” “Half now. Half after. And I have to see the stream, no faking it.” Parnell put out his hand and they shook on it. “Where’d they keep him?” “What?” “When the ground was froze. Where did they keep him?” “They have a place for that.” Joe got out. He went over to the stone, looked around—no one—and stared down to the stone. It said husband and father of, not beloved husband and father of. Joe wondered how much an extra word like beloved cost on a headstone, and then he said to himself, ‘Well, Joe, are you talking about money, or something else?’ He realized he was being philosophical—it was funny how you only get philosophical after your stomach was full—and then he realized his fly was open and it was out and pointing like a divining rod. Two minutes passed. Nothing happened. 40
Parnell got out and joined him by the grave. Joe, penis in hand, turned a little, so Parnell couldn’t see it drooping there, useless. “More moral impediments?” Joe had his head down, as if in mourning. “Urinary infection.” “Jesus, are you fucking kidding me?” Parnell grabbed the Poland Spring bottle hanging out of Joe’s coat pocket and took off its cap. “Get back in the car.” But Joe stood there. Zipping up, he asked, “Is she going in next to him?” “Yeah. Assigned seating. They call it pre-need.” “Pre-need?” “Yeah, pre-need planning. You make arrangements way in advance, in case the family is bereft with bereavement. Excuse me,” Parnell said, unzipping his pants and putting the head of his penis into the bottle. The bottle filled yellow, well more greeny yellow than yellow. The he poured it over the grave. He looked at Joe. “There. And since I pissed in the bottle first, it’s not like I pissed on his grave. Technically.” “But wait. If you piss in a bottle or pay a man to piss in a bottle…” “The car, Homeless Joe!” “And it looks like you’re eating too much asparagus.” “Car!” Joe went back to the car, knowing Parnell was going to ask for a refund and not knowing what he would do when he did. He knew he hadn’t earned it, but he needed it. When he sat down next to Parnell’s mother he saw that the old lady’s eyes were open and she was speaking even though her lips weren’t moving. “Diaries and shy bladders. Nothing like his father,” she said. “Now there was a man. And you, you’re probably nothing like yours, either.” Joe remained silent out of respect for the dead, but he was thinking he had a legitimate medical problem, not a shy bladder, and was thinking her son kept a journal, not a damn diary—and he deserved the money, damn it; and then he stopped thinking about her as best he could: she was a little on the mean side. Parnell put the bottle on the headstone and stepped back from the grave. He should probably let Joe have the seventy-five anyway, pathetic bastard that he was. He felt the plastic cap for the water bottle in his hand and he flicked it hard. It boomeranged off the headstone and hit Parnell in the forehead. Parnell turned away, walking fast and angry. He got back in the Bonneville and put it in drive. Fuck it, he wasn’t going to take the goddamn Saw Mill, two goddamn lanes. “Well, Joe, that certainly wasn’t seventy-five bucks of service, I’m telling you,” Parnell said. “Now wait a second…” Joe said, his hands tightening into fists, looking down and saw a blue plastic funnel next to a quart of oil and one of those bright red “The Club” anti-lock protection devices. It’d be hard to stab someone in the eye with a funnel, but not impossible. Joe didn’t consider himself a 41
violent man but the image of drilling the funnel into Parnell’s left eye and filling his head with motor oil warmed him, and his fists unclenched. Joe said, “10W-40 isn’t even the right oil for this engine, pissing dude, dead mother guy.” “Huh?” Parnell said, and headed through the big gates again, and he was about to add something else, but then he caught another glimpse of those black, wrought iron gates in the rear view, and even though the Bonneville was moving away, the gates seemed to be growing larger rather than receding. The crossing barrier came down at the Metro-North rail tracks as he pulled up, lights, ringing. Joe launched forward and put the “The Club” over Parnell’s head and against his throat. He pulled back hard. Parnell’s hand shot up, trying to wrest himself loose, but Joe was strong. The train started going by. Parnell’s foot hit the gas and the car lurched forward, the divider sitting against the Bonneville windshield. “Let go,” Parnell gasped. “Seventy-five!” “The hundred.” “Eighty!” “The hundred.” “This isn’t how men negotiate in life. Eighty-five!” “The hundred.” “Let go. I’ll do it.” Parnell rasped. “I’ll kill us both.” “I can live with that,” Joe said. Joe got a better grip, he could tell—he was going to come out on top of this. A car was honking like crazy from behind, maybe trying to warn them. Parnell had a foot on the brake and a foot on the gas now. He let up on the brake and the divider started to bend as the car lurched forward. He felt he was wearing Joe down, he could tell—he felt like he was going to come out on top of this—maybe with a final offer of ninety, max. But, he wondered, a little hazily, he wondered what he’d do next if he did. His father had always said he never really thought things out to their logical… brake, gas, brake. What next, to do? His eye went to the rear view and to his mother’s body, as he tried to make up his mind: Sprain, Saw Mill, Sprain. Parnell gasped, “Oh… shut up, Ma!”
Double Tap by David Rachels
I’ve heard guys joke about going to a funeral to see for themselves that some bastard is really dead, but now I’m doing it, and it’s not a joke. If I’m supposed to believe that the world is safe from Charlie Brinkman, then I have to look into the coffin with my own eyes, and while I’m there I need to make sure he stays dead too. We walk into the funeral home, Phyllis and me, and everyone looks respectable. If you didn’t have an eye for tailored suits, you’d have no idea how many guns are in the room. I look around for Miranda, the dead man’s wife, but I don’t see her. I shake a few hands, clap a few guys on the back, and when we’re clear of the crowd, I say to my wife, “I’m going to look at the body. You can stay here if you want.” “I think I should go with you,” Phyllis says, so we go together. The chapel is empty. I don’t blame the other guys for wanting to stay away from Charlie for as long as possible. If they want to leave this job to me, fine. As we start our walk down the aisle, Phyllis says, “Myron, don’t you dare shoot him.” I try to act all surprised and innocent. “What? Shoot a dead guy? What are you talking about? That’s crazy.” “I know you. Don’t do it.” “It’s just for good measure. I’ve got a silencer, you know.” I pull the gun from under my coat and show Phyllis the silencer. Phyllis shakes her head. “Really? After all these years, this is what you want to go to jail for?” “Come on, nobody cares. Everybody here is like me—they just want to see for sure that he’s really dead. Nobody would be here for any other reason.” “But they’re not all here to shoot him.” “Don’t be so sure.” “Maybe they should have cremated him.” “Yeah, but how would we know it was really his ashes?” When we reach the front of the chapel, I can smell the cordite. I look at Charlie in the coffin, and I can’t believe it. “Can you beat that?” I say. “I hate to have to say it, but I told you so.” “You sure that’s post mortem?” Phyllis says. “Knowing Miranda, she might have scrimped on the mortician.” There is a bullet hole through the middle of Charlie’s forehead. I kneel down and reach under the coffin, and I find the exit hole. “Nope,” I say, “shot right in the coffin.” “Satisfied?” Phyllis says. “Not yet,” I say. “Listen.”
Phyllis and I stand quietly and hear nothing but the murmur of people in the lobby. “No sirens,” I say. “Nobody’s called the cops.” “Fine,” Phyllis says, “go ahead.” I put a bullet between Charlie’s eyes and then put my gun away. “That wasn’t very silent,” Phyllis says. “Anybody who heard it was glad,” I say. “Even Miranda.” When we exit to the lobby, Miranda is standing right there like she’s been waiting for us. She lifts her veil, and her eyes are pumping tears like a fire hydrant. She takes my hands in hers. “Myron,” she says, “thank you so much for being here,” and I can feel the gunshot residue on her fingers.
The Last Perfect Day by Dave Jaggers
It’s evening and I’m outside, taking in the glorious spring day when it hits me, this nagging feeling like an itch in the back of my mind. It’s telling me that right now in the driveway of my upscale home, in this nice neighborhood, that this is it, my last perfect day. From here on out, it’s all goes to shit, all downhill. My phone rings, interrupting my contemplation. It’s that miserable fuck Danny. Why did I ever get mixed up with a guy like him? Oh yeah, the coke. It was all about the coke. “Jay, its Danny, you got a minute?” I don’t want to talk to the twitchy little shit but he’s my dealer and my stash is running low so I give in. “Yeah Danny what’s up?” “Man, you know that thing I’ve been tellin you about? The hot chick with the Dominican boyfriend? Well that shit is goin down today. If you’re in, I need your cash in like an hour.” I wave at my neighbor Barbara as she walks by with her cunty little dog. Barbara’s the divorcee who lives across the street from me and is most likely fucking the HVAC repairman. His truck is parked on the curb every Tuesday around noon. He’s either giving her the bone, or she has a real shitty furnace and a hell of a warranty. “What did I tell you Danny? Never call me about this shit on my cell phone, we’ve discussed this. Just be at the car wash in thirty and I’ll bring what you need.” I hang up and breathe deep, soaking in the last warm rays of the sun. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can feel it, the certainty that something bad is about to happen. Danny’s sitting in his rusted out Chrysler LeBaron smoking the filter off a long gone cigarette when I whip the Mercedes into the parking lot. He flashes that cheesy fucking grin of his, the one that makes me want to reach in and pull his lungs out through his nose. I envy Danny in a way. He’s an optimist, one of the last true believers and no matter how shitty his pathetic life gets, he’s always looking to a brighter future. I have to hand it to him, it takes balls to be that oblivious. “Jay dawg. Good to see you brother,” Danny says getting into the passenger side of my car. I usually don’t let his filthy ass anywhere near my ride, but this was last minute and I sure as hell wasn’t going to climb into that rolling dumpster of his. “So you’re sure this deal is legit?” I say. “Absol-fucking-lutly bro. This chick digs me man. She says she likes my eyes. I think she’s sweet on me, even tho she’s bangin that dude Big Island.
Ain’t that some shit? She said her man got the sweet hook up and can get us weight.” I look Danny in the face searching for any hint that he’s trying to play me. I may be some candy ass, white collar desk jockey, but I didn’t get a sixfigure salary and a corner office by being stupid. I look hard at Danny but all I see is his overpowering enthusiasm and lack of intelligence. He believes what he was saying, so I guess I’ll have to do the same. I pull a thick envelope out of the glove box and hand it to him. Before I let go I ask him one more time. “We’re not going to get fucked on this are we?” “Jesus Jay, chill out man. Wait and see, this thing is gonna turn out righteous for both of us.” I watch Danny get back into his car with the envelope filled with the last of my son’s college savings. I didn’t intend to snort it all up my goddamned nose, but I did. It started out as just a one-time withdrawal, just a thousand, my wife would never know. I was sure I’d put it back after payday. Then payday showed up and I already need another eight ball. The circle of addiction, a slow motion decay. This score with Danny is going to set things right though. I’ll get a good little stash and with what Danny can sell, I’ll replenish the savings account before my wife gets wise. It’s a good plan, but I still have that feeling like my life is hanging by a thread and I can’t help but pick at it, unraveling the whole thing. I’m standing in the hallway of Danny’s piss-stained apartment. He’s in the bathroom washing blood from his swollen face. I see a tooth skim around the bowl of the sink and slip down into the drain. I feel just like that tooth, circling in a downward spiral, falling into the darkness of no return. “We are so fucked dude,” he manages to say through split lips. “Tell me again exactly what happened.” Danny sits down on the edge of the chipped tub and holds a washcloth to a three inch gash on his forehead. “I took the money to the bitch’s house just like we planned and the whore let me in. Big island’s there, only he’s not alone, there’s three other thugs standing around and one has a gun. I didn’t want to give it to em Jay but what was I supposed to do? He had a fucking gun.” “So they took the money and beat the shit out you?” I say. Danny hangs his head and starts sobbing. The tears mix with the blood on his cheeks and run red down his neck, staining the collar of his tee shirt pink. “No man, you don’t get it. We’re fucked.” I pound my fist on the doorframe and paint chips fall to the floor at my feet. “You’re not making sense Danny. What the fuck happened?” “The money you gave me man, it was only part of what I had with me. I thought I could turn a fat stack on this deal bro.” Danny puts his head in his hands and sobs. “I was so sure this was it man. I doubled down and borrowed the extra cash from Big Sid.”
“Who the fuck is Big Sid?” I ask. “You know what, I don’t care. I don’t give a fuck what kind of stupid shit you’ve gotten yourself into. I want my money or we are going to have a big problem Danny.” Danny starts full on crying now. I mean weeping like he’s standing over his mother’s casket. “They’re coming for us Jay. They said we had an hour.” “What do you mean we…” Before I can say another word, the front door bursts open and three big bald men fill the tight hallway. The first guy in is huge, his shoulders almost touch the walls on either side. “Time’s up Danny Boy. Sid wants his forty grand right now.” He sounds Russian. I back up and practically usher the guy into the bathroom. He reaches in and grabs Danny by the throat and drags him into the living room, knocking over a coffee table covered in beer cans. I can see Danny trying to speak, trying to breathe, but the man’s grip is too tight. I make for the door but the other two guys block me in and smile. I see the glint of a gold tooth. “You are Danny’s partner no?” Mr. Gold tooth says. I can hear Danny start to scream as the big man goes to work on him with a pocket knife. This is serious. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. This fuck owes me money, that’s why I’m here,” I say trying to sound tough, but my voice comes out all thin and reedy. Gold tooth’s face goes serious and he fixes his empty blue eyes on me. “Danny said he had a partner on this deal. He said some rich prick was his backer.” Gold tooth looks me over, eyeing my seven hundred dollar shoes. “You must be this prick, no?” “No,” I say. “I trusted him with fifteen grand and he gave it away. It’s all I had.” Danny is screaming like his balls are on fire, I look over into the living room. The big bald guy has cut off both of Danny’s earlobes and there’s blood everywhere. “Where’s Sid’s money Danny?” he keeps asking over and over. Danny has checked out. His eyes are vacant and he’s mumbling under his breath. Gold tooth grabs me by my collar and pushes me against the wall. “If you are Danny’s partner, then the debt is on you now. You owe Sid forty grand.” It’s sunny out and I’m standing in my driveway. The breeze stirs around my collar, cool and crisp and I feel so alive. The street is empty except for the squirrels racing back and forth and the occasional bird landing to eat a skittering bug. This is the most perfect day. I close my eyes and watch the light dance across my eyelids. A boot to my stomach brings me back. “Don’t pass out now my friend. We are just getting started.” I see the gold tooth hovering over me, reflecting the sunlight coming in through the window of the panel van. My hands and feet are taped and I’m lying on my side. I’m being driven somewhere. A thin ray of sunshine hits my 47
face, warming my bruised cheeks. Danny’s glassy, dead eyes are staring at me through a layer of clear plastic on the floor across from me. I swear he still looks optimistic, like his luck is about to turn and he might get out of this somehow. I wish I could feel that way, but I’m not Danny, I’m not a true believer. I know how this is going to end. I have known it all along.
The Mexican Pepsi DoubleCross by Rusty Barnes
The cashier at the 7-11 on Water Street leaves to take a leak. Open invitation to crack open the register, Kraj thinks. He bangs through the gate and scans a candy bar, then hits the cash button. He shoves a few twenties, a ten and four fives into his jacket pocket and bangs through the gate again. In and out, the stupid cashier should have never left. It's the first robbery of the night, and no one even knows he's on the prowl again. Kraj is the master of the almost worthless knockover, the svengali of petty theft, the maestro of easy money. Kraj exits the 7-11 and walks to his car, parked around the corner. He's been in other cities like Buffalo and Syracuse, Williamsport and Erie, plying his trade with tremendous success, and now he's in Elmira, a bummedout market with few jobs and a heavy gang presence on whom the local police blame all of Kraj's work. The car starts with a low growl, as much as a Camry can muster. Kraj steers it over the bridge onto Pennsylvania Ave, his target being the Dandy Mini-Mart in Southport. The store is set back from the street, with no good space to park other than in front of the place, which he can't risk. He rolls the Camry to a stop in front of the Coachman Motor Lodge, crosses the street past a dentist's office a couple worn-out houses and a scuttled health food store. It's maybe a five minute walk back to the Dandy. Kraj waits until a car leaves the gas pumps. He can see the cashier, a heavy-set blonde woman with a hint of a mustache talking on her Bluetooth. He catches a glimpse of himself in a rounded security mirror, five and a half feet of Eastern European badassery, bald head and small blue eyes. Utterly unremarkable. He looks among the bottles in the refrigerated section for Mexican Pepsi, made with real sugar, the only kind he'll drink in these days of aspartame and sucralose. "Hi Miss," Kraj says."You got any of that Mexican Pepsi?" The cashier thumbs off her phone. "What?" she says. "That Spic stuff? If it ain't out there, we ain't got it." "Could you go in the back and check? It's a weird thing I can only drink once a day because of my diabetes," Kraj says, smiling. "My gramma got that," the woman says. Her nametag says Rita. Her mustache quivers. "But you wouldn't know it to look at her. She's real strong." "I bet she is," Kraj says. "So could ya check for me?" "OK, hon. I'll be right back." Rita shuffles back to the stockroom and Kraj leaps the counter. He's very agile for his age. This is an old cash register and he simply hits the cash button and the drawer pops. He gets a fifty--jackpot--and a bunch of fives. He doesn't bother to take the ones. On a hunch he lifts the black plastic drawer up and finds three more fifties underneath. Just then Rita comes out of the back with a sixpack of Mexican Pepsi. "Are you robbing me?" she says, and begins walking toward him with purpose. 49
"Back off, lady," Kraj says. "I don't want to hurt you." "I don't care about that," she says. "I want you to take me with you." She moves closer. "I can help you. I've worked all around this town. I know where all the tiny stores are." "Back off," Kraj says. "I'm not going to take you with me." "You're already on the security tapes. I can pull the tape and throw it out." Kraj thinks for a moment. He's already spent too much time on this joint. Long enough for Rita to get a good look at him, long enough to show up big as life on a computer screen in some corporate office somewhere in Westbury NY. Long enough to get caught. Kraj snaps through his options in lightning-quick succession and decides his chances are better with Rita on his side. "Also, there's a gun in the drawer right next to the till." Kraj blanches. Without taking his eyes off Rita, Kraj opens the drawer and pulls out a stumpy revolver that's heavier than it looks. He flips open the cylinder to make sure it's loaded. There's a box of ammunition too, and Kraj wonders what the owner must be like. If six cartridges weren't enough, what would be? "Come on," Kraj said. "Let's get that tape and go." Rita squeals with what Kraj assumes is joy. He sticks the gun into his pants pocket and motions to her. "Come ON." Rita hustles into the back room and comes out with a CD which Krak breaks in two pieces with some difficulty and sticks them in his shirt pocket. Rita takes his hand shyly and they walk out of the store. Kraj is nerved up. The streets seem suddenly alive with people. They walk up the avenue. An explosion of laughter comes from the direction of the Homestead Inn, where a group of drunks are rolling into the cars and into their short walks home. Kraj motions Rita into the passenger seat. "I'm done for the night," Kraj says. Rita opens her 7-11 blouse a few buttons, enough so he can see that she has a purple bra on, revealing a white expanse of her upper breasts, and his mouth goes dry. "Oh no, you're not," Rita says. Kraj considers this for a moment. He smiles at her--she deserves it, he thinks--and drops the Camry into drive, makes a U-turn and heads back down across the river to the hotel where he's been holed up since he left Binghamton a few days past. He can barely see the stars through all the street lights. He tenses when he passes the Dandy and then again when he passes the 7-11 he robbed earlier in the evening. The Chemung River lies dark underneath the bridge, with a barrage of traffic on the other side of the bridge and a smell of fresh asphalt. Kraj makes the right, then another left into the hotel parking lot. He looks longingly at the front door of the lounge. "Come on up," Kraj says. "Do you have anyone you need to call?" "Nope. No boyfriend. No kids," Rita says. "Good," Kraj says. He slips the keycard into the slot once; it doesn't work, then twice. "Let me do it," Rita says. "You're trying to do it too fast." She puts the card in the slot and waits a second for the light to go green, then opens the 50
door. Kraj motions her in with a waved hand. "I'm just going to freshen up a little," she says, and closes the bathroom door behind her. Kraj takes this time to stash all the money except for the fifty in his duffel bag. He can hear Rita singing a song and the steady pulse of water against plastic. He arranges his clothes on the desk chair covering the huge advertisement for free wi-fi, and then he hears the water stop. Rita comes out naked and poses for him, arm up the door. He's surprised by her body. What looks like excess baggage is actually all solid woman, big powerful thighs and large breasts. She has a tattoo of a frog just left of her pubic hair and a shamrock on her shoulder. "You like?" she says. "I do, very much," Kraj says. Rita walks over and pushes him down on the bed. She sinks herself onto his cock. "So what's your name?" she says. Kraj wakes up early, as he always does. He splashes his way out of a mound of blankets. Rita is sprawled on her side still nude, no blankets around her. He pulls off a sheet with some difficulty and drapes it over her body. Picking her clothes off the bathroom floor, Kraj tries his best to fold them into some kind of neatness and puts the shirt and pants on the dresser. The underwear and bra he leaves in the bathroom. By the time he comes out freshly showered, Rita is up and dressed in one of his shirts. "I'll tell you, sweetie. That was a hell of a night," Rita says. "I told you my name is Kraj," he says. "You little guys always have the biggest cocks," she says, spreading her legs slightly and patting her crotch. "I'm sore." Kraj figures that's the end of the conversation, and turns to his bag for fresh clothing. Rita whistles as she enters the bathroom and comes out in her underwear. "What are we going to do today?" she says. "Don't you have to work?" "I quit my job when I agreed to come with you, dummy," Rita says as she pulls on her uniform pants. "You haven't got a check to pick up?" Kraj says. Kraj accepts the decision he made last night at the sight of her bra. He wishes his loins didn't speak so much more forcefully than his good sense. "Nope," she says. "In fact, I'm never going back to that fucking place. The boss, John? He is such a pig. From Sierra Leone? He'd always brush by me even when he had all the room in the world to move. I caught him watching porn from the security cameras once. He gave me a fifty cent raise and asked me not to rat him out. You know? Snitches get stitches." O Lord, Kraj thinks. "Do you want to go to Eldridge Park?" Eldridge Park, famous for its carousel, has been renovated recently, so crowds of women with their scabby kids come there for the lake and the cheap Creamery ice cream. There's also a Dandy mini-mart near there he's been meaning to case for a while. "What a non-creepy idea, Kraj," Rita says. "This may work out after all." She slaps him on the shoulder. 51
"You could ride one of the wooden horsies," Kraj says. "Horsies," Rita says. "That's so cute. I got something else in mind I want to ride, though," she says, leering. "The BALONEY PONY!. Eh? Eh?" In answer, Kraj picks up his keys. He wonders if God above will help him lose this chick. The Park is choked with people. They follow a woman pushing a tripleseat stroller loaded with three kids wearing nothing but diapers. Kraj figures they're at least four years old, and each of them has a binky in its mouth. And they are all sobbing. Rita tightens her grip on his hand. The stolen pistol is heavy in his pocket. "Get a load of those kids," Rita says. "Walking ads for birth control." She scratches her crotch absentmindedly. "I should tell you, I think I got a yeast infection." "What?" Kraj says. He's been looking past the people at the food carts lining the side of the concrete paver walkway. Any one of them probably has a till worth lifting. "I'm sorry I didn't hear you." "That's OK," Rita says, "it wasn't important anyway. Can we get some cotton candy?" Kraj walks up to the vendor and picks out some blue cotton candy for Rita. He also notices the man stuffs his money into a blue bank bag which he puts in an unused drawer under his cart. All Kraj needs is a distraction. Metal 55 gallon drums line the walkway at intervals, and Kraj approaches Rita, offering the cotton candy with a flourish. "Aw," she says, "my hero." He whispers in her ear for a moment, and she nods eagerly. Kraj pulls a pack of cigarettes and lights one, moving next to one of the blue-painted containers. Rita moves closer to the cotton candy vendor's cart. She nods to him, and he throws his lit butt into the can, then immediately lights another and sticks it in his mouth, puffing without ashing. Gray ash drops to the ground with every other quiver of his lip. The can is smoking now. "Fire!" Kraj yells and points at the can. "Fire!" The vendor comes over with a bottle of water in his hand, but the grease and paper in the can is now a busy flame, and the water hisses against the metal. "Fire," Kraj says with much less conviction. He sees Rita reach into the drawer and lift the bills, then put the bank bag back. By this time a park ranger has arrived, and he lectures Kraj for smoking when the signs clearly say he shouldn't. Kraj is very apologetic, and the ranger walks off after berating him. "Did you leave some bills in there?" Kraj asks Rita. "Nope," Rita says. "I took everything the sumbitch had." "That could get us caught some times," Kraj says. He can't argue much, because it's the easiest 300 bucks he's ever lifted. He begins to relax. Maybe this could be fun. She's ballsy. She likes to fuck. What's not to like? Coarse, yes, but he's no prize either, he knows. How easily she left her job. But she got him 300 bucks. Kraj pulls a tuft of blue candy off the paper cone and stuffs it into her mouth, and she smiles. Perfect yellow teeth. Kraj and Rita wander around the park for some time, talking idly. Kraj scopes out every vendor he can. This place could be a gold mine for the two of 52
them. Then at the far end of the park, he looks over the fence at the Dandy he plans to knock over before the day is out. "Let's do it now," Rita says. "There's going to be slow time between three and four, just before people get out of work, and before the shift changes. They'll have the most money in the till then." Kraj finds it difficult to argue with her. She's been flashing him breast all afternoon and once, she drew him behind a Dumpster and gave him head. He cannot remember the last time that happened to him. She throws her pop can into the garbage and skirts behind a little boy peeing against a tree. "Give me the gun," she says. "God forbid we get caught I'll have the gun on me and they always give women lesser sentences anyway. Or maybe I can fuck the cop or something." "You're kidding," Kraj says. "Of course I am. I'd never get caught." He hands over the gun to her, and she tucks it into the front of her stretchy pants. It looks like her cooch is podding out. Kraj and Rita split up as soon as they get into the store which is empty as Rita had predicted. Kraj heads to the refrigerated section and picks up a Mexican Pepsi he has no intention of paying. Live for now, with Pepsi, he thinks. Rita is at a frozen drink station. She throws all the levers at once. "Omigod," she says loudly, "what the fuck is wrong with this machine?" The Asian cashier hurries out to turn the machine off, swearing at Rita in some language Kraj doesn't understand, something twangy and uncouth on his tongue. Kraj jumps the counter and looks for a way into the register. He rings up a candy bar but accidentally hits the credit button. "Fuck," Kraj says. The cashier hears the beeping noise of the cash register and rushes back toward Kraj, who raises a fist and advances on him. What else? Kraj watches wide-eyed as Rita reaches into the front of her pants. Kraj doesn't have time to tell her no. She cocks the revolver and Kraj sees everything in slow motion. One shot takes a plug of meat out of the cashier's shoulder, the next tears a hole in his back and he falls. Rita walks up slowly and kicks the Asian man, who moans. She lets off another shot into the back of his head, which rises nearly imperceptibly off the floor but will never do so again. "Fuck, oh fuck,' Kraj says. Rita tosses the revolver to the floor by the Asian man's head. Runnels of blood lead Kraj's gaze to the door, where a woman and her small child stand dumbfounded. The woman screams. Rita and Kraj hit the door running. They manage about a block before they hear sirens behind them and ahead. Before they can make a turn into someone's yard, try to make an escape, a big white man levels his gun at them and shouts at Kraj to stop. Rita turns toward the cop. 'Help me," she says, "he did it." Kraj is incredulous and out of breath, so he cannot speak at first, just stares at Rita, finally understanding he's been a tool. "No, she did it," Kraj says. "Get on the ground!" the cop says to Kraj. Kraj hits his knees in the position of prayer. He understands, finally, this is the position he should have
been in the whole time, asking God for forgiveness for his petty crimes. Soon Rita is on the ground in cuffs beside him. He turns to her. "Why?" he says. In return she spits in his face. Now he can't tell if it's his tears or her spit on his lips. Mexican Pepsi, he thinks. It was all he had wanted.
Andrew Riconda lives on City Island in the Bronx. His fiction has appeared in The Amherst Review, Criminal Class Review (Vols. 3 & 6), Oyez Review, Phantasmagoria, Rio Grande Review, Watchword (Vols. 6 & 7), The William and Mary Review, and another is forthcoming in Crimespree Magazine. Otto Penzler and Harlan Coben selected his story, “Heart Like a Balloon,” for inclusion in The Best American Mystery Stories 2011. Rusty Barnes is the author of seven books, latest among them the novel RECKONING. 280 Steps will publish his next book, a crime novel called RIDGERUNNER in May 2016. He is the sole proprietor of Fried Chicken and Coffee. a blogazine of rural and Appalachian concerns. Check www.friedchickenandcoffee.com or www.rustybarnes.com for more. Sheldon Lee Compton is a Hillbilly-American short story writer and novelist living in Eastern Kentucky. He is the author of two short story collections and the novel Brown Bottle, due out from Bottom Dog Press in January 2016. Jen Conley’s short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Crime Factory, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter, Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and many others. She has contributed to the Los Angeles Review of Books, has been shortlisted for Best American Mystery Stories, and is one of editors of Shotgun Honey. Les Edgerton is an ex-convict, having served a bit over 2 years in Pendleton Reformatory on charges of second-degree burglary (plea-bargained down from multiple counts of burglary, strong-arm robbery, armed robbery, and possession of narcotics with intent to sell. He’s all cleaned up and reformed now, so you can invite him into your home and won’t have to count the silverware when he lives. The story here is based verbatim on his own experience upon making parole. Josh Gaines is a Portland based author, and is the editor in chief of Thoughtcrime Press. He earned his MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013. His poems appear in numerous anthologies, and online publications. His fiction was most recently published in London's, Dark Mountain. J. David Jaggers lives in fly over country, where he spends his days in the white collar world of finance and his nights writing about the degenerates and losers dwelling in shadows of our brightly lit society. He has been published in 55
Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Near to the Knuckle, Pulp Metal, and various other magazines and anthologies. He has a short story collection Down In The Devil Hole available from Gritfiction Ltd. and you can find links to all of his published work at Straightrazorfiction.com Heather Luby is nothing more than a girl from the Ozark Mountains that grew up with dreams of writing stories. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, JMWW, LITnIMAGE, Bartleby Snopes, Shotgun Honey and a few other places along the way. She has an MFA from Antioch University Los Angeles, and is an alumni of the Sewanee Writers' Conference. Her novel Laws of Motion is represented by Brandt and Hochman Literary Agents in New York. Read more at http://heatherluby.com/ Matt Mattila had been published in Yellow Mama, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and Commuterlit before he turned 20. Moonlighting as a third-shift restaurant host on the wrong side of a Connecticut city, he spends his free time wishing he could come up with a pen name weirder than his real one. His first novel is currently being optioned for publication. You can find him on Facebook. Jay Nunnery lives in St. Paul, where he writes and occasionally teaches. His work has appeared in Echolocations Anthology, Beat to a Pulp, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Gone Lawn, and Xenith Online Matt Phillips lives in San Diego and was born in Palm Springs, California. He was raised in the Coachella Valley and nearby Mojave High Desert. His noir novellas are BAD LUCK CITY, REDBONE and MESA BOYS. His short fiction has been published at Near to the Knuckle, Flash Fiction Offensive, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Powder Burn Flash. More info atwww.mattphillipswriter.com David Rachels has published short fiction in a wide variety of journals, ranging from Pulp Modern and Thuglit to Bombay Gin and The North American Review. As well, he has edited the first collection of noir master Gil Brewerâ€™s short stories, Redheads Die Quickly and Other Stories (UP of Florida, 2012). Frank Reardon was born in 1974 in Boston, Massachusetts and currently lives in Minot, North Dakota. Frank has been published in many reviews, journals, and online zines. His first poetry collection, Interstate Chokehold, was published by NeoPoiesis Press in 2009 as well as his second collection Nirvana Haymaker 2012. His third poetry collection Blood Music was published by Punk Hostage Press late 2013. In 2014 he published a chapbook with Dog On A Chain Press titled The Broken Halo Blues. Frank is currently working on a novel and more short fiction.
Manslaughter Review is a journal of crime fiction.