|Posted on March 25, 2011 at 8:09 AM||comments (0)|
The author said this book belongs in the "semi-spoof porno-noir fairy tale" genre. At 99 cents, it's worth it to check out what that means. - Ben
Title: What Ever Happened to Jerry Pico?
Author: Joe Florez
Available: At Amazon as an eBook for 99 cents
“So he just vanished?” I ask.
She’s right next to me on the chaise longue, curled up in a red kimono, cradling a vodka. Skin as sallow as old cheddar, tangled blond hair like the wool off of a sheep. She’s not looking great. But she’s still pretty good, despite everything.
“Just did,” she says, kind of flat, as if something’s gone from her brain. Like they’ve taken a chunk of it away and left her with the vodka and the cheese.
I’ve know Gloria for years one way and another. She’s had the body of a twenty year-old as long as I can remember. Straight six foot in her heels. About the hottest two yards of flesh I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen some flesh.
“He didn’t say goodbye?”
I’m not one for the softly-softly. If he’s gone, he’s gone. I’ll find him. If that’s what she wants. If she really wants him found. But I’ve got my doubts.
My name is Jack. Jack Storm. I do people favors. But not people like you. Your place gets turned over? You find a body? You call the Precinct. Two nice men come down asking questions, looking concerned. If the cops can’t help, there’s PIs in the book. You got options. You got people to call.
But cops have to write reports. Even private eyes have rules. People come to me when they’ve got no options. I’m not in the book.
“Nothing,” she says down into her drink. There’s a lot less in the glass than when she opened the door five minutes ago. “No note. No goodbye. No nothing.”
“Money? Cards? Watch?”
“Keys? Car? Cell?”
“Took his cell. Nothing else.”
“What was he wearing?”
She shrugs. “The usual. White suit. Violet silk shirt.”
“Armani. Blue and violet. Flowers.”
“White suit and flowery shirt? First thing in the morning?”
“You know what he was like.”
I know Jerry Picco. And now his wife’s talking about him in the past tense. But if it’s for the insurance, or the house, she calls the police. She doesn’t wait a week and a half then call Jack Storm. One more thing: this is not a jealous wife. She does not put a bullet through his head for screwing around. I know Jerry Picco.
Gloria sniffles, runs the glass across her forehead. Her eyes are puffy, but sort of small inside. Strands of blond hair stick to the worry lines etched deep into her brow. All this close-up work makes me uneasy. I prefer her on the screen.
She was always my favorite, no question. There’s a couple of Jerry’s old videos I watch sometimes, the early ones. Gloria’s one hell of a performer. Jerry too. The chaise longue is in both those movies. I feel honored just sitting here.
I look around at the room, wait for the sniffling to stop. Faded Palo Alto luxury, the floor so thick with fur rugs it’s like someone slaughtered a pack of huskies right here. Louis XIV mirrors, ruby-red drapes, big frameless mock-Rothcos, gaudy chandeliers hung too low, each branch heavy with crystal fruit. A pimped-up abortion of a place, circa way back.
I’ve been here before. That’s why she’s crying. Not because Jerry’s disappeared. Not just that, anyways. I’ve done plenty of jobs for Jerry and Gloria over the years. But it’s one job in particular she’s remembering now. They hired me to find one of their girls. Story was, she’d been kidnapped. They’d already paid the ransom but the girl never showed. It took me about a day and a quarter to find the little slut, holed up in a motel counting the fifty grand she and her sleazebag boyfriend made off of the deal. I didn’t have the heart to tell Jerry and Gloria, especially after the boyfriend cut me in for ten. I beat the shit out of him anyway and gave her the gypsy warning. I felt bad but I got over it.
That’s why Gloria’s crying. Last time she sent me looking for somebody I drew a blank. So she kind of knows how this might turn out. Leastways, she thinks she does.
“See that,” she says, glancing across at an enormous plasma screen in the middle of a marble fireplace straight out of the Getty Museum gift shop. The TV’s been on mute since I got here. They’re showing an old Faith Reagan movie. Everybody’s showing Faith Reagan movies right now.
I look at the screen. There she is, Faith Reagan. The frailest teenager you ever saw, painfully innocent, doe-eyed, freckled, beautiful like you couldn’t imagine.
Gloria lights a Dunhill and pulls a TV remote out from somewhere down inside the kimono. She somehow manages to keep hold of the glass, the cigarette and the remote, and turns up the volume. It’s one of those sultry Texan movies they used to make where it was always sunset and nothing much happened.
“Jerry knew her,” she says, nodding at the screen as she takes a drink.
“Who, Faith Reagan?”
“That’d be before she got married, I guess.”
Faith Reagan was a starlet, years back. Young and pretty, virginal and clean-living. That’s how I remember her. How everyone remembers her. She’s about my age. And Jerry’s, for that matter. Look where we are now. Shit. They used to call Faith Reagan the new Doris Day. To me she was more of a Sissy Spacek with undercurrents. More of a tug, if you get me. What the fuck she was doing bumping into a sleaze ball like Jerry Picco I don’t know. But that’s LA. We all think we know it. But we’re on the outside. We don’t know what goes on.
“How’s business?” I ask Gloria.
She mutes the TV and takes another mouthful of vodka, wincing as she swallows. Her face is blotchy and raw, streaked with sadness. She’s a little younger than Jerry, I reckon, but she always had that big sister look. The perfect partner for him. Now she just looks tired and drunk. I’ve never seen her look like this.
How’s business? She doesn’t answer that one. Doesn’t need to. You seen Jerry’s name any place recently? No. Something happened to him. His star just dropped out the sky. And Gloria dropped with him. Time was, Jerry could walk into a restaurant down in LA and people would look. He was known. He was liked. Had a couple of mainstream cameos too. Could have crossed over, if he hadn’t liked his job so much.
Where is he now? Fuck knows. He moved here from San Fernando years back, got himself a fifteen-room Palo-Alto villa before the Valley boomed. Anyone who bought big in Palo Alto back then is a bricks and mortar millionaire. And besides, you can only feel so sorry for the guy who married Gloria.
“You sure you don’t want a drink?” she says, walking almost steadily over to a monster drinks counter built of rough-hewn Italian marble. She freshens her glass to the brim, but that includes ice so I figure she’s not suicidal.
I decline the offer. She makes it back to the chaise longue without mishap. There are tears in her eyes, but she’s trying to smile, and now she’s closer to me. A little too close.
“Jack,” she says, cute, “you will find him, won’t you?”
“If he wants to be found.”
She takes a couple of gulps.
“Jack,” she says again, her mouth resting on the rim of the glass. “I can’t pay you.”
Her mouth stays right where it is. A little vodka and saliva dribbles out the side. She’s started crying again.
I owe you ten grand, I want to tell her. But I figure it’s not the right moment. Any second now she’s gonna wanna hug me, and heavy debtors have problems with intimacy.
Standing, I tell her I’ll be back tomorrow. She’s no use to me like this, and there’s a chance she might be sober if I get to her before lunch. I’ll ask my questions then.
At the door I turn to say goodbye. But she’s staring at the TV, the glass held to her chin. She doesn’t know I’m there.
Off the hallway is Jerry’s office. More fur rugs scattered on the floor, but there’s no bad modern art on the walls, which are lined with leather-bound volumes of Hustler magazine and about fifty others. Then there’s copies of all his own videos, including Think Big Volumes 1 through 12 (his biggest selling movies). I’m missing several for the set. Not that I’m an obsessive or anything but it’d be nice to have the full dozen.
His Rolodex sits on a dark wood desk, which is meticulously tidy and absolutely enormous. Then there’s an enormous desk diary, and the fattest Mont Blanc fountain pen I have ever seen. There’s not much in the diary. A squiggle here and there, something that even the handwriting tells you is unimportant. The page for ten days ago has been folded down at the corner: NBC it says. Underneath, circled in the same blue ink, ALL FIVE!!!, the words underlined so hard that the paper bears little blue-edged gashes.
I take the Rolodex and leave. Several volumes of Think Big go through the door with me.
Click here to read the rest of What Ever Happened to Jerry Pico.
Author's Bio: Joe Florez is the crime writing pseudonym of John Barlow, who is a novelist, non-fiction writer, academic editor and journalist.
|Posted on March 21, 2011 at 5:30 PM||comments (0)|
Mark Young served in law enforcement for 26 years, reported for a newspaper for six years and did tours in Vietnam. With experiences like that, you can bet his debut crime novel is good. I follow his excellent blog, Hook 'em and Book 'em, too. Check him out! - Ben
Title: Revenge: A Travis Mays Novel
Author: Mark Young
Available: At Amazon as an eBook here
Santa Rosa, California, December 2004
Raindrops splattered the windshield as Travis Mays raised his binoculars. Come on. Come on. Where are you? He squinted, trying to catch a glimpse of any movement near the building through this infernal darkness.
Travis flicked the glove box open and snatched a bottle of antacids, tossing a handful into his mouth. Jaw muscles ached from gritting his teeth. These tablets did little to ease the burning inside. He raised the glasses once again.
Carlos shifted in the passenger’s seat. “She’s still inside, dude. Don’t get your shorts in a twist.”
Travis ignored his partner, straining to see through the windshield’s fogged-up glass. A two-story building loomed in the darkness fifty yards away. A black-grated fence circled the office complex. A droopy-eyed security guard — sheltered from pelting rain inside a lighted shack — sat twenty yards away, scanning all vehicles coming and going. No way to sneak inside to check on her safety.
He glanced at his watch. Ten o’clock.
Travis gripped his binoculars, searching for any signs of life in the darkened building. “Something’s wrong. I told Michelle to get out of there before everyone went home. Get in. Get the documents. Get out. This is taking way too long.”
“Chill out. Maybe she’s just waiting until everyone leaves. Then she can grab and run.” Carlos chuckled. “Michelle, is it? Sound like this is more than business. I saw you making eyes at her. She’s just a snitch, man. Business is business. Don’t let it get personal.”
“That snitch is risking everything. She’s putting it all on the line. We get paid to take these risks. Not her. She gets nothing out of this.”
“Okay, Okay. She’s a saint. What do you want from me?”
“I want you to give her some respect. Michelle willingly came forward to tell us what she found out. No one forced her. And now, we’re about to nab one of the most ruthless traffickers we’ve ever hunted down — because of her bravery. Who knows how far this network reaches.” Travis lowered his voice. “She went back in there — knowing the danger — because I asked.”
Carlos raised his hands. “Whoa, man. Lighten up. To set the record straight, the suits higher up the totem pole sent her back in. Not you. They forced your hand.”
“I had a choice. I could’ve told them to take a hike.”
A car emerged from the parking garage beneath the office building. Two on board. He scanned the car as it slowed at the guard shack. Two burly men, no one else. “I’m telling you something’s not kosher.”
“Okay, maybe you’re right,” Carlos said. “What are we —”
Travis’ cell phone emitted several sharp beeps. He glanced at the digital screen and grimaced. His sergeant, Timothy Heard, supervisor for Santa Rosa Police Department’s criminal intelligence unit, was calling. “Yeah, sarge.”
“Need you to break away right now. We just received a call from the county. Their VCI dicks are working a homicide near Goat Rock. I need you and Carlos to eighty-seven with them.”
“We’re still waiting for the CI to come out. Once we connect, we’ll head out —”
“— I need you out there now. Your CI’s a no-show, right?” Heard barged ahead, not waiting for an answer. “Their victim is a female. Description matches your gal.”
“No way. She is still —”
“— I need you to get out there immediately, Travis. That’s an order. The victim matches your snitch, that’s all you need to know. We may have some damage control issues.”
“It can’t ... what do you mean ‘damage control?”
“I mean if your informant turns up dead, we’ve got to cover ourselves.”
“You ordered me to send her back into that killer’s den. Damage control? You mean protect your sad —” He felt a hand squeeze his arm.
Carlos leaned over, silently mouthing the words, “Be cool.”
Travis snapped the cell phone shut, jamming it into his pocket. “The SO found a body out at the coast. They want us to check it out.”
“The boss thinks the body might be our gal? And we’re just supposed to drive away? What if she’s still in there?”
Grimacing, Travis fired up the engine. “Orders are orders. But if this victim is Michelle ...” He let the words dangle, not wanting to give them life.
Only six hours ago he’d held her in his arms. They’d met in a motel room where he gave her final instructions. Get in, get out. Carlos stood guard outside. It had been eight exhilarating months since she breezed into his life, gave him a reason to get up in the morning. The way she teased and cajoled him into doing things he never tried before — ballroom dancing, or using a palate machine with her instead of going out for a beer with the guys. Michelle squeezed joy and excitement into every day they spent together. For once in his life, Travis began to think about the future, about spending his life with her. It had been a long time since he thought about anything other than police work. She changed all that. Before they parted ways today, she reached up and drew him close, almost like a premonition. Jasmine perfume still lingered on his clothing. A few moments later he followed Michelle to her car, watching her taillights disappear into the bowels of the garage across the street. The last time.
Travis gunned the engine, cutting through the darkness. Rain and wind rocked the car as he slowed at the next intersection. He pressed the accelerator to the floor, activating emergency lights embedded in the grill of his car. It would be a long drive to the coast.
Travis tautly gripped the steering wheel until his fingers became numb, careening down River Road from Santa Rosa until they reached the coast thirty-minutes later. Red, white and blue emergency lights stabbed the darkness like flashing fingers as he pulled off Highway 1. Patrol cars and unmarks huddled together in a parking lot a quarter-mile below, flashing lights from several emergency vehicles acting as beacons.
He guided the dark-blue Crown Vic — almost black from a moonless night — down a single-lane leading to the mouth of the Russian River. The road split at the bottom of a steep grade. One lane continuing to the left, leading motorists toward a rock-climbing attraction called Goat Rock, a hump of rock rising from the ocean floor. To the right, another sliver of asphalt snaked toward where the river met the Pacific Ocean. He followed this second roadway, parking near the closest police car.
Grabbing a flashlight, Travis swung the door open and heaved himself into the night with a grunt. Bitter winds pushed him across the asphalt parking lot as if he was a child’s toy. The ocean pounded the shoreline. Crashing waves — churned by storms far out at sea like a witches’ brew — stirring the water into a white froth. Rain lessened for a moment, sporadic drops adding to the gloom.
A voice cut through the windy darkness. “Travis, over here.”
He flashed his light toward the familiar voice. A heavyset man — decked out in a dark rain jacket, denim trousers, and cowboy boots — plodded toward them. Jim Davis, a VCI investigator from Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department.
Travis grasped Jim’s outstretched hand. “Hey, my man. My boss said you needed our help.” The two men endured the police academy together some fifteen years ago. Jim later joined the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, earning his way to the homicide unit.
“Need you to take a look at my victim. Dispatch advised you might know her?”
Travis felt his stomach tighten. He shot a quick glanced toward Carlos, standing a few feet away. “Can’t tell until we take a look.”
Jim nodded. He turned his back on the ocean, leading them across the parking lot until the pavement gave way to sand dunes. Here, they began trudging through the sand toward the river’s edge.
For a moment, Travis tried to focus on other things. Like the mountain he knew stood guard around them in the blackness. Even in the blackest of nights, Travis could picture these coastal mountains embracing the powerful Russian River, standing watch over the centuries. The river’s slow-moving water — clear and refreshing — normally continued its sluggish journey to the sea without interruption. At this time of year, however, the river’s cadence began to heighten as recent rainstorms pushed water higher up the banks. He knew from experience that rain-swollen creeks began to empty loosened soil and debris into the swollen water, giving the river a menacing look. Sand dunes — draped with scraggly brush and green ice plant — separated the ocean from the rising river until the two bodies of water met further west. A man’s cough brought Travis back to the crime scene. Back to the task at hand.
Jim cleared his throat. “A couple of lovebirds came out here to swap spit. They stumbled across this.” He shot his flashlight across the wet sand. Yellow evidence tape fluttered in the wind. Ahead, Travis saw a body sprawled on the sand.
Jim handed him paper booties. “Here, put these on. Maybe your partner better stay back?”
Carlos nodded with a look of relief.
The homicide detective waited for Travis. “I’ll lead you in once you’re ready.”
Travis finished and gave him a thumb up.
Jim held up the crime tape to allow Travis to slip underneath, and then dropped the fluttering yellow tape, grasping Travis by the shoulder. “This way, my friend.” The burly cop ploughed through the sand leading them closer to the river.
Travis felt a fire raging inside. The blaze began when Michelle failed to come out of the building as planned. Now, he felt a forest fire raging inside that medicine could no longer curb. As he drew closer, Travis felt his legs begin to shake and his feet felt like to cinder blocks. He’d visited hundreds of scenes like this, always able to wall himself from these emotions, never letting his feelings get in the way of the job.
Tonight, everything changed. Those walls he carefully built inside seemed to crumble.
At first, Jim’s bulk hid the victim from view. Silently, Jim stepped aside and signaled for Travis to continue alone.
A howling wind swept over the sand dunes as Travis edged closer to the woman’s body. He raised the flashlight with icy fingers and pointed it toward her upturned face.
Michelle’s lifeless eyes stared at the darkened sky.
Her body — like a crumpled doll discarded by a child — lay with arms outstretched as if beckoning to the night. Unlike a doll, a bullet hole marred her forehead, a single shot to the head. Travis froze as thought struck him. Michelle saw the killer moments before the gun fired.
His legs buckled, knees sinking into the sand. Darkness crashed into his soul — as hard and cold as those ocean waves pounding into the shore. Everything inside him seemed to die.
Lochsa River, Idaho, five years later.
A dark image flickered over emerald waters. Travis Mays glanced skyward to see a vulture searching for carrion, its tip feathers spread like blackened fingers against a hazy-blue sky. He crouched by the river, listening to rushing water as he eyed the scavenger winging a path above the Lochsa River.
A flash from the mountains caught his eye across the water. Travis turned away from the river, scanning the forest behind him.
He tried to turn his attention back toward the water, though his thoughts kept wanting to drag him to another place, another time. Travis closed his eyelids for a moment, forcing his mind to shed the past and return to the present. That flash a moment ago troubled him. A feeling that had been plaguing him for several weeks.
A woman’s light footsteps forced him to smile. Ah, yes. The river guide. Jessie White Eagle. He twisted around as she approached. She drew close with almost effortless movement, although rocks, pebbles and boulders made for treacherous footing. Her long raven-black hair — normally reaching to her waist — had been tucked beneath a gray helmet.
Drawing closer, Jessie peered down at him for a moment before giving him a soft nudge with her hip. “Hey, professor, waiting for the Lochsa to run dry?” She tugged on straps of her safety helmet — headgear straight out of an old WWII movie. The ugly helmet somehow made her more attractive. “You hired me as a river guide, Willie boy. Can’t teach you anything just sitting here!” Jessie flung him a get-down-to-business look before turning toward the river. Two orange kayaks, partially in water, rested on the shoreline. She leaped into one of them while simultaneously shoving the bow into deeper water in one graceful move. She made it look simple.
Travis cringed. Where’d she come up with his middle name?
Then he remembered. Three Rivers Company. The name printed on his driver’s license when he signed up for this trip.
Travis Willie Mays.
He grimaced. “My name is Travis. Only my momma calls me Willie.” He fought the urge to say his mother became a die-hard Giants fan, worshiping the ground Willie Mays played on. Thanks to her, Travis got tagged with the ball player’s name. “Everyone else calls me Travis.”
“Okay, Willie,” she yelled back with a fleeting smile. “I’ve got a lot to teach you. Let’s get cracking.”
Travis grasped his paddle and stepped toward the remaining kayak.
Jessie’s smile a moment ago reminded him of the first time they’d met. A woman burst into the front office at the raft company while he spoke to one of the co-owners about a week ago. Moments before, he’d confided to the owner that he’d never tried whitewater rafting before and needed a trustworthy guide. He failed to mention he’d never set foot in a kayak. The office door swung open before the owner responded. Jessie strolled in, giving him a smile that seemed to brighten the room. The owner pointed at Jessie. “That is the person you need to speak to.” He chatted with Jessie — who described their whitewater trips with enthusiastic animation — for a few minutes. They agreed to meet in a week and he signed up with a little less hesitation.
Everything felt different today. Jessie’s smile a moment ago was her first since they started up the river at dawn. Before dragging their kayaks to the river’s edge, she’d pulled him aside and meticulously covered all the information to safely navigate down the river. Unlike last week, she spewed out regulations and procedures with less emotion than a pre-recorded voice on an automated phone directory. Her first attempt at a joke — calling him Willie — seemed contrived, almost listless.
Something seemed off.
Travis turned once more and glanced up the mountain slope. He felt that strange sensation returning, tugging at his insides, calling for his attention. He heaved his own craft partway onto the water, stern still resting on the rocky shoreline. He straightened for a moment, rubbing the back of his neck.
Surveillance? Was that what he was picking up?
An uneasy feeling continued to nag at him. It felt like when he was a kid on his own, walking home from a friend’s house late at night, knowing someone or something lurked in the shadows. He couldn’t define it or put a name to it. He just knew it was out there. As a kid, he knew his imagination kicked into overdrive.
His childhood melted away a long time ago, but over the years those childish instincts — alerting him to danger — became honed to a fine point as a man. Those years in foster homes and orphanages forced him to grow up fast, and his years in police work taught him do know the difference between imagination and real danger. His danger needle had been flickering in the red zone for several weeks even though he could not come up with one rational fact to justify these feelings. He just knew.
Recently, every stranger that crossed his path earned a second glance as he struggled to put a name to these feelings. But nameless they remained, like nightmares one barely recalls when morning finally comes.
Jessie’s voice brought him back to the present. “Hey, professor, time to get wet. Move it along.” Jessie feathered her paddle, watching from midstream.
He eased into the kayak, hands gripping both sides of the cockpit for balance. The boat wobbled as he shoved off and he struggled to stay upright. For a moment, he thought he might lose his balance. Catching himself, Travis shifted his weight to stabilize the craft. He felt like a drunken sailor trying to walk a gangplank after shore leave.
This was a long way from the university— his classroom, his comfort zone. But like everything else he tackled, he’d attack it until he felt at one with the river. Just like he finally mastered these mountains after five years of plugging away, building his own cabin. Creating a safe haven to start all over, finally burying the past.
Until these premonitions returned. He must not lose his grip. Not this time.
He paddled a few strokes in the water, getting a feel for how the craft handled. As Jessie drew near, he remembered something he meant to ask earlier before they’d left the Three Rivers lodge. “Jessie, I overheard two guys this morning talking about a search party. No details. You know anything about it?”
Her face hardened, eyes narrowed. “My brother’s missing. Been gone for two days. Never showed up for work.” She looked away, masking whatever was going on inside.
“Oh, wow! You should’ve said something. Need to go back?”
She shook her head. “We’ve searched everywhere. He’s just vanished.” Her eyes glistened. “His car turned up near here about a mile away. Keys missing. We don’t know what happened.”
“Maybe he just wanted to take a hike by himself. Get away from everything.” He knew how that felt. “I’m sure he’ll show up soon.”
“Maybe. All we can do now is wait.”
“You want us to break off and help them search? We can do this kayaking any time. A few more days won’t matter one way or the other.”
“I’ve already searched everywhere I can think of and came up empty. Now, I’m just waiting to see what Dad and the others find out.” Jessie brushed a hand across her eyes, straightened her shoulders and turned toward him. “I just need to keep doing my normal stuff until he comes home.”
“Whatever you want, Jessie. It’s your call.”
Her face softened as she offered him a smile, eyebrows raised. “Losing your nerve, cowboy?”
“Losing my nerve? Never happen, Pocahontas. Show me your stuff.”
She rocked his kayak, dashing snow-chilled waves across his lap. “Watch yourself, paleface. This is Nez Perce country. You’re in my house now.”
In that brief moment, he felt they might be able to cast aside their problems and enjoy the river in all its beauty. Leave their troubles for another day. He began following Jessie downriver as she led them around the first bend. In the distance, he heard the roar of whitewater.
Read the rest of the novel here.
|Posted on March 18, 2011 at 8:21 PM||comments (0)|
I've known of B.R.'s work for some time. He specializes in what I call "red meat" crime fiction. This is straight-up crime without any BS that you can drink a beer to. I hope you'll check out his new flash fiction collection of Smitty stories. - Ben
Title: Call Me Smitty
Author: B.R. Stateham
Publisher: Trestle Press
Available: As an eBook from Amazon
Call Me Smitty
The first story from the flash fiction collection of the same name
The car slid to a stop on the carpet of heavy gravel just outside the old railroad tracks five miles outside of Scranton. Even before the car came to a halt the driver's side door flew open and a man came rolling out of it with a gun in his hand. Tall man; lean and wiry like a strip of rawhide, his face white as snow and contorted into a twisted mask of fury. Hurrying around to the passenger side of the car he threw the door open, grabbed the woman by her hair, snapping her mercilessly out of the seat with a yank of his arm.
Pushing and shoving her like a gulag prison guard he marched her down the deserted tracks and told her to stop and turn around.
It all began twenty-four hours earlier.
Standing at a teller’s window at his bank and staring at a bank statement. A statement that said thirty thousand dollars was missing out of his account and realizing his brother—his twin—had just purchased a brand new car. A car that cost almost thirty G’s. Crumpling the statement in his fist he turned and left the bank in a black rage.
Black rage turned to a killing rage when he stepped up to the front door of his brother’s home. Lifting a hand up to pound on the door, his eyes glanced into the house through the small window in the door. And that’s when he saw the two together. Half naked and wrapped in each other’s arms like living mummies.
His brother. His wife.
He stared at them for a long time. Watched them make love. And something deep in his subconscious—something primeval—snapped inside him. Stepping off the porch he walked to his car fumbling for his keys. Stepping to the back of the car he unlocked the trunk, reached in and gripped the tire iron and stood up, closing the trunk in the process. Turning, he walked back to the front door. A foot in the middle of the door splinted the frame as the door exploded open. Walking in he watched the two try to disengage themselves and scramble for their clothes. Slapping his wife to one side he turned to his brother and hit him across the face with the tire iron. His brother’s head snapped back and he fell to the floor unconscious. Turning, he grabbed his wife by the arm with the strength of a madman and dragged her out of the house and to his car.
And now here they were. Standing on an unused railroad spur in the middle of the country with murder in eyes and a gun in his hand.
"You never could keep your hands off Jimmy. Never, Francine. Always Jimmy. You marry me ‘cause you know I’m the stable one. I’m the guy who’ll go to work and come home ever night and wash the dishes and do the cooking. But Jimmy’s the one with the smiling face and the bad boy attitude. It’s Jimmy you love. Since we were kids. Always Jimmy. Well, you know what I think? I think you two deserve each other. Have him and good riddance. But you’re going to pay for it. He 's gonna pay for it. Goodbye, Francine. Can't say it’s been a pleasure."
Lifting the gun up he buried the muzzle onto her brow just above the bridge of the nose. Francine, make up smeared and running down her cheeks like a crazed circus clown, eyes filled with tears and terror gripping her heart, closed her eyes and waited for death to claim her. The steel pressed against her head was as cold as death itself. She felt his radiating fury in front of her. Heard him grunting and sobbing in anger and pain.
And she waited for the gun to explode. And waited . . . and waited . . .
The sound of a firing pen striking an empty chamber.
Stunned, she opened her eyes and saw her husband walking back to the car, gun down at his side, his head bent down in desolation and wracked with sobs. Numbed with the realization she was alive--that she would live--all strength left her and she collapsed to her knees on the tracks and stared at the back of her departing husband.
“Johnny! Johnny! Come back to me, Johnny! It’s you I love. I love you!”
He stopped half way to the car and slowly turned around.
“There is no Johnny, Francine. Johnny died about an hour ago. Call me Smitty. Better yet, don’t call me ever again. We’re through. Finished. The next time I see you or my brother I’ll kill you both.”
Smitty, climbing into the car, took a look at the woman kneeling in the middle of the tracks--at the woman he loved--and felt the cold emptiness in him. Starting the car, he backed up, turned around, and left Scranton.
Left feeling. Left life.
Read more stories from Call Me Smitty here.
|Posted on March 6, 2011 at 10:27 PM||comments (0)|
Title: A Dead Red Cadillac
Author: RP Dahlke
Publisher: Dead Bear Publishing
Available: Through Amazon here
The big Pratt and Whitney radial on my Ag Cat was running rough and getting worse, with that telltale sound of a missing cylinder, and I was still sixty miles short of our air strip at home. I achingly wished for the sound of a smooth engine but all I was getting was another cylinder going bust. Now what? Is that smoke? How and where am I going to land if I can’t make it home? I worked at a calming breath and looked through the cockpit window at the rows of leafy canopy of almonds below my wing. Rows of trees rolled away in every direction, Pacific Agri-Land and Montpellier Orchards and farmers in between grew them cheek to jowl across the flat San Joaquin valley and up the sides of the Sierras. Landing meant decimating that hard won production and tearing the hell out of my expensive aircraft, not to mention what it might do to me. As for me, I was an about to turn forty woman Aero Ag-pilot Lalla Bains, wondering why I ever thought I needed to get back into the cockpit of one of these babies.
To the west was Interstate 5. I snorted at the image of queuing up for a spot between the truckers and commuters on the busy freeway. That would only add fuel to the fire of anti-Aero Ag protestors and a big fat headline in the local papers for the ex-New York model turned Ag-pilot.
I hunched as far forward as my safety harness would allow and looked to the north and east, reminding myself to breath. If I could clear this expanse of the trees, make it as far as a nice field of alfalfa, or if Heaven were on my side, a nice paved country road. I nervously huffed in another deep breath, tightened the straps on my harness and craned my neck over the side, sighting the horizon for a break in the long expanse of trees that stretched over the horizon.
A road, an open field, anything wide enough to accommodate the forty some foot wing span. I didn’t have the reverse prop of the more expensive turbos but took to heart the statistics that said more pilots walked away from forced landings with an Ag-Cat than almost any agricultural aircraft. But, these babies were not known for their gliding ability. It was either up in the air, or not.
I looked around again. All I needed was five hundred feet. I could bank to the east and hope to find a break in this section of trees, or try for a frontage road along the western perimeter of the freeway. But I was afraid, terribly afraid of a crash. Two years ago, we’d lost a pilot to a forced landing and his plane caught fire with him in it. I didn’t want to go down, I wanted to go home, touch down on my own airstrip, get out, go for breakfast at Roxanne’s, wrap my chilly hands around a nice cup of hot coffee and trade insults with the locals. The futility of that pipedream was coming through loud and clear with two failed cylinders. I banked to the east and looked again for a clearing.
Then I saw it—the faded international orange windsock on a pole and a flat stretch of airstrip ending in a few outbuildings. I could make it that far. All I had to do was clear the orchard and cross a tightly planted field of tomatoes. I switched on the VHF and dialed 122.9, hoping someone below would say I could land on a restricted private runway. For a few minutes there was nothing but static. It was a formality anyway, if I had to put down on a private air strip, I’d ask forgiveness, not permission..
A male voice on the channel startled me. “This is Machado Ag Service, go ahead.”
Saved at last, I clutched the mike and in a voice that was too loud, said, “I need to clear for an emergency landing.”
There was a moment of silence, then, “Are you unable to make it to your own base if you don’t land here?”
“This is a courtesy call, Mr. Machado! I’ve got no wiggle room here.”
I waited another couple of beats of air space while he differed and another cylinder popped and quit. I was now down to nine cylanders and in another few minutes nothing much was going to be between me and the ground.
“Awright,” the voice growled. “Take the easterly approach. Come to the office after you land.”
I didn’t have time to consider his bad manners as a crop of tomatoes was sizing me up for a quick delivery. I could feel the wind zinging through the struts as I clenched the stick like it would make a difference . Helplessly, I listened to the slick of air whisking past the faltering prop. I hated that sound: Whucka, whucka, whucka. No pistons firing, no lift, no luck.
I wasn’t going to make it as far as this guy’s airstrip, much less check into his damned office.
At the last minute, I yanked back the stick in the vain hope that I’d save my very expensive engine a snootful of overripe vegetables and felt the rush of ground reaching up for my wheels. I held my breath, then let it out. It would do me no good to pass out from lack of oxygen and be unable to scramble out of a burning aircraft. Fire. I shivered at the thought. Burning alive in my airplane was the last thing I intended to do.
I felt the initial impact, the wheels catching on the uneven dark thick earth.
Not bad. This is doable …
I bounced, once, then twice, then I felt another catch, harder this time, a jerk, rough, letting go, then harder, until …
Uh-oh…oh, no! Oh shit!
The big plane bucked forward and then caught hard, and the nose followed it down. All I could do was hang on while the violent impact pitched me against my harness, whipping my head forward, knocking my helmet against the control panel. My head fell back and I went sideways as the oil filled compass wildly swung around. With one shoulder slipping out of the harness, I was thrown against the window. My leg was bent in a position that wouldn’t stand much more, and then I could hear something crack. Someone was screaming. The last thing I remember was thinking how I would never feel the same way about tomatoes.
Dead Red Cadillac is available here through Amazon
|Posted on February 26, 2011 at 7:32 PM||comments (0)|
Title: Candied Crime
Author: Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen
Available: Download from Smashwords
During most of fourth form Martha Gramstrup was our German teacher. Grammy was the thin and nervy type, a walking skeleton with rattling necklaces and bracelets. And her four weekly German lessons in fourth form hardly made things better.
Grammy´s hair had been coloured red once in a distant past. She was the cardigan type, mousy grey and crap brown in any odd combination.
“Grammy is the incarnation of German grammar,” Tommy claimed. Tommy had red freckles and jutting ears so he had learned early that attack is the best form of defence.
I am sure Grammy was well prepared, but more often than not she lost the thread. The boys would draw talentless caricatures of her on the blackboard, they sent letters to each other and peeled apples with their pocket knives right in the middle of her efforts at stuffing an irregular verb or two into our hormone-ridden brains.
We girls were mostly knitting or doodling; we were far too old to participate in the boys´ pranks, but we couldn´t be bothered to learn German.
“Where were we?” she would ask from her desk while the bracelets whisked around the thin arms in a panic.
“Wir sollen schrauben wollen,” Joe suggested helpfully. Stifled titter from pupils who were still awake.
Her cheeks turned pink, but usually she didn´t seem to realize that the whole class was mocking her.
”Martha´s husband is dead!” Lisa whispered her message as loudly as she dared while she rushed into the classroom three seconds ahead of Grammy.
“Martha who?” Bewildered, we stared at her until the penny dropped.
A subdued Grammy, dressed in black, came in with the worn satchel under her arm. She sat down on the chair, and in an atmosphere of embarrassing silence we crammed verbs and vocabulary for once.
“I heard it was heart failure,” Betty informed us during the break.
“Small wonder, he must´ve been in his late forties.” Lisa´s parents used to play bridge with Grammy and her husband so she made short thrift with Betty´s know-all attitude.
For a couple of days we remembered to be kind to Grammy. Jane left red apples for her on the desk, and our compassion lasted until the winter holiday began a week later.
”Grammy has had a haircut. Look!”
Yes, indeed. The wisps had turned into a smart, reddish-brown hairdo.
The transformation did not take place overnight, but during the spring a new Grammy appeared. She put on a few kilos and changed her style. One day she appeared in jeans, and she gave Tommy a regular bollocking for sending a paper plane through the classroom.
We watched in amazement, not quite certain how to react to our new German teacher. Unfortunately the change lasted for three months only; then the police came into our class and picked her up just when we were conjugating the verb “sterben”.
Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen is a female teacher from Denmark, teaching English at upper secondary level. In her spare time she reads and writes crime fiction in English and Danish.
In 2010, she sold her first flash stories to American magazines, and recently (spring 2011) she published the humorous collection of flash ficition, Candied Crime, available here from Smashwords.
|Posted on December 10, 2010 at 7:56 AM||comments (0)|
Title: Triple Jeopardy
Author: David L. Hoof
Publisher: Shadow Line Press
Available: Paperback on Amazon
Forty-year old Tim Lath eased his BMW 720i around yellow taxis and delivery trucks on 6th Avenue, checking the rear view mirror for tails as he conspired with the world’s richest wife, Cynthia Speckt. Neither of them was smiling. In Manhattan, where the rich do as they please, to anyone distracted enough to notice they must have seemed just another intense, unhappy, high-end couple.
Dressed in a bomber jacket and worn jeans, the driver looked able to take care of himself. His face appeared to have survived some suicidal contact sport – hockey, lacrosse, hurling, maybe rugby – this explaining why the strong nose skewed a bit to the right, why a small scar dripped from his left eye, the chipped, misaligned teeth concealed by taut lips. From curly brown grey-flecked hairline to deeply dimpled chin it was a don’t-ask-don’t-tell face, and it rode the broad shoulders of a frame two inches over six feet that carried few extra pounds on long thin legs.
By contrast Cynthia Speckt’s face was almost delicate, near to cover-girl stuff but not that painfully thin or latently haughty. Her skin was flawlessly smooth and angelic, the kind that hates the beach. Brushed off her face with a deft sweep of delicate fingers, her hair was Scandinavian blonde and fine, impeccably cut and layered, not a single split end. With her movements the hair followed like liquid silver, perfectly framing her near-perfect face.
Enclosed by a high black collar, her neck was thin and graceful, with a small light mole – more a beauty mark – to the left. Her broad chin was delicate, light but strong, a bit of a jut to it. Behind aviator photograys, her eyes flashed bleached blue, startling even at a distance. Today they were harder, fixed in purpose, resolved to take the next step, praying that Lath and his friends wouldn’t screw it up.
At the next light, Lath asked, “When are you expected back and what’s your alibi?”
“Not before six. I was shopping.”
“What else we should know?”
Cynthia shook her head, let out a sigh. “With Richard, there’s always something you don’t know. After three weeks silence, today he announced that he wanted to talk divorce over dinner. Maybe he’ll change the pre-nup, making our arrangement ....unnecessary.”
Before marriage, Cynthia Speckt had been Cynthia Coffin, of the Nantucket Coffins way back into history before the whaling riches of Moby Dick and the tragedy of the Essex, back in time and through Salem and the witch hunts, as far back as Plymouth Rock and the first Pilgrims. D.A.R stuff, buoyed up against stormy weather by old money, never a worry.
For Richard Speckt’s hand in marriage she had given up at least a very profitable legal career. Certain that squabbling over money would jinx the romance, she signed away any serious interest in his considerable fortune. Unluckily for Cynthia Speckt, “blameless” divorce would bring her only one hundred thousand from his vast fortune, while a “blameless” Richard Speckt was entitled to half her net worth. A year ago, her trickle-down family inheritance came in at seventy million.
Rethinking all of this, Lath needed a few seconds before asking, “Is Richard Speckt the kind of negotiator to offer more than he needs to?”
“Well then, we’ll provide the wine tonight. Raise your glass, make sure he takes the first sip. That’s all it should take.”
“You know I’m not asking...” She didn’t need to finish.
“I know,” he said simply, pulling to the curb behind a disgorging taxi.
Cynthia got out and Lath said, “See you tonight.”
About the Author
Born December 2, 1945 in Washington, DC, David L. Hoof traveled with a Navy family. He lived in Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Hawaii and London, England before entering Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts as a sophomore. Earning All American honors in swimming for three straight years, he captained the team his senior year.
From Deerfield he went on to Cornell University as a Meinig National Scholar, was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and majored in chemistry. From Cornell he went on to graduate school in chemistry at Purdue, earning his Ph.D. After Purdue he took a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship at Georgetown University. Subsequent to this he taught briefly at Montgomery College before entering the United States Department of Energy, where he dealt with the reprocessing of nuclear reactor fuel.
Throughout his schooling he became more seriously interested in writing. At Cornell he was captioner for photographs in the Red Key calendar and edited his fraternity’s rush book. The first published work under his own name was a poem in a Purdue literary magazine. Between then and the appearance of his first published novel, Sight Unseen (as David Lorne) in 1990, he contributed articles to several nationally distributed magazines, on subjects as diverse as AIDS and William Shakespeare’s business practices. In 1990 he left the Department of Energy to spend more time with his children and write full time. Blind Man’s Bluff, a sequel to his first novel, appeared in 1992 following another novel, The Last Prisoner (1991), a cult classic among science fiction readers that dealt with social disintegration following clandestine biological warfare.
Sight Unseen and Blind Man’s Bluff, along with a third novel, Blind Rage, published only in Japanese, were runaway best sellers in that country. These novels, featuring the blind detective Spike Halleck, have also been translated into Dutch, Danish and Bulgarian, as well as optioned for films.
In addition to writing, he taught all aspects of creating writing (plot, character, setting, character, and dialogue) at Georgetown University and for the Writers Digest School. In 1996 his screenplay, Shooting Script, won bronze at Worldfest Charleston.
Writing as Grace Alter, 2005’s The Suicide Diary is a rollickingly absurd and ultimately hilarious dark satire set in Arctic Canada. Despite its chilling setting, the story is simmering with conflicts between father, daughter, nudist weapon dealer, Islamic terrorists, FBI agents, FedEx drivers, absentee mothers, mail-order Russian brides, Siberian Shamans, UFO seekers and polar bears.
His recent and best novel, Little Gods, deals with murder and vengeance at en elite New England prep school, and was released in November, 2006. Since then it has garnered resounding praise and has been nominated for several awards.
The author has two grown daughters, a genetic counselor and an artist/photographer, and lives with his wife in Washington, DC. He is at work on his next novel and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to visit his website.
|Posted on October 17, 2010 at 10:49 AM||comments (3)|
Note: Normally, I pick books for the Chapter One Blog based on whether I know the author or if the chapter is interesting to me. I don't know George Hudson, but his crime novel was just too over the top to pass up. Enjoy!
Title: The Realest Sh** I Ever Wrote
Author: George Hudson
Publisher: G Street Chronicles
Available: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/26953?ref=benjaminsobieck" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">eBook for $4.99 from Smashwords
Description (from publisher):
Real became a self made millionaire thanks to the pipeline he established trafficking cocaine from state to state. He along with his lady Constance and right hand man Cash were enjoying the fruits of his labor. However, more money means more problems. Real and Cash’s hired killers B-low and Jesse want a bigger part of the action.
This book is dedicated to all my fam in the struggle. Sh** get greater later!
The federal agent watched Real get out of his limegreen Lamborghini Murcialago LP 460 with his fiancée Constance and head into G-Spot, his high class strip club located on Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta. Real had been under federal investigation now for six months, every since a federal informant tipped them off about his illegal activities.
Anyone who came into contact with Real would surely put him well beyond his actual age of only twenty-seven years. He was six feet tall with a medium built muscular frame that the ladies couldn’t get enough of. His smooth, charcoal black skin, wavy hair, and light brown eyes gave him an exotic look that would have any woman fawning over him.
Real was a real charmer and a ladies man. He prided himself on his slick tongue and convincing rhetoric. Some people in the past had mistaken his easygoing manner for weakness, but in the end, they found out Real was an extremely dangerous individual.
Constance, Real’s baby girl, fiancée, and business partner, was always by his side. Constance was three years older than Real, the spitting image of Lisa Raye with a little more hips and ass. Constance grew up in the College Park projects, where she got down with the grimiest of niggas hustling crack to the project fiends. After a few run-ins with other hustlers, the word spread quickly that lil’ fine ass Constance would bust her gun at the drop of a dime.
After graduating from Banneker High, Constance tried her hand at real estate. In no time, she became a highly reputable broker that only dealt in the most high-end homes. Constance became a millionaire virtually overnight.
Constance and Real had met three years earlier at a mutual friend’s birthday party. They kept each other company throughout the party. Before leaving the party, they exchanged numbers and promised to stay in contact. A week later, Constance was selling Real a $4.7 million estate in North Atlanta—the one in which they now both reside.
Real was a millionaire in his own right, raking in millions in the drug trade, more than he would ever make going legit. He supplied dealers from every coast. Moving over 100 kilos a week enabled him to live the lifestyle of some of the world’s biggest sports figures. After continuous preaching from Constance to put together some kind of legit source of income, he opened up G-Spot, an upscale strip club that catered to the rich and famous.
Real and Constance were on their way to a Tyler Perry play when Real got a call from Max.
“Say, cuz,” said the manager of G-Spot, “we need your assistance down here. It’s very important,” Max said firmly.
Max was Real’s older cousin. He was discharged from the military right after the Gulf War. As soon as Max heard about his lil’ cousin Real starting a strip club, he practically begged him for the managing position. Constance was totally against it, but Real disregarded Constance’s wishes and gave his cousin the job anyway. Unfortunately, it took a while for Real to see just how right Constance was.
“I’m on my way,” Real said, placing his phone back into the car charger.
“On your way? Where you goin’?” Constance snapped.
“Max needs me down at the club. It’s only going to take a second,” Real said, turning the Lambo around and heading back up to the club.
“Man, come on, now! What the hell you hire this nigga for? To watch pussy! Shit, you might as well be managing your own shit! Every night, you get a call to go do his fuckin’ job! You need to hire somebody to handle your business so you’ll have time to spend with your fuckin’ lady!” Constance barked as they pulled up into the club parking lot.
Real knew when it was good to let Constance have her say, especially when she was right, but by the same token, Constance also knew when to hold her tongue.
“Come on,” Real told Constance as he opened the door on the Lambo.
Ignoring his command, Constance sat in the car until he walked around, opened up her door, and helped her out of the car. Walking hand in hand, they entered G-Spot.
|Posted on October 13, 2010 at 8:03 AM||comments (4)|
Title: The Trophy Hunter
Author: J M Zambrano
Available: Ebook from Smashwords for $1.99
Synopsis (from author):
A psychopath hides in plain sight within a band of hunters – family men with close ties. For him, the thrill of big game is not enough. He lives out his fantasy of collecting beautiful women who will never leave him. And he's learned how to keep them beautiful forever. After he culls what he wants from his buddies' families, he sets his sights on attorney Diana Martin and PI Jess Edwards. Mistake!
The Hunter watched a shivering sun inch upward, stingy with its warmth. He glassed the surrounding area, sweeping 180 degrees to the west where roiling clouds oozed between the peaks. The prospect of another storm pleased him. The elements were his allies.
From his rocky aerie he could see her approach the cabin in the tan pickup. He watched her park and get out. Through the scope on his .17 HMR he caught her neck in the crosshairs.
The bullet would leave one small hole in the V where her collarbones met, with only a minimal exit wound.
He chuckled softly at her stupid attempt to hide the vehicle under a few branches. She thought she could hide from him. He salivated in anticipation of the look in her eye when she realized her mistake.
* * * * *
Outside the cabin, Brandi Rogart’s hands bled through insulated gloves from the effort of tearing boards off the window. In her haste to get started, she’d come ill prepared. What had begun as a half-hour drive had turned into an overnight watch, then a two-hour drive into the mountains. The cabin door, padlocked from the outside, stubbornly resisted her attacks with the tools from her truck. She simply didn’t have the strength. But the little window in back that she reached by standing on a discarded sawhorse finally yielded to her.
Panic rose in her throat like vomit as she peered back through the pines brown from beetle kill. She had no idea when he would return. Maybe he’d already found the truck where she’d left it covered with pine boughs in a little clearing off the road.
Another thought sent the hairs up on the nape of her neck where they weren’t caught up in her long, dusky braid. What if he knew she’d followed him? Planned it even?
She brushed off the fear along with the rest of the icky, webby things that festooned the window; then hoisted herself up onto the sill. As she dropped to the floor inside, her eyes searched the semidarkness for her daughter, Lori.
“Why are you here?” asked a female voice unlike her child’s.
Lori materialized as Brandi’s eyes became accustomed to the gloom. But the voice seemed to come out of a stranger. The girl’s blond hair─matted─probably filthy from the look of the surroundings─was tied back with a thin strip of leather.
“We’re getting out of here. Hurry, sweetie. He may be back soon.” The place reeked of stale urine. It was worse than an animal’s cage. Brandi looked at the front door, the only door, and remembered the padlock on the outside. They’d have to leave by the window.
“I won’t leave him.”
Brandi shook her head to clear out Lori’s words. He must’ve brainwashed her. Or drugged her. She looked into her daughter’s eyes and saw that the child was gone. Rage at the man filled her. She wished she’d brought a gun even though she’d always hated firearms.
Like trapped birds, her eyes crashed around the miserable room, looking for some kind of amenities. How could even a drugged person consider staying here? No toilet, no sink. No visible plumbing of any description. A couple of plastic buckets. A five gallon jug of bottled water sat atop a dispenser. No electricity. A propane heater did a passable job of taking the chill out of the room. She’s not in her right mind.
“How did you find us anyway?” Lori asked in an annoyed voice.
It had been the phone call Brandi had overheard. She’d picked up the extension, thinking it might be news of her daughter. It had been, but not from the authorities. “How is she?” he’d asked. “Sweet,” was the response. Brandi had choked on her anger as she’d carefully replaced the instrument. Then she knew where to look, who to follow.
And it hadn’t been a total surprise. Brandi had seen how he’d looked at Lori on the rare occasions when the families had gotten together. When her dad and husband had come back without her daughter, she knew the story didn’t make sense. A hunter’s daughter knew better than to wander off into the woods alone.
“Did his wife find out and call you?” asked Lori.
“No.” Brandi focused on planning their escape. They’d have to stand on something to get out the window. She assessed the furniture. A bed─she didn’t want to think about what went on there. A desk and chair. An ancient armoire. A vinyl-covered table and two sort-of matching chairs. All scarred flea market rejects. But they could stand on the table to reach the window.
“Help me carry the table over there.” Brandi indicated the window.
“Sweetie, it’s okay now. I’m here to take you home.” She reached out, hating the repugnance she felt toward her daughter’s unwashed body that reeked of the man’s scent.
The girl─she could hardly think of her as Lori─shrank away from her touch. “He loves me. Leave us alone.”
“You’re thirteen years old. You know I can’t do that.” Brandi weighed her choices. There was no way she could drag Lori through the window against her will. She tried reason. “He’s got you locked up. If he loved you, would he do that?”
“You’ve got it wrong. He’s got you locked out.”
“You know he’s married.”
“He’s gonna divorce her.”
“He’s way too old for you.”
“You should talk.”
Brandi ground her anger down to a fine powder. Held back the slap that was itching her palm. But the sights and smells were dulling her edge. He could return at any minute. If he came through the woods from behind the cabin, he’d see the broken window. She had no choice but to leave and come back with the sheriff.
Scratch that. With her luck, he’d be another hunting buddy. Paranoia crippled her reasoning powers. Maybe they were all in on it.
Okay, she’d drive to where her cell got reception, and then call the feds. Now that she had proof, they’d have to listen to her. Brandi struggled to move the table by herself, climbed up and looked back at her daughter. “I won’t be long.”
Lori’s voice drifted toward her as Brandi lowered herself to the ground outside. “We won’t be here.”
Where would he move her? Not to his house.
Brandi looked up as she felt moisture on her face and saw that the puny sun had drowned in a mass of angry clouds. Panic seized her chest like a too-tight bra. She tripped on a dislodged hunk of granite as she hurried toward her truck. She regained her balance and lengthened her stride, breathing hard, the cold air searing her lungs. Without help she might lose her daughter forever. A stony ridge cut up the skyline to her left. Maybe if she climbed it she could get cell reception.
* * * * *
He watched her struggle through the cabin window, glassed her as she climbed the talus ridge and tried to use her cell phone. He could have dropped her then, as she stood outlined against a sky now turned iron-gray, but he let her get almost to the truck before deliberately cracking a branch. When she jumped and turned in his direction, the rush was exquisite. But it was her eyes meeting his, knowing what was coming just before he squeezed off one shot─ah, that was ecstasy.
|Posted on September 30, 2010 at 8:52 AM||comments (0)|
Title: Absolute Zero
Author: Chuck Logan
Author Website: ChuckLogan.org
Available: Now at Amazon
Click here to read my review of this book.
Broker was used to sleeping alone because his wife was in the army and, except for her pregnancy and a short maternity leave, she had been absent on deployments to Bosnia during most of their marriage. And he was used to waking up in a freezing sleeping bag because he'd grown up in Northern Minnesota. What he was having trouble adjusting to was waking up alone in the cold bag and seeing the pale stripe on the third finger of his left hand where his wedding band had been.
So he coughed and rubbed his eyes, and the absent ring cued up the agnostic rosary in the back of his mind: You just never know...never know...never know...and it was, yeah, yeah, and he was talking to himself and his lips moved to dismiss the thought, but he had to appreciate the irony. Mister Serious Student of the Unexpected.
Didn't see it coming, did you, dummy?
She'd left two weeks ago and took their three-year-old daughter, Kit, off to army day care somewhere in Europe.
She said he could come along and take care of Kit. He said she could quit the army and stay home. So it stuck there between them. Their daughter watched nervously as Mom and Dad agreed to take an informal time-out, removing their rings and storing them in the top drawer of the bedroom dresser.
His reaction to the standoff was to exile himself from people he knew and retreat into the North woods. He'd purge himself with fresh air and hard work. Specifically, Broker volunteered to close down his uncle Billie's outfitting lodge at the end of the canoeing season.
And now, as he greeted the ice-water dawn, the subject was still fragile as glass. Carefully, he held it by the stem and tucked it away.
Uncle Billie and his golf clubs had hopped a Northwest Airlines flight to Broker's parents' condo in Arizona. Broker had hung a CLOSED sign across the driveway of the small resort he owned in Devil's Rock, north of Grand Marais, on the Lake Superior shore. Then he'd driven down Highway 61 to Illgen City, turned on Highway 1 northwest to Ely, in the Minnesota Iron Range. Arriving at Billie's Lodge, he found a list of instructions next to the telephone. The canoe trip was at the top.
Broker had looked over the permits and perused the clients' backgrounds. He'd be playing wilderness guide to Milton Dane, a lawyer; Allen Falken, a surgeon; and Hank Sommer, who called himself a writer. All three were from the Twin Cities area.
Broker told himself guiding was no big thing, that he'd done it lots of times.
But that was more than twenty years ago.
In the intervening time the canoes had been upgraded from aluminum to lighter Kevlar and fiberglass. The freeze-dried food and camping gear were much improved. But otherwise, the drill was the same. He studied the itinerary, selected the proper maps, and packed for a party of four, going in by canoe to shoot a moose among the lakes of the Boundary Water's Canoe Area, BWCA for short.
And now it was the third morning of the trip.
Broker blew on his chilled hands and rubbed them together. He'd gone to bed breathing in damp lake water, lichen, and pine needles moldering on granite bedrock. A mild rain had tapped on the tent walls and eased him off to sleep. Now a loud winter silence replaced the patter of raindrops and his breath clouded in the chill air.
Hank Sommer bumped him as he rolled over in the narrow tent and snored. He lay on his back, half out of his sleeping bag, with his mouth open. He had buckteeth and a receding chin disguised under a short, unruly beard. When Broker reached over and jabbed him in the ribs, Sommer rearranged himself and stopped snoring. His cell phone, which had caused so much debate on the trip, was nestled next to his cheek.
It became clear from the start that Broker had been hired to carry the load for Sommer and to paddle his canoe. “Sorry, I've got this little medical condition,” Sommer had admitted at the start.
“What medical condition?” Broker had asked directly, since it could affect their travel.
“This, ah, little hernia thing,” Sommer had said, patting his side. So every portage on the way in, Broker had humped the boat and went back twice to haul all the packs while Sommer eased along with just his rifle case and a small shoulder bag.
Allen Falken, the doctor, appeared none too pleased that Sommer had put off elective surgery to go on this trip. But, Allen conceded, it was a routine inguinal hernia, a painless minor bulge.
For half the century, men just wore trusses. It should be all right as long as Sommer took it easy.
“He shouldn't lift over forty pounds.”
“So if you get a moose, Sommer will take the picture and I'll carry the meat.”
“Something like that,” Allen had said.
It meant that Sommer was the weak link, so Broker wanted him in his canoe in case anything went wrong. Besides, he was curious. Sommer was a Minnesota fiction writer and Broker -- strictly a non-fiction guy -- had the feeling he should have heard of him. But he hadn't. He figured Sommer wanted to shoot a moose so he could write about it.
Broker was doing some hunting himself, but not for a trophy moose. Running from his marriage, he spent the days scouting the treelines and lakes half hoping to catch a younger, more resilient reflection of himself.
And he wasn't alone. By day three it was clear that marital discord paddled with them as Sommer conducted a nasty long-distance feud with his wife on his cell phone.
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|Posted on September 20, 2010 at 9:25 PM||comments (2)|
This one is from yours truly. It's the first story out of "4 Killer Crime Stories in 4 Minutes." If you haven't been bludgeoned to death yet by all my promotion of it on this site, click here to learn more or to buy it for $1.50. Hey, it's my site, isn't it?
Purgatory at the Pump 'n' Loaf
by Benjamin Sobieck
Thirty things I remember about being stabbed to death around 2 a.m. at a Pump ‘n’ Loaf gas station:
1 - The age in her voice. She approaches the service counter. “Y-You have a bathroom here?” I nod my head in the direction of the bathroom. It’s clean as of an hour ago. The graveyard shift is boring. So I clean. “T-Thank you.” She shuffles over. She tries the knob. “You only have a both-kind bathroom?” I nod. “I wait then.”
2 - Swoosh. He exits the bathroom. My nostrils pick up a breeze perfumed with urinal cakes.
3 - His shoes make waxy squeaks. They stop next to the woman.
4 - A pause. She yelps. The bathroom door slams. She works the lock inside the bathroom.
5 - Shock. He’s wearing a ski mask. He’s coming this way.
6 - My brain in autopilot. “Can I help you sir?”
7 - He growls. “Gimme th’ money. Now.”
8 - Rage. Go five years back and I am the one behind the ski mask. Yes, I robbed gas stations. Yes, I hurt people. Yes, I did time for it. But my justice is served. I even met with my victims. If he’s going to push me off the path that took me five years to build, I’m gonna push back.
9 - Damp metal in my hand. It’s the box cutter with the fresh blade from beneath the counter. I aim for his throat. He’s just close enough.
10 - Disbelief. I feel fleshy resistance, but there’s no blood. So I suppose I miss. I miss? I pause. I panic.
11 - How does he have the cutter now?
12 - Did he cut me just now? Should I even look?
13 - I thumbp on the floor. Granules of grit form a fingerprint of filth on my face.
14 - Pressure on my leg. He hops over the counter. His heel rocks off my calf muscle toward the cash register.
15 - Fire truck red is near me on the floor. One of us is cut.
16 - “How’s ‘is thing open!?” Fast boot meets my arm. My bicep muscle spreads for his steeled toe.
17 - Angry abuse of the cash register.
18 - Flush - click - swoosh. I hear her step outside the bathroom.
19 - From above me: “Ged outta ‘ere, ol’ bitch.”
20 - Wait. I’m not bleeding. Fire truck red on the floor isn’t mine.
21 - Near the bathroom: “I-I’m too old to be s-scared of a b-bully like y-you.”
22 - From above me: “I serious, gramma, don get tany more close.”
23 - From above me: Drip drip drip. This isn’t my blood. It’s coming from him.
24 - Near the bathroom: “Y-You’re hurt. P-Put the k-knife down.”
25 - He’s looking at the cash register, right? Or the woman? But he’s not looking at me, right? Right.
26 - I go, go, go. Sloppy struggling. Crack. A scream. Something sounds like a zipper opening. Then jelly spreading. Then the legs of an octopus sliding to the floor one by one.
27 - Breathe. The hot cutter istoo greasy to hold. I put it on the counter. I pick it up again when his arm twitches. Breathe. Breathe.
28 - I force out words. “I OK…call cops, ma’am…phone by cigars.”
29 - I wait. I breathe. I wait. I point. “He’s behind the counter, officer.”
30 - Police officer checks to see if he stepped in anything. “That’s him? I’ll call for a bag…”
* * *
The police zip me into a body bag. Then come the hands. Then the light. Then the sky. I rise higher and higher. I shrink into a dot that collapses smaller and smaller. I look down. Peaks and valleys of my life play like grooves on a record. It’s a broken one. The same patch of time repeats. The same patch of time repeats.
A watery voice chimes from inside my ear. “Death is not justice. You still haven’t gotten yours. Justice is seeing yourself in your victim. As your victim. Through his eyes.”
I taste the parched air of the Pump‘n’ Loaf. Floor cleaner. Greasy, yellow popcorn.
Immaculate cellophane. Crushing boredom. I feel the urge to clean.
The watery voice ascends into clarity.
“What do you remember?”
Thirty things I remember about being stabbed to death around 2 a.m. at a Pump ‘n’ Loaf gas station....