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A Good Woman is Hard to Find

With Halloween approaching our thoughts in the Gutter turn to love. Love can tempt, and love can corrupt,

but in the corridors of the powerful, love can also terrify.

A Good Woman is Hard to Find by Max Sheridan 



They say a man will do anything for love. I’ve never been in love, but I’ll tell you what. A man will do just about anything for a woman he’s fucking. When you’ve got your dick in her honey hole and she’s squeezing you tight, she could ask you to shoot her boss, and some of us might do it. Or close to it anyway. Or worse.
     
I’d just relocated to the DC suburbs from Reno. Thirty-five. Divorced. No kids. Water engineer. Wanted to be closer to my folks but, you know what, I can’t stand my folks—and I was lonely.
     
I’d rented a house. I’d sit out on the screen porch in the evenings with a six-pack waiting for something to happen, the ceiling fan trying to cut through a humidity I wasn’t used to. When night finally did hit, I might have been the last man on earth. It sure felt like it.
     
Until I met Jack.

Jack lived in the big Tudor house on the corner. Swimming pool, trampoline, three-door garage. Throw in a beautiful wife, an Irish terrier and a 25-year-old daughter about to tie the knot and Jack had it all. He said he was a defense contractor on Capitol Hill. He’d spent some time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UAE. Jack had that hard tanned redness you get when you've convinced yourself your life has made you happy—that tight, gleaming carnivore’s grin you knew he wore even to brush his teeth at night. Jack Gorey. Sitting in front of the HP at night watching college girls stuff their throats with cock until their eyeballs popped, I envied him a little.
     
So Jack saw me out on the porch and invited me across the fence for something stronger. Jack was easy to like, and he made you feel likable. We hit it off right away and that drink became an evening ritual.
     
This was late June. His daughter’s wedding was in early September. I didn’t realize how nervous the whole thing was making Jack until I asked about the groom one night. The red color went out of Jack’s face and he went back inside to make another pitcher of Martinis.
     
I waited a while and then Jack’s voice came from over my shoulder, from a place on Jack’s open cedar porch that the inside light didn’t cover. “You have kids and they become your life and then they think they can do anything.”
     
Jack could handle his drink but there are some evenings when everything comes together in an odd way and you can’t.
     
He told me the whole sad story of that rotten relationship. The groom had a drinking problem and got violent with Dana, Jack’s daughter. They’d wrapped her ribs up once but she stuck with the story of falling off a horse. The thing was, Jack said, he came from a “good” family. Not a lot of patience, but stand-out genes.
     
And money, I thought, an inheritance from Dana that would take care of a lot more than a busted rib.
     
Jack poured our drinks and you’d have thought an actual light had just lit up in his head. The color was back in his face. He put an arm around me and said, “Jim, I think it would be a good idea for you to meet my Dana.”


We didn’t have chemistry like horse dope, but when I finally met Jack’s girl at a pool party that weekend we had something. We could talk pretty easily and her eyes lingered. Dana was just under six feet and when she climbed out of the pool, the water beading on her blue-white skin, everything about her body made you want to be on it.
     
Every opportunity he had that day, Jack put us together. There was something going on between Jack and Dana, sure, but on Dana’s end it was more tricky to figure out. She was definitely flirting with me, I just didn’t know why. The groom was nowhere to be found.
     
It went on like this in and out of July. Come August, Dana and I’d been on five good dates and she was giving me pecks on the cheek at the door. We held hands when we went downtown for dinner on the nights the groom was working late. Once, in the car, she left her hand on my thigh and I got hard and she looked over at me and didn’t look away.  
     
It was a doomed relationship that could only end in one place. I had a fairly good idea of when and where, the only thing I didn't know was how badly or why.

*   *   * 
     
It was Labor Day and Jack and Jack’s wife, Judith, were at the shore. I had an open invitation to use the pool. I used it. And, of course, Dana was there and the groom wasn't.
     
A strong hard sun had a choke-hold on us for most of the afternoon and evening, forcing us into the pool. At around eight Dana went in for another round of drinks—and didn't come back out. The radar went off in my head a little late. Twenty minutes must have passed before I went inside.
     
I went up to Dana’s room on the second floor. The blinds were drawn and it was pitch dark inside, but I’d seen enough of the room in the light of day to know that I was in no danger of bumping into any walls. I remembered a reclining chair in a corner of the big, creaking room, and a divan. The bed was a king and Dana was on it.
     
I was in her tight little box before I’d gotten my swim trunks off. And it was worth it—every inch. Dana had a foul mouth and a slutty technique but I played along.
     
Up until the point when the recliner moved and Dana jumped and light from the bedside lamp slammed into the darkness, showing Jack Gorey on the chair naked with his cock in his hand. Jack put his meat down and picked up what looked like a .38 automatic from the armrest. He trained it on my chest.
     

“What are you doing in my house?” he said, standing. “What are you doing to my daughter?”
     
“Jack?”
     
“Cut the shit, daddy,” Dana said, stepping in between us. “He likes listening to my pussy getting fucked, Jim,” she said to me and put a little .25 in my hand she must have kept in the table by the bed. “Isn’t that sick, Jim? Now shoot the sonofabitch and put him out of his misery and I’m yours.”
     
“No, Jim,” Jack said. “Put the gun down. It’s just a little misunderstanding. I didn't realize—” His hands went up.
     
We were all three of us naked. Jack’s dick was about the size of mine. I took a good look at Dana’s pin-up looks, but it wasn’t her pussy or tits I was thinking about, it was the money she’d inherit if Jack was dead—my money if she was my wife. And I shot Jack Gorey in the heart once and waited for him to die.
     
We’d need to dress Jack back up and move him over to the door so that he could have surprised us, drawn the gun, and gotten shot in self-defense. The bullet hadn't exited so trajectory was moot.
     
I ran my bride-to-be through my version of events. She bent to close the old man’s eyes and stood with the .38.
     
She said, “You and daddy were fucking. You had a lover’s spat and you shot daddy accidentally. I assumed otherwise. The .25 is quick and not very messy. I hate to use the .38.”      
     

But I didn't like that version either and my .25 was quicker. The only thing I didn't have was a story that would make sense to anybody but a jailer, and I've already told that one a hundred times. 

Max Sheridan is back in the US after a long stretch abroad. He once hacked for the Cyprus Mail, a low-circulation newspaper—until he challenged the film critic, a notorious windbag, to a duel. His recent short stories, about sex, death and midgets, are available online and in print from select, degenerate publishers. His latest novel Dillo—about father-son rounders on the lam after a botched Apache casino heist—is looking for a home. If you want to see how low the human imagination can sink, please visit www.maxsheridanlit.com

Blood Money

They say you cant teach an old dog new tricks, or get a tiger to change its stripes. Good advice.

Especially in the Gutter. Because this place is a fucking zoo.

Blood Money by Garrett Box




It was the ordinary way that Stanley lived his life that made him forgettable. He took little risk and garnered little reward for his safe efforts. Over the span of six years he achieved the mantle of nighttime manager at a grocery store, a roll he accepted in spite of his better judgment.

“It’s a guarantee,” his brother-in-law Bill told him. “All you have to do is unlock the back door and we’ll do the rest. I know my sister is cheating on you. Money is how you get your life—and your wife—back.”

Recently his wife had grown increasingly careless hiding her affair, and she displayed little pity for Stanley as he moped about the house.

“Things are going to be different,” Stanley would say. 

“I’ll believe that when I see it,” she’d respond.

On the day of, Stanley kept to himself and didn’t speak much to the other employees, who were too young to care. “All they have to do,” he told himself, “is not step out of line.”

At the agreed time Stanley slipped to the back and opened the locked door. He felt the chill night air against his face as he imagined his wife with another man. 

He would be different. This would make him different.

Three burly men wearing ski masks and carrying sawed-off shotguns appeared from the shadows. The last was Bill, who stepped calmly past him.

“Lead the way,” his brother-in-law said.

Stanley brought them to the security room. Before he could explain how to disconnect the feed to the cameras, the three burly men had already begun smashing the necessary equipment to bits.

“Now remember,” Bill said, “you’re the victim. We bloodied you unconscious, took what we wanted and then left. After you call the cops, you explain you don’t know shit about shit and win back my sister.”

“And you really think she’ll go for all this macho criminal stuff?” Stanley asked.

“They all do,” said Bill as he slid on his ski mask.

Stanley winced at Bill’s clinched fists. “Make it look convincing.”

Bill punched Stanley as calmly as he would work a speed bag. Again and again he struck him until he became a controlled bloody mess on the floor, a convincing victim.

“Almost there,” said Bill cheerfully.

He dragged Stanley to his office and dropped him on the floor to wait out the robbery.

Once Bill left, it was Stanley’s chance to make it even bigger, taking a slice that wouldn’t have to be divided up four ways.

He crept out of his office and into his boss’ private safe. For years Stanley had wanted to take it for all it was worth but had always been afraid to. This new Stanley, however, was a different man. He had seen his boss punch in the code on several occasions, and the numbers came back to him with ease.

Then he heard the gunshots.

Several blasts rang out through the store. The noise stopped for a moment, before another round of gunfire unleashed.

Stanley ran back to his office, his bloody fingers staining the money, and waited there for his head to clear. This had gone too far. Robbery was one thing. But murder? He picked up the phone and began to dial. He got as far as 9 and 1. . .

“Sorry,” said his blood-soaked and wounded brother-in-law at the office door. “I’m up for eight counts of felony murder, and right now there’s no difference between eight and nine.”

The gun pointed at Stanley told him everything.

“But you said this was how I’d win her back!” Stanley shouted.

“My sister doesn’t love you. She hasn’t loved you for a long time.” 

Stanley looked at him confused, his world crashing down around him. 

“I like you, bro. But the cops are going to see right through you. You’d break in a New York minute.”

“This is a death sentence.”

“You’re already a dead man.” Bill lowered the gun a moment and smiled one last time. “I’m sorry, Stanley, but rule number one of this game: no witnesses.”

Garret Box has B.A. in English and a Theatre minor from the University of Utah. He started out writing screenplays and then turned to the master race of novels. He is married with two kids and always striving for that double-dipped goal: publication and a root beer float.

Brit Grit Alley

Brit Grit Alley features interviews, news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.

By Paul D. Brazill 

A quick dash down Brit Grit Alley.

Tony Black is over at The Highland Times taking a look at indie publisher Sandstone Press. He also recently had an interview over there with Allan Guthrie about author austerity... I'm interviewed by John Daysh and James A Newman in a beach bar in Thailand ...
Aidan Thorn is over at Near To The Knuckle and Gareth Spark has a story up at the new flash fiction site Spelk ... the Near To The Knuckle team have announced that they will be doing a follow up to their Gloves Off anthology ...  Thrills, Kills n Chaos is back and on form ... UV Ray is over at Pulp Metal Magazine ... Jason Michel has SCI-FI EYES ... submissions are open for novellas at Number Thirteen Press... Sarah Hilary picks her 7 best crime reads of 2014 at Red Magazine ... This Is How You Disappear by Allen Miles is the first publication from Abracadabra Books ... Louder Than Words is a brand new genre-based literary Festival celebrating words – oral, written and published - associated with the music industry. Authors, artists, poets, performers, lyrics and lyricists, journalists, DJs, bloggers and publishers of music and popular culture are all included.

The weekend Festival is based at a single location - The Palace Hotel, Manchester - where all involved can meet to hear, share, discuss and celebrate the best of published and unpublished words associated with music and popular culture industries.

Louder Than Words includes 'in conversation with...' sessions, panel discussions, interviews, workshops, performances and casual opportunities for engaging with associated professionals; each encouraging interaction and engagement with performers, authors, editors, publicists, reviewers, press, artists and aficionados.


  There'll be more carryings on down Brit Grit Alley very soon, sorta kinda thing, like.

Paul D. Brazill is the author of A Case Of Noir,Guns Of Brixton and The Neon Boneyard. He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime 8,10 and 11, alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman and Lee Child. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.



Good Times

The 1970s was a golden era, marked by the institution of the sitcom. 

Their fictional stars became demigods to us. And some, rightly so, remained as such. 

Good Times by Beau Johnson



Peter Brady is exactly who you think he is.  He’s older now, sure, and likes to go by Pete instead of Peter, but damn if he didn’t always have something interesting to say.  Not that I minded, him being such a big part of my growing up and all.
         
“And by no means was it ever my idea.  I want that known.  I was part of it, you bet, and some of it was fun, but if I had my choice to go back and do it over again, no sir, I can’t say that I would.” 

We’re outside, the both of us smoking, the both of us leaning against the back end of the liquor store’s half-dumpster.  What Pete’s on about is what I’d brought up, the fabled Secret Episode: the one purported to house every proclivity created by man—the one where all the shit goes down.  True or not, it was touted to take place towards the end of the show’s run, once everyone had grown, but I’d never known, not for sure, not until Pete Brady formed a habit and our worlds collided because of it. This happened three years ago, over an eight ball, two chicks and one very pissed-off Chinaman.  We’ve since corrected the slight, but during such times is when me and the Pete-man came to find each other, as junkies often do.  That Pete was now a little off-center, well, that’s what coming off the good stuff and taking to a lesser product can do to you.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but chances, yeah, they are in fact the things we come to take.
       

“Don’t get me wrong, it was fun doing Marsha but it would always be better doing Jan.  Preferably from behind, but hey, what do I know?  Little Cindy though—that chick, I’m tellin’ you, that chick could chug cock.” 

I loved it, every word.  The best parts were coming though, and I pretty much knew most of them by heart; that Mrs. Brady goes down on Alice as Alice begins to take on Greg.  Gagging, she instead calls forth Bobby, the smaller brother, and him she can fit into her mouth.
          
“But Mr. Brady,” Pete says, and I know where he’s going with this—the place he always went.  His hands up, palms out: “Who’d have thunk?  I mean, now that I have hindsight, sure, you can see him checking out more of the guys than the woman, so yeah, there’s that, but my actual point is this: how were we to know?”  And the face he ends his question with: priceless.  Made me want to hear the whole shebang again, especially the after party parts, so secret that Pete said for years that even he never knew they existed.  The five minute scenario is what people today call Easter eggs.  It contained Florence Henderson, Sam the Butcher, and what I’m told was just buckets of Wesson Oil.
          

“Damn, what it must have been like,” I say, saying it as I always do, with reverence.  Made me more than smile too, there as I took out my mask.  Allowed me to reimagine my youth into more than what I remember it being; that the good times the Brady Bunch brought me could continue to quash the bad, twisting them into an even better pretzel for me to recall.  And that I was lucky enough to get it from the horse’s mouth of all things, oh man, that’s what made things so much sweeter.  Also made what we were about to commit a little easier to digest.  Because who in their right mind would ever want to hold up a liquor store when they were in something of a bad mood.  Pete and his stories—they’ve always been a good counter to this.  Not as good as the high we were working towards, no, but every little bit helped.
     

“You ready?”  I say and Pete immediately looks me in the eye, his one brow raised.  This is followed by a smile, one which is fast becoming filled with teeth like my own.
        
 “As ready as the Fonz that time he jumped that shark.” 

I try not to lose my game face as I pull my piece.  It doesn’t work, not totally, and beneath the ski-mask I can do nothing but smirk and shake my head.        

Pete Brady.  Fucking guy.  Who knew?

In Canada, with his wife and three boys, Beau Johnson lives, writes and breathes. He has been published before, on the darker side of town. Such places might include Underground Voices, the Molotov Cocktail, and Shotgun Honey. He would like it to be known that it is an honor to be here, down in the Gutter

Joe Ithaca

What’s in a name? Well, depends who’s asking, don’t it? 

Actually, around here, not really. In the Gutter, a name is only the stale bread around a “you're fucked”  sandwich.

Joe Ithaca by George Masters




The sun went away when Janet hung up the phone. She said, “That was my brother, he just got a call. He thinks they’re coming for Dad.”

Twenty minutes later Janet and I loaded the old man and his walker into the car. I brought out two suitcases.

Her father said, “You don’t have to stay here, Tom. Come with us.”

I said, “Someone’s got to take care of the pups.”

“It’s not your fight, kid.”

I put my hand on his shoulder. “This should finish it, Mr. Romero.” 

He touched my hand and I felt him tremble. In his gruff old voice he said, “Jesus, you jarheads are stubborn bastards.” 

Breathing rapidly, her eyes wide open, Janet said, “Please, just call the police—now.”

I said, “They’ll be time for that.”

Biting her bottom lip, she kept her shoulders squared.  “You going to be all right?” 

Sounding more confident than I felt, I said, “I’ll be fine, go.”

“Call me,” she said and leaned in with a kiss. 

Out the open window, the old man waved an arm as they drove away.

Wherever the two men came from, it took them five hours to find the apartment. When they arrived, I was sitting on the screened in porch with a beer and listening to the thunder get closer. No rain yet, the afternoon warm and still, the sky grey as a battleship.

One dog in my lap, one at my feet, I was enjoying the beer and the red and purple flowers beginning to blossom. The thunder rumbled like artillery. If you’ve heard the big guns in person, you don’t forget.

I didn’t recognize the white Suburban that pulled up in front. It didn’t park in one of the parking spaces, but just stopped in the middle of the driveway. Two men got out and looked up and down at the apartments. The driver pointed to the number on Mr. Romero’s door. 

The driver stood by the car, the other man came up the walk and knocked. A damp wind began moving through the tops of the trees.

I set the dog in my lap on the floor and walked to the edge of the porch. I said to the guy at the door, “May I help you?” The screen was black, and with the afternoon getting dark, he hadn’t seen me. Looking surprised he leaned forward to see who had spoken. When he took a couple of steps across the grass both dogs started barking.

He said, “Excuse me, do you live here?”

I said, “Who are you?”

He turned and waved to the driver. Leaving the Suburban running, the driver joined his partner. Both came a couple steps closer. The dogs barked harder and louder.

I gave them pats on the head and told them everything was fine.

The first one said, “I’m sorry, friend, an acquaintance of ours used to live here and we thought maybe he still did.” 

I said, “My uncle lives here.”

The driver said, “If you don’t mind, could you tell us if Mr. Romero has moved to another apartment?”

“I don’t know a Mr. Romero.”

“Has your uncle lived here a while?” asked the first man, and he took another step closer.

I said over the racket of two dogs barking, “You’ve got the wrong apartment.”

The driver said, “Would you mind telling us your uncle’s name?”

I said, “No, I don’t mind.” They waited and I waited. While we both waited, the sky opened up and the wind strengthened. 

“Is your uncle here?”

I said, “He’s in bed.”

With the rain running off their noses and chins, the driver said, “Would it be all right if we came in?”

“My uncle’s taking a nap and he’s not feeling well.”

The other one said, “And what’s your uncle’s name?”

I said, “Ithaca, Joe Ithaca.”

Getting drenched, they glanced at each other. The driver said, “Larry, why don’t you park the car?” Larry trotted over to the car; the driver stepped close so his nose was only a couple feet from the screen. He grinned. “Getting kind of wet out here, friend.”

“Why don’t you get in your car until it stops?”

“I was hoping you’d invite us in. I’d like to ask your uncle a few questions.”

“About what?”

“Maybe your uncle knew our friend, the previous tenant.”

“He might but he’s sleeping. I wake him, he’s going to be upset.”

“Joe Ithaca,” said the man trying out the name.

I said, “Right.”

Larry came back from parking the car to join his friend. His friend’s voice took on an edge. He said, “Listen, can we come in? We won’t take much of your uncle’s time. You’d be doing us a favor, just a couple quick questions.”

Their trousers and windbreakers were shining wet. Somewhere in their mid-forties, both men had size and height. Their confidence gave them the look of former professional football players or cops. Larry had a shaved head. The drivers black hair was getting plastered.

It grew cooler; the wind dropped off and the rain fell straight as nails. I picked up the barking dogs and said, “Tell you what, hold on and let me go ask my uncle.” 

Leaving them both in the rain, I went into the guest bedroom and deposited the dogs. I picked up the shotgun and closed the door behind me.

Heading back toward the darkened living room, I saw the two men climbing over the porch railing, coming through a big section of cut-out screening. Each one carried a large automatic pistol. Taking cover behind a leather recliner, I dropped into the prone position, thumbed off the safety and allowed them to take two maybe three steps into the living room.

*

Police cars, ambulances and a fire truck filled the parking spaces and the driveway. It was still raining. Neighbors stood in doorways and leaned out of windows.  

Mostly I told the police the truth. I made up the part where I said they were looking for a guy named Ralph Snyder.

“Who’s Ralph Snyder?” said the head cop.

“I have no idea.”

He said, “Do you live here?”

“My girlfriend’s father. He’s away on a trip and I’m babysitting the dogs.”

The cop pointed to the shotgun. “Whose Ithaca?”

I said, “Mr. Romero’s, I’m sure.”

“He kept it loaded?”

“And a good thing, I didn’t have much time.”

“Double ought buck. Was he expecting anyone?”

“You mean, why’d he keep it loaded? Probably the same reason you do.”

The cop scowled. He said, “Any more guns in the house?”

I looked at parts of Larry and the driver on the walls and across the living room floor. I said, “I don’t know.”

He said, “If you don’t mind, we’ll take a look around.”

I said, “Please do.”


George Masters served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam and after the war attended Georgetown. His crime novel, Concerto for Harp, is hunting for an agent/publisher.