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The Trophy Wife Keeps A Secret

A dark night, the two of you alone in a bedroom: in the gutter, when you take someone out, it means a whole other thing.

The Trophy Wife Keeps A Secret by Robb T. White

The woman had to go. That’s all there was to it. Knowing and proving were two different things as far as cops went. He planned for that night before they could build a stronger case. Prosecutors could indict a ham sandwich—an old but true saying. She’d buckle once they had her in that tiny room. He wasn’t going to wait for them to offer her partial immunity to get to him.
He followed the same route as that other night and parked in the same spot. He waited for all the lights in the large house to go out before checking his watch. Two hours passed before he got out, stretched, checked his clothing; he worked the slide on his .25 Beretta, a habit. No silencer because he was going to knock her out while she slept, drag her to the bathtub, fill it up, and slit her wrists. He’d done that before with a male he’d been contracted to remove. It would be easier with a woman. Women get emotional under pressure.
He entered the same way through the patio doors. Up to the master bedroom more slowly without the moonlight to guide him as before. Three in the morning, she’d be dead asleep. Soon, for real.
He cracked the first door and listened for the sound of breathing. Nothing. She must be in the other room at the opposite end of the hallway.
The carpeting allowed him to walk faster, a little surer of his movements in the near dark. Sensor lights placed near the floor picked him up at intervals, but she’d be used to her dog setting them off during the night. That was his secret and made him so successful at home invasions, his first career, with dogs in the house. Dogs loved him; some pheromone he gave off. They’d approach, some snarling, and soon they’d be licking his hand.
He pushed the door open an inch and waited. No sound here, either. He was used to the sounds of people asleep. He opened the door a couple feet and slipped through.
He approached the lumpy shape under the covers. The blow would show up in the coroner’s report but it would be attributed to the fall.
He stood over her in the bed and let his fingertips graze the top of her head as lightly as a butterfly’s wings. He felt hair. He had the right place in his mind’s eye; one blow, no more. He raised the club for one overhand blow but stopped his forward motion in mid-air. Wrong—the hair was wrong. He recalled the soft sheen when they sat in the booth at the diner agreeing to the final terms of their arrangement to kill her husband.
When the lights came on, a store mannequin stared at him with a made-up woman’s face beneath a wig. He pivoted . . .
The Taser darts were already stuck to flesh blasting him senseless.
He came to, groggy but aware.
Her. Set up by a dim-bulbed trophy wife. Not happening. . .
 She smirked, the Taser in one hand, his billy in the other.
She thumped him once, hard, across the temple and he fell into a black vortex.
When he came to this time, he was nauseated; something sticky was wrapped across his mouth. He was bouncing in the dark—a car trunk from the feel of it. His hands were cuffed behind his back and his legs bound at the ankles. When the trunk lid popped open, he squeezed his eyes shut against the flashlight’s beam. A pair of hands jerked him upright and hauled him to the lip of the trunk. The gag was ripped from his mouth.
“I’m sthenic,” she said. “Know what that means, killer?”
 He had discipline. He wouldn’t overreact.
“It means you’re free of your husband, thanks to me.”
Not brilliant but good enough under the circumstances.
“It means I’m abnormally strong.”
As if to prove it, she clutched him by his windbreaker and leaned him over the edge until gravity tipped him over and he hit the dirt. His head was a balloon of pain.
She pulled him upright against the bumper.
With as much calm as he could inject into his voice, he said, “I have money.”
The kick that smashed him in the face and broke teeth was a construction worker’s boot. He swallowed shards from the impact. Other pieces embedded themselves into his lips. He was swallowing blood so fast he was certain he was going to choke to death. His vision blurred. Another kick from Trophy Wife broke his jaw. His talking done.
She dragged him by the legs while red waves of pain rolled through him too fast for him to think clearly. His life depended on words now. All those smooth words he used on women like her—what to say? He was covered in filth and cockleburs by the time the moving stopped.
Then he heard her voice. “That cop, Vukcevic, he’s breathing down my neck. I’m afraid you’ll talk. I can’t have that.” She stroked his swollen cheek. “Sorry,” she said, “but, hey, them’s the breaks, killer.”
He wanted to say, No, no, he wasn’t the one who would break, never—
His body was rolled and then he dropped, landing hard, his breath pounded from his lungs. The first shovelful landed. A grave. His grave. Oh fuck me.
Then the second one, followed by a rhythmic thunking—until blood-flecked spittle washed any words back down his throat.
The shoveling woman loomed above, no more a petite blonde with buttery hair. She disappeared beneath a hazy, tear-blinded curtain of dirt.
Before he found the right words to stop all this, more clotted dirt landed and covered his mouth. He heard a giggle from far off. 
Robb T. White lives in Northeastern Ohio; since 2011, he has published three hardboiled private-eye novels and two crime novels, all by indie presses. A recent collection of crime stories is "Thomas Haftmann, Private Eye" (New Pulp, 2017).

Review: The Ridge, by John Rector

Hot Damn! A new John Rector book! John Rector has become a must-read author for me. Each of his books have been great page-turners that strike a balance between plots that are blistering paced yet detailed and well-fleshed out. This offering is no exception, and I found myself rushing through this page-turner; all the while trying to tell myself to slow down and enjoy all the things Rector did right in this novel.

The Ridge is one hell of a good suspense novel and even the most discerning reader will find themselves struggling to put this book down. In a clear homage to The Stepford Wives (it is referenced many times in the book), Rector paints a compelling story of Megan Stokes, a young wife who has left her comfort zone in Chicago, and has moved with her husband to the quaint and quiet town of Willow Ridge. Megan is uncomfortable within the skin of this community and it comes boiling out when she interacts with Rachel Addison, who Megan believes has become infatuated with her husband. Their interaction takes a turn for worse and leaves Megan facing at best a manslaughter rap and at worst, a murder rap. But when her situation takes a turn into the unexplained and Rachel turns up very much alive, yet “different”, the screws begin to get tightened under Rector’s deft touch. With each step Rachel tries to take to determine what is really happening in this strange new town, she finds potential friends and potential enemies all around her, often in the form of the same person. The reader will not know what is real and who can be trusted, as they navigate the dark corners of Willow Ridge with Rector surprising them at every turn.

Rector is at his best when his writing leaves the reader unsure of what can be believed and what is real (His top work in my eyes, which follows that blueprint, is The Grove). He has penned a novel that will impresses new readers and satisfy his legions of fans. This book is sure to be well-received in many reading circles and will generate a lot of buzz for Rector.

A smart reader may be left with the feeling this book reads very similarly to Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines novel. That smart reader wouldn’t be too surprised to see Rector give a shout out to Crouch in the acknowledgements and in fact, receives a blurb from him for the book. If the smart reader were to dig a little deeper, they would discover the Wayward Pines series and The Ridge share the same publisher. By coincidence or by design; Well I leave that up to you to decide. But seeing how Wayward Pines launched a successful TV series, one can hardly fault Rector for using the format laid out by Crouch. This book leaves a lot of openings for spin-offs and sequels. I, for one, would welcome the chance to follow this wormhole, wherever it may lead.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Banged Up

Everybody wants to move up.

In The Gutter, it means crushing the heads of those beneath you.

Banged up by Mike Loniewski

The rickety bicycle rounds the corner of the cafe with a skinny bloke wrestling the handle bars. A kid with an Uzi hangs off the back. He’s not aiming for me, but for the other guy at my table. A young, American tech-billionaire arsehole who cashed in on some face tweet thing I’ll never understand.

The Uzi starts spitting and people slip under their tables as if it’s an ordinary course of the dinner. I, on the other hand, pull my HK over the American kid’s shoulder and put neatly cropped holes in the bicycle twins.

Wirat, the delivery boy, pulls up with his tiny car on cue. Wirat’s a friend and a gifted drunk. Put a few in him and the bastard turns into an F1 champion.

I shove the American and my bag of food into the back. Wirat hits the accelerator. We’re weaving through congested streets as people rush to the cafe to see dead bodies. They love dead bodies out here.

“Can you hear what I’m saying to you?” I ask.

Kid’s in shock. Maybe just stoned. He looks at me with dinner plate eyes. “Is my ear bleeding? My ear’s bleeding”

It’s bleeding, alright. A forty-five went off at his ear.

We’re out of the alleys and market streets and into more civilized traffic, trying to elude an unstable man with a passion for chopping up limbs and trafficking drugs.

“Have you heard of this fellow Ukrit?” I ask the American.

“Yeah. Shit. I know him.”

“That bicycle was property of Ukrit. I happen to work for Ukrit.”

The kid fiddles with his ear. “Why the hell did you cap your coworkers?”

“I saw an opportunity.”

Wirat pulls us up a block from a dingy fish market. 

Ukrit’s somewhere inside waiting for the food from the cafe. Sick bastard ordered food from the same place he ordered a hit.

I hand Wirat the to-go bag, tell him to run it inside and to be quick about it.

I turn back to the kid. “You’re having yourself a blast smuggling heroin to artists in Europe. That’s a far cry from your computers in California. Drugs are Ukrit’s job.”

“Ukrit’s got poor business sense. He’s local. I’m taking it global,” he says.

This wanker. Part of me’s thinking I should just hand him over to Ukrit. Hack him up proper. But I can’t manage this without him.

“Bangkok’s going to kill you before you’re twenty six. If it wasn’t for me, Ukrit would have made sure of it already,” I say.

“Why do you give a shit about what Ukrit does to me?”

There’s no sense telling him how I’ve drowned myself in booze to erase the memory of killing my own men in combat, and how I ended up a mercenary to pay the tab. I don’t tell him about the cancer and how I just want a few good days to make things right with the people I’ve fucked over. I just tell him it’s about the money. “A dead man always leaves a few prizes in his pockets. Ukrit’s pockets will have plenty of prizes for the both of us.”

The kid shakes his head. “Don’t need his money.”

“But, I do. And you need his growers.”

He laughs. “So, we’re ripping off Ukrit? You don’t need me for that. There’s something else.” 

He’s right. “I need those computer talents of yours. Fill some personal accounts with Ukrit’s dirty money. Wash it clean. Same time, I deliver Ukrit to his maker for you.”

“You got some crazy ass plan to kill Ukrit?” he says and laughs.  

I flip open the burner phone. “Do you know what Mok Huak is?”

“That I do not.”

“It’s tadpoles and fermented fish. Ukrit’s favorite.”

I hold out my hand. “We have a deal?” 

We shake and I press send on a text to a receiver tucked inside that slimy glob of Mok Huak from the cafe. I only hope Wirat’s made it out.

Silence. There shouldn’t be silence. The charge inside the to-go bag should have detonated instantly.

Things are really buggered when I see Ukrit and a small gang come strutting out of the market toward our cab. Ukrit’s swinging something in his hand.

“Holy shit! Is that a head?” The kid screeches next to me.

It’s a head, alright. Wirat’s.

Flashes pop off behind Ukrit and the cab’s windshield cracks into spider webs. Rounds explode off the grill.

I jump over the driver’s seat and press both hands down on the gas. “Steer, you cunt!” I shout at the kid.

As bodies thump against the hood, the kid screams again.

I take a peek and see Ukrit—still alive and high on something—smashed through our windshield.

“Shoot him,” I shout.

The kid takes my HK and—as his generation would put it—“caps” Ukrit in the head.

I slam the brakes and the drug lord’s body ejects. 

The kid’s whimpering like a puppy. Christ, he’s gonna need some toughening up. He’s just turned himself into a drug lord.
I straighten myself and pat him on the shoulder. 

“Right, then. Let’s see what’s in those pockets.”

Mike is a writer from New Jersey. His fiction has been published by Out of the Gutter, Shotgun Honey, OneEye Press, and others. His comics have been published by Image Comics and APE Entertainment. You can find him on twitter at @redfox_write.

Night in Seedy Motel Challenge

Some people make a living sharing cheap thrills with an audience. In the Gutter, not everyone pays cash.

Night in Seedy Motel Challenge by Jennifer Soosar

“…Okay, I decided to try something really demented for today’s video. I went on Trip Advisor and found the crappiest, scariest, one-star hotel in town, and booked myself in for the night. So, welcome to my room at the hellhole known as the Haymont Inn…”
Who says you can’t make a living doing nothing? Chad’s father, that’s who. Well, Chad is showing him. A hair away from a million subscribers and a monthly income from YouTube. All he has to do? Live life (basically nothing, but rhapsodized nothing).
“…I’m already suffocating and I’ve been in here, like, ten minutes setting up the camera. This room is literally the size of a closet, there’s zero ventilation…here, check out the window—painted shut! Oh, check out what they give you for a closet: a friggin’ locker, like in high school. ‘Course, you gotta bring your own lock...”
The thing with daily vlogging: you gotta keep ‘em watching. That means always outdoing yourself; always surprising viewers with original, outrageous content; next level stuff. Or else—click.
“…I wish I could describe the evil stench in this place. It’s a combination of every fluid the human body secretes mixed with grime, mildew, stale cigarettes and…God, what is that? Jumbo rat turds or something.  Seriously guys, the smell is incredible. I can’t even believe I paid a hundredn’ fifty bucks for this dump. No maid has been here in, like, forever. It’s staggering the amount of dust…look at the nightstand, this lampshade. If you’re ever in Manhattan, do not stay here....”
But, as Chad’s father so intelligently pointed out, is it sustainable? The word of the decade: sustainable. Could this vlogging continue into Chad’s thirties, forties, fifties? Why not learn the insurance trade now? Sure, vlogging was a fine hobby, make no mistake! But was it prudent to depend on it as a sustainable career?
“…Oh my God! Did you see that? That cockroach was bigger than the Taco Bell dog! I’m calling the front desk. Yeah, hi, there’s a huge cockroach in my room. Room ten. No, that’s okay. No, seriously. Thanks. Check this: the guy says he’ll come and fog the room if I want—while I’m in here...”
There was still money available in Chad’s education fund. The video equipment and editing software hadn’t eaten it all up. But the insurance industry? Chad would rather move into the Haymont Inn permanently than do that. Sorry, Dad!
“…It’s, like, three-thirty in the morning. I’m getting tired but there’s no way I’m sleeping tonight. Are you serious? Those bed bugs are laughing at that plastic mattress sheet. Oh, very nice. Look at that—blood on the ceiling, I just noticed. Yo, I’m talking a bit quiet because these people just checked in next door and the walls are paper thin. I can hear every fucking word they’re saying. Listen in. I think there’s some kinda drug deal going down. They sound like bad hombres...”
What makes your life so interesting, Chad’s father had challenged. You aren’t doing anything to enlighten or educate. Just an aimless string of immature stunts. Stuff that promises to get you into a heap of trouble! Hiding inside a tower of toilet paper until the Wal-Mart store closes?—how pointless! Not only stupid, but illegal! Smarten up, son! You get a criminal record, you can forget the insurance business. That door’ll be slammed shut!
“…Yo, these hombres are not happy. Some problem with money, the one guy is jerking them around. Shit. Did you hear that? Holy shit! Okay, that was the sound of a handgun being cocked. I know that sound, from, like a million movies and stuff. Okay, this has gotten way intense, I’m pulling the plug here before a bullet comes through the fricken wall… Oh, no, you gotta be kidding me…I can’t…the friggin door’s stuck! Fucking lock jammed! I can’t get out. Yeah, hi, it’s room ten—I can’t get outta the goddamn door…Can you send somebody up here right away to open it? Room ten! Holy fuck! Shots fired! Shots fired! Hurry, please! Shots fi—”
After much deliberation, Chad’s father posted the video; for the fans. It’s amazing that people watch, but they do.
Jennifer Soosar is a Torontonian who writes in the thriller/suspense/crime genre. She strives to write stories that are original and entertaining. She graduated from York University with a B.A. in anthropology. Her first novel, Parent Teacher Association, will be published on June 24th, 2017 from Black Opal Books. She is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, and Sisters in Crime.

Review: Rock Beats Paper, by Mike Knowles

If I had to pick a name of an author that had floored me with each book they have written, yet they seem unknown in reading circles, I would put Mike Knowles at the top of the list. Knowles has been consistently putting out books that are top notch since 2008 when he burst onto the scene with Darwin’s Nightmare which introduced his series protagonist, Wilson. Knowles has since release 5 books with Wilson as the lead and each one was better than the one that came before it, however, he may have saved his best for his most recent addition to the series, Rocks Beats Paper.

For the uninitiated to the series, Wilson is a man who keeps off the radar. He keeps a very small circle of colleagues and even fewer friends. He prefers it this way because he makes his living pulling heists. Not quick “stick ‘em up” robberies, but large scale ones with big payouts. He tends to pull a job and disappear for large stretches of time while he plots his next job.

In this fast-paced and well plotted book. Wilson comes out of the woodworks to be a part of a 10-million-dollar diamond heist. The first quarter of this book shows you the great depths he puts the crew through to plan for every obstacle and possible outcome of every possible situation they may encounter. Wilson is nothing if not a meticulous planner and he is not afraid to walk away from a job if there is the smallest chance he doesn’t escape with his freedom and his desired spoils.

When the inside man from this planned job dies in a car accident, Wilson is forced to let the planned job die with him. But that doesn’t stop him from resurrecting a new plan for the same score. Wilson is brilliant in his prepping and his planning and this novel is a lot of fun to read.

I have seen many reviews that compare the Wilson novels to the Richard Stark Parker novels. I have only read 1 Parker novel, so perhaps I am not the best to comment on the comparison, but I found this novel to be up to par with the Parker novels and I actually enjoy the Wilson novels more. I am sure that comment won’t sit well with the loyal Parker fans that read this review, but if they at least read a Wilson novel to see how it rates, my goal for this review is accomplished. Knowles deserves a much wider audience than he seems to have. His writing is crisp, plotting is tight, and all his novels have left me eagerly waiting his next release. Do yourself a favor and grab this book and take it for a spin.

Highly Recommended.

Merry Christmas

The Gutter always reminds us:

Sometimes you're the dog and sometimes you're the tree.

Merry Christmas by Wayne Scheer

Boyd Loggins felt like a kid the day before Christmas. 

Driving home from his first night at the Wagon Wheel in eighteen months, he realized how much he had missed the curvy, country roads. It had been raining most of the evening and everything smelled like it had just been washed clean. He kept his windows rolled down and let the rain spray his bare arm.

His radio didn't work, so he beat a rhythm on his steering wheel to the swoosh-tada, swoosh-tada of the wipers. Squinting through the streaked windshield, he focused on the winding road ahead. He drove slower than he once did, imagining someone watching what a careful driver he'd become.

All night he drank nothing but Coke. Most of his old friends treated him as if he were wired with explosives. But that was all right. He expected that.   

It took some prodding, but Tammy Lucas agreed to dance with him. He had almost forgotten how good a woman smelled.

"So what's it like being locked up?" she asked. At least she wasn't afraid of him.

He stared into her eyes, thinking of what to say, afraid of saying the wrong thing. After a few moments, he realized he was still staring.

"What did you miss most?" she asked. The way she squinted made it clear she was growing uncomfortable.

That's when he kissed her. He put his hands in back of her head and planted a good one.

"I sure missed that," Boyd said.

She pushed him away and ran back to her friends. They told Big Roy behind the bar and Big Roy asked him to leave.

He wanted to explain but decided he'd do better to just walk away, like the doctors had told him. At one time, he would have popped Big Roy in his fat face and told everyone to kiss his ass, maybe drop his drawers for good measure.

He was trying to be good, but it seemed like the universe was in cahoots to cause him grief. His meds had him in a kind of daze and it was too much trouble to fight through the fog.

He continued driving and tapping out the rhythm of the wipers when his tires felt like they slid from under him. He spun around, facing the wrong way, and stopped the truck smoothly, proud of himself. Maybe his luck was about to change, he thought.

Just then, Sheriff Conroy skidded into Boyd, head on. Their front ends locked, like two elks in combat.

"Boyd, you sorry ass drunken sonuvabitch,” the sheriff said as he squeezed out of his car. “Your goin’ back to where you belong." 

"Merry Christmas," Boyd mumbled, through thickened fog. 

The sheriff wasn't in a holiday frame of mind.  

Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He's published hundred of stories, poems, and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, available at

A short film has also been produced based on his short story, "Zen and the Art of House Painting." Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at

The Good Coyote

Even children fall into the Gutter. And the hand they're given out may be a harsh one. If they're lucky.

The Good Coyote by Gabino Iglesias

The truck stops in the middle of the desert. The man inside waits a moment before opening the door. The damn dust will get on everything and cover his boots with a thick brown layer that he’ll need water to remove, but there’s no reason to make it worse. After a minute, the dust settles a bit. He climbs down and makes his way to the back of the truck.
The four kids in the back are blinded by the harsh light when the coyote opens the doors. They squint and raise their hands to their faces like vampires about to start bubbling under the Texas sun.
“Abajo,” says the man, looking at the Salvadorans, wondering how in the world the two younger ones survived a ride in La Bestia.
The kids slowly make their way down, their legs weak from the trip, lack of food, and fear. The coyote helps the youngest one, the only girl, jump down to the ground. She thanks him in a cracked voice that reminds him of those dolls that speak after you pull a string on their back.
“You and you, come with me,” the man barks, already hating what’ll come next.
The two oldest kids look at each other and start walking behind the coyote toward the front of the truck. One is about fourteen. Short for his age. He has yellow teeth and acne. The other is seventeen or so. Tall. All bones and a few lines that promise future muscles once he starts eating well. This is the one the coyote worries about. He already explained to them what would happen, but you never know what a man will do after you put your hands on him.
They reach the front of the truck and the man turns around. The teens stand side by side, looking like they’re ready to hold hands and start crying. The coyote digs into the right pocket of his jeans and pulls out his brass knuckles. They’re round at the top. The kids take a step back simultaneously when he slides them on.
“Tranquilos, I’ll only hurt you a bit. You know how it is,” he says.
He’s been doing the same thing for years, and by now has mastered the art of hurting the kids just enough to get the job done. Hit them too hard and you run risks. On his second trip, a child lost an eye. That was too much. Hit them too soft and they’ll heal by the time they go through the interview at the icebox. If they do, the fucking gringos will do everything in their power to send them back to whatever hell they came from.
“Okay, remember: you were victims of gang violence. Los Malditos, la Salvatrucha, Calle 18…I don’t care. You pick one and stick to it. Explain to them they attack you regularly. Show them your wounds, got it?”
The kids nod. The coyote looks down then shoots a straight right at the older kid. He feels his nose crunch under the brass knuckles. The kid takes two steps back and drops. The coyote knows that surprising them is the only way to go. He looks at the younger kid. A piss stain is spreading down the front of his pants. The man grabs him by the hair and brings his right knee up, sinking it into the kid’s stomach. The kid crumbles. The coyote bends down, aims for the right ear, and pops him twice. Hard. The ear splits, starts bleeding. A round bump immediately starts to change the shape of the youngster’s head. That’ll last him a few days. Then he uses his left hand to bust his lower lip open, taking care not to fuck his teeth up too much.
The older kid is still down, holding his face. Blood’s running down his chin and neck, staining his shirt. Good thing the man has clean clothes for them or the whole thing would be too obvious. The coyote knows that, because he’s at the edge of adulthood, this kid will have a harder time. He needs to be hurt in order to really sell the sad story. At least his English is better, so that will help.     
The coyote walks up to the writhing teenager, turns him sideways with his boot, and lands three hard kicks on his back. The pointy boots will break skin or at least leave a good bruise. No one will think this is something he did to himself. Then he kneels and punches him in the face three times. A loud snap tells him the second punch broke a finger. That’ll do.
Once both kids are up, the coyote brings them a gallon of water and a dirty towel to clean themselves and some clothes. He uses a corner of the towel to clean the blood off his brass knuckles and hands.
“Now you walk. Hasta que se topen con la migra. Once you see the Border Patrol, go to them. If you don’t wanna go back, remember: los mareros are looking for you. You fear for your life and get beat regularly, entendido?”
A few grunts and nods is all he gets from them. Not much else he can do now except give them some water and point them in the right direction.
At the back of the bus, the little girl looks at him with fire in her eyes. She heard everything. The coyote hopes that fire keeps her safe. He kneels in front of her.
“I’m one of the good guys, mija. Anyone touches you, you put your nails in his eyes and kick him right here,” he says, patting his crotch. “And stay close to these guys.”
The four kids start walking away. The coyote knows they’ll look back at him and be surprised they didn’t get killed like so many others. He won’t stick around to watch them walk away, though. There are more kids waiting for him.

Gabino Iglesias was born somewhere, but then moved to a different place. His nonfiction has appeared in places like The New York Times, Z Magazine, El Nuevo Día, and others. The stuff that's made up has been published in places like Red Fez, Flash Fiction Offensive, Drunk Monkeys, Bizarro Central, Paragraph Line, Divergent Magazine, Cease, Cows, and a few horror, surrealist, and bizarro anthologies. When not writing or fighting ninja squirrels, he devours books and spits out reviews that are published in places like Verbicide, The Rumpus, Word Riot, Heavy Feather Review, The Lazy Fascist Review, Bookslut, Electric Literature, Atticus Review, Entropy, HorrorTalk, Necessary Fiction, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Out of the Gutter, Spinetingler Magazine, Buzzy Mag, and a few other print and online venues. 

Review: An Eye for an Eye, by Paul Heatley

I am sorry to say that the initial release of Paul Heatley’s An Eye for an Eye, came and went and it was never on my radar. Sometimes the sheer volume of books being released means even great books go unnoticed and this book is a great example of why it’s important to visit the websites of the independent presses you like just to see what may have slipped past you. I recently visited Near to the Knuckle’s website and I am pleased to say this great read came to my attention. This is a shotgun blast of a novella and it has put Heatley on my radar in a big way.

Heatley has penned a dark, brooding, atmospheric slice of violent noir. Everything about this novella is done right; from the attention to the setting which helps set the bleak mood the story emanates, to the well fleshed out characters that come to life and breath the air of believability into the story. Heatley hits every high note, but does it with a poet’s touch. His characters, which were originally introduced in the short story The Straightener, are well fleshed out. Graeme, not the toughest thug on the street, is his main character. Graeme’s strength is his morality that comes through in a real-world manner; he doesn’t believe he is a moral man, but he knows his morality stands above the other thugs who reside in the same world as him. He displays a touch of compassion, without being pushover.

Graeme gets the call when the daughter of top mobster, Neil Doyle, loses an eye in an accident. Doyle, a man who makes anyone pay for making him look weak, will move heaven and earth to make the guilty party pay and he puts Graeme on the case. Graeme teams up with Tony, a non-affiliated man whom he knows he can trust. By looking outside the mob circle for a right hand man, Graeme lets us know that he is not a man on a leash, instead he is a free thinking man who balances the need to get the job done, with the knowledge that a job needs to be done right to be completed.

This novella is a brutally violent masterpiece. From dismemberments, heads concaved in from forceful hammer strikes, to men being comatosed though violent means, it has something for every noir and hardboiled fiction lover. This book screams to be read and recognized for the many strengths it possesses, and Paul Heatley deserves to be recognized for his ability to strip a novella down to its barest elements and have every one of them add a vital piece to a kickass story. There is nothing extraneous in this story, yet nothing is missing; indeed a hard balance to accomplish.

While this novella stands on its own, be smart and head over to  and read The Straightener before you dig into this one. While you are there, check out all of the other great things Near to the Knuckle has put out recently. I for one will be seeking out quite a few of their older titles and you will be reading all about them in the future.

Highly Recommended.

The Ballad of Danny Malone

FFO fave Nicky Murphy is back,

with a tale of heartbreak and ghosts from the past.

The Ballad of Danny Malone by Nicky Murphy

My wife has fallen for another man. A younger man. 

Alice is not on her own, mind you. Half the women in this town are infatuated with Danny Malone. Ever since he turned up having run away from a drunken father somewhere upstate, they’ve talked about nothing else.

He’s an odd-job man, fixing a dripping tap here, a blocked drain there. Our garden has never been so bloody immaculate. She encourages him, feeding him like a stray dog.

I need to tell her she’s making a fool of herself. I can see the attraction – the mussed-up hair, the baby blues, the inability to keep his shirt on in warm weather – but she’s old enough to be his – well.

I get home from work one hot day, and guess what? Wonderful Danny is in the garden and my wife is in the kitchen filling a glass with homemade lemonade. Homemade! There’s a plate with a couple of cookies, and I bet they’re homemade too.

“Look, Alice, this has gone far enough,” I say.

She turns around, picks up the glass and plate.

“Same age as Jack would’ve been, doncha think?” Her eyes are dry and her chin trembles just a little.

I watch as Alice takes the lemonade and cookies over to Danny, who’s digging out a stubborn patch of weeds. She’s right, of course – the same age, if our son had lived, rather than being born too soon for this world and dying in my arms, being too weak to even cry.

Danny takes the glass, drinks deep, then kisses her gently on the cheek. He looks over and gives me a hearty wave.

Despite myself, I wave back. Ah, dammit. If she wants to get a bit gooey over Danny then let her. No harm done.


It’s Thanksgiving, and Danny is sharing our meal. After the pumpkin pie, he says he’s met someone.

“Her name is Nadine,” he says, handing me a photograph. “Isn’t she just a peach?”

All I see is a hard-nosed little tramp with cold eyes.

“Yup, she’s a peach alright,” I say.

“We met at the drive-in.” He strokes the photo and sighs happily. “She says she’s going to show me the world.”


Christmas comes, and the old year shivers into the new.

During spring, Danny still mows the lawn and trims the shrubs, but I notice he’s missing swathes of grass, or churning the lawn to mud. One afternoon, Alice reports he spends two hours pruning a rose bush, leaf by leaf, twig by twig, until there’s nothing left but a stump.

He shuns lemonade and cookies and his face looks like a skull. His baby blues redden. His shirt stays on his back. And he stinks.

I’m not sure what world Nadine is showing him, but I think it looks like hell.


One night there’s a knock at the door. It’s Danny, and he looks like death warmed over. There are large smudges of dark grey under his eyes and his skin is the color of day-old grits.

Alice sits him down with a cup of coffee, which he nurses but doesn’t drink.

“I have nowhere else to go,” he says, then he begins to cry.

It turns out that Danny owes $5000 to the kind of man who doesn’t like to be kept waiting for his dues. The kind of man who thinks nothing of putting an extra hole in someone’s head.

“Danny, we just haven’t got that sort of money,” I say. “I wish we had, but -”

“Yes we have,” Alice says. “We have savings, there’s my pension, we could sell something—”

“No!” I slam my hand on the table. “No, Alice, I will not give our money to help Danny kill himself, no!”

She stands up, and there’s something in her quiet stance that scares me. 

“It won’t be our money, it’ll be mine,” she says.

I stand up too and we stare at each other.

“I said no, Alice.” I point at Danny. “He is not Jack. He is not our son, no matter how much you want him to be.”

I turn to the lad, and the pleading in his eyes cuts me to the quick. “I’m sorry, Danny, but you should go.” 

“Please!” Alice grabs her handbag, starts pulling out the bills. “Here, Danny, this is all I have on me. I’ll get you more tomorrow.” She pushes them into his hands and stares at me defiantly.

“I said no.”

“And I said—”

Danny gets up and makes for the door. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “I shouldn’t have asked you, it’s not fair.” All the same, he carefully places the bills into his back pocket. “I’ll try talking to him, ask him for a little more time.”


Two nights later, there’s a hammering on the door. We’ve just gone to bed; me in our room, Alice in the spare room, as that’s how it is now.

I throw on a robe and open the door.

It’s Frank from across the road. Danny’s body has been found by the crossroads, a single efficient hole in his chest. He thought we should know. Sandra, Frank’s wife, is beside herself.

I tell Alice. She starts to keen, and I would sell my soul to never hear that sound again.


Alice mourns for another lost son, then leaves me soon after the funeral.

I move away to another town, the memories of that beautiful boy too hard to handle. And sometimes I sit on my porch, watching the moths kill themselves against the light time and time again, and wonder if being right was worth it.

Nicki Murphy lives in the UK, and dreams of giving up the rat-race and just writing full-time. Inspiration comes from the dark side. Her mum wonders why she can't write about fluffy kittens, just once. Likes red wine and Sharknado. Don't judge her too harshly.