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Review: A Killer's Love, by Mike Monson

Mike Monson has done it again. The man is a noir genius. He published great noir through All Due Respect and he writes some of their better releases. His latest, A Killer’s Love, is a novella that fires on all cylinders and is an excellent example of why some the best noir fiction (maybe the best?) is being published by ADR.

Lancaster Messier is a grifter; he scours his surroundings looking to find his next meal ticket. He is an equal opportunist when it comes to seeking victims … young, old, male, female … the only thing that matters is if the victim has something that he desires. In other words, he is the perfect main character for an ADR book.

This novella is a fast-paced, quick read that follows Messier as he leaves victims in his wake and settles in with Carla, who may be the dame who finally tames him. Life with Carla is seemingly perfect; high end food, great booze, high-grade medical marijuana, and a woman who asks no questions about the past and has no worries about the future. But all that changes with a simple knock on Carla’s front door …

Messier is an interesting character. His emotions run volatile and we see him on opposite ends of the spectrum. One minute he is a cold-blooded killer and the next he is a benevolent benefactor for those in need. This strange dichotomy allows us to see a nice amount of depth within him as a character, something that can be lacking in quick paced novellas. Monson does a great job fleshing Messier out and hooking the reader and creating a desire to see what Messier will attempt next.

Monson’s writings often seem to remind me of the Hard Case Crime type of stories; true to the plots of old noir classics. His books usually contain dames, hoods, guns, and double-crossing swerves. He has quickly become a man of relevance in noir publishing and I have come to learn that if he is involved in some manner of a book being published, the book will likely be kicking serious ass.

Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

A Small Bit of Absolution

There is no crime too big to forgive. In theory.

Then again, beggars cant be choosers, and madman need better outlets to shop.

A Small Bit of Absolution by Gerald Sheagren

Richie Cantalini scrambled up the marble steps of Saint Patrick’s, entering the cathedral through what had to be blessed doors. His first order of business was to dip three fingers into the font of holy water, making a quick sign-of-the-cross. Would his visit here be enough to relive him of his sins; to void the thirty-five contacts he’d carried out; to set his poor tortured mind at ease? It was definitely worth a try. After all, Saint Patrick had rid Ireland of its snakes. Could old Saint Pat also rid him of the slithery serpents that were crawling through his brain? 

Richie walked down the center aisle of the cathedral, marveling at its high-vaulted ceiling and its many stained-glass windows. There were a number of people in attendance, probably a lot of them tourists, sitting in the pews and bowing their heads in silent prayer. One little boy was looking about in wide-eyed wonderment, captivated by the cathedral’s vast and infinite beauty. Someone was playing the Gallery Organ, its musical pipes echoing off the cathedral’s walls. 

Richie edged along, thinking that the last time he’d been in a house of God was when he’d attended the funeral mass of one of his first victims. He’d sat there, with nothing short of humor, watching the grieving family members as they mourned for their loved one, who, in actuality, wasn’t worth a pile of shit. Oh…maybe one, two or three of them might have had a inkling of what a bastard their sweet departed had been, but were unwilling to stand up and admit to it.  Family pride trumps all. 

Richie’s second order of business was to head to a long stand of votive candles, their flames flickering in little red jars. Since he had so many victims and there weren’t nearly enough unlit candles, he decided to light a single one for the combined total. He smiled when the flame took hold, his black, festering heart twitching with a small amount of joy. 

A now for the final event. Richie looked around, his eyes finally settling on the required confessional. There had to be a priest in attendance. And if there was, the dude had taken an oath to keep his mouth shut, no matter what anyone confessed. 

But when Richie hurried over and tried the door to where the confessor would kneel, he found the door locked. No! Give me a frigging break! This can’t be! I have sins to confess and I need absolution. Head spinning with anger, Richie tried using both hands, but the damn door wouldn’t budge, other than issuing a few little rattles. 

Nearly blacking out with rage, Richie drew a .45 from a shoulder-rig under his overcoat, firing off a shot that splintered the wood near the lock. Firing again, the door finally creaked open. Screams sounded and everyone in the cathedral made a mad scramble for the safety of outdoors. Unconcerned, Richie eased open the ruined door and entered the quiet of the confessional, taking up a comfortable position on the padded kneeler. Just being inside here was enough to replace his anger with a warm and fuzzy feeling. 


“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was … was … was so long ago that I can’t remember.” 

A croaky voice responded. “And you have plenty of fuckin’ sins, don’t you, Richie boy?” 

Richie scrubbed his head with his hands. “Who in the hell is this?” 

“It’s your old pal, Carmine Spignoli.” 

“But I whacked you ten, maybe twelve years ago.” 

“I’ll tell you this, you little punk. If you hadn’t snuck up on me from the rear, I would have kicked your ass a month from Sunday.” 

Richie’s heart was beating so fast that he thought it might burst. A river of cold sweat was flowing down both his forehead and spine. He tried to speak, but his words couldn’t seem to get around the walnut-sized lump in his throat. He began to pound his head with both hands, trying to silence the frigging voice. Sometimes that worked. 

“If you’re looking for absolution, you’ve come to the wrong place, Richie boy. No amount of Our Fathers and Hail Marys and Acts of Contrition are going to relieve your troubled soul.” 

Richie finally found his voice. “Shut the hell up! This is impossible! I … I bashed your head in with a Louisville Slugger.” 

“You don’t have to remind me, kiddo. And you certainly don’t have to remind my poor wife and three sons.” 

Whining and swaying, Richie visualized the bat, its hardwood splintered and covered with blood. 

“It hurt, Richie. Before the darkness came, it hurt so fuckin’ bad.” 

Panicked and willing himself to stand, Richie wobbled out of the confessional, head and heart pounding, the .45 once again drawn and in his hand. He hadn’t taken six steps when he spotted the two cops midway up the center aisle, both taking the shooter’s stance and double-arming their service weapons in his direction. 

“Freeze!” shouted the taller of the two cops. “Drop your gun and clasp your hands on your head!”

Carmine Spignoli’s voice spoke again in Richie’s brain. “You’re in a world of shit now, kiddo.”

“I’m warning you! Drop your gun now!” 

Carmine’s voice took on a tone of urgency. “You can always end things like your fucked-brain father did. Believe me, if you do some time for this little transgression, you won’t like those shower rooms in prison. Go ahead, Richie—do what you have to do. You can earn a small bit of absolution.” 

“Drop that gun!

Within the course of two flashing seconds, Richie fired a bullet into his temple at the very same instant that two police bullets plowed into his chest.

Gerald E. Sheagren is a 68-year-old retiree, who lives in the historic town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with his wife Sharon and three cats. His interests include studying history, writing short stories and reading the current bestsellers. Over the past twenty odd years many of his stories have appeared both online and in hard print. He writes everything from historical and inspirational stories to science fiction, horror and westerns. But every now and then, when the urge comes upon him, like having sex for a change, he gets on down and writes a gritty and dark-ass crime story.

America's Favorite

Grab a bowl of Jello and throw on your favorite ugly sweater.

This week, we've got a special visit to the Gutter.

America's Favorite by Hector Duarte Jr.

African-Americans. Fuck it, black families started being taken seriously because of me. I was the alternative. Compared to what? A junk yard owner and his son nailing stereotypes into the civil rights coffin every week. What happened to Sanford after that? Dead of a heart attack like his TV character always predicted he would. They had nothing on me as they watched me slowly inch my way up to that sacred 8 o’clock time slot. A black doctor and his lawyer wife living in a New York brownstone dominating prime time slots while yuppies were at the peak of their Babylonian excess. Top jazz musicians were always on the horn asking for a part. I was on all the magazine covers. My sweaters sold like mad on holidays. During a time when family values were careening down the shitter, everyone wanted a father like the one I played on TV.              

Things change like a motherfucker, though, and quick. The show tanked cos people started looking for a different image of a father. One to match up with their real-life shitty ones. No one wanted the squeaky clean black doctor anymore. Even those who’d given me an Image Award just two years earlier. They said they couldn’t relate. All the hip-hoppers came out of the woodwork to go on and on about how pops was never given an opportunity by white America to even try and become a doctor; same for Mama. Change the fucking record was always my response, but who wants to hear that from America’s once most-favorite dad?

Then everyone started giving me shit when I decided to plug one of the country’s favorite desserts. What do you want from me? It was America’s favorite dessert; America’s favorite father. Simple enough, right? Wrong. People baffle me. Soon as anyone—even America’s favorite dad—falls flat on his face, everyone just points and laughs. Shitty movies followed, even a shitty detective series. Man, all I wanted was a sliver that life on top again. Nobody wanted me, though. Next time I was on the TV screen, it was after my son was killed helping a woman repair a flat tire on the roadside. Everyone had a fucking opinion about that. What was he doing helping a random woman on the side of the road that time of night? Was it a random woman? Things like that don’t just happen randomly. There has to be something more. Yes, things happen randomly. My son was stabbed on the side of the road by a delusional derelict who thought my son had risen from the underworld to kidnap unsaved souls.

I wrote some op-ed pieces asking people to stop resorting to arguments about the white American conspiracy against them. I was looking for them to become such a powerful force that white people would have to invent conspiracy theories about them. Everyone thought I was old. Mid-seventies at that point, it was easy for them to blame senility and dementia. Like a God damn racing horse, there was no more of me to give. Society’s gun pressed to my temple, I was ready to go gentle into that good night.

There’s no rest for the wicked, though. Some girl; a grandmother now, takes to all the big news outlets about how I was supposed to have done some shit to her more than thirty years ago. I mean, how the hell am I supposed to remember what happened thirty years ago? Of course I fucked around. All of us did. America’s favorite dad doesn’t come without its perks. Drugs? It’s insulting anyone would think someone like me would resort to drugs to get women. Now everyone stands by and awaits the second fall of America’s favorite dad. Why? You need to prove to yourselves your own father might not be the worst out there. So I’m the one who takes the axe. Like your father was supposed to commit to doing soon as you first stared into his eyes. Where is he, then? Which direction do you point your finger to lay the blame on him? None, because you have no idea where he is. Here I am. Easy to spot. Easy to point at. So, go ahead. Point. That’s why I’m still here: reliable and ever-present, ready to take the punch, absorb the black eye. America’s favorite dad.

I’m still here. So, tell me: where is he?

Hector Duarte Jr. is a writer out of Miami, Florida. To keep himself financially stable, he teaches English to seventh graders. To keep himself mentally stable, he reads, and writes as many stories as he can. His work has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Rockwell’s Camera Phone, Near to the Knuckle, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK, and The Whimsical Project. He has presented papers at The Crime Fiction Here and There and Again Conference in Gdansk, Poland; the Captivating Criminality 2 Conference in Corsham, England, and Therorizing the Popular at Liverpool’s Hope University. He loves his cat, Felina, very much.

Review: Graveyard Love, by Scott Adlerberg

GraveyardLove by Scott Adlerberg is a strange trip inside the mind of a voyeuristic man who falls in love with a redheaded woman who frequently visits the graveyard by the home he shares with his mother. What starts as a curiosity quickly develops into something much darker.

Kurt Morgan has returned to live with his mother and he passes his time helping her write her memoirs and by watching people who visit the graveyard near their home. His interests are piqued when he notices a woman visiting the graveyard frequently. He begins to obsess about finding out who she is and who she is visiting.

After he follows her for a while he learns her name is Catherine Embers, yet much about her remains a mystery. His obsession with finding out about her leads to a fixation with getting to meet her and know her. As you might guess, this leads to another obsession: getting her to fall in love with him and need him as much as he feels he needs her.

Books of this subject matter are often disturbing on many levels and this book is certainly disturbing. Adlerberg does a great job getting inside the head of his protagonist and allowing us to see how he rationalizes his thoughts, actions, and obsessions. At no point does the main character believe himself to be disturbed or in need of help. Instead, he sees his actions as a way to help Catherine deal with the troubles in her life and he believes she will thank him when she learns the lengths he is willing to go to in order to love her and protect her.

This book is hard to summarize without giving away the juicy plot twists that await the reader. In the beginning of the book I found myself comparing it to The Rapist by Les Edgerton, as both books have a simple narrative delivery that allows you entry into the mind of an unbalanced person and allows you to glimpse into the darkness that lies within them.

This book is disturbing in all the right ways. Creepy subject matter, twisted and flawed central characters, and a plot that just keeps sucking you in until you can’t breath, yet you can’t put the book down. A definite page-turner and another winner by Adlerberg who has now written three great novels that all show he has a bright future ahead.


Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Watch Yo Teef

They say its hard for a pimp but extra hard for a ho.

In the Gutter, thats just two sides of the same delightful coin. Like the kind you hold in your fist by the roll-full before you smash someone's teeth in.

Watch Yo Teef by Russell Johnson

They say pimpin’ ain’t easy, but for me it always was. Twenty years in the game, I never had no problems turning a girl out. And I never, ever, let one Georgia me. Back in the day, my track used to run from Third Street all the way down to Jefferson. Lovely, long-legged ladies, working every corner in between. I had sisters, snow bunnies, even a little dash of Hong Kong Phooey here and there. It was like a rainbow coalition of coochie struttin’ up and down the strip. The best stable in the city. Sure, every now and then some young stud would try to move in on my action, but I’d just go bust him in the mouth. If that didn’t work, then I’d croak the motherfucker. I had the total setup—the pad, the wheels, the bling, and plenty of scratch. Life was good.

But that was then. Now the game’s changed. The competition done went corporate—big businesses with bullshit websites, edging out the old-school street hustlers. Ain’t no nervous Johns rolling through the hood searching for snatch, when they can fix a meet from the safety of the Internet. Wasn’t long before my girls deserted me, the Impala got repossessed, and I had an eviction notice stapled to the door.

So there I was, down at the greasy spoon, putting a hurtin’ on some corn beef hash, wondering, What the fuck? What was I gonna do? My skillz no longer paid the bills. And I started flipping through the want ads of all things, the newsprint smudging my fingers, when I came across an ad that bitch-slapped me across the face, job so goddamn, motherfucking perfect. After all, screwing people is what I know. This place could use a man with my talents.


Thirty minutes and one bumpy-ass bus ride later, I was up on the 21st floor of a gleaming glass building up town, pushing into the conference room of Markem & Howe, Attorneys at Law. There was a long marble table with leather sling-back chairs. The Man was there. He was fat. Wore a red bow tie and suspenders that were about to snap. Got all pasty-faced and started barking for the secretary to call the police. Sitting next to him was a sweet little thing with a short blonde sassy haircut, wearing a gray power suit and doing it justice.

“Sup girl?” I said, plopping down in one of the sling-backs, kicking my feet up on the table like I owned the place. The last little fool in the room was a pimple-nosed kid, probably straight out a law school, there applying for the entry-level job that had caught my attention. He had one of them pad-folios—whatever the fuck that is—and looked like he was about to straight piss his pants.

The secretary ran for help. I told ’em all to chill, I was just looking for a job. “The ad said you was wantin’ someone to handle collections,” I said.

“Uh … that … a … that’s … right,” the round man responded. “We … do a lot of bank work here.”

“Well, then you in luck, fat man. ’Cause collections happens to be one of my specialties.”

The man tugged at his shirt collar and squirmed in his seat, his eyes darting toward the door. “Well, perhaps you have a resume you can leave with us,” he said.

I smiled wide, showing them that gold tooth. “Shit, man, you better open up the obituaries you want to read my resume.”

The pimple-nosed kid made a nervous sound, something between a gasp and a hiccup.
“I’m for real man,” I said. “I can help y’all.” They looked uninterested. “And not just collections neither,” I said, trying to think of something else. Then it hit me. “Let’s say you got a beef with somebody, right? Like one of them lawsuits. You need some info they won’t give up. What you gonna do?” 

The P.Y.T. spoke up. “Well, we first have to meet and confer with opposing counsel and if we can’t work it out, we file a motion with the court.” 

I slapped the table and everyone jumped. “See baby. That’s what I’m talking ’bout. I can be your ‘meet and confer man.’ But I ain’t gonna axe ’em. I’m a show up with a lead pipe and they gonna give it up, or I’m a bust those chicklets out they mouth.” 

Just then the secretary’s voice buzzed over the intercom. “Mr. Markem, the police are on their way,” she said. The pretty little lady and Poindexter both looked relieved. But the fat man must have been a veteran of many a discovery dispute because he just sat there for a minute tapping the table with his pen, considering the situation. 

“Hold on just a sec, Margaret,” he said. “Let’s not be too hasty.” 

Russell Johnson is a lawyer who got so sick of discovery disputes that a few years ago he began writing crime fiction. Since then his stories have been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Thuglit.

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 few Brit Grit updates for your delectation.

Byker Books is no more. The splendid Newcastle Brit Grit publishers have called it a day. Byker Books were the first publisher to put my stuff in print – in one of their splendid Radgepacket anthologies – and they also published lots of great books from the likes of Andy Rivers, Nick Quantrill, Darren Sant, Ian Ayris and many more. A sad loss and let’s hope the writers all find homes for their work.

Ritual in the Dark  Essays and Reflections On The Work of Colin Wilson is a new website that looks in detail at the work of the great Brit Grit author and philosopher. The first post takes a look at his novel The Black Room

There’s lots of great new stuff at Grit Fiction’s flash fiction website Near To The Knuckle.

The British Council
team up with Jake Arnott, Val McDermid and others to host a podcast about BritCrime. On 28-30 January. There’s more information here in The Guardian.

David Mark’s Dead Pretty is out now.

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

Paul D. Brazill is the author of The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Cold London Blues, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.

Come On, Ash, Make the Call

There's a time during the commission of a crime that one turns to prayer.

And if the  prayer goes unanswered, it turns to pure poetry.

Come On, Ash, Make the Call by Morgan Boyd

Come on, Ash, make the call, I whisper to my phone.

Come on, Ash, make the call, I mumble, squatting by a rancid dumpster on the side of the Long John Silver’s in the dark.

Come on, Ash, I say a little too loud, thinking about the line wrapped around the block for Star Wars earlier this evening at the Cinema-Plex.

Come on, Ash, make the call.  I’m in position across the street from the credit union.

Come on, make the call.  I’ve got the note and the red laser pen.

Ash, make the call, because if I wait any longer, I’ll chicken out.

Come on, Ash, make the call when you see the manager pull out of the parking lot with the nightly drop after locking up the Cinema-Plex.

Make the call, and I’ll cross the street, tape the note to the drop box, and hide behind the dumpster again.

Come on.  Three minutes later she’ll pull into the credit union, and read the note taped to the drop box: Greetings Cinema-Plex employee, there is a gun with a laser scope pointed at you right now.  Please throw the moneybag into the bushes, and you will not be shot.  Thank you.

Come on, Ash, make the call.  She’ll shit herself with fear, and throw the cash into the bushes when she sees the beam from the laser pen pointed at her.

Come on, Ash, make the call. We’ll stay high for a month.

Come on, Ash, make the fucking call—

Morgan Boyd lives in Santa Cruz California with his wife, two cats and their collection of carnivorous plants. He has been published in Flash Jab Fiction, and has stories forthcoming in Shotgun Honey and Yellow Mama.


What’s in a name? As it turns out, a fucking lot.

But that’s life in the Gutter, where up is down, down is up, and you never answer the door when a pimp comes knocking.

Enjoi by Carl Robinette

People always want to ask me, What did you expect when you married a girl named Enjoi?

And by people I mostly mean my grandma. 

I’m always like, “Grandma just because her name was Enjoi doesn’t mean she was a stripper-slash-semi-prostitute. I mean, her name was for reals Enjoi. Not like some stage name or whatever.” 

And grandmas just don’t understand the way names work these days. Like how Hollywood types are always naming their kids crap like, Fruit Salad or Sixty-Nine or Bruce, if it’s a girl. 

So I’m always like, Dude. Grandma, someone can be named Enjoi or whatever and it’s just a full-on coincidence if they happen to become a sex worker. 


Also, I don’t even see why the fact that she was a stripper should’ve stopped me from marrying her right then and there anyways. Strippers aren’t necessarily career felons. 

But grandmas just don’t get it when it comes to true love. I mean back in the 1800’s they had to just get married to the first stooge their dads told them to. 

And anyway, my grandad was a hardcore dick. 

Believe me. 

Maybe my grandma loved him, but let’s be honest; he loved her condo and her new convertible and her top-shelf gin a lot more. And she only got that stuff after his aorta exploded in his chest. 

Sure. Grandma cried at his funeral, but you know how women are. Crying doesn’t count necessarily. 

So I go, Grandma you don’t know what it’s like when you see a beautiful maiden and it’s like nobody ever looked at you before because the way she looks at you is so breathtakingly rad, and her whole way about her is so luxurious, you don’t even mind that it costs money to have her keep looking at you. 


Have you ever seen what an unemployment check looks like in one-dollar bills? 

I have. Lots of times.

But apparently Enjoi hadn’t. You know what she said? 

“Damn boy. I never saw a stack that thick in this place before. You rich or somethin’ cutie?” 

She really said that. Me, rich and cute. And everyone in the room was staring at us like we were in some big romantic movie. Totally everyone, with their mouths pretty much dangling open and basically drooling because the hottest babe, and really the only babe in the room, was falling in love with me.

The wedding was okay I guess, but the pastor guy kept staring at Enjoi in this weird way and saying stuff like, Son, you sure you want to do this? Or, Have you thought this through? 


And I knew right then he wanted Enjoi, and the only reason I didn’t kick him in the nads was I didn’t want to spoil the perfect romantic evening for my new boo. 

I didn’t have a bachelor party because the wedding was such short notice and because I didn’t have what historians might call friends. But right away Enjoi started talking about a honeymoon. And what would you rather have anyway, a bachelor party? Or a honeymoon? 

But to tell you the truth, I didn’t get either. 

Enjoi drove all night to get us back to my place and the way she drove her old pink Kay car about a bazillion miles-per-hour was a major turn-on. But later, when she saw my apartment she just asked if I as joking.  

She was all, “You better be friggin joking. You ain’t got no money?” 

“Oh, darling,” I cooed. “We don’t need that material crap. We have love.” 

Enjoi respectfully disagreed with that assessment. 


My grandma said I should have called the police when her boyfriend showed up at my door. 

I’m like, “Grandma I told you already, it wasn’t her boyfriend. It was the bouncer from the club where she danced.” 

By the way he was butt-ugly. 


He was pretty handsome. A super symmetrical face and one-hundred-percent of his teeth and strong-looking muscles. 

When the guy sucker-punched me in the gut and body slammed me hard on my own floor, I would have fought back but I had recently pulled a hammy. 

And the sun was in my eyes. 

Anyways, this bouncer guy had a truck that was pretty cool I guess, if you think new Escalades with fully loaded interiors are cool. And would you believe that pretty much everything in a studio apartment can fit into an SUV? Believe me, it can. And no relationship ends well. Just look at my grandma and grandpa. He died.

So what if my marriage ended in assault and robbery? 

Sometimes when I feel way crappy or bummed out at the world, I just think of her. And none of the dumb baby idiots out there can get under my skin because nobody can ever rob me of those eleven-and-a-half hours of pure bliss.

Carl Robinette is the author of many popular short stories and his work can be seen in multiple publications in print and online. He is currently developing a collection of short stories along with continuing work in local community news. Carl works as a contributing reporter for the Star News in Chula Vista and several other publications in San Diego County.

Too-Late Dowry

If love were as simple as keeping a promise, we'd all have broken hearts.

Too-Late Dowry by Joseph Fleckenstein

Shankar Bhattacharya had requested the day off from work at the tannery. He told his supervisor the day would be his fifth wedding anniversary and he hoped to spend the day with his wife.

The day of the anniversary Shankar slept until midday. When he awoke he decided not to bother shaving or washing. In the kitchen, his wife, Rena, had bread on the table and water on the stove for tea. As he entered the kitchen he glanced at his wife but said nothing.

“Cheer up, Shankar.”

She had decided she would not be the first to mention the “anniversary” word.

Shankar and Rena lived in a small two room flat in a poor section of Mumbai. The building always smelled of a hundred different meals and the stairwells were mostly littered with trash that the residents expected others to retrieve. Since their rooms were on the uppermost floor many days the sun would beat down on the roof, half baking the unfortunates who lived below. In winter there was no heating and room temperatures sometimes fell to near freezing. The flat was the best they could afford. The other occupants of the building were similar people. Everyone was struggling to merely stay alive. Few in the building had hopes of moving to better quarters anytime soon.

Rena added to her efforts.

“Tell you what. I am going to make your favorite dish tonight. Yesterday I bought some chickpeas, yogurt and an eggplant.”

With a side glance and a sly smile, she added, “I have another surprise, but I am not telling you just yet.”

Rena was a plain looking woman. She was slender and lacking the curves men preferred to see on a woman. Her appearance no doubt played a part in her eventual need to marry below her caste. She was adamant that she did not wish to grow old alone. It was for this reason her father felt obliged to offer a dowry that was more than a token. Despite circumstances she continually displayed a cheerful disposition. Everyone said she was congenial and pleasant. Rena tried her best to keep her husband happy despite his moods and his rough ways. She often thought that if she could only have a baby. How wonderful that would be. A child, preferably a boy, would give Shankar an improved attitude. But after five years there was no baby and hope that one might come along was slipping away. The absence of children was a great disappointment since the relatives on both sides were in the custom of having large families.

Finishing the tea, Shankar remained unsmiling and quiet. He ignored Rena’s attempts to humor him. Rising from the table he walked to the closet and withdrew the only jacket he owned. Slipping an arm into a sleeve, he turned to Rena.

“Yes, I know it is our anniversary. It was five years ago today. I am sure you remember. That was the day your father reaffirmed the promise of a dowry. The dowry that has yet to be delivered.”

“Shankar, we have discussed the dowry many times? Father is a man of his word and he will deliver the dowry exactly as he promised. Recent years have been difficult for him. He has three more daughters to marry off. And, business at his shop has declined because of increased competition. I am certain he will keep his promise as soon as he can possibly do so. There is no question of that.”

Shankar turned and walked toward the door. Over his shoulder he said he was going to visit Samir. After he closed the door, Rena engaged the deadbolt. In this neighborhood one needed be ever cautious. She walked slowly to the kitchen table and sat. Her hands began to shake. She dropped her head to her hands and began to sob softly.

Outside Shankar found it was raining lightly. It was pre-monsoon weather and in the coming weeks the rains would be unceasing day after day. He decides to walk the distance regardless of the weather and without an umbrella.

Arriving at Samir’s apartment, Samir’s wife met him at the door.

“Oh, Shankar, come in. Let me take your coat. How are you? We have not seen you for some time. I presume you wish to see your brother.”

“If he is up and about. How is he doing? Better, I hope.”

Shanta looked down at her brother-in-law’s feet. His shoes and clothing were soaking wet but she said nothing. She was not especially fond of this particular in-law. Mostly she resented the way the man treated his wife. Also, he always smelled of the tannery and cow hides. She guessed that he bathed only infrequently. On every family occasion she was polite to him but rarely had she gone beyond politeness.

“Your brother is still a little shaky on his feet but he will be glad to see you. He’s growing tired of being house-bound and not being able to walk about. Right now he’s in the kitchen, reading.”

Samir and Shanta lived in a three-room apartment that had a bathroom, hot water, and heat. The place was luxurious compared to Shankar’s quarters. Samir had always been imaginative at finding ways to make money.

In the kitchen, Samir was obviously happy to see his younger brother.

“Have a seat. Good to see you.”

“I suspected you would be home what with the foot problem. How is it?”

“Improving. Every day I’m a little better. I believe I will be able to return to the store next week.”

Samir was manager of a small clothing store, but he had other sources of income. He was resourceful and imaginative. He was good at reasoning things through. That why Shankar often looked to him for advice.

“How is it going with you and Rena?

Shankar hesitated while looking at his hands.

“I’m not so sure. Today is our fifth anniversary.”

“Yes. I almost forgot. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

Noise in one of the bedrooms is followed by the sound of running, small feet. Samir’s three year old boy appeared and explained to his father that his bear lost a leg. Shankar’s heart fell at the sight of his nephew. The boy reminded him of what he missed in life.

“Dipak, don’t worry. Your mother will sew the leg on. Your bear will be as good as new. Maybe better. Give the bear to your mother. I am visiting with your uncle Shankar. Now run along.”

Shanta heard the commotion and appeared with a towel and sandals for Samir. She placed the towel on a chair in front of Shankar and the sandals on the floor near his wet feet. She forced a smile for Shankar’s benefit.

“I thought you might be able to use these.”

Bending down she took hold of her son and retreated to one of the bedrooms. After she had closed the bedroom door, Shankar faced his brother.

“You are lucky, Samir, to have two lovely little boys. I envy you.”

“They are great boys, especially the older one. He’s as sharp as a tack.” Samir started to say more about the children but then stopped. He remembered children were a sore subject with his brother. He did not wish to be seen as talking excessively about children.

“I know you and Rena would like to have children. It’s not too late. You still have time.”

“I appreciate your good wishes, but, no, I suspect I am married to a dry cow.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Children are a wonderful addition to the family but they are not everything. You have a good wife. She cares a lot for you and she is the best cook of the whole relationship. Besides, marrying a wife who is a caste higher never hurts a man in India. It often leads to better things. In my opinion you made a good marriage.”

“I’m glad you think so. Of course, it’s easy for you to say. You have what I call a beautiful apartment. You have children. And, you actually received the promised dowry. I find myself in very different circumstances.”

“Don’t dwell on the dowry. You will drive yourself crazy. How about your father-in-law finding you steady employment with one of his business contacts? That was certainly worth something. In a way that favor was better than a dowry. As you are no doubt aware many of our relatives live in filth and many days have nothing to eat. Here is more food for thought. Right now you are king of the roost. Rena treats you like royalty. She waits on you day and night. Cooks whatever you choose. If there were children that arrangement would surely change. Being a mother realigns a woman’s priorities. It’s human nature. What I am saying is that you cannot have everything in reality exactly the way you find them in your dreams. Besides, if she hasn’t become pregnant it could be your fault. It is not always the woman’s fault you know.”

“The work that Mr. Dutt found for me was only for the reason that he wanted to be sure his daughter would have food and shelter on a regular basis. As far as her not becoming pregnant, well, that must be her fault.”

Neither man spoke. Momentarily Shanta returned to the kitchen. In time she delivered up a tray with a pot of tea, cups and a plate of biscuits. She looked at Shankar.

“The biscuits are a day old but this kind seem to age well. I think you will like them anyway.”
She turned and exited without another word.

Samir poured the tea and gestured toward the biscuits.

“Help yourself.”

“Thank you. I might have a biscuit at that.”

Shankar took a bite from a biscuit and followed it with a sip of tea. Returning the tea cup to the saucer he faced Samir. He had become pensive.

“There’s a fellow at the tannery by the name of Abhi Banerjee. We got to know one another fairly well. Abhi lives a block from us. The building where he lives is worse than the one where we live if you can believe that. They have one boy. He was not paid his promised dowry after three years. He became so upset and angry  …”

Anticipating his brother’s trend of thought Samir interrupts. “That’s enough. You should not be thinking along those lines. That would be entirely uncalled for. I understand what is eating at you. The dowry. The lack of children. These things are not everything in life. Far from it. You should understand that. Besides, you might be paid the dowry someday. And children could still come along. All of these things are still possible. Think of it that way. When all is said and done you may not be able to find a better wife. You would be out of employment for a long time. And, you might also find yourself in serious trouble with the law.”

Shankar was not hearing the kind of advice that he had anticipated. There was no affirmation of his reasoning. Silent, he took another sip of tea.

“It is something I have been considering for some time. I really become angry when I think of the way I have been cheated. Really, I don’t think there would be any trouble. The police usually do not concern themselves with these happenings. These events are common occurrences.”

“Brother, you are talking about dangerous and unnecessary steps. I suspect the reason for your visit is to seek my opinion. My advice is that you should behave yourself. Forget the dowry for now. Personally, I would like to see you find contentment with your present wife. Furthermore, I would not like to see you spend a part of your life sitting in a prison cell.”

Shankar did not touch the towel or the sandals. He knew he would be walking again in rain on the return trip to his flat. In addition, he preferred to avoid being indebted to Shanta for the slightest favor. The brothers continued talking for a spell but only innocuous topics were bandied about. When the tea was gone Shankar announced he must be going. As he stood, he wished his brother well. Samir looked up from his chair.

“You should visit us more frequently. Bring Rena next time.

At the door, Shanta handed him his jacket but, because it was still raining, he merely threw it over his arm. They both tried to be outwardly pleasant to one another.

“The tea and biscuits were very good. I would have sworn you had made the biscuits today.”

“Glad you liked them. Come more often, Shankar.”

In the street the rain had increased. Shankar was the only person in sight without an umbrella. On the way home he walked through the puddles rather than around them. He was in deep thought.

At the flat, Shankar tapped on the front door and Rena promptly pulled it open.

“Welcome home traveler.”

Shankar walked through the door, dripping water.

“My word, you are soaking wet. I’ll find you some dry clothes. Come in the bedroom.” Rena retrieved dry clothing and placed it on the bed. A moment later she returned with a large towel.

“I must look after some things cooking on the stove.”

Rena returned to the kitchen to check on her dishes. Meanwhile Shankar used the towel to dry himself and then dressed with the dry clothing. His jaw was set as he walked into the kitchen. Standing behind Rena he spotted a heavy cast iron skillet on the table. Rena had received it as a wedding gift. He took hold of the skillet and in one wide swing struck his wife of five years a vicious blow. The wife who could not conceive. The wife whose father did not deliver on his promise of a dowry. As her body lay on the floor Shankar took a seat at the kitchen table and began to weep. He felt hopeless. For the next hour he paced back and forth in the small flat, telling himself he did what was necessary. He reasoned his taking action was demanded by the situation. Eventually he walked to the police station and reported that his wife had an accident in the kitchen. He said it seemed she fell and hit her head. She was unresponsive.

Two policemen returned with Shankar to the flat. After inspecting the body one policeman looked at the other. Before he could speak Shankar said he must use the toilet down the hall. As he walked toward the door he added that he will return in a few minutes. When he was out the door each policeman took half of the rupees that had been placed on the kitchen table. When Shankar returned the senior policeman explained his interpretation.

“Looks as though she slipped on some cooking oil that had spilled on the floor. Apparently she hit her head as she fell. We see this kind of accident frequently. You would think women would be more careful. If you like we will notify her family.”

“Would you, please? I am a little distraught at the present. Her parents live in the fifth block of Hill Street. They own a clothing store there called “Bargain Clothing.” Their apartment is on the second floor above the shop.”

The policemen walked directly to the clothing shop and rang the apartment bell. In time Mrs. Banerjee opened the door. She was shocked to see policemen standing there in rain slickers.

“Oh, my word. Is something wrong, officers?”

“Sorry, mam. Are you Mrs. Banerjee?

“Yes, I am Mrs. Banerjee.”

“We would like to speak with Mr. Banerjee if he is home.”

“I am sorry. He is not here at the moment.”

“Do you know when he will return?”

“Shortly, I presume. Today is my one daughter’s wedding anniversary. My husband said he was going to deliver a dowry to my daughter’s husband. First he was going to stop at the bank. Perhaps he will stay for a brief celebration. I am uncertain.”

Mrs. Banerjee’s comments confirmed what the policemen had surmised.

“Sorry to bother you, Mrs. Banerjee. We will return later in the day to speak with Mr. Banerjee.”

It was their practice to address only the man of the house with matters of importance.

Joseph E. Fleckenstein, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, has published over 25 items. The list includes nonfiction articles in outdoor magazines, technical papers, online courses for professional engineers, a patent and more recently literary short stories in Prick of the Spindle and Story Shack. In October his 400 page technical book Three Phase Electrical Power will be available at CRC Press. Currently he lives in Pennsylvania where he is a self-employed engineer and freelance technical writer. Additional bio particulars may be viewed at his website