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Bad-Ass Books: Mick Rose & Chris Rhatigan takes some smokin' swings at COUNTDOWN author Matt Phillips

Welcome to California, USA—San Diego to be exact. Where smokin’ and buyin’ weed is legal: with certain caveats of course.

While possession and use of marijuana still carries penalties in most regional jurisdictions throughout the United States, California approved a plan allowing state-licensed retailers to sell recreational-use weed obtained by state-licensed growers in May 2016. And pot enthusiasts launched a “countdown”—with the clock hitting zero on January 1, 2018—when retail stores opened their doors for the first time in state history.

Long before California opened its retail doors however, weed aficionados grumbled in the whisper-stream that pot products sold by the state would prove so weak in quality they wouldn’t be worth smoking—never mind buying. Meanwhile, anyone with an ounce of sense (let alone an ounce of weed) suspected that individuals and cartels alike, who make a sweet living off little ol’ Mary Jane, would not meekly slink from the marijuana scene.

So … has the illegal manufacture and sales of cannabis-containing products magically ceased in California during the past 20 months?

“Hell no!” indicates former journalist Matt Phillips—an accomplished crime fiction noir writer, who’s called San Diego home on-and-off for the past ten years.

Inspired by events past and present involving marijuana: including the narco squad raid of an illegal dispensary in his neighborhood, Phillips has penned the fiction noir COUNTDOWN, published by All Due Respect (ADR), and recently released this spring.

“To me, life is a countdown,” Phillips says. “Each of us is marching toward death—there’s no stopping that march. A great noir novel always—one way or another—looks at how the march toward death drives us to make curious decisions, whether good or bad.”

In this noir universe we meet ex-Marines Abbicus Glanson and Donnie Echo, no strangers themselves to violence, since they did duty in Iraq. As civilians in San Diego they drift without purpose—till Glanson gets the brilliant notion of pulling off a heist.

The target? Illegal primo pot dealer LaDon Charles.

Street-wise LaDon ain’t got the luxury of puttin’ his profits in a bank … he’s gotta stash his cash. An unfortunate business weakness—that Glanson and Echo plan to exploit.

“But Glanson and Echo aren’t what I’d call natural born leaders,” Phillips told FFO by means of carrier pigeons. “U.S. Marines are taught to kill. And sure they learned some other skills. But even when they get decent ideas, these two miss key points. More than anything else, Glanson and Echo know how to screw good things to hell—that’s their specialty.

“There’s also a Wild Wild West mentality to selling weed in California. At the Federal government level, marijuana is still considered an illegal drug. Just as a criminal like LaDon Charles can’t bank his cash-sales profits, most of California’s licensed dispensaries can’t either. Banks have to avoid dispensary cash—or they risk becoming entangled in Federal money laundering laws—and California dispensaries could have their bank assets seized. Interesting times for sure!”

I eagerly asked Matt if he’d swing by Flash Fiction Offensive’s Los Angeles office for a chat. Matt claimed he was in Mexico—lookin’ for Arizona crime writer Bill Baber’s missing muse. But I suspect he didn’t feel like dealin’ with FFO publisher Jesse Rawlins, and her manically-maniacally-growing knife collection ... which she’s fond of using.

By means of an especially fat carrier pigeon, Mr. Phillips did kindly send us a transcript of the chat he had with ADR publisher Chris Rhatigan, when COUNTDOWN first released. We hope you enjoy their talk as much as we did.

Cheers, folks!

(Bourbon’s his drug of choice)

All Due Respect: Several of the characters in Countdown have a military background and have served overseas. Why did you choose to focus on these characters?

Matt Phillips: I started with an Iraq war vet and loved the character. One of his important character traits is that he’s an outcast (like any good noir character) and a little bit screwy. It just seemed to me that he would only closely associate with someone who he had a previous connection to—that meant it’d probably be a buddy from the service. I think it’s really important for writers to explore the ideas behind societal violence … how violence and aggression are instigated, perpetuated, approved, encouraged. All great noir stories—in some way—look deeply at these ideas.

I’ve worked as a reporter and I always think about an old guy I met while covering an activist march. He was a Vietnam veteran and he was explaining to me why he was there. He pointed at a few large bank buildings in the cityscape and said, “I’m against war because it hurts young people and it makes bankers rich. That’s the simple fact.” Whatever you believe or think, how can you not explore that as a writer of noir? Countdown is a continued exploration of violence and how it intersects with economic concerns.

ADR: Your experience as a reporter is part of Bad Luck City and seems to pop up often in your work. Tell me about your journalism experience and how it’s influenced your fiction writing.

MP: Working as a reporter has certainly influenced me. I was the editor of my university newspaper as an undergraduate. That led me to a feature writing internship at The Denver Post. Working in that newsroom really taught me what it was to be a professional writer. There’s no ‘writer’s block’ or excuses in a great newsroom. You get it done and you get it done by deadline. It was crazy to work with so many talented people…As a feature writer, I had a lot more leeway on my reporting and deadlines… But you still have to deliver. Since then I’ve done a fair amount of freelancing, but the state of journalism means it’s tough to make a living at it. You can make some scratch, sure, but it’s not a career (unless you get hired on full time salary).

Now, I work at a nonprofit and a lot of what I do (in addition to email marketing) is brand storytelling. That’s basically how my journalism training has shaken out—nonprofits and companies are more willing to pay me for those skills than are any news orgs. It’s a bummer because I love reporting, but I need to eat. And so does my family.

The biggest thing I learned as a reporter was how to listen for dialog. You get a rhythm and feel for how people speak when you’re trying to record exactly what they say. I try to listen to cadences and melodies in speech. Even the way a quote looks on the page can tell you something about how people speak, where they’re from, what they do for a living. I try to mimic those rhythms, patterns, melodies in my own dialog. One goal of mine is to latch onto a really great true crime story, report the hell out of it… I’m sure the right story will come along, but for now I’m focused on fiction.

 ADR: California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016. How do you think the legalization of marijuana has changed things? Or has it had little effect?

MP: Great question—as far as people buying and smoking weed, I think very little has changed. I live in San Diego and pretty much everybody smokes weed (at least socially). I think it’s less secretive, in some ways. Now, when I play poker with buddies or go to somebody’s house for a party, there’s always a couple people with vape pens or an edible. They had this stuff before, but now they’re not even testing the waters with a large social group—they just whip it out. The business aspect is interesting. Seems to me like there’s still a lot of black market weed sales. Maybe worse, big corporations are in the weed business. This puts the industry square in the hands of powerful people. My guess? A lot of small growers will be (or have been) swallowed up by Big Money. But then again, I’m no economist.

The biggest cost to marijuana being illegal (and still illegal on the federal level) is/was the human cost. Even as some states and cities have started to vacate low-level marijuana sentences and expunge marijuana-related ‘crimes’ from peoples’ records, there is no getting back one’s time spent in prison. There is no substitute for time—and when time is taken from you? That hurts. And it’ll hurt forever.

ADR: Countdown starts with this wonderful dialogue you overheard at a bar. How did this come about? Did you know right away that this would this basis of a novel?

MP: Countdown is very much a street level novel. Like any good writer, I’m always listening, eavesdropping, filing snippets away for my creative process and output. I bet the greatest writers are all world class listeners and observers. I happen to spend time in bars (what can I say?) and one particular place I frequent is really hyper-local. Recently I was there and the entire bar (customers and bartenders) made some kind of de facto agreement to only speak like a ’90s wrestler…For the entire day. I get a kick out of what passersby must have thought as they heard, “Give me another Helldiver IPA, brother! Ooh, yeah!” And of course the bartender’s response: “I’ll give it to you, brother—yeah! But you better take it down, brother! Ooh, yeah—or I’m gonna get you, brother!”

Anyhow, you hear a lot of interesting shit if you just shut your mouth, turn off your smartphone, and listen to the people around you. Do I know that anything I file away is going to become a novel? Nope. I just work with what I have…

ADR: There’s always a sense of place in your fiction, as you explored in an essay about the genre’s approach to setting. How are the stories you tell about San Diego different than those of the rural Southwest? How does setting shape your work?

MP: Thanks, man! Countdown is definitely a San Diego novel. It explores the mid city area of San Diego, where I live and have lived for around ten years. For me, setting informs the conflict and the mentality of the characters. We can’t separate ourselves from where we are…Not for very long at least. Most of my characters are both enthralled with their settings and—paradoxically—hungering to somehow escape. Like most of us regular people, I imagine. Like we’re seeing in politics, these two kinds of ‘places,’ simply evoke different concerns for those who live there.

I guess the difference between these settings then—aside from the obvious—comes down to character traits. We are who we are, but we are often also where we are. Weird, but true. I haven’t talked about this much, but one of my favorite books is Ninety-Two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane. It’s set in Key West and, despite being labeled as literature, it’s a really fantastic noir novel. I think—subconsciouslyI’m trying to create a similar feel for readers as I had reading Ninety-Two in the Shade, Elmore Leonard’s Unknown Man #89, Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary, and Newton Thornburg’s books like The Lion at the Door, To Die in California and some others. If readers like to go where I’m taking them, I think they’ll enjoy my stories so much more.

Black Roadster by George Hirvela

They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple. But we don't go for that. She likely wooed Adam from her sleek black roadster. Making his twisted-turning Gutter debut, we're pleased to present Southern California writer George Hirvela.

Black Roadster by George Hirvela

Her low-sleek roadster rolled up—purring like an uptown kitty, midnight black and slippery and oh-so-Cruella. It’s rag top offered a glassless view to a tightly-fashioned scarlet cocktail dress, cut too far in all the right places. Long-blonde hair cascaded down the length of her arm, blood-red three-inch nails, snaking over the steering wheel.
I stood cool as Clark Gable, her matching bee-stung lips dripping honey in my direction. “Care to take a ride with me?”
Nothing I’d like more, baby. But I charge by the hour.”
Hop in the saddle then. We’ll see how long you last.”
My hand glided over the seat, soaking up the feel of fine, supple leather. I suspected she was trouble, a gangster’s wife kind of trouble. But Lord, this babe looked stunning cocked-back in her seat, using nothing but her toes to control the roadster’s pedals, as we peeled out from the curb.
I leaned in close to her long, silky neck. “Where are we going, doll?”
She gently squeezed my face between her cheek and shoulder. “Heaven.”
Heaven? I’ve never been there.”
It’s not an easy journey. There may be pain along the way.”
I always figured the road to heaven would be a difficult trek. But now the trip looked easy. “Bring it on beautiful.”
Those words earned me a smile. She also fished her purse. Produced a hundred dollar bill, tucked the Benjamin in my pocket.
The roadster roared and soared, away from the city, along dark star-lit roads. The tailpipes rumbling, the car’s massive engine eager to respond. She never said a word. But shot occasional lustful glances, or she’d teasingly shift her hips. Mile after mile we drove, as she pushed the black beast onward to higher and higher speeds. The tortured tires complained, inching off the asphalt at every corner’s apex. My comfort threshold was also peaking. Sweat dampened my torso, the back of my neck began to drip. I pictured the three of us rolling—over and over—with no chance to escape.
But as the roads straightened, my fear quelled some.
We turned down a forested lane, gravel crunching beneath the tires, turn-after-turn—each more curvaceous than her own. An old wooden bridge creaked and thumped as we crossed: then springing into view—a wrap-around porched house.
The house stood dark and boarded … but I could see a dim light seeping from a basement window. The brakes weakly groaned as the enormous two-seater eased slowly to a stop. As we stepped away from the roadster, she placed a hand on my rear and goosed me. “Come see my dungeon.”
Dungeons never scared me. Getting tied and whipped was why women often hired me. I just charged a little more. She grabbed some rope and tied my hands. Led me to a chair that we both climbed on—where she swiftly cinched me like a boxer’s heavy bag to the ceiling’s rafters. She used a knife to shred my clothes, and tore away the scraps.
Her green eyes gleamed, and suddenly she winked. “Don’t go anywhere, darling. Time for me to slip into something a bit more comfortable.”
No worries, baby. I love hanging out with you.”
She returned in full DOM mode: a plunging black leather teddy, knee-high stiletto boots, and snapping a cat of nine tails whip like a seasoned pro. 
She tenderly brushed my hair back, strapped a ball gag in my mouth. And kicked the chair away.
This may sting a little,” she warned.
Here I’m expecting a playful “bad boy” slap. Instead she lit my skin on fire: there were tiny shards of metal tied into those nine tails.
She smirked. “That got your attention.”
Once again she raked that cat across my back. I started flipping around like a freshly caught tuna—uselessly fighting to spit that ball gag from my mouth.
Go ahead struggle, I like that! My mother was a fighter. She struggled too, just like all the others.”
Her blows rained down ... until I finally fell unconscious, dripping blood and sweat.
When I opened my eyes again, sunlight was streaming brightly from a nearby window. Only one of my hands was cuffed—
But to a hospital bed.
Rising from an adjoining chair, a detective flashed his badge. “About time you woke here, sleepyhead. You and your little girlfriend have a night of too much fun?”
Not me,” I countered, surveying my bandaged wounds.
Having so much fun with that whip you couldn’t possibly stop? Or were you dishing out payback for what she did to you? She had way less fun than you considering that she’s dead.”
What are you talking about? I didn’t whip anyone. Are you accusing me of murder?
He tossed photos in my lap. And had the gall to sneer.
We found you lying on the floor—whip in hand—and this female prostitute hanging from the ceiling, deader than a doorknob. No signs of someone else, no prints anywhere except for yours and hers.”
Sure, I was there. But with another woman. I’ve never seen this girl before. What about the car? A long and low black roadster.”
There was no car on that abandoned premises. Let alone a fancy vehicle such as you describe.”
Hey now, wait a minute. Before jumping to conclusions, we were way out in the woods. So who called 911?”
Settle down, pal—or I’ll cuff your other hand. Sounds like you’re delusional. Maybe all that blood loss.” He grabbed the remote at the side of my bed, stabbed the call button for a nurse.
After mere seconds, in strolled Cruella … a needle in one hand, a stethoscope dangling from her lovely neck—that I now ached to strangle.
A cruel smile filled the copper’s smug rat face, as the truth struck home.
That dame had promised heaven. And just a little pain. Not a ride to hell.
I glanced at my watch. Adding insult to my injuries, she owed me 1,400 bucks.
A Southern California native, George Hirvela is a metal artist, musician, motorcycle enthusiast and writer. He spends most of his free time kicking the shit out of himself for no good reason—other than that he needs it. He also hangs out on Twitter: @GeorgeHirvela

Update: FFO's 2019 October, November & December Publishing Schedule

Greetings Ladies, Gents, and Miscreants!

We'd like to thank all the writers who submitted Speculative Fiction & Halloween-themed Gutteral Scream stories this year. We've now CLOSED submissions for 2019 Gutteral Screams (though we're still working with writers who kindly sent their stories before the deadline). 

Our fiction story publishing calendar for 2019 is filling fast. We've already filled 7 out of 13 potential slots for October—as well as 5 out of 12 possible slots in December. November 2019 will be dedicated to Flash Fiction Offensive's mind-boggling 11th Anniversary Celebration. 

As a reminder to writers: The submissions deadline for both our 12 Daze of Christmas 2019 and our traditional Flash Fiction Offensive stories is Monday, November 4, 2019. Unlike the fine and competent folks at Shotgun Honey we will NOT be reading any submissions during the month of December. 

So we encourage you to launch what we call "Muse Abuse." Grab your favorite cattle prod, Louisville Slugger, claw hammer, brick, appliance—or anything else that's handy—and give your "fickle Muses" some good 'ol Gutterly Incentives!

Some of the October and December stories we've already accepted include our recently-created Gut-Shots (we think of them as Flash Fiction Offensive's meaner older brother: they swing more words and deliver more kicks). While we presently continue to publish Gut-Shots by Invitation Only, if you've been published at FFO in the past—and you know us an we know you? Please feel free to drop us a note at:

Meanwhile, heartfelt thanks to everyone for the time you've spent here at The Gutter this year! (And in years past!) We appreciate the Facebook Likes from all of you who've recently stumbled into The Gutter as well!

Your 2019 Miscreant FFO Editors
Jesse "Heels" Rawlins
James "Jim" Shaffer
Mick Rose

Bad-Ass Books: John Wisniewski interviews A TIME FOR VIOLENCE co-editor & Amazon author Andrew Rausch

U.S. author "Andy" Andrew J. Rausch has been inflicting his writings on the world for more than 20 years. He pens both fiction and non-fiction, and has authored nearly forty published books, including Riding Shotgun and Other American CrueltiesBloody Sheets, and Mad World. His "special" non-professional interests include Wu-Tang Clan, women's feet, and serial killing, which he does on the weekends in his spare time.

His non-fiction books are penned under Andrew J. Rausch, while the fiction works bear the name Andy Rausch, and several of his books have been optioned for movies. Mr. Rausch also recently teamed with U.S. crime and horror writer Chris Roy to co-edit the gritty story collection: A TIME FOR VIOLENCE, which England's Close To The Bone Publishing released in May 2019, courtesy of Craig Douglas

NY writer John Wisniewski kindly agreed to interview Mr. Rausch for the Flash Fiction Offensive. We hope you enjoy their chat.

Why did you and Chris Roy choose the title A TIME FOR VIOLENCE for this anthology, Andrew? The title suggests there are times in our lives when “violence is justified”—at least emotionally in our own minds. Or at least in “fictional settings.”

Was this collection assembled simply to “entertain readers who like violent stories? Were the two of you looking for “thought-provoking stories?” Or perhaps a bit of both? Which category do you feel the majority of these stories fall into?

I think there are moments in life where violence is justified—but that wasn’t what this book is about. We didn't want A TIME FOR VIOLENCE to be a celebration of violence. We wanted a broad unifying theme from which a lot of interesting transgressive fiction could emerge. There are stories of all types in this book, including stories that are sort of pro-violence in certain situations.

Sometimes violence begets violence. If someone hurts my child, I will not show them kindness. I will hurt them back. If someone hurts my wife, they’d better fucking run.

But there are also cautionary tales in this collection that speak to the dangerous effects of violence both physically and psychologically.

This collection contains twenty-six stories, which are all solid. I’m proud of every one and I hope readers enjoy them as much as Chris and I did.

This project came about after I had a heart transplant in 2018. You’ll see this mentioned in a lot of my interviews and bios because, understandably, it was a big thing for me. A life-changer, a life-saver and a game-changer. I started looking at things differently.

I knew a few “name” writers peripherally, so I thought, what if I just asked them to be in an anthology? I didn’t know if I’d ever have the opportunity to do something like this again. So I told my co-editor Chris Roy, “You know writers and I know writers. Let’s bring them together and put out this collection.” And within a day, the project was a go!

I was doing a book on Joe R. Lansdale and had gotten to know him a bit, so it was a no-brainer to ask him. I’d also done some work with Max Allan Collins since he’d written an intro for one of my books. Writers kept saying yes, so I kept asking. And that’s how this book came together. We got a lot of cool people, from Stewart O’Nan to Richard Chizmar to John A. Russo. We even got a story by my mentor Stephen Spignesi, who is one hell of a writer.

Please share with us the types of situations that give rise to violence in this book. For example, does a man kill his cheating wife? Is a woman raped and decides to track down and kill her rapist? Do two criminals commit a robbery—and one of them takes off with the entire loot—leaving his partner in the dust? And what are some of your favorites?

I know this is tacky, but my favorite story is my own, “The Sweetest Ass in the Ozarks.” It’s thankfully been a fan favorite, too. It’s about a woman who turns the tables on a would-be rapist. Another story I adore is Joe R. Lansdale’s “Santa at the Café,” which is about a robbery and double-crossing. 

But the story that I believe most speaks to the sadness and bleakness of violence—the most “anti-violent” story in the collection—is a fine tale by my mentor Steve Spignesi. The story is titledJames and Sallie” and is a haunting tale regarding misdeeds that occurred during the era of slavery.

It was based on a true story, and it’s as bleak and haunting a story as you will ever find. I think it’s the single most important story in the collection by a country mile. I feel it’s important—especially now—to remember the struggles Black people have gone through in the history of this country. It’s important to remember and fully face that America never was this perfect utopia we are now being told it once was. It was a country built on the backs of slaves.

We don’t have to hate America, but like a parent with a bad child, we can still love it while recognizing it has problems and trying to make it better.

What are some Real Life circumstances where you might consider Real Life violence “Justified?”

I think violence is rarely justified. But I do think there are times that call for violence. I’m thinking especially in situations where groups of people are oppressed. I’m thinking of uprisings against fascism or oppressors. I love and respect Martin Luther King, but I tend to be more of a Malcolm X or Black Panthers kind of guy—because sometimes being nice and polite can’t fix a situation. There’s something admirable and exhilarating about watching underdogs rise up and defeat whatever adversary or group is oppressing them.

As a writer, on the other hand, violence has sort of been my bread and butter. I write about hitmen, killers, and have written multiple revenge novellas.

Speaking of your own writing, in March 2019, Close To The Bone Publishing also released your novel BLOODY SHEETS—which happens to be a revenge tale. Violence breaks lose in Alabama-USA when a small-town black man gets lynched—and the violence escalates dramatically when his enraged, estranged crime-world father launches a quest for revenge that leaves a bloody trail of dead Klansmen in his wake.

What inspired this particular story? 

A lot of my novels and novellas deal with fathers trying to protect or avenge wrongdoings to their children. BLOODY SHEETS was inspired by the racial ugliness that continues to exist in our world. It’s very much a reaction to the bullshit that went down in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, when bloody violence between White Nationalists and counter-protesters erupted over the city’s decision to remove a statue of Civil War commander Robert E. Lee. My book’s not political, but it’s relevant as hell in terms of racial hate. It’s pulp, but I think it’s important pulp if there is such a thing. 

My next novel, LAYLA’S SCORE, is about the relationship between a hitman and his little girl. In that story, there come some moments where push comes to shove involving those who would hurt his daughter. So the answer for me is easy: if someone hurts my child, I will hurt them tenfold. I would feel completely justified. I got a heart transplant and stayed around on this earth a little longer so I can protect my children, and rest assured I will do just that.

Malcolm X said we should be kind and courteous, but if someone puts his hands on you then you should send them to the cemetery. I agree with that sentiment, but a tad more so with my children. I’ve let a lot of shit slide in my life regarding things done to me, but I would never abide allowing someone to hurt one of my kids. That’s a no-no and it would be better for people not to learn that the hard way.

But anything could inspire me to write. Literally anything. I also write a lot of non-fiction and I’m always working on six or seven projects at a time. I’m working on a book about Joe R. Lansdale for The University Press of Mississippi. I’m also working on a book about Elmore Leonard for McFarland. Elmore Leonard is my absolute favorite crime writer.

But I also love Lansdale and Collins, and I’m currently reading all the George V. Higgins novels. Don Winslow is another god in my book. I’ve also recently become a big fan of British author Paul D. Brazill. He’s the real deal.

So, yeah, I stay busy! I’m also scheduled to co-write four different comic book projects. When it’s eventually published, my novella Until One of Us Is Dead will be my 38th book. I’m very proud of that.

John Wisniewski live and writes in NY. His author interviews have appeared in Punk Noir magazine, The LA Review of Books, and AmFm magazine among others.

Gut-Shots: Dollar Sign on the Baby by Paul Greenberg

Oh, baby! Some shoppers lack impulse control.

Dollar Sign on the Baby by Paul Greenberg

Excuse me, Mother Superior,” said Lolly as she elbowed her way past the Nun. “No need to push," said the Nun to Lolly, who elbowed her shopping cart through the mass of humanity flooding the parking lot of the Market Basket Grocery Store.

Lolly, at 5’3” barely fit behind the wheel of her 2009 Toyota Corolla. Once a petite 120 pounds, shed managed to put on an extra hundred over the last few years, thanks to a diet of Mountain Dew, Pop Tarts and vodka.

Her trip to the grocery store yielded a trunk load of crap food and cigarettes for her boyfriend, Jimmy LeBlanc, but also something shepicked up while pushing through the parking lot. A two-year-old boy.

Lolly had decided to call him Henry, after her father, despite the fact that Dad had tossed her and Jimmy out on their asses back in Plantation, Florida.

Lolly didn’t know why sheplucked the kid from the woman’s carriage. The conditions seemed right, so she did. An impulse purchase you might say. Something in her subconscious was screaming, “dollar signs.”

When she pulled into the driveway of the trailer park, Lolly could hear Jimmy in the middle of a coughing jag. He was already asking for his carton of Camels, as she was walking through the door.

I got your cigarettes and your cheese curls and all the other shit you eat," she said, popping open a can of Mountain Dew.

Look what else I got you, Daddy.” She sang playfully as she walked into the TV room. Lolly held the boy in front of her swinging him gently back and forth, his legs dangling, dirty diaper sagging from his tiny pants.

What the fuck did you do now, you stupid cow?”

Jimmy, this is Henry, but you can call him Money. Do you know how much his parents will pay to get him back?”

No, I don’t know. Did you ask them my sweet cookie jar?”


Do you know who the parents are my lovely potato chip?”


Then how the fuck are you going to get any money out of them ya ignoramus?”

Cause Henry is going to give us their phone number. Isn’t that right, cutie?”

He’s a fucking baby you stupid clam plate. All he knows is; I got to eat, shit and piss. Now find Sesame Street on the fucking tube and put him down, so we can figure this thing out.”

Jimmy paced the room wondering why he didn’t haul back and smack her all the while congratulating himself for not doing so.

Where’s the food?”

In the bags, dumb ass.”

Jimmy rummaged through the three plastic bags looking for anything resembling red meat. “We could eat em, I suppose. By now the cops ….” He smacked his hand to his forehead and flicked on the radio, near the kitchen sink.

An Amber alert has been issued for Simon…”

Simon. Who names their kid, Simon?” Lolly said.

Who names their kid, Lolly? Now, will you shut the fuck up,” said Jimmy.

Simon Chalmers is one and a half years old, has brown hair, brown eyes and was wearing a Tom Brady T-shirt, blue pants and white sneakers. He’s the son of Mary and Anthony Chalmers. If you have any information or were at the Market Basket in Middletown this afternoon around 2:00 pm, please call…”

Jimmy looked at the boy. “That’s him all right.”

Simon Chalmers. Sounds rich,” said Lolly.

Jimmy knew that he was in a world of shit that he never asked to be in, and his choices were few. He had to move fast. Come up with a story. Get the kid to safety and put a thousand miles between him and Lolly. His window of escape was closing fast.

Honey, here’s twenty bucks. Go down to the CVS and get the kid some diapers, milk and baby food. A kid shouldn’t be eating Doritos and swilling the Dew. OK?”

Sure Jimmy. I knew you would figure it out. You want me to take the baby, with?”

No, no, no. Let the boy sleep, I’ll be fine.”

While Lolly made her way to the CVS, Jimmy made his way to his closet where his 7MM Remington long-range hunting rifle was stored. He loaded the gun and stuck it behind a trash barrel in front of the trailer.

Jimmy LeBlanc spent the time he had alone revisiting the past seven years of his life. Leaving Florida, stealing cars, the booze, the coke and the meth. Pan handling and petty theft, odd jobs and now the God forsaken New England winters. This life if for shit. Now kidnapping? And for what? A once nice looking broad that turned into a cow overnight? A whining, never happy with anything I could possibly do, including trying to go straight?

This, he decided, has got to end.

When Lolly pulled back into the park, Jimmy was pacing out front, chain-smoking Camels, coughing and spitting up phlegm.

He hurried Lolly out of the car, suggesting that she “get in there and change that kid’s diaper and feed him and shut him the fuck up so no one hears him crying.”

As Lolly entered the trailer, Jimmy opened the trunk of the car and wrapped the rifle in a blanket. He closed the trunk and hurried into the trailer before Lolly poked her head out to see what he was up to.


Lolly, I spoke to my friend Dan Comeau, you know the guy I did construction with for awhile? He said that he’ll get us ten grand for the kid, but we would have to get it to him tonight, cause the heat is really on and he’s got to flip the kid to someone who wants to adopt and so on.”

Ten grand, that’s awesome,” she said.

So, tonight at nine we gotta drop the kid off behind the church on Lowell Street. At 9:15 Danny will come by, leave our money in a bag and take the kid. Sounds easy enough, huh?”

When 8:30 came around, Simon Chalmers was wrapped in a blanket and sleeping in a big blue plastic recycling bucket. Lolly got in the back seat with him and Jimmy drove down to the Saint and Angels Church. He parked at the back of the church parking lot by the Donate Books bin, about 50 yards from the church.

You go up there by the exit door and lay the bucket down. Then we take a little drive. Danny will pick up the kid and drop the cash by the door. Then we come back and pick up the money. OK?”

You think Simon will be safe?”

He’ll be fine. Now go. We have a schedule to keep.”

As Lolly waddled the length of the parking lot, Jimmy slipped out of the car, popped the trunk and grabbed the rifle.

He looked through the scope as Lolly walked up the stairs to the door. She was moving the bucket around like a shaker of salt over corn on the cob.

Lolly kneeled down to gently place the bucket on the top step. She adjusted the blanket around the boy and as soon as she straightened herself up, Pop, Pop, Pop. Jimmy got off three shots in a group, around her heart.

God damn, that’s some good shooting.”

He got in the Toyota tossed the gun on the passenger seat and Pop. The Remington went off sending a round right through Jimmy’s neck. He fell forward on the horn.

The blaring of the horn alerted a Nun, who was working in the church. She came out the back door to find a dead Lolly and a sound asleep Simon Chalmers. “I’ll be freaking damned.” She said. “It’s that pushy girl from the grocery store.” Sister Winnie Patrikas pulled out her cell phone and called the police.

She was about to become famous.

Paul Greenberg is the author of the short story collection, "Dead Guy in the Bathtub”—available from All Due Respect Books as well as on Amazon.

"Dollar Sign on the Baby" first appeared at Story and Grit.