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Noir Divine

"It's not the size of the boat, it's the motion of the ocean."

In The Gutter, every inch counts. 

Noir Divine by M.J. Fievre




The doctor suggested Viagra. 

The prescription, now a bit crumbled, lies on the dashboard. Still, hands on the wheel of his old Buick, Pinochet looks out the front windshield, at the pharmacist behind the glass windows of Walgreens. She’s a young, pretty thing from the Dominican Republic—tall, with dark messy hair and strong forearms. Sometimes she forgets her glasses, and there are little indentations on her nose and cheeks where her glasses usually are. She reminds him of the babysitter he had as a boy in Haiti. Pinochet imagines himself, now thirty-two, a black man from Okap (the city of real men), handsome and muscled, handing an admission of erectile dysfunction. The air in the car is stuffy.

Sometimes he still dreams about the babysitter. He imagines his hand going down Nathalie’s panties.  In his dreams, there is no hair, just rough, sandy skin. In his dreams, he presses into the skin and it parts. 

Sometimes the dream turns into a nightmare. A black widow, Pinochet climbs into Nathalie’s mouth and down her throat, where it is dark, so very dark. 

***

Pinochet doesn’t go in. Instead, he starts the car and goes down the quiet one-way street in Little Haiti, with low walls and lonely old men hobbling home.

His girlfriend Anite is not into sex, but Pinochet knows how that story goes: Something becomes unavailable and suddenly everybody wants it. Anite refers to herself as one of the “good Catholic girls,” but aren’t those the wildest? They attend mass religiously on Sundays at Notre Dame, only to measure the men in guayabera shirts and Corduroy pants. The few times Anite has been in his bed, the only Catholic thing about her was the fervor in her voice as she cried out, “Oh, God! Oh, l’éternel Jesus!” And like Jesus, she opened her arms and sacrificed all pretenses for the divine mercy of sex. She called Pinochet her Pinot-Noir—firm, intoxicating.

This was, of course, before he became pinot-limp.  

He’s tried strip clubs, watching girls with tasseled pasties that spin around like pinwheels. He’s tried porn, hoping for shaved pussies to free him from himself.  One afternoon, on the TV room’s loveseat, Anite even agreed to put the soccer halftime to good use, but her tongue, small and pink, grew tired by the time Ronaldinho was back on the field.  She scrunched her nose, the freckles gathering at the center of her face, and let go of him. Her fingernails were checkered white and black like a soccer ball. She lay quietly beside him that night, the silence and darkness so profound he felt like a black widow drowning at the bottom of a throat.

***

The sky is still lit, although the Miami sun has sunk fully down. The apartment and its walls still glimmer with gold light. The bushes glow and throb. Inside, Anite is doing the dishes, still in her Publix uniform. The TV is on, and terrible images are broadcasted from Port-au-Prince.  There is blood.  A lot of it, too.

“An accident in Champ-de-Mars,” Anite says. A driver lost control of a truck during Carnival and rampaged through a crowd of thousands.

As the cameras show mangled bodies on the ground, something amazing happens to Pinochet.

His keekeet—

Who calls it a keekeet? His babysitter Nathalie did.

Nathalie was nineteen, and he twelve. One night, when she was supposed to be watching him, she asked him to undo his zipper so she could have a peek.

“Such a small keekeet,” she said, laughing.

“Do you want to touch it?” He wondered what her tootoon—her “punani”—tasted like. If it was sweet like wine cooler, or salty like conch.

“No.”  She frowned.

The government’s goons broke into the house that night, looking for Pinochet’s parents, wanted “semeurs de trouble,” agitators. They searched through the old house without a warrant and broke Nathalie’s jaw.  When the blood spilled, Pinochet felt warmth inside his chest. As the blood oozed from Nathalie’s broken lips and slid down her neck, Pinochet was—alive.

It wasn’t just the blood.

It was the tears.  It was her eyes filled with both fear and hate. 

“You have no right,” Nathalie cried as the men looked for clues for Pinochet’s parents’ whereabouts.

When they slapped her once more, she spat some of the blood, and Pinochet felt it again: the warmth inside.

The want.  The need.

And now, years later, it’s back.

One of the accident victims, her corsage stained with blood, cries on the camera, her hair dark, lavish, almost too much—just like Nathalie’s. Pinochet sits on the loveseat and leans toward the TV, taking in the woman’s oh-so-perfect beauty; he travels inward to beatitude, envisions her in a bathtub. Naked. Bloody.

All that red on her corsage—it is Poetry. Art.

He imagines the blood working its way down her belly, down her tootoon, down her leg, leaving little droplets on the dirty ground of Champ-de-Mars.  He imagines a fistful of her hair twisted around his wrist. Then it’s Nathalie breathing, Nathalie panting. 

***

After the men left, Nathalie cried in his arms. Crusty streaks mottled the lower half of her face, and there was a gap where her lateral incisor used to be. The smell of blood brought the warmth back. Pinochet could feel it roiling in the balls of his feet. 

Pinochet licked the blood off her chin.

She pushed him away violently. “You’re sick.”

She rushed home, and he never saw her again. Except in his dreams, where there was blood on the floor, on his hands, and all over Nathalie’s breasts.

***

Pinochet feels Anite standing next to him. When he looks up, she is forcing her hair into a bun. He pulls Anite by the hem of her Publix uniform.

General Pinochet is en garde, pushing against his Corduroy pants.


Michèle-Jessica (M.J.) Fievre obtained her MFA from the Creative Writing program at Florida International University. She’s the author of A Sky the Color of Chaos (Beating Windward, 2015), a memoir set in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Her short stories in English have appeared in Haiti Noir (Akashic Books, 2011), The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books, 2012), and 15 Views of Miami (Burrow Press, 2014). Her novels in French are widely read in Europe and the French Antilles. M.J. is an editor for Sliver of Stone magazine and the Head of Publishing at Lominy Books. She blogs @ The Whimsical Project.

Drama Queen

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

If you get tired on the way, you can stop and rest at a motel in the Gutter.

Drama Queen by Chris McGinley



The Cherokee was a roadside motel that offered hourly rates in Industry City.  Outside the office hung a fluorescent sign, a stereotyped image of the noble Indian chief in profile.  Feather headdress and war paint.  A red neon light read “vacancy.”  There were about twenty units that ran the length of the mostly vacant lot, here and there a car belonging to a salesman, somebody’s husband, maybe a high school kid and his girl.

It surely wasn’t the garish lights of Broadway, and hardly where Minerva “Minni” Puglisi expected to be at this point in her life.  Just over six months ago she hooked up with Mickey Flynn, a low level thug in the Irish syndicate.  He told her he had connections in show business.  He knew people, he said.  The connections, it turned out, were a couple of union guys who worked on sound sets and delivered protection money to Mickey’s boss.  This he never mentioned.  The couple was holed up in the Cherokee, on the lam from the cops for over a week now.

Minni stood at the foot of an unmade, dingy Murphy bed.  “Six months I been schleppin’ around with you.  Six months I been gettin’ dolled up everyday, even though you haven’t taken me out in forever. Broadway, you said.  Pictures, you said.  Yeah, right.  Some life I got.”  She drew on a cigarette and blew the smoke toward the ceiling. 

Mickey didn’t rise to the bait and she tapped her foot with studied impatience.  If she wasn’t going to be in movies, at least she could at least pretend.

“Gotta think.  Gotta think fast.” Mickey said, rising from a little chair at a glorified card table full of empty beer cans and an ashtray stacked high with cigarette butts and mutilated cigar tips.

“Well think faster, Socrates, cause I’m not doing this anymore. You promised me a meeting with an agent.  A photo shoot. A head shot.  Where is it, wiseguy?”

“Stow it, Minni. I got bigger problems than you’re goddamn pipe dreams.”  He lit another cigar and moved the curtains just enough to get a peak into the parking lot. 

“Who the hell do you know in show business anyway?  All I ever seen come around are shanty Irish.  Dumb cafones.  Even your boss talks like he fell off the spud wagon.”

“Don’t you say nuthin’ against the boss, now, Minni.” 

“Boss schmoss.  About the only thing I can say for him is that he smokes cigars that cost ten cents more than yours.  And that ain’t saying much.”  She waved away the foul smoke and forced a cough.

Mickey spun from the window and backhanded her across the face, hard.  It hurt, but Minni snorted and stared him down.  She resisted the urge to rub her face, to cry, to show him anything.  She reached into her purse on the bed, walked over to a cracked mirror in the tiny room and applied some lipstick, dabbing off the excess with a tissue.  Through the mirror, she kept her eyes fixed on Mickey.

“You know, Minni,” he said, “it’s like you’re always playing a role.  The gangster’s girl. The wise cracking dame.  The tough broad. Christ, I’d be better off without you.”

They were strong words.  She looked at his reflection in the mirror, behind her.  The tears began to well up, but she tried to pass it off as an eyeliner problem.  In a far away voice she said, “All I ever wanted to do was act.”

It was unexpected, and Mickey suddenly felt a twinge of pity for her. “Minni, look . . .”

“All I ever wanted to do was act. Be on the stage, on Broadway, in pictures.  Whatever. Just act. My father was goddamn beat cop, Mickey.  You know that?  He wanted a boy, a cop to follow in his footsteps.  But he got a girl instead.  ‘Find a nice Italian boy,’ he’d say to me. ‘Get married, have kids.’  We didn’t have any money.  We didn’t have any connections.” 
              
“Minni, listen  . . . please don’t cry.”

“I ain’t cryin’!” she snapped. But she was.

“It’s all gonna work out.”

“Oh yeah?”  She turned to face him, her eyes wet and red.  “How’s that?”  But her tone was defeated now. No longer the tough dame.

Mickey gnawed hard on the cigar. He mopped his forehead with a handkerchief and paced. “Once we do this one last job.  Then we’ll be on easy street and we can see about getting you some auditions, or whatever.”


“What job?”

Mickey turned to look out the window again.  He said nothing for a little while and Minni decided not to push him.  Finally, he said, “Metropolitan Bank, in the city.  We’re gonna knock it off next week.  It’s all been planned, for months.  We just gotta avoid the heat.”

The cheap doorframe snapped like a twig. Two uniformed cops drew down on Mickey.

“Grab air, punk,” one of them said.  Mickey lifted his arms.

Minni let out a little laugh.  “There’s your heat, wiseguy.  You want I should visit you in the pen?”

“You ok, Minni?” one of the cops asked her as he patted down Mickey.

“Yeah, I’m ok. Just get the palooka outta here. Six months of acting like his girl.  I can’t take another minute of it.  This undercover stuff is for the birds . . . It’s the Metropolitan Bank downtown, Rollins. Next week. That’s the score you been looking for.”

A hot flash rose up in Mickey.  He grabbed the cop’s gun and wheeled on Minni.  Two shots.  Blam Blam. She fell.  The other cop emptied his revolver into Mickey.  The couple hit the floor together.

Silence and cordite hung in the air.

“Goddamnit. I took my eyes off of him. Check on her, Rollins.”

The cop took her pulse. “Minni! Minni!” He slapped her face. “She’s fading fast.”


Minni’s eyes opened partly.  “Tell the crime scene photographer to get my good side,” she whispered. 

Chris McGinley is a middle school teacher from Lexington, Kentucky

Review: Rough Trade, by Todd Robinson

Todd Robinson has returned to his Boo and Junior series with a hell of a bang. Rough Trade shows that Robinson and his crew of characters are big on heart, witty as hell, and all have a story to tell that will hopefully lead to many more entries on what is shaping up to be the best “bromance” series since Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar and Win hit the scene.

Boo and Junior are their usual lovable selves in this excellent read. They have sharp tongues, sharp wits, and tend to solve their problems with their fists; yet they do it with heart and a manner that leaves the reader flying through the pages and enjoying every punch and scrape.

After helping a work colleague deal with a friend’s abusive ex, Boo and Junior find themselves in over their heads; the abusive ex is found murdered, with Junior’s phone in his possession. When Junior is pulled in by the police, Boo is forced to hit the streets and attempt to find the answers that the police, thinking they have an open and shut case, won’t look for. Knowing that if Junior goes down for the murder he will also have one foot through the prison door, Boo is racing against the clock to put the pieces together and save his brother from a fate neither one of them want.

The beauty of this book is the depth that Robinson adds to his characters. He explores more of Boo and Junior’s shared childhood and their relationships with two other friends from their time in their foster care system. We get more glimpses into what shaped Boo’s white knight syndrome and why he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the people he loves.

Between learning of Boo’s hallucinations of his lost and abused eight year-old self during times of mental stress, to his self-realization that while he sees himself as a hero he may just be a bully that bullies the bullies, and to his learning that the words he chooses may have life-long implications of those he loves, the reader gets a glimpse at the humanity that lies underneath the tough exteriors of Boo and we grow to love him more because of his faults, rather then despite them and we understand how he was shaped by the world he grew up in.

Robinson has infused this series with heart, compassion, and a great sense of character growth. This is one hell of a great series and seems to be getting a good deal of well deserved main-stream attention. I really enjoyed this book and am already anticipating the next series addition.

Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Egg

Never come between a person and their food.

In the Gutter, it might get you roasted.

Egg by Rachel Cassidy




It smells so good and rich and fine.

The line is moving so slow and Egg is crawling out of his skin. He’s clutching his tray real tight and his arms are kind of sore.

Egg was six, once, and maybe his eyes were a little too close together. Didn’t mean he couldn’t see what was up.

Didn’t mean he couldn’t see them pushing the gristly tough bits to the side, giving the nice juicy pieces to those cow-faced Johnson kids and Gunderson kids and Walton kids, and dropping that gristle and fat on Egg’s tray and looking away.

Maybe there’ll be gravy too and maybe they’ll give him some. It’ll be different today, it has to be.

The line shuffles another inch and Egg’s drooling so hard his jaw hurts.

When Egg was nine, once, when the mean one with the chin hairs gave him just a bone on his tray. She had hateful eyes.

He was so hungry, he cracked it with his teeth and sucked on the insides. By the end of the day, he was just about asleep at his desk.

He could hardly pick up one foot after the other, walking home past the feedlot where his pop worked all hours fattening up the cattle.

It’ll be so nice, so nice and falling apart tender, and with the grease that runs down to wipe on the bread and fills a person right up.  There has to be enough today. There has to be.

If he stands on his toes, he can peer over shoulders and see the steam rising off the trays under the lamps. He’s rocking a little bit but not so much the ladies will notice and turn away.

There is no one behind him in the line.

The kids are filling up the tables, laughing and tearing and chewing with sharp white teeth, and shouting and roughhousing with friends. Their trays overflow with meaty scraps and crumpled napkins.

Egg was twelve, once, but that was last week and now he’s older.

He can nearly taste it, the way it will shred between his teeth. The way it will lay heavy on his tongue, how the salt and the spice and the rich dark flavors will linger after he swallows real slow and takes his time with every single bite.

There’s maybe a dozen kids left in the line: the other ones who eat last, but not as last as Egg.

He’s doing math and counting the pieces left under the lamps and humming a little bit, quiet and high. He taps the count on his fingers with every piece and every mouth. With every one that goes on a tray, Egg hums and taps and his breathing gets a little more ragged.

There’s so few left, like always, taunting him with their juicy savory deliciousness but maybe, just maybe today…

Egg is more than twelve now and yesterday he protested, made a mewling noise when the gristle flopped careless onto his tray, and the mean one, the one with the chin hairs, hissed at him. Then, he needed to be quiet and hid in the dark for a while. Then, she walked in the closet and he moaned and she was fumbling for the light switch. Then, there was something heavy and long in his hand and it fell and fell and her hateful face was all crunching wet and red. He couldn’t hardly hold the mallet, slick with blood, but it kept falling. And then, her mean eyes didn’t see him no more. He threw away the mallet with its face of pointy pyramids gummed with shreds of flesh. Egg sank to his knees and he shook all over.

There it is, bathing in the glow of the heat lamp, roasted crisp and brown on the edges, rosy and warm in the center, its glorious meaty aroma wafting. One last piece. No bones, no gristle, no fat. Just one perfect serving.

When Egg stopped shaking, he came out, and he saw the shining metal fridges full of silvery trays filled with the next day’s roasts resting in marinades, waiting for the ladies to come in the morning and light the gas burners, like they do with their lighters and their little tins of butane to fill them. They’ll smoke their cigarettes and slow-cook the meats. Come lunch time, Egg will be last in line like always.

Tomorrow there will be an extra roast in there.

One perfect serving and Egg watches it settle onto his tray and the juices spread, soaking into the bread, and he’s giddy with the smell. He cuts a piece, small and delicate, and lifts it to his mouth.

It is delicious. 


Rachel Cassidy is a technology writer who was raised on the back of a horse out in the sticks by the Rocky Mountains. She writes small dark things in the woods on Salt Spring Island, BC, and in Mexico. This is her first publication.

Review: December Boys, by Joe Clifford

In Joe Clifford’s second book of the Jay Porter series, December Boys, we learn an important facet of Porter…he’s a bit of an asshole. He is self destructive, angry, lashes out at those that love him,  and he has a habit of painting others in his life as the problem and he never looks within himself to discover if he is the issue. On the flip-side, Jay has an enormous heart and he aches to be the father his son deserves and the husband his wife deserves. Clifford is certainly proving that Porter is a character that has depth and is a true flesh and bone man.


Porter is living with the fallout from Clifford’s previous novel, some of it good and some of it bad. He now lives with his son, having married his mother, but he still lives with the weight of his brother and their shared past. As his inability to deal with these pressures mount and he finds himself sabotaging any shot he has at happiness, Porter finds himself involved with the potential fact a judge may be selling young defendants to an institution that has more than their rehabilitation in mind.

It seems that a disproportionate number of juveniles are being sentenced to time at a privately run institution for relatively minor offenses. As Porter looks deeper into this issue, he learns that his old nemesis, The Lombardi Family, have deep connections to the institution, and should it get more public funding, stand to make a great deal of money from this scheme. With both a sense of justice and a hatred for all things concerning the Lombardi family, Porter finds himself looking for truth and answers, but he may have to sacrifice both a part of himself and his family life to find them.

This book is a hell of a read and a great addition to the Porter series. Clifford has fleshed out Porter into a hell of a noir figure. As much as he may think he is looking for happiness, Porter’s actions bring on nothing but despair to himself and all those around him. He seems to make things worse and worse because he doesn’t know when to get out of his own way. This is what makes him seem so real, as we all have moments of being our own worst enemy.

Clifford has written a book that will resonate with noir lovers, lovers of quality literature, and anyone with a pulse.


Highly Recommended. Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Review: December Boys, by Joe Clifford

In Joe Clifford’s second book of the Jay Porter series, December Boys, we learn an important facet of Porter…he’s a bit of an asshole. He is self destructive, angry, lashes out at those that love him,  and he has a habit of painting others in his life as the problem and he never looks within himself to discover if he is the issue. On the flip-side, Jay has an enormous heart and he aches to be the father his son deserves and the husband his wife deserves. Clifford is certainly proving that Porter is a character that has depth and is a true flesh and bone man.


Porter is living with the fallout from Clifford’s previous novel, some of it good and some of it bad. He now lives with his son, having married his mother, but he still lives with the weight of his brother and their shared past. As his inability to deal with these pressures mount and he finds himself sabotaging any shot he has at happiness, Porter finds himself involved with the potential fact a judge may be selling young defendants to an institution that has more than their rehabilitation in mind.

It seems that a disproportionate number of juveniles are being sentenced to time at a privately run institution for relatively minor offenses. As Porter looks deeper into this issue, he learns that his old nemesis, The Lombardi Family, have deep connections to the institution, and should it get more public funding, stand to make a great deal of money from this scheme. With both a sense of justice and a hatred for all things concerning the Lombardi family, Porter finds himself looking for truth and answers, but he may have to sacrifice both a part of himself and his family life to find them.

This book is a hell of a read and a great addition to the Porter series. Clifford has fleshed out Porter into a hell of a noir figure. As much as he may think he is looking for happiness, Porter’s actions bring on nothing but despair to himself and all those around him. He seems to make things worse and worse because he doesn’t know when to get out of his own way. This is what makes him seem so real, as we all have moments of being our own worst enemy.

Clifford has written a book that will resonate with noir lovers, lovers of quality literature, and anyone with a pulse.


Highly Recommended. Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

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 

Mike Craven is interviewed at The Dorset Book Detective. He talks about his time as a probation officer, influences and more … Matching The Evidence, Graham Smith’s next D I Evans book is up for pre-order …the latest edition of CrimeSquad is live. Reviews, interviews and the like. A.A. Dhand is this month’s Fresh BloodCol Bury has diverted from crime fiction to comedy with Pun Fun: The OfficeCathi Unsworth’s latest – Without The Moon – is reviewed in the Winnipeg Free PressClothes On Film take a look at Michael Caine’s clobber in Get CarterRobert Cowan was over at my blog talking about why we write … Sam Carrington’s Saving Sophie is up for Pre- order and is currently cheaper than chips … Joanne Robertson reviews Camilla Way’s Watching Edie Lucy V. Hay interviews top screenwriter Jed Mercurio of Line Of Duty fame.



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

Paul D. Brazill is the author of books like 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 even edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.



Review: Lamentation, by Joe Clifford

Joe Clifford has always been an author who had a way of allowing the reader to connect with his characters, to see events through their eyes and understand what drove them to do the things they did. But in this book he takes this experience to a whole new level.


The aspect of Lamentation I enjoyed the most is the manner in which he explores the innate emotions we experience as we grow older and grow more, or in some cases, less connected to our family circle. This book does an excellent job probing what it means to be family, how people experience and deal with the conflict of feeling responsible for the failings of family members, yet try to pull away and separate ourselves from the heartache that comes from watching a family member spiral into a self-destructive lifestyle. The main character, Joe Porter, also struggles to come to terms with becoming a full time parent and what that means, both time spent with your child and also the responsibility that brings. He struggles with the burden of living up to the expectations that come with having had parental role models who set the bar high and his uncertainty of being able to achieve that standard, a battle he rages not only for his son, but for the legacy that he hopes to carry on from his own parents.

Clifford’s writing allows the reader to connect with his character because most people fight the same battles as his characters, albeit perhaps in a different station in their lives. Good writers allow you to understand characters, but great writers allow you to be the character and that is what happens as you read this fine piece of writing. The story is engaging and excellent on many levels. I think this book will bring a whole new range of readers to Clifford’s works and it is well deserved. This novel shows that Clifford is only getting better in his ability to craft a story that is engaging for its plot but also multilayered in its character development.


I loved this book and could not give it a stronger recommendation!

We Got a Winner

Paying bills is a hustle. 

In the Gutter, it helps to be in the wrong place at the right time. 

We Got a Winner by Stanton McCaffery




James walked to the liquor store – not for booze, but for the scratch-offs his wife asked him to get. He was thinking about Amadeus, the eighties movie. He thought that if a guy like Mozart died poor and was dumped in an unmarked hole there was no chance for him, an unemployed office monkey. He might as well start digging his grave now.

He walked down the street with his head down and his hands in his pockets. The fingers of his right hand were through the holes of his brass knuckles. They were the one thing he bought for himself with his severance check, figured since he’d be spending more time around the neighborhood he should make some sort of investment in self-defense. Over the years he didn’t exactly make friends with his neighbors. A bunch of low-life drug dealers is what he thought of them – and he told them as much. They’d be seeing more of him now so he figured it wouldn’t hurt to add some power to his punch. 

The liquor store’s floor was covered in a fine layer of dirt and the air smelled of stale beer and puke. James called the place The Stab and Grab, didn’t know the real name. The sign outside just read: Liquors. The clientele were mostly kids just old enough to legally purchase alcohol and guys that drank mouthwash when they ran out of the good stuff. James had once been in a place where they told you that you could sample the wine, had a list on the wall telling you what kind of drink went best with whatever kind of food. This was not that kind of place.

He eyed the hard brown stuff and thought about how much he would have to drink in order to never wake up again. The nice bottles with the high prices all had an inch of grime on them that matched the grime on the floor. He went to the counter and pointed at the scratch-offs his wife told him to get, got one more for himself. The guy at the register that smelled like pot and looked like he hadn’t showered in a week rang him up and told him to have a good night.

Next to the front door of the liquor store was a bush-lined curb that James sat on. Somebody pulled in to the lot blasting music. The only thing James could hear was the bass and the sound of the car vibrating. The guy that hopped out had a black tank top, jeans that looked like they’d been attacked by a bedazzler, and a faux-hawk. James rolled his eyes. He rolled them again when the dude came out a few minutes later with a six pack of wine-coolers.

Under the neon lights of the store, James took out a penny from his pocket and the scratch-off he’d picked out for himself. The thing was covered in dollar signs and gold coins and watermelons. He wasn’t sure what the watermelons were about, but whatever. He scratched off all the little grey spots and wiped the sparkly silver crud off his jeans. All the spots were filled with zeros. “Of course,” he said, as he flung the thing into the bush behind him.

When he stood up to go, he tripped over his own feet and fell back into the bush. Before he could lift himself out, he looked up and saw a white van with tinted windows fly into the lot. Somebody with a ski mask came out, a black handgun in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other. James stayed in the bush and held his breath until he heard the automatic doors open and the guy go inside. He stayed in the bush but took out his brass knuckles and put them on, not sure what his next move would be. There was screaming inside. It was just one voice. Probably belonged to the robber, he thought.

For a second, a scenario played out in his head where he would sneak into the store and punch the guy in the back of the head, smash his face into the counter, grab the gun, and empty the clip. Then he would say something like Bruce Willis said in one of those Die Hard movies: "Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!" But no, he didn’t do that, he didn’t even get out of the bush.

Then he heard more screaming and two gun shots. He closed his eyes tight and told himself to think fast. When he heard the automatic doors open, he stuck out his foot and caught the guy in the shin, tripping him and sending him on his face onto the pavement. The gun went under the van and the brown bag spilled out cash. James got to his feet and beat the back of the guy’s head with his brass knuckles. 

He pulled his phone out and was about to call the police when he looked back at the money on the ground. They’d be able to keep the fridge full for at least a little while with all that. It would sure make his wife happy. He bent down and picked up the bag, grabbed the bills that had fallen out. There was five-thousand dollars in all. It wouldn’t solve all their problems, but it’d keep them at bay for a little. 

When he got back home and walked in the front door with the bag in his hand, he shouted to his wife: “We got a winner!”



Stanton McCaffery was born and raised in central New Jersey, where he resides with his wife and son. He has degrees in history and political science and manages communications for a United Nations agency. His stories have been featured in Acidic Fiction, Heater Magazine, Out of the Gutter Online, andBetween Worlds. He is currently working on his first novel.

Review: Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch

Being that I am not an avid reader of science fiction, in fact I usually shy away from this genre, I was a bit unwary of tackling Blake Crouch’s new release, Dark Matter. I persisted due to how much I loved his Wayward Pines trilogy, and I was more than rewarded for this decision.

A book like this is best read without much previous information, as Crouch slowly reveals bits of new information to the reader in a manner that keeps you glued to the pages and wondering exactly what is happening to the story’s hero. I will try to entice you to read this one without giving too much away.

This is a bit of a time traveler tale with a twist.  Jason Dessen leaves his wife and teenage boy one night for a quick drink with a friend at a bar. The next time he sees his wife, she will not recognize him and, in fact, there are no traces that he was ever a part of her life. Jason, and the reader, are left with a mystery that is not easily solved.

Sharing the beauty of this plot without killing the twists is a precarious tightrope walk. Suffice to say Crouch infuses a science fiction element to this book that's a twist on a classic sci-fi plot device. The beauty of his style is he does it in an easy to understand manner and doesn’t rely on extensive, wordy discussions on how or why this plot device works. Even a non-scientific minded man like myself can understand the explanation and appreciate its explanations simplicity. 

I truly think this will be Crouch’s introduction to the best-seller lists. This is a book begging to be made into a movie, and it appears it has been optioned by Sony Pictures prior to its publication. Grab a copy of this before all the twists and turns have been ruined by the masses that are sure to be picking this one up.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Let the Girl Do It

It's all fun and games, until someone loses an eye.

Then, it's just fun and games you can't see very well. 

Let the Girl Do It by Rusty Barnes




"I just need to know what you did with Terrance's lockbox," Jessica said to Hank.

Terrance had been one of her boyfriends up until twenty-three hours ago, when she'd found him slumped in the shower with a bullet hole in his head. Someone matching Hank's description had been seen leaving the house. Jess's neighbor had offered up the information willingly, as Jessica had produced tears on the spot. The neighbors didn't know what really went on inside Terrance and Jessica's house. Donald, another boyfriend, knew what went on. Hank thought he did, but had no idea.

Jessica took a twenty-penny spike and drove it through the palm of Hank's left hand and into the table with three sharp blows. It took the spread of the blood across the table like an inkblot for him to acknowledge it. He spat at her through bloody chewed lips. "This ain't my first rodeo," he said, rattling the cuff she'd attached between his right arm and the chair.

"I know it," Jessica said, putting down the hammer and picking up her Glock. "That's why I have Donald." Donald rapped Hank on the side of his head with his.357.

"I'm still here, motherfucker," Donald said, but Jessica could see Donald's hand trembling. She hoped he could still do what needed to be done.

"Amateur hour," Hank said. "You're not getting anything from me." Jessica considered her options.

"Take your pants down," Jessica said.

"Fuck you," Hank said. Donald hit Hank harder this time, a bloody crease appearing on his upper cheek.

"Watch your mouth," Donald said, his hand trembling.

"I'm going to attach your penis to the chair," Jessica said.

"Bullshit," Hank said.

"Want to bet me, big man?" Jessica holstered the Glock under her arm and picked up another short spike. With a practiced motion, she set the spike to his right eye and drove it home. Blood and fluid burst forth like a split fruit.

"Oh Jesus Jesus fuck," Hank said. Blood ran down his cheek. Jessica felt like licking it.

"Take your pants down, Hank. Donald, help him."

"It's in the back seat of my wife's Prius," Hank said.

"Easy enough," Jessica said. She patted his head like a dog, then shot him in the face. The body slumped to the floor at an odd angle, held up by his spiked hand. More red pulsed from it momentarily. 

"Jesus," Donald said, wiping his mouth.

"The least you could do is not puke on me," Jessica said. It would be a short trip to get the money now, assuming Hank had told the truth. But she knew he had. It was the last thing she saw in his good eye.


Rusty Barnes grew up in rural northern Appalachia. His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared in over two hundred journals and anthologies. His crime novel titled Ridgerunner is out now from 280 Steps. A follow-up, The Last Danger, will be published in Winter 2017.

Return to Eden

Somewhere, out there in the darkness, is a regret trying to undo its inception.

In the Gutter, regret is what feeds our dreams.

Return to Eden by Ty Vossler



First there was blackness—blackness so deep that my last thought was the uselessness of even trying to escape it. In that final moment, I knew that I was tied to the Earth forever and that the blood and brain mix on the tile floor around my shattered head would somehow nourish the planet.
              
Then, as if suddenly jolting awake from a terrible nightmare I sat straight up and floated back to my feet. I saw moist spray and fragments of bone drifting away from me, and then rushing back in, the bones, fitting back into place as if my head were one of those damned jig-saw puzzles that takes about three years to finish.
              
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Eve’s husband backing out of the motel room, and her screaming, “madA!” and then the door slammed behind him. Then I was sitting on the bed again. I rolled over and was between her thighs—back in Eden—such a glorious feeling coursing through my body, as though I were reborn. I heard myself growling with pleasure. The height of the feeling followed a slow, downhill path until I reached the beginning of our lovemaking and even then, the anticipation made me dizzy with desire.
              
Oh, what men are capable of saying in these first few moments, when the blood has rushed from our brains and into our erections—what we say.

As I slipped out of her, I heard the three words, brought forth by chemicals, because there is no such creature as love and never was. Just a release of dopamine that brings us back for more and more—makes us chase the apple in the Tree of Life, hoping for the same high, yet we’re always disappointed.
              
What the hell was I thinking, hooking up with a married dame. I must have had a hole in my head.


Ty Spencer Vossler (MFA) currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico with his BMW (beautiful Mexican wife) and their daughter. Vossler is a prolific writer, and has published over forty works in the past two years, including novels, many short stories, poems and essays. He attributes his originality to the fact that he shot his television over two decades ago.

Rusty Barnes just flat out kicked my ass. I dove into Ridgerunner not knowing what to expect and I was ill prepared for what I found. What did I find you ask? I found a crime novel, wrapped in a multi-layered drama about the need for family, the lengths you go for family, and the depths of despair you can bring upon your loved ones through your choices. Barnes layered these elements in a manner that left me drained and longing for the next part in this trilogy.


Matt Rider works as a conservationist and is often at war with the local bad-ass family, the Pittmans. When Rider is attacked by one of the family members and barely survives, he sets off a chain reaction that has him popping pills to alleviate the injuries he receives, traipsing through the mountain with his brother as they search for revenge, and trying to determine where some of the Pittman’s missing money is located. But the beautiful artistry of Barnes writing is centered on Rider’s attempts to keep his wife, who has emotional & mental issues, by his side, both physically and emotionally, while still staying true to his need to see this issue through to the end. His older brother also plays a large part in the plot, as the brothers share a sense of commitment and duty to family members and they will stake their lives on seeing this duty through till the end.

Barnes has a master piece on his hands and 280 Steps has published another winner. Barnes has certainly piqued my interest in getting my hands of more of his work. I am thrilled to see this is just the first part in an expected trilogy revolving around Rider and the Pittman family. If the future books in the series reach the heights this novel has set, this could be a trilogy for the ages. This was some strong writing and I am in awe of what I just read.


Highly Recommended.
Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Baked Goods

Whether it's with cash that's legit or blood-stained,

In The Gutter, bills still have to be paid. 



Baked Goods by Rob Pierce





“Look,” Williams said. “This is a job a lotta guys wouldn’t want. Let me know if you don’t want it. There’s this runner across town, thinks he don't have to share, got his own protection, makes him hard to get to.”

Williams was the size of a retired NFL lineman, plenty fat with what looked like a ton of muscle beneath. It was amazing he sat as comfortably as he did on the little café chair.

Vollmer sat, both palms on the metal table, didn’t pretend he was here for coffee. It was just him and Williams, he wouldn’t stay long. He didn’t care how big the man was. He cared because Williams worked for Rico, and Rico worked for Tenny, and Tenny ran most everything in this town. “You want me to visit the runner?”

Williams shook his head, his cheeks full of coffee, seemed like they should have sloshed. He swallowed. “The protection. Send a message.”

Vollmer smiled. Big. “Hell yeah.”

***

Vollmer studied Cuccero, a slim guy, dressed sharp, good with a knife and pistol they said, armed at all times. Who wasn’t? For this it didn’t matter. A fair fight was the last thing Vollmer had in mind.

The protection guards the man who guards the money. He doesn’t work seven days a week. A lot of nights the man doesn’t carry big money. Cuccero got a day or two off most weeks, sometimes more, but never on days his boss ran big games.

Vollmer didn’t give a fuck about the big game days. He wanted this asshole relaxed. A guy like Cuccero would be too hard to follow without being seen, probably had radar behind his ass. Except maybe on his days off.

Cuccero left his apartment around nine most mornings he didn’t work, walked down the street a few blocks to the local bakery and loaded up, sometimes took it home, sometimes took it somewhere else.

Vollmer was in the bakery by a quarter to nine, got a couple crullers and a coffee. He kept his head down the whole time, even when he ordered, and took a table with a view of the line. Which was only a half dozen people and moved fast. The big crowd came earlier. Vollmer didn’t care. He nibbled on his first cruller and sipped at his coffee.

After a few minutes, Cuccero joined the straight line to the counter, three customers between him and the register. Cuccero looked at the display case. As often as he came here, he had to have that shit memorized. Two of them ordered. Cuccero was next, after the guy at the register.

Vollmer stood, stepped away from his table, stretched his arms over his head, which still faced the floor, and brought them back down, one hip forward, his legs no longer parallel. Cuccero still looked straight ahead.

Vollmer ran. Cuccero turned, but Vollmer had him by the back of the neck and rammed his head into the display case. It was plastic and cracked open. Blood from Cuccero’s forehead fell on tiramisu. He did too.

Vollmer grabbed Cuccero by the head, a palm pressed against each temple, and slammed the man’s dessert-covered face against the bottom shelf over and over. Blood spread around the cakes. When he knew Cuccero couldn’t possibly be alive, Vollmer turned, head still down, and ran the hell out of there.

***

“Be nice,” Williams said, “if you coulda done that without making every fucking paper on the coast.”

“The runner scared?” Vollmer asked. “Fuck you.”

There weren’t many men who’d say that to Williams. The murder in the bakery scared more than just the runner.

Williams held his coffee cup tight, his fingers red. “That place got a security camera.”

“One fucking camera, keep your head down and it don’t see shit. You think I don’t study security? And nobody there can ID me, guaranteed. Also don’t want to. You shouldn’t give a fuck anyway. My face, not yours. He pay yet?”

Williams nodded. “But you ain’t gotta be so obvious.”

“You think anyone ain’t scared of you now? You should suck my dick. ’Cept I’d shoot you if you tried.”

Williams laughed, like Vollmer was joking. Like he’d better be.

Vollmer looked calm. He didn’t smile, his look didn’t change.

Williams drank coffee. “You’re tough, that’s good. But the guys up top, the guys who like you now? They decide you’re crazy, they won’t like you no more.”

“They don’t gotta like me.” Vollmer stood. “They just gotta pay me.” He walked away.


Rob Pierce wrote the novel Uncle Dust, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet (September 2016). Editor of Swill Magazine and an editorial consultant with All Due Respect Books, Rob has been nominated for a Derringer Award for short crime fiction and has had stories published in numerous ugly magazines. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.