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Split

There's all sorts of ways to break down a score. Cuts, percentages, three for me, none for you, one and one make ten years (suspended after two).

Then again in the Gutter, we ain't never been too good at math. We're more about bread. As in, you better know which side gots the butter.

Split by Carmen Jaramillo




“Where are these guys? I’m getting bored.”

Brendan spit in the sand before he answered me.

“Keep quiet. The night guards have rifles.”

“Sor-ry. Jesus.” 

I leaned over the handlebars and let my head loll over, looking up the beach past the umbrellas with the tacky-ass swirly sun logo stretched over the front. If the Royal Decameron Resort guards hadn’t heard the four-wheeler motor running a few minutes earlier, I didn’t know how the hell they were supposed to hear us talking.

But he was right about the rifles. The guards have no problem firing at anyone creeping past the gates in the dark to steal a tourist’s Patek Philippe off the hotel dresser. 

Another gust of wind rolled by every few minutes, from the rows of trees and aloe plants down to the ocean. A little light bounced over the sand towards us. I leaned into him. 

“Hey, is that them? With the flashlight?”

He swung his leg over the four-wheeler and hopped off. He motioned at me with his hand.  

“Move over.”

I shifted forward; he pulled up the back half of the seat and fished two pill bottles out of the compartment. 

“Just stay here ... don’t make any damn noise, for god’s sake.”

I met Brendan about a month or so before that night. He smelled like smooth rum and fresh fruit. He crooned when he talked to me. He had long eyelashes and legs like marble columns. 

I could go on. He was a few years older than me, but I wasn’t totally sure how many. 

The two guys with the flashlight stopped under one of the black umbrellas, out of the moonlight. Brendan turned and started walking to them, a bottle in each hand. I listened, and I heard the other bottles rattling, zipped up in his pockets.

He talked me into getting a hold of the pills for him. He pulled me aside at the party Marilén Navarro’s mother threw for New Year’s Eve and asked me to swipe them out of the medicine cabinet. 

“You mean, like, just steal them right outta the bathroom? Why can’t you get ’em?”

“’Cause only the women are using that bathroom.”

He set his drink on the side table and laid his hands on my shoulders, running his fingers under the straps of my tank top. 

“Come on, Freddie. I really need the money ... I’ve got something all worked out with a couple waiters at Royal Decameron. And we’ll split it, okay?”

“Fifty fifty? Of all of it, right?”

“Yeah, yeah … half for you and half for me.”

So I did it. I took the two bottles and tossed them into my purse. Over the next few weeks he asked me to swipe four or five more bottles of pills for him, to sell to the waiters he knew. The waiters, I supposed, sold them to the resort tourists from Cincinnati or New Hampshire or wherever the hell people are from. 

Brendan only wanted to move two bottles at a time. I thought it was a dumbass way to make a hundred dollars and told him so. There was no reason why we couldn’t unload everything at once, but he didn’t change his mind. He just told me he kept the others in his apartment.  

Brendan was still talking to the waiters. I tipped the brim of my hat back a little, loosening it from my skull.
  
He shoved something in his pocket and stepped away. The waiters went in the other direction. 

The rattling in his pockets was gone. I sat back up and pushed myself off the seat.  

“How much did they give you? Couple hundred?”

He put the key in the ignition.  

“We’ll work it out when we get back, okay?”

He opened the seat compartment again and dropped in a wad of twenties as thick as my fist. 

“What d’you mean, when we get back? I’m just asking how much you’ve got, why don’t you wanna tell me?”

“Don’t make this into a big thing, Freddie. Just a couple hundred bucks, okay? I’m gonna put it in here, and I’ll give you your hundred when we get back. That’s it.”

“I just don’t get why you won’t tell me.”

He grabbed my shoulder and pushed down. I let my knees buckle until I collapsed back on the seat. 

“Turn the bike on.”

I turned the key.  

“Okay. Now we’re getting out of here, before anyone sees us.”

In the dark, he couldn’t see my whole face burning and my back teeth grinding. After all the work I’d done for him.  

I tipped the hat brim up further. The next gust of wind from the trees lifted it right off my head and sent it rolling across the sand to the ocean.  

“Goddammit, Freddie! That’s my hat!”

I looked up at him again. I raised my eyebrows, like I was pleading, and put my hand on his thigh.

“I’m so sorry, I’m really sorry … it didn’t fit me, I just wanted to fix it. Can’t you go get it? Please?”

He stared down at my hand, right next to his hip. He heaved another breath out and swore at me before he started jogging after his hat.  

I looked up the beach. Three more bouncing lights started weaving out of the trees, away from the hotel. They hit the sand.
  
Brendan kept right on marching to the ocean, his back to the lights.  

The guards were passing through the umbrellas. One of them raised something in his hands, pointing a muzzle up to the air. He fired. Brendan jerked upright and start sprinting towards me.  

I let him get about halfway before I gunned the accelerator and swung the handlebars around. I thought he might’ve yelled out my name, but I couldn’t hear him over the motor or my laughter.  

Carmen Jaramillo is a Chicago-based writer who loves a good beer and a good MacGuffin. She is a wrangler of academic data by trade. Follow her on Twitter @jaramilloc2

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 very special guest column from Col Bury down Brit Grit Alley:

SEEKING THAT VALIDATION OF A ‘YES’: THE ROAD TO PUBLICATION… by COL BURY

By now people will know that, after years of trying, I’ve finally bagged a deal for my debut novel, MY KIND OF JUSTICE. It’s been a bumpy old journey, one where I often thought I’d missed the bus. Obviously, it’s clear I certainly haven’t ‘arrived’ yet. I’ve just got on the bus, that’s all, and who knows it could stall or even break down!

Paul’s invited me to write about the road to publication, so here we go…

When I was a spotty teen I read horror and crime and fantasised about actually having a stab myself, since I’d somehow snagged English ‘O’ Level a year early at school so was dead good at proper England innit. Old pal, Dave Barber and I used to share crappy short stories with each other and so the bug began. In my early twenties I briefly embarked on a writers’ correspondence course (no internet then) and the tutor gave words of encouragement that spurred me on, but I didn’t really know what I wanted to write (or how to) nor how the industry really worked, so I set out to learn how all the cogs fit together and to discover my ‘voice’ therein.

Children’s stories were rejected, short story entries into many, many comps fell flat and the crime writing I’d gravitated toward - it seemed to choose me, since I’d been surrounded by it growing up around Manchester - was always on my mind, even though it was a constant struggle. Procrastination (reading tens of ‘How to’ writing books), disorganisation, full-time work (always) and then marriage and two children, prevented progress as a writer, but the drive and ambition bubbled within. The naysayers played their part as per fuckin’ usual (don’t listen to those negative buggers who are only happy when they’re miserable), hence when I hit the brick wall of 41,000 words (oddly, twice) on my first attempts at crime novels, I let life take over, though still dreamed and tinkered with writing. And I read, a lot, mainly crime.

Until, in 2008, I became friends with Matt Hilton via a mutual work colleague. Bizarrely, I was reading aloud about his huge success re’ his Joe Hunter thrillers deal and my line manager said, “Matty? Matty? No way!”… and phoned him (125 miles away in Carlisle) to congratulate him, then passed the phone to me… “Er, hello…” I said nervously. And the rest is history. We became firm friends, and when Matt started the ezine Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers in 2009 I became his co-editor and it exploded and became the catalyst to take my writing, confidence-wise, up a notch or three. Seeing my own work on the site (six shorts published by Matt before I began the editing role) was a welcome taster to how a ‘real author’ must feel, and the positive and constructive feedback from readers (yes, real people who read, actually read my writing and liked it!) spurred me on. I then felt confident enough to submit shorts to other ezines, like Chris Grant’s A Twist Of Noir, among others, and they liked my work enough to publish it. New readers , contacts and many good friends were found.


Editing stories from all over the world, from writers at varying degrees of competency, from questionable to top notch, then offering feedback, is a helluva way of analysing structure, style and what works and what doesn’t within a short story. I did this for nearly five years and, although it did consume us (Matt, Lily Childs, Lee Hughes, Dave Barber) in the end, it was an invaluable apprenticeship. It was also a thrill to publish writers’ first stories and some have consequently flourished big time! The site won awards, but, alas, was impacting on our own writing time and family life so something had to give.

Alongside this, because of shifts, I couldn’t get to a writers’ circle physically, so joined Writers News Talkback forum where I lurked for a while until chatting at leisure with a vast array of writers. Again, many friends (too many to name here) and contacts were made, and I learned a helluva lot about the business.

I started reviewing the odd book, interviewing fellow writers on my blog, and going to more book launches and writing festivals (including Harrogate, hic!) to get a feel for the whole scene, and that was possibly the most useful aspect of the ongoing apprenticeship; a thousand conversations (many drunken) about writing and the industry, plus rubbing shoulders with great writers and drinking up their wisdom. Also, at these events you meet readers, publishers and agents, so attending’s a no brainer if you want to ‘get on’.

Back to the ezines… in 2010 New York agent, Nat Sobel had scoured short story sites and approached a bunch of writers, including little old me. To cut a long story short, I rewrote a crime novel umpteen times (once, from scratch after 50,000+ ditched words!) until it was ‘ready’ to send out to publishers. I went through that process of waiting months for the responses to come in and that is stressful, I’ll tell yer! It seems writers (self-published authors apart, maybe) are always waiting anxiously for news, good or bad, and even the best tell me that’s one of the worst aspects of the process.

Anyway, the novel Nat Sobel squeezed out of me did the rounds of the big hitters, got close with one or two and to quote Nat: “We could paper the walls with glorious rejections, but no one offered.” One publisher asked me to change the location from Manchester as they already had an author writing similar stuff there, but Manchester’s what I know, so we declined. A point about timing here: that ‘similar’ author they had, left for another publisher not long after. Dammit!

Despite no deal the positive feedback was encouraging and I wrote another crime novel with a supernatural twist to help it stand out from the crowd. It didn’t. After going through the process again, the rejections poured in and, with several friends winning books deals and some having success in self-publishing, I felt like I’d not only missed the bus but had been driven the opposite way and left in the wilderness. I flirted with depression and self-pity and stopped writing for a while, as things fizzled out with Nat, albeit amicably, despite him poo-pooing a few pitched ideas for other prospective novels. I learned a helluva lot from Nat and will be forever grateful. However, the fact remained that I’d lost my rudder and was up Shit Creek, but after an extensive search I found a paddle and began to steadily find the right course.

Confidence grew gradually as I won flash fiction comps and my short stories were published in numerous anthologies, including the last three MAMMOTH BOOKS OF BEST BRITISH CRIME. I spoke to lots of people about self-publishing and read all about it. My short story collections, MANCHESTER 6 and THE COPS OF MANCHESTER had done pretty well on Amazon, but they were just for exposure and a novel was a different animal. The thing that stopped me from self-publishing, despite intense frustration, was that I deeply needed that validation of a ‘Yes’. For the record, I think the S/P option is another great way of finding a readership and I may well partake in the future, but not just yet.


I entered my novels into comps and won diddlysquat. I re-read them, gleaned feedback from trusted friends, rewrote them. Then I decided to sub to two carefully selected ‘smaller’ publishers I knew quite a bit about. And waited… a-bloody-gain!

One said, “No,” and the other, CAFFEINE NIGHTS said, “Yes!”

Validation, at last! But beware… now the fear of failure has been replaced by the fear of success. *gulps*

So, I’ve finally got my bus ticket and we’ll see where it takes me. I’m expecting more bumps along the road, but I’ve buckled-up to enjoy the ride! ;-)

Thanks to all who supported and encouraged me throughout, and thanks to Paul for having me…er, so to speak.


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

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



Say Something ... Anything

Unrequited love brings out our most poetic instincts.

But when the words don't come, it's best not to let Phil Collins do the talking. 

Say Something ... Anything by Eric Beetner



“He’s back.” Rebecca inched aside the curtain with a single finger, trying to see but not be seen.

Her husband pounded the floor with bare feet on the way into the living room. “You gotta be fucking kidding me.” He showed no fear of being spotted as he jerked back the curtain to get a good look at the kid in the driveway next door. He could hear the music now, the same damn song.

“Seven days in a row,” Rebecca noted, her voice more fear than anger.

“I don’t even think she’s home,” Paul said.

Rebecca shrank away from the exposed window. She pulled her arms in tighter around her body as she watched the young man in the trenchcoat performing his nightly ritual, the boom box high over his head.

Paul let the curtain go and furrowed his brow. “This has gotta stop.”

“I spoke to Diane in the driveway day before yesterday,” Rebecca said. “She’s scared.”

“It’s fucking creepy.”


I’m scared.”

Paul turned to his wife and saw the fear in her eyes, her posture. This had to end. Tonight.

“I’ll take care of it.”

Paul went to the garage. He turned sideways to make it between the car and the bikes and stepped to the storage closet he assembled from Ikea just after they moved in. He turned the small key he left dangling from the lock, opened the flimsy door and reached in past the half rolls of Christmas wrapping and the old Halloween lights. He brought out his hunting rifle.

“Paul, what are you doing?” Rebecca called as he passed back through the house and out the front door.

“I’m gonna scare him off.”

Paul felt the cool dew on his bare feet as he marched across his lawn to where the kid stood freakishly still with his arms in a V above him, the tiny speakers on his box cranked high until they distorted. Always the same song. Always In Your Eyes. The more he played it – sometimes forty times a night – the creepier it got.

Paul remembered the kid’s name from one night when Diane yelled at him from her bedroom window, telling him to knock it off and go home. He just stood there until the tape ran out. A continuous loop of Peter Gabriel.

“Lloyd, it’s time for you to go.” He kept the gun down low, as unthreatening as a man with a rifle could be. It was a long range gun. A scope, barrel half the length of Paul’s arm. Made to hit a buck at a hundred yards. But it was all he had and a sensible man would be scared off by any gun.

Not Lloyd.

He turned to face Paul, the music now blasting directly at him. Paul saw his eyes. Dead eyes. Black. The kid’s face was a blank, a sculpture in stone. And the eyes didn’t show anything.

“You gotta . . .,” Paul had to swallow, the creepy kid’s stare unnerved him. “You gotta get out of here, Lloyd. She’s not even home.”

The song hit the familiar chorus. Lloyd continued to stare.

Rebecca yelled from her porch, an edge to her voice that cut through the crackling speakers. “Paul, get away from him!”

“Come on now, Lloyd,” Paul said. He lifted the gun a few inches as Lloyd took a step toward him. Paul edged back, then remembered he had the gun and stood his ground. Wind kicked up the kid’s trench like fluttering wings. The song got louder as Lloyd took another step.

“Go home,” Paul demanded. “Get out of here.”

With each step Lloyd took closer, the gun barrel raised another inch until it was even with Paul’s hip. To look through the scope now would be a waste. Lloyd was so close he’d only be a blur.

Rebecca screamed Paul’s name behind him. It got lost in the buzzing song growling from over Lloyd’s head. The dead black eyes moved closer.

“Get the fuck away from here,” Paul said. The silent stalking continued. Lloyd was on Paul’s property now. Shooting him would be fully justified.

“For fuck’s sake,” Paul said. “Say something. Say anything.”

Lloyd stepped off the grass and onto Paul’s driveway. Too close. Paul pulled the trigger and Lloyd bent at the middle, but the boom box stayed up. Paul fired again and Lloyd fell.

The box slid out of his hands as he hit, face down. The tape warbled, then continued on at a weird half speed. Slowing and speeding up, matching the uneven rise and fall of Lloyd’s chest. Then the kid went still, but the music played on.

Paul felt the cold in his feet. He heard the crying behind him from Rebecca on the porch. He listened to the warped song star over, the loop unfinished for the night. The worst part, Paul thought, that used to be our song.

Eric Beetner is the author of several novels including The Devil Doesn't Want Me, Dig Two Graves, White Hot Pistol, The Year I Died Seven Times. He is co-author (with JB Kohl) of the novels One Too Many Blows To The Head and Borrowed Trouble and the upcoming Over Their Heads. He lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts the Noir At The Bar reading series. For more visit ericbeetner.blogspot.com

Robert Ninja

Everyone knows the rule that you dont tug on Superman’s cape.

Angel Luis Colon stops by the Gutter to offer an addendum: You don’t fuck with a man named Ninja.

Robert Ninja by Angel Luis Colon



I found the name in the phonebook, Robert, Ninja. My finger stopped in time with my eyes. “Bullshit,” I said out loud. I wandered dorm room to dorm room—collected the usual suspects: Jerry, Pete, and Mike.

“Bullshit,” they all repeated.

“It’s in the fucking phonebook.” I pointed at the name, as if that would make it more real.

“Yeah, but…” Jerry snatched the phonebook away. “…the way it’s listed. His last name is Robert?”

“What matters is this motherfucker’s first is name is Ninja.” Mike lit a Parliament. “His parents couldn’t have done that—had to have named himself that shit later.”

“You never know, man.” I lit a Newport. “Maybe it was his destiny to be a ninja.”

“Yeah, or it’s probably what’s his name, Michael Dudikoff.” Pete scratched the back of his neck. Adjusted the crotch of his board shorts.

“Who the fuck is Michael Dudikoff?” I asked.

“Fucking hell, Rob. You never saw American Ninja?” Jerry eyed me. Mike and Pete joined in.

I shook my head.

All three threw their arms up and groaned.

“Whatever.” Mike brought his phone from his shorts. Only one of us with a cell phone—a Nokia. “Motherfucker needs to be spoken to.” He dialed the number, then handed me the phone. “All yours.”

The phone rang. The call connected. I turned on the speaker.

“This is Ninja,” the voice on the other side of the line slurred.

I lowered the phone, mouthed, Holy shit to the guys. “Um, Mister Robert?”

“Yeah?

“This is Samurai Pete. I, uh, challenge you to a duel!” My lack of imagination was old news.

The guys burst into laughter. Pete snatched the phone away. “Don’t forget Cowboy Gustavo, Astronaut Daniel, and Coast Guard Lieutenant Alexander.” He stifled a laugh. Cleared his throat. “We’ve had enough of your shit, Ninja Robert.”

“Do you boys understand what you’re doing?” His voice was a little clearer. “This disrespect will not stand.”

We howled laughing.

Jerry took the phone next. “Whatever, dude, we’ll be in touch.” He disconnected the call. “Let’s get blazed and call that asshole back later tonight.”

That’s just what we did. Sixteen calls in a row between 2:30 a.m. and 5 a.m.—all between bouts of Tekken 3.

By the tenth call we were familiar with him—started calling him Ninja Bob. He picked up every call. Stayed dead silent throughout—never hung up.

*

Ninja Bob killed Jerry first. Caught him in the dorm showers and hung him from the shower bar. 

Campus security figured it was a suicide. We didn’t argue the point, I mean, what were we going to say—Ninja Bob did it? Besides, my phone book disappeared and the newest one I found didn’t have his name in it.

I sat on a bench outside as EMTs rolled the stretcher with Jerry’s lifeless body on it into the back of an ambulance. Behind me, the roar of a leaf blower blocked out the rest of the noise around me—the tears of friends and acquaintances. Mike tried to call out to the gardener, but the fat fuck ignored him.

*

I had the misfortune of finding Mike next. He was dead on the top bunk of his bed—throat open from ear to ear. He was tucked in tight—top of his blanket stained a deep red, but his face as white as the rest of the sheet. Girlfriend said she had left him sleeping sound when she left for classes at 7 a.m. The cops held her for questioning for most of the day, but she had an airtight alibi. When she got back, she was crowded by students and administration. All the questions broke her down and I think she had a psychotic break right in our common area. Campus security came to pick her up and get in touch with her parents.

“Dude, that rent-a-cop look familiar to you?” Pete asked.

I stayed silent. Could this crazy bastard be coming after us over a few phone calls?

I looked at the two security guys flanking Mike’s girlfriend—didn’t even know her name—but only saw their backs. Both fat as hell.

*

Pete and I drank our sorrows away for a few nights. Decided it was time to kick the Playstation back on and play a few rounds of Tekken—for old time’s sake.

Of course as I’m a round from destroying Pete’s Lei with my Eddie Gordo, the lights went out. It was only a few minutes before they came back up. That’s when I saw that Pete’s head was gone—just a raw, red stump remained. I dropped my controller, scrambled away from the body. Heard a thump behind me and turned to see Pete’s head bounce and roll until it hit the TV tray. My only escape route blocked by a fat bastard in orange ninja pajamas—the lower half of his face covered.

“You dishonored me.” He adjusted a strap around his waist. It struggled against his gut.

I stood. Held my hands out to him. “Listen, man, we were just fucking with you.” Shook my head. “It was a prank.”

He stood in a dramatic pose. Arms held slightly aloft at his sides, legs spread to shoulder width. “Which one are you?” he asked.

“What?”

“Which one of my enemies are you?”

This was fucking insane. I put my fear aside and tried to run for my phone. Saw Ninja Bob move out of the corner of my eye. Heard a whistle and my left hand was gone. Separated from the wrist before I could grab the phone from its base. I screamed. Held my forearm and watched the blood spurt from the center of my new stump.

Ninja Bob laughed. “Do you know what’s worse than dishonoring a ninja?”

I ignored him. Vision blurred as I lost more blood. Heard a click.

“Dishonoring a ninja with a rocket launcher.”

A bump. A rush of super-heated air. My stump didn’t hurt anymore.


Angel Luis Colón works in New York City but has been exiled to live in the northern wastes of New Jersey—thankfully, they have good beer. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Revolt Daily, Thuglit, All Due Respect, and The Flash Fiction Offensive. You can follow his grumblings on Twitter @GoshDarnMyLife. Or http://angelluiscolon.com/

More Than They Could Know

In today's world, caring about recycling is important.

But is it as important as caring about your fellow man? 

More Than They Could Know by Beau Johnson



*—to be fair, I think I have always been like this.

Cycling down, compressing, I watch as the arms and legs hanging outside the machine snap off like muted branches.  Thick and bleeding, they fall to the concrete floor, no longer a part of what once made them whole.  Occasionally—perhaps one in five—these appendages roll towards me, but most times they do not.  Inert, they remain still about my feet, each piece but a rearranged fragment of something which will never again be.

It is Sunday, pre-church, and before the morning rush.

Did I care that they made fun of me?  Yes.  More than they would ever know.  Did I show it?  Never—not once.  I am good at things like this, at holding them in.  I let them stew, boil.  It’s how I’ve come to cook; how the man inside me rolls.  In the mirror, naked, I repeat:  I am Rage.

At seventeen I am hit by a car.  Scars come, many, and to this day I still limp because of it.  My right hand turns inward as well, up and towards my chest.  It resembles a claw, but one which has lost the will to live.  I’d like to say chicks dig this, but no, this has never been the case.

Mr. Gray, the manager here at Mister Food, keeps me on even though corporate had suggested otherwise.  I give the man credit for that.  I really, truly do, even though I have been told this more times than I care to count.  Mr. Gray—he of the tall, the bald, and the very bad breath—shouldn’t have done what he did though, and only because of what it produced.  Truth be told, he should of given me severance; just ensured I went away.  He didn’t however, and soon after is when I find out that Mr. Gray is no better than all the others talking behind my back.  Mr. Gray never yells at me, nothing as vulgar as that.  But he whispers along with the rest of them, and at times I have seen him laugh.
              
It is this which has caused me to do the things I’ve done.
              
Why I rage.  Why I seethe.  Why I formed big goddamnable habits. 


Done, the final straw is the baler, and the day that Mr. Gray takes me aside.  He tells me the machine is only meant to house cardboard and plastic—that only a bale of each could be made at a time.  I say I understand this; that it hadn't been me who’d mixed the two.  It is here that Mr. Gray chooses to call me a liar, and his voice, had it been raised?  I can’t recall, not really—all I do see is my fellow employees; that they have stopped in their tracks, there to glare and stare.  One of them had been Cara, a girl I had at one time wished to call my own.  She would never fuck me though, and I have never held any delusions concerning that.

“And Ronald, seriously, you need to be washing your uniform more than once a week.” 

I nod, take what has been given, and then watch as Mr. Gray begins to walk away.  From the side I see him roll his eyes as he passes Patrick, Bill and Mark.  They smile in return, the secret shared and understood.  The rage comes forward then, leaping, but I smash it down, my wide and toothy grin fighting to contain that which no longer wanted to be contained.  This is a skill, something I’d come to excel at—the fuel which has filled me these last few years.
              
It’s only later that the staff meeting at the end of the month goes and enters my mind.
              
They are always held on Sundays, before store opening, and out back where Mister Food keeps all of its excess stock.  Mr. Gray rents folding chairs and everyone gets a seat.  To the right, beside these seats, looms the baler.  Industrial grade and painted brown, it possesses a mouth I had come to dream of—six feet long, three feet wide, and five feet deep.  Plastic and cardboard Mr. Gray had said, saying it as though I were someone new.
              
Producing rectangle kids, you fed the baler until you no longer could.  Full, you pressed the button which activated the plunger, three thousand pounds of pressure then compacting recyclables the only way it could.  Needless to say, I was far from wondering about cardboard and plastic as I spasmed into my hand.  I was thinking about bodies; about stacking them high.  Could it be done, I thought, and suddenly realized I had asked the question aloud.
              
“Mr. Gray?”
              
“What is it now, Ronald?”
              
“At the staff meeting, if it’s not too much trouble … I was wondering … I mean, would it be okay if I was in charge of refreshments?” 
Pausing, Mr. Gray finally swivels in his chair.  He is elated, I see, just as I thought he’d be.  All told, it’s shit like this that makes me want to heave.  Fact is, it proves what I’d come to understand—that people like Mr. Gray don’t just call the kettle black, they fucking well paint it.
              
The dosage I drum up is enough, more than, and all but Florence has taken a glass.  It doesn’t take much to persuade her however, not once I put the full force of my limp on display.  She takes the glass, sips—comments on how peachy it tastes.  Thirty minutes later all thirty-seven employees lay prone before me. 

Where to begin, I think, and suddenly notice how hard it has become to breathe; how hard my heart is now knocking inside my chest.  “I am Rage,” I say and take each of them in at a time.  I will be stacking you, I think, and then go on towards Mr. Gray.  In time—stupid fucking hand—I get the big man up, rolling him up and over the baler’s top lip.  Easier, I take the cashiers next, each of them half the weight of Mr. Gray.  Eleven of them inside, I close the safety gate and then push the big green button on the side of the machine.  With a start and then a screech the plunger descends, crushing breath and bone alike.  They never wake, not one of them.  They only bleed, forming a lake like the syrup we kept in isle 9.
              
The buggie boys come next, followed by the ladies who ran Floral.  Of them all, it’s Sheila the office girl who proves the most difficult.  Over three hundred pounds, she is more than I can lift.  Using empty milk crates, I stack them like steps and create the leverage I believe I will need.  In, she sinks halfway down, her face coming to rest next to George from Frozen Food.  Amanda is beside them, her brain exposed and grey. 



Finished, I look around at the empty chairs, at the skids full overstock and beyond.  I take in the blood that continues to seep from the bottom of the baler and the arms and legs that rest within.  Should I leave them, I think, but realize I have been trained too well; that a job is not complete until you have cleaned up after yourself.  Smiling, I make a bale using twine that will never again be white.  It does not turn out as I hoped, not as rectangular, nor as solidly built.

From skin that runs in flaps to muscle that hangs and drips, I stand in front of the baler’s open door, squint into the chamber for all the faces I can still make out.  There in the corner is Stacy and Beth, both of them covered in a twit that had gone by the name of Steve.  Below them I see Richard, the man finally making his way inside Peggy-Sue.  And there at the bottom lay Mr. Gray, his bright eyes now dull, his nose beneath his mouth.

To reiterate:  Did I care that they made fun of me?  Yes.

More than they could know.


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