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Baby

A classic Gutter story, originally posted in 2012. Including what the editors said up here:

*Warning: Explicit Content* (Meaning read it and tell us what you think!)

Days as dark as thunderheads, blows that rain down and drown out your soul. When there's no way out, all you can do is bring in someone else to help weather the storm...
Baby by Spencer Hayes

Sometimes Dale hits me so hard the sting goes clear through to the other side of my body. I often think each blow’ll leave two bruises. He usually comes after me at night, keyed up on Yuengling, home from a poker game with his drinking buddies where he’s pissed away the better part of his paycheck.
He’s ticked off and anything’s an excuse for him to start bandaging his fist with cowhide. Dale lets me have it. When he finishes, still angry and flushed, he holds me down, turns me over on my knees and elbows, and gets behind me. Afterward, he offers up one of his broken-record apologies.
In the morning, he goes to work, and I go to the shower. Hell doesn’t make water hot enough to get the memory of his body out of my skin. I practice primal scream therapy. I rest my head against the tile and check my welts. Those mothers are blacker and bluer than storm clouds.
*
Everyone thinks they know what I should do. My mother, the police, my friends, the doctors and nurses. They feel embarrassed for me. Every time I show up in the ER to get this bone set or that cut stitched, they tell me to leave, get a restraining order, move, start over. How? How am I supposed to do those things when I feel like a fly swatted against a window, its insides running down the glass? They never say. And every time I threaten to leave him, Dale vows to kill me. I see his nose flare, his eyes narrow, and I know he isn’t lying.
So I put foundation over the scars, makeup on the bruises, hide them the best I can. I drink his poison and wait for him to die.
*
Our neighbor Sheila is pregnant. She’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen—even with a potbelly. That’s when it hits me. A baby. A baby is what I need. Something, someone who’ll love me, call me mama.
I ask Dale about it. He says no. I think about yanking a pushpin out of the corkboard and pricking his entire pack of condoms, a single hole straight through the center of each reservoir. But he’d know.
*
I pay Sheila a visit. I bring cake. We sit in her kitchen. She makes tea. I ask where her husband is. Kevin’s at work. I ask how many weeks she is. Thirty, she says. Sex? A surprise. I ask if I can have her baby. She laughs, but stops when she sees I’m not. She says no. Of course it would be no.
I wrestle her to the ground. We grunt and snort. Air shoots out of our lungs. Fists meet kidneys. Knees collide with groins. I don’t want to hurt the baby. Yelps and cries, pulled hair, legs kicking out for a foothold. We writhe a little while longer, then Sheila’s on her feet and running.
She hoofs it to the bathroom. Unfamiliar with the layout, it takes me a minute to find her. I kick the door. It doesn’t give. Sheila screams. I kick again and again and again. The flimsy metal handle flies off and chips the wall.
I collar my hands around her throat and pinch the blood off to her head. Sheila’s face goes scarlet and quickly drains to blue. She crumples to the floor. I lift up her dress. Her stomach is taut, bloated. I could get a knife, some scissors, but time’s of the essence. I make do with the keys in my pocket.
I take them out and fan them in an arc. I rip through her skin and fat and muscle. I open her up like a package. Elbow-deep inside her. Chunks of meat on the floor. Urine and blood and fluid swirl. Sheila’s legs twitch and streak the mess. I snag a towel from the bar above, swaddle the baby in it. Sheila’s wound slurps and spews black cherry syrup in rhythm to her dying heart.
*
I hope Dale gets home soon. I’ve made a list of what we need at the store. I haven’t picked a name yet, but it’s hungry. 
Spencer Hayes lives and writes in Philadelphia. His stories have appeared in Bluestem Magazine, Word Riot, and The Adroit Journal.

Review: American Static, by Tom Pitts

It is always a pleasure to bear witness to an author grow with each book they publish. Novellas become novels, characters become more fleshed out, plots become more multidimensional, and their books just have deeper hooks that seem to pierce your soul in a different way, as if the hook now has a barb that leaves a piece inside you after the book is over.

I was bearing witness to such a growth in Tom Pitts when I dug into American Static. This novel, the second offering of his Northern California Quartet, brings to fruition to all the promise he has shown in his many novellas. The length of a novel fits Pitts well, as it allows him to stretch his plot over many story lines and allows him to bring his characters to life in a way that leaves a mark on the reader and leaves you feeling all the right emotions; concerns for the heroes in peril, anger towards the antagonists, and most importantly in the journey through a great book, caring about what happens to the characters, both good and bad ones.

I always why away from overdoing a synopsis in my reviews; hell you can go to Amazon or Goodreads for that. This plot has so much going on it is hard to offer up a paragraph to sum it up anyway. Suffice to say, it’s a great story of a boy running to escape only to end up in a nightmare way beyond his control. He encounters a man named Quinn, who may be one of the baddest bad-asses I have had the pleasure to read about in fiction as of late. Quinn goes where he wants to go, does what he wants to do, and kills who he wants to kill. The manner in which Pitts has pitted him against another psychopath, but allows Quinn to out-psycho him, allows you to see the depth of depravity that lies with Quinn’s dark, dark soul.

Books like this is why I love to read books…I was lost in Pitts’ world and loved every minute of the journey. Books like this are also why I enjoy putting out reviews…to get the opportunity to spread the word for authors who deserve a wider audience and to have the chance to put a book on someone’s radar and hope you opened their eyes to an author that will change them as a reader.

Pitts’ Northern California Quartet is two books deep and is picking up steam. The first book in the quartet was Hustle and that knocked my socks off. This book adds to the damage and I am hoping Pitts plans on following this 1-2 combo with a sharp uppercut and then the big KO. Godspeed on book 3 and 4 in the quartet…I am breathless in anticipation.

This is strong uncut shit here and it’s highly recommended. 


Check-Out

You give your heart to the one you love. 

In return, The Gutter delivers a gut-punch.

Check-out by Sean Tuohy


Hobbs barely heard the pounding footsteps over the ringing in his ear. He shook it off as he retreated to safety down the hall. The scene before him featured chunks of dry wall blasted away, buckshot-riddled bodies littering the ground, and carpet soaking up pools of blood. A scowling goon, pistol readied, appeared at the top of the stairwell backlit by afternoon sun.

Hobbs wobbled from blood loss. He tossed the spent shotgun. His blood-slicked fingers ripped the .38 from his shoulder holster.

The goon growled and brought his pistol up too slowly.

Hobbs unloaded six rounds into the goons chest.

His adversary danced before tumbling down the stairs.

Stillness followed as Hobbs winced. A bullet had gone clear through his shoulder, and his white button-up was now stained red. Hobbs reloaded with one hand while keeping an eye on the stairwell. No new targets appeared.

He stumbled back to the girls hotel room and rammed his fist through the thin wood door. “Its me!” he yelled, keeping the barrel of the gun pointed down the hallway.

Whimpering, the girl undid the chain lock with trembling fingers.

Hobbs shouldered the door open and fell into the room. He kicked the door shut and fell on the cheap carpet.

Thelma dropped to his side. Her blonde locks fell over her sea-blue eyes. “What did they do to you?” she asked, concerned.

“I got ‘em,” he said, with pride heavy in his voice.

Hobbshead hit the carpet. His breath came out labored, but the pulsing pain from his wound had dulled.

Thelma scrambled to the nightstand and had the phone against her ear in a blink.

For a moment, Hobbs ached to touch her skin and feel her warm breath on his neck.

Hobbs’ head lolled to the left, giving him a look at the unmade bed. Under it was his future: two hundred grand. All of it dirty money made from gambling dens, back-alley brothels, and drugs peddled on the streets. The building blocks to his new life. 

He had unloaded a Thompson submachine gun into a Packard three nights before. Four enforcers slumped in their seats. Hobbs snatched the money from the dead grip of the obese one in the back and strolled out of that alley whistling “Dixie.”

Thelma hung up the phone and moved to the hotel window. 

Hobbs examined her long, toned dancer’s legs from the carpet. Her flesh-colored nightgown hung off her soft shoulders.

He wanted her from the moment she danced into his view. Hobbs had dreamt about women like Thelma while killing Germans across Europe. He knew that one day a dame like her would wind up in his arms, and he would end up between her legs.

The fact she belonged to someone else didnt stop Hobbes. Most nights her arms wrapped around the boss’ ever-expanding waistline while they sat in his private booth at the club. Regardless, Hobbs knew Thelma was his woman.

Thelma pushed open the window with her delicate fingers. Fresh air flooded in. “A car is coming,” she said. Thelma darted to the closet, tugged on her coat, and grabbed a packed bag.

Hobbs tried to sit up but flopped back down. His arms and legs were growing cold. Each breath burned. Worry filled his chest.

Thelmas hand plunged into the darkness under the bed and came up with the suitcase, dragging it across the room. She strained as she pulled it through the open window and onto the dark iron fire escape.

Hobbs kept his troubled eyes on her. “Everything hurts,” he wheezed.

Thelma looked back at him with something close to pity. “You were cute,” Thelma said, “But I got no time for you, lover.”  

The corner of her mouth curled into a tight smirk as she watched Hobbsface fall. 

He recognized that pride. In that moment, he hated her more than anything. It pulsed through his veins. He flexed his muscles and tightly gripped his pistol once more. His vision blurred as he pulled the trigger and cringed when the pistol jerked his arm. 

A blossoming red hole in her chest wiped the smile off Thelmas lips. Her disbelieving eyes were the last things Hobbs saw before she tipped over the railing.  


Sean Patrick Tuohy lives in Boston, Mass. He is the co-founder and co-host of Writer’s Bone, a literary website and podcast.You can follow his daily disappointments on @seantuohy2.

Desert Heat

For today's blast from the past, a little heat from the one, the only (you'd best hope) Bill Baber. And a little drive that you may not want to take, but in The Gutter, it goes to a place some folks live for.

Desert Heat by Bill Baber

God, it was hot out on the desert that night.  The windows were all down and all that did was let in a wind that felt like it had been launched from the business end of a blowtorch. It was toward the end of July and down on the flats the stars were bright overhead while lightning flashed incessantly over the far mountains.
We were halfway between Tucson and Nogales listening to the X which was coming somewhere out of Sonora. They went right from Muddy Waters doing “Rollin’ Stone” into Hank singing “Ramblin’ Man.” Then, some good Otis Rush and Gaff turned up the radio. Otis was the closest thing to a God he believed in. I grabbed one of the two lukewarm Tecates that were left and Gaff passed me a bottle of mezcal. There was nothin’ to see ’cept for the occasional prongs of a Saguaro or a skinny jack rabbit crossin’ the road.
We were in Gaff’s ’58 Imperial–that sonofabitch was heavier than a played out Houston whore and the Chrysler 392 hemi under the hood was a beast. That car mighta been slow to get rollin’ but once she did, there was nothin’ on the late night desert highways that could keep up with her.
There was as much chrome on the dash of that bitch as there was on the exterior of the car. Gaff kept the dash lights low or else the glare would blind you. There was an orange glow comin’ from the end of his Lucky. Neither of us was sayin’ much. This last job had been rough. We’d covered twenty-two hundred southwest summer miles in under a week chasing a guy from West Texas to New Mexico before finally catching up with him in Oklahoma. The guy had been more than happy to come up with the money after which Gaff cut his throat with a razor and left his body on the bed of a dingy Tulsa motel room.
***
After topping a little rise, the lights of a small town illuminated the surrounding emptiness. Might as well of been a big neon sign you could read from a hundred miles that said “Trouble Ahead.”
“Hell,” Gaff said, “it ain’t much past ten. Maybe there’s a spot we could get a beer that’s cold.”
Well, there sure was.  There was a hillbilly band playin’. And they were damn good. Course Gaff had to get his Fender out of the trunk.  He ripped through “Matchbox” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” with those boys and the joint was jumpin’. You woulda thought he’d of played with those cats forever. They might have played some of the best blues ever heard west of the Delta that night. You could smell mota out in the gravel parking lot. And if there was a hot Mexican girl in a bar like that, Gaff was gonna find her. Hell, he’d found ‘em as far north as Calgary.
So there we were, havin’ us a time. And the Mexican girl? Her name was Esmeralda and I could tell right off that Gaff was in love. I’d seen the look before. She was beautiful. She had the flashing eyes and the painted red lips and she was already wearin’ that low crowned, wide brim straw hat Gaff fancied. From experience, I knew what was comin’ next.
He was a tough lookin’ bastard. Gaff was going to have his hands full. Hell, this guy might take both of us. He started right for Esmeralda, grabbed her, called her a puta and went to slap her. Well, that’s as far as he went because Gaff hit him with a jackhammer that woulda gone through granite and deposited the muchach right in the middle of the dance floor.
A minute later, when Gaff wasn’t lookin’, the pendejo got off the floor, produced a blade and I had to pull the little Colt semi from my pocket and save Gaff’s ass. I knew we weren’t the only ones packin’. We weren’t that far from Tombstone and there was always some old boy in a place like that thinking he was a modern day Doc Holliday. Gaff pulled his piece and we backed out of there.
With the shots still echoing through that honky-tonk and the smoke not yet cleared, we were streakin’ north like a comet, headed back toward Tucson. We would have never made it south to the border. Some local boys in an old Ford gave chase but we outran ’em before the lights of town faded in the rear view.
***
“Alverez is gonna be pissed,” I say. This ain’t the first time we’ve been late with his money.
“Fuck him,” Gaff says, taking a pull on the mescal and lighting another smoke. “When it’s you and me that got his money, the prick should be patient. We might be late with it once in a while but he always gets it.” He takes a deep pull on his smoke and breaks into a grin. “Besides, we’re the ones doin’ all the work. Might be time for a little vacation.”
Right about then, Gaff slows down as we approach the southern edge of Tucson.  The night hasn’t cooled any. It ain’t two yet, it’s Saturday night and there will still be a bar open. There is, at the south end of Speedway. A twangy country band is playin’ a Buck Owens song and right away a Mexican girl catches Gaff’s eye.
The border will have to wait.  And Alverez is still going to be pissed. Fuck it, no sense worryin’ bout that tonight, Alverez and his money are the least of my concerns when Gaff gets on a roll like this. Ain’t no tellin’ what might happen.

Bill Baber has had nearly fifty crime stories published and his stories have recently appeared in Rogue from Near to the Knuckle, Hardboiled Crime Scene from Dead Guns Press, and Locked & Loaded from One Eye Press. His 2014 short story Sleepwalk was nominated for a Derringer Award. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.

Review: The Blade This Time, by Jon Bassoff

The truth is that we all need to create a narrative, a narrative stuffed full of lies, because otherwise the suffering would be too much, otherwise we would recognize the futility of life and the folly of our aims.” –The Blade This Time

Have you ever imagined what it must be like to rate and review one of the great Holy books? How does a mere mortal weigh in on the creation and content of something drafted by great minds that are clearly other worldly? How could you find the proper words to share the importance and awe-inspiring feelings a book like this illicit in you? I don’t want to seem sacrilegious comparing any book to the Holy books of major religions, but I find myself in this unenviable spot when trying to review Jon Bassoff’s new release, The Blade This Time. This book is a blue print on a mind slipping further into the depths of insanity, obsession, and immortality. In other words, this book is now a holy book in my library of depraved and dark fiction.

I am not a big fan of writing a plot synopsis for the books I read. Hell, head over to Goodreads or Amazon for those. I prefer to share the thoughts and feelings books bring to mind as I read them. By doing this, I hope to can get at least a few people to decide to dive into the many great books I get the chance to read. This masterpiece by Bassoff defies the ability to be summed up in a quick recap anyway. His plotting is masterful, yet simplistic. What the hell, I will try to provide a succinct recap for ya: A bat-shit crazy man emerges from the bowels of the city and takes over the life of another bat-shit crazy man who happens to be an obsessed artist. This psychotic man finds himself compulsively obsessed with his new neighbor and spirals deeper into the recesses and dark corners of his decayed mind.

What Bassoff does so well in this book (and all his books), is paint a picture and feeling of morbid, decayed paranoia that has the reader looking over their own shoulder and questioning how any character could lose touch with reality in this manner, and for that matter, how could any sane man put pen to paper and produce this work of art without being off their meds for a while. Bassoff brings to mind Stephen King’s masterpiece, The Shining, in his ability to pen a book that chronicle a mind’s descent into madness. Before this book I always stated my belief Bassoff rivaled King’s early work, dare I say with this book, he has surpassed it. Bassoff’s library demonstrates an ability to suck you into a world you don’t want to image exists, but his ability to bring it to life leaves you will the knowledge it must exist, it’s too real not to.

Bassoff is my favorite writer producing books today. He deserves a wide audience who can bask in his brilliance and celebrate him for his genius, yet still be smart enough to cross the street if they see him approaching in the twilight hours. Any man who can write this dark shit must be a man to avoid. In his own written words, “We hear all the time how writing violent stories…can be an outlet and can prevent actual destruction from taking place”. Just to be safe would keep an eye out for, and on, Bassoff.


This books gets my highest recommendations. 

Book Review: Into the Ocean by Stanton McCaffrey

Something different in The Gutter this Monday:

Wherein I review Stanton's McCaffrey's new noir story.


BOOK REVIEW: Into the Ocean by Stanton McCaffrey



I’m intrigued by stories where the setting is treated as much a part of the cast as the main characters. Where characters reside has an influence on how they act, decisions they make, and, ultimately, their fates. 

Stanton McCaffrey’s Into the Ocean offers Madison Park, New Jersey as its setting. Once a budding northeastern hub of industry and lofty competitor to Flint and Detroit in the car manufacturing game, it met hard times in the nineties. Eventually, outsourcing took away factories and jobs. Unemployment spiked and, with it, drug use and violent crime. History fills in the rest.

Brett and Sarah Bernauer return to this dilapidated Madison Park after the death of their mother. Theirs is a contentious relationship, with mom being the last link providing them with any decent reason to keep in touch. Now, they’re back where they started: a place that took so much and returned nothing.  

Brett’s existence is a lonely one. Occupying a decayed trailer in Scranton, PA, his only companion is a fat cat named Al. His main source of nutrition is a steady diet of protein shakes. Brett is a roof repairman by day and enforcer by night. Nate, the owner of the roof repair service, also moonlights as a purveyor of street justice. Guy viciously beat his wife and posts bail the next morning? Brett and Nate will crush a few of his fingers to make sure he thinks a little harder before venting his drunken aggression.

Sarah lives in Brooklyn where she owns and operates a small-scale thrift store. We get the idea that, unlike her brother, hers is a slightly more complacent existence. Perhaps not a huge financial success, she is happy to just be able to get by on her own, without anyone’s help. Brett, on the other hand, is an angry guy harboring serious resentment toward the world for the shitty hands his family has been dealt over the years. Nate noticed this quick anger and used it in his favor, turning Brett into reliable, vicious underworld muscle.

Once brother and sister return to Madison Park, everything starts turning to shit. This is the type of place where locals stick around forever. Your teammate on the high school basketball team might turn out to be your partner on the local police force. And because almost everyone knows one another, it’s easy to call in favors and shake some dirty hands.  

The lines blur all across Madison Park and at the blurred edge between good and bad stands Norman Acardi, a townie turned cop who’s shaking too many hands on either side to keep track of. Dan Nichols is also a townie turned cop, but his intentions are all good, reading right through Acardi’s bid to become police union president.

Everyone in Madison Park has demons and as soon as Brett and Sarah step back inside its limits, their past comes lunging at them, knife unsheathed, aimed at their ribs. 

The narrative jumps back and forth between the nineties and the present day to reveal what turned scrappy, weakling Brett Bernauer into a muscle-bound hothead everyone, including Nate, are always trying to keep under control. We learn of a brutal attack Sarah survived, (barely), at the hands of certain townies, (guess who?). 

Now, as aggressors are wont to do, they are back in the picture, in an attempt to harass Sarah and Brett into keeping quiet. Of course, we know Brett is going to pop off. What’s fun to witness is how McCaffrey slowly releases Sarah’s harbored resentment until she herself finally lets her temper fly and we can make the comparison between brother and sister.

Try as they might to be two completely different people, in the end they are siblings, who love each other and are bound by the chaotic rollercoaster of their lives.  

McCaffrey knows the topography of New Jersey and isn’t afraid to depict its seedy elements, but does so with the reverence and care of a proud resident. By the end of the story, you’re left wondering: has the town led to the downfall of its residents or vice-versa?

Into the Ocean doesn’t offer a perfect hero. It doesn’t even give us a completely satisfying or rooted resolution. And maybe that’s the point. 

Leaving a place may be temporarily cathartic, but the place, the source of so much contention, continues to exist. Like a specter, it patiently awaits your inevitable return. The rest—whether you succumb or overcome those resident demons—is on you. Whatever the result, good or bad, you’ve been shaped. Brett and Sarah have left Madison Park, but Madison Park will never release them.



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. His stories have been featured in Acidic Fiction, Heater Magazine, Out of the Gutter Online, and Between Worlds.



Review by: Hector Duarte, Jr. 

A Red Headed Woman

This story originally posted here in 2012. Here we are in 2017, which feels like nothing but trouble. As we're not a political site, this story is about something else that's nothing but trouble: a red-headed woman.

A Red Headed Woman by Chris Leek

Quit messin’ and get out the damn car, Tammy.”

She gives me a look like I’d just told her she was fat, and sits pouting in the back seat, with her arms folded. Here I am waitin’ on the biggest villain in Waynesboro, and she’s acting like it’s some kind of church social.

“This ain’t no game. I should never have brung you along.”

“Aww, but Deke…” she starts off with that whining voice, which she keeps special for times when she don’t get her own way. 

“Suppose word gets back to Lester?”

“So who’s gonna tell him? Besides, I can handle Papa all right.”

“Well, I don’t know as I can; your daddy ain’t exactly the forgivin’ type. Look, baby, once I pay off Thornton, we can go any place you want.”

“Can we go up to Vegas? You said you’d take me to Vegas.”

I ain’t sure going to Vegas is much of an idea, it was cards what got me into this mess to start with, but I’m ’bout ready to tell her we can go to the damn moon if it’ll get her out the car.

“Sure we can, baby. Now do I have to come back there and drag you out?”

“You can come back here for somethin’ else if you like,” she says, her big green eyes peeping out from under that strawberry hair of hers, looking at me like she knows every cheap thing I ever done.

Grandpa used to say, a redheaded woman got too much fire in her belly to keep a watch on the one in the stove. He got most of his wisdom from a jar of shine, so I didn’t pay it no mind, not ’til I met Tammy, then it started making sense real fast.

I know my girl is a parcel of trouble, but damn, if she don’t wrap it up pretty. 

I see Buck Thornton’s big yella Hummer, pulling into the rest stop and rolling up behind my junker, so now I got a worse kind of trouble.

“Shit, he’s here, get on will ya?”

“All right, stop your bitchin’. I’m goin’. Give me the keys first; I want my purse.” 

I got $3000 in small bills, stashed under my seat in a brown liquor bag. I won’t tell you how I got it, but givin’ it to that bastard Thornton will mean I get to keep on breathing.

Tammy slams the trunk down and leans in through my window. “Remember, sugar, Vegas, you promised me,” she says, poppin’ me a kiss and strutting off barefoot, towards the restrooms. She’s wiggling that tight butt of hers, ’cause she thinks I’m watching, which of course I am.

Thornton’s stood over by his gas guzzler, chewing on a big cigar and looking pissed that I’m keepin’ him, so I stuff the money in my shirt and step out.

It’s getting on for dark and this place is empty. I got a bad feelin’ in my guts, which ain’t just the chicken and biscuits I ate for dinner. 

“You nailing that little redheaded piece, Deke?” Thornton says, blowing smoke all over me.

I didn’t come for the conversation, so I just look at my boots and don’t say nothin’.

“Hell, you must have more going on downstairs than you got up top,” he says, shaking his head. “So you got what I want?”

“Here it is, Mr. Thornton, every dime.”

I give him the bag; he peers inside, then tosses it in the Hummer.

“You’re short, Deke.”

“No, sir, I ain’t. It’s all there, $3000.”

“It was three last week, today it’s five.”

“That’s bullshit!”

“It’s the recession, Deke. Prices are going up all the time.”

He’s smiling as if it’s a joke he never heard before, but I ain’t laughin’. 

“I don’t got no five, and you know I got no way to get it neither.”

“Well in that case, I’ll just take it in kind, from your gal there.”

He points at Tammy with the wet end of his cigar. She’s busy doing the opposite of what I told her, leaning on the trunk of my Ford, cracking gum and scratchin’ her tit. Say what you want about me, but don’t tell me my old lady ain’t got class.

“That won’t happen, if’n you live to be a hundred,” I tell him and mean it.

“So who’s gonna stop me?” he says, with a big shit-eating grin.

“I reckon I might,” Tammy pipes up.

She’s stood there, all attitude. One hand on her hip and the other on her daddy’s street cannon. Now she’s got me scared fit to shit; that thing’ll stop a hog in a heartbeat, but Thornton got to laughin’ so hard he’s bent over double. When he stands up, the bastard’s got tears rolling down his cheeks and dirty forty-four in his fist. 

“How about you put down the piece, girly, and pull up your skirts; you got yourself a debt to settle.”

Tammy looks at him sideways, like she might be thinkin’ it over.

“All right, mister, if it’s a fuckin’ you’re wantin’, try this on for size.”

Next thing I know, she’s sat on her ass and Thornton’s got a big red hole in him. 
I can’t say for sure that she set out to kill him, not as such, but at that range a .357 don’t give you much in the way of a choice.

“I think I near broke my fanny,” she says rubbing her backside as I go pick her up.

“Shit, Tammy, you done killed him. What in hell we gonna do now?”

“Vegas is north sugar,” she says, climbing up behind the wheel of that big yella monster. “Well don’t just stand there lookin’ retarded. Get in the damn car, Deke.”


Chris Leek doesn't have a bio anymore, but he has been successfully mixing alcohol and prescription meds for the last 2 years.

Review: A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, by Nick Kolakowski

I just turned the final page of Nick Kolakowski’s, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps from Shotgun Honey and I am left with the feeling that I will watching out for his next book every day until news breaks it’s coming out. This novella is a lightening quick read and it’s full of memorable characters, great witty dialogue, and a plot which never lets off the throttle.


The plot is a strange one to sum up, as it’s simple in many ways, yet has quite a few complexities that keep the reader guessing where Kolakowski is taking them next. Bill comes to and finds himself chained up and dangling upside in an apparent robbery attempt. His backstory emerges that he has tried to rob a syndicate of a lot of money and make himself nothing more than a memory. In his attempt to vanish, car trouble forces him to stop in a rundown town and trouble ensues. He finds himself running from a crooked sheriff, a former lover may or may not be planning on killing him, and hitmen sent by the bad guys to retrieve the stolen money. Violence, hilarity, and a shitload of fun for the reader follow in short order.

I have to be honest, Kolakowski is a brand-new author to me. A bit of research tells me he has written some short stories in a few anthologies I have read, but for whatever reason, none of his stories have stuck with me. Sometimes all you need is more an awareness of an author to enjoy their work on a more personal level, so I am making it my business to seek out some of his older work and dive in. I have his noir collection, Somebody’s Trying to Kill Me, locked and loaded on my E-Reader, so I am anticipating a great weekend of reading in the near future.

With the warmer weather approaching, and a few beach days on the horizon, you would be doing yourself a favor to grab a copy of this novella and enjoy it in one sitting while you nurse a cold one.


Recommended.

Sour Sixteen

A sixteenth birthday is a time for a lot of fun and a little mischief.

In The Gutter, moderation is non-existent.

Sour Sixteen by Morgan Boyd


The day I turned sixteen, I wanted to get hammered. My mom was out of town with her piece-of-shit boyfriend, so I had the trailer to myself. I called Jimmy to see if he wanted to hangout, and get fucked up.

Jimmy was a hippy who always had weed. Jimmy arrived wearing a tie-dyed Jerry Garcia shirt and without weed. He said we could scrape his pipe.

That didn’t sound too fucking good, so I took the ten dollars my mom left me for Burger King and we walked to the bus stop across the street from Dave’s Liquors.

Early that morning, before my mom and her worthless dickhead boyfriend got out of bed, I’d swiped half a pack of Marlboro’s from dickhead’s truck. I didn’t feel bad about it either because that prick never does anything for me except give me a ration of shit. I mean, it was my fucking sixteenth birthday and he didn’t even give a fuck.

Me and Jimmy smoked at the bus stop while arguing about music.

“Tool kicks the Grateful Dead’s ass,” I said.

“It’s like apples and oranges, man. They both have their place.”

Mostly, it was square ass dick weeds coming and going from Dave’s. They all either looked like narcs or pussies, so we waited.

It started getting late, the smokes were getting low, and I was getting super impatient, when I saw just the right motherfucker: a dirty ass bum with a rotten beard. He pushed a shopping cart filled with trash across Dave’s parking lot.

“Hey,” I said, crossing the street.

“I didn’t do nothin’,” he said, startled.

His eyes swirled as he clawed at his greasy beard with blackened fingernails.

“Nobody said you did.”

“What you want?”

“Would you do me a favor?”  I asked, holding out the ten spot. “Can you buy me a twelve pack of Bud?”

“Can’t leave my cans,” he said.

“I’ll keep an eye on them for you.”

He thought about it for a moment, scratching that dirty beard with his rotten pickles, until he agreed, but not before he made me promise not to snatch any of his disgusting aluminum. I swore on my father’s grave I’d keep his garbage safe.

He took the ten and limped into the liquor store.

Nervously, I smoked and waited in the parking lot. It felt like an eternity. What the fuck was he doing in there? How god damn hard was it to buy some fucking beer?

Through the large glass windows, I watched the troll wander the aisles, talking to himself, until he finally grabbed a twelver.

At the counter, he tried to pay, but the clerk shook his head and pointed towards the door. They started arguing.

The bum got hella pissed, and I almost shit my pants when he shanked the clerk in the neck with a blade. A geyser of blood spurt from the clerk’s wound as the bum grabbed the beer and fled.

“Holy fucking shit,” I said as the bum handed me the bloody pack of Bud. “What’d you do that for?”

“Self-defense,” he said just before his head exploded.

The bum toppled over his shopping cart, spilling his aluminum cans and brains onto the pavement.

The clerk stood in the doorway, blood squirting from his neck, holding up a big ass .45. He pointed the piece at me, so I dropped the beer, and raised my hands to the sky.

I thought I was a motherfucking goner for sure, but the dying clerk sagged to his knees and keeled over onto his face.

Me and Jimmy hauled ass back to the trailer park, shitting bricks the entire way. Sirens howled in the distance like hellhounds.

“Fuck dude,” I said to Jimmy as I opened the front door. “I really wish you had some fucking weed right about now.”

“I wish you hadn’t ditched the beer,” Jimmy said. “Your fingerprints are all over that twelve pack.” 

“Fuck,” I said, and turned on the light. 

“Surprise,” my mom and her worthless dickhead boyfriend yelled from the living room. They held a store-bought cake. “Happy Birthday.”






Morgan Boyd lives in Santa Cruz, California with his wife, cat, and carnivorous plant collection. He has been published online at Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Near To The Knuckle, Yellow Mama, and Fried Chicken and Coffee. He also has a story forthcoming at Tough.

Two Shots

Imitation as flattery is bound to lack conviction. For conviction, you have to get the accused into court.

Two Shots by Chris McGinley


Rotgut rye. It was the Swede's saloon and the Swede didn't comp anyone. Not magistrates, not highwaymen, not whores, and certainly not lawmen. The Sheriff drank rotgut rye, two shots. The business that lay ahead required it, and it was all he could afford. He had put it off as long as he could. Finally he said, "Well, Swede, I'm off to gather my mother-in-law, for better or ill. See if you can hold down the fort while I'm gone."

Just outside of town the Sheriff checked his Colt one last time and turned to look into the carriage. The shovel was there. Of course it was there, but he had to double check.

The old jeweler lived many miles from town. It was another piece in the puzzle. Why not live above your shop, like other merchants? The Sheriff had spent months on the case after Treasury officials told him that counterfeit fifties had been tracked to places around his county. He eliminated the usual suspects through his own unique manner of interrogation. But punches, kicks, and vice grips yielded nothing, and for the first time in his life, the Sheriff had to use some imagination. He sent cables, telegrams, and letters to wardens and lawmen. He did research. He pored over the counterfeit bills given to him by the Treasury men. Then it finally came to him, like a vision: the jeweler. He learned what “surveillance” meant and made a few visits to the jeweler's shop.  He even bought an engraved ring that surprised his wife as much as the fee surprised him. The jeweler was not cheap. Nor was he just a jeweler.

When he finally reached the little cabin, the Sheriff knocked on the door. He heard a chair scrape on the floor inside. "What brings you way out here, Sheriff?" said the old counterfeiter.

"I'm on my way to fetch my mother-in-law, but I wanted to thank you personally for the ring. My wife loved it." When they shook hands, the Sheriff clapped irons on the man. "Sorry, old man, but I need to be inhospitable."

"Sheriff?"

"It was the mark. Your bills don't have the Bureau of Engraving and Printing mark. Otherwise, they're perfect. Beautiful, really. Why didn't you put 'B.E.P' on the bills?"

"So, that's how you sussed me out?"

"That, and a helluva lotta work. You changed your name in Cheyenne after you did a spell in the Tombs. You're good, old man. The bills are a work of art. I just don't know why you left off the letters. Anyway, you sold your fifties to a couple of peckerwoods who didn’t get very far. You’ll see them soon. They’re in my jail.”  

This was partly true. Two days prior the Sheriff had staked out the little cabin.  The two men left after a short while and he dry-gulched them at a cutoff just a few miles away. They were easy to bury there and it was a nice haul: a bag of the best counterfeit fifties ever produced, but without the mark.  Now, as to whether or not the counterfeiter would see these boys again? Well, not in this life, anyway.

The counterfeiter stood dumbfounded. "I guess this'll make you a big man, Sheriff. My fifties have been in circulation a long time. If it's just the same to you, let's go now. I'm ready to be sent away . . . again."

"OK, but I need the plates first."

Through the window, the counterfeiter saw the carriage outside. He knew.

"Why the plates, Sheriff? I admit to the crime. Take me away. But don't take my plates. They're all I have. I can't stand to think of them as a lawman's trophy. Let them be. No one will ever find them."

"I need the plates, now." The Sheriff kicked him viciously in the shin and the old man wailed. The heavy chains rattled as he fell to the ground.

"You won't have my plates, Sheriff."

A kick to the ribs took the breath from the counterfeiter. The Sheriff drew back his foot for another strike.

"OK, Sheriff, but let me propose something."

The Sheriff laughed mirthlessly. "What's that?"

"I'll engrave the three letters. It's all my bills are missing. It'll only take a few minutes. Let me make them perfect before you send me away. My work is all I have."

Why not, the Sheriff thought. The man would be dead soon, and the plates would be flawless and worth even more. He unhooked him. The counterfeiter hobbled across the room, lifted a floorboard, and produced the plates.

"Look here," he said.  "This is where the letters will go." The Sheriff peered down at the plate, which came up hard across the bridge of his nose. His hands flew up to his face, but when he reached for his Colt it was gone from the holster.

A shot rang out. The Sheriff's gut began to pour blood like a spigot.

"I guess your mother-in-law ain't gonna make that visit anytime soon."

The Sheriff groaned out a tiny laugh, even more mirthless now. Blood began to pool on the scarred wood floor of the cabin. "I'm ended, old man,” he said. “At least tell me why you never added the letters."

"Because the plates weren't made by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Would’ve been dishonest to put that on there.”

Another shot rang out.

Outside, the Sheriff’s horse neighed softly and a wind blew across the plain.

Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, KY and has previously appeared in Out of the Gutter.

Fool's Trigger

Revenge is a long, winding road.

But sometimes, The Gutter shows compassion.

Fool's Trigger by Gabriel Land


The ambush occurred just outside of Santa Fe. What I was doing heading towards Santa Fe instead of further south to Lamy—where the railroad was—was trying to avoid ambush. Didn't work.

My accosters were the Wickart gang, three outlaws I had recent trouble with back in the Texas panhandle. Only one among them actually carried the surname of Wickart, and that was Jessup Wickart. Jessup saw to it to adopt a few brothers. I was outnumbered.

Jessup must have figured that robbing me blind would have incurred less wrath from my employers than killing me. He and his boys took everything. My horse, money, rifle, my nice colt pistol, and the native artifact I was employed to deliver. In all his intellectual glory, Jessup couldn't have known the artifact's worth.

"You can hike south to Lamy. I'll leave you a canteen," Jessup said. "Don't you let me see you in Santa Fe today or ever. I'll shoot you on sight."

Then they left for Santa Fe, I assumed.

My own horse kicking up dust in my face, I was unscathed, which was a mistake on Jessup’s part.

*     *     *

After a few hours of hiking, I made it to Santa Fe.

The Wickarts would be in one of the saloons, no doubt, drinking away my dime over a card table.

I found them at the Rio Bar.

As if nothing had happened between us, I walked in, strode up to the bar, and ordered a whiskey. 

The bartender obliged.

Took Jessup a minute or longer to peel his eyes from his cards and recognize me. My back was to him but my eyes were fixed on the mirror behind the bar.

I heard his chair scoot out as he stood to face me.

"Before you drink that last gulp of whiskey you'll ever taste," he said, "I want you to tell the bartender you can't afford to pay for it."

I raised the glass and drank, figuring it may or may not be my last, depending on what occurred over the course of the next few minutes.

My stomach burning, I turned slow on my stool and stood, facing Jessup in kind.

"What are you going to do, Jessup? Shoot me with my own Colt?" I asked.

Jessup grinned. His teeth were rotten. Had he sneezed, he might have lost a few. "You know what? That's a hell of an idea. I'm gonna' shoot you with your own gun."

He cleared my Colt from his holster and aimed it at me.

I heard the bartender behind me twitch.

Jessup cocked the lever.

I waited for it, figuring I didn't have a lot to lose.

Soon as Jessup squeezed, the Colt blew up in his weathered face. He screamed.

I turned and dove over the bar expecting a hail of bullets from the other two Wickarts. All I heard after landing was more screams.

Looking up, I saw the bartender had a double-barrel shotgun trained at the Wickarts, deterring them from shattering the shelves of good whiskey behind him.

"You go on and get him out of here," the bartender said to the gang. "I imagine medical attention won't be helping him much."

I rose to my feet, standing next to the bartender, and surveyed the scene.

The two were crouched down by Jessup, who was wailing as would anyone with their fingers and face blown off.

Never did get that Colt fixed. Didn't have time to on account of my employment, so I was relying on my rifle, should the need arise. I planned to have a gunsmith attend to the pistol soon as I completed my delivery to Albuquerque.

As the boys gathered Jessup to drag him out, I told them to leave the native artifact.

They fetched it from Jessup's coat pocket and set it on the card table.

I also told them to let my horse stay tied up outside.

After they had cleared themselves from the premises, the bartender lowered his shotgun and told me I better get to mopping up the blood, seeing as how I had drawn it inadvertently.


Gabriel Land is a screenwriter, novelist, and playwright based out of California. His work has been called "expansive" and "immersive" by critics and reviewers. Recently, he published his first novel, a noirish sendup of the superhero genre, called Hammers of Thor. When he is not writing, Gabriel practices urban exploration and conducts studies in psychogeography. More information about his work is available on his website: landgabrielwriting.com.