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Hoarding Death

Even in The Gutter,

some places aren't meant to be broken into.

Hoarding Death by Michael D. Davis



The room looked like a sewer onto which every shitter in the county had flushed at once. I moved along a path lined by trash whispering, “Jesus, this place is horrible.”

“We knew who owned it when we planned this. Didn’t we, Fisk?”

“Yeah, yeah I just didn’t know one person could accumulate this much crap in a lifetime. What is that smell?”

Clark and I shimmied and shook through the chaos, clutter, and utter destruction that was Anna Daryl’s house. We moved between mountains, over hills, and through valleys of items that had been acquired over years of searching yard sales, clearance aisles, thrift stores, and the occasional dumpster. At times, the stench was so bad my nose hairs receded back into my skin in search of a more cohesive environment in which to sprout.

“You know,” Clark said leaning on a stack of newspapers, “my mom calls herself a hoarder, but at least you can see the floor.”

“Holy shit!”

“What, what?”

“It’s a skeleton of a dead… something or other.”

“I think that was a cat.”

“Well, the pussy’s all bones now.”

“Just keep goin’, the safe is supposedly at the back of the house. That's what the old guys said.”

“I wouldn’t trust some old guys’ gossip.”

“But this is concrete. The guys that sit at the gas station told me all about it.”

“What’s a crazy old bat like this doin’ with all that money anyway?” I said.

“Accordin’ to the old guys, her father was loaded then croaked and left everythin’ to her.”

“How do four old guys who do nothin’ but sit around yackin’ at a gas station know this shit?”

“Man, they know everythin’.”

“Oh my god. There’s another one.”

This feline was fresher than its pal. Fur still remained in a few places, bugs were eating where it wasn’t, and its collar still sat on its neck informing us of the departed’s name: Hope.

“I hate this, Clark.”

“Me too, it's like a game of I-spy with dead pussycats. Let’s get the dough and get out of here.”

We walked a few more feet and the piles started to encompass us.

“We reached a dead end,” Clark said.

“Now what?”

“It looks like there’s a door on the other side of this pile.”

“Should we try to find a way around or somethin’?”

“No. I’m goin’ over. I’ll use this crock pot as a foothold and get over to that box of VHS tapes and knickknacks. After I’m over, you go over.”

“Kay.”

Clark got over with little struggle. I got my footing on the crock pot and started up the pile when the crock pot dislodged and I took a header.

“Jesus, fuck’en, shit, Christ,” Clark said, “What the hell are you doin’? You wanna bury me and you both under an avalanche of crap. Be careful for crissakes.”

I got over on my second try using a box of cords as a foothold. Instead of trying to climb down the other side I just kind of slid down.

“What the hell are’ya doin’?” Clark said.

“Slidin’ down.”

“Well, get off your ass. We should be gettin’ close to the back of the house.”

We started trekking our way across the room and got part way when Clark tripped, swore, and fell into a pile of God only knows what.

“Jesus Christ, what’d I trip on?”

“An ankle.”

“What?”

“Look.” I pointed to the base of a large pile where two boney knees peeked out and lead to two chewed away legs.

“Oh, my fuck!” 

“I think I’m gonna hurl,” I said. My stomach suddenly moving like Gene Kelly.

“Don’t you dare you son of a bitch. If you hurl, I’ll hurl, then we both’ll have yacked on this dead ol’bitch.”

He had a point, so I did my best to keep it down. But it wasn’t easy. Clark figured that she was sleeping on a mattress on the floor when a bunch of her own shit fell and crushed her. I didn’t venture a theory.

“She could’ve been here weeks,” Clark said.

“With that smell, I’d say longer.”

“Eh, at least she died like her cats.”

At the back of the room was a little closet. The safe was on the floor. It took us twice as long to make the trip back out of the house carrying it, and we hoped it was gonna be worth it.

We got back to Clark’s place and he started working. He said he’d have it open easy using his brawn and brains. I sat by impatiently as an hour or two spun around the clock before he finally popped the lid. I started celebrating.

“That crazy old bitch...” Clark said.

“What?”

“There ain’t no money. Just another fuckin’ dead cat.”

Michael D. Davis was born and raised in a small town in the heart of Iowa. Having written over thirty short stories, ranging in genre from comedy to horror, flash fiction to novella, he continues in his accursed pursuit of a career in the written word.

A Good Man

A good man is hard to find. 

and a bad man is easy to sniff out.

A Good Man by J.B. Stevens



Jimmy hated feeling the delicate orbital bones splinter, but he didn’t have a choice. He was a good guy deep down. He just needed to be free. It was so damn unfortunate; wrong place, wrong time. If he was out and got a job he could send money to Sarah. A decent man did anything for his kids.

That’s what all this was all about.

He hated fucking up the missionary. It was not fun watching the eyes go chalky. But he knew any man, at least any good man, was willing to kill for his family.

He got the body into the thick brush beside Highway 17. The clothes fit well, except the shoes. He had to keep on his jail-issued sneakers. He looked down at the black polyester slacks, short-sleeve button-down shirt, red-patterned tie, and name tag. It said Elder O’Callaghan- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He grew up in Utah and knew the Mormon Missionary thing inside and out.

He drug the naked body a hundred yards into the fragrant green womb and walked out the other side, clean.

The coyotes would clean up before it started to stink.

The area was rural, not many houses in the humid South Georgia countryside. After walking for an hour, he came on a small beige trailer. A woman sat on the front steps. He couldn’t tell if she was thirty-five or sixty.

She looked him up and down, eager. His twenty pounds of jail muscle, deep tan, and dark features meant conning middle-aged women, or men, was cake. She sat up straight and tamped out her cigarette. There was no wedding ring.

“Hello, sister, you heard the good news?” Jimmy said, extending his hand. They shook warmly.

She held on far too long, smiled, and trembled slightly. “Jesus is my savior, but do you want to tell me more?”

“I would love to, sister. My name is Joe O’Callaghan.”

“I’m Roberta Hansen-Ford. Pleasure to meet you. Give me one moment to straighten up, then you come in and I’ll get you some lemonade.” There was hungry look to her. After fifteen minutes, she called, “The door’s open, sugar.”

Jimmy entered and looked around. It was a standard white-trash homestead. Plastic lining over a cheap plaid sofa accented by a press board coffee table holding a King James Bible and a Book of Mormon. There were some military awards on the walls and a few places where the paint was darker, marking photos recently taken down.

“You getting ready to move, sister? Do you need help?” Jimmy asked, laying it on thick. He hated doing it, but he needed to get out, support his little girl. This was how he did the right thing.

“That is so kind of you to ask, but no. I’m recently divorced. The pictures of my ex-husband were painful. I removed them, helps in the healing.”

This was going to be too easy. “I understand. I see you already have Joseph Smith’s works?” He stood close, letting her feel the heat of his body.

“Oh yes, the Book of Mormon. Another missionary came by a few months back, a nice young man from Mexico. He left the book but didn’t have time to chat.”

“Sometimes my brothers get overwhelmed spreading the news. I promise to take my time, take care of you.”

Jimmy laid in and she ate it up. He talked about church shit for fifteen minutes, then started flirting, light touching. Soon her hand was planted on his upper thigh. She brought out wine. He played good Mormon boy being led astray. She was loving being the temptress, the betrayer, and he let her live it up. After two bottles, she took his hand and led him to the bedroom.

They made love. After, he ran to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and pulled up tears. “I can’t believe that happened! I’m a horrible person!” He said, really selling it.

“No, you were just doing the right thing, bringing me comfort in a time of need, you’re a good man.” She massaged his shoulders. “What can I do to make you feel better, sugar?”

His chance.

“Do you have a car? Can you just drive me home? This is all too much.” He looked down.

“Of course, let me get the keys.”

She walked out of the bedroom.

He looked for something heavy to knock her out, kill her quick. He wasn’t a monster, he didn’t want anyone to suffer. He found a little bust of Julius Cesar. It was solid. He was ready.

SNAP!

It felt like a baseball bat hit him across the back. The world turned white as a thousand hornets buzzed in his ears, then stung him in unison. As quick as it came, it was gone. What the fuck was that?

He heard Roberta. Her voice was different. “Listen to me carefully, where did you get those clothes and why are you wearing prison shoes?”

“Prison shoes? What are yo—”

CRACK! 

The pain returned, overwhelming. His mind stopped. He pissed a little.

“Stop fucking around. That was ten seconds. Next ride is twenty.”

“Ma’am, you got it wrong, please I’m a good person, stop-”

SLAM!

She started crying. She jolted him with the electricity again. His whole world was pain.

He looked up, something small and black was in her right hand.

He saw a flash, but didn’t hear anything. He felt his right eye sting. It didn’t hurt. He heard Roberta crying.

Then the dark came.

The Author lives in the southeastern United States with his wife and daughter. He is a former Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry and currently works for the U.S. Marshals Service. He has been accepted for publication by Mystery Tribune, Story and Grit, The Deadly Writers Patrol, As You Were, and The Report: O-Dark-Thirty. https://twitter.com/IamJBStevens

Brand Protection Services

P.I work is a hustle. 

Make sure you know which side of the bustle you're on.

Brand Protection Services by Gabriel Land


The way I got into PI work was through brand protection services. The more I learned about the industry, the more languages and skills I picked up, the less of that I did. I couldn't move on fast enough, because frankly I didn't give a damn about enforcing IP laws.

Along the way I shut down all kinds of operations. Knockoff everything, be it hand-made or 3D printed. I shut down hackers distributing schematics for pharmaceuticals on the dark web. I shut down warehouses full of Rolex watches that a Swiss algorithm would have struggled to discern from the real deal.

What I parlayed brand protection experience into was skip tracing I wanted to redeem myself by helping missing people get found. Most of us go through a phase when we think we can change the world for the better. Along the way we tend to learn that making a profit is rarely synonymous with making a difference. Usually, they're polar opposites.

The old lady that came to my office off Thanon Surawong had eyes red from crying. She had lost her granddaughter into the labyrinth of Indochina. The granddaughter had a drug problem when she left home. A habit that could have only gotten worse when she flew over, to a place where exotic bazaars made products more accessible than delivery by drone.

I took the job on a per-diem, asking for a reward only if I found the missing individual, dead or alive. The granddaughter's embassy and our embassy, were not helping. They could only contact their Thai counterparts and report that the woman had last crossed the border from Laos back into Siam a month before, and also that she had by then overstayed her thirty-day visa-free entry.

I set a sifter program to task looking for a trail on the web. Within a day, it pinged back that she had hailed a ride with a sharing app right there in Bangkok only a week before, using her social media profile to log in. Knowing that, I hoofed out for leg work, canvassing Silom Road and the clubs on Soi Eleven off of Sukhumvit.  The old lady said her granddaughter's preferred poison was hyperice. Silom was ground zero for a tourist seeking that, on account of the nightlife and the subculture.

With a printed picture of the woman in hand, I canvassed, asking all the peddlers of glass pipes and vaporizers if they recognized her face. None did, so I migrated to the clubs once they opened up, clubs where anything could be had under cover of darkness, for a price. How anyone remembered her face amid the strobes and shadows and toxic atmosphere is beyond me. But one peddler did. He said she was there a week before, offering to trade anything for a gram.

He said he took her to his friend's apartment after the club closed and they partied there until the morning. He left before she did and he gave up the address to me for only a small bribe. Fueled by another breadcrumb, I left the club and headed over to Thong Lor, where the high rise was located. It was a short trip by tuk-tuk, one of the few still piloted by a real human being, or at least a heck of a copy.

At the high rise, I charmed the hostess in the lobby with a wink and a smile. My fluent Thai helped, along with a bashful explanation that I forgot everything, my passport, my phone, everything, up in my friend's condo on the fourteenth floor the night before. She broke protocol to help me. I exploited her desire to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

Once upstairs, I knocked on the door before kicking it down. Inside, I found the granddaughter and what must have been the dealer's friend jacked in by wire, a faster web connection by leaps and bounds than any 5G or WI-FI network could offer. In their other arms were IV tubes that dripped gradual streams of research chemicals into their veins. Nothing, besides maybe a locomotive, hits the CNS harder than a combination of virtual reality and psychopharmacology.

I pulled the lines out of her, against my better judgment. Circumstances would have called for a slow taper, but I didn't have time for circumstances seeing as how by then my visage was caught on CCTV kicking in a door that didn't belong to me. She was moaning in stupor as I carried her out. In the hall, I aimed my pistol at the hostess but the threat made no difference. She'd already triggered the silent alarm.

The pistol came in handy outside, where a police drone hovered above, daring me to try and escape. As soon as I aimed up, it emitted soundwaves that would have burst my eardrums had my bullet flown any slower. The components shattered and cascaded down onto me as I scurried out onto Thong Lor again as fast as I could go with an extra fifty limp kilos slung across my shoulders.

Without any other options, I hopped another tuk-tuk to my embassy, lost in the traffic under cover of the vehicle's canopy, drones scanning above without success. The embassy guards took in the granddaughter but rejected me, so I got arrested by Thai police right there in front of the institution that was supposed to have my back. 

After a week in jail on rice and pork broth, I was released on some sort of bail. The grandmother was there to thank me and when I asked her where her granddaughter was she said her organs had been recycled. She said I had done a good job, and offered me a brand protection contract. The grandmother worked for a corporation that made top notch clones, a company that was prepared to invest generous resources into finding and eliminating knockoffs.



Gabriel Land is a fiction and screenplay writer based out of Bangkok, Thailand. His work usually falls within the genres of science fiction and mystery. In all of his work, Gabriel likes to address futuristic trends and the effects of rapid technological progress on society.

The Man Who Loved Weegee

What's the best way to get the editor's attention?

Make sure it bleeds and leads.

The Man Who Loved Weegee by Tim Gerstmar



Dear editor:

A work of art should stand on its own, but you need a little background here. My grandfather gave me a book of Weegee’s photographs my first year in art school. He wrote a note on the title page: Remember, beauty and terror always go hand in hand. I fell in love with Weegee’s work. It isn’t just the brutality of his crime scenes that makes them so damned gorgeous, it’s the expressions on peoples’ faces captured at the exact right moment. They’re like little windows on a bygone era. Funny how you just can’t recreate the look of a certain historical period, no matter how hard you try. I am not Weegee, but I always wanted to do work that had the same emotional, timeless feeling. I applied for photojournalism jobs with your paper when you guys were on top, but I always got those same expressionless looks and diplomatic responses that made me fucking want to vomit. “Thank you, but these just aren’t for us.”

I kept at it, despite the rejections. I tried to emulate some of Weegee’s portraits. The one that springs to mind is that gorgeous photo of the circus clown taking a nap in his folding chair in front of a steamer chest, an oily smear soaked into the canvas behind his head, a can of turpentine by his feet. There are no brains spread across the floor, no expressions of disbelief or bullet holes. It made me wonder what it was that still gave it that special, Weegee quality. It was the fragility of life in the cradle of death, of sleep, a mortal being caught off guard in a vulnerable moment. Poetic, right? I tried my own shit; candid photos of homeless people sleeping and that sort of thing, but they never looked right. Not only that, but the subjects usually demanded money. I got a few nice shots, but they lacked that vulnerable humanness caught at just the right moment.

I kept thumbing through the musty smelling pages of that beaten hardcover enraptured at the moments in time of a girl with her arm torn off lying on a bridge, a frozen grimace of pain on her face, a sailor holding her still attached arm up, as if declaring some sort of macabre victory, giving her dignity. Death and nostalgia, the body frozen forever after passing through death’s door, still the person but becoming something else.

I still use a film camera. Fuck that digital shit. Real film is where it’s at. It’s the therapeutic click and spring of the shutter that I enjoy, that somehow really makes a great photograph. It’s a crime it took me so long to use my camera as skillfully as Weegee, but I finally have.

I hope you like the pics. I hate the word pics. It sounds cheap and takes the art out of it, but I know you condescending fuckers at the paper don’t speak the same language, so I’ll dumb it down for you. I never thought of doing this shit before and didn’t even think I was capable of it, but I surprised myself.

I met her at a costume party. I was dressed in a tweed suit and a bow tie, a fedora on my head. She was done up like a flapper chick with one of those long cigarette holders in her lips. It was perfect. I didn’t even know what I was gonna do, but she was shit-faced and I managed to get her in the car. How do you like the first photo from my suite? I fucking love the look of disbelief on her face – helped that we got stoned on some serious skunk first, because it made the fear extra real. The next two are great as well. The slightly out of focus, imbalanced compositions really capture her final frenzied moments perfectly. Call it artistic license! It was harder than it looks. I was careful not to damage her face and I didn’t want to have to reposition the body. I wonder if Weegee ever had to move a limb here and there to improve the composition? If he did, he was cheating! Think about that before criticizing my work. Look at the next one in the suite. Have you ever seen anything so perfect? Check out the questioning look in the eyes, like she wanted to know one last thing but couldn’t get an answer. Sure, it’s not exactly a Weegee, but crime scenes are like fingerprints, none are identical. The dead eyes never ask the same questions.

The next few are of the disposal, and one of me at 3 a.m., tweaking and freaking out. I look calm, right? Perfect Weegee material, because there’s that mystery behind the look! I was almost finished, but something was missing. Great art is never perfected; you gotta keep pushing right to the end! The suite needed one last installment. I’m relying on you guys to help me here. I’ve set up the tripod and the remote shutter release for this final self-portrait. I pray the rope catches me in the frame just right. I’m sure you’ll take photos, but for the suite to be perfect, you need mine. No cheating! I’m making everything easier for the cops and the judge and sparing a few assholes jury duty, so you can do me one fucking favor: take the roll down to Ricky’s - they still do film there - and develop it. Then print the article with my photos, in the right order. In case this goes against some sort of morals you’d like to pretend you have, I think your paper will sell more copies and regain some status with my work included. Great work takes a lifetime of dedication. Grandpa was right about beauty and terror going hand in hand. Get here before the cops do, and don’t mind the smell.

Tim Gerstmar is a writer and artist who specializes in crime, horror, and speculative fiction. Originally from Massachusetts, Tim has been teaching English in Asia for over a decade and is currently working in China. He has written for Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Linguistic Erosion, and Yesteryear Fiction. You can find his Bangkok crime novel THE GUNFIGHTERS on www.amazon.com.

HELLO THERE

FFO IS BACK. WAS IT EVER GONE?

Eh...Slightly.

New Procedures and Heads up by Hector Duarte Jr


Hey, everyone. Your trusty editor Hector here. I was gone for a little minute to take a break from this editing thing and the world at large. I hope everyone is doing okay and cranking out flash story ideas to save the world with. 

Now that we're on the subject, I am aware the link to submit directly on the FFO page is broken. Admin knows and they promise me they are fixing it. For the moment submit here: https://outofthegutteronline.submittable.com/submit

That takes you directly to the submission page. Aside from that small change, it's business as usual. I'm publishing flash stories once a week and accepting year-round. So, please send in! It gets lonely looking at a dwindling queue.

Happy summer and writing to all from your forever friend in The Gutter. Cheers, all. 

Review: Broken Ground, by Joe Clifford


Joe Clifford is back with his latest installment of the Jay Porter series, Broken Ground, and some things have not changed. Porter is still a broken and attempting to hold the broken pieces of his life together with a tenuous grip. He is still looking to connect with his son and ex-wife, he still beats himself up for past transgressions, he still has a penance for helping people who are as broken as him, and he is still at war with the Lombardi brothers, who are slowly putting a stranglehold on the town of Lamentation, albeit in the name of progress.

But Porter has made many changes as well. He appears to have more hope in his ability to move past the wrecks his drinking days have left behind, he is more willing to acknowledge the benefits his wife’s new husband has offered him by moving his son closer to his hometown, and he is more willing to dig into his own past and find the elements which could lead him to personal salvation.

Porter is tasked with doing a “favor” for a desperate sister; locate his missing sibling and make sure she is safe. Along the way Porter finds the missing sister is connected to the Lombardi brothers and their attempt to hide the consequences of their willingness to sell their souls for a profit. Digging deeper, Porter learns many others may have paid the ultimate price due to the brother’s greed and dishonesty. With dead bodies piling up and his few allies believing he may have finally lost his sanity, Porter will stop at nothing to bring the Lombardi brother’s illicit acts to light.

From its confessional opening, to its ending which promises we have many more adventures with Porter to enjoy, this offering showcases the continued growth of Jay Porter as a main character and Joe Clifford as a writer. Clifford’s ability to offer a blueprint of a broken man trying to piece himself back together in a world only too quick to recall his previous failings is a thing of insightful beauty. Clifford is at the top of his game here and shows many signs of why he is a top echelon writer in today’s literary landscape. His writing is so full of truth, hurt, and hope it is painfully beautiful to read. This book is something special to behold.

Highly recommended

The Long Dance Podcast, with Eryk Pruitt

For the last two years, Eryk Pruitt has been down a rabbit hole with a few comrades trying to get to the bottom of a forty-seven year-old mystery. Every time the truth was in their grasp, the mystery got a little deeper.

The Long Dance Podcast chronicles their efforts to try to see justice done in one of the more horrific unsolved murders in North Carolina.

Here's a link to the podcast, enjoy ...
THE LONG DANCE PODCAST


Chairs I Have Sat In

Life is a long succession of hot seats. . .

Be sure to greet each one with a smile.

Chairs I Have Sat In by Paul Smith


I have sat in lots of chairs. I don’t really remember my first one. It was probably a high chair. Having had my last look at a picture of it, I can sort of piece together the circumstances. I was, of course, a toddler at that time. The snapshot is of mother feeding me porridge. No one eats porridge anymore. I am leaning forward, a spoon with porridge is coming my way. I vaguely remember crying loud and hard to get more porridge, and then spitting it all up, or pooping, laughing with glee as mother has to tend to me.

The next chair I remember is a wooden school desk. You crawl in one side, plunk your butt down, and put your books in a drawer-like thing under the desktop. In summer it was hot and your rear end sweated a lot. I would sit in class and wonder why I was there, wishing I could be outside playing. Then I remembered – I was redoing my grade, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. in summer school. As I got older in high school, the desks changed. To begin with, they were quite small. They got slimmer and more modern-looking, made of a plastic material that resembled pressboard. Books were thrown on the floor under them. I remember being told how all this school was going to help me one day.

After that I got a job and had a plain wood chair in a cubicle. It had no padding. The cubicle had no window, just a view of more cubicles. I didn’t like it. Others like me had chairs like me, cubicles like me, lives like me. I didn’t like them. I wanted a better chair. I discovered that being really nice to my boss and really snarky to the others that had chairs like me helped as I worked my way up through the ranks. Soon I had a slightly bigger chair with a removable pad for my posterior. After that there was a chair with padding actually attached to it. My butt really liked it. Down the hall from our maze of cubicles was the Board Room, where I heard there were big comfy chairs. That’s where my boss’s butt sat. I sort of liked my boss’s butt, but I also sort of resented it. I found out ways to make myself look good on paper, fiddling with figures in my cubicle. As much as I liked my chair with the padding stapled to its seat, I knew there was a better chair for me down the hall.

By hook or by crook my rear end finally made it into the Board Room, right at the head of the table, with the best chair, one that resembled a throne. It had a high back, arms, and two spiky things on its back that resembled steeples. I had made it. But I also noticed those who sat at my feet. They all had the same look in their eyes, a look of envy, a look that told me they wanted my chair for their rear ends. I couldn’t let them have it, of course, so I did all in my power to hang onto what I’d worked for. There were others who began to look good on paper, those who were copying the things I did, and there were those who caught on to what I’d done to get where I got to. One of them, an accountant, had the balls to suggest I’d been sly or crooked. I hadn’t, of course. I was just trying to get a bigger chair, that’s all. So I had him snuffed out in the freight elevator one day. Then others came forward, those with lesser chairs than me, and accused me of something called premeditation. I have discovered that jealousy and envy play a big part in our lives and motivate people to sabotage those in bigger chairs. Alas, after the trial, my new chair was not a chair at all, but the edge of a bunk in a Correctional Facility.

There was one more chair to go, though.

The chaplain in this facility explained to me how my last chair would work. I would be taken to it, strapped in it, a thing put over my head, and then get a thunderbolt of electricity, and I would die after getting my last meal. I nodded at all of this, not really caring how big it was or how comfy. My focus is on what the chair actually did. It killed you. As he went over the details, my butt started to sweat. All those chairs! We talked about regrets. I had lots of them, starting with my high chair. Why didn’t I have a better high chair? Or maybe a worse one? If something had been different, I wouldn’t have wound up like this. It started with my mother, shoveling all that food down my throat. What was going through her mind?  The hour got late, and the chaplain said he was going. One last question, though. What did I want for my last meal?

Ha! I’ll bet you think I’ll say porridge. That would be so neat and clean, wrapping up my life in a little package with a bow on it. Like life gets all summed up so that there is meaning to it. Ah! How smart, how clever, how symmetrical! But things were all going to end tomorrow without a neat tidy ending. They would stop with an apostrophe, a question mark, an asterisk, something like irony. Now, at the tail-end of a regretful life, I thought hard about all I wanted and had gotten and decided what would be the most logical choice.

“So what’s it going to be, my son – steak?”

“No.”

“Lobster?”

“No.”

“Osso Bucco?” 

“No.”

“What, then, my son?” the chaplain spoke, looking sad.

I patted the metal surface of the bunk I sat on and smiled back with my own sad eyes.

“I’ll have the rump roast.”



Paul Smith is a civil engineer who has worked in the construction racket for many years. He has travelled all over the place and met lots of people from all walks of life. Some have enriched his life. Others made him wish he or they were all dead. He likes writing poetry and fiction. He also likes Newcastle Brown Ale. If you see him, buy him one.

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 Heatley



Recommended Read: LastYear’s Man - Paul D Brazill


If you’re reading this column, chances are you’re more than familiar with the man I took it over from, one Paul D Brazill.


Yes, lookit, I know you all miss him but you’ve got me now, okay? At least our first names are the same, right?

Let’s talk about his new book, Last Year’s Man, published June 22nd by All Due Respect. This, man, this is one hell of a book. Honestly, I feel like I can’t say enough good things about it, but since I’m recommending you all read it, I’m gonna give it a try.

Here’s my blurb:

‘It’s all here, everything you’ve come to expect from a Paul D. Brazill caper - the fast pace, the witty banter, the grim humour and the classic tunes - except this time he’s REALLY outdone himself. Unlike the lament in the song the title takes its name from, Paul’s best years are surely still ahead of him.’

We find ourselves in the company of an ageing hitman, opening with a scene that reminded me of Elmore Leonard’s Killshot (so we’re already off to a good start). After something of a botch in this job, our hero heads north east, to his hometown, whereupon we encounter a wild cast of colourful characters (the protagonist’s mother being a standout). Moments of surrealism are peppered throughout, with just a hint of paranormal activity. As stated in my blurb above, the song choices are a cut above, with Roxy Music featuring heavily.

Having grown up in a north east seaside town, maybe that’s why this book resonates with me so much. But you know what? I don’t think so. I think it resonates cos it’s so well-written, because it’s a damn good story, and because it’s so much FUN.

I think this may well be Mr Brazill’s best book yet, and that’s saying a lot. But, as Les Edgerton states:

‘Paul D. Brazill is the Crown Prince of Noir.’


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

Paul Heatley lives in the north east of England. His books include Fatboy, The Motel Whore, and  An Eye For An Eye. His short stories have appeared online and in print for publications such as Thuglit, Horror Sleaze Trash, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey,the Pink Factory, and the Flash Fiction Offensive, among others. He also contributes music reviews to R2 magazine, sometimes. 

Left-Handed Compliment

When you're getting too old for the job,

Count on The Gutter to put things into perspective.

Left-Handed Compliment by Gregory Von Dare



The problem with Chicago is not the smell, it’s the climate. Although, if you lived along Halstead Street in the neighborhood that used to contain the vast Chicago Stockyards, a hot August day could be so ripe and pungent it would make your eyes water. People in the city and nearby suburbs often say: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.” How true. Wedged between the Great Plains and the Great Lakes, Chicago has an uncertain atmosphere.

Sadly, over the long haul, those cold, damp, windy days destroy your body with rheumatism and arthritis. My mother had knuckles like walnuts by the time she retired. On the day before a big rainstorm, the over-fifty crowd walks around moaning and rubbing their shoulders, wrists, elbows, and knees. Because it affects just about everyone, it fades into the background. But it can tip the scales in certain situations. For example, take Marcelo “Mano” Amano, a notorious contract killer from the 1950s.

Amano was known for his unique MO, called “the handshake.” He was a short, wide guy with no neck, squinted eyes behind horn-rim glasses, and a thin, rubbery mouth. He favored a black pork-pie hat and a dark gray rain coat. Mano would walk up to his victim, grinning and friendly, greet them, and stick out his hand, ready to shake. Like a magic trick, the victims always looked at Mano’s offered right hand, missing the stiletto he held in his left.

While Mano had his mark’s right hand in a vice-grip, he would pull them close and plunge the knife into their rib cage from the back, either directly into the heart or piercing some of the big arteries there. Mano would leave the knife in his victim as kind of a signature. He would wipe it off with a hanky, let them slide down to the ground, and simply walk away. I guess he got the knives wholesale.

Mano was one of the old-school gangsters who lived in the big Italian neighborhood off Taylor Street. The same area they bulldozed many years later to build the university campus. He had a very long run for someone in his chosen field. When he turned sixty-five, he planned one last hit before scramming down to Florida, but things did not go according to plan. Mano was supposed to hit Sean “Concrete” Kelly, an O’Banion mob guy and sleazy building contractor. Kelly was about thirty years younger and built like a rodeo bull.

Rolling black clouds darkened the skies when Mano learned that Concrete Kelly would be at a job site in Cicero that morning, where they were enlarging a shopping mall. So, he parked his old Buick across the street, put the knife in his left hand, and got out of the car, all smiles. He saw the big, broad-shouldered Kelly standing next to a churning cement truck and walked in that direction, grinning and whistling a happy tune like he always did. Out went his right hand as he stepped up to Kelly, but then things ran off the rails. Yeah, Kelly took Mano’s right hand in his own but he gripped it so hard that Mano’s arthritis sent a jolt of pain up one arm and down the other. It hurt him enough that he dropped his trusty knife.

Not realizing it, Mano tried to stab Kelly with his empty left hand and that just made “Concrete” mad. He punched Mano in the face, now realizing what the visit was all about. With his Irish up, Kelly lifted the short Italian off the ground and tossed him down fifteen-feet, into a pool of wet cement pouring into a casing for the mall’s foundation. Mano had a look of complete shock and disbelief on his face as the sticky gray cement covered him over. Police could find no witnesses.

There are people who claim this episode gave someone the idea to pull a similar stunt on Jimmy Hoffa years later. Whether or not this is true, I can’t say. But I will tell you that, like “Mano” Amano, Hoffa’s arthritis is not bothering him anymore.

Gregory Von Dare is a writer and dramatist specializing in crime and speculative fiction, often with a humorous or ironic twist. He attended Chicago City College and the University of Illinois. While living in Los Angeles, he worked for Universal Studios, Disney, and Sony Pictures as a talent manager and developer. He studied writing with Edgar winner John Morgan Wilson. Recently, his short stories were featured on the Soft Cartel and Horror Tree websites. Greg is an Affiliate Member of Mystery Writers of America. He lives outside Chicago where certain people will never find him.

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 Heatley


I’ve been a big fan of Tom Leins’ work for a long time now. It’s gritty, it’s visceral, it’s stomach churning - everything you want from crime fiction, British or otherwise. And you know what else? He’s prolific as all hell, so if you wanna check out a short story of his to find out if he’s for you, you won’t have to look far.
No, seriously, go to one of your favourite publishers of short fiction - Flash Fiction Offensive, Spelk, Near To The Knuckle, Shotgun Honey - and check.

I’ll wait.

Okay, cool, you’re back? Yeah, I knew you’d be back.

So, Meat Bubbles & OtherStories, published by Near To The Knuckle. Set in Tom’s by now infamous Paignton locale (a place he’s really made his own) and featuring his recurring private eye Joe Rey, what we’ve got here are a selection of stories that run every kind of brutal gamut you can imagine: we’ve got hookers, gangsters, crooked cops, neo-Nazi’s - oh boy, the list goes on! Word of advice, though, don’t make the same mistake I did and read this if your stomach is giving you trouble. When Tom contacted me for a blurb, I’d left work early that day feeling like there were snakes in my gut and I was gonna throw up (I did, if you’re interested. There were no snakes.). However, I excitedly told him yes and to send it straight over.

Well.

Oh boy.

Okay, so, it did nothing for my physical health or feelings of queasiness, but I had a hell of a time reading it!

That blurb I mentioned? Here it is:

‘Tom Leins’ Paignton is close to Hell on earth. His battle-scarred PI Joe Rey is navigating every circle of it here - hookers, pimps, pornographers, killers, crooked cops, and every other grotesque you could care (or not) to imagine make up the colourful characters in this grim collection of noir from one of the premier writers of gut-wrenching dark fiction currently at work. One day people will talk about the fiction of Tom Leins the same way they talk about Derek Raymond’s - get on board now and when that day comes you’ll be able to brag you were round at the start.’

However, I think my favourite line comes from Matt Phillips (author of Accidental Outlaws):

‘If you had to kill someone with a book, you’d use this one.’

So there you have it. If all this and those short stories I earlier advised you to check out (and you totally did, right??) haven’t won you round, I don’t know what will!


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

Paul Heatley lives in the north east of England. His books include Fatboy, The Motel Whore, and  An Eye For An Eye. His short stories have appeared online and in print for publications such as Thuglit, Horror Sleaze Trash, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey,the Pink Factory, and the Flash Fiction Offensive, among others. He also contributes music reviews to R2 magazine, sometimes.