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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. 

There Are Worse Things he Could Do

Music festivals are meant to highlight peace, love, and empathy. . . 

At least back in 1969 they were.

There Are Worse Things he Could Do by David Nemeth




Cody sold drugs in the summertime moving from one music festival to the next. Sitting in a  camping chair under a large canopy, he lit a joint and listened to a Bob Marley mix on his portable speakers. The music was loud enough, and the weed was good enough. Alone they might not attract buyers, but the combination of the two proved irresistible.

Selling drugs at festivals was easy as the cops didn’t care about dealing or drug use. They were there just to keep everyone safe. Selling drugs at festivals was lucrative. It paid for the camping and tickets, and it paid for his empty apartment back in Philadelphia.

“What’s up?” said a voice.

Cody looked up to see a tall lanky kid somewhere in his mid-twenties. He wore flip-flops and dirty cargo shorts held up by a rope belt. Shirtless, he had thin colorful scarves draped around his neck and his wrists were covered with all sorts of bracelets. His skin was deeply tanned.

“Yo,” said Cody.

“Can I get a hit?”

Cody stretched out his hand towards his new hippie friend and handed him the joint.

“Thanks.”

Cody pointed to a chair next to him. “Take a load off.”

Less than five minutes later, the kid purchased some E and a gram of bud, and had disappeared. Cody knew two things: he’d see the kid again and he’d tell his friends. It was only Thursday and Cody felt good.

***

On Friday, more kids set up camp at the festival, filling the fields with tents of red, blue, green, and orange. Cody straightened out his campsite and came across the warning paper the festival organizers handed out to campers as they drove in. There had been talk that some festival goers had been killed over the last few years, but it was only rumor and with hundreds of festivals over a five-month period, who really knew what was going on. Cody knew the kids wouldn’t care about the warning even with a state police logo on it. They were immortal at this age, immune to everything from bad Molly to coke cut with laundry detergent. Warning or no warning, the kids would still come to him; they always did.

He set up a game of Stump that a group of kids were playing. Once in a while, Cody would join in on the game, flip the hammer, grab the handle in mid-air and swing down on a nail, but never too hard. It’s never good for a drug dealer to win at these games. He even gave out hot dogs, veggie sausage, and Natty Light. The bigger the party, the more drugs he sold. It amazed him out ill-prepared these kids were when they came to a festival. But they always had money for drugs.

***

Early Sunday morning and well after the last EDM show, Cody sat alone, drank a session IPA, and listened to some chilled House. He thought about when he was going to head out. He had two weeks till his next festival and he was beat after four back-to-back festivals.

Nate stopped by. He was around Cody’s age, somewhere in his mid-to-late thirties and he had bought some weed yesterday. Or was it the day before? The days blended together.

Cody offered Nate a cold IPA instead of the shitty Natty Lights he gave to the kids. They talked about the shows they’d seen and whether they were too old for this scene.

After 30 minutes or so, Nate asked for a gram of coke. Cody got up to get it. When he returned, Nate was nowhere to be found.

“Hey,” said Cody in a loud whisper.

“I’m taking a piss,” said Nate from the other side of his neighbor’s car. “The beer went right through me.”

Cody sat down.

Nate came back and asked Cody if he could have another beer. 

Cody nodded.

Nate walked over to the cooler that was slightly out of Cody’s reach and with one swift movement slammed the Stump hammer on Cody’s head. 

Cody mumbled something and then another blow came down on his skull. Somewhere around the fourth or fifth blow, Cody was dead and on the ground.

Nate removed the wallet, car keys, and a wad of bills from the dead man’s pockets. He grabbed the bag of coke still gripped by the lifeless hand. He dragged the body into a tent and zipped it closed. No one would find the body till Monday afternoon at the earliest.

Nate got into the dead man’s van and drove away.

David Nemeth lives in Wilmington, Delaware with his wife, son, and two dogs. He is a graduate of Emerson College with a BFA in Creative Writing. He is the editor of Unlawful Acts, a columnist at Do Some Damage and has written for The Thrill Begins.

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

STARTING IS HARD


Starting anything is hard.
            A short story? Hard.
            A novella? Hard.
            A novel? Hard.
            An article? Hard.
            A new job, a new friendship, relationship - a new anything. HARD.
            I’ve kind of hummed and hawed on this article for a couple of weeks now, not really sure what to do with it. And I guess all I can really do, is get down to it. Tear off that plaster and get it over with.
            Hi.
            My name’s Paul Heatley and I’ll be running Brit Grit Alley now.
            When Paul D Brazill (who’s done a great, GREAT job for a number of years now) first approached me about taking it over, I said yes instantly. I mean, what an honour, right?
            Then panic set in.
            How am I supposed to match up to what Brazill’s been doing?
            Well, I can’t. And I won’t try. All I can do is take what he’s created and run with it in my own way. Naturally things will be different round here, and it might be a bit ropey at first while I find my feet. But shit, stick with me and let’s see where we can take this.
  

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 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. His fiction is dark and bleak, populated with misfits and losers on a hellbound descent, often eschewing genre and geography to create a nightmarish vision of a harsh and uncaring world. His books The Motel Whore, The Vampire, and The Boy form a very loose trilogy all set in the same nameless town and featuring recurring characters. 

A Saturday Funeral

The Gutter's golden rule?

Don't let your mouth write a check your butt can't cash.

A Saturday Funeral by Michael Davis



Billie Lou sat on a folding chair in the funeral tent, not crying, just looking at the hole that held her husband. She was alone.

Working the funeral—and over time at that— Merl and Kipp sat a ways away waiting to fill the hole.

“Sum bitch, Saturday’s practically the fuck gone,” said Kipp. He was sitting under a large oak breaking sticks into twigs.

“Ya need to learn sum fuckin’ patience. All ya young people do.” Merl was laying in the shade with his hands on his stomach and his hat brim over his eyes.

“Fuck patience, been an hour since everyone gone. Pfft. Even the priests gone.”

“Kid, her husband just died.”

“Died my asshole. She murdered the poor fuck.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Hell I don’t, everyone knows.”

“It was an accident, Kipp.”

“How many wives blow off their husband’s head while cleanin’ a sawed off?”

“Could happen. If he’d survived he’d tell ya was an accident.”

“If he survived?! She blew his head off!”

“M’kay just sayin’”

“Just sayin’, how the bastard supposed to survive wif’out a god damn head!”

Merl moved his hat off his eyes. “God damn keep your voice down. Want her to hear you?”

“I don’t care she does or not. He couldn’t survive.”

“Chicken did.”

“What?”

“Chicken lived month’s wif’out his head. Fed him in the neck,” Kipp said.

“Bullshit, nothin’ can live without a head.”

“I went school with Maynard Kyle. Asshole, no great loss.”

“Maynard the husband or wife?”

“Husband. Billie Lou Kyle’s the wife.”

“You say he’s an asshole. That’s how you know Billie Lou there killed him?”

“What?”

“No asshole ever died accidentally wif’out it bein’ murder. Asshole’s motive.”

“All right. You die, I make sure the cops are on it.”

“Damn right, God when she gonna go? Gotta take down the tent, chairs, cleanup, fill the fuckin’ hole, look like it gonna rain, gonna be muddy as shit out here.”

“Let her be.” Merl sat up against the tree.

Kipp stood up. “I’m gonna go tell her she’s gotta leave.”

“Let her be. You don’t know crap she’s been through.”

“What? Murderin’ her husband?”

“Naw, they had a boy. Houston. He was scrawny kinda odd but a good kid. Houston was bein’ tortured at school by this Kooter kid.”

“Cooter? Like cooter?”

“With a K. Last name. Him and his friend tortured Houston. One day as a joke or somethin’ they set him on fire. Dragged him out onto an empty field, doused him, lit him. Houston went into a coma, was bad on Maynard and Billie Lou. She knew who was pickin’ on her son, so she went to Kooter’s house. The way I heard it, Kooter and his friend were playin’ basketball in the driveway. She comes up with a tire iron swinging. The friend no longer walks right. Kooter’s in a home now. Can’t even piss without help.”

“Jesus. Her kid die?”

“Yup.” Merl lit a cigarette. “So don’t be botherin’ her. Hunh…she’s comin’ our way.”

Merl stood as Billie Lou walked up. “Can I have one of those?” she asked.

“Sure.” Merl gave her a cigarette and lit it. “Sorry about May. He’s in a better place, Billie.”

“Yeah. Thanks, Merl.”

“Pfft.” Kipp shook his head.

“You got somethin’ to say, boy?” Billie Lou said.

“Why don’t you go start foldin’ chairs, Kipp?” Merl said. 

“No, you got somethin’ to say, have the balls to say it,” Billie Lou said.

“Alright,” Kipp said. “Sorry for your loss but everyone knows you killed ‘em.”

Billie Lou sighed. “He was miserable, drunk most the time. He wanted me to do it. And, everyone can kiss my ass with what they know. Thanks for the cigarette, Merl.”

Kipp said, “Bet her kid was askin’ for it too,” as Billie Lou walked past.

Billie Lou put her cigarette out in Kipp’s eye as Merl started towards the funeral tent. “Just don’t kill him, Billie Lou,” he said. “You’d just be makin’ more work for me.”



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 from flash fiction to novella he continues in his accursed pursuit of a career in the written word.

A Misunderstanding

When the piper comes knocking, 

You better be sure everyone's on board to answer.

A Misunderstanding by Travis Richardson


After the call ends, Russell cannot stop his hands from shaking. He’s screwed up before, but nothing on this scale. “Fuck me.” He sprints up the stairs. Entering his bedroom, he wakes his wife, Phoebe.

“What’s happening?” she asks.

“We gotta leave in ten minutes.”

She bolts out of bed. “Why?”

“A misunderstanding with Victor. Get the boys packed.”

“Can’t you call him and fix it?”

“I’ll fix it later. Go!”

She races to the boys’ room.

Inside their walk-in closet, Russell opens the gun safe. He stuffs a Beretta M9 behind his back and shoves a sawed-off shotgun along with ammo into a duffel bag. From the floor safe, he pulls out a manila envelope stuffed with $20,000. He runs to the boys’ room. 

Phoebe holds their crying two-year-old, Kenny, while packing diapers.

Russell Jr., the five-year-old, stands with his arms defiantly crossed. “I’m not going.” 

Russell points at his namesake. “Five minutes and your ass better be in the car.”

Junior’s eyes widen. He grabs his backpack and stuffs it with clothes.

“Phoebe, pack your…” Russell hears an approaching car. “Take the boys to our bathroom. Stay there until I tell you it’s safe. Go.”

She grabs both boys and rushes to the master bedroom. 

Russell pulls out the Berretta and runs downstairs to look out the window. There’s a Cadillac in the driveway. Victor’s hit squad. Shit. The family took too long. Should’ve ran solo. Russell sprints to the back of the house.

Two masked men smash open the back door and rush inside.

Russell pops off a few rounds and flees to the staircase before automatic gunfire peppers the kitchen. He nails one with a center mass shot. Kind of looks like Warren. If he’s wearing a bulletproof vest, like they usually do, he’ll bounce back.

Lying prone on higher ground, he waits, hearing Kenny squealing from inside their bedroom and Phoebe trying to shush him. God, his poor wife and all he’s put her through. Married to a cop, then the scandal. Russell beat a criminal conviction not because he was innocent, but on a technicality. She stood by him and lost all her friends. When he took over security for infamous underworld boss, Victor Fugate, she wasn’t happy, but accepted it. The money helped too. But would she accept this mistake?
   
The master bedroom door opens. Phoebe peeks out. Jr. must be watching his brother.
 
“Go back inside,” he whispers.

Her head shakes no. She is about to speak when a dark body streaks across the living room. Gunfire erupts, blowing the banister to pieces. Phoebe disappears behind the door. Russell takes three quick shots. The man drops behind a couch. He missed the head but nailed his body.

Hopefully, he’ll be incapacitated for a while. Enough for an escape. There’s one more man to go if Victor sent his standard hit squad. An armed driver listening through wireless microphones. Which driver though? Scott’s an expert behind the wheel, but not with a gun. Enrique, however, is an ex-Green Beret trained with a skill set that eclipses Russell’s ex-cop background.

Phoebe reappears in the doorway, bouncing a tear-streaked Kenny. “Did you get them?”

“Get back inside. I’ll tell you when it’s safe.”

“Ugh,” a voice says behind the couch. “This hurts like hell, Russell. I think my ribs are broken.”

Jimmy. A good kid for a hitter. Only two-thirds sociopath.
 
“You’re shooting a full automatic at me, and I don’t have a bulletproof vest. Kind of hard to feel bad for you.”

“Nothing personal. Following orders, you know. And man, is Victor pissed off at you.”

“What did Russell do?” Phoebe shouts.

Russell glares at her, but she ignores him.

“Don’t know, Mrs. Williams. He was crazy mad, though. Last time he was this pissed was when he thought J-Dog was boning his wife.”

She glares at Russell, eyebrows raised. 

He shakes his head. “It’s just a misunderstanding,” Russell says. “I swear.”

Phoebe scans Russell’s face like she has X-ray eyes. 

He can tell she wants to believe him, but can’t. “Believe me, baby,” Russell says.

She blinks, pulls out her phone, and closes the door. 

Relief washes over Russell. He turns his attention back to the couch. “Hey, Jimmy, who’s driving? Scott or Enrique?”

“If you’re hoping for Scott, you’re SOL.” Jimmy laughs, then groans. “Damn, this hurts.”

Wonderful. Russell will have to watch the upstairs windows too. On the flipside, this assault is taking minutes, not seconds. At some point, they’ll have to jet before the cops come.

In spite of his ringing ears, he hears creeping footsteps below. Must be Warren, somewhat recovered. Probably setting up a final attack. Russell rolls away from his position and crawls into his sons’ room. It’s got a window near an old oak tree. The perfect entry point for an invader. He takes the shotgun from the bag. The hallway landing where Russell had been explodes with bullets, wood, and plaster. A pair of military boots crashes through the window followed by Enrique. Russell blows his head off with the shotgun.

Warren climbs up the stairs. Diving, Russell gets his second headshot. From behind the couch, Jimmy releases a flurry of lead from his modified AR-15. A bullet hits Russell’s left shoulder and splinters puncture his face. The shotgun clatters down the stairs. He shoots two rounds into Jimmy before his Berretta clicks empty.

Reeling in pain, Russell runs to the master bedroom for his family. Phoebe stands in front of him, tears streaming down her face. A glowing phone drops from her hand to the floor. 

Russell sees a video of himself and Victor’s wife sweating and grunting, wearing only smiles. Victor must have sent it. Speechless, he looks at Phoebe.

She raises the little Colt he bought her years ago. “You put us in danger for a lousy fuck?” 

“I can explain.”

“A misunderstanding, right?”

She fires. The bullet hits center mass, just as he trained her, straight through the heart. 



Travis Richardson has been a finalist for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. His novella LOST IN CLOVER was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. His second novella, KEEPING THE RECORD, came out in 2014. He has published stories in crime fiction publications such as JEWISH NOIR, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, and All Due Respect. www.tsrichardson.com