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Hard and Good Times

There are blind dates, and there are blind drunk dates. 

Our hero seems to have found an uncomfortable hybrid of the two.

Hard and Good Times by Matt Mattila

He sat alone in the room and thought about death again.

David could pretend he wasn't really alone. There was the girl he’d met two weeks ago. The forty-something plastic blonde who promised to blow him for forty bucks even. She had a hotel room. He had booze. He ran out of money. She ran out of blowjobs.

It didn't fit in the whiskey budget.  They could stay another night. He slipped a fifty through a hole under the bulletproof glass--one of the new ones, paper golden, the security ribbon almost a hologram if he let himself stare at it too much.

It has his last big bill. He was down to ones and fives in his wallet now. He didn't believe it, but he knew it was true. It was only the fifteenth of the month. He wouldn't get another check till the second.

He tried doing the math in his head, to see how long he had left. He used to be a cashier, so he should be good at this kind of thing. That cold systematic numbers-based logic. It was a good job that put him through bartending school. Bartending was a good monotonous job that let him flirt with drunk girls and sample high-end vodkas at least twice a night.

Maybe he sampled too much. Maybe that was why they let him go.

Maybe that’s what got him here, the ratty cot with stale sheets and bedbugs he felt crawl on him in his sleep, the box of Oregon wine half empty on its side, crushed under his left arm on the floor. He knew he wouldn't make it. He might as well just lay here and dissolve into the cot sheets. Maybe he’d split a last glass with the girl in the bathroom. She’d stopped puking a half-hour ago. He listened through the ringing in his ears (maybe the manager calling to say the cops were coming) for shallow breathing. Nothing.

Maybe she’d just passed out.

He had to check. He had to make sure.

The bathroom door was still open. The fan still rattled inside. No bloodstains, nothing on the carpet except stale booze and dried vomit specks and crumbs from whoever had the balls to stay here last.

David wished he had a wheelchair. He hated walking hungover. He stood up too fast. His legs sagged under him, weak, sacks of blood. One ankle nearly snapped. He almost slammed into the wall beside him. He dug in dirty nails and hung on till the world stopped spinning and his vision cleared.

Bricks in his skull. The heart he hadn't felt in three days raced and beat against his ribs. There were icicles in his chest and they were stabbing his lungs.

This was the part where he called her name. 

He swayed into the wall. The booze seeped out of his skin. A lifetime of hangovers fried his brain.

He couldn't remember her name. He couldn't remember how long she’d been laying here. He didn't recognize that hair color. He couldn't recall how he met her.

He opened his mouth to shout “Hey” and his stomach turned. The acid burned his throat. He coughed for his life. Maybe that could keep everything down. He coughed loud enough, maybe, to wake her up.

The hand slipped off the wall. He stopped himself from crashing into it. He could breathe now--shallow, wheezy, painful. He put one foot forward and dragged himself against rough old wall and gave himself road rash.

End of the wall. Cheap wood door-frame. The bathroom.

Flickering bulb cast piss yellow lights on the girl on the floor. The tile was cracked and let rotting wood seep through. The glass shower door cut into the opposite wall had cracked sideways, hair between sharp tracks.
She laid on the floor with her shirt half off of her chest and sagged dirty jeans half off her waist. Her arms laid by her sides, palm up. Long legs stubbled with black hair jutted out an inch from the door.

David clawed the door-frame to keep his balance. He avoided looking at the vomit caked under her face. Maybe she’d fallen. He never remembered a bang or a moaning from the floor. No retching. Just thick coughing.

There was nothing now. She might have been sleeping. She might have passed out. She might have passed out with something solid stuck in her windpipe.

His head almost felt good enough to actually stand. His scarred heart raced. He had to check.

He could only let himself live if he woke her up.

He let go of the wall. The fall was terrifying. He crashed to the floor, landed hard, didn’t bother trying to get back up. The world was still spinning. He crawled on his hands and knees toward her. The cracks in the tile scratched his palms.

Then beside her, avoiding the crust under her mouth. One  shaking hand to pretend to balance him, the other on her back, searching.

There’s something here.

It was faint. Maybe in his head. Maybe she’d been dead all day and the flies were waiting for their invitation. His pulse raced. His eyes sagged, blurry.

There was a heartbeat. Life. One last chance.

David made a fist. She should be dead. Every drunk who passed out like this deserved to die and rot on the floor.

He shoved his hand down on a bony back, a good shot straight at a floating rib.

She should have opened her eyes and howled.

Something inside the bitch moaned and mumbled and went back to snoring.

She was alive. His keys were in his pocket. His car was at home. Somewhere. A million miles away.

He crawled backwards and hoped he’d find it eventually. 

Matt Mattila's short fiction has been published in Near to the Knuckle, Yellow Mama, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter and Commuterlit before he turned twenty. Moonlighting as a third-shift restaurant host, he spends his free time trying to come up with a pen name weirder than his real one. Find him on Facebook and Tumblr.

Book Club

Today, we visit Oprahs Book Club. Only without Oprah. Or the books. Or, yknow, women.

Books are a personal affair. For some folks, the love of literature is a crime....

Book Club by Phil Semler

Six men sat on stools in a tight circle.

“Remember the rules—” Cliff said.

“Don’t pontificate. Communicate,” they said in unison.

“Let’s start. What should we read first for next time? Anybody have a favorite book?”

“For me, Holden Caulfield. I want to read Catcher in the Rye,” poshed Spike. “The guy just hated phonies. You know, hypocrisy. Major cynic. But, you know, he’s a tragic figure, just like me. That’s why I’m here. Caulfield is a character of contradiction. I was like him. I flunked out of high school and they called me dumb, yet I knew I was intelligent. In fact, if you want to explain things, I mean causal relationships—maybe I’m here because I criticized a society—per say—that is unable to acknowledge my hidden intelligence—” He craved confession but suddenly stopped.

“Why so many white boys like that motherfucking lame-ass book?” Rudra pointed an imaginary gun at Spike. “Man, that book’s for white psychos. You ever notice that?”

“I’m afraid you missed the whole point,” Spike said.

Rudra said nothing. His eyelashes dropped toward his cheeks making his expression hard to read but menacing.

“Okay, man of the streets, black man, gangsta, you gotta book?”

“Fuck yeah. I am talking about Mr. Chester Himes. A Rage in Harlem.”

“I didn’t like it—”

“I. Like. What. I. Like. Motherfucker—” He stopped, pondered, began again. “You didn’t like it? Of course you didn’t like it. That’s because it’s got black cops—Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones—patrolling New York City’s roughest streets. Where I’m from.”

“Yeah, the setting was too gritty for me,” Spike said. “As I recall, the plot was pretty convoluted,”
“Anything more than one character and one desire is too complicated for your lame-ass.” 

“Besides, I don’t want crime books. I want escapism.”

“You piece of—”

“Let’s not criticize anybody here,” Cliff said. “Just stick with the books. Another? Someone who hasn’t spoken.”

“For me,” Blacky spit out, the little rodent-like man, “it was Nietzsche. Man, Will to Power—

“That’s not fiction!” Spike screamed. “It’s fascist!”

Blacky looked as if he’d been shot.

“Please, don’t interrupt,” Cliff said. “Blacky?”

Blacky cleared this throat. “I thought he was speaking to me. The rest was the herd. The individual was me. The individual, and I took that to mean me, can do anything against the herd since they’re the stuff of life, the herd, that is. I guess that explains it all for me. I’m sorry about that landlord lady...”

“You making an allusion to Crime and Punishment?” said Joey. He sniffled and went on. “You’re not going to believe it but Jane Austen gave me a hard on. I used to say—you know the opening of Pride and Prejudice? ‘It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good blow job.’ And that’s how I lived my life. And got into all this trouble. Women.” After Joey finished, he moved one foot on to the other knee, looking around for approval.

“Man, you is high brow,” Rudra said.

“What the fuck that mean, high brow?” asked Spike. “I never understood that expression.”

“I don’t know literally,” Rudra said ironically. “But figuratively it means you some kind of intellectual.”

“Man, that’s me. Holden Caulfield,” said Spike.

“I don’t like that Catcher book either,” said Blacky. “Guy was pussy. Why isn’t Holden more appealing as a character? Because he’s a pussy, that’s why. Like Spike.”

Spike looked at Blacky with silent disappointment.

“Okay, okay, no personal attacks,” Cliff said.

“Spike don’t value my opinion,” Blacky replied with a stupid grin on his face.

“He does, Blacky. Others?” asked Cliff.

“He don’t value me neither, motherfucker,” Rudra chimed in.

“If you’d stop swearing every other word, I might—” said Spike.

“Something with an unreliable narrator, like Huck Finn,” Joey said.

“Man, you know I can’t read that shit. It killed my self-esteem. They ought to ban that motherfucking book.” Rudra scratched his head.

“I’m sorry,” said Joey. “Hey maybe something multicultural. How about Song of Solomon?”

“I ain’t reading nothing by that ho,” said Rudra. “Besides, bitch emasculated me.”

“Still, she won some big prize,” said Joey. “Must be good.”

Oedipus Rex!” whispered Jack. The first time he’d spoken. “A classic!”

 “Don’t even go there,” said Rudra. “That book says it all. Man, the dude killed his father and fucked his mother. The father part I can relate too, but my mother? Sweet Jesus. If we can’t read Himes, how about a locked-room murder?” He raised his brows.

“No,” Spike said. “No crime, no mysteries. No Spillane. No Ellroy. Not even Christie.”

“Not even Gone Girl?” asked Rudra. “It’s an amazing book. Especially when you find out the cunt—”

“Don’t give it away, asshole. I might read it.”

“I’ll kill anybody criticize that book,” said Rudra with a menacing look to the group. “It’s fuckin’ genius.”

“I’ve always wished,” Joey said, “I’d read Atlas Shrugged as a youngster instead of hard-boiled. Gotten into white collar capitalism.”

“That book’s fascist,” added Spike. “Fucking objectivism. Nothing objective about it.”

“How about something with Jungian archetypes or a doppelganger?” Joey asked.

“I really wouldn’t mind a nice locked-room murder.”

“Serial killers!”

“Was that a joke?”

Everybody started shouting opinions at each other, trying to yell over each other.

“Kerouac made me a homo.”

“You were already a homo before you got here.”

“The minor characters were as good as Dickens’s”

“Hemingway was a fem.”

“Whaddya know? You ever read him?”

“No, but I heard some things.”

“No goddamn role models.”

“I must take issue.”

“Maybe instead of blaming books, you should take some personal responsibility for your actions.”

“Whaddya mean actions? I was fucking innocent.”

“Okay. Okay,” Cliff said. “Settle down. That’s all we have time for today. I’m going to pick the book. I’ll try to pick something you’ll all like.”

The guards stood over the men waiting to take them back to their cells.

Phil Semler lives in San Francisco. He’s the author of the novels Daemon in the Tenderloin, Hipster Killer in the Tenderloin, and the San Francisco Trilogy, which includes Occam’s Razor, Zeno’s Arrow, and Kant’s Modalities.

Brit Grit Alley

Brit Grit Alley features interviews, news and updates on what's happening down British crime fiction's booze and blood soaked alleyways.

By Paul D. Brazill 

This week down Brit Grit Alley, I give you a short, sharp interview with international crime fiction superstar  Torquil MacLeod 

PDB: What’s going on now?

My fourth Sweden-set crime ebook – Midnight in Malmö – is just out. (The series is about a blonde Swedish female detective.) It takes my mind off the pantomime that is Newcastle United.

PDB: How did you research this book?

Pounding the streets of Malmö looking for locations. Talk to Swedes and expats living there (including my elder son and his family). Fortunately, one of our best friends happens to be a blonde Swedish female detective, so that helps. And I read The Local every day on the internet – it’s an English language newspaper based in Sweden.

PDB: Which of your publications are you most proud of?

The next book – in the hope that it’s better than the previous one.

PDB: What’s your favourite film/ book/ song/ television programme?

Film: Casablanca – can’t beat a classic.

Book: A Perfect Spy by John le Carré. An example of great storytelling.

Song: Babe Rainbow by Melanie. Shows my age.

Television programme: This constantly changes but at the moment it’s the French crime series Spiral. Have to admit I like it better than the recent influx of very good Scandi crime hits like The Killing and The Bridge. Why did the latter have to come up with a blonde Swedish female detective based in Malmö?

PDB: Is location important to your writing?  

Malmö is an extra character in my books. That’s why I always try and write about real locations whether it’s a pub, block of flats, city park, public building, train station etc. Some readers enjoy looking up the locations on Google Earth, so I can’t cheat.

PDB: How often do you check your Amazon rankings?

Quite regularly when a book first comes out; then not so often.

PDB: What’s next?

More Malmö Mysteries and possibly a follow-up to an historical crime novel I brought out last summer. It’s a romp set in Newcastle in the 1750s.

Bio: Torquil MacLeod writes the Malmö Mysteries (four are out as ebooks – the first, Meet me in Malmö, is now out as a paperback through McNidder & Grace). He was born in Edinburgh and brought up in the north east of England. After brief spells as a teacher and a failed life insurance salesman, he worked as a copywriter at advertising agencies in Birmingham, Glasgow and Newcastle, before becoming a freelance writer in 2000. He lives in Cumbria with his wife Susan and hens.

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

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


Is there anything so warm and reassuring, so constant and reliable as family? 

Yes: The great grinding steel wheel of karma.

Regret by Tabitha Wilson

The house is burning down. I am maybe half a mile away, but I can smell it plain as day. I walk, one foot in front of the other, steadily hauling my ass out of town. No reason to stick around this dump anymore, not since my family passed.

Funny thing about regret, it doesn’t hit you where you think it ought to. For instance, take me. You’d think I’d be bawling my eyes out over losing a wife and kids, their memories playing across my brain like a private picture show. But that’s not where my mind is focused. No sir. I am thinking long and hard about Penny from the bank. I really think there was something there, the way she’d look at me sideways from the teller counter while I was dealing with a client at my desk. Penny. We could have had it all. I know that in my heart.

My wife is—excuse me—was, quite a looker. Can’t tell you the number of times she was responsible for a traffic jam. She could literally stop traffic with that tight little figure. All my friends were jealous up to their eyeballs, stopping by the house whenever they could to catch a glimpse or two of heaven. But you live with someone day in and day out, most days you don’t even notice if they’re still breathing. Until they’re not. Then it’s time to haul your ass out of town.

I wish I could have taken the car, but that wouldn't have made any sense. Not when you take into account most folks will naturally assume that’s my charred body up in the master bedroom in a few hours time. What can I say? Ned Biederman had it coming, candy-ass interior designer. I’ll say this honestly. I thought he was a fruit. I think everyone did. My wife sure didn’t.

The bank was just a stepping-stone for me. I did well there, naturally, but I was always meant for bigger things. Even in grade school, the teachers would say, “That little Robert Jones is really something. He’s going to do something really wonderful one day.” And here I was, about to embark on something really wonderful. Sure, it was a cakewalk embezzling funds from the accounts of old folks around here. There’s plenty of them, too. Florida is nothing if not a haven for the affluently retired. You take a few dollars here, a few dollars there, and bam. Ten years later you’ve got a nice little nest egg waiting for you in an offshore account.

That damned wife of mine. Wanting to redecorate the house. I hate thinking of all the money I doled out to that fruit. Meanwhile, he was banging my wife in my own bed.  There’s some regret for you. About thirty grand worth of regret. All your hard work, up in smoke now, pal.

I never really connected with the kids, to tell you the truth. Seemed as much to me like someone else’s kids as they did my own. Times I probably couldn’t even have told you their full names, but that’s partly because my wife was a damned Catholic and gave them each about five names. Foolishness, if you ask me. The oldest one, Billy, was probably my least favorite of the three. He reminded my of my pig snot little brother, so much so that there were times I didn’t wonder if maybe my wife had fooled around on me with him right about the time we were married. I might have to revisit that notion, now that I know about Ned Biederman.

I know there’s a car rental place over on Seever Street that’s pretty sketchy looking. That whole area is sketchy. I bet they won’t look too hard at old Ned’s driver’s license. We’re both sandy blondes. I guess my wife had a type, except I’m no fruit. Once I grab a car there, I’ll drive due south to the Keys, charter a plane, disappear. I probably should have done a little more planning, though. I don’t even have a phony ID yet. This Ned Biederman business just sprung up out of nowhere. Stroke of luck the fruit kept his passport in his leather design bag. I’ll look into a new identity once I’m safely out of this place.

It’s just past 3 o’clock as I approach the car rental place, way too early for it to be open, but there’s nowhere else to go. Sitting in all-night diner would be too risky. There’s a bench out front and considering I've just walked several miles and it’s the middle of the night, I’m going to rest a little while.

“Excuse me!” Someone is yanking me around. “Hey asshole, wake up!” I sit up groggily and wonder where I am. Two hoodlums stand before me in front of the bench. One shows me a gun.

“Give me your wallet, watch, phone, whatever you got in those fancy pockets, faggot,” the one with the gun says.

“What happened, your boyfriend toss you out?” They laugh as I begrudgingly hand over Ned’s wallet. I keep the passport, though. I also have my own IDs in my inner jacket pocket. I am not giving up on my dream. The kid with the gun starts rifling through Ned’s wallet.

“Wait a second, what the fuck? You’re Ned Biederman? This can’t be no coincidence. Oh man, dude. This the homo that broke up my parents a couple years ago and we had to move into an apartment in this shithole neighborhood.” The kid’s face crumples up a bit when he says it, and his grip tightens on the gun. My teeth begin to chatter. I’m no dummy. I already know what’s coming next. Forget Penny at the bank. Forget my wife. Forget the money. I regret not knowing my kids’ full names. Even now, I cannot remember them to save my life. 

Tabitha Wilson is a bloody fool who makes the same mistakes over and over again. Her flash fiction stories can be found on the Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Yellow Mama and Microhorror.

Foot Fetish

Everybody fucks weird.

Today Mick Rose makes his Guttorial debut with a new definition for the term shit-kicker...

Foot Fetish by Mick Rose

Eli likes to brag that he killed a man who got fresh with his wife. 

“Didn’t do no time either,” he'll say. “’less you count living with that bitch.” 

He points with his thumb to Lori, who doesnt pay Eli much attention anymore. 

She will, however, verify the story, saying that Fat Billy Shaw was drunk on his ass late one Friday night and, as she and Peggy McElveen staggered across the parking lot of Sammy’s Pub, offered to drink beer out of Loris shoe. 

“I said okay just to see if the goddamned pervert would do it.” She snorts a laugh and shakes her head. “I started to slide my ol’ stank-foot shoe off, pour some beer in it, and dare that fat sonofabitch to drink it. But before I could make a move he was down on his knees right there in Sammy’s parking lot.” 

She takes a toke from her Marlboro, exhales, coughs up a loogie, and spits it off the porch. 

“Then he just knelt there like a moron, staring at my feet like he didnt know what was next. I leaned my fat tail against that piece of shit he used to drive and lifted my right foot a little. “Go on,” I told him. “Take my shoe off, Billy. 

“Billy takes holt o’ my foot like it’s the most precious goddamned thing hes ever touched in his life, slides my ol’ shoe off, and lays it on the ground. He’d forgot about drinking beer out of it. Instead he puts his big, ugly nose right on my bare, stink-ass toes and takes two or three long, deep whiffs. ‘Like heaven,’ he tells me. And that’s when I told him to kiss it. Just like that. I said, ‘Kiss it, Billy. Kiss my goddamned foot.’ 

“It’s amazing how it feels to tell a man, even Fat Billy, something like that and have him down on his knees doing it. I didn’t really think he would, but the sonofabitch starts kissing my toes, real gentle, with his lips closed. Then he looks up at me, pitiful, like I’m going to suddenly deny him the pleasure of further humiliating his big, stupid self. And I say, ‘Go on, now, Billy. You know what to do. Clean it up.’ So Billy lays down on his belly right there in the gravel and mud and starts lickin’ my foot like it was a Popsicle. I tell him, ‘That’s right, asshole, lick it good. Suck those toes. Get that toe jam out of there.’ Shit like that. An’ Bill is going to town, snortin’ and suckin’ like a pig in slop. Then he starts humping the ground, and Peggy Lynn is just a-laughin’.

“They’s other people stopped to see what’s goin’ on—Joe Henry, Lindell, Sue Brazell, an’ a couple others, and I decide to put on a little show. I say, ‘Roll over on your back, Billy boy, and take it out. I want see you jerk off while you suck my foot.’ That fat bastard rolls over just like I tell him and pulls his thing out. He has trouble with it bein’ hard and all, but finally gets it out. It wasn’t big as you'd think what with him bein’ such a tall motherfucker. I tell him to spit in his hand and jerk off, and then I hold my foot over his mouth and let him lick the sole, and that boy was goin’ at it. 
“And that,” Lori says, “is when Eli came upon them and slammed his big, booted foot into Bill’s ribs. 

“That big, dumb shit never had a chance. He just rolled over to one side and lay there with his thing hangin’ out while Eli put the boot to him. We’re talkin’ those big, steel toed motherfuckers Eli wore when he worked over to the weldin’ shop, and Eli was puttin’ some force to it, kickin’ that dumb fuck like he actually gave a shit who sucked my toes. Smashed his big, ugly nose. Kicked his yellow teeth in. Kicked his belly so hard the boy was pukin’ brown. Kicked him for ten minutes and I tol’ him to quit it, that he was gonna kill the man, but you know how that bastard is when he gets goin’ on somebody. Eli jus’ said to shut the fuck up, and then tells me and Peg to grab his Bill’s feet and pull his legs apart, and we knew what was coming. And poor ol’ Billy tried to shake us loose, but he was more feeble than usual by then, and I swear if Eli didn’t kick that man’s balls up into his big, stupid head. I saw Bill’s eyes roll up ’til the whites was showin’. Then he starts prayin’, askin’ the Lord to save his sorry ass. But after three of four hard-as-hell kicks between his legs you didn’t hear nothin’ else. That fucker wasn’t even flinchin’. But Eli wasn’t finished, and he goes to the truck to grab an ol’ piece of 2x4 he’s got back there and starts beatin’ the son of a bitch, tellin’ him he’ll teach him to fuck with a man’s wife. 

“We weren’t sure if Fat Billy was alive or dead when we loaded him in his truck. Next day it come out in the paper he was dead.

“Anybody who lives around here knows about when they found. Billy Shaw dead and a ‘likely victim of foul play.’ Likely, my ass. But I always thought Bill’s body had been discovered in a ditch. I said as much, and Eli said that Bill must have managed to climb out of his truck and crawl toward the highway. 

“’Cep’ he fell in the goddamned ditch and drowned.”     

It was that fact that Billy was able to climb out of his truck and crawl toward the highway that saved Eli from a murder charge. That and the other fact that while folks said they had seen Bill sleeping it off in his truck early that morning after last call nobody was willing to testify that they had seen Eli working him over.        

So why, if Eli had beat a man to death, would he confess it so free and easy?

“So you’ll know that what’s mine is mine, and that I’ll kill any son of a bitch who touches it.”      
I have to admit I felt a little edgy after that. I mean, Eli ain’t that big, and the years of abuse have taken their toll, but I knew he was mean even before this tale was told, and that he doesn’t care about much in the way of the law. 

“I am,” he told me once, “my own goddamned law.” 

Another thing I’ll tell you is that, between you and me, I’ve had a time or two with Lori, who doesn’t think twice about laying it on you if she’s in the mood and Eli ain’t around. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have anything to do with either of them if it weren’t for the merchandise that brings me here. 

So I go ahead and make my deal and get the fuck out of there. 

And hope that sonofabitch never finds out I fucked his girl. 

Mick Rose: reader, writer, dreamer, lover, and connoisseur of fine, boxed wine. His fiction and poetry have appeared in a variety of publications, online and print.

The Only Thing That Fits

If it's true that man's best friend is his dog,

then his worst enemy has got to be MAN

The Only Thing That Fits by Beau Johnson

Four boys playing fort are who found what we’d thought was the second girl, Rebecca Hall, age 12, beat, bloodied and dead.  Last time anyone had seen her was two days prior, a Monday, two steps off her school bus and sixty from home.  Deputy Detective John Batista is the officer who catches the case, me, in turn, becoming his very next call.  A murderer in my own right, I had no problem doing what needed to be done.  Batista, giant, thick, with a face the color of pissed-off brick, knew this as well.  Both of us more than proficient in the art of subterfuge we’d come to utilize.  Seeing we were the very same thing we’d come to hunt meant we pretty much had to be.
The autopsy confirmed what each of us feared: rape.  What it also confirmed was that Rebecca Hall was not the second victim but actually the fourth.  Not to be out done, it was the girl’s stomach content which spoke loudest of all.
“It’s canine, Rider.  Goddamn bastard fed her her dog.” Even strong men had bad days.  For Batista, this was one. “A Collie named Frank.”

“Narrows it down though, way I see it.”  I was right, of course, and Batista knew as much.  Didn’t mean either of us he had to like it.  Scenarios just worked better this way.  Same thing with plans.
Three weeks later---after every vet, pre-vet, canine shelter, dog walker, and pet food store owner are interviewed from Culver City down to Hanson Falls---it’s a man by the name of Gank the CCPD looks at hard.  Inheriting his kennel by way of an uncle who held a different last name, Rudy Gank had come to Culver three years prior by way of overcrowding, early release and a probation system down for the count.  Wasn’t much of a surprise either, the circumstance one the core reasons the Detective and I had begun what we had.
Text message received, I find the piece of scum in jeans and a beater T. Thick and wide, he’s packing a bag in an attempt to flee.  It’s as he turns around that I tell him to lie on the ground.
“You ain’t no cop.”  Man had me there.
“By the time I’m done with you, Rudy, I can guarantee you’ll wish I was.”
Fuck and you were the next things that tried to come from his mouth.  Once he regained consciousness I’d already connected jumper cables that stretched from balls to battery and back again.  Juice turned up, the man fries, the world becoming a slightly better place in the process.
Or so I’d thought.
“It’s happening again,” Batista says, and the look in the man’s eyes tells me more than I care to know.  Turns out Gank had a sibling, a brother, Henry J.  Seems Henry J liked the same things Rudy did, right down to feeding his victims a lighter shade of pink.
“I mean, you can’t be fucking serious.”  It was rhetorical, and Batista had said it more than a few times since we’d uncovered the link.  We were at the usual spot, each of us looking down over Culver as it slept.
“Doesn’t make a difference, John.  Once we find him, man’s going to die all the same.”
“I know.  I know.  But Gank having a partner, a brother no less, and us missing that, it makes me think I might be getting too old for this.”  I’ve seen a lot of things, more than I care to acknowledge.  One thing I know for certain is that true evil is more human than mankind will ever come to admit.  It also lives only to destroy.  Batista knew as much, was the reason he wore the badge, but it also proved that he and I were as different now as we’d been back then.
“John.  The man will slip up.  We’ll get him.  I promise.” 
And we did, just not as I thought we would, nor when.  Four years and eleven girls later I get the call.  Batista.  He’s at a safe house of mine, one of the bigger ones, telling me he’d finally struck gold.  I move, and fast, as there was something in the big man’s voice.  Shouldn’t have surprised me though, what I found, as the case had taken its toll on Batista, whittling him down bit by bit these last couple years.  Empathy and ineffectiveness will do that to a cop.  Sadly, each is capable of creating the worst type of fuse.

“Stop…no…too deep!” is what comes to me once I open up the floor.  The screams accompanying the words are high and full, erupting from a mouth that can hardly catch what it needs to breathe.  What hits me next is the smell of shit that is wet and fresh and round.  As for Batista, he’s there within it, Henry Gank’s pants about his shins, his face against the wall, and Batista up inside him with a piece of rebar that could have passed for bone. 

Batista is grunting, a man determined, but he is weeping as well, and it is here I lay a hand upon his back, and then upon his wrist, and then he all at once stops and relinquishes the steel.
“I tried, Rider…thought I could…” he says, and I know how he needs it to end.  I’ve always known.  But we weren't the same, never have been and never would be.  I’d like to say I envy him that, but no, I've too much hate.
“I’ll finish.”  I say and then send Batista up a level to clean up as much of himself as he could.  Once I hear the floor door close is when I step towards a face so close to one I thought I’d never see again.  He’d made his way to a corner, a trail of shit and blood snaking the concrete between us. I hunker down, face him, and tell him of his brother; of how that piece of scum had burned and wept and pled before I ripped apart his eyes.  The man starts, snarls, but then stops just as quick, and I can only assume it’s because Batista had taken too much from him.  Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I too take something from the man, his jaw, by way of hammer, but before I do he tries his best to stand.  Once up, he glares at me, finally choosing to speak.  “Like I tole your friend, why we did it, why we do, it’s because even dirty bitches need to eat.”   It’s only when the silence comes that I realize the time for talking had already passed.

For those of us who know, it’s the only thing that fits.

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

A Love Letter to Squeakie Pelham

For the past two years, I’ve tried to come up with a clever and original introduction to each story, like The Twilight Zone on meth, welcome to the hellhouse; this is life in the Gutter.

I have no set-up for the next story. You people are sick.

A Love Letter to Squeakie Pelham by Salvadore Ritchie

Huey Lewis and the News asked if I believed in love. I answered back with an emphatic YES. Why else would I have shaved every bit of hair off my body and slicked every bald inch with Tara Thunders Cinnamon Flavored Erotic Grease? I did it for my betrothed. I did it for Squeakie Pelham. I did believe in love. In fact, love was the reason I decided to fight.

I was thrashing around, slippery as an eel from an intruder in my house trying to shoot me or kidnap me or something. Naked, bald, vulnerable, I decided the best defense was a good offence. I had slid towards him on one heel and slammed right into his chest, locked in mortal combat. Being a short, skinny man, I used the only two assets I had—a Tara Thunders grease-drenched body and a vintage gold-speckled motorcycle helmet. I put it on earlier while sitting in the closet, snorting the last of my three eight balls. I felt safe in there while waiting for my betrothed to return with more powder. Upon impact, I wrapped one leg around his and locked his chest to mine. I went for the gun. My goal was not to remove the gun from him because, like Squeakie, he had at least a foot and fifty pounds on me. The goal was to grease it up enough with Tara Thunders’ slather that I would have a clean shot at getting away before any pops from his piece. I slammed my helmet against his chin because I was too short to reach his nose. Stunned, he grunted and stepped back with the leg I was locked on. With that precious second I simply rubbed his hand and the gun down. Then I rubbed more cinnamon erotica into his eyes. 

Dah! Was all he could get out. 

Now let’s pause here. 

This has been a fast pace tale up to this moment, but I would like to stop for just a second and tell you that there is a point where incredible amounts of cocaine over a long, continuous period gives one a certain super human ability to respond to volatile situations with decisive accuracy. This was one of those situations. (P.S., It also gives one bursts of genius, like surprising your betrothed by shaving every bit of body hair off and drenching yourself in Tara Thunders cinnamon-flavored grease. No sober person could think of such creativity, I assure you. That is erotica. That is romance. That is love.) 

Stunned, slicked, distracted, my assailant was overwhelmed by the cheetah-like nature of my ferocity. This was my opportunity. We were doing close-quarter battle in the second story master bedroom loft that over looked the sparsely populated prefab mansion that I had recently purchased. One of the spoils of a 90 million dollar Power Ball lottery win six months earlier. The loft had a rod iron balcony that offered panoramic views of the open gourmet kitchen and main living room below. 

I released myself from my assailant by a bold jerk back, fueled by a cartel amount of cocaine inside me. With the soles of my feet still slick, I dipped into a slide. Like an Olympian speed skater, I used Tara Thunders erotic grease to hurl myself head first to the balcony. My glistening stomach slammed into its faux Tuscan railing and over it I went, bottoms up. On the way down I flipped twice, legs spread.

In that moment I thought about how profound life was. I thought about Squeakie. I wish I could have climbed her mountain one last time. Maybe this was it. Time does slow in these moments. It’s amazing how fast 90 million dollars disappears, especially with good drugs, illegal cockfighting and mug shots. How fast it all goes… 

Down I slammed into four mattresses Squeakie and I ordered online days before with the plastic wrap still on. The plastic clung as long as it could to my greasy back as the dip finally gave way and catapulted me skyward. Like the space shuttle, I reached a moment of terminal velocity and gravity pulled me back to the only other piece of furniture in the room, a glass table shaped like a painter’s pallet with gold legs. 

Smash, I went right through it. 

My assailant’s gun went off twice as he rolled down the stairs, still greased from my intimate snuggle. 

Despite an almost spiritual numbness from days and days of cocaine intake, I was becoming keenly aware of the different shards that were imbedded in my skin. None the less, I sprang up, knowing I had to warn my Squeakie of the danger. My betrothed!

Head first I went into the ten-foot-tall glass doors that lead to the pool. I guess the glass truly was reinforced because my vintage gold speckled helmet bounced right off of it, sending me backwards and once again onto my back. 

Now I was grunting. 

I flipped over onto my stomach to see where my assailant was.

Relief cascaded through my coke-addled body. He was crumpled up at the bottom of the stairs, a lifeless lump. Perhaps one of those gunshots got him. Perhaps the tumble broke something important. 

I didn’t care. As long as he was dead. As long as I still believed in love

Salvadore Ritchie works as an IT professional at a hospital that handles large trauma and psych units. Shotgun wounds from beef's gone bad or naked maniacs high on bath salts, he sees it all. Sal picks up on stories in the lounge or by watching police sprint down the hall with stun guns ready. His stories have appeared in Pulp Metal Magazine, Yellow Mama and A Twist of Noir. At home he lives with his wife's cats.