Latest Flash

THE FLASH FICTION OFFENSIVE

Edited by Clifford and Pitts

Interviews and Updates

Gutter news and views!

BADASS REVIEWS

Books and flicks manhandled and/or caressed by the Gutter staff!

Gutter Books has all kinds of exciting things in the works! CLICK HERE to sign up for our email updates.

Alma

There are a lot of things that get passed down in a family without the benefit of genetics. 

But a darkness like this can spread far beyond the family tree.

Alma by Beau Johnson



The piece of shit sitting in front of Alma and me was not the man who’d wronged us.  Close, sure, but not He Who Made Mommy Go Away.  This one was thin, for one, and had close kept eyes for another.  Little patches of hair sprouted from his face as well, stuff which reminded me of the squiggly things my grandmother eventually grew---not really a beard at all.  Struggling against the duct tape, he looks from me to Alma and back again; had actually been doing it since I took the burlap sack from his head.  Led me to believe I had the right man.  That he’d been released this very morning, well, that was just in case there is in fact a God.

“You gonna behave yourself, Joel?  You promise me that, I remove the gag.  Sound good?” 

Joel nods yes, slowly, like he might think his life depended on it.   Each of us were where we needed to be, my basement, around a card table I knew I would never again use for cards.  Quiet, patient, Alma is to my left, her hair uneven but in the best possible braid I could manage.  Behind us the refrigerator kicks on and off and then goes through the entire cycle again.  Mental note: must get that fixed.  Above us, a lone 40 watt bulb gives us the shadow I believe we require---what a man like Joel and all his kind deserve. 


You still sure about this? My wife says from somewhere in the back of my mind.  It’s sudden, this voice, and loud, and the only place the woman I’d married now lived.  That’s not true of course, not really.  Not once I look into the eyes of the daughter we created.  Big and brown, they pool just like Arlene’s.  In them I see everything I’ve ever needed and all the things she will ever become.  It is a curse, the type of parent I am now, but it is also the reason things like this needed to be done.

“Daddy?” 

I grasp that I’ve been standing there, my hands out, the gag still within the piece of shit’s mouth.  It is happening more often this way, me zoning out with my thoughts like this.  I make another mental note: rectify this.  Alma has already been through too much.

“Sorry, baby, just thinking about your mom.” 

At this my little girl smiles, and for a moment all is again right with the world, not a hair out of place.  It’s as I look back to the garbage in front me that my stomach turns and I once more become something I never thought I could be. 

Truth be told, there are not enough flames in hell.

Gag removed, I give him my speech, the words I have practiced.  I want to know, I tell him.  I must know.  Just give me a reason and I will let you go.  It doesn’t come, what I want.  But it’s not really a want, not if I’m honest.  It’s more of a need.  To know and somehow understand how another human being could do the things he’d done.   “I mean, really, what is it?  What excites you enough to do that to boys?  I mean, seriously?”  He babbles, cries, weeps and pleads.  Nothing of this was new.  Not one part original.  Made me angry is what this did, there with Alma looking on.  It’s now, in this exact moment, that I realize I have given too much up, too much time, but it’s then that the true monster comes out, the one who understands he has nothing left to lose.

“And you think I’m fucked up?  Dude, what about you?  What is this kid, seven?  Eight?  You think something like this ain’t gonna scar her for life?  I got news for you, fuckwad: time to get a clue!”  His voice has become hard, a snarl, thick lines of vein now out upon his neck.  “But if it was me who’d done your wife, I’d have took my time.  You got that!  Made sure she felt every bit of pain I could give her.  I would fuck her hard and I would rip her wide!  And you want to know why, right?  That’s your fucking question?”  Feral.  Vile.  Little goops of spittle in the corners of his mouth.  In the blink of an eye different but yet the very same.  Again I paused to think of God.

“I’ll tell you the fucking reason…” he barks, but the moment passes.  It’s not me who shuts him down though, my gun still in the back of my pants, my eyes still holding the evil in his.  It’s only when the eyes holding mine are gone that I look over to Alma, her .32 drawn, her hand steady.

I ask: “How did it feel this time?”

“Better.”  She says, and my heart fills up with something I can’t yet describe.  Righteousness perhaps, but even then I’m still not quite sure.

“Come on, then, let’s get you to bed.  I’ll clean up once I’ve tucked you in.”

“Carry me?” 

And it’s here, as Alma holds her arms up, that I lose myself in the eyes I helped create; that I see everything I want to see and everything I need to see.  I see her mother.  Her father.  And everything that men like the one now missing half his face will never again take away.  Not if I could help it.


“Sure, baby,” I say.  “Sure.”


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.

Help Me Out Here, People

By Matthew Louis

I admit it, I have a problem. I'm self promotion-challenged. I like to make big plans and fixate on minutia, but I blank when it comes to saying and doing the things that will inspire strangers to line up and support me as an artist. I'm not much for trying to get attention for attention's sake. Just think: I got this website cranking two years ago. How often have you seen me publicizing myself or my work here?

But there's been a development. My short novel that I put out under a lame pen name a couple of years back, The Wrong Man, was optioned for a movie by the immensely talented producer, Paul Pompian. The project was moving forward, but I didn't know Paul had leukemia, which inevitably slowed the process. And I didn't hear until a month afterward that Paul had passed away.

Paul's business partners, however, are now kicking the movie plans into high gear, and I'm fortunate enough to be involved.

You can probably see where this is going. I want to get this book into wider circulation and YOU are the only person who can help me. Think of all the cheap thrills Gutter has given you over the years, and me hanging back, not vying for accolades, just quietly fine-tuning and publishing and publicizing other people's creative efforts. I wouldn't stoop so low as to try to shame you into anything, but it would make you a pretty awful person if you didn't give me a little attention and maybe a few shekels in my hour of need.

And hey, you might even like the book. I convinced Les Edgerton to read it and he said:

"I read as a writer and believe me, an entire class could be profitably taught using just this novel. The fictive dream is established immediately and there’s no departure point where the reader can leave. Matthew Louis has crafted one of the best, most interesting, best-paced and plotted novels I’ve read in a long, long time, and I just hope he keeps cranking ‘em out as fast as he can."

So how about it? Want to write a review on Amazon or your blog or web site? Let me send you a physical or digital copy. Already read it? PLEASE leave a damned Amazon review on the new page, or write it up on your blog. Want to do an interview or have me write something incomparably clever for your site? Email me.


If you act now, you can also check out this collection of madcap and nasty short storiesmore or less all the shorter work I've accumulated during my journey from drunken semiliterate flunky to often sober semiliterate flunky. They range from square-on-the-chin hard-boiled to slapstick to stylized reporting to utterly deviant work in which nobody dies or even gets a light bruise.

Emmy Award-winner Les Bohem said of this collection:

Usually, when someone goes taught, hard-boiled, spare and lean, they head to familiar places, retreads of the greats of the pulp years.  But Louis takes you to places you haven't been before, shines his hard light into new, unexpected corners.  Matt's stories scar me.  They're that good.

But don't get the idea that only people named Les can dig my work. You, my friend, are probably a perfect candidate for enjoyment of this treasure trove of violence, sweat and insults.

So, can you help me out?

Let me say it again. I need reviews on Amazon or elsewhere. I can send you digital or hard copies. Just drop me a line.

If you don't want to write a review, but have had your curiosity piqued, even slightly, why not get yourself a copy of one or both of these books? Why not get some backup copies in case the first ones are rendered inoperative in some kind of pet-related domestic incident? I worked ridiculously hard on these. All things being equal, you're bound to get your money's worth.

Relevant links:

The Wrong Man

Collision Cocktail

Email me at matt@matthewlouis.com to order review copies.

Many thanks,

Matt Louis

Matthew Louis is the founding editor of Gutter Books and Out of the Gutter.Learn more at matthewlouis.com

True Love

True Love is a funny thing. It sounds good on paper, two becoming one and all that. Only one problem....

Dogs eat dogs in this world, and in the Gutter, them dogs can get mighty hungry.

True Love by Nikki Palomino




I sat in the Ford, time snipped in two, the windshield wipers clicking rain drops into arcs. Bobby Lee told me to wait for him here on the narrow road against the river. I did what he’d said, cut the headlights, the heater, and formed minutes idling while he drove the guy’s car into the woods, where exactly he wouldn’t say.

“Better that way.” He’d come back running. I had to be ready.

This murder wasn’t his first.

I sucked the cold air down my drain-pipe throat. I glanced down at the seat, my blue eyes adjusting to the lack of light, stared at the .38, the guy’s wallet, the bag stuffed with the plant’s earnings. I wanted to study the guy’s picture on his driver’s license, see the face before Bobby Lee had shot him in the head.

Worked every time. Put the woman along the side of the road. Have her flag down the mark. He wouldn’t resist; I’m pretty, blonde, size 36D. So I did exactly what he’d said, the taillights flashing red, my dress wet and formed along my curves, my long hair plastered to my head, lips pouting.

Bobby Lee had said the guy drove the same way home each night at six, winter-dark, as predictable as the plant owner. He carried the wallet, the paper bag and coins jingling like bells. Ashamed, I wanted the score between my fingers, our dreams, a bouquet of roses and marriage.

“True love is sharing in a murder.” Bobby Lee was right.

No more groping drunks in the bar I worked. I’d wear that diamond ring as proud as a mother cat. Envy would streak red down the faces of other barmaids, just like it had when Bobby Lee, strong and handsome, walked up to me and placed a gardenia on my tray. Took three months before he’d kissed me. Had told me he believed in freedom without strings that bogged other men down. He was just the right combination to set off my heart’s fireworks. Until Bobby Lee, I had not perfected make-up, read love poems or cared if I lived or died. With Bobby Lee, I could smile. Only in his arms did I feel the warm, large wind blowing beneath the scudding stars.

I didn’t know if I heard the siren first or saw the flashing reds and blues. I froze. The car pulled behind me to a stop. I glanced into the rearview mirror, hoped the sheriff with the big gut straining the yellow raincoat wouldn’t step out. As if suddenly, he tapped a flashlight to the passenger-side window. I startled.

His voice muffled, he asked me to open the window. I hesitated, shooting a quick glance at the wood bridge ahead in the hopes Bobby Lee might be running through the darkened rain. With the next tap, I rolled the window a couple inches down.

“Ma’am, may I see your license and registration?” His voice slipped between the slit I had made for him. My eyes dropped to the large purse as I slid it over the .38. I’d helped Bobby Lee lift the guy into the front seat. Bobby Lee had then driven off. It was to look like an accident, car rolling off the mercenary-slick road into the river. Seemed plausible.

“Ma’am?”

I fumbled with my purse, my memory spiraling downward with inner doubt. What if Bobby Lee’s promise to honeymoon where jagged green fronds of palms line the streets was just a lie? What if true love was really the draft of a bad poem?

A less gentle tap against the window.

In one quick move, I slipped out of park and floored the pedal, gunning the Ford’s engine. The car jolted forward to leave a shocked sheriff behind.

“Surprise, remember that one word, girl,” Bobby Lee once said.

Bobby Lee was right. I glanced behind me to see the Sheriff trip and fall on his way back to his car. I could get away. I slid across the wood bridge, the headlights guiding my path between the dark shapes along the road.

I couldn’t stop. There was no time. Bobby Lee ran out from the woods onto the road and I slammed into him. His body flipped up the front of the hood, and my arms flew away from the steering wheel. 

The last two things I remembered hit me at once. His words true love is sharing in a murder, and my long legs tangled and twined like two slippery worms.


Nikki Palomino is the author of the Dazed series (The Story of a Grunge Rocker). Her writing has been featured in L.A. Examiner, Houston Chronicle, and more. Named Best Genre Short Story Writer of 2003 by Writer's Digest, Palomino is also a rock journalist for Punk Globe Magazine and the host of Nikki Palomino's DAZED on irockradio103.com.

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 

Down Brit Grit Alley this week I take a quick gander at a few Brit Grit films that I've seen of late.

Wild Bill

Former tough guy Bill returns home to his dreary  flat in a London tower block, after 11 years in the nick, only to find out that his wife has done a runner to Spain, leaving their two young sons to fend for themselves. 


Writer Danny King, director Dexter Fletcher and a collection of great performances turn what could have been merely grim social realism into a splendid, funny and moving film. Highly recommended.



Sightseers.

Painfully dreary Chris and Tina head off on a caravanning trip around the UK. Things quickly turn gruesome, however. Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is a particularly nasty black comedy that comes across like Mike Leigh mixed with Eli Roth. I loved it.


The Angels’ Share.

Ken Loach’s film career peaked with Kes and he hasn’t come anywhere near it since then, a lot of his films being about as cinematic as a Health and Safety film. Still, when he tells a decent yarn his films can be involving. The Angels’ Share is the story a group of dispossessed youths who find inspiration after a trip to a whisky distillery… This is a funny and touching film that is reminiscent of a children’s fable.

Harrigan

Set in the early ‘70s, during the miners’ strikes and power cuts, Harrigan is a kind of urban western. It’s the story of a tough cop, close to retirement, who returns to the north east of England to clean up a crime riddled estate. Uneven and at times OTT, Harrigan is enjoyable enough, with some fine performances and a strong atmosphere. Ultimately, it tries too hard and would probably have been better served as a TV series. Some of it was filmed in my home town of Hartlepool.

Redemption.

Redemption AKA Hummingbird is an ill-fitting mish-mash of social drama and action movie with a chilly performance from Agata Buzek as a nun that helps out a homeless man who is in fact ex- special forces on the run from a court martial. 


Jason Statham is great, of course, but like in the TV series Kung Fu you’re just waiting for the philosophical cobblers to end and for him to kick some botty. Which he does with great aplomb! Tasty cinematography from Chris Menges add to making Redemption an enjoyable if gauche film
.



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



Anywhere But Texas

What would be left of mankind if we took away his dreams?

No matter where you are on life's ladder, it's important to move up.

Anywhere But Texas by Bill Baber



She said, “Maybe it’s time to get the hell out of California. We just can’t get ahead. And we’ll never be able to afford a house here. Shit, half the time we can’t pay the rent on this goddamn trailer.”

I thought about that for a minute. She did have a point. Sort of. We had nothing saved and our prospects were dim. And Chico was a shithole, true. But, our financial situation might be better if not for the copious amounts of blow she snorted. Try telling her that, though. It would have started a fight so I didn’t go there. Instead I said, “Leave and go where?”

To which she said, “I dunno, you can get a nice house in Atlanta or North Carolina for a hundred and fifty thousand.”

“Shit,” I said. “You watch too much of that goddamn House Hunters show.” Which she did when we could pay the cable bill. “Hey I got an idea; maybe you could sell real estate when we get there. You’re such an expert.”

“Fuck you.” she said.

But for once, we agreed. It might be better to start over. One more real good score. We discussed our options. Rusty Landreaux was the biggest crank dealer around. There were a lot of bikers in Chico. And a glut of trailer trash, so Rusty had a large customer base. He kept a stash house out on Highway 18 on the way to Hamilton City.


We knew Rusty pretty well. Knew some of his habits. We took a couple of weeks to kind of study his comings and goings.

On a Tuesday morning in mid-April when the surrounding countryside was abloom in green and spring had arrived in the great Central Valley, a couple of bikers visited Rusty at his in town house. Just after they left, he headed for the stash house. That meant the cash was in place. That afternoon, he drove north into the foothills near Paradise. He turned off onto a deeply rutted road that disappeared into thick Manzanita brush. Couple of hours later, he was headed back to the stash house. That was the supply. It was time for us to act.

Four AM. The stars were bright and somewhere in the distance a rooster was crowing and I could hear cattle. We parked in an oak grove halfway between the highway and the dark house.

She was carrying the S&W nine with thirty rounds in the mag. I had an 870 with the plug removed and eight shells full of #4 shot.

The back door was locked. It was one of those standard farmhouse doors, bottom half wood and the top half glass. The only thing we didn’t know was how many people might be inside. In the two weeks we had been watching it, we had never seen anyone but Rusty come and go from the house.

With a gloved hand, I punched through the glass, reached in and turned the knob. A small amount of light spilled into the kitchen we had just entered. Just enough to see the place was filthy. So fucking foul that even in the dim light I knew who was watching the place for Rusty. And I also knew he was the only one there.

We knew Chet Cable from days gone by. No one had seen him for quite a while and everyone assumed he was dead, that the meth had done him in. He was the dirtiest human being I'd ever seen. His hair was like an old doormat full of leaves, small twigs, and other debris. His soiled clothes seemed to be a second skin that never came off and what was left of his teeth were a couple of brown stumps, like old trees that had died from disease.

We heard footsteps coming from the back of the house and his stench arrived before he did. Rusty was smart. Chet never did say much and he was loyal. Rusty supplied him with the best crank around and he wasn’t going to talk.

He was carrying an axe and as he entered the kitchen he saw us. He looked at me and growled. It was a primal sound and he looked like a feral beast. He started toward me, raising the axe.

I don’t know how many shots she fired but I know I hit him with four slugs. Chet was cut damn near in half.

It took a while to find the cash. It was in a locked room in a hole under the floorboards covered by a rug. And the meth—five pounds of it—was tucked into an interior wall behind a loose baseboard.


There was a golden glow in the east when we hit the highway toward Chico. She started counting the cash and before we got to the city limits and said, “Holy shit, there’s over two hundred grand here.” Between that and the weight it was a helluva haul. And I didn’t feel bad about killing Chet. Poor bastard was pretty much dead as it was. I looked at it as putting him out of his misery.

We stopped at the trailer and packed, other than clothes, there wasn’t much that was worth anything. It was a fine spring morning and we headed south on I-5. In Modesto, we stopped and saw a guy I had known when I was in Chino. The shit was high grade and we got top price for it. Truth was I would have taken less.

That night we stopped in L.A., ate in a nice restaurant, had a good bottle of wine and slept at a fine hotel.

The next morning, we headed east. She looked at me and smiled. “Atlanta or North Carolina?” She frowned for just a second. “Anywhere but Texas. I hate Texas. And hey, I’ve been thinking about what you said. I might look into that real estate thing. Beats the hell out of what we’ve been doing.”


Bill Baber lives with his wife and a spoiled dog in Tucson. His crime fiction has appeared at any number of places on the net. He has had a book of poetry published. He has been known to drive across the border for a cold beer.

Movie Review: Noah, a Blasphemous Bowel-Blast for the Braindead

By Matthew Louis

"Oh fuck! God has placed me in an inciting incident in a cookie-cutter blockbuster!"
Full disclosure: I haven't seen this movie. But I haven't seen it for the same reason that I generally avoid blockbusters. I'm not six fucking years old. I can understand a story deeper than 50-foot bogeymen with red glowing eyes battling acrobatic weightlifters on slippery ledges in the middle of hurricanes.

I'm not a Christian, so I'm not particularly offended by the Hollywood machine squatting down and doing its gruesome business all over Bible. But just the same, the Bible is the basis for a fairly significant religion, ain't it? There is philosophy at stake. The Judeo-Christian tradition is supposed to give us reference points in our essentially baffling experience as conscious apes.

If your faith ain't got rock monsters, your faith ain't shit.
You may not personally utilize Judeo-Christian reference points. I don't. But that doesn't mean you can't find this movie blasphemous just by virtue of your status as a human being.

Want to deal with the question of man's place in all of time and space? Want to ponder whether the human species is tied to some larger destiny or has any purpose besides being another temporary inhabitant on one of an infinite number of random balls on elliptical flight paths in a limitless void?

Well, here you go. Watch this two-hour exploding comic book for retards. Watch as Noah does back-flips over quicksand pits while he flees ten-story rock monsters roaring like drunken T-rexes and throwing thunderbolts with both hands. Watch as Noah's daughter, a stacked beauty betrothed to a sneering Babylonian robber baron, falls for the working class Backstreet Boy who teaches her the meaning of love when they stand together at the nose of the ark with the wind pasting their rough cloth gowns against their perfect bodies while the nautical zoo plows across the flooded planet at full steam.

It's fucking INTENSE.

"And I play, like, this totally horny girl who wants to be a lawyer and
stuff? But Noah's, like, old fashioned? So he's afraid of, like,
my sexuality and my intelligence? So, like, you totally have to see it."
And you'll love the finale. Noah gets a stirring pep-talk from God (played with Oscar-worthy gravitas by Justin Timberlake) and bounces back from a crushing defeat. As Sting's musical score fills the theater, Noah jogs up and down the steps between above and below decks, does curls with badger cages and bench presses miniature horses. He must face Satan's lead henchman, Kublai Cain--played by a very fit Johnny Depp wearing black eyeliner and red tights and talking in an Eastern European accent--in a Jean Claude Van Dam-inspired pit-fight to the death.

And just before Noah delivers the windpipe-collapsing throat punch he says, "Thou shalt not piss off the one true god, asshole!" and bam! Depp is gagging and everyone in the theater stands and applauds.


I mean, okay, I haven't seen Noah. But tell me it's much different from this.

Then, maybe I'm overthinking this piece of . . . art. Don't let me ruin it for you. You might not be able to enjoy this summer's highly anticipated cinematic study of the civil rights struggle, in which MLK gets landmark legislation passed after a shootout in an abandoned warehouse with Governor George Wallace. Just before MLK pops off the kill shot he says, "You ain't gonna have NO more dreams, motherfucker!" and bam! A bullet hole appears in George Wallace's forehead and everyone in the theater stands and applauds.

That's Hollywood, baby. Give it any story, no matter how nuanced or obscure or iconic, it swallows it up, digests it through its clockwork innards, and shits out the perfect blockbuster, every time, writing history and shaping worldviews for that reliable heap of slack-jawed consumers in the middle of the bell curve.

But hey, all that said, if any bigtime Hollywood players out there want to buy the rights to my MLK blockbuster, I can delete this. Gimme a call. I'll be glad to write a glowing review of Noah and go on record as the world's biggest fan of the storytelling genius that is Hollywood.

Matthew Louis is the founding editor of Gutter Books and Out of the Gutter.Learn more at matthewlouis.com

We need the action! Leave your thoughts below!

New Film Review: THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014)

By Anthony Moretta


George Clooney stars and directs, based on Robert Edsel's 2009 book, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History.

It's late in the game during WWII. An international squad of art experts and historians is patched together with some army glue and sent to find and retrieve stolen masterpieces from Nazi claws in the midst of the waning European conflict. Led by Frank Stokes (Clooney), they're playing catch-up with constant German maneuvering while trying to side-step the scaled-down skirmishes that dotted the countrysides while Hitler's brood was on the run. There are four other Americans - Granger (Matt Damon), Campbell (Bill Murray), Garfield (John Goodman) and Savitz (Bob Balaban) - plus an Englishman named Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville), the Frenchman Clermont (Jean Dujardin), and Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas), a German-Jew now living stateside.


These Monuments Men are a peripheral expense. An exercise in cultural appeasement when the world is growing tired of bloodshed. There are no welcome salutes or party barracks. Tents are pitched for whiskey IV's and manly man killers, not soft fanatics. D-Day and Patton were already legend by the time this team dusted its boots, and never pretending to be on a mission to save dying breaths, the Men are hell-bent on preserving mankind. They're caretakers of artistic achievement without regard for borders or branding. Uniforms are just necessary garb to tell the shooters from shiners. Clooney makes it clear that this is not a war movie in the way we've known war movies to be. This is not a combat film. This is no rock-em sock-em, body part flying battlefield flick. This is espionage borne of pride. Danger bloomed on international morale. It wants to ask who gives a piss about sovereign borders and power plays for influence. The Men are saving centuries of innovation and inspiration.

By intended design, the film feels like the '40s in the way the '40s feel when watching films from the era. The sets are well-apportioned and matted to a perfect balance of light and dark. There's a smoky train station and close-quarter gunfights without the cavernous triviality of CGI. There's wonderment emblazoned in the Men's eyes by the simplicity of their success.  The film teems with warmth, responsibility and duty.

Clooney's choice cast brims with genuineness. You actually believe it could have lived through this, partaken in this. Played pillar straight, Murray and Damon are all conscientiousness, while Balaban is the backbone despite his insecurity and small stature. Goodman and Dujardin are the heart - like unlikely schoolmates turned buddies when shared circumstances leave them no choice. Clooney matches Bonneville's enthusiasm, unafraid of martyrdom, balanced by desperate hope for home and better days. Their leadership is pointed and direct, with no wrenching jingoism flooding the pond. Every actor is terrific and every performance is graced with sincerity and real affection that the cast seems hand-picked from long ago, stored away only to be unwrapped as a gift to modern audiences.


Underlying the simple premise - and to think it's a mostly true story - are meaty themes often missing from so-called war movies. The pseudo-Mexican standoff among Campbell, Savitz and a derelict German soldier is cleverly diffused by the mutual understanding of the inanity of war. There’s a buy-in that in most other films would feel forced, fake and unabashedly saccharine. But here, it’s refreshingly honest and Clooney delivers character moments etched in the overall story and theme of integrity. Watch how the camera closes on Granger's wedding band when he thinks better of cheating in an open invite to bed  Simone (Cate Blanchett), the French spy helping the cause. Note the tense two-shots and boxy barbarism of a kid sniper whistling bullets past the heads of Garfield and Clermont, the absurdly dangerous and ultimately deadly shoot-out in the pasture, and Jeffries' somber demise under the presumed safety of a church's roof. Nothing too sensational. Nothing ever obvious. Death at its most noble and numbing.



The flick is not without missteps. The most blatant being the depictions of FDR and Truman - ultra-famous figures never play well in small samples - and the awful, Spielberg-ian final scene. You'll see. But these are minor gripes.

This is the sort of movie that zips in and out of theaters, and often the public conscious, given its time of release and understated quality. I hope it finds a bigger and more appreciative audience at home.



Anthony Moretta is from Brooklyn, NY and writes about '70s crime films at Goodbye Like A Bullet. His writing has appeared in Out of the Gutter Online and is featured in the comics anthology, Unfashioned Creatures. His independent film project, Travels, is currently in post-production and he's also developing an original comic book series.

Scatter Box

Being a hero comes down to a couple components: character and timing. Criminals tend to be short on the former. But through sheer volume of opportunity, they do all right on that other part.

And in the Gutter, if you're lucky enough, sometimes you can come up smelling of roses. Even when you are sitting in a pile of shit.

Scatter Box by Joshua Swainston




At Harbor Island, the snow started to fall just after three in the afternoon. Seattle snow is pure and clean for a total of five minutes. After that it gets mixed with diesel runoff and dog shit until it resembles a violated wedding dress. Conrad leaned forward against a Maersk shipping container, unzipped his coveralls and added his own yellow signature.

“Boy, put your pecker back in your pants!” shouted a gruff voice.

The sudden volume surprised Conrad into losing focus. Urine soaked the fabric around his left leg. “Damn it.”

“Got ya,” chuckled Frank.

Conrad fastened his coveralls. “Fuckin’ shit kicker.”

“Hey, hey,” Frank said through a gray mustache. “Let’s keep things civil, alright?”

“Fuck you.”

“That’s more like it.” Frank stepped up to Conrad, careful not to tread on the yellow snow. “So, what do you got for me today?”

“That’s the good part. Customs guy doesn’t even fuckin’ know. It came in last night. Listed to some Mister Wu Shin, whoever that is.” Conrad bent down and uncovered a pair of bolt cutters from under a dusting of snow. “Come on, it’s this way.”

“Not to sound ungrateful but if you don’t know, why the fuck did you call me?” Frank followed as Conrad led the way into an aisle of containers.

“Fuck, man, it’s like one of the shitty storage auction shows. We open it, you like it, awesome. I’ll get my cut. If you don’t like it, we close up. No harm, no foul, right?”

“I’m not normally a gambling man.”

“I’ve gotten you in on some great shit this last year. I wouldn’t fuck with you about this stuff.” Conrad stopped. “Here it is, Ninety-seven Thirty-two.” Rust shucked off the edges of the container like dandruff. Two lengths of steel round stock, secured with padlocks, held down the doors. “What’s the call, shit kicker?”

“Seeing as you dragged my ass down to the docks, I might as well take a look.”

Conrad used the bolt cutters on the locks leaving them to fall. He then lifted the dogs and torqued the round stock to release the door.

Low, guttural moans rose from inside.

The doors forced open and a flood of shoeless Chinese men exploded out. Conrad fell on his ass, nearly impaling himself on the bolt cutters.

“AAAAAA!” the men roared like warriors charging into battle.

In the commotion Frank became pinned between one of the container doors and an adjacent shipping Conex.

“AAAAAA!”

The exodus continued, thirty, fifty men. The last refugee staggered out carrying an aluminum bucket, which he tossed at Conrad, showering him with human excrement. Wherever the hoard ran they left barefoot snow tracks.

Six of the Chinese men scurried to conceal themselves in a cluster of Hanjin containers. A few jumped into the Puget Sound attempting to swim to Seattle, a few hundred yards away. One climbed into the cab of a nearby forklift but was unable to operate the machine. The remainder scattered toward whatever looked like salvation.

Frank pushed the door off his chest. “What in God’s name was that?”

Feces fell from Conrad’s hair. He gagged then threw up. “We need … those Asians … we’re fucked.”

“I don’t know what you fuckin’ got me into but I’m gone!”

“You can’t leave me now. It’s not my fault. We got to get those chinks back in the box,” Conrad argued from the ground.

An alarm sounded from speakers mounted on the Harbor Island light towers indicating a breach in security. “They ain’t chinks, they’re human beings.” Frank walked towards the road. “You racist shithead.”

“Fuck, racist. That’s what you’re worried about?”

A white Jeep Cherokee displaying alternating blue and red lights sped towards the two men. Other Jeeps appeared, each with their own destination.

“It’s not my fault,” said Conrad.

“AAAAAAA!” the war cry of the Chinese men echoed in the container yard.

When the Jeep screeched to a stop, Frank could read the bold face decal across the door: Department of Homeland Security. The title took Frank a moment to register, and in that moment an armed official used the butt of his firearm to drop Frank to ground.

“It’s not my fault!” Conrad screamed, his new mantra, before being rolled around to his stomach by unseen muscle. A prick in his ass felt like a bee sting, and then the lights went out.

***

When Conrad woke he still smelled of shit. Frank sat at a table eating fresh apple slices from a paper plate. They were in a white walled office with a window overlooking the docks.

“It’s not my fault,” was all Conrad could think to say.

“Your stupid ass awake?” Frank grunted.

“Where are we?”

“Homeland office.”

“We’re fucked, aren’t we?”

“Why would you be ‘fucked’, Mr. Bell?”  The man stood in the doorway with a “Homeland” badge hanging from his neck.

“We didn’t know those people were in that container.”

“We know, your partner told us everything.”

“So what’s going on?”

“You and your friend are free to go.”

“What?”

“From what evidence we have, and what the news media seems to believe, you two clowns broke open the biggest human trafficking ring in state history.” The official gave a half smile at the two men. “That you two may’ve been engaged in something less … upstanding, well, that’s another matter. Who am I to disagree with the news?”

 “You’re Homeland Security, since when do you guys care what the media thinks?” Conrad blurted.

“We’re trying to update our image. Lots of bad press over the last … oh, decade or so.”

Frank stood up from the table, then pushed past the official to make his escape. “We better get a move on, Conrad.” He said “Conrad” like it rhymed with “asshole.”

Frank left the port by the main gate. Conrad walked to the longshoreman’s locker room for a shower and to change out of his coveralls. Taped to his locker hung a business card: “International Importer –Wu Shin, Seattle WA.”


Most of the time Joshua Swainston is a merchant mariner (sailor). When not out to sea, he lives in Tacoma, WA, with his family and writes fiction and editorials for the local arts paper. His work can be found in Wrist, A Twist of Noir, The First Line and Workers Write. Joshua’s first book, The Tacoma Pill Junkies, is available through his website, www.Tacomapilljunkies.com