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Return to Eden

Somewhere, out there in the darkness, is a regret trying to undo its inception.

In the Gutter, regret is what feeds our dreams.

Return to Eden by Ty Vossler



First there was blackness—blackness so deep that my last thought was the uselessness of even trying to escape it. In that final moment, I knew that I was tied to the Earth forever and that the blood and brain mix on the tile floor around my shattered head would somehow nourish the planet.
              
Then, as if suddenly jolting awake from a terrible nightmare I sat straight up and floated back to my feet. I saw moist spray and fragments of bone drifting away from me, and then rushing back in, the bones, fitting back into place as if my head were one of those damned jig-saw puzzles that takes about three years to finish.
              
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Eve’s husband backing out of the motel room, and her screaming, “madA!” and then the door slammed behind him. Then I was sitting on the bed again. I rolled over and was between her thighs—back in Eden—such a glorious feeling coursing through my body, as though I were reborn. I heard myself growling with pleasure. The height of the feeling followed a slow, downhill path until I reached the beginning of our lovemaking and even then, the anticipation made me dizzy with desire.
              
Oh, what men are capable of saying in these first few moments, when the blood has rushed from our brains and into our erections—what we say.

As I slipped out of her, I heard the three words, brought forth by chemicals, because there is no such creature as love and never was. Just a release of dopamine that brings us back for more and more—makes us chase the apple in the Tree of Life, hoping for the same high, yet we’re always disappointed.
              
What the hell was I thinking, hooking up with a married dame. I must have had a hole in my head.


Ty Spencer Vossler (MFA) currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico with his BMW (beautiful Mexican wife) and their daughter. Vossler is a prolific writer, and has published over forty works in the past two years, including novels, many short stories, poems and essays. He attributes his originality to the fact that he shot his television over two decades ago.

Rusty Barnes just flat out kicked my ass. I dove into Ridgerunner not knowing what to expect and I was ill prepared for what I found. What did I find you ask? I found a crime novel, wrapped in a multi-layered drama about the need for family, the lengths you go for family, and the depths of despair you can bring upon your loved ones through your choices. Barnes layered these elements in a manner that left me drained and longing for the next part in this trilogy.


Matt Rider works as a conservationist and is often at war with the local bad-ass family, the Pittmans. When Rider is attacked by one of the family members and barely survives, he sets off a chain reaction that has him popping pills to alleviate the injuries he receives, traipsing through the mountain with his brother as they search for revenge, and trying to determine where some of the Pittman’s missing money is located. But the beautiful artistry of Barnes writing is centered on Rider’s attempts to keep his wife, who has emotional & mental issues, by his side, both physically and emotionally, while still staying true to his need to see this issue through to the end. His older brother also plays a large part in the plot, as the brothers share a sense of commitment and duty to family members and they will stake their lives on seeing this duty through till the end.

Barnes has a master piece on his hands and 280 Steps has published another winner. Barnes has certainly piqued my interest in getting my hands of more of his work. I am thrilled to see this is just the first part in an expected trilogy revolving around Rider and the Pittman family. If the future books in the series reach the heights this novel has set, this could be a trilogy for the ages. This was some strong writing and I am in awe of what I just read.


Highly Recommended.
Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Baked Goods

Whether it's with cash that's legit or blood-stained,

In The Gutter, bills still have to be paid. 



Baked Goods by Rob Pierce





“Look,” Williams said. “This is a job a lotta guys wouldn’t want. Let me know if you don’t want it. There’s this runner across town, thinks he don't have to share, got his own protection, makes him hard to get to.”

Williams was the size of a retired NFL lineman, plenty fat with what looked like a ton of muscle beneath. It was amazing he sat as comfortably as he did on the little café chair.

Vollmer sat, both palms on the metal table, didn’t pretend he was here for coffee. It was just him and Williams, he wouldn’t stay long. He didn’t care how big the man was. He cared because Williams worked for Rico, and Rico worked for Tenny, and Tenny ran most everything in this town. “You want me to visit the runner?”

Williams shook his head, his cheeks full of coffee, seemed like they should have sloshed. He swallowed. “The protection. Send a message.”

Vollmer smiled. Big. “Hell yeah.”

***

Vollmer studied Cuccero, a slim guy, dressed sharp, good with a knife and pistol they said, armed at all times. Who wasn’t? For this it didn’t matter. A fair fight was the last thing Vollmer had in mind.

The protection guards the man who guards the money. He doesn’t work seven days a week. A lot of nights the man doesn’t carry big money. Cuccero got a day or two off most weeks, sometimes more, but never on days his boss ran big games.

Vollmer didn’t give a fuck about the big game days. He wanted this asshole relaxed. A guy like Cuccero would be too hard to follow without being seen, probably had radar behind his ass. Except maybe on his days off.

Cuccero left his apartment around nine most mornings he didn’t work, walked down the street a few blocks to the local bakery and loaded up, sometimes took it home, sometimes took it somewhere else.

Vollmer was in the bakery by a quarter to nine, got a couple crullers and a coffee. He kept his head down the whole time, even when he ordered, and took a table with a view of the line. Which was only a half dozen people and moved fast. The big crowd came earlier. Vollmer didn’t care. He nibbled on his first cruller and sipped at his coffee.

After a few minutes, Cuccero joined the straight line to the counter, three customers between him and the register. Cuccero looked at the display case. As often as he came here, he had to have that shit memorized. Two of them ordered. Cuccero was next, after the guy at the register.

Vollmer stood, stepped away from his table, stretched his arms over his head, which still faced the floor, and brought them back down, one hip forward, his legs no longer parallel. Cuccero still looked straight ahead.

Vollmer ran. Cuccero turned, but Vollmer had him by the back of the neck and rammed his head into the display case. It was plastic and cracked open. Blood from Cuccero’s forehead fell on tiramisu. He did too.

Vollmer grabbed Cuccero by the head, a palm pressed against each temple, and slammed the man’s dessert-covered face against the bottom shelf over and over. Blood spread around the cakes. When he knew Cuccero couldn’t possibly be alive, Vollmer turned, head still down, and ran the hell out of there.

***

“Be nice,” Williams said, “if you coulda done that without making every fucking paper on the coast.”

“The runner scared?” Vollmer asked. “Fuck you.”

There weren’t many men who’d say that to Williams. The murder in the bakery scared more than just the runner.

Williams held his coffee cup tight, his fingers red. “That place got a security camera.”

“One fucking camera, keep your head down and it don’t see shit. You think I don’t study security? And nobody there can ID me, guaranteed. Also don’t want to. You shouldn’t give a fuck anyway. My face, not yours. He pay yet?”

Williams nodded. “But you ain’t gotta be so obvious.”

“You think anyone ain’t scared of you now? You should suck my dick. ’Cept I’d shoot you if you tried.”

Williams laughed, like Vollmer was joking. Like he’d better be.

Vollmer looked calm. He didn’t smile, his look didn’t change.

Williams drank coffee. “You’re tough, that’s good. But the guys up top, the guys who like you now? They decide you’re crazy, they won’t like you no more.”

“They don’t gotta like me.” Vollmer stood. “They just gotta pay me.” He walked away.


Rob Pierce wrote the novel Uncle Dust, the novella Vern In The Heat, and the short story collection The Things I Love Will Kill Me Yet (September 2016). Editor of Swill Magazine and an editorial consultant with All Due Respect Books, Rob has been nominated for a Derringer Award for short crime fiction and has had stories published in numerous ugly magazines. He lives and will probably die in Oakland, California.

A Full, Upright, and Locked Position

There's something about the flying experience that leaves you humble as you are vulnerable.

Because when you fly over the Gutter, it's not the physics that'll fail you, it's the human component.

A Full, Upright, and Locked Position by Beau Johnson



I have been many things to many people.  I could take the time and name each one but I think I’d like to try something a little different seeing how we’re all together as we are.  By the sound of things back there in the galley it seems some of you might already be aware as to what’s going on.  That’s good.  I think it’s needed.
              
All told, it reminds me of my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Doring.  Verbatim, he used those exact same words as he held my head in a way no adult ever should.  You remember that, don’t you, Mr. Doring?  I suppose it’s just Bill now, seeing where we’re at, but I’d still like to know if you ever thought of me through the years.  Hell, there could’ve been more you took advantage of, but I don’t really care.  Not anymore.
              
What I do care about is the man sitting next to you.  If he’s still there, his name’s Ben Mackleford and he was my best friend up until the summer before college.  This is when he and my girlfriend decided they deserved each other more than I deserved them.  It’s fine.  It happened.  And I hope that’s you out there banging on the door, Tonia.  I sincerely do.  If not, my second choice, without a doubt, would have to be Greg Malloy.  Not many people know this about old Greg, but his mean streak---it pert near matches the color of what remains of his teeth.  Our time together took place in ninth grade, where I was introduced to the benefits of toilet water and the ingesting of certain flavors which often accompanied said liquid. 
              
Quite a time we had, Greg.  Yes, quite a time indeed.
              
Nothing compares to the rituals of Monica Porter, however.  You listening, Monica?  Would you like to explain how our dynamic works or should I?  Long story short is Monica likes to belittle her co-workers on a daily basis.  Not overtly, but in the passive aggressive ways certain flight attendants tend to perfect.
              
Am I doing a good enough job explaining myself, Monica?  Have I enunciated enough?
              
Maybe you could take a moment and ask Robbie Dunn how I’m doing.  He’s there somewhere.  I checked.  Robbie’s the dude who always had my back at the job I had before this one.  Stand up all the way.  Until he decided it was time to stand on my back and throw a certain someone under the bus for a promotion which equated to pennies a glass.  It’s how I ended up becoming a pilot, really, and now that we’re talking about it, how this business was set in motion in the first place.
              
I wonder: when I speak these things, when you hear them aloud, is the recall each of you envisions as true as it should be or is there a type of denial which manifests?  It’s a heavy question, sure, but I state it not in search of an answer but as a means to tell you this: all of you, even the ones I have failed to mention by name, you are who have made me who I am today.  Know this.  Embrace it.  That being said, there are two others who have just as much skin in the game as you.  I couldn’t get them to join us here today, not without jeopardizing what must transpire, so in the spirit of all things being equal we’ll be bringing the festivities to them.
              
Full disclosure: this was always going to be a one way trip, no matter how you received your ticket or the accommodations some of you might still believe are pending.  I’ll admit I was a bit on the nose with name as well.  The You Deserve It Foundation?  I mean, come on.  But it happened, you’re here, and in time the P.O. boxes and answering machines will be linked back to me.  Not all of you fell for it, of course, but when the majority of you did bite---this is what impressed me most.  Your screaming and pleading though: music to my ears.  Might be cliché, sure, but in a roundabout way it brings us back to who we’re about to “drop” in on.
              
I found them in the pool house, my brother into a place my penis had never been, a place my wife assured me she would never, ever tolerate.  What did I do when this occurred?  I lost my mind.  What else?  But I continued to function as I have had to my entire life.  Do you know why?  Of course you do.  Each of you preparing me in ways I would wish upon no one.  It also meant I learned to adjust; to watch and wait and plan.

Means our descent began with a target in mind; a pool which took ten years of my life to pay off.  And hey, would you look at that: someone’s home. 


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 collection of Beau's shorts is due out 2017 from Down & Out Books.

Review: Goldfinches, by Ryan Sayles

I was introduced to Ryan Sayles when I read The Subtle Art of Brutality (check out my older reviews to find out how much I dug that shit) and I have devoured his short story collection and now his latest, Goldfinches, since then. I have to say, this guy can get inside your head and makes it damn near impossible to put his books down. This latest offering is a kick-ass piece of writing and I devoured it in one sitting.

The plot kicks off in high gear when Carl’s family, on their way to visit Carl's youngest son in the hospital, are abducted during a car jacking. He fights to prevent the robbery, but he is overpowered and left helpless on the side of the road. What appears to be a random act of violence is soon revealed to be a clever ploy to kidnap his wife. The plot goes way beyond a simple crime novel and weaves in some elements of science fiction and is layered in struggles between good and evil, right and wrong, and struggles for salvation.

Sayles has impressed me more with each book I have read. He has a strong sense of plot development and this book raises the suspense with each chapter. Goldfinches starts with a shotgun blast and will have every reader feeling Carl’s pain and panic. The action is full throttle and I found it both enjoyable and impossible to put down.

Sayles appears to have the ability to waive in aspects from different genres, and do it with a poet’s touch. This book is sure to bring fans of his enjoyment and also bring some new readers into his sphere.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

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 

The eBook of Cold London Blues is out now from Caffeine Nights Publishing, and the paperback is on its way. Cold London Blues is a follow-up to my book Guns Of Brixton,

Here's The Blurb:

A killer priest is on the rampage across London and an egotistical Hollywood action movie star is out for revenge when his precious comic book collection is stolen. Meanwhile, gangster Marty Cook's dreams of going legit swiftly turn pear shaped when one of his bouncers accidentally kills one of his salsa club's regular customers. Razor sharp wisecracks, gaudy characters and even gaudier situations abound in Cold London Blues, a violent and pitch-black Brit Grit comedy of errors.

There are loads of buy links here, if you're that way inclined.

Also out now is the rebooted Exiles: An Outsider Anthology. Exiles is now published by Slovenian publisher Artizan.

Here's the blurb:

A powerful Noir short story collection edited by the Bukowski of Noir, Paul D. Brazill. Exiles features 26 outsiders-themed stories by some of the greatest crime and noir writers, K. A. Laity, Chris Rhatigan, Steven Porter, Patti Abbott, Ryan Sayles, Gareth Spark, Pamila Payne, Paul D. Brazill, Jason Michel, Carrie Clevenger, David Malcolm, Nick Sweeney, Sonia Kilvington, Rob Brunet, James A. Newman, Tess Makovesky, Chris Leek, McDroll, Renato Bratkovič, Walter Conley, Marietta Miles, Aidan Thorn, Benjamin Sobieck, Graham Wynd, Richard Godwin, Colin Graham, and an introduction by Heath Lowrance.

Grab it here.

Pulp Metal Magazine's Jason Michel's The Death Of Three Colours is out now.

Here's the blurb:

Jonah is on the very edge of society and his sanity. With the death of a friend, events spiral out of control leaving him struggling with his demons. TDo3C is dark and surreal tale of organised crime, betrayal, the nature of evil and one man's obsession with the Mexican folk saint, Santa Muerte - Most Holy Death.
And who can avoid her?



From the foreword by Richard Godwin, author of The Pure and the Hated - "Jason Michel's The Death Of Three Colours exists beyond genre and definition like that song which carries its refrain into another realm of hearing. It is at once a piece of lyrical prose, a piece of subversion, a threnody and a religious hymn. Michel is an author who delves into the culture of prevalent times, who explores and excavates the ontology and disintegration of our consciousness, of the discontinuous world hemmed in by border control, political programming and lies. This work is both beautiful and angry, agonised and real. It is as much about a hunt for a lasting sexual experience as it is about the negation of self and alienation as the only way out within a society programmed to obedience."




If you're into good music, you should check out Andrew Orley's Nobody's Reading blog and Gary Crowley's Punk and New Wave Show, which is on Soho Radio.

Richard Godwin is over at Crimespree Magazine talking about Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke.

Aidan Thorn has lots of news over at his blog.

Find out about the popular Crime & Publishment crime writing course here.

Ryan Bracha has collected his Dead Man trilogy in one eBook.

Tom Leins reviews Gareth Spark's Marwick's Reckoning.

Lots of great flash fiction at Near To The Knuckle and Spelk Fiction.


There'll be more stuff down Brit Grit Alley soon.



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

Paul D. Brazill is the author of books like The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Cold London Blues, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, German and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime. He has even edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. His blog is here.



Tax Day

The business may be on the up and up and all legit.

But in The Gutter, someone else always needs to get theirs too.

Tax Day by Nick Kolakowski




Sitting behind the wheel of his Oldsmobile Delta 88, warm can of beer squeezed between his thighs, Jerry Caine scanned the murky edges of the parking lot. It was 6:05, according to the dashboard clock, but already he could feel the day’s heat pressing against the windshield, making his forehead prickle with sweat.
           
Two gulps drained the beer, and he opened another one. Need all the courage I can get, he thought. Polishing off the second can left him with a nice buzz, and he unlocked the glove compartment, retrieving the silver .38 pistol from beneath the Oldsmobile’s yellowing owner’s manual. His shirt was soaked with perspiration, his armpits stinking hot.

Across the street stood the concrete monolith of the state tax office. Jerry knew that an armed guard sat behind the lobby desk, while a second one manned the nearby metal detector. If he made it beyond that barrier, a special elevator took him to the fifth floor, where he needed to enter a seven-digit code in order to open the thick steel door that led to the counting room. If he started any trouble inside, at least five deputies with rifles would fill him with enough lead to make him a paperweight.

A tough nut to crack, as Jerry’s father would have said.

Headlights flared as two cars turned into the lot. Jerry debated whether he had time to power-chug a third beer and decided against it. Alcohol steadied his hands but also made everything almost unbearably funny, and laughing his head off was no way to conduct a robbery—or was it?

The two cars produced three dudes, all of whom yelped in fear when Jerry emerged from the dawn’s orange flare with a pistol pointed at them and a stupid grin on his face. “Give it up,” Jerry said.

The three amigos—young, white, dressed in shirts with marijuana logos—went for their wallets.

“No, idiots, the bags.” Jerry jabbed his pistol at the bulging paper sacks in their arms.

The biggest kid—sunburned, tall, with a blonde buzz-cut going to seed—made fists. The situation suddenly seemed very precarious. Sure, Jerry had the firepower. But if one of these boys went for him, the sound of a shot would bring out a lot of cops in record time.

“Hey, don’t blame me,” Jerry said, jabbing his weapon in the buzz-cut kid’s face. “It’s the government that makes you pay your taxes in cash. Now drop it.”

Two paper bags hit the pavement with dull thumps.

“Now get on the ground,” Jerry said. “Don’t look up until I’m gone.” Once they were spread-eagle, he scooted over and picked up the bags, tucking one under his arm while holding the other in his free hand. It made him look like a bird with a busted wing. “How much is in here?”

“Forty thousand dollars,” Buzz Cut muttered. “Don’t spend it all in one place.” 

“Well, uh, I’m glad the weed business is treating you well,” Jerry said, as he backed toward his car. “Next time, hire some protection or something, huh?”

“Thanks,” one of the other kids muttered, before his friend elbowed him in the ribs.

Jerry climbed behind the wheel of the Oldsmobile, twisted the key, and burned rubber out of the lot. By the time he made the highway, he couldn’t hold the laughter back any longer. I’m just the kind of badass, he thought, who gets rich on tax day. God bless legalization. And the laws that don’t let weed farmers set up bank accounts.


Nick Kolakowski’s crime fiction has been published in ThugLit, Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, and Crime Syndicate Magazine. His novella “A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps” is coming out later this year from One Eye Press.

Last Night at Mesca's

Change is inevitable in this world and sometimes you have to roll with the punches.

But in the Gutter, sometimes you have to throw 'em.

Last Night at Mesca's by Liam Sweeny



Dusk on the picnic tables in front of Mesca’s Grill contained the blueprint of my heaven, should Saint Pete be passed out drunk when I’m in line. Jimmy had a Thermos full of corn whiskey. I had a beer from behind the counter. The breeze was balmy, and the sweat beading on my face cooled me as it soaked my collar.

“Sure you’re okay with this?” Jimmy asked.

I groaned as I stood up. “You gotta’ move on, I get it. Wish you’d let me buy the place myself.”

“Nothin’ but trouble, Tom.” Jimmy took a sip from the Thermos. His face twitched. “It ain’t like it used to be.”

“I remember you giving me my first job, cleanin’ out the grease traps and shitters.”

“I was tryin’ to get rid of ya’. You know that, right?” Jimmy chuckled. He was a caricature in granite, sleeves rolled up to reveal arms made better for felling trees than for slinging french fries from behind a Plexiglas window. He had a crooked nose from too many fights, and hard lines cracking his face. But sitting there, in front of Mesca’s, was a different Jimmy, like everything about him was eroding.

Tom cooled his throat with a swig of his Crow’s Beak Lager, a Harrison County favorite, brewed three towns over in Harleton. He cracked his knuckles.

“You’re really out of here, aren’t ya’?”

Jimmy took another sip. His face stayed stone this time. “Yeah, kid. Ain’t an animal out there too dumb to run when they smell the smoke.”

“Why did you go to Meyers for the money? This town would’ve fought to keep your place above water.”
Jimmy wrapped his arm around Tom.

“Ya’ know Mrs. Lyle?” He asked. Tom grunted that he did.

“Well, this is zipped, ‘tween you an’ me, but she’s been bringin’ the kids over every Saturday, all of ‘em dressed in their best, and they get a proper feed on.”

“That’s good, right?”

“I ain’t charged her in five years,” Jimmy said. “I can’t. Andy Lyle came to me askin’ for that job I gave you back in the day, grease and shit. And you know he was the plant foreman before the layoffs.”

“Man,” Tom said.

“It’s getting to the point where people are trying to pawn shit off to me for food. Little shit, granted, but it don’t pay the taxman, and the refrigerator repair guy isn’t in the mood to barter trinkets for man-hours … Don’t blame him.”

“But Meyers, Jimmy? You had to know that was going to go south.”

Jimmy laughed. “You know what the fucker of it is?”

“What?”

“Harrison County got a state grant to buy up properties on 154 out of Marshall. Remember when they built the box stores down the road?” Tom nodded. “Yeah, then.” Jimmy put his eyes down the road.

“You wouldn’t sell, though.”

“Damn right I wouldn’t sell. Pops built the place, and they’d tear it down to put up a mini golf course. So I went to Meyers.”

“But Meyers is a shark. Ya’ had to know you’d never square with him.”

“Meyer came off smooth about it, talking about how we can work stuff out. I just thought he’d need me to rough up some guys here and there. But it turns out Meyers got in the soup right along with us. The layoffs didn’t create crime; they created an exodus to DFW. Now Meyers is tying up loose ends.”
***
Tom and Jimmy listened to a jet overhead, bound for Dallas, likely. Off to the left, the sun’s eye slow-winked its Blood Orange lid over visible miles of scrub brush and mountain cliffs usually reserved for West Texas. Tommy glanced at his and Jimmy’s trucks parked side-by-side in the front lot. He glanced back. So much of his life was annotated in knife carvings on the benches, phone calls at the payphone at the side entrance. Christ, he met his first-and-only wife at Mesca’s, wrote her number on a napkin, one of the few Mesca’s napkins that had the business name printed on them. Jimmy was his best man.

“So what are you gonna do?” Tommy said. “Go to DFW like everyone else?”

“Nah… Think I’m gonna’ go head down Austin way, ya’ know, when the dust settles. Maybe I’ll open up a small club.”

“Well, I guess that’s it, then.”

Jimmy got up, swaggered a bit as he headed for his truck. “Thanks, Tommy. I owe ya’. I’ll send word when I get settled in.” Jimmy tossed the keys over. “Grill yourself one last burger if you want. I’ll be at Tolliver’s in a half-hour, an’ I plan on passing out there.”

“Alright, Jimmy,” Tommy said. He watched Jimmy launch his pickup over the small bluff in front of Mesca’s, fish-tailing down 154.

Tommy patted his shirt pocket. Half a pack of cigarettes and a Zippo lighter. His car keys were in his jeans pocket. He hopped off the bench and hopped into his truck, pulling it in the back between an old out building and a weather-beaten garage. Once parked, he restored his place on the benches.

Harrison County was a desolate place when the sun went down. Not that cars and trucks didn’t occasionally drive by, but that with Mesca’s neons off, it was really easy to pass by unnoticed. The sound of children and teens, gearing up for their respective battles for the heart of the night, was gone, replaced by cicadas retaking the wild.

Tommy smoked five cigarettes, pocketed the butts. Jimmy was at Tolliver’s by now. It was about time to say goodbye to the center of his world. He walked to the back of his pickup and grabbed the ten-gallon can of gasoline. He lugged the can to the side entrance, and fumbled with the keys Jimmy gave him. Once he was inside, he had to admit that he would’ve liked to grill one last burger before the gasoline splashed over the counter.


Liam Sweeny is a crime and mystery writer from upstate New York. His work has appeared in various crime publications, such as Thuglit, Pulp Modern, Shotgun Honey, All Due Respect and others. His first book in the Jack LeClere series, Welcome Back, Jack, is available on Amazon.com and through Down & Out Books.

Review: Face Value, by William E. Wallace

I recently wrapped up my reading of Face Value by William E Wallace and I am amazed how Wallace seems to hone his writing chops more and more with each new book he releases. After reading his novella collection Dead Heat with the Reaper, I was sure he couldn’t raise the bar any higher, but, boy, was I mistaken.
              
Wallace is hitting noir lovers with a book that will leave them begging for more (and lucky for us he has a new collection of short stories.) Face Value left me with the impression it could have been written back in the days when the noir legends where publishing their classics. It is streamlined, dark, and has a pacing that doesn’t allow the reader a chance to put the book down. In other words, it does everything right.
              
I have found reviewing the plots to novellas can be difficult, as you can easily give too much away. To keep my summary short and concise, it centers on a man who is forced to locate some stolen goods for a group of very bad people. He knows that to fall short of his goal is akin to sentencing himself to death, so he needs little motivation to get the job done. The stakes get raised when he realizes they prey he is after is a man who double-crossed him on a score years ago. Wallace sets the stage nicely, but even this sampling can’t prepare you for the fun ride he has in store for you.
              
While my summary is short, I know if you are reading reviews on Out of the Gutter, you like your books hard-hitting, dark, and full of attitude. These prerequisites are certainly met in spades in this book. Jump on this book ASAP, it is going to blow you away.

Highly Recommended.

Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

My Mailman, My Enemy

"Just because you're paranoid. . .

doesn't mean they're not after you."

My Mailman, My Enemy by Patrick Cooper




He put a spider in my mailbox again. Third time now.

I don’t know why the mailman chose Frances and me as the targets of his morbid game. It would be nice to get my mail without putting gloves on. That’s a small luxury I miss.

The last time he did it, I was watching through the blinds. I saw him do it: the mailman. He opened my mailbox, put the mail inside, then reached back into his satchel and got a spider. He placed the spider carefully inside and closed it up again. It was difficult to tell from this distance, but I’m fairly certain he was smiling when he drove off. Grinning broad and devilish.

This third spider was cowering in the back shadow of the mailbox when I opened it. He didn’t attack like the others, so I snapped a Polaroid and looked him up online. It was a “hobo spider.” According to my cursory research, there’s no evidence that a hobo spider’s bite leads to dermal necrosis. I filed this information in my brain and took the hose and sprayed him out of the mailbox. Crushed him under my slipper and left his corpse there as a warning to other spiders.

My neighbor Karen doesn’t believe me. I asked her if the mailman had ever put a spider in her mailbox too. She said, “This is Florida. Spiders get in everywhere.” She looked at me sideways, wary of my presence.

See, I don’t leave the house much anymore. Not since Frances died. Now Frances, she would’ve believed me. If she hadn’t hung herself from the pine tree on the front lawn last November, she would’ve had my back on this.

Frances didn’t leave a note, so everyone assumes I drove her to suicide. That’s not true, though. It was the mailman. He’s been playing games with us for years and Frances, she just couldn’t take it anymore. Me, I’m too much of a coward to kill myself. So I just keep finding spiders in the mailbox. I’ve covered the front room in tin foil, though. So the mailman can’t hear my thoughts anymore. It’s a good first step towards a solution, I think.

The second step is the explosive. Before the spiders, before the mailman started listening to my thoughts, I was a chemistry professor. I know certain things about making reactions to cause others pain. The mailman doesn’t know about this because I’ve never thought about it when he’s near. I keep my mind clear, almost like a meditation. Or, I repeat a nursery rhyme in my head. “Solomon Grundy,” that’s a favorite of mine.

I changed out of my slippers and robe and walked to the hardware store. I don’t drive anymore. Cars aren’t safe. The mailman, he drives a Grumman Long Life Vehicle, or Grumman LLV. That’s what the postal carrier cars are actually called. Did you know that?

Having buried my debit and credit cards months ago next to the septic tank, I paid for the sulfuric acid in cash. The other materials needed for the device I already had lying around the house. The trigger mechanism was easy to build—just a few simple wires attached to the mailbox’s latch. I won’t go into detail about how I made the rest, because now that I’m awaiting trial, the investigators will surely read this. I have to leave some details out so they have something to investigate. It’s in their job title, after all.

Under the light of the moon, I rigged the mailbox, wearing gloves and goggles, biting my tongue in concentration. It was a thing of beauty, what I made. Such a damn shame nobody would understand it but the mailman and me.

I paced in front of the window all afternoon, wearing a path in the carpet. He typically comes some time between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Must’ve been running late that day. It was close to Mother’s Day, the busiest mail holiday of them all. That could be why. Or maybe he was off in the woods, collecting more spiders. The evil bastard.

Sunlight reflected through the blinds, off of the tin foil stapled to the walls. “Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday, christened on Tuesday…”

There it is, the familiar squeal of the Grumman LLV’s brakes. Sounds like two houses down now. “Married on Wednesday, took ill on Thursday…”

The brakes, louder now. My heartbeat drummed in my ear. “Worse on Friday, died on Saturday…”

What’s taking him so long? My neighbor must have a package. He had to bring it to the door. Wait, here he comes now. “Buried on Sunday, this is the end…”

Hello, my enemy. My mailman. That’s it, reach for it. Open the latch. “Of Solomon Grundy.” 

The sulfuric acid shot out of its plastic container inside the mailbox like a righteous punch from God himself. The scream the mailman gave was like that of an animal being torn in half. It was glorious.

The tail of my robe whipped behind me as I ran outside. The first thing that struck me was the smell. My God, the smell. He had fallen out of the Grumman LLV and was thrashing on the ground. Blood poured out of his flesh as it bubbled and cracked. Honestly, it worked out better than I thought.

I’m not sure which neighbor called 911, but I bet it was Karen, the sanctimonious bitch who never believed a word I said about the mailman and the spiders. I tried to explain it to the officers, but they wouldn’t listen. Before one of them put me in a choke hold, he said: “It’s Florida! Spiders get in everywhere!”

Now Frances, she would’ve believed me.



Patrick Cooper’s short fiction has appeared in various crime publications and his film criticism can be found at Bloody Disgusting and Collider. Dig his website for more: https://patrickgcooper.com/

Leave it to Cleaver

Some of us use our skills to make a life for ourselves.

But in the Gutter, we sometimes use it to take a life for ourselves.

Leave it to Cleaver by Chase Whale



While I was choking the life out of Ronald, I kept thinking about her. Poor, sweet innocent Rachel. The only sure thing in life is death, but she shouldn’t have gone out like she did: raped, murdered, and hurled into an alley like trash with a needle of junk jammed in her arm.

Rachel was the only thing left for me in this cesspool. Pop blew his brains out when I was 35, and cancer took my mother two years later. Rachel was born into misery –- her parents were junkies—so I took care of her until she was old enough to work and live life on her own

It took time to get Ronald alone — he always had an entourage with him — but when a man has nothing to lose, patience becomes his most loyal companion. His father, Mickey Welles, is one of the city's biggest crime shitbirds. I don’t know how they never connected my relationship with Rachel — divine intervention? — but they never discovered I was her uncle. This was their biggest mistake.
***

I snapped Ronald’s neck and watched blood leak out of his glassy, dead black eyes. I pulled out my cleaver and went to work. Once that party was over, I picked up his phone and dialed Mickey.

I’m busy Ronald, what do you—”

This is Charlie.”

Charlie? Who the fuck are you?”

The man who just killed your son.”

You better be fucking around.” I could feel the tremble of fear and fire in his voice.

Meet me at Leave it to Cleaver’s in 45 if you want the other half of your son back.”

Click.

***

My name is Charlie Lang; known to my associates as Cleaver. I’m not a good man, but I’m not a monster, either. I used to make ends meet street-fighting, but old age beat me to the punch. Now I run my late Pop’s deli shop, Leave it to Cleaver. (Pop loved a play on words and puns.)

Occasionally, I’m a hired butcher. When someone needs a dirty rotten scoundrel to disappear, I’m called. It’s a dirty job but pays well. My tactics are swift, clean, and I leave nothing behind. At the shop, I have a colossal grinder that scrambles the bones and meat into digestible food for my two hungry pits, Brutus and Sadie. Easy money.

***

I got back to the shop and waited. I leaned against the counter and waited for death to arrive. I knew I punched my ticket killing Ronald, but I’m an old, broken piece of meat and Rachel was all that I had. Ronald was a rotten dog — you give him a steak and he wants the whole cow. He was a rotten dog that took Rachel from me and needed to be put down. In this business, there are no clean breaks. Everyone has their comeuppance. 

Knock knock. Death has arrived. With Mickey are two goons packed with AKs.

Be cool. I told myself as sweat poured down my right brow and burned in my eye. I was ready for a fight: a sawed-off double barrel in my left hand and the sharpest fucking cleaver that would slice through God, should He stand in my way, in my right. I buzzed them in.

Silence.
  
You must be Cleaver. I’ve heard about you. Do you know who I am?” Mickey asked.

You’re Mickey Mouse,” I said as I pointed the cleaver at the goon on his left, and you must be his pal Donald Duck, and the other rodent on the right is your princess, Minnie.”

I set my cleaver down on the counter.

You’re a funny fella. I hate to kill funny fellas.” Mickey retorted.

Make it slow, I love the smell of blood,” I quipped.

Let’s get down to business — why did you kill my son? We don’t tamper territory this side of the tracks.”

Your son killed my niece. The end.”

I see. She must have been a whore. My son loves fucking rats.”

Fuck it. Behind me was Ronald’s head, which I grabbed and tossed at Mickey. During his shocked and horrified state, I snatched the cleaver and bum-rushed the three, thwacking it into Donald’s skull; it cut through like a knife slicing through hot butter. His scream filled the shop. While the cleaver was traveling through his skull, the sawed-off in my left-hand boomed and shredded half of Minnie’s head into roast beef.

Mickey threw a wallop left hook into my jaw, and I heard the sound: crunch. His bone-breaking punch reminded me he also used to be a fighter. He threw his right fist into my ribs, and I dropped fast. I scooted back against the counter while he pulled out a pistol and popped one in my left shoulder.

You see,” he said, big meatheads like you don’t plan, you just punch. You thought you could take out all three of us? You should have shot me when you had the chance.” Mickey looked around. Nice shop, family-owned? I’m going to have a time using what’s here to tear you apart.”

I spat blood and started laughing. My maniac guffaw distracted him while I pulled something out from my pocket. "Two things, Mickey: You watch too many gangster movies, hahaha, and you talk too much.”

He started to raise his pistol.

“There’s one more thing I almost forgot,” I said. And that’s when I showed him the pin I pulled from the grenade in my pocket. Time to meet God.”

The last thing I saw was tough guy Mickey’s frozen, terrified face.

And then.

Darkness. 


Chase Whale is a graduate of the University of North Texas' Creative Writing B.A. program. He's a film critic, and you can find his work on Out of the Gutter, Twitch Film, Indiewire, MTV, Flaunt Magazine, and other places. He tried to fight Sean Penn once. It didn't work out well.