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Runnin' Scared

Put the petal to the metal and fire on all cylinders. 

Once in the life, you're always running.

Runnin' Scared by Bill Baber




The situation we were in had Gaff spooked. We’d been running together for twenty-five years, all the way back to our days in Huntsville, and I had never known him to be afraid of anything: prison guards, other cons, cops, or killers. Gaff was a stone cold outlaw, so since he was scared, I started to feel a tad edgy.

His knuckles were white as he gripped the wheel. I glanced at him. Gray hairs brushed his temples and lines were etched around the corners of his eyes. No longer was he the brash kid I met inside all those years ago. Time had turned him into a usually unflappable professional contract assassin. He reached down and pushed in the Caddy’s lighter, shaking a Lucky loose from the ever-present pack in his shirt pocket.

After taking a couple of drags, he grabbed the pint of Hornitos from the seat between us, took a long pull, and passed the bottle to me. There were three black Lincolns a quarter-mile behind us. They had come into sight fifteen or so miles back, like buzzards circling two men lost in the desert, patiently waiting for the right time to swoop.

We had been down to Puerto Penasco, where Felipe Flores demanded we deliver proof of a job we had handled in Tucson before he would pay us. The son of a bitch must have tipped them off. Twenty years earlier we had offed Ramon Alverez in a dispute over a late payment. His kid vowed revenge. He had tried and never come close, until now.

Gaff turned toward me. Those steel blue eyes were still as menacing as ever. He might have been scared but the pendejos behind us had better be prepared for a helluva fight. When the end came for Gaff, he wouldn’t go down easy.

“We got two plays, if we try to make the border. I’m guessin’ there are more of them waiting for us just outside of Sonoyta. We wouldn’t stand a chance. So we cut off at San Felipe,” Gaff said. “They wouldn’t be expecting that. The road from there to Caborca is straight and flat. I reckon we could put distance between us because I know for damn sure this Caddy will outrun those pieces of shit. Man, I miss that old fifty-eight Chrysler with the dual carbs and that big hemi. That son of a bitch was bullet proof. And the fastest car I ever drove.”

He took another big swig and continued, “Or, I jump on the fucking petal, hope we can hit one of the dirt roads around Pinicate, get up on top of a hill, and shoot it out there. You got a say in this, Carson. What do you think?”

The road toward the border was barren and desolate, nothing but desert hills covered in scrub and cactus. I thought about it for a minute. Man, this wasn’t where I wanted it to end. I had known from the start Gaff and me ran the risk of going out in a hail of bullets. I never envisioned it happening on some Mexican back road. If we made a run for it, odds were they’d shoot us down like dogs.

“Fuck it,” I said. “Let’s take it to the pinche cabrones.”

Gaff grinned at me. “Partner, I knew that’s what you would say. Now let’s have a snort and go to war.”

We finished off the pint as the Lincolns kept their distance, grim reminders that our time could be short.

“Ready?” Gaff asked.

“Yep. Let’s do this shit.”

Gaff punched that Cadillac and it responded like a trussed-up rodeo bull. With the needle buried, we pulled away from our pursuers. Gaff tossed the empty tequila bottle out the window.

“Always had a fondness for that,” he said.

“Unless you were drinkin’ Beam,” I replied.

We laughed.

“Either way, I hope to Christ that ain’t my last drink.” Gaff lit a smoke.

If it wasn’t for the dust, they would have blown right by. As it was, we’d opened up a decent lead on them. We fishtailed onto the dirt road at sixty and made for a range of low hills a couple of miles to the west. 

We grabbed our pistols and a gallon-jug of agua from the trunk before scrambling for the ridgeline. We set up thirty or so yards apart, each of us concealed by mesquite trees and boulders.

Gaff opened fire on the first car when it was still a quarter-mile away. He took out the windshield and when the car spun sideways, hit the gas tank. The Lincoln exploded and its occupants spilled out, confused by the smoke. We picked them off like ducks in a shooting gallery.

The muchachos in the other two cars put up more of a fight, but they were no match for the Brownings. After half an hour, it was over. It had been easier than we had thought.

When we got back to the road, Ramon Alverez’s son, dressed all in black, crawled toward one of the cars. He wept softly when he saw Gaff standing over him. “Por favor, Señor, por favor," he pleaded.

Gaff pulled out his Colt revolver. “Adios hoto,” he said, and shot him in the head.

We didn’t say much on the way back to Tucson.  

After stopping in Ajo for a six-pack, Gaff pulled over and watched a blood-red sunset over the desert. He got back in the car, looked at me, and grinned. “I wonder what the hell tomorrow will bring. Whatever it is, it’ll have a tough time topping today.”

I had the feeling he was right. Then again, in our business, you never knew.



Bill Baber’s crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies. His writing has earned a Derringer Prize and Best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog, and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.

Going Over

When your friends are bookies you need to remember
the odds are always against you.

Going Over by Rob Brunet




 “Fucken mutt.”
Carl didn’t care about Jamie’s dog problems. “Did ya get paid or not?”
“Yesterday. That’s how come I bought the table.”
Carl worked his ring finger with a nail file, the phone cradled between his right ear and shoulder. “What’d you call it?”
“It’s an inversion table. For my back pain.”
“Hurts, does it?”
“Plenty.”
“Gonna hurt more, I come over there, beat nine bills outta your hide.”
“I told you I’d pay you end of the month.”
 
“Next week.”
“First pay in December.”
Carl checked his watch. Eight fifty-five. His show was about to begin. “So why call me tonight?”
“I told you. The dog. Guess he got excited seeing me upside down like this.”
“On the inversion chair.”
“Table.”
“And you’re on it.”
“Yeah, ankles strapped in tight.”
“Hanging upside down. The fuck for?” Carl picked up the remote, tuned the channel, and put it on mute. “How much this thing cost?”
“Six hundred fifty. I got the deluxe model.”
“So, you coulda paid me this week.”
“A side benefit, it’s supposed to aid digestion.”
“You start talking ’bout how regular you are, I’m gonna hang up.”
“Don’t do that, Carl. You gotta come over, get me down.”
“Why should I?”
“The fucken dog. Like I said, I set it up, tilted over, and he runs in barking.”
The credits rolled on the eight-thirty show. Just enough time to take a leak. Carl went to the bathroom and put the phone on speaker, setting it on the sink edge.
Jamie said, “He knocked the carton over.”
“What carton?”
“The one the table came in. It jammed under—hey, you taking a piss?”
“My show’s gonna start.”
“Yeah, but…ah shit, now I gotta go.”
“So go.”
“I’m STUCK. Don’t you get it? I need you to come get me off this damn thing.”
“Before you piss yourself.”
“I been upside down a half hour already. Just lucky I had my phone in my pocket, but I only got maybe two minutes left on the battery.”
“And you call your bookie.”
“It’s not like I got a lotta friends. Besides, I have half what I owe you, right here.”
“So you want I miss my show, rush over to see you, and come away half empty.” Carl flushed the toilet. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“I’m feeling woozy.”
Carl hung up the phone. The show was a rerun, but he watched it anyway. What else would he do on a Wednesday? When it was over, he called Jamie back. Hearing his chipper voicemail greeting rubbed Carl the wrong way. Jamie was always cheerful. Even when he lost and doubled down. He had this way of making it sound like it was exactly what he wanted.
Tonight was maybe the first time Carl had heard the man upset. It had felt good. For all the times he’d let Jamie ride, dealing with his excuses, putting up with the way he slapped Carl’s back when he won big, acting like they were friends instead of doing business. Let him hang there a while on the damn upside down chair or whatever the fuck it was he bought instead of paying his bill. Let him piss himself and get humped by his damn dog.
If he hadn’t fallen asleep watching the news, Carl would’ve gone over, but after midnight? Forget it. He left it for morning.
The dog barked like a nutcase when he got to Jamie’s apartment. The door wasn’t locked.
Carl was only half surprised Jamie had died. His pants had dried out, but he still stank of urine, and the wad of bills in his pocket was disturbingly damp.
Untying his ankles and watching his body flop to the floor, Carl wondered how quickly the table would sell on eBay and whether it would make up the difference of Jamie’s last tab. The buyer needn’t know Jamie had died while strapped to the thing.
He didn’t get why anyone would want to hang upside down. To each his own.

Mostly, looking at Jamie lying there on the floor, his face a purplish blue mash, Carl was surprised that much blood could fit in a man’s nose, lips, and tongue.

Rob Brunet laces character-driven crime fiction with dark humor. His novel Stinking Rich was published by Down & Out Books and received end-of-year nods from Crimespree Magazine and MysteryPeople. He teaches creative writing at George Brown College in Toronto, and spends as much time down dirt roads as life allows. robbrunet.com

Review: Race to the Bottom, by Chris Rhatigan

If you have read any of Chris Rhatigan’s books than you know he offers a lean, stripped approach to his books; the writing contains only enough to drive the plot forward and the extraneous, dull parts are surgically removed leaving only vital muscular prose behind.  This surgical precision is what makes Rhatigan a must-read author whose books fit so nicely under the All Due Respect banner.


In his latest offering, Race to the Bottom, Rhatigan tells the story of Roy, who after getting booted from his girlfriend’s house for a series of events he cannot recall through the fog of a drunken stupor, finds himself living on the couch of his local drug dealer, Banksy. But after a night out with Banksy, Roy finds himself in over his head; accused of being an accessory to murder, hounded by the law, and unsure of who to turn to or trust.

One of the many highlights to this book is the character of Roy. He begins the novel as a shit-stain on the underwear of humanity and never once does he even hint at finding any hope of salvation. He is a lowlife who is content to be a lowlife; he just doesn’t want to be a lowlife who is prison. He is a quintessential classic noir scumbag.

One again Rhatigan pens a sure-fire winner and All Due Respect publishes yet another gem. Both of those statements seem par for the course from where I sit. I am eagerly waiting the next Rhatigan book and hope the wait isn’t too long.


Highly Recommend. Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.  

Lesser Creatures

There's nothing nobler than man's best friend.

In The Gutter, some men don't deserve nobility or friends. 

Lesser Creatures by John Teel




Ferland studied the man on the basement floor with unblinking eyes.

The man, Phil, tried to stand, but a quick blow to the nose with the butt of Ferland's pistol fixed that. His nose shattered, exploding in a torrent of thick, dark blood that painted the concrete floor like spin art.

When Phil started whimpering, Ferland said, "If you keep that up, I'm gonna do worse than a broken nose. Now shut your mouth and don't get up again. I mean it."

Phil was still crying but he kept it pretty quiet, so Ferland didn't hit him again. Anybody else would've been buried by now. It was only business, after all. Something about this one bothered Ferland.

He'd done creeps like him before, but the things he found at Phil's house got to him. The video tapes, the torture, bodies piled up in the shed with more flies buzzing around than a dumpster at a seafood restaurant. The unlucky ones, still clinging to life in the basement, were caged, starved, and beaten.

Just shoot him and be done with it, Ferland thought.

Phil began to pray.

Ferland chuckled, shaking his head. "I should've known. You're a big Jesus guy, huh?"

Phil kept his eyes closed and his palms together. "I'm a sinner, just like you. But we're all His children. He made me. And you."

"Give me a fucking break," Ferland said. "You think He made you like this? Why? To challenge you to reject the wickedness in your heart and stay on His righteous path? Well, let me break the news to you, dick head. You failed. Big time."

Phil's lips began to tremble.

"You think he loves you unconditionally? He doesn't. You know how I know that? Because he left you here to me." Ferland holstered his pistol. "I'll make you a deal. I'll give you twenty minutes. If you can get that cunt up there to show me a sign, I'll let you go. Just like that. If not, well then, I'll just have to finish off what I came here to do. I wouldn't count on His help, though. Jesus hasn't had much to do with me in quite some time." Ferland sat on one of the empty cages and checked his watch. "You got twenty minutes. Pray."

...


"Time's up," Ferland said, pushing himself up and drawing his pistol.

Phil was still kneeling, still praying, blood soaking the front of his shirt.

Ferland almost felt guilty. "I shouldn't have done that to you," he said. "There was only one way this was going to end." Ferland's ears were ringing from all of the barking in the basement.

Most of the fighting dogs down there were severely malnourished; skin stretched too thin over bones too big, gaunt faces pock-marked with fresh puncture wounds. Most of them would soon end up on the pile out in the shed. One Pit bull stared out from its cage. It was a good looking dog besides the chunk of meat missing from its lower jaw, white bone jutting from its brindle muzzle.

Ferland felt the anger swelling inside of him again. He pointed the silencer at Phil's leg and pulled the trigger, tearing his kneecap.

Phil screamed and tumbled over, slamming into one of the cages, the crash and the scent of the blood sent the dogs into a frenzy. 

Ferland's eyes fell on a particularly mean-looking dog. He didn't bark but his teeth were exposed and a rumble was coming from his chest. A thin line of saliva dribbled onto the floor. He was in much better shape than the others. "This must be the prized horse," Ferland said, dragging the cage out to face Phil. 

He wasn't praying anymore. Phil huddled against the wall, eyes pinched tight, sobbing and moaning while holding his shattered knee.

Ferland opened the basement door and gripped the latch on the cage. "The Good Book calls animals the lesser creatures," he said as he freed the dog. "Let's just see how true that statement is."

Ferland closed the basement door and waited until the screaming stopped.

It didn't take long.



John Teel is a union ironworker from Philly. His work has appeared in Dark Moon Digest, Pulp Modern and Shotgun Honey. When he's not working he spends his time with his wife Rae, their two kids, and the ugliest rescue dog you've ever seen.

Crossroads

That dude in the limo down at the crossroads? Sure, make a deal with him.
For some souls, he definitely overpays.

Crossroads by Anthony Ferguson



Joey Lynch was a no good bum. He knew that. The world knew that. Even in the low circles he moved in, his reputation was shot. Bad debts to bad people. Joey knew his cards were marked.
That’s why Joey stood at the crossroads at midnight on the wrong side of town. Right under the spot where they used to hang murderers, so the story went. Superstitious fairy-tales they may have been, but the old bartender had told him the story to a Robert Johnson blues track, about how a man could turn his luck by making a deal with a certain gentleman. Poor Joey was in no position to refuse, backed against a wall, a metaphorical gun to his head that was too close to becoming literal.
Joey belched whisky fumes in the cold witching hour air. He was turning to leave when the black limo eased up beside him and the window slid down.
Two minutes later he was shaking the Devil’s hand.
“But none of your tricks, Lucifer,” Joey warned. “I’m wise to your games.”
“My word is my honour,” the Devil replied, a glint in his golden eye.
“So I get a fifty dollar bill, every time I stick my hand in my pocket, agreed? From any pair of pants I wear, any time, for the rest of my long and fruitful life. After which, you get my soul.”
Satan cocked an eyebrow. “It’s a strange request, but as you wish.”
“Your word?”
“Try your pocket.”
Joey dipped a hand in, it came up empty.
“Try the other hand,” Lucifer shrugged.
Joey tried his left, came up with a fifty. He whooped in delight. The Devil grinned and produced a parchment.
“Sign here, but be sure to read the small print.”
Joey snorted and snatched the pen away. “The fuck do I care about my soul? Just gimme everything in this world.”
The following months were a blur for Joey. His debts repaid, his reputation restored. He was king of the underworld, lord of the flies. Beelzebub was as good as his word, the fifties flourished every time Joey reached into his pocket.
With the money, new friends appeared, and the women flocked. They came in droves, until he grew weary of their snarling, grasping, and demanding. Never once did he hear anyone say they loved him.
If Joey had heeded the Devil’s advice, he would have read it all in the small print, but alas, poor Joey, ever more the stranger in a crowded room. Surrounded by many and cherished by none. He moved out of the gutter into the penthouse, but the sewer still overflowed.
One night, Joey took a wrong turn trying to find the bathroom in a fancy casino and found himself in a stinking back alley. Before he knew it he had a knife pointed at his guts and was handing over his wallet.
Joey gave the mug a bitter smile. Lank hair, pallid skin, restless eyes. Like looking in a mirror at his old self. He watched the bum pocket his money. Plenty more where that came from.
“That all you got, man?”
“Afraid so,” Joey shrugged. “Funny, you kind of remind me of myself not so long ago. Dare to dream, pal.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that,” the thief replied, and made to turn away before hesitating. “Before you go.”
“Yeah?”
The thug gestured with the knife. His eyes flashing gold in the moonlight.
“Empty your pockets.”

Anthony Ferguson has had several stories published in a range of magazines and anthologies. He wrote The Sex Doll: A History (McFarland 2010), edited Devil Dolls and Duplicates in Australian Horror (Equilibrium 2011). 2nd prize AHWA/Melbourne Zombie Convention 2013 Short Story Competition, and AHWA 2014 Flash Fiction Competition. Judge in AHWA Awards 2015, and Australian Shadows Awards 2016. Anthony blogs at http://apferguson.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 

Guest Column: Paul Heatley.

There’s a lyric in the Atmosphere song ‘Fortunate’, the opening lyrics in fact, that go ‘I highly doubt that y’all think about sex/Anywhere near as often as I think about death’.

Here’s a few short facts about myself: I live in a small town you’ve never heard of in the north east of England. The nearest city, Newcastle, lies about forty or so miles to the south. I’m not that interesting a guy. To stick a label on things, I’m a teetotal, non-smoking vegetarian that doesn’t go out much. I’m terrible at maintaining friendships and relationships. I read as much as I can, but I’m a slow reader. Like I said, I’m not that interesting. But there’s one thing I do, and it’s disputable that I do it well, but I write. And maybe I don’t do it well. That’s subjective. But the important thing, to me, is that I do it. Henry Rollins said ‘I’m not talented – I’m tenacious.’ I remind myself of that every time I set words upon a blank document. I remind myself of that every time I read over a first draft and cringe at what I’ve put down. ‘You may write it once, I’ll write it ten times.’

There’s another thing about me, besides the writing. There’s the thing that gives me drive. I’m a father. Before the kid came along, I wasted time. Frittered it away like it was something infinite. I always wanted to be a writer, but I figured inspiration would come when it came and I’d put the words down like a man possessed and that would be it. It would come. Except it doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to put the time in, and the effort. For longer than the last two years, I’ve written every day. Because after the kid came, I was still wasting time. I’ve got a lot of making up to do. The fact is, the kid won’t stay young forever. He’s growing up, and one day he’ll be grown up enough to look at me and form his own opinion on the kind of man I am based upon my accomplishments, or lack thereof. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t go to university. I don’t have some high-flying career where I’m raking in millions of pounds per annum.

Most of the jobs I’ve had since I dropped out of Sixth Form have been minimum wage drudgery. But I can write. Let’s go back to Henry Rollins again – ‘If you can write, you can write. And you can have as much authority over your writing as Flannery O’Connor, or Ernest Hemingway, or anyone you can imagine. You will find in your life that some of the only true freedom you will ever get is your imagination, your thoughts, and what you can put on the paper.’  If I’m trying to teach the kid anything in life, I guess it would be this. It’s a cliché, of course it is, but my kid is my motivation.

It started small. It started with short stories. Before his arrival I’d had three published. Two of them are of questionable quality. Those three were my legacy for a very, very long time. A shamefully long time. The fourth appeared in Thuglit issue three. It was called ‘Red Eyed Richard’. Before, I wasn’t much in to self-editing. Whatever I wrote, I’d read it through once and tell myself that was it, that was okay, if they liked it they liked it and if they didn’t, they didn’t. It was a very lazy way of writing. It was a wrong way of writing. That’s another reason, apart from not writing at all, that my story count stood at three for so long. But Todd Robinson scared the hell out of me. I read that piece maybe ten times before I sent it off. It’s a practise I’ve maintained ever since, whether it’s a flash piece, a short story, or something longer. Read, re-read, and read the fucking thing again. Currently, my short story count stands at forty-two.

In late 2014 I started work on six novellas, with the goal in mind to self-publish them via Amazon’s KDP over the course of 2015. Those works were the loosely connected Motel Whore trilogy – The Motel Whore, The Vampire, and The Boy – and three standalone pieces: The Mess, The Pitbull, and Three. ‘I got a head full of ideas that are drivin me insane.’ I read, and re-read, and read again. I put them out myself, through Amazon. There’s a stigma attached to self-publishing. Every writer is aware of it. But writing is writing, and if you can write, you can write. Those six pieces, they were for me, to prove to myself that I could set a lofty goal and see it through. Those six pieces are for my kid, and while the darkness of my work ensures he won’t be able to read any of it for a very long time, they’re out there. They’re not going anywhere. At twenty-five, frustrated with his lack of progress, Bill Hicks told a friend ‘I’m not here to blow time away. I’m running out of time.’

So what came next? In late 2015 I had a short story published by Near To The Knuckle called The Straightener. I write something, and then I move on. That’s how I work. Put my head down and charge through. I didn’t think anything more of The Straightener until Near To The Knuckle announced they were looking to put out a line of novellas. I kept this information in the back of my mind and pondered ideas for a few days, and then I returned to The Straightener. To the characters therein. There was another story to tell. An Eye For An Eye was born. It was released via Near To The Knuckle in July of 2016. So my output stands at forty-two short stories, and seven novellas – six of which were published by myself. Am I satisfied with this body of work? No. While I am proud of it, I’m not satisfied. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied. I know I’ll never be satisfied, the same way I know I’ll never stop. But at the least, it’s something to leave behind. If anything were to happen to me tomorrow, then there is something tangible left for my kid to remember me by. A piece of me. There’s nothing of me in my stories, not so far as I’m aware at least. I’m not a drug dealer, or a sexual deviant, or someone that goes out looking for fights. I’m just a man with an imagination, a broad imagination and a wide array of weird and wonderful interests. He might not like them, but they’re there, and they’re for him.

So what next? Another novella, the longest one so far (though we haven’t gotten into edits yet). This will be through All Due Respect, with a tentative release schedule of May 2017. Currently it’s entitled ‘Fatboy’, but all things are subject to change. And in the meantime? Malcolm X said ‘The future belongs to those that plan for it today.’ That’s what I’ll be doing. When I’m not writing, I’ll be planning for my own small slice of the future. And I’ll be hoping, too, that one day, many years from now when my kid is old enough to read the words I’ve dedicated to him, I’ll in turn hear those words all father’s dream of: ‘Yeah, my dad’s pretty cool.’ And it’ll be in the present tense, just like that.

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

Paul D. Brazill's books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, 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. His blog is here.

Love You

"Until death do us part."

In The Gutter, you better be ready to take that vow all the way to the grave.

Love You by Beau Johnson




For better or worse. In sickness and health. This is what I remember agreeing to, Babe. After what I saw, I think you have decided to renege on this part of our union.” 

She looks at me from the couch. Him too. It’s okay. I get it. I mean, if the shit is broken and it can’t be fixed then what the fuck are we even doing here, right?

I can almost hear her thinking this too, sitting there as she shakes her head, and only because I know her as I do. Hell, once we get down to the floorboards and remove the nails, I probably know her better than I know myself.

“What I can’t let go of is the blame for what you did, Lori, and now for what you’ve done.” 

Those pretty green eyes are partially obscured by a hairstyle now hours in the making. She leans forward and gags, but her gaze never loses what it’s trying to convey. It’s too late, sure, but I applaud her tenaciousness. Perhaps this brings me down to their level? Agreed, it was me on the receiving end but it must be known it was her who initiated. She took me from my pants and into her mouth the night I ended up in this chair.

“I’ll agree it was exciting. I can’t deny you that.  My mind alive with thoughts of Stephen King and John Irving as you went and did what you do best. Little could I know life would come to imitate art with the help of not only a Caravan but a goddamn Prius as well.” 

There ended up being less lockjaw and gypsy curses by the end of our thing, yes, but still a price was paid.

“You were good at the beginning too. Not at that, no, but at sticking by my side as a wife is meant to do. Things end though. More so, they fall apart.”  I stop here, pause, and wheel myself up to the shotguns angled into their mouths.

Took some doing, getting them hogtied and leaning forward onto the barrels like that, but if I’m anything, it’s a man who’s able to get things done. It brings forth gobs of saliva and I watch, entranced, as it flows from barrel to stock like colorless honey.

I go on. The words I say are the thoughts of a person who has nothing but time to think. I tell them I should have known from the start. After considering our options, the both of us thought it best to go with a physiotherapist strong enough to handle my frame.

“And you, Martel. You I truly thought well of. You’d just hoist me up, rub me down, and your enthusiasm about building up my arms was more contagious than I wanted to let on.”  I pat his head and rub it.

Only when he begins to vomit down the steel do I understand my anger has gotten away from me. I turn, roll forward, and let the man continue as best he can.

“What I remember most, I suppose, is when it became clear I had lost you. Not physically but in your mind, I mean. We were in Bradbury’s office when he told us my equipment south of the equator had a less than one percent chance at ever working again.” 

She’s crying full-on now and the tears I see are as fat as they are full. I imagine they contain regret, pregnant with all the things she wished she could erase.

I imagine she wishes I’d died.

“Wasn’t until last week that everything fell into place, though. As is your way, Lori, you did this in style. The question which lingered was, did you know I could see what you’d chosen to do?” 

I don’t hold back, not being so close to the end. I tell her how slow she went to her knees. How slow she took him into her throat. She shakes her head at this. Martel too. I tell each of them to suck it on up, the pun certainly more than intended.

“I think it was my wheels which gave me away. They aren’t the quietest, I know. But sometimes it’s the angle of the mirror I recall. The very one I have seen you redouble your efforts in whenever I told you I was close. And this, right here, I think this is what did it, Babe. You doing him the same way you have always done me. Seems a logical step to make. But I don’t know. Not for sure. Either way, it has finished what we are. What we were. And that is something I do know.” 

I bring out my own gun, a sawed-off, and run it down the sides of my face as I have so many times before. 

I place the gun on my lap, roll forward, and reach down to pull Martel’s trigger first. I look up into Lori’s eyes as I do this to make sure we are finally seeing each other as we should. She is the opposite of what marriage is. My father and her mother all rolled into one.

“For better or worse,” I repeat.

For better or goddamn worse.




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 in 2017 from Down & Out Books.

Truce

Sometimes there's a conflict between keeping family safe and taking care of business.

Sometimes it's up to someone else to show you the extent of that conflict.

Truce by J.D. Smith



Freddie checked his look one last time. And it was good.
The shirtsleeves and collar covered almost all his ink. No tie, though. He didn’t need to look that mainstream. Anybody who didn’t pick up on that could still see his jacket was the right color. He was there to represent.
In a minute he would get up on a stage in front of the park district building in neutral territory and the mayor or vice mayor or some shit would make the announcement. The city had worked out a truce, and for the next eighteen months the city would step up its job training and expand the free meal program at the rec centers.
Freddie didn’t know why the other side wanted to try out some peace, but he knew why he did. A few months ago he was at a girlfriend’s house before going out to do some dirt, and he was sitting at the kitchen table with his boy by her, Little Freddie. The Deuce looked up from his homework and said “Daddy, I want to be just like you.”
Did he now? Drop-out at fifteen, tried as an adult at seventeen, in for his first stretch the next year. Things he hadn’t even been charged with would have gotten him life. The hour-long beatdown of a snitch dug up by a dog in a forest preserve a month later and not ID’d for months after that. The disappeared crew chief who’d gotten greedy. If they ever found him, it would be one piece at a time.
The packages and bags of bills held at a parking lot or warehouse in the middle of the night in winter and the sweat that still came while he waited to make sure it wasn’t a set-up, or fought his way out if it was.
The knucks and knife suddenly felt heavy in his pockets, and the piece in his waistband dug into his skin.
Some of his guys had their own kids, and when things got slow they talked about what it might be like to walk out the door without looking around to see if anybody had come gunning.
His guys reached out to people, and they reached out to other people, and somehow things got to where they were today. All Freddie had to do was walk up, sign a sheet of paper and shake hands with Oscar. That son of a bitch. It wouldn’t be easy to do, but bigger things were at stake. At least it was a nice day out, the first time in a week it wasn’t raining.
*
“I still can’t believe this shit,” Joe said, setting down the binoculars. “Boss got soft as a motherfucker.”
“Believe it, dude. Our man Freddie got his,” Bobby said. “Him and his top posse don’t mind if we just run their errands and can’t move up. Shit.”
He adjusted a tripod on a rooftop table behind some big potted plants. He and Joe weren’t invisible—this wasn’t the comics—but somebody would have to be trying damn hard to find them.
“You sure you want to use that one, B? That’s a strange-looking piece.”
“Nah, I can work with this. I learned that much in Iraq.”
Bobby leaned in to work. He found Freddie in the scope and drew a bead. 
J.D. Smith has published fiction in Pulp Pusher and Thug Lit as well as in the print series of Out of the Gutter. His fourth collection of poetry should be out by the end of 2016, and his other books include an essay collection, a humor collection and, somehow, a children’s picture book. More at  www.jdsmithwriter.com

End of Watch

It's noble to die in the line of duty. 

In the Gutter, it's a line drawn with blood.

End of Watch by Kevin Z. Garvey




The only way to successfully impersonate a police officer, William Jasper knew, was to fully commit to the role. You had to believe, truly believe, that you were a cop. If you didn't, well, then the people you pulled over might not believe it either.

Jasper had it down to a science. He'd been impersonating an officer for several years and had made dozens of traffic stops. 

He'd equipped his car, a Ford Crown Victoria, to resemble an unmarked police vehicle. He had a spotlight mounted above the side-view mirror, and a police scanner under the dash. His most important piece of equipment, though, was a red rotating police beacon. On traffic stops, he'd place the beacon's magnetic base on his rooftop and let it shine. The one thing he didn't have was a siren, but he'd found that he didn't need one. Once you were behind somebody and that red light started flashing, they'd pull right over.

Jasper never arrested anyone, of course. He didn't have the authority. Nor did he carry a gun. He did have a badge, though. A high-quality replica that could easily pass for the real thing. It was all he needed. He'd pull people over, flash the badge, and then detain them for a few minutes while pretending to run their plates and registrations. After giving the perps some time to mull over their transgressions, he'd let them off with a warning. Jasper felt it was a service to the community. He was slowing speeders down and, who knows, maybe he'd even saved some lives.

Jasper's final traffic stop started out like all the rest. Late at night, he'd been sitting on the shoulder of a lonely stretch of highway with his radar gun, waiting. After an uneventful hour, he was ready to call it a night when a Chevy Impala passed by, doing ten miles an hour over the speed limit.

Jasper sprang into action. He threw the radar gun on the seat, turned on the beacon, fired up the engine, and hit the gas.

As expected, he saw the Impala's brake lights immediately come on. The car slowed and moved over to the shoulder, where it rolled to a stop. Jasper pulled in behind it. He sat in his car a minute, letting the driver stew. Then he got out and approached the vehicle.

The driver was a pretty blonde woman. Jasper was relieved it wasn't a man. Traffic stops were always scarier when there was a guy behind the wheel.

The blonde rolled her window down and looked at him with fear in her eyes. Good. That meant she had a healthy respect for the law. Jasper shined his flashlight around the inside of her car.

"Do you know why I pulled you over?" he said.

"I can't go back to jail," the woman said.

Back to jail? That was a first. Jasper almost smiled at the tension in the woman's voice. But she had nothing to worry about. Even if she had an outstanding warrant, there was nothing he could do about it. Still, it was going to be fun to make this lawbreaker squirm.

"License and registration, please," he said, with a little extra authority in his voice.

The woman let out a sigh. "I'm so sorry," she said, as she reached down into her lap and came up with a gun.

Jasper felt his blood freeze. What was going on here? It was only a traffic stop, for crying out loud. He dropped the flashlight and put his hands up.

The woman pointed the gun at his head.

"Wait!" he cried.

The woman didn't hesitate. The first shot caught him in the cheek, just below his eye.

He screamed and his legs buckled.

The next shot grazed the top of his head, while another hit him in the neck.

Jasper fell to his knees then dropped face first onto the roadway. He heard the Impala start up and pull away.

Pushing himself up with his arms, he watched the Impala's taillights fade. Then he looked back down at the pavement and saw a huge puddle of blood, more blood than he'd ever seen in his life.

With a jolt of panic, he rolled onto his back and clutched at his shoulder mike. "Shots fired," he gasped. "Officer down."

The signal went nowhere. The mike wasn't connected to a radio. It was just a prop. 

Jasper knew he was going to die. He could feel his life draining away. Groaning, he looked back towards his car and watched the rotating red light go round and round. There was something comforting about that light. It reminded him that he was a police officer, and that his wounds had come in the line of duty. 

Though he lay dying, he smiled as he envisioned a long line of police cars escorting his body to the cemetery, where he'd get a hero's funeral.

In his last act on Earth, William Jasper raised his right hand to his head, giving himself a final salute, acknowledging his end of watch.




Kevin Z. Garvey's crime fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter Online, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey and other publications. In addition to writing, Garvey is an award-winning combat sports ring announcer and is a member of the NJ State Martial Arts Hall of Fame. You can visit him on the web at kevinzgarvey.com.