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Anger Management

Therapy can be very helpful.

For some folks in The Gutter, talking just ain't enough.

Anger Management by Earl Javorsky


It’s group time, and the hour’s just about over. The theme for the session is some bullshit about how “we’re only as sick as our secrets.”

Hendricks, the facilitator, looks at me and says, “Well, Locke, you’re the only one that hasn’t shared.”

I say, “Well, there’s some shit I’m just never gonna tell anyone. Gonna take it to the grave. Nobody’s damn business . . .”

I stop and leave some space to see if Hendricks wants to prod, but no. Everybody’s waiting.

“Like the blowjob I got from a transvestite hitchhiker on Lincoln Boulevard. So what? There, it’s out,” I say.

Little Mike looks away and cracks up.

Hector Vega sticks his tongue out and points his index finger at his temple. I don’t know what that means.

The bull in the corner shakes his head, his hand perched on his nightstick.

“Anyway, she looked like a girl when I picked her up,” I continue. This gets a honk here and a bray there. I’m just warming up. “And hey, how about this? My first girlfriend was a vibrating sander in shop class.”

I hear the guys laughing, but then they stop.

I check myself. I don’t remember getting out of my chair, or walking across the circle of men and standing over Hendricks. I don’t know why I’m screaming down at him. My old friend rage is visiting again.

The bull has his taser out.

Hendricks gives him a little shake of his head, then says to me, “It seems you might just be feeding us crumbs.”

He’s right. Those were chicken-shit secrets. I look around. 

Nobody’s laughing now. 

I back off.

Hendricks looks up at me and says, “Well, Locke, maybe you’re getting close. Now tell us why you’re here.”

Why am I here? Park Place, park bench, Yale and jail, tenure and failure, drink, speed, and heroin: I’ve known them all. I was looking for euphoria, but I settled for oblivion. They say I killed people.

Maybe Hendricks is right. Maybe there’s a secret, hiding like a spider in a woodpile, and if I can find it I’ll be free.

I close my eyes and scan the darkness. For some reason, I think of powdered wigs at Versailles, electric trolleys in Los Angeles, a wave that pummeled me when I was ten, my first kiss, my first hit off a joint, a creature from a Guillermo del Toro film, the way my loafers used to wear at the heels, Jorge Luis Borges’ Aleph, bodies in a car, the smell of ginger, a woman’s body in a bed, the red—it all reels by.

More secrets now: women’s underwear, stealing small bills from my father’s wallet, the boy across the street, watching my dad and my aunt—more chicken-shit. The chase is on; a toad and an ice pick, bodies in a car, a woman’s body in a bed. The red. I see it and hear the lowing of a cow, a bellow like a rutting moose, fricatives, susurrating, squeaks, squawks, and a simian howl.

The taser energizes me.

There’s a bite-size chunk missing from the guard’s throat. Hector is bleeding from his eyes. Little Mike and the others cower in a corner. 

I take a deep breath and achieve equilibrium. 

I find myself crouching on top of Hendricks’ desk, looking down at him crouching on the floor. He’s looking poorly.

I consider his psychobabble. “Hey, that bit about secrets? That’s some weak shit,” I tell him.




Earl Javorsky is the black sheep in a family of artistic high achievers. After a long stint trying to make it as a musician in L.A. and clawing his way up to mid-level management in the chemical entertainment industry, (just about killed him), Earl went back to his first love—writing. He has two very different novels out: Down Solo, an oddball noir tale of a dead junkie PI; and Trust Me, a more mainstream psychological thriller. Both are described at www.earljavorsky.com. His last bit with FFO was called Cats-Eye. His website is at www.earljavorsky.com.

Beauty & Ruin

When you're down, seems the only way you can go is up. In the Gutter there's gravity, and gravity don't work like that.

Beauty & Ruin by Tom Leins

The midday sun burns like a bullet wound. It feels hotter on my bare shoulders than the arena lights on fight night. There is no breeze, and the stink from the petrochemical plant lingers in the air like an afterthought.
We are in the long grass next to Testament Falls. Nikki asked me to go down on her, but my neck-brace got in the way, so we sat around and smoked her cigarettes instead.

I close my eyes against the sun’s rays. My sunglasses got trampled in a crack den, and I haven’t had chance to replace them yet.
Every time Nikki leans across to kiss my blistered lips, I feel my broken ribs pop under her weight.
We have known each other since the final year of high school. She was over-sexed, even back then. During recess she would jerk guys off behind the sports hall in exchange for a cigarette. If you gave her a second one, she would stick a finger up your asshole at the same time. By the summer term I even remember some of the teachers getting involved…
With her forefinger, she traces the thick, ragged scar from my spinal surgery.
“Are you sure you’re up to this, Johnny?”
I catch my reflection in her cheap drugstore sunglasses. My face looks puffy, my hair is receding. I’m a fuckin’ mess.
Before my enforced retirement, the ring announcer used to say that my age was 36, but I’m going to be 46 next birthday. He said I hailed from Los Angeles, California, but I’ve never been any further west than Hellbelly.
“Fuckin’ A.”
I can’t fight… I can’t fuck… but I can sure-as-shit still wave a firearm in some poor bastard’s face.
*
Five hours later.
We are in the service alley behind McDaniel Meat, in Nikki’s dead brother’s truck, smoking the last of her cigarettes.
It is the first Friday of the month. Fight night. Strictly bareknuckle. Twenty men. $1,000 buy-in. Last man standing takes home the $15,000 prize fund.
The fights are organised by a dude known as the Rattlesnake Daddy. He is rake-thin, and looks older than God. He always wears a sleeveless Black Sabbath t-shirt, and has a shriveled USMC tat on his forearm. On fight night, he keeps an old rifle looped over his left shoulder with a length of electrical cable.
I’m wearing a threadbare cop uniform we picked up at the Crippled Civilian’s thrift store two counties over. It is itchy, and too tight, but looks convincing in dim light.
I can tell Nikki is nervous, because she is talking too quickly. Babbling about the guy who does her ass-cheek implants. Tells me he is doing time for injecting pre-op hookers’ asses with Fix-a-Flat tire aerosols…
*
You can throw a beer can in Testament and chances are you will hit an ex-wrestler, but the kind of guys who fight in the parking lot of a meat factory after dark are has-beens and never-weres. Most of these fuckers have probably changed their ring names more often than the girls at the Slop Shop change their panties.
The only fighter I recognize is a guy known as the Eyeball Kid. He has a bloodshot eye tattooed on the back of his shaven skull. His leotard is filthy, like it’s been used to mop up excrement. He clearly needs the money more than I do, but it’s his tough fuckin’ luck.
We stay in the shadows, and edge toward the aluminum trailer in the far corner of the parking lot. The security guard’s office. Where the Rattlesnake Daddy keeps the prize money.
I knock on the dented door with my cane.
“Testament PD. Open up.”
The door opens a crack. It’s Rattlesnake’s half-sister, Kellyanne. She looks haggard, like a partially melted Barbie doll. I drop my shoulder into the door, and she hits the deck like a sack of warm shit. Nikki scrambles up the breezeblock steps in front of me, and I drag the battered piece out of my holster and scan the empty room, cop-show-style.
I gesture toward the pump action shotgun that Kellyanne dropped.
“Pick up the fuckin’ gun, Nikki.”
She is jittery with nerves, and when she stoops down to retrieve the gun Kellyanne kicks her in the face with the heel of her thigh-high boot. Nikki screams as the heel pierces her cheek. Kellyanne yanks her boot away and slams it into Nikki’s face a second time.
“How do you like my boots? Classy and sassy, Daddy says.”
“Fuck…”
Nikki is screaming, hands over her face, blood oozing through her fingertips. Her eyes look wild.
Kellyanne gestures at my neck-brace with the shotgun.
“What’s up with you, you crippled motherfucker?”
“Give me the money, Kellyanne.”
She reaches for a plastic cube dangling from a cord around her neck.
“What the fuck’s that?”
“Rape alarm, dick-sucker.”
She presses the button and the cube starts to shriek, reverberating off the aluminium walls and out across the parking lot.
“Fuckin’ bitch.”
I raise my gun and squeeze the trigger. The bullet ruptures her leathery face.
“Nikki, get the fuckin’ loot.”
I glance across at her, but she’s passed out in a pool of her own piss.
“Fuck!”
I stumble down the breezeblock steps and hobble towards the truck.
There is a figure leaning against the cab. Shit. The motherfuckin’ Rattlesnake Daddy.
“Evening officer,” he drawls, flashing me a gummy smile.
I start to shuffle toward him, but he jabs his rifle into my beer gut.
“Drop the piece, shit-stain.”
I pluck the gun out of the holster with my fingertips – just like a real fuckin’ cop – and drop it on the cracked asphalt.
“I’m no palm reader, but I see tough times ahead for you, my friend…”
I shrug.
“I don’t like to think that far ahead.”
“Just as fucking well.”
He points the rifle at my left knee and grins, and for the first time in my Godforsaken life I really wish I was dead.


Tom Leins is a disgraced ex-film critic from Paignton, UK. Over the last 15 years his short stories have been widely published in magazines, anthologies and online. He is currently working on a series of ‘Paignton Noir’ novels, including Boneyard Dogs, Thirsty & Miserable and All Is Swell In The Grinding Light. His first short story collection will be called Repetition Kills You. Work on a collection of wrestling-themed noir, called The Good Book, is now underway.

Review: Deranged, by Jacob Stone (AKA Dave Zeltzerman)

Dave Zeltserman has written some great crime noir books over the past dozen years or so, and I eagerly await every single release of his. In addition to his noir books, he has dabbled in horror, super natural, and mystery as well. His latest release, the first in a planned thriller series, is being released under the pseudonym, Jacob Stone. The idea behind the switch in names is to differentiate the series from his previous body of work. For me, the name Dave Zeltserman calls to mind books that are well-plotted, have great character development, and grab you by the throat and force you to finish them in one sitting, so I scratch my head at the name change, but I am excited to say nothing other than his name has changed; his writing style still lives up to the billing!


This series comes out of the gate swinging with the first offering, Deranged. The series is built around Morris Brick, the leader of an investigative firm, who is tasked with helping the LAPD investigate and solve the SCK (Skull Cracker Killings) case. Brick is a no nonsense main character with strong morals and a bulldog mentality when he locks into a task. His determination and grit are apparent throughout the novel and this makes him a great protagonist for a thriller series.

I loved the manner in which Stone (Zeltserman) fleshed out the killer himself. The backdrop to why the killer does what he does allows his actions to make sense and allows the reader to, if not connect with, at least understand him and his motivations. The usage of flashbacks to the killer’s youth were well paced and added a nice layer of action to the story.  A nice usage of twists and turns also adds depth to the story of the deranged killer on the loose. The surprise twists in the motivations of the killer really helped keep me engaged in the story.

The first book for any series is an important one, as it needs to hook the reader so they not only enjoy the book itself, but have a desire to seek out the next books in the series. The main characters need to have room to grow and evolve, and I hope to see Brick have a long shelf life with a bit more of his backstory woven into the series. This book had me engaged and while I think Zeltserman is at his best when writing dark noir, I found this book to be another winner for his catalog.


Recommended.
Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.

Waiting for the Man

Know your enemy.

In The Gutter, it's best to forget.

Waiting for the Man by Patrick Cooper


“Ever seen a picture of him?” 

“Who? George Leslie?”

“Western George Leslie, word. I imagined, while I was reading about him, I imagined him with a hard face. Hard, but handsome, y’know? I don’t think he was busted or nothing. Or like, like a brute.”

Walter leaned forward, his elbows on the green felt tabletop. He held his hand close to his chest and sighed. “These are the things.”

“What’s that?” Raymond said, looking up from his pair of eights.

“These are the things you think about, huh?”

“What do I think about?”

“The face of some guy been dead hundred something years.”

Raymond rearranged his hand and went on. “He used to be an architect. ‘Fore he started taking off banks, guy studied architecture. How about that?”

Sitting across from Raymond, Phil folded and said, “Say, wasn’t this the guy designed the Jewish Community Center?”

Raymond scowled. “I don’t-”

“Nobody cares the guy was an architect!” Phil slapped a hand on the table. The pile of chips trembled. “Or what he fucking looked like! Can we play a game a cards in peace, without hearing this shit?!”

“Easy Phil,” Walter said. He put a hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. “Kid’s just bored. Got him thinking about dumb shit. I told him. I warned him this gig comes with its share of boring nights.”

“I ain’t bored,” Raymond said. “Was just reading about the dude, George Leslie, and wondered what he looked like, is all.”

“Enough talk about it, okay?” Walter said. “Let’s just play cards. Whatever comes outta your mouth, until the man call, let’s keep it about cards.”

Raymond shrugged. “Fine, shit. Some touchy ass bastards.”

They played in silence.

Phil rocked in his seat and mopped sweat off his jowls with an old handkerchief.

“You cool, brother?” Walter said looking at him. “Don’t let the kid get to you. Just a stupid kid.”

Phil shifted in his folding chair. Tossed his cards on the table and said, “I think about it too sometimes. I do, sometimes.”

“Think about what?” Walter said.

“About his face.”

“George Leslie’s face? Why would you-”

“Not his face…Dad. Dad’s face.”

Walter and Phil exchanged knowing looks. They’d come up orphans. State raised, sharing a four-by-six room with artichoke-colored walls. They shared foggy memories of their dad. He’d only been around until 1981, when Walter and Phil were still pups. That was the year cops pulled a dozen balloons of cocaine out of their father’s ass. A dozen. Christ.

Phil pulled the cigarette out from behind his ear and tapped it against the back of his hand. “Ever try to remember what he looked like? Dad?”

Walter sighed. “Find it best not to.”

Phil looked absently at the green felt. “I do. At night sometimes. Or when I’m on the can. Always had these deep bags under his eyes, I remember. Always made him look sad or tired.”

“Or strung out,” Walter chimed in.

“Your guys’ old man a deadbeat too?” Raymond said.

“Prison,” Walter said. “He was in prison.”

Raymond nodded, like that explained everything.

Phil shimmied his chair backwards and stood up. “I’m going out for a smoke. You wanna smoke?”

“I’m good,” Walter said.

“I only smoke blunts,” Raymond said. “Cherry blunts, is all.”

Phil pointed to the rotary phone on the small table in the corner of the room. “If the man calls, holler for me.” 

Walter said he would. 

Phil pulled up the fur collar of his jacket and stepped outside. A gust of wind snuck inside and blew the cards off the table before the door closed behind him.

“Ah, shit!” Walter tried to grab cards out of the air as they floated around him.

Raymond got on the floor and helped Walter pick up the cards. “Fifty-two pick up, eh?” he said, smirking. “Y’know, I’m down with what you said.” His face turned serious.

“What? What I say?”

“About it being best not to remember your old man’s face. I remember mine all too fucking well. Wish I didn’t. Piece a shit.”

The door opened and Phil came in with his hands up.

Two men with beige nylons over their faces came in behind him; one had a pistol trained on Phil’s back, while the other held a pillowcase with bloodstains on it.

“You know what this is!” the one with the gun said. “Wallets, bankrolls, rings, whatever else you’re carrying, in the bag!”

Raymond got to his feet. “Whoa, whoa. This place. You know whose place this is, yeah?”

“Put your shit in the bag, guy! Do it! And you! Up! Off the floor!”

“My knees,” Walter said. “I got arthritis. Gimme a sec, goddammit.”

Raymond tossed his wallet in the pillowcase.

The men yelled for them to give up more.

Walter struggled to get up on one knee. He bit his bottom lip and grabbed the emergency sawed-off from under the table.

Phil saw where his brother’s arm went and dove to the floor.

Walter stood and fired the shotgun. Flesh and blood sprayed in ribbons as the midsection of the gunman tore open. Walter racked and fired at the one holding the pillowcase. His chest opened up and he crumpled to the floor.

Raymond took his hands off his ears. “Holy…”

Phil stood and brushed his pants off. “Thanks, brother.”

Walter put the shotgun on the table. He, Phil, and Raymond stood over the two dead men.

Raymond bent to pull the nylon off one of them.

Phil seized his arm. “Wait. Just wait.”

“What is it?” Walter said. “We gotta see who these slobs are. Let the man know.”

Phil squinted at the smeared faces under the nylon. The noses were smudged, the features cloudy. “I don’t wanna be sitting on the can someday trying to remember what they looked like. Might be for the best, like you said. Best we don’t have a face to remember. So there’s nothing there.”

The phone rang.



Patrick Cooper’s writing has appeared in ThugLit, Akashic Books, Spinetingler, Near to the Knuckle, Dark Corners, and a few anthologies. More at: https://patrickgcooper.com/

Al Wore Dentures

Fireworks, crowbars, meth, vipers: In The Gutter, a weapon's a weapon. Hell, damn near a contract.


Al didn’t plan for Big Mike’s survival. Mike’s truck, crunching through the snow to a stop, didn’t rouse Al. Eleven in the morning and Al was passed out in the driver’s seat of his Lincoln. Talk about a disgrace to drug dealers and retailers of pyrotechnics everywhere.
As soon as Big Mike finished this cigarette he’d wallop Al’s ass, really turn him purple.
Smoking, Mike surveyed Al’s fireworks setup. Snow piled on the tent’s roof, causing depressions throughout the vinyl fabric. The tent was far too nice. Al had spent entirely too much money (Mike’s) renting it. But what did Al know about business? That’s why Mike hired him on as muscle, those months ago. Al showed up at your place, wearing his biker leather, his defensive tackle build, you paid. Did he know the first thing about allocation and distribution? Shit, no.
Still, the location Al picked wasn’t bad: way out in the sticks. The sheriff didn’t come out this far often, Mike imagined.
Big Mike crushed his cigarette on an empty Monster can in his cup holder. He gazed at the crowbar on his passenger seat and decided he’d have one more smoke before he went to wake sleeping beauty with the eternal kiss of medium-carbon steel to the face. He lit another Marb and smiled at his crowbar. Trusty crowbar. The one he’d used to shatter the window of Al’s trailer, three days prior. In Al’s trailer, amidst the rubble he’d made, he found the yellow copy of Al’s receipt from Turner Tent Rental Co. in Libby, Montana.  It figured: Al had split for the boonies to run a fireworks tent as a drug front. Of course. Al had stolen everything else from Mike. Why not take his idea and modus operandi, too?
Mike stepped out of his truck, tossed his cigarette in the snow, and gave his crowbar a few test whacks against the air. His loafers ground against the snow as he walked to Al’s Lincoln.
He looked in at Al, the dozing lug, leaking drool on his red beard. No doubt, Al had violated the Scarface principle. He probably found some truckstop waitress who blackened a four-pack of light bulbs with him and they stayed up half the week.
“Are you clean?” Mike asked Al, upon pre-employment screening, last April.
“Six years,” Al said, but he wore dentures. Men in their late thirties, generally, wore dentures for one reason only.
Big Mike watched Al sleep. This was the guy. Mike grinned at the prospect of putting him in the hospital. Snoozing like a teenager on Sunday, this was the guy who’d slipped roofies in his Jack n’ Coke, broke into his apartment, stole twenty thousand bucks and his small fortune of meth. A dozen whacks from the crowbar, at least, were sanctioned for that. Al putting an eighteen-inch pit viper in his waterbed . . . that warranted a dozen more, easy. Mike would never forget, waking that morning, seeing the viper, coiled on his radiator: cat-like, yellow eyes, mouth frowning, lime green scales. Although sluggish, he’d cried out and flailed at the sight of it. Next thing he knew, his hand was red, black, and blue—swollen to the size of an oven mitt. Had his nosy neighbor Norene had anything better to do that morning than wait on her hair curlers while she smoked Virginia Slims and watched Divorce Court, he’d be dead.
Mike tapped the crowbar on Al’s Lincoln window. Al didn’t stir. He tapped again, harder this time. No response. He tapped once more then decided, So much for subtlety.  He smashed the driver’s side window.
Al’s eyes opened and he stared at the little crystalline hunks of broken glass all over his pant legs. Then he stared at his old boss. His expression morphed, from one of residual stupor to one of steely fury. He rolled over his Lincoln’s gear selector and popped out his passenger door. He took off running, passing his lavish fireworks tent, into the snow-dusted pines. Big Mike chased him, screaming, crowbar raised.
Al ran fast for a three hundred pound brute, but Mike caught him, hopped on his back, and choked him with the crowbar. Al fell to his knees. With both hands, Mike dug the tool into Al’s windpipe.
Al flung him over his head, dislodged the crowbar, and hurled it away. Al climbed on top of Mike. He reached in his mouth and he pulled out his dentures.
With the slimy things he bashed Big Mike over the head till Big Mike was unconscious. Blood pooled from Mike’s mouth, nose, and cheeks.
#
“You’re okay, buddy, aren’t you?” the casino runner asked Mike, passing him his Jack n’ Coke.
Mike sipped it. “Yeah.” He touched one of the giant bruises on his forehead. “It’ll heal. I ain’t worried.”
Mike drank slowly. He kept saying to himself, Any meth slinger worth their salt knows about the basic construction of a car bomb. Any meth slinger worth their salt . . . And he grinned.
He was down to the last sip in his glass. Just as the casino runner asked if he wanted another drink, he heard the sonic boom from down the highway. It jostled the walls of the casino, shook the barstools and all the Keno machines. Al hadn’t bothered checking out of his K.O.A. cabin and splitting town; Al was confident he’d bludgeoned Mike to death with his false teeth. Al, once again, didn’t plan for Big Mike’s survival.
Mike slid a five across the bar to the flustered casino runner and said, “No, man. I’m outta here.”

Ross Peterson's short fiction has appeared on Bizarro Central, Freedom Fiction, in The Whitefish Review, Weirdpunk Books' anthology, Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits, and others. He lives in Montana and could use a haircut.

Review: Amphetamine Psychosis , by Daniel Vlasaty

After reading his biographical work of art, Amphetamine Psychosis, I am officially placing Daniel Vlasaty on my Mount Rushmore of writing Gods. I can’t even begin to articulate how well written this book is. Due to its in-your-face representation of drug use and abuse, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, it’s more a bitter cup of espresso if anything; it’s a quick shot which burns going down and leaves you wide eyed with your nervous system twitching from what you just put it through.


The manner in which Vlasaty strips himself and his soul bare and finds a way to let you into his world of pain and anguish is a thing of beauty. It’s simplistic in nature, yet the depth that his words cut into you is a dichotomy that few writers can accomplish, let alone master in the manner Vlasaty has. His prose is short and concise on every page, yet each page leaves the reader exhausted from the emotional journey they have taken with Vlasaty as their guide.

The best way to share this book’s beauty is to quote a passage to let you enjoy the brutal honesty that graces the pages of what will go down as one of the best books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. This part of the book is detailing his self-injury inflicted through burning a scar onto himself with a hot nail while he was under the effects of drugs:

One scar for every time I wished for death. One scar that could be the one that is my death.

One scar that is the life and death of me.

One scar that will tell the world who I really am.

They’ll never go away. Not completely. These scars. And I wear them proudly. I don’t try to hide them. Because there is no hiding them. They’re right there….For all the world to see. Reminders of myself.

Each scar, a tattoo. Each scar, a piece of me. A piece of my life. A piece of my death.

Each scar, a failure.

The pure brutal honesty of a man bearing his soul come through these pages and will burn a scar onto the reader’s soul. This book will make every reader a fan of Vlasaty. The book is only available through print on demand order at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/us/en/shop/daniel-vlasaty/amphetamine-psychosis/paperback/product-22157739.html). This is a must add for every lover of noir, every lover of honest, soul searching biographies, and every lover of stories of dark souls desperate for redemption in the face of addiction.


I cannot recommend this book enough. 
Reviewed by Derrick Horodyski.  

Family Meeting

Never mix family and business.

In The Gutter, it's a fatal mistake.

Family Meeting by Beau Johnson


I repeat that I love her and that I always have. Not because she needs to be reminded but because she must remember with whom she is dealing. She does this, she becomes open to the changes I’m suggesting. I’m not just talking about the psychologists, the psychiatrists, or the medications we each had a hard time sounding out. I’m talking about overkill, the life, and all the ninja bullshit. Shit I’ll admit I should have put a stop to long ago.

“As do you, I want a different outcome is all. To go at things head on instead of sideways like we did.” I loosen my grip on her neck so she can breathe easier than she had been.

We stand at the island counter as one, my words coming to her from behind. All told, this is not even close to how I envisioned it playing out. It wasn’t going to be easy, but this has become something else entirely.

I say, “Granted, you are a bit more attached, and I give you this, but I believe it’s only because it was you who carried him.”

In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have given Ricky as much responsibility as I did. For the record, I did have reservations before I sent him to collect from Chen. It wasn’t as overt as last time, but it still got me thinking in ways no father should. “But to take Chen’s son as he does, how can one foresee and defend against something like that?”  

I reach around, restart the video on my phone, and the process of watching a man lose his head begins anew. Two sons come into focus, ours and Chen’s; one in a chair, the other not. We watch Ricky zip up his suit and lower his goggles. After he pulls the chainsaw to life, we hear him proclaim, “This is what happens when you fail to comply.”

It causes Chen’s son to struggle in a way he’d yet to.

Ricky is good. Up and through, it happens in less time than it takes Ricky to bring the machine back down to his side. Not yet finished, my son makes one more pass, delicately slicing up the left arm like some kind of goddamn surgeon. He goes in, grabs the top bone, the radius, the ulna, what-fucking-ever. By the third pull, the muscle and skin come off in strips. Using the bone as a pointer, he looks to the camera and says, “Any questions?”

I turn off my phone and lay it face down beside a half-eaten plate of pie.

“You see?  Something like this cannot be defended against, Sharon. Plain and simple.”  I’m right in her ear now, my voice low and to the point. She stands still, breathes steady, but her heart remains a hammer. “One is able to react though. And I know what you’re thinking, but you knew exactly what you were getting into the day you put on that ring. I had enemies then. I have enemies now. Everything we’ve done, everything we do, has never not held consequence.”

Would she come around? The possibility existed. The pill was a tough one, though. More jagged than anything most would ever have to swallow.

“You might be too young to even remember this, but there’s this movie, Old Yeller. Us and it have more in common than I’d care to admit,” I say.

Our boy was quite a bit more than a rabid dog, sure, but the point she needed to concentrate on was the very same one she’s refusing to understand: no matter how I spin things, how inconceivable it all seems, what I did had to be done. Chen, he wouldn’t have let go. 

“That being said, I’m going to let go. Once I have, I want the knife to stay where it is. That happens, we can begin to move on. We do that, we can even discuss how fortunate it was I married a much younger woman and how it was your age helped tip the scales.” I say this not to gloat or cut into any part of her grief. I say it because self-preservation and a realist are the same damn thing.

I step back, doing so until my backside hits the fridge. I await either fury or concession, belief or disdain. I receive none of the above. Deep down, I have to admit I expected as much. Only when she turns and her shoulders dip do I realize her journey to my side of the table has begun.

“Who knows, this time we may even have a girl.”



Beau Johnson has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such places might include Shotgun Honey, Spelk Fiction, HST, and this place right here, Out of the Gutter Online. He has somehow married above his pay grade and been granted three boys he can tolerate and love. Go figure. Come August 14, 2017, a collection of Beau's shorts titled A Better Kind Of Hate will be available from Down and Out Books.

There's Just No Figuring

A card game. A beautiful horse. And how a gambling debt gets paid. In The Gutter.

There's Just No Figuring by Oliver Brennan

Before he climbed out of the old pickup Marshal Henshaw grabbed his Colt .45, popped open the cylinder and rolled it to make sure there was a full six. Fence posts stood sentry, unfinished soldiers waiting for their orders. The rails were nowhere to be seen, could be they’ll use wire instead. He chewed on a tab with the texture of chalk, for the particularly nasty heartburn that started after the chorizo omelet Annie made special for him before his trip — it was worth every burning burp. Marshal Henshaw popped another chalk-tab and put his hat on. The wet grass under his boots wasn’t too saturated. Must not have rained here like it had in Galveston. Thunder clapped and he looked to the sky. He put a boot onto the old porch, rested a hand on his holstered weapon and waited. A horse whinnied, maybe because of the thunder.
“That badge give you rights when you’re trespassin’?” The over-under shotgun came up with the voice of Eddie Harbour.
“Eddie.”
“Yessir, that’s me.”
“Well, sir. I’m a United States Marshal, so I’d say this badge gives me some leeway on trespass laws, even in Texas.”
“Could be no one knows you’re out here,” Eddie said.  His teeth were stained yellow with tobacco and he spit a long line of brown juice toward Marshal Henshaw’s boot. “That truck don’t look like a company car.” He didn’t mention the horse trailer attached to it.
“It’s the one I like havin’ in my company. Always feel too uneasy in them old Crown Vics from the office. As for someone knowin’ I’m here… I’d put my money on the knowin’ part.”  Marshal Henshaw stepped full onto the porch.  It creaked under his weight. “That a Spanish side lock?” He pointed to the antique shotgun Eddie was aiming in his general direction.“It is,” Eddie said.
The United States Marshal planted his feet, took a sideways stance, motioned toward the three horses out under the Spanish moss, leaned against a post and said, “I’m here to collect.” He’d won the Arabian out there fair and square.  He didn’t know before the hand was dealt, before he made the bet, that it was on Eddie’s property, might’ve walked from the table if he had.
“Well, Goddamn. It is personal.” Eddie put his shotgun down, rested it barrel up against the old house. “Beer?”
“Won’t say no.”
Eddie opened a cooler and pulled out two Lone Stars, tossed one at the Marshal. The moisture from the ice sweated down the side of the tall can. They cracked them open at the same time. Foam popped out of Eddie’s and he sipped off the top.
“That a catfish pond down there?” Marshal Henshaw nodded his head toward a small brown pond with a short dock and what looked like a feeder.
“You know, I never figured you’d be the one,” Eddie said while he sipped his beer.
“Not planning on givin’ that horse up too easy then?”
“Not planning on givin’ it up ’tall.” The Arabian dug its hoof into the ground, sick of being behind the electrified rope. “Was my sister’s, that horse.”
“Hard to believe you had family.”
Eddie spit another long line of brown juice out past the porch.
“Hard to believe a lot a things, Sheriff.” Eddie smiled and spit again.
“You sell those catfish to a restaurant?”
“Fished it with my nephews is all,” Eddie said. He finished the beer, crumpled the can and tossed it into an old paint bucket.
“That horse I won fair and square,” Marshal Henshaw said.
“Not from me you didn’t.”
“Well, Eddie, per the papers I got here, he’s mine now.” Marshal Henshaw pulled out a folded proof of purchase for the Arabian.
“I don’t give half a shit what’s on that paper.” Thunder clapped again. Lightning tickled the horizon. Eddie stood up and reached for the shotgun.
Marshal Henshaw drew and fired. He got Eddie Harbour in the heart, he suspected, because the man went down like a heavy sack. The Marshal walked over, looked down at Eddie and shook his head, mumbled a prayer for the poor man’s soul and put a copy of the proof of purchase on Eddie’s chest. Blood bubbled from the wound like the spring in a creek. Marshal Henshaw walked toward the corralled horses — two Tennessee Walkers and the Arabian, who’d settled down and watched him. Maybe the horse was happy Eddie was gone.
“Seems you’re coming with me,” he said to the Arabian. The animal walked a tight circle in anticipation of potential freedom. Marshal Henshaw observed the handle on the roped electrified fence.  Plastic, round, not meant to conduct electricity, as it should be. Eddie was a slick son-of-a-bitch but, the Marshal figured, not smart enough to rig the fencing. He grabbed the handle and set to open it. The jolt of electricity shot through his arm so fast he lost his breath, couldn’t move his hand away. Spittle flew from his quivering lips. The charge twisted through him, and straight to his old heart. Marshal Henshaw went down, rolled on his back and had a moment with the clouds before his eyes closed for good.  The fence fell open. The Arabian made another tight circle then stepped over Marshal Henshaw’s body. The Tennessee Walkers followed and all three animals ran the ranch.


Oliver Brennan lives in Portland, Oregon, where the rain is relentless. He's been to Texas more than once, and each time it taught him something — Texas is different. He's working on his first novel. It’s crime ridden and violent — just the way he likes it. He listens to heavy metal when he writes. His favorite animal is the wolverine, not because of the comic; but that’s a different story.

Politics

There's no honor among thieves.

In The Gutter, that extends to best friends.

Politics by Chris McGinley


The Bogsiders controlled pretty much everything north of Fourteenth Street and west of Crescent Avenue. That included booze, girls, gambling, and what they called "negotiables."

The Sots ran the area south of Tenth Street and east of the Park.

That left a no man's land of four blocks. Or as Blackie Mullen called it: "The Fuckin' Four." Four blocks where absolutely anything could happen . . . and did.

Jimmy O'Hearn was once the skipper of the Bogsiders, but he traded in his bowler for a top hat. Now he was just another ward boss in a city of ward bosses. He wanted control of The Four, but this he couldn't do without Blackie, the new skipper.

The two met at Sullivan's, a dank dive that sold steam beer for five cents a bucket to rummies and the whores who charged little more. Jimmy wore a bowler and his shirtsleeves.

Blackie couldn't resist a jab. "Well, well . . . look at the swell."

"Been a long time, Blackie."

"It has, Boyo. Or should I say, Boss?”

"Just don't say it too loud." Jimmy winced.

Blackie chuckled.

"What's the game?" Blackie asked. "You want me for ward underboss?" He tipped his hat in mock deference, his smile revealing a gold canine. The coal black hair for which he was named was greasy and matted down in an affront to civility, maybe even an affront to the position of gang skipper.

Jimmy looked around and felt a sickening sense of the old life. The thought of what lay ahead nauseated him. Even so, he laid out his plans for the takeover of the Fuckin' Four and what was in it for Blackie, his crew, and Jimmy himself. It was a sweet deal of power and money for everyone, but it meant that Scotch Wells, the Sots' skipper, would have to go. That was fine with Blackie.

It would be made to look like a truce, a territory share. Jimmy would approach Scotch with a bogus deal. Scotch would naturally suspect a set up, Jimmy being a former Bogsider and all. Jimmy would push the fact of his own legitimacy as ward boss and a reformed man. He'd make a diplomatic appeal to the rival skipper.

"Scotch"ll never go for it," Blackie said. "He knows who you are. Who you were, I mean." There was enough of a slight there to get Jimmy's attention, but not enough to rile him. The play was bigger than the players.

"Let me talk with Scotch. He's a diplomat. He'll see the sense in a power share," Jimmy said.

"Maybe. But you're gonna need to convince him. He won't trust me."

"That's why we let Scotch pick the place where he thinks we're gonna close the deal. Somewhere in The Four. Each party brings a second,” Jimmy said. “Scotch's boy is Mickey McNulty. He'll check us out. Make sure we're not carrying."

"How do we know they're not carrying?" Blackie said.

"I'll check them out. I'm your second. You're the skipper now, not me."

Blackie liked the sound of it. "Okay," he said, "but how do we get the drop on 'em?"

"You're a gun guy. Everybody knows. That's what they'll expect. That's why you're gonna get a straight edge into the fold of your bowler. After the pat downs, we sit and talk,” Jimmy said. “That's when you take off your hat. I take the edge out and kill Scotch. You just have to get Mickey to the ground. After I cut Scotch, I'll do Mickey. Then it's all over."

As Blackie laughed, the canine shone again. "Jesus. You sure you got the nuts for this, Mr. Ward Boss? Been a long time since you used a blade, hasn't it?"

"I don't like it, but it's the only way. And they won't expect it. I'm just a politician now. I'm not a gangster anymore, Blackie."

It was a humble admission, especially for a former skipper."Well," Blackie said, "I sure as hell don't know anything about politics. So ya got me there."

"Okay, then."

"One more thing," Blackie added. "How do you know they won't try to take us out first?"

"It would be professional suicide to kill a ward boss. Scotch is too smart for a double cross like that."
                                                            

***


Scotch picked the back room of Mueller's, a German ale house that changed hands so often no one remembered Mueller, if there ever was one.

McNulty checked Jimmy for weapons then patted down Blackie.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself, Mickey," Blackie said.

McNulty swallowed that one. It was bitter and Scotch could see it.

"Easy now, Mickey," Scotch advised.

Jimmy patted down Scotch and McNulty. The men sat down at an old, scarred wooden table.  

When Blackie set his hat down, Jimmy swept it up and opened the edge in one clean motion, the old instincts taking over. 

Blackie's throat opened up like a giant red maw that vomited blood. His head hit the table. 

A moment later, Jimmy and Scotch shook hands over it.

"You're right, Blackie, you sure as hell don't know politics," Jimmy said. He arranged his top hat and the men walked out the back door.



Chris McGinley teaches middle school in Lexington, KY and has previously appeared in Out of the Gutter.