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Tommy's Bro by Morgan Boyd


When you hire Gutter Goons to babysit what could possibly go wrong?

Tommy's Bro by Morgan Boyd

We got a surprise job … grab Tommy’s brother at the airport. Boss says show him a good time. That don’t mean sleep him with the fishes. We get him drunk and laid. Do whatever he wants.

Like a total jackoff I hold up a cardboard sign that reads: Gaston. The fuck kind of name is that?  

The terminal’s stinkin’ crowded. A little pipsqueak bastard trips over my shoe …. Grabs hold of my left arm tryin’ to save his ass from fallin’. I tell shit stain to take a hike in a lake without a paddle. Little Guy don’t read what I’m writin’, he’s still hangin’ on my arm.

I crisp his nose with a right jab. His butt cheeks slap floor, and I go stand by a slot machine—where I get a better view of a blonde’s rear.

The blonde’s rear disappears behind some big ass Texas looking tourists, so I duck into the head to drain the main vein, and do a line of blow.

“Hey Rocco!” Wayne, my associate yells five minutes later from the other side of the aisle. “I think that dude over there is Gaston.”

“Where?” I say, cranin’ my neck around.

“Back there. The guy you put on ass.”

“Get the fuck outta here. No way. My left nut looks more like Tommy than that little turd.”

“I got a picture here.  Tommy told me it’s his brother. But it’s a really old photo—just a head and shoulders shot.”

“Shit. He’s our guy.”

I yank Gaston to his feet, and wipe off the dripping blood from his newly-shaped nose, usin’ the edge of my sleeve. I apologize to heaven and hell, but Little Guy don’t say nothin’. He looks pissed, but also sad … like he’s down the pipe and out the flush.

We wait a bloody hour for the limo to pick us up. Turns out the dumb punk driver fell asleep at Micky-D’s. Wayne whacks the punk’s dumb skull on the limo’s hood, and we head out for the strip. But the limo breaks down, and we waste two more stinkin’ hours holdin’ onto our bored dicks.  

A couple a Tommy’s Southside goons finally get our ass. Only problem is they arrive in a pinner pickup with no room in the single cab. The three of us freeze our cojones off in the back of that rusty flatbed, while constantly gettin’ shit on by a buncha gulls and pigeons.

We rent a car on the strip, gotta find Little Guy a hooker. Not much action at this hour and half of ’em are shemales. But she’s definitely a she with small but real tits.

Upon closer inspection though, she’s covered in crusty scabs and has black eyes from a beatin’. Her blonde wig rides high, her spandex torn and stained—like a circus clown got trampled by a disgruntled elephant. I wouldn’t do her with Wayne’s dick, but Little Guy ain’t complainin’.

She wants $300 bucks. But hey, it’s Tommy’s money. We leave her alone with Gaston in the back of the rental car. Wanderin’ half-way up the block, me and Wayne smoke cigs.



Before I can even turkey fuck my second cigarette, the car door swings wide—and the hooker falls out the rental and onto the street—laughin’ her sorry ass off.

“We had a deal,” I say, flicking my lit butt in her direction.

“Deal’s done. Pulling down micro-dick’s pants was all it took,” she says, lifting my smoke off the ground—and suddenly climbin’ into another John’s car.

Gaston’s trou is still unfurled, and a 6-inch needle is wavin’ at us from his hairy left butt cheek. Wayne yanks the needle out, tells Gaston, “Hike your pants.”

We take off for a coke bar, but before we reach the joint, somethin’ ain’t peaches and cream with Little Guy in the back. I glance in the rearview mirror. His eyes roll back into his tiny head, and his mouth is foamin’ like laundry soap spit from a popcorn maker.

We pull over to the curb. I scoop Little Guy off the seat, set him on the sidewalk, and Wayne tries CPR—

But that don’t do shit.

Finally I bitch out, and dial 911.

Next morning we got visitors, they don’t bring us coffee either. Me and Wayne are bound, tossed in a trunk, and get dragged to Tommy’s office. He jams a gun barrel to my temple. 

“You idiots were supposed to show my brother a good time. Get him drunk, high and laid. Instead you bust his nose, get him laughed at by a hooker—who shoots him up with skanky heroin. The poor kid OD’d.”

“Christ, Tommy,” I say. “Breaks my heart thinkin’ ’bout your brother in the morgue.”

Tommy pistol-whips my head, knocks me to my knees. “He ain’t dead, dumb shit. They Narcanned his lucky ass.”

“Hear that, Wayne,” I say. “Swell news.”

“Yeah, swell news, Rocco. I told you that kid is tough.”

“Of course Gaston’s tough.” Tommy slaps Wayne in the back of his head. “He’s my little brother. He just got out the hospital.

“First thing Gaston tells me? He wants to see you guys.”

Little Guy enters the office. I hit him harder than I thought. A purple city bus is double-parked on his face.

“Dust these pathetic pricks,” Tommy says, handin’ Gaston the gun. “They fuckup everything.”

Little Guy grins ear-ta-ear. First time I seen him smile. He grips the pistol in both hands. “I’ve always wanted to kill somebody—

“But not you guys. That was the best night of my life. Got me out of my funk. So tonight we’re going out again. My turn to buy the hookers.”

Little Guy unties me. Blood returns to my hands. I light myself a cig, and with a wink and a fart, it’s back to business again—

Babysittin’ Tommy’s bro.

Morgan Boyd lives near Monterey with his wife, daughter and an obnoxious cat. He has recently been published at Ugly Dad, Tough, Yellow Mama, and Punk Noir Magazine, and in print at Switchblade Magazine.


Kink Factor 10 by Nick Kolakowski

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Everyone has needs ... including sex. But when you live life in The Gutter? Those needs can get kinky.

Kink Factor 10 by Nick Kolakowski

Room 1.3 Kinktastic Entertainment Suites

Vision module detects Caucasian male: 6’11”/180-185 pounds/hair: black/eyes: blue. Two-piece suit, gray (42R)/white button-down shirt (cotton: N15/S34).  

Male presses right thumb into reader port for Unit 30.331.42’s right shoulder. Credit information available? Yes. Credit limit: $550,000. Client Status: New. Kink preference: Unknown.

Male sits on client bed. Rubs head. Coughs in hand, shuffles feet: “I have a problem. Well, what some people consider a problem. Naturally, I don’t. But since other people think it’s a problem, I have to adjust. You understand?”

Actions: Nod head. Smile. Join client on bed. Pat male’s left hand.

Male is frowning. “No, of course you don’t understand. You’re just a big doll. A good-looking doll, I hasten to add, but still a bunch of plastic and robot parts.


 “Which reminds me … they clean you out, right? After each client?”

Search database for response. Actions: Smile. Spread legs 6 centimeters. Lean back 20 degrees on axis, causing black leather mini-skirt to expose more silicone thigh. Eject hormonal discharge. Open mouth. State (volume 5): “All Kinktastic Sex Friends are fully sanitized between sessions! No need to worry! You can do anything you want. I’m all yours, baby!”

“That’s good. And they delete your memory after each session, right?”

Database response: Open mouth. State (volume 5): “Yes! No need to worry! Your sexy secrets are safe with us!”

“That’s good, too. Can’t have video falling into the wrong hands. I made a mistake a couple of years back. Not with one of you. A real girl. Things got messy. Her father … well, let’s just say he was a pain in the ass. But money fixes most things, am I right?

“Sorry about all these questions. I’ve always done business with HotToys, but the company went bankrupt last month. I gotta have a specific type, or I don’t get turned on. You’re the only unit at Kinktastic that matched. Black hair, green eyes, Greek accent, and Mediterranean skin tones.”

Male falls silent. Activate comfort protocol: touch male’s left knee. State (volume 1): “It’s okay, baby. I’m yours. Whatever you need.”

Male removes unit’s hand from knee. “What I need? I hate to break this to you, but I need to take you apart. I’m going to start by sticking a knife in your belly—then rip out everything I can—while you play with me. I’ll call you ‘Eugenia,’ ‘bitch,’ and ‘cunt.’ Then I’m going to carve your head off. Even then I won’t be finished … I’m going to do some other things. I’ll fuck every hole in your head, including both your ears. And your nostril-hole.”

Assessment: Male’s respiration rate increased. Sweat visible on forehead while swallowing. Search database for kink-related terms: ‘sticking a knife in your belly’/‘rip out’/‘carve your head off’/‘fuck every hole in head’/‘both your ears.’

Profiles found: 3.

Prep alternative Protocol 2 (assess files).

Actions: Smile. Spread legs additional 16 centimeters. Activate vaginal lubrication.

“I bet you have a lot of guys who can’t perform the first time. But you feel so real inside, right? Sure, I wasn’t used to robots at first. Instead of blood and guts you’re all polymers or rubber and electrical fibers or whatever. But with a company like TrueToys, it was all good, you know? I do what I do—paid them way too much, and they’d just order another model. Easier on their conscience than a human girl. There’s no laws for your kind yet.”

Male delves inside pocket of 42R suit jacket. Removes a canvas sleeve (8”) and sets bundle on client bed. Unrolls sleeve to reveal five serrated blades (brand unknown). 



Male removes longest blade (6”) from sheath.

“If I’d kept going with real women, I was going to call myself the ‘Low-Down Ripper.’ It’s got an old-school vibe. Like something out of an exploitation flick. I mean, not a Dario Argento movie, arty and shit. More like one of those messed-up films they used to show in Times Square—before Disney made places like that uncool, you know?”

Actions: Smile. Open mouth. State (volume 5): “That is so interesting, baby. You totally turn me on.”

“Too bad you’re not real. You’d make a pretty good girlfriend.”

Male grips 6” knife in left hand—and stands. Grabs Unit 30.331.42’s hair: “Undo my zipper, Eugenia.”

Actions: Pull down zipper on 42R suit pants. Reach into gap and grip genitalia (grip strength: 1). Expose genitalia (stiffness gauge: 3/5).

Male presses 6” knife to Unit 30.331.42’s throat: “Play with me.”

Blade to throat risks compromising synth-nerves 10-291.

Emergency override: Activate alternative Protocol 2.    

Actions: Grip genitalia (grip strength: 25). Yank genitalia (force: 50). Throw separated genitalia (force: 10).

Male screams and falls to the floor. Bleeding rate >100ml/second. Male attempts to swing knife (force: 1).

Actions: Grip hand with knife (grip strength: 25). Yank hand with knife (force: 90). Throw separated hand, still clutching knife (force: 10).

Male bleeding rate >400ml/second. Male screams—

“Why’d you do that?”

Search database for response. Protocol 2 voice file (David J. 03202050). Open mouth. State (volume 10): “Can you hear me, asshole? It’s Eugenia’s father, David. You forgot I was a programmer, huh? Told you I’d get you eventually, didn’t I, you little shit? This isn’t just payback for my little girl. Now you’ll never hurt anyone or any thing again.”

Male mumbles (force 0.5). Rewind audio. Increase volume 100 db: “Oh, fuck me.”

Actions: Obtain broom from utility closet. Kink factor (10). Penetrate male rectum with broom handle (force: 90). State (volume 8): “Yes! Yes! Yes! I will fuck your brains out, baby!”

Time lapse: 52 seconds. Male bleeding rate 0ml/second. No heartbeat. Male deceased.

Database erase. Cortex erase. Request cleaning units in Room 1.3 (heavy-duty/biological).

Prep for next client.

Nick Kolakowski is the author of numerous books including, “Maxine Unleashes Doomsday” and “Boise Longpig Hunting Club” (both from Down & Out Books). His work has also appeared in Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, Plots with Guns, and various anthologies. He lives and writes in New York City. You can also visit Nick at his website: nickkolakowski.com


Battle Scars by Cal Marcius


Some kids are born behind the eight ball. And their lives get messy quick.

Battle Scars by Cal Marcius

My grandfather treated his grandchildren the way he’d treated his own, quick with the back of his hand. Decades of practise had made him a great marksman.

At family get-togethers, while the women and girls prepared food, he would take all the boys to the barn and make them fight. There were promises of sitting at the head of the table for the winner.

Humiliation was the gift for the loser. A face smeared with blood and animal shit, and the laughter of the others following you while you made your way to the stream to wash off the hurt.

“This’s how men are made,” he’d say.

He’d spit in the straw and select his next fighter, the strong against the weak.

“Don’t cry. Don’t show fear. Don’t show rage. Most importantly, don’t give away what you’re thinking.”

He made us shout out the words. A mantra for hardened boys.

When he wasn’t around we would laugh at his accent, the drawl in his voice and the words no outsider could understand. Made up words that became part of his language. Part of us.

I rode my bike to the barn every day, and I was never alone. We were like moths to the flame. Desperate for his approval. Desperate to be crowned his favourite.

All but Tommy. My baby brother wanted none of that. He’d cry himself to sleep, hurting from the punches, praying he’d never have to go back again. His cousins would make fun of him. Call him Tamara, one of the girls. And I would join in, hoping to win points off the old man.

My grandfather prided himself on our reputation. It was well known you didn’t mess with the Harrison kids. Thugs, who’d end up in prison, or worse.

I would show my sisters the battle scars, the cuts and bruises and broken bones. I would listen to my mother, forbidding me to go back to him, but would rush back as soon as my injuries had healed, dragging Tommy with me. Telling him to man-up. Telling him to stop embarrassing me.

The old man was forging a breed of willing fighters, and we were blind to his true intentions. We were a means to money, and nothing else. This couldn’t have been more apparent than when he loaded us into his van and drove us to a warehouse two hours from home. At the centre was a makeshift ring of sandbags. Men stood, taking bets, pushing their fighters into the ring. Boys no older than my cousins and I. Teenagers with nothing to live for. What once was a game had become deadly survival, as we watched boys beaten into unconsciousness and dragged out of the ring by their feet.


***

Five years on, I stand over the old man, my knuckles dipped in his blood. The last of a dying breed.

We switched off Tommy’s life support in the morning. It took my mother eleven months to understand there was no coming back for him. Brain dead, they’d said. The machines just prolonging his suffering. But she had to try. I had to.

My grandfather knows it’s the end for him as I shout in his face, “Don’t cry. Don’t show fear. Don’t show rage. Don’t give away what you’re thinking.”

Each word is punctuated by another blow to his face. And with each blow I see Tommy, crying, wanting to go home.

***

My mother tells me to head to the mainland. Tells me that her brothers will be coming after me.

“I’m not afraid to die,” I say. “I don’t care.”

“I know,” she says. “But I do.”

She hands me an envelope filled with twenties and a bag packed with my clothes. 

And I leave, knowing I will never see her again.


Cal Marcius is a freelance writer who lives in the frozen wastes of northern England (though it's not as bad as Lapland 3,000 miles north). His stories have been published online and in print, including crime outlets Yellow Mama Webzine, and Shotgun Honey. His stories also appear in the anthologies "Rogue" from Near to the Knuckle and "Paladins"  by Aidan Thorn.

You can easily find Cal on Facebook. As well as Instagram and Twitter, or hunkered in the editorial offices of Spelk Fiction Magazine.

A Kind of Love by Sebnem Sanders (Halloween in The Gutter 2019)

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Wanna know what "Love" is? Don't ask us. Everything is different down here in The Gutter. Like this tale, for example ....

A Kind of Love by Sebnem Sanders

Bernard visited the flea market every Sunday and looked for objects to add to his collections, or something interesting to start a new one. Seeing a display of old-fashioned mannequins at one of his favourite stalls, he stopped and studied them, imagining what he could do with them. He negotiated the price for four, and carried them to his station-wagon, one by one, taking great care. They were a treasure, rare samples from the 50's, made of wood.

Bernard installed the mannequins in the basement of his house, which he'd turned into a nostalgic bar, after his mother died. Not that he was a drinker, but he liked the idea of people socializing under the influence, telling each other their secrets, or meeting someone new. This was something he envied, yet his shyness prevented him from making friends. As soon as someone began to chat to him about something other than work, a hot flush would creep over his face. He'd begin to stutter, and lost for words, escape to find solace in the privacy of his home.

A hard-working mechanical engineer in a manufacturing firm, Bernard had attained the rank of manager, though he knew he couldn't move any higher due to his lack of social skills. When he inherited the family house, he had gutted the basement and reproduced the model of a bar he visited on the Internet. Wood panelling, decorated with bevelled mirrors behind the racks of bottles, and in front of it, a mahogany counter with matching stools. He bought a bottle of every alcoholic beverage existing in a bar's inventory, along with glasses and accessories.

Every Friday night, he prepared a cocktail recipe from a famous barman. He sat on a stool and watched his image reflected in one of the mirrors. Yet, he was still alone, in the midst of silence. The introduction of a LED TV screen fixed to the wall solved the problem. Bernard watched people from another world, and music videos providing sound. He listened to sensual women singing songs and wearing next to nothing.

The mannequins presented Bernard with the opportunity to create something more intimate.
Not so fond of their bare bodies, he decided clothes might give them a kind of reality and ordered sexy dresses to make them more enticing. He embraced his new friends with passion, yet felt a tinge of disappointment when they did not respond.

A few weeks later, he thought about giving them more personality. He spent his weekends searching for heads with the choice of eyes, wigs, and flexible body parts. The task of fitting them took all his spare time, and in the small hours of each morning, he stumbled to his bedroom.
Once he mastered one, Bernard moved onto the next. A month later he had created his beloved possessions. Natasha, the Slavic beauty with blue eyes and long, blonde hair. Anita, the Scandinavian, whose fizzy red hair framed green eyes. Carla, the Italian, with hazel eyes and cascading brown locks, sitting next to Manuela, the Spanish seductress whose dark gaze and short cropped black hair promised an exciting adventure.

Bernard sat at the head of the table, and with the grace of a butler, served wine and small portions of the exotic dish he'd prepared to his alluring companions. He raised his glass and said, "Bon appétit, mesdames." 

The girls looked real. Almost. He had arranged their postures, manicured hands or elbows resting on the table, their heads facing him, and hair swept in sync with their pose. Bernard took photos. Drank his wine, as well as theirs, and cleared the table after finishing his meal. The Friday night dinner parties kept him busy for a few weeks until they became boring, and he felt the need for more animation from his guests. 

Bernard changed their costumes, gave them whips, chains, and chokers.
He drank more wine and ate more food than he normally did. He could feel their hands on his body. Maybe something would happen now. 

***

Monica, the Office Manager, entered the house with two police officers. They searched downstairs and upstairs, and found neatly arranged rooms, but no sign of Bernard. Coming down to the hall, one of the officers saw the door leading to the basement. He pushed it open and descending the lit staircase, gawked when he witnessed the scene at Bernard's bar. Chained to the chair, at the head of the table, a leather bondage choker had been pulled tight around Bernard's neck. His swollen tongue sticking out, head hanging at an angle, decomposition had already disfigured his face.

Monica screamed and covered her mouth as the policeman shouted, "You're compromising the crime scene!"

She staggered to the bar and poured a finger of whiskey into a tumbler. Perched on a stool, she downed the drink, and scanned the fetish clothes, wigs, and accessories scattered around the room. She gulped and turned to the officers. "I don't understand. Bernard was a very nice man."

The Forensic Team found no fingerprints, other than Bernard's and Monica's on the glass and the whiskey bottle. They examined the photos on Bernard's mobile. The mannequins in the pictures had curiously disappeared, having left their clothes and wigs behind.

A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Sebnem E. Sanders now lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes. Her stories have appeared both in print and online, including crime outlets Yellow Mama Webzine and Punk Noir Magazine; literary magazines Spelk Fiction and the Carpe Arte Journal; and in the book collections: Paws & Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology.

Inspired by a Jack Vettriano painting, "A Kind of Love" first appeared in her 2017 story collection Ripples on the Pond. You can learn more about Sebnem by visiting her website where she often shares some of her work.



CUT! by Gabriel Land


When in Rome? Do like the Romans do. Unless of course you belong to the ancient tribe known as the Gutterites (a special sub-class of heathens and barbarians). Yup. Gutters have been around since the Romans invented the arch and started building roads, don't ya know!!!

CUT! by Gabriel Land

“Friends, Romans, countrymen,” the Emperor shouted – the opening to what he just knew was going to be the best speech of his life. “Lend me your ears!”

The crowd standing before him roared. They loved their leader. His heart thumped in his chest – not because he was anxious but because he was awash with pride for Rome.

He waited for the cheering to die down before he spoke again. It took a while. Then he continued.

“I come to ...”

Just then, one of the men closest to the podium cut him short.

“What have you accomplished for Rome, Caesar?” he shouted. “All you do is sip wine from the vantage of your throne room, with a harem and servants at your beck and call!”

The Emperor clenched his teeth. This petty peasant dared to question his leader's supreme authority?

“Very well, upstart!” the Emperor said, as the crowd murmured with simmering unrest. “If you believe my power to be fraudulent, I shall prove it not.”

The Emperor brought his hands across his chest and parted his tunic so his bare torso was made visible to the crowd. Across it were the souvenirs of his conquests in Germania – multiple scars from the slashes of barbarian swords.

The crowd gasped and fell back to a hush – silent enough to hear a pin drop on the cobbled square.

My authority,” the Emperor proclaimed, “is forever etched into my skin. Look! My chest is a map detailing the roads that lead to our beloved republic.” He paused for dramatic effect before continuing.

“Make haste then, rival. Open your tunic and show the crowd what marks you have collected in the battlefield, on the frontier.”

The Emperor and the crowd waited, but the aspiring revolutionary did not speak again.


He was silent, at a loss for words. He stared back at his leader momentarily before lowering his head and looking at the ground in shame.

The Emperor closed his tunic and lifted his hands in the air, commanding the crowd's attention. The five thousand-strong audience patiently awaited the rest of his speech.

But, just as the Emperor began again, there came another interruption. This one from an electric megaphone.

”Cut!” the Assistant Director yelled from the sidelines. “Back to one!”

The Emperor sighed. What was it this time? He had nailed it! Every word had been perfect. He deserved an Oscar for this, goddammit. He'd prepared meticulously for this part.

“What now?” he demanded as the Assistant Director walked up and stood by him.

“Not you, you were perfect,” the AD said. “It was hair and makeup. They fucked up your scars again.”

"Shit! Again? This is ridiculous!"

“I know.” The AD turned and yelled for hair and makeup. Soon the team arrived and the Emperor parted his tunic once again so they could fix the peeling layers of silicone.

“I smell an Academy Award,” the AD said, watching the team go to work. “If not best picture, at least best actor.”

The Emperor smiled. “Me too,” he said.

Then he remembered something else he wanted to talk to the AD about. “Hey, what about that chariot stunt? Can we shoot my fall from behind? I'd rather my double did that. I'd hate to get hurt.”

The AD nodded and winked. “Yes of course. They don't give out Oscars for stunts anyway, right?”

The Emperor and the AD both laughed.

Meanwhile, out in the crowd, the Second AD was screaming at the extras to be more enthusiastic during the cheers.

The Emperor closed his eyes as a makeup artist touched up his liner. His stomach growled and he wondered what catering was cooking up for lunch.

Damn. It was good to be the king.

Gabriel Land is a novelist and screenwriter living in SE Asia. You can find his work on Amazon and visit him on his web site.



Bad-Ass Books: FFO Editor Mick Rose gets twitchy about TOMMY SHAKES the new crime novel by Rob Pierce


Stuttering into The Gutter today we present  FFO Editor Mick Rose and crime writer Rob Pierce, who edits works as well. These two bourbon lovers get tongue-tied as they talk about TOMMY SHAKES, the latest novel by Mr. Pierce.

MR: Congratulations, Rob. Cresting the wave of your crime books Uncle Dust, Vern In The Heat, and With The Right Enemies, your latest published venture Tommy Shakes finally releases from Down & Out imprint All DueRespect on September 27th.

You’ve described your books as being different, yet taking place in the same universe. You live and write in Oakland, CA USA—and your previous criminal characters conduct their illicit business dealings in both actual and fictional environs relatively close to Oakland. What’s Tommy’s range of operations?

RP: Oakland, Berkeley, just around. The big crime in Tommy Shakes takes place at a fictitious restaurant near Lake Merritt, about a mile from my house. The final scenes take place in Berkeley near the Marina. But the whole book is set locally; Oakland and Berkeley, bar to bar, real ones and ones based on real ones. There are scenes that take place outside of bars, but most don’t matter as much as the scenes that take place in them.

MR: I read and enjoyed Enemies earlier this year: a suspenseful, dark page-turner. While many criminals—in fact or fiction—are dumb-ass delinquents, your characters such as Uncle Dust, Rico, Vollmer, and Cobb prove highly intelligent and excel at their jobs. Yet you mentioned to crime writer Jesse Rawlins at Story andGrit last year that Mr. Tommy Shakes—despite a long career in crime, is nowhere near as competent.

What influenced you to take Tommy in a different direction?

RP: I wrote the book while going through a breakup with my wife. It was difficult for me to write the end of the book—I knew how it would end but it was hell to get there. After my wife moved out I was finally able to finish the book. Slowly. Therapeutic for me I suppose, but Hell for readers. So, uh, thanks for enjoying my work, Mick.

But you know, it’s all about writing a book that’s interesting for the reader. And Tommy’s descent downhill and his need to escape—yeah, I think his attempt is damned interesting.


MR: I get the impression Tommy’s last name “Shakes” is likely a play on words. Does he struggle with alcohol or drug use, Rob? And does this name also reflect that he’s shaky at his job?

RP: His real name is Tommy Shakowski so there’s that. It’s not that Tommy is stupid, but he’s controlled by his addictions to alcohol and love. Although by that I mean his definition of love, which is comfort and sex. It’s not that he’s shaky on the job, but that he always blows the money. And he gets sucked into a situation—the job is there, but it requires some work. And the work gets a man killed who is a lieutenant to a local drug lord (Joey Lee), which leads to Joey hunting every man on that job. Which is a lot worse for Tommy than murder one would have been.

So the end of the novel is Tommy trying to get away from Joey Lee and finding the impossibility of that, but still with a chance. The ending is NOT open ended, however. It’s a question of whether Tommy lives or dies.

MR: The central female characters in ENEMIES shared several common traits—including strong attractions to truly dangerous men. Olivia and Theresa in particular find themselves mired in deep shit because of their romantic choices.

What kind of woman is Tommy’s wife? And does she play any role in this drama besides acting as Tommy’s catalyst for working this job that might cost him his life?

RP: Carla, Tommy’s wife, is essentially a foil: she’s beautiful and they used to have something but now… I guess you could call her a catalyst. I think of her more as a bullet. She’s got power, she’ll raise their boy with or without Tommy but she keeps giving him one more chance. Because there is good in him and she sees it. But, and here I think it’s funny that you bring up Theresa and Olivia, as they were romantic rivals, Tommy also starts seeing another woman. And Amanda is bad news, which starts out great for Tommy, but where it goes from there? Yeah, a whole ’nother story.

MR: In ENEMIES you created a wide cast of characters incensed with tracking down the criminal Uncle Dust. We also found ourselves dropped in the middle of a drug war between two rival gangsters.

How many players does Tommy hook up with for this job? And do you care to share any details, Rob, about what this job “involves?”

RP: He goes with Juke, who he knows, Dunbar, who he doesn’t, plus Karma D’Angelo, who seems outside of everyone and everything but comes recommended by Juke. It’s a robbery, only Karma gets gun happy and the cavalry shows before they escape. One of Karma’s shooting victims, a rescuer, worked for gang boss Joey Lee, who takes a sudden interest in the restaurant.
  
MR: Is local drug lord Joey Lee Asian, Rob? And when he seeks retribution for the death of his lieutenant, does Mr. Lee unleash a swarm of thugs out onto the streets to track Tommy and his cohorts? Or at some point is he “personally” involved in committing vengeful violent acts?

RP: Yeah, Joey’s Chinese, but I wouldn’t say he unleashes a swarm. More like word gets out, and word comes with money and prestige. And these guys on the hunt aren’t looking for just Tommy; Karma, Juke, and Dunbar are also among the hunted. And no, Joey doesn’t hit the streets himself. He’s too busy trying to corner the East Bay. But not too busy to send other men after his blood money.

MR: Bars, booze, blunders; bloodshed, bosses, bounties; a bad-news babe—and a life-or-death struggle that’s got criminal Tommy Shakowski running in quaky shoes. A volatile bay-area cocktail, Rob. No one with a lick of sense would wanna walk in Tommy’s shoes. But suspense lovers should enjoy following in Tommy’s footsteps.

Good luck to you and TOMMY SHAKES, Rob.




Gut-Shots: A Big Appetite by Sarah M. Chen


When you live life in The Gutter, nothing shows you care like stopping by for dinner.

A Big Appetite by Sarah M. Chen

Lenny knew the odds of dying in a car wreck within a lifetime were one in 113. Compare that to being killed by lightning, one in 174,426. 

Yet that still didn’t prepare him for the sound of the heavy-duty pickup T-boning the black Audi with a terrific CRUNCH at the intersection of Franklin and Highland. It was enough to send shivers through Lenny. 

And something else. Hope. 

The eerie silence that followed reminded Lenny of that time at Davey’s, the lame hipster joint in Silver Lake. When he’d slammed Trevor Chapman’s face into the pool table over and over until the son of a bitch collapsed with a thud onto the concrete floor. Left streaks of blood and snot all over the shiny wood and green felt. The dead silence immediately afterward prompted Lenny to get the hell out. Although he knew none of those douchebags would come after him. Fucking pussies. 

Exact sensation now at Franklin and Highland. As if all the energy was sucked into a vacuum. Thwiiiick! Nobody moved. Nobody breathed. Then the vacuum whirred to life. Cars pulled to the curb. Others drove slowly around the wreckage, classic rubberneckers.

Lenny pulled over and made his way down the hill.

Glass and plastic debris littered the street and sidewalk. From where he stood he could see the female driver of the Audi pitched forward like a mannequin, blonde hair fanned out over the wilted airbag. Her tanned arm now a filthy red.

Sirens in the distance. Lenny turned and trudged back up Highland, sweat pooling underneath his arms.
Odds were that Ella Simms was dead. Lenny hoped that would be enough.
You call that payback, you weak fuck? I am Revenge. I am not Sheer Luck. I am not Coincidence.
Lenny flinched at the beast’s words.
“But she’s dead. That should be enough,” he said as he climbed inside his SUV. He stared at the chaos down the hill. The metal carnage glinting in the sun like wadded-up aluminum foil.
I will not be ignored, motherfucker.
***
The Cape Cod-style monstrosity sat smugly at the top of the circular driveway. Lenny and his SUV sat at the bottom. He eyed the baseball bat lying across the passenger seat. A pistol next to it.
It was time to increase his odds. Lenny was tired of the house winning every time. He knew Revenge, the beast, was tired of it too.
Give me more.
Revenge was a hungry bastard.
That’s where Donald Chapman came in. And why Lenny was camped outside his Cape Cod-style mansion in Brentwood on a lovely Sunday morning.
Because Ella Simms sure as hell didn't fill Revenge up. Watching her fly across Franklin into a light pole didn't quite have the same satisfaction as bashing her head in with a baseball bat. 

Even when he’d read online the next day that her upper torso was practically severed from her legs, Revenge insisted that was pathetic. Like feeding a starving lion a scrawny mouse.

Did she suffer excruciating pain and terror while wedged in that mangled hunk of metal?

“I don’t know,” Lenny had said, staring dully at the computer screen.
Then we have a big fucking problem.
Lenny wished the beast would leave him alone. Let him and Cecilia heal.
But you invited me to the party. Don’t you remember?
“Yeah, I remember,” Lenny said.
It happened at Davey’s. Back when the beast was just an itty bitty parasite. A virus Lenny couldn’t shake.
He’d only intended to scare the kid. Maybe permanently disfigure Trevor’s pretty boy face. But the asshole ended up dying from a bleeding brain. When he fell on the bar’s concrete floor.
Lenny wasn’t crying any tears when he found out. He wanted to kill the son of a bitch. For assaulting and raping his daughter and only getting a slap on the wrist. Thanks to the Ivy League lawyer bitch, Ella Simms. And the fat judge with the bald head. Sentencing Trevor to a pathetic hundred hours of community service. What the fuck was that?
Cecilia was seeing a therapist but it’d be a long time before she’d be able to have a healthy relationship. At least she was young, only nineteen, Dr. Feinstein reassured Lenny.
That’s weak fuckin’ sauce. Revenge’s words, not Lenny’s. Lenny wanted to believe Dr. Feinstein. Needed to latch on to hope.
But Revenge only grew more powerful. By the time, Lenny was released from California State Prison for murdering Trevor, the parasite inside him had become a roaring monster.
Feed me more fear. More pain.
Lenny tried to tell the beast that Trevor is dead. Time to move on. But he knew it was no use. Trevor’s death was a stroke of luck.
At first, Lenny promised the beast a bullet in the judge’s bulbous head. What a disappointment when Lenny got out of the joint, only to learn the lardass died of a heart attack three months earlier.
Heart disease was the number one killer. Your odds of dying of a heart attack were one in seven. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Especially because the judge was obese. Increased his chance of dying of heart failure by sixty percent.
But tell that to the beast. Revenge didn’t give a fuck about odds and percentages. He wasn’t like Lenny who had obsessed over death statistics since he was a kid. All the beast cared about was getting fed. So it could grow bigger. Stronger.
So next in line had been Ella Simms, Trevor’s high-powered attorney. Lenny wanted to do it right too. Not make a big show of it.
He’d followed Ella’s Audi daily to Simms & Saacke Law Group out in Century City. And to her weekly tryst at the W Hotel. With the dark-haired gentleman. The one who had her screaming, “Oh yes, right there!”
The dark-haired man always left the room first, Ella followed ten minutes later. Lenny planned to knock on the door once he saw the man leave. Near-perfect odds that she’d open it, assume her lover had forgotten something. Or wanted round two. Then Lenny would shove his way in.
Then again, Lenny thought it was near-perfect odds that she’d actually get to the W in one piece. But the beast knew how that went.
What Lenny wanted to know now was how likely a third person would slip through Revenge’s scaly little claws.
Pretty unlikely, yet Lenny wasn’t taking any chances this time. Screw plotting and planning. It was time for balls-out action. Just like at Davey’s.
Donald Chapman—the father of the scumbag rapist—was going to have his brains bashed in in the comfort of his own home. And if his wife and now-only child were there, Lenny would kill them too. That’s what the pistol was for.
Because odds were his wife and kid would be there. Probably all sitting down to a pancake breakfast.
Lenny climbed out of the SUV, shoved the pistol down the back of his jeans, and grabbed the baseball bat. He walked up to the front door and rang the bell.
It’s feeding time. Hallefuckinglujah.

Sarah has worked a variety of odd jobs, from script reader to private investigator assistant. She’s published numerous short stories and a children’s book. Her noir novella, Cleaning Up Finn with All Due Respect Books, was an Anthony finalist and IPPY Award winner. She’s the co-editor of The Night of the Flood, a “novel-in-stories,” with E.A. Aymar and is a sometimes contributor to the Los Angeles Review of Books. Readers can find Sarah at her website.

"A Big Appetite" first appeared at Close To The Bone

Editor's Note: Oh, Happy Day! Canadian crime author Beau Johnson finally brought us a Popcorn Maker! Beau also dropped off another edition of "Not Beau's Book Nook," which happens to feature Sarah's novella CLEANING UP FINN. Interested viewers can catch this episode below. Cheers!