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Crime Fiction: Life Number Ten by James "Jim" Shaffer (a Gut-Shots presentation)

Another dark tale before December levity launches ....

Life Number Ten by James "Jim" Shaffer

Harlan stood at the kitchen sink, staring out the window, focused on nothing in particular. Cocking his head side-to-side, he pretended to study something beyond the cabin’s porch. He’d seen a guy do that in a movie once. But dense dark pines reaching to the sky were the only things outside. He was actually waiting to wash his grungy hands, but with air in the pipes water barely trickled from the crusted faucet. Meanwhile the stink from his clothes steadily filled the room.

Draping his palms over the counter, Harlan cocked his hip in a relaxing fashion. He’d seen a guy do that, too. Waiting and pretending made him think hard. “I once had sex with a cantaloupe,” he told his brother, Earl.

Lounging behind him at the kitchen table, Earl skimmed an old copy of Beaver Hunt—a popular girlie magazine. A life-long horror story freak, the Stephen King tale featured on the cover had snagged his attention. But the aged pages were tacky and some stuck together. Using a 10-inch knife he’d taken from the trucker in Southside Johnny’s parking lot, he patiently worked the blade between the trouble spots.
“Was it a fruitful experience?” Earl smirked. Harlan wouldn’t get the pun.
“I split that baby down the middle. Opened her up. Stuck my whole face inside. She was wet and warm and juicy. I spit seeds for a week.”
“The thing about any melon: don't refrigerate. Consume within two days at room temperature. Ask any chef.” Especially well-read, Earl recited from memory; and skillfuly pried apart two more pages. Feeling weary and lost, he welcomed this distraction.

The trucker had tried to kill Harlan with this knife.

So he’d cold-cocked the guy before the casualties escalated.

The trucker knew them both and Earl should’ve killed him. But after what Harlan had done? Killing him didn’t feel right, some kind of karma at work. Earl couldn’t put his finger on it at first.
An air pocket rattled the faucet. Rusty water spit in staccato fashion. When the stream flowed clean and steady, Harlan grabbed a handy bar of nearby Lava soap, slipped his hands under the water. The soap’s distinct smell made him think of the farm. The only soap that got cow shit off your hands, his daddy said. Daddy’s favorite soap did wonders with blood too. The dried, caked blood scrubbed off easily.

He rubbed his blood-soaked face and sucked some soapy water into his coppery mouth. Harlan eagerly sloshed the water around his cheeks and gums—and spit out the dirty froth—watched the pink liquid swirl down the drain.  His mama had taught him that keeping your teeth clean was important. You’d need them your whole life, she’d said.

He swiped his mouth with a hairy wrist, dried both hands on tattered Levis. Harlan wiped everything on his jeans. Streaked with grime, fried grease and blood, and God knew what else … they almost stood on their own.
“What’re we gonna do now, Earl?”
Earl split two more pages and stared at the coy young snatch in the old magazine. The appeal was ageless, but he looked up. Head cocked, eyes vacant, Harlan leaned back against the sink like he was in deep thought—his arms folded in front of him like he was a politician debating his next platform.

Or more likely for a politician, figuring which filly from the secretarial pool he should pick to join him on his next stump. But staring at Harlan, Earl realised once again these were his thoughts, his imaginings. His brother wasn’t capable of any original thoughts.
“I guess we're gonna wait,” Earl said.
“What for?”
“That trucker’s gonna be comin’ with his boys. They know us, Harlan. No tellin’ what they’re gonna do.”
“They gonna be mad?”
“I ’spect so. That girl was the trucker’s best whore. You killed his best whore. What do you think?”
“Shit. Didn’t know she was his best. I’m sorry.”
“They’re gonna tear you up, boy.” A tear ran down Harlan’s cheek.
“I’m scared,” Harlan said.
“You should be, brother.”
“We could run,” Harlan offered.
“Don’t know. That’s you. You always know.”
“Not this time. Those guys were our best customers. Who we gonna sell our drugs to now? We got no one and nowhere to go. Because of you.”
“I said sorry.”
Earl watched Harlan suddenly pace the room—one hand thrust in his front jeans pocket. He touched things with the other every time he passed them, like he was taking inventory. But Harlan was searching hard for words he could say. When he couldn’t find any, he plopped down at the table in a chair next to Earl. He felt safe next to his brother.
“I remember the cat,” Harlan said.
Earl wasn’t surprised. Harlan could remember things. He just couldn’t think things through. His memories taught him nothing. They were just things that happened.
“You mean the one you nailed to the side of the barn?”
“I did that? I thought it was you.”
“You nailed the cat. I took the blame,” Earl said.
“Mama was real pissed off with you. I remember that.” Harlan laughed, slapped his knee. He’d seen a guy do that.
“Easier to take the blame than try to explain.”
How could he explain to his mama the deficiencies Harlan possessed? Mothers don’t see such things in their children. Denial is a mother’s privilege—

And her last hope.
Earl eased from his chair, stood behind his brother.
“Cats have nine lives. You told me,” Harlan said.
Earl pulled Harlan’s head to his chest and caressed his hair like a lover might. “Really?”
“Yeah. When he died? You told me that was number ten.”
“I guess he reached his limit.”
Harlan put his hand on Earl’s.

Earl couldn’t let him suffer at the hands of the uncaring—those hell-bent on revenge for their own reckless need.
He pushed the knife slowly into Harlan’s neck, and only a little ways, just deep enough to slit his brother’s jugular. Blood squirted between his fingers.
“It’s getting dark,” Harlan said.
Earl looked out the kitchen window. The morning sky was starting to brighten.
“Don’t worry, little brother, it’ll be light soon.”

Maybe he’d make it on his own. Maybe not.

Author of the novella Back To The World, crime writer James “Jim” Shaffer grew up in rural Pennsylvania, spending his early years on his grandparent’s farm—but he’s spent almost half his life living abroad since. Jim’s most recent work appears in the charity tribute anthology Dark Yonder, the award-winning mystery-thriller collection Wrong Turn from Blunder Woman Productions, and Close to the Bone’s neo-giallo anthology The Blood Red Experiment. His free-to-read fiction stories are available at online magazines Close to the Bone and Bewildering Stories. He’s on Facebook at Jim Shaffer.

The Original version of "Life Number Ten" first appeared at Close To The Bone

FFO Flash Fiction: All That Remains by Mick Rose

We love to joke at FFO. But not on this occasion ... as we present a story that's NOT for the faint-of-heart. Some crimes are heinous, and their effects far-reaching. We invite you to reflect on the Title and the Artwork before delving this piece by our colleague Mick Rose.

All That Remains by Mick Rose

Took me three years to track down John Delaney. Snot dribbled from his nose. But those soulless blue eyes still sparkled with defiance.

I'd jacked him head-long over a battered wooden table—and splayed him spread-eagle. Like a cop shoves a hapless perp against the hood of a car. Yeah, I cuffed his hands, cinched them tight behind his back. But I'd also shackled his ankles to the blood-stained concrete floor. And looped a noose around his neck—lashing that demented meathead smack against the tabletop so he could only look left.

I hadn't bothered with a gag. No one could possibly hear him. Besides. I wanted him to talk. I felt my composure slipping ... reckoned this derelict house, a hundred lonely miles from any town or city ...  didn't look much different than the noxious shithole had three ancient years ago. Though the cops involved knew about his appetites? They proved too damn lazy to discover Delaney's lair.

Bile scouring my throat I snagged his matted hair, squatting on my knees so I could glare at him—crazed eyes to crazy eyes.

"I want every detail. Now. You will hold back nothing."

No surprise the asshole spit at me—despite the lug wrench in my hand. But he cringed and closed his eyes: expecting the arcing metal to meet and dent his head.

Instead I dropped the wrenchclattering the concrete instead of his worthy skullrattled both our ears.

I reached inside my trench coat; fished out a pack of photos. Like a stack of preschool flash cards, I held each one before his face ... before slowly oh-so-slowly ... moving to the next.

"She was sweet, so sweet," he crooned, blue eyes suddenly glassy: a jagged guttural moan swelling from his chest.

"Tell me something I don't know, Delaney."

"I fucked her," he said, his face now radiant—merry thoughts meandering down his twisted memory lane.

"Fucked her how?"

He giggled. "Every which way. In her mouth. In her ears. In the cunt. Up the ass.

"That lovely child called me Daddy. Every day and night of that blessed week." 

All the filth Delaney spewed matched ghoulishly tit-for-tat with the scorched images in my head—the charred lines cut deep—like they'd long been etched with acid. I continued to let him babble till finally he proved spent. She'd suffered firsthand. Alone with this monster. Any pain I endured weighed less than a useless farthing.

I tucked the photos in my coat. Staggered to the fireplace ... and that gray round mound of ash.

But the fires Delaney burned couldn’t claim everything. I spied a strip of shattered lathing, barely clinging to the wall frame, and used the splintered wood to gently spread the pile. Shrouded within that dust … three blackened buckles—one from a belt—and two the only remnants of her patent leather shoes. While bits of teeth and bone screamed at me from the ash.

I tugged a bandana from my trench coat. Collected the twisted buckles, as well as the tiny fragments of teeth and shattered bone. Laid them on the cotton cloth. Heaped a handful of ashes atop the sacred mound. Securely tied the bundle. Acid clawed my innards. Vomit threatened to surge.

I turned, and walked away. The bugler in my head mournfully playing Taps to the staccato rhythm of my boot heels echoing off the steps. 

No need to take the fucker's life ... to drink from his abyss. 

Starvation would duly claim him. 

And I'd snatched his greatest treasure—

A golden braided knot of my beloved daughter's hair.

Crime writer Mick Rose pens haiku and prose while wandering the United States in a Quest for the Perfect Pizza. Though his crime fiction can loom dark, and not for the faint-of-heart, he typically tells tall tales involving sexual humor (which sometimes prove explicit).

His work has kindly found good homes at online magazines and in print. He hosts Center Stage With Mick Rose—which frequently shines the spotlight on an international cast of writers, poets and illustrators.

Care to say, “Hello?” You can visit Mick on Facebook, as well as on Goodreads.

The original version of "All That Remains" first appeared at Close To The Bone.

New Jersey Devil Albert Tucher: A Decade of Murder & Mayhem (including Corpses dropped in FFO's gutters)

The road to hell is likely paved with crime writers and their manuscripts. Some of us survive ... at least for a season, while others scuttle about for decades and miraculously manage to see some lights shining through life's tunnels.

As the New Kid on the Chopping Block, I'm pleased to have spent some time with NJ crime writer Albert Tucher—one of the first writers to appear at The Flash Fiction Offensive back in 2009. With Thanksgiving hovering on the horizon, this trip down Memory Lane will mark the end of FFO's 11th Anniversary Celebration.

Cheers y'all,

Jesse "Heels" Rawlins

Hi Albert, thanks for taking the time to chat. You live and write in New Jersey—a state that seems to spawn more than its share of crime writers given the Garden State’s small size. You think the cause is something in the water? Or possibly NJ’s proximity to New York City—and the mob’s reputation for dumping stiffs in New Jersey’s swampy eastern Meadowlands?

Thanks for having me, Jesse!

I wish I could blame it on the water. That would kinda let us off the hook, even though we choose to live here. The Mafia heritage also has something to do with it, but I think that’s traceable to New Jersey’s early urbanization compared to other states. Newark, for instance, is one of the oldest cities in the country.

But New Jersey is more than its cities. There’s been a lot of crime fiction set at the Jersey shore. That’s “downashore,” if you speak Jersey. And if you’re a native, it comes out as a single syllable—roughly, “dowsh.” Works like BIG SHOES by Jack Getze and MISSING YOU IN ATLANTIC CITY by Jane Kelly readily come to mind.

In terms of rural noir, I have wondered why certain parts of New Jersey haven’t been featured. Go down to Salem or Cumberland County in July and look at the ancient buses parked off the road and the migrant farm workers stooping in the fields. You’ll think you’re in rural Alabama.

Of course, the uniquely New Jersey contribution to rural noir has to be the region known as the Pine Barrens. Jen Conley, author of CANNIBALS—and Jeff Markowitz, author of DEATH IN WHITE DIAMONDS—I’m looking at you two!

Your story “Sleaze Factor” holds a distinction as one of the earliest known tales published when The Flash Fiction Offensive launched in late 2008, under the leadership of its first editor Rey A. Gonzalez.

This tale features prostitute Diana Andrews and NJ homicide detective Tillotson. When Mr. Gonzalez pubished “Sleaze Factor” in January 2009, your bio notes more than twenty Diana Andrews stories had kindly been published in various places. And also that you’d hammered out four unpublished novels involving Ms. Andrews.

So here we are a full decade later, Albert. How many Diana Andrews stories have now been published? And how many novels as well? Are any of those original four still collecting dust at your place—or have they all found good homes?

Damn, Jesse, that was a while ago. I’m up over 100 published short stories now, and most of them feature Diana. Kevin Burton Smith did me a solid some months ago when he put up a list on the THRILLING DETECTIVE website—which celebrated its 21st birthday on April 1, 2019:

I write Diana in real time, and the novels cover the period 1997-2002. At this point they’re practically historical fiction.

Since FFO’s early days I’ve inserted one novel at the beginning of Diana’s main story arc. It’s called THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, and Untreed Reads published it in 2013.

Five of my finished novels involving Diana are still unpublished: DO OVERS, TENTACLES, THE HOMICIDE SISTERS, THE SENATRIX, and THE GOOD PLACE.

In TENTACLES, however, I send Diana to the Big Island of Hawaii with a dangerous client. She meets some detectives and uniformed officers of the Hawaii County Police—and in recent years I’ve spun them off in their own series.

So the four additional novels that I’m happy to have seen published are THE PLACE OF REFUGE (2017), THE HOLLOW VESSEL (2018), and THE HONORARY JERSEY GIRL (2019), all from Shotgun Honey, an imprint of Down & Out Books.

Eric Campbell and Lance Wright at Down & Out—and Ron Earl Phillips at Shotgun Honey have been great to me, by the way.

I also have some short stories featuring these characters, and one of them, called “J.D.L.R.,” will be my debut story in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I’m also working on another novel called BLOOD LIKE RAIN that involves Detective Coutinho.

Wow. Congrats on all your achievements over the last … ummm … decade, Albert. Since you’ve tortured yourself as a writer for this long, I’m curious as to how changes in Social Media may have impacted you and how you interact with other writers.

For example, The Flash Fiction Offensive launched with its own blog site in 2008—and its stories weren’t published at Matthew Louis’s Out Of The Gutter Online (OOTGO) until March 1, 2012—when miscreant crime author Joe Clifford took the helm, and was soon joined by the Underworld Bard of the San Francisco Bay Area Tom Pitts. Three months later, on June 28, 2012, FFO created its Facebook page. FFO also generated its Twitter account in conjunction with OOTGO and Mr. Louis’s publishing house Gutter Books that same month.

These days you Tweet on Twitter @alcrimewriter. And like most writers, you’ve got aFacebook page. But back when “Sleaze Factor” appeared at FFO in 2009 you were welcoming comments through an AOL account—and FFO’s writers and readers routinely left more interactive comments on the blog than I see nowadays.

History lesson over, your thoughts and experiences, Albert?

The effects of social media go beyond my writing life to my entire life. That goes especially for Facebook. If life used to be layers of sediment deposited over time, Facebook jumbles them like a comet strike.

Have I tortured that metaphor enough?

I have reconnected with people from junior high school. I haven’t seen them in fifty years, but they mix with writers I’ve met recently or know only virtually. It can be disorienting when a kid I traded punches with in 1964 comments on a story I just published.

Not that I was much of a brawler then or ever.

Although I’ve written and edited non-fiction for years, I didn’t jump on Facebook until two years ago: and I gotta say that decision has revolutionized my fiction writing experiences in positive ways.

But speaking of punches, brawlers, and mashed metaphors like comet strikes, New Jersey lies at one of the epicenters for notorious events known as Noir At The Bar (N@TB). Crime author and candy corn-loving Jersey Jen Conley—a long-time flash fiction editor for Shotgun Honey—describes these debacles as “A roomful of half-bagged, semi-literate knuckle-draggers.”

The list of participating N@TB knuckle-draggers whose stories have appeared at FFO throughout the years is too numerous for mention. But Ms. Conley showcases an array of posters from these events on her website. And your name, Albert, is notoriously featured on some of them. As are a slew of New York writers including Thuglit founder Todd Robinson, who closed the doors for that legendary outfit in June 2016 after roughly an outstanding 11-year run. So don’t try and act all innocent here!

What have you enjoyed about participating in N@TB events, Albert? And what kind of benefits do these celebrations offer writers of all experience levels?

Notorious. I like it!

Noir at the Bar is pretty well-known these days, but for those who might be new to the idea, Peter Rozovsky will go down in crime fiction history as the one with the vision. He got the first such event going. Others have followed. Organizers find a bar with well-disposed management and gather a group of crime fiction authors who take turns reading their work aloud and drinking.

Actually, the drinking is continuous, with no discernible handing-off of the responsibility.

N@tB events have sprouted all over the country. In New York Todd Robinson and Glenn Gray ran the events for quite a few years at Shade Bar in the West Village, aided by one of the treasures of the city, bartender Laurie Beck. As you mentioned, I read at several of those events.

Todd and Glenn begat Jen Conley and Scott Adlerberg, with Laurie’s continuing assistance. Jen and Jay Butkowski have also spun off events at the Complex in Asbury Park.

Have I read there too, and supported other writers when I wasn’t reading? I ask you. When the Jersey Girl In Chief summons a Jersey guy to Asbury Park, what answer can he give but, “Yes, Ma’am?”

So far, Jen hasn’t slapped me down over the JGIC appellation. I continue to push my luck.

Most often I read flash fiction. I enjoy giving the audience a complete story in my six to eight minutes, and thanks to publications like DZ Allen’s defunct Muzzle Flash, Shotgun Honey, BJ Bourg’s Flash Bang Mysteries, and of course FFO, I have quite a few stories to choose from.

I think most writers who’ve read aloud will tell you that it makes mercilessly clear what works and what doesn’t. I would compare it to standup comedy, with one crucial difference. In my experience the audiences are always supportive. Any novice reader who gets an invitation to read should grab it.

And if you do, you’ll meet people you have only known on screen or on the printed page. There is nothing like face-to-face, and that’s why I hope to keep getting invited back.

Thanks for this walk down Memory Lane, Albert. It’s certainly been quite a trip. And we’re excited that you, Diana and Detective Tillitson will be making another appearance at FFO in December—with a Christmas story called “Black Friday Blues.”

You also mentioned NJ crime writer Jay Butowski—who’s been published at FFO among other places. Earlier this year we were excited to see Jay team up with some colleagues, including N@tB NY reader and writer Roger Nokes—who possesses more literary sensibilities than most of us crime degenerates. Together this crew, which includes Jonathan Elliot, Nikki Dolson, and Katrina Robinson, launched the cross-genre story endeavor Rock And A Hard Place Magazine. Their first issue released in September with “A Chronicle of Bad Decisions and Desperate People.”

We’d heard some rumors about this outfit. And to try and confirm them? We plied Mr. Nokes with copious amounts of alcohol—and then threatened to hurl him down a stairwell if he didn’t ’fess up. Bottom line? Mr. Nokes confirmed that under extreme duress, which may have included blackmail, you’ve agreed to jump on board with them as an editor. So congrats on this new gig, Albert!

Meanwhile? Our best wishes to you, and all the other notorious knuckle-draggers out there!

Desperate Times Call! Bill Baber Hits L.A.'s Mean Streets to Hunt Down Author Bruce Harris

NY Author Bruce Harris

My flight out of Phoenix to smog-filled Los Angles left me tense and stiff. I rolled my neck and shoulders while flagging down a cab. “The Gutter,” I told the driver.

The cabbie sneered in distaste. “That dive bar over on—”

I shot him a look that quickly cut him off. “Yeah, that’s the place.”

A decade of writing crime was starting to take its toll—though I’d enjoyed a helluva ride. My first story got published at The Flash Fiction Offensive back in 2010, when hard-drinking southern writer Rey A. Gonzalez first ran FFO’s dubious operations. Business still gets done on bar stools. But a lot of things have changed. We used to talk on pay phones. Now we got encrypted cell phones—though most of them are burners.

One of my burners had chirped two hours earlier at my safehouse in Arizona. Instant Private Message from Jesse “Heels” Rawlins, the first Gutter Gal in history to take the reins at FFO: “East Coast varmint Bruce Harris is drinking at The Gutter—which just happens to be FFO’s new HQ. The man’s a wall of secrecy. Practically untouchable. And that makes me antsy, Bill. Care to run out to L.A. and ply him with some drinks? Your dime of course.”

Right. My dime of course. Disorganized crime at its finest. No one wants to pay, everyone wants to score.

Damn. Bruce Harris. An old school criminal miscreant with a touch of class. Not an easy mark. We’ve done a few gigs together over the past half-a-dozen years. We rarely talk much. But he’s got a reputation. One that I respect—and respect is everything in this business.

I don’t work for Heels. So I didn’t PM her back. Though I immediately booked a flight.

I had my own reasons for wanting to talk to Mr. Harris. Clear out of the blue, my Muse had deserted me …. Maybe picking Bruce’s brain—at least figuratively for starters—would get my mojo back.

Soon as my foot hits the grungy curb, the cabbie stomps the gas—and happily hauls ass. In this neighborhood? Can’t say that I blame him. The Gutter’s dark like always. Takes a minute to spot my man … he’s writing in a notebook, not on a laptop. But I slip onto a barstool before he knows I’m there—

“What are you drinking, Bruce?”

His flinch is barely perceptible. Though he deftly closes the notebook. Shit. Was hoping to snatch a peek. Always good to know what the competition is up to.

“Vodka, Mr. Baber. R6, on the rocks, with olives. I like supporting local distillers. This joint still looks like a shit hole, but they only serve top shelf. I imagine Rawlins sent you. Now are you done asking questions?”

I laugh. And let him stew.

But once we get our drinks? I hit him hard and fast. “How’d you get started in this racket? Where and when did your first story appear?”

“In 2009, a few of my mystery short stories got published in the now defunct online journal, Pine Tree Mysteries. But that wasn’t my first publishing rodeo.”

Interesting. But I want him off-balance, and let the obvious question slide. “I imagine you did a lot of reading long before then. What’s your favorite book?

“Snubnose .38 to my head? Though I’m glad you ain’t got one pointed: one book—I, the Jury by Mickey Spillane. I enjoyed everything about it: the era, the urban setting, Mike Hammer, the dialogue—and of course the memorable ending. I met Spillane years ago at his South Carolina home. We drank Miller Lites in his backyard. Nicest guy in the world.”

Miller Lites? Obviously Mr. Harris’s tastes had grown more expensive.

“I know what you’re thinking. Forget it. Spillane had cases of the stuff, gratis, from Miller. He did commercials for them.”

“Gratis, huh? Beats robbing a beer truck. What other writers influenced you?”

“Ever since grade school I’ve been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and an admirer of Arthur Conan Doyle. My Holmes fascination continues to this day. As far as classic whodunit mysteries? Hard to top Ellery Queen. Other old-time favorites include David Goodis and Cornell Woolrich. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lot of what’s written today, but I’ve got a soft spot for the old stuff.

“I’ve also got a soft spot for R6, Bill—

“Another vodka, please.” Christ, the guy was putting a dent in my drinking budget. I would either have to nurse the Bookers in front of me or switch to something cheap like Beam.

The bartender overheard. I nodded, he poured. “You tend to write in a variety of genres—pulp, straight crime, mysteries. But lately you’ve been writing a lot of Westerns. Was that a deliberate shift?”

“I like to mix it up. For some reason, crime’s the toughest genre for me. I struggle with it … and admire guys like you who consistently pull it off. Westerns are fun for me and provide the opportunity for interesting characters and settings—as well as lots of action.”

Damn. A compliment from him felt good. “To me, no matter what you write, your style is instantly recognizable, Bruce. Is that by design?”

“You flatter me, Bill. Honestly? I couldn’t describe my style. Unless maybe I’ve had three or four more vodkas.”

I show him my poker face, but buy him another R6 before pressing on.

“You recently retired from your ‘day job.’ Is writing going to be a full time thing now? I have to admit I’m envious of how prolific you’ve been lately.”

“Besides being thirsty, Bill, I’m also very lucky. Yes, I retired after 30 years at UPS. I’ve been writing about 4-5 hours a day on average, mostly mornings and some afternoons. As you well know, some days the words flow and sometimes they sadly don’t.”

“You’ve got that right, Sherlock. So what’s in your writing future?”

“My ultimate writing goal is to appear in either Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. If I happen to appear in both? I will be ecstatic.

Both good choices for a mystery writer. “What’s your proudest moment as a writer, Bruce? Favorite thing you’ve written?”

“I’ll cheat and pick more than one. Proudest moment was the publication of my first book, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson: ABout Type. It’s a monograph comparing Holmes, the Type A personality with Watson, the Type B. The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box published the book in 2006. And it’s still available at”

Ah, that explained his cryptic rodeo reference. The book came three years prior to his first published story.

“I’m also thrilled to have won the September/October 2017 Mysterious Photograph Contest in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And one of my favorite short stories, “Pothole,” appeared at FFO back in 2012 when San Francisco crime authors Joe Clifford and Tom Pitts were at The Gutter’s helm—”

He fishes his shirt pocket. Smirks. Hands me a scrap of paper: “Here, I brought you the link. Read it, crumble it, and swallow it.”

“Gee thanks.” Now that I have that link? I’ll easily forge his signature. Sell the bootleg versions on eBay. Maybe even recoup the cost of his drinks. “The first story of yours that I read was at Slow Trains, a great piece of satire about what sports talk radio would have been like at the start of the 1927 Major League Baseball season. It remains one of my favorites of yours. To me, it’s just another example of what a versatile a writer you are.”

“Thanks, Bill. I’m a big baseball fan. But not a Giants fan—and I enjoy writing humor so that story was a perfect marriage. Oh, and Mantle was better than Mays.”

Consummate wise guy. Diehard Cubbie and Yankee fan. Had to dog my Giants.

“Did you spot those fresh bloodstains by the door on your way in here, Bruce?”

Soon as he turns around? I swipe his lousy olives.

“Slick move, Mr. Baber. But not that slick. I caught your cotton-pickin’ fingers in the mirrored glass out front.”

I shrug, fight a smirk. “You’ve set many of your crime stories in that thirties and forties era. I’m guessing you’re a big fan of old movies. You have a favorite? Any particular reason you like writing about that period?”

The Maltese Falcon. I’ve seen it 100 times: but still can’t get enough. Since I enjoy reading the old pulp magazines, detectives, and westerns, I tend to feel most comfortable trying to imitate the classics from that period.

“Of course, there’s plenty of quality crime and mystery offerings around for today’s modern writers and readers alike. Besides venerable Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock, Canada’s Mystery Weekly Magazine is another worthy publication. And good online journals? Wow, there’s so many. Shotgun Honey, Crimson Streets. Tough, Yellow Mama, Flash Bang Mysteries. Over My Dead Body! and Flash Fiction Offensive, just to name a few.”

“How about that? We’re on the same page here. Anything else I should ask—or that you’d like to add?”

He crudely taps his empty glass. “Yup. ‘Can I buy you another drink, Bruce—and add it to my tab?’”

I buy us both a double.

The jukebox switches from Springsteen to Sinatra. Our thoughts drift with the music, the bar’s darkness an old friend. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Provided Rawlins doesn’t turn up like a bad penny ….

Inspired to write by Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss and the poems of Brautigan and Hugo, Bill Baber has worked as a ranch hand, bartender, truck driver and, for a while, as a sports columnist. His crime fiction has appeared at various sites on the net. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011.He now lives in Arizona with his wife Robin and a spoiled dog. He has been known to cross the border just for a cold Mexican brew. A novel in waiting can be found somewhere on his computer. And you can find his work on Amazon.

His first published story appeared at The Flash Fiction Offensive in 2010 courtesy of Editor Rey A. Gonzalez.

Submissions are Closed until January 20, 2020: Thank you all submitting Writers!

On behalf of Flash Fiction Offensive (FFO) editors past and present, we'd like to thank all you writers out there who've submitted on hands-n-knees and shared your tawdry tails with us over the past 11 years. Ooops. Typo. We meant tales. You know ... stories.

FFO has now Closed Submissions for the remainder of 2019. Submissions are scheduled to Re-Open on Monday, January 20, 2020.

Meanwhile? We luv ya to DEATH. That's our Assurance. If you're not completely Satisfied? Please let us know. We'll keep working at it until you are. Dead that is.

Your 2019 Miscreant FFO Editors,

Jesse "Heels" Rawlins
James "Jim" Shaffer
Mick Rose

Former Bad-Ass FFO Editors

Beau Johnson
Hector Duarte, Jr.
Rob Pierce
Joe Clifford
Tom Pitts
David Barber
Bryon Quertermous
Rey A. Gonzalez (FFO's Original Bad-Ass)