Monday, April 13, 2009

New URL for Darkest!!!!!

Yes, that's right, Darkest Before the Dawn now has its own url.

I did for several reasons, one being able to have more control over the site and being to add features. More importantly I'm hoping that when it comes down to awards for short fiction that when I submit stories from this site that it will be taken as a more professional and worthy site.

Hop on over to the new site and let me know what you think.The stories posted here will remain. All stories will be posted on the new site as well as making .pdf versions for your persual some time in the short future.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Write Club - Garnett Elliott

Write Club

I meet Vince at a strip-joint called Bad Turbulence near the airport. This is his idea, not mine. Guy like me arranges a meeting, it would probably be at a Quizno's, or a used bookstore, something like that.

Turbulence caters to a rougher crowd. Baggage-handlers and grade C salesmen traveling coach. I squeeze past them, eyes down, picking through the darkness. There are plenty of empty tables. I choose one near the bar and order a seven dollar rum and Coke. The bartender-lady's wearing a tuxedo shirt with a bowtie, which I find a relief. Topless women make me nervous.

"Jesus, relax already."

Here comes Vince.

He sits down, takes the drink out of my hand. Sips it. "Okay. Next time order a man's drink. I'd say a J&B, 'neat,' which means no ice. If you want to get a buzz, order a beer with it. Say: 'I want a J&B, neat, with a beer back.' You can pick the brand, but don't go with a microbrew."

"Got it."

He reaches over and loosens my tie. We're dressed nearly the same: white, long-sleeved Axcess shirts and black slacks. Again, Vince's idea. He'd cured me of printed tees a couple weeks ago.

"You want a smoke?"

"I don't know," I say. "They've passed laws--"

He lights two dark brown cigarettes. Parks one in my mouth. The fragrance's sweet, kind of cinnamon, but harsh enough to make me cough. Vince looks the other way.


"Know what these are? Cloves. Every time you cough, it means the smoke's ripping a thousand tiny holes in your lungs."

He lets the thick vapors curl past his nose. Vince is one good-looking guy. If you took Adonis, gave him a razor-cut, then roughed him up a little with two weeks in County, you'd have Vincent Barberi. I mean, even the name. Don't get me wrong--I'm so heterosexual it's painful, but if I was a chick I'd have no choice but to do him. I wouldn't be able to help myself.

A techno-beat pulses from somewhere farther back in the club. Vince stands up. "Show's starting. Let's get closer to the stage."

# # # # #

The show's a disappointment.

Growing up on Cinemax and pixel-tweaked internet models doesn't prepare you for the real thing when it comes jiggling down the runway. Lots of cellulite, lots of birthmarks and stretchmarks, appendectomy scars and even the telltale pucker of gunshot wounds. Not very erotic. Plus, all the girls seem to be doused in the same body spray, which mingles with their sweat and makes an odor like cat piss.

"Pretty hot, huh?" Vince says.


"Real women, that's what I like. Take a look over there."

He points a shot glass at a chunky Hispanic girl. She's got a mass of bright keloid scars down her back, and she's trying to do a pole dance. Only she doesn't have the strength to haul her way up very high, so she settles for a half-ass twirl about a foot off the ground.

"Her name's Carla," Vince says. "I've watched her dance here before."

Better make that Scarla.

He drains his shot of Rumpleminz. "You up for some action? When Carla finishes this set, I can ask her about a private dance. Cost you a hundred, but trust me, it'd be worth it."

"Private?" I say, looking around. There aren't any shadowed nooks like you see in higher-class strip clubs, where the girls give the patrons lap dances. No neon sign saying "Champagne Room," either. "Where?"

"Out back."

"They do dances outside?"

Vince rolls his eyes. "No, dumb-ass. All the girls here turn tricks. Handjobs and blowjobs, out by the dumpster. That's why it costs a hundred."


I'm getting this feeling, sort of like my stomach's turning inside out. And I haven't had that much to drink.

"So are you up, or what?"

# # # # #

I'd met Vince in a creative writing class. Nothing special; community college at night. A burned-out prof and a dozen wannabes, mostly women. That's why Vince was there, he told me. For the women. He bagged about half of them before the semester was over, even this lady in her thirties with a gut. Said she was on the rebound and the best fuck he'd had in a long time.

Me, I was there to write. I'm turning professional one of these days. Already got the spot at Barnes and Noble picked out where my books are going to go. Mystery-thrillers, because they're so fucking simple to crank out.

I've even come up with a series character: J.B. Slade. The 'J.B.' stands for Julius Bascombe. He's a black guy, a Viet Nam vet who solves crimes the police can't and lives on a houseboat in San Diego harbor. Also, he's got a prosthetic hand he pimp-slaps the bad guys with.

Can't wait to read it, can you?

Only thing was, nobody in class liked my stuff. The prof told me I lacked the life experience to be writing about hard-boiled types like J.B. Which pissed me off, but after a couple hours brooding over a keyboard I figured maybe he was right. Maybe growing up in the suburbs really doesn't prepare you for crime writing.

Luckily, Vince had a solution.

# # # # #

I'm out by the dumpster, minus a hundred in cash and Scarla's kneeling in front of me.

She's changed into a little black dress. The clothing helps, but I'm still a thousand miles from a hard-on. There's a pile of used condoms heaped next to the dumpster. Latex caked with translucent slime, and I can't stop staring at it.

Scarla's brown hand snakes for my zipper. I slap it away.

"Your friend," she says, "he didn't take so long."

Vince had gone first. I'd been sort of, you know, curious about what he was going to do with her, but he said he wanted privacy. So I waited on the other side of the dumpster.

I look down at her greasy scalp. This isn't going to happen.

"Here," I say, handing her a clove. "Let's just smoke these and talk, okay? Anyone asks you, I was a real stallion."

# # # # #

We decide to take my car from the club. Vince drove up in a Chevy Nova, cherry condition, but he's trying to keep the mileage down. He folds himself into the front seat of my vintage eighties Fiero and we're off, me taking it slow on account of the two drinks I've already had.

He's wearing a suede jacket now. As I drive, he keeps patting at a bulge in the right pocket.

"Got us a surprise," he says. "Ran into a friend while you were with Carla."

"What kind of surprise?"

"First, pull in here." He points at a Minuteman liquor store off to the left. "I haven't started drinking yet."

My first thought is: uh-oh, open container law, but what the hell. I just paid a hundred bucks to smoke a cigarette with a stripper.

I pull up to the window and Vince orders a whole flat of Mickey's Wide Mouths. He asks me to pay because purchasing our 'surprise' has left him short. I pay, no problem. He's guzzling from a bottle before I even start to drive away.

"Where we going now?"

"Head for 1-10," he says, and belches. "See, you scored a little off Carla, that's the first part of being a man. But there's other things, too."

He hands me a bottle.

"Look, Vince, I appreciate the education you're giving me, but there's no way I'm drinking while driving. Huh-uh."

"You believe all that M.A.D.D. bullshit?"

"I don't want to get pulled over."

"What that is," Vince says, putting a foot up on the dash, "is just another way for the state to make money. All those DUI lawyers are in on it, too. The truth? Alcohol makes you drive better. Makes your reflexes sharper. "

"Come on."

"What happens is, you're so nervous about fucking up, getting busted, you pay more attention to the road." He twists the cap off a fresh one and shoves it under my chin. "Try it."

"I'm not--"

He jams the neck into my mouth. Glass clinks against my teeth, cold malt liquor sloshing out, but I swallow some down. He raises the bottle. I either chug or the rest goes spilling out onto my shirt, so I chug, keeping both hands on the wheel.

"Fuck, Vince."

"See, you're drinking and driving already. How does it feel?"

The buzz doesn't take long to hit because I've got no tolerance, and yeah, it feels okay--pretty good, in fact. I see a stoplight ahead and brake like I normally would. Maybe even a little sooner. No lightning bolts crash down or anything. I turn to say as much to Vince but shut up when I see him sitting there, just kicking back with his eyes half-lidded. The passenger window's down and the night wind's playing with his dark hair.

I swerve a little and snap my eyes back to the road.

# # # # #

The stretch of interstate, when we reach it, looks almost deserted. There's a convenience store and the yellow and black sign for a Waffle Hut.

"You want me to keep driving?" I say.

Vince peers at the sign. "No. No. Stop here. It's perfect."

"I'm not really hungry."

"That's not the point, dipshit."

# # # # #

A blast of warm grease and country music hits as Vince shoulders the door. The crowd's a couple notches farther on the bad-ass scale than what we had at Bad Turbulence. Rednecks, truckers, and bikers, almost to a man. More than a few look up from their waffles to give us the fuck-eye.

A fat waitress in a paper hat darts up and tows us towards a booth. She leaves a pair of menus in her wake.

"Okay," I say, "so this isn't about food."


"What then?"

Vince cranes his head around, looking over the packed room. "Who would you say is the toughest motherfucker in here?"

It's a hard choice. While I'm thinking it over, he slides me another Mickey's under the table. I take a quick sip and stash it before anyone sees.

"I'd say this dude," I say, pointing at an Extremely Hairy Guy three booths down. He's wearing a leather vest with no shirt underneath and there's enough curlies darkening his chest, neck, and shoulders to clog a pool filter. Hard to tell with him sitting, but I figure he's six-four and just a couple pounds shy of three bills.

"Yeah, he'll do," Vince says. "Now go pick a fight with him."

"Excuse me?"

"Pick a fight. Slap him, call him a fag, whatever. I'll back you up."


"You pussy out, and your education ends here. Also, you won't get any surprise."

I take another glance at Hairy. He's eating chicken and waffles, scowling at everyone. With his Fu Manchu he looks like Lemmy from Motorhead.

"Vince, no disrespect to you, but this guy could kick both our asses. Easy."

He motions for the Mickey's back and takes a brazen pull. "You, maybe. I'm a brown belt in Tang Soo Do. So no, he'd find my ass quite difficult to kick."

"You'll really back me up?"

"Of course."

Scared as I am, I can appreciate where Vince is going with this. Ordering drinks and talking to hookers is just kiddie-pool stuff. If you want to learn how to skydive, you've got to jump out of a plane. And if you want to write about fucking people up, you'd better get into a couple fights.

Life experiences.

I take a final swig of Mickey's. How to get this started?

There's a Sweet and Low dispenser by my hand. I shake a packet out, wad it into a ball, and toss it at Hairy, overhand. The packet arcs through the air. It bounces off his chest and lands in the syrup on his plate.

His head shoots up.

I give him the finger, just in case there's any confusion.

# # # # #

Hairy's breath, up close, violates me with nicotine and maple syrup.

". . . can't have a fucking meal, by myself, minding my own fucking business, without some college-aged cunt . . ."

He's waddled over to our booth and hovers about four inches from my face. There's a double lightning bolt tattoo on his right shoulder. Man actually shaved that spot so the ink could be seen. Which would be kind of funny, under different circumstances.

". . .no respect for my colors, my traditions, just up and throws shit at me in a Waffle Hut, a goddamn American institution . . ."

The volume cuts out and I can't hear him anymore, only the thud of my own heartbeat. Thud, thud, thud. It's pretty fast. And Hairy's face is coming into sharper focus, while everything else around him blurs. It's like seeing him through a peephole, his nose and eyes warped in sudden closeness.

Now he's reaching towards me. I can see his big hands in the periphery, moving near. But they're slow. Slower than mine as I whip the almost-empty Mickey's from under the table and slam it against his head.

Why'd I do that?

The bottle makes a hollow thok sound, but doesn't shatter. It slips from my fingers. Hairy blinks and his eyes seem to clear. The slowness is gone. He grabs me, hauls me out of the booth while my left hand tires to grasp a pitcher of Boysenberry syrup, and fails.

# # # # #

You know how in the books, when the good guy gets sapped or sucker-punched? The world spins around and Our Hero dives for a spreading pool of blackness. The scene fades.

That doesn't happen to me.

What I get is a montage; Hairy cinching the tie around my neck with one hand while the other jacks knuckles against my face. Repeatedly.

I'd like to say I can't feel any pain through the wall of adrenalin my body's thrown up. I really would.

But the pain, baby, it's on tap tonight.

# # # # #

At some point Hairy drags me outside. The montage ends. There's cold sidewalk under my ass and the thunder of a motorcycle ripping out of the parking lot.

"Man, you just got nailed," Vince says, sitting down next to me. "I wanted to jump in, but that guy was too fast."

The front of my shirt looks like the Red Sea. "Did he--did he bite me?"

"I think so."

I want to start crying, and realize I already am. "One thing I figured out," I say, babbling, "is that J.B. Slade fights too much. I'm going to have him be more diplomatic. Buy people beers and stuff, instead of just smacking them. It's not realistic."

Vince pats my shoulder. "There you go."

He's almost as close to me as Hairy was, and I don't know, it could be endorphins finally kicking in, but there's like a charge between us. A charge for me, anyways. What I'd like more than anything is for him to wrap his arms around me, comfort me. But not in a queer way. Like in those war movies, when one soldier embraces his wounded buddy.

A siren keens.

Vince leaps to his feet. "That's probably an ambulance," he says, eyes darting. "And look at you. You're a mess."

He whips off his suede jacket. Wraps it around me, so my bloody shirt's covered. The gesture, I've got to admit, is so tender I start crying again.

"Look, I'm going to find another way home," Vince says. "And I'd really appreciate it if anyone asks you anything, you don't tell them about me. Okay? Like you were sort of a lone wolf tonight and I just happened to be sitting in the same booth. Alright?"

"Sure, Vince, but--"

He's already moving, tearing off into some bushes along the frontage road.

# # # # #

Okay, the siren isn't coming from an ambulance.

Red and blue lights swirl across the Waffle Hut lot, and a police cruiser comes skidding right up to the curb, almost hitting me. Doors chunk open. A pair of cops climb out.

I hear a woman's voice behind me: "That's him, officers," and I'm being hauled to my feet. One of the cops tells me to spread my legs and put my hands behind my head, but I'm hurt for Christ's sake, so I guess I don't do it fast enough. Down I go, against the cruiser's hood. Now one guy is going through the pockets of my slacks and the other's slapping cold steel over my wrists.

"Check his jacket. Something fell out."

I wonder for a moment about Vince's surprise. Then the cop behind me, the one not forcing me down against the hood, makes an 'ah-ha' grunt and calls his partner over. The pressure on my back relents. I try to crane my head around to see what's going on, but only catch the reflection of the Waffle Hut in the cruiser's windshield. All the customers are pressed against the windows.

The cops are talking fast, like they're excited about something.

"Alright, in you go for a sec," one of them says, grabbing my cuffed wrists. He opens the passenger door to the cruiser and shoves me inside. The seats are made of hard plastic. I've watched police shows enough times to know these guys are totally screwing with my Miranda rights, plus they're using way too much force and I can probably sue. I tell the officer this before he slams the door shut.

He grins at me through the passenger window, and holds up a plastic baggie wound tight with several rubber bands. The baggie's full of white powder.

"Gotcha," he mouths, and turns away to his partner.

So that was the surprise.

# # # # #

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but you got to figure with the drugs, on top of fighting in a Waffle Hut and God knows what else, I'm looking at some time here.

And you might think I'm pissed at Vince, for ditching me like this.


Because my education's not over.

I'm going inside. A couple months in the pokey is exactly what my writing career needs. Ex-felon--that's going to look great on the dust jacket.

My one concern is who I'm getting as a cellmate. The right guy could be both a protector and a teacher, sharing some jailhouse wisdom while he's fending off all the homos.

God, I hope he's just like Vince.

BIO: Mr. Elliott lives and works in Tucson, Arizona. His most recent stories have appeared in Plots with Guns and Out of the Gutter #5.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Amphetamine Twitch - Frank Bill

Amphetamine Twitch

Alejandro’s knuckles sprayed backdoor glass across kitchen tile. His fingers twisted red on the doorknob and deadbolt. He maneuvered through the kitchen and down a dark hallway of family framed walls. Stepped into a bedroom where a silhouette sat up from a bed, suffocated his breath like a large-quilt smothering a fire.

A voice yawned “You’re home early.”

Alejandro pointed the 9mm. Pulled the trigger once. Twice. Shadows fragmented upon the bedroom walls. The silhouette thudded onto the carpet.

Footsteps drummed like soldiers marching down the hallway behind Alejandro. He turned with gun raised. Met the small outline that screamed, “Mom!” Warmed the child’s insides. Silenced the screams.

Amphetamine hunger pained through Alejandro’s brain as he rifled through the dresser drawers. Socks. Bras. Panties. Nothing of worth. In the closet he found a Beretta .380, stuffed it down the back of his chinos. On a chair in the corner he found a purse. Pulled out a wallet. Found a wad of bills. Pay dirt.

He exited the bedroom to the hallway. Cleared the child whose lungs heaved and Alejandro diminished like a dream.

* * *

Detective Mitchell’s charred hair matched the bags beneath his vision of flesh gift-wrapping bone. His black tie hung loose from the open neck of the white button up. The bottle of Knob Creek met his lips. Eroded his guilt.

Should’ve stayed home that night. He’d been cat fishing in the late hours of morning when Sgt. Moon’s words hollowed his being with the news.

Wife. Son. Shot by a burglar. DOA.

Even in a small town Mitchell’d seen a lot in fifteen years of service. Bodies floating in Blue River. Domestic disputes where beer breathed men gave purple abrasions, cracked marrow and lipstick red whelps with their fist to a woman’s flesh. Car’s wrapped around trees where bodies were removed with no pulse.

But seeing his son laid out like meat hanging in walk-in freezer, cold innocence removed of character, it changed him. Then his wife. Identical to the son. Separated by age.

Mitchell shook his head taking in the hallway. Two bullets opened the drywall where his son discovered his end. Dried innards smeared from wall to floor. Mitchell knew State Police Forensics collected a mess of blood evidence. Ballistics would take a few weeks.

Entering the bedroom, Mitchell swigged the bottle of bourbon, saw the clothes hanging from dresser drawers. Looked where his wife had dropped from the bed, soiled the carpet. Forensics’d never find who done this.

Glancing in the open closet he noticed the empty shelf and it came as quick as losing his family, his back-up gun was missing.

* * *

Alejandro was on all fours mistaking carpet lint for crystal. Around him men slept in sleeping bags on the body-soured carpet and matching couch like lifeless shapes in a county morgue.

Scuffmarks decorated the walls of the shack as if second grade graffiti.

Alejandro placed a piece of lint over the pin-needle holes on top of the aluminum can he held between middle finger and thumb. His other hand flicked a flame. While his mouth huffed on the opening. But got nothing.

His hair was the shade of creosol, melding to his potholed face. He’d chewed the skin from his lips till they bled. Fingernails had dug at his arms that’d become like his lips. Sleeping was twitching. Sweat bathed his body instead of a shower.

He’d been holed up for a week with a new crop of illegals in the one bedroom shack. Tried sleeping in the day. Smoked his Meth while others slept at night. Now the Meth was gone. Same as the money from the last robbery. He needed a fix.

On the couch Alejandro’s hands patted through a man’s pockets in search of money. The man woke up horrified. Covered Alejandro’s left eye with five knuckles. Falling backwards on the carpet Alejandro pulled the 9mm from his waist. Pointed it at the man whose eyes sparked white. Two shots opened his chest.

The gunfire pulled everyone’s eyes open. Alejandro didn’t quit pulling the trigger till the gun was empty.

* * *

It was a long shot but Mitchell tossed the piece of paper on the counter of Joe’s Pawn Shop.

Dressed in a hole worn Drive-by Truckers t-shirt Joe blinked his razor thin eyes. Mitchell’s bourbon breath irritated Joe’s face. Reminded him of paint thinner fumes as he picked up the paper.

“Serial Numbers?”

“For a .380-”

With an un-groomed Collie beard hiding his cheeks. Shaggy braids went from chin to chest. Joe shook his opal skull inked with rebel flags above ears. A big middle finger inked in the center. Joe cut Mitchell off, “Beretta. Polymer grip. Matte Black. Seven rounds plus one in the chamber. I got the fiddle. You got the banjo. We can stomp down some sweet tunes.”

It was no longer a long shot. Mitchell’s seriousness drove a 185 grain hallow point into Joe’s skull.

“Who pawned the son of a bitch?”

“Don’t member his name.”

Mitchell laid his detective’s badge on the counter.

“White? Black? Asian-”

“Mexican guy with a tweaker. Mexican was clean cut. Runs that authentic restaurant up the hill. Usually there from daylight to dark. Got a kick ass lunch special. Dollar beers and Margaritas on Thursday nights. Never seen the tweaker before."

“Where’s the gun?”

Joe turned away. Unlocked a metal cabinet behind him.

“Shit fire, should’ve said you’s a cop, I got it right here.”

“What about footage?”

“No smut tapes here officer.”

Mitchell wanted a make on the Mexican. Pointed up in the corner behind the counter.

“Surveillance footage of the guy who sold the gun.”

Laying the gun on the counter Joe answered in a confused voice, “Yeah, sure. But I done told you it was the Mexican guy from on the hill.”

“I need a positive ID.”

Mitchell picked up the gun. Matched the serial numbers.

“I’m taking the gun. Now, show me the footage of the Mexican. I’ll need it and today’s footage to take with me.”

“Take with you?”

“Yeah, I was never here so we never had this conversation. These last few minutes have been one big fuckin’ blur, got it?”

* * *

Alejandro pulled into the small town’s pay by the week flop, slop and drop motel. He stepped from the idling Buick. His complexion was greasy dishwater with eyes floating in fire. His head twitched. Shoulders jerked. His fist met a door dotted by body fluids.

A chain rattled. A lock clicked. The door cracked open with the television bouncing light and conversation. The smell of hot ammonia wafted behind a single brown eye spiked with blood. The other eye was missing.

“How much crystal you need?”

The white chalked-up corners of Alejandro’s broken English said, “Another hundred dollar worth.”

The door closed. Alejandro’s hands balled into his sweatshirt pockets. He glanced down the concrete walk. Darkness hummed. Window curtains of connecting rooms parted in the corners. Eyes and noses smudged glass. Making Alejandro’s palms damp.

The door opened back up, a bit wider than before. One hand held a small brown paper sack. The other hand reached out, open palm, wiggling four fingers minus a thumb.

“The cash.”

Alejandro slid his right foot between jamb and door. Pulled the 9mm from his sweatshirt pocket. Pointed it at the single brown eye. The first shot added more decorations to the door. The body dropped. Alejandro stepped on it. Entered the flop-drop-Meth factory. A shadow fought movement from the bed. The second and third shot let the shadow stay in bed.

Alejandro flipped the light switch on the wall. Sandwich baggies full of ice crystal weighted a metal table next to the bed. His heart raced like a chemo patient trying to run, slid the 9mm into his waist. Removed his hooded sweatshirt and piled the baggies into the chest of the sweatshirt. Picked the pockets of the bodies he’d paid with bullets. Threw their crumpled bills in with the baggies. Tied the sweatshirt into a ball. Picked it up. Ran out to the Buick. Already imagining the chemical ricocheting behind his eyes as the car turned out onto highway 62.

* * *

Headlights flared off the glass windows. A car door slammed in the parking lot. The brass bell rang above the entrance door that Gaspar’d forgotten to lock. He looked up from counting out the restaurant’s register when a gloved hand introduced his forehead to the butt of a .45 Caliber Sig Sauer. His knees went liquid. His mind fogged.

Blood warmed Gaspar’s blinking eyes. Steel burrowed into the rear of his neck with face pressed sideways into the still-warm surface of the grill in the kitchen. A handgun lay in his side-view. Wrists were plastic-quick tied behind his back.

Mitchell’s gloved hand tightened around the gun. “I’ll ask you one time. You and some tweaker sold the gun you’re looking at to a pawn shop. Where’d you get the gun?”

Gaspar took a deep breath. Pondered the blood relation to the man he’d smuggled to America.

“I’m business man. Come to America to run business.”

“Sure, the American fuckin’ dream.”

Mitchell reached to his left, twisted the knob below the gas burner to HIGH. A blue/orange flame hissed. He slid the Sig down his pants. Clamped both hands into Gaspar’s black wad of grease. Slowly pressed his face toward the hiss.

Like a dog that didn’t wanna lead Gaspar’s head tried to fight from Mitchells’ grip. Begged.

“No! No! Please!”

“The gun. Where’d you get it?”

With no answer the orange hiss heated Mitchell’s hand. Warmed his forearm. Gaspar’s brownie skin curled black like melted plastic. Tears fell and sputtered off the blue glow. Mitchell thought about his wife and son. Pushed Gaspar till he thought his leather gloves would ignite.

“My brother! My brother!”

He pulled and turned Gaspar around. Mucus spread like poison ivy from nose to mouth. Tears met the gooey gum colored boil pushing from the black burn on Gaspar’s cheek. Fear flowed hot down his leg. Puddled onto the floor. Mitchell grabbed the stolen gun.

“This gun you sold, stolen from my house. Your brother, where the fuck is he?”

* * *

In the shack fluorescent lights hugged the loaded needle trespassing in Alejandro’s vein. His thumb pushed the plunger. Endorphins swam and multiplied in his brain. Eyes darted with black pupils hiding the hazel as he pulled the needle from his arm.

“You guys need try. Some good shit.”

He waited for a reply from the bodies that lay scattered and stiff against the four wall room dressed with matching bullet holes.

Some had heads resting on shoulders. Others bent forward. Chin into chest. Mouths trapped in a permanent yawn.

He placed the needle in a glass of water clouded by crystal on the coffee table. Where ziplocks stuffed with jagged chunks of amphetamine lay like homemade Halloween treats. He loaded another fix as the front door opened. Gaspar limped onto the carpet his arms behind his back. Blood and bruises disguised his appearance.

Alejandro barked, “Gaspar!”

Mitchell’s heel stomped the bend behind Gaspar’s knee, “Heal shit bag!”

Enraged, Alejandro jumped up duce eyed. Stormed Mitchell with the loaded needle in hand.

Mitchell raised his .45, cubed meat from Alejandro’s chest.

On a full-blown-Meth-rush Alejandro gritted his stalactite teeth, smothered Mitchell into a wall. Grabbed for the gun with his freehand. Stabbed the needle into Mitchell’s jugular with his other. Mitchell hollered, “Fuck!” Alejandro thumbed the plunger. Liquid roared a surge of strength through Mitchell’s veins. He pushed the .45 toward Alejandro, barrel to the floor. Squeezed the trigger. Separated the toes of Alejandro’s foot. Alejandro fell backwards. Mitchell leveled the .45, removed Alejandro’s face. Pulled the needle from his neck. Turned and lowered the .45 on Gaspar who lay screaming on the floor like the amphetamine twitch behind Mitchell’s dilating eyes.

BIO: Struggling Southern Indiana writer of regional gritty crime stories. Have stories published or fourth coming from Thuglit, Plots With Guns, Pulp Pusher, Beat to a Pulp, Lunch Hour Stories, Hardboiled and Talking River Review. I live with my beautiful wife and two dogs. Check me out at facebook.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Borderline - Nik Jajic


It was typical Petrov tactics. You come home from a long day, open your front door, throw your coat on a chair, turn on the light, and bam. You’ve got two thugs and a Captain staring right back at you.

Ok, I owed money…but not the sort of bread that called for a late night pummeling. A few grand with points was nothing to break bones over, or at least that’s how I saw it. Of course I’ve been known to possess a slightly biased opinion when it comes to the infliction of bodily harm on yours truly.

The two muscle heads did what they always do, and that’s look mean. Dimitri on the other hand just shot me one of those “I really enjoy what I do” psychopathic smiles he was so fond of displaying.

“Gaps! Long time no see!”

It had been an unfortunate nickname, bestowed upon me during childhood, when my teeth began to follow different gravitational pulls and my mouth started to resemble a multitude of neighboring viaducts.

It was only when I began my less than stellar career in the investigation business, that the moniker converted itself into a somewhat more positive name tag. When potential clients asked, I would say it was because that’s what I did, fill in the gaps.

Dimitri stared at me with his cold, faithless eyes and I did what I could to take this all in stride, as if I was used to having these maniacs hiding in my apartment

“Hey fellas, uh… everything ok?”

“No. We need you help us wit little thing. You’re still in dirt digging business, no?”

When a nasty asshole of Dimitri’s caliber asks you something like that, you can’t help but picture yourself digging your own grave, even if you do know what he’s talking about.

“Yeah, I’m still in the game if that’s what you’re asking.”

“That is exact what I asking.” Dimitri said in a thick gurgled Russian accent.

He sighed, slowly getting up and stretching his stocky frame. He always had a mild reptilian look to him that I wasn’t sure was actually present or was something I subconsciously connected to him. His facial features definitely fit all my quotas for a snake, but now he seemed to look more like a hungry croc.

“We got gig for you, Gaps.” He continued on, as his hateful smile began to grow.

“No pay, but I can clean your debt little bit.”

My nerves were getting the better of me, I knew this was bad news, I just didn’t know how bad.

“What are we talking about here?”

“Notting big, you go south of Salvo Street and find out where hell Marty Poles is and what he up to.”

“Uh, that’s Italian turf.”

“I know dat, shitbrain. Dat why we want you do it. Marty been our eyes and ears over dere; he been our double-O Polack, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah, I think I follow.”

“Good, cuz I no have contact wit dat little shit, and I want make sure he still wit da program, so you find out where hell he is, and keep eye on him, few days tops. Come to me and tell me what you’ve got, and dat’s it.”

Now, I’ve worked for every corrupt piece of garbage on either side of the law and of Salvo Street for as long as I can remember, and one thing I know is Marty the Polack is really close to coming up dead. I also know I probably do not want to be involved with him whatsoever because of that. Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t get to pick who you’re involved with, instead the involvers get to pick for you.

“I can start tomorrow, if you want.”

“Good. Keep in touch.”

And just like that I get dragged into shit way above my comfort zone. The Petrov’s—short for god knows what and just so happening to rhyme with nothing—ruled the North side of the city, that was Russian turf, and it was turf that had been expanded on greatly since an all out war with the South Side Italians a few years earlier.

The Italians couldn’t match the amount of foot soldiers that the Russians had, but they still had enough to be respected, and they had enough power to run the South side.

The turf wars were the bloodiest the city had ever seen, and by the time peace was finally brokered between the Russians and Italians, there were sixty-five reported casualties—including my brother. Not to mention a quarter of each organization getting new living arrangements behind bars. Although, unlike most cities, these Russians and Italians didn’t turn states evidence very easily, and major players—at least the ones left alive—stayed in power.

So what came of all that nonsense, you ask? Not much. The Russians spread their drug and prostitution rackets a bit further south, nabbing a couple extra neighborhood aldermen for political purposes along the way, and the Italians kept moving their whores and drugs wherever they could. Same old, same old.

Except with one major difference, both sides agreed to peace, and both sides agreed that Salvo Street was the border. No Italians operating North of it, and no Russians operating South of it, and god help any freelancers with shady ideas on either side of it. This was the holy rule, and Dimitri seemed a little dismissive of that. I wondered what Mr. Petrov himself would think of this breaching of the truce, I wondered if he even knew what his henchmen were up to… but it wasn’t my job to question god.

I started on this gig like I did most of my investigative work, strumming the drugged out informants and addicts in general, anyone who knew the players and could keep their mouth shut for a hit, or maybe some blow, or even a roll of the dice.

These were the kind of people I worked with; the secret eyes of the city. They were watching the game, they only pretended not to notice, and if you sifted through enough of them, you’d get the score.

Manny Moe wasn’t reliable and he sure as hell wasn’t trustworthy, but what he lacked in those qualities he more than made up for in sheer audacity. Moe floated north and south of Salvo daily. He begged, bartered, ticket scalped, sold shitty drugs and stolen goods to peers, and basically bounced from alley to alley with complete disregard of territories and consequences. The guy just didn’t give a shit, and luckily enough he wasn’t operating on a level to be noticed by the big boys, but at the same time he knew them all to well.

My luck had taken a positive turn for once, as I watched good old Manny Moe jitter back and forth on the corner in a Meth induced hysteria.

“Manny! How goes it!” I called out while strolling over to his perch.

“What up, Gaps.” He shot back, eyeing me warily.

The smell hit me square in the face. I was now standing a few feet from a manic Manny Moe, whose constant shaking was not as distracting as the layers of soot that covered his face and clothes. I hated my job more now then ever before. I took a deep breath.

“Good lord Manny, you look worse than usual, and that’s saying a lot.”

“Let me get a few bucks man.”

“I got a twenty with your name on it.”

Manny’s jittering frame slowed its fluttering; his eyes began to focus on me. This was his transformation from a needy bum, to a business man. Eye contact, this was no longer pedestrian and bum relations, we were now equals in his mind. The currency of information tying us together.

“What you need?”

“Marty the Polack…You seen him?”

“Hahaha! You still playing with fire ain’t you?!” Manny Moe smiled slyly.

“You want the money or not?”

“Shit man, you should check out Gabo’s. That fool is over there twenty four seven.”

I stuffed the bill into his battered hand and made my way deeper into the pile of shit that this case would soon become.

It had taken all of twenty four hours south of Salvo to get a location on one of the Polack’s hang outs. Gabo’s was a little night club with decent card games and nice eye candy, a place guys like Marty were born to.

There I was parked and chain smoking, watching the front door of the club. It was nestled between two run down buildings, both of which were boarded up and looked to be haunted with the bad luck of the past. I took turns staring at the door and staring at my laptop. Spending equal time waiting on Marty and looking for any info on the club online.

Time inched on, the hours slowly passing with a numbing effect. Finally, out he stumbled, fatter than I remember him being, with his arm around a leggy blonde.

They slowly wobbled across the street ending up in his Lincoln town car. The engine roared and they swerved onto the street, speeding away carelessly.

I followed in the inconspicuous manner that made me who I was. The town car zig zagged down streets, flying through red lights and cutting down side streets at a moments notice, turn signals and full stops were a thing of the past. At first I was worried that they might be onto me tailing them, the thought quickly faded as I recalled Marty's teetering walk to his ride.

The Lincoln pulled up on a curb in front of a dilapidated tenement that Marty must’ve been calling home for the time being. I slowly pulled up and parked across the street, shutting off my lights as Marty led his soon to be conquest into the building. The lights on the fourth floor apartment went on, and I typed in the buildings address as I sat there.

The internet was hell of a tool, one that could tell me everything I needed to know about the apartment building, about the club, who owned what, hell I could probably get some social security numbers if I looked hard enough. I had even gone so far as to take and pass (barely) my realtors licensing exam for the sole purpose of getting a bit more info which was withheld from the average mark.

I watched from my Oldsmobile as Marty and his lady friend did a little sloppy slow dancing in front of his bedroom window. The room went to black and I wondered briefly how good of an actress the blonde really was. I wish that could have been it, I wish I would have just put my rig in drive and taken off.

But no, I needed to reminisce on a couple of fine actresses from my less than romantic past. First rate talent, that much was for certain, always with me as their captive audience. I was almost thankful when the here and now brought me back from memory lane, almost.

It happened fast, a flash of light from the darkened window, then another, and another, and another. Whoever it was had to be using a silencer, because the street was dead quiet and no doubt so was Marty and the actress. The shock of actually knowing the hit was in progress was what froze me up, and just like that the rusted out Van on the other side of the street unleashed its doors and produced a ski mask wearing, shotgun toting maniac.

He casually walked towards my driver’s side door, pumped once, aimed, and let the cannon loose on me. The blast was deafening and the Oldsmobile shook from it. My rear driver side window exploded, with shards scraping their way across the back of my neck. My body acted in desperate measures, turning the key, I gripped the wheel, and slammed the gas pedal. Another booming shotgun blast roared somewhere behind me, as the adrenaline raced through my body.

I called Dimitri on my cell as I made the mad dash north of Salvo Street. He first cursed the Italians for their obvious disregard of the truce, and then told me to meet him at his uncle’s bar. It wasn’t too far from me, and expanding on the particulars of what had just happened was best to be done in person anyhow.

As far as I had it figured, the Italians were planning on clipping Poles, they saw that I was following him and they decided to make sure there were no witnesses to the deed, nothing to cement them to the murder.

I wondered if this would lead to war. I was shaken, and retribution was an idea I was beginning to like, but deep down I hoped this wasn’t the case.
Too many guys died last time, guys with families, maybe they weren’t on the up and up, but the thought of dead men, fatherless children, and widowed mothers was one that disturbed me greatly.

A man built like a six foot tree trunk opened the front door of Ivanov’s Bar and Grill for me. I walked in cautiously; the place was empty, and the tree trunk guy was standing in front of the doorway once more. I stood in the center of the deserted pub for a second, looking around for Dimitri in the bad lighting.

For a brief instant I thought of the masked gunman storming in to finish me, but that vanished as soon as I witnessed Dimitri attempting to zip up while exiting the men’s room on the far side of the bar.

“Gaps! Perfect timing, get ass over here and tell me what happen!” he sat down with a thud on the closest chair.

I scurried over and began my tale, as Dimitri watched and listened with cold blooded concentration. Upon finishing my recount of the night’s events, there was silence.

“Dat’s it, huh?” Dimitri said with finality.

“Yeah, I guess so.” I responded.

“Fucking Guineas just push button, now we go nuclear.” Dimitri declared in his broken English, emphasizing the last part with a thud of his fist on the table.
He got up and motioned for me to get up as well.

“Come here.” he said pulling me into a hug. “You did good, twenty percent of your debt gone.”

The embrace was finished, and it was clear that was my cue to leave. As I walked towards the exit I felt Dimitri’s reptilian eyes watching me go. All I got for risking my life was twenty percent off of a mediocre debt. I clenched my jaw in anger.

“Hey Gaps, watch yourself! Waps might still be around in van looking for you!” Dimitri roared with laughter as I left.

I took to my usual spot of contemplation, on my mattress, under the fan. Staring at the fan as it buzzed and swirled, I took a long pull of my cigarette and thought out loud. “What the hell happened?” was the first question I asked myself. Poles was definitely a goner, as was his sad eyed actress, and it didn’t seem to bother Dimitri one bit—which didn’t necessarily surprise me. What did however was his fake interest in my story. As if he knew the ending before I got there.

Even on the phone, before Dimitri was given the decoded, non-cell phone version of my story, he had immediately put it on the Italians. I knew acting, I had spent most of my life surrounded by actors: Gangsters, cops, prostitutes, and druggies, the best actors on the whole fucking planet, including Hollywood.

These were my people, they honed my skill for detecting bullshit, and that’s what I smelled on Dimitri, bullshit. There was also one little detail that he let slip.

Dimitri knew the Italians were in a van, and I was almost certain I had said they got out of a car, as I was rushing through the story. That, plus his attempts at an Oscar nomination, and his eagerness to drop the bomb so to speak, was enough to peak my curiosity. Dimitri knew more than he was letting on, and I wanted to know exactly how much more.

I retraced my steps, methodically moving from my conversations with the bottom of the barrel, to the club, to the apartment building. I checked all the angles I could from a laptop on my bed—I sure as hell wasn’t going to make another personal visit anywhere near this nonsense.

Maybe I was going in circles, looking too much into something that wasn’t there to begin with, but then the trail began to slowly reveal itself. The new emails awaited me. I got back the info on the apartment building Poles and his lady friend were now using as a grave, and it turned out the owner was none other than Dimitri’s uncle Mike Ivanov.

This little bit of information was enough to change the game completely. This little email meant that I was used; it meant that my suspicions were just, and it meant that Dimitri was indeed up to something. I dug deeper, the club was definitely Italian owned, the two boarded up store fronts on either side of it however, were not. Ivanov’s name popping up once again.

Whatever Ivanov owned, Dimitri owned that much I knew, and it was becoming more apparent that Dimitri owned quite a bit of property south of Salvo Street.

He knew where Poles was all along, how could he not? The guy was living in Dimitri’s goddamn building.

The question now was why he wanted me to find Poles and keep an eye on him, to begin with, and how did the Italians figure into all of this.

They were waiting for Poles inside the building, and that van was parked outside the building before I got there. So the Italians following us was out of the question.

Fresh air was needed. Pulling back the blinds and lifting the window open in one swift gesture, I took in the cool fall afternoon. Leaning on the windowsill I stretched out my back slowly, staring down at the pedestrians walking back and forth three floors underneath me, carrying on with their everyday lives, oblivious to the people that walked amongst them. A man walked hand in hand with a child, no more then eight or nine years old. The boy looked up at the man smiling; he asked the man a question I couldn’t quite hear, only the murmur of his innocent voice.

A sudden wave of sadness overtook me, thoughts of my own childhood, thoughts of fatherless children, thoughts of widowed wives, and grieving mothers. An all out war between the Russians and Italians could be close, and it would be because I told Dimitri that they killed Poles, and attempted to do so to me as well.

Neither the Russians, nor the Italians, stood to gain anything from this. Turf was valuable, but it wasn’t the sort of valuable that was worth a war, it wasn’t the Middle East for Christ sake. In fact the only one who would truly profit would be Dimitri.

After all the war would just lead to the Russians sooner or later taking more of the South Side. Which meant all properties just south of Salvo Street would now be under their umbrella, which in turn meant that Dimitri stood to have quite the monopoly to do with as he pleased, without fearing the Italians wrath.

He could turn himself from an everyday Captain, into a major player within his organization… and that’s when I realized just what all of this meant, and what I’d have to do to at least live the rest of my quite possibly very short life with a conscience not completely soaked in guilt.

The monolithic building loomed over the street like an ominous wraith. My nerves had begun rattling rapidly as I stood there. I was taking quite a leap in faith assuming that Dimitri did this on his own, behind Mr. Petrov’s back… but it felt right, and my instincts were the only thing I could rely on anymore.

Still, I wasn’t just going to walk into Mr. Petrov’s place without letting a few people I could trust know where I would be. After all if Petrov did set this whole thing up, then the information I was going to give him would already be known to him, and I would just be a guy who knew too much. Walking into my own death was not an idea I liked all that much, and if the shit did go down, maybe he’d think twice if I told him that more than a few people knew I was there.

The thick necked doorman stared at me through mirrored sunglasses, expressionless.

“May I help you?” he asked in a reserved tone.

“I, um… I need to see Mr. Petrov.”

“I’m sorry sir, but Mr. Petrov isn’t in.” The man put his left hand to his ear, listening to someone from his ear piece, very cloak and dagger I thought.

The man once again focused his full attention on me.

“Mr. Petrov will see you.” The doorman stepped out from behind the desk and closer to me now.

“Please turn around and lift your arms up.” He frisked me quickly but professionally, this was a task he had no doubt done many times before.

“Take the elevator up to the fifteenth floor.” He said.

It appeared that the doorman from downstairs had a twin brother who was waiting for me as the doors opened on the fifteenth floor. He didn’t say a word as he gestured me towards a large oak door.

I entered the office of Mr. Petrov. The cavernous room took up most of the floor. It was a large, well decorated penthouse with art and furniture that was no doubt quite expensive. The bodyguard twins were actually septuplets, and the remainder of them stood at attention against different walls around the office as if they were living sculptures.

Mr. Petrov stood with his back to me at the far end of the office. Gazing out the large windows, he turned slightly to address me.

“Please sit down.”

I did as I was told, sinking into an enormous leather chair. Mr. Petrov turned around slowly, first giving me a once over and finally staring into my eyes. I broke away from his gaze and looked down at the floor. There was no need to provoke him.

He wore what can only be described as the nicest suit ever made. He was a good looking man, older, maybe mid sixties, with angular features, and strange, observant eyes.

“You are the one they call Gaps, no?”

Pushing through my rapidly increasing flight factor I responded,

“I uh, I am.”

Mr. Petrov stepped closer now; he was five feet away and standing over me.

“I knew your Father and your Brother, not well, but well enough to know that they were real men.”

His remarks triggered an underlying anger somewhere within my fear soaked body. “Thanks… Before we get any further, I want you to know that more than a few people know where I am right now.”

Smiling slightly he stepped back a few feet and sat down slowly in one of the giant leather chairs opposite of mine.

“Heh… I’m no boogie man, Gaps. Now, tell me why you are here.”

I swallowed hard, “I did a job for Dimitri Ivanov, and I wanted to tell you what I know before anything drastic happened.”

Mr. Petrov was expressionless “So, tell me.”

“Dimitri hired me to find Marty Poles and keep an eye on him. Poles was South of Salvo, and he got dead, Dimitri blamed it on the Italians, but Marty got dead in an apartment building that Dimitri’s uncle owns, and not just that, but Dimitri and his Uncle have recently purchased quite a few other properties just south of Salvo.” I took a breath.

Mr. Petrov stood up slowly once more, stuffing his hands in his pockets he slowly slinked back to his giant window.

“And you think Dimitri is responsible for Poles, not the Italians.”

“Yes I do, Sir.”

Mr. Petrov was once again gazing out at the city. “You haven’t read the paper today, have you?”

“No I haven’t.” I responded.

“Well, it’s on my desk, take a look.”

I walked over to his desk and picked it up, straightening out the newspaper in my hands.

“Go to page three.” Mr. Petrov said coolly.

Page three had a small story about a club being fire bombed last night. I glanced over it, my eyes immediately being drawn to the photograph that was alongside the article. A photograph of a burned out building, one that looked all too familiar. It was the place that I saw Poles and his blonde walking out of. My body reacted, hairs standing, and skin prickling. According to the article the charred remains of nine people were found inside. It had already begun.

“W-what does this mean?” I nervously asked.

“You know what it means.” He responded.

Still looking out the window he continued, “Thank you for your honesty.”

“So you didn’t know about Dimitri and Poles?” I asked.

Mr. Petrov stared out at the gloomy sky, “No.”

“What happens now?” I asked, already knowing the answer but wanting to hear what he planned to do.

“What always happens in times of war. Hell will have its way.”

I placed the paper back neatly on his desk. I had no more questions, no more thoughts.

My desire to do what was right had left as quickly as it came. These events were too much, and they would only become more consuming, and I was once again no one, just another civilian peering in from the outside. This no longer concerned me, my case was now closed. I bid Mr. Petrov farewell.

The rain was falling hard as I stepped out of the building, I fished through my pockets for a lighter that wasn’t there, and then I slowly made my way home. The rain never let up.

BIO: I'm thirty years old and I currently reside in Chicago-land. Two of my graphic novels have been picked up by seperate publishers and will be released in the summer of 09. The first is "The Big Bad Book", which is due out by Alterna Comics. The second is "Loosely Based", which is due out around the same time by Arcana Comics. I've also had film and book reviews published by Lumino magazine, and poetry published by XND magazine.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Savage Henry Sings The Blues - Keith Rawson

Savage Henry Sings The Blues


For such a hard ass, Savage Henry screamed a lot. Even with a filthy old sock sandwiched between his pristine white teeth and a thick piece of dull gray duct tape securing the gag, his muffled pleas for mercy echoed through out the vacant white halls of the track house Stanly chose as Savage Henry’s final resting place.

The kid’s real name is Charles Metzler, (The nickname stemmed from a beating young Charles dished out to a long hair named Henry Davis. The two had never met before, and the beating was entirely random. Just letting Young Henry Davis know that his kind was not welcomed. Good old Savage Henry skated the charges thanks to a sixty-five year-old Judge who absolutely lived for the local High school football team, which Savage Henry was a member of .The judge simply couldn’t stand the thought of having to ruin such a promising young man’s life, even though said promising young man did exactly that to Henry Davis. Six months probation and time served for an attempted murder beef.) Aged sixteen, a junior at some bum-fucking-no-where high school in a densely populated Southern Arizona Hamlet called Gilbert.

The kid was nothing special. Your average suburban retard; so-so grades; Second string football ball; second string baseball. Savage Henry obviously liked sitting on his ass collecting splinters. Steady girlfriend who Savage Henry managed to rape (Stan doubted that Savage Henry would call what he did rape, but the bruises and bow legged way the girl walked told an entirely different story.) in the back of his SUV on a daily basis. Oldest of six children. Good Mormon family. Dad an orthodontist: Mom stayed at home and sat on her ass all day getting fat and eating V by the handful. Dad fooled around, secretly drank like a fish, and was openly addicted to crystal methane. During the week Stan had the Metzler’s under surveillance, Dad had yet to hit the hay, preferring the sweaty monitor glare of Internet porn sites. Typical good Mormon family. It goes without saying that Savage Henry bullied the entire household, wore his Arizona Cardinal’s hat backwards and loved hip-hop.

Despite all of these obvious character flaws, Savage Henry did possess certain qualities that made him an ideal criminal. High intimidation factor, lots of ‘friends’ thanks to his exposure to high school sports; plus, the not guilty decision proved he had a certain amount of invisibility within the community, no matter how much shit he rained down.

Less than a year ago, a little known small timer Mormon shit heal named Tibit Smith, started taking notice of the boy, and recruited good old Savage Henry to distributed small amounts of high end pot and enormous amounts of Mexican Cocaine that was more baby formula than blow. Product flew out of Savage Henry’s hands; the jocks loved staying up for days on end cruising for freaks to beat the shit out of. Tibit saw the potential of serious money coming from this boy. High school kids were suckers for product. Tibit contacted Stanley’s employers in San Francisco. He didn’t want to speculate on how Tibit had gained his connection to the organization. Old Hippies were weird, especially old chemist hippies, who’d spent the last twenty-five years doing nothing but cooking up acid and other such hallucinogenic drugs. But, it wasn’t Stanley’s place to question. It was Stanley’s place to do, not think. Tibit’s Woodstock generation connections were no business of his.

Tibit wanted X and lots of it. Kids loved the shit. They’d eat four or five caps of cheap wannabe local product and fuck like rabbits. Just think what would happen if they got their hot little hands on the real thing? He could move product by the pound. He could build a little army of jock/dealers with Savage Henry leading the pack. The organization shipped down 20 thousand dollars worth of caps stuffed in a shipment of Bennie babies. Savage Henry and his boys sold it all within a week. The organization sent double, this time smuggled inside the white fluff guts of Cabbage patch dolls, the boys did the same as before.

It was all going very well. The organization kept doubling the product amount and Savage Henry and his boy’s kept begging for more, literally saturating the Gilbert area with caplets of high-grade ecstasy for six blissful months.

And suddenly nothing.

Tibit was incommunicado, no new product was shipped, and none was asked for. The chemist’s first and only thought was that Tibit had employed his own talent down in the desert and had reverse engineered their secret sauce and was marketing it as his own. This simply would not do. So Stanley was shipped down Coach class from Oakland to investigate, report back, and possibly eliminate the competition. Simple enough job, Stanly figured he’d have to kick Tibit’s ass a little, let him know that his lack of product loyalty was unappreciated, and he was now expected to triple his import and he would now be extremely taxed for the time and trouble.
Stanly would of course kill Tibit’s new boy chemist to protect his bosses’ recipes.

Too bad this was not how it played, of course, it never does when your dealing with Redneck’s like Tibit Smith and Savage Henry.

The reason why Tibit had not been in contact with Stanley’s employers—as he discovered after only a single day of tapping his Arizona contacts for info—was because the slick little fuck had gone to mattress. Tibit was running in fear of his life, and not from Stanley’s employers. Tibit had managed to piss off the local tweak kingpin, Clyde Raines. Raines was a plug ugly Irish fuck who was rumored to have taken on the local Mexican and Colombian cartels and actually won. He ruled the State of Arizona; even Stanley’s employers knew not to fuck with this guy. Tibit obviously didn’t know any better.

Raines approached Tibit with a small kick back agreement. Raines didn’t want the whole operation, hallucinogens weren’t his game, Raines merely wanted a taste of the action; a tribute, if you will. Tibit laughed in Raines face. Who the fuck did Raines think he was? Tibit was the shit in the East Valley, untouchable, not even the local PD screwed with his boys. Raines took the rebuff with seeming calm, and Tibit believed that he’d seen the last of Clyde Raines.Wrong.
Raines hit Tibit’s peaceful little suburban home and raped and killed Tibit’s entire family. Apparently only one of Tibit’s wives was kept alive to let the smug little fucker know what had transpired. Tibit ran and ran hard. Raines quickly stepped in and took over Savage Henry and his crew of suburban National Socialists. The current popular product line was dropped, and Raines cut rate tweak replaced it.

Stanley reported all of this to his employers even though 50% of it was conjecture. Stanley’s employer suggested that he extent the olive branch to Raines; perhaps striking up a similar import/export agreement they formerly shared with Tibit. Stanley was to extend said olive branch via Savage Henry.

Stanley’s first contact with Savage Henry was embarrassing. Stanley never lacked confidence, even when he was the perpetual 90 pound weakling in high school, but cunts like Savage Henry sent creepy fingers down his spine and provided flash backs of high school hallways back in his teen years when he didn’t have clue on how to defend himself and wedgies and sucker punches were the order of the day. Stanley knew guys like Savage Henry were nothing more than illusion; small time characters who masked their own under confidence with verbal abuse and violence; Not that Stanley couldn’t easily snap Savage Henry in two if the little shit tried getting too happy, but this was a delicate situation; Stanley’s employers wanted their piece of Arizona profit back, Stanley needed to be discreet and tactful.

He approached Savage Henry inside a local Barbeque place that stank of sawdust and rancid burning fat. He was noshing ribs with his crew, his mouth and cheeks painted red with sauce, strands of beef caught between his teeth. Before Stanley could get a word in edge wise, Savage Henry sneered and spat out: “What the fuck do you want you little four-eyed nigger?” Savage Henry’s crew ate it up, giggling and pounding their picnic bench. Stanley turned on his heel and quickly scrambled away, his cheeks burning.

What the fuck?

Stanley trembled, his forehead popping sweat, his hands shook, he stuffed them his jeans pockets, gripped the smooth handles of his blades; focus; find center. Nigger, so much malice. Not like the brothers in Oakland. Not a casual reference, but a word full of venom; a word like a weapon. He’d be prepared the next time.

Next time was the same night outside of Savage Henry’s family home. Stanley pulled up to the driveway in his rented Honda Accord; John Lee Hooker’s gravel voice rumbling quietly from the speakers, Savage Henry was wheeling out the family trash barrel from the garage. Stanley rolled down the passenger window blowing a sharp whistle between his teeth. Old Henry knew the language, some kid looking to score. He parked the trash can half way down the drive and double time it over to the open window, right hand dropping to the waist band of his pants; he carried his product in his jock.

Fucking gross.

Nothing in the world worse than your dope smelling like balls.

Henry did a double take when he saw Stanley in the driver’s seat. The kid didn’t know what to make of the situation, but he still eased into the passenger seat, pupils like pinpricks scanning the inside of the car; as if his hyper alert tweaker vision could scan out a secret camera or microphone. Stanley rolled up the passenger windows so they could have a little privacy.

“What d’ya want, man?”

“I wanted to-“ before Stanley could continue, Henry cocked his head his head like an expectant dog.

“What the fuck are you listening to? I thought all you niggers listened to was Tupac an’ shit like that? This guys sounds like sounds like he’s been gargling Drano or some shit.”

Stanley’s fluid right hand found it’s way to the back of Savage Henry’s neck and in a single blurred motion slammed his pock-marked forehead into the dash of the rental car. Hooker’s scared voice had been his solace and greatest comfort for longer than he could remember. Stanley could take a lot of shit, but you didn’t fuck with him about Johnny Lee.

So much for finding center.

It didn’t take Stanley long to find some place where he and Henry could be alone.

Southern Arizona seemed to be a constantly expanding, but no one seemed to live in this expansion; this seemingly endless sea of identically flawless track homes. Stanley shouldered Savage Henry’s weight once he’d located a half completed house dead center in what appeared to be 1000 home sub-division. Surprisingly the front door was unlocked, and Stanley dropped Savage Henry on the unfinished concrete floor of the entranceway. He returned to the Honda, popped the trunk and retrieved his roadside emergency supplies. After a decade on the job, he’d learned that no matter how new or expensive a vehicle was, if you were transporting a body—live, deceased, or soon to be—there was a fifty percent chance the car would break down. Stanley chocked it up to the hand of God however briefly working in favor of the victim. So he adopted the Boy Scout model when traveling by car to circumvent God’s assistance.

Tool kit, radiator fluid, gas can, road flares.

Essential roadside repair or portable torture chamber.

Stanley didn’t consider himself the sadistic type, a top of the line cold-blooded killer, yes, but he was never the type who purposely wanted to inflect unnecessary pain.

But he was more than willing to make an exception for Savage Henry. With this boy—whose face mixed and blended with so many of the slow-witted, cruel boys of his adolescence—he was committing career and literal suicide. He kept asking himself if it was worth it as he hog-tied Savage Henry to a rotting patio chair? Was it worth it all because this little shit called him a nigger and insulted a dead bluesman that he felt closer to than his own parents?

The question kept rolling through Stanley’s mind as he walked calmly to where Savage Henry struggled and begged, the freshly opened bottle of Anti-freeze in his left hand sloshing with each deliberate step; his right hand tapping rhythmically against his leg. Stanley set the blue bottle down a few feet away from Savage Henry’s thrashing body but still within easy reach. He stared down at the boy impassive, watching as Savage Henry’s eyes grew huge with panic. Stanley gripped the boy’s throat with the thin fingers of his left hand, feeling the boy’s pulse race at near coronary levels. He ripped the duct tape away, the spit-slimed sock coming away with it.

“Shit, man, come on-“

“Shut the fuck up,” fingers tightening, Savage Henry’s face glowing red with effort to breathe. “I want you to listen to me. I want you to remember what I’m about to say. Nod if you understand.”

The boy’s head bobbed up and down, his face going purple.

“Good. Now I want you to remember, because every time ask you say it, you’re going to repeat it back to me exactly as I told you, understand?” He loosened his grip, the boy’s face was going ashy, no point in him passing out just when the fun was starting.

“Now here’s what you’re gonna say: ‘Boom boom boom boom! I’m gonna shoot you right down.’ You got that?” Another nod, complacent and weak. “That’s real good, because if you don’t get it right when I ask you to say it, I’m gonna cut off one of your fingers.”

The panic hits big and Savage Henry starts squirming like he’s on fire. Stanley tightens his grip to control the boy’s movements and reaches for the anti-freeze. “Open up your mouth, boy!” He tilts boy’s head up and starts to pour. “I wouldn’t swallow none of this shit. All I want you to do is hold it in you mouth and gargle, and if you try spitting it out before I tell you, I’ll cut your dick off.”

The green sweet smelling liquid spills down on Savage Henry’s face; his mouth trying to form words, more begging, he gags again, trying not to swallow. It seems like he’s actually trying to gargle. Stanley figures that if the Anti-freeze doesn’t turn Savage Henry’s pubescent voice into a gravely timber, the gallon of gas should do the trick.

Bio: Keith Rawson Lives in the Phoenix, AZ suburb of Gilbert with his wife and daughter. He has stories published (or Waiting to be published) at publications such as DZ Allen's Muzzleflash, Powder Burn Flash, Flashshots, Darkest Before the Dawn,A twist of Noir, Bad Things, Crooked, and Yellow Mama. He has also completed the first draft of a hard-boiled novel tentatively titled, Retirement. You can also sit and visit with Keith at his Blog, Bloody knuckles, Callused fingertips(

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Tuesday and the Day After Christmas - Pierrino Mascarino

Tuesday and the Day After Christmas

Up in mah room; hadda a smeared lipstick whore fer money but finished quick.

Her sayin, "You not gonna try again with thet miserable wilted little thing?” Lookin at my privates, laughin, “you gotta midgetdick big boy.”

Damn bitch, so I jest slapped her, made the blood spurt, for the extry time I already paid. If a man don’t have respect; life ain’t worth shit.

Jones fired me off the farm after 22 years.

"Dumb farmer hillbilly," whore screams, blubberin and scramblin, spittin red blood slime bubbles, "wearing dirty manure bib overalls in the bed, stupid hillbilly."

And me never missing a day’s work in 22 year.

I pulled out a dresser drawer thowed it at her.

"Ignorant hillbilly,” she shriekin, crawlin under the bed, "big hillbilly ijut with a midgetdick."

Bam, bam landlord’s doorbangin' yellin,’ “too much noise inna roomin' house, “you gotta git out!”

I said, " I’m paid til the 26 after Christmas."

I jumped up onna bed. whore hidin under, yellin, “this crazy dickless hillbilly; umph! umph! save me lord!” Me jumpin up an down squashin her under there.

Landlord yellin, "That’s taday, Tuesday…"

"No, 26's Wednesday--says so on this here wall calendar." umph umph

“That’s last year’s calendar."

“Whut’s last year?” umph, umph

“That’s a old calendar in there's 1999.”

“It’s still good fer the day not bein' but two year old. I’ll smash yer whole house down…”

“Police comin, putting ye out.” Him, blonk blonk runnin his fool ass off down a hall.

So kicked out roominghouse's damn flimsy door, busted flinders flying evrawhere, then kickin out banister slats goin downstairs.

Busted the front door off the hinges. Blam inta the street.

Didn’t hear no sirens out here, just a terrible preacher racket outside onna street. Hurting m'damn ears, “Jesus loves ye!”

Me studin’ given this here yellin preacher here a head slap but a little killin’ud would be nice too if they’s no police.

“Shut up preacher, it’s Tuesday, by the room calendar,” but that fool kept yellin ‘Jesus loves ye,’ so I slapped shit out of him, makin his holy hat fly, him flyin onto his face and stayin there-me bustin up his bibletable in splinterwood an smashin his wood chair.

"Tuesday," I tol the preacher, "don't care about no year."

Him still lookin’ up—if they was no police be nice ta stomp im, but I jest kicked him in his head.

“Room calendar’s right,” I said.

Security car pulled up--not a police, “What’s goin' own here?”

“26th,” I said n'folded over Security’s rollup winder, bustin it ta cracks--him reachin’ fer somethin’ so I right quick grabbed his thoat and kindly banged his head 'gainst the roof so it bubbled up on top.

What the hell jelloheaded dead people know about the 26th anaways?

Then went over to the Trailways, only place open.

They was sausage cart on Bus Station Hill and a feller sellin red sausages at tha toppa that steep grade by the Trailways with only a puny wood wedge keepin it from rollin'–I give that fool sausage man with his mustard spotted apron a whole damn dollar.

He says, “What ye wont own it?”

I said “Own it?”

“Tha hot dog.”

“I own it when I paid ye yer dollar—on one a them buns.”

He said, “Don’t want nothin’ own it?”

“Goldernnit,” ah sayed, “they a dollar er not?”

”They a dollar,” he says

I slapped my trousers’ dollar on his shiny steel wagon, was gonna slap’im–I hate a fool.

Settin onna trash can eaten mah sausage.

He says, “Don' sit own mah traish, people caint thow they hot dog wrappers init.”

He needs killin, but here comes a Cadillac at th’corner was honkin, yellin ‘4 hot dogs with mustard and onions’. Sausage man grabbin up buns and sausages, runnin—me sticking mah foot out, him blind runnin –fell on his own winnies inta the gutter with tamata red minstrition all over his foolself.

Lord God lets a fool live, so, right quick, I kicked his cart wedge out; cart starts rollin, then a brown UPS truck's comin’ up the steep Bus Station Hill--sausage wagon’s rollin beautiful, pickin up speed, jumpin off the curb, halleluiah, an' smashin inta tha UPS–yeller mustard n’ buns and sausages come spurtin’ up in tha air—I grabbed up ½ dozen, UPS honking.

Best dern sausage I ever had; but, I swan, I left my purty pliers in that derned roomin house, with soft rubber handles, cuttin' jaws a'chrome? I reckon the police came back there now and got’em.

So I went down to the hardware. Walked to the pliers part. Derned if they wasn’t a yella handles paira Stanley’s . I purely love a Stanley plier. Smart Alec yells out, "I’m closin you intendin' ta pay fer those?"

"Sure," ah sa-yed, "how much it come to?"

"Well, I already closed up the register closed; but those are three dollar Stanley pliers."

"I understan," I pushed his cash registers off the counter to smash, kindly in’is lap jinglin and crashing, "take it outta thayet."

Some people kin spawl a good time. Money coiens was layin all over on toppa that fool.

Anaway, next day, I went out to Mama's.

"Mama said, "Not comin out fer Christmas an a poor widder woman what raised ye up by hand to be left alone own Christmas? Ye big ox, go over ahind thet door and git me a switch, ye need a whipping, Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother."

"Yes’m, the calendar said a different day an didn't have Christmas right.”

Mama sayin, "Evera blighted fool knows when Christmas is."

Told her I even gotta Christmas present for her and took out my new chrome handle hardware store pliers.

BIO: Pierrino Mascarino lives on a dangerous street, Montecito Drive in LA, that has been largely abandoned by the local underpaid and undermanned constablary. Montecito connects two suppurating-crimial-pus societal sores on the Los Angeles Landscape, El Sereno and Highland Park. Bullets fly nightly. Garbage is nocturally ejected by passing barely amubulatory, rattling pickups. Screams and helicopters populate the night and sometimes dayscape. His neighbors are persecutory liars, psychopaths and dope fiends. He is currently publishing in The Beat, The Linnet's Wings, Barnaby Snopes. He played the title role in the Movie Uncle Nino that is being released on video in April and lectures frequently to those who will listen. Runs the writing group, Writers Helping Writers and appeared on the Budweiser Superbowl Commericial.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Beer - David Price


It’s a beautiful Friday in July here in San Diego. I took off work at noon and headed east on Interstate 8. I live in a little A-frame situated on a bluff in a rural community about thirty miles from the coast. It’s a small two story but there’s enough room for what I want, quiet and privacy.

I make my living pushing paper. The physical part of me needs an outlet so I feed it the rigorous workouts that are core to my peace of mind.

Many years ago I wrestled and played football. I didn’t set the world on fire but I could hold my own. I loved the challenge of man against man. Even when I lost, my opponent knew damn well he had been in a fight. And I didn’t lose many.

That was twenty some years ago. I still have the bull neck and a beauty of a cauliflower ear. I’ve trimmed down to 225 pounds on my 6 ‘1” frame. Except for the tell tale signs mentioned, I am just a white collar guy without the pencil neck.

To satisfy my aggressive side, I work out at a little dojo run by a Brazilian who specializes in jujitsu. I’ve learned a few joint locks to go with my wrestling skills. When we free style, I work hard and always choose the youngest and biggest stud in the class. He thinks he is going to have a walk over but it usually ends up that he taps out when I go for the kill. I’ve put more than a few guys out with injuries.

I’m giving you all this background so you’ll know what I bring to the table when you mess with me.

So here I am, heading home at noon looking forward to hitting the weights in my home gym. I’ve got a little Rolling Stones going on the CD and I’m feeling no pain.

In my rear view mirror I pick up a vehicle cutting across several lanes behind me. You know how you pick up something that happens at a speed faster than everything going on around you.

I check my passenger side mirror to see a Jeep in the lane next to me riding close to my blind spot. Looks like at least two people in the front seats.

I slow but the Jeep keeps pace with me, not falling back or advancing.

We go on a few miles like that and I go back to my daydreaming as I move past the densely populated community east of San Diego. The four lane freeway narrows to three.

All of a sudden the Jeep pulls alongside me. When it doesn’t move past, I look over. In the Jeep are three guys, probably in their early twenties. They are all looking at me and laughing and pointing. I stare at them and that seems to incite them more.

They’re in a Jeep with roll bars and no top, with the windows down. They’re probably heading east to the desert for some off-roading.

Then they all flip me off. They continue to pace me side by side, laughing like hyenas the whole time. They’re all drinking beers. The guy in the back seat is literally jumping up and down in his seat and waving his arms like a crazy man.

Now I’m getting pissed. The way they’re driving there’s going to be an accident and at 75 mph that will result in a multi-car pileup. They don’t even look to be wearing seat belts. If they pile up, they’re going airborne.

I try and back off the speed to get them to pass me in hopes that they’ll settle down. They pull slightly ahead. I’m still driving and keeping these fools in sight.

The guy in the back seat suddenly throws a full can of beer at my windshield. I know it’s full from the sound it makes as it misses and hits my fender with a thud. I can’t really stop as the traffic is pretty heavy and I’ll get rear-ended for sure. I slow and they pull ahead laughing and jumping around in their seats.

My heart is racing. Now I’m seeing red but I don’t have many options. My cell is in my briefcase in the trunk.

I don’t want to encourage their antics but I want their license plate number so I can call it in later.

I accelerate to try and close on them so I can get a good read of the plate. Instead of trying to outrun me, they slow.

I move up to about three car lengths of open space behind them and try to memorize the number. They slow even more and as I creep up on them, the front passenger and the guy in the rear each launch beers at me. One hits my hood and bounces over the top. The other hits the road on my right and bounces into the wind shield of the car to my right rear. I see the car swerve across my lane and go off the embankment and disappear. Then I see a plume of smoke in my rear view mirror.

These assholes have played their hand. Time for me to call. For all I know someone in that car that went off the freeway is badly injured or dead.

These fuckers are going to pay now.

I stay on their tail but back ten car lengths. Soon we come to relatively open country. The traffic has thinned considerably.

Two more beers hit the road in front of me but bounce away harmlessly. I continue to pace them for a couple more miles when they suddenly veer across the next lane and exit at an off ramp. I’m far enough back to follow their move. They pull up at the stop sign at the freeway underpass. The cross road is a rural road and there are no cars or businesses at this turnoff.

They all jump out and are laughing and staring at me as I approach.

I pull to a stop seven or eight car lengths back. They start towards me with one guy coming to my side and the other two heading to the passenger side. I open my door just enough to clear the lock but not enough for them to notice.

I’m a guy who likes to be prepared. I don’t carry a knife or a gun but I keep two items in the car in case I’m ever jumped or followed.

Behind the passenger seat I keep an old fashioned anti theft device that is no longer popular. It’s a two parter. A metal sleeve with a cane-type hook to loop under the brake pedal and another hook that loops over the low point of the steering wheel. One goes into the other and locks at the tightest point. I never use the lock but it’s the best way to carry a two foot metal rod with a curved handle that can’t be labeled a Billy club.

Also behind the seat I keep a pair of one pound hands weights, the kind that are used by walkers for some aerobic arm work. These are iron covered by some kind of sprayed on rubberized coating for grip ability. The beauty of these is that there is a metal piece in a half circle from end to end. I guess that’s supposed to make them easier to hold onto. I’ve never used them, ever. I’m no walker. They are, however, a legal pair of brass knuckles that are about to get their first workout.

I reach back and pull one piece of my lock and one hand weight onto the front passenger seat.

Then I power down my window as if I’m going to talk to the guy approaching my door.

Man, my heart is racing and my adrenaline is pumping. I feel like its kickoff time and I’m about to run downfield and break the wedge.

It’s all I can do to control myself. I’m almost laughing, I feel so good. I just sit there and wait for them to close. Come on, chumps. Come up to the window. I wait.

The driver approaches on my side and bends down to talk some shit. Soon as he lowers his head, I use my arm to flip the door open. The top of the door hits him right in the eyebrow. It splits open real good.

I use all my weight to open the door wide. It becomes my flipper and he’s my pinball. He flies back a couple of feet. His eyebrow is gushing. I slide out quick with the club in my left hand and the knuckles in my right.

The other two come racing around the car after they see their buddy get hit by the door.

The guy holding his eye yells, “Get him.”

For his kind words, I snap kick him right to his chin. Never hang your tongue out when you are in a fight. He’ll learn this as he bites half way through his and his mouth fills with blood.

The guy coming around the back of my car gets a hard backhand with the steel club right to his larynx. Now I’ve been hit in the old Adam’s apple and it hurts like hell. It can debilitate you as you choke and gasp for breath. You feel like you are drowning. I get him good. He doubles over and falls to his knees.

The guy coming around the front sees all this and his eyes tell me he wishes to hell that he was somewhere else. But it’s too late. His forward momentum is bringing him right to me.

I face him with both tools at the ready. He tries a roundhouse right that I block with the club. I punch straight and hard with a twelve to sixteen inch punch to his center face with the knuckles. It’s a punch like when you push the button on those battling robot toys. No wasted effort, just a straight piston shot.

They say Jack Dempsey’s best punch was a straight right hand and he didn’t wear an iron glove. I can hear the guys teeth snap off and his nasal septum collapses. He screams and grabs his face.

Now they are all incapacitated but it ain’t over for me. They’re going to remember this, forever.

I go back to the first guy and swing my club on his shin and it cracks. He falls face first as I come around and hammer fist him in his kidneys with three hard shots breaking a couple of ribs in the process.

The choking guy can barely move and just waves his hands to me in a, “no mas” gesture.

You should have thought of that before you started this shit. I kick him hard in the nuts. He’ll be walking cowboy style for at least a month.

The last guy with the broken teeth is trying to run back to the Jeep. I sprint to him with ease and swing my club in a sweeping arc to the side of his head. He never saw it coming.

He goes down hard. That metal plate he’ll soon be sporting will be setting off metal detectors at airports for the rest of his life.

He was the asshole in the back seat doing most of the throwing. I drag him to the curb and place his throwing hand on the edge. Then I mash his fingers with repeated heel strikes. That should put an end to his throwing days for a long time.

I walk over to the Jeep and look inside. I see the open cooler of ice with one can of beer left. I reach in, grab it and pop the top.

There’s nothing quite like a cold beer on a hot afternoon to welcome the weekend.

Bio: David Price is an ex college jock and retired probation officer residing in California. Writing is a recent hobby in his retirement. His efforts can be seen at Thuglit #28, A Twist of Noir 016 and The Flash Fiction Offensive at Out of the Gutter.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Point Murder - Ann Whipple

Point Murder

A mild, cool, pleasant day after rain, with high fleecy clouds and smooth sheets of grey retreating to the east; just before eight o’clock, the sun was well over the green-filmed ridge, its outline sturdy enough behind the thinning drifts of cloud . A small silver car driven by a woman in her fifties passed from the cave of a garage into the fair light. Alice Perrin had not slept well, and getting ready had been full of irritations and false starts; she was more than usually on edge, though “on edge” was a frequent enough mode with her.

How many hundreds of times, she addressed the sliding automatic gate; how many thousands? The sky, how many times? Never before just this sky; but still the same sky, time after time after time. Ah, it was lovely. Oh, it was unbearable. The grass, the pink-flowering plums, the prunus and the yellow and orange and white Iceland poppies, the very daisies and poppies of the waste places. The doves, the geese, the gulls. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Dear God, the world was new and lovely and old and awful–English daisies! Iceland poppies! Canada geese! She hoped she would get through the day.

The rain had deepened some of the chuckholes, and she skirted them with her customary thought that to the uninitiated she must resemble a drunken driver. But here, where was anyone uninitiated? Theirs was a small community, set apart, seldom blundered upon by strangers.

On her left, by some trick of clouded light, Angel Island reared a sooty blue against the pale water of the Bay; then beyond, the headlands and Tamalpais reposed, green in the sun, against blue sky and light clouds. Nothing would happen on this trip, nothing ever did; she would hear her Mozart or Scarlatti–ugh, really, sometimes his stuff could be more nerve-wracking than some of Vivaldi’s–and admire all the burgeoning and blooming and flight and light, deplore the fading–for Spring leaves early in California, and green changes to gold and brown in a twinkling. February, still, and she was glad of that. The park, around the turn, with the damp steepness of the headland on her right. As always, she would arrive at the station, mount to the platform, and sit through her brief train-ride; think her thoughts.

She shuddered. She had forgotten, allowed herself to forget, what she had seen the day before. Late Sunday she had climbed that hill and hiked around the high ledge, vaguely hoping there would still be some boletes not tunneled by worms. She had called the police when she got home, being a good citizen. Though she had not been sure, in the front of her mind, she had been sure enough in her belly: a body, wrapped in a quilt. It had to be. The police had proved, as she had foreseen, kindly and phlegmatic. That had been that, except for her shakiness long after the call was over.

Now, just beyond the dark green jutting of scrub oak and toyon, were parked a police van and three squad cars. The gate to the fire road, she saw, was open. She wanted to stop, wanted to know, wanted to see–but another urgency pressed her foot more firmly onto the gas: to be elsewhere fast. She hit a number of the potholes and was not quite calm, despite the lovely light and the lovely vistas and the music (it was Brahms, in fact), even when she had passed the last of the park and got into the tunnel that led to town.

At the office–she ran, single-handedly, a small publishing company that produced limited-edition books on art, botany, ornithology, history, and the like, and was funded by a well-to-do old queen (his term) who lived in Florence–there was a polite but firm message on the machine to call Inspector Mullen of the local police.

This she did, and he asked when he might see her. She was prompt; any time that day would be fine. He promised to be with her in half an hour (her domain was two towns away from her home). Until then she could not think or work. The cup of tea she made for herself tasted metallic, so she threw it away.

“Miss Perrin? How do you do. I’m Inspector Aaron Mullen.”

“Mrs., actually, Inspector. I’m a widow. How do you do? Please come in.”

He was tall, attractive, fifty-something, with graying dark hair and serious dark eyes under a heavy brow. He was in plain clothes, and Alice remarked that they were not the usual glaring and unmistakable plain clothes of the usual policeman–a much nicer-than-normal tweed jacket, a tattersall shirt, well-creased gray slacks and excellent brown shoes, just a little in want of polish. No tie. She thought that they ought to understand one another well enough; she was most likely about his age, and she was herself graying and tweedy, though she was conscious that her excellent Italian pumps were nicely polished. Her sense was that he, like herself, understood the surfaces of things but knew how to disregard them as well.

Inspector Mullen had looked at her and then about him. The rooms were not opulent, but they were pleasing–dear old Morgan Evers had stipulated that she order everything of the best, and his own cultivated taste, when he had visited once or twice, had pronounced the results more than satisfactory. Copies of the firm’s books, all limited editions beautifully designed, filled the protected shelves of the far wall, but she received visitors in a lighter area, Eastern in feeling, with some fine blue-and-white porcelain on shelves and tables, Mughal and Caucasian carpets on the polished pale floor, filmy plain curtains over the long windows, and comfortable chairs in pale leather. Beyond was her workroom, with simple, utilitarian desk, machines, files, tables, chairs, and cupboards.

He explained that he wanted more information about the reason for her call of the day before; could they sit down? Of course, and would he care for anything? He declined. She indicated one of the big chairs, and sat opposite. She was at her ease; policemen did not intimidate her, and she had a fair experience of the world in general. Her work had introduced her to men and women of all kinds in many corners–worldly printers, dreamy designers, worldly authors, impractical authors, busy distributors, demanding publicists, conceited reporters, competent reporters. She had learned to keep the edgy Alice down when occasion demanded suavity.

“I should tell you that I saw a van this morning as I came to work, so I suppose your people checked out what I reported.”

“Yes. More of that later. Please tell me now the whole story of your experience.”

He had a pad of forms and had already filled in a few of the blanks with a nondescript ballpoint.

“It was about three-thirty, and I wanted air and exercise. I hiked up the hill from the path that is nearest my building, to the top, then took one of the side-tracks that lead to the summit. I admired the view a bit, then went on down by the path that skirts the edge, the northwesterly side. It’s pretty woodsy there, and shady. But I was peering into the woods because I hoped there might still be a few wild mushrooms–there sometimes are, even this late.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“Not if you are very timid about it, as I am. I don’t pick anything I don’t know.”

“I think the county gets some poisoning cases, most every year.”

“I’m sure, and I hope I won’t ever be one–or any friend of mine. Nasty way to go.”

He made a few more entries on his form. “You said earlier that you were a widow. I have your address. You live there alone?”

“Oh, yes.”

“How long?”

“Alone there since my husband died, three years ago; eight years before that, with him.”

“Nice place.”

He spoke as if he knew the area in a workaday way.

“Nice enough. Convenient. A place you don’t have to think about, and everyone in the complex seems decent.”

He checked some boxes on his form. “And your work here? I see it’s called–what? Folium?”

“Yes, Folium Editions. It’s essentially the hobby business of an elderly man who lives abroad. We publish fine editions of important books that are no longer widely available in the original–illustrated natural history chiefly. We add notes and introductions and so on to update them. We almost break even–some years a little better than that.”

“Pretty costly books?”

“Oh, yes,” she answered cheerfully. “They cost the earth to produce; you’d be surprised. But there’s a market.”

“I suppose. So it is for most things, I guess. Oddly enough. You’ve been here how long?”

“Fifteen years.”

“Like it?”

“It’s ideal for me. I’m virtually independent. Mr. Evers is intelligent and generous. We visit back and forth quite often, and staying at a beautiful villa outside Florence, with everything done for one, is not my idea of hardship. When my husband was alive, he came along–Arthur loved Italy and could roam about on his own while Mr. Evers and I attended to our tiny bits of business.”

“But you don’t produce the books here?”

“No. There are surprisingly many excellent printing firms in the Bay Area. Sometimes we need color work done abroad, though–Italy or the Orient these days. We try to stick with local firms for the sake of quality-control.”

The Inspector gave the small smile that indicates a return to former subjects. “So you went out to look for mushrooms. Then?”

“That’s all I did, really. But as I was returning to the trail that goes back down the hill, I looked up into a hollow on my right–I suppose it would be southeast of the actual trail. And I saw this–bundle. It bothered me, because of the size. I thought of investigating.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Because it was very steep, and I hadn’t brought a stick. It was pretty overgrown, too. And I was afraid.”

“Were you.”

He said this not in great surprise, but still as if he had not expected her to be.

“Yes, I was. It was getting dark, and the place is lonely, and I just didn’t want to see anything awful. It was far too still.... I thought of going up and around and then down the slope to look at it, but that was steep, too, and the area between the trail at that point and where the thing was is very thickly wooded, and full of poison oak. In fact, I wonder how it got there at all. Very tricky for anyone....”

“Please believe that I think you did the right thing in the circumstances.”

She thanked him gravely, but it seemed to her that she had been cowardly, and she kept silence for a moment, considering her action. No, the place and the time had been too much for her, and there was no sense in regret.

“Well,” she said.

“Please describe for me exactly what you saw.”

“It was just a bundle, a quilt wrapping something. It was pinkish, with tan and white flowers, and I could tell by the piping that it had been wrapped around whatever it was at an angle–it was obviously a large quilt, and whatever was inside must have been not much more than five feet tall–or long–and small in proportion. Oh, God.”

“It’s OK. Tell me, was it wet?”

“Wet? No, it looked perfectly dry.”

“You could tell that even in the dim light?”

She thought a moment. “Yes, I could. I stood some moments and looked at it, and there is something different in the way a wet quilt lies from a dry one, as well as in the colors. Anyone could tell, I’d say.”

He wrote some more, then looked up again, and their eyes held. He almost did not need to say what he said, but she knew that he must. “But it had rained yesterday morning, right?”

“Right,” she breathed. “Until about nine. Then started again about midnight last night.”

“Yes. I may as well tell you–the searchers found what you described, and pretty easily, too, despite the terrain and all–at about seven last night. We have some good lights, and there were even two men with us who knew the parks. It wasn’t easy to get to it, as you rightly said–but we went up by the fire road. The quilt was still quite dry–a little damp underneath from the wet grass, and a little dewy on top, but basically dry.”

They sat for a while in silence, and then Alice looked up. She would not ask, she decided.

“It was a body. A young woman. Naked except for a T-shirt, and strangled.”

Alice rose and walked to the window. The whole story seemed to her pathetic and dreary and sordid, and she knew nothing of it beyond these bare facts, and her own memory of a shapeless heap in a wintry park. The realities would elude her forever, she felt sure–whatever passion had led to the killing, the details of the life that was taken. She thought of Arthur, quickly dead from heart failure, but lost to her forever in a moment that stood now in her consciousness like an impassable rock in a roadway. She had felt so dead herself since then, sometimes almost at the end of her rope, but in fact she was alive and could act, could climb steep hills and make useful telephone calls. Such muddle and stupidity.

“What kind of person, may I ask?”

The Inspector seemed surprised that she should ask. “Pretty,” he said, “despite everything, surely pretty. Brunette, slim, smallish. As you guessed, not much over five feet. In good health. They’ll do the usual tests, of course, including DNA. Then we may know more. Nothing but the T-shirt, and that as anonymous as you can get. Did you see anyone on your walk?”

She shook her head. “No one on the hill, not a soul. It was eerie enough, but I suppose my taste for solitary winter walks is not shared by many people. Still, I wondered, I felt uneasy. Watched. That’s not uncommon, is it, when one’s alone?”

“But go back to before. Did you see anyone as you approached the trail up the hill?”

“On the level where the railroad tracks used to be, people walk their dogs. I think I saw several people out, mostly heading back to the condominiums or in that general direction, to the houses across the street. No one I knew or recognized.. I think they were mostly women, too. I remember someone with a black Lab and someone else with a tiny terrier–the dogs seemed more vivid than the owners, but I am pretty sure those two were women.”

“Then as you came down again?”

“No one. Except maybe.... There’s that very steep part just at the bottom of the trail, and it’s very muddy and slippery there, so I was coming down rather awkwardly, hanging onto the brush to steady myself. I stopped, and I did notice that someone was leaving the far end of that level field, the dog-walking place. It surprised me because I hadn’t seen anyone from up above, and I would have noticed–it’s all so open and clear there–so I wondered where he came from. He turned up into our apartment complex, I remember, and then I lost him, and forgot about him, too.”

“Did he have a dog?”

She shook her head. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t. But he was moving at a leisurely pace, not running away from anything. Maybe the dog was ahead of him–people do let them off the leash there sometimes.”

“ From what you saw, what can you tell me about him?”

“Well, I thought it might be Larry Dykstra–about his build, and Larry always wears that big-shouldered kind of mackinaw when he walks his dog–a setter. The hat was like Larry’s, too–do many people wear those broad-brimmed Australian hats?”


“Larry is the condominium association’s lawyer,” she added. “And there are other ways up and down that hill. Other steep trails down on the north side, very wooded ones.”

“What about cars?”

“Cars? Whizzing past almost all the time. I didn’t notice anything special. Oh, but there was! A green SUV was parked just at the far end of the field. People often park there when the yacht club lot is full, and I think there was a regatta on Sunday, but the green van was the only one still there when I came down from the hill.”

He asked her for details of the van, but she had to confess that they all looked alike to her–“dark green, newish, in good repair” was the best she could do. “Those tinted windows,” she added.

Inspector Mullen rose. “I think that’s about all we need for now, unless you can think of anything that might help us. I’m going to ask you to look at a picture of the girl–woman, she wasn’t more than twenty-five, but she looked girlish, being so small and slim. I’ll call you about that–could you drop by the station later today, when you’re free?”

She laughed. “Of course, Inspector. My time here is very much my own; Mr. Evers doesn’t check on me or make me punch any clocks, and all the authors and printers are scribbling away happily at their computers or marking up proofs in their studios, without any help from me just now. Tell me where and when.”

She spent the rest of the afternoon studying the re-designed title page for a Victorian “language of flowers” book. The printer had provided a choice of ten cuts, all exquisite, and the decision was difficult. She finally telephoned him, and they discussed each one in depth. They needed something in keeping, but did not want to compete with the color lithographs of the text, to be faithfully reproduced by modern printing methods. When they had finally decided on a posy that suggested the Victorian without excess, Alice felt too ill at ease about her forthcoming interview to do anything more. She made some tea, but, as before, it did not taste good to her, and she was presently locking up the office to go to meet Inspector Mullen.

Aaron Mullen let his work absorb him; he found the complex routines as satisfying as math, but livelier because of the human component. Still, the known stood against the unknown, and the task was to complete the equation. The small, sordid murder at the Point, of course, was not the only thing he had to deal with for the rest of his busy shift, but he gave a good deal of time to it, delegating certain tasks and going after other necessary items of information himself.

Late in the day, a few minutes before Alice Perrin’s appointment, he gave himself a break, and over coffee thought about her. He was puzzled by his own reaction to her–he felt there ought to have been some spark between them. Had her insistence upon her widowhood been the turn-off, or her bookishness? He was divorced himself, about as long as she had been widowed, and he was fond of books in a way–he read history and sociology as a mild recreation. He admired her fair, classic good looks and her air of candor. But no urge to reveal himself to her or to draw her out had come to him, and he wondered where the cool transparent barrier between them had its origin. In the circumstances? Possibly, but not necessarily; he seldom met people like her in the course of his work, so the novelty might have been an excitement–but no. He wondered if they would get to know one another better, if something might come of their association in this crime that superficially involved them. Hardly to tell, as Arnold Chen, his Chinese sidekick, often said. She would soon arrive.

He thought her far more nervous than in the morning. “Please don’t take this too hard,” he said, and she nodded.

The photograph was so gruesome that Alice shut her eyes at it; how infinitely worse the reality must have been, she thought. She was afraid she might be sick, but gave herself a few moments to repair her calm and courage. Then she looked at it, carefully and long.

“Inspector Mullen,” she said, and looked long, too, at his disciplined and intelligent features.

“You recognize her?”

“It’s difficult, after one meeting, and that some time ago. But yes. I think her name is Rosie Marler. A San Francisco girl. I’ll tell you how I met her.”

The Inspector had put aside the picture; they faced one another across his desk.

“Briefly, it was at a party for a book by a friend of a friend, and this young woman was the elderly author’s helper–the book was his rather exaggerated memoirs of his wild Parisian youth. I gathered that this Rosie made her living by doing odd jobs for people like André Michaud–paying bills and clearing up generally and being paid under the table. Also by modeling–she was quite charming.”

“This was when?”

“Perhaps four years ago.”

“You and your husband were at this party? Where was it?”

“Yes, we went together–in fact, my husband had known André slightly. I.... Yes. It wasn’t long after the party that my husband died. André also. Quite a little epidemic of dying.” Alice stopped to turn away and overcome a working sob; Inspector Mullen waited in silence.

“You asked where it was. The party was at an art gallery on Post Street. I can find the name for you. But I’m fairly sure that Rosie lived in the same neighborhood as the author, as André–somewhere on Russian Hill.”

“How did you come by the information about this person?”

“I chatted with her–she was sweet. I chatted with André, too, and he sang her praises. He was a dear old flirt.”

“I thought you said this author was ‘a friend of a friend’?”

“That’s basically true–but we actually knew him a little, Arthur and I. Not well, just to have a coffee or a drink someplace casually–Arthur and I used to like to go to North Beach, and he would turn up. We’d never been to his apartment, and he certainly never visited us. It was our friend Carol Ross who asked us to the book party–she’s a journalist. She knew Rosie, too, and she told me two things about her.”

Mullen prompted her silently, but she took a moment. “That she was a model and that she was a meth head.”

Inspector Mullen did not say anything; he was aware of Alice’s eyes intently on him.

“It all puts me a good deal on the spot, I see,” she said at last.

“You on the spot? You make big leaps and make them fast.”

She smiled, but she was not happy. “It’s from reading too much fiction and taking too dim a view of human nature, a sad legacy from hard-boozing Calvinist parents.”

Although she spoke with little inflection, his eyes widened; he knew what she was talking about, but he seldom encountered it in this coolly contained form.

“I follow,” he said. “All too well.”

There might not be a spark, he thought, but sympathy was pulsing between them.

Aaron Mullen telephoned Mrs. Perrin the next day to say that the identification had been confirmed. The body to which she had pointed the way was that of Rosie Marler, who had not been seen by her Union Street roommate since Friday. Miss Marler’s older sister, a successful dress designer, had come to the East Bay and identified her positively.

“Is that Laurel Marler?”

“You know her, too?”

“I’ve just recalled meeting her at that same party. We chatted, but she was too stylish for me, and I didn’t get to know her. Does she shed any light...?”

“She says she hadn’t got together with her sister for several months. She confirmed what you told us, that Rosie used meth pretty consistently and that she made her living by modeling and odd jobs. She said that the work Rosie did for your author acquaintance was about the most solid and tame job she’d ever had. She said Michaud overpaid her–apparently he doted on her.”

“I can imagine. And the roommate? Did she–or he?–have any inkling for you?”

“No. They’d been coming and going without much contact lately. Sylvia Olin, her name is–works in a bookstore. She thought there might have been a modeling job, but she didn’t know anything. She was accustomed to Rosie’s not coming home at night a lot of the time.”

“Well, I hope you can get somewhere with this sad business, Mr. Mullen.”

“Thanks. We did find something that makes me want to ask you to look out for yourself.”


“Don’t be alarmed. An uncashed check to her from a person who lives in your building, one Michael Fitzgerald.”

“Michael Fitzgerald? But he’s....”

“An artist, I believe.”

“Yes. There are a lot of artists. The area has a history of it, going way back....”

She heard the sudden strain in her voice and worried that she might seem hysterical to him.

“I should have come by,” he said. “Sorry to upset you.”

“No, it’s just that he lives two doors from me, very polite and private, and he’s quite a good artist–we had a little show a while back. It doesn’t add up.”

“Well, I hope it doesn’t. But we’re going to talk to him all the same.”

“I see that you have to. But as to my looking out for myself–what a notion. I mean, I always do.”

“Keep it up,” he said, and they said good-bye.

“Inspector Mullen?”

The slight, fair man with the humorous wide mouth and tall brow did not look to Aaron Mullen entirely at his ease, but he did not look like the picture of guilt, either. He stepped back and invited the policeman into the apartment, which smelled agreeably like an artist’s studio. They went into the small tile-floored solarium overlooking a broad lawn in which pink-flowering plums flounced in the wind.

“I’m here to ask about Rosie Marler.”

“I wondered if you might be.”

They looked levelly at one another, and, though Fitzgerald’s face was grim enough, he was not afraid of anything.

“Why was that?”

“Well, I didn’t treat her too well, I know. But she was on some kind of drug and was really making a damned nuisance of herself. Still, I shouldn’t have just kicked her out–I could have at least given her a lift to BART or something. This place is pretty remote. A car is a necessity.”

“Suppose you tell me the whole story.”

“I’ve known her for a while–met her through another artist I know in San Francisco. She was short on work and called me a couple of times to ask if she could model for me. I felt sorry for her and said OK about a month ago. I picked her up and brought her here–my studio’s in there, and you can see it, and see the sketches I did of her. It just wasn’t working–she’s not my type, and she had this feverish way of chatting that drove me nuts. So I gave her a check and drove her back to BART and that was that as far as I was concerned. But not for her, it seems.”

Mullen interrupted. “The modeling session was when?”

“I can tell you from my checkbook.”

Michael Fitzgerald rose from the window seat and walked easily into the next room, then returned with his checkbook. He proffered it and Mullen saw the entry–$300 paid to Rosie Marler two weeks before the weekend of her death.

“And then?”

“Last Saturday she turned up at my door. She’d apparently walked all the way from the bus stop, which is well over a mile. I couldn’t make her out. She was manic. I was tired–I’d done a little art show up north and had just got in when she appeared. I hate to say it, but the idea was that she couldn’t get me out of her mind and so on. I didn’t like to be ungallant–we Fitzgeralds are known to be the soul of courtesy to all ladies; brought up that way, as you can imagine.”

He had dropped into a slight brogue for a moment, and the two men exchanged a look of amused understanding.

“I take it a red flag went up in the case of Miss Rosie Marler.”

“Bright red. So I just kidded around with her, and listened to her as best I could, but she wasn’t making a lot of sense. I finally decided that the best thing would be to feed her, so I rustled up something–I’m not a bad bachelor cook and bottle-washer–and opened some wine, thinking it might calm her down. It did. She passed out. I can’t say I wasn’t relieved. I tipped her over onto that couch and threw a cover over her, then went to bed myself.”

Mullen’s face worked slightly, and Fitzgerald looked a question at him, but the moment passed. “And?” Mullen prompted.

“I washed up, did the usual, went to bed myself–in there. I locked my door, God help me. She woke me up in the small hours having some kind of fit, pounding on the door and crying and carrying on. I tried to get her to calm down, but I’d never seen anything quite like it. Finally, about six o’clock, even though it wasn’t quite light, I just got fed up. She hadn’t undressed at all, and she was a little thing–so I just frog-marched her to the door and shoved her out. She banged a little bit, and I put my head out and said that if she did that one more minute, the guard would be on her, and that up those stairs and down the road was the best place for her. Sometimes when you get really fed up you can get a tone in your voice that even a total loony will hear. She heard, and she went.”

“So that was that.”

“Not a pretty story, I know. But that was that.”

Mullen sighed and the two men once again maintained a level and communicating regard.

“I’m inclined to believe you.”

“I should damn well hope so!” Fitzgerald said, color flaring up into his Viking face. “I’m not accustomed to having people doubt my word. What happened to the silly woman that gets you involved? She complain?”

“She got herself killed.”

The artist clenched his teeth and grimaced.

“I might have known. She was that damned silly. But I blame myself for sending her out alone–I suppose that’s when it happened, isn’t it?”

“We’re a little unclear on the time of death. Was it raining when you showed her the door–and the road?”

“No, it wasn’t. I wasn’t that pissed off, and if it had been raining, I would have bundled her into my car and driven her to the train. It wasn’t even that cold, and she had a coat. It did rain later, though, and I remember hoping she’d made it to the bus or whatever by that time. I’d been trying to get a little sleep, but after that sort of episode, who could? It was at least an hour or two later that the rain started. By the way, what led you to me at all? The check?”

“Yes. Will you show me the blanket you threw over her?”

The request surprised Fitzgerald, but he complied, bringing for the Inspector’s inspection a large knit throw of soft, silky wool in vibrant bluish reds and greens.

“Looks warm,” he said. “Elegant, too.”

“A gift from an admirer,” said Michael Fitzgerald, with the kind of wryness that discourages questions.

The policeman then asked to see the sketches he had made of Rosie Marler. There were four in charcoal on paper and one somewhat more finished piece in acrylic. To Aaron Mullen, they looked disspirited, almost like student work. He glanced at other sketches and canvases and saw far more life and sureness of technique in every one. The pretty little nude in her conventional poses had been simply an interruption in the life and work of Michael Fitzgerald, as far as his visitor could tell.

“Actually, I’d rather do still lifes and outdoor stuff,” the artist said. He pointed at a stack of canvases.

Mullen looked through these with growing admiration. They were local studies in several lights and several seasons, verging sometimes on the abstract, but always strong. There was one in which the pink and orange flowers of spring striped the slope in harsh bands of light and shadow. Such a subject, from the brush of a less secure artist, might have been sentimental, but the canvas had force. Another concentrated on tawny rock, with a thatch of dry grass and a limpid sky; the fast, strong, broad strokes of color let one feel the wind of the place.

“I like these,” he said, “despite my ignorance of art.”

“Thanks. I hoped you’d say that,” laughed Fitzgerald.

“Do I strike you as such a rube?”

“God, no. Just diffident about your areas of uncertainty–and a little conventional.”

Mullen was not nettled–he thought that Fitzgerald had described him justly enough. He hoped the artist would not take his next remark as vengeful.

“That’s about where we found her, up there.”

He pointed to a spot on the far right of the canvas with the rippling flowers.

Fitzgerald made a stifled sound that was half groan and half sigh. “God,” he said. “What am I supposed to think about that?”

Mullen shrugged. “Nothing, I suppose. It’s a public park, after all. Lots of people have painted this place, I understand.”

“You found her, when? Sometime on Sunday?”

“That’s just a guess?”

“Of course! I swear to God! She wouldn’t have gone up there by herself. It was a beastly time, and even she would have known it was going to rain soon. Somebody must have picked her up as she was walking along, after I gave her the boot.” Fitzgerald fingered the sketches of Rosie Marler. “Poor beast,” he said. “Wish I’d been more of a gentleman–she might be alive, and I wouldn’t be entertaining policemen. Still, she was a mess. Couldn’t shut up or sit still for a second.”

They went back into the central room of the apartment. Michael Fitzgerald paced in suppressed fury.

“Look here, officer. How much trouble am I in?”

“Hard for me to say. At the moment, not too much. Probably none, if you’ve been telling the truth–though it’s a pity you have no witnesses.”

“Awful lot of people around here. Maybe someone saw her go. All these windows overlook the road, and people do get up early and peer out, I have no doubt. She made that bit of ruckus.”

“We’ll do our job, Mr. Fitzgerald.”

“I’ll be grateful. Very.”

They ended the interview on an easy note, and the policeman left. Two doors away, he knocked at Alice Perrin’s apartment, but there was no answer. He had his notes, and he went away thinking of rainstorms and quilts, wet and dry.

His appointment with Larry Dykstra, the association attorney, came next. This did not take long and was unproductive–Mr. Dykstra was candor itself. He recalled Sunday perfectly; he had been out walking his dog, as usual, for a good part of the afternoon. He was retired and spent a lot of time outside with the dog, an elderly setter whose filmy eyes rested on Mullen without either criticism or interest. Mr. Dykstra had not gone up the hill; with knees like his, he kept to the level. He had seen people coming and going but had not noticed anything out of the way and could not recall who was out and about. He wondered what the trouble was, of course. Mullen gave him a brief sketch, and he deplored it with obvious sincerity. If anything came back to him, he would be in touch. Mullen thanked him and got on with canvassing of the neighbors, a job at which Officer Chen was already at work.

“We’re not in the Iron Triangle any more, Toto,” Chen had said, referring to the desperate neighborhood in which they most often worked.

Mullen had watched Chen taking in the swept roads and paths, the hill-sheltered and light-dappled buildings, the agreeable and varied landscaping. Because he knew that much grim Chinese experience lay close to the surface of his colleague’s mind, he felt at a loss to react to the pleasantry with more than a smile. The popular reference interested him, coming from the serious, self-contained Chen. The odd instant passed, and they had judged it physically possible that the whole complex could have overlooked some part of Rosie Marler’s early morning ejection by the irritated Fitzgerald.

They both hit pay-dirt right away. Arnold Chen spoke with the pleasant young woman who lived above Fitzgerald, Caroline Sparv. She had been up early because of a sick cat; she had heard Fitzgerald’s door bang, heard someone pound on it and demand to be let in. It had struck her, because never before had any such disturbance come from Mr. Fitzgerald’s apartment. She had been frankly curious and had opened her door a crack, just in time to hear Mr. Fitzgerald tell the woman to go away. She had heard her go, and even glimpsed her running somewhat unsteadily down the drive moments later, but it had been too dark to know what sort of person she was or any details about her–just a vague impression of a small person, moving awkwardly. She put the time at “a little after six.”

Aaron Mullen happened onto an elderly insomniac in the next building who had been waiting for morning by staring out his solarium window. He had been rather surprised to see a young-looking girl running down the road from the south-east part of the complex. He had watched her, the only moving thing in the dull morning, until she disappeared into the gloom, slowing down as she came to the public street and turning north-east, as she would if she were going to town. Mr. Baird put the time at “soon after six.” He had seen no one else, not a car, no details. It had seemed odd to him, but this was a safe enough neighborhood, and people did go running and walking early, so he had suppressed any slight uneasiness. There were so many people in the condominiums, and a lot of coming and going, so it was impossible to say whether she was a resident or not; he felt he had never seen her before, but from the third floor, in that light, and with his aging eyesight, he could not be sure of much. A dark-haired girl, wearing a dark coat. Mullen thanked him and trudged away to Fitzgerald’s building.

“Just a quick question,” he said when the artist answered his knock.


“Rosie Marler’s coat?”

He thought a moment. “It was navy. A trench coat, but not really long.”

“Anything else about her clothes you can tell me?”

Fitzgerald smiled. “I know–I’ve had my quick question,” the policeman apologized.

“Not my best field. But I remember plain running shoes, nondescript and dirty, and tight jeans with some kind of decoration around the cuffs–I noticed because I thought it was a little silly, putting glittery stuff on jeans. A high-necked jersey, long-sleeved, dull crimson.”

“No logos or anything?”

“I don’t think so.”

“And the ‘glittery stuff’?”

“It was beading, actually. Metallic beads and fringe. Like this.”

He produced a small sketch-pad and drew a band of delicate arabesques, then added overlapping loops.

“Distinctive. Silver and gold and scarlet beads.”

Mullen took the sketch and thanked him gravely. “My first Fitzgerald,” he said. “It ought to be signed and dated.”

The artist, with a solemn glance, added his pencilled name and the date; they parted amicably.

No such garments as Fitzgerald had described had been found anywhere near the body–no garments of any sort, in fact. Mullen wearily supposed, as he drove past the slopes of the headland back toward town and his office, that they would have to search the whole area. He swore briefly as his left tire crossed a large and jagged chuckhole. With the infrastructure failing all over, watching the roads was one more of the many tiresome tasks of daily life.

Rosie Marler’s death did not make news. It might have, from any one of several “angles,” but somehow it did not. Alice was not sorry for that. Her nerves, in fact, were becoming worse as time passed, and not because of any fear of a lurking criminal in the neighborhood. She felt an odd security about that–whoever had killed Rosie had killed her, and had no interest in killing anyone else. She could not have said why she felt this, but it was a conviction. As for feeling so rattled still, she had read somewhere about that–the mind can enlarge upon a bad experience for a long time afterwards, and a physical reaction may set in that was absent at the time of the event. She had, for example, spent a great deal of time wondering if she would ever be able to climb that steep path and walk about on the ridge again–even in bright weather, even with a companion. She counseled herself to try it as one might get back behind the wheel of a car after a driving accident, but she could see herself trembling her way uphill and shying at every shadow. For the time being, she would stick to the level and walk in the parks and on the beaches.

On Saturday it was clear and breezy, typically fine. Her chores finished and no social engagements until much later, Alice walked halfway to the tunnel, past the first of the beaches and part of the park. There were people about, and traffic; it was a busy weekend scene such as people had enjoyed there countless times. Runners and joggers and bikers were in good supply for the time of year, and several young people were skating in one of the emptier parking lots. A park truck, sour-apple green, straddled the sidewalk while the uniformed worker did something mysterious to a gate. Alice gazed briefly to the west, admired the bay’s brilliant, shadow-dappled surface, and felt suddenly tired and alone. She turned back.

By the time she had got to the beach, however, she had talked herself out of her doldrums–it wouldn’t do to be in a bad mood for the Ritchies’ dinner party. Just to make sure that all the cobwebs–in which were tangled her loss of Arthur, the enervating niceness of her daily life and her job, this late murder of a pathetic woman–were blown away, she decided to take a turn or two on the sand.

It wasn’t very nice sand, nor very clean. The semi-circle of beach was pebbly and strewn with wood and plastic debris. Seaweed in dark masses sent up its rank salt smell. Broken glass glinted here and there, especially where the little waves broke. A plastic shoe rocked back and forth in the shifting waves. A gull swooped low, and a tug came by, its noise and the smell of its fuel carried shoreward on the steady breeze. Alice found it all bracing–it added up for her in a way that more pleasing surroundings did not always. She gazed at the bulk of Angel Island with all her usual affection, admired the lines of the headlands against the afternoon sky, then fell to scrutinizing the stones and broken shells and shards at the water’s edge. She sometimes took such bits home to put around potted plants.

She turned over with her shoe a bit of black plastic that was stuck in the sand and was surprised at the resistance; she gave it another nudge, and the edge of the plastic appeared, with something shining in it. How odd–it was nothing like the usual broken glass. She used her foot still, then crouched down to look at what was revealed. Too odd for words, and too frightening, too: It was one leg of a pair of pants, edged in a bright, elaborate fringe of beadwork. She tugged further at the plastic, and the bag came away from the sand, torn, with the pants tangled in it.

There was no question in Alice’s mind but that this garment had belonged to Rosie Marler. It was her size, her style, and she had been found without clothes except an anonymous T-shirt. The only question was how to cope with her discovery.

After a few moments’ thought, she moved the pants and the torn plastic above the tide-line and covered everything with what she hoped was a random assemblage of driftwood–there was no lack of old boards. She climbed up the crumbling incline from the shore to the park. As she sprinted across the lawn, she was irritated at herself for having come out only with her key and no money–at the park lavatory there was a telephone she could have used. A park worker, hefting a garbage can, cast her a curious look as she hurried by, making her wonder if her face showed her upset. It would take her ten minutes to get home.

She was just making breathless speed toward her door when Larry Dykstra appeared at her side.

“Oh, hello, Larry,” she said, about to hurry on.

“I hear you’ve been involved with the police over this body that was found up the hill,” he said.

“Well, yes.”

She felt his solemn eyes on her and wanted very much to get away, to call the Inspector, to have this further responsibility taken away from her. She wanted to get on with the nice little life she had been deploring so recently for its sweet regularity.

"So was I. Inspector Mullen made me a visit and asked about my whereabouts and so on. And did I have a dark green van–no. Or know who does–no. Or seen one parked along the road–no. All this is because, Alice?”

“Yes, I suppose it is because. I mentioned to him that I’d seen you on Sunday afternoon, when I came down from my walk, after I’d seen–what I saw, what turned out to be the body. As for the van, who knows?”

“No harm in being out, is there?”

“Of course not, Larry.”

She looked at him hard, and he smiled.

“You were part of the landscape, that’s all. I simply mentioned that, and there’s nothing to worry about....”

“You might have something to worry about, yourself, being up on the hill. As we know.”

“So I might,” Alice said. “Forgive me, but I’ve got to do an errand just now.”

“See you, Alice.”

She hurried into her apartment, not a little puzzled by the attorney’s manner. She wanted to protest that an aging widow is an unusual suspect in the murder of an artist’s model and junkie. Shaking her head at how little, it seemed, she knew these people among whom she lived, she dismissed him and his somewhat melodramatic menace. What, after all, had he been reading or watching on TV? Or had he simply meant something else, that she was in danger herself? That, too, was melodramatic–she hoped. She telephoned Mullen and told him of her find of the beaded pants and her disposition of them. He thanked her and asked her to meet him at the beach in twenty minutes. She glanced at her watch–four thirty. There was time; she decided she would drive, however. It worried her a little, some minutes later, to pass Larry Dykstra in front of the building. They exchanged their usual brief wave. Business as usual, she thought; and who are we and what are we to one another?

She parked at the beach and waited, bemused to see the green park truck pass by and head straight for one of the larger potholes, rattling and jouncing across the jagged patch. Inspector Mullen’s unmarked car pulled up seconds later. Their purposeful progress took them over the rough, flat grass to the short drop that led to the beach. Alice lifted a hand to point to the jumble of boards she had arranged over the pants and the plastic bag, but they turned to stare briefly at one another instead of moving on.

For it was obvious that someone had torn up her improvised hiding place and taken the evidence. Mullen did not even bother to ask Alice if she were sure of the place; the beach was small, perhaps fifteen yards, bounded on one end by six feet of tumbled boulders and on the other by ten sheer feet of riprap. The driftwood had been flung aside from a depression of damp sand.

“Was anybody around to see what you were doing?” he asked at last.

She shook her head. “I wasn’t aware of anyone. But someone must have seen me. If you go down there, you’ll see how sheltered it is–or seems, at least, when you’re there.”

He nodded.

“No one that you can recall, though?”

She scanned the open landscape, the overlooking cliffs across the road, the derelict piers, as if to bring back the scene as it was only an hour or so before.

“There could have been someone. There was a park worker up here when I left. There were a few kids over on the pier. Maybe a person walking along the road. But when I came this way just now, I passed Larry Dykstra, the attorney from the complex, walking along. Still, he wasn’t carrying anything....”

She turned to him, and he waited, understanding that something had come to her.

“Forget that last,” she said.

They moved back toward the parking lot.

“You’ve got an idea?” he prompted at last.

The afternoon wind was tuning up. A slight warmth rose from the asphalt, grateful to them both. He handed her a small piece of paper from his pocket book, and she studied it with interest.

“Yes,” she said, handing it back. “Gold and silver and dark red. Fringing some petite jeans.”

It was Michael Fitzgerald’s sketch.

“I’d be interested to know where you came by that,” she said.

He gave a short laugh. “A cop’s first try at connoisseurship, I suppose,” he said. “I asked Fitzgerald to do it for me, from memory.”

She shook her head. “No. Not Michael Fitzgerald,” she said. “I’d bet my life.” She paused. “‘When you know how, you know who.’”

He raised his brows.

“A quotation. Lord Peter Wimsey says it in one of the Dorothy L. Sayers stories.”

“Sorry. I’m not one for fiction–though I seem to recall some TV series?”

“Yes. Well enough done, too. I don’t imagine such things mean much to someone like you, though–no relation to your reality.”

“No. That might be the appeal. But I don’t have much time for escapes.”

“Ah,” she said, shaking her head, and they shared a smile.

She turned out of the parking lot and walked a few yards northward. She gestured up toward the fire road. Beyond the closed gate, it rose in a dark and rutted curve to the ridge, muddy here and there still, then disappeared behind scrub oak and bay.

“Those park trucks. Four-wheel drive, aren’t they?”

Instantly he saw what she meant, but they stood in silence for some moments.

“And the worker you saw when you were here?”

“He was loading a trash can onto a truck. He glanced at me. I just hurried on, wanting to get through to you. I think it was the same one who passed by again just as you drove up, too.”

The Inspector nodded. “It’s a direction for us,” he said.

Back home, she hurried to get ready for the evening at the Ritchies’.

Inspector Mullen put in some time on the routine of tracing park workers; he was irritated with himself for not knowing more about the organization and its protocols. Still, it was not long before he had a likely name–Ray Sanches–and some details. No one else had been on duty at the relevant time, and Sanches had been on this afternoon as well. He was a newcomer, still on probation, not a skilled park workman but seemingly competent. Nothing was known against him by the park brass. He was said to live alone in a bedroom community some thirty miles farther along the bay shore. Mullen sent two men out to bring him in for questioning. The Department of Motor Vehicles provided a license number for a five-year-old Saturn, white, and Mullen checked with the Highway Patrol. Mullen steeled himself against a growing confidence that might, not just superstitiously but practically, be dangerous: so easy to let something get past if you see yourself on the right track, he knew.

When ten o’clock passed with no developments, any confidence that had lurked in Mullen’s mind gave way to misgivings. He enlarged the net. One small piece of information came his way and had a chilling effect on him: apparently there was a very large image of the Virgen de Guadalupe on the rear window of the Saturn.

The talk at the Ritchies’ had been stimulating, and for that very reason Alice left early. She always found it difficult to come down after pleasing social events, and hoped for a quiet hour or two to compose herself before sleep. There had been more people than usual, and the rapid conversation had ranged in many directions, but always she had been conscious of keeping back her own unfinished drama.

Flora Ritchie was the sister of Morgan Evers, and they had met in Italy on Alice and Arthur’s first visit to her boss there. Others in the party were new to Alice, but several of them knew Morgan, and almost all of them were sentimentally disposed to adore Italy as she did. Opera had succeeded literature and travel and architecture, then came excursions into football and soccer, and finally some politics, and then wine–the rival merits of Brunello and Rosso di Montalcino came up. The preferences were markedly indicative, Alice had thought. The fashionable young couple of attorneys, parents of an infant named Ashton, preferred the Rosso, Robert Ritchie defended the Brunello–always provided that it was adequately aged. The young couple kept on looking superior, and the male parent of Ashton added that the French had seen the light of late and were making their wine far more approachable, like the Rosso. Robert did not comment further, but, Alice noticed, he paid little attention to the couple thereafter. Since her own preference was for crusty people and austere wine, Alice approved.

What if they had known what was behind her reserve? Nothing, probably; indifference rather than shock, perhaps some moralizing. She considered what she knew of the Berkeley point of view and wondered whom they would see as victim. Where would she herself see guilt?

The little silver car ran easily down the steeps toward the Bay. In the clear, starry night, the spangles of the vast urban accretions around San Francisco Bay, as always, outshone the stars. She would have been totally content, she thought, if only Arthur had been beside her to share the sight and the recollections. What a wonderful place, but how divided, too. The prosperous bustled about their fine-tuned consumption, as at the Ritchies’, and the poor bustled about survival. Nothing much to be done. She shrugged off this mood to consider some questions of her work at Folium, and soon she was through the tunnel and close to home. Still, a funny old tune ran in her head, “She is more to be pitied than censured, she is more to be helped than despised....”

As the car curved into the driveway and the electric doors opened before her, Alice was brought back to the present by a slight shadowy movement half-caught in her rear-view mirror; she paused and looked carefully: nothing there. She eased the car forward into her space, switched off the ignition, and reached for her handbag. She glanced around before getting out, but the garage seemed as solemn and silent as always.

Her key was in the door lock when her senses became fully aroused to the sound of soft shoes on cement, some faint masculine perfume, and then, too late for action, a hand over her mouth and a strong pull of her body away from the car.

She could not see him, but she struggled. He spoke in her ear.

“How come you let her out like that?”

The voice was soft, not unpleasant, with a little quaver and the ghost of an accent.

The hand on her mouth relaxed a little, and she could turn enough almost to see him. He was small, shorter than herself, wiry, dressed in dark clothes.

“That girl–she crazy. How come you don’t bring her up better?”

Alice breathed hard, thinking wildly, then muttered. “Bring her up? I hardly even knew her.”

He shoved her rather hard.

“You know her. Her mother, I know you her mother. Now I have bad dreams forever, now I go to Hell because of her. You should bring her up better, teach her something, to be modest.”

They were face to face now, and he had let her go. She could see that he was in agony, that he was about to break down. She was trembling, but there was a core of her that was not afraid.

“I’m not her mother. She was a lost soul.”

“Look at you!” he screamed, and held her arms hard. “You look at you! Just like her! I know she your girl. You lookin’ for her, you after her, you worried for her.”

Alice shook her head in disbelief and sorrow.

“No,” she said. “No. You are quite wrong. I’m sorry, sorry for you. But she was not my daughter.”

After one long look at her serious face, the young man began to sob, letting her go and twisting around in a way that wrung her heart. She touched him gently on the shoulder.

“What is your name?”

“I am Ray. Raimondo, they call me Ray.”

“It will be all right, Ray. There’s help for you, don’t worry.”

He beat his head with his hand. “No,” he screamed. “After that, not even the Virgin herself will help me, my mother will not help me, my father will look at me like a snake.”

The door from the building opened, and Alice looked across to see Aaron Mullen moving toward them, calm and purposeful, followed by three uniformed officers. She put her hand on Ray’s arm again.

“It’s over now,” she said. “No one will hurt you, and pretty soon you will be able to forget it all. You have to tell them all the truth, though, everything. More than you told me. I’m sorry.”

He submitted without a word, and the officers walked him to a patrol car waiting just outside the garage gate. Alice and Inspector Mullen followed them, watched the white car with its complicated electronic gear and lights hurry of into the soft night.

“His Saturn’s up in the outside lot. I’ll get somebody to tow it away when I can. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to let him get so far, but he slipped into the bushes and down here. Bad timing all around. You weren’t hurt?”

“No, just shaken.” She paused. “He seemed to think I was Rosie Marler’s mother. He said there was a resemblance.”

He shook his head. “I can’t see it,” he said. “The poor guy’s beside himself.”


He put a steadying hand under her elbow and they moved toward the garage elevators.

“I don’t want to forget Rosie, though,” Alice said. “She’s been a wasted creature for years now, but she’s no more to blame....” That song! She shook her head at the vagaries of her own mind. “Only a lassie who ventured, on life’s stormy paths ill-advised....” Dear God.


They had reached her door and stood looking at one another, calm now but grim.

“I think I’ll have a whisky and get maudlin about the human condition. Care to join me?”

He glanced at his watch.

“Thanks. Just one for me.”

“Maybe I’ll skip the maudlin bit.”

“Who knows? We might both need a good cry.”

She laughed, however, and invited him to sit while she got glasses and whisky. That she was horribly tired came to her as she handed him his drink, and a glance at his face told her that he was drained and weary too.

“You might like to know that all the while we were looking for Sanches up around Pinole and Hercules, he was just driving around here and sitting in his car. Your security man thought something was funny when he drove into the parking lot and sat, and he called us.”

“Good for Ricky.”

“He’s a new guy at the park.”

“I guessed as much, because I see the workers when I walk.”

“I suppose you do.”

The silence that fell between them was easy enough, but Mullen finished his drink and rose to go.

“Be seeing you, I guess,” Alice said.

“In court,” he laughed. “Yes. Lots more to do, in fact. By the way, we found some of those little beads in the park truck. And hair. Have to find that coat, and the rest.”

They exchanged a long look from beneath their shared weariness, and a quick handshake.

“Aren’t you an odd sort of policeman, for this difficult part of the world?” she asked, holding open the door.

“Native of the place,” he said. “Grew up just the other side of your tunnel.”

His face set to acknowledge the grimness that lay beyond their territory, and was his sphere of work; but they understood one another. “It’s a long story.”

“So many are,” she laughed. “Perhaps I’ll hear some of it another time.”

He nodded, but almost did not acknowledge her polite comment; they were getting beyond tiredness, he thought, slipping toward stolidity; he had to go. “Thought I’d see what I could do,”
he added, though he knew she did not need his vague explanatory reference to early-day idealism.

“Ah. Well. Good for you. And thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

It was of all there was to do, for everyone, and of new beginnings, that Alice was thinking when she left for the office next morning, after a wakeful night. She might have stayed at home, tired as she was, but it seemed to her that work and routine would be healing. The beauty of getting out in the world, of taking part–as Rosie Marler would never do again, as Ray Sanches would never do again as he had once done.

Habitual motions took her out of the garage and into the fine light of a glorious wintry morning once more. She drove along, awake to everything, grateful for mercies small and large. She saw that some quick, mysterious powers-that-be had come by and filled in the chuckholes–patchily, it was true, and incompletely. How things got done! Wonderful. Still, the rain was far from over for the year, and drivers would be zigging and zagging around those same old hazards before the month was out.

BIO: Ann is a Bay Area native and long-time devotee of the mystery genre. Joe D'Ambnrosio of Scottsdale has previously published her LX Commute: My Sentence, a memoir of getting around in the Bay Area; and a story on disc with book included, Through A Glass. She now at work on A Commonplace Book of Tea, also to be published by Studio D'Ambrosio.