PAN Y LECHE (Bread and Milk) by Rose Contreras

They had retreated to opposite sides of the big house at the worst of
their fighting, and now it appeared they would be at opposite poles
forever. She was afraid to face him, afraid of more angry words, more of
the same hurt. She was even more terrified still of what would happen if
she didn’t do something to breach the distance between them. The
knowledge that their marriage was ending had not been instantaneous, but
instead was a feverish heat that had increased with every passing day of
their standoff. At last it had reached the critical point necessary to
melt away her pride. This feverish heat now settled deep in the pit of
her stomach, causing her to feel like doubling over, not in pain, but
with anxiety.

She didn’t bother with finding her slippers now. She took the short
staircase that led directly to the kitchen, afraid that the worst
deadline of her life had passed her by. The kitchen was so clean. They
never used it anymore. Further dread filled her when she realized that
she couldn’t even remember the last time she had been to the grocery
store. There was no real food in the pantry. She felt trapped by her own
failing, as though she had crossed a finish line in a race that had long
ago ended. She let herself down into the corner booth in the kitchen
that she had argued so valiantly for. She felt no victory as she sank
into the plush upholstery. Her head lowered slowly into the recess of
her arms and she began to cry. She cried for a long time, never lifting
her head from her arms on the table, mourning what was surely lost, and
angry that she had so readily given it up.

The back door opened abruptly and she jerked toward it in alarm. He
walked in carrying a plastic sack, the night sky diminishing as he
closed the door behind him. He walked across the long kitchen and met
her at the table. She stood and faced him, and their eyes locked, even
as he laid down the plastic sack.

“You need to blow your nose.” He reached for the paper towels and
handed her one. She turned her face away momentarily, a little ashamed
of her appearance. She took a deep breath and composed herself as best
she could.  Holding her breath, she turned back to look at him, and he
handed her the plastic sack. She looked into the sack, beginning to cry
again, but beginning to smile and to breathe again too.

She threw her arms around him and kissed him, laughing and crying,
clutching the bag in her hands like a lifeline, feeling his arms
encircling her in return.

“Hey, you’re squashing the bread!” he yelled, laughing and squeezing
her as hard as he could. He pulled away long enough to take the bag of
bread and milk from her hands and lay them on the table.

Rose Contreras lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband and two
kids.  Her favorite online hangouts are her Crimespace page
(http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/racontreras) and her MySpace page
(http://www.myspace.com/chachalinda6984).

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Stumpy’s Revenge by Stephen Allan

Hookers cost more when you don’t have any arms or legs, so it’s a good thing I took out that insurance policy on my late wife.  It allows me to live by rather extravagant means: a 24-hour nurse, unlimited supply of Johnny Walker Blue, a gorgeous patio and pool, lots of shrimp cocktail, and hookers by the handful…if I had hands. If you’re forced to live the rest of your days as a stump, it’s the way to go.       You wouldn’t think whores would be all that picky about their Johns (plenty have turned me down), but Mandy was different. She did her job like a real professional; always making sure I was satisfied; which made the blackmail all the more disappointing.

      Her pimp, Vinnie, videotaped me with Mandy adnd sent a copy to the house with a note asking for $50,000. It wasn’t the best amateur porn. My humping looks like a fish flopping out of water – not a pretty sight.  A security man I knew said it was a common scheme: Johns will cough up serious dough so their family won’t know they pay for sex. The trouble with Vinnie’s threat was I didn’t have any family.

      However, I contacted my blackmailer and told him to come to the house for the payoff. When Vinnie arrived, my full-time nurse Freddie showed him to the patio where I was positioned under an umbrella next to the pool. My mini-fridge where I keep snacks was beside me. I have it close because I like to feed myself. I use a mechanical arm that I control with my tongue. I told Vinnie to be careful of the mini-fridge’s extension cord, which was frayed toward the end.

      “I’m glad we can come to an understanding here,” Vinnie said as he stepped over the cord and sat down in a chair next to me. He was a pudgy man in black leather; a real mouth-breather. “I think this will be, like, beneficial for everyone.”

      “Please, have a drink,” I said, motioning my head toward a pitcher of Sangria.

      Vinnie grunted something and helped himself. It was gone in two gulps. He poured another glass without my offering more.

      “I don’t want this video out and you don’t want this video out,” Vinnie said. “So, you got the cash or what?”

      “Was Mandy part of this?” I asked.

      “Well, yeah, she’s the one on top of you in the movie.”

      “Is she in on the blackmail?”

      “Nah, she don’t know nothing. I keep my girls outta the loop, so I don’t have to pay them extra.”

      “I’m curious,” I said. “How much of a cut do you get of Mandy’s money?”

      “Half,” Vinnie said and had another glass of Sangria.

      “You brought the tape?” I asked.

      Vinnie smiled and held up a manila folder. There was a bulge the size of a videocassette in the middle.

      “This is it,” Vinnie said. “Now, show me the cash.”

      I moved my mechanical arm with my tongue and grabbed a leather satchel sitting beside me. The arm hooked the bag and I swung it over the pool and dropped it into the water.

      “Oh, I’m terribly sorry about that,” I said. “Just reach into the water there and get it. I’d get up myself, but…”

      Vinnie said something about what a motherfucker I was and kneeled at the edge of the pool. When he stretched out for the bag, I swung the mechanical arm around and pushed him in.

      “What the fuck?” Vinnie said when he came back up.

      “Sorry about that,” I said. “But I think this will be, like, beneficial for everyone.”

      I used the arm to push the mini-fridge with its frayed extension cord into the water. Vinnie stiffened up and I thought I could smell something cooking. The electricity shut off after a minute and Vinnie’s dead body just bobbed in the water. I watched him for a while, and then used the voice-activated phone to call Mandy.

      When she answered I said, “If you come over, I can give you double your normal take home. Vinnie won’t be a problem for you anymore.”

      She agreed. 
 

 Stephen Allan is a sick individual who has been successful (so far) at avoiding the loony bin, mainly due to his ability to act normal around the authorities. His odd sensibilities are on display at www. Noirwriter.blogspot.com. This is Stumpy’s second outing; his first appearance was in FLASHING IN THE GUTTERS

Johnny Jinx by Patricia Abbott

“So your name’s Johnny Jinx?” Sergeant Duffy asked. “Jinx with an x. Right?”

“That’s what people call me. People in baseball, that is.” Johnny Jinx’s chest puffed up. 

He was sitting at Detroit Police Headquarter, wearing an official Detroit Tigers baseball uniform and holding the regulation cap in his hands. He was short, barely 5’5 and probably didn’t weigh more than 135. He looked like the kind of guy who’d heard some pretty bad names in the schoolyard. Worse names than Johnny Jinx.

“We brought in the guy you I.D.” The sergeant nodded toward a beefy, balding guy in the holding cell. “He claims it got his goat that you had that name sewn onto the back of your shirt. Says that black eye you’re sporting was provoked.” 

Sergeant Duffy got up slowly and walked around to the back of Johnny Jinx’s chair. The shirt read Johnny Jinx. He jabbed his finger over the “I” as if to dot it. 

Jinx winced. “I only took the shirt to a seamstress after fans began to call me that.” 

“A witness says it started on the radio,” the Sergeant said. “I have a copy of the show in question from Tiger Talk. August 12, 2006.” 

He picked the document up and began thumbing through it. “Here we go.” He adjusted his glasses. “A caller from Taylor told the host you announced you’d been to twelve games and hadn’t seen the Tigers win once. Everyone in the bleachers heard you say it.” 

“So? It’s the truth.”

Sergeant Duffy looked up. “Not one win during the best season since ’84?” he asked. 

Jinx shook his head. 

“The caller claims you bragged about being a jinx. Were you trying to start trouble, Mr. Jinx?”

“It didn’t seem fair—with the Tigers winning so many games.” 

“Getting famous for being a jinx made life better, huh? So when did the name first come into play?”

“The same night. This joker—that guy from Taylor said— ‘So what does that make you then— Johnny Jinx?’ Everyone in the stands laughed.” 

“The guy from Taylor says you laughed too and said, “That’s me, alright. Johnny Jinx.”

“I may have said that. It was nice having people know my name.” 

“So how many more losses did you sit through, Mr. Jinx? Didn’t it ever occur to you to stay home? We’re into September, 2006 by now, right?”

“Another five,” Johnny said. “In the regular season, that is. People were starting to boo me instead of the team. I tried sitting in the boxes but people knew me there too. Even  the men’s room was out. Seventeen losses by then,” he repeated, “and I’m not counting the playoffs.”

“Well, let’s count them now. Let’s talk about New York.”

“I was visiting my sister in Astoria. She happened to have an extra ticket to the division series.” 

The sergeant narrowed his eyes. Jinx reached into a back pocket for his regulation handkerchief and wiped his upper lip. “Alright, alright, I made her buy it. Cost me five hundred bucks.”

“And the Tigers lost, right?” Duffy’s voice was a mere whisper in the noisy station. 

“Sure, sure, but I stayed away after that. Got threatening calls so I holed up. Detroit lost on their own in the Series. Nothing to do with me.” 

“Did you watch the Series on the tube?”

“Yeah, but…” 

The sergeant shook his head. “Okay, so now it’s 2007 and they won’t let you into the ballpark. Wah! Wah!” He said the words like a crybaby. 

Johnny nodded. “They have my picture at every entrance. I can’t even get out of my car. That guy over there— ” he motioned toward the beefy guy, “sits outside my house in his ’78 Torino. Last night I got home and the set was gone. The radio, too.” He looked around and whispered, “I’m talking slashed tires.”

The Sergeant looked at the guy in the holding cell and nodded. “I’ll put a cop outside your house tonight, Mr. Jinx.”

“The team’s in Cleveland.” 

Sergeant Duffy shrugged. “Might as well start the detail.”

“No more games for me, huh?”

“It’s called ‘taking one for the team?’”

Closing Time by Julie Wright

Half-eleven on a Friday night and I’m at the window watching out for him. Twenty-four hour opening hasn’t hit the pubs round here, they’re old men’s pubs mostly, still stop serving at eleven. He’ll have been tossed out of the Duke at about quarter past. Billy reckons that gives folk long enough to drink up; if they can’t drink a pint between last orders and closing time, they should have got a half, and if they can’t drink a half, they should have stopped at home. Time it takes him to stagger to Kebab Korner and back with his supper, he should be coming up the street any minute now.

 

He’ll be in a right state, he’s been out all day. Leastways, there was no sign of him when I was home at dinner. I ate me pastie what I got from Greggs then picked up after him, put his empties and the crisp packets and that in the bin. After that, I hoovered round then grabbed me PE kit and legged it back to school. He’s a lazy bastard, he never does nowt. That’s why me mam went off with that bloke from Cash Converters.

 

It looks cold out. Coming up to the May bank holiday and lovely through the day with that global warming they keep moaning about. I think it’s a good thing, me, if it lifts the temperature. Trust the folk who can afford to go somewhere sunny to begrudge the rest of us a few rays. Cold at night, though, especially if there’s no cloud, and it’s clear as anything tonight. Big, fat moon like a spotlight in the sky. I’ll clock him no bother under that.

 

I check me watch. Here he comes, the old fucker! I can see him turning into the street, doing that pissed bloke walk. Getting round the corner he looks like a pony doing sums, counting the answer out with his hoof. One, two, three, stagger and turn, then he’s on the home straight, looking like a lardy carthorse attempting dressage. He’s in an even worse state than usual. I finger the bruise on my cheek then clench my fists. I hope he’s not in a fighting mood.

 

I nip down to the kitchen when I hear him fumbling with his key, trying to get it into the keyhole. If Dosser was with him, he’d do his shit joke about how they should put a bit of fur round it, get it in first time every time then, ha bloody ha. The door swings open and he crashes into the house, bounces off the wall, gets his feet in a knot and lands on the floor in a heap, whump, the breath knocked out of him.

 

I run upstairs. He’s still on the deck, kind of gurgling in his throat when I get back. I shut the front door, don’t want the neighbours to see, then come back and stare down at him. He looks pathetic. Lank hair, stubbly chin, trousers peppered with fag burns, shirt collar frayed and gray. He’s rolled onto his back, his parcel of chips, fried rice and curry sauce just out of reach, but it hasn’t burst, thank Christ. I stand next to him, over him, clutching the pillow with both hands, marvelling at the contrast between the clean white linen and the grubby old man. He breathes noisily, sucking air in through his mouth, spit bubble in the corner ballooning every time he exhales. His teeth are brown and pitted and his breath would shame a camel. He’s a fucking health hazard. I stoop, the pillow moving swiftly toward his face, then I take a handful of his hair and raise his head high enough to slip it underneath. I roll him onto his side so he doesn’t choke on his sick, then, as he starts snoring, chuck a blanket over him. He looks so sad and old, worn out and fucked up. Twat packs a canny punch, mind. But not tonight. I kiss him on the cheek then go on up to bed. Whatever else he is, he’s still me dad.

Julie Wright lives by the seaside in the north east of England and hangs out on Crimespace http://crimespace.ning.com/profile/Julielew when she’s supposed to be writing.

Perfection by Sandra Seamans

Pip knelt down in the darkness, watching for the woman who lived on the other side of the white picket fence. The woman’s name was Sylvia and she was the embodiment of perfection.

How Pip envied her. The perfectly colored skin, silky blonde hair that swished around her waist when she moved and not a pound out of place on her perfectly toned body. Pip felt like a fat frump whenever she saw Sylvia, hating the roundness of her own face and body, the kink of her black hair. Sylvia was everything Pip wanted to be and could never be.

Pip watched Sylvia slip out of the house, night after warm, summery, night. She loved how the moonlight played across the naked curves of Sylvia’s body. How that mass of blond hair shimmered around her body, as if to embrace the purity of Sylvia as she took her midnight swim. Pip glanced at her watch, Sylvia was late tonight.

Pip had heard the screaming, the sound of smashing china, the thud. Sylvia’s husband must have come home. The husband who was on more intimate terms with his frequent flier miles than his wife. He spent his working life checking out exotic locations for his travel agency, returning home to Sylvia after weeks in the perfumed sunshine of far away islands. Places he never took Sylvia. But she only cried when he came home.

Pip watched as Sylvia slipped out of the house, gliding silently across the patio toward the edge of the pool. She watched as Sylvia stripped the designer clothes from her body, her naked perfection drenched in moonlight. Pip sighed at the sight of such celestial beauty. Her sigh turned to screams, as Sylvia put a gun to her head and splattered her brains across the moonlit pool.

The Celery Conclusion by Rose Contreras

It really wasn’t about the celery, Roger thought as he packed his bags. The celery merely proved his point. She put it in everything, even in the omelets. No matter how many times he asked her to stop using it, she kept on. Celery was the flavor of their life together, and as he packed his bags he saw a celery haze in the air that pervaded their home.
It really was amazing that they lasted as long as they did. Their life together had never really jelled despite seven years of marriage. It was not that they had stopped getting along. They still held the same views about life, money, politics. They were both straightforward people, no nonsense, and cut to the chase. Their life was vastly organized and quite comfortable to any outsider looking in, but even after their orderly marriage, they continued to build their lives apart from each other. Their individual lives had never intertwined, the edges of their being remaining solid and independent, with no blending or blurring of spirit over time. They remained two hard, straight stalks growing upward and never touching in the middle. When Roger contemplated their future together, he saw more of the same. Year upon year of the same life. Growing straight, upright, and apart. Rigid as the celery he hated so much.

Roger waited for a Friday evening to tell her he was moving out. There were never any messes in their life, and it seemed fitting to wrap things up at the end of a week. When he gave her the news he was surprised that she wanted to know why. She wanted a reason and he had difficulty getting the words out. After a very long pause of misty green silence, he plucked an argument out of the air and used the weight of his irritation to sound convincing.
“You put celery in the omelets last Sunday morning, and I realized then that you just don’t care about me and I wonder if you ever did.”
Her face was serene, and she had a tilt to the corner of her mouth that was more of a smile than not. Her calm demeanor irritated him and he was sure he saw a celery green tint to her face, more vivid in her eyes. He must be imagining it.

“I’ve been saying it for seven years how much I hate celery, and you go right on using it. My likes and dislikes just don’t matter to you. I don’t matter to you.” She never flinched, and her voice was even as she explained her rationale.

“Celery lowers the blood pressure Roger. It’s been proven scientifically. It has a chemical called 3nB. The father of a medical student ate a quarter pound of celery a day and his hypertension disappeared.”

“I have no problem with my blood pressure Tina, and neither do you.”
She nodded her head in agreement, and her look turned thoughtful yet distant. He realized she had always been distant, and he had accustomed himself to her crisp rigidity early in their relationship.

” I’m leaving now.” He held his shoulders back resolutely as he turned to leave. He tossed his key on the little entrance way table as he walked quickly to the door. The green mist seemed to fade as he walked closer to the door. He stopped and turned expectantly to face her.

She sounded amused as she spoke. “It really isn’t about the celery, is it Roger?” He knew it was the truth. They would not miss each other, and they would not feel any regret. He stepped out the front door and was immediately invigorated by the sight of the electric blue sky and the warmth of the sunny wind on his face. The celery was a ridiculous conclusion to their relationship, but it was better than none at all.

I am 42, a writer, and a communication specialist. I have been married for 23 years to my high school sweetheart, and I am mom to two wonderful teenagers. I have always loved to write. I am currently working on two books, one nonfiction, working title: Veiled Hearts, and one fiction book tentatively titled The Murder of Saint Charbel. I also expect to graduate in May 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Technical Communication from the University of Texas at San Antonio. You can keep update with my work and me at www.rosecontreras.com.

Old School by Alan Peden

Detective Inspector Frank Miller looked at the knife in the assailant’s hand and thought his whole day was fucked.

‘Put the knife away, Darren.’ Miller kept his eyes on the man, seeing the still form of the cashier lying in the corner. She hadn’t moved since he came in, and Miller hoped she was just unconscious.

‘Shut the fuck up, Miller!’ Darren shouted, lifting the blade. ‘I only allowed you in here because I was getting fucking bored. And because that bitch won’t get up. So don’t push me.’

Miller wished he’d put his name down for the Lothian and Borders Police negotiators course at Tulliallan, their training school.

‘Take it easy, Darren. I’m only here to talk to you, see if we can get this resolved peacefully. There’s no pressure here.’

‘Sure, sure, it’s all fucking talk. Of course there’s pressure here.’

Miller looked around the stock-room, at the cases of booze all stacked up. Cartons of cigarettes had been knocked over in the struggle, presumably when the cashier had fought with Darren.

Her name was Suzanne and she was 23 years old. Not a match for Darren – if that was his real name – who looked to be in his early forties. He was in need of a shave and a haircut.

Miller was standing in his shirtsleeves, rolled up, showing Darren that he wasn’t armed.

‘Do you need anything, Darren? A drink? A smoke, perhaps?’ Christ, Miller felt like a prick when the words came out.

Offer them something to make them comfortable,

the negotiator outside had told him. Let him think you’re his friend. Gain his confidence, but don’t make him think you’re going to try and get the better of him. We have armed response teams for that. ‘Are you trying to be fucking funny, Miller?’ Darren screamed.

Miller wished he smoked, but he didn’t and couldn’t fake it. He was sweating like a bastard now. He kept his hands in view and reached over to a box of Carlsberg Special. He popped the tab and took a swallow. Fucking hell. He passed it over to Darren.

The air was hot in here. There were no windows. There had been years ago, but they’d been boarded up after one too many break-ins. Now there was only a fire door.

Darren threw the can down and the brown liquid rushed out at Miller’s shoes. ‘You think you can make me let her go by giving me a can of Carly Spesh?’

Then Darren did something that took Miller completely by surprise: he laughed. ‘You don’t remember me, do you, Miller?’

Miller edged slightly sideways, trying to get between the girl and Darren. Just like he’d been taught. Darren moved too. Move and counter-move.

‘No, Darren, I don’t remember you. Should I?’

He smiled at Miller. ‘Darren Holmes. 1993. Hibs versus Hearts. I was a casual back then. Loved the fucking fighting, I did. Then some old bastard copper got me round the back of Rose Street Lane, and kicked the shit out of me. A young copper stood and watched. Now it’s payback. It’s why I’m here, why I asked for you.’

Miller remembered now. That’s why they were here; the back of this stock-room opened up into that same lane.

He remembered the old school copper; Bobby something, long-retired, maybe dead now. Bobby had given a man a hiding after he’d caught him. Miller had stood and looked at him, not believing what he was seeing. After watching for a few moments, he ran up to stop it, but the man was unconscious.

‘He fucking fell, okay?’ the old copper said, staring hard at Miller.

Miller had nodded. And now it was back to haunt him.

He looked at the girl. Saw the blood now. No sign of life.

He moved with the stealth of a street fighter, better than Darren ever was. He grabbed the hand holding the knife and head-butted him.

Darren went down hard, his nose broken. He lay unconscious in a heap, and Miller thought he knew how old Bobby felt all those years ago.

Sometimes the old school ways were better after all.