Living in Sin by Bryon Quertermous

“You can’t tell my mother,” he said. “With all of the things you’ve done in your life, this is what you want to hide from your mother?” She asked. 

“I don’t want to deal with the shit if she finds out. Things are just starting to—“ 

“You kill people for a living. The last guy you hit was a father of three.” 

“It’s different. Those are macro level things. That stuff doesn’t affect my day-to-day operation.” 

“It sure as hell affected his day-to-day operation.” 

“You’re a whore,” he said. 

“So tell your mom that.” 

“I’m not going to try and explain the inner workings of my mothers brain for you. Neither of us are angels, we know that, she knows that. But this is something she can wrap her brain around and its something she would jump on to make my life hell.” 

“You. Kill. People…for a living.” 

He groaned and pressed his palms against his head to keep it from exploding. 

“It’s the little things that make people go crazy in life. Nobody can really comprehend that hitmen exist in real life. Nobody’s ever met one that they know of, and it’s an easy thing to blow off as exaggerated if you actually tell someone the truth.” 

“But living with a women—“ 

“Her religion is very important to her, and so is the opinion her church friends have of me.” 

“They don’t mind that you’re a killer, just that you don’t live with me?” 

“They don’t know that I’m a killer. And even if they did, they wouldn’t let themselves believe it.” 

“This is bullshit,” she said. 

“I’m not saying it isn’t. Why can’t you do this for me?” 

“Alright, I’ll make it easy for you. Marry me.” 

“Marry you?” 

“Tonight. We’re in Vegas, I can grab a couple cocktail waitresses for bridesmaids.” 

“You don’t want to get married.” 

“I don’t want to hide our relationship from your mother.” 

“You hide your profession from my mother. And does your mom know what I do for a living?” 

“My mom is too doped up to know what she does for a living. But this is about us.” 

“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” he said. “And I don’t want to get married. I’ve got work to do.” 

“If you aren’t going to tell her, then I will.” 

“Why?” 

“I want to be close to someone’s mother and it’s not going to be my own.” 

“You’re being a bitch.” 

“You’re being an asshole.” 

He was sick of arguing, so he went to the bathroom, grabbed the pistol from behind the toilet, and shot her twice in the mouth and once in the heart. 

“You just don’t get it,” he said.

Bryon Quertermous set this site up with very selfish ambitions. Read the rest of his narcissistic ramblings at http://bryonquertermous.blogspot.com

Wrong Place, Wrong Time by Alan Peden

Fate. Sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens every day in life. You decide to take the later train and it jumps the rails and the next thing, you’re wife gets asked to come down to the morgue to identify your body.

Or you pop out late at night, just down to the 7-Eleven to pick up a six-pack and the guy who just got fired from his job is in there too, only he’s in there with a .38 and an attitude. You hold your hands up just like he says, but he’s not having any witnesses left to put him away. So he pulls the trigger and gets lucky with a head shot after taking down the cashier.

Fate can step out of the bushes and ruin the rest of your life with a flash of steel, or it can play around with the brakes on the tractor-trailer sitting behind you on the Thruway just as the traffic starts to back up.

Liam O’Neil didn’t believe in fate.

Things happened to people because he made them happen. Pure and simple.

* * *

Eve Lennon had two hours and twenty-eight minutes left to live. She had entered the crossroads in her life two weeks ago, and fate had dealt a hand for her. If she had left her office five minutes earlier, she would have been further along the line in Starbucks. Instead, it took her that little bit longer to get served. Five minutes was all it took. She was looking at her watch when she walked out the door and bumped into Liam O’Neil.

It wasn’t fate that led him there that day. He was hunting. And he found his quarry. She apologized. He smiled.

Eve was going to die tonight because of attention to detail, meticulous planning and Liam’s ability to do the job with the minimum of fuss. Nothing to do with fate. She was dead whether she had chosen to drive the Lexus to work or had hopped on the Metro-North Railroad.

* * *

 

He lived in an abandoned house in the woods. It was more of a cabin really, but the track leading to it was overgrown. Nobody had been there in years.

He didn’t bring them in here. He would let them go, then shoot them in the woods. Then hang them up on the frame he used to cut up the deer, then he’d open them up and let what blood was left, drain out. Then he’d place them to be found in the city.

He wanted to get some more practice in before going to abduct Eve.

He put on his camouflage outfit and went into the woods to practice his hunting skills.

* * *

The shot rang out, loud in the quiet of the woods. The bullet found it’s mark. The stamp of running feet on the forest floor. Hands swiping branches out of the way.

This was what it was all about. The hunt. The kill. The feeling of victory.

‘Holy shit,’ Ray said, stopping dead in his tracks.

‘Mother of God,’ Jack said, stopping beside Ray. He took his cell phone out.

Ray put a hand on his arm. ‘This isn’t hunting season, friend: we call this in, we go to jail.’

‘What do we do now?’

‘Let’s take him further into the woods. He won’t be found for a long time. By then, we’ll be long gone.’

They each grabbed an end of Liam O’Neil and lifted him further into the density of the trees. The shot had been a good one, right in the head, and if it had been a deer like he thought, Ray would have been proud.

Liam O’Neil didn’t believe in fate. He would have thought that two hunters out shooting at exactly the same time he was honing his skills was mere coincidence.

Eve Lennon locked the back door to her office and opened the door to her Lexus. Looked at her watch. She had thirty-two years left to live.

Alan is Scottish but lives in New York State. He’s currently working on a crime novel. He has a story coming out in the Summer edition of Demolition magazine

Just My Imagination by Patrick Baggatta

A ‘72 Chevelle SS sputtered around the corner, the flattering street lights doing favors for the tired paint job that used to be called Malsanne Blue. Noah tapped the steering wheel to the beat of his favorite Rolling Stones album, adding a flourish here and there that he truly believed even Charlie Watts would appreciate.

“Shit! It’s time to get Tommy,” he spat, startling Shelia, who’d drifted to another place. This always happened to her on the Upper East Side where they’d been cruising, looking for promising security lapses. The lives of those more fortunate drifting by for hours made her dreamy and melancholy in exactly that order. Noah jammed the gas, the Chevelle coughed and, for the first time all night, they had a destination.

Noah hit the brakes in front of Al’s Custom Body Works. Tommy was waiting outside, leaned against the wall, smoking, chatting-up a young neighborhood girl who looked like she had a shitty go-round waiting for her in this world. Shelia never liked Tommy. There was no reason she should.

“Tommy!” Noah yelled across the passenger seat. “Send the cooze packing, brother! We got work!” The young girl flipped Noah the bird on pure reflex.

“Could you not fucking scream in my ear like that, please,” Shelia yelled back at Noah who was blowing kisses to the young girl as she walked away.

“Get in the back,” Noah replied calmly.

Tommy waited outside looking down at Shelia with the same expectation. Shelia put a cigarette in her mouth, pushed the car lighter in, and waited, making her point. “I said, get in the fucking back.”

“Shit, Noah, can I light my fucking cigarette first?”

Noah took a deep cleansing breath, a technique he’d learned from watching late-night reruns of Kung Fu. Shelia lit her cigarette, made sure to blow the first hot smoke in Noah’s direction, and climbed into the back in an undignified manner.

“Watch the fucking upholstery!”

With the front seat empty, Tommy tried the door. It was locked. Shelia smiled in the darkness of the backseat. The locked door was no mistake.

“Goddamnit, Shelia!” Noah said, as he stretched across the passenger seat to unlock the door. “You’re really pissing on my last nerve tonight.” This had become Noah’s new favorite vulgarity and Shelia couldn’t help but like it just a little. Fortunately, she could pretty much call it out on demand.

“Who we robbing tonight, kids?” Tommy asked as he pulled the door shut and planted his feet on the dashboard.

“Get your fucking feet off my dash, shitbird!” Noah replied with a smile. “I saw a sweet brownstone with perfect cover on a side window.”

Tommy stamped his feet excitedly on the dash. “What are we sitting here for? Let’s go rob the fucker!”

Noah turned up the radio and hit the gas. In the backseat, Shelia smoked her cigarette and quietly sang along. It was just my imagination, running away with me.

Patrick Baggatta lives in San Francisco and writes in various forms including screenwriting, short stories, and interactive scripts. Lately he’s enjoying a focus on writing crime fiction. Check out more on his blog: Hard Boiled Chapters: http://hardboiledchapters.blogspot.com.

One Down, Two to Go by Alan Peden

The cemetery was old and gray. I placed the rose on the grave and turned round. Walked back to the gate to wait.

The car pulled up in a hurray. An old Volkswagen.

“Get in.” Weasel had wound the window down. I noticed a thin line of sweat along his upper lip. He was shitting himself already.

I walked round to the passenger side and slammed the door shut.

“Fuck sake, you trying to break my car?” he said, hammering away before I had a chance to get my seat belt on.

“Looks to me like you could do with a new one,” I said.

“Did you talk to Tommy on the phone?” Weasel headed up through town.

“I talked to him earlier.”

“What did you tell him?”

“I told him to fuck off.”

“What?” Weasel screamed at the top of his voice. “Are you fucking insane?”

He moved about the seat as if he’d just pissed himself. “Do you have the rest of his money?”

“No.”

“You’re fucking jesting of course!”

“Watch your driving,” I told him.

“Fuck the driving!” He shook his head. Almost hit a cyclist. “He’s going to rip your fucking head off.”

“Is he now?”

“Oh, man, is he ever.” He looked over at me. “Tommy’s the hardest bastard I’ve ever met, you know that?”

“I didn’t know that, but thanks for sharing it with me.”

“You’re a mental bastard. You’re going to die.” He started mumbling to himself.

I watched the world go by, thinking he had finished ranting, but he hadn’t.

“The way it works, I get the stuff from Tommy, good stuff mind, no shite. I get it, give it to you, you hand over the money. I give the money to Tommy, he gives me my cut. You do not, and I’ll repeat myself here, do not, fucking ever, give me a bag of money that’s only half there!”

I tilted the seat back a bit.

“Are you fucking listening?!” he screamed at me.

“I hear you. But can we listen to the radio instead?”

“Fuck off. He’s going to cut your dick off. He’s going to make you feel so much pain. He’ll batter any bastard that gets in his way.”

“Really?”

“You don’t get it, do you? He’s kicked the shite out of hard bastards, so just think what he’ll do to an old bastard like you.”

I looked at him. “How old do you think I am?”

“Fifty five.”

I laughed. “Forty three. I went gray early.”

“Forty three my arse. Old bastard.”

The traffic thinned out the further West we got. Then we hit the schemes.

“I’ve seen him do so much damage to people. Even the fucking Police are feared of him. He could kick the shit out of anybody.”

“I’m sure we can have a talk, sort things out.”

“You told him to fuck off. You think that you’re going to walk out of there in one piece?”

I shrugged. He stopped the car. We got out and I shut the door hard.

“Fuck sake, could you slam it any harder?”

We walked into the stairway. It smelled of piss and puke. It was dark in here, like we’d entered another world. Which we had. Scum World

Top floor. Weasel knocked twice. Then four rapid. A code. Not the Police with their battering ram.

The door opened and a figure slipped away back along the darkened hallway.

We walked in and Weasel pushed me into the living room.

“You the bastard who ripped me off?” Tommy asked.

“Julia Coffey.”

“What?” He sat in a scabby old chair. Had torn jeans on, and big boots.

“My daughter. The sixteen year old who OD’d because you got her hooked.”

He stood up. “You’re dead, old man.”

I took out the silenced gun. “This is for Julia.” Shot Weasel in the forehead. Shot Tommy in the kneecap. He went down screaming like a girl.

I shut the front door and took my combat knife out. The one with the serrated edge. Big black fucker.

He was going to take a lot longer to die than my daughter.

Alan is Scottish but lives in New York State. He’s currently working on a crime novel. He has a story coming out in the Summer edition of Demolition magazine

Pushing up Daisies by Christa Miller

Gardening was Terri’s idea. “Come out and keep me company,” she suggested. “It’ll help keep your mind off whatever’s bothering you.”

So Rooney grabbed a beer and joined her. He sat on the porch to watch her work. Trouble was, it did nothing to distract him from the way Clemente had died.

He knew this the moment she brought the spade from the shed. She drove it into the earth with her foot, the way he’d done to dig Clemente’s grave.

“How deep you want it?” he’d panted.

“Deep enough so’s the animals don’t drag him out, for a few months anyway.” Warner spat into the pile of earth beside him.

He looked at the little cherry tree behind her, its roots wrapped carefully in burlap.

Clemente’s head in a cloth sack as Warner’s gofers brought him to the site.

“Damn.” Terri stopped. “Damn roots.” She carefully placed the spade’s point inside the hole. Then again put her foot on the blade and slammed it down.

The way Warner had kneecapped Clemente. “How much you tell the captain?” he snarled.

Clemente screamed. “Nothin’, I swear, I just said I had information but I didn’t say what it was—”

Warner broke the other knee the same way. Clemente screamed for a long time after that.

Terri took the little tree and planted it, sack and all. Scooped the dirt in over the burlap, packed it down with her hands.

The way Clemente’s long fingers had scrabbled in the dirt, clutching and grasping, once he’d seen the hole Rooney had dug for him.

Terri disappeared around the side of the house again. Rooney sucked his beer down as fast as it would go.

She reappeared with a bag of red cedar mulch. Before he could think of something to say to distract her, she produced his KA-BAR. Punctured the middle of the bag, sliced it end to end. Turned it over and dumped the reddish-brown bark all over the earth.

Warner’s KA-BAR sliced into Clemente’s neck. The rookie’s blood, dark red mixing with brown as it poured into the soil that would bury him.

“Think I should plant flowers around the tree?” Terri asked.

Rooney threw up.

Christa M. Miller lives, writes, and gardens in northern New England. Gardening is normally a relaxing activity that does not stimulate disturbing thoughts, but this time they broke through. Visit Christa’s website at http://www.christammiller.com.

Payday by Alan Peden

‘Hurry up, for fuck’s sake!’ Reg’s arse was hanging out of the window, his boots slipping on the brickwork.

Dan was pushing Reg’s arse but he seemed to be stuck. ‘Pull yourself through!’

Reg gave a grunt and suddenly disappeared into the house with a thump. ‘Fuck me. I hope they don’t have a fucking Doberman or something.’

Dan looked through the window with a torch, shining it around the room. They were in the back of the house, and this room was a sitting room, the one that was probably reserved for entertaining guests. Reg popped his head back up.

‘Are you going to stand there all night?’ he asked.

‘Can you not shut up for one fuckin’ minute?’

‘Get in here before somebody sees you, or else we’ll both be spending time in one of Her Majesty’s holiday camps.’

‘Yeah, and the only game you’ll be playing is in the showers.’

‘Keep your fuckin’ voice down,’ Reg said through gritted teeth. His arse was tightening at the thought of playing a parlour game behind bars. Let’s-nob-Reg-after-lights-out wasn’t spurring him on.

Dan climbed up onto the window ledge and Reg pulled him the rest of the way in. This was one of the oldest houses in the village, and one of the biggest. Some rich bastard had moved in six months ago, and nobody knew who the hell the family were. Which only served to get the rumour mill churning at full blast.

‘Maybe he’s a drug baron,’ Dan said, shining the torch around again. Reg has his out too, sweeping the room.

‘He’s not, he’s just a rich fuck that needs us to take some stuff off his hands.’ His light caught some large paintings on the walls, but nothing with titties in it, like his calendar back home.

‘Check some of this shit out,’ Dan said.

‘Shit’s the fuckin’ word. Who would have tat like that on the wall?’

‘Some of those paintings go for a load of money.’

‘Well, if our pockets were the size of of your mouth, then maybe we could take a few of those shitey things, but we’re here for one thing; jewelry.’

‘How do we even know he has jewelry in here?’ Dan asked.

‘Fuck me; you never listen, do you? I had a drink with their gardener last week. Pished he was. He was running off at the mouth. Saying how they were loaded in here, and how they had all this jewelry stashed away.’

‘How would he know?’

‘He fucking works here. He knows everything. He told me they’d be out tonight.’

‘If you say so.’

‘I do. So let’s get the fuck upstairs.’

‘Why won’t it be down here?’ Dan asked.

‘Because the lady of the house is not going to keep it lying down here in the fuckin’ bread bin, is she?’

‘I don’t know about this,’ Dan grumbled.

‘Look, we take their bling, we off load it, they get the insurance money, everybody’s happy.’

They went upstairs. The owners of the house weren’t out for the evening. They were in bed. Their blood soaked the bedcovers, and the old man still had the knife sticking out of his chest.

Dan and Reg both heard the click of the shotgun. ‘Thanks for coming round lads,’ the gardener said.

‘What the fuck?’ Reg said.

‘I knew you would take it in. Come round here and steal their jewelry. But I caught you after you’d murdered the pair of them. Shot you both dead. However, as I’ve only got two shells, the third burglar fucked off with the gems before I could reload. So now the Police will be hunting a fictitious third killer, and I’ll have my pension well sorted.’

‘You can’t do this,’ Reg said, just before the gardener fired the first shot. Dan didn’t say a word before he died. The gardener smiled. Laid some jewelry on the floor, as if it had been dropped in a hurry. The rest was safely stashed.

He went over to the phone by the side of the bed and dialled. He wouldn’t be cutting anybody’s grass ever again, that was for sure.

Alan is Scottish but lives in New York State. He’s currently working on a crime novel. He has a story coming out in the Summer edition of Demolition magazine

New York Movie by Stephen Allan

The movie didn’t hold her interest. Images flickered
on the giant screen, but she didn’t pay attention.
After the first twenty minutes she left her seat and
went to stand against the wall, behind the rest of the
audience; all of whom were in a different
state-of-mind, a different world; enjoying their
evening, while one among them contemplated love and
death.

She checked her watch. It should have been done by
now. Her husband would be laying with a bullet hole
bleeding down his face, his eyes still open. His last
sight: the dark alley; his last smell: the rotting
stench of garbage; his last taste: his own blood.

It wasn’t that she did not love him, or more
truthfully, loved him in the past. When she first met
him, he was everything a lonely woman could dream. He
was a successful businessman, a caring lover and a
sympathetic shoulder to cry on. But after a few years
of marriage, he changed. His caring and sympathy had
disappeared, leaving a man who noticed her less and
less until she became nothing.

She knew about the other women, but did not care.
There was some part of her that believed the touch of
another would bring his good qualities back. But that
failed to happen. It only brought more distance
between them.

Then she met a man. He was kind and proved to be a
gentle lover. He allowed her to weep after making love
without asking many questions. He somehow understood
that what she needed was quiet. She felt guilty
continuing the affair; sneaking off to motels or to
the small apartment he shared with two others. The
guilty came from not only betraying her husband, but
also denying her lover.

She ultimately chose her lover and immediately told
her husband she was leaving. The initial slap was a
shock. He refused her the divorce and threatened her
if she went to a lawyer. After, as she sat in yet
another anonymous motel room waiting for her lover,
she wondered if the beating was really surprising.
When her lover arrived, she apologized and said she
was unable to leave her marriage. Her just held her
tight with their usual silence, and let her cry until
sleep captured her in its welcoming hold.

As weeks went by, her despair turned to anger. Her
husband hit her more; each violent incident
strengthening her hatred. She first thought of buying
a gun and killing him herself, but reason prevented
her. She researched hired killers, learning how most
were contacted through classified advertisements in
the back of men’s adventure magazines. When she found
one, she quickly dialed the number listed in the ad.

The killer had agreed on meeting in a restaurant. He
was shorter than she was expecting, wore thick-framed
glasses and had a small belly. He told her his price
and she agreed. She gave him a day she knew her lover
was out of the state to establish an alibi. He handed
her a locker key and an envelope addressed to a PO
box. He told her the locker’s location at the airport.
She was to leave the money in the locker and then mail
the key back to him. He also gave her a disposable
cell phone. He would ring when it was done. She was to
throw the phone away after the call. He gave her a
time when the hit would happen and told her to go
somewhere like a movie. She thanked the killer when he
stood up and left.

The day arrived and she left the money as he
instructed her to do. She then went to the large
theater downtown, the old fashion movie palace with
ornate decorations and an actual balcony.

As she stood against the wall, an hour into the movie,
the cell phone in her pocket vibrated. She answered
with a simple ‘yes.’ The killer replied with a simple
‘it’s done’ and hung up. She placed the cell phone in
the trash bin and sat back down in the last row of the
theater. The movie continued, but all she could think
of was what her new life would be like.

Stephen Allan wrote this story in two hours. He seems
pretty pleased with himself and will be intolerably
smug for the rest of the day. He blogs at <a
href”www.noirwriter.blogspot.com“>Noir Writer</a>.
Steve is a writer from Maine, where people are more
down-to-Earth than he is at this moment, the
insufferable bastard.

Second Note

It occured to me (and was suggested by others) that it would be nice to have a quick little byline for each story so readers can peruse all of the writer’s other Internet offerings. So from now on if you would include a short bio on your stories, maybe even with a hyperlink to your blog or website, I’ll put it up with the story. If you’ve already submitted a story to the site and would like to have me post a link to the archived story I will add it. Thanks.

Fight Night by Julie Wright

It was after midnight and me and Pesky was creeping up behind this big old building, keeping right down low and tucked into the wall on account of the full moon. It was like that big searchlight on the helicopter the coppers chased us with when they caught us twocking cars. Fucking close shave that night. Behind us, Jase and Cappy was laughing and carrying on.

‘Shut the fuck up!’ Pesky hissed at them. Pesky was the boss, the leader of the gang. He taught us all what we knew. He showed us how to get into cars and how to get into houses. Cars, be careful and clever. Houses, be bold. Bust a window. Crowbar the door. Nobody takes any notice of one noise, a crash or a bang or glass breaking. Just the one and they think it was an accident or summat. It’s when you’re pratting about trying to be quiet that you make a racket and get caught. That’s what Pesky says.

‘And don’t try kicking the door in or opening the lock with a credit card,’ he telt us. ‘That only works on the telly.’

We got to the corner, and I looked at him and shrugged. ‘What now?’ it meant.

He grinned, tapped his watch then made that okay sign that the divers use. That meant be cool, not long to wait. Thursday was fight night; somebody was about to get a pasting. Jase and Cappy was right behind us now. Cappy took his baseball cap off and scratched his head. That was how he got his name, see, on account of the baseball cap. Course he can’t stop wearing it now can he? Can’t be called Cappy if you don’t wear a cap.

I heard voices and I saw Pesky tense. This was it, then. He stuck his beak round the corner, his arm out keeping us back. The building throbbed to a bass beat, it was a club of some sort, but not one I’d ever heard about. There was more talking and laughing then three big lasses come round the corner and Pesky sprang to life.

‘Fucking get them!’ he yelled, and he lamped the first lass, bust her nose all over her face. She screamed and her mates tried to run. They had no chance, not in them shoes, heels must have been six inches. Fucking porn shoes. You can’t run in porn shoes.

Now, I did what Pesky said, but I wasn’t happy about it. You see, one of the things he drummed into us was that you never hit a lass, no matter how much she winds you up. Walk away, that’s what he says. And now here we are belting fuck out of these three big lasses for no good reason at all that I could see. I tried to be gentle when I punched the one I was on.

‘Pesky, man! Fuck’s going on?’ Jase was as puzzled as me. Then Cappy walloped this big bitch and knocked her right off her feet. She landed on her arse, legs out like Bambi, dress round her waist. I just stared. I couldn’t fucking believe me eyes.

‘Now do you get it?’ Pesky yelled as we gawped. She only had her fucking cock taped to her leg. I mean he did. No wonder their hands was so fucking big. Pesky backhanded blood off his nose and grinned. ‘Tranny bashing!’ he roared, as he leapt on top of the one on the deck. ‘All the fun of hitting a woman with none of the fucking guilt!’

The lads gave out a battle cry and we laid into them proper now we knew we was hitting blokes. Fuckers cried like girls, mind. They was a right frigging state when we let them go, limped off down the street clutching their handbags and their porn shoes and their bust noses.

We was buzzing. We had cuts and bruises and that, but them big lasses was fucked. We’d have to leave it a couple of weeks, let things die down a bit, but we’d be having some more of that. Fucking brilliant!

Male Ducks are Drake, Females are Hens by John Weagly

Two women sit at a table at a sidewalk café.

“Did you kill my husband?” Mary asks.

“What?” Paula responds.

“You did, didn’t you?”

“Such a question!”

“You did.”

“Really!”

“Tell me.”

“Tell you what?”

“It would feel good to get it off your chest.”

“As in ‘There!  There!  It is the beating of his hideous heart!’?”

“Something like that,” Mary agrees.

Silence for a moment.

“It’s just…” Mary says.  “I haven’t seen him in weeks.”

“Weeks?” Paula asks.

“Yes.”

“Four?”

“Four weeks?  Yes!”

“From this very spot,” Paula says, “It takes a duck four weeks to fly south
for the winter.”

Mary has no response.

“Maybe he’s gone,” Paula says.

“Gone?”

“Gone.”

Mary looks confused.  “If I just knew,” she says.

“If you just knew what?”

“Things.”

“There are over five hundred species of duck.”

“No.  Details.  About my husband.”

“Like?”

“I don’t know!  Like…was it a gun?”

“No.”

“A knife?”

“I don’t think so.”

“A chunk of rope?”

Paula thinks for a moment. “Does rope come in a chunk?”

Mary thinks for a moment.  “I don’t know.”

The two women think about this for a moment.

Mary says, “There were times.”

“A honeymoon?”

“A beach.”

“On the ocean?”

“On a lake.”

“A walk in the sand?”

“We walked hand in hand.”

“Very romantic.”

“We were in love.”

“Was it supposed to last forever?”

“A long time ago,” Mary says.

Then nobody speaks for a moment.

“If I just knew,” Mary tries again.  “Things.  About him.  About us.”

“About marriage?”

“Oh, I know some things about marriage.”

“Like?”

“Separations aren’t final.”

“No.”

“A divorce can linger for years and years.”

“Forever.”

“And the lawyer fees!”

“The court costs!”

“Such expense!” Mary says.  “Other avenues are far more economical.”

“I know some things, too,” Paula says.

“About my husband?”

“I know a duck’s quack doesn’t echo.”

“My husband is not a duck.”

“No,” Paula agrees.  “He’s not.”

The two women sit quietly for a moment.

“It could be that he’s just gone,” Paula says.

More silence.

“Why?” Mary asks.

“Why what?”

“Why doesn’t a duck’s quack echo?”

“No one knows.”

Even more silence.

“Did you kill him?” Mary asks.  “Did you kill my husband?”

Paula doesn’t answer.

“I won’t be mad but I have to know.”

Paula doesn’t answer.

“I won’t tell anyone.  I’ll be as quiet as a duck’s quack.”

“The quack isn’t quiet,” Paula explains.  “It just doesn’t echo.”

Mary thinks about this.

“Your husband is gone,” Paula says.

“Gone?”

“He’s not coming back.  You won’t be seeing him again.  He’s gone.”

Mary takes a checkbook out of her purse and starts writing a check.

“You said half up front and half after.”

“I did.”

Mary tears off the check and hands it to Paula.

“Thank you,” Mary says.  “You do good work.”  Then she leaves.

“Ducks don’t have blood vessels or nerves in their feet,” Paula says to
herself as she pockets the check.  “They can’t tell when something’s cold.”

Memories in Pink by Rob Flumignan

What I remember most about the day Angela told me she wanted a divorce was the color pink.

We strolled along Navy Pier, a day like any other.  No.  That’s a lie.  Us crawling free from the dusty cubby holes of our daily lives didn’t happen very often.  She always had some event to chaperone at the school where she taught.  Or a date with her book club, a group of middle-aged ladies that could discuss Flaubert and the latest Nora Roberts in the same breath.

I always seemed to have a deadline looming.  A publisher moving up a release date.  A library or bookstore that wanted me to read and sign books.  Or a group of characters who wouldn’t let me go without at least finishing another chapter.  Some nights the red digits on my office clock would blare a bright twelve, and I’d swear if not for the darkness peeking through my blinds it meant noon instead of midnight.

So our stroll on Navy Pier, past the Haagen-Dazs, in our thick coats and scarves, leaning against a biting wind, was anything but ordinary.  Yet it felt peaceful, civilized, a new beginning rather than an end.  Until we reached the pier’s end.

She turned away from Lake Michigan.  “I’m in love with another man.  I want a divorce.”

I saw ten years of complacency, of dependability, of a life I counted on–no matter how mundane or miserable–slip away.

I reached out as if to take her face in my hands and plant a final kiss on her lips.  My hands, however, slid past her cheeks.  I didn’t know what I was doing until I had her neck in my grip, my thumbs pushing into the center of her throat.

Her face, turning pink while she gasped for air.  That’s what I remember most.

#

“Angela?”

She turned away from the front window of the Disney Store.  It took a second, then I saw the recognition in her eyes.

“Haden.”

How long had it been since I saw her last?  I tried to remember as throngs of holiday shoppers flowed behind me to their various mall destinations–Sears, J.C. Penny, The Gap.

Five years.

She didn’t look the same.  I had imagined she would age horribly, stress carving lines at the corners of her eyes and lips.  Instead she looked younger, as if five years without me had done some good.

I smiled despite the clear memory of pink.

Her eyes ticked from side to side, trying not to look at me.  She was afraid, I realized, and knowing she had every right to be didn’t make the sudden heat wafting from under my collar any cooler.

“I have to go,” she said and rushed by me.

I grabbed at her elbow.  A mistake.  But I’d done it, I’d meant it, so I committed to it and hung on.

She tried to tug free, jerking her arm like a bent chicken wing.  Her face grew a deep pink, threatening to go red.  “Stop it.”

My cheeks burned.  I let go of her arm and turned to the storefront window, trying to catch a glimpse of myself.  My reflection was only a shadow playing over the happy yellows, blues, and reds of the window’s display–a mound of stuffed Mickey, Minnie, and Pluto clones arranged like a piled army.  Only a hint of sad pink in the polka dot ribbon on Minnie’s head.

When I turned back to Angela, I caught a glimpse of her through a gap in the crowd.  I thought about chasing after her, telling her how sorry I was.  Things were different now.  I had a son.  A new wife.  We’re happy.

I shuffled into the Disney Store instead, picked out a Minnie.  I fingered the pink polka dots on her ribbon as I strolled to the register.  I had a son, but he wouldn’t know the difference between a Minnie and a Mickey yet.  Did it matter if I got him the girl mouse and not the boy?

On the drive home I notice the setting sun had turned part of the sky a brilliant shade of pink.

from The Beatitudes by Lyn Lejeune

My best friend Pinch was murdered while I slept. The police reported that she was caught off guard; snuck up on, as Pinch would have said. I don’t believe that for one blasted minute. I know she looked her killer in the eye, sized him up, laughed, then spit in his face. It all happened before my very eyes; I had dreamed about her death over the past year. The first dream came the morning after the murder of the first foster child.  Marisa was found fully clothed, wrapped in a pink swaddling blanket, as though dreaming of many tomorrows and games and parties and toys; and then eight more dreams, eight more foster children murdered, all left on the trolleys of New Orleans; then again the same dream after the presumed murderer had been arrested; and finally the last one, after I had lost my job, accused of negligence in the care of two of the slain children under my charge.  And when Pinch was butchered, my dream coming horrifyingly true, my life spinning out of control, I had, for the second time in my life, lost everything, lost control, was unwittingly blown away by the winds of a dispassionate fate.  Or so I thought at the time.

Don’t Quit Quitting by Bryon Quertermous

(This is a story I wrote as a tribute to Tribe and since he had no problems posting his own stuff on the Gutter, I shall do the same. Enjoy.)

 

Folsom Prison Blues is on the radio again for the 25th fucking time as we pull up next to the semi. There’s a 9mm automatic on the seat between us and Aggy grabs it. I quit smoking a week ago. Who the fuck is going to give me a gun?

Aggy’s already up on the step of the truck ramming the gun in the fat trucker’s face. I’m bringing up the rear coughing like a fucking nerd at a track meet.

“You wanna keep your fucking lungs in your chest man? The cops’ll go all CSI and shit on it if you keep it up,” Aggy said.

“Get him to open the truck and lets get out of here. This weather’s killing me.”

Its been raining on and off all day but it’s the goddam wind and dampness that’s killing me. Old man Jack they’ll all call me when they find out I have a trick knee in this kind of weather.

“Shit man, you’re not going to believe this,” Aggy yells.

I’m busy trying to hold my guts inside my chest so I don’t look at him.

“My luck, its probably smokes,” I hacked out.

“Better,” he said.

He’s hanging from the back of the truck like Elliot Fucking Ness and I start to wonder what’s in there. He’s waving at me to come on up but I stay on the ground. The last thing I need is to fall off a goddam truck in front of Aggy. I’m still coughing so he doesn’t ask many questions.

“It’s quitting gum,” he finally says when I won’t talk back to him. “Nico-fuckin-rette, man. How perfect is that?”

I cough again and feel something in my spine pinch.

“What the fuck are we suppose to do with a truck full of non-smoking gum?” I ask.

“Shit sells just as easy as smokes. Probably make more money.”

 He’s too stupid to get it, so I grab his ankle and pull him off the truck.

“There’s no market for this. Who’s going to buy it from us when they can buy it at the Walmart without breaking the law?”

“You can buy cigarettes at the Walmart without breaking the law.”

“They don’t have to pay the fucking taxes on smokes if they buy them from us. There’s no non-smoking tax.”

“But we didn’t pay nothin’ for ’em. We can sell ’em cheap and still make money.”

“Go see what the driver has on him and maybe we can call this even. Take a few of these things but I’m not going to try and unload a whole truck of quitting gum in
Detroit.”

“I, umm, well I figured it would be—”

“You fucking let him go, didn’t you?”

“I tried to tell you but you were hacking out your lunch and I—”

“The cops are probably already on their way here now. Shit, man.”

“No way. He won’t say nothin’ and I don’t hear sirens.”

I punch him in the side of the head and knock him in a circle before he hits the ground. I need a fucking cigarette and I can’t have one. Aggy’s gun is on the ground next to him so I pick it up and shoot him once in the head and once in the chest.

“Fucking moron,” I say by way of eulogy.

That was supposed to relax me, it always does, but now I’m antsy, angry, withdrawn, and guilty. I really need a fucking cig—

And then it hits me. The main ingredient in quitting gum.

I haul my old ass up into the truck just to be sure. But there it is on the side of the package like a fucking neon strip club sign. 2m of nicotine in each piece. I empty a whole package in my mouth and start chewing as I load Aggy’s body in the trunk.

This way I won’t get a craving while I burn his stupid ass.

The Bargain Hunter by Gary R. Hoffman

     “Come on, Jim.  You can come up with a better price than $75 on that pallet of miscellaneous goods.”

            Jim Salley was one of the two Jewish brothers who inherited Leon Salley Wholesale Grocers.   “Well, you buy a lot.  How about $60?”

            “How about $30?”

            “What?  You’re killin’ me!  You want me to have another heart attack?”

            “Ok, 40 bucks.”

            “Done.”  He called to one of his men working the floor.  “Donnie, get that miscellaneous pallet by door #3.  Charge Roger here $40 for it.”

            “$40? He’s stealin’ it!”

            “Yeah, I know, but he Gentiled me down!”

Madonna in the Grass by JT Ellison

“There she is.”

Papillion muttered the words, breathing deeply. His eye was pressed hard to the
scope of his rifle, the fine cross lines breaking the scene below into
quadrants. Upper left, a grassy field. Bottom left, parking lot. Bottom right,
a line of people, sweating, stinking masses gathered to pay homage. Upper
right, the prize. Nestled deep on a hard wooden table, surrounded by bleeding
flowers, a sheet of metal imprinted with the image of the Virgin Mary.

A scam, he thought, then instinctively lifted his right hand off the trigger
and crossed himself. Papillion may be a heathen, but he was a respectful
heathen. What if it wasn’t? What if somehow, the hand of God had come down and
touched the slab of iron, imprinting the face of the mother of the Lord into
the very molecules? Who was he to say that it couldn’t have happened?

A realist, that’s who. A man who knew it was a falsehood, a lie perpetrated to
force the means to an end.

He settled his finger back on the pull and used his falcon sight to follow her
progress. Long, wavy black hair cascaded down her back, a subdued headband held
the unruly mess off her forehead. She was dressed in a white skirt with eyelet
lace along the hem that just skimmed her knees, a white button down oxford
cloth shirt with a yellow scarf tied around her waist. The straps of
espadrilles wound around her slim ankles, and Papillion licked his lips. He’d
always been a leg-man. And the sister was a beautiful example of what a woman’s
legs were supposed to look like.

He watched her move through the crowd, saw their deference to her. Lucia. She
was a powerful woman. A woman that more than one faction wanted dead.

Papillion could retire after this hit. But it was a delicate operation. He
needed to wait for Sister Lucia to announce the hoax. Then the shooting could
be blamed on one of the faithful on the ground, someone so overcome with the
emotion of the appearance of their holy mother that a declaration of foolery
would tip them over the edge.

Fatima, this was not.

#

Lucia stared at the face of the Holy Mother. She waited, tuning out the noise,
the heat, the fetid stench of the unwashed. Was she in the presence of a
miracle? Had a great secret been revealed, a battle for good won? She waited,
and felt nothing. Disappointment filled her. Another hoax. The last time she’d
felt the presence of God was in a field, with no attendance other than a small
rabbit. There was nothing holy here.

She rose, shaking her head. The faithful moaned with hatred, denials were
shouted. She simply ignored them, walked back to her jeep. A flash caught her
eye, high on the cliff rising to the heavens to her right. Papillion, she
assumed. He’d been waiting for a chance to take her out for months now.
Lucia stopped. She spread her legs, spread her arms, threw her head back.
Presented herself to him, a target. Waited to feel the slam of the bullet in
her chest. When it didn’t come, she smiled. An honest assassin, Papillion. Or
smart enough to know that when she found the real miracle, she wouldn’t be able
to hide her joy.

She climbed into the Jeep, closed the door on another falsehood. One day, she
prayed. One day.

#

One day, Papillion prayed. One day she will find God, and I will help her meet
him. His eyes were closed; he felt the flash, the burn from below
instinctively. When he could finally pry his eyelids apart, the jeep was gone.
Lucia too. There was only a deep crater in the dirt, blackened and smoking.
Pilgrims were scattered carelessly in the brush. Red and black mingled with the
desert browns, painting the sands with raucous color.

One day had arrived at last.

No by Iain Rowan

“Give me your money.”

“No.”

“What do you mean, no? Give me your fucking money. Do it, do it.”

“No.”

“I’ll cut you.”

“No.”

“I will, I’ll fucking cut you. Just hand over the money.”

“No.”

“You’re fucking crazy, I’ll do you, I will. Give me it, last chance,
I’ll cut you.”

“No.”

“You asked for this, you’re going to get it.”

# # #

“Jesusfuckingchrist, no. Stop.”

“No.”

“Please stop, I won’t oh Jesus I won’t do it oh shit shit shit I won’t
do it again I needed the money, I needed oh Jesus Jesus please stop
doing it I’m sorry I’m sorry…I can’t, I can’t breathe. Stop.”

“No.”

“I won’t. Again. Swear. Please. Please. Breathe.”

“No.”

“Stop.”

“No.”

“Pl-”

“No.”

Detachment Parenting by Christa Miller

Why should she have what I never had? was my thought when I saw my daughter nurse my granddaughter for the first time. What makes her special?

 

This was really why she invited me here. I’m sure she thought she was establishing some kind of mother-daughter bond with me, so I humored her when I accepted. Really I came to watch her screw up, heat the formula too long and fight with her husband when the baby wouldn’t stop crying and fall apart until finally, for once in her life, she needed me.

 

None of that happened. Instead I came to a vision of the perfect household. Quiet baby. Doting husband. My daughter sitting there, like a queen, nursing every few hours without even letting the baby cry for it. I told her it’s good for the baby to cry, keeps them from getting spoiled, but the little snip told me you can’t spoil a newborn. I bet her mother-in-law filled her head with that nonsense.

 

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she invited me here to rub my nose in her perfection. She’s always had to outdo me, tried to be better than me. She refused to nurse from my breast, yet she won’t even pump her milk into a bottle for anyone else to feed the baby. Hell, she holds onto that baby as if she’ll never let her go. As if I never told her about all the times I tried to hold her like that, but she pushed me away.

 

Well, I’ll show her, I thought, watching her nurse.

 

I waited until they went upstairs for a nap. Then I pretended I’d forgotten something—I forget what—and asked her husband to go get it from the store. She’s got him so trained to get her water and plump her pillows that he never even balked. Pathetic.

 

Then I went upstairs. She was sleeping with the baby in her bed, can you believe it? That made it easier to justify what I was doing. If they ever find me, I’ll just tell them I was doing it for the baby’s own good. God knew her mother would’ve rolled over on top of her, smothered her.

 

By now my daughter has probably been crying for hours, wondering why she deserved this. I hope someone tells her it’s not about what she deserves. I look at my granddaughter, sleeping in her infant carrier on the floor of my car. Five hundred miles from home, and all the kid does is sleep. She must have gotten her sleep genes from her father, because her mother sure never had them. She does fine with the formula, too. It’s better for her anyway. When she’s old enough, I’ll tell her she’s with me because I deserved a second chance a hell of a lot more than her mother deserved her.

First Note

Apparently the default setting for WordPress is to moderate comments and I did not know that. I’ve freed all of the comments that were waiting and I think I got it straightened out so that won’t happen again. Thanks everyone for posting stories and commenting.

Cold Comfort by Sandra Seamans

“Do it, or I’ll shoot you myself,” said Chester.

Her ex-husband’s words were still ringing in Penny’s ears, along with the deafening explosion of the gun. She slipped down on the couch, curling her body into a ball. She shivered under the friendly caress of her grandmother’s afghan, comforted by the familiar warmth as she pulled it up around her chin. She felt so cold. Numb.

Damn, Chester, and his stupid drunken games. Forcing her to play Russian Roulette with a loaded gun. Making her press the muzzle of the gun to her temple, pointing his own revolver at her until she pulled the trigger. Click. His obscene laughter filling her tiny apartment as urine stained her jeans, and fouled the air.

“Chicken shit,” he’d laughed. “There’s only one bullet in the cylinder. The odds are in your favor. But, hey, even if it does go off, I don’t get charged with your murder, cause you pulled the trigger. That restraining order of yours ain’t working so well now, is it?”

The blast from the gun had made her jump. Lying on the couch, she watched a trickle of blood slowly drift across the linoleum. Penny knew she should call the police, tell them what happened. But Chester wasn’t quite dead yet.

The Sound by Aldo Calcagno

The sound was deafening echo in my ears. The sky was suddenly red and then instantly black