Monday, March 27, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 008 - Graham Wynd

Copped It by Graham Wynd

The only sound in the squalid room was the relentless dripping, as if someone had neglected to turn the tap all the way round. Their breath filled the small space, too, but that was slowing, quieting. Dixon looked over at Burnett, worried by his lack of movement. He slumped on the pile of boxes on that side of the storeroom.

‘Hey, hey. You still alive, right?’

A cough, a gasp, then an oath. ‘Who were those guys?’

‘Fuck if I know. They came out of nowhere, eh?’ Dixon leaned back against the brick wall. It was cold and rough, but it held him up. The bullet hole through his shoulder hurt like a bastard but it went through clean as far as he could tell. He craned his neck to look at Burnett. In the murk it was hard to tell how bad he was. ‘I texted the big guy. He’s sending someone.’

No noise from Burnett. Just that annoying drip, which continued at the same pace. Now he knew what water torture was all about. Funny it had never occurred to him. They tended to use more direct methods—tried and true and quick to produce results, like a confession or a location. ‘Hey, who were those guys?’

Burnett coughed again. ‘They cops, you think?’ His voice rasped the words. Was he shot in the throat, too? That couldn’t be good.

‘No, I’d have been worried then. They wouldn’t have given up, either. But they didn’t follow us for all that long,’ Dixon said, thinking things over quickly. It had all happened so fast. They didn’t complicate it. It was meant to be a quick in-and-out, business closed, no alarms tripped. The big man made sure. The plans were clean.

So who were those guys? ‘Hey, Burnett? What’s that movie where they say that? You know, who are those guys? A western. It’s on the tip of my tongue.’

A grunt from Burnett. And that damn dripping continued. It was maddening. Burnett hardly seemed to be breathing. He had to do something. Just needed to make him last until the cavalry got here.

‘You know it. I know you know it. We seen it not that long ago. Remember when Wolf picked up those sixes and dropped in. We was at my sister’s. You remember.’

Not a peep from Burnett. ‘C’mon, you remember, right?’ The drip was making him crazy. The pain, too: Dixon tried to use one to keep his mind off the other but it was making him mental. ‘Hey, that guy, whatshisname. He’s in it. Western. Big wild country. Knife fights and train robberies.’

No sound from Burnett. Dixon stretched out his foot to kick him. Even that effort made his head sing with the pain. How much worse must it be for Burnett. ‘Hey, hey.’

‘What?’ The word came out as a gasp.

‘You sleep with my sister?’

Burnett coughed. It may have been a laugh. ‘The fuck you say?’

‘I mean it. I’m not going to be angry. Just tell me.’

The drip continued. Maybe it got a little faster as Burnett tried to rise. ‘The hell you ask me a thing like that at a time like this?’ His breath rattled a little but the movement seemed to do him some good. He was almost sitting up now.

Even better, the drip stopped. That had to be good.

‘I’m just saying, you know. I left. You were there. Sis didn’t answer in the morning until late.’

‘What the fuck? So you jump to conclusions—’ Burnett’s voice almost sounded normal again, but then he started coughing again. Dixon got up and sat on the box next to his, slapping him on the back in hopes that it would help.

His hand came away wet.

‘Where’d they get you?’ Dixon wondered if they should risk putting on a light, but he wasn’t sure there was a switch in here. He looked up. There was a pair of those long fluorescent tubes in a fixture on the ceiling. There must be a switch somewhere.

‘I dunno. Grazed my neck. Stings like a sonovabitch. And through my ribs.’ Burnett hacked again, swearing incoherently as he did so. Dixon thought his neck didn’t look that bad. It must be the other wound.

Just then they heard the sirens. They both froze though no one could see them inside this storeroom. They were two blocks away from the robbery. The guys who shot them hadn’t followed. Probably.

The sirens screamed louder. Dixon checked his gun again. Three more bullets. A few more in his pocket. Maybe he should reload now. Why hadn’t he done it at once? His head was fuzzy. Must be the pain. And the running.

Did they leave a trail with all the blood?

Dixon’s heart stopped for a moment as the siren blared outside and then he realised it was going past. Probably over to the fence’s place to clear up the mess. His phone vibrated. It was going to be okay. The big guy would sort things out.

‘C’mon, let’s go. They’re coming.’

‘Who?’ Burnett croaked the word.

‘The big man sent a car around for us. We just have to get outside quiet like.’ Dixon hopped off the box, swayed for a moment, then righted himself. Burnett hadn’t moved. ‘C’mon, we’re going to spend more money than a millionaire’s seen. Patch us up, we’ll be dancing tonight.’

Burnett shuddered. ‘No cops, right? You didn’t see no cops out there, did you?’

‘Cops? No.’ Dixon tried to get hold of his pal’s arm to help him off the box but he wasn’t moving.

‘Good. For a minute there, I thought we were in trouble.’ Then Burnett started shaking like he had the DTs and then he stopped breathing. Dixon swore under his breath, then slipped the Ruger back into its holster under his arm. He picked up the two black gym bags.

‘Did you sleep with my sister, Burnett?’ Dixon whispered.

BIO: A writer of bleakly noirish tales with a bit of grim humour, Graham Wynd can be found in Dundee but would prefer you didn’t come looking. An English professor by day, Wynd grinds out darkly noir prose between trips to the local pub. Publications include SATAN’S SORORITY from Number Thirteen Press and EXTRICATE from Fox Spirit Books, as well as tales in the 2016 Anthony Award-winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks and the Anthony Award-nominated Protectors 2: Heroes . Wynd’s stories have been translated into German, Italian, Polish and Slovene.

Monday, March 20, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 007 - Paul D. Brazill


Things I Used To Like by Paul D. Brazill

I used to like playing football when I was a kid. Loved it, I did. I could spend hours kicking a ball around a muddy field or up and down a dirty back street. When I got older, I even played in goal for the local pub’s Sunday league team. But I put on weight because of all the beer and pork pies I liked that bit too much, and it became hard work. A slog. No fun at all.

That was another thing, too. I used to like spending a few nights a week and the odd afternoon down the pub but heartburn, indigestion and ulcers soon put paid to that. Sitting sipping a mineral water when other folk got pissed wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, so I lost interest.  I began to fear I’d lost my capacity for joy, I really did.

You see, life has a way of wringing the passions out of a man. I read that in a book once. Which was another thing I used to like doing. Reading. I loved science fiction books. Frank Herbert, Arthur C. Clarke and the like. But I lost that habit, too. My concentration faded along with my eyesight.

Yeah, and I used to like Benny Liens. He used to be my best mate. My mucker. My partner in crime. Until he screwed my missus, that is.  I sharp went off him then, I can tell you. Which is why I killed the fucker. I tied a belt round his neck and strangled him. Then I strung him up to make it look like a suicide. I never got caught, either. And I discovered something about myself after that, too. I found out that I liked killing.

*

Alison Pearce had a twitch. Nothing particularly pronounced but it was there, especially when she got stressed or angry. And talking about her husband Danny certainly made her angry, alright. Which was fair enough since the bloke was a bastard. He always had been, mind you, and most folk were well surprised when him and Alison got hitched but who understood affairs of the heart, eh? Not me, anyway.

Alison fiddled with a packet of Polo mints and offered one to me. I declined. Not good for the guts, mints. After she popped one into her gob, she took a brown envelope from her handbag and handed it to me. I didn’t check the cash. I knew I didn’t need to. She was a straight arrow, our Alison.

‘This Friday?’ she said.

She rubbed the bruise on the side of her face. Turned up her raincoat collar. We were sat on a bench in Peaslee Park. A bunch of pigeons where fighting over the crumbs of a Greggs pork pie I’d just scoffed.  I still enjoyed the odd pork pie, despite the gut rot they gave me.

‘Aye,’ I said.  ‘You’ve nowt to worry about. Should be a doddle. Are you going to be staying at your Tina’s place?’

‘No. I’ll be out of town. There’s a coach trip going to Blackpool that Tess and Minnie organised. Gets back early doors Saturday morning.’

‘Perfect,’ I said. ‘You’ll probably get a call from the coppers around midnight.’

Alison disapprovingly watched a couple kids in hoodies mess around on a skateboard and then she got up.

‘Thanks, Stan,’ she said, not looking at me.

‘No worries,’ I said.

She walked across the park and shouted at a tall blonde who was letting her French poodle shit on the grass.

I chuckled. Same old Alison. 

Same old Danny, too.

Every Friday night, come rain or come shine, Danny Pearce went to the Mecca Bingo Hall for a couple of games of bingo and a skinfull of cheap lager. I planned to nab him after he staggered out, break his neck and then throw him over the old railway bridge.  

I pushed the envelope into my overcoat pocket. The money from Alison was nice but it also felt good to help her out. That was another thing I liked these days. Helping people. Well, those that deserved it.

I stretched my legs to get the circulation back and then slowly got up.

As I walked, I wondered what I was going to do to bide my time until Friday. I looked over at the blonde bird as she stuck two fingers up behind Alison’s back. I considered drowning her in the park pond but then thought better of it. The dog might get put in a home if she croaked and I did like animals. Especially dogs.

Mind you, it was a poodle.

© Paul D. Brazill.

Bio: Paul D. Brazill's books include The Last Laugh, Guns Of Brixton, Too Many Crooks, and Kill Me Quick! He was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has been translated into Italian, Finnish, German and Slovene. His blog is here.

A Twist Of Noir 006 - Elizabeth Zelvin


Flash Point by Elizabeth Zelvin

"Are you glad to be home?" Martin asked.

He swung Samantha's suitcase down, wincing as his bad shoulder protested. Samantha never traveled light, even for two weeks at a spa famed for its austerity. The shoulder was a legacy from his days as her roadie, ushering her sound equipment and costume trunks on and off planes and trains and stages. Since their marriage, he didn't tour with her, but there was plenty to do at home. She collected antique furniture in need of restoration. The house had grounds and gardens, sometimes open to the public. They kept sheep, which she considered picturesque. When her voice went, Samantha said, laughing in the way that meant of course that was absurd, she'd take up weaving. And there was that eighty pound block of burled walnut in the barn, if he ever got back to sculpting. If he ever found the time.

"Remember," she said, "I'm not to have a scrap of animal fat or sugar."

"I know," he said. "I've memorized the sheet you sent. No white flour. No wheat. Nothing cooked at all."

"You'll have to humor me," she said. That laugh again. "I could do it at the spa, with a chef and all the others eating it too."

"I've been inventing recipes," he said. "And I'll eat with you."

"I have to lose fifty pounds," she said. "I need to for the surgery. If I don't, the pain will keep getting worse. Martin, I could die."

"Don't worry, love," he said. "We'll do it together. I'll make only the food you can eat, and we'll take every bite together."

By the end of the first week, Martin had learned that Samantha required an enthusiastic affirmative whenever she pulled her clothing tightly around her, sucked her belly in, and demanded, "Do I look thinner? Honestly." By the end of the second, he thought he would choke if he had to eat another mouthful of grated raw carrot. Samantha, on the other hand, was thriving on the new regime.

"I've lost eight pounds already," she announced, "and that kale and quinoa salad you made last night wasn't bad at all. You know, I never quite believed that white flour could cause cravings, but it must be true. I don't miss bread or pasta at all any more."

Martin could not suppress a moan. He missed hot croissants for breakfast, slathered with butter and honey. He missed thick-cut homemade pappardelle—Samantha had bought him a pasta machine for Christmas—tossed with veal rag├╣ flavored with rosemary, fennel, and coriander and sprinkled with freshly ground parmigiano reggiano. He missed the cassoulet at Chez Armand in the village. Armand, the owner-chef, actually born and raised in Toulouse, had learned to cook it at his mother's knee. He had promised to give Martin his secret recipe on Martin's fiftieth birthday—if he lived that long on Samantha's diet of grass and birdseed.

"Martin, do you want to do this? You don't have to. You never gain an ounce, no matter what you eat. I wouldn't mind if you made yourself a cheeseburger. Really."

At two months, Samantha had lost twenty-eight pounds, and Martin had sneaked out twice for a quick steak frites at Chez Armand. He knew from long experience that Samantha was incapable of keeping a promise not to reproach him for less than absolute supportive devotion. Besides, as a compulsive eater whose seven food groups were fried, sugar, chocolate, fat, crunchy, ice cream, and more, she didn't know the difference between a beef Wellington and a cheeseburger.

Neither successful weight loss nor occasional furtive good eating was enough to prevent them from becoming cranky. Martin had maintained a strict policy of appeasement for years to avoid the kind of bickering that erupted at ever shorter intervals as time passed and Samantha dropped pound after pound. As for Martin, it was as if his belt, which now hung loosely on his lanky frame, had been holding in not only a ravenous, growling stomach but a gutful of rage. As Samantha neared her goal, bickering gave way to spats. Spats gave way to bitter quarrels. Hurtful things that could not be unsaid were uttered on both sides. The quarrels ended with both combatants drawing back from the brink of the unforgivable and retreating into a cold silence followed by a semblance of normalcy. But they both knew, and perhaps wished, that that could not last forever.

Samantha's flash point came on the day her doctor's scale finally registered a fifty-pound weight loss. She came home bursting with the good news to find Martin frying a cheeseburger in the kitchen. He had reached his flash point the night before, when she told him he had always been a lousy lover, all her orgasms with him faked. It had been her response to his refusing sex, saying her fat body had turned him on more than the bag of irritable bones she had become. But he chose not to remember that, and he still seethed with anger. She had forgotten all about last night.

"You should be happy for me! What's wrong with you? And why are you eating that poison? Don't you care about me at all?"

She fingered the handle of the heavy hardwood cutting board on which he had sliced bacon and cheddar from high-quality slabs. He lifted the iron skillet and flipped the burger in the air.

"You've got your skinny body," he said. "So you can go back to stuffing your face. I don't care if I never see another brussel sprout."

"I can't go back, you moron!" she shrieked.  "I'll die without surgery. You don't care!"

"Why should I, you control freak? Nobody could love you. And the rabbit food? Count me out from now on."

"I never asked you to! That was your idea!"

The blow, being unexpected, did the job. A shocking accident, everyone agreed. Such a devoted couple. After the funeral, the surviving spouse ate a hearty meal.