Table of Contents

Summer 2008

From The Editor

Letter from Sandra Ruttan

Short Stories

Amra Pajalic

The Game

The Old Man

The Vow

The Other Shoe

Patrick Shawn Bagley

Bank Job

John McFetridge

Overtime

Russel D. McLean

Her Cheating Heart

Steve Mosby

Fruits

Grant McKenzie

Out Of Order

Patricia Abbott

Pox

Leaving

Damien Seaman

Love In Vain

Ugly Duckling

Steve Allan

Hump The Stump

Stumpy's Revenge

You and Me and Stumpy Makes Three

Stephen D. Rogers

Head Shot

Richard Cooper

Simmer Time

Sandra Seamans

Predatory

Allan Guthrie

Freckles

Brian Lindenmuth

Gun

Tony Black

London Calling

Brian McGilloway

Spoonfull of Sugar

Interview

Damien Seaman with Tony Black

Reviews by:

Sandra Ruttan

Savage Night

The Cold Spot

Brian Lindenmuth

Kockroach

The Crimes of Dr. Watson

Half the Blood of Brooklyn

Crimson Orgy

Mad Dogs

The Resurrectionist

Sharp Teeth

Lawrence

Black Man

Tricia

Hip Flask: Concrete Jungle

Chadwick

At the City's Edge

Amber

Small Favor

Madhouse

Book Excerpts

Toros & Torsos
by Craig McDonald

Paying For It
by Tony Black

Dirty Sweeet
by John McFetridge

Feature

The Graveyard Shift: blog by Lee Ofland

Toros & Torsos: Excerpt by Craig McDonald


"The simplest surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd."
— André Breton

LE CADAVRE EXQUIS
6

Dinner was mussels in peppery cream broth, bouillabaisse de Marseilles and Châteaubriand.

Pauline had cautioned everyone to save room for Key Lime Pie.

Hector and Hem had finished their main courses first. Hem was drinking whiskey and Hector had made himself a mojito. The crime writer sat back in his chair, smoking a cigarette and watching Rachel eat. Pauline was watching her too — Hector was increasingly aware of that. Pauline didn’t seem to regard Rachel as some threat. It was not at all like he’d seen Pauline act around Jane Mason or other younger women who brazenly made clear their interest in — or availability to — Ernest. No, this was something else that Hector couldn’t put his finger on.

Seemingly oblivious to Pauline’s scrutiny, Rachel pushed away her plate and sipped her Tavel wine. She said, “I’ve seen Hector’s cigarette lighter, Papa. He told me of this game, or ‘writing exercise,’ that you two engage in…‘One True Sentence,’ he called it.”
Hem savored his whiskey and said, “That’s right, kid. One of us starts a sentence, and the other finishes it, best he can. Rules are it has to be short and sharp and as close to true as we can come under the gun.” He grinned and said, “Here, Hector, catch this one. ‘The old man died—’”

“‘— illusioned and therefore disappointed,’” Hector replied.

“Not terrible,” Hem said. “Your turn, Lasso.”

Hector thought a moment, then said, “‘The drunken priest, awaiting execution—’”

“‘—wished that one of his fellow prisoners was a whore.’” Ernest grinned and slapped the table. “I should use that somewhere…get under old Max Perkins’ skin with that.” He drank some more whiskey and said, “‘You know how it is Sunday morning on Duval Street,—’”

Hector thought about that and finished with, “‘—the rummy vets propped up out cold against the walls, their pants stained with their own piss.’” Hector made a face. “Christ’s sakes, I’m sorry all, that was a bit much,” he said, “particularly over dinner.”

“But stark and real,” Mrs. Blair said, her old face very serious. “Authentic. I admire that.”

Ernest had this strange expression on his face. “I could maybe use that one…”

Bishop Blair, tittering, spilled a little wine on the lapel of his black jacket. He wiped it off with a burgundy linen napkin. He said, “You writers’ game reminds me of one we used to play in Paris — we artists, I mean. Same concept really, but different métier, obviously.”

Hector, blowing smoke out both nostrils, said, “Elaborate, please.”

The little artist fished into the interior breast pocket of his black suit jacket and pulled out a long, thick Cuban cigar. He tore off the cellophane and then cut the end off with his own cigar cutter. Bishop leaned across the dining table and picked up a candelabra and held the flame of the candle under his cigar with one tiny hand while he rolled the cigar, getting it started. He blew a few smoke rings and then said, “Oddly enough, it actually started life as a writing game, not too much unlike your own. A poet was present at one of our gatherings one night, and he wrote a few words down, folded over the sheet so the words couldn’t be seen, then asked someone else present to write a few words down to finish his unseen sentence. The result was something like dark, surrealist poetry. As we were all visual artists, the game soon enough vaulted into the realm of the ‘seen’.” He smiled and winked. “But by way of the unseen.”

Quentin, the critic, lasciviously eyeing Rachel, said, “I know of this game. The Exquisite Corpse, it was called.”

Hector suppressed this little chill. He reached across the table and took Rachel’s hand, brazenly rubbing the back of her left hand with his thumb. Marking territory. He said, “A damned ghastly name.”

Bishop Blair shrugged. “That comes from the writing game which inspired it. The poet who wrote that first, partial sentence had written, ‘The Exquisite Corpse…’ The title stuck.”

Hem was sprawled back in his chair, one hand shoved down his pants behind his belt — up to the second knuckle, or so. He said, “But you said the game evolved.”

“Into a drawing game, yes,” Bishop said, smiling. “One of us would take a long slip of paper, and in the upper portion, we would draw the top portion of a figure, say, the head, shoulders and perhaps the upper torso. Then we would fold the paper to obscure what we had drawn — all but the very lower-most portion so that the next artist could pick up the lines where the previous artist left off. The second artist would then draw everything from about the breasts or pectorals down to the genitals. He, too, would then fold the paper, hiding ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent of what he had drawn. The third artist finished the drawing by sketching in the legs and feet…or whatever else his mind was inspired to supply. Then we would all unfold the slip of paper and see what our ‘blind’ collaboration had resulted in.”

Hem nodded, considering the surrealist painter with his warm, sharp brown eyes. He said, “A woman was murdered across the street. They found her body earlier today — just behind the lighthouse.”

Hector paused, his next cigarette hanging unlit between his lips. Pauline looked mortified. Mrs. Blair raised a gloved hand to her mouth. Rachel looked surprised that Ernest would just toss it out there, naked.

Quentin’s expression Hector couldn’t read…mocking…surly…either was as close as Hector could come to characterizing it.

Bishop Blair scowled. “For money; passion? Why was she murdered, I mean?”

Hem sat up straighter in his chair, relishing the focused attention. “That’s the thing,” he said. “It wasn’t like any of that. Hector saw the body. He said the woman was naked. She was gutted and dressed out like a deer — her internal organs all removed.”

Pauline was furious. She said, “Ernest!”

He held up a big hand. Hem said, “No, it gets stranger. And this audience? Here we have gathered some that might really have some useful thoughts toward a solution.”
“A sex crime,” Bishop Blair said. “Something like, oh, Jack the Ripper?”

“Nothing so…straightforward as that,” Hem said, stroking his thick dark moustache and glancing at Hector. “Hector thinks this was a surrealist killing.”

Slack-jawed expressions, all around…except for Hector and Rachel — those two stared at one another, increasingly stunned by Hem’s brazenness in putting it out there, cold.

Bishop Blair licked his lips. He stroked the rim of his wine glass. “Why? Why surrealist?”

Hem gestured at Hector. “One true sentence, Lasso. Lay it out for Bish.”

Hector blew smoke. He said, “The woman was gutted, as Ernest has described. Where her organs should have been, the killer inserted cogs…fly wheels…a bicycle chain and discarded machine parts. Even the prop from a small, outboard motor.”

A wineglass spilled. Flustered, Mrs. Blair tut-tutted, excused herself and righted her goblet. She began dabbing at the white linen tablecloth — patting at the stain from her spilled glass of Valdepeñas, now insinuating itself into the crisp cotton like a fast-spreading bloodstain.

“Forget it, please, Harriet,” Pauline said. “It’s nothing.”

Bishop Blair looked stricken. He sat back in his chair, his cigar clutched in one hand, and his napkin in the other. “It’s what you said, Papa — The Age of Marvels.”

Hem winked. “That’s just what Rachel and Hector thought. And I agree.”

Quentin Windly shot Hector a glance. “So, a hack writer who claims to know surrealist art. Wonders never fucking cease. Or did Miss Rachel fill you in on art, ‘Lasso’?”

Hector held his tongue. Anything he might say was going to lead to an inevitable conclusion — Hector likely beating the handsome critic near to death.

“And the police?” The now-paler Bishop Blair sipped some more of his Tavel, as if white wine could supply the false courage of, say, whiskey…perhaps of Pernod in the near term, if one had not sampled absinthe.

The critic said, “Were the organs found?”

Hector bit his lip. Looking at his drink, he said, “Leave it to the likes of you to pose that morbid question ‘Wind’. But, no, they were not. The sheriff’s boys put the body on a set of scales they use to weigh marlin and swordfish. With all the metal, the woman’s corpse came in just under two-hundred-and-seventy-five pounds. The body of even a small, comparatively light woman is a lot for even a strong man to transport across any kind of distance or terrain. So the sense is this woman was murdered and…prepared…just where she lay. Where she was found…displayed.”

“Then there may still be clues to the killing around — perhaps the discarded organs are close by.” Quentin was focused on Hector.

Hem rose, beaming. “I’ve got flashlights.”

The little surrealist artist stood, straightening his lapels. “I’ll come of course.” Mrs. Blair held a hand up to her mouth again — like some over-acting silent film star. The little painter grabbed his wife’s gloved hand. He urged her hand from his wife’s mouth and patted its back. “I’ll be fine, my dear. I’m in stout company.”

Hector rolled his eyes. He felt like he’d just lurched into one of Dame Estelle Quartermain’s damned locked-room mysteries with all their exaggerated British civility and stilted dialogue. Before he could check himself, Hector said aloud, “Jesus fucking wept.”
Rachel just looked at him, this drunken and disbelieving smile on her pretty face.

Scowling, Pauline said, “For the love of God, go with them, Hec — this is your bloody field. And I hold you responsible for keeping them all from abject embarrassment or accidental drowning.”

© Craig McDonald, 2008
Learn more at http://www.bleakhousebooks.com & http://www.craigmcdonaldbooks.com



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