Table of Contents

Spring 2009

From The Editor

Letter from Jack Getze

Short Stories

Patrick Whittaker

9:03

Anthony Rainone

Fall to Pieces

Phil Beloin

Late, After Dinner

Jake Nantz

Midnight on the Links

Stephen D. Rogers

Queen Anne's Lace

Mike Sheeter

Blue Fugazzi

David Moss

The Sleepy Pines Nursing Home

Fiona Kay Crawford

Successful Surgeon

Graham Powell

The Ins and Outs

John Towler

The Fall

Damien Seaman

Thursday Night Blowout

Matthew Acheson

Writing on the Wall

Interviews

Sandra Ruttan with Russel D. McLean

Declan Burke with Brian McGilloway

Jim Napier with Phyllis Smallman

Brian Lindenmuth with Craig McDonald

Reviews by:

P.A. Brown

Mexican Heat

Gloria Feit

Friend of the Devil

Theodore Feit

Death Was in the Picture

A Beautiful Place to Die

Night and Day

Claire McManus

The Hanged Man

The Poisoner of Ptah

My Sister, My Love

The Cruelest Month

Jim Winter

Trigger City

The Fourth Victim

TKO

Bookspot Review Roundup

Book Excerpt

The Big O
by Declan Burke

Featured Article

Passing of the Torch - Celebrated crime novelist dies
by Jim Napier

Fall to Pieces

Reese stood beside the grain bin and checked the time again on his cell phone. Where was this guy? The early morning sky over the fields was black and speckled with floating dots of light, like burning coal embers twirling on a hot draft. Two of the embers dropped out of the sky and onto the road. Reese watched a pickup truck ride down the dip and drive slowly past. The driver looked hard at Reese but kept going.

He wondered if he should bail right now, wondered what Mylo Cather would do to him. Mylo carried weight inside the walls of Tecumseh, and Mylo was just as heavy on the outside. As he contemplated the scenario of turning his back on a man who enjoyed using a dressing knife on his enemies, a Mustang coated with Nebraska dust came out of the wheat fields and stopped in front of Reese. The passenger side door opened.

“Get in,” said the driver.

The car interior smelled of animal hide, wet dirt and motor oil. Reese put his feet on road maps and Sonic wrappers that littered the floor. He looked sideways at the man next to him. The driver's face was young and smooth, save for a red scar on his jaw that looked like a mashed spider.
“We’re headed to North Platte,” said the driver.

He swung the car onto State Highway 23. Reese couldn’t see shit in the dark, but he knew the flat expanse of range land they passed by heart, where the pasture would slope up into hilly terrain. His family came to these parts to farm more than a hundred fifty years ago, and Reese had more dirt than blood in his veins.

The driver gestured to paper cups in the holder. “I got coffee from the Gas and Shop.” His eyes never left the black top road.  "You're Reese?"

Reese shook his head.

The man kept his eyes forward. “M’name's Brick. I was told you did time in Tecumseh for armed assault.” He reached for one of the coffees and pulled the plastic tab back with his teeth. “I did a spell in Lancaster. I don't work with men who ain't done time.” Reese wondered if that was a compliment.  Brick didn't say anything more, and both men listened to the sound of insects hitting the windshield hard for a few minutes.  Brick eventually jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Yourn’s in the back seat.”

Reese looked over at a cut down Remington auto-loader resting on a blanket.

"I’m gonna use a Glock I boosted from a cop in Kearney,” said Brick. “Don’t that beat all?”

Reese didn't bother asking Brick how he got the gun off the cop.  He had a good notion.  He picked up the shotgun and ran his hands along the metal action. He pulled the slide and checked the empty chamber and bounced the weapon lightly in his hands. It wasn’t just a shotgun. It was a world changer for Reese.

“You ever dun this before?” said Brick.

“No,” said Reese.

“Well, once it gets going and all, it happens fast. I closed my eyes the first time I dun it.  But that was my brother, so it was easy.”

Brick turned the car onto Highway 83. A cobalt band of light rose above the edge of the pasture now. Through the thin light, Reese could make out Angus cattle dotting the landscape. Reese’s daddy was a farmer and he always said farming was honest work. "If you fail, you either got fate against you, or your work ethic.  You can only change one of 'em." 

The week before, Reese had struck up a conversation with a man he knew from Tecumseh at Ole’s Steakhouse in Paxton.  Reese had been fired from a ranch job in Ogallala two hours earlier, and he stopped to have a beer and get the taste of disappointment out of his mouth. The man's name was Leonard, and he had worked in food services at the prison.  The word was that Leonard raised llamas on the side, and he liked to cruise the bars near the meatpacking plants in Dover.  Leonard had a taste for young Mexican girls. The two men sat at the bar drinking and talking about the stuffed game animals mounted around the restaurant. It was like being on a safari right there in the Midwest.

“I shot a bear in Alaska,” said Leonard staring at a stuffed representative a few feet away. “We had taken a puddle jumper from Anchorage into the woods. Don't know exactly where. It was damn cold, but no snow ‘cept on the mountain tops. When I saw the bear, the blood was rushing so hard to my heart, I hardly had any juice in my finger to pull the trigger.” He swallowed a long draught of beer and wiped the stubble around his mouth with thick fingers.
“You like to shoot?”

"Yeah, but I ain't got time for it." Reese told him that he was in a jam. His daughter was sick. His wife not able to work. Reese had holes in his socks, a car that had just enough gas to get him home, and an ATM card that gave him access to no money.

Leonard looked at Reese. "You remember the name Mylo Cather?"

Reese shook his head.  Shit, who would forget?

“Mylo needs someone who knows their way around a gun. Someone who can keep their mouth shut. Is that you?"

Reese nodded again.

“This is dirty work.” He pointed at the bartender and then at the two empty beer bottles in front of him. “The money is real good and you don’t wait for a check to be cut.”

“What’s the job?” Reese said.

When the bartender brought over the beers, Leonard ordered two sides of red, and leaned his face closer to Reese. “Let me tell you all the facts, son.”

“You nodding off?” said Brick abruptly.

Reese shook his head.  "No, just thinking is all."
“Okay,” said Brick. “There’s gonna be maybe two of them, like Lennie probably tole you. One’s built like a rodeo bull. He'll be mine.” Brick suddenly stepped on the brake. “Shit.”

In front of them sat two state patrol cruisers parked on the side of the black top, the emergency lights flashing. The troopers were standing outside their cars, one of them holding up his hand.

“They’s just doing traffic checks,” said Reese. He put the cut-down shotgun under his seat. Reese said a silent prayer that the cops wouldn’t ask to look inside the car.

Brick slowly pulled up to the first trooper standing on the road. He powered his driver’s side window down.

“Morning,” said the trooper. He bent at the waist, and Reese could see commendation bars on his uniform above the left breast pocket. “Where’re you heading?”

“North Platte,” said Brick.

The trooper looked them both over, and surveyed the car interior. “You men mind if I look in your trunk?”

“Not at all.” Brick popped it open.  "Somethin' happen out this way?"

 The trooper stared at Brick for a beat.  "Appreciate your cooperation, sir."

A second trooper started walking towards their car, and Reese could see Brick move his hand towards the small of his back. The trooper had a tactical shotgun propped on his hip, the straps of the gun wrapped around the brown sleeve of his forearm.  He continued on past the front of the car without giving either man a glance. 

Brick's eyes watched the two troopers in the side view mirror, as they stood behind the raised trunk lid. “Anything starts to go down, I’m popping both of them,” he said softly.

“Play it cool,” said Reese.

“I’m just saying, hombre.”

“This car hot?”

“No.  Its got no warrants.”

They both felt vibrations as one of the troopers moved some things around inside the trunk bay. The first trooper closed the trunk and both officers walked back up towards the front of the car. The first trooper slapped the door on Brick’s side. “Have a good day, boys.” They continued walking towards their radio cars.
Brick gently pulled out onto the blacktop, and neither man talked, until the blue mist of morning swallowed the patrol cruisers up whole.

“So what're you doing this for?” said Brick.

“What do you mean? Mylo wants it done.”

“No, I mean are you gettin' out of it?”

“Cash, man.”
“Yeah, there’s that,” said Brick.

Reese wanted to let Brick to know there was a difference between him and the thugs that normally killed for Mylo, thugs like Brick. “My little girl is sick and all. We don’t have health insurance.” He felt no better saying it, felt no absolution. He felt worse really, because he had brought his daughter into his sordid business.

Reese had turned his back on his family farm, because he felt he was better than aerating soil and planting seed. Fixing fence and farm machinery just wasn’t his thing, the smell of manure on his clothes repugnant. He was lost right now, and he knew it. But what he was truly meant to do was just around the corner. Get some money in his pocket first.

“Why are you doing this?” said Reese.

“Me? I’m crazy, plain and simple.” Brick
laughed. "Mylo's a cousin of mine. I dun this stuff before for him.”

They drove on for another twenty minutes. Brick exited the highway and drove through the southern tip of North Platte, past stores and churches, a bookstore and past the federal office building housing the local FBI branch.

Brick noticed Reese studying the exterior.

“Ain't no FBI agents going to know what we’re doing, until they read about it in the Journal Star.”

Brick headed towards the viaduct and made a left hand turn at the strip mall. He pulled into a construction site at the base of the overhead traffic ramp. Chain link fence ran the perimeter, and trucks were parked in the lot, their cabs and flat beds empty. Pipe was stacked in rows, some gleaming and some rusted out.

Brick parked next to the trailer office and cut the engine. There were lights on inside, but Reese didn’t see anyone. In the near distance, pickups and semis raced along the traffic lanes heading towards Montana.

They got out and Reese kept the cut down shotgun tight against his leg. They walked up the wooden steps and inside, Brick going first. A squat man with no neck was eating a breakfast sandwich from waxed paper, and drinking coffee from a ceramic mug. The smell of crisp bacon filled the air. He had a newspaper opened in front of him. On his desk were files and work orders. His face furrowed at the sight of Brick, and he put his breakfast sandwich down slowly.

“You again? Mylo’s got a lot of balls.” The man stood up, but he wasn’t much taller standing than when he was sitting. He was broad, however, and his shoulders looked like they could support the weight of the entire trailer. He held out his beefy hand, palm up. “I don’t want to hear whatever bullshit you want to sling, cowboy. I didn't the last time. I don't now. Get the hell out of here.”
A second man came from around a filing cabinet. He looked about sixty and wore a plaid hunting jacket over a corduroy shirt. He had pens stuffed into his jacket pocket.  He held a cell phone in thin hands.

“Mylo ain’t asking for much,” said Brick. “Come on, dude. Just toss a few ethanol contracts his way. Look chief, there’s plenty for everybody. Those Wall Street investors have deep pockets. Those plants's going up everywhere. What’s the problem here?”

“Hey,” said the man. “Mylo is the wrong kind of businessman. These plants are staying to code. No subcontracting to crooked guys. Mylo’s materials are defective and his guys unskilled. In fact, most of ‘em don’t know shit about laying pipe.  And those New York investors are studying every little fucking thing we do.” He pointed his thick stubby finger at Brick. “I need my job. Get out of here.”
Brick shook his head, his voice low and calm. “You took his money before. You’re all hat and no horse.”

The man moved his mouth, chewing on remnants of his breakfast sandwich.  “That’s the past. I learned my lesson.” 

“Should I call the state patrol?” said the man behind him. He opened the clam shell phone.

“Besides layin’ pipe,” said Brick, “you’re rippin’ the old plants down, right? Let us handle that. Let us cart that shit out. Toss Mylo a few contracts and I go away. It ain’t your money, right?”

“No,” said the man. “Get out.”

“I’m calling the police,” said the man in the plaid jacket.
“No need,” said Brick. He dipped his head, and then he pulled the Glock from his back and shot the squat man in the face. The man fell on top of his food and coffee on the desk, and then onto the floor.

The man in the plaid jacket screamed and tried to pull a filing cabinet in front of himself for protection, but the cabinet was too heavy. Reese drew the shotgun and fired. He hit the man dead on, the man’s face like a cartoon expression of surprise, his plaid jacket fluttering under the percussion of buckshot.

Brick looked down at the squat man lying on the floor. His face was coated with blood, and he wasn’t moving. He spit on him. “Finish your guy,” said Brick. Reese’s ears were ringing from the explosions in close quarters, and he had to read Brick’s lips to understand what he was saying.
Reese walked over to his victim on shaky legs. He was choking on cordite. The man was groaning, and his jacket was turning black from his wounds. Reese pointed the gun at the man’s head and fired.

Brick shot his own victim again. “Stupid, bullshit mutherfucker. Like it was your fucking money.”  When he yelled, saliva flowed down to his chin.

They walked out of the trailer and the air felt good, but a band worked its way around the inside of Reese's head pulling the skin into his skull. The sun had made its way up into the sky. Brick looked as calm as could be, the opposite of a few moments earlier. They got into the car and slowly pulled out, Brick waiting for a family of four in a blue van to pass.

Brick drove for a few blocks over the cobblestone streets. He had to back up when he missed the turn off onto Highway 83. “You were pro back there,” he said. There were blood droplets all over Brick’s clothes, on his neck, and face.

Reese turned away and looked out the window without answering.

They drove back the way they came, but cut off onto State Highway 23.  A cloud cover sank over the expanse of the range land. Rain dotted the windshield and a breeze ruffled through a cluster of foxtails lining the road edge. Reese had put the shotgun back on the seat, after wiping his prints off the wood and metal. He noticed blood on the cloth he used and was afraid to look at himself in the mirror.

“What happens to the guns?” he said.

“I get rid of them,” said Brick. “Next stop -- payday. “We go straight to Mylo. Straight to Lincoln.”

The rain started coming down heavy, as the car pierced the mist. Brick took his eyes off the road to turn the wiper switch to the on setting, not bothering to slow down.

Reese saw the sky light up around the curve and he thought it was lightning at first. The pickup was sitting in the road, the high beams on and facing them, the frame of the truck two feet over the center of the road into their lane. Brick saw it at the last instant, which kept them from hitting it full on, but they still caught the left side of the truck.

The Mustang spun one hundred eighty degrees and rolled over once. Reese’s head snapped back and his legs went forward. The seat belt held him in place, as the windshield cracked and fell in on him in small chunks. He felt a sharp pain in his knees as the dash buckled into his legs, and the airbags deployed. The car came to a rest leaning on the side of the road, halfway in a ditch.

Reese tried to speak, but his tongue felt thick. He looked over at Brick leaning on his air bag, a cut opened on his face leaking blood. He was semi-conscious. A buzzing started in Reese’s head that slowly morphed into a chain saw rip.

The pickup they had hit was pushed to an angle, the grill and hood pushed up. Behind the pickup was an idling state patrol cruiser. The emergency lights were on, but Reese didn’t see the trooper. A man in a straw cowboy hat was standing next to the patrol car. He held a revolver in his hand, and he looked at Reese. He walked slowly over to his pickup and looked at the front grill damage. He got in and tried to start it, but the motor wouldn’t catch.

Reese’s chest felt like crushed glass was pressing against his flesh. He closed his eyes and felt the car and earth rising. When he opened them, he was surprised to see it hadn't moved at all, though the man in the cowboy hat had come down the grass slope, and now stood at Brick's window. The cloud cover behind the man glowed neon yellow clear to the pasture horizon.

The man looked down at Brick and worked his jaw. "Hell, you created a mess, son." He pointed his revolver and fired. Brick’s head and the air bag exploded into red, wet particles. Reese wanted to scream, but his voice was a small trapped animal somewhere inside his chest.

The man came around the car. Reese tried to move his hands, but they were numb lumps of flesh and bone. The air took on an odor of wet earth and electricity. The neon yellow light began to fade. The man leaned into Reese’s window, a strong odor of chew coming off him, then cocked his head listening for something. “I think the dispatcher is calling the trooper on the radio. He won’t be answering.”

Reese tried to move again.

The man put his hand gently on Reese’s shoulder. "Easy now.” He looked up the road. “Should be another car coming through here at some point.” He looked back again at Reese. “Guess our paths had to cross for some reason, boy.”

He raised his gun, but Reese didn’t hear the shot.



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