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

The Ins and Outs

They’re after me.

I told myself it wasn’t true. I tried to believe that I was just being paranoid again. But every time I saw the truck, the same old horrors flooded back, and it took all my strength not to turn away screaming.

The truck. I don’t know how long it had been there, lurking in the periphery of my vision. Days, weeks even? I must have seen it, but I never noticed. Then Monday, as I emerged from a delicatessen, it was waiting at the curb. An armored car. Blue. No name, no logo.

On Tuesday it was parked across the street from my barber.

On Wednesday I watched from the window of my third-floor apartment as it cruised down my block just before dusk. Ten minutes later it passed again. I stood there for hours, peering into the darkness, but it didn’t return.

I’d moved down to Greenwich Village a few months before when my doctor suggested I leave the bustle of Midtown. After my mother’s death I couldn’t bring myself to return to the apartment we’d shared, and had instead stayed in a succession of shabby hotel rooms until the dark dreams overcame me and I was forced to seek help.

A new prescription and a change of scenery had put me back on my feet.

Here, I had the top floor to myself. The landlord, an elderly Frenchman named Bencolin, lived below me, and kept an antique shop on the ground floor. He let me work there from time to time to supplement the meager earnings I received for my literary efforts. Perhaps my destiny lay as a clerk, not as a writer.

Though still within New York, the neighborhood was a peaceful one, and the weeks passed quickly. The only irritation was the interest that our nosy neighbor Mrs. Freidman showed in my sometimes irregular hours.

I took my medication regularly. The dreams had not returned.

Until now.

I began to expect the truck, to look for it, to see it even when it wasn’t there. These moments of fear I’d try to dismiss with a wry chuckle. Then I’d forget myself and glance about idly, and there it was, solid as the sidewalk beneath my feet. They were stalking me.

They didn’t keep me waiting long.

As I rounded the corner to my street I heard the big diesel rumbling behind me. Before I could even turn my head the truck was past me, air brakes groaning as it slowed to a stop. I stood rooted to the spot, mouth working uselessly, as the back door flew open and four men spilled out. One of them threw a coat over my head and they bundled me, screaming, aboard. As the door swung shut behind me the truck lurched into motion.

I was thrown roughly to the floor. They punched and kicked me, the coat blunting the pain a bit, until at last a voice shouted, “All right, enough! Enough!”

The coat was pulled from my head and I looked at the men standing over me. There were four of them, all in their thirties or forties, dressed casually – unremarkable, I suppose – but their expressions were those of demons looking upon lost souls filing into Hell.

I pushed myself into a sitting position against the wall. “Who are you?” I cried. “What do you want?”

The largest of them, burly with a head of thick black hair, squatted in front of me. “Hello, Jarrod. We’ve missed you.”

“My name’s not Jarrod! What do you–”

His hand shot out and gripped my arm above the elbow and I let out a yelp.

Burly fixed a smile on his face and began speaking in the low, grim voice you’d use with a naughty child while out in public.

“We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to find you,” he said. “It’s dangerous enough to get together ourselves, much less trying to hunt you up. Since we’ve put in the effort, I think you owe it to us to listen.

“We all met on the Internet. We’re... enthusiasts, I guess you’d call us, of a particular stripe. Mostly we get together and chat, but what’s the point of a hobby if all you do is talk about it? That’s where you come in, Jarrod. We require certain... items to practice our hobby. Items that are rather expensive and difficult to find. You provided us with those items.”
I shook my head. “But I never–”

Pain shot down my arm as his fingers tightened again. “Please shut up,” he said. “As I mentioned, you provided us the items we needed, for which we paid in advance. And you always delivered. Until now.”

He leaned in close and his smile widened. “We sent the latest payment three months ago. A considerable sum. And we waited, but we didn’t receive the package we’d been promised. So we waited some more. Still nothing.

“After a month with no word we were concerned. After two we were frantic. We were afraid that the police had caught up with you, or worse, that you had gone to them. So we decided that, despite the risk, we had to meet, had to find you. Now that we have, you’re going to give us what we want.”

“But I don’t have any ‘package’!” I said, hating the note of hysteria that crept into my voice. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about!”

Burly stood. “I didn’t really expect you to cooperate, Jarrod, and I’m not going to waste time making threats. Instead, I’m going to let Brad here hurt you a little.”

The one called Brad pulled out a tacklebox and opened the lid. Inside was an assortment of small woodworking tools. At first I thought he’d selected a pen, but when he removed the plastic cap I saw the narrow razor blade. “Actually this will hurt more than a little,” he said. “I’m going to peel your index finger like a grape.”

I tried to struggle but the others held me down. Burly knelt on my wrist as Brad held my finger in one hand and the knife in the other. As the knife touched my flesh I let out a piercing scream.

“Go ahead and yell,” said Burly. “No one can hear you. This van is soundproofed.”

I looked around, really looked, for the first time, and realized it wasn’t a truck I was trapped in. It was a rolling torture chamber.

The walls and flood were thickly padded, spotted here and there with ominous stains. Evenly spaced along the walls were pairs of manacles, with matching leg irons bolted to the floor.

As Brad carefully flayed the skin from my finger, I discovered that Burly was right. My screams sounded muffled, even to me.
When they finally let me go I didn’t move, just lay on the padded floor sobbing and gasping. “Why,” I said. “Why, why, why…”

Burly pulled me roughly to my feet. “We told you what we want, Jarrod.”

“No, it’s just – why me? Why are you after me?”

“We’re not idiots. We traced your Internet address back to your phone company. That gave your number, and that brought us to your house.”

I saw a lifeline and grabbed for it.

“Bencolin!” I shouted. “Not me! Bencolin’s the one you want!”

A narrow crease appeared between Burly’s eyes. “Bencolin? Who the hell is that? We’ve been following you for a week, no one else lives there. You are Jarrod.”

“Bencolin is out of town, out of the country actually, on a buying trip to Europe. That’s why you haven’t heard from him. It must be!”

“Well, we’ll soon find out.” He rapped on a small mesh-covered window to the driver’s cab and said, “Ray, head for the building.”

We must have been close because the truck slowed to a stop only a few minutes later. Brad had just finished wrapping my finger in a crude bandage, and when Burly demanded the key to the shop I didn’t argue. The driver stayed in the cab as the rest of them clustered around me like bodyguards.

The climb to the third floor gave me no opportunity for escape, so I went along meekly. As the door swung open to reveal the mismatched remnants of my mother’s furniture they marched in and set to work.

Watching them search my flat was like watching a skilled mechanic take apart an engine. There was no wasted motion, no unnecessary vandalism, just a neat and tidy job that couldn’t have been more thorough. Whatever they were looking for, they didn’t find it.

Shackled to the radiator, I had an excellent view. The handcuffs were too small and they chafed.

When they were finished, Burly put his hands on his hips and stared hard at me. I said nothing, and a few minutes later we were on our way down to Bencolin’s place on the second floor.

Bencolin had furnished his rooms exclusively in old-world antiques, lots of warm wood in caramel tones, thick Persian rugs on the floor, glass cabinets full of antique knick knacks.

The men went through it as quickly as they’d searched my apartment, and came up just as empty.

Burly’s face was now tight with frustration. “Down to the shop,” he said.

Here they proceeded cautiously, since the front of the shop opened directly onto the sidewalk. Any passerby could see what they were up to. They solved this problem by moving a couple of Japanese screens to block the windows, then handcuffed me to a chair and proceeded to go through the stock.

Again they found nothing. When they were done Burly came and stood over me. “Where’s the computer?”

“Computer?” I said.

“You have to have something to ring up sales, to take credit cards. Where is it?”

I looked towards a counter near the back of the shop. “Over there.”

The old manual cash register was nearly an antique itself. Next to it lay a machine for taking credit card impressions.

Burly walked over and paused as he looked down at it. Then his gaze shifted, and he crossed the room and opened a door set into the far wall.

Beyond the door, steps descended into darkness. “What’s in the basement?” he said.

“Storage,” I said. “Bencolin’s work room. I don’t really know, I don’t go down there.”

He snapped on the light, and we trooped downstairs into a room crowded with furniture, much of it in various stages of disrepair, along with bins containing hinges, pulls, and other hardware, and a long workbench along one wall.

Again they searched, this time with a growing sense of desperation. Drawers were slammed shut, tables upended. Still nothing.

Then one of the men – I never heard his name – drawled out, “Hey guys, come give me a hand with this.” Three of them muscled aside a heavy armoire to reveal another door.

Burly smiled. “Sub-basement.”

I’d thought the van was a torture chamber. I was wrong. That tiny room twenty feet underground was the real thing.

An elegant canopy bed stood against the far wall, the mattress crisscrossed by leather straps. Adjacent to it was a pegboard covered with rows of buckles, chains, and gags. A whip, a riding crop. A curling iron.

Then there was the video equipment. A pair of tripods held camcorders, one by the foot of the bed, the other to one side. Cables fed back across the floor to a computer atop a small desk. High-powered light stands covered every angle, their reflectors open like umbrellas.

Worst of all: to one side stood a small aluminum rack, nothing more than two posts and a crossbar. From this hung a row of wooden hangers holding colorful children’s clothing.

Burly was ecstatic. “Come take a look at this!” he said, sitting at the desk. The other men clustered around as he booted the computer.

They’d handcuffed me to an iron ring fixed to the wall beside the door, painfully pinching the skin of my wrist. I rubbed and twisted, trying to relieve the discomfort.

The cuff popped open. It wasn’t locked. It was too small and they hadn’t squeezed it tightly enough to catch. I nearly gasped aloud.

This was it – my only chance. I stared at the men’s backs, willing myself invisible as I backed slowly towards the stairwell. When I felt the first step against my heel I turned and ran.

A flash of motion from above, an explosion of pain in my jaw, and I found myself lying on my back on the floor. Ray the driver stood over me rubbing one hand. “I think I broke a knuckle,” he said.

“Nice job, Ray,” said Burly. He nudged me with a foot. “Too bad for you,” he said, his face a stone mask.

“You guys better hurry,” said Ray. “I been getting a lot of funny looks up there. Do what you’re gonna do, and let’s get out of here.”

Burly nodded. “Unhook the computer. We’ll take it with us.”

“What about him?” said Brad.

They all looked around at each other. Apparently they hadn’t thought this far ahead.

“Take him, too,” said Brad.

“Or leave him tied up down here,” added Ray. “He’ll starve before someone finds him.”

“Too risky,” said Burly. “Get me one of those straps.” They fetched it for him, and Burly wound it around his fists, leaving two feet of leather stretched between his hands. “Get up,” he said.

“P-Please,” I stammered. “I won’t say anything, just leave me here. I won’t cause any trouble.”

“Get him on his feet.” I was too limp to stand, much less resist. They had to hold me up.

“No!” I cried. “For God’s sake, no! No, no, no, no!”

As he wound the leather around my throat I screamed, then was abruptly squeezed into silence. I tried to yell, had to yell or my lungs would burst, but no sound passed my lips. I could feel my eyes bulge as though they would leap from my face.

Then, from above, a voice shouted, “Here – down here!”, and then came the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard – a legion of thick feet thumping down the stairs. A squad of police stormed the room, guns drawn, and the pressure on my throat was released.

And, overcome, I fainted.

The detective’s name was Irving. I never learned if that was his first or last name.

I was sitting at his desk at the local precinct house. It was long after dark. He brought me a cup of coffee and said, “The doctor check out that finger?”

I held up my hand, now professionally bandaged, and said, “It’s not too bad. They want me to come in tomorrow so they can take another look.”

“Right, right.” He sat opposite me and opened a folder. “Well, sir, I have to say that we here in the department thank you. Without your help we wouldn’t have put these guys behind bars.”

“I’m afraid my part was mostly passive. Perhaps I delayed them for a few minutes, that’s all. What brought them to your attention?”

“One of your neighbors,” he said, looking down at the file. “A Mrs. Livia Freidman.”

“Did they really expect that they wouldn’t be caught?”

“Who’s to say? Nobody knows the ins and outs of these guys’ minds. This stuff is more important to them than their lives. Now, what can you tell us about this man Bencolin?”

I shrugged. “I needed a place to stay. Gerard seemed like a nice old man and was happy to help.”

“Gerard,” said the detective. “Gerard. Hmmm. Don’t suppose you know where he is now?”

“In Europe on a buying trip. He’s an antique dealer, and makes several trips a year. I believe this time he was going to Bucharest.”

“Bucharest. In Hungary, right?”

I smiled thinly. “Romania.”

“Wherever he is, I guess he won’t be coming home now.”

“No, I don’t expect we’ll be seeing him again. I don’t mean to be rude, but may I go now? It’s late and I haven’t taken my medication.”

“Yeah, I’m sure you want to get out of here. Tell you what, I’ll have one of the officers give you a lift back to your apartment. Unless you’d rather stay somewhere else tonight?”

“The apartment will be fine.”

“I’ll call you in a day or so, set up an interview where we can go over this in a bit more detail. That be okay?”

“Of course, detective.” I said. “I’m happy to help.”

Fifteen minutes later I was pushing open my apartment door. It was still turned neatly inside out. I poured myself a cup of water and shook out a couple of pills from the bottle over the sink.

I went over to the window, cup in one hand and the pills in the other. The police cruiser was just pulling away from the curb. I watched until it drove out of sight.

I heard Jarrod’s low chuckle.

I turned quickly, but I was alone in the room.

I felt his smile creep across my face.




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