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 Big O


‘I asked him one time what type of writing brought the most money and the agent says, “Ransom notes.”’

Elmore Leonard, Get Shorty

Wednesday

Karen

In the bar, Karen drinking vodka-tonic, Ray on brandy to calm his nerves, Karen told him how people react to death and a stick-up in pretty much the same way: shock, disbelief, anger, acceptance.

‘The trick being,’ she said, ‘to cut back on their anger, get them long on acceptance.’

‘So you just walk up the aisle ––’

‘A side aisle. Never the main one.’

‘This is why I don’t see you coming,’ Ray said. ‘And you’re already wearing the bike helmet.’

‘Always. Visor down. Tinted.’

‘Naturally. And carrying, it looked like to me, a Mag .44.’

‘Correct.’

‘But you’re still saying “Excuse me?” at the counter?’

‘That’s so no one gets excited. Least of all me.’

‘So you’ve got their attention. Now what?’

‘I ask if they have kids. Usually they do. Most nights I don’t even have to rack the slide.’

‘Lucky me,’ Ray said. He sipped some brandy, watching Karen over the rim of the glass. ‘Should I feel privileged you just couldn’t help shooting at me?’

‘I was aiming wide,’ she said.

‘You still fired.’

‘See it my way. You came out of nowhere. Snuck up.’

‘I was trying to get a strawberry Cornetto from the bottom of the freezer.’ He lit a cigarette. ‘Then, I stand up, I nearly get my head blown off.’

Karen had seen him late in her peripheral vision, the guy coming up fast as if he were lunging. So she’d half-turned and squeezed, dry-firing. It was over before he even knew it was on.

Except what Karen remembered best was his eyes in the moment when he realised what had just happened. How they got clearer but stayed perfectly still. Tigery eyes, gold flecks in hazel. Karen, knowing he couldn’t see her face behind the helmet’s tinted visor, had been tempted to wink.

Then the Chinese guy behind the counter said: ‘I just locked up. The money’s in the safe. All I got is bags of change.’

‘Gimme your wallet,’ she’d said, and checked the driver’s license for his address. ‘I know where you live,’ she told the Chinese guy, tossing the wallet back onto the counter. The Chinese guy shrugged, glanced at his watch.

Outside on the forecourt, Ray standing there with his shoulders loose, eyes clear, a strawberry Cornetto in his hand, Karen’d said: ‘Fancy a drink?’

And Ray’d said: ‘Okay by me.’

Ray

Karen had a place where she dumped the bike after a job. Ray said he’d follow on, catch her up at the bar. Now they were sitting at the corner of the L-shaped counter, Ray on the short leg of the L with his back to the wall so he could watch the door. Karen bolted down the first vodka-tonic, ordered another and a coffee for Ray. ‘So what do you do, Ray?’ she said.

‘I’m retired.’

‘Okay for you. What’re you retired from?’

‘Baby-sitting.’

‘You’re a baby-sitter?’

‘Not anymore. I quit. What about you, you’re a full-time blagger?’

‘Nope. Tell me more about the baby-sitting.’

Ray caught a gleam in her eye, and they were nice eyes to start with. He wondered if he couldn’t get them to sparkle.

‘The guy I work for,’ he said, ‘that I worked for, sometimes he needs people held a while. I’m the one does the holding.’

‘Held?’

‘As in against their will. Sometimes people owe money and they’re in no hurry to pay up. Or you’ll have a job where an inside is needed, the guy who can access the security code. So you snatch someone he knows. Wives, mainly. Kids can get messy.’

‘And you take good care of these wives.’

‘No one’s ever complained.’

‘Nice job.’

‘You’re the one brings a Mag .44 to work.’

‘You don’t use a gun?’

‘Not always. Depends on the circumstances. Some people adapt better than others.’

‘I thought no one ever complained.’

‘Mostly they’re gagged.’

Karen sipped some vodka-tonic. ‘So how come you’re retired?’

‘It was jump or be shoved. The Fridge checked out. A new shylock took over.’

‘The Fridge?’

‘The guy liked to eat.’

‘What happened to him?’

‘What happens every fridge,’ Ray said. ‘Bottom of a canal, punctured.’

Frank

To work with human flesh, Frank would tell his patients, to work in human flesh, is a privilege that allows a humble surgeon to aspire to the status of an artist. Moreover, the trust that existed between the artist and his living clay was unique. Michelangelo, Frank would say with a self-deprecating nod to the bust of the Renaissance master in the corner of his consultation suite, never had to worry about whether or not the marble trusted him.

At which point the nervous patient - already dizzy with premonitions of needles, scalpels and the strong probability of public ridicule - would rush to assure Frank of her complete faith in Frank’s abilities, and Frank would reluctantly slide the release forms across his mahogany desk.

Those were the times when Frank felt most alive. In control of his destiny, a man who was making that elusive difference.

This was not one of those times.

‘You’re actually serious,’ he said, keeping his voice low with some difficulty as he leaned in across the cubicle table.

‘It’s foolproof,’ Bryan said airily, tapping imaginary ash from his unlit Ritmeester. ‘Cast-iron. Lockdown of the year, I’d call it.’

‘Okay. That much I’m not disputing. What I’m asking is, are you serious? Or are you, y’know, back dropping acid again?’

‘Jesus, Frank. Keep it down.’ Bryan glanced over his shoulder as he tightened the marble-sized knot in his tie. He hunched closer and put his elbows on the table, which caused his slender glass of Czech import to wobble precariously. ‘It’s all there in the small print, Frank. It’s not like we’re doing anything illegal.’

‘The whole fucking point is it’s illegal,’ Frank whispered hoarsely.

Like, if it wasn’t illegal, why were they whispering in a remote cubicle of the Members’ Bar? Frank tried to remember if he’d ever strayed this far from the bar before but he couldn’t come up with a single reason why he might want to.

He watched, fuming, as Bryan clipped the Ritmeester. ‘I ask you to, y’know, stop the bitch from crippling me, swiping everyfuckingthing. And this is the best you can do?’

Bryan pinched a crease in his pants. ‘Relax, Frank. They were bound to find a loophole or two.’

‘A loophole? The pre-nup’s a fishing net, Bry. The guy’s pouring through every which fucking way.’

Frank still couldn’t get his head around how Madge’s lawyer was on his case, working overtime the last six months, a labour of love, the guy coming on like red ants. Not for the first time, Frank was haunted by the spectre of Madge screwing her lawyer so she could screw Frank by proxy.

Meanwhile, Frank was stuck with Bry the ex-hippy burn-out, this on the basis of Oakwood’s code of etiquette, which stated - as firmly as it was possible for any unwritten rule to state - that it’s bad form to cut any of your regular four-ball partners out of the loop.

‘I’ve told you already, Frank,’ Bryan said. ‘My hands are tied. Maybe if you’d told me about the pre-nup before I went into conference ....’ He winced. ‘Cigar?’

Frank shook his head and began shredding a beermat. Bryan lit up, exhaled an acrid cloud. ‘The best bit about this deal,’ he went on, ‘is that these guys are pros. I mean, they do this shit all the time. It’s what they do. So if you’re worried about Madge ––’

Frank snorted so hard he burnt sinus.

‘Okay,’ Bryan said. ‘So what’s to stop you? You’ve paid up on all your insurance premiums, right? And it’s all there in the small print. They’re the ones put the clause in, expecting you to pay for it.’ He puffed on the Ritmeester. Frank, practically salivating by now, swallowed dry. ‘So you’re entitled,’ Bryan continued. ‘All you need to do is get Doug to sign off for Trust Direct, extending the insurance until Friday week.’ He shrugged. ‘You don’t want to get Doug involved, you don’t want to go down the road of having Madge snatched, then fine. Just remortgage the house and nab the money from the bank instead.’

Frank gritted his teeth. ‘We did that already, Bry. So Madge could move out and live up in Larkhill Mews, have a swimming pool out back. At the time, if memory serves, you justified it by saying maybe she’d fall in and drown.’

Bryan, remembering now, nodded. ‘So you go with Doug.’

‘Bryan,’ Frank said, as patiently as any recently reformed smoker might while trying to dissuade his lawyer from proposing a major felony, ‘we could go to prison.’

Bryan sniffed, tapped some real ash from the Ritmeester. ‘I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this, Frank, but I’m professionally bound to tell you that you’re fucked. Screwed. Cornholed. The divorce’ll leave you with socks and jocks, and that malpractice suit isn’t going away either. I mean, even if you had it in writing, how that poor woman explicitly asked to look like Bob Mitchum, the jury’d take one look at those eyelids and ––’

Frank waved for silence, put two beer mats back to back, began shredding. ‘Convince me,’ he muttered.

‘It’s simple. Grab what you can now. Like I say, it’s all there in the insurance contract anyway. What’s to stop you?’

‘The cops?’

‘The big house or the poor house, Frank, who gives a fuck? I was you, I’d think long and hard about passing up half a million in cash.’

Frank boggled.

‘I didn’t mention,’ Bryan said innocently, ‘that the indemnity’s for a half mill?’

Frank swallowed hard.

‘Of course,’ Bryan said, tapping more ash, ‘I’ll be needing a finder’s fee. Ten grand, say. And the boys, the pros, they charge a flat fee of fifty large. But four-forty isn’t to be sneezed at. Tax-free, too.’

‘Half a fucking million?’ Frank croaked.

‘To my way of thinking - and this is just me, mind - five hundred gees is a lowball shot when you’re dealing with, y’know, someone’s life. But I checked it out and that seems to be the standard rate. And with the contract running void this week, it’d smell if we went fucking around now looking for more than the half mill.’

Bryan fished a scrap of paper from his breast pocket and laid it on the table, ironing its wrinkles with the heel of his hand. ‘All you have to do is ring that number and ask for Terry. He’ll look after the rest. You just sit back and watch the green roll in.’

Frank polished off his highball in one gulp, reached the number off the table.

‘Oh,’ Bryan said. ‘Just one more thing. The boys’ll need twenty grand up front, a good faith gesture. You can stretch to twenty grand, right? In cash?’

Frank stared, owlish.

‘Not to worry,’ Bryan said. ‘In cases like this, and apparently it happens more often than you’d think, the boys’ll put up their own good faith twenty. And don’t sweat the vig.’

‘Vig?’

‘I hear what you’re saying. But for twenty large they won’t charge more than ten, maybe twelve points. Fifteen, tops.’

‘Points?’

‘Think positive, Frank. See the big picture. Half a mill.’ Bryan got up. ‘That’s a scotch, right?’

As Bryan headed for the bar, the spectre loomed large in Frank’s imagination again: the lawyer humping Madge, his pinky finger digging into her belly-button, Madge lying back on the pillows laughing and smoking a Marlboro red.

Frank gritted his teeth, tossed away the flittered remnants of the beer mats, put three more back to back.

Karen

‘If you’re out of a job,’ Karen said, ‘how’d you fancy you and me hooking up?’

‘I don’t know. You always bring a gun on these jobs?’

‘Sometimes I bring a tickle-stick. It matches my eyes.’

Ray pursed his lips. ‘Guns are bad juju. With armed robbery, you’re just asking for trouble.’

‘As opposed to, like, just kidnapping people.’

‘I told you. I quit.’

‘Lucky you. Some of us still have to earn a living. Want another coffee?’

‘No thanks, it’s crap.’

‘I’ve got some Blue Mountain back home.’ Ray just stared, not exactly the reaction Karen’d been hoping for. ‘It’s Jamaican,’ she said. ‘Pound for pound, the most expensive beans in the world.’

‘And this’d be what, like a date?’

‘It’d be a lot like a cup of coffee. Maybe, you behave yourself, some conversation.’

‘Conversation’s good.’

‘Not lately it’s not. So are you coming or what?’

‘Okay, yeah.’

‘Want to grab some beers?’

‘No, I’m good.’

‘You driving?’

Ray nodded. Karen, slipping down off the high stool, said: ‘Impress me. What do you drive?’

‘An Audi. German import.’

‘Sweet.’

‘Although I should warn you, it’s twelve years old.’

‘Audi’s Audi. Listen, I have to use the bathroom. You want to wait here or in the car?’

‘I like the way you think I’ll wait.’

Karen grinned. ‘I like the way you think you won’t.’

Rossi

Rossi Francis Assisi Callaghan saw the light, got religion, eight months short of a five-year stretch for armed robbery, DUI and resisting arrest. The only break he caught was when the judge directed that the three sentences should run concurrently, on the basis that all the offences occurred within a twenty-minute period that included Rossi’s collision with a motorway median strip, which happened roughly seven seconds after Rossi fell asleep on the back of his Ducati while doing 104 kph.

But that was the only break.
‘My third jolt,’ Rossi said. ‘No remission. So here’s me, five strokes of the cane later.’
‘That’s rough,’ said the new guy, Ferret, sprawled on the lower bunk.
‘Nothing worse than justice,’ Rossi said. ‘Anyway, I get out in the morning.’ He handed Ferret the joint.
Ferret had a toke. ‘So you’re saying you got religion from this Pat O’Brien guy. Who’s he, the padre in here?’
‘Angels With Dirty Faces,’ Rossi said. ‘Pat O’Brien plays a priest, Cagney’s this gangster. Bogart’s in there too. Anyway, at the end, going to the chair, Cagney pretends he’s yellow, starts screaming, all this. So the kids won’t think he’s such a hero type.’
‘And this is where you got religion.’ Ferret had another toke. ‘Stoned, right?’
‘On, I should mention, some serious fucking grass. Mostly the shit in here wouldn’t keep a nun in giggles.’ Ferret took the hint; Rossi accepted the proffered joint. ‘I wouldn’t mind,’ he said, ‘but I only got the movie out thinking it was, y’know, a blue someone’d smuggled in. I mean, angels with dirty faces, you’re expecting money shots, the works.’ He shook his head, disgusted. ‘I packed in the sex right there and then.’

‘I’m thinking, in here, that wasn’t as big a decision as it might have been.’

‘Yeah, maybe. Anyway, what O’Brien’s saying in the movie, to Cagney? That’s me from now on.’

Ferret cocked his head. ‘You’re going to be a priest?’

‘I thought about it,’ Rossi admitted. ‘God’s truth, I thought about it.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Spend enough time in a cell, you’ll think every fucking thought was ever fucking thought. One time I thought maybe God fucked up one time and was sitting in a cell somewhere, y’know, daydreaming. Us, like.’

Ferret didn’t spend too long mulling that one over. ‘So what’s the plan now? On the out, like. You have a hook-up?’

‘It’s more in the way of a vocation,’ Rossi said.

‘Except not as a priest.’

‘I’ve been reading up.’

‘Taking courses and shit.’ Ferret nodded appreciatively. ‘Gets you time off, right? Early parole.’

‘Fucked if I know. That’s all you’ll be needing, it’s all in there.’ Rossi reached a newspaper off the wooden table, tossed it onto Ferret’s bunk. It landed with a solid thump. ‘Although,’ he conceded, as Ferret hefted the broadsheet dubiously, ‘you’ll be wanting a dictionary starting off.’

‘That and two cranes. Just keep it short and tell it slow.’

Rossi beckoned for the paper, opened it wide and folded it back. ‘Okay,’ he said, scanning. ‘First off, here’s an accountant, right? Mows down this six-year-old, he’s four beers over the limit. The bagman, like, not the kid. How long?’

‘Two years.’

‘Seven fucking months. Alright. Next up is some housing authority manager, he’s on the take. Yeah? Backhanders and shit. How long?’

‘Six months.’

‘Suspended sentence. Here’s a doctor, malpractice. We’re looking at nineteen, it says here, unauthorised mastectomies. How long?’

‘A medal, a pension and a gold watch.’

‘Disbarment,’ Rossi said, not to be denied. ‘Plus they’re looking into his tax affairs. You tell me, what’s that to do with justice?’

‘Who said it was about justice? You get caught or you don’t, end of story.’

‘Fair point. But this accountant, he’s doing open prison, conjugal rights, all this. Jammy fucking doughnuts all fucking week. Yeah? He’s out hoeing the broccoli, we’re banged up in this fucking hole. Am I right?’

Ferret, sprawled on a bunk in D Wing, could hardly demur.

‘Know who ends up in here, Ferret? Losers. Fuckwits knocking off bookies and chemists. And for what, a couple of grand a throw?’ Rossi sucked hard on the doobie. ‘Know who doesn’t end up in here? The bastards wearing ties, the ones with the offshore accounts. The kind, they’re not actually stealing from people, they’re just investing the cash for them.’

‘Without, say, telling them first.’

‘Perxactly. See, I have sixty large sitting out there right now waiting for me.’

Ferret whistled low. ‘Sweet.’

‘Except it’s cash. Not so sweet when you’re looking for a loan. I mean, I’m wearing the wrong suit, no tie. So there’s forms to fill in. Questions asked. Where’s the sixty large come from, who’s did it used to be, what’s the fucking serial number on every fucking bill. All this.’

Ferret made a sympathetic clucking sound. Rossi waved it off.

‘They won’t stop me,’ he said. ‘The sixty grand’ll cover me for the first year. And once I’m up and running, I’ll be applying for all sorts.’

‘Cover you for what?’

‘Overheads. Rent and shit on the office.’

‘You’re going into business?’

Rossi nodded solemnly. ‘An advice centre. The Francis Assisi Rehabilitation Concern. For ex-cons, like. Although, with the name, I might need permission from the pope first.’

Ferret squinted. ‘Advising cons on what? Where’s best to fence their shit, that kind of thing?’

‘See,’ Rossi said, stabbing the air with the doobie for emphasis, ‘there’s the problem right there. Everyone expects when a man gets out that it’s only a matter of time before he goes back in. Am I right?’

‘Most of us do.’

‘Okay. But say you’re a booze hound, right? Hitting it hard. What do you do?’

‘Al-Anon.’

‘You’re a junkie, where do you go?’

‘Methadone programme.’

‘But if you’re an ex-con wanting to break the cycle, who can you talk to?’

Ferret scratched an ear.

‘The Francis Assisi Rehabilitation Concern,’ Rossi said. He bounced a thumb off his chest. ‘Me.’

Ferret thought that one over. ‘You’d be like a counsellor? Some shit like that?’

‘Perfuckingxactly.’

‘And you’ve trained for this? Done courses and shit?’

‘Believe it. At the university of hard fucking knocks.’

‘So you’re not actually, y’know, qualified.’

‘I’ve done the crime, Ferret, and I’ve done the time. Three fucking jolts’ worth. So you tell me, am I qualified to tell cons what’s what? Or would you rather talk to some poncy tart in a white coat waving a clipboard with a face on her like a robber’s dog?’

‘I hear you,’ Ferret said. ‘I’m only saying, if you don’t have the certificate framed on the wall....’

‘See, this is the beauty of it,’ Rossi said. ‘Know what kind of qualifications you need to start a charity?’

‘A charity?’

‘Fuck yeah, a charity. You kidding? Charities get all the tax breaks going. Then, every time you pick up a paper there’s some charity in there getting press. Or they’re on TV. And all for free, like. It’s cancer this, AIDS that, fucking Africa the other. Then there’s your basic fund-raising activities. You see what I’m saying.’

Ferret lay back on the bunk, head pillowed on his arms. ‘Sounds to me,’ he said slowly, ‘it could be the basic blueprint for a con’s co-op. What d’you think, would a union be a step too far?’

‘I don’t know,’ Rossi admitted. ‘I mean, if you want to fleece the system all the way down to the bone, politics is the only way to go.’

After a while, without opening his eyes, Ferret said: ‘My brother-in-law’s brother, he’s into me for two grand in snow.’

‘Yeah?’

‘Yeah. I could give you his address, get you to call around. Then you cut me in on the ground floor for two large.’

‘I’ll do you five points.’

‘That’s more than generous, Rossi.’

‘"A helping hand,"‘ Rossi recited loftily, ‘"not a boot in the balls."‘

‘The Francis Assisi Rehabilitation Concern, right?’

‘FARC for short.’

‘I like it. Neat and tidy.’

Rossi nodded, pleased. Then a frown clouded his face. ‘All I’m hoping,’ he said, ‘is the pope doesn’t fuck me around on the name. What d’you think, will he want points?’



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