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 Fall

In that detached, third person perspective we sometimes view our lives through, Kristen noted that it was a startled sensation that trumped fear the moment the ground disappeared underneath her feet. She came to with her cheek pressed against hard packed dirt. Apparently, her pursuer had given up the chase, but how long ago she couldn't say. The fall had knocked her senseless.

Sunlight filtered down from the top of the shaft, so she hadn't been out that long. She sat up gingerly, wincing at the pain in her shoulder and knee, slowly rotating each in turn before deciding that nothing was broken. Still, the swelling told her that a bag of ice and a couple hundred milligrams of ibuprofen would be welcome.

Rising to her feet, she took measure of her cramped surroundings. The bottom of the shaft was maybe six or seven feet to a side and fifteen feet deep; rotting timbers and braces supported dirt walls. Old beer cans, cigarette filters and snack wrappers shared floor space with an accumulation of dead leaves and pine needles.

"Hello," she said, tentative at first, but then louder. "Anybody there?"

Nobody answered, but in the distance she thought she could hear music. After a moment she realized it was coming from her iPod, which had miraculously survived the fall. She picked up the slim music player and inserted an ear bud. Irene Cara was singing with feeling about a feeling. Just before she'd fallen in the hole, Kristen had been listening to the B-52's. Doing a bit of rough math, she figured about thirty minutes between the two songs.

"Wish you were a cell phone," she said to the music player, before switching it off and tucking it in her spandex shorts. Kristen put a hand to her head; her fingers came away tacky. She delicately probed a swollen knot just above her temple, blood and dirt-matted hair made knowing the extent of the damage impossible.

She was, best guess, about a quarter mile from the little country road that was a scenic part of her route through the Blue Ridge Mountains. The road had a wide grass median and very little traffic, which was ideal for jogging, but not so great for somebody hearing you if you were screaming for help while a half-naked dude with a knife chased after you yelling, “Here kitty, kitty!”

If the guy had been a little more patient, he would have had her. He'd jumped out of his hiding place while she was still a few feet from him, giving her time to dodge left and kick on the afterburners. At first, she was sure he would catch her, but after a hundred yards or so his ragged breathing and heavy footfalls fell far behind. She'd glanced back to see him still lumbering along after her, and that’s when she fell in the hole.

Kristen stepped to the nearest wall, pushed a few long blond strands of hair out of her face and looked for a promising handhold. There was a small gap in the planks just above her head. A handful of rotten wood came away as soon as she gave it a slight tug, followed by a small landslide of loose soil.

“No, no, no,” Kristen said, pressing her hands against the crumbling wall until the hemorrhage of dirt subsided. Crisis averted, she sat in the middle of the floor and put her head in her hands. Waiting was not something she was particularly good at, but for now it seemed the best plan. Her roommate would report her missing, and people would start looking for her. If she really got lucky, maybe some hunter would happen by this part of the mountain. At least the guy chasing her had given up. Probably took one look down the shaft and figured she’d broken her neck in the fall. At least she hoped that was the case.

With nothing better to do, she gave her small prison a closer inspection. The supporting structure extended all the way to the ground, except on one side where water action had gullied out a small cavity where the wall joined the floor. Clearly, this had been some kind of test shaft, probably for coal. The people who dug these things were supposed to fill them in, but of course it was cheaper to simply cover them with a little plywood and boards, if even that much effort was made. As a pre-law student, it was perhaps natural for her to wonder if she could sue.

Above her, the light slowly dwindled and shadows crept down the shaft. An old truck laboring up the distant road intruded on the silence. Kristen stood and started to shout, then realized the driver probably couldn’t hear her over the noisy engine, let alone the country music that was probably blaring through jury-rigged speakers. After a few moments, the twang of a Hank William, Sr. song reached her ears, confirming her suspicions.

That’s funny, she thought. The music is getting louder. Now she could hear the creak of worn shocks and springs laboring over rough terrain. The hair on Kristen’s arms rose in response to the sudden fear that shot through her. Brakes squeaked. The engine chugged to a stop. Door hinges opened and closed in metallic protest.
“Here, kitty, kitty.”

Kristen leapt to her feet, looking wildly around her. She backed into a corner, eyes never leaving the lip of the shaft. She nearly screamed at the sound of a round being racked into a shotgun.

“Kitty have a little fall-down?” a man said with a chuckle. “Ole Jer wonder how many lives kitty used up there. Ole Jer don’t think kitty got too many lives left.”

He was almost to her. At the last moment, Kristen remembered the small recess in the floor of the shaft. She dove to the ground, feeling her way blindly with both hands. She found the edge and wormed her way back into the cavity. It was somewhat deeper than she’d imagined, but not very long, and she had to pull her legs to her chest to fit. Dirt showered down around her as she pressed herself to the back of the hole. Above her, feet crunched through dry leaves and stopped.

“Oh, ho, ho. You one fast kitty, kitty,” Jer said. “Don’t think you can jump so high, though.”

The shotgun blast was deafening. This time, Kristen screamed. Dirt and old wood showered the floor of the hole.

“Where you at, kitty?”

“Please, just go,” Kristen shouted. “I never saw you, I don’t know who you are. I won’t tell anyone!”

The shotgun answered, another deluge of debris followed.
“Well, that ain’t exactly the point now, is it?” Jer said.

“How ‘bout you come on out of that hidey hole? I’ll lower you a rope. You’ll see, ole Jer, he’s really a sweet one at heart.”

“Screw you!”

“Well, that was kind of the idea.” The shotgun boomed again, this time the dirt poured down on the floor for several seconds. Kristen coughed as a cloud of dust invaded her small sanctuary.

“Stop it,” Kristen screamed. Two more shots answered her. She reached forward quickly and felt the opening to the hole starting to fill up. She scooped the dirt away quickly, but it continued to trickle down as fast as she could clear it.

“Ole Jer shoulda brought a little more buckshot,” the man said. “This hole a bitty tougher than it looks. Don’t you worry, kitty. I be right back.”

“Just go,” Kristen sobbed. Breathing was almost impossible. She tried to take shallow breaths through pursed lips, but still felt her mouth filling with grit. Above her, Jer cursed and rummaged through tools in the bed of his pickup. His footsteps returned, followed by the sound of a blade piercing soil. A shovelful of dirt landed with a thump. Then another. And another. Thrust, stomp, lift, toss.

“99 kitties down in a hole, 99 kitties so dear, you shovel some dirt, you know it don’t hurt, 98 kitties down in a hole,” Jer sang off key, but in rhythm with his ghoulish labor.

Kristen fought to keep an opening, pushing aside dirt while trying not to expose her arms for too long. She didn’t know how much Jer could see down into the shaft, and she doubted he’d used up all his ammunition. She tried to think, but panic crowded rational thoughts aside. Loose soil was pressing against her now, limiting her movements. Get out! Get out now, her mind screamed. She started to worm her way forward when Jer gave a surprised shout. A sudden avalanche of earth and timber followed and she felt something heavy land nearby. The falling dirt completely covered the opening of the hole. Frantically, she dug at the loose soil, feeling her nails snap on small rocks and wood.

Too deep! a little voice in the last sane part of her mind said, as her lungs fought to draw breath. She coughed, her mouth filling with more choking dust. She pushed her way into the small tunnel she made burrowing through the earth. Her hand broke through the surface for a moment, but as soon as she withdrew it, the brief opening collapsed. Sobbing, she dug harder, this time breaching the surface and using her arm to keep the hole open. Fresh air wafted down the small opening. Breath never tasted so sweet. She waited, gathering her strength for a moment, then began slowly tunneling forward again.

Kristen groped her way to the surface, rolled on her back and lay panting. She blinked through the grime encrusting her eyes and stared up at distant stars. It was pitch black in the shaft now. She reached into the waistband of her shorts and found the little music player, She turned on the view screen, providing a bit of illumination. That was when she saw the foot.

She crabbed backwards as far as she could, her hand brushing against something sharp and metallic. She felt the object with both hands, and realized it was the blade of a shovel. She grabbed the handle, and scrambled to her feet, holding the shovel in front of her like a spear. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see the outline of the body lying on the opposite side of the shaft. Jer was quite a bit fatter than she remembered from the brief glimpses of him chasing after her. He was wearing faded overalls with nothing underneath; one of the straps had come unsnapped and lay across his considerable belly like a denim snake. His left leg lay at an anatomically impossible angle, his right was half buried in the dirt. She couldn't tell if he was breathing.

Kristen edged closer. A soft sigh nearly made her jump out of her skin. Jer's head rolled to a side, but then he didn't move again. Anger flashed through Kristen. She switched her grip on the shovel handle, raising the blade high, ready to swing.

"You bastard. You raping son-of-a-bitch, I’ll kill you."
As quickly as it came, the fury passed. She felt the strength draining from her arms. By all rights she knew she should bash the pervert's head bloody, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. She felt she’d reached some sort of psychological edge, but despite everything she wasn’t ready to cross it. Maybe he had internal injuries and would die anyway. She hoped so. She hoped it hurt like hell. She wasn’t ready to cross over the edge, but she could enjoy the view from the side she on.

She stuck the shovel in the ground in disgust. She guessed Jer had been standing a little too close to the edge of the shaft as he filled up the hole. The ground must have given way, and he went tumbling down with it. The one silver lining in all this was his burying efforts had raised the floor level several feet. The top of the shaft was now only about 10 feet away. Too far to jump, but maybe she could find a way to climb.

Gently she tested the timbers lining the walls. One side, near the unconscious man, seemed to be a little more solid than the others. There was no way in hell she was going to stay down in the shaft with ole Jer, so she started to climb. She found a toehold in the support timber and pushed up slowly. The board held. She reached above her and found a small handhold that did not give way to her weight. She glanced up; the top of the shaft was maybe eight feet away now.

A sharp pain sliced through her calf. She fell back with a yelp, rolling as she hit the ground.

"Where you going kitty? Not gonna leave ole Jer here by himself are ya?"

Her hands went to her leg and came away bloody. The cut was deep. A few inches lower and he would have hamstrung her. Jer sat up, propping himself up on one arm. He held a long knife in his free hand. With a groan he rolled to his side and started pulling himself toward her.
"Now you just stay right there and don't make ole Jer chase you all over this here hidey hole. I ain't gonna hurt you no more if you sweet to me, promise."

The man's breath assailed her nose, chewing tobacco and beer mingling in a fetid bouquet of stench with his strong body odor. Kristen hopped up on her one good leg and wrenched the shovel from the ground. She feinted a strike to his head, then hopped to the side and brought the blade down sideways on his broken leg. Jer howled in pain, dropping his knife to fend off the blows raining down on his injured limb. She switched targets, swinging at his hands, his head and any other part that seemed exposed. A primordial yell tore the night air, a voice Kristen did not recognize as her own.

"I…have…had…enough…of…you!" Each word was punctured by a blow from the shovel, the last three landing squarely on Jer's head. He stopped moving, supine on the ground. She placed the dripping blade of the shovel against his neck, her foot on the backstop. Then she realized he wasn't breathing. She knelt and felt for a pulse. Nothing. The tears came and she made herself into a small ball and tried to think of nothing for a while.

A buzzing sound stirred her from her stupor. She looked around for the source, finally locating it in the front pocket of Jer's overalls. She fumbled the snaps open and pulled out a vibrating cell phone. She opened the phone, staring at the display. "B-dog" was trying to get in touch with Jer. She held the phone to her ear. The man's voice on the other end cackled.

"Yo, Jer, you get that kitty yet? You save anything for me, buddy? Hee hee! Jer? Hey Jer, you there?"

Kristen stared at Jer’s body, her eyes as dull as the dead man’s own. She noticed something sticking out of the dirt underneath him; something cylindrical and metallic.

"Hey, Jer, quit kiddin' around. You there? Talk to me, 'bro. I wanna hear that kitty purr!"

She put the phone down beside her and leaned forward. The metal was the barrel of ole Jer's shotgun. She tugged at it until she freed it from the soil. She felt a round in the chamber and at least one more in the tube.

"Jer, talk to me man."

Kristen gingerly picked up the phone, holding it to her ear.
"Jer can't come to the phone right now, B-dog," she said.

"Who the hell is this?"

"Meow."

"You crazy bitch, what the hell did you do with Jer? I'll kill you! I'll cut you in half and feed you to the dogs! I know right where you are--"

Kristen closed the phone and waited.




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