beauty, book reviews, women

Cari Mora by Thomas Harris

Harris is the author of the Hannibal Lecter books, most famous for Silence of the lambs and Red Dragon. Those two books are masterpieces, plotted and written with a chill intelligence and mastery of story structure which warrants study.

I’m not as much a fan of Hannibal and Hannibal Rising because they suffer from the point where an author falls too in love with a character to serve the story.

This is his latest book and although technically competent, it feels rote and lacks the gothic, cerebral intensity of earlier work. It’s more of a love letter to Florida and although I admired it, somehow I couldn’t commit to it.

The story itself offers no surprises and the antagonist Hans is a Lecter-lite who does awful things but manages to be boring and even a liquid cremation device doesn’t move me to feeling fascination or disgust then there are issues with the book.

Diverting but nothing startling. Truly, the lambs have stopped screaming.

My book Until She Sings is out now. https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XJRDND8/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_S27KDbKHRZSAS

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books, men, short fiction, women

The Bullet Found You.

He ran in his dreams.

There was the recollection of his uncoiled youth. Slim and taut with muscle, even at twelve. It taints his memories of his youth with crude washes of horror and regret.

These dreams woke him, trembling and confused. It was a long time ago, and yet these dreams returned like a recurring complaint. He was a man who could have someone killed with a phone call, but in his dreams, he ran from the train with the snap of bullets passing by him.

He got up, poured himself a good measure of single malt, lit a cigarette and walked to the living room.

Benny stood up when he walked in, his mouth twisted into a knot of concern but Ernest waved him off. Despite wearing nothing but a robe, Benny responded to him like he were in an expensive suit, but Ernest sat down and looked at his employee with something close to need.

‘Do you ever have bad dreams, Benny?’ he said.

His voice was a thin, reedy whisper but Benny furrowed his brow and considered the question with great importance. He shook his head and emitted a small squeak of a no.

Ernest chuckled and took a sip of the whisky. He sat back and drew on the cigarette.

‘Is everything ok, Mr Wolfowitz?’

Ernest let his head tilt backwards as he blew out a plume of smoke.

‘I guess. You can sit down, Benny. I’m worried you can see my junk from there.’

Benny sat down fast enough to make the cushions jump and Ernest sat up to look across at him. He ran his tongue across his lips, left to right, before he let it settle in the right corner of his mouth. His eyelids were low as he took another pull on the cigarette before settling into the couch.

‘Thanks for not saying either way. I make you nervous, huh?’ he said.

Benny nodded and flicked a nervous smile. His moustache was sweating as he looked at his boss.

‘Just this is the first time I’ve sat across from you. You said, if I see you, it means something’s gone wrong.’ he said.

Ernest recalled saying it, and a small burst of regret singed his insides.

‘I meant, I need no interruptions, Benny. I’m not an asshole to you guys.’ he said.

Ernest set the tumbler down on the floor by his feet as he adjusted his robe.

“Relax. We’re just talking,” he said.

Benny had never served, but he nodded in agreement again and say thank you. His reaction pleased Ernest, who picked up the tumbler again and took another appreciative sip. Its warm burn relaxed him as he blinked and chased it down with a puff on the cigarette.

‘I have this dream, Benny. The same dream, over and over.’

2.

You know the worst thing?

How ordinary those men were. You think of them as monsters but it is too easy, gives you an out if you ever wonder about your own capacity for evil, Benny, I tell you. A unit of volunteers, police in their own country, but they volunteered to come and do their duty.

They came to the village at night. Pulled from our houses like vermin, gathered together in the square as they watched us, made sure we didn’t run away. My father had died last year, so I was the only man left in my family.

There was nothing I could do. Nothing at all. Twelve years old, and looking at those men, barbers and engineers at home but here. Gathering us up to take a train.

. They kept the men together, and packed us in so tight, Such a thing, I couldn’t breathe, but I was thin and so I moved to the sides, pressed to find any cool, clean air to breathe in. Each breath stunk of other people, all of us, soiled and doomed.

Such a thing to smell, Benny, I tell you.

Escape? No, such a thing was a dream and I was very much awake.

But I didn’t stop looking. They were not smart men, who put us in these carriages. Some of them smelled of too much beer and looked at us like they expected us to tell them what to do. One of them was slack on securing the door. I watched him do it.

But I remembered, Benny, and when we got to the train yards, it would pass the woods outside my village.

The woods were my favourite place to play, I knew them well.

My hands shook as the train slowed down, ready to take on more passengers. My heart was in my throat but I made myself push the door open. The night air fell on me like a cool wave, and I cried out with a savage joy. There was a rough hand at my back then I was tumbling forwards, landing in the dirt hard enough to knock the air from my lungs.

I got to my feet, heard the shouts go up and then the guns firing at me.

Have you ever ran like your life depended on it?

It is not an easy thing to do. Part of you wants the defeat, like a wound which can never heal and it gives you a reason to be clumsy, Benny, but fight it when it comes.

They were not good shots. It was not a matter of pride for them, to be competent soldiers. It was to my fortune they missed me.

Others behind me, were not so lucky, but they died free.

Still, they died.

The worst thing is, I don’t dream about my mother or my sisters. My father had been dead for three years by then. None of those things bother me, Benny, but do you know what does?

In my dreams, Benny, I dream about them shooting me. Or worse, catching me and putting me onto the train again. What sort of man thinks about those things?

What sort of man dreams about the bullet which never found you?

3.

Benny fought back tears as he coughed into his hand before he looked up at his boss.

‘We all have times when we think about how things could have gone down, Mr Wolfowitz.’ he said.

Ernest tilted his head to one side, curious despite his exhaustion.

‘But I didn’t get shot, Benny. I made it, and then from there to all of this.’ he said.

There was no need for a gesture, Benny knew. If you worked for Mr Wolf, you knew what he did to keep what was his and added to it with the same fervour. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, then Ernest Wolfowitz was the hardest working man in crime. One of the wealthiest too, and he had moved a lot of dirty cash in clean, legitimate vehicles but if you bought a dime bag, Mr Wolf made money from it.

‘I know, but we still think about it. If it makes you feel fortunate, then it’s God talking to you.’

Ernest frowned and picked up his glass.

‘He does not talk Benny. Not since he packed my family into the trains.’

Benny sat back, remembering how his girlfriend had told him to stay off religion or politics in polite conversation with anyone you didn’t want to piss off. He folded his hands and put them into his lap.

‘Sometimes he doesn’t say nice things, but he tells you the truth.’ he said.

Ernest watched him before he drained the rest of the glass and stubbed out the cigarette in the ashtray. He got up, adjusted himself inside his robe and walked away without speaking. Benny stood up as he left, but Ernest did not acknowledge the gesture. Benny waited until he heard the click of the bedroom door before he sat down.

He wondered how much trouble he was in until dawn when the next guy came in to take over and he drove back to his apartment. When the phone rang, he heard Yanni, one of Mr Wolf’s lieutenants, tell him a car was outside.

Benny ran to the bathroom and vomited before rinsing his mouth out with water and throwing on a jacket as he ran downstairs.

Someone set a chess board up in the study. Mr Wolf sat with a crystal decanter of scotch and a welcoming smile which unnerved Benny as he looked at the empty chair opposite him.

‘Sit down, Benny.’ he said.

Benny sat down and looked at Mr Wolf.

‘Am I in trouble, sir?’ he said.

Ernest shook his head.

‘If you were, you’d know.’ he said.

This, Benny knew, was Mr Wolf. The old man last night, he wasn’t someone to mess with, but this man before him, although he wore the same face, held himself apart from everyone and everything.

Mr Wolf poured Benny a drink and handed it to him.

‘No, Benny, I thought it useful to talk about God with someone I trust not to tell anyone.’ he said.

Benny went to say like a confession but remembered his girlfriend’s advice and bit down on his tongue. The scotch stung him, but he kept his impulse under control.

‘Mr Wolf.’ he said.

Ernest shook his head.

‘No, Benny, call me Ernest.’ he said.

It was the start of a great friendship. They held one another’s confidence for five years before a stroke took out Mr Wolf and left him bedridden. Benny took half a million from the Garcia Cartel to hold a pillow to his friend’s face, but as he felt him relax. Benny was glad at the end, it was down to him. Tears ran down his face as he leaned over and whispered into Ernest’s ear.

‘The bullet found you.’ he said.

Benny recognised himself in the ordinary men who shoved Ernest’s family into the streets, and it had killed his own faith. As Ernest died, part of Benny died with him. The rest of it followed a week later when the Garcia Cartel decided Benny was too expensive to keep around.

It was on a train out of the city, Benny had sat in first class, which made him easy to find. When the three men, not much more than boys, closed the doors behind them, Benny smiled. They were competent, and they promised to be quick.

His bullet had found him, too.

He looked forward to telling Ernest about it.

 

 

My book Until She Sings is out now.

Ebook:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B07XJRDND8If

Paperback: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1692105566/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_i_4akEDb3FTWNKR

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book reviews, books

Headhunters by Jo Nesbo (review)

Roger Brown has it all: clever and wealthy, he’s at the very top of his game. And if his job as a headhunter ever gets dull, he has his sideline as an art thief to keep him busy.

At a gallery opening, his wife introduces him to Clas Greve. Not only is Greve the perfect candidate for a position that Brown is recruiting for; he is also in possession of one of the most sought-after paintings in modern art history.

Roger sees his chance to become rich beyond his wildest dreams, and starts planning his biggest theft ever. But soon, he runs into trouble – and it’s not long before the hunter becomes the hunted…

The crime fiction of Western Europe has proven to be a recent discovery for me. They have a unique set of obsessions and themes, a degree of technical rigour and manage to carry a delicate balance between background exposition, back story and detailed scenes of torture and murder.

Jo Nesbo is one of the biggest names and this was my first book of his. I’ve dipped into other writers, Lars Keppler and Erik Axl Sund are two recent additions to my lexicon of the genre and now I have another writer with an extensive back catalogue to explore.

A quality problem to have.

Roger, the protagonist manages to defend his actions with a paean to domestic and romantic patronage. His wife, a beautiful and forthright woman, inspires his criminal enterprises so he can fund her tastes and hobbies. This reason, slight as it is, is well presented and makes him a fun character. It becomes important as the situation demands he carries out an escalating series of betrayals, crimes and evasions in order to stay one step ahead of the situation he finds himself involved in. Nesbo uses a crisp, well-observed tone for Roger, which makes his descent into horror all the more involving and enjoyable.

The cultural differences are organic and add a sense of place which made it all the more enjoyable for me. I may not have visited the places Roger has, but Nesbo’s skill makes it part of the palate and it adds depth and warmth to the story.

Some detachment and artifice in the use of minor characters does detract from the book to a small degree but otherwise this was cerebral, entertaining and moves like a bastard throughout.

(Amazon Affiliates links included to offset some of the costs of producing this emanation)

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Beyond The Truth

Beyond The Truth

M B Blissett

My stomach hurt like something had grown and slid out my asshole, leaving me ripped and bleeding in its wake. There were days washed of action, fetal on the couch and smoking weed to keep the edge off all the feelings sharpened and turned inward. People admired my intelligence, but they said it in the faint pitying tone you’d give when seeing someone in the street with a facial deformity. How brave they were to go about their business when they had a conjoined twin hanging from their face. All my intelligence had fled before her, and there was humour in realising why hurricanes had women’s names.

 

She had not gotten in touch afterwards. My boundaries had held enough to my maxim that there was no friendship after this. We were lovers or nothing, which sounded trite but it saved my life.

 

It was the money she took, which got me. It wasn’t mine, and my creditors weren’t patient or understanding. Despite all the pain, there were limits to what a man could endure. For the first time in days, thinking about love and how it had broken me again.

 

Love on a neurochemical level is instinct and euphoria. It houses the former in the media insula and the latter, in the anterior cingulate cortex. Our nervous systems resonate at the sound of their name. We stew in a cocktail of testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin and oxytocin. It stresses us to be lovers, yet we die to maintain it.

 

It enhances the best and worst of us. Low serotonin levels contribute to episodes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, focused on the love partner, former or otherwise. She had created the perfect person to hunt her down.

 

Someone who loved her.

 

Hammering through the concrete floor, head swimming from the weed which had sustained me in a soft cocoon of equanimity. Each swing cracked it into pieces and then there was my foot locker, locked and buried, with all my old tools cleaned and oiled, waiting for me to come back like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime.

 

The revolver, a fat silver machine with tooled grips and an action smooth as butter. My father had won medals shooting with it, and it had saved my life a few times. The other tools went into a duffel bag, and then into the trunk of my car.

 

The drive gave me time to think. Without a place to go, it was a matter of recalling what she had said about herself.

 

What she hadn’t said concerned me more.

 

2.

 

She wasn’t clear on where she came from. The Midwest. The opposite coast from where we were. What fucked me was how pretty she was, which meant my faculties were reeling from the chemical holocaust of someone beautiful talking without money being involved.

 

It always is, you know. Money.

 

You pay for love if you get my meaning. All the poetry, the songs, they sounded like fucking lies now.

 

Her money came from a lucky dip of shifts working and auditioning for work. There was a haughtiness to her smile which set her out as someone different. The beauty was there, but it was like smog, where you didn’t see it anymore. Unless it looked into your eyes and took an interest in who you were and where you were going with your life.

 

She looked like a woman who knew who she was. There was an excitement to her, which didn’t come from a line or a bottle, and she laughed at my jokes without prompting.

 

Sex was a simple thing. My place was closer, and knowing nothing about her, she laid on my bed and sat there, a voyeur who knew the power of the visual on the masculine libido and looked at me with a coquettish want which robbed me of reason.

 

Fingers clasped together, bellies slapping and moving inside her like I couldn’t get deep enough. Her legs over my shoulders as I pounded into her, shivering strokes as I counted backwards, trying not to come too soon until she hissed, between clenched teeth, that she wanted me to.

 

She made me come so hard; it felt like it turned me inside out by it.  Afterwards she stroked the hair on my chest, one warm thigh draped over mine as we talked. Those hours, where all my feelings were on the surface were an education for her. An ongoing, evolving curriculum in understanding and manipulating men.

 

It was easy to wise after the fact. My defence was that I hadn’t told her the important things, but she got an idea from the lack of details there was more going on than I divulged. Women don’t want full disclosure, but those that do, they know what to do with the information.

 

A friend let her down on a place, so sure she could stay at mine. We were seeing one another all the time anyway, so why not?

 

Why not?

 

She was in my place for hours. The tools were under concrete. My accounts all pointed to a place in my life where good years underpinning a quiet life. When Yanni asked if I could hold a bag for him, it wasn’t an issue.

 

We had trust. She was working every bliss button on my body, and in my head. One of her friends had come over, and we’d ended up in a hot, wet triangle and she had cried with pleasure afterwards as her friend slipped away, blushing and awkward as we laid on the bed together, mutual survivors of an ecstatic explosion.

3.

 

Linda. Dark, with a hard, dancer’s body. She lived on pills and pressed vegetable juices, but she still had all her teeth. Linda tasted of peaches, which brought the blood to my face as I parked the car.

 

She was a hostess at La Mer, a fusion bistro on Sunset. She didn’t recognise me at first, which made me grateful until the mention of my girl’s name made her grimace with a genuine disgust.

 

‘That cunt? Jesus, I never want to see her ass again. She owes me a lot of cash.’ she said.

 

A fifty made her amicable. A drink opened her up and she sat there, spewing bile as I struggled to avoid weeping with embarrassment and shame. The world put an arm around her shoulders while I got a raised eyebrow and a whispered maxim which spoke in my dad’s voice.

 

You should have known better.

 

Linda hadn’t known where she had come from. Somewhere midwestern. A town with a factory which closed down, sucked the blood out of it and prompted her to move on.

 

I leaned forwards.

 

‘Where are you from?’

 

She lowered her eyes and picked up her drink before she spoke.

 

‘Dallas. I came out here with my sister, auditioned like crazy, but she didn’t have the spine for it.’ she said.

 

‘Spine for what?’

 

Linda smiled and it saddened me.

 

‘It’s tough out here, you know?’

 

I nodded. She carried fewer bodies on her conscience than I did, but it weighed on her the same.

‘So how did she fuck you over?’ she said.

I coughed into my fist and cleared my throat.

‘She took something which wasn’t mine. I need it back.’

Linda gave a pitying smile and put her hand out.

‘We’ll never see her again, dude. Accept it.’ she said.

Her voice was a resigned whisper, arid like the desert and too old to come from such a pretty face.

I shook my head.

‘I can, Linda, but these people, they can’t. Either I find her or they do.’

She gave her the address of the bar she had worked at. It wasn’t one I recognised, but I gave her another fifty for her time. It was a token attempt to gain something back from being recognised as a fellow victim without the hum of connection to elevate it to a good experience. She touched the back of my hand.

‘We had fun, didn’t we?’ she said.

My eyes were wet as I looked at her.

‘We did, but we paid for it.’ I said.

She pushed her number on me. Her loneliness radiated off her in waves, and I shrunk away from it. There was enough in me to save my skin, but I couldn’t save her. My head swam with exhaustion as I drove to The Lady J.

 

4.

She went by Rachel. She had been popular, a bright, vivacious girl who made weak men feel potent and strong men weak, which meant she banked tips all the time. No one figured out why she was borrowing money all the time, or how there was someone who had let her down.

Rich had the wounded look of a fellow survivor. He was three hundred pounds, thick with muscle and covered with serpentine, faded tattoos on every surface. He gave nothing up. There was something recognisable in his eyes when he spoke about her.

Love, writhing and seething underneath his ridged forehead and pooled in his soft, brown eyes. I paid him for his time, but kept back how the Greeks were looking for her.

After closing up, he got in his truck and drove home. He parked up, and the door opened. She stood there, in pink cotton shorts and a t-shirt, hair like spun gold as she clung to him, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. A phone call would end everything but the crazy you saw was never the crazy you had to worry about.

Two shots rang out from the house. I was out of the car, with the gun in my hand, running to the house. My motives escaped me, lurching between a desire to see her dead and a need to make sure she was ok.

There was the fog of sex in the house. It rested like grit against my tongue, and I put the gun up. A low, keening sound came from the room at the end of the hall.

 

‘You motherfucker.’ she said.

Rachel hadn’t spoken in days but her voice slashed into me as I aimed the gun ahead of me and pushed the door open with my foot.

 

He sat against the wall, wisps of smoke coming from two indentations on his scalp as he stared ahead, making noises like he from a horrific nightmare. He had on white undershorts, and his belly hung over, thick and round like an abscess. Blood coated his chest, glistening in the lamplight.

 

Rachel was curled onto her side, clutching the shredded remains of her right hand. The gun had been something small and cheap, a.38 pistol, judging by the trigger punched into the plaster to her right. It had taken most of her hand, and she was shrieking, covered in her own blood before she noticed I was there.

‘Oh shit, baby please, I need a hospital.’ she said.

I shook my head and looked around the bedroom.

There had been so many things I imagined saying to her. All the blood and screaming exhausted me, so I asked her where the money was. She shook her head and begged me to take her to a hospital.

The click of the hammer compelled her attention.

It was in a wardrobe. I opened it, keeping the gun trained on her as I dragged out the suitcase and picked it up. Every breath in her presence hurt. A friend would have helped her, at least cleaned her up and stuck around.

‘Where are you from?’

She sobbed and shook her head.

‘Fuck you, Tony.’ she said.

She would have been grateful. I could have smoothed things over, gave her a chance to make it up but as she sat there, wounded and crazed, a moment passed which lifted weight from my heart.

 

‘Did they get sick of you there, too?’

She turned away. We both looked at one another then at Rich.

‘What did he do?’

Rachel sat up, grimacing as she wrapped a sheet around the twisted ruin of her hand. Blood soaked into the material but she regained strength from dressing it.

‘He gave the worst head I’ve had in my life. Too fucking eager.’ she said.

I put the gun back into the holster.

‘You should get out of town.’ I said.

All the love within me for her went into those words. They were fragile carriage for the truth she’d shown me. We both lost pieces of one another, but not so much I couldn’t walk away.

‘You made it easy for me.’ she said.

Her voice was a metallic trap closing on the remains of my heart. I managed a smile and nodded at her before I left.

I called Yannis from the car, watched the carnival of emergency services rush past me. He was happy for me, and the cash was good for a visit to a dispensary on the way home.

It hadn’t mattered where she came from. Wherever it was, they had cast her out without a mark of warning on her. The missing hand would provoke pity, which she would use to get ahead. My relief was acute, but it hurt to have been played so well by someone so empty.

The smoke helped as I stared outside, waiting for the dawn to come and make everything new again.

 

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beauty, fiction, love, women

Raisin Debtor

20170122_132945

Siobhan. With hair the colour and curl of  black carrot peelings dumped atop a soft, round face and emerald eyes. A smattering of freckles across her nose and a body made from scoops of flesh which tumbled and spill with each step she took.

Phil offered her the job.

I watched from my station, how he leaned over like a mantis to stare down her top. Phil had been cautious, but he still thought from between his legs. Siobhan had seized on it without making it obvious, wearing a cardigan and a good shirt underneath, suggesting her shape without drawing attention to it.

She was covering her bases, which drew my admiration. Then my attention.

When she left, she smiled and introduced herself.

Siobhan.

Ellis.

Phil punched the air when she left and I wanted to join him.

My eyes itched from the Demerol but the sight of her, the eye contact raged through me, cutting through the junk that clung to my cells, scraped off by the right dose of the right drug. We all needed chemicals to function, but I needed more than most. I had access to a lot of drugs, being a doctor but had fucked things up.

The shaking hands were the drugs, I told myself.

Her first shift was uneventful on the surface. She played down her experience, asking questions to make other people feel special without being irritated.

Between us, we stoked an invisible fire, fed it with glances and surreptitious contact, touching at the hip or the back of the hand. I nursed an erection which could hammer nails, and when Phil came in, I fought a surge of primal jealousy.

A cigarette break framed our first kiss. Her suggestions became plans and beneath her fingers, I burned bright like the cigarettes smouldering to ash.

We laid in my bed, sheets pooled at our feet, wreathed with the perfume of frenetic, messy sex. She asked me about Phil, which raked nails down the lining of my stomach. It made me want to reach for a pill.

‘What have you heard?’ I said.

She gave a smile that chilled me.

‘Some stuff. Like Phil’s got things going on.’ she said.

Her coyness aimed for cute but it made me itch. I should have gone to her place but then she stroked down my thigh and I smoothed out..

He was the biggest drug dealer in Whitehall. The restaurant laundered money, gave him a name and address to give the IRS. Working for him had made it obvious. The restaurant was sacred ground and I risked getting fired for the pills. I made sure I functioned, cutting my dosage for my shifts to stay in his good graces.

‘I have an address.’ she said.

I raised an eyebrow and shook my head.

‘No, Siobhan, I can’t talk about this with you.’ I said.

She grazed my thigh with her nails.

‘We’re just talking, hun.’ she said.

A tremor came from deep within my gut. It was cousin to the need for pills, but it dressed better, whispering for a chance to wreak havoc with my life again.

The addiction to an easy way out.

This was my world, pinned to the flaws of others. Her magnetism pulling out a deeper set of flaws from within me.

2.

Siobhan had it down to a rip and run. Anything smarter would have a lot of known unknowns, and she alluded to scams which were messier and less profitable. We would have to run afterwards but I told her we could run on what we took for a long time.

She smiled and asked how I knew what she was thinking.

I told her and she frowned.

‘What’s a raisin debtor?’ she said.

I frowned and asked her if she was serious.

She giggled and rolled her eyes.

‘There’s Cajun in my people. Plus it impresses people if you know a language.’ she said.

I chuckled and shook my head.

‘Not around here.’ I said.

3.

The stash house was like a lesion next to an abscess, home to a large, chaotic family, mother, father substitute, a sister and her kids. I thought they were a family but Phil drew in flotsam and jetsam, made them useful to him.

It didn’t matter, she said.

They had kids. If you controlled them, you controlled everything.

I blanched, but she petted me, reassuring me it would not come to anything bad.

A drive to an outlet mall got us smart clothes. Three hours in a Denny’s parking lot got us a pair of guns, a 9mm with two magazines and a.38. I handed Kris a roll of notes and he counted them whilst licking his lips before winking at Siobhan and driving away. We went out and practiced with them, ended up so turned on we fucked over the hood of my car in shunting, clumsy thrusts, her wrists in my hands as she lifted her head and shouted my name.

We drove through Whitehall. Phil was away, dealing with a distributor in Canton and Lee, his second in command was drunk on the pussy of an eighteen-year-old stripper called Candice. There would never be a good time to do this, but there was time.

We knocked and when the woman answered the door, her face turned bovine with boredom and simple carbohydrates, Siobhan pushed the gun against her forehead and shouted in French, forcing her backwards as my heart leapt into my throat.

My eyes met with the little boy on the couch, his thin, pale legs smeared with something I hoped was chocolate and his eyes shining with an expectation which ran a knife down my cheek. His oversized t-shirt hung from his shoulders and I saw a livid bruise on his neck.

Siobhan pointed the gun at the boy and asked where the shit was.

The woman juddered, flat breasts swinging underneath her olive vest, raising arms scarred with jagged tattoos and keloid scars.

‘Don’t hurt my boy.’ she said.

Siobhan kept her face still and pulled the hammer back on the revolver.

‘Then get the shit.’ she said.

I swallowed, wished I had taken something before we started out.

‘Hey, you don’t have to do that.’ I said.

She raised her eyebrows and pouted.

‘Shut up and stick to the plan.’ she said.

The sound of the shotgun filled the room, a rolling front of noise as the front of Siobhan’s shirt exploded into stained rags. She collapsed against the door, banging her head against the doorknob before her head fell forward. Every breath tasted of gunpowder and blood.

The known unknowns had fucked everything.

Ten years old and holding a shotgun, butt against the wall and angled upwards, her eyes cold and hard like marbles in the sockets. She wore a neon green bikini, tattooed with bruises across her chest and stomach, and the woman stood beside her, lips pulled back over her teeth as she cackled and ruffled the girl’s hair, sticking up in blunt tufts from her scalp..

‘Good girl.’

I turned and ran. The little boy on the couch, smiled, proud of his family as he gave a small, fragile wave.

Someone was screaming as I bolted to the car. I think it was me.

I got behind the wheel, tried not to vomit all over myself in panic, remembered cracking jokes whilst I touched the distended liver of a congressional candidate and threw some dirt on my fear. There was less than half a tank of gas, but Phil was away and Lee would be slow.

Siobhan had burned bright in her ambition and part of me wondered when, not if, she would have fucked me, but with each mile out of Whitehall, the wound in my heart grew massive like the world.

It was a pain there was no pill for.

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beauty, love, short fiction, women

A Soldier, His Country

The windows were rolled up as the AC fed on my nervous perspiration and our mingled breath. He had put on thick rubber dishwashing gloves, which made me smile, but he pointed out that latex tears and these would be better for the work he was going to do. When he touched me, the heat of him still reached through it.

The shotgun laid across the back seat. A pump action with a pistol grip coated in black rubber to support a firm grip. He had taken it apart, cleaned and checked every action before loading it himself. There was a canvas bandolier with additional shells tucked into canvas loops like sleeping babies. It would be the next thing he laid his rough, clever hands upon.

‘I want you to stay in the car, baby girl. Like we agreed. You handle the plants and the distribution, I take care of the public relations.’

The exoticism of how his accent moved around phrases and nicknames we had never ceased to thrill me. Despite what was happening tonight, his charm still held and made me shift in my seat with a dangerous urgency. I nodded, feeling sparks of cold excitement rising in my veins.

We were like any other business, creating and maintaining a brand. My degree in botany had not panned out as I hoped, but after a few months of low-end retail jobs and chasing funding, I wandered into the green church and found my true north. Blending strains and testing the indica and sativa balances had me working at it like a junkie getting a fix and soon I found myself amidst a growing industry.

Growth is pain sometimes. I was not a person predisposed to violence, my interest was in the quality of my product and the money that enabled me to do more of it.

He had been stood behind me in a coffee shop, reading a paperback of Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves when the guy who had been hitting me with a brute, blind succession of pleas started to take my polite indifference personally. Before the guy could lay a hand on me, he stepped forward and swung the closed paperback, spine first into the bridge of his nose and pushed him out of the door with no more emotion than he would shooing a spider away. When he returned, he went to the back of his queue and he did not meet my eyes.

He was a long way from home, I learned He carried himself with a sense of place, that he may be alone but not always lonely. Much of my dating had been fraught with bullshit and self-deception but his amused stoicism proved refreshing and his capacity for action thrilled me with its perfect, symphonic elegance.

He did not flinch when I told him about the business.

Nor when I asked him if he wanted to get involved.

Squeak had been a good courier. He rode his custom Italian racing bike everywhere, unafraid of looking faintly ridiculous in lycra because it meant no one stopped him from his work. When he delivered to the diseased knot of tweakers, they decided not to pay him and one of them, known as Spit, caved his skull in with a baseball bat. He had a kilo on him plus the rest of the cash from his run. No one told me formally, but the action warranted a response.

Another invoice to be chased up for payment.

He did not hesitate, even offering to go it alone in the prosaic, gruff way that he did with everything. In a phone call, he got their names and the places they hung out and an hour later, he had gotten the shotgun from a storage locker he had rented in a friend’s name. I insisted on going with him, and still had the piece of paper with the address written on it, turning it over in my hands until the ink had blurred to mush. My mouth tasted of coppery excitement and amidst the churn of my fears, swam a visceral excitement that had made me urgent and unbearably aroused.

He checked the time and kissed me again. His lips were warm and soft, and I leaned into the kiss, shutting my eyes like it might be the last time. When he drew back, his eyes gleamed with the twisting lust and determination that burned beneath his exterior.

‘Park at the next block, keep the engine running?’ I said.

He smiled and winked at me.

‘The piece in the glove compartment. If things go south, what do you do?’

His voice had altered, gained a metallic clarity that made my breath quicken in my lungs.

‘Aim low, squeeze the trigger until it’s empty. Toss the gun.’

My thighs ached from where I had been squeezing them, enjoying the hum of sensation building in my stomach.

He kissed me on the forehead.

‘I won’t be long, love.’

He got the gun from the back, strapped the bandolier on and then took off his spectacles, passed them to me and smiled before he set off, striding with a slow, deliberate strength as he brought the shotgun to bear.

I drove to the next block and waited. My heart thumped in my chest and I looked out through the windshield. The seconds ticked past, fat and slow with dread until my phone rang.

‘You can come in.’

I had not heard the shotgun go off. I was pinned to my seat with fear and confusion, struggling for the right thing to say against the tumult of fears that whispered a million possible fates.

‘Is it safe?’ I said.

‘Always, baby.’

I drove back and took the gun from the glove compartment, checking the load before I walked into the trailer park. The door was open and I caught the greasy, garbage taste of too many people living in one space, the fog of cigarettes and the sour wheat of cheap alcohol. He stepped into the doorway, larger than God, with the shotgun aimed away from him. He nodded to me without smiling and on instinct, I took the gun out and held it by my side.

The carpet stuck to the soles of my shoes and I grimaced as I went in. The shotgun was aimed down the length of the trailer, and at the back, on a couch as broken as a prison snitch, sat Spit. Five feet eight, the kind of skinny that comes from a diet of whatever he could cop to, all his clothes stained and worn to a uniform skin of despair that hung from him. His hair was shaved up at the sides and back, with a single greasy lock of purple hair that hung over his forehead. His face was crowded with piercings, some of them fringed with halos of infected tissue.

His eyes widened, but, but he controlled the expression and turned it into a sneer.

‘You that fruity fucker’s widow or something?’ he said.

What came to me was my lack of fear in this place. If anything, I was offended that Squeak had died at the hands of this man. I looked over my shoulder at my lover, who gave a slow nod. My heart was full, with a hard, robust love for him in that moment. He was not a man for words in love, but actions and intentions. Our silence, much like the rest said all that we ever needed it to.

He was a soldier.

I was his country.

I raised the gun and turned to look at Spit. His sneer fell apart before the force of my will.

‘No, I’m his employer.’

For a.22, it was loud in the trailer. I aimed low but the kick of the gun pinged the bullet between his overly plucked eyebrows, snapping his head backwards. His legs kicked out and he died as he had lived, subject to the perpetual indifference of the universe.

The product was there, and most of the cash. We would find the others, and after they had found Spit, they would be keen to settle the matter.

We left the trailer, got back into the car and drove home in silence.

I had always read that funerals made people horny, but that night, I would have been able to add murder to the list.

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beauty, fiction, short fiction, women

Near Miss

targetPavelich watched the waitress’ taut behind as he sipped his espresso, holding court in another corner of his empire. Behind his eyes squatted the twitching nerve of the boy he had been in Russia, who knew only the taste of stale hard bread and gritty water. His massive physique was a reaction to that time, shielding the boy within from further hurt by destroying anyone who sought to wound him.

There was a smudge of lipstick on the rim and he wiped it away from his lip, biting back an invective until he watched the waitress lean forward to see to Mrs Braverman and his anger went rushing out of him, replaced by sweeter hungers.

When the woman sat down, he did not acknowledge her. He looked at the two men sat by the door who apparently had failed to notice this development.

He looked at her, the soft curls of auburn hair, the baby nose and the glittering green eyes all of it poured into a business suit that showed off just enough leg and cleavage to allow for plausible deniability if you were caught looking.

The man wanted.

The boy needed.

‘Good morning, Mr Pavelich.’

Her voice had a hostess quality to it, a woman who sang her frustrations rather than shouted. She had no jewellery on apart from plastic rainbow coloured hoops in each ear, which was quirky enough to intrigue him.

‘Good morning, you have me at a disadvantage.’

She leaned forward and gave a controlled smile.

‘Which is why I’m here, Mr Pavelich.’

Pavelich frowned. His men started to get up, but he sat them back down with a wave of his hand. Power, he understood, lay in the smallest of gestures. She had sat down to sell him something, and Dmitri Pavelich always had an interest in what someone wanted to offer him.

Her smile darkened and she retrieved a white envelope from her jacket and handed it to him.

‘This will be of particular interest to you.’

He took the envelope, felt along its edges and the outline of something cylindrical beneath his thumb. He raised his eyebrows but the woman’s expression remained neutral but friendly and he tore it open with his thick, hairy tattooed fingers.

The cylindrical object was a.357 bullet. There were a few sheets of paper and he set the bullet on the table whilst he opened the papers up and retrieved his spectacles from the breast pocket of his jacket.

‘You are bold to put such a thing in front of me.’

Her smile faltered a little, but she recovered quickly.

‘The round alone was a touch theatrical, but you should read, Mr Pavelich.’

One of his cousins, Josef had been growing unsatisfied with the level of responsibility that Pav afforded him. He had outsourced his frustrations to a guy who operated out of Portland. The guy charged well above the going rate for the job and it was nothing to do with Pav’s reputation or status.

You paid for accidents. Random twists of fate that allowed you to see that someone was dead but that it could not come back to you, to anyone.

You paid for subtlety.

Tragedy.

Pav folded the papers.

‘So, what’s the significance of the bullet?’ he said.

She chuckled and put her hands together.

‘Well, what if I told you that he had already made an attempt on your life this morning?’

Pav shuddered and took in a deep, harsh breath.

‘Don’t be ridiculous. I never travel alone.’

The woman sat back in her chair with her palms pressed together.

‘No, but you mow your own lawn, don’t you? Not even one of those drive on things but an honest to goodness lawn mower.’

Pav tasted the copper, chemical taste of the mingled adrenaline and caffeine. If he thought himself mocked, he would not be held responsible for his actions.

‘I had men no more than eight feet away.’

The woman put her hands on the table.

‘Do they check the lawn before you get the mower out?’

Pav chuckled to avoid his throat closing up from the gut-wrenching disbelief that assaulted him.

He looked at the bullet on the tablecloth.

‘So, I would run over this, and it would fire at me?’

She smiled and nodded.

She told him that the man from Portland had watched him for three weeks. From there, he identified the most probable accidents and decided on Pav’s perverse tribute to the dreams of his adopted country.

He looked at his men who would not meet his gaze, their shame apparent in their red faces and clenched fists. His heart pounded in his chest and he knew the boy’s fear again.

She took out a second envelope, slightly thicker than the first and set it on the table.

‘You will find a full breakdown of my services and costs. Consider what I’ve done an interview.’

He slid the envelope into his jacket. He could taste the grit on his lips and the slight grease of the lipstick.

‘I will consider your proposal.’

She got up and left with the poise of a straight razor.

2.

Lauren allowed herself the luxury of fear once she was outside. Pavelich had ingested the diamond dust, embedded in the smudge of lipstick which would abrade against his insides until he bled out. She hoped that he would take care of Josef before he went, but that was a bonus.

She walked to where the Lincoln sat on the corner and climbed into the back seat.

Sometimes, she thought, as she lit a cigarette with trembling hands, you hit the target by missing it.

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