Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Guest by Aidan Thorn

It had been a wonderful day, Angela thought as she looked through her wedding album. She’d lost count of the number of times she’d leafed through its pages since collecting it just a couple of hours before. She had studied every outfit and smiling face that had been part of her and Richard’s special day.

She stopped on a group photo. It showed Richard and her in the centre of their guests. It was her favourite, everybody they loved in the same shot.

Something caught her eye, something she hadn’t spotted on any of the previous looks through. Over her mother’s left shoulder stood a dark shadow-like figure. It was the wrong size and far too dark to be her own shadow. No light penetrated the shape and it partially blocked Richard’s friend, Carole, who had been stood just beside Angela’s mum.

She blamed herself, she’d insisted on traditional photography rather than digital – she just felt it produced a warmer, more honest finish. Clearly there had been a problem in development or perhaps a fault on the film. Why hadn’t she spotted this before? She gently rubbed at the image but the dark shape was definitely part of the image rather than something that had spilled on the photo. It must have been there before, she thought, and turned the page. She now inspected each photo more closely than on previous viewings.

Angela was interrupted by a knock at the front door. Two female police officers greeted her, their solemn expressions told Angela something bad had happened.

‘Is it Richard?’ she asked.

‘Mrs Giles, I’m PC Franklyn and this is PC Brown, can we come in?’ one of the officers said.

Angela still hadn’t got used to her married name. Usually she felt a glow of excitement when somebody used it. Today it filled here with dread as it seemed to confirm that they were there looking for Richard Giles’ next of kin. She gestured the officers into the house.

In the living room PC Franklyn spoke, ‘Mrs Giles, I regret to have to tell you that a woman matching your mother’s description was hit by a car this morning.” There was a pause, then, “I’m sorry, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.’

Angela went numb, her emotions confused. Her mother? She’d been preparing for news of Richard’s death – not this. There was an element of relief and then an overwhelming feeling of guilt and grief. She dropped to her knees and began to sob. PC Brown bent to comfort her. There was no hug just a hand to the shoulder – the reassuring touch of human contact.

‘We’re going to need someone to come and formally identify the body,’ the crouching officer said once Angela’s sobs subsided. ‘Is that something you feel you can do?’

Angela nodded. ‘What happened?’ she asked in a voice broken with disbelief.

PC Brown looked at her colleague. A nod of approval came from above.

‘We have witness statements from the driver of the car and neighbours who saw the incident. They say she ran from her house yelling and then threw herself under a car. There was no way the driver could have reacted in time. It looks like suicide.’

‘Suicide?’ Angela questioned bemused. ‘No way, she was a happy woman. No… hang on a minute. Did you just say she ran?’

‘Yes, she ran out in front of the vehicle.’

Angela was filled with hope – this had to be a mistake. She moved over to the open wedding album on the coffee table and pointed at the group photo.

‘Well, then it’s not my mother,’ Angela said, a glimmer of optimism in her voice.

Both officers leaned over to look at the woman Angela was pointing at. She was standing proudly next to her daughter both hands clutching a walking frame. They looked at each other, both clearly confused.

‘Mrs Giles, I’m afraid we’re only looking for a formal identification from you. We’re almost certain the deceased is your mother, the neighbours have confirmed as much. The lady ran from your mother’s home, the door was left open and there is no one else left inside,’ said PC Franklyn.

‘But look! She’s used that frame for the last four years,’ Angela exclaimed.

As she stared at the photo her expression changed, the hope gone, replaced by confusion. The dark shape behind her mother had disappeared. She flipped to the next page, and then the next, a photo of Richard and herself alone under a tree. Except now they weren’t alone.

‘Mrs Giles, are you OK?’ Officer Franklyn asked.

Angela appeared not to hear. She let out a primal scream and with superhuman strength pushed past both officers, knocking them to the floor. The officers scrambled to their feet and gave chase as Angela raced out of the room and up the two flights of stairs in her marital townhouse. She appeared to fly as she took the stairs. The officers arrived in an empty bedroom, its window smashed. Angela’s lifeless body laid two stories below.

‘What the fuck was that?’ PC Brown asked.

PC Franklyn looked at her colleague, fear etched deep across her face.

‘Sue, Sue, snap out of it, we have to call this in,’ PC Brown shouted.

Franklyn pointed over Brown’s shoulder. She turned tentatively to see both of them reflected in a floor standing mirror.

‘What is it?’ Brown asked.

‘You don’t see it?’ Franklyn finally spoke.

A dark shadow enveloped Brown’s reflection.

 

Aidan ThornBio: Aidan Thorn is from Southampton, England, home of the Spitfire and Matthew Le Tissier but sadly more famous for Craig David and being the place the Titanic left from before sinking. Aidan would like to put Southampton on the map for something more than bad R ‘n’ B and sinking ships. His short fiction has appeared in the Byker Books Radgepacket series and the Near to the Knuckle Anthology: Gloves off, as well as online at Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers, Thrills, Kills and Chaos, Shotgun Honey and Near to the Knuckle. In Spring 2014 his story ‘Taking out the Trash’ will appear in Exiles: An Outsiders Anthology from BlackWitch Press. He released his first short story collection, Criminal Thoughts in December 2013.

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Anything You Want by Phillip Thompson

I’d never killed a woman before, but the more Cindy talked, the more inclined I was to change my position. The only thing I wanted to hear come out of her mouth had to do with a pile of money, not some bullshit about gun control. As far as I was concerned, I had the gun pointed at her face under control. So I was in no mood for this shit. Especially after I just watched her fuck some guy who was definitely not Lee.

I knew something was up as soon as I pulled into the driveway and saw a Chevy instead of Lee’s F-150. I eased around to the back of the house, and sure enough, I could hear them going at it. I peeked in the bedroom window to see some construction worker-looking guy with Cindy’s legs over his shoulders, pounding away while she squirmed and squealed.

I met him in the hall, didn’t say a word, just slugged him upside the head with the butt of the .45 before he realized what was going on. He went down hard, cussing and grabbing his ear as he collapsed against the wall.

I kicked him in the gut, then stomped on the hand he was using for balance. He went down again, and I kicked him in the back of the head. I drew down on him, told him to get the fuck out. He whimpered, pushed himself up in a pile, stumbled out the door. Cindy was dressed by this time, and standing in the middle of the living room, chattering like a myna bird — scared and a little high.

“Cindy, shut up and sit the fuck down,” I said over the top of my .45. She did, collapsing like she was a balloon that had suddenly lost all of its air. Her brown hair fell around her face. Glassy, hyper eyes. Hands clutching the couch cushion on either side of her, showing off her rack in a tight white T-shirt with “BAMA” stretched across the front. The rack was how I knew she hadn’t been hitting the meth for long. She still looked healthy.

I kept the gun on her. She didn’t move.

“I’m not going to tell you again.” She nodded, finally silent. “Where is Lee?”

“Work.”

“Bullshit. He ain’t there.”

“Then I don’t know.”

“Bullshit. I think you do.”

Her eyes shot back and forth, like a trapped squirrel. I sat in the chair across from the couch, pistol balanced on my knee. “Cindy, here’s the deal. Lee has pissed off some dangerous folks and he owes them a lot of money, but you probably already know that, right?”

She nodded, guilt all over her face.

“OK. Now, I’m down here to make it right. You know me and Lee go way back, and I can help y’all out, but I gotta get that money.”

Cindy relaxed. I knew what was coming — she was going to give up the whole operation. Fucking meth heads. Don’t care about anything but their own ass. “I know where he probably is,” she said.

“Oh, I know you do, but I ain’t finished,” I said. I really didn’t care about Lee at this point, just the twenty grand. “I don’t have a lot of time to fuck around talking to you, then talking to Lee and all that. I need that money. And I’m pretty sure you know where it is.”

She shook her head, looked at the pistol in my hand.

“OK, Cindy, why don’t you tell me where Lee is, and I’ll go ask him about it — after I tell him that while he’s out working you’re here fucking Billy the Builder?”

That got her attention. “No, God no, don’t do that. Please, Jack.”

“Why shouldn’t I? You ain’t cooperating, and Lee’s a friend of mine.”

“He’d kill me.”

“Yeah? That thought crossed my mind, too.”

She looked up at me.  “I don’t know where Lee is. I swear.”

“What about the money?”

Something moved in her eyes. “If I tell you, will you not tell Lee about … you know.”

I had to smile.

“What are you smiling at?” she said.

“I’m just wondering how bad you want to keep Lee from finding out about your boyfriend.”

“Jack, I swear, he’d kill me. I’ll do anything.”

I smiled again. She saw it and slid off the couch onto her knees. Crawled over to where I was sitting and put her hands on my knees. “Anything,” she said.

“Well, now. Get to it, girl.”

She did. Blew me like a porn star, even took off her shirt and showed off that great rack while she did it. When she finished and I’d zipped up, she said, “You know that park where the Washatubbee runs into the Kosha River?”

I nodded.

“Down the road on the ‘Tubbee side, about a mile from the end, off on the left in the woods, is a shed. It’s in there.”

I stood and holstered my pistol, stepped toward the door. “It damn well better be.”

“And you won’t tell Lee?”

I turned back toward her. She still hadn’t pulled her shirt back on. “Oh, I can’t tell Lee anything now. He’s in the trunk of his car with a bullet in his head. One of my bullets.”

Cindy fell back on the couch like she had been slapped. She reached for her shirt, as if she only just now realized she was topless. Her eyes were wild, confused. “So, why — ”

“The money, plain and simple. And the rest.”

She focused, looked up at me. She was scared, real scared, but still confused.

I have to give her credit, though. She figured it out pretty damn fast. She yanked her shirt over her head. Fluffed her hair out. “I got it, Jack. Anything you want,” she said, defeat in her voice.

I smiled again and nodded.  “Good girl,” I said and closed the door behind me.

PFT-3Bio:  Phillip Thompson is a Marine Corps combat veteran, journalist, speechwriter and gun owner, among other things. His fiction includes three novels (Enemy Within, A Simple Murder and Deep Blood) and short stories published by the Veterans Writing Project’s literary journal (The Review) and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

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PayDayNow by John McFetridge

Amy answered the phone, “PayDayNow,” and a man’s voice said, “Yeah, hi, how are you?”

“I’m good, what can I do for you?”

She was on her stool behind the counter, looking at a few people who’d already cashed their cheques but were still standing around the store. Regulars, a couple of guys in paint-splattered overalls and work boots and a big woman with a diaper bag over her shoulder.

“That was really something in Boston,” the man on the phone said.

“What?” Amy asked.

“At the marathon, those people killed, those bombs.”

“Yeah, that was something.”

“Couple of guys did all that damage with some fireworks and a pot.”

The woman with the diaper bag left.

Amy said, “Do you need to cash a cheque?”

“All they did was leave a couple backpacks.”

“Yeah.”

“You see that backpack by the front door?”

“I see it.”

“You better get the manager.”

When Mike got on the phone the man told him that the bomb in the backpack could be set off by a remote. “I’m watching the building, I can see those two chicks coming in. Here’s what you do, you let the cashiers keep working while you go get the money out of the safe, put it in one of those big brown envelopes and put that in the garbage can in front of the dry cleaner. Then walk right back to PayDayNow and stay inside.”

“What about the… backpack?”

“Don’t touch it.”

“Fuck you.”

“Call the cops, the bomb squad will be able to take it apart easy.”

Mike hung up and looked at Amy. She was scared, sure, but holding it together which helped him keep it together. He went back into his office and put the money – had to be almost twenty grand – into an envelope. He stopped then because he hated to lick the fucking glue, but almost laughed as if that was the worst of his problems.

He walked back out to the front of the store and glanced at Amy who was serving the two women. She looked at him and gave him a little nod as he pushed open the door. He walked along Danforth thinking Amy was okay. No, she was good so why do I give her such a hard time? Because she’s always giving me a hard time, he thought; coming in late, never wanting to work extra shifts, bitching about everything, her mother, her kid, never having a babysitter, everything.

He dropped the envelope in the garbage can then, looking around, walked back to PayDayNow. It was busy, lots of cars, buses and lots of people. The guy on the phone could be anywhere, he could be in a car, he could be that guy walking the dog or the one on the bike.

Back inside Mike stood by the door. When the two women left he turned the sign to ‘closed,’ and said to Amy, “Call the cops.”

He couldn’t see the garbage can from inside the store so he started to open the door.

“Wait,” Amy said.

Mike stopped and looked over his shoulder at her. She was pointing at his feet and he looked down and saw the backpack.

A cop car pulled up a minute later. Mike opened the door and said, “There’s a bomb.”

The cops were fast. They stood on the sidewalk on either side of the PayDayNow front door and held back the pedestrian traffic. More cop cars showed up and closed Danforth and Vic Park. Buses, cars and trucks backed up. The place was a mess within minutes.

Then the bomb squad arrived with all their fancy toys, even had a robot. They spent hours working on it. They finally got the backpack open and found a pot inside all right, not a pressure cooker, just a regular pot with the lid taped on. When they got that open they found it was full of nails and nuts and bolts – but no explosives.

Mike said, “I fucking knew it.” He’d already given his statement to a couple of detectives and now he had to go over it again. Before he did that he said to Amy, “You might as well go home.”

As she was going out the door Mike said, “You have to get home for the babysitter.”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Amy said.

***

When Amy unlocked the door to her apartment and went inside, her son, Josh, was sitting on the living room floor playing a video game.

He said, “So, how’d it go?”

“Exactly the way we planned.” She picked up the envelope and poured the money onto to the kitchen table.

Had to be close to twenty grand, exactly what she’d expected.

“The voice thing worked perfectly,” Amy said. “He was certain he was speaking to a man with a deep voice.”

“It really helped I could talk to you first.”

The way they’d planned it. A familiar voice, help Josh to calm down. Make it feel like a game.

“Okay, so now we can sign you up for hockey.”

She watched him playing the video game, glad he’d be getting into something that would get him out of the house. Something that would get him a little exercise.

 

John McFetBio: John McFetridge is the author of the ‘Toronto Series’ novels; Dirty Sweet, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Swap and Tumblin’ Dice. His short fiction has appeared in the collections Terminal Damage, Collateral Damage and Discount Noir.

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