Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Submission Status Update

Hi folks. I'm still kicking, albeit slowly, as evidenced by the flurry of Tough action this weekend. It's become clear that by myself, I can't sustain, with the proper editing, a one story per week pace. Others can, I can't, and that's simply the way it is. Say thanks for the yeoman's work, no, the incredible work of Tim Hennessy, who read everything that came in over the last couple months when I was out of commission, and Rider was out of commission because he was taking care of me first the way a good son should. I am still having difficulty concentrating on reading and editing; I've kept buying books at the same rate I usually read them, though, and the intimidating stack tells me I have a long way to go.

So we're going on a submissions hiatus. I have about a hundred stories left to go through and five to edit, not counting reviews, of which there are only a couple pending. Of those hundred, I'd guess we'll accept fewer than ten, which still puts us in a good place. Ideally I'd like to run three months ahead, but I'm just looking to get back into reading shape, so we're on submissions hiatus until further notice. 

In the comments, I wonder if you'd share your opinion on editorial taste-making. Is it better to have one person's editorial vision guiding things (Tough), a small team of three or four ( a la Shotgun Honey), or a more traditional litmag (let's say Ploughshares, to name one I've admired for years), which runs with an editorial board and a fairly large team of volunteers or interns? I helped run Night Train (now being squatted, thanks a lot, shell company X ) all three ways at one time or another and thought I had developed a preference for the single editorial voice, but in the wake of these last couple months, I'm no longer sure. Carry on, and check Twitter @Tough_Crime for further updates.

Sunday, August 30, 2020



Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic

$17.95/9.49

Polis Books

June 2020

reviewed by Paul J. Garth



When asked to review “LOCKDOWN: Stories of Crime, Terror and Hope During a Pandemic”, I was hesitant to say yes. I’d seen a couple of publications put out calls for pandemic themed issues, and in almost every instance, I’d grown instantly weary reading the calls, not just because I didn’t trust the editors of those particular magazines to be able to handle such a serious subject with the care needed, though that was a part of it, but also because the nature of the calls seemed too timely, too on the nose, too expectant to use a readers own anxiety about this particular moment in the world against them. Many of us have been homebound for months, watching updates on death counts and infection rates climb higher and higher as we try to make our way though some new kind of normal. How many stories would be able to both respect the place we’re in, and also tell a good story that could exist independent of this particular moment?

 

    The other reason I was hesitant to review “Lockdown” is much simpler; I’m friends with more than half of these writers, conversing with a majority of them at least once a week, if not more. How much could my review be worth if that detail wasn’t disclosed up front? How honest could I really be? If “Lockdown” was another average collection, how could I write a review that was both fair to people I’m friends with, and to anyone who reads the review?

 

    Thankfully, both issues ended up being moot, as “Lockdown” is a thoughtful, challenging, terrifying, humorous, and deeply sad anthology that comes close to greatness, though it is held back by just a couple stories that don’t quite connect. 

   

The book opens with Gabino Iglesias’s, “Everything is Going to be Okay,” which happens to be one of the single best crime fiction stories of the year. The story of Pablo, an uninsured fisherman whose wife is sick with COVID-19, and a fishing expedition from hell, Iglesias uses his personal and emotive prose to illustrate a life unseen by too many of us with extraordinary humanity and care. From the day to day struggles of getting through a pandemic in the face of a heartless system that doesn’t care, to what living without any kind of a safety net can make a man capable of, and what happens when a person truly has no choice but to do something they do not want to do, there isn’t a detail wasted or that feels anything other than richly lived and deeply earned. As deep and murky as the Gulf Pablo fishes, Iglesias sets the tone, and the bar for the rest of “Lockdown” incredibly high. More crime fiction should be like this. 


    Next up is Rob Hart with “No Honor Amongst Thieves” a home invasion story presented in a non-linear fashion. What at first appears to be a story working on a common fear, especially now that so many of us are home constantly, slowly turns into something else, an attack on the soulless machine that, arguably, has exasperated the situation we’re all living through and that has callously allowed so many to die. That some characters in Hart’s story die violently from something other than the pandemic does not muddle the point; dead is dead, and people are profiting off those deaths. There’s a sense of rage underneath this story, and while it is, in many ways, a flipside to Iglesias’s piece, together they posit a sad yet undeniable point that, in America, at least, money, not human decency or compassion, is all that can keep you safe.


    If you’re sensing a theme of class so far, it is absolutely there, and the use of this theme in several stories is a highpoint of “Lockdown”. Everyone who wrote a story for this acknowledges there are two worlds in a lockdown, the world of those who can stay home and protect their health because of economic stability, and the world where missing even a day of work could have a far more dire outcome than just illness. Steve Weddle and Angel Luis Colon offer stories speaking to these issues as well. In Weddle’s “At the End of the Neighborhood” an armed Homeowners Association from hell steps into the world of the fearful middleclass, examining how close some people are to becoming monsters based on fear and suspicion alone. Understated, and in some ways reminiscent of a plague-based retelling of “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, Weddle captures suburban ennui and boredom while the world rages and burns outside a cozy commuter community, unable to look away from what must surely come next. Colon’s story, “Your List” explores similar fears, this time set in a high-rise apartment block, where the confines of lockdown help shape you (the story is masterfully told in a breathless, ever escalating, second person) into a peak physical specimen, paranoid of catching the ravaging disease, until a random knock at the door explodes into intimate violence. 


These stories, the stories where the pandemic is real, where characters are caught up in something that resembles what we see outside our own windows, make up many of the best stories in “Lockdown”, but not all. For an anthology featuring writers mostly known for their crime fiction, “Lockdown” doesn’t take long to start showing its interest in the speculative. Starting with Renee Asher Pickup’s “Desert Shit”, many of the stories imagine something much worse than what we’re living through, superbugs that have decimated society and left the survivors with a fearful half life that is quickly running out of time (for levity, it should be noted, in almost every superbug story, there’s a line about a certain orange skinned President dying, either offscreen, or by coughing out his lungs in the middle of a national address). In Pickup’s story, two criminals steal a pallet of bleach, then hide away, losing themselves in drugs and sex until, days later, they check their phones and see the world has gone to hell. Struggling to get across town, they travel the deadlands of a desert community where cops where full HAZMAT suits and have been ordered to shoot anyone outside of their homes.

 

Others, like Jen Conley’s “Fish Food”, examine what, exactly, an expectant mother would do in the face of a disease whose transmission almost always equals death. A slower, personal story, “Fish Food” stands out as amongst the best in the collection because of its impressive worldbuilding, its lived in pacing, and its willingness to look hard questions in the eye and give definitive answers. “Apocalypse Bronx” from Richie Narvaez similarly moves through a devastated world, this time through the eyes of a corrupt cop sent to kill a witness who has been offloaded from the hospital in order to allow staff to handle the spiking disease. A nighttime gauntlet through New York City, devastated by the second, mutated wave of COVID, Narvaez’s story is both entertaining and timely, and, with its well thought out descriptions of a second wave, one of the most unnerving to those of us reading in the present. 

 

Others go even further, positing a world in which Ghosts, because of the lockdown, become lonely, where monsters gain free roam of the earth due to the decimation of disease, and where the United States has fallen, leaving only Mexican and South American drug cartels in control of most of North America. “Misery Loves Company” by Ann D├ívila Cardinal tells a story of loneliness and betrayal, where a long-rumored ghost on a college campus becomes so upset with those who no longer fill the school’s halls, it starts haunting, and killing, faculty over Zoom calls. That sounds like an insane premise, a story that absolutely should not work. That it does, and that it works remarkably well, is a testimony to Cardinal’s talent. Similarly, S.A. Cosby’s “The Loyalty of Hungry Dogs” starts feeling like a scene from one of the great post-apocalyptic books in literature, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, including the overgrown rural home of survivors and a mysterious but obviously Not-Good-News shed behind the house, and armed marauders willing to kill over the contents of a small garden, before becoming something altogether different. Half a continent away, V. Castro’s “Asylum” tells the story of how the Cartels came to power, defeating a particularly horrifying disease and watching the United States fall, in part because of their inhumanity at the border. Told conversationally, the story packs a complete speculative history, moving from individual stakes to the full ramifications of the geo-political rebalancing without ever forgetting those who died because of US policy.

  

Other standouts in “Lockdown” include Eryk Pruitt’s “Herd Immunity”, another second person story in which a young man visits a cult compound, “The Seagull & the Hog” in which a frustrated man loses his mind to the sounds of his neighbor’s constant copulation and undertakes what might be a suicide mission for new material to masturbate to, Hector Acosta’s “Por Si Adoso” which examines a food delivery racket, and the trouble poor kids trying to make cash for themselves in a new world find themselves in when they come in contact with the upper class, and “Lockdown” editor Nick Kolakowski’s “A Kinder World Stands Before Us” in which a former Michelin starred chef finds himself cooking for the world’s most vapid and useless collection of Tech CEOs, moguls, and ultra-wealthy before their source runs out and the 1% rapidly devolve into procuring other means for their own survival. 


That an anthology edited by Steve Weddle and Nick Kolakowski has so many great stories shouldn’t be a surprise; Weddle edited Needle, one of the seminal crime fiction journals of recent years, and Kolakowski is fresh off a multi-year tenure helping shape young writers as an editor at the long running Shotgun Honey website. Unfortunately, however, not every story in “Lockdown” is excellent. A couple of stories seem out of place or rushed, or do not fit the broader theme of the anthology as a whole, including a couple of the later stories, one of which would be better described as post-apocalyptic sci-fi, which features almost no mention of a lockdown or viral outbreak at all, and certainly no thematic or plot relevance to the thematics of the wider anthology.

  

Though there are stumbles, none are so bad as to make “Lockdown: Stories of Crime, Terror, and Hope During a Pandemic” anything other than very, very, good. “Lockdown” is a varied, thoughtful, imaginative anthology that offers more than just crime or horror or sci-fi, but instead a mix of all of the above. Though not perfect, it is considerably better than most other anthologies and if it were not for being spread across so many genres, I would expect it to be nominated for several awards. Perfect not just for reading while in lockdown, but also, when this is all over, as a document of where we were at this moment, “Lockdown”, full of rage, sadness, and humor, excels at showing the humanity of everyone who may be or become infected, and casts a light on the systems that shrug indifferently at death. 



Paul J. Garth
 has been published in Thuglit, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Plots with Guns, Crime Factory, Tough, and several other anthologies and web magazines. He lives and writes in Nebraska, where he lives with his family. An editor at Shotgun Honey, he is at work on his first novel, and can be found online by following @pauljgarth on Twitter.

 


Monday, August 17, 2020

Bumper, fiction by M.E. Purfield

 Miki humps the rear driver side of the car. Oh, is the poor baby okay? she moans. Will it live? I am surprised she does not slap it like a horse. Maybe she does not want to upset the driver more.

I cannot help but laugh and flap my hands. This is ridiculous. Since moving to Jersey City she has to park on the street. The house she bought came with no driveway despite being a three-level Victorian. Also, finding a paid parking spot led to a lot of dead ends. But changing the car to different sides of the street for the sweeper so that she does not get a ticket is not the problem. The problem is the dangers of parallel parking.

Miki and I had just gotten back from Newport Mall and found a perfect spot for her black Taurus. Just a few houses away from ours. Two cars sandwich either side, but that has never been an issue. Miki excels at parallel parking. I cannot imagine doing it when I am up for my license. If I am allowed to get one. Miki slipped in easily but accidentally tapped the silver Jaguar in front of us. Something that happens all the time when you park like that.

Hey, hey! the hefty Asian man shouted from the sidewalk. He wears suit pants and a baggy white shirt and red tie. We have seen him before. He always walks his tiny dog up and down the street and lives in the apartment building across from us. His wife or girlfriend was standing there too. A few feet away. Looking down. Kind of submissive. Pretty. Much skinnier than her partner. She wears a light summer dress and flats. Maybe they are on their way to a party.

You hit my car, the Asian man said and jerked his arms. He moved into the street and inspected the damage. What damage? It was a tap. Also, the Taurus bumper is so chipped and scratched how could he tell if we had damage. Nonetheless, the man took out his cell phone, and I guess, took pictures or recorded video.

Give me a break, Miki said and shook her head. This guy has to be a dream.

The man finished his inspection, and the couple entered the car. We must not have had damaged it since he did not say anything else. The woman with her head still down blushed. Was she embarrassed or mad? I imagined the man doing this a lot. Maybe she is embarrassed? If she is mad, she would say something mean to us, right?

Maybe we should call an ambulance, Miki shouts as she caresses the Jaguars rear. Call 911. She then kisses it and pats it like a burping baby.

I glance around to see if anyone else finds this funny. We are the only ones around. But I’m sure others would not find it funny.

The car starts up, and Miki steps onto the cracked sidewalk. The Jaguar carefully and perfectly pulls out of the spot as if giving Miki a driving lesson and drives off.

What a jerk, Miki says, and heads for the house.

I stomp my foot and point to our car.

She stops and tightens her eyes.

Oh, right, she says. The bags.

She must have been having too much fun that she forgot we bought stuff at the mall.

**

School does not start up for another week. I will start my freshman year at Nair High School. It is one of the few in Jersey City that takes autistic kids. I miss my old school the Gertrude Stein School in New York. And my friends, even though I chat with them all the time online. Mostly I spend my days in the house while Miki handles the renovations and updates the pipes and wiring with Julian. I cannot concentrate on my favorite movies. Not even the Argento movies. PS4 games bore me lately. Nothing seems to help the intense anxiety and over-thinking that haunts my head. Scenarios of how the teachers and kids will hate me keep me up at night and distract me during the day. I know that the kids are autistic too, and the teachers will have some kind of understanding, but my brain does not work that way. It always focuses on the negative when big change slaps me like a tsunami.

Prudence, Miki says at the door to my room. Paint stains her t-shirt. Not house paint. She has been working on a new series of paintings despite the house’s total chaos the last month. What are you doing?

It should be obvious. I am lying on my bed in the air conditioning and looking up at the freshly painted ceiling. I sit up and shrug and shake my head.

Why don’t you go outside and walk around? Miki says. Explore the neighborhood. Just be home for dinner. Miki has gotten better at making dinner. Not that the meals are fancier but more plane for my palette.

I nod again and slide off the bed.

Miki rubs my back as I pass her and asks if I have my phone. She bought me one with a speaking app so I can type in what I want to say, and the app shouts it out to neuro-typicals. I hardly use it. Then again, I have few people to talk to around here.

I step onto the paint chipped porch that wraps around to the side of the house. Despite being outside and suffering the abuse of weather and time, it is still in good condition and with no termites. At least that is what Julian says. So far, he has been fixing the house up nice, so he must know what he is talking about.

The air is too humid and hot. And quiet. It must be too ugly for people to hang outside. I walk down the broken concrete path to the metal mesh gate. I stand on the sidewalk for a moment and wonder how old a tree has to be to break through and reveal its roots.

Coming down the street I see the Asian man walking his little dog. I want to know what kind it is, but I always forget to look on the internet. Not that I want one. I am not a dog person. Then again, I never had a pet, so I do not know what kind of person I am.

I could ask the man what kind of dog it is.

No. He glances at me and then crosses the street. He must be avoiding us. He never did that before. The man enters his brick apartment building, and I am the only one on the street again.

With a few hours to kill, I walk up Palisade to Riverview Park where the action seems to be. From one of the benches under a tree, I watch little kids run around on the grass and mommies, or nannies push strollers and dogs walk people. After an hour, I grow bored and decide to go home but not without buying Italian ice from the cart on the corner.

Excuse me, miss, someone says from behind.

About to walk through the gate of the house, I turn around to see the Asian woman who lives across the street. I smile and stare at her chin. She smiles back but not as confident. Her meekness upsets me, and I do not know why. I am hardly a threat. No reason to be scared of my slight frame and pretty face.

Do you remember me? she asks.

I nod and point to her building.

Right, she says. You can’t talk. Correct.

I nod again and shrug.

That’s okay, her monotone voice says. I have something to say.

A sour feeling swirls in my stomach. Will she yell at me for Miki humping her car? Slap me? Push me down and kick me? Call me a freak? I better finish my ice fast. I do not want anyone to confuse it for my blood if I should bleed on the sidewalk.

I want to apologize for the other day, she says.

I raise my brows.

Phil is really a nice person, but he has been going through a hard time. I hope you won’t hold it against us. We do enjoy living here and do not want to make enemies.

I nod and then shake my head. I will not hold it against them.

She must understand what I mean and lightly laughs.

Oh good, she says. My name is Lele, by the way.

She holds out her hand. I eye it for a second. I know I am supposed to shake it, but what if it feels sweaty and squishy? Like I am holding a snail. It is so hot today that I do not even want to touch my own hands.

Lele takes her hand back and says That’s okay. I don’t like formality either. She waves and says, Have a nice evening, and thank you for listening.

**

I ran into Jodie today, Miki says.

Jodie Walker lives up the street with his parents in the blue house. He and Miki grew up together. So far, he seems nice and fills us in on neighborhood gossip. Miki says I can trust him. I often wonder if there had been anything serious between them before Miki moved away at fifteen to New York.

I flash her eye contact while I eat my chicken nuggets and corn. No sauce, please. Miki picks at her breaded chicken cutlets and corn and sauteed potatoes.

Taking my signal that I am listening, she says, So I asked him about that couple with the Jaguar. He says that Phil and Lele are okay. At least they have always been nice to him. When I told him about what happened, he said that he wasn’t surprised. Last month Phil had the rear window of the car smashed. Cops never found out who did it. No surprise there.

No wonder Phil is so sensitive about his car. Or is it? Based on that one incident, he seemed to treat the car better than his girlfriend. He totally ignored Lele, and when he did acknowledge her, he bossed her into the car.

Another thing I found out was that Phil is really a woman, she says. Or born that way, I mean.

I flinch.

No shit, Miki says. A transexual. I’m so used to seeing men to women, not the other way around. Fooled me good. Good for him.

I nod. Fooled me too. I assume Lele was born a girl. Now I am going to have to study her to be sure. But if she really is a girl, what does that make her? A lesbian or straight? Interesting. I will have to ask her one day.

But he’s still an asshole, Miki says.

I screw my mouth to the side and shake my head.

Well, he is, she says. It’s just a car. He’s not the only asshole in the world like that. You see these big brawny guys go all apeshit with roid rage about being tapped. Tapped. It’s like they’re connected by the nerves to them. Their heart is probably made of metal too.

I flip my palms out. Maybe. But if Phil has a woman’s heart, then would he be doing it for the same reasons as those brawny guys.

**

The next morning I sit at the kitchen table and eat a bowl of honey nut oats with no milk when the doorbell rings. I am surprised I could hear it with Julian working in the basement. All morning he has been sawing and banging.

I shove a whopping spoonful in my mouth and leave to answer the door. Miki is already in the hall and opening it when I arrive. A cop stands outside. He is crazy enough to wear long sleeves even though it feels hotter than yesterday. He seems short for a cop. Skinny too. He takes off his cap and has a shaved head like most cops have and tucks it under his arm.

Ms. Michelina Radicci? he asks.

Depends, she says. Who wants to know?

The cop frowns and sighs. Maybe his day has not been going well.

My name is Officer Reyes, and I’m investigating damage to a car on your street.

My car? she asks.

No, Mr. Phillip Fong’s car. A 1985 silver Jaguar.

Oh my God, Miki moans.

I come up behind her. I can not believe Phil called the police on us. Just after Lele apologized. Maybe he does not see the same way she does. And we are supposed to take her word that he is a nice guy.

Reyes pulls out a notepad and pen. So, you are Ms. Radicci?

Unfortunately, she says.

Where were you between the hours of 8 PM last night and 7 AM this morning? he asks.

Here, Miki says. And this is total bullshit.

He writes in the pad and asks, Is there anyone who can swear to that?

I was with my sister, she says, pointing.

I give a little wave and smile. He nods and returns to his notes.

And you are? he asks.

Her name is Prudence. Same last name, Miki says. She has nothing to do with it. She’s only fifteen. No license.

I feel the cop eye me.

Your sister has been in your sight during those hours, he asks.

I nod.

Yes or no?

She can’t speak, Miki says.

The cop tilts his head to the side. In doubt. Maybe.

Do you two sleep in the same room? he asks.

No, Miki says. We have separate rooms.

I was asking her.

I shake my head. Miki and I watched TV in the living room until 11 PM, and then we separated to our own rooms for bed. I bet if I say just that, he will think Miki snuck out between 11 and 7.

She has nothing to do with it, Miki says.

I understand that, the cop says. Reyes looks back at Miki. So you admit that you damaged Fong’s Jaguar?

There is no damage and I can prove it, Miki says. He took pictures right before he drove off. If I damaged the car while parking, then why didn’t he call the cops right then? I mean, why wait three days to call the cops on someone?

Reyes frowns. I think you should come with me outside.

**

Holy crap, Miki whispers.

My eyes widen.

Someone spray-painted on one side of the Jaguar: FUCKING QUEER SCUMBAG HUMAN WASTE. The rest of the car seems fine as far as damages.

Phil and Lele stand on the other side of the street by the police car. Phil steps back and forth like he wants to run over to us. Attack us or make the cop do it. No, he cannot be so uncivilized. Both are dressed nice for work. Maybe office jobs. Anger. No. Rage covers Phils face. Lele seems worried. Maybe she will have to reign Phil in. Maybe again.

So you admit to damaging the car? Officer Reyes asks.

No fucking way, Miki says and shakes her head. She points to the writing on the car. I had nothing to do with this. This. This is from a sick and angry mind.

I blurt a laugh and quickly cover it when Miki glares at me to shut up.

She’s lying, Phil shouted. She’s crazy. She had sex with my car.

As tense as the situation felt, I could not help but laugh again. I turn around and show them my back until I can control myself.

Reyes asks Miki, You have something to say about that? The fornication with the Jaguar?

Now you make it sound like bestiality, Miki says. They didn’t tell you what happened the other day.

I would like to hear your version, he says and prepares his pad.

Miki tells him what happened coming back from the mall that day. Reyes shakes his head and holds a straight face as he takes notes. I am impressed by his control.

I have no reason to do that to their car, Miki says. If you knew me, you would agree. Shit, I don’t even use spray paint. Hard to control.

Uh-huh, Reyes says. He probably has no idea my sister is a world-known artist.

I wave my hand to get the cop’s attention and point to my eyes then to Miki and then to the car.

Did anyone see your sister? Reyes asks.

I nod.

No. I have no witnesses yet.

There has to be something on camera somewhere, Miki says. Seems like if the city doesn’t have one capturing it, then the houses do.

We noticed that a lot of neighbors had them aimed at their porch since thieves like to take dropped off packages by mail carriers.

I’ll be checking it out, he says.

Reyes says we can go and will be in touch for follow up questions.

As he crosses the street, Phil shouts: You are letting her go. She vandalized my car. That’s a crime.

Lele glances at me and frowns as if in apology. I am not sure, but I think she believes that we did not do it. She appears embarrassed by Phil. Maybe his anger about situations is getting to her.

How am I going to drive that to the body shop? Phil asks. Everyone will stare at me. You think my life isn’t hard enough that I have to sit behind those words for the world to see?

Reyes holds his hands up to placate Phil and speaks so softly that I cannot hear him.

C’mon, Miki says and taps my arm.

**

Yeah, man, Jodie says. People are talking about it. But don’t let it get to you. They’re always talking. You should see them on the Jersey City Height Facebook page. Walla-walla and judgment all the time. And that’s just for the stupid stuff.

He sits in our living room and sort of watches a movie with us. Since we started it, all we have been doing is talking. Jodie shares the couch with Miki while I sit on the floor in front of them. They both have one leg on the cushion and face each other. He wears cargo shorts and a Joy Division t-shirt. I catch him checking out Miki’s body dressed in sweat pants and a Sonic Youth tee.

It’s insane, Miki says. I didn’t do it, and now you’re telling me that my neighbors have already made a judgment about Prudence and me. I bet the cop isn’t going to find any proof it was me.

Think someone is setting you up.

I don’t see how. I don’t know anyone in the neighborhood except for you and your mom.

Didn’t piss off someone before you left?

At fifteen, she asks. Who didn’t I piss off?

Pissed me off.

Jodie smiles and wiggles his brows.

So maybe it was you.

Maybe Prudy did it? She’s of that age. She probably drives you crazy all day.

Shut up, Miki mutters. Prudence is my best side. If she wasn’t there, I would have done more than hump the car. And I don’t mean spray painting his car.

I make a dirty face at him and stick out my tongue.

See, he says and points. Trouble.

**

For the next few days, it seems like Phil has not brought his car in to remove the paint. He covers it with a weather tarp made for the Jaguar. A big shiny silver blob. But he moves it for the sweeper. One time while walking around, I saw it parked a block away. He must be doing it at night when no one sees. Poor guy. I hear it is impossible to find parking in the AM hours.

Officer Reyes so far has not contacted us for follow up questions. Fed up Miki calls and speaks to him on the phone.

The incident is still under investigation, he says.

Did you check cameras on the street? she asks.

The incident is still under investigation.

She hangs up the phone and calls him a jerk.

**

To break up the monotony of my day, I hang out on the porch instead of taking a walk. School starts next week, and my anxiety has not lessened any. I am sure having my sister accused of gay-bashing a car adds to it. To pass the time, I work on a tiny Rubix cube.

Lele stands on the other side of the gate. Again she appears meek. As I walk closer to her, I notice that her eyes are purple with bags. Not that kind of purple. She probably has not been sleeping.

I am sorry to bother you, Lele says and glances at her apartment building behind her.

Will she get in trouble for speaking to me? Could speaking to me mess up the investigation? Or maybe she would suffer Phil’s anger? We are his enemy.

I wanted to have a small word with you.

I nod and focus on the Rubix.

The police still don’t know who vandalized the car, she says. So far, they checked the city cameras and a few of the house cameras that look out to the street. I assume they didn’t find your sister, so she is in the clear. I don’t know much more. Officer Reyes speaks to Phil instead of me since the car is in his name and Phil hardly talks to me lately. He gets like that when he bottles up his anger.

I nod and give her the thumbs up.

Lele yawns and apologizes.

With work and Phil going crazy, I haven’t been able to sleep, she says. I spend most of my time looking at the street through our window to see if anyone is coming to damage the car again. At first, Phil had been staying up all night. It make him angrier so I told him I would do half of the night for him so he could get some sleep.

I shake my head and frown. I feel sorry for them. This vandal has total control of their life. Maybe that is the crazy person wants.

I just thought you should know about the police investigation, she says. I do not want your sister to think that she’s to blame. Phil will come around once they catch the person. If you can, please tell her. Er, I mean, write to her. Is that what you do?

I nod.

Thank you, she says and turns to cross the street. At the corner, she suddenly twists around and holds up her finger. Oh, I also meant to say that your sister should be careful and stay away from our car if she can. Not that I think she is guilty, but Phil has a gun now.

**

Even though I do not like it, I use my voice app on my phone and relay Leles message about the investigation and Phil’s gun. I will probably be using it in school a lot, so I should get used to it.

Insane, Miki says. Total insanity. Well, he can count on me staying away from his car. Last thing I need is to be caught on camera by it. Cops will probably drag my ass into jail. I hate those tiny interview rooms they shove you in. That’s another thing. Interview room. Who are they kidding? Am I interviewing for a jail cell?

The holiday weekend arrives, and the neighborhood grows quieter. People are probably at the beaches or outside events, which there are a lot of in Jersey City — feasts and street concerts and markets selling homemade wares and art. Phil and Lele might be doing that since they do not see them around too. Yet I see his car parked on the street. They rented a car, maybe. Either way, I hope they are having a good time and not stressing.

Still not able to fall asleep, I decided to hang at my window. It looks out to the street, and I have a good view of the covered Jaguar two houses up. A branch from a tree that grows out of the sidewalk blocks the front of the car, and the street lights barely illuminate, but it is better than nothing.

Saturday night drops into failure. I wake up the next morning in my desk chair with a drool stain on my Hello Kitty t-shirt. To gear up for the following night, I nap through the afternoon. Miki does not notice since she is wrapped up in her studio on the third floor. I make an effort to show up at major meals, so she does not catch on to what I am doing. Sleep is important to me. It is one of the aspects that keep me from a meltdown. And we both do not want that to happen.

Sunday night, I sneak up a thermos of coffee. I hate coffee. Even with almond milk and sugar. The last time I had a few cups, I felt fragile and nauseous. But I am determined not to fall asleep until the sun shows up.

Once school starts I won’t be able to do this. It sucks. Miki will definitely put my butt in a sling as she likes to threaten. I will have to think up something else. Maybe get a web camera that looks out to the car.

Nothing happens on Sunday night despite staying awake. I spend Monday morning in siesta. Miki and I have no plans for the holiday. I do not like the beach because the way the sand makes me feel and the ocean’s sound drowns out my head. Crowds are out of the question too. Since Miki is not a people person and would rather work, it balances out.

Before bedtime, we watch a double-feature of Zombie and Day of the Dead.

I don’t understand why you prefer Day over Dawn, Miki says.

It’s the better movie, I say through the app.

But Dawn is the legend. The greatest zombie movie ever.

They were both made by Romero, so I do not see why they cannot be equal I type. Day has more of a plot to me than greedy people hoarding and fighting to defend their greed.

Miki flinches and says, Are you sure you’re fifteen?

I stick my tongue out at her and open the bag of popcorn.

Reluctantly we finish the movies by midnight, and I go up to my room. I check the street from my window before I pull the chair over. The car parked in the same spot all weekend seems untouched. The cover still on it.

At least I did not miss anything.

I adjust myself in a comfortable position on the chair and prepare for a long night. Sighing, I wonder when I will be able to sneak down for a thermos of coffee.

**

Men laughing outside wakes me up.

I curse myself for falling asleep and rub my eyes. At least I did not drool on my shirt.

Laughing again.

I lift the window screen and stick out my head. Two dark figures stand by the Jaguar. I run out of my room and down the stairs to the front door. Still wearing my sneakers, my feet pound the old wood. On the porch, I carefully step to the edge and crane my neck. The car is two houses down. One of the figures yanks the weather cover off and tosses it over the other person. The second figure complains and fights under it as if attacked by a squid. More laughter, and cursing. They seem fearless for people about to commit their third crime on the same car. Then again, I might be the only one around.

Prudence, she says behind my back. What are you doing?

My speeding heart stops for a second and pushes up my throat. I shove Miki wearing her pajama bottoms and tank and shake my head.

Sorry, she said. I didn’t mean to scare you but you are freaking me out by being out here.

I point to the car and the figures.

Miki cranes her neck and sighs: Oh, shit!

I pull her with me to the edge of the porch, towards the gate.

No way, she whispers. We are not going out there. We’ll call the cops.

Miki yanks from my grip and steps back.

Glass breaks.

I jump down the steps and to the gate. Miki harshly whispers my name. As I run down the sidewalk, she calls out: Get back here! Of course, I ignore her, and I know how stupid I am being. Those jerks could have a gun. Or I could get hurt in other ways, but maybe I can scare them off before that happens.

When I reach the car, the two figures are gone, but they left a broken side window and the tarp on the sidewalk. I have no idea where they ran off to so fast. Both corners up and down the street are a good distance away. I should see them just about to disappear.

Miki stops at my side and catches her breath. Let’s go, Prudence.

I point to the air and shrug my shoulders.

I don’t know where they are, she says, and I don’t care. Now let’s go and call the cops.

She is right. I can still be useful by telling the cops what I saw and heard. Maybe. At the very least, I try to take comfort that I scared them away.

I caught you.

Phil crosses the street and aims a small revolver at us. He wears shorts and a tank. Lele dressed in a pajama set follows him. Their skin glistens with sweat. Probably from running out of their apartment.

Miki and I raise our hands and move closer together towards the house behind us. Phil stands between us and the car. A smile across his maniacal face and the gun pointed at us. Lele, like me, bounces from foot to foot and wrings her hands at the front of the car. Although the gun is not pointed at me, it still scares me that Miki could get shot.

Don’t move, Phil says. I called the cops.

I didn’t do anything, Miki says, not at all bothered by the gun. Like it was just some non-threatening toy. Prudence heard the assholes and we came out here before the window was smashed.

Yeah. Sure. You can explain it all to them.

Miki sighs in aggravation and tightens her fists in the air.

I got you, he says. I finally got you. I can’t believe it.

I glance at Lele, hoping she can see the truth in my face. This has gotten so out of hand.

Phil put the gun down, she says. Please.

Not until the cops get here, he says. Finally, going to end this. Going to put her in jail where the rest of her psycho homophobic friends waste their lives away.

I am not homophobic, Miki says and almost throws her hands down. And I didn’t damage your car.

So sick of you people, Phil says. We came to this city because we thought people would be more accepting. Tolerant. But no. We moved onto a street of animals that are obsessed with our private lives and want to punish us for it.

Lele positions between us and the bullets’ possible path and holds up her palms to him. Please, she says with a shaky voice. Put the gun down. I don’t want anyone to get hurt.

Phil’s face tightens. He moves the gun away from Lele but still does not have a clear shot at Miki. It seems like he hates that as he tightens his lips.

Baby, please get out of the way, he says through a grim mouth.

Not until you put the gun away and calm down. They won’t run away. Right.

Um sure, Miki says. I won’t run away. I mean, you know where I live, and I don’t want a bullet in my ass.

Phil pants. His eyes shift around.

Prudence is only a kid, Lele says. You don’t want her to get hurt. I know you. You would never want to hurt a child.

Phil shivers as if a struggle is ramming the sides of his body. Oh, Lele. I hope you’re right. The gun lowers.

A man wearing a black ski mask pops out of the broken car window and grabs Phil’s shoulder. Surprise and confusion on his face as he screams out and falls back into him. The gun goes off. Lele with a yipe jolts to the side as if someone punched her in the shoulder. She falls to the ground after Miki and I do.

Lele! Phil screams with intense panic in his voice. His eyes wide and face flushed red.

The man holds Phil’s back to the car and reaches for the gun in his hand. From the other side of the Jaguar, a second man in a ski mask comes around.

I crawl over to Lele, who lays on her side and moans and bleeds onto the sidewalk. I feel weird, she says.

The second man stops in front of Phil and punches him in the stomach.

Faggot scumbag, he shouts.

Phil takes the punch and keeps holding onto the gun, pointing up the street.

Miki rams her side into the second man. They fall against the front of the car and bend over it. She punches him square in the face, then the groin. The second man falls moaning to the ground and nurses his privates.

Lele! Phil screams again in hysteria. His voice sounds like it is on its last cord. The first man has his arm around Phil’s neck. His other arm holds his wrist and shifts Phil’s arm around to try to loosen the grip.

Miki plows her fist into the man’s masked face. A crack from under the mask. He grunts but holds Phil tight. She then grabs Phil’s gun hand and shouts, Let go!

He does. Miki takes the revolver and steps back and points it at them.

Let him go, she says.

They both stop struggling. Phil’s eyes lock on Lele. Panting. The man in the car releases Phil. He falls to his knees at Lele’s side. He lies her head onto his lap and weeps.

Oh, Lele. I’m so sorry. Please don’t die.

Out of the car and down on the ground, Miki says.

Okay, okay, the man says as he opens the door.

No, Miki says. Crawl out the window.

The window with shards of glass lining it. The man growls in aggravation and follows the order. He moves out, head first with his hands on the street. While his lower half is still in the car, Miki kicks him in the stomach. He falls out the rest of the way and lands on his side.

Douche bags trying to set me up, she says.

When both men are face down with their hands behind their heads, she pulls off their ski mask to reveal their white and sweaty face.

Jesus, I don’t even know who you are, Miki says. Do you know them? she asks Phil.

He brings his wet face up and glances at the two men and shakes his head.

Please, he says. Call an ambulance.

She’ll be okay, Miki says as she takes out her phone. I saw the bullet come out of her shoulder.

A police car brakes next to the Jaguar, and two officers pour out with their weapons drawn. Panic rushes my heart. Images of them shooting Miki fill my brain. Miki drops the gun and places her hands behind her head before they can tell her.

She’s crazy, one of the men on the ground says. She tried to kill us. We’re just minding our own business.

An officer slams Miki into the car and spreads her legs and roughly frisks her. I keep still with my hands up even though I am kneeling in the victims circle next to Phil and Lele. I grunt out and try to tell them that the bad guys are on the sidewalk.

No, Phil says. She saved us. They’re the ones who damaged my car and attacked us.

The second officer calls for an ambulance and then cuffs the two men with plastic bands. They push Miki down next to them and tell them not to move or speak. She does not make a sound even with her face pressed to the concrete. Probably knowing that the cops would not listen anyway.

The ambulance arrives, and the street fills with noises and lights and people. Sensory overload creeps up. I stim to contempt my brain. I have no worries about Miki. Sure they will bring her in for questioning, but I am confident with Phil’s and Lele’s version of events she will be home to help me on my first day of school.

Phil, as if reading my mind, nods his head at me in assurance.

M.E. Purfield is the #actuallyautistic author of the long running and highly rated Miki Radicci series and the sci-noir Blunt Force Kharma series. He has had short stories in Broken Pencil, Unwinnable Magazine, and Norwegian American Weekly. He lives in Jersey City, NJ but you can always find him at www.mepurfield.com.