Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The problem with improvisation, fiction by Ed Brock

At 2:35 a.m., Morris Blackmon stared intently at the corrosion encrusting the gas line feeding the water heater in what had been his home. It was his former water heater, to be more accurate. He spun a hammer in his hand, then tapped it on his thigh while he stared at the pipe. After a few minutes, he bent down and began reading the instructions on the side of the tank, his lips moving just a little with each word. Finally, he turned the temperature knob to its lowest setting, and turned the gas cock knob to the “off” position.

He opened the panel to make sure the flames were out, then stood, took a deep breath, and brought the hammer down on the rusty gas pipe. Despite the green and white, coral-like corrosion, the pipe did not break completely, but gas immediately began hissing out, rippling like a heat wave as it streamed into the air. Morris’s eyes watered and he was feeling dizzy by the time he made it to the door that led back into the kitchen. He slammed the door shut behind him and promptly stuffed a towel, which he had prepared for this purpose, into the gap between door and floor.

In the kitchen, he gasped for air, surprised at how quickly the odor of gas was already beginning to leak through from the garage. Or, he thought, maybe it was just soaked into his clothes. He put the hammer back into the drawer where it lived and walked back into the living room, where he flopped down into what had been his favorite chair, an old school black faux leather recliner marbled with cracks in its upholstery.

Everything in the house had been “his,” even though most of it was crap that Christine had picked out at WalMart, Target and countless yard sales. Still, he was filled now with a strange sense of longing, a desire to stay here that he had not felt even in the two months since he had moved out, since Christine and he had separated.

It was, of course, too late now.

He wanted a cigarette. He had “quit” for the millionth time a week ago, but now he wanted a cigarette badly. He knew where he could get one, but wondered if his need for them was really that strong. They were upstairs, in the bedroom, on the nightstand. They were on the nightstand next to the bed, next to Christine. Next to Christine’s body, that is.
Morris exhaled, flapping his lips and rolling his eyes toward the ceiling. Goddamn that crazy bitch, any how, he thought. He was just glad they never had kids. Christ, what if this had happened one night with little Morris Jr. sleeping so innocently one room over. It would be hard to explain that Mommy died because she had asked Daddy to choke her during sex – again – and this time he had held on to the rope just a little too long.

It would be pretty hard to explain that to the cops, too.

“So, Mr. Blackmon,” they would say. “What you’re telling us is that you went over to your former residence at your ex-wife’s invitation …”

“She wasn’t my ex-wife yet,” he would point out.

“Very well, Mr. Blackmon, your estranged wife, then,” the cop would say in that testy little smartass way they have. “So you go over there at your estranged wife’s invitation, with the intent of … performing a sexual act with her? For old time’s sake?”


The imaginary officer nods, briefly covering his smirk with his hand.

“And then, the … encounter … just went a little too far, and you just happened to, accidentally, strangle the woman who had kicked you out of the house just two months prior, while performing this sex act. Well, I can certainly see how that could happen.

Oh, and I see here that you’re on probation. Well, I’m sure that’s just for parking tickets or something like that … oh, nope, it’s for assault and domestic violence. See, now, that last little part makes me think that the victim was the very same estranged wife who now lies choked to death upstairs. But, hey, I’m sure that’s just a coincidence.”

Indeed, the police were not strangers at the Blackmon household. They had been fairly regular visitors in the two years and three months of Morris and Christine Blackmon’s pathetic excuse for a union.

Not that it was pathetic in the beginning. No, in the beginning it was beautiful. They had met in a bar, where so many other failed love stories begin, but they were so sure it would be different for them. After all, they developed respect for each other as throwers on rival darts teams. His friends called him “Bullseye,” and Christine’s called her “Sharpshooter.”

She had him on the ropes, but it was honestly close enough that he totally bought it when she let him win at the last round. Of course, he bought her a pitcher of Long Island Tea to “make it up to her,” so she definitely came out ahead. And then she gave him head in the car. How could they not fall in love?

On the other hand, she certainly seemed to take great relish in telling him the truth about that night six months later when they had their first real fight. It was a minor cut, but the first of thousands. That little memory brought him back to his current situation: how to ignite the big gas bubble in the basement.

In those panicky moments after he realized his sexcapade had ended in death, when he first conceived the “blow the house up with gas” plan, he contemplated leaving something metal in the microwave. Set the timer, open the basement door and head for the hills. 

Looking back now, however, he had his doubts. The police would surely notice a metal object in the microwave.

He also wasn’t sure that would trigger an explosion. Seemed like he had seen some episode on “Mythbusters” about that, but he couldn’t remember if they busted the myth or confirmed it. Unfortunately for Morris, he only had one chance to make it work.

He had known an arsonist when he was inside at Autrey, but the guy had been more of a firebug than a pro. They had worked in the boot plant together, talking shit while cobbling footwear for their fellow prisoners. So this arsonist, his name was Bud, one time fell smack in love with one of the prison bitches and decided to mnake him some custom boots. It did not end well.

The bitch, named Diamond, was very much in demand, seeing as he was as pretty as they come inside, a regular transsexual super model. Bud was not the only prisoner wanting to polish Diamond, and he was certainly not the biggest. So he gave the bitch the boots, and sure enough, he got a blow job out of it, but Bud wanted more. He wanted exclusive rights, but the very next day Diamond went off with some big Aryan stud, probably wearing Bud’s boots while getting banged.

Bud did not take this well at all, and he spent the next week or two muttering to himself and pilfering various items and chemicals from the boot plant. He showed Morris the finished product, a compact flamethrower, basically, and confided his plan to torch his old flame when he had the chance. The chance came, and Bud confronted the former love of his life, and his/her love of the moment, while they were going at it in a storage room. He pointed the little torch at the couple, said something like “This is what you get, you cheating bitch,” and pulled the trigger.

The device blow up in his hand, burning over sixty percent of his body. Diamond and her man escaped unscathed. So, yeah, there was nothing from his friendship with Bud that could help Morris with his current situation.

Maybe he could knock over a lamp. Wouldn’t the broken socket spark? No, no, it wouldn’t, not long enough to ignite the gas. He would have to find some way to knock one over after the gas had already filled the house, and he had no idea how that would work. God, he needed a cigarette!

Then it occurred to him. Maybe he could leave a cigarette burning in Christine’s dead hand, make sure that started a fire, then leave the basement door open and run for it? The idea of going back into the room with his dead ex-wife, much less touching her body, made Morris’ stomach contents knock on his mouth’s back door, but he realized this was probably his best bet. OK, so be it, he decided.

Then Morris started pondering another problem: could he really avoid being placed here at the scene of the crime. He had left his car in the parking lot of the little park behind the house and then crept up, with nary a witness, over the fence and to the back door. That had been in case Amy had woken up to find him missing and taken it upon herself to go looking for him here.

Christ, Amy. Christine had been crazy, but at least she wasn’t monkey-brained stupid like Amy. Morris had never met a blonder brunette. When he had first met her at a friend’s party, she at one point insisted that chickens are reptiles “because they’re cold blooded.” 

Fortunately for her, Amy had an ass that made it easy to forget the stunning emptiness on the top end of her body.

Thinking about the chicken comment made Morris chuckle. And, just at that moment, sitting in his rough-worn former black recliner, he was filled with the confidence that he was going to be all right, that he would succeed in covering his tracks. He just had to go upstairs and light a cigarette in his dead wife’s hand. Nothing to it.

And it was at that moment that the doorbell rang.

It was nearly three in the morning, and somebody was ringing the doorbell. And they were pretty insistent about it. Of course, Morris knew damn well who it was, and he also knew he had to answer it. It would be unwise to have a screaming woman at the front door, and while the screaming hadn’t started yet, it was coming, that he also knew.

Just in case, he went to the window, first. Sure enough, there stood Amy on the front stoop, smoking angrily and smoldering at the door, no idea she was being watched. Morris sighed, then sniffed, detecting just a hint of sulfur in the air, wondering for a second if it came from the basement or the front door. That was the moment he had an idea, the kind of idea that, at first, you shake off as clearly bad. But then it started to work on him, and for five or ten seconds before he opened the door, he let the idea ooze its way through his besotted mind until it somehow converted to good. Well, maybe not good, but doable.

Morris took a deep breath and opened the door. He had about three seconds to study Amy’s curious smirk before the sun ignited behind her head and blinded him. Just as he began to wonder what the sun was doing up at this time of night, a voice spoke with righteous belligerence from behind the glare. “Mr. Blackmon, could you tell us what you’re doing here?!” the voice brayed.

“Rusty?” Morris managed to croak.

Joshua “Rusty” Painter was Amy’s cousin, and suddenly Morris realized what was happening. Rusty worked as a cameraman for the local WGTI TV news station, but he had delusions of eventually being in front of the camera. He was also an asshole with a YouTube channel that nobody watched.

“Mr. Blackmon, why don’t you …” Rusty started before Amy realized she was the jilted lover here.

“Morris, what the fuck?!” she shouted.

Morris saw a light come on across the street, a warning of impending anger from the neighborhood, and since that could lead to police involvement he realized he had to move this show inside. He held up his hands in surrender.

“Amy, Amy, baby, calm down, it’s not what you think,” he said, realizing how very bad that was. Amy’s face tightened around a serious and explosive retort, and he seemed to feel some smug satisfaction from Rusty as he adjusted his camera for a better shot of the impending bloodbath. “I shit you not …” the woman scorned began.

Morris decided action was needed, so he quickly stepped up to his lady and put his finger on her mouth. “You really have to let me explain, baby,” he said. “Just come inside.”

For a second, he actually thought she might bite off his the offending digit. Then she seemed to grow calm, and that’s when he really grew afraid.

“That bitch in there?” she finally mumbled, her lips tickling his finger.

“Yeah, yeah, but she’s asleep, and we need to keep her that way, believe me, I’m so done with her,” Morris said, removing his finger and moving the entire hand and arm around Amy’s shoulders. She stayed stiff, but he felt her begin to relent and take a step toward the door.

“Amy, don’t do anything you don’t want to do,” Rusty said, just a hint of whine in his voice. The money shot was clearly getting ruined.

Morris glared at him. Amy waved him off and walked inside with the injured pride of a princess who had stepped out of the royal carriage into a pile of horse manure. Morris hurried in behind her, but wasn’t quite fast enough to keep Rusty from following. Oh, well, Morris thought, that might be all for the best.

The plan, such as it was, was to quickly move the unwanted guests back to the kitchen. Not surprisingly, Amy was not feeling cooperative, and as soon as the door closed she announced loudly “So, where is that bitch?!” Rusty, who had let the camera drop to his side, quickly hoisted it back up to his eye, sensing that the show was back on. Morris did not oblige him.

“She’s upstairs passed out, the drunk cunt,” he said, taking Amy’s arm and guiding her toward the kitchen. “Just come in here and I’ll explain, OK?”

Morris led his reluctant guests into the other room where Rusty immediately stopped and started sniffing the air. “Holy shit, is that gas?”

Turning only halfway around, Morris gave the answer he had planned on just five minutes before. “Yeah, yeah, the stove’s been acting funny, I had to turn it off. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about it? It smells pretty strong, dude,” Rusty said, still standing in the kitchen doorway.

Amy spun around.

“Screw the gas. Morris, start explaining,” she said, arms crossed, eyebrows scrunched together.

What about this towel?” Rusty suddenly said, and Morris almost smiled.

Jesus, Rusty, what, what the fuck, what towel?” Amy stuttered. Morris turned to face the other man. “There’s a draft,” he said simply.

From the basement?” Rusty said.

Yeah, that’s right, from the basement,” Morris said, barely preventing a sneer.

Amy plopped down at the kitchen table and began shifting through her purse, finally coming up with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Morris quickly laid a gentle hand over the lighter as she raised the cigarette to her well lacquered red lips. “Come on, baby, hold off on that, you know I quit,” he said softly.

Yeah, and there’s all that gas we aren’t supposed to worry about,” Rusty stage whispered.

Amy’s face hardened a second before easing into resignation as she put the cancer stick down. After all, his quitting was her idea. They had started together, but she weakened first. He smiled at the little pink lighter and Marlboro menthol on the table, happy to see it there, and then moved on. “So, this is what’s up,” he began.

What followed was one of Morris’ longer and better lies, despite the fact that he made most of it up on the fly. Christine had called despondent and drunk, he said, because her oven was broken and needed to be fixed, as did the rest of her life, it seemed. There had been talk of suicide, pills already taken, stuff like that. All this had taken place when Amy was supposedly asleep, so Morris had simply left quietly, not wanting to disturb her, to try to save his ex-wife’s life.

Well, I wasn’t asleep, you know,” Amy interrupted. “I wasn’t asleep because I already suspected you were seeing her, and Rusty and I were just setting a trap to catch your sorry cheating ass! Like I buy this bullshit!”

It’s no bullshit baby, I swear, I know it sounds like it but it really, really isn’t!” Morris stammered out, just totally winging it.

Oh, right, so you’re telling me you haven’t been coming over here before now,” Amy said. “And, you better be real careful how you answer that.” The last line was delivered with a cautioning wag of Amy’s finger, and Morris felt a strong urge to break that finger. There’s nothing worse than a stupid person who starts to think they’re doing something smart.

On the other hand, in this case she was completely correct. He had been to raid the old henhouse many times before tonight.

Meanwhile, Rusty was lingering over the basement door, sniffing, his camera hanging limply at his side. “You know, I swear the smell is stronger over here,” he said.

Morris nodded.

Well, maybe you should check that out in a bit, but why don’t you do me a favor and get ready to film, because I’m going to prove what I’m saying is true,” Morris said. “I’m going to wake up Christine and tell her to tell you nothing happened.”

This was a lie, of course, but Rusty excitedly began checking his camera and moving into position. Perfect, Morris thought. He couldn’t be exactly certain of what would happen next, but all the pieces were in place and it was time for him to exit stage fucking right.

Now, you two just wait here and give me a few minutes to rouse her,” he said, rising from his chair. “And Amy, honey, why don’t you go ahead and smoke a ciggy while you wait?”

He headed for the door as Amy picked up the lighter and cigarette. Rusty had let the camera drop to his side again and was turning back toward the basement door. “This is it,” he thought. “I just have to get out the door.”

He was at the passage into the dining room when he saw shadows moving ahead of him. The shadows stepped into the light and became Christine, looking seriously disheveled and rubbing her bruised neck, but most certainly alive.

Morris, baby, what the fuck did you do to me, you crazy fucker?” she whined, and then looked past him, her face hardening into solid bitchiness. “And what the fuck is she doing here.”

The shock of seeing the supposed dead come back to life passed surprisingly quickly for Morris, and he spun around, scrambling in his head for a way to stop what he had begun. He opened his mouth at the exact same moment that Rusty kicked aside the towel and swung the basement door wide open, and at precisely the second that Amy, smugly eying her competition, flicked her lighter into life. As the sulfur smelling cloud that had been caged in the basement rushed into the room, racing toward the flare in Amy’s hand, he had just enough time to say “Sh…”. The “it” was cut off by fire and sound and an end to all the things that used to belong to Morris Blackmon.

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Mark of a Good Deal, by JM Taylor

Miles felt exiled at the end of the bar. Sandy’s had become too upscale for him, but there wasn’t no place else to drink since Paddy’s shut down, turned into a fucking yogurt studio. All those housewives wearing Speedo pants and drinking five-dollar coffees.

Sandy’s used to be a decent bar with good hooch, but now it was one of those “taverns” with a fireplace, spiral-bound menu, and twenty different martinis. Bright-eyed families filled the tables and guys with lumberjack beards and form-fitting flannel congratulated each other for sipping bright green drinks. Miles couldn’t even tell if they liked women. What would happen if one of those housewives in tight pants came in? Normally, Miles’ buddy Chris would be here with him, to balance out the karma, so to speak, but Chris was doing thirty on a drunk and disorderly. Tough luck.

Putting down his bottle, he accidentally-on-purpose knocked over an empty shot glass. It rolled in an arc, threatening to bowl over a lumberfag’s glass. Sandy, quick on the uptake, caught it and slipped the shot into a rack beneath the bar. But he produced a new one, full to the brim with rye. Miles nodded his thanks, knocked it back, chased it with another mouthful of beer.

“Gettin’ late,” Sandy said. “Work night, ain’t it?”

“Fuck you,” Miles said, not without humor. “How the hell you think I stand that shithole, ’cept hungover?”

Sandy shrugged, put the second shot glass with the first. “Saw online you won’t have to worry much longer. True they’re moving the operation to New Orleans and turning the plant into luxury condos?”

Miles sneered. “Bought up a bunch of land after the damned hurricane. Putting in robots, too, so even the spades down there won’t get the jobs. Gonna have fucking drones flying through the place. Only like two goddamned human beings watching a screen in the whole plant. The accounting office they’re sending to Pakistan or Zimbabwe.”

“For that, I’ll give you a Bud on the house,” Sandy said. He took it out of the case, popped off the cap and stood it next to Miles’ empty.

It was one of those summer bottles that said “America” on the label. Miles grinned. “Least I’ll always have good ole American beer, brewed and owned in the U. S. fuckin’ A.”

Sandy looked like he was going to say something, thought better of it, and turned to ring up the tab on the register.

Miles kept talking. “Been in that plant going on eleven years now. Started when my boy was born. Should be foreman by now, except someone else went to some weak-ass community college and got his pussy degree. I learned every inch of that place the hard way, but no one gives a rat’s ass when you don’t have the paper. If I wanted to, I could steal the place blind.”

“You could fix it so they’d never even know,” Sandy said tiredly. He’d been hearing the same line for a couple of years.

“Damn right. Know where the cameras are, know how to sneak a case out off the line before inventory. Shit, I could sell them filters out of my trunk by the dozen at every garage and gas station from here to the state line. Get my boy back from his mother.”

“Might even get your car off the impound lot. You’d have have to find the scratch first.”

Miles nodded sourly and drank his beer. “Every great plan has a hitch. Need someone to stake me is all. I got the know-how, I got the skills.” He shook his head. “Someone’s letting a great opportunity go to waste.”

Sandy rolled his eyes, and moved down the bar to re-up other customers. The guy next to Miles, whose beard might have looked like an Arab’s if it weren’t for the waxed handlebar stache, turned to wave him down. Miles eyed his lime-green drink, noticed nobody was eying him back, and took a slug to find out what the commotion was about. He gagged on brine. The son of a bitch was drinking goddamn pickle juice. He slid the drink back in front of the idiot, who finished it off without noticing a thing. Miles tried to rinse his mouth with the dregs of his “America”, but the pickle taste lay on his tongue like a soiled rug.

He was about to make an escape when a hand dropped on his shoulder. He looked up to see who it was, but then a cool voice echoed in his other ear. “Sandy says you’re looking for a business partner. That right?”

Miles twisted to look the newcomer in the face, but he was pressed so close to him that he couldn’t move. “I…I might have a line on some oil filters fell off a truck.”

“Really, now. Funny how only pissants like you ever see those boxes tumble to the ground.”

“You a cop?” Miles said. “I don’t know nothin’ for sure.” He strained to get up, but the hand was heavy as death.

The voice caressed his ear. “Better than that,” it told him. “I’m your dream come true. Let me buy you a drink.”

“I think I’ve had enough,” Miles whispered. “I gotta go to work in the morning.”

“You can go to your shit job in the morning, and mark time before they steal it out from under you. Or you can listen to a proposition that will make you as rich as you deserve. You know those fuckers in the front office are jerking you around. But I think your plan to screw them over is a good one, and I want to stake you. All I ask is that you take me along for the ride.” He waved for Sandy’s attention.

“You mean you want a cut. Guys like you, I bet that means most of it.”

“You got me all wrong.” Miles still couldn’t get a good view of who was talking to him, but the voice sounded genuinely hurt. “I just want to make sure you get what you deserve. I hear you got a kid you don’t see as much as you like. Deal?”

Another Bud, one with a regular label, appeared. “Drink up, Miles,” his new best friend said. “I’ll see you at the end of your shift tomorrow. I’ve got work to do in the meantime.”

Miles took a long, shaking pull from the bottle. It must have been a bad batch, gone skunky. He pushed it away and watched the man glide toward the front of the bar. His long black coat billowed behind him as he opened the door and disappeared into the night.

“Screw it,” he said, emptying the bottle. “You don’t shit on free beer.” He threw the last of his greenbacks on the bar and followed the man outside.

The cold air braced him, and Miles felt halfway to sober. Hunched up in his thin windbreaker, he shoved his hands in his pockets and quick-marched home, avoiding some road construction. The old intersection had been named after his grandfather, but now, thanks to all the McMansions going up, it needed to expand, and the town decided to rename it after the principal investor. No one had bothered to ask Miles what he thought.

He stumbled along for two miles, past overgrown, abandoned apple orchards. A sign claimed a mall would sprout there next summer. Once he saw the glowing red eyes of something—he hoped a deer—watching him from the trees. He pulled his jacket tighter and steamed toward his room, at the top back of a converted two-family. Only when he made the turn up the wooden fire-escape to his door did he notice his car sitting in the paved backyard. He scrambled down the steps to make sure.

It was his, all right. No mistaking the old Cougar’s crumpled left fender. He fished in his pockets for the keys and let himself in. The tank was full, for Christ’s sake. Miles checked under the seat, and smiled when he found the hunting knife he kept between the springs. The guy was true to his word, and then some.

The excitement of getting his car back dissipated when he got to work on time the next morning. Now he’d have to spend the whole goddamned day on the line without an excuse. The crush of machinery deafened him as it pressed resined paper into circular accordion folds, stamped out springs, stacked them into oil filters and eventually packed them into boxes. Half a dozen workers in smocks and goggles shepherded the process. Even Miles understood there was only a short hop between them and the robots, and then what? He took his own gear from his locker and joined the breathing drones one more time.

By lunch, he had squirreled away five cases of filters in strategic points across the plant. He’d have to wait until quitting time before he could maneuver them to his car, which he’d parked ass-out at the end of the lot, so he could get it all in the trunk out of view of the exterior cameras. He got the feeling the foreman had an eye on him from the window that overlooked the operating floor, but no one said anything. Then, the prick left at the stroke of five. Miles hung back so he could slide the boxes closer to the delivery bay door.

They were stacked neatly, ready to go. Nearly three bills’ worth of uninventoried merch to unload at his leisure, now that he had wheels. He turned for the locker room, where he could hang up his filthy smock. Before he took a single step, though, the steel door echoed beneath a pounding fist. As if someone knew he would be standing there at that precise moment. Except it wasn’t just “someone.” He didn’t know why he hesitated. After all, if it weren’t for the guy’s help, Miles would be getting ready for a hour-long stroll along the highway. He punched the button and the door rattled up.

The man loomed larger than Miles had remembered him. He still wore the same flowing black coat, and from this angle, he seemed to fill the entire door. His face was warped in a permanent scowl. His eyes, yellow like an eagle’s, smoldered with hatred. “Surprised?” he asked curtly. None of last night’s friendliness.

“Of course not.” Miles stepped aside to let him pass. “Thanks for the car, by the way.”

The man brushed him aside. He strode through the plastic strips that separated the loading bay from the main area of the factory floor. “Foreman’s office?” he said, pointing to the second-floor windows.

“Yeah, right up there. I don’t have the key or nothing, though.” Miles screwed up his face. “You never said what you were going to do.”

The man in the black coat looked at him and smiled. “Didn’t think I had to. Go load up your car, then come back. Still have that knife under the seat?” Miles nodded. “We might need that, too.”

It took three trips to get the cases in his trunk, and Miles was glad to do it alone. When he was finished, he slid the knife from the driver’s seat, tucking it in his belt. It was getting dark, and orange light shone from the office window like a beacon. The shadow of his partner—or at least his benefactor—fluttered from the desk to the file cabinets. Something inside of Miles relaxed. White collar crime might bring in more dough for his partner than the scam Miles was pulling, but so what? They both got what they wanted, and Miles wouldn’t be able to spend more than a few hundred at a time anyhow. And he had his car back. The mark of a good partnership was that everyone made out.

He hopped up on the loading dock and ducked inside the door. He hovered awkwardly, unsure of his role. Should he go up and ask if the guy needed anything? Or just wait? Maybe he just needed Miles to set the alarm as they left.

The sharp smell of oily smoke burned at his nose. What Miles had thought was just the dim glow of light bulbs turned out to be a fire. The line machinery danced in the flickering light. Why hadn’t the alarms gone off, or the sprinklers? Why hadn’t the man come out of the office? He ran for the metal steps and took them two at a time. Smoke rolled out of the office now. He crouched against the heat, inching toward the door. The flames had engulfed the room, but he heard the man calling feebly for help.

Miles hesitated. The filters were in his car, and no one would know he’d been here if he just took off now. He might even be able to get another case or two on his way. If the place burned down, it wouldn’t matter, and they’d find this guy’s body and it wouldn’t have anything to do with Miles. On the other hand, the man must have friends, and what if he’d told them he was working a score with Miles? Another cry cut through the crackle of the fire. He put his hand on the door frame, but pulled it back when it burned his palm.

“Please,” the man groaned. “It hurts so bad. Help me.”

Miles steeled himself, then jumped into the burning room. He dropped to his knees. “Where are you?” he said, choking on the fumes. A flaming ceiling panel fell on his back and burned through his shirt. His hair and eyebrows were singed. “Where are you?”

Miles never felt the knife leave his belt, but he did feel it cut through his ribs, the serrated blades hacking through bone. “Right here, partner,” the man whispered in his ear. “A couple key strokes, and three bank accounts transferred to my offshore account. No one will ever find it. Instead, they’ll find you here, and your car loaded with stolen goods, and figure, ‘the lousy bastard just had to go back for one more thing, the stupid shit.’ ”

The realization hit him that the guy had never actually said Miles would make a dime out of this. Never even promised he’d get to see his son one more time. The heat and the blood loss were overcoming Miles, but he choked out, “They’ll see I was stabbed. And Sandy will remember you from the bar.”

“Doubt it,” the man said. He tore a strip of aluminum runner from the ceiling. The hot metal seared Miles’ guts as it impaled him, fixing him to the floor. He was still conscious when the factory roof caved in on him, and his last thought was that maybe he should have negotiated a better deal.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Reviews and Reviewers Needed

Hi folks. Tough's first month of fiction is nearly complete, with three stories in the hopper. On the last Monday of July, I'd like to run a review of a forthcoming or recently published--within the last six months or so--crime book, especially a small press crime novel or story collection. We pay writers $25 for a review of under a thousand words. This review would not be posted until the last Monday of July 2017, so you have some time. Hit me up at with queries or to find out what advance copies I have on hand for which I'd like reviews written.
Thanks in advance--

Friday, January 20, 2017


Hi. I'm Rusty Barnes, crime writer and proprietor of this new blogazine of crime stories and occasional reviews: Tough. By way of bona fides, I edited, and still oversee, the journal Fried Chicken and Coffee, and I cofounded and edited the literary journal Night Train for over ten years. You can also view my site if you'd like to know more about me.

I hope to publish new crime stories and highlight crime novels as well as story collections published by the small press via occasional reviews. However, I won't rule out reviewing something from the Big Five if it fits within my--admittedly broad--guidelines. We pay for stories and reviews. Not much, I know, but something. See the submissions page for details.

Tough will debut in July 2017. You can email me at with queries or anything else you want to know about the project. I know the site looks rough. It'll get better.

Thanks for stopping by.