Monday, April 19, 2021

Looking for Katie Showalter, fiction by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

I was almost home, still cooling off from my run at Schiller Park, when the call came, my Tom Petty “Free Fallin’” ring tone interrupting the quiet Sunday morning. I didn’t recognize the number. I usually don’t.

“I’m looking for Mr. Andy Hayes?”

“You’ve got him.”

“My name’s Marie Showalter. I’m calling because … because my daughter is missing.” Voice fragile and small, as if she’d just finished crying—or hadn’t cried enough.

“I’m sorry to hear that. How long has she been gone?”

“At least two weeks. Two weeks since I’ve heard from her, anyway.”

“Where was she then?”

“In Columbus, as far as I know. That’s where you are, right?”

I told her that was correct and asked where she was calling from.

“Akron. It’s where we live—Katie and me. It’s just us.”

I paused on the brick-lined sidewalk in front of my house at 837 Mohawk, pressed my left foot against the locust tree that grows in the devil’s strip between the sidewalk and the street, and stretched my left calf.

“Have you reported this to the police?”

She told me she had, but she’d been informed that absent evidence of foul play, all they could do was input the information since Katie was an adult and had called and texted once or twice before radio silence set in.

“You take these kinds of cases, don’t you? You find people?”

“I do my best.”

“I don’t have a lot right now. But I’ll pay whatever you charge eventually. I promise.”

“We’ll work all that out. But one thing you should know.”

“Yes?” Voice even quieter now.

“Sometimes people who go missing do it for a reason. If I find Katie, all I can promise is to let you know she’s safe. I might not be able to bring her back to you, if that’s not what she wants.”

The line was silent for a few moments.

“I understand.”

Maybe she did. But it turned out that was the least of our problems.


I took down the details when we talked a few minutes later, after I showered and had breakfast and was in front of my computer. Katie Showalter was twenty, headstrong, and an addict, with a history of bad decisions starting early in high school, ranging from truancy to shoplifting to a couple low-level drug possession charges. Her father long out of the picture after her parents’ acrimonious divorce when she was eleven—the beginning of all the trouble, her mother said, unable to control her emotions. After Katie graduated from high school, an abusive older boyfriend sent her to the hospital with a hairline jaw fracture and she’d grown too fond of the painkillers she brought home from the ER. Soon after she ran away to Cleveland, returning in the middle of the night three weeks later, penniless, wearing the same clothes she left in. Chastened, she agreed to addiction treatment at a three-month bootcamp in the woods in southern Ohio that interspersed martial arts with tough love. Though it nearly bankrupted her mother, the experience was a positive one. Then, not two days back, Katie relapsed. A week later, after a shouting match with her mother over her refusal to look for work, she hitched a ride with a friend to Columbus. A couple text messages and calls followed over the next few weeks. And then nothing, including Katie’s disappearance from social media. Marie wasn’t sure but she thought her daughter had been sleeping in the open, at least at times, perhaps in a city park.

My spirits fell as her mother explained all this. A young woman like that, poor and vulnerable and addicted, had few options no matter where she landed, and the ones available to her didn’t bear thinking about. I asked Marie to email a picture along with Katie’s cell phone number and told her I’d do what I could. I tried not to overpromise. I wasn’t optimistic I could find Katie Showalter, but I wasn’t pessimistic either. It’s the condition she’d be in when I located her that had me worried.


Later that morning I hopped on my bike, rode to a copy shop on High, and printed out a stack of fliers with Katie’s photograph and name and my number beneath. From there I cut down Gay Street to the federal courthouse and picked up the bike trail. I rode north as far as Third and worked my way back, stopping at two different homeless encampments squeezed between the path and the river to see if anyone there knew anything. The granola bars and water bottles I’d tucked into my backpack smoothed over suspicions, but the bottom line was no one claimed to have seen Katie. I was riding toward downtown and thinking about taking the path south of the city center when I heard music in the distance. It came to me. The last day of the annual community festival in Goodale Park up by the Arena District. A free, three-day extravaganza each summer consisting of music, beer, food stalls, vendors selling jewelry and clothing—heavy on batik fabrics and tie dye—and most famously, topless women, the actual total being regularly exaggerated. The festival’s vibe was hippie heavy, even though most attendees would get up on Monday morning, don suits and ties or dresses and pumps, and trot off to corporate jobs around the city. Either way, it attracted a lot of young people, some of them more untethered to the world than others. It couldn’t hurt to check the crowds. I steered my bike in that direction, locked it in a rack near Buttles, and entered the fray.

An hour later, having been through the park twice, having talked to dozens of people sitting in pairs, trios, big groups or sometimes solo—and seeing not a single topless woman—I was no farther along than when I entered. Trudging toward my bike, I consigned myself to the next, darker step: checking the city’s westside streets where women with a history of abuse and addiction often ended up, selling the only thing they believed they had of value. I was unlocking my bike when I heard someone shouting. I turned and saw two young women jogging toward me, one of them holding my flier.

“Mister—are you looking for this girl?” The taller of the two, barefoot, wearing shorts and a black t-shirt.

“Do you know her? Katie Showalter?”

They stopped in front of me and caught their breath. “Yeah—we’ve been wondering where she went.”

“When’s the last time you saw her?”

“During Pride.” The shorter of the two, buzzed hair and heavy-set, wearing jeans shorts and a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up nearly to her shoulders.

Columbus had one of the Midwest’s biggest Gay Pride parades, with an accompanying festival here in the same park, though dwarfed by the much older community festival. That connection made me ask the obvious question, whether Katie was gay.

The shorter woman shook her head. “I just think she was tired of guys. And lonely. She liked hanging with us.”

“Did she say anything about going someplace?”

The taller woman said she hadn’t. “She stayed with us for a while, on our blanket, and then for some reason started talking to one of those preacher guys.”


“One of the creep-oids,” the other woman said. “They stand over there”—she gestured to the east side of the park—“and hold these signs of aborted fetuses and shout stuff about gay people going to hell.”

Now I knew who she meant. Though I didn’t agree with the message, I half-admired the messengers’ willingness to pitch it in a place where it was so unwelcome. Given the attendees at such festivals, Michigan fans in full maize and blue outfits were more welcome outside Ohio Stadium on game day.

“The same guy’s over there today,” the first woman said. “Maybe he knows.”

I thanked them for the tip and asked them a few more questions. They confirmed Marie’s story of her daughter’s troubles, including the moments of optimism after the martial arts bootcamp. When they saw I was headed to talk to the preacher they asked if they could tag along.

Some of the protesters that afternoon fit a certain stereotype, the men in scuffed, dark shoes, badly fitting suits and too-short ties, the women with their hair in buns and wearing long, conservative dresses a century out of style. The exception was the preacher who’d talked to Katie, a tall, well-built, athletic-looking young man who blended right into the festival crowd with shoulder-length hair and a de rigor outfit of sandals, cargo shorts, and a short-sleeve button down patterned shirt. Can We Talk? his sign said, in contrast to the fire-and-brimstone versions carried by the others. Most festival goers gave the group a wide berth, though a few posed for ironic selfies with the suit-wearing men, while a few more just flipped them the bird. Katie’s preacher was again the exception, as he was currently engaged in deep conversation with a woman sporting dreadlocks and multiple facial piercings. When I saw an opening I approached, introduced myself, showed him the flier and asked if he’d seen Katie. He studied the picture a moment too long before shaking his head.

“You’re sure?”

“I talk to a lot of people.”

“Someone saw you speaking with her during Pride.”

“I don’t remember, sorry.”

“Her mother’s worried about her.”

He met my gaze and held it with a pair of gemstone-blue eyes.

“If she was at Pride, her mother should be worried.”

I gave up and crossed back to the street where Katie’s friends awaited—Merrill and Beckah, as I’d learned—and explained our interaction.

“That’s bullshit,” said Beckah, the shorter of the two, who by now I’d taken was Merrill’s girlfriend. “He was definitely talking with her. We asked her what he said—it was something about a retreat center and a second chance.”

“You think she went with him?”

“I didn’t think so at the time,” Beckah said. “She laughed it off. But then we didn’t see her again after that.”

“Could one of you do me a favor?”

“Like what?” Merrill said.

“Go talk to him. Not about Katie, though. About yourself. Make like you’re open to his message and see what he says.”

“Open to his message how?”

“Use your imagination. I’m sure you can figure out the kinds of things he might want to hear.”

Merrill made a face but Beckah was game, especially after I told her I’d give her a twenty for her troubles. I retreated into the park with Merrill where we positioned ourselves behind a tent selling hand-crafted leather bags and wallets. I bought us each a lemonade while we waited, periodically craning our necks for a glimpse of the conversation. After nearly twenty minutes Beckah appeared, frowning.


“I did what you said. Told him I was pregnant and everyone wanted me to have an abortion, but I wasn’t so sure. He said he could take me someplace safe where I could have my baby in peace.”

“Did he say where?”

She shook her head and reached for Merrill’s hand. “He said he’d pick me up if I wanted, and they’d explain everything once I was there. The weird thing is, he’s kind of persuasive. And a really good listener.”

“Beckah!” Merrill said.

“I’m just saying.”

“So maybe Katie did go with him,” Merrill said to me.

“There’s one way to find out.”

It took another twenty, but Beckah agreed to walk back and accept his offer to be picked up the following morning. I had her give him the address of an apartment around the corner on Neil Avenue for lack of any place better. He told her he’d come by around nine.

“This is really freaking me out,” Beckah said as we walked across the park afterward, the sounds of a jazz quartet spilling from the gazebo closest to the pond on the north side of the park. “I mean, what if that’s what Katie did? Went with that guy?”

“Then we’re one step closer to finding her,” I said, as we reached my bike. I shook their hands, thanked them, and said I’d be in touch. What I didn’t say was that the situation was freaking me out too. Because if Katie had gone with the preacher—and an offer was on the table to Beckah—how many other young women might have taken the same ride?


I was parked on Neil by quarter to nine the next morning. I slipped on sunglasses and a ballcap, slouched down in my seat, pulled up that morning’s Dispatch on my phone, and waited. I didn’t have long. At one minute to nine a red Ford Expedition rolled past me and pulled up to the curb. Nothing happened at first. Five minutes in the door opened and the fit-looking preacher from the park got out, stood on the sidewalk and looked in both directions. He pulled out his own phone and made a call, presumably to the made-up number Beckah had given him. A few moments later he put his phone away and walked up and down the sidewalk, even coming as far as my van, where I kept my head down as I read the recap of the Clippers’ win over Indianapolis the night before. At nine-twenty he got back in the Expedition and pulled away. I started my van and followed. 

Before long we’d left city streets and hit I-70 going east. At the sign for Pataskala he exited and I signaled and stayed with him as suburban intersections slowly gave way to the country. Eventually, a couple miles down a sparsely populated two-lane road, he turned into a driveway that led to a big church at the bottom of a long incline. “Peter’s Rock: All Welcome,” said the billboard-sized entrance sign.

I continued down the road until I reached a gas station a mile farther on. I waited ten minutes, turned around, headed back to the church, and parked two spaces behind the red Expedition. The church was big and modern looking, the glass-and-steel architecture similar to numerous megachurches that had sprouted in and around Columbus in the past few decades. Brick wings on either side suggested classrooms or administrative space and maybe a gym to boot. A row of evergreens blocked my view of the rear of the property.

Inside, I found myself in a lobby that wouldn’t have looked out of place in an upscale Hilton. “GIVE HERE,” said the signs above three large kiosks, ringed with computer tablets outfitted with credit card readers. I passed a coffee shop bigger than most convenience stores and followed signs to the church office. A woman sitting at a desk smiled and asked how she could help. She didn’t appear to be much older than either Katie Showalter or Beckah. She wasn’t as good an actor as Beckah, however, as her face fell when I handed her the flier and my card. She picked up the phone and made a call, speaking in a low whisper, then told me with a frown that someone would be out shortly. She wasn’t exaggerating. Less than a minute later a woman strolled up the hallway flashing her own, far higher-wattage smile.

“I’m Pastor Sharon. Was there something I can help with?”

I handed her a flier and repeated my spiel. 

“Why don’t we speak in my office?”

She indicated I should follow her down the hall. I glanced at the young woman at her desk. She met my glance briefly, then turned away and stared at her computer screen, expression stony as that of a bust consigned to a shadowy museum corner.

The minister’s office was the last room on the right. Senior Pastor Sharon Melton declared the large brass plaque on the wall beside an oak-paneled door. Inside, her showroom-sized office was filled with leather-covered furniture and shelves crammed with titles like Planting The Seed of God and Grow Your Talents With Jesus. A framed portrait of her and a handsome, well-coiffed man I assumed was her husband dominated the wall opposite her desk. Melton sat on one end of a couch and waved me toward an adjoining chair.  

“Now then. You said you’re looking for this girl?”

“That’s right.”

“And is there a reason you think she’s here?” Melton was mid-forties, her attractive, professionally made-up face halfway between girl-next-door and cheerleader mom, wearing a contemporary blue dress, the hemline just below her knee, with a matching jacket; the outfit light years from the clothes that the sign-carrying women at the park were wearing the day before.

I explained about the long-haired man at the community festival, the fact people had seen him talking to Katie at Pride, and that I knew—without explanation—that he was connected to Peter’s Rock.

“Katie sounds like a troubled person,” Melton said.

“That’s a fair assessment.”

“The kind of girl we try to help.”

“Help how?”

“We offer numerous services. We’re a crisis pregnancy center, an addiction treatment facility, and a counseling haven for people struggling with their identity.”


“Meaning we help women achieve God’s plan for them.”

“Like Katie?”

“The names of our clients are strictly confidential, as I’m sure you can appreciate.”

“I may or may not. I’m mostly interested in whether Katie’s safe, if she’s here. Her mother’s worried about her.”

“I’m sorry she’s worried, whoever she is. But unfortunately, I can’t help you.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

“Was there anything else, Mr. Hayes?” Her smile never dimmed; it was the facial equivalent of stadium lights at halftime.

“Is it possible for me to tour your treatment centers?”

“Unfortunately not,” she said, rising from the couch. “But I truly appreciate your interest in our work.”

“Do the girls appreciate it? The ones who come here?”

“Of course they do,” she said, almost blinding me with her smile. “Because God is with them.”

“Could I talk to them? I mean, alone, without God?”

“Goodbye, Mr. Hayes,” Melton said, pointing at her office door.


Driving away, I caught a glimpse of a roof through the thick barrier of evergreens surrounding the rear of the church property. Evergreens and a tall chain-link metal fence. I slowed and saw part of a small house, a gap, and then the corner of another small building. Cottages, if I had to guess. The residences of women receiving the services offered by Peter’s Rock? Given their circumstances, was the seclusion any surprise? And what religious facility like this was obliged to open its doors to a prying private eye in the first place? Melton’s guarded ways almost made sense. Yet I couldn’t shake the expression on the face of the young woman at the desk when she’d seen Katie’s picture, along with her refusal to look at me again as I left Melton’s office and walked back through the lobby.

On the drive home I called Roy Roberts and asked if he’d ever heard of Peter’s Rock.

“Sure,” he said. “That’s Todd Melton’s church.”


“‘Todd the God.’ Run-of-the-mill televangelist with second and third helping of worldly trappings.”


“Private jet, six-bedroom McMansion, matching Escalades for him and his wife. The usual perks for servants of the Lord.”

“Present company excluded? And how do you know all this, by the way?” 

Roy, a former Army chaplain, was now an Episcopal priest serving a parish in a poor neighborhood just west of downtown. He was also one of my closest friends in town, despite the fact I’m either a devout atheist or ardent agnostic depending on the day and the humidity.

“I had to sell my jet, sadly,” he said. “I know this because I read it in the paper when he was arrested.”

“For what?”

“A few years back he endorsed a slate of right-wing state office candidates from the pulpit and basically dared the IRS to come after him.”

“Did they?”

“Those who forget Al Capone’s tax troubles are doomed to repeat them. I heard his wife took the reins when he went to prison, but under dramatically reduced circumstances. Why are you interested in this guy, if I may ask?”

I explained my search for Katie Showalter, including the fact that Peter’s Rock appeared to be trolling progressive city festivals for female clients who then disappeared from sight. I also noted the church didn’t seem to be suffering from any financial fallout that I could see.

“I’ve never heard of this treatment center thing. Are they licensed?”

I confessed I didn’t know.

“You’ve piqued my interest. Let me make a couple calls.”

I thanked him, put my phone down and concentrated on the drive. As a result, it wasn’t until I reached home that I saw I’d missed a call from Marie Showalter.

“I just had a text from Katie,” she said in a breathless voice when I called back.

“What did it say?”

“It said, ‘Don’t worry. I’m fine. Tell Rusty I miss him and I’ll see him soon.’”

“Who’s Rusty?”

“Our dog. Who died three years ago.”


Armed with Roy’s information, I made a series of calls to county and state offices, and despite hitting some bureaucratic roadblocks, determined after a couple hours that whatever good the church might be doing, they weren’t undertaking it with any public certification. I did, however, confirm that Peter’s Rock not only still had its own plane, it had upgraded a year ago to an eight-passenger Embraer jet with a luxury cabin. Moreover, Google maps showed the recent addition of an in-ground pool to the Meltons’ six-bedroom rectory with matching six-car garage. So, if Todd was in prison, the church had sold its old jet to pay off back taxes, and the publicity-averse congregation had dwindled, where was all this money coming from?

When Roy called back, he had confirmation of the same facts, plus an interesting detail: Sharon Melton had served for two years on a governor’s anti-pornography task force focused on helping men suffering from porn addiction. When he was finished, I told him about the text Marie received with the comment about the family’s deceased dog.

“Sounds like there’s something weird going on out there,” Roy said. “Or weirder than usual, given that we’re dealing with Todd the God.”

“I think I need to pay a return visit, but under different circumstances.”

“Like a thief in the night, as the Bible says?”

“If the Bible has ninjas, sure.”


It was a few minutes past ten that night when Roy pulled his Subaru over just past the far edge of the now-dark church property. I jumped out and told him I’d text him when I was clear.

“And if things go south?”

“Say a prayer for me.”

“I always do.”

Moments later I slipped over a portion of the fence farthest removed from security lamps illuminating the property. I scrambled for the cover of low-hanging evergreen branches and crouched for ten minutes until I felt certain no alarms had been triggered. So assured, I stood and pushed my way through the trees.

Before me, a dozen small cabins ran down a narrow gravel lane, all newish-looking and simply built, construction reminiscent of a state park on a tight budget. Light leaked from the rear windows of several of the cabins, but blinds prohibited any view inside. Same with the side windows. I crept behind them until I reached the cabin closest to the protective break of evergreens between the cabins and the church. Choosing my steps carefully, I walked around to the front. Porch lights glowed on eleven of the twelve cottages.

Straight-forward enough, but how was I supposed to figure out which one Katie was in, if she was even here? 

As if in response, the porch light above the door on the cabin three doors down began to pulse on and off. A moment later, a light two doors farther down also began to pulse.

Either a sign or a trap, I thought, heading for the cabin with the pulsing light nearest to me by scurrying between the structures one at a time and pausing along the side wall of each. Coast clear, I tiptoed onto the cabin’s porch. I peered at a cedar shingle near the top of the door. Jezebel, read the name burned arts-and-crafts into the wood. Below it, a peephole glinted with light reflected from the rhythmic pulsing of the soft, white bulb above. I stepped forward and peered inside. I was not expecting what I saw next.

The young woman I’d seen earlier in the day at the church reception desk was standing in the middle of the cottage. Staring at her, I saw what I’d missed before: she was pregnant. I came to this conclusion easily since she was also nearly naked. Topless, left hand down her panties, she gyrated slowly as if moving to unheard music. An ostensibly sexy scene, yet the granite expression on her face drained the activity of any allure, at least to my eyes. I’d seen the same sullen look on half-naked women’s faces many times at the strip clubs I confess to haunting years earlier as a randy young quarterback strutting my stuff. 

Troubled by the scene, I quietly retreated from the porch, crept down the gravel lane and arrived at the next cottage with a pulsing light. Lilith, the sign on the door said. I looked through the corresponding peephole.

Inside, engaged in the same gyrations but with an even worse attempt to masquerade what she was really feeling, was Katie Showalter.


I tried the handle but the door was locked. I took a breath and knocked. Nothing happened right away. I looked through the peep hole again. Katie stood frozen, staring uncertainly at the door. I knocked once more and quietly called her name. She reached out of my line of vision, retrieved a bathrobe, put it on and approached the door.

“Who’s there?” 

“Katie? I need you to open up.”

She didn’t say anything. I repeated the directive.

In a voice so soft I nearly missed it, she said, “You told me not to, while, you know …”

“It’s all right,” I said, not sure what she meant.

She didn’t move for another couple of moments. Finally, just as I was thinking I might have to abort my mission, she stepped forward and the door handle turned. 

The cabin’s interior was sparsely furnished, with only a bed against the rear wall, a small chest of drawers, and a bathroom where I spied a large bottle of pills on the edge of the sink. Behind me, to the right of the door, stood a wooden table with a chair to one side. In the middle of the table, propped atop three Bibles, sat an open laptop. Clipped to the top was a small device I recognized as a webcam. It was live, since I could see Katie and me on the laptop screen. 

“Who are you?” Katie whispered. “Are you supposed to be here?”

I explained who I was, and that I was working for her mother. I mentioned Merrill and Beckah, and how all of them were worried about her. “Are you all right? And what’s this all about?” I gestured at the laptop.

“We’re not supposed to talk about it.”

“Why not?”

“Pastor Sharon says people won’t understand.”

“Try me. I promise just to listen.”

Hesitantly, she said, “It’s the Talents Show.”

“The what?”

“It’s what they call it.”

“What who calls it?”

“Pastor Sharon and the disciples.”

“They call what you were doing just now the Talents Show?”

She nodded. Her heavily made-up eyes were dull and rimmed by circles as dark as the leather-bound Bibles beneath the laptop.

“We just have to do it at night for a while.”


“It’s part of the therapy.”

“Your therapy?”

She shook her head. “The men.”

“What men?”

“The men who like that kind of stuff, I guess. Pastor Sharon says that by watching us girls dance, they wean themselves off real porn.”

“She told you that?”

“She says we’re dancers for Jesus. That’s why it’s OK.” I processed this, and said, “The light, outside. Why was it was pulsing just now?”

“It goes on when we’re live,” Katie said. “So the disciples know not to interrupt.”

“How thoughtful of them.” I peered at the laptop screen for a better look. At the bottom, a digital counter registered the number 457. Above that, a series of scrolling comments alternated between profanity-laced protests at the interruption and demands that I take my own clothes off and do things to Katie that didn’t bear repeating. Embedded in the video stream was a small logo: Only4Fans. I had my phone out a moment later.

According to Google, Only4Fans was a pay-for-view Internet site, one whose specialty was clearly not people painting watercolors while the world watched. I thought back to what Roy and I had discovered about the new plane and the upgrades to the Meltons’ supersized rectory, along with Sharon Melton’s service on the anti-porn task force. I was guessing this website explained the church’s mysterious new revenue.

I turned to Katie. “They make you do this?”

She was sitting on the bed, nearly asleep, and started at my question. “It’s just part of the program. We do it while we get better.” As she spoke, I stepped into the bathroom and examined the bottle of pills. Suboxone—a common treatment for opioid addiction. But no name on the bottle as required for a normal prescription.

“And if you don’t perform?” I said softly.

She didn’t reply right away.


“They show our family.”


“They have our phones. And all our passwords.” Fear gripped her face and she came alive for the first time since I’d been inside. “Please—it would kill my mom. This one girl, they showed her grandmother pictures, and she …”

“She what?”

Katie’s eyes grew bright but she didn’t get a chance to respond. Behind us the door burst open. Sharon Melton strode in, fire in her eyes, followed by the preacher from the community festival. A moment later the preacher had me pinioned in his arms. I struggled but his grip was iron: he’d clearly wrestled a lot of Philistines.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Melton said, her look of scorn replacing the smile from earlier as handily as a switchblade clicking open.

“I could ask you the same.”

“You’re not in a position to ask anything. Get dressed and meet me in the chapel.” The last comment directed at Katie. “I’ll be there as soon as I deal with him.”

“Deal with me?” I said. “What are you going to do? Throw me into the lion’s den?”

“You’re trespassing. I’ll do whatever I see fit.”

I tested the preacher’s grip to no avail. And me with no scissors to hack off Samson’s hair. At the rear of the cabin, her back to us, Katie pulled on a bra and t-shirt. She was reaching for a pair of jeans when something occurred to me.


She turned.

“Shut up,” Melton said.

“I know about Rusty. The text they let you send your mom. You knew you needed help.”

A flicker of light in her eyes.

“I said, shut up.”

“You went to a bootcamp, didn’t you?” I said, ignoring Melton.

“Get him out of here.”

I gasped as my arms were pulled back even tighter and the preacher dragged me toward the door. But I saw I had Katie’s attention, if just for a moment.

“A martial arts bootcamp, right?”

“Last chance, Mr. Hayes.”

“Your mom said you did pretty well there.”

“Move it,” Melton hissed. 

“Your mom loves you, Katie, no matter what.”

“Out!” Melton shouted.

Katie dropped her jeans and shrugged off the pastor’s outreached arm as she stepped toward me. The roundhouse kick she unleashed won’t make a “Best Of” YouTube compilation anytime soon. But it still landed with enough force on my captor’s left knee that it buckled slightly, which was just enough leverage for me to pull free, deliver my own kick to the preacher’s twisting knee, followed by a second kick to his groin and then a hands-clasped blow to his head which sent him to the ground for an extended prayer time. Once I was sure he was out, I instructed Katie to finish dressing and gather her few belongings, then texted Roy that we were ready to go.


Where two or more are gathered, I replied.

“I’ll have you prosecuted,” Melton said, hands balled into fists by her side. “This was an unprovoked attack.”

“In your dreams.”

“Prove otherwise, Mr. Hayes.”

“Happy to,” I said, gesturing at the laptop. “The whole thing was live. You and Goliath here have gone viral. Just not the way I think you were hoping.”


Katie reunited with her mom the next day in my house, along with Beckah and Merrill. Across town, investigators crawled over both the church’s property and its books, paying special attention to the unlicensed distribution of pharmaceuticals. 

In a private moment, Marie told me it might be a while until she could pay me. I told her not to worry and I meant it, mostly, thinking about my anemic bank account.

A few minutes after everyone left, my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I usually don’t.

“I’m trying to reach Andy Hayes?”

“You’ve got him.”

“My name’s Cathy Neumann. I heard your name on the news just now. My daughter was at that church. She’s the one ... the one who’s missing.” Voice frail and tiny, as if she’d just finished weeping—or hadn’t wept enough.

“I’m sorry to hear that. How can I help?”

“You take these kinds of cases, don’t you? You find people?”

“I do my best.”

“I don’t have much right now. But I’ll pay your fee eventually. I promise.”

“Don’t sweat it—love of money’s the root of all evil, anyway,” I said, moving toward my laptop. “Now go ahead and start from the beginning.”

Monday, April 12, 2021

California Dreamin': Reckless, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, reviewed by Anthony Perconti

  • Image Comics
  • December 22, 2020
  • 144 pages
  • ISBN-101534318518
  • ISBN-13978-1534318519
  • Price: $14.95

The creative duo of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have worked  together for several decades, amsssing a robust body of work:, most of it with an emphasis on crime stories. Early works such as Sleeper and Incognito explored the supervillain underworld through the standpoint of active participants therein, while The Fadeout focused on the James Ellroy-tinged milieu of Golden Age Hollywood. The duo’s longest running collaboration, Criminal, follows the fortunes (and misfortunes) of the Lawless clan.. Brubaker and Phillips excel at chronicling the trials and tribulations of their hard luck, morally-compromised protagonists, while making the reader empathize with them. During the COVID-19  pandemic lockdown of 2020, this creative team shifted  from producing monthly ‘floppies’ to more sustainable, self-contained graphic albums, as exemplified by the European comics industry. Pulp was their first offering in this new format, followed at the end of the year by the debut of Reckless. Reckless is their first foray into a series character crafted in the tradition of the Men’s Adventure novel subgenre, that was ubiquitous on bus station and drugstore wire spinner racks several decades ago. As Brubaker states in his afterword: “And for years, I wanted to do something along those lines in comics, our version of that kind of series paperback “hero”  Reckless pays homage to such characters as Parker and Travis McGee, all the while adding some nuanced flourishes to the genre as well. Reckless is pulp fiction written for the Robert Stone crowd. 

Reckless takes place in Los Angeles in 1981. If you have a problem and cannot go to the legal authorities, you can call a certain 1-800 number.. If the party takes an interest in your message, for a fee, they can provide assistance. This is Ethan Reckless’ business model--he is the person you contact for extralegal  discreet help.  Reckless works out of a shuttered movie theater, his base of operations, El Ricardo.  Brubaker paints a compelling backstory for Reckless. In the early 1970’s, he was nearly killed in a bomb blast that was orchestrated by  fellow leftist revolutionaries (think the Weather Underground). Although he escaped with his life, he did not come out of the explosion unscathed. Ethan has lost some of his memories just prior to and directly after the blast. He is also suffering from a subtle form of traumatic brain injury, in which all of his emotions are distant from him. Cognitively, he can remember events and emotional situations, but at this stage of his life he cannot feel them anymore-he is self-described as ‘flat’. The only time in which he receives an emotional jolt is when he feels anger and even that is a rarity. As a byproduct of his condition, Ethan is also a chronic insomniac-he self-medicates in order to get some rest.

When his assistant, Anna drops a new case in his lap, concerning a woman looking for a man named Donovan Rush, Ethan’s past comes roaring back.. Rush was Ethan’s alias back in his revolutionary days. It turns out that the woman looking for him is Rainy Livingston, Ethan’s first love (and fellow revolutionary). Rainy has been on the run from the authorities for nearly a decade, moving around from place to place and utilizing various aliases. Rainy reveals to Ethan that she needs help in procuring her share of a Kansas City bank heist, to the tune of one hundred thousand dollars. Rainy plans on using the funds to leave the country for good, so she can start over, free from being hunted. Ethan agrees to help (naturally) and sets off on the trail of Lloyd Wilder, the double-crossing bad man of the piece. Ethan’s quest takes him from Los Angeles, upstate into the Eel Valley Reservation Casino. Along the way, as these things go in hardboiled crime fiction, Ethan is lied to, roughed up by heavies and generally dissuaded from  sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong. For the sake of transparency, let me come clean- I am being intentionally vague when it comes to the specific plot points and beats of Reckless. Brubaker is a master craftsman when it comes to writing stories in the hardboiled genre. There are a variety of sneaky twists and turns that Brubaker employs in throwing the reader (and even Ethan) off track. To give more away would ruin the reading pleasure derived from this graphic album. Suffice it to say that you can never truly outrun your past and still waters run deep (sometimes, murderously so).

Aiding and abetting Ed Brubaker as usual, is Sean Phillips. Phillips is the ideal illustrator for this graphic album. His photorealistic style complements Brubaker’s plot perfectly: his depictions of the various characters, the environs of Los Angeles and the rural landscapes of northern California lends this project a level of verisimilitude second to none. Jacob Phillips’ colors are a complementary addition to his father’s line work: the hues are all mellow greens, oranges and yellows. You can practically imagine this ‘film’ playing out in your head, starring Robert Redford during his Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid or Jeremiah Johnson days, directed by Terrence Malick or Michael Cimino at their  prime.

What sets Reckless apart from the larger paperback “hero” genre in my view, has to do with the depth of storytelling. In the character of Ethan Reckless, Brubaker portrays an individual that is emotionally distant, absolutely comfortable with violence and yet at his core, is trying to be a good human being: his services do not necessarily go out to the highest bidder. Reckless is a tarnished knight errant: a man who uses his skill set to help others in need. “So, I figure if we’re all doomed…if we’re all suffering…then why not try to help people? Make someone else’s life a little better, even just for a few days.” A fatalistic, yet romantic outsider character, in the vein of Thomas Pynchon’s Doc Sportello, by way of Edward Woodward’s The Equalizer. Reckless is also a thoughtful meditation on the failed dreams and aspirations of America (or perhaps, the American left), during the Vietnam Era. An era in which political violence was de rigueur, where agents of social change were either arrested, co-opted or killed. An era that was synonymous with COINTELPRO and the (supposed) extralegal mechanizations of The Company on American soil. California surfer pulp noir, with brains and a ton of heart.

Brubaker and Phillips have created something special with Reckless. If you are a fan of intelligent storytelling, damaged protagonists with complicated pasts, evocative art or just good old fashioned pulp fiction (with a little extra food for thought), do not hesitate in picking this volume up. This opening salvo sets up the character, his motivations and mission and his supporting cast perfectly. I eagerly await the release of A Friend of the Devil, slated to ship in spring of 2021.

Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys well-crafted and engaging stories across a variety of genres and mediums.  His articles have appeared in several online venues and can be found on Twitter at @AnthonyPerconti.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Sugar, fiction by S.A. Cosby

My phone vibrated so hard it fell off the night stand. I rolled over and let my arm slide from around Mara’s waist. Cursing, I reached blindly for the phone. When I finally felt the slick hard plastic rectangle, I realized it wasn’t my work phone. That one has a heavy-duty rubber case on the off chance I drop it when I’m climbing out of my tow truck. It was my personal phone that was currently dancing across the floor. 

I picked it up and stared at the glowing name on the screen. 


“Fuck.” I whispered. Mara let out a soft groan then turned over on her belly. I knew she’d let out a hellacious fart in about five seconds. It’s funny the things you learn when lust turns to love and you find yourself with the same person for ten years, the last five spent as husband and wife. 

I touched the screen. 

“It’s three  in the morning. “ I said. 

“Hey brother. Glad to see you can still tell time. I’m in a little bit of a situation here. I was wondering if I could get you to come pull me out of the swamp. I ran off the road near the West River bridge,” Sugar said. His deep radio DJ voice slithered over the airwaves like a snake coated in honey.
I didn’t respond. Not at first. 

My brother’s given name is Samuel but my Mama called him Sugar Son because she said he was her miracle baby and he was just so damn sweet.  Born eight years after me. Eight years after the doctor told her she couldn’t have any more children. Her miracle boy. The sweetest little boy who ever lived. And just like overripe fruit he spoiled quick as a hiccup. 

I was just a regular baby. Nothing special about me. 

“You always in a situation Sugar.” I said finally. Now it was his turn to be quiet. If his rage was a fire I could have seen the first plumes of smoke. 

“I’m in a bind here man. And you just happen to have a fucking tow truck. You can’t help your brother?  Mama always said we supposed to look out for each other. “ Sugar said. 
Our mama did indeed say that. But anybody worth asking would have told you that road only went one way. But he was my brother. 

Anyway, the sooner I got him out the weeds the sooner he could disappear again. 

I got up , kissed Mara on the forehead and climbed in my tow truck. I turned onto Rt .624 and headed for West End River bridge. The “river” was more like a deep-ass creek and the bridge was only twenty feet long. Just a little concrete spit of a thing to get you from one side of the creek to other. It was so narrow two cars couldn’t pass on it. If you saw  somebody coming you gotta pull over and let them go by. If you’re  inclined to be nice. My brother Sugar never pulled over. 

My Mama saw things in Sugar that weren’t there. Illusions and hallucinations that she embraced instead of seeing him for who he really was. Sugar wasn’t the kind of kid to pull the wings off of flies. He was the kind of kid that would collect grasshoppers in a coffee can then put the can over a fire and watch them try to hop out. 

Then crush the ones that escaped. 

My Mama might have seen him as an angel but our Daddy knew he had a devil in him and a hornet’s nest where his heart was supposed to be. Mama coddled him. In my mama’s eyes  Sugar could do no wrong. Every girl who said he beat her had lied on him and ever boy who he whupped was jealous of him.  The funny thing was the boys probably were jealous of him. As we both grew he got more and more handsome on the outside even as he got more and more rancid on the inside. Sugar never picked up a dumbbell in his whole life but he had a six pack when he was fifteen. He was the best of my mama’s café au lait Indian and black family tree and my daddy’s ebony nightshade Virginia country DNA.
I turned down Stamper’s Creek Rd. Red Hill was a small county that rolled up the sidewalks in town when it got dark. This time of night in this part of the county the only people I encountered on the road were ghosts. 

My daddy didn’t let Sugar slide one inch because our mama had already him a mile. As Sugar got bigger and Daddy older they seemed to circle around each other like two rabid lions. 

When I was around 25 and Sugar was 17 he got mad because Mama didn’t have enough money to pay for his prom tux and Daddy wouldn’t give him the rest because he had just bailed him out of the jail the week before for trying to burn down Linwood Lester’s shed. Why had Sugar tried to burn down the shed?  Same reason he did most things. Because he wanted to. I was living in a trailer with Mara by then out near the soon to be closed ice plant. So I wasn’t there to see what happened but from what little Mama told me Sugar had gotten that look and when she said no again with tears in her eyes , that she just didn’t have the money and Daddy wasn’t gonna ask for an advance from his boss at the paper mill Sugar backhanded her so hard it sound like a rifle shot. 

When Mama told me the story she swore it was an accident. 


Daddy got up from the table where he was eating his dinner . He went to the closet and pulled out an axe handle. A good hickory handle he said he was gonna fix with a new axe head one day, and proceeded to beat the everlovin shit out of Sugar. He kicked him out and told him don’t ever come back. 

Two weeks later my Daddy got locked in his work shed behind the house with a beehive the size of a basketball. My daddy was deathly allergic to bees. 

I’d been in that shed a week earlier and I hadn’t seen no hive but my mama swore on a stack of bibles ten feet tall that she had asked my Daddy to get rid of the bee hive weeks earlier.
Sugar faded for awhile after that. I didn’t see him for four years. You know how water takes the shape of whatever you pour it in? Sugar’s like that. He just twist himself into whatever shape suits him best. The next time I saw him he was driving an Escalade and working for Luther Barnes out of Norfolk. 

“What you do for him?” I asked him once. 

“I’m a garbage man.” He said flashing me a pearl-white smile. I figured he’d finally found a use for that wicked storm that live inside him. Whenever I saw a murder on the news that was suspected of being drug-related out in the city that was especially horrific or brutal I always thought of Sugar and them grasshoppers.

My headlights illuminated him like some ethereal being as I came down to where the road narrows at West End river bridge.  An old big body Bonneville, banana-yellow, had slid off the side the road. The front and rear passenger tires were up to the middle of their hubcaps in the muck. I stopped the truck and killed the engine. 

When I climbed out Sugar came strutting on over and gave me a hug. It felt like something he thought he should do not something he wanted to do. 

“Johnny Boy. You a life saver, brother. “
“Hey Sugar. “ I said. I was taller than him but he was still built like an African god cut from obsidian with light greenish eyes that shined like chips of peridot. 

“What you doing in town?” I asked.  He smiled at me. It made my belly feel like a mouse had run across it. He didn’t speak for a long time.

“How long you think it’s gonna take to get me out?” he said finally. 

I latched a hook on the frame of the Bonneville just behind the rear bumper. As I worked the winch, Sugar played with his phone. The Bonneville was a big old piece of American muscle. Despite the mud and sludge, I could see it had been well-cared for. It was heavy as hell so I pushed the hydraulic switch a little harder than I intended. The car lurched out of the mud like a demon released from the Pit. The rear wheels came up then slammed back down on the asphalt. 

The trunk popped open but the car was free. I started for it to unlatch the hook but Sugar cut me off.
“Let me  close the trunk, “ he said. The look was there in his eyes. It wasn’t  evil or scary. It was the absence of. . . anything. A blankness that seemed to stare through you. 
But I’d seen. I’d seen what was in the trunk.
A blue tarp wrapped around two forms. One had a large pair of brown Timberland boots on their feet.
The other form was smaller. The feet were tiny, clad in sneakers. Pink sneakers with a floral print. The light in the trunk was painfully bright.
“Why are you in town? Who the fuck is that,  Sugar?” I said. 

“You don’t wanna know. In fact, you gonna forget this. All of it. “ he said. He stepped closer to me and I could almost smell the crazy coming off of him like the stench of a dog that’s crawled under the porch to die. 

“I don’t wanna come see you and Mara one night Johnny Boy.” He said and I know without a shadow of a doubt he meant every word he was saying. I took a deep breath. 

“Close the trunk and unlatch the hook.”  I said finally. He went over to the car and slammed the trunk down. He dropped to his knees to undo the hook. 

I grabbed a yellow tie-down strap off the back of my truck. The strap itself wasn’t very wide. About the width of a ruler you used in school, but they were  unbelievably strong. 
Sugar unlatched the hook but before he could stand up to his full height I looped the strap around his neck and pulled it tight. He tried to buck loose but I fell back against the blacktop and pulled it the strap even tighter. He scratched at my hands but my oil-stained work gloves gave him no purchase. He kicked his feet and scuffed his Gucci loafers against the road.

I closed my eyes and saw my Daddy’s face float up out the darkness. 

I thought of him in that shed as the opening in his throat winnowed down to the size of the eye of a needle. 

I thought of that man in the trunk and what he must have felt watching Sugar do whatever it was he’d done to his daughter because I sure as shit knew he did her first. 

I held on until I he stopped kicking. Then I held on a little while longer. 

I popped the trunk and put Sugar inside on top of the tarp. I shut it, hooked it up to my truck and drove to Burkes Mill Pond. I pushed the car down the embankment. I watched it sink until the bubbles stopped breaking the surface. Burkes Mill Pond is really an empty quarry. People say no one really knows how far it is to the bottom. 

I hope it’s deep as they say. 

God let it be deep. 

S.A. Cosby is the award-winning author of BLACKTOP WASTELAND and the upcoming RAZORBLADE TEARS.

He resides in southeastern Virginia.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Revise and Resubmit, fiction by Nick Mamatas

1. You find HTML difficult to learn, and you don’t trust those various blog platforms. There are still the old ways—the weapons of the X-ACTO knife and mimeograph. The truth must get out. 

Here is the truth as you recall it. The subways used to be clean. When a man felt the call of nature, he could use the restroom right on the platform. It would be clean, well appointed with liquid hand soap—clear, not pink!—and TP rolls cut to industrial standard. It wasn’t even the blacks who ruined the public bathrooms with their lack of care for the commons, their desperation to sell copper pipes and chrome taps for drug money, it was the homosexuals. They just had to suck one another, bugger one another, all hours of the day and night. Evacuation is a revolting enough activity under the best circumstances, but the mouth meeting the penis, the penis meeting the anus, the anus meeting the mouth, the anus meeting the penis, like filthy Tinkertoys…

Now even the white man has to hold it, or piss himself, or somehow find a quiet moment behind a concrete pillar on the subway platform, just like any savage.  No shopkeeper or restaurateur is kind enough to do a well-dressed, perfectly groomed, white man the favor of letting him use the facilities without a purchase. Your grandmother worked in a coffee shop when you were young. She’d let people use the restroom; she’d offer a first free cup of coffee after midnight to the late custom. Her Jew boss would have surely complained had he wasn’t already abed with his obese wife likely clammy from Lord knows what exertions, but what the Jew didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. She wanted to be alone at night with men sitting at her counter. It made her feel safe to be surrounded by white men.

2. You aren’t the man you used to be, and not only because the Jew took your job and drained your bank account of the precious funds your father and mother left you when they passed. You’ve lost a step. Your peripheral vision is collapsing into a dark tunnel. The pamphlet is ready, but you dare not hand it out on the streets. For every interested person you make contact with, there might a Jew or black who can somehow “pass”, despite the years you spend studying the science of racial realism. Plus, those black-masked terrorists with their homemade weapons and swarming numbers are just a text away. Jobless children supported by the miracle of compound interest, with nothing better to do with their lives than assault others for their opinions in the hope of “going viral”, whatever that is.

They’re already a disease.

You dare not publicly solicit, so instead you once again use the old methods. Wheatpaste and a bucket, late at night, when the traffic lights give orders to streets empty of traffic, when the diners are closed, when you can piss down a flight to steps to the subway station without audience or embarrassment.  Wheatpasting is really an endeavor designed for two, but you are at the moment of a movement of one. You have comrades, but they’re all far off in other cities, and you communicate entirely via a circle of round-robin correspondence, and then in code. The Jew owns the internet, but more than a few of your comrades work for the Postal Service. They revealed long ago the trick to free letters—just put the address you’re mailing to as the return address, and your own address as the destination. Leave off the stamp. The letter will be “returned to sender” every time. If the government insists blindly on treating everyone as equal, take advantage of the blind spots.

It’s a long night, but the streets seem longer, and it’s a challenge to hold the folder containing your leaflets by pinching it between your left arm and ribs, the bucket handle hanging from your elbow, as you brush the paste onto a lamppost with your right. Then you must gently put the brush back in the bucket in such a way as it doesn’t fall into the mush, slide a leaflet out of the folder without ripping the paper or dropping the folder, and plaster it up without getting your hands sticky, or glue under your finger nails. A block’s worth of available pasting space takes twenty minutes. Your arm cramps as the folder grows thinner and you have to keep your muscles tensed. For the white race you’re doing this, for your white children and for the two of your grandchildren who are white. Little Cicero, well…

It’s nearly three o’clock in the morning when you arrive home. Do people even call this hour three o’clock in the morning anymore? Three AM seems to be the fashion. Everyone is like a machine these days.

3. Waiting is the hardest part. Possible contacts are often the last to call the number on the leaflet. It’s not even pranks, vulgar children, and threats that fill your answering machine. It’s journalists, the maggots. Always wanting a quote, offering a coffee, even wondering if they could visit “headquarters”—you can tell from their tone that they already know that White Political Allegiance is headquartered out of your three-room railroad apartment. Wouldn’t it be a laugh, to show the man who wishes to lead the Master Race sitting in his boxer shorts on a stained old reclining chair positioned right before his television set? Then come the hysterics screaming “Nazi!”, which just showed that they only skimmed the leaflet—you’re a race realist libertarian. Monkeys don’t have markets! Then the punks with their threats and challenges, which they wouldn’t dare make if this godforsaken chocolate city allowed for concealed carry.

It takes weeks for your co-thinkers to reach out. You’ve learned not to grow upset when your handiwork is ruined, when the contact information at the bottom of your leaflets are scraped away. It’s these men, and twice even women, who do it. They need to meet you, but these exemplars of the West and the Race aren’t quite so courageous as they should be.

Truth be told, even those who reach out to you rarely do much more than accept the reading list you proffer them over coffee. It’s your fault, truly. The logo, the rhetoric, it all hints at a large worldwide movement to reclaim the world, to cleanse it. There are perhaps forty of you, and you are one of three men in this city. Who wouldn’t be disappointed to find that the future of white children and families depends on a handful of old men who have been crushed under the weight of Marxist oppression and horrific black violence?

You’ve grown used to disappointment.

4. You vote in every election, from President down to county coroner and school board, though with the school you often find yourself just spoiling a ballot. Nothing but a list of names such as Martinez, Washington, Ho, McDonald… You haven't met a white Washington or McDonald in this city in a very long time. Voting is like flossing—mandatory but it never seems to help with bleeding gums.

Then one day there is a candidate seemingly worth voting for, and not just for county committee of the Republican Party, or local sheriff. You’re not as enthusiastic as the race-denier right, not a sucker for his glad-handing and simple slogans, but the man is a wedge. He says what Presidential candidates must not say, and he does it without apology. And what he says shifts the Overton window. People are talking about whiteness again, and without hissing the end of the word as though the very notion were a curse. 

But what did it mean for you, old soldier in the race war? Your PO Box was filled with crudely drawn cartoons of pink-haired girls and sad frogs, and these were gifts from the people…children? simpletons?...purportedly on your side? More journalists to ignore, but a few public gatherings to attend. One young fellow who had the backing of family money and the genetic advantages of perfect Aryan physiognomy greeted you warmly at an event, and turned to talk into the smartphone of a comrade to introduce you to the internet. Your early writings inspired him, he said. He misquoted you, but only slightly.  Your actual famous phrase, the one that has become a meme, is There is no one else who will fight for us. We must fight together, for the future of the worldwide white race. He put it, “If we’re to have a future, we must, the worldwide white race, fight together.” No wonder he stammered twice. And you just had to stand there, unsure whether to offer an avuncular smile or a stoic and determined frown.

Ultimately, you grimaced.

5. You wonder now, why bother? We’re much alike, you and I. We’ve both been fighting for our causes, diametrically opposed as they are, for decades, in the old way. Steady leafleting, pamphlets, the creation and cultivation of small yet flexible affinity groups. Always an arm’s length from violence and street battles, though always armed and ready if “it goes down” as the kids these days say it. Yes, that probably is a borrowed phrase from African-American vernacular. I can see that grimace again, despite the sack over your head.

How right am I? I give myself a solid A-. Perhaps I’ve made a few assumptions, trafficked in cliché a tiny bit. Perhaps you once had a wife who supports your politics, or a common-law husband who doesn’t. You wouldn’t be the first fascist to be caught up in the ironies of masculinities, social progress, and the law. Champion the Aryan physique, declare the woman inferior and undomesticated, you’ll find that some of your comrades have joined the movement for access to lonely men.

Not a twitch, despite the ties binding you to your chair being fairly loose. Stoic or just uninterested in my theories? It hardly matters. What matters is this. You don’t count, not any more than I count. Nobody reads my pamphlets either, my presentations on post-state post-kyriachy futures at various anarchist gatherings and socialist fora are as poorly attended as your funhouse mirror versions of the same, and like you I was never much of a brawler. I have over one hundred students per semester, and almost none of them ever do the assigned reading, much less comprehend it. I’m as poor a revolutionary as you are a race warrior.

What I am good at is demographic divination. My masters degrees in sociology and English are good for something beyond teaching rhetoric and composition at the community college. I spotted you. You’re hardly the only older white man to skulk around on the periphery of the meetings we hold on campus—even an adjunct can reserve a room in the evenings—to ask questions at the end of a panel that mean nothing more than “But why not consider that which you have already rejected—that which I believe?”

You referred to globalism, not corporate globalization.

You claimed that since race is a social construction, it is “scientifically ignorant” to treat people of color differently, and instead suggested “that each group seek its own way.”

You discussed the importance of focusing on “the nation’s working class and small producers” instead of appealing to the international proletariat.

That’s the funny thing about you fash. You can’t simply pretend to have utterly mainstream politics. You have to signal to your fellow travelers, even as you try to infiltrate the far left; centrist politics; the garden-variety right-wing of the petit bourgeois, the banker, and the God-deluded. You fascist creeps, always attempting the fascist creep.

No, we on the left don’t do any such thing. We don’t want to associate with you, we don’t want to penetrate your spaces, enter your parties. You need to be crushed like insects. Not after we gain power, not after capitalism is overthrown. Anywhere and everywhere.

6. Fascism is ultimately capitalism, and especially capitalist morality, metastasized. If you could speak, if I hadn’t stripped you of your briefs, coated them in Krazy Glue, and shoved the mass into your mouth, and tied you to your own recliner, you’d try an appeal to horseshoe theory. You know, how Communism, most often Stalinism, is indistinguishable from fascism? How left anarchism smells like right-libertarianism? The political spectrum bending into a horseshoe, both extremes arcing toward a black hole of violence, oppression, and genocide.

But but…this is torture! Wouldn’t that make you as bad as I am?

You’re nodding, but that isn’t quite right. You’re old and clever. You’d say as bad as I supposedly am? You’re not a violent man, I can tell that much from the conspicuous lack of scars. Your limp is that of a sedentary office worker whose only socially necessary expenditure of labor is the sequestration of carbon, not that of a former street fighter. You’ve never harmed a hair on anyone’s head. Why do this to you and not to one of the badasses who have put my comrades in the hospital?

Embedded in that argument is an axiomatic masculinist demand. Untie me and I’ll show you, you bitch! Neither of us are any good at fighting; we’d just throw haymakers, roll around the floor for a bit, I’d try to scratch your eyes and crush your testicles; you’d try to mount me and punch and grapple in a manner similar to sexual assault in the hope of triggering me. We’d both be exhausted after two minutes. I might have a heart attack. You would have a heart attack. You hide behind phalanxes of boneheads and star-spangled meth-addled bikers. On my side of the line, I’m a medic. I do my bit. I have my ways. 

Also, you’re in no condition to fight. You may not recall precisely what happened, but I’ll tell you: I saw you on the street weeks ago, putting up your leaflets, and recognized you from your skulking about at the edges of one of my events. I tore a number of your leaflets down. When you didn’t rush out to replace them the next night, or the night after that, I dug one of them out of the trash. Then I waited a couple of weeks and had an older, white, comrade, call you to arrange a meeting. He no-showed, but I was there.

Well-dressed women of color are invisible to you. That which you cannot conceive you cannot perceive. Whores, maids, mammies, or leeches. That’s all you ever see of us.

It was easy to follow you home. I didn’t even have to wear a hat and sunglasses. That was two weeks ago.

You live in a dump, and you’re an old white racist. You have a couple of unofficial deadbolts on your door, but I had your leaflet and your building superintendent is a nice man from Puerto Rico whom you mistakenly call Juan—that was the name of his brother, the former super. Both were once part of Los Macheteros; lucky break for me, but I would have found a way in regardless. Tonight Yeriel and I worked together to take the front door off the hinges so I could gain entry, then we put the door back up behind me.

Why? Because something has to be done about you, and I have the capability. I don’t hold to bourgeois morality. You and yours may fancy yourselves übermenschen, but in the end you’re just men who came in second in the game of Monopoly Capitalism and seek to start over with more property cards. We seek to overturn the board.

When you walked in, wheatpaste bucket in hand, was the first time I ever successfully used my Taser.

It’s recharging now. According to the instruction manual, it’ll be hours before I can use it again. That’s okay. We have all night.

Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Bullettime and The Second Shooter. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and several volumes of Akashic's city noir series.