The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’s Mate by Paul D. Brazill

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence’s Mate

Oliver Peacock had often thought that there was an art to being in the right place at the right time and that life was more than simply a matter of chance, of luck. He supposed he put it down to his late father repeatedly telling him that people made their own luck in the world or perhaps he put it down to experience. After all, Oliver was well aware that the few movers and shakers that he’d encountered over the years had been complete and utter bastards, rather than passive mellow fellows. Robert ‘Liberty’ Valance fit into the former category of course which was one of the reasons that Oliver decided to kill him. Dark clouds spread across the granite grey sky like a cancer as Liberty Valance left Duffy’s Bar, as drunk as a skunk and holding onto Big Barry – one of his regular drinking cronies – for support. Indeed, the inebriated Liberty Valance was the proverbial sitting duck and it really was unfortunate then that a loud thunder crack startled Oliver who accidently shot Big Barry in the buttocks although, as he reasoned to himself later that night, the fat man was a complete and utter bastard, too.

(c) Paul D. Brazill

The Man Behind The Curtain by Paul D. Brazill

THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN

It was shortly after the pitter-patter of tiny feet had been drowned out by the rat-a-tat-tat of the debt collector’s knocks that Carole Parker considered killing her husband. But it wasn’t until many years later, when her daughter Kate had grown up and flown the nest, that she actually decided to do it.

Carole had barely been out of her teens when Doctor James Parker, as glimmering and sophisticated as a Brandy Alexander, swept through her hum-drum life like a tornado, picked her up like Dorothy and plonked her in an Oz that bore more than a passing resemblance to Chiswick, West London.

As the years trundled on, however, James’s gambling and drinking habits ballooned to the size of the Hindenburg, his mood swings and behaviour grew more and more erratic and Oz turned out to be no place like home.

Carole’s initial, overriding feeling of disappointment eventually melded into a hate that slowly marinaded until it congealed into a cold, hard contempt.
*

Carole, who had been studying Chemistry at Durham University when she met James, found that she couldn’t safely rely on him for an income and she eventually took a part time job at Bogajski’s Veterinary Practice in Holland Park, an upmarket joint that pampered the pets of B and C-list celebrities. Over the years, a bottle of chloral hydrate that nestled on a shelf at work had stood out like the lone, beautiful whore in a rundown brothel, teasing and tempting Carole. The years had stretched out like a long summer shadow until, at last, she spiked a bottle of Mortlach – James’s favourite whisky – and headed home.
*

Carole got off the 94 bus at Turnham Green and glimpsed her reflection in the newsagent’s window. Her heart sank like the Titanic. As she looked at the frump in the window she remembered overhearing a couple of shiny, happy WAGs talking about her as they sat in the vet’s waiting room.

‘Not bad looking but a bit on the drab side’, the northern one had said.

‘Dowdy and past her sell-by date,’ commented the other, in a grating Estuary accent.

‘About time for a make-over,’ they giggled.

It had hurt but Carole could hardly disagree and she’d been depressed for days after. What had happened to the vivacious young woman who used to light up a room like a firework display? She’d been drowned in a flat cocktail of debt and drudgery but there was still a spark, she knew.

Well, she thought, with James out of the way – and his insurance money in the bank – there would be a rebirth. A phoenix from the ashes. A flush of excitement burst free like a champagne cork but by the time she stood at the gate of her semi-detached house that excitement was waning and being replaced with fear. Fear of prison if she was caught. Fear of what Kate would think. And then the guilt, the doubt and the panic hit her like a tsunami.

Then she saw the car. A big grey BMW that was parked outside her house looking like a shark that was waiting to strike.
*

‘There are, of course, myriad negotiation techniques,’ said Detective Sergent Frank Cook, in a voice not dissimilar to that of the tiger in the Jungle Book film. ‘One of the most popular is a two-hander, as it were, known as the good-cop/ bad-cop. But I, however, am here alone today and I am as far from a good cop as you can imagine so I think I’ll just stick to the Corleone method.’

Carole was focused now. She looked at James but he just looked pathetic, like a scolded schoolboy. His face was bleeding and snotty and the fingers of his left hand hung limp. With his shaking right hand, he signed the contract as Frank Cook hovered over him like Godzilla over a flattened Tokyo. James was a big man – he’d played prop forward for Durham University – but Frank was bigger, with a face that looked as if it had recently been scrubbed by a Brillo pad and big, big hands, one of which held a big, shiny bloodstained Glock 29. The moment that Carole signed the paper she could feel her life slipping away like dishwater down a plughole.

‘Congratulations,’ said Frank. ‘You are now the proud owners of ..well … life.’ He grinned like a game show host, pushed the deeds to the house in the pocket of his Armani jacket and then indifferently threw an IOU towards James.

‘I do believe we should have a little snifter to celebrate, don’t you?’ said Frank, putting a CD into the player. ‘I think Doctor James here is certainly in need of a little hair of the dog that fucked him up.’

Carole went over to the drinks cabinet. She took a swig of Glenfidich before passing the bottle over to James, who gulped it down like a drowning man gasping for the last breath of air.
Puccini’s Tosca blasted out as Frank looked at a photograph on the wall: Carole and Jimmy on honeymoon in Las Vegas, looking full of life and future.

‘Those were the days, my friends, eh?’ said Frank, turning and spotting Carole’s Sainsbury’s bag. ‘And is that a bottle of Mortlach, I spy? I hope you’re not keeping the good stuff for yourself.’

For the next few minutes, Carole seemed to step out of herself as if she were watching a film. She poured the Mortlach for Frank and let it all happen. About halfway through Tosca’s third act, as church bells rang, Frank started babbling, puking and convulsing and, by the late evening, he was dead.
*

Outside The City Barge, a bustling pub overlooking the Thames, the speakers were blasting out an old Eddie & The Hot Rods song. A jet ski cut across the water and Carole flashed back to the previous month when she and James had dumped Frank Cook’s body and BMW in the river’s murky water, somewhere near the Isle of Dogs.

A small aeroplane left a trail of white foam across the vivid blue sky. Carole smiled to herself as she showed her friends the shiny red shoes that she’d bought from Harvey Nichols with one of James’s many credit cards.

‘I think I saw your husband looking out of the window again today,’ said Sarah, a mousy woman with mousy hair. ‘Is that all he does these days? He seems to peek through the curtains whenever I park near you. Is he turning into a Peeping Tom?’

Carole laughed. That really was all James did now. Snoop. He was at the window day and night waiting for reprisals from Frank’s cronies. Reprisals that she doubted would come.

If anyone missed Frank Cook or thought that he’d been murdered, she doubted that they would suspect a boring suburban couple like her and James. And if they did, well, she had that big, shiny gun in her handbag, just in case.

‘Oh, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,’ chuckled Carole as she drained her glass of Pimms and lemonade. ‘Same again?

(c) Paul D. Brazill.

THE TUT BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

After enduring forty-five years of a marriage that was, at best, like wading through treacle, Oliver Beacock Robinson eventually had enough and smothered his wife with the beige corduroy cushion that he’d accidentally burned with a cigarette two fraught days before.

Oliver had been, for most of his life, a temperate man and he had survived the sexless marriage – its colourless cuisine and half-hearted holidays – with a stoicism that bordered on indifference. But his patience had been stretched to the breaking point by Gloria’s constant disapproval of almost everything he did.

And then there was the “tut.”

The tut invariably accompanied Gloria’s scowl whenever Oliver poured himself an evening drink or smoked a cigarette. She would tut loudly if he spilled the salt. Or swore. Or stayed up late to watch the snooker. The tut, tut, tut was like the rattle of a machine gun that seemed to echo through their West London home from dusk till dawn until he reached the end of his tether.

Wrapping his wife’s body in the fluffy white bedroom rug, Oliver supposed that he should have felt guilty, depressed or scared – but he didn’t. Far from it. In fact, he felt as free and as light as a multi-coloured helium balloon that had been set adrift to float above a brightly lit fun fair.

Oliver fastened the rug with gaffer tape and dragged the corpse down the steps to the basement. As the head bounced from every step, it made a sound not unlike a tut and he had to fight the urge to say sorry.

He’d done enough apologising.

***

Oliver poured himself a whisky – at eight o’clock in the morning! – and it tasted better than any whisky he had ever tasted before. Looking around his antiseptic home, the sofa still wrapped in the plastic coating that it came in, he smiled.

Savouring the silence, he resisted the temptation to clean Gloria’s puke from the scarred cushion that had been the catalyst of her death. Taking a Marlboro full strength from the secret supply that was hidden in a hollowed-out hardback copy of Jaws – Gloria didn’t approve of fiction and would never have found the stash there – he proceeded to burn holes in every cushion in the house.

And then he started on the sofa.

Oliver’s brief burst of pyromania was interrupted when he thought he heard a tut, tut, tut from the hallway. His heart seemed to skip a beat or two, but then he gave a relieved laugh when it was just the sound of the letter box, flapping in the wind.

***

Disposal of Gloria’s body proved much easier than Oliver would have expected. On a bright Sunday morning in April he hauled Gloria’s corpse into the back of his car, keeping an eye out for nosy neighbours, and drove towards Jed Bramble’s rundown farm, and the village of Innersmouth.

Jed was an old school friend and fellow Territorial Army member whom Oliver occasionally used to meet for a sly drink in the Innersmouth Arms’ smoky, pokey snug. He was also a phenomenal lush. The plan was to get him comatose and then feed Gloria’s body to his pigs. Oliver knew the farm was on its last legs, along with most of the livestock, so he felt sure that the poor emaciated creatures would be more than happy to tuck in to Gloria’s cadaver.

Perched on the passenger seat Oliver had a Sainsbury’s bag stuffed with six bottles of Grant’s Whisky. Just in case, he had a bottle of diazepam in his pocket, which he’d used to drug Gloria.

Just outside Innersmouth it started to rain. Tut, tut went the rain on the windscreen. At first it was only a shower but then it fell down in sheets. Tut, tut, tut, tut, tut.

Oliver switched on the windscreen wipers but every swish seemed to be replaced by a tut. He opened up a bottle of whisky and drank until the rain resumed sounding like rain.

Outside the dilapidated farmhouse, Jed stood with a rifle over his arm, looking more than a little weather-beaten himself. His straggly hair was long and greasy and his red eyes lit up like Xmas tree lights when he saw Oliver’s booze.

***

The cold Monday morning air tasted like tin to Oliver as, hungover and wheezing, he pulled Gloria’s body from the car and dumped it in the big sty. The starving wretches took to their meal with relish. Watching, Oliver vomited, but he didn’t try to stop the proceedings.

Back at the farmhouse Jed was still slumped over the kitchen table, snoring heavily. Oliver collapsed into a battered armchair and started to sweat and shake. He’d decided to stay with Jed for a few days, keeping him safely inebriated until Gloria’s remains were completely consumed. But as the days grew dark the tut returned.

The tick tock of Jed’s grandfather clock, for instance, was replaced by a tut, tut. The drip, drip, drip of the leaking tap kept him awake at night and became a tut, tut, tut. The postman’s bright and breezy rat-a-tat-tat on the front door seemed to pull the fillings right from his teeth. He turned on the radio but even Bob Dylan was tut, tut, tutting on heaven’s door.

***

The usually bustling Innersmouth High Street was almost deserted now. The majority of the local people were cowering indoors – in shops, pubs, fast food joints. Oliver walked down the street with Jed’s rifle over his shoulder. No matter how many people he shot he still couldn’t seem to escape the sound of Gloria’s disapprobation.

Tut went the gun when he shot the postman.

Tut, tut when he pressed the trigger and blew Harry the milkman’s brains out.

Tut, tut, tut when he blasted fat PC Thompson to smithereens as he attempted to escape by climbing over the infant school wall.

Oliver heard the sirens of approaching police cars in the distance and realised there was only one thing left to do.

Pushing the gun into his mouth he squeezed the trigger.

The last sound that he heard was a resounding TUT!

The End.

CHECK OUT PAUL D. BRAZILL’S BOOKS HERE IF YOU FANCY.

THE MAN WHOSE HEAD EXPANDED AND EVENTUALLY POPPED by Paul D. Brazill

THE MAN WHOSE HEAD EXPANDED AND EVENTUALLY POPPED

Lenny Cray had always thought that the quest for experience was a vital part of a man’s learning curve and so, throughout his life, whenever a window of opportunity opened up, he jumped straight through, headfirst if necessary. And at times he just kicked the bugger in. But teetering on the precipice of middle age, Lenny was slowly overcome with doubt, a pronounced lack of self-confidence, even a fear of the consequences of his actions. Which was around the time that Lenny discovered the writings of G.I. Gurdjieff a philosopher and mystic who believed that most people lived their lives in a ‘waking sleep’ that they needed to waken from. For Lenny it was as if the doors of perception had been opened wide for him and he devoured Gurdjieff’s works with all the enthusiasm of a Weightwatchers attendee in an all-you-can-eat buffet. Although he was well aware that it was a radical reaction to Gurdjieff’s work, Lenny decided to break free from his own ‘waking sleep’ by sitting at the top of a tall building and shooting passers-by, an experiment that proved remarkably successful, until he was fatally shot in the head by an insomniac police marksman that was just finishing his night shift.

(c) Paul D. Brazill.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving by Paul D. Brazill

ONE

Living well is the best revenge, or so my arthritic old grandmother used to say. And , for most of my life, I have lived very well – once I’d broken free of Seatown’s umbilical cord, which was strangling me like a noose.

Fame. Money. Drugs. Travel. Fast cars. Faster women. All of the above.And it felt good. Bloody good.

Or it used to.

TWO

The taxi crept along the coast road, past the worn-out Bed & Breakfasts, half-empty amusement arcades and deserted kebab shops. A shabby looking Santa Clause pissed against the side of a mangy looking Christmas Tree that was stood shaking in the wind outside the public toilets.

‘Do you get home much, these days, Mr Stroud?’ said the crumpled tissue of a taxi driver with the the big, bushy eyebrows.

‘Not so much, these days,’ I said, half yawning. The radio was playing a medley of Christmas carols at a volume so low it was sending me to sleep.

‘Bet it’s a fair bit different to life down the smoke, eh?’ said the taxi driver. ‘Bright lights, big city!’

He slowed down as a raggle-taggle group of rat boys staggered across the road.

‘Vive la différence,’ I said.

The taxi pulled up at a red light. It was early evening and allegedly rush hour but there weren’t too many cars on the road. The granite sky was filling with black, storm clouds.

I gazed out of the window at Booze n News, Seatown’s popular chain of newsagents and off-licences. Booze n News had been the brainchild of Frank Griffin, a local Conservative councillor and father of Craig, my childhood tormentor and font of all of my bile.

Outside the shop was a familiar looking woman being hassled by a whining toddler as she struggled to put a buggy into the back of a Renault Espace. Karen Griffin, Craig’s wife.

Once she’d been the glam of glams and now she was looking more than a little shop soiled. I smiled to myself with satisfaction. This is what I really came ‘home’ for. Bathing in the misery of the people that had caused me so much suffering. Taking pleasure from seeing any spark of life that they’d had dampened by the drab hand of domesticity.

Karen locked eyes with me and smiled but I just turned away and looked at the torn billboard outside the shop.

In red marker pen it proclaimed:

‘Best selling thriller author Julian Stroud to host Rotary Club Christmas Charity Lunch’.

‘Bet it’s gone downhill since you came here last time, eh, Mr Stroud?’ said the taxi driver.

‘Plus ca change,‘ I said, as I slowly let out a silent fart.

‘Aye,’ said the taxi driver, winding down the window.

THREE

I used to lay awake at night thinking of my childhood humiliations. How much I was ridiculed. Laughed at. And over the years I let my my hatred marinade. And congeal.

And then the doctor told me about my body’s uninvited guest. The plague that crawled through my veins. And then I had an idea.

FOUR

‘So, you never heard about Fast Eddy then?’ said Karen Griffin. She downed her fifth Baileys and her face flushed red and her eyes sparkled.

‘No, I hadn’t,’ I said. I looked out of the Carvery window. The sea was grey. Out at sea, a fishing trawler adorned with Christmas lights bobbed up and down on the waves.

‘They say he met a lass on the Internet. Was getting on really well, too, until he sent her his picture, that is, and then she blocked him,’ said Karen.

I remembered Fast Eddy and could understand the girls consternation. He was once described as being like a fatter version of Bernard Manning. Without the charm.

‘And what happened?’ I said, almost interested.

Karen was looking good, I had to admit. She’d dolled herself up pretty well. Her idiot husband had been in a drunken sleep on the sofa and hadn’t even noticed her sneak out.

The fatigue was behind her eyes though. I almost felt sorry for her. I was starting to wonder if I could go through with this nasty little plan that I’d hatched.‘Well , he had an idea of where she lived. Some village in Scotland.. And so he started to spend every weekend going up there on the train and walking around the place looking for her. Until he got picked up by the police for being drunk and disorderly. Thing is, though, he’d got the wrong village,anyway!’

And then she laughed.

Karen Griffin’s cruel cackle reminded me of my teenagers years and the agony of just living. And it made up my mind for me.

FIVE

The motel room was dimly lit. Outside, I could the heavy bass of an old Public Image song.

I finished my brandy, popped a viagra and crawled into the bed.

‘Speak French to me Julian, you know it really turns me on, ‘ said Karen, as she pulled me towards her.

I took out a condom that I’d pricked with a pin earlier and put it on.

‘Le Petit Mort,’ I said, with a smirk.

Well, Christmas is a time for sharing, after all.

(c) Paul D. Brazill

The Liberator by Paul D. Brazill

THE LIBERATOR

Weather the storm, they say. Let the dust settle. Bide your time. Wait. But what if that storm never stops raging? What then? Even if you cut off one of the Hydra’s heads, another grows back. It is, as Simon Bolivar once said, like trying to reap the ocean. But still I slice. Still I reap.

*

Just like that, it all goes black. Just like that. From the moment they throw me into the cell and slam the metal door, I fall into the abyss. Into the pit of my own darkness.

When I awake, the sounds outside seem louder. The howls and the cruel laughter. The animal grunts and the whip cracks reverberate through me. I taste salty blood and a cold sweat acupunctures my pores.

After a moment, I start to steady my breathing. To take control.

Somewhere in that void, I see a speck of light. High up, where the ceiling must be. Looking like a lonely star in a godless galaxy. Or the Star of Bethlehem. Or maybe a star to guide a lost voyager to safety. Home.

If only.

I reach up to the light – stretching, stretching – but it’s too far away. Sweat snakes its way down my neck. My chest burns. I edge my way around the room until I bang my shins on the bench that I saw when they threw me into the cell.

It screams against the concrete floor as I drag it toward that final pin-prick of hope. I climb on the bench. Reach up. Jab a finger in the hole. Plaster crumbles. Just a little.  But it’s a start.

I dig with my fingernail and it gives way a little more. But not enough.

And I know don’t have much time.

There’s nothing in my pockets that I can use. Everything was taken from me. And not just material things.

There are no tools in the room. Apart from the bench, it was empty when they threw me in. There is nothing to help me.

I gasp. Acid rises from my stomach.

Think.  Think.

I grasp my crucifix. Take it off and use it to dig away at the plaster.

Something slams against the door and I stop for a beat. Then I attack the hole more furiously.

I will get out, I will escape. This I know.

And hours later, I am free. I drag my aching body through the tight gap I’ve made and out into the cold night air. I crawl along the flat, damp roof top and jump to the grass below.

The inky black night smothers me as, gasping, I crawl toward the forest, leaving behind a trail of blood. A dog barks somewhere in front of me. There are shouts behind me. Then gunshots. I supress a scream as I’m hit in the leg.

A shadow appears from between the trees. A shard of moonlight picks out an oak of a man. He walks toward me, a growling, one-eared Rottweiler trailing behind him. The behemoth crouches and grasps my arms.

‘You took your time, Father,’ says Renato, a grin slicing his craggy face. ‘I told you it was better to leave the recon missions to me.’

He helps me to my feet.

‘Let’s get moving. Molotov is getting peckish.’ He nods toward the big, black dog who howls like a wolf.

I start to speak but everything fades to black.

*

Molotov’s snoring is like the roar of a Kalashnikov and drags me from a dank and fitful sleep. The small hotel room is dim in the wan light of dawn. Molotov blocks the door to the room, sleeping with one eye open. I am fully clothed on an unmade bed. Renato is in the next bed, in a deep sleep.

I shuffle off the bed and drag my weary body into the bathroom. Undress, first taking off my blood-stained clerical collar, then the torn rabbat. Gaze at the ravaged face in the bathroom mirror. The blue eyes are cold. My blond hair is long and lank. My face unshaven.

I undress fully and take a cold shower. Pull on a dressing gown and head back into the bedroom. Renato and Molotov are still sleeping. I ease back onto my bed. Try to ignore the pain in my leg. Take a tablet. Wash it down with a bottle of water.

There is a battered, red leather-bound Bible on my bedside table. I pick it up, switch on the bedside lamp and glance through it. The pages of the Bible have been torn out. Discarded. Replaced with sheets of parchment that are covered with red ink. My diary, of sorts.

I’d started writing it shortly after my sister Sophie was snared by The Duke’s men. Renato had suggested it as a way of helping my collect my thoughts. A type of catharsis, he said.

Now I use it as a sort of war journal. A record of something much more cathartic than mere writing. I switch off the lamp, close the Bible and place it on my chest. Close my eyes and let the sea of sleep enfold me. And then the nightmares begin.

*

A heavy autumn rain rips through the evening sky as we walk down Waterloo Road, towards a small gaudily-painted flower stall, our black umbrellas flapping in the wind like crows.

The stall’s owner is a giant of a man with a face so red that it looks as if it’s about to explode any minute. Renato’s father, Gregor Bratkovič is a fearsome sight, to be sure. He hitchhiked to England from Slovenia as a teenager and made his way around the country surviving as best he could until he eventually became one of London’s most feared enforcers; a ferocious mercenary who was employed by the most powerful villains in the city- the Kray Twins, the Richardson Gang, and other gangsters that were less well known but just as violent.

And then, at some point in the ‘80s, Gregor had been recruited by The Duke, the head of an international criminal organisation with connections to the rich and powerful. The work was standard fare for him at first – breaking bones had become second nature.

Until one stormy autumn night when he was picked up from his home in a black limousine and taken to The Duke’s mansion to meet a representative of the Prime Minister. Gregor was ostensibly to be employed to execute a troublesome newspaper magnate. Not a difficult activity for Gregor but the sights Gregor saw while there he saw chilled him. The woman that many in the country worshiped was feasting on the living, filled with bloodlust. Crazed with hate.

Gregor ran from the mansion and spent that night and the next few days in an alcoholic oblivion, trying to wash away the terrifying sights he had seen. Eventually, in the early hours of the morning, he found his way to my church, St Martin’s.  He begged to give confession and I acquiesced. The worlds stumbled out of him like a pack of drunks at closing time. I, like many, had heard rumours of The Duke. That he was some sort of supernatural creature. Centuries old. Of course, I did not believe them to be true. Put them down as urban legends. But when Sophie went missing I quickly had my eyes opened to the darkness that lay beneath the surface of our world. On the edges of out nightmares.

Gregor locks his day’s takings into a money belt. Friday evenings are usually busy for him, men from the nearby offices, filled with guilt and alcohol, buy flowers for their neglected wives and girlfriends.  It looks as if it has been another good day.

I wait outside a kebab shop with a slavering Molotov as Renato moves toward his father. The old man grins as he sees his only son for the first time in months. They hug and speak quietly in Slovene and then Gregor nods toward me. Gregor locks up his stall and we follow him down The Cut, past the trendy bars and restaurants that are full of people celebrating the end of the working week. A group of drunken middle-aged men in Manchester United football shirts stagger out of a Thai restaurant shouting racial abuse at an angry looking chef who follows them out holding a machete. One of them staggers into Gregor who pushes him away disinterestedly. Molotov growls and the men laugh as one of them falls into a puddle.

There are shouts behind us as we step into an alleyway and follow a trail of multi-coloured candles to a dark and dingy pub that looks as if it has seen better days and nights – The Golden Fleece. I push open the graffiti stained door. As usual, it takes a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the strange lighting in The Golden Fleece. Multi-coloured lanterns adorn the bar area and the pub’s few tables are lit up by large coloured candles that have melted into strange sculptures. The rest of the pub is in pitch black darkness.

‘What’ll I get you, lads,’ says Niall, a wiry Irishman who never seems to look you in the eye.

‘Two pints of stout for my friends and a green tea for me,’ I say

‘And the usual for him?’ says Niall, nodding toward Molotov.

‘I suppose so.’

Niall pours a half of cider into an ashtray and puts it on the floor. Molotov slurps it down, farts and goes to sleep.

Niall gives us our drinks and we prop up the bar, in a darkened corner of the room.

Niall shuffles over to the other side of the bar to chat with Magda – a tall, overly made-up blonde in a fake leopard-skin coat. I knew her when she was Marek, a deserter from the Polish army.

Gregor takes a grubby brown envelope from the inside pocket of his black leather jacket and hands it to me.

‘This is as much as I could get at such short notice,’ he says.

He takes a sip from his pint of stout, wipes the froth from his top lip. All the while he keeps his eyes on me. I open the envelope. There are two gold invitations and photograph.

‘Quentin Lawrence?’ says Renato. ‘The industrialist? Owns the airline that went … boom?’

‘The self-same,’ I say. ‘If anyone can get me to Sophie, he can. He’s deep in with The Duke.’

I put the envelope into my jacket pocket.

‘Are you ready?’ says Gregor.

‘Always am.’

I finish my tea as the doors to the pub burst open. The same bunch of drunken thugs that we’d encountered earlier stagger in, bringing a raging storm in with them.

‘What a fucking shithole,’ shouts a short, round skinhead.

‘I hope it’s cheap,’ says the stumpy one who had fallen in the puddle.

Magda, the woman in the leopard skin comes back from the toilets.

‘It’s got pussy, anyway,’ says the skinhead; he grabs Magda around the waist.

‘Fancy a dance, pet,’ he says, and drags her around the room to the amusement of his mates.

Magda grins and head-butts him. His nose bursts open and he screams like a slaughtered pig. She twirls away from him and bows.

A couple of the other thugs rush towards her. I step out of the darkness and slam one of them in the Adams apple with my fist and then kick him in the groin. Renato head-butts another. Gregor punches another and sends him sprawling into the bar. Molotov opens both eyes, growls and goes back to sleep.

By the time Niall comes from behind the bar, holding a baseball bat, the men are either unconscious or groaning with pain.

*

Quentin Lawrence’s screams meld with the sound of a siren and drag me out of my trance. The crimson mist that fills my eyes fades away. The dark memories pop and fizzle like champagne.

Clarity.

Lawrence’s left arm swings loose like a limp dick. He pulls it close to his fat stomach like child hugging a teddy bear. He repulses me. I spit on the ground and it sizzles and disappears on the hot concrete.

I am on the roof of the Trellick Tower, a thirty-one-story, high rise block of flats built in the seventies, slap bang in the centre of London, by a Hungarian called Erno Goldfinger. The architectural style is apparently known as brutalist, which is quite apt since the building is a monstrosity.

A monstrosity, however, that is now a listed building, with apartments selling for a fortune.  But a monster is always a monster to me.

Still, it has a fantastic view across the great city. As the scorching August dawn breaks, shards of sunlight ricochet from the tower blocks’ windows. Black birds dot the sky. A helicopter skirts the horizon.

I haul Lawrence out of sight and into the plant room. Close the door and slam him against the pipes, ignoring his whining. Handcuff his good arm.

‘Well?’ I say. ‘Have you made your decision?’

The electricity generators hum and Lawrence’s screams have faded into sobs. They’d be pitiful, if I could have pity for a venomous snake like him

‘Well?’ I bark.

He vomits over his expensive, silk shirt. Looks down . Closes his eyes. Defeated so quickly.

Lawrence is a billionaire. A businessman. An importer and exporter of rare and exotic goods. Supply and demand.  He has recently exported something that I want. Something valuable. Priceless. My sister. I had given him a choice of how to die.

I told him that I could break every bone in his body slowly or he could tell me the whereabouts of The Duke’s new mansion and I will simply shoot him. End it. He laughed in my face. And then the crimson mist enfolded me.

I lean down and grip one of his hands. Two finger snap. The sound echoes around the room. He screams again before passing out.

My backpack feels heavy. I place it on the ground and take out my thermos flask. I sit down and drink. The sweet tea soothes me. Calm washes over me. I grasp a crucifix against my palm and wait.

The morning slithers towards afternoon. The day grows hotter still. I take off my clerical collar, loosen my rabbat and use the sleeve to wipe the sweat on my scarred neck.

Lawrence awakes. Looks at me and slowly nods.

He croaks, chokes as he gives me the address that I need. I take a bottle of whisky from my backpack and hand it so him. He drinks and drinks until he vomits all over his expensive shirt. He looks up, a mixture of anger and resignation in his eyes. I smile as I take out my Glock and blow his brains to pieces. Feel the calm after the storm.

*

The milky moon washes the colour out of The Duke’s landscaped garden. I crawl across the lawn, past the trees and the topiary, toward the French windows. Slowly. Methodically. Until I’m close enough to see them.

Beautiful, haunting music plays. Ennio  Morricone’s Chai Mai. The cameraman’s high pitched laugh slices the melancholy strings. A feminine laugh to come from such a large man, I think. And he is a beast. A giant wearing only a chauffeur’s cap and an eye patch. His naked body latticed with scars and tattoos.

He laughs again as The Duchess, dressed head to toe in black leather, dances toward the naked young man that is bent over the grand piano, and slices her red fingernails down his back, drawing blood. The man makes no sound but his body trembles as she licks his cuts with a long, scarlet tongue.

The Duchess walks toward The Duke, who sits in a red leather armchair smoking a large cigar. He blows a trio of smoke rings that float above him like halos.

In his other hand is a large brandy glass. A maid kneels beside him, her head resting in his lap. The Duchess crouches beside the maid, moves up close to her. Nuzzling her.

A dog barks, somewhere behind me. It’s time to move.

The hail of bullets shatter the glass and I’m inside within seconds. A gun in one hand, a knife in the other. The cameraman throws himself at me, the camera smashing to the ground, but I twist my hip, easily avoiding him, and trip him so that he smashes, headfirst into the grand piano.

One shot from my Glock, into the back of his head. One down. More to go.

Then I recoil as The Duchess flails me with a cat of nine tails. I ignore the pain, rush her and stab. A dagger under her ribcage and into her heart. I twist the blade. Two down.

I tense for more attacks. Turn toward the armchair. The Duke and the maid haven’t moved.

I turn toward the French windows. Renato stands amongst the broken glass. Molotov sits patiently beside him. Renato raises his hand in a salute. The all clear sign.

I turn back toward The Duke, who smirks at me, his black eyes shining.

‘I have been waiting for you, Father Trent,’ he says. ‘Waiting for centuries, it seems.’

‘Your wait is over,’ I say.

‘Indeed,’ says the Duke. ‘What is existence, after all, but procrastination? Especially my kind of existence.’

‘Like I said. It’s over.’

I raise my gun and fire. One silver bullet in the forehead. Three down.

I take the maid by the hair and lift her head so that I can look into her eyes. Dead, dark, soulless eyes. Just like The Duke’s. Just like the rest of his vile kind. The bite marks on her neck tell me all that I need to know. She has been taken. She has gone. My eyes well up with tears.

I take the silver bladed dagger and slam it into my vampire sister’s heart. And I liberate her.

(c) Paul D. Brazill.

Steps by paul d. brazill

Steps

If the singer Eddy Cochrane is to be believed there are three steps to heaven and, according to Alcoholics Anonymous, the sum total of twelve steps are needed in order to set someone on the path to freedom from addiction.

Unfortunately for Melissa, however, no matter how many steps she took she never seemed to be able to free herself from the financial and emotional burden that was her husband, Keith, as every path she went down seemed to come to a dead end.

Until she met Alison, that is, the effect of which was akin to that of lightening hitting a plane.

Before meeting Alison, Melissa had barely been scuffed by the wear and tear of life but, as Autumn trudged on into Winter, Alison and Melissa’s meetings became more frequent and murderous thoughts hovered over them like a hawk ready to strike its prey.

Night was melting into day as they smashed Keith’s brains out on the doorstep producing a more than passable Rorschach test.

‘One Step Beyond!’ said Melissa, with a glint in her eye and a spring in her step.

(c) Paul D. Brazill.

SHOTS IN THE DARK BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

SHOTS IN THE DARK BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Crime fiction is easily and readily sliced up into sub-genres, especially these days. We have the cozy, the murder- mystery, the detective story, the police procedural, the hardboiled. Or the social realism of Brit Grit, which wears its dark heart on its blood-stained sleeve like a call to arms to the dispossessed, disenfranchised and desperate.

And it’s also categorised by country too – Scandinavian crime, for example, is expected to have a very different flavour to the Italian or French variety.

Noir, though, is more like a style of fiction. More elusive, perhaps. Like a murder glimpsed from the steamy window of a passing train.

The origins of ‘noir’ as a definition of a sharp sliver of crime fiction goes back to the mid-1940s when the French publisher Marcel Duhamel cleverly packaged American pulp fiction – from the likes of Raymond Chandler, James M Cain, Jim Thompson, Cornell Woolrich – in black covers, as the imprint Série noire. And since then it has also been tied like a noose to the cinematic versions of those books. Films that painted the world with light and pitch black shadows.

Ostensibly crime fiction – or skirting its razor edge – noir is a taste that’s as black and bitter as an espresso or a shot of moonshine-whisky. Noir, for me, is all about mood. And a dark mood at that because, as Otto Penzler once said, ‘noir is about losers’. For writers and fans of noir, we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the abyss between the stars.

© Paul D Brazill.

Paul D. Brazill is the author of Man of the World, Last Year’s Man, The Last Laugh, and Seatown Blues. He was born in England and lives in Poland. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime 8, 10 and 11.

DRABBLE: SWAMPLANDS BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Elvis awoke in a cold, dank sweat, hungover from bourbon and bad dreams. The nightmares had consisted of him being hunted through a swamp by the murderous spectre of Jesse, his stillborn twin. His pounding heartbeat seemed to echo through the mansion. He stumbled into the bathroom, splashed cold water on his face and looked in the mirror, only to be confronted by his own ashen reflection and that of his grinning doppelganger. Jesse tightly wrapped the umbilical cord around Elvis’ throat and pulled it until Elvis breathed no more. The king is dead, long live the king, he muttered.

(C) Paul D. Brazill.

WARSAW MOON BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Warsaw Moon: Part One

The night had crept up almost imperceptibly and smothered the granite coloured day with darkness. The winter moon hung fat and gibbous as Tomasz blasted Ricardo’s brains across the ground and produced a more than passable Rorschach test; the splashes of blood black in the stark moonlight. A murder of crows scattered and sliced through the whiteness, as the purr of an approaching motorcycle grew to a roar.

Snow began to fall like confetti and Tomasz took Ricardo by the ankles and hauled his massive corpse towards the dilapidated cottage, leaving a snaking trail of blood behind him. He paused and wiped his brow with his blood and sweat stained sleeve.

Tomasz gazed over at the Christmas tree in the distance which was lit up with shimmering, dancing multi-coloured lights. A wind chime that hung above the door tinkled.

The heavy wooden door creaked as Tomasz pushed it open. Ricardo’s head bounced off every concrete step as Tomasz dragged the body downstairs into the dark and dingy basement and onto a sheet of dirty green tarpaulin.

He switched on a lone light bulb, which buzzed and flickered, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels and crates exept for a bright orange formica table, a candy striped deckchair and a dirty, spiderweb cracked morror that hung above a rusted metal sink.

Tomasz knelt down and unstrapped a large hunting knife from his left leg. Slowy and carefully he began to cut the row of tiny red crescent tattoos from Ricardo’s right bicep.

‘Tried to escape again?’ said Dragan, as he came down the stairs.

He took off his black crash helmet and ran a hand through his short cropped hair.

Tomasz had been so engrossed in his work that he hadn’t noticed Dragan arrive; he paused for a moment, looked up at Dragan and nodded. Rising slowly, he dropped the pieces of skin into a jar of formaldehyde, fastened the top and put it in a red Adidas holdall.

Tomasz knelt back down and unfastened the bloodied handcuffs that hung loose from Ricardo’s right wrist.

‘Nothing to lose, I suppose,’ said Dragan, to himself, ‘apart from his balls.’ He sighed and lit up a large Havana cigar.

‘Did anyone see you?’ said Dragan, blowing a trio of smoke rings.

‘No,’ said Tomasz. ‘No spies. No mercenary eyes.’

‘Did he say anything?’ said Dragan, looking at the fat heap on the ground, his scraggly beard and unkempt hair matted with blood, he was overcome with disgust, remembering a younger Ricardo.

‘Yes,’ said Tomasz, his black, bullet hole eyes showing no amusement. ‘He cried for his mother.’

Dragan peeled off his boots and black leather jacket and sat cross legged on the dirty floor. He was wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt depicting Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’ and a pair of expensive denim jeans.

His muscular body was covered with tattoos and latticed with scars but his face–almost angelic and much younger looking than his forty years–was without a blemish except for a tiny bright red birth mark on his left cheek which was shaped like a crescent moon. He plucked a bottle of vodka from one of the wooden barrels that cluttered the room, his wedding ring glinting as it caught the light, and downed a third of the bottle in one.

‘Did he say anything about the others?’ he said, switching from Russian to English. Tomasz nodded using his whole upper torso. His wide, sandblasted face showed no expression. Dragan poured large measures of vodka into two pink glass tumblers and scooped a little snow into each glass. He was used to being patient with Tomasz but sometimes his patience was tested. He took a deep breath.

‘Well?’ said Dragan.

‘He said no,’ said Tomasz picking up a glass. ‘No others.’

Dragan was lost in thought for a moment. Tomasz stood motionless and not for the first time Dragan was reminded of the robot in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, waiting for a sign from his master. The only noise was the buzz of the light and the sound of Dragan’s breathing.

Eventually, Dragan broke into a smile.

‘Well, we’ll see,’ he said.

He walked over to Ricardo’s corpse and shook his head.

‘Misguided loyalty, my friend,’ sighed Dragan.

He passed a tumbler of vodka to Tomasz .

‘Na zdrowie,’ said Tomasz, toasting Ricardo.

‘Okay, back to work my Polish brother,’ said Dragan, slamming down his glass on the table.

Tomasz nodded and dug in a darkened corner of the room and pulled out something heavy and metallic.

‘I think it’s time to sever Mr. Ricardo’s contract’ smirked Dragan as Tomasz started up the chainsaw.

_______________________________________________________________

Warsaw Moon: Part Two

The tall men in the black hats and long black overcoats looked like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered square.

A ghostly spiral of smoke drifted up from the husk of the burnt out car as Darko fell to his knees, the low hum that hovered in the distance growing louder.

He looked up, gasping, as the plane roared overhead. His fingers buzzed and tingled and the sensation spread through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant was on his chest and then he felt the cold hard metal against his forehead.

Then the day dissolved to black.

* * *

First there were trickles and then there was a flood until what seemed to be hundreds of people spilled out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats slipped through the crowd as the approaching sirens screamed nearer.

Shuffling into the corner a nearby alleyway, Brendan pushed back the brim of his black fedora and plucked a battered packet of Galois from his raincoat pocket. He handed one to Arek, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.

‘Another one bites the dust,’ growled Arek, his accent as thick as treacle.

‘Aye,’ said Brendan, the traces of a grin appearing at the corner of his mouth. ‘Just not the one we were after.’

He coughed and spat on the ground. He wiped his mouth, revealing the red tatto on his wrist.

‘Are you gonna call or am I?’ he said.

Arek inhaled deeply and looked up to heavens, at the stars and the moon, as if hoping for help from above.

* * *

The aquarium bubbled and gurgled, bathing the office in a sickly green light. The air in the room was warm and soupy and Dragan steadily sipped a glass of gin.

At a large desk, a raven haired woman was using a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leaned forward and snorted through a Harrods pen.

‘Ay Caramba, mother fucker,’ she said, her Latino accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee.

Dragan poured himself another large gin.

‘Gin makes you sin,’ said the woman, with a chuckle. Dragan glared a her.

She turned away, retouched her make up and stood up. Guilt rumbled inside Dragan like a thundercloud. He’d sworn that the previous time would be the last time but once again he’d broken his promise to himself.

The woman walked over to him. She was tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and her black hair cut into a Louise Brooks bob. She was wearing a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels. Dragan took a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily handed it to her.

The James Bond theme began to play and Dragan took out his mobile phone.

‘Tak,’ he said and listened for a few moments before answering.

He slumped over the large oak desk .

‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is “a bit of a bollocks?”’ he said, his expression volcanic.

‘Maybe I’ll go?’ said the woman.

Dragan waved indifferently toward her and she walked out of the office door, her head held down but still watching.

And still listening.

_______________________________________________________________

Warsaw Moon: Part Three

Slumped in his blood red leather armchair, in a darkened corner of the office—like a spectre of the man he once was—Dragan disinterestedly watched the slow drips of wine trickle down from the bottle that dangled from his hand onto the wooden floorboards. His thoughts flashed back to September.

* * *

Dragan had snaked the black Jaguar XJ5 through the honey coloured Autumn morning and along the Old Town’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith. As he glided the car along the almost deserted Nowy Swiat, with its expensive shops, cafes and bars, he lit a cigar and felt like a king.

The High Priest Of Warszawa, a smirking, hyperactive American frat boy had called him, once upon a time. The rich American was being ironic, of course. At the time Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief and drug dealer with ambitions. But now, well, the frat boy wouldn’t be smirking so much, if he were still alive.

Dragan turned right at the Palm tree sculpture and headed down Aleje Jarozolimskie, looking up at the blue sky.The Palace of Culture and Science loomed over the city like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay.

* * *

As he turned the corner toward the Euro Continental Hotel a big black SUV suddenly screeched in front of him and blocked his way. Dragan braked but his reactions were slow. Perhaps he’d been getting soft. One upon a time he would have jumped out of the car and beaten the driver to sludge, but he simply sighed and reversed . And then another turned the corner and slammed into him, stopping his exit.

Within seconds, a swarm of men in black balaclavas rushed out of the SUVs and started attacking the car with hammers, baseball bats, rocks. And then one pulled out a shotgun and blasted the windscreen which cracked like a spiderweb.

The car was bullet proof, of course, so they didn’t get very far, but as Dragan slammed his hand into his pocket for his Desert Eagle XIX, he froze as recognised the red crescent tattoo on one of the men’s wrists.

Within seconds the men were all back in their SUV’s and had driven off but Dragan just sat there stunned, the dropped cigar burning a hole into his leg. He looked down and brushed it away as if it were a mosquito.

Who would dare? Who, from his people, would dare?

And so the purge had begun.

* * *

Dragan smashed the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawled into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stood up, lit a cigar and gazed out of the window.

The Old Town square was almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. He could hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below him. He could feel the throb of the bass, thumping its message to him.

He pulled a bag of cocaine form his desk draw and trailed a line of powder along the window pane so he could watch out for the mercenary eyes.

* * *

Krystyna decided to swim one more length of the pool. It was just past midnight but she knew that Tomasz would stand guard over her all night if he had to. She loved the Euro Continental Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gave such a great view of the Warsaw skyline.

She would miss this, she thought, as she floated on her back and looked out at the constellation of lights that trailed away from the hotel toward the Palace Of Culture and Science, old Joe Stalin’s unwanted gift to the people of Warsaw.

As she got out of the pool Tomasz rose from his seat like the Golum and handed Krystyna the towel. She said nothing as she dried her iron muscled body and went into the changing room.

Krystyna dressed and switched on her Nokia. There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS written in a garbled mixture of Russian, English and Polish. She was reminded of the last words of Dutch Schulz and almost laughed but instead she shivered as she played with her loosening wedding ring.

_______________________________________________________________

Warsaw Moon: Part Four

Dark dreams and worse memories lapped at the shore of Krystyna’s sleep until she awoke drowning in sweat and stained by sour memories. It took her a moment to adjust to the surroundings; her bedroom looked unfamiliar in the wan light.

Krystyna lay for a moment, each heartbeat like the tick of a clock, and edged off the bed; her joints ached after the day spent working out in the gym. Moving like Robocop, she went to the window and peeled back the blinds.

A constellation of streetlights and a galaxy of Christmas decorations faded into the distance towards the Old Town. The street was almost deserted. She strained to listen. Someone, somewhere nearby was whistling. Was it Rhapsody In Blue? Or maybe she was imagining it.

She was exhausted and her mind was starting to play tricks on her again. Winter had crept up and smothered the days with darkness; flushing her memories to the forefront of her mind. Night after sleepless night her anxiety brewed and bubbled to boiling point.

Her sleep was becoming increasingly fitful, her days spectral. Guilty conscience, her mother back in Komorow used to say when her father couldn’t sleep. It was always easy for her mother to sleep, but for Krystyna it was like wading through molasses. Especially these days.

She looked at Dragan, half dressed and slumped across the bed. He was holding a bottle of vodka like a baby holds a teddy bear. She had a flashback to their first meeting.

Before she’d come to Warsaw, from her small town out in the sticks, she’d heard stories about ‘The Night Drivers’; amphetamine pumped young men who, each midnight, tied fishing wire around their necks, and the cars’ brakes, and then raced from one end of the city to the next.

When she’d seen the cut marks on the taxi driver’s neck and his red, red eyes she’d ben a little wary but excited. The Serbian was handsome and charming with his hybrid of languages.

But that was then and this is now, she thought. Just like the song that Dragan used to play in his first BMW.

Krystyna shook her head, took a deep breath and counted to ten. She walked into the migraine bright bathroom and looked in the mirror. She ran her fingers across the coin shaped scar on her right shoulder and grimaced at the memory it brought back.

Krystyna tied back her long black hair and checked the ten inch barrel Desert Eagle XIX that she kept hidden in the washing basket. It was just a matter of time, she thought.

She ran the shower as hot as bearable before she got in. Maybe it would wash away the past.

Maybe.

_______________________________________________________________

(c) Paul D. Brazill

Paul D. Brazill was born in Hartlepool, England and is now on the lam in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

LATE NIGHT FILM BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Late Night Film
by Paul D. Brazill

Fade in.

It’s spring and, teetering precariously at the precipice of middle age, I become a self-imposed exile from London and get drunk between the moon and New York City. I know it’s crazy but it’s true. I set off with a half-arsed plan to hit the road, like Jack and Tom, and like so many half arsed plans it all goes pear-shaped as quick as spit disappears on hot pavement.

Spring soon segues into a forty-two degree summer in Madrid. Close up on me burning my hand on the side of a taxi; falling into a fountain in Sol, as drunk as fuck; a row of prostitutes lined up outside a shop called Easy Everything, one of them blind; waking up in a shop doorway in the midday heat as a policeman goes for his gun. Freeze frame.

And then summer stumbles into autumn which tumbles into a winter in Warsaw’s snow smothered streets. More close ups: beer breakfasts in a twenty four hour pub; the football stadiums’ Russian market selling Nazi memorabilia; a Ukrainian lap dancer on her knees, snorting cocaine in the middle of Old Town square.

And then cut to a sparse apartment, walls splattered with blood that looks shitty in the pissy light. Then …

Fade Out.

(C) Paul D. Brazill.

OUT NOW! Born Under A Bad Sign: Stories of Bad Luck

‘As you read these stories remember gentle reader: life and luck can turn on a dime. All of the foundations of your life can crumble in an instant. While you think about that, enjoy this collection of pulp, noir and horror stories about luck and all the misfortune and mishaps it has in store for us.’

Edited by Mark Slade with stories from Andy Rausch, Mick Rose, Paul D. Brazill and MORE!

Born Under A Bad Sign: Stories of Bad Luck

The LAST LAUGH: CRIME STORIES BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

‘The stories in The Last Laugh are vivid and violent slices of Brit Grit and international noir, full of gaudy characters and dialogue sharp enough to cut your throat. The Last Laugh is a violent and blackly comic look at life through a shot glass darkly.’

From France, to Spain, to the northeast of England, hit men, gangsters, corrupt cops, drunks, punks, and petty thieves all tumble toward the abyss.

Published by All Due Respect.

THE LAST LAUGH: CRIME STORIES BY PAUL D. BRAZILL