Prepare to be wowed with pulpy plots and questionable thoughts in the newest issue of Twisted Pulp Magazine. Join us as we dig our way into the brains of comic legends such as Michael T. Gilbert and Tony Isabella. What!? That ain’t enough for ya? Well, it’s chockfull of stories and articles by the likes of Paul D. Brazill, ES Wynn, Thom Malafarina, Lucy Hall, Jessica Bauer, blah blah blah, and of course your loyal page fillers, Mark, Chauncey, and Lothar return.
Before The Moon Falls
Duffy awakes drowning in sweat. Still smothered by bad dreams. Gunshots echo through his brain. Then the sound of helicopter blades. Screams.
It takes him a moment to adjust to the surroundings; the room looks unfamiliar in the wan light. Slowly, his eyes make out the details of his sparse living room. He’s on the sofa, tangled up in a worn blanket cradling a bottle of bourbon as if it were a teddy bear. He lies for a moment, each heartbeat like the tick of a clock, and edges off the sofa. His joints ache as he stumbles to the window and peels back the blinds.
A constellation of streetlights and a galaxy of Christmas decorations fade into the distance towards Banks’ Hill. A feral group of Hoodies trudge through the snow. They shuffle through the redbrick Ace of Spades archway and into the narrow alleyway that leads to the rear of Klub Zodiak. More of Dragan’s new recruits. More cannon fodder.
Someone, somewhere nearby is whistling Hank William’s ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.’ Or maybe he’s imagining it.
Duffy shakes his head. He’s exhausted. His mind playing tricks on him. His sleep is becoming increasingly fitful the days. Spectral. Like wading through molasses. Guilt, his mother would have said. And she’d be right.
And then Duffy sees him.
Stood in the Zebra Bar’s doorway, illuminated by the flash of his Zippo as he lights a cigarette. His face looks pallid. Lips as red as a clown’s. He’s wearing a long dark raincoat, his hair long and black like rats’ tails. A chill slices through Duffy like the ice pick that took out Trotsky.
A black limousine purrs around the corner and stops. Ivan Walker salutes and gets in.
Duffy walks into the bathroom and switches on the shaving lamp. He avoids looking in the mirror, knowing what he’ll see; bloodshot eyes; dirty, unshaven face: inky black hair. His skin riddled with acne.
He coughs. Spits. Coughs again. A Rorschach test of blood splashes the white basin. He turns on the tap and tries to wash it away.
A brittle, icy morning and the air tastes like lead. Duffy glides the black BMW through The City’s cobbled streets, listening to Bessie Smith’s ‘Downhearted Blues’. Eases the car along New World Street, taking in its expensive shops, hotels, cafes and bars. It feels like the calm before the storm. It is.
A rickshaw pulls up outside the Euro – China Hotel and a couple of drunken Chinese business men tumble out. The rickshaw driver is Travis, a tall blonde Californian surfer girl. She wears a screaming red chauffeur’s uniform and a forced grin. She laughs at something the men say as she clutches the wad of notes one of them hands her. She notices Duffy as he cruises past and taps her chauffeurs cap in a mock salute. He blows her a kiss.
Dragan, crouches in the back seat, like a coiled python. He wipes a fleck of cocaine from his nose and sits up. His eyes dance the flamenco. He chuckles, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window, like a king surveying his domain. Which isn’t too far from the truth.
‘Why do you always listen to such depressing music, Duffy?’ says Dragan.
‘Not depressing,’ says Duffy. ‘Cathartic. Helps me process the wear and tear of life. Chew it up and spit it out. You should do the same. Listen to a bit of Billie Holliday. Lady Day, as she was known. Would sort you out, no worries.’
But Dragan’s not listening.
‘Remember, Richie Sharp?’ he says, gesturing toward Patrick’s Irish Pub, which spills out its early morning dregs. Puking and mewling executives. Pumped up pimps. Hairy arsed bikers.
‘Rings a bell,’ says Duffy.
‘You must remember. The fence. He used to call himself Mr Google. Said he could find anything for you. Eh? Remember ?’
‘Yeah,’ says Duffy. ‘That flabby farm boy that used to practically live in Patrick’s? The shittiest pub in The City but he loved it.’
‘Happy days, those, eh? I miss them sometimes. Don’t you?’
‘Naw. Nostalgia’s not what it used to be.’
Back in those days, Dragan was just a speed freak. A jumped up Serbian car thief. A drug dealer with ambitions. There’d been a lot of blood under the bridge since then, thought Duffy. Rivers of the stuff.
‘Whatever happened to him, anyway?’ he says.
‘Fuck knows,’ says Dragan. ‘Last time I saw him was well over five years ago. Just after the last wave of refugees swarmed into The City. He had hundreds of them working for him; dealers, whores, pickpockets, hackers, croupiers. I think he was screwing Bronek Malinowski’s wife at the time, though. So …’
‘Was Sharp the one they roasted in the pizza oven?’
‘No, that was the French guy. Journalist. They frizzled him. Who knows what happened to Richie Sharp, though …’
Duffy turns right at the Palm Tree Bar and heads down Othello Avenue, looking up at Rhino Towers, Count Otto Rhino’s grey Gothic headquarters, looming over The City like a giant gargoyle keeping danger at bay. Though not exactly doing too good a job of it.
As he turns the corner and heads toward the Central Railway Station, a big black van suddenly screeches in front of him and blocks his way. He brakes but his reactions are slow and he slams into the side of the van.
‘Bollocks,’ says Duffy.
‘What the fuck,’ growls Dragan. His eyes bulge out of his head. He grabs his Glock from its shoulder holster and opens the car door.
‘Close it and hold on!’ Duffy shouts.
He screeches the car into reverse. Dragan falls back in his seat, the door wide open. And then another van turns the corner and slams into the back of Duffy’s car, stopping his exit.
Within seconds, a swarm of massive shaven headed men dressed in military fatigues rush out of the vans. Otto Rhino’s Frog Boys.
Dragan slams his door closed. The men start attacking the car with hammers and baseball bats. A giant of a man pulls out a shotgun and blasts the bullet proof windscreen which cracks like a spider web.
‘What the fuck, is this?’ screams Dragan. The cigar falls into his lap.
One of the vans sounds its horn and within seconds the men rush back inside.
‘Who would dare? Who the fuck would dare?’
He sits back, stunned. The dropped cigar burns a hole into his lap. He looks down for a moment and brushes it away as if it is a mosquito.
Dragan slumps in the blood- red leather armchair that is jammed in a darkened corner of the office. A ghost of the man he once was.
‘So, what’s the plan?’ says Duffy, flicking through a copy of the National Geographic.
Dragan grunts. He holds a bottle of red wine in one of his hands. He disinterestedly watches as it drips onto the wooden floorboards.
‘There’s a rat in the kitchen,’ he says. ‘An informer. There’s no way that Otto Rhino would come at me like that without information.’
At a large desk, Lulu, a tall raven haired woman, uses a gold credit card to chop up a little heap of cocaine. She leans forward and snorts through an Eiffel Tower souvenir pen.
‘Ay Caramba!,’ she says, her Galway accent as thick and dark as an Irish coffee. She turns to Dragan. ‘Maybe it’s that Haitian guy? Ton Ton Philippe?’
Duffy pours himself another large gin and hands the bottle to Lulu.
‘Gin makes you sin,’ she says, with a chuckle. Dragan glares at her as she swigs from the bottle.
She turns away, retouches her make-up in a hand mirror and stands.
Duffy can see rage rumble inside Dragan like a thundercloud.
Lulu walks over to him. She looks good. She’s tall and in her early twenties with wan looking skin, red lipstick slashed across her full lips and black hair cut into a bob. She wears a red PVC raincoat and shiny black stiletto heels that click on the floorboards. Dragan takes a wad of cash from his wallet and wearily hands it to her.
‘Whatever you can find out, okay?’ he says.
‘Aye,’ says Lulu.
‘And by whatever means necessary.’
She nods. Smiles.
The James Bond theme begins to play and Dragan takes out his mobile phone.
‘Yes,’ he says and listens for a few moments before answering.
He slumps over the large oak desk.
‘And exactly how much of a bollocks is ‘a bit of a bollocks’?’ he says. His expression is volcanic.
‘Maybe I’ll go?’ says Lulu.
‘Not a bad idea,’ says Duffy.
Dragan waves indifferently toward her and she walks out of the office door, her head held down but still watching. And still listening.
Dragan smashes the bottle on the floor. The red stain crawls into the wood’s cracks and crevices. He stands up, lights a cigar and gazes out of the window.
The Old Town square is almost empty. Just the occasional little ant scuttling across the snow. Duffy can hear the sound of the music from Klub Zodiak below. He can feel the throb of the bass, thumping its message.
Dragan pulls a bag of cocaine from his desk drawer and trails a line of powder along the window pane.
‘I’ll be off, then,’ says Duffy.
Dragan nods slowly.
‘And Duffy, remember to watch out for mercenary eyes.’
He points a shaking finger and immediately looks over one thousand years old.
As Duffy blasts Ricardo’s brains across the snow smothered ground, a row of black birds, that were lined up on telephone lines like notes on sheet music, scatter and slice through the milky whiteness.
Snow dandruffs the corpse as he takes the Glock from Ricardo’s hand and pushes it down the back of his jeans. Looking at the fat heap on the ground, his scraggly beard and unkempt hair matted with blood, he is overcome with sadness, guilt. And anger.
‘You useless fucker, Ric,’ he says.
He takes out his hip flask, toasts Ricardo, takes a sip and pours the rest of the vodka onto the snow.
He grabs the cadaver by the ankles and hauls his massive corpse towards the dilapidated cottage, leaving behind a snaking trail of blood. In front of the door, he pauses and wipes his brow with the blood stained sleeve of his biker’s jacket.
He catches his breath and gazes over at a Christmas tree which is lit up with shimmering, dancing multi-coloured lights. A wind chime that hangs above the door tinkles. He smiles. Elsewhere, for a moment.
Dragan’s Harley pulls up outside the cottage. He takes off his black crash helmet and runs a hand through his freshly cropped hair, scratches his head and dismounts.
‘Well?’ he says.
Duffy, angry, ignores him. The heavy wooden door creaks as he pushes it open. Ricardo’s head bounces off every concrete step as he drags the body downstairs into the dark and dingy basement and onto a sheet of dirty green tarpaulin.
He switches on a lone light bulb, which buzzes and flickers, revealing a room cluttered with wooden barrels. A dirty, cracked mirror hangs precariously above a rusted metal sink.
‘So, what did he say?’ says Dragan, as he pounds down the stairs, the sound of his feet echoing around the basement.
There is a burning in Duffy’s chest. He bends forward, grips his knees and hikes up a wad of bloody phlegm.
‘He said nothing.’
‘He said nothing or that he knew nothing?’
‘He said that he knew nothing.’
‘And you believed him.’
‘Yes. Until then the stupid fucker grabbed my gun and tried to make a run for it. Shot at me.’
Duffy leans against the sink. It creaks and squeals as he turns the rusty tap and releases the shitty brown water. He splashes it on his face.
‘The sad fuck had nothing to lose, I suppose,’ says Dragan, ‘apart from his balls’. He snorts and lights up a large Havana cigar. ‘Idiot accountant thinks he can rip me off.’
‘Well, he got away with it for long enough,’ says Duffy.
‘Did anyone see you?’ he says blowing a perfect trio of smoke rings. ‘Any spies? Any mercenary eyes?’
‘Around here? No,’ Duffy says. ‘No. There’s no one around here. ’
‘Ha! So, you say!’
Dragan’s increasing paranoia is like finger down a blackboard to Duffy these days. He clenches his fists; digs his nails into his palms.
‘We’re in the middle of the fucking countryside. On Christmas fucking morning. Who’s going to see me? Fucking carol singers?’
‘Did he say anything else?’ says Dragan, his bullet-hole eyes bore into Duffy and show no amusement.
‘Yes. He cried for his mother.’
Dragan peels off his boots and black leather jacket and sits cross-legged on the dirty floor. He is wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt depicting Edward Munch’s ‘The Scream’, and a pair of expensive denim jeans.
He plucks a bottle of vodka from one of the wooden barrels that cluttered the room. His wedding ring glints as it catches the light.
‘You know what I mean. Did he say anything about Rhino? About Ton Ton Philippe?’
‘Ton Ton Philippe … Jesus …that’s all you talk about. I told you. He’s just a bogey man. A legend that those Haitian mobsters use to keep their protection racket running.’
Dragan turns. His face as expressionless a Golem. He pours large measures of vodka into two pink plastic tumblers.
‘Well?’ says Dragan
‘Well, okay,’ says Duffy. ‘Well, I’ll admit that it was when I mentioned Ton Ton Philippe that he did a runner. But it’s all these scare stories. All these voodoo and black magic bullshit rumours that are filling The City.’
Dragan looks lost in thought for a moment. He stands motionless and not for the first time Duffy is reminded of the robot in the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, waiting for a sign from his master. The only noise is the buzz of the light and the sound of Dragan’s breathing.
Eventually, he breaks into a smile.
‘Well, we’ll see,’ he says.
He walks over to Ricardo’s corpse and shakes his head.
‘Misguided loyalty, my friend,’ sighs Dragan.
He passes Duffy a tumbler of vodka.
‘Cheers,’ he says.
‘Up yours,’ says Duffy.
They down the drinks in one.
‘Okay, back to work,’ says Dragan, slamming his tumbler down on the table.
He digs into a darkened corner of the room and pulls out something heavy and metallic.
‘I think it’s time to sever Mr Ricardo’s contract,’ smirks Dragan as he starts up the chainsaw.
A sliver of moon garrottes the coal black sky and Duffy’s heart pounds as he stands outside Klub Zodiak. Its shimmering and buzzing neon sign is reflected in a pool of blood.
He feels the cold metal in his fist as he slams on the steel door of the nightclub until it creaks open. He pushes his way to the bar, breathing in the scent of cheap aftershave, cigarettes and booze. A sultry Femme Fatale on a Chiaroscuro lit stage purrs a torch song that roars into the abyss.
‘Bourbon?’ says Arek. Duffy nods, take off his leather jacket and drapes it over a bar stool.
‘Is Dragan here?’ he says, downing his drink in one.
‘Of course,’ says Arek ‘Where else would he be? He thinks that the moment he sets foot outside he’s a dead man. The paranoia is eating him like a cancer.’
Duffy turns toward the metal door that leads upstairs to Dragan’s office.
‘For fuck’s sake, yer man’s lost the plot, Arek; he’s away with the fairies. He’s like Hitler in his bunker up there. When was the last time he came out?’
‘At Darko’s funeral.’
‘And when was that, for Christ sake?’
‘A long time ago,’ growls Arek, his voice like sandpaper. ‘What do you think is happening, Duffy?’
Duffy stuffs a fistful of peanuts in his mouth. Chews. Arek waits.
‘It’s all that cocaine he hoovers up,’ Duffy says. ‘And that new stuff coming in from Greece. He’s mixing them. Starting the day with uppers, ending the day with downers. Thinks someone’s drugging him, would you believe! And I bet he still doesn’t know who it is that’s out to assassinate him. Mercenary eyes, the streets are full of mercenary eyes, he says. That pretty little wife of his must be ready to piss off I’m sure. And who can blame her? You should do the same thing before he turns on you.’
‘Maybe, maybe,’ he says, as he pours a large glass of whisky. ‘But where will I go? And what about you? Where will you go?’
‘When is more to the point.’
Duffy places a metal briefcase on the Klub Zodiak’s marble bar and turns to Arek.
‘It’s all there,’ he says. ‘Do you want to count it?’
‘No. He’ll probably count it himself, the way he is these days,’ says Arek.
‘Aye,’ says Duffy says.
Duffy shivers as the singer whispers ‘Gloomy Sunday’, as if it is her dying breath.
‘Great version,’ he says. ‘Best version’s by Mel Torme, though. You know what Torme’s nickname is?’
‘The Velvet Fog,’ says Arek.
‘Nice to meet a man with good musical knowledge,’ says Duffy.
It’s already past midnight but Krystyna could swim all night. She loves the Euro – China Hotel’s glass swimming pool and the floor to ceiling window that gives such a great view of The City’s skyline. High above the squalor, the sin, the vice, it twinkles and shines.
‘I’ll miss this,’ she says, as she floats on her back.
She gets out of the pool. Duffy rises from his seat and hands Krystyna the towel.
She looks stunning. A pure albino, with eyes as red as blood.
She dries her iron muscled body and goes into the changing room.
Duffy switches off the lights.
Krystyna comes out of the changing room. She’s dressed all in white, as usual. Boots, jeans, sweater as pallid as her skin. She switches on her Nokia.
‘Any messages?’ says Duffy.
‘There were two missed calls from Dragan and three SMS from him written in a mad garbled mixture of Serbian, Russian, English and Mandarin.’
She hands Duffy the phone and he tries to make sense of Dragan’s ramblings.
‘Like the last words of Dutch Schulz,’ he says, and laughs. Krystyna doesn’t.
She shivers as she plays with her loosening wedding ring.
‘He’s close to the edge now,’ she says. ‘Maybe the house of cards will tumble down quicker than we’d hoped’.
The tall men in the black fedoras and long black overcoats look like shadows as they cut through the snow smothered Old City Square.
A ghostly spiral of smoke drifts up from the husk of the burnt out car as Duffy falls to his knees, the low hum that hovers in the distance growing louder. Giovanni stares blankly at him, a red dot in the centre of his forehead. The look of incredulity frozen on his dead face.
Duffy looks up, gasping, as a plane roars overhead. His fingers buzz and tingle and the sensation spreads through his hands and up his arms. The weight of an elephant is on his chest and then he feels cold hard metal against his forehead.
‘You’re fucked, boy,’ says the tallest man, who crouches down, cradling a high powered riffle. His vowels are long and elasticated. Stretched all the way from Tennessee to The City. He plucks Duffy’s gun from where it had fallen and takes Giovanni’s pistol from his corpse.
‘Yep. Yer fucked. Fucked up the arse,’ says the squat Irishman as he presses his Doc Martin boot into Duffy’s twisted ankle.
Tears fill his eyes as pain rips through him but he refuses to give them the satisfaction of hearing him scream. He forces a smile and waits for the day to dissolve into night.
But then a clock begins to chime, loud and cacophonous.
The men look up.
‘What the fuck is that?’ says the Irishman.
First there are a couple of drops. Then trickles and then there is a flood until what seems to be hundreds of people spill out over the square, like jackals searching for carrion. The men in the black overcoats put away their guns.
‘Later, Duffy,’ the American says. As they slip through the crowd, approaching sirens scream nearer.
The crowd all head in the same direction. Men, women, children. And out of the milieu a stumpy punk rocker with a tall red Mohawk walks toward Duffy, beaming a broken toothed grin.
Shuffling into the corner of a nearby alleyway, Duffy sits down on the front steps of a butcher’s shop. Its rancid smell makes him queasy. He pulls his black woollen hat over his frozen ears and plucks a battered packet of Galois from his jacket pocket. He hands one to the young punk, sweat peeling from his acne scarred face.
The punk grins
‘No thanks’ he growls in English, his French accent as thick as treacle. ‘That shit will kill you’. The traces of a grin appear at the corners of his mouth.
‘Yeah,’ says Duffy, ‘but you’ve got to die of something.’
Duffy coughs and spits on the ground. Takes out his hips flask and drinks its acrid contents. He hands it to the punk who shakes his head.
‘Take care of your body and it’ll take care of you.’ He snickers like the dog in an old cartoon Duffy used to watch as a kid.
‘Thanks for dragging me out of … that lot,’ Duffy says. Nodding toward the town square. ‘What exactly was happening? All of those people … Is it some sort of religious festival?’
The punk smirks.
‘Sort of. If you call going to work a religion. It’s the start of the next shift at the meat packing factory. These are all factory flats and houses. All owned by Otto Rhino.’
Duffy slumps to the ground. Takes a pill from his pocket and pops it. Washes it down with the booze.
‘Your body really is you temple, isn’t it, Duffy?’
Duffy glares at him.
‘Who the hell are you, anyway?’ he says.
‘Guess,’ says the punk.
‘I have no bloody idea,’ says.
‘Well, I know all about you, Sergeant Duffy.’
Duffy automatically reaches for the Bowie knife that he keeps tucked in his boot. It’s gone.
‘Who the hell are you?’
The punk steps back and holds up his hands.
‘Relax! You’re safe. Take a chill pill! I was just messing with you. Walker sent me.’
He moves closer and places the knife in front of Duffy, along with his wallet.
‘I’m Robinson,’ he says, his accent becoming Scottish. ‘Oliver Beacock Robinson.’
‘Well, I’m no Harry Houdini, but, yeah, that’s what they call me.’
Duffy remembers the war stories about Robinson during Desert Wave. He was a legend. He could slip undercover, undetected everywhere. Anywhere. And he was never caught. Lucky bastard, he thinks.
‘I thought you’d be … cleaner,’ says Duffy.
‘And I thought that you and the Italian would be able to take out a couple of third division hired thugs without blowing up half of the town square. But you know what thought did, as my old gran used to say.’
‘Too…friggin shay,’ says Duffy, struggling to his feet. ‘Shouldn’t we be getting out of here?’
‘Follow the white rabbit,’ he says and he’s off down the alleyway.
Duffy hobbles after him, keeping his knife in his hand.
‘Like something out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, isn’t it?’ says Walker, as a Clockwork Orange skinhead French kisses an overweight transvestite. Then cracks a beer bottle over his head.
‘If you’re saying it’s a shithole, well, you’re right on the money,’ says Duffy.
And Patrick’s really is a shithole, thinks Duffy. The building itself is fine. Oak doors. Marble bar. Silver chandeliers. And a very tasty old Wurlitzer Jukebox. But the dregs of The City are drawn to Patrick’s like a used condom down a toilet bowl.
‘One of Dragan’s most successful enterprises, though, I heard?’ says Walker. He sips a death black espresso and turns his attention back to Duffy.
‘Well, I think you’ll find that this joint is actually owned by Mrs Krystyna Kostic, actually. Dragan’s wife.’
‘Yeah, yeah. Pull the other one, it plays Elvis songs. ’
Duffy pours the Budweiser down his throat without letting the bottle touch his lips. You never know what you might catch in Patrick’s.
‘So, who were the twats that wacked Giovanni and were ready to take me out? They didn’t exactly look like The Frog Boys. They were good too. Fast’
‘Out of town contractors. Ex- CIB. Like you.’
The cold sweat gripped Duffy like a cowl. Almost on cue, Barry Adamson’s version of ‘The Man With The Golden Arm’ started to play.
‘I thought you might have recognised them,’ says Walker. ‘Maybe you worked with them during the Desert Wave? Are you sure they didn’t look familiar?’
‘No. Never seen them before in my life. A covert group like CIB had people coming and going all the time. Government policy, so you didn’t get too loyal to each other and start up a mutiny when things went pear shaped. You know that. Colonel. You were there, too.’
‘Yes, I was sergeant. And I also know that you owe me. You shouldn’t need reminding of that. If I hadn’t got you out of that prison cell, those mercenaries would have sliced you up and eaten you for lunch. Literally.’
‘I know, I know. So what do you want?’
‘This is how I see it. Someone is trying to take out Dragan’s gang. At first I thought that they were just after him but now it looks like they’re taking out everyone around him. To make Dragan as vulnerable as possible. And now Giovanni is worm meat, there aren’t too many of your boys left.’
‘Maybe it’s Rhino, maybe? A few of The Frog Boys attacked us last week.’
‘No. I think someone gave the info to Rhino but there’s someone else behind it. I think they were just sent to scare you off. You in particular.’
‘Yep, well we’re certainly dropping like flies. And those Hoodies are no use. So? Who?’
‘Dunno. Maybe Ton Ton Philippe?’
‘Come on, Walker. Don’t talk cobblers. He’s just a scare story that the Haitian’s made up. Isn’t he? You don’t believe all that stuff about zombie henchmen and werewolf bikers, do you?’
‘Maybe yes maybe no. But, remember, we saw some weird and horrible things back in the war, Duffy. Things that we couldn’t explain. How do you think I got this?’ he scratches the pentangle shaped scar on his neck. ‘Philippe’s name keeps turning up wherever I look, these days. And as much as Dragan and you boys are a pain in the arse, this guy sounds worse. Much worse.’
And then they hear the bang.
The building is ablaze. Flames lick the sky. Crackle. Roar. Outside Klub Zodiak, a handful of Hoodies shuffle around. Lost sheep. Arek is on his hands and knees, coughing his guts up.
Walker rushes over to one of the fire engines that pull up outside the building and Duffy heads toward Arek
‘What the fuck happened,’ says Duffy.
He stands up. Wipes his mouth.
‘Dragan happened. He cleared out the safe with a suitcase full of money. Took a plane out of The City,’ says Arek. ‘I drove him to the airport. He was rambling like a madman. Worse than usual. When I came back and opened the door…boom.’
‘So the house of cards really has fallen down then?’
‘Yep, looks that way.’
Duffy hands Arek his hip flask. He stakes a swig.
‘What about Krystyna?’
‘She went with him. Her and Lulu. But neither of them seemed too happy about it.’
Walker strolls over to Duffy with a grin.
‘Well, looks like you’re out of work, Duffy.’
Duffy shrugs. Takes a Micky Mouse napkin from his pocket and blows his nose on it. Stuffs it back into his pocket.
‘Not really,’ says Arek, ‘Here. From Krystyna.’
He hands Duffy a large envelope. He takes out a wad of documents and a set of keys.
‘What is that?’ says Walker.
‘Payback,’ says Duffy and heads back towards Patrick’s.
‘Pop down to Patrick’s for a drink later, boys. It’s under new management.’
‘You arseholes could have killed me!’
Duffy is red faced as he screams at Tennessee Bob and Davy Boy Ryan, who are sat at the bar grinning from ear to ear. ‘Nearly broke my bloody leg, too.’
He half-heartedly drags a mop around Patrick’s and then heads over to the jukebox. Presses a few buttons.
‘We were just fucking with you, Duffy,’ says Bob, twirling his fedora on his index finger. ‘Had to make it look convincing to Walker and Dragan. And whoever else was watching. Had to put the shits up your old boss, eh?’
‘And it worked, didn’t it?’ says Ryan, looking around the bar. ‘You got what you wanted.’
Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ starts to play. Duffy walks behind the bar. Checks his inky black quiff in the mirror. Takes down a bottle of Dark Valentine and three glasses. Pours.
‘You’re a pair of twats,’ he says. They knock back the drinks. Duffy pours again.
‘You going to redecorate this dump, then?’ says Ryan.
‘Eventually,’ says Duffy. ‘I’ll just change the name for now. But I’ve got big plans, boys.’
‘You heard from that Albino girl?’ says Ryan.
‘Yeah. She sent me an SMS. Her and Lulu have just got off the plane in Paris. Dragan hasn’t.’
‘She doesn’t waste much time, does she?’ he says.
‘All’s well that ends well, then,’ says Ryan. They clink glasses and knock back more booze.
Outside the day is melting into night.
‘Twilight time,’ says Duffy.
‘Indeed,’ says Ryan.
Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘I Ain’t Superstitious’ kicks in as the front door creaks open.
A dishevelled figure shuffles in.
‘Detective Dalton,’ what can I do you for?’ says Duffy.
Bob and Ryan tense.
Dalton sniffs. Looks around the room.
‘Under new management?’ he growls.
‘You seen Ice–Pick Mick McKinley?’ he says.
‘Not today but I think he usually crawls in here at the end of the night.’
Duffy holds up the bottle of booze.
‘Want to have a drink and wait for him? It’s on the house.’
Dalton’s shuffles over and looks at the bottle.
‘Why not? That strong stuff, is it? I fancy something with bite.’
‘Oh yes,’ says Duffy. ‘It’ll rip your heart out, this will.’
February 21, 2018
I should try a little harder to point all of the fantastic elements of this short sharp novel and certainly I could do better than that bulleted list, but hell, I can’t resist sharing at least a few:
“The bar had the smell of a soggy nun”
“A storm had gouged open the battered and bruised sky”
“A wiry old duffer sat nursing a half-pint of Guinness and reading a battered copy of Ivanhoe, pausing occasionally to sniff the pages”
“There comes a time in every man’s life when he knows he will never be The Fonz”.
I loved this book. It captures the cold damp violent sleaze of London that makes us love that city. I miss drinking pints in those pubs. The dialogue is true and fresh and the characters are interesting and surprising. I think of this as a London underworld novel, with emphasis on the ‘world’. There is such a rich cast of characters that you will feel like you are getting a glimpse of the rough world that most of us (thankfully) don’t see in the real world. You won’t regret reading this “Cold London Blues”
Bill Derringer is an Iraq war veteran who is having trouble making ends meet. When he and his wife Edie take their two kids to visit Edie’s Aunt Ida, she turns out to be a lot more than Bill had bargained for and things soon spiral wildly out of control.
Jonathan Woods’ ‘Kiss The Devil Goodnight‘ is a lethal cocktail of pulp fiction and Beat poetry. It’s vibrant, violent and vivid. Lyrical and and lurid. Fast moving and funny. ‘Kiss The Devil Goodnight’ is chock-full of great lines and powerful imagery, and is certainly not for those of a delicate sensibility. I loved it.
Johnny Piper is raised and home-schooled by his strong and smart mother until his father returns home from the Korean War and things go awry.
Johnny is eventually sent off to fight in the Vietnam War leaving his boozing, gambling father to dig the family deeper into the mire.
James Shaffer’s Back To The World is his debut novella and it is as richly written as it is short and sharp, like a cross between Tobias Wolff and Jim Thompson.
PDB: What’s going on?
You got me.
PDB: Do you listen to music when you work?
Always. Mostly classic jazz and moody film scores. Currently both soundtrack albums for “Twin Peaks: the Return.”
PDB: What makes you laugh?
PDB: What’s the best cure for a hangover?
Sex. Clears your sinuses. Brush your teeth first.
PDB: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I’m already here (Seattle).
PDB: Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it?
Apparently my bucket had a hole in it, so my list got lost somewhere along the way.
PDB: What’s on the cards?
More gambling-on-dreams debt.
PDB: Anything else?
Bio: Will “the Thrill” Viharo is a pulp fiction author, B movie beatnik, lounge lizard at large, cat daddy, dog walker, and lucky husband. Swing by his cyber-pad anytime for a TMI cocktail.
B R Stateham’s Smitty is back and he’s out to avenge the death of a cop. A Dish Served Cold is a classic slice of hardboiled -pulp-noir, tinged with the supernatural.
Another knockout from Near To The Knuckle.
Small Crimes is a sharp, short slice of noir based on David Zeltserman’s classic cult novel. A low-key, quirky crime film that is packed with great nuanced performances. Tightly directed with a gripping screenplay that smartly straddles the razors edge of noir and absurdity. Rich characters with a marvellously self-deluded and engaging protagonist. Small Crimes is brilliant, black comedy of errors that ticked all the boxes for me. I loved it.
Jose opened the waiting room door. Six men, wearing grey suits identical to his, were sat staring straight ahead. Their hands were palm down on their knees. Jose walked in and took a seat next to the reception desk. He put his hands on his knees and sniffed. He sniffed again.
‘Would you like a tissue?’ said Margot the receptionist, offering a box of lemon-scented handkerchiefs.
‘No thank you,’ said Jose, without looking at her. ‘It’s the bleach. I smell bleach.’
One of the men looked at his hands and sniffed them. Margot sighed and took out her iPhone. She put in her ear plugs, hoping to drown out the sniffing sounds with The Saints’ ‘Swing For The Crime.’
Fifteen minutes later, the red telephone on Margo’s desk flashed. She picked up the receiver and put it to her ear. She listened, nodding occasionally.
‘Of course, Mr Tipple,’ she said.
She hung up and cleared her throat.
The men all leaned forward and stared at Margot.
‘Jose please go through,’ she said.
The shadow of a smirk briefly crossed Jose’s face.
He got up and walked through a door marked The Director.
Mr Tipple’s office was dark. He sat behind his mahogany desk breathing heavily. Behind him was a large window. Its blinds were pulled down. Tipple switched on an Anglepoise lamp. He was well dressed, as always, and held a gold fountain pen in his hand.
‘Please take a seat, Jose,’ said Mr Tipple. ‘I’ll be two ticks.’
Jose sat and waited until Mr Tipple had finished signing a wad of papers. He pressed a button on his desk and Margot came into the room and collected the documents.
Tipple waited until Margot left and nodded at Jose.
‘The thing is,’ said Mr Tipple. ‘The thing is …’
He leaned across the desk and looked Jose in the eye.
‘The thing is, Jose, we have to let you go,’ said Mr Tipple.
He smiled, looking uncomfortable.
Jose blinked and said.
‘Please take this to Col in supplies and he will arrange everything connected with your … departure.’
Jose took the slip of yellow paper from The Director and stood. As he went to open the door, he turned and looked at Mr Tipple.
‘Thank you, sir,’ he said.
Mr Tipple nodded.
‘Good luck, Jose,’ he said.
Col’s office was small and cramped. It was stuffed with metal filing cabinets and cardboard boxes. Col was big and ginger. He smelt of Cuban cigars although no one in The Company was allowed to smoke.
Jose gave the slip of paper to Col who rubber stamped it and put it in a filing cabinet. He took a small wooden box from another cabinet and handed it to Jose.
‘Check this and sign it,’ said Col.
Jose opened the box. He took out the Glock, inspected it and put it back in the box.
‘It’s fine,’ he said.
Col gave him a sheet of pink paper. Jose signed it and gave it back to Col, who stamped it and filed it away.
‘Is this your first field trip?’ said Col.
‘Well, keep an eye on those expenses, eh?’ said Col. ‘We’re not made of money.’
Noelle’s Bistro was dark and red. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons leaked from a small CD player. An old married couple sat near the window, holding hands and watching the rain soaked street outside. A skinny business man maniacally tapped at his iPhone.
Jose sat at a small table near the door. He had finished his spaghetti carbonara and was halfway through a glass of Maison Surrenne Cognac when Sir David came in, shaking his black umbrella and spraying the room with autumn rain. As the petit waitress fussed around him, Jose went to the toilet. Five minutes later he came back out and shot everyone in the room. Twice, just to be on the safe side.
As he left the bistro, he picked up his blood splattered bill from his table and put it in his wallet. He’d need that for his expenses claim.
© Paul D. Brazill.
Juri says: ‘Ajokortti helvettiin (“License to Hell”, according to the short story the title was taken from), is a collection of flash fiction stories I published in my short-lived Ässä magazine (plus three new stories from Rob Hart, Stephen D. Rogers and Anthony Neil Smith).’
There are also stories from the likes of Joe R. Lansdale, Patrica Abbott, Ray Banks, Keith Rawson, and even me!
Nick is a small-town, small-time dope dealer who is haunted by the death of his wife. One night at his local bar, he helps out a local gangster’s girlfriend and finds himself dragged into a world of violence.
CS DeWildt’s Kill Em With Kindness is a classic modern noir. Brutal, cruel, blackly funny, and even moving at times, Kill Em With Kindness grabs you by the lapels from the very start and drags you on a twisted journey through a small town’s circles of hell.