Murder in My High School by K. A. Laity

Fiction, K A Laity, Non-fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Writing

in cold blod

This is not going to be a lurid tale; more of a puzzled one. A colleague share a link this morning about the need to compensate formerly incarcerated people for telling their stories—particularly for those events seeking to redress the criminal (literally) imbalances in the justice system. It got me thinking about a weird thing from my own past.

My high school, like many American schools of its time, would have ‘assemblies’ from time to time of varying sizes (don’t get your hopes up, Austen fans—not that kind of assembly). The whole school would get together in the gymnasium, but there was a block of classrooms that were separated by moveable accordion panels to bring six or eight classrooms into one big one.

Sometimes they did it for films: one time Fail Safe, the 1964 Sydney Lumet cautionary nuclear war film (that’s kind of a po-faced remake of Dr Strangelove) –why? Who knows? Cold War romanticism from some faculty member? More striking in my memory is when they showed us In Cold Blood, which gave me a whole new fanaticism for Capote’s novel and true crime. I remember the gym teacher who taught ‘history’—for whom I used to grade quizzes because you know child labour laws were lax and I was bored with the quizzes themselves—making fun of the actress screaming before her character was murdered. ‘Isn’t that the worst scream ever?’ he said laughing, then turning the sound back up.

All the misogyny I remember well, too.

Films were always a welcome relief from the day-to-day grind of classes, especially in that term where I was stuck in a class with a teacher who had given up on everything. But I remember the weird day that they brought in a murderer to talk to us. Once more all the walls folded back. We turned our desks around to face a different front. And a quiet unassuming old man told us that he committed murder in the heat of a moment of anger as a young man and spent a lot of years regretting it.

I suppose, in my school where they were churning out better autoworkers for tomorrow, it was a warning: Think before you knife someone. Perhaps it was just another indication of how little they expected of us: try not to murder someone. I remember his regret, his quietness. I remember more the students’ heady combination of fear, fascination, and a kind of intoxication as the two mixed.

I remember the disappointment many had that he was not some slavering beast held by chains but a tired older man who spoke softly to us about lost time. I suppose things that might have been on adults’ minds at the time included the recent memory of ‘Michigan’s Ted Bundy’ but I don’t recall thinking about that at the time. The invulnerability of youth. I remember his sadness. I remember thinking about all he might have done instead.

The Song of Spring by Sebnem E. Sanders

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine, Sebnem Sanders

The Song of Spring

 

Belma

Belma watched over the crowd gathering in the courtyard of the mosque. On the altar, stood a coffin. Draped over its raised head, a muslin scarf with a crocheted edge, and a small wreath of white and purple freesias placed upon it. Her favourite flowers. The men were lined up before the altar and the women, their heads covered, assembled on both sides. Belma scanned their faces. They all had tears in their eyes. She recognized most of them. Friends, relatives, colleagues. Someone must have died, a woman. She saw her mother, her best mate, and her cousins. Her eyes searched the congregation. Where’s Aila? She jabbed a finger at her mother’s shoulder and whispered in her ear.

The sweet aroma of the freesias reminded her of the Song of Spring she used to sing to Aila when she was a little girl, and how Aila accompanied her, trying to remember the words. That song was theirs, mother and daughter, the lyrics etched in their hearts. It gave them comfort in moments of pain and sorrow.

Belma hummed the melody as the imam began his prayers. She raised her voice and sang in a high soprano tone. She could hear the orchestra playing in the background, as the images in the courtyard blurred.  Little Aila’s voice joined her in the chorus, transporting her to another place, one of tranquillity and lightness, away from the chaos.

 

Aila

Aila gazed through the small opening and glimpsed the night sky beyond the bars. A crescent moon complemented by bright stars illuminated the darkness. A beam of light filtered into her chamber, landing on the single bed. She watched it linger on the white sheets as the wind howled, swaying the branches of the barren tree outside the window. Shadows of monsters played tricks on the walls. She sat on the cold floor, her back against the wall, eyes glued to the gap that gave her access to the world outside. Aila sought comfort from the faint light seeping into the pitch darkness of her surroundings, and rocked, playing the scene over and over again, in her mind.

The wind stopped. Silent, powdery white specks dotted the patch of sky behind the bars. Gradually, the snow muffling the sounds coming from the other cells, decorated the branches of the tree. She imagined a white blanket covering the dismal surroundings with its magic, making everything clean, pure and innocent.

Aila remembered playing in the snow with her mother in the garden of their suburban two-storey house. They gathered the snow, shaping it into balls, and rolled them across the lawn, buried under the deep, crunchy whiteness to make a snowman. A carrot, a scarf, a hat, and pebbles for the eyes. Recalling the Song of Spring they sang, she began to hum it, her mother’s smiling face completing the picture.

The scene rewound in her mind and she wept.

“Mum, I need cash.”

“Why do you need cash, sweetie? You have your credit cards.”

“They don’t take credit cards everywhere. I need cash.”

“Let me see how much I have. Will a hundred do?”

“I need a thousand.”

“Aila, you know I don’t carry that much. Tell me truth. Why do you need so much?”

“I owe money.”

“What for? You haven’t, not again?”

“Just shut up and give me the cash or something valuable I can trade.”

“Why, Aila, why? You know how long it took for the treatment. You were dying of hypothermia and ended up with pneumonia. Remember the days in the hospital and the trip back home? I’m so glad to have you here. You went to rehab willingly and suffered through hell trying to deal with the addiction. Why, sweetheart, why?” her mother asked with tears in her eyes.

“Don’t call me, sweetheart, you stupid bitch! Your world is fake, perfected with your silly dreams and illusions. You think you can make everything right with your Pollyanna approach. You dream of happiness, but you’re not happy either. You stink of self-delusion and lies.”

“Not again, please, Aila. I can’t deal with this anymore.” Belma threw herself onto the settee, covered her face with her hands and sobbed, her shoulders shaking.

“Give me the money. I’ll go and never come back.”

“I can’t. I won’t. I cannot help you kill yourself.”

“I need a fix. You will or I’ll kill you.”

“Do it then, Aila. Do it, and end my pain. I can’t take anymore. I’m done.”

Something flipped in Aila’s mind. She leapt towards her mother and struck her in the face. Blood trickled from Belma’s nose and her broken lip, mixing with the tears running down her neck. She screamed and howled, trying to fight back. Aila picked up a cushion and pressed it over her mother’s face, with all her might. Belma resisted, her arms flying through the air in helpless struggle, her voice now muffled under the weight on her face. Aila pushed, harder and harder, until Belma’s limbs stopped moving and her legs dangled limp from the side of the couch.

Time stopped. She didn’t know how long she pushed until her arms gave in and she lifted the cushion. Belma lay lifeless on the settee. Beneath the blood and muck staining her fine features, an eerie purple whiteness began to spread, her sightless eyes staring at Aila.

Aila held her hand. “I’m so sorry, Mum. Please wake up.” She shook Belma in vain. Nothing changed. She kissed her face. “Forgive me. Please, please, forgive me. Oh, God, what have I done?”

She sat by her mother and shivered, her shoulders rocking with tremors, teeth chattering. She wailed and hugged her mother, burying her head in her bosom.

The Song of Spring flashed in her mind. She rose in a trance, picked up the phone, and called the police.

“I … I killed my mother.”

 

 

First publisted at Twisted Sister Lit Mag, then in my anthology, Ripples on Pond, this story is inspired by true events. All details are imaginary.

 

Short Bio

Sebnem E. Sanders is a native of Istanbul, Turkey. Currently she lives on the eastern shores of the Southern Aegean where she dreams and writes Flash Fiction as well as longer works. Her stories have appeared in various online literary magazines: the Harper Collins Authonomy Blog, The Drabble, Sick Lit Magazine, Twisted Sister Lit Mag, Spelk Fiction, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Three Drops from the Cauldron, The Rye Whiskey Review, CarpeArte Journal, Yellow Mama Webzine, Punk Noir Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, The Cabinet of Heed, as well as two anthologies: Paws and Claws and One Million Project, Thriller Anthology. Her collection of short and flash fiction stories, Ripples on the Pond, was published in December 2017. More information can be found at her website where she publishes some of her work:

https://sebnemsanders.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

Ripples on the Pond

 

 

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17427985.Sebnem_E_Sanders

https://Facebook.com/sebnem.sanders

https://Twitter.com/sebnemsanders

https://Instagram.com/sebnemsanders

Harsh Rain Falls On Holy Stones by Mark McConville

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Mark McConville, Poetry, Punk Noir Magazine

Harsh Rain Falls On Holy Stones.

She pulls the cover over her eyes and embraces the darkness. From now on, she’d like to conceal her face and body. Over these past few years, love has been strained, life has been a mammoth task. Smoking cigarettes and drinking cheap vodka delivers the only real pleasure, speaking to anyone other than the cat takes courage. All over this wooden floor lies empty bottles and written letters to someone she wholeheartedly adored. His name is secretive, a code. In full bloom, he was a handsome eccentric, a poet, a charismatic believer in hope. His dazzling features kept her glued to him, but it wasn’t only that, his intelligence intensified the relationship.

These days building social empires isn’t on the agenda. Crossing off days on a calendar keeps her heart fulfilled. Maybe one day she’ll venture beyond the walls to seek aid, and trap those demons in a web of fire in her sophisticated mind. Trapping those voices which tell her she isn’t worthy, would take a pill or two and determination. Hardship exists and while she drinks the last of the vodka under the cover, she unwraps herself.

The girl playing with her own sense of self pulls down the cover and watches the cat drink from the tap. By looking on, as the tap drips, her standards have slipped. Neglecting a cat is one thing, but neglecting herself is dangerous. Not eating, not dreaming must take its toll, and it has. Grubby hands, dirty nails, unkempt hair, all on show.

Since his departure, moments of solitude have overshadowed glimmers of hope and clear-cut clarity. Love must answer the questions? But it can’t, it doesn’t have a beating heart, a skull, a brain, a tongue, or a mind. It is what it is, a showing of joy and connection. Disconnection overwhelms her life. Discontent also digs deep into the equation.

She rubs dead skin from her face. She has to leave the isolation. Today is a big day. A day of peace, a solemn day. For her, it will be a struggle. An endless exertion of her social capacity. Firstly, her reclusive nature hinders everything. Hopelessness may derail all moments of normality.

Makeup does the trick. All greyness has been dissipated and covered. Exuberant she is not, but the mirror, if alive, would not recognize her. Pulling over a white shirt onto a skeletal structure almost feels like a waste. She is wasting away, slipping away, peeling away. Underweight and fading, but reluctant to die yet. Before all that, there’s a place to be.

Dressed in black. Lipstick ready. The girl takes a deep breath. Ankles twitching, hands sweaty, equipped with a speech for the ages. Only one thing is missing, the man of her dreams. In hindsight, he probably wouldn’t want to see her like this. Broken and malnourished, enraged by the world and its feeble defenses.

A black car arrives outside her one-bedroom house. The driver opens the door. The seats offer comfortability and the car offers a shield, a sheet of armor. Vodka drunk, hiding it will take imagination and restraint. It could go two ways, a drunken daze could take hold, or revelations could spark unrest?

The driver speaks about the weather. It’s cold outside, people shiver and splutter. It’s been colder this year than before. The girl is still under the influence, looking at shiny buttons on her blouse, seeing floaters in her eyes. She’s tired and aching for another drop of alcohol to infuse her body, but a liver can take only so much. She feels stranded in this life. No one visits. On her way to the place of reckoning, fake people will scatter, they’ll say sorry, but then they’ll disband. Family values are sacred to some.

The car stops outside the church. Miserable weather impedes. A hopeless feeling churns her stomach. Harsh rain falls on holy stones. She retreats from the car. No umbrella to cover her long, frayed hair. Still drunk and angry at the world, she turns and stares at the flock of people walking into the church. A cigarette sounds about right, but she can’t mar fresh air.

There’s no strategic plan to how this will unfold. The inner sanctum will be teeming. Her nerves at breaking point, her heart pumping at a dangerous tempo. Time is precious. Inside this room, people read eulogies of how they knew and loved the deceased. Her speech could be misconstrued, subjected to ridicule, deemed unworthy.

The doors open and she walks into a cathedral populated by a sea of black. They’re all singing a verse. She feels like a sardine, a small object in a box of hammers. Fabricated under stress, demented, and monitored. Under scrutiny, she sings also, trapped in this room. After voices dissipate. The young girl who is damaged, disturbed, and misunderstood, stands at the front of the sea of black. Her freckled face on show. Her vulnerability on edge. Eyes fixated, in the line of sight.

‘‘In time I will meet you again. Through the light I will go. Up there, angels surge through the sky, and I hope they’ll pick me. You were my warrior, a pillar of strength. I’m lost in a whirlpool of alcohol and despair. Forgotten by people who once tended to my grazes. I am tainted, dripping in rain and poison. I wish you could aid me in my pursuit in trying to rebuild my life, but impossibility strangles all hope. To you I praise, to you I send love,’’

If the ground could swallow, she would ask it to devour every piece of her. Through the middle she walks with her head down. Sparks fly in her head, memories of a joyous past swirl through the raging blaze. She isn’t settled, the cloud is still swollen, but a sense of calm has momentarily been instilled.

       

Longcroft on Lockdown by Darren Sant

Brit Grit, Close To The Bone, Darren Sant, Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories, The Flash Fiction Offensive, Tiny Tales

TFTL

Longcroft on Lockdown

 

The Longcroft Housing Estate, Yorkshire,  England.

These were scary times. A global pandemic has changed the world as we know it albeit temporarily. As the world held its collective breath unprecedented events were unfolding on the Longcroft estate.

  1. Briefing.

North Longcroft Estate – Police Control Room

An assortment of coppers of varying ages, ranks and sexes shuffled restlessly on their seats waiting for the Sarge to get his papers in order and begin the late shift briefing. All were sat the government dictated two metres apart. This, of course, led to the usual childish behaviour you’d expect from any group under stress. Giggling and the throwing of notes to one another. The Sarge conscious of the restlessness of his captive audience launched into his briefing.

“Thanks for your attention ladies and gentlemen.” he coughed, then laughed.

“It’s alright I haven’t got this fucking virus. Damn tree pollen is playing havoc with my tubes.”

There was a half-hearted laugh. The Sarge was to comedy what Piers Morgan was to diplomacy.

Sensing he hadn’t engaged his troops he ploughed on regardless.

“Okay, there’s something big going down on the estate. It’s been quiet generally until now. All of the usual scrotes are playing nice on lock down or breaking into garages, cars and sheds. But they’re scared of the virus same as the rest of us so the low level scum bags are not currently a worry. Oh, and if any of them say they’ve got the virus and threaten to spit on you then you have my personal permission to ram your baton up their arse.”

This time there were genuine laughs. Nothing united a force more than twatting the enemy.

“An informant has let us know that all the top level scum bags in the area are meeting up. They’re planning something and it’s BIG. We have no idea where the meeting is or what the hell they are discussing but keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t take any unnecessary risks but find out what you can.”

He was losing them, they were muttering and speculating amongst themselves. Time to conclude.

“Okay, stay safe out there and go get ’em. Dismissed.”

  1. The Shed

“Oi! Soft lad, get your fucking arse over here!” yelled Davey in a loud whisper.

Rich looked up from the patio door handle he was yanking on.

“This shed is unlocked” stage whispered Davey.

Rich gave up, low crouched then ran over to Davey at the shed. He cursed as he caught his leg on a terracotta potted plant. Hopping for a moment on one foot.

“Ouch, fuck!”

“Quiet you twat. You’ll wake people up.”

Rich winced in pain, “Sorry! It’s so dark” he whispered.

“People tend to see if you try robbing them in the daytime you muppet.”

They were in the garden of a house on the very edge of the estate, where the houses were bigger, and it was just that little bit more affluent. Richer pickings in other words.

“This door is unlocked, let’s see what’s in here.” said Davey.

They crept carefully over the threshold, neither of them could see a thing. Davey reached into his pocket and took out his LED torch.

“Pull the door closed, just in case the light carries.” Said Davey

Rich did as he was asked and with a creak the little remaining light from outside was slowly extinguished. It was pitch black.

Davey clicked on his torch and swept it across the shed. He quickly clicked it off again.

“What the…” he said.

“Did I just…” said Rich.

Davey clicked on his torch again to see if what he’d seen was still there. This time he did a slow sweep. Rows and rows of shelves of creepy china dolls stared at them. They were exquisitely painted with rosy cheeks but their eyes were dark pools of evilness and they stared down at them with malevolence unknown to man.

However, the back wall of the shed is what made them both gasp in fear. A long row of brutal looking dildos. In order of size. Some with spikes. Some wrapped in barbed wire. Some as large as golf clubs.

“Oh-my-fucking-God” was Rich’s eloquent response.

“Dude, I don’t think god has anything to do with the contents of this shed, look.” replied Davey.

He swept the torch over a corner and saw several secure hooks containing sturdy looking studded bondage gear and several leather gimp masks.

There was a loud bang from the nearby house. They looked at each other and ran for their

lives.

  1. The Meeting

Somewhere on the east side of the Longcroft Estate in a small closed down community centre and tonight there was a flurry of nervous activity.  The estate is roughly split up into several powerful gangs, centres of power. All of whom would be present at this most unusual meeting.

The first to enter was the dreadlocked figure of Drexel. Originally from West Indian but his parents had moved to the estate when he was just two years old. Drexel was six foot three of pure muscle and aggression. His dreadlocks cultivated over years hung three quarters of the way down his back. His well muscled arms bulged free in his bodybuilders vest top. Drexel was your man for drugs on the estate. If you needed a high you came to one of his network of dealers. Going anywhere else for your high on the estate was worse for health than the drugs themselves. Drexel took his seat at the table on a tiny plastic chair designed only for an old ladies bottom.

Next to enter was Chuck “Knuckles” Van Cleef. He was the Longcroft’s gangster. Protection rackets, girls, clubs they were his thing. No one knew how he’d gotten his peculiarly American name but every one was sure they didn’t want to be on the other end of his knuckles.  He stood at just under five foot six but was almost as wide as he was tall. His hands were like hams, huge and menacing and his knuckles stood out even amongst the meaty flesh of his hands. Hence his nickname.

There was only one Biker gang on the estate that for reasons known only to themselves were called The Found.  Their fifteen members all wore a uniform of denim jackets and green bandanas with The Found in fancy scroll on the back. Since they were almost all male they cultivated ZZ Top style beards, with varying degrees of success.  Except Rosy their only female member, but you’d have to look twice to establish that. They were not a criminal gang per se but if you crossed one of them vengence was sure to be swift and merciless. Their leader Ted O’Malley was a skinny guy but if you crossed him you’d see just what a skinny elbow could do to your face.

All of these leaders were sat glaring at each other, trash talking and nervously waiting for the real power in the estate to arrive. Outside their various hard men were all in separate groups waiting for it to kick off so they could have a good scrap.

Finally, ten minutes later than the agreed meeting time the door creaked open and the ominous shuffle and tap tap of several canes and zimmer frames were heard.  The most powerful group on the estate had arrived. The Longcroft East Bingo Club. There was a scrape of chairs as all of the estates hardest men rushed to stand and show their respect. These ladies controlled the estate by fear and information. If you crossed them they didn’t forgive and they didn’t forget.  They had access to a source of information and gossip more powerful than any internet server. The weekly bingo meetings.

If you dared to cross them the information was shared among the network. Your card (like a bingo card) was marked for good. The first time you slipped up they’d have you. Any one of dozens of pairs of curtain twitching eyes was watching your every move. A phone call would be made. It could be the taxman. It could the DWP. It could be a rival drug dealer. Underestimate them at your peril.

Vera, their natural leader and most vicious with an elbow, quickest with a dabber and most merciless with a cutting remark was the first to speak.

“Good evening gentleman.”

She made no apology for being late and settled heavily down on the seat at the head of the table. She was flanked by her two closest cronies, mad Margo and dotty Dotty.

“Before we begin,” said Margo, “I’d just like to inform Mr O’Malley that one of his bikers nearly ran over my nephew last week.  Sort it out quickly or we’ll be forced to give Mr Van Cleef the photographs of one of your lads and his wife.”

Chuck leapt to his feet in anger and glared at O’Malley who looked bewildered and terrified all at the same time. Before things could get out of hand. Vera shook her grey haired head.

“Not now gentlemen. We have business to deal with.”

And with her true demonstration of power over they began their meeting.

So it was decided with some raising of voices, threats, anger and some chess grandmaster moves by Vera that the meanest, toughest, nastiest tribes on the Longcroft Estate would use their networks to ensure that no one went too hungry, everyone had toilet rolls and that everyone would get their medication. They would look after the vulnerable and the needy until lock down was over. They would help each other in a way they never had before for the mutual good and no knee caps needed to be broken for a while.

The moment it was lifted…the gloves would be off and it’d be back to settling old scores and making money. For now peace and co-operation would be the order of the day, signed and sealed by Vera.

Epilogue

The Sarge kicked off his boots and went into the living room to kiss his wife.

“Hi love. How was your day?” She enquired.

“Not too bad. There is something big going down but the streets are quiet for now. It’s eerie really.”

“How are your officers coping?”

“They’re as clueless as ever.” He chuckled.

“Oh well, at least they have you to guide them.”

He smiled at her lovingly and patted the little pug that was sat on her lap.

“They do indeed. Listen it’s been a long day. I need to unwind. I’m going to spend some time in the shed.”

She smiled and nodded, “You do that I’ll catch up with the soaps. You’ll have to show me what you do in that shed one of these days you’re so secretive.”

He smiled, “Oh I will. Don’t worry about that.”

 

Darren Sant was born in 1970 and raised in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire which is in the United Kingdom. He moved to Hull in East Yorkshire in 2001.

Darren’s stories have appeared in various online publications such as The Flash Fiction Offensive, Pulp Metal, Thrillers Killers N Chillers, The Killing Pandemic, Flash Jab Fiction and Shotgun Honey. 

Darren’s creation The Longcroft Estate is the setting for a number of his stories. A collection of the first three of these tales is was published by Close To The Bone in February 2012.

 

 

Come Get Me by Robert Ragan

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Robert Ragan

Come Get Me

An artist, I draw guns on small time dealers making their little re-up. Stuck up assholes, treating their friends like shit until they’re crying to their buddies saying, “Fiends pulled a stick up on me.”

Even with drug problems, I’m dressed nice. Still with money in my pocket and my ears to those places decent people won’t go.

I always hear so and so is talking shit. Someone sent word, said tell me my name tastes like pussy in their mouth.

“Sending word back,” I said, “Tell ‘em soon it’s gonna taste like blood.”

THC gangstas, Dirty White Boys. Anybody can get it if they’ve got it and I want it.

I’ve been lucky so far. Running into bitches not willing to die over their product.

Great! Cause I swear I don’t want to hurt anybody. Get my ass whooped almost every time I fight.

Anyone else with a gun on ‘em would smoke somebody first. Not me, but the way things are going, I’m gonna have to pull the trigger.

My name is on a lot of people’s hit lists. Just the other day someone warned me to stay away from a certain part of town. Said if I get caught out that way, I’m getting my head busted wide open, if not something much worse.

Little no name gang at least put out a warning. Some people claim it’s going down on site if they spot me anywhere.

Motherfuckers act like I’m a recluse in isolation. Terrified to come out. Hell no!

So, tell whoever’s talking shit to come get me! I already know it’s inevitable. So, who will be the first to make me pull the trigger? I’ve gotta do what I gotta do.

Started out breaking into the dope spot. Flipping everything upside down. Sometimes we found drugs plus cash and guns too. Other times we didn’t find shit.

When I say we, well, back then there was my partner, his girlfriend and me. Marcy was a thieving bitch, but once we introduced firearms to our game, she wanted out.

Lester couldn’t let her go, so I told him to go back to playing middleman and cashing bad checks.

Those two will still be breathing once I‘m buried and covered with worms.

I know it’s coming. When my time does come, whoever it is better be ready.

I’m always watching my back; a scared man is a dangerous man.

They better remember to watch their back!

They’ll see me face my fears if I go broke.

So fucking real, they can’t stop me. That’s why those cowards make threats. I hear ‘em all, even pick it apart when they try to say something slick.

If they’re ever brave enough to do all the shit they talk about, I’ll be ready.

received_693844004723804

Crystal Magic Meth by John Patrick Robbins

Blue Collar Noir, Fiction, John Patrick Robbins, Punk Noir Magazine

John Robb new

Crystal Magic Meth

 

He had been up for days looking out the window, wondering were the cops staking him out .

Talking to friends and mostly the voices in his head.

 

He dialed his dealer and left yet another voice message.

 

Tommy was speeding out of control but so is the nature of the beast on any good binge no matter your poison.

 

He picked at his skin,  he lost track of reality .

It was far from the bullshit they sell you on some after school special.

 

He didn’t know what it was, he only understood it was his center and the only thing that felt right.

 

Totally spun and running on fumes of death and decay.

Tomorrow did not exist as it all became a blur.

 

“Dude you need to fucking sleep !”

 

Bob yelled at him.

His old friend was beyond frustrated, as  he battled his own vices.

 

And watching Tommy go off the tracks was far from easy without any true way to help himself let alone his old friend.

 

“Fuck man you see that house over there ?, somethings up with those people man !, I’m telling you they’re watching us!”

 

“It’s that shit you’re on dude !, nobody is out to get you , well maybe that dude right there jogging down the street!”

 

Tommy looked through the blinds before he caught on his old friend was fucking with him.

 

“You fucking goober .”

 

Tommy shook his head and had to laugh .

 

Even in a fog of his own, Bob could always be a first class smart ass.

 

Tommy knew the shit was getting to him but so was life in general.

The party was always full throttle with him and his roommate.

 

Maybe that’s why they truly understood one another and clicked from the start.

 

He checked his phone just in case he didn’t hear it go off.

 

 

Still no reply .

 

“Shit man , let’s go to the bar I need something to fucking come down.”

 

“You need to stop fucking with that shit dude and you would be fine, but hell if you’re buying let’s get the fuck out of here !”

 

The ride to the Thirsty Camel was quick, they joked about all the same bullshit.

 

Women and the lack there of them.

Old drinking stories.

 

“We really both been through the ringer huh cowboy ?”

 

“If you consider we both poison ourselves nonstop with toxic chemicals and slightly toxic relationships. Yeah you could say we certainly had our fair share of troubles brother.”

 

It’s weird how two of the most toxic people can forge a friendship that’s more honest than those of so called normal people.

 

The Thirsty Camel was dead as always.

And Tommy was glad for that, Bob was bad enough around close friends let alone total strangers.

 

And as spun as Tommy was, the last thing he needed was to be playing referee between some stranger and his often inebriated friend.

 

Becky behind the bar tried to pretend Tommy didn’t look like he was on the verge of death.

 

“Hello stranger what will it be?”

 

The usual for me sweetheart and whatever my buddy’s having .”

 

Becky looked at Tommy and paused for a second .

 

Then she got his Beam and coke placed it in front of him as she leaned in close.

 

“Tommy are you alright?”

 

“No I am Tommy, that alright fucker I ditched while I was hopping bars with another dude called Mr okay.”

 

An old fart halfway across the bar snickered as he shook his head.

 

“Tommy I’m not joking , you do realize you came in here by yourself right ?”

 

Tommy just looked beside him where there was nothing but an empty stool where Bob  should be.

 

He just acted quick and played it off as a joke.

 

Ordred a club sandwich and some fries to go .

 

Sometimes on a good binge of any kind we are confronted by our own personal demons .

 

And other times we share space with some old familiar ghosts.

 

Tommy stopped calling his dealer least for that night.

 

Bob always said you can’t chase the sunset and expect nothing more than the darkness eventually.

 

Sometimes he heard voices and spoke to old friends .

And old memories came to life and told more truth than any living fool cared to share.

 

Eventually he would kick the habit or die trying.

 

Old ghost’s and familiar faces are seldom left behind.

 

John Patrick Robbins is the editor in chief of the Rye Whiskey Review , The Abyss and The Black Shamrock Magazine .
His work has been published here at Punk Noir Magazine , Ariel Chart,  San Pedro River Review , San Antonio Review,  Piker Press, The Blue Nib, Red Fez , As It Ought To Be Magazine.
He is also the author of If Walls Could Speak Mine Would Blush published under his pen name Frank Murphy from Syndicate Press.
His work is always unfiltered.

THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN BY PAUL D. BRAZILL

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Paul D. Brazill, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

PhotoFunia-1590227713

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?

PAUL D. BRAZILL IS QUARANTINED HERE.

KEEPING TABS a Bishop Rider story by Beau Johnson

Beau Johnson, Crime Fiction, Fiction, Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine, Short Stories

all of them to burn

We find the shipping container within a sea of shipping containers. Inside is what we hoped were not: three distressed newborns and fifteen illegals under the age of consent. Malnourished, they’re living in the type of squalor one can only imagine. An unflushed toilet is as close as I can get, but even that is far from the wall which hits us.

Also: correction—these girls, they weren’t living. They were surviving.

What led us here is the last thing Reggie Bone told us before I relieved him of his hands.

“The abductions. The snuff films. The piece of shit admits to it being his father behind it all. He also mentioned a shipping container full of something he hoped to trade.” Batista stops in his tracks, his face seeming to recede as he absorbs the news. I feel for him. I do. But I feel more for the people these pieces of shit choose to rip apart.

“This shipping container, he give you a number?”

He did. And now we stood, doors open, the light from above and behind the Detective and me twisting our appearance into something it was not. Cowering, the girls beg, they plead, and we try our best to make them understand. Once Batista calls it in, I vacate the premises.

We weren’t done, though.

No. Not by a mile.

 

 

It was true. All of it. Angelo Bone being the one behind it all. The man hid his tracks well, too, but shell companies, they can only hold secrets for so long. What adds insult to injury is both the sentence handed down and the amount of time he actually serves.

Early release brings the number to just under eight years, and why, I’m thinking, Batista kept tabs. Means we knew his day of release months beforehand. Little more digging and Bobby Meeks pops into view, he being the person registered as Bone’s pick up that day. Outside the gate, I follow both men and the Caprice to the east side of Culver. Beyond boarded-up houses, beyond run-down streets, they slow and slide into the driveway of a house Bone no longer owned on paper but seemed to be his all the same.

Each man exits the Caprice, Angelo Bone thinner than the man who drove him there. The older man had more hair, too, all of it bunched at the back. But what I remembered most about Bone was still there: his swagger. The one that proclaimed his shit didn’t stink, not even after six decades in.

I let the engine idle. I let them get inside. Halfway to the property I decide the front door would prove the path of least resistance. Situations change though, and I could very well be wrong, but when teenagers in shipping containers is all your mind allows you to see you have to go with your gut more often than not.

I’ve found things work best that way.

 

“You do realize we are connected in a way you are unaware of,” Bone’s voice is deeper than I think it should be, and I want to hit him again but don’t believe I’ll be able to stop if I do. Behind me, coating the floor, lay Bobby Meeks, his throat a second, larger mouth. “It’s true, Rider. My youngest boy, before he’s sent upstate, he participates in a mouth train they ran on that sister of yours. This was before they made that little movie of her, of course. It’s also before you figured out it was the Abrums who did you wrong.”

Not a lot stops me cold.

Not a lot causes me to question.

What Bone says next assures me he is attempting to do both.

“But your momma? She was different. My oldest, Malcolm, he being not only the one who put her in that dumpster but the one who broke the bitch’s neck.”

I say nothing. I can’t. I do, he never gets to the car. I do, he never gets to experience life from the inside of a shipping container for himself.

As I told Batista: we couldn’t have that.

 

 

The look in his eyes is what I remember most.

“No!” he says. “Not this. NOT LIKE THIS!” But it was like that, Bone taking a knee to the face just so I could pry him from the trunk. Once inside, I take other things from the man as well. His shoes. His belt. Anything which would allow him to leave life early if he really went and tried.

When it’s over, when the bribes and pleas go away, and after I tell him we already knew about his diagnosis, this is when he finally sees things for what they are. Defeated, he looks up to me, through me, the light from behind and above me illuminating everything I have chosen to be.

It’s here I shut both doors. It’s here I add the chains. I think of those girls. I think of those newborns.

Nine years removed, they still deserve more.

Beau Johnson lives in Canada with his wife and three boys. He has been published before, usually on the darker side of town. Such fine establishments might include Out of the Gutter Online, Spelk Fiction, Shotgun Honey and the Molotov Cocktail. Besides writing, Beau enjoys golfing, pushing off Boats and certain Giant Tigers.

Find Beau Johnson online …

Website: https://www.beaujohnsonfiction.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100007691865781
Twitter: https://twitter.com/beaujohnson44
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Beau-Johnson/e/B079MHF7RG/
Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17692442.Beau_Johnson

Chapter 1 “Imitation of Myself” by Judge Santiago Burdon

Fiction, Flash Fiction, Judge Santiago Burdon, Punk Noir Magazine

Chapter 1

 

“Imitation of Myself”

Judge Santiago Burdon

 

Rayando El Sol

Scratching At The Sun

 

My eyes flash open and it takes a while for things to come into focus. The surroundings aren’t familiar and I wait for my human Bio-Computer to provide me with the necessary information. One revelation that I am certain of and I can lay odds on, is that I am not in jail. Always a good thing.

 

I hear a woman singing , dishes clanking, birds chirp and squawk outside the window, dogs bark and a solitary rooster crows off key. I recognize the voice singing “Rayando el Sol” while doing dishes. It’s my close friend and smuggling partner Becky. Now  the events of  the past evening start gelling together.  I’m at Becky’s house in Nogales Arizona , a mile north of the Mexican border.

 

I take notice of less than half a bottle of Mescal on the brightly multicolored serape

covering the table next to the bed. There’s an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts also a few roaches and a mirror with a pile of Cocaine. Tecate beer cans are strewn across the floor like dead soldiers.  Proof a battle against sobriety had taken place.  Drugs, alcohol and I remember a couple of prostitutes, friends of Becky’s hermosa cousin Bianca. I take comfort in knowing nothing out of the ordinary took  place. Just another night of the usual.

 

Suddenly like a bee sting a frantic search for my wallet and other personal items ensues. I locate my pants under the bed and discover my wallet minus one hundred and eighty five dollars. My passport and other identification along with my credit cards are still there. Gracias a Dios,(thank God) an expression I use often however, I am far from being a religious man. One man’s religion is another man’s belly laugh as far as I’m concerned. I expected the money to be gone. The other personal items are far more important.

 

I snail crawl out of bed and wrestle with my pants then my shirt. I don’t see my shoes and they hardly seem to matter at this space in time. I head for the bathroom. Gotta piss like a poisoned race horse.

 

I take a look at myself in the mirror to see if my disheveled state is  noticeable and notice my chest through my unbuttoned shirt. In large red letters that I assume is lipstick is written “Papi  Rico” and “Dame mas” (give me more) I hope there’s video, I don’t  recall any of this taking place. Upon finishing my business I  slap some cold water on my face and make my way toward the kitchen.

 

Becky stands in front of the sink belting out the song, “mi muero porti viviendo sin ti”

( I’m dieing for you living without you) Mana

 

She’s a short, heavy set Mexicana with typically skinny legs. She spent two and a half years in prison for running marijuana across the border. After something like that you’d think she’d give it up but the money is too fucking good. It always keeps you coming back for one more last time.

 

“Well good morning lover boy! You were in rare form last night.” she shouts.

 

“Jesus Christ Becky can ya keep it down. I am nursing an ass kicking

 

hangover.”

 

She laughs and gives me a kiss on the cheek and a warm hug.

 

“I love you, you clown. Sometimes you make  me laugh so hard I pee my pants. “ she giggles

 

“And other times?” I ask.

 

“Do you really want me to answer that?

 

Now what do you want for breakfast? This kitchen isn’t open all day.”

 

“Breakfast! Are you kidding me? I am seriously sick! I poisoned my self on half bottle of Mescal.” I whine

 

She breaks into a low chuckle and then a healthy loud belly laugh.

 

“Half a bottle! You mean two and a half bottles. You and the muchachas were pouring ’em down last night.” She testifies

 

“Ok eggs and refried beans it is. Here’s some coffee, it’ll make ya feel better.”

 

” Hey Beck, what time is it? Have you heard from Rafa?” I ask.

 

“It’s 3:45 in the afternoon October 17th 1989.”

 

“And what….?”

 

“It’s Tuesday” She

 

answers before I can finish slurring my question.

 

“And Rafa?”

 

“Haven’t heard from him hun. Sit tight, he’ll call.” she reassures.

 

Ok, so here’s the skinny, the lowdown, the whole ball of wax.  I know, such trite expressions.

 

I’m waiting on a load, eighty kilos of cocaine to drive to San Francisco.  It crossed the border yesterday morning and sits in a van on the United States side for a day or so to observe if it’s been tracked.

*********”***************************

Chapter 2

“Imitation of Myself”

Judge Santiago Burdon

Breakfast For Two

 

Rafa is a code name  for someone I can’t disclose if I want to see everything I’ve ever loved or do love continue to live.

Let me give you an idea of the kind of mentality you encounter when dealing with these “Jefe Traficantes.”

I was deep inside Mexico visiting Rafa’s ranch in Sinaloa. There was a party for his daughter’s Quinceanera. Everyone’s having a spectacular time. They’re taking photographs, dancing, drinking, eating great food, Mexican band playing  Musica de Campo.

so I ask Rafa ,” Come on, how about a photo of you and I together Jefe?”

“No! That’s not a good idea. It’s proof of our association. ” He says

“What, but you have photos of me?”

 

“Si claro” he flashes a cold smile.

“If I ever want to have you killed always good to have a picture, makes things simple. Now let’s have some mescal and celebrate. “

Do you want to know something?  I never once thought he was joking.

I choke down a wonderful breakfast leaving the coffee and opting for a glass of milk. I stroll out in the backyard, noticing the bougainvilleas in full bloom. The wind scratches at me with a chilly touch . Seems uncharacteristically  cold for October in the desert. Now here comes Becky’s obnoxious hyper  enthusiastic dog Guero. The thing I like most about people are their dogs. In this case that expression doesn’t apply.

I open the back gate and throw a stick  but  the dog sits down and just stares at me with a confused expression. He doesn’t trust me I guess, or he enjoys my miserable company.

I lay down on a handicapped picnic table  missing a leg that has been propped up with some concrete blocks and there are boards missing on one side of the bench seats. I feel it coming on and there’s no way to avoid it. I attempt to force my body to hold back but it doesn’t respond and I start vomiting. It becomes a steaming pile of puke that the dog quickly devours.  The site of that only increases my nausea and I continue providing nourishment to Guero.

Becky screams from the kitchen window “Hey cabron your phone call, come on, he’s waiting. I collect what little of myself is left and make it to the phone. All systems go except one thing, me the driver. I’m to meet my connection at Sacred Heart Catholic Church near Interstate 19 at 8:00 p.m.

I turn on the TV

in an attempt to relax and catch some of the World Series. Next thing I remember is Becky shaking me.

“Wake up ,Santiago. Hey wake up. Look ,watch the TV.”

My intended destination for the run, San Francisco has been hit by an Earthquake.  By the looks of the news footage they’re showing , it was a strong shaker.

I try to call Rafa to ascertain if he’s aware of the Earthquake and if the run is still on. As I expected there’s no answer.

Ten minutes later the phone rings. It’s El Gallo one of Rafa’s employees (soldiers).  We are to meet in fifteen minutes at La Chiquita  Sportsbar.  Fuck I hate that son of a bitch with my entire being and he’s not very fond of me either. The reason I loath the pinche carbon is a whole other chapter.

I jump in the shower, get dressed and begin the search for my fucking shoes.

Becky is in the truck  beeping the horn, ya like that’s going help. Then my memory kicks in. There in the closet they sit, with my watch, ring and turquoise necklace tucked inside one of the shoes. I give myself a verbal good boy.

El Gallo informs me at the meeting that I am to pick up the van take it back to Becky’s place and wait for further instructions. He hands me the keys to a rented new Ford Aerostar.

“afuera” (outside) is all he says. Cheap fucking Naco didn’t even buy me a beer.

I hop into the van with windows all around and loaded with eighty kilos of Cocaine. Don’t like those closed in cargo vans they’re much too suspicious. Becky follows me back to the house. When I turn into the driveway I breath a sigh of relief and I park the mule deep into the back of the carport. Becky parks her truck closely behind it.

We enter the house without saying a word to each other.

©2013

judge

THE GHOST IN YOU by Graham Wynd

Crime Fiction, Fiction, Graham Wynd, K A Laity, Noir, Punk Noir Magazine

Read part 1 here.

2

It was their first ever encore. The others wouldn’t have paid attention but Frazer had been waiting for such a moment to come. Ego, yeah. So what? You had to have an ego to get out there every weekend and play to the punters who seldom care if you lived or died—actually, most of the time they’d preferred that you died so you would just shut up and they could fill the jukebox with coins and play Van Halen or Katy Perry over and over until their ears bled.

But not tonight. Tonight was magic and the crowd called for an encore. The crowd, the audience: not just Pam and Janet, the girl friends of Pike and Jones. The pair were always there, the gruesome twosome they called themselves. Sometimes more happy to chat to each other than to pay attention. Admittedly they heard the songs a hundred times or more, nothing new. They were great at getting the drinks in and even better at cheering the spirits of the lads on bad nights. There were always bad nights. But the two of them were always full Macca thumbs-up for the band. Not like Olive. Remember Olive? They all remembered Olive.

The people you surround yourselves with have a lot to do with the quality of your life. Doubly so if you were trying to make something, do something beyond your dead-end job that you forgot once you were punched out and out the door.

An encore, a real encore. Pam and Janet were cheering away but it wasn’t even them that started chanting, ‘More more more!’ How do you like it, how do you like it, well they liked it just fine. They felt it too. They wanted more.

Frazer looked up, sticks in hand, in wonder. Pike caught the grin on her face. Did a double take. More more more! The chant was real. And louder. Some feet stamping. They had a hit of it and wanted more. Wanted the high to last. Pike collared Jones, who’d already slung his Gretsch over his back, plucking his sweat-soaked shirt from skin. He stared in wonder at the crowd. Godfrey shook his head, not a no but a kind of disbelief.

There was a moment of swaying disbelief. It might have all got away, but Jones swung the guitar back around, looked at Frazer and grinned. They didn’t have any songs left that they hadn’t done already. It was a thing with them all that they never did covers. All original songs, live or die.

But now was not the time for purity.

FGGFG

FGGFG

FGGFG

Giiiiirrrrrl

Pike stretched out the first word so long Jones had to stumble to hold back the next chord and we were all grinning like maniacs but we were together, a unit, in sync. And the audience was too. They had let out a whoop at the first notes so loud we might have been the Kinks themselves on stage or as near as was going to get here in the back end of nowhere tonight anyway. They sang along, shouting out the words as if their lives depended on it and howling at the chorus, shrieking to punctuate the lines.

Frazer nearly collapsed on the kit with the final bash. A sudden wave of exhaustion hit her. They had worked that night. Good work. Sleep would come. No restless obsessive thinking about what to do next time, what had gone wrong, why could Pike never hit that note quite right and did it really matter, should the song change or the singer until it was three and the night too short.

Pike was hopped up now and caught her eye. He wanted more. Frazer shook her head though. They weren’t going to turn into a cover band. It was a little gift for the audience who had been so good to them but no. No more covers. It felt good to belt out something familiar, shared, a little ragged—they had only ever fooled around with it to warm up—but play another and that’s what they’d remember. A cover band.

They took the applause with gratitude. Even bowed with an ironic Beatle formality before laughing and punching one another in the arm. This is what it could be, Frazer thought. This is what it will be if I have to drag them all kicking and screaming into the future.

The high survived leaving the stage. They just about floated into the little dank chamber that served as a dressing room. Pike jabbered a mile a minute whilst Jones nodded enthusiastically. Godfrey just grinned and shook his head as he put the battered two-tone Fender back in its case after wiping the strings and the body with a soft cloth.

Frazer made a quick change of her top, which was wet through and threw on a hoodie for good measure. Her arms ached in a good way. Probably worth icing them before bed; hot bath tomorrow. At least there wasn’t a band on after them so she didn’t have to rush out and break down the kit immediately.

‘They really liked the new one,’ Godfrey said.

‘Yeah!’ Pike agreed. ‘It’s got a good hook.’

‘That’s all Jones,’ Frazer said. She knew it wasn’t just the hook, but it didn’t matter as long as they all liked it, too.

Jones threw his arm around Frazer and Pike. ‘We fucking ruled the night.

GRAHAMWYND NOIR