Heist the Buller by Gavin Turner

Flash Fiction, Heist

It was a matter of fact, not opinion, that this was not going at all well. They were now half an hour into the job and still no closer to the prize. Starmy wiped drips from his brow, chucking down the industrial saw in anger.

“It’s no good, he huffed. This outer layer looks like a house of straw but it’s tougher than Kevlar. It will be a miracle if we break through this”

“I told you we should have brought Lambo with us on this one, his accomplice said. He’s the muscle in this outfit”

“Shut it, I’m in charge here, Nando” he fired back, digging in his pocket for a dribble free hankie. Finding none he rubbed his blue jacket sleeve around his face, lamenting that it had all come down to this. He stood up slowly, arching his aching back “Where’s Ed? We need him”.

“He said he would wait in the car; you know how he’s always one for a quick getaway. Nando paused, her tone changing slightly. You know sometimes I think you like him better than me. She pouted a little, hands on hips. She could feel the outline of the Dictaphone in her blazer pocket. I’m always here to listen” she added. She felt they trusted each other, it was just, insurance.

He chose not to respond. Starmy’s plan was crumbling round his ears. I don’t have time for this he thought. Time to be a strong leader now. He rubbed his hands together then placed them firmly on Nando’s shoulders, staring her straight in the eye.

“This is not a robbery its’s national service he declared. I need to see where your loyalties lie”

Nando looked confused at the concept. Frustrated, Starmy let go of her. Anger boiling over he could only hiss through gritted teeth.

“Tell Ed not to trip as he goes down the steps”. Nando moved towards the moonlit window so she could text the getaway driver on her burner phone.

What a useless crew Starmy thought. Although he admitted it was a good idea having the burner phones. He was just a bit surprised that they had all got one spare before he’d even mentioned the plan. That was a bit weird.

He wished he’d brought more tools with him.  He had always played by the book, tried to do the right thing till now. Patience had worn to a threaded hole in his ambitions. When would he get to wear the number 10 shirt?

He hated to admit defeat, but it was time to move to plan B. Or to be more accurate, plan D. The last thing they could try. Time to dance with the devil. Time to call in Dom. The loot whisperer.

Starmy was about to place the call when, out of the shadows a scrawny paw laid itself on his cold shoulders.

“No need to call Dom simpered, I’m always around”

Starmy tried not to let Dom feel him shudder under the clammy grasp.

“I’ll find a chink in this armour he offered with a sickly grin. I’m an expert remember”

He laid his rucksack on the ground, rummaging in the contents. Starmy and Nando exchanged a glance as they witnessed a brief reveal of Dom’s knackered boxers as he bent over the bag. As if feeling the gaze, Dom attempted again to tuck the back of his shirt in and failed. He withdrew a small bottle with a cork stopper from the bag. Deftly removing the cork, he wafted its contents under the subject’s nose.  The subject snorted a little but otherwise remained calm.

“Just a little lubrication Dom explained, loosen him up a bit”

Starmy got a brief whiff of the tincture in the stuffy room. It smelled like old money, and pig blood. The feelings of helplessness, like in the old place came over him in waves. He had to press home how important this was. How it mattered.

“We’ve got to get this right Starmy proffered, everything we need to know is in there, all the… secrets

Dom nodded sagely and waved him away as he leant close into the ear of the subject. He turned for a second.

“You can’t break in here with those crude tools he said pointing at the vast array of power tools scattered on the plush carpet. This will take stealth”. He gently stroked the flabby chops  of the subject and smiled again as if reminiscing. “That’s right my pretty he said. They’ll not get through this rhino hide like that”

The eye of the subject flickered briefly. There was a semblance of recognition, half a memory. A borrowed pair of glasses, a postcard from a family trip to a castle.

He leant in once more. The subject’s mumblings grew louder as Dom whispered softly in his ear.

Starmy heard almost incoherent words from the subject. ‘Hands, face, buller buller buller’ it seemed to garble. Reaching a crescendo, Starmy quickly closed the gap in the door. The noise had reached such a pitch he was worried they might disturb the Moggy, peacefully perched in its basement dungeon.

The garbling stopped abruptly. A scraping noise like a long-forgotten hinge cracked open the thatched lid of the Prime Minister’s head. Out rolled a pig skin purse, gilded with dusty swan feathers.

‘Remember you owe me now’ Dom uttered and melted waxy into the shadows of the cabinet office.

With a trembling hand Starmy picked up the bag as the hinged skull shut its door once more.

Stitched in italic gold on the side of the bag were the words ‘The Truth’

Starmy stuffed the bag into his inside jacket pocket. Nando collected their belongings and together they rushed out to the waiting saloon. Ed attempted to rev the engine, forgetting it was an electric. He pushed the pedal to the floor and sped off inaudibly into the London night.

The Prime minister, snorted in his sleep, oblivious to the raid. Only the darkness was now left to witness the midnight blathering, spewing nonsense in its slumber, all its secrets spilled. Inside the skull, the memories, the mistakes, squirming like a forced apology, spilling their way out of the open mouth.

“Hands, face, buller buller buller”.


Gavin Turner is a writer from Wigan, England. You can find his poems an short stories in Roi Faineant press, Void space and the Chamber magazine. His debut chapbook, ‘The Round Journey’ was released on 2022. 

Easy by Jason Melvin

Flash Fiction, Heist

I cased it for a few nights. Timed the regulars, knew their patterns. The brand of snuff they bought, the 40’s they sucked down. This was supposed to be easy. Too young girl working the counter, this late at night. Already knowing where the money box was kept. Knowing that no weapons were under the counter. Having worked here a few years ago, already knowing the owner was a drunk who often forgot to pick up the drops to take them to the bank. Leaving that much cash, with a cute just-out-of-high-school girl, the only thing stopping someone from stealing it.

 I’ll admit. She was a distraction. Her dark brown bob, dancing as she swayed her head to the house music. The way she smiled at every customer as if they were friends, genuine. The artwork snaking up her slender arm. A little too much make-up that she didn’t need, but she had a style and it was intriguing.

Thirty seconds is all it should’ve taken. Pop in, gun out, mask down, loud, scary and demanding. Keep her from thinking straight by yelling and smashing things. That’s the way I’d usually do it. But honestly. I didn’t want to startle her. I didn’t want her crying and hysterical. I didn’t want to see her bottom lip quaking, the thick eyeliner running down her cheeks. So, I went in smooth, suave. Ball cap pulled down real low, sauntered up to the counter. Asked real polite for the money in the register and the cash box, placed my loaded gun gently on the counter.

As I watch the blood pool around my feet, I know were it all went wrong. Why the fuck did I take my hand off the gun? Days watching her operate, all cute and bubbly, flirty with no attitude. I never expected her hands to be so fast. Her demeanor so cool. Sure, I didn’t want her frightened into hysterics, but I never expected the ease at which she would gun someone down.

She got two shots off before I knew what was happening. I fell back into the chip display. I tried to apologize for causing such a mess but forming words while choking on your blood is difficult. She’s on the phone now, talking to the police. Still cool, no quiver in her voice, just relaying the chain of events. All the way staring right at me, no tears in her eyes.

I never expected to die, sprawled out on a blanket of bloody snack foods, a bag of potato chips jammed in my armpit.


Jason Melvin received a gimmicky T-shirt from his teenage daughter on Christmas with a picture of one large fist fist-bumping a much smaller fist.  The caption read, “Behind every smart-ass daughter is a truly asshole Dad”.  It fit. He can be found on Twitter @jason5melvin and on his website at www.jasonmelvinwords.weebly.com.

New Money by Grant Butler

Flash Fiction, Heist

The Woodford house on the lake was an overpriced monstrosity. It made all the other houses around it look small by comparison. The exterior was a massive stone façade that could be seen from half a mile away, and at night it was lit up so brightly you could see it from the other side of the lake. Just what they wanted. The Woodfords weren’t there now, but that didn’t mean they wanted their house to go unnoticed.

I get why people had such contempt for the new money rich back in the day. It wasn’t enough they had an obscene fortune, they had to let everyone know they had an obscene fortune and couldn’t wait to rub it in everyone’s face. And it just wasn’t the working class or middle class that hated them. The old money rich hated them maybe more than anyone else because they found them vulgar and obnoxious. They understood new money was flaunting their wealth to get attention, which the old money crowd had no reason to do. That was smart then, and it’s even smarter now.

The reason that old money is old money is because their family was smart enough to be able to keep it. And a big reason they were able to keep it is because they were smart enough not to flaunt it at every turn and rub it in everyone’s faces. That would make it much more likely for people to want to take it from them. Old money people know that getting something is one thing, but keeping it is another.

And I gotta say, it’s never been easier to turn new money people into no money people. People love to flaunt their obscenely expensive stuff on the internet all day long. It’s pretty funny how people thought folks were naïve back in the day when they would leave their doors unlocked and the neighbors would know where the spare key is. That’s nothing compared to how people gleefully parade their lifestyle and routine online for anyone to see. My favorite part is when they post pictures of their cars or private jet and caption it with some inspiring quote. It’s just like when some supermodel posts pictures of themselves half naked and talks about inner beauty or what’s on the inside. It’s fucking hilarious. It reminds me of when an alcohol company has “Drink responsibly” in an ad or a casino has a hotline for gambling addiction on their billboard.

Well, they want people to see their stuff, and me and my friends are certainly seeing it. Seeing it, studying it, and plotting. And information is beyond easy to come by anymore. If people don’t gleefully telegraph it, you can simply ask any number of people who work or have worked for them. Walls may not talk, but underpaid employees certainly do.

I had spent enough time watching Mr. and Mrs. Woodford to know their habits and routines. So I strolled up to their front door like it was the most natural thing in the world, took a makeshift key out of my pocket, and opened the door.

When it sprang open without issue, I stepped into a massive hallway and closed the door behind me. The space reminded me of a museum in its perfectly controlled emptiness, and the marble floors did nothing to hinder the effect. That wasn’t a surprise. This place was designed to be displayed and observed like a museum, not lived in like an actual home.

Since there had been no shortage of pictures and videos of the interior posted online, I knew exactly what the layout was. Mrs. Woodford’s closet was on the second floor, third door on the right.

I crept up the densely carpeted stairs and opened the door, flipped on the light, and found myself in a closet larger than the first floor of most people’s houses. Everywhere you looked there was something to see. But I went straight to the set of drawers that I knew housed jewelry. Once I’d opened the small leather tote bag I’d brought with me, I gingerly opened the top drawer. The contents inside sparkled the moment they were exposed to the light. But that wasn’t long, because I wasted no time in efficiently dropping several rings into the back. Then I grabbed one or two bracelets and that was it. Just like counting cards, the trick to being successful in this field is don’t get greedy. That’s how you lose. A missing bracelet here or there makes it easy for people to think they just misplaced it. Or they blame it on the help. An entire missing drawer screams something bigger and more sophisticated.

With the bag all zipped up, I closed the drawer, turned off the light, and stepped out of the closet before I slowly descended the stairs. But my heart jumped halfway into my throat when I heard something in the kitchen. Footsteps. And they were steadily approaching me.

I was exposed out here in the front hallway with nowhere to hide. So I took a deep breath and braced myself to face whoever it was. I had my cover ready to go, and now it looked like it was time to use it.

The footsteps grew louder until whoever they belonged to turned the corner, and I was face to face with a young woman with curly brown hair, fair skin, and green eyes. Mr. Woodford’s 23-year-old daughter Melanie from his first marriage. Like many of his peers, Mr. Woodford had long since ditched the first Mrs. Woodford after he hit the big time. The current Mrs. Woodford was everything you’d expect.

Melanie was dressed in leggings, an oversized button up, and socks. She looked at me with mild interest.

“Who are you?”

“Hi, I’m measuring the place for the new renovations your family has planned. I just finished up here, so I’ll be out of your hair.”

“No you’re not,” she said without hesitation. “That’s not supposed to be done until next week.”

“Then I apologize, our schedule must have gotten mixed up. I truly hope I didn’t disturb you.”

“How was Deanna’s closet?”

“I beg your pardon?” I ignored the adrenaline that shot through my body.

“Deanna’s. Closet.” She repeated as if talking to a child. “You went to her closet.”

I was temporarily speechless.

“Relax, I don’t care. You can have this whole house. I hate being here. Dad and Deanna left for whatever and I’m here until my friends pick me up tomorrow.”

“You don’t care?”

“About Deanna? Hell no. She and her fake concern, plastic surgery, and jewels can jump into the lake and never return for all I care. Take it all. Take all my dad’s stuff. Maybe then I’d get to see a normal reaction out of him. Taking all her jewels is probably the only thing with a chance of making Deanna’s face move anymore.”

I’d encountered hired help who were more than happy to spill on their employers, but this was a new one. But not surprising. Familiarity breeds contempt, and who is more familiar with you than your family?

“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me.” Melanie continued. “I don’t blame you for stealing from people like my dad. And Deanna? She stole my dad from my mom, so she doesn’t exactly have the right to complain. Not that it would ever stop her.”

“Thank you.” I nodded. “I’m sorry about your situation.”

“Thanks. If anyone sees you, I’ll just pretend you were a friend I invited over to eat with. It gets lonely in this place.” She gestured around.

“I’m sure it does.”

“Speaking of that, I have a question.”

“Of course.”

“My mom is a good woman. She supported my dad and believed in him when no one else would. She deserves far better than what she got. Coffee money as far as Dad is concerned, and even that was too much for him. Can you help me with that?”

I was liking Melanie more and more.

“What did you have in mind?”


Grant Butler is the author of the novel The Heroin Heiress, his short fiction has been published in Sick Cruising, Mardi Gras Mysteries, Horror Bites Magazine, Texas Horror Stories, The Killer Collection, Drabbledark II: An Anthology of Dark Drabbles, and The Siren’s Call, and his nonfiction has been featured on The Daily Drunk and he will be featured in an upcoming anthology of The Best New True Crime Stories. Some of his literary influences include Stephen King, Ira Levin, Agatha Christie, and Thomas Harris. Cinema is also a big influence on his storytelling and some of his favorite films are Jaws, The Godfather, Goodfellas, and Psycho. 

Jersey Lily by M.E. Proctor

Flash Fiction, Heist

“Alex, I need to ask. Can you still open a safe with a prayer and a whistle?”

“What kind of a question is that?”

My reflexes are good, honed in courts of law. Question, answer. Service, volley. Even if in this case my answer is more a lob aimed at the baseline. I don’t believe Pete is wearing a wire, but using my name in a sentence together with open and safe is damn casual. We’re having drinks on the terrace of the country club after a round of golf and members are milling about. They’re too wrapped up in their tales of lucky putts and hazards averted to pay much attention to our conversation, but still. I’m Alex Ritter, Assistant District Attorney of Barwin County, and I’m well-known in these parts.

I haven’t cracked a safe in twenty years and Pete knows it. He was there.

“It isn’t something you forget, right?” Pete says. “Once you get the hang of it? It’s like biking or screwing.”

“Unlike bicycles and ladies, the technology has evolved, Pete, and I never touched the tough, complicated ones anyway. Strictly amateur hour, dials and stuff.”

Pete grins. I know what he thinks. That I’m too modest to take credit.

Modest, my ass. I was a cocky fifteen-year-old, and proud to crack these suckers, just too smart to make it a career. There are pros. I never considered following in their footsteps. They lead straight to prison.

“You were so good. I watched you,” Pete says. “I loved watching you. The way your fingers moved, so slow, tender, seducing the metal. It wasn’t metal anymore, it was silk, and flesh, and …”

“You’re making me thirsty.” I wave at the server and signal for two more.

Pete is a photographer, a great one. He knows a thing or two about seduction and patience. He plants his tripod in a marsh and waits for the wildlife to come to him. I couldn’t do it. I’m good at waiting but I love the quick kill. That’s why I’m a prosecutor and not a defense attorney. We all find our groove eventually.

“It’s exactly the kind of antique box you like,” Pete says. “And it’s a recovery mission, totally righteous.”

“Repo? Fill in the paperwork.”

“It’s a bit more complicated.”

Isn’t it always?

“What do you know about Lillie Langtry?” Pete says.

Jersey Lily. Judge Roy Bean’s crush. Stunning in a corset. Hobnobbing, and more, with royalty … I know more than I thought I knew.

“It’s about her,” Pete says.

#

Three weeks later, I’m squatting in front of a bulky slab of black painted metal with copper accents. I wear thin leather gloves – latex makes my hands sweat – and a tux, with the bowtie undone because I can’t stand the stupid thing. Above my head, in the main ballroom, the party is hopping. Pete is by my side, dressed in a server uniform, with a badge from the catering service, in case people risk confusing him with a guest. The badge says Wilson, which happens to be Pete’s middle name.

“Can you do it?” he stutters.

It’s a tad late for second thoughts, but that’s Pete, he radiates stress so bad he’d blow a Geiger counter. A little weed would relax him but I insisted on rigorous sobriety. This endeavor is stupid enough as it is, I don’t need my partner swaying like an herb garden in the breeze.

“Go wait in the hallway, in case somebody comes down here. Don’t breathe on my neck, it gives me goosebumps. Shoo.” I point at the bulky backpack hanging from his shoulder. “Leave that here.”

“But I like to watch.” He sounds just like he did when we were kids, when we thought rules weren’t for us because we had nothing to lose.

“Fuck, Pete! You want me to go back to the party and get sloshed? It’d be my pleasure.”

He raises both hands in submission and trots to the hallway.

Alone, at last with this beautiful safe that Arnold Haraldson, heir to the Haraldson oil and gas fortune, bought at a Western memorabilia sale. Artifacts of the Old West are the man’s passion. I’m surrounded by glass cases containing ancient six-shooters, spurs, saddle gear, and branding irons. A Gatling gun ready to spit its rounds sits on a podium. It’s the star of the show. I’m glad it’s not pointed at me. The back wall is a collection of mug shots – Wanted posters, genuine. Update the clothes and hairstyle, add some ink, and the ruffians look all too familiar. I wonder what Miss Lillie Langtry, the reason for this little jaunt, would think of the criminal bunch. I bet she’d wrinkle her pretty nose and tell them to get a bath.

This isn’t my first visit to Haraldson’s museum. He gave another party, in April, on the anniversary date of Jesse James’s death. The citizens of this town think the parties are a hoot, I believe the man has a screw loose. Today’s shindig is officially for Mrs. Haraldson’s birthday. It’s also the day Billy the Kid bit the dust. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. Maybe the special date is why he married the woman. Last year, he timed the festivities with Bonnie and Clyde’s demise. That was stretching it a bit, they’re not strictly Old West, but maybe the man plans to expand the gallery. If he latches onto Dillinger, I’ll dust off my fedora.

I get down on my knees in front of the dial. The biggest problem with an antique is the condition of the locking mechanism. Properly oiled and maintained or full of gunk. I take a picture of the dial – to be able to leave it in the exact position I found it – then give the wheel a couple of turns to feel how well it moves. Smooth. Good. To work.

Pete is right about the sensual nature of the job. My fingertips seem to grow new nerve endings that can feel inside the metal panel. I can’t rely on sound, the noises from the party are too distracting. It’s all touch, a matter of millimeters, and absolute focus. The exhibits, the room, the entire house vanish. The world is reduced to my fingers and a glossy wheel.

There.

I haven’t lost it.

Pete is back the moment the safe door is open. I stop him before he reaches in. “Don’t touch anything, you’re not wearing gloves.”

There are stacks of documents and small black pouches that might contain jewelry, but that isn’t why we’re here. I retrieve a round hat box and put it on the floor, next to Pete’s backpack. There’s another hat box in there, not an exact match but similar enough.

“Open the box,” Pete says. “I want to make sure.”

Good point. The box contains a pale straw hat with a silky ivory chin strap. A fluff of pink ostrich feathers and blue velvet flowers weigh down the brim on the left side. It’s simple and charming. The hat could have belonged to Lillie Langtry. It looks old enough.

Pete is satisfied. “Do the swap.”

His box goes in the safe and the other one goes in the backpack. I turn the dial back to the starting position. The odds Haraldson thought about a trick like that are tiny, but why take a risk? Pete doesn’t want the man to know he’s been hit.

I swipe my knees clean and stick the gloves in my jacket pocket. Hopefully there’s champagne left upstairs. I don’t bother to fix the bowtie. It’s late, by now jackets must be off, and maybe, maybe, the tall brunette in the green dress I noticed on the way in is still around and unattached.

“I’ll see you at the apartment,” Pete says.

“Tonight?”

He stares at me, sighs. “Okay. You must be wiped. Tomorrow afternoon?” He smiles. “I have a surprise for you.”

Surprise? I’d rather not, buddy.

Pete slings the backpack over his shoulder and slips away toward the kitchen and the parking lot.

#

There were gallons of champagne left and her name was Sandy. She was a friend of the Haraldsons’ daughter in town for a week vacation. The green dress had a long, long zipper in the back that I played with until she told me to stop fiddling.

“It’s like you’re defusing a bomb,” she said, more right than she knew. “You have beautiful hands.”

My fingertips were still tingling. She was warm and soft. It took a while but she took my mind off smooth dials.

#

“Meet Toni,” Pete says. “She’s my fiancée and thanks to you, we can get married.”

Toni throws her arms around my neck and kisses me on the corner of the mouth. She’s a sporty freckled redhead with a smile big enough to swallow the hallowed hat box sitting on the dining room table.

“We owe you so much,” Toni says. “You have no idea how devastated we were when we found out the hat was missing.”

Missing. Right. Pete told me his mother sold the thing on eBay. Haraldson paid three hundred dollars for the hat. If it really belonged to Lillie Langtry that might have been a steal, but I’m no expert in historic hats.

“It was all a big misunderstanding,” Pete says.

It’s the kind of story that would make a gaggle of inebriated lawyers choke with laughter in their single malts. Sadly, it isn’t for public consumption. It’s a family secret and a tradition of which I am now part, a slightly befuddled part.

The story told by Pete goes like this. Lillie Langtry’s straw hat with the ostrich feathers and velvet flowers is a family heirloom. It’s passed from father to son to be placed on the bride’s head as a symbol of life commitment. Considering Miss Langtry’s life story, this is highly ironic. Pete’s mother, in a fit of spring cleaning, decided the dusty bonnet had to go. She only remembered the family tradition when Pete told her he planned to marry Toni.

Pete could have said sod the straw and kept me honest. I could also have told him I had early onset arthritis and my fingers were no good.

But as I know well for having succumbed a few times, some trips across the legal line are just too tempting to resist, and nothing beats a shiny dial winking at you in the darkness.

Although a long zipper on a green dress comes damn close.


M.E. Proctor is currently working on a series of contemporary detective novels. The first book in the series will come from TouchPoint Press in January 2023. Her short stories have been published in Mystery Tribune, Shotgun Honey, Pulp Modern Flash, Bristol Noir, Fiction on the Web, The Bookends Review and others. She lives in Livingston, Texas. On Twitter: @MEProctor3.

Sticky Fingers by Kellie Scott-Reed

Flash Fiction, Heist

With your head turned away, I could smell your unwashed hair. Girls think they can get away with this. A little dry shampoo and voila! But it doesn’t work. You can smell the weed from the night before, you can smell the fear.  I put my hand over your mouth. “Sticky Fingers” they used to call me as a kid. Always taking what wasn’t mine. I grew up in the care of my Irish Catholic grandmother who spared no rod but ruined the child anyway. I would nick her pocket book when she passed out on the couch. A night of Bridge with her friends sent her to the sofa with a ‘headache’ and vodka, rocks. She would notice in the morning and I’d be beaten and dragged to the confession box to tell of my transgression. I knew that Jesus didn’t give a fuck what I did. I knew the first night after my parents dumped me with that banshee, and I went to bed with my stomach rumbling and my eyes swollen from crying. I was eight.

A priest once told me as we sat smoking a cigarette together on my grandmother’s front porch that every sin is essentially theft. We were sitting on the old glider. It groaned under his weight and didn’t move an inch. Enormous, he showed up to my grandmother on the weekends to administer her communion, when she was too decrepit to attend church. He would sometimes order a large pizza that he alone would consume while he visited.  He was one of the good ones. He wasn’t a diddler.

The way we must look from the view of the security camera, me pressed up against your body from behind. We could be dancing, or fucking. I grab your right hand with mine and lead it to the cash drawer in front of you.  I whisper, ‘all of it’ into your ear. You inhale sharply.  You crumple the cocaine dusted tender into your fist. You pass it into the purple Crown Royal bag I supplied. I used to carry tumbled rocks in them as a kid, then cigarettes and condoms, then my take. The bag is kind of my signature. I wished I could be easy on you, less of an asshole, but I know you’d kill me if given the chance. I press the barrel of the gun deeper into the small of your back. “Hurry”.

There isn’t a second in this odd embrace, we aren’t in tune. You know what my next move is, and the disgust with which you shove the money into my chest shows me what you know.  And while our time together is brief, you will recount it for decades. The memory of me will outlast lovers and childhood friends, even grandparents.  There will be mornings when you wake, and in that blissful lingering in the cloud of your dream, still see me walking past the height strip on my way out the door. 


Kellie Scott-Reed songwriter, writer and AEIC of Roi Faineant Press. In spite of her cheerful disposition, she is fascinated with the dark side of humanity, and most of her written work has threads of stories she has heard through family lore, and her own investigation into her shadowy side. Kellie has been published recently in Synchronized Chaos and Roi Faineant press. She has been a guest on the Arts Calling Podcast with Jaime Alejandro as well her work being read on the podcast Modus Operandi. Her songs can be found on iTunes and Spotify, under the band name Fivehead. The press can be located at roifaineantpress.com.

She Took Her Half Out The Middle by Jesse Hilson

Flash Fiction, Heist

The old woman, whose name was Sandy, figured out a way to get pills out of the pill factory. You got searched by armed guards on the way out when the quitting time whistle blew. It wasn’t really a whistle but that’s what they all called it. They’d look through your bag and body-search you for taped together packages of pills hidden somewhere on your body, smuggled contraband. A female guard would search all the women. No sexual harassment.

Sandy had been working for the pill factory for about a year when she started ripping them off by fudging the count on the assembly line and flushing packets of pills down the toilet. She started with a test run, and sent her son Dwight out to the effluent point on the edge of the factory campus to find the little boat she’d let off upstream. She couldn’t believe no one had thought of this before.

The pill factory, which was run by a pharmaceutical company called Hexaplan, was one of the only places in America to make virocodone, a new synthetic opiate painkiller 3,500x more powerful than morphine. Hexaplan decades before had placed its pharmaceutical manufacturing in the rural upstate New York town of Benson, since it was quiet and away from urban centers, and it didn’t have to pay its workers as much as if it had been in Long Island or Philadelphia or someplace like that. Security was a concern as there was only two roads in and out of the Hexaplan compound and eyeballs were everywhere.

Except on the shitter.

Sandy flushed away thousands of dollars of pills over months at Hexaplan, and Dwight always collected the packages. With supreme care, Sandy counted the pills on her kitchen table at night and rebottled them in orange prescription bottles she’d stored up from not throwing away her 90-year-old mother’s as she went through her prescriptions every month. Sandy put bundles of bottles together and hid them in the drop ceiling at her house in the bathroom.

That’s where I come in. Sandy and I run a house-cleaning business on the days off when she’s not at the pill factory. We called it Two Neet Ladies and had a van that we kept all our supplies in. We cleaned rental houses for all the people who come up here from the City on weekends. Those people are animals and make all kinds of messes that need to be cleaned up so the owners can rent out for the next weekend. Sandy and I always kept our properties in tip-top shape but we didn’t always get paid what we thought we should.

One night at the bar Dwight opened his mouth to me after one too many hurricanes. He starts to let it out of the bag that Sandy had herself a nice little retirement next building up. 

I say “Sandy never told me this.” 

And he says “Yup.” 

“Something from the pill factory?” I say.

“You could say that.”

Over the next week or so I get it out of him. I have to go out with him like I like him to get him to talk. I run my fingers through his hair and compliment his beard and grab his arm when we’re out and I can see that it’s breaking him down. Dwight is out of shape and I would never. He tells me about the bottles in the ceiling over the bathroom.

I give Sandy a chance to tell me. One day we’re cleaning this guy’s mansion and I shut off the vacuum cleaner and say, “Is there something you want to tell me, Sandy?”

“Tell you about what?” she says.

“About your plans,” I say.

“I have no plans other than to mop the kitchen floor. Then I’m going to do the windows. Then I’m going to have a cigarette out in the van.“

Fine. She won’t tell me her plans, I won’t tell her mine. I wait until Dwight is out of town and I go over to Sandy’s house at night when I know she’s alone. I know enough to know that Sandy likes to have a bath and a drink to unwind after a long day on the job. It’s like clockwork.

I let myself in and call out up the steps, “Hey girl.”

“Who’s that?”

“It’s Lisa.”

“What do you want?”

“I’m looking for Dwight.”

“He went to Cleveland for a few days.”

“Oh shit. I had something to give him.” I start going up the steps.

“What’s that?”

“I was going to give him some money I owed him for concert tickets. Sandy, I’m sorry, I really have to pee. Can I come in?”

“I’m taking a bath if you haven’t noticed.”

“I’ll keep my eyes closed. I won’t look at your beautiful bod.”

“You’re about twenty five years too late for that.”

“My back teeth are floating. You’re like my older sister, let me in.”

“Oh alright.”

I go into the bathroom and she’s lying there in the tub. Her hair’s in a ponytail which I’ve never seen her like that before. Sandy’s tits have seen better days.

“I thought you weren’t going to look,” she says.

“I’m not.”

I go to the toilet which is kind of behind the bathtub so we don’t see each other. I purposefully drank a coffee from Stewart’s  so I would have something to pee for this very moment.

“I think I want to marry Dwight,” I say out of nowhere.

“Dwight is not the most eligible bachelor in town.”

“He’s sweet.”

I can hear her light a cigarette in the bathtub. 

“You’d be marrying into a family of crazies,” she says.

“I can handle your kind of crazy,” I say. “It’s not as bad as the average.”

I flush and stand up. I’m washing my hands and checking my eyebrows in the mirror. “You’re sure there’s nothing you want to tell me,” I say.

I can feel her looking at me so I turn around and face her. “Usually when people ask that there’s something they already know,” she says. “What has Dwight been telling you?”

“Something about some pills you got stored up,” I say.

“I don’t have any pills stored up.”

“I think you do.”

“Do you think if I did I would let you in on it?”

“I thought you were my best friend,” I say.

“Well there’s friends and then there’s acquaintances.” She’s eyeing me narrowly from where she’s sitting naked in the tub. 

“Get acquainted with this,” I say, and I grab Dwight’s electric razor from next to the sink and I toss it into the bathtub. It’s still plugged into the wall and it has a long cord so Dwight can shave anywhere he wants to.

Sandy had the funniest expression on her face. I can’t quite describe it. I almost wanted to take a picture but I didn’t.

I started looking for the pills and I found them pretty quick. “Holy shit,” I said when I saw the plastic bags full of orange bottles. I don’t know how she diverted that many pills from the assembly line but she deserved some kind of award.

I wrote a quick suicide note that hit on all the typical points and put it on the kitchen table after I wiped everything down for prints. That housecleaning job came in handy.

I put the bundles of pills in the trunk of my car. I didn’t have any idea what the market value of that much hillbilly heroin would be but I was going to find out. It would be a whole new world of education for Lisa. I had some friends in Albany that might know some people who would pay a pretty penny for some loose meds. Dwight had said that it could be like over $20,000. I could see him coming looking for me. He won’t tell the cops, he’d have to tell them about Sandy and his toilet patrol. Poor Dwight. He’s never going to find me. He’d have to have some idea of the sophisticated places I aim to end up. He’d have to suddenly know how to think like me. And no one I’ve ever met has quite been able to do that.


Jesse Hilson is a freelance newspaper reporter living in the Catskills in New York State. His work has appeared or will appear in AZURE, Maudlin House, Pink Plastic House, Punk Noir, Misery Tourism, Expat Press, Apocalypse Confidential, Heavy Feather Review, Prism Thread, and elsewhere. His debut novel Blood Trip was published by Close to the Bone (UK) in April 2022. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @platelet60 and he has a Substack newsletter at cholorohemoglobin.substack.com.

The Price of Doing Business by Mark Atley

Flash Fiction, Heist

Tanner Brogdon carries a shotgun. He handles it like his riot baton, twisting and readjusting his grip, fighting against the anxious sweat under the black leather gloves. In the reflection of the driver’s side window of the dusty yellow pick-up truck, he’s a figure in a tan jacket over dark blue coveralls with an evergreen ski mask, revealing an abstract image of a face, eyes and lips protruding from holes in the appropriate places—red, white, and intent.
He closes in on the pick-up truck driver, who isn’t looking his way. The driver’s attention is toward the front of the truck, focused on Tanner’s partner, Daniel, standing there, dressed the same as Tanner, pointing a long-barrel silver pistol. Daniel touches the tip of the index finger of his free hand to his pursed lips, shushing the man. From their surveillance, they know the driver’s name is Earl.
The truck is the only one with a camper shell at the Mcdonald’s parking lot over the highway near Vinita. The camper shell is a sun-washed white, dented and rusted, with a cardboard-covered back window. It’s early, three o’clock, still dark. Business is slow before the morning highway rush. The parking lot is near empty with dormant semi-trucks, still, like sleeping dragons, and a few cars. Light poles dot the lot like hunched sentinels and cast harsh white glares across the paint and glass of the vehicles.
Earl, in blue jeans and a Carhart jacket, mumbles a half-believing, “what the hell?”
Then Tanner’s on him, marching in giant, hurried strides. The shotgun slams into Earl’s back, Tanner’s weight and momentum behind it. It drums the driver loose from his frozen stupor, causing him to drop his hot cup of coffee, which splashes across his feet. The guy is wedged between Tanner’s compressed bulk and the truck.
Grimacing like they do in the movies to make his voice deeper, Tanner says, “Keys? Where are the keys?”
Earl tries to push away from the truck to turn to look at Tanner, but Tanner flicks a wrist and clips the bridge of his nose with the shotgun’s barrel.
“Don’t you fucking move,” Tanner says, shoulder-shoving Earl into the truck. Earl groans. He tries to look without moving his body, but Tanner nudges him again, adding a knee strike to the back of Earl’s fat thigh. The blow knocks him off balance. Tanner threatens, “Don’t look at me.”
Tanner doesn’t say, but his actions imply:
Don’t fight back. Surrender. Know when you’re beat.
The element of surprise is a powerful thing; it overwhelms. This isn’t the first time for Tanner; other drivers were like this. They start tough, then come to realize what exactly is going on. Already, Tanner can feel the shivers of fear raking Earl’s body, but he can tell Earl isn’t the type to roll over without an extra incentive.
Daniel provides that. He stomps forward and pistol whips Earl in the face. Tanner pushes Earl tighter against the truck to keep him from falling to the pavement. Earl sags, Tanner lifts.
“Where are the keys?” Daniel doesn’t give Earl time to answer, and pistol whips him again, opening a large gash on Earl’s head.
Incentive delivered.
Earl stammers out an answer, lips quivering, snot and blood running down his face. “My pocket.”
“Which one?” Tanner asks, constricting Earl’s movements.
“You cut me open. What the fuck?” Earl squeezes his eyes shut. “What do you mean, which one? They’re in my pocket. Don’t fucking hit me anymore. You want them; take them.”
“Which one, dumb fuck?” Daniel demands. Eyes searching Earl.
“Left or right,” Tanner adds, increasing the pressure against Earl’s back. Earl’s body tenses. Tanner tells him. “Don’t move for them, just tell us.”
“Jesus,” Earl starts but then thinks better of it. “Left pocket,” he shouts. “Left pocket.”
Daniel slips his hand into Earl’s left jeans pocket to fish out the keys.
Earl says, “do you know who owns this truck?”
Daniel yanks the keys from Earl’s pocket, ripping the man’s pants. He shows the keys to Tanner. They’re shiny in the parking lot lights. Daniel wraps his hand around the keys, making a fist.
“Why do you think we’re here?” Tanner says.
Earl spits snot and blood on the ground. “They’re going to kill you. Both of you.”
Daniel laughs. He can’t help himself.
This load belongs to Fat Tommy and Short Philly, and from what Tanner understands, they’re running it as contractors for some Siriano adjunct. Old man Siriano is done, going to prison. Oklahoma’s quickly becoming a new Wild West.
Daniel says, “If they are going to kill us, they would have done it the first time we did this. They would have taken some precautions.”
Tanner adds, “but they didn’t.”
“Because they don’t care about you,” Daniel says as if he’s offering a revelation of salvation so that a sinner may know the truth. He’s pretty convincing. “They’re like Walmart; they make money no matter. When they win, they’re making money, and when they lose, they’re making money. What they aren’t doing is paying you enough money to act like a hardass.”
Tanner doesn’t know much about Daniel. He’s seen him around, but he doesn’t know his full name and doesn’t know how Daniel likes his coffee or what, if anything, he wants on his pancakes. Outside of here, these moments, they don’t talk. They don’t interact–all Tanner knows about Daniel is he’s old enough to have gone straight for a time, then decided to come back into the life. Outside of these jobs, this being the third hijacking this month, they don’t associate. Just as Daniel doesn’t know details about Tanner beyond his first name, like he doesn’t know Tanner is a deputy or Tanner’s struggled with opiate addiction. How breaking an ankle in high school football led to Lortabs, how Lortabs led to oxy, and how that eventually led to the German. Not that Tanner can’t control the addiction. Most of the time, he can. That’s why he works out. But it’s always there. An itch begging for attention.
The German is what connects them and their third associate, the deadbeat Jeremy, who Tanner remembers as a dirty, stringy-haired kid from high school a couple of grades back. He’s their driver and sitting in his big green boat on the other side of the building, waiting for the truck to roll out.
The German plans and finances these hijackings, using men he has something on. The German knows whose marijuana loads these are, and that’s why Tanner and company are hitting them.
Tanner shifts his weight and position and aims a second knee strike, this time at Earl’s balls while scraping the shotgun up Earl’s spine and knocking the butt against the back of Earl’s head.
With the pistol still pointed at Earl, Daniel reaches forward while Tanner lets off Earl some, grabbing his jacket’s hood with one hand and dragging him a step back so Daniel can open the driver’s side door. Tanner shoves Earl into the single cab pickup and prods him across the seat. Already, Daniel’s at the passenger side, the door flung open, grabbing for Earl’s arm, yanking him toward the middle of the cab while loading up into the passenger seat himself. Daniel shoves the pistol into Earl’s side and tells him to stay still. Daniel reaches across Earl and inserts the keys into the ignition, turning them. Tanner slips in behind the steering wheel. He stores the shotgun barrel down on his left side, protecting it from any brave and stupid move from Earl. Foot on the clutch, Tanner puts the truck in gear as he closes the driver’s side door.
The truck with the three men snuggly in the cab slips around the building, heading west toward Tulsa. The opposite of Earl’s route out of state. They followed him from the warehouse to here, where he stopped to take a piss and get some coffee.
As they leave, Jeremy’s green Marquis falls in behind them, three car lengths back.
Tanner takes the first country road exit and goes a ways before turning around on the semi-gravel road typical of Oklahoma backcountry. He shifts the lever to park.
Daniel exits the vehicle, jerking the silent, rigid Earl across the passenger seat and onto the grass embankment.
“Lie there,” Daniel says. “Facedown.”
On his hands and knees, looking up at Daniel, Earl grimaces but complies. He turns face down into the grass.
“Hands over your head,” Daniel commands. Earl obeys. “It’s just marijuana. It’s not your marijuana, don’t die over it.”
Daniel waits to see if Earl will argue or agree.
When the man doesn’t say anything, Daniel says, “I don’t want to hear about this on the news. We know who you are. We know where you work and who lives with you. I’m not fucking with you. No news. No headlines. Your bosses don’t want the attention either. Call this the price of doing business. Count to sixty—slow—and then take your happy ass home.”
With that, Daniel climbs back into the cab of the truck. He slams the door. He rolls down the window and pulls his ski mask off his head.
“Remember, sixty—slow.” Daniel pauses, staring at Earl in the grass. “Do it out loud, so I know you’re counting.”
Earl shifts from silence to saying the numbers out loud. He’s already at three. “Four…five…six.”
Daniel says, “good.”
Tanner lifts his mask to his forehead and pops the clutch, letting the truck idle forward. He slips it into gear. By the time Earl should be on thirty, Tanner’s been counting at the same cadence in his head; they’re back on the highway.


Mark Atley is the author of The Olympian, American Standard, Too Late To Say Goodbye, and the forthcoming Trouble Weighs a Ton and A Bright Young Man, as well as a handful of short fiction. Mark works as a detective for a suburb of Tulsa, OK, and has dedicated his life to crime. Check out markatley.com for more information or follow him on Twitter: @mark_atley.

The House of Dead rock stars by Maria Thomas

Flash Fiction

The sign is crackled, white paint flaking glossy dandruff onto the doorstep. It reads THE HOUSE OF DEAD ROCKSTARS in large gothic script. We’ve heard from friends that this place, this strange, uncanny place, has helped them. It’s our last gasp attempt to save our marriage.

Kurt shows us to our room. We can see peeling flock wallpaper through the ragged hole in his head as he leads us up the carpeted stairs. Tiny puffs of dust rise with each footfall and fill the hall with the smell of dead skin.

Our room is lit by a solitary low voltage bulb and the moon, cobwebs hang in the window, semi-transparent like nets, and there’s a rank smell like something expired not so long ago. Prince is sitting on a low stool in the corner of the room, and he jumps up and yells ‘Surprise’.

‘We are surprised’ says Mike, and Prince tells us that he’ll be serenading our lovemaking with one of his dirty little ditties. Mike seems excited by this, but I ask for Starfish and Coffee. It seems more magical, and I think it’s magic we need.

Prince winks and sings, and we make love and Prince screams in harmony as we come, and the sound of his screams solidify and transform into shards of ice which sweep across my skin, alighting every single sensory point, making me shudder and moan all over again. I think, so that’s why he’s known as such an accomplished lover, if he can do that with just his voice. Afterwards Mike shares a cigarette with the Cuban-heeled popstar, and I lie there watching my body turn silver and scaled in the moonlight like a mermaid. I wonder if the magic has worked.

The next morning Prince is gone and so is Mike. Janis brings me thick, black coffee and a letter. The coffee almost masks the chemical stench of Janis’s body, and the letter almost masks the bilious stench of Mike’s cowardice. Janis holds my hand as I cry. Her touch is icy and burns, leaving a livid scorch mark.

“You can stay longer, if you like” she says, her voice a razor’s rasp.

I read the letter over breakfast served by Amy. She’s reeling drunk, a fag hanging from her mouth, grey ash curling like a fingernail towards my overdone bacon and eggs. Mike’s letter is full of the usual clichés – it’s me not you, we were too young, I didn’t know what I wanted. What it doesn’t say is I’m sorry, what it doesn’t say is I don’t love you anymore, what it doesn’t say is I prefer dead rockstars.

Later I play chess in the library with Marc. His head is crushed aluminium and I think he lets me win. It’s good to win sometimes.


Maria Thomas is a middle-aged, apple-shaped mum of two from London. During daylight hours she works in technical control in financial services, a subject so mind-numbingly dull that she spends the witching hours writing. She has had work published by EllipsisZine, Funny Pearls, The Levatio, Fiery Scribe Review, Paragraph Planet, VirtualZine and (upcoming) Free Flash Fiction. Maria won Retreat West’s April 2022 Micro competition. She can be found on Twitter as @AppleWriter.

Nobody’s seen him for years by Patrick Daniel

Flash Fiction

The younger of the two women looked over to the place by the door where he was sitting, half-aware someone had said something. The hinges of pink under where the man’s eyelids connected at the nose side were swollen. These tended to behold instead of the eyeballs themselves when he got tired enough. He mussed his face self-consciously.

It was just him, a person behind the bar and the two women in there, music pulsing dully. There were no windows. The establishment was owned by the younger brother of an actor who had been well-known in the early-2000s. The older of the two women had heard the thing about how the actor liked to drink in the back room on quiet nights like these and how, when the time was right, any women drinking in the front room were apparently invited through to the back to join him. The younger woman was there because she had heard the thing about how the actor’s brother and his friends liked to strongly imply the actor was in the back room and proceed to get the women drunk enough so that they could eventually take advantage of the women themselves. The younger woman thought this outcome seemed interesting and she had adjusted herself to it. She had said nothing to the older woman about what was probably going to happen.

The man who had spoken crossed one leg over the other and rested his wrist over the elevated knee. He watched his glass of coke and waited for it to meet him at his temperature. The man who had spoken worked for a company that sold fakey walkthroughs of the civil service recruitment pre-interview in-tray task, driving theory test and things of that nature. He had never come to this establishment before. It provided an alternative to the usual – evenings ruined by eating too much out at his little house in the fields by the hospital.

People loved the actor back in the early-2000s because he looked like he smelled great and never washed. That was the finest point ever put on the actor’s appeal. One entertainment pundit said the actor’s particular brand of musculature made it look like he could appreciate the manliest vices without letting them destroy him, and this was aspirational. ‘Sinewy’ another commentator said.

In addition to the fakey walkthroughs, the man generated a negligible second income from Stacker, a piece of software he had developed which allowed kebab shops and takeaways to put together photographs of the individual elements of burgers and kebabs quickly and digitally for their behind-the-counter menu displays. Stacker ensured that the shadows were consistent across the patties, salad, slices of cheese and so on. It was never going to go anywhere and most of the time these days he just played on it for fun.

The actor’s brother would pull the same trick as a teenager, throwing parties that were promoted with the rumour that the actor would stop by. This had been around the time of the actor appearing in some of his earliest nine o’clock television dramas. He had played an infamous serial killer. He had played a doomed post-punk frontman. Each character had been consented to as a reincarnation of the previous character. It was like the connecting presence across these characters was sent down to earth to live again each time instead of achieving the peace of finally being beyond the world. The reason they had really all loved him was the thing in his eyes in each role that screamed get me out of here. People could relate to it.

The younger woman appeared to be in great distress. She was beginning to regret her complicity in the deception of the older woman.

“You have to go,” she said to her. “I’m going to stay. I can’t explain why.”

The man laughed. The man searched in mind for the perfect thing to say in order to demonstrate how mild he had become – how anonymous his life was now. Perhaps he would lead with Stacker. Foiling his brother’s plan would be sweet. The idea that he had ever been the type to beckon women through to the back rooms of nightclubs had been installed in the world entirely by these schemes that his brother had been running since the start. All of that ‘Jack’ll stop by’ and ‘Jack’s in the back’ had reached the powers-that-be and caused them to cast him as a series of manly-men. It had stood in the way of his efforts to emerge as who he really was. Even back in the days of the teenage parties he hadn’t been the type to want to meet girls. It had forced him to quit acting.

The exposed brickwork was lit with the kind of streaked and dramatic surface lighting put on the exteriors of churches or cathedrals in a time of year opposite to the one in question, the one in which the man waited for the right moment to reveal his true identity, like spaceships of faith out into the nothing. His eyes drooped shut again, tired from work. In these moments the nothing won. When his eyes opened his brother’s men were dragging him out into the street.


Patrick Daniel is a writer from Norfolk, UK. His short stories can be found at Expat, Necessary Fiction and Hello America.

Red Pill by Katy Naylor

Flash Fiction

They say nothing is truly innocent. The clearest raindrop holds the promise of the flood. The rot sits heavy, foreshadowed in the seed.

It blossoms without my even trying. The pain drips and blots behind me with each footstep, leaving great inky puddles in my wake. You’d think it would be a warning but it’s not. It draws you to me: a shark sensing blood in the water.

As soon as you walked in, I could feel the tension. The air crackled with it. The almost-touch across the bar, the words calculated to sting just right. It makes me catch my breath just to remember.

Your eyes were bright with truth, and with a kind of anger. You told me that you’d seen. You weren’t going to fall for the world’s bullshit anymore. And I, I was different. I was too smart to be taken in.

You might have been sharp, but you were shining. The grain of grit that might just make something precious, break the dull row of empty days lined up along the counter. A pearl is just an oyster trying not to choke.

We walked together through the bombed out city. The traffic, the trees, the lonely office worker backlit in the high tower at midnight: all these things were hollow. Peel back the layers, you said, and it would all seem so different. I just had to listen, just had to see. You suffused the world with your light, and my eyes were open.

I don’t remember when it started to wear thin. Maybe when I tired of that fire spilling out into bruises on my wrists and the inside of my thighs. Or maybe when I found a handful of your glittering words in print, written, as it turns out, by someone else.

All I know is that one day I looked at you and saw only grey, where blue light had once sparked and fizzed. But still I couldn’t make the break – I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror without your shadow to sharpen it.

We stagger our pleasures through the hours, now. Broken china at teatime and glass in our dinner. Indulge ourselves too much and it’ll all come tumbling down. We’re experts at drawing out the pain, pulling it taught until it sings.

Of course, you blame me. The femme fatale: I made you who you are. As if it’s the sweat that makes the flies and the meat that makes the maggots. All I had to do was sit here and wait for you to come.

You were only too eager to lift the veil, reach out a hand and push your fingers into the warm dark underneath.


Katy Naylor lives by the sea, in a little town on the south coast of England. She is EIC of interactive arts mag voidspace zine, and has work published in places including Expat Lit, Outcast Press and The Bear Creek Gazette. Her debut chapbook, Postcards from Ragnarok, is out now.