Knight Takes Pawn by Tod Molloy

Punk Noir Magazine

Our beans expired the other day. Well, not exactly. The label says they last two years, the internet says five, but I don’t take any chances. I move the old beans to the kitchen and buy some new ones for the cellar.

Sharon wants to put this place up for sale, market conditions being favourable and so forth. The thing is, homes aren’t all made equal these days, in terms of the construction, I mean.

For starters, this house has a root cellar. A big one. It spans half the width of the house, with dirt floors and an electrical feed and a ventilation duct for outside air. Plus, it’s the only room where all four walls are made of concrete.

The grocery store across town’s got black beans on sale this week. Sometimes they’re labelled turtle beans. That used to throw me for a loop. Normally you drain and rinse the beans before you eat them, but if you’re looking for a quick meal, just dump the can into a pot. Bring it to a slow, steady boil. Add a bay leaf and a pinch of cumin and you’ve got yourself a tasty little soup.

There’s no room in the backyard for a shelter, on account of the swimming pool and the patio and the little shed where we keep the lawnmower and the gardening tools. And we both enjoy the hot tub. We’ve only had it for about a year and Sharon really needs the hydrotherapy on account of her sciatica.

Sure, I was worried about the ceiling at first. The root cellar’s basically underneath the veranda and you never know exactly how the structure might collapse after a direct hit. 

I’ll tell you something. It’s so easy going shopping with a pick-up truck. Drop the tailgate and slide your stuff right in, you don’t even have to bend over. I can’t imagine getting by without at least a mid-sized SUV. These people with their passenger sedans and their little bullshit hybrids just don’t get it. I’m glad those days are behind me.

The jack-posts and the railway ties made a big difference. Bring on the artillery shells, this thing is built damn solid. Sometimes I put my headphones on and download an old war movie and sit there in the dark, eyes closed, listening to the sound effects, imagining our town being bombarded.

They’d hit the police station and the fire department first. Then the high school and the hospital, then probably the power grid and the railway bridge above the creek. They never bomb the animal shelters. If you need pain killers or surgical equipment, that’s the spot to go.

Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten August, 1939. Let me refresh your memory. The Nazis staged a false flag operation in Eastern Germany. They dressed up like Polish soldiers and seized a radio station, got on the airwaves, broadcasted an anti-German message spoken in the Polish language. Can you guess what happened next? Is this ringing any bells? In the morning, in response to their “aggression,” Hitler’s army rolled across the border into Poland.

There’s twenty four cans in a standard case of black beans. Each can’s got forty-three grams of carbohydrate and fifteen grams of protein, not to mention the iron and the fibre. You can use the empties as containers, or slice them into strips to make repairs.

People thought I was crazy at first. My neighbours said some nasty things. But they came around, what with the virus and inflation and the gun crime. Especially the gun crime. Why anyone thinks they need more than a few handguns is beyond my comprehension.

The trick is to think about the shelter like a sailboat. You’ve got to make use of every square inch, be inventive when it comes to storage. It’s a big room as far as cellars go, but we’ve got a lot of stuff down there: hammocks, seeds, hand tools, bottled water, gasoline, butane, camping gear, extra clothing, books, batteries, flashlights, ammunition, gas masks, first-aid kits, potassium iodide, penicillin, rubbing alcohol, crossbows, a bench grinder. I tried not to drill too many holes in the walls for hooks and shelving and what not. When it comes to concrete, moisture is the enemy.

Can you believe my own Father tried to talk me out of it? He even had the gall to ask me how I planned on paying for everything.

I told him, “Things are different now. Get on the computer and do your own research, you’ll understand it pretty quickly.”

“But why the bull bars? Why the solid rubber tires? Why the extra gas tank on the roof?”

He’s always been a skeptic. The kind of guy that says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

I said, “Turn on the TV around eight o’clock tonight, you’ll see plenty.”

“Son,” he said, more softly. “Where’d this body armour come from?”

I asked him about his pension. About his mutual funds and dividends and social security cheques. I said, “Guess what Dad? That stuff IS my pension. That truck IS my social security.”

Between the dirt floor and the air vent, we had things pretty easy on the retrofit. Though I’m still not sure how much I trust the plumbing. And like I said, we’ll see how long the power even lasts.

We’ll only be down here for a month, maybe two months tops. If we can’t bug out by then—we’re in a lot of trouble.

The plaza was jammed. Pretty typical on Sundays, according to Sharon at least. The only open spot was in front of a lamppost mounted on a waist-high concrete base. I parked the truck and took my list and went inside. On my way back out, I saw the strangest thing.

Two men were riding in the van. Both wore mirrored glasses despite the gentle rain. The passenger climbed out quickly, heading for the lamppost. White guy. Heavy-set. Safari hat, khaki vest, scuffed black army surplus boots.

It was the bumper stickers that really caught my eye. You know what kind. A green snake coiled on a yellow backdrop. A plain black horse. Flags and flags and flags.

I slowed my pace, barely moving, obscuring my position and trajectory.

The man turned his shoulders and slipped nimbly past my truck. He stood at the base of the lamppost and grabbed the metal cover that hides the anchor bolts, working it loose, slipping it up the pole, exposing a recessed space underneath.

I pushed my cart across the lot and stopped behind some garbage bins, pretending to be looking at my phone.

The object he retrieved was too small to be identified. It looked like a grenade. He fiddled with it for a moment, then he put it back in place. He lowered the cover and jogged between the cars and hopped inside the van and sped away. I raised my phone and snapped a blurry photo as they pulled onto the street.

The incident played out in under five minutes. What struck me was his total nonchalance, as if the rest of us were flaccid rubes, too meek to intervene.

I dropped the gate and put the groceries in the truck. I rolled the empty cart across the lot and shoved it under the gazebo with the others. I reached into my coat and grabbed my keys. The post was only steps away. How long would it take to check beneath the cover? Thirty-seconds? A minute?

I started up the truck and left the door half-open. I walked briskly to the post and grabbed the cover. Then I stopped.

I felt this strange sensation.

Like I was being watched.

I scanned the lot and saw an old brown station wagon parked about fifty yards away. The man behind the wheel was staring straight at me. The nature of the old man’s gaze sparked a panic in my guts. He had violence in his eyes, something primal. Something that I’ve read about in books. I shrugged it off as a coincidence, until I saw his plates. The car was registered in West Virginia.

I was rattled. I’m not ashamed to say it. If you’re not rattled in a situation like that, you’re just plain dumb.

I couldn’t shake the feeling in my stomach. Like I had witnessed something more than simple mischief, something more than petty crime. Sedition. Conspiracy. Domestic terrorism. Something truly evil.

I’m sure right now you’re thinking, Come on buddy, get real. But when’s the last time you stopped to ask yourself a simple question: What is real, anyway?

Real is what you see when you look outside your window. Real is what you hear from your neighbours, friends and family. Real is what’s ten inches in front of your face, what’s in your heart, what’s in your goddamn soul. How about world history—that shit real enough for you?

I was halfway home when I pulled onto the shoulder and called the special number.

Our conversation lasted almost twenty minutes. The agent sounded bright and young and wonderfully efficient. And did I mention polite? He even called me ‘Sir’.

He thanked me for the information and said the Bureau would follow up if they had any further questions. He said to keep the photo just in case. He seemed impressed with both my recall and my situational awareness. He said that everyday citizens like me were keeping other people safe.

It’s so refreshing to deal with a competent person for a change, not a robot, not some overburdened call centre in butt-fuck-God-knows-where. Why can’t the hospital or the DMV run as smoothly as The Bureau? Why can’t every institution for that matter? This whole country would be better off.

I was moving beans from the cellar to the kitchen when I started doubting my decision. The West Virginia plates had spooked me, no question about that. But should I have looked beneath the cover anyway?

Imagine my phone call with the Bureau if I had photographed the object. Or better yet, if I knew exactly what it was. They’d be offering me a job right now. A few years behind a desk and then who knows. I’m still pretty young. I could handle field work. Sure, I’d need a little training, but I’m no slouch when it comes to physical exertion. I can still do fifty push-ups in a row. Last week, I ran a five minute mile on the health club treadmill. 

After Sharon went to bed, I drove back across town. Once she straps on that sleep apnea mask, she’s out cold till morning.

Back in college, this girl who lived in our dormitory got raped in the ravine that runs along the county line. She told the cops they wore balaclavas and didn’t say too much, but she knew they had to be around her age—she could tell by their jeans and sneakers.

Folks in town didn’t wait for the results of the investigation. A group of vigilantes snuck into the woods one night and torched the homeless encampment. State authorities had to call in air support to stop a full-blown forest fire from breaking out.

Looking back after all these years, something about that whole damn incident just doesn’t add up. What was the girl doing in the ravine by herself to begin with?

The plaza parking lot was mostly empty. Cars clustered near the all-night diner. Workers stocking shelves inside the supermarket, cleaners going aisle to aisle with mops. Tractor trailer stationed in the loading dock, yellow lights flashing on and off along its flank.

I parked and waited for a while. I’m not sure what I thought would happen next. I was worried that the Bureau was already surveilling the location and I’d be mistaken for a terrorist, innocent victim of my own whistle-blower tip. But the more I thought about it, the dumber all that sounded in my head. Besides, I don’t look much like a terrorist anyway.

I pulled on my hood and a pair of latex gloves. I approached the post and grabbed the cover, lifting up and wiggling gently, the way the suspect did that morning. Once I had the space, I reached up underneath, feeling for the grenade or the beacon or the plastic explosives.

My fingers grazed a smooth round surface. I grabbed the grenade and worked it loose and shoved it in my pocket as I hurried to the truck.

It felt pretty light for a grenade. Then again, I’ve never actually held a real grenade before. Back in high school, I had this cigarette lighter that looked exactly like a grenade. Even that was heavier than this. I was never much of a smoker, by the way. I just liked the way the flame flicked on and off. 

I shut the door and switched on the overhead light. The grenade was actually a small plastic jar with a red plastic lid. Sharon has a few of these at home. She uses them for picnics, for cucumber dip and salad dressing.

My fingers trembled as I unscrewed the cap. I was worried that it might explode into my face. I’d be scarred for life. I’d have to wear sunglasses to work and to the movies and the shopping mall.

I set the lid on the passenger seat and tilted the jar toward the light. The only thing inside was a folded paper booklet covered in hand-written, alphanumeric codes:

Nc3 f5, E4 fxe4, Nxe4 Nf6

My heart pounded. Secret bank accounts. Passwords. Cryptology. Launch codes. You really think that no civilians helped the Nazis? You think they had no networks, no militias, no covert operatives? Don’t kid yourself. These people are out there, even now. These people are all around us.

Nxe4 Nf6.

Nxe4 Nf6.

Nxe4 Nf6.

I drove home slowly, trying not to panic.

I had beans to move. 

I had a family to protect.

Dreams and nightmares — a Poem by Kooki Honor @KookiHonor

Punk Noir Magazine

Dreams and nightmares

It’s either dreams or nightmares.
The silence between the two

holds no place.
None of which can be chosen.
Each being everything

you expect it to be
The nightmares, dreadful, soaked in terror, rooted in evil,

nearly impossible to sweep from memory
The dreams, hopeful, steeped in wonders, fading away at the battling of an eyelash

It’s either one or the other
Solely emptiness holds in between
None of which can be chosen
Only endured, forcibly embodied, never truly embraced

Just like everything else, but rarely everyone
How many lived on the shores and swam from one to the other
How many set foot on one, never to cross again

So many going back and forth without ever touching ground
What is it about those who never embark, never learned to swim in between, never crossed

It’s either dreams or nightmares
And the absence of what is between
There, there lays the faith of the unconscious,

The dreamers as you may call them
The landless on earth, inhabitants of the heavens, or hell

Waking up only to see, that beyond terror and fantasy

There is nothing in here for them
Dreams or nightmares, is their only way to be.

Dreams and nightmares — a Poem by Kooki Honor @KookiHonor

Punk Noir Magazine

Dreams and nightmares

It’s either dreams or nightmares.
The silence between the two

holds no place.
None of which can be chosen.
Each being everything

you expect it to be
The nightmares, dreadful, soaked in terror, rooted in evil,

nearly impossible to sweep from memory
The dreams, hopeful, steeped in wonders, fading away at the battling of an eyelash

It’s either one or the other
Solely emptiness holds in between
None of which can be chosen
Only endured, forcibly embodied, never truly embraced

Just like everything else, but rarely everyone
How many lived on the shores and swam from one to the other
How many set foot on one, never to cross again

So many going back and forth without ever touching ground
What is it about those who never embark, never learned to swim in between, never crossed

It’s either dreams or nightmares
And the absence of what is between
There, there lays the faith of the unconscious,

The dreamers as you may call them
The landless on earth, inhabitants of the heavens, or hell

Waking up only to see, that beyond terror and fantasy

There is nothing in here for them
Dreams or nightmares, is their only way to be.

Bloody Lip by Stephen J. Golds

Punk Noir Magazine

Note: This is a piece of flash fiction from the Golds’ Vaults. I wrote it when I was twenty years old. It’s interesting because I feel even 20 years later, I have kept a similar style with similar themes in my poetry. I still cringe at how bad my writing was at that time, but this is one of maybe twenty pieces I think are not so bad. Originally published at ZYGOTE IN MY COFFEE. Slightly edited here. Anyway, cheers for reading.

I had the taste of blood in my mouth.




She had hit me with a pretty good right hook. Who the hell had taught her to punch like that? Not me. I just didn’t know.

I went to the hallway mirror and she followed after. Her mouth, all teeth and rose petal lipped opening and closing — crazy obtuse shapes. I examined my own lower lip. There was a good long gash; my canine tooth had been forced into the flesh.

I stared at my reflection and thought of the wars, World War One, World War Two, Viet Nam.

She hadn’t looked the violent type at all, but I guess they never did. I decided not to clean the wound, I would let it bleed. The blood trickling down my chin, onto my vest and boxer shorts. It felt strangely heroic. I went into the living room and sat down on the settee. Placed a cigarette carefully in the side of my mouth that wasn’t bleeding.

“I said, get out of here, you piece of shit,” She screamed again from the hallway.

She threw my work boots into the living room, my work jacket followed soon after, flying past, a green, fluorescent bird crashing into the boots, covering their shame, their nakedness. 

I inhaled on my cigarette. Exhaled. Waited. Again I’d misunderstood something I was meant to have understood. Missed some kind of sign about what was wanted from me. Or something. I spent most of the time not understanding what the hell was going on with other people and what they wanted or needed.

“I told you to get the hell out. What are you waiting for? A quick fuck goodbye? Well, you can go to her for that now, can’t you”. She was in front of me waving her arms and stamping her bare feet. I think I flinched a few times.

It was the first time I ever realized there were negative consequences to my negative actions.

I’d never been punched by a woman before either. It wasn’t the last time. As a man it would be another thing never spoken of.  

I can still feel the smooth tightness of the scar with the tip of my tongue. Even now.

Can still remember her name.

It might’ve been the first time I hurt someone I might’ve loved.

It might’ve been the first time someone I might’ve loved hurt me.

Piece of Slime by Patrick Whitehurst

Punk Noir Magazine


Traffic on Sansome had to be noisy at this time of day. Just after closing time on a Monday, only in the back office of Mitchum and Associates, ten stories over downtown San Francisco, he couldn’t hear a damn thing. Just Albert Mitchum’s bitch-ass whiny voice.

He sat on the floor with his legs splayed out on the carpet. Had his head turned to one side. Sam kept his eyes on his right black canvas shoe. He could see spittle on it from where the overweight accountant hawked on him.

“No one talks to Albert Mitchum that way, you fucking piece of slime. No one!”

“Let me explain, Mitchum. I…” Sam started.

“You can keep that damn mouth shut and listen to me.” He kicked out his loafered foot, striking the mahogany wall inches from Sam’s head. Loafer scuffed the wood, not that Sam minded. As a rent-a-goon, he’d seen the bottom of plenty of shoes.

One look showed him a fishy, pale visage with a bushy gray mustache. Mitchum needed to get out more. Chubby cheeks, white as a corpse and ruddy with exertion. His heavy jowls wobbled like a rooster’swattles. He wore a charcoal gray business suit, the wide blazer opened to let his belly bulge over his silk slacks. Red suspenders kept the pants from falling. He’d combed over what little hair he had to confuse the baldness. A useless effort.

“You come here trying to extort money from me, threatening me, and you think I’ll just roll the fuck over?” A web of droolhung from the man’s skinny, purple lips.

“Please, Mitchum. If you’ll just…”

The numbers man wasn’t thinking figures. His loafers scuffed the wall again. Sam winced. Closer that time.

Weird he couldn’t hear a single car. These assholes were lucky to be this high above the world.

“Mister Mitchum to you, slime! Mister. Fucking. Mitchum!”

Albert asked Sam to swing by at five,when the staff were on their way to traffic jams. Man probably worked late most nights. On his heavy wooden desk were two monitors, each flanked by an assortment of framed photos. Most were kids, at least five of them. Another was of a woman with jowls heavier than Albert’s. Her hair, white as a sheet, was cut page boy style. Both had to be in their mid-fifties.

Mitchum’s walrus mustache made him look older. Thought about his heart a bit too, that guy, if the Web MD page on his computer screen were any indication. Symptoms of a stroke. Based on the fat ass vein popping out of his forehead, the reaper wouldn’t need to check his watchmuch longer.

Last thing Sam needed was a plump corpse landing on him.

“Listen to me and listen good, shit licker.” Mitchum wouldn’t shut up. “No one comes into my business and tells me what to do. You think you’re so fucking tough. You bastard cockroach whore!”

Not a bad put down.

Sam held up a hand. “Wasn’t trying to…”

The big man stepped back, grabbed one of the two leather chairs that faced his desk, and flipped it over. It landed against the bookshelf on the far side of the room.

“Keep talking mother fucker! I’ll shove a chair so far up your ass you’ll puke zippers and cotton balls until Christmas!”

The accountant dropped to his knees. Came down to Sam’s level. Brought his walrus, veined-out face within inches of Sam’s lips.

“Fuck you! You filthy fuck of shit!” Saliva rained on the hired thug’s exposed neck. He felt a drop hit his chin.

The phone in Sam’s Dockers vibrated. He reached under his blue flannel and checked it. The alarm. Thank God.

“Time’s up, Mitchum.” 

The jowls pulled away. “Already?

“Yeah. That’ll be five hundred. And hold back on the spit next time.”

Mitchum’s shoulders slumped. “Was just getting into it. Love the extortionist angle.”

“Story’s up to you. I’m just here to be a piece of shit. Make you feel better about crunching numbers for assholes.”

“When can I see you again?”

Sam sighed. “When rent’s due.”

The Weight by Jeff Boyd — a Punk Noir Book Review by Scott Cumming

Punk Noir Magazine

“I’m 27 and I don’t know who I am”

– boygenius – “Emily, I’m Sorry”

This line from one of the latest boygenius tracks really sums up what this book is about in part. Julian is only 26, the black drummer in a Portland band living hand to mouth and not without the generosity of his better off friends. Homeschooled and brought up ardently Christian, he finds himself out of place in a city populated by few other black people.

As is the case with anybody in there twenties, Julian is fucking around and figuring shit out. His affair ends as quick as it began with his lover getting engaged and as the band he plays in finds itself on the up, Julian is spiraling into crisis and taking out on those closest to him.

Boyd’s writing keeps you rapt throughout and never becomes melodramatic. He finds the perfect tone for living through your twenties and how you’ll spend too much just to get to hang out with friends or prospective lovers in the right night spot or the trendy cafe/bar.

He hits upon the way in which Christianity still holds major sway over the United States whereas here in Scotland, worship is a much more private thing compared with the garish displays of devotion written about in the novel with weekly workplace prayers.

I loved this novel, but I cannot profess to fully understand what it is to be a black man in America. One of the highlight scenes of the book is when Julian is driven by a police officer to get gas for a truck and it is at once hilarious and plain terrifying as Julian’s fears in this situation as well as the observers are at once tangible and in this case ridiculous, but the line is difficult to see when you are that close to it.

It is clear from the acknowledgements that this is an autobiographical novel and it is plain in the dialogue as things often become uncomfortable and acrimonious between the band members especially during their tour of the West Coast. It’s no different to any family dynamic where the boundaries disappear and the truth is more readily spoken.

There must be something in the water as my previous novel was a five star read from Joshua Ferris and he is listed as Boyd’s first writing teacher.

I adored this debut by Jeff Boyd highlighting the difficulty of being in your twenties with added barriers for working things out. At times, the character seems younger than he is, but a somewhat sheltered existence up to his divorce speaks for that lack of experience in the world. I’m excited to see what Boyd does next and urge you all to jump into this one.

Santa’s Cookie by Russell Thayer

Punk Noir Magazine

Gunselle leaned on the buzzer. It must be 2:00 am. Her bottom lip burned from biting back pain. Her left hand kept the side of her midsection together, blood chilling on her fingers. She wore an expensive fur coat she hadn’t had to pay for. It covered a holiday-red party dress with a wide black belt and white fur collar. The dress had a hole in it.

“Your boss sent me,” she mumbled to the man who opened the door. “Said you’d sew me up.”

“What boss?” said the man. He seemed perturbed about being roused from bed so early on Christmas morning. Or maybe it was the thought of his wide-eyed wife standing behind him holding her silk robe closed. Or the little girl on the stairs, a toy bear clutched against her chest.

“You know who,” said Gunselle. “Don’t be a fool.”

“Let her in if she’s hurt,” said the wife, twisting her brow into an anxious display.

“Jesus Christ,” said the man. “Get inside.”

Gunselle lifted one foot over the threshold before stopping. The wife hurried to pull Gunselle’s free arm over her shoulder, helping her into the entryway. A large Christmas tree glowed in the living room.

“Cozy scene,” said Gunselle. “Where do you want me to lie down?”

“This is a private clinic,” said the wife. “We have an examination room. Come.” She walked Gunselle down a short hallway. The little girl ran ahead to open a door and turn on alight. She stood to the side as her mother helped Gunselle out of her fur coat and got her seated on the padded table. The doctor washed his hands at a sink while his wife removed Gunselle’s pumps, then lifted her knees and swiveled her fully onto the leather pad with practiced ease. Gunselle grimaced as the woman removed her torn black stockings. The wife tried to ease Gunselle’s hand from the raw hole in her side, but Gunselle wouldn’t budge.

“Have you ever treated a gunshot wound?” The woman’s soft touch felt good. She had a narrow, plain face. Wispy blonde hair. 

“I was an army nurse in the Philippines,” she said, gently lifting Gunselle’s left foot. “These toes are broken,”

“You should see the jolly fucker’s nuts.”

“Go to bed, Jenny,” said her mother. “Now.”

The little girl moved to the door. No further. Gunselle could tell she was eyeing her comical costume with confusion.

“Sorry for the rough language,” said Gunselle, feeling the woman’s fingers creep around her waist. “The slug’s still in there. Probably a .32”

Out of the corner of her eye, the doctor appeared with a syringe.

“Let’s get it out,” he said.

* * *

Gunselle opened her eyes. Pink light filtered into the examination room through gauzy curtains. The stench of antiseptic filled the air. Gunselle lifted the blanket. The lower half of her costume had been cut away. She studied the bandage. A dull pain burned like a hot coal. The coal glowed brighterwhen she poked it.

“Ow. FUCK. I hate Christmas parties.”

“You’re pretty,” said a child’s voice beside her. “Are you Mrs. Claus?”

Gunselle lifted her head to look into the blue eyes of the child. Jenny.

“No, honey. I’m Santa’s cookie.”

“Santa didn’t eat his cookie last night,” said Jenny. “I don’t think he came at all.”

“Mrs. Claus must have gotten him, too.”


“You’ll figure it out someday. What time is it? It’s barely light outside.”

“Mommy and Daddy are sleeping. I have to wait to open my presents.”

“Mommy and Daddy had a long night,” said Gunselle. “Grab my purse. I don’t feel like getting up.”

Jenny retrieved the brown leather bag from a chair.

“See what you can find in there,” said Gunselle. “I’ve brought gifts.”

Jenny lay the purse next to Gunselle’s hip and popped the latch. She lifted one side and peered into the gloom. Reaching in she pulled out a thick wad of bills.

“That’s for your Daddy. Merry Christmas to him.”

Jenny lay the money aside and reached in again. She pulled out a large silver brooch. It held ten diamonds, all real, and the gems sparkled like a little girl’s eyes.

“That’s for your Mommy. Merry Christmas to her.”

Jenny set the brooch aside and dug in again. This time she pulled out a handful of short, brass, copper-tipped cartridges.

“I thought there was a candy bar in there,” said Gunselle as she collected them from the girl. “I really ought to get a second magazine instead of letting all these loose rounds roll around in my purse. Faster reload if more coppers are on the way. Right?”

“They’re pretty,” said Jenny, eyeing the cartridges, her hand in the bag again. “No candy bar.”

“You can keep these if you promise not to put them in your mouth.”

“I’m not a baby.”

“How old are you? Ten?”

“I’m six.”

“Then that’s how many you can have. Merry Christmas to you.”

“Thanks,” said Jenny, as Gunselle dropped six cartridges into the girl’s open palm.

“When you’re bigger, ask your Daddy to buy you a little pistol to keep in your purse to fend off tramps. Make sure it’s a Savage. Model 1907.” Gunselle remembered an ad she’d seen in a magazine. “William Pinkerton carries one. So does Buffalo Bill.”


“Yeah. And it holds eleven slugs if you pull one into the chamber.”

“That’s a lot.”

“Sometimes you need a lot,” said Gunselle.

“Is your gun in here?” Jenny dug to the bottom of the bag, pulling out a wrapped prophylactic. 

“I left it at home. Pretty dumb, huh? Put that back.”

“Did Mrs. Claus really shoot you?” asked Jenny, squeezing the little package.

“Yeah, but she was drunk and missed my big heart. Now I’m mad at her.”

“Don’t kill Santa.”

“Of course not, kiddo,” said Gunselle, stroking the girl’s hair. “Not our jolly Sugar Daddy.”


Russell Thayer’s work has appeared in The Phoenix, Evening Street Review, Cirque, Close to the Bone, Bristol Noir, Apocalypse Confidential, Hawaii Pacific Review, Shotgun Honey, Punk Noir, Pulp Modern, and Tough. He received his BA in English from the University of Washington, worked for decades at large printing companies, and currently lives in Missoula, Montana.


Punk Noir Magazine


Footsteps and a knock.

“Wallace,” the voice said, almost out of breath. It was Price.

I kept the four-inch Python aimed at the door.

“You got to let me in,” Price said. “The money’s gone.”

“Better keep moving,” I said. “Try upstairs. Maybe strongarm someone’s grandma.”

He bolted down the hall and climbed the creaky iron steps.

“Who was that?” Molly said. Her head rested on the window sill. In a week, she’d aged five years. “Where’d you tell him?”

“That’s a guy,” I said, “whose luck ran out. Old tenants live on the top floors. People who couldn’t afford to move. Or just couldn’t.”

“Where’s my works?”

“One last hit,” I told her. “Where we’re going, you can’t take that stuff. Once we arrive there’ll be plenty.”

Glass broke a few stories above us. Price’s body plummeted down the side of the tower. “Move away,” I told Molly, and closed the yellow blinds.

I felt bad; after all, it was Price’s cash I’d stolen. But he’d hardly been the first.

Molly stared at the mattress for hours. I threw out her gear, locked the door, and, once the police were gone, ventured beyond the tower. Dried blood caked the gravel. Under the WHALE GANG graffiti someone wrote DROP CITY.

The Whale himself would disapprove. He was out lighting matches in Vermont or the Merrimack Valley, due to return thatevening.

Price’s cash was buried in brownfields across the canal. Now that I’d contacted some friends in Montreal, I only needed to retrieve it and grab a motor before the Whale appeared. The gang had grown lazy and scattered in his absence, more concerned with parties and petty extortion than in keeping the cops downtown. At the homecoming, they would light up cars and bonfires—a perfect time to slip.

I found a sedan among the joyridden cars behind the building. A young man in sweatpants noticed me from the stoop and went inside. An hour later, I encountered him and two others in the brownfields.

“That him?” one said.

“Dead on,” said the young man. White scar tissue ringed his neck. “No secrets from the Whale.”

They rushed me. The young man slipped and tumbled down into the canal. The others froze when I pulled the Python. “Help your friend,” I said. “I heard stories about that water. Go in a dick and come out a pussy.”

“Fuck you, man.”

A bonfire flashed up and I shot the pair. Price’s fifties fit snug in my socks.

Back at the tower, police were parked six Buicks deep. The captain spoke through a megaphone: “Killing her won’t save you, Whale. One-way ticket to the pavement…What would Price say?”

Old tenants shivered in the courtyard. I tossed the Python. At once I saw where the pistols and shotguns were pointed: the second window on the sixth floor, my room with Molly.

“What happens now?” the captain bellowed. Through the blinds, I saw Molly wriggling against the Whale. He stood two heads taller and wore a black nylon stocking over his face. The Whale’s left arm squeezed her stomach; his right hand gripped an automatic. “You come down, tell us the story. Kick back a few beers. Nothing to do with jail…”

“Cops are all the same,” the Whale said. His voice echoed over the cinderblocks. “Never there when you need them.”

Molly was flung face-first through the window and landed on a cruiser’s roof. A volley followed from the police. One of the slugs hit the Whale’s left leg. He collapsed on the linoleum. After another volley, he stopped moving.

I stepped past the DROP CITY letters. As the cops led him out in handcuffs, the young man in sweatpants spotted me. “That’s the guy,” he said. “Fucker killed Tim and Roach.”

The officers took no chances. I tried to scale the fence but got tackled and dragged back to the van.

“Ran,” one told the captain. 

We sped away from the canal, bonfires dead and the lights growing brighter. The van jounced when it hit a pothole. 

“They called me in West Roxbury,” the cop said to the driver. “Thought this place got torn down.”

“Ran out of money,” the driver said. “Spent it all building the damn thing. May as well be cardboard now.”

“How are your wrists back there?” the cop called to us. He jingled his keys. “See if those rings are cardboard, too.”

They were not.

BIO: Max Thrax is fiction editor of Apocalypse Confidential. His novel God is a Killer is available from Close to the Bone.