Cut out a diamond of charcoal toile.
Sacrifice black ribbons from your own hair.
Hand stitch satin lengths of tail. The squall
against sash windows announces it’s prepared
to share its primordial sparks. Heavens,
mutating black and blue, even rumble
while you dare pause before a mirror, question
appearance one last time in lieu of being humble
on nights, electric and divine. The bolt
will trickle down the silver twine you wound
yesterday with care. If you deserve its jolts,
they will find you everywhere. Crown
of twinkling gigajoules, luminescent teeth,
at last voltaic as what you survived beneath.
Her toes are dangling off a stone fence post
encircling the sinkhole that swallows
parents, reposed, bottom half of their house, close
to all of their yard. Rainstorm which follows
fills her hollow along with the boulevard
abutting the hovel with precipitation
until the alligators arrive. She stands guard,
mewling kitten in hand, shrewd calculations
made to survive. A free hand unbuttons
the black cotton dress that hid the shame
of a belly she could not express when
the world was unbroken, she was to blame.
She quiets the kitten with milk at her chest.
First problem solved in a new world she loves.
From armour to barbour
or from the operating room to the ice room.
The order comes and we’re deprived of oxygen.
The Mengeleesque nurse selects the patients
under the spell of labor market demands:
“Stay put” or “It’s a cripple!
And he’s drunk! Come on, Mr. Body-Tray! “
The hospital has become an execution site
Where the master of the ultimate things knows how
to squeeze tens and hundreds of millions out of death…
William Burke hangs on the gallows. Undisturbed.
(his denture has submerged in water.)
His pal, Hare
is now being lynched by the mob for his vile plea bargain,
but Dr. Knox is not even on trial…
Our waking Sun is a goggled, broken-purple eye.
A toad with a slit belly lurks at us
from the foul pork jelly of our Celestial Order.
Steaming bowels: greasy Medusa snake-clusters
on the clothesline of the zodiac,
and Saturn staggers backwards in Scorpio… “He is Psermes. Human in form, but better resembles
a goat; a curved tiller hanging from a rope.
He rules over Cappadocia, Galatia, Phrygia.” “God be with you!” (soon comes the “be against you”…)
“I’m the skinner from the mink yard… I was sent for you…”
Laszlo Aranyi (Frater Azmon) poet, anarchist, occultist from Hungary. Earlier books: (szellem)válaszok, A Nap és Holderők egyensúlya . New: Kiterített rókabőr. English poems published: Quail Bell Magazine, Lumin Journal, Moonchild Magazine, Scum Gentry Magazine, Pussy Magic, The Zen Space, Crêpe & Penn, Briars Lit, Acclamation Point, Truly U, Sage Cigarettes Magazine, Lots of Light Literary Foundation, Honey Mag, Theta Wave, Re-side, Cape Magazine, Neuro Logical, The Daily Drunk Mag, Unpublishable Zine, Melbourne Culture Corner, Beir Bua Journal, Crown & Pen, Dead Fern Press, Coven Poetry Journal, Journal of Erato, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Spillover Magazine, Punk Noir, Nymphs Literary Journal, Synchronized Chaos, Impspired Magazine, Fugitives & Futurists, The Dope Fiend Daily, Mausoleum Press, Nine Magazines, Thanks Hun, Downtown Archive, Hearth & Coffin Literary Journal, Our Poetry Archive (OPA), Juniper Literary Magazine, Feral Dove Magazine, Alternate Route, CENTRE FOR EXPERIMENTAL ONTOLOGY, Bullshit Lit Magazine, Misery tourism, Terror House Press, Journal of Expressive Writing, APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL, WordCity Literary Journal, Wilder Literature Magazine, Roadside Raven Review, Death’sDormantDaughter, Rasputin, Amphora Magazine, Dope Fiend Daily, THIN SLICE ANXIETY, Dark Entries, FLEAS ON THE DOG, Dumpster Fire Press, DON’T SUBMIT!, Horror Sleaze Trash Magazine, Outcast Press, DOGZPLOT Magazine, All Ears (India), Rhodora Magazine, Arc Magazine, ShabdAaweg Review (India), Utsanga (Italy), Postscript Magazine (United Arab Emirates), The International Zine Project (France), Swala Tribe Magazine (Rwanda), The QuillS Journal (Nigeria). Known spiritualist mediums, art and explores the relationship between magic.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“For the love of God, make it stop…” Sam’s plea came off like a bad Charlton Heston impersonation.
He arched his back, writhing like a snake. Mr. Felt kept the pin in the doll. Pushed it in deeper.
Sam growled. “Pull it out, Mr. Felt. Works like a charm. Damn it all to Hell.”
The old man did as he asked. The tiny weapon slid cleanly from the wad of cloth.
“Just act one, Sam my boy.” Felt may have been a little too excited. Seemed almost turned on. Sam stared sideways at the doll. Not that it looked like one. More like a stuffed sock with Sam’s hair on it. He pulled up his green flannel and rubbed the bare skin above his ass. Just where the pin had been in the doll fabric.
Felt carried the puppet to an alcove in the wall behind him, opposite the cash register. The old man ran an antique storein San Francisco’s Castro District, but as Sam learned, his passion was pain, at least the sort he had no business inflicting. Pale as a gallon of milk, dotted with age spots, the shop owner had more in his ears than up top, all of it gray. Dressed in a wine-red V-neck sweater and black slacks, he seemed no more an expert in the occult than Sam, who knew only enough to stay away.
Karma could be a bitch and a half. And only morons go asking for that shit. The bills in his pocket kept his mouth shut.
The store, tucked under one of the city’s iconic Queen Anne style homes, didn’t get sun. A lazy rain meant there’d be no warmth anyway. Place was swollen with Turkish rugs and Victorian furniture.Rainwater made the gutters rattle outside.
The nook held Felt’s altar. To Sam it was nothing more than three black candles and a bowl full of Hershey’s kisses, an offering Felt said. He explained the process to Sam just after slipping him two grand. Sam’s usual fee for odd jobs.
They were always fucking odd.
Felt wanted Sam for some voodoo. He’d emailed that morning with the time and place. Had to bring a gob of his dirty brown hair with him. Not much hair, justenough for the hocus pocus to work. Felt called it magic. Sam called it bullshit. But he had his kid chop some off before heading over. Two grand is two grand.
Felt lowered his eyes. “Now for a little heat.” His bony, saggy-fleshedfingers held the doll to the center candle. Sam gritted his teeth. Felt rotated the toy, dipped it lower to the dull yellow flame, and Sam hissed. “Getting warmer, Sam?”
He sputtered. “Like being in Phoenix inJuly. All the same to you, Mr. Felt, let’s not get any closer to the candle.”
“Quite understand, my boy!” He pulled away, turned, and plopped the doll on the counter next to the cash register. Sam saw the strands of his hair stapled to the doll’s chest. Following his gaze, Felt nodded knowingly. “It’s the hair of course. Creates a direct link with you. Used a sharpie to draw your eyes and lips at the top. Set it outside to get washed clean this morning.”
“Sure know your shit,” Sam lied.
Felt pushed his thumb into the doll’s neck. Watching, Sam craned his neck to the side, straining the muscles there. Old manpulled the thumb away.
“Spirits, the Loas, channel the energy from the doll. The chocolates you see are for them.”
Sam snatched the bad resemblance offthe counter. “Think I’ll hold onto this. Where can I get your ex-husband’s hair?”
“Prefer his old socks. He loves those ugly, fucking argyle socks. Really just need one for the model. I’ll shoot over his address in a text.”
Sam made for the door. Damn doll felt heavy in his Dockers. Not bad for a shitty actor. Only it wasn’t all pretend, Sam realized.
His neck hurt like hell.