Dodging Bullets – July 27, 2018 – Passing of the Gauntlet

When Shotgun Honey first started in 2011 it was done so to capture something of the past, of zines that had come and gone. Some that flickered brightly and then vanished. I didn’t have any concept of how long the site would last or if it would exist past a few months. It wasn’t entirely my show, and I was just happy to be part of Kent Gowran’s reminiscence. Kent and Sabrina, who founded with me what I like to call The Gauntlet, that tribunal system of story selection, both decided to move on after our first anthology collection. Even I moved on to an extent, only managing site and relying on a very capable group of editors. Many have come and gone: Chad, Joe, Erik, Chris, and most recently Angel. Their tenures varying.

Jen Conley accepted the invitation to join the gauntlet in the fall of 2012, essentially filling the position left by Sabrina Ogden. Without hesitation, I can say that Shotgun Honey would not still be publishing anything had it not been for the dedication and selflessness of Jen. There had been times, more than once, where my health and personal life put the site in jeopardy. Because of the trust I had in Jen, I knew that I could take the breaks needed and get myself right. She would guide the ship, and for six years she had been a true Shotgun Honey. This was her last week carrying my weight. I am and will always be grateful to her tenure and her heart, wishing her and her family the best. Though this is a loss in our family, we take a bit of solace in the fact she can now again contribute as the wonderful storyteller she is.

Every editor of Shotgun Honey has one thing in common, they have all been contributors first. I see no reason to change that tradition. I would like to welcome Hector Acosta to The Gauntlet.

Hector has been contributing since 2011 with his first story “Big C”, and has contributed to the Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels anthology series. His novella Hard Way was the first book to be published under the Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books imprint. Hector is a big wrestling fan, so if there are any Kayfabe crime writers this might be your in. He shares my love of Deadpool and always likes my tweets.

Hector rounds out The Gauntlet with fellow editors Nick Kolakowski and Renee Pickup.

We’re going to miss you Jen!


This last week we released covers for the upcoming books:


The delayed Deadlines: A Tribute to William E. Wallace will be release on August 24, 2018. Proceeds will go to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in his honor. So please cut back on your favorite Starbuck’s coffees and save enough to properly remember Bill.


Don’t forget to read this week’s Flash Fiction:

The Final Sleep by David Nemeth

Chris Pennington woke up in his recliner at 3:07 AM. The Phillies game from last night was being replayed and was in its third inning. Chris thought he made it to the seventh or eighth inning earlier. He felt good, felt better than he had in months, maybe years.

Read More


We are always open to submissions. So if you want to be like one of the folks mentioned above, hit us up at the Submissions Manager.

Until next time, all the best.


Scattered and Smothered

Every asshole in the county knew better than to rob the Waffle House.

So when Louie stepped through the diner’s doors, shotgun aimed at Lynette, no one took him seriously. Especially not Lynette, who didn’t bother to look up from the tips she was counting, grease stained fingers sliding across wrinkled dollar bills.

“No one move, this is a robbery!”

No shit. Folks didn’t go around guns drawn for no reason, not even in the South.

Counting her last dollar, Lynette stared right up at the twin black holes at the end of the shotgun. “Louie Michael Thomas, just what the heck do you think you’re doing?” Her voice reminded me of gravel being crushed under a truck tire, and always got this way after working the night shift and shouting table orders to Fat Bill, Lynette’s live in boyfriend/Waffle House’s cook, and the skinniest motherfucker I’d ever laid eyes on.

Hence his name.

“I ain’t no Louie,” Louie said. His hand went up to adjust the mask he wore. It was one of those novelty plastic ones you found everywhere once Halloween strode up.  The mask captured the sickly yellow of our dear president well, and the double chins were a nice touch. But the eyes were all Louie, black and glassy. And then there was his left hand, shaky and missing a little finger. It’s how we all knew who it was behind the mask.

“You best be putting that gun away, Louie. ‘Less you want me jumping over that counter ‘n coming at ya.” That was Fat Bill.

“Go back to burning grits, Bill.”

Ooof.  A man like Bill will let you get away with lots of things, but insulting his cooking is not one of them. To be fair, the guy did make some dang good sunny up eggs. The yolk always bleeding yellow when you cut into it, shiny and thick like melted gold.

“What you say?” Bill walked around the counter, passing me by without so much a glance. His eyes were fixed on Louie, and as he walked, he slapped the spatula he’d been using to cook my hashbrowns against his thigh

“Will you boys quit it?” Lynette said. “Louie, walk out right now and I won’t call the cops. Won’t even say a word to your mother, who by the by, would be mortified to find out what you’re doing.”

I ain’t Louie!” The mask took some of the shrill out of the kid’s voice, but my ears still stung.

“Shut it, woman,” Bill said, getting closer to Louie. “I’m handling this.” He lunged at Louie, spatula high in the air.

Louie fired. Because Louie might have been an asshole who lacked one finger, but he was just the right amount of dumb to know what to do when you have a gun and the other guy don’t.

The blast was louder than I expected, filling the diner and blanketing Lynette’s scream along with Louie’s holyshitfuck. At the end, there was the punctuation of two spent rounds falling on the linoleum floor.

“You better run.”

Louie turned my way and stared. The mask was off, and the kid had tears running down his chubby face.

“You’re thinking, ‘kill the waitress and guy at the counter. No witnesses then’.” I continued, doing my best to ignored the blood and chunks of Bill’s meat around me. “But that ain’t the way to play this. Better to run now. We didn’t see you face anyhow. Ain’t that right Lynette?”

Lynette nodded and said nothing.

A beat. Then Louie was out the door. We watched him almost slip on some of Bill’s fluids before he’s in the parking lot and jumping on a beat up Camaro.

Another beat and Lynette spoke.

“How you know?”

“Know what, Darling?” I’m on the other side of the counter and walking towards the till already.

Lynette motioned to the diner. “That Bill would go after him. That Louie would shoot.”

Waffle House had a good night. The money wouldn’t take us far, but it was a start. Planting a kiss on Lynette’s cheek, I let my hand graze her ass. “Cause, that’s what an assholes would do.”


Shotgun Honey Joins Down & Out Books

Today Shotgun Honey is thrilled to announce a new partnership with Eric Campbell and Down & Out Books (downandoutbooks.com), an independent publisher of literary  and crime fiction. Shotgun Honey joins the Tampa, FL based company as a new imprint focused primarily on short length crime fiction: collected short stories, novellas and short length novels.

Shotgun Honey has a history of bringing quality flash crime fiction to the web, and in 2013  the online magazine expanded slowly into print and digital publishing under the One Eye Press masthead. We believe our books have been well produced and well received, but our lack of marketing and reach have limited our full potential. The experience that Down & Out Books brings is invaluable and will be a tremendous asset to the Shotgun Honey Imprint, not to mention the additional production resources.

In February 2017, Hardway by Hector Acosta will be the first release under the new imprint, with 6 additional books scheduled for 2017. Among those are The Place of Refuge by Albert Tucher, A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski, and Blacky Jaguar Against to Cool Clux Cult by Angel Luis Colón.

Aside from the new releases, the majority of our previous publications will be released as second editions under the new imprint, with some including expanded content and new covers. This will mean that these books will be temporarily unavailable until their new releases are complete as all current One Eye Press releases will become unavailable as of January 1, 2017.

Shotgun Honey is looking forward to 2017 and working with our new partner Down & Out Books, as well as our sister imprint ABC Group Documentation headed by Jeremy Stabile.

For more information about the company and its books, or to request an interview with the Eric Campbell or Ron Earl Phillips, contact lance@downandoutbooks.com.


Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded

Today we launch the third volume of the Both Barrels series with Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded.

Featuring 25 stories by:

  • “A Boy Like Billy” by Patricia Abbott
  • “Border Crossing” by Michael McGlade
  • “Looking for the Death Trick” by Bracken MacLeod
  • “Maybelle’s Last Stand” by Travis Richardson
  • “Predators” by Marie S. Crosswell
  • “Twenty to Life” by Frank Byrns
  • “So Much Love” by Keith Rawson
  • “Running Late” by Tess Makovesky
  • “Last Supper” by Katanie Duarte
  • “Danny” by Michael Bracken
  • “The Plot” by Jedidiah Ayres
  • “What Alva Wants” by Timothy Friend
  • “Time Enough to Kill” by Kent Gowran
  • “Copas” by Hector Acosta
  • “Yellow Car Punch” by Nigel Bird
  • “Love at First Fight” by Angel Luis Colón
  • “Traps” by Owen Laukkanen
  • “Down the Rickety Stairs” by Alan Orloff
  • “Blackmailer’s Pep Talk” by Chris Rhatigan
  • “With a Little bit of Luck” by Bill Baber
  • “As Cute as a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon” by Tony Conaway
  • “Chipping off the Old Block” by Nick Kolakowski
  • “Young Turks and Old Wives” by Shane Simmons
  • “The Hangover Cure” by Seth Lynch
  • “Highway Six” by John L. Thompson

Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy your copy today!


Alacran y El Pistolero

The sun had become the old man’s worst enemy.

It beat against him without any remorse, lashes of heat hitting his back and sending painful jolts up his shoulders. Reaching into his coat pocket he took out a handkerchief and wiped it across his forehead.

The barren plains of the desert hadn’t changed much ever since he stepped off the bus a couple of hours ago. The old man reached into his coat pocket and took out a watch. It was a cheap thing, the sort of watch one could pick up from one of the many aldeanos that made their living selling trinkets and assorted mementos from bus stops. It had cost him one big coin, two small ones, and a medium sized one. He killed the first hour of his journey trying to figure out if that was a good price to pay or not.

He could have taken the bus all the way towards his destination, but the combination of a driver blind to all the speed signs, loud Mariachi music, and a ride with more bounce than a grasshopper had made him get off in the first station they stopped at.

Plus they’ll be watching the buses. Better this way,  he had decided.

He almost reached into his pocket again but stopped himself. The gun would still be there. Its cold barrel pressed against his ribs, a little piece of heaven in this hell. The old man took no breaks. When he became thirsty, he reached into the small backpack he’d bought at the bus station and took out a bottle filled with water. Hunger wasn’t much of an issue, but he forced himself to eat the sandwich he’d packed. The old man timed his chewing with his footsteps just to have something to do.

It was in the third hour that he got company. He knew it was the third hour because he had just checked his watch to see how long he’d been walking, and when he looked up a stranger was standing out in the distance.

“Hello,” the old man said when he was within speaking distance, his fingers already snaking around the grip of the gun.

“Hey,” the kid turned and looked at him.

He was young, a kid in the old man’s eyes. Good looking too, with that dark brown skin that most of the people around here seemed to have.  His hair reminded the old man of the beans he’d had for breakfast every day for the last twenty years, black and greasy.

They spent a moment in the type of silence that strolled casually into a conversation and made itself comfortable like a big lazy cat.  The old man wondered how far the sound of a gun would travel. Far enough to reach the ears of the man the bullets were really intended for?

“Taking a walk.” A statement rather than a question from the kid. He enunciated each word carefully, as if every sound was a work of art in progress. The old man imagined that was the sort of thing the tourist girls swooned for.

“Yes.” The old man’s voice on the other hand sounded like that of an old man who drank and smoke too much.

Tilting his head, the man looked past the old man and whistled. “Hell of a long walk.”

Shrugging, the old man said, “I done longer.” For the last twenty years he’d been walking. The only difference since stepping off the bus was that he was finally getting somewhere.  “You? Waiting for someone?”

An important question, the old man ready to use the gun if necessary. But the kid just mimicked the old man and shrugged. “Not really. I just like to come out sometimes and enjoy this place. It’s beautiful don’t you think?”
The old man had a limited vocabulary, and as such he hated to use beautiful on a piece of land like this one.

“You live nearby?”

The man showed his teeth, a sliver of white that didn‘t belong in the desert. “Yep, not to far from here.” He pointed towards the mountains and made a general gesture, “Nice little place. Got the necessities. A bed to sleep in, a hole to shit in, a bottle to drink out off, and a woman to fuck. What about you?” The kid asked, “Where’s your home?”

“Far away from here.” It really wasn’t his home anymore, but it been for so long that the old man figured he would always think of it as such.

“Then you must come to mine! I’ll share the bed and the bottle. The woman, you’re out of luck.”

The old man shook his head. “There’s someone I have to meet.” He took out the watch, and looked at the time. “I gave them my word.”

The kid eyed the old man’s watch and nodded. “Appointments must be kept, especially if those bonded by your word. It’s the only thing a man really has, right?”

The old man nodded. That and a backpack, a watch, and a gun.

“Still, at the very least I can keep you company for a while. You’re walking towards the mountains?”
“Past them, to Cerro Gordo.”

“Perfect, my home is on your way.” As if that settled everything, he begun to walk towards the mountains. The old man followed.

“So what’s your name?”

Recluso numero 787. The old man threw out a name he hadn’t used in a long time and figured he wouldn’t use again.

The kid pointed to himself, “Alacran.”

“Strange name to have.”

Alacran smiled, “It fits me. You ever heard of the ballad of the gunman?”

The old man shook his head.

Clearing his throat, Alacran began to sing. His voice rose and sank with the words of the song, filling the stillness around them. It was a strong, confident voice, but not necessarily a good one. If he wanted to he could probably make a nice tidy living joining a Mariachi quartet and working in some restaurant, moving from table to table and interrupting private conversations with the same three songs.

He sang of a pistolero. A good man that death could touch, the song said. That is, until he headed out to the desert alone one night and lay down to sleep. That’s how the townspeople found him the next day, still lying on the ground, his right hand holding his gun, on his other hand an alacran, the scorpion’s tail still wedged on the gunman’s palm.

“Everyone cursed the scorpion,” Alacran said,  “cried of how it made a mistake and killed a good man this time, but do you think the scorpion cared? The way I see it, the scorpion didn’t sting the gunman because he was good or bad. It stung him because it was just following its nature.”

“And that’s how you are?”

“Yes. Not that it’s hard to do living like I do. It isn’t like I get many chances to test myself, but I like to believe that no matter the situation, I would always do what’s in my nature and nothing else.”

The old man said nothing.

“For example,” Alacran continued, seemingly not bothered by the old man’s silence. “The other day I get this Mafioso looking guys knocking at my door.  Drove up in white Cadillac car, wearing nice pressed suits and dark sunglasses. I told them that the car was going to look like crap by the time they rode back up to town, but they didn’t care.  They were more interested in asking me if I’d seen anyone pass by lately.”
The click of the gun’s safety being turned off was lost in the old man’s suddenly loud shuffling footsteps.

“I told them, ‘look around you, how many people do you think cross the desert instead of taking the highways?’ They said that if I saw anyone, I should give them a call. I laughed and said sure, when the telephone company gets around to installing some lines here, you’ll be the first I call. So you know what they did?”

The old man shook his head. One bullet. Maybe two if I’m slow.

“They gave me a cellphone! Tossed it to me like it was nothing. They even put their number in speed dial.”

Alacran stopped and reached into his back pocket. The old man’s heartbeat quickened. He was about to pull the gun out of his pocket only to see the phone in Alacran’s hand.

“I’m thinking of selling it once I go back into town.”

It would take two bullets.

“You could probably get a few coins for that.” The old man said.

Tossing it into the air and catching it, Alacran resumed walking. “You think? Anyways, thinking back to that, they could have shot me right then and there. I mean, it wasn’t like I was being very cordial.  But it just isn’t in my nature to get into the middle of things. That’s why I live here. The desert is too big to find yourself in the middle of things.”

“More people should move to the desert then,” the old man said. In his mind he practiced the motion.  Pull, turn, squeeze. Pull, turn, squeeze.

“So this appointment you’re walking to, is it a friend?”
“Old business partner.”

“Been a while since you seen them?” Alacran still had the phone in his hand, his thumb mindlessly running up and down the key pad.

Twenty years, two months, three days. “Too long.”

“You going to kill him?”

They stopped walking. The old man turned and faced Alacran. “I‘m going to try.”

“Why?”

Looking into Alacran’s face, the old man thought he saw actual curiosity in his eyes. “He robbed me of twenty years of my life by sending me to prison. I’m going to rob him of the last twenty he has left.”

“And if he has more than twenty to live?”
“Interest.”

Alacran looked to be thinking. Then he asked the old man, “Are you a good man or a bad man?”

“I thought you didn’t care.”

Alacran shook his head. “The scorpion in the song didn’t care. Me? I like to know if I’ve been talking to a good man or a bad man.”

“I was good to my family. Went to church every Sunday, never forgot to pay the bills or anyone’s birthday.  I also killed people. I’d like to think they deserved it, but I don’t know.”

Staring out into the mountains, Alacran said, “You still have a long way to go.  A little way after my house it starts to get civilized again. You’re going to have to pass two more towns before you get to Cerro Gordo.”

The old man said nothing.

“Maybe you should just give up on this idea of revenge and come to my home. Share my bottle like I asked you to. If they came talking to me, they also went to those two towns, so chances are someone’s already keeping their eye out for you.”

The old man shot him then. He surprised himself by being quicker than he expected himself to be. The first bullet hit Alacran in the chest, sending him back. The second one struck his shoulder, and it wasn’t till the third one slammed into his forehead and blew out the other end that Alacran went down, his blood already staining the dull brown of the desert, seeping into the ground and marking a new territory.

The old man’s hands were shaking as he put the gun back in his pocket. Kneeling next to the body, he picked the phone off the ground and turned it on, searching the tiny glowing menu. It took him a few minutes, having never handled a piece of technology like this, but soon enough he found what he was looking for, the call log.

No calls sent or received.

The old man stood and turned away from Alacran’s body. Like he told Alacran, he’d liked to believe everyone he ever killed deserved what they got, but he wasn’t a fool. One more innocent person wouldn’t change things.

Alacran’s song came back into his mind, carried perhaps by the wind, or maybe just guilt. But at the end, the old man started walking again. His own journey would come to an end soon enough, and he doubted it would be as peaceful as the one gifted to gunman in the ballad.


Bitch

The mud clings to Mallory’s boots like an unwanted memory, making a wet, sucking sound whenever she takes a step. Brown water quickly drowning any footprints she leaves behind as she makes her way towards the car abandoned on the side of the road. Inside it she finds a man sitting on the driver seat, stained hands pressing against his stomach in an attempt to stop the bleeding.

“Joe.”

His head rolls toward her. His eyes, once sharp blue pools are now shallow and fading, more puddles than pools.  She’s seen this look before. She’s been the cause of it more times than she can count.

“Figures he’d send you,” he says, blood trickling from between his fingers.

“Not many left after the stunt you pulled. Where you get the dynamite from anyways?”

Thin lips curve into a smile and for an instant Joe’s eyes become summer pools again. “Didn’t expect that right? Getting the sticks was easy. But sneaking them into the restaurant, that was the hard part. Did I get him?”

Mallory shakes her head. “He’s pissed, and he might have some scars, but no, you didn’t get him.”

With a sigh, Joe rests his head back. “Scars are good. Guy always cared too much what he looked like, with his pressed suits and  little froo-froo handkerchief peeking out from his pocket.” He takes a breath and winces, “It’s why you’ll never move up, you know. He likes his ladies demurred and in dresses. Not six feet tall, built like a linebacker and always wearing men’s clothes.”

“They’re not men’s clothes.” It seems silly to be correcting him at this point, but Mallory somehow feels she should. “I just have them made specifically for me.”

“Point still holds. He keeps you around because you’re good at the job, but he’s never going to give you more than you have now.  Dunno why you stay.”

Others have wondered the same. It’s not like the pay’s any good. And Mallory’s seen the confusion on her boss’s face whenever he’s talking to her. Like he’s still trying to wrap his head around the fact that his best guy is not a guy at all.

“You’re a loyal bitch, I’ll give you that.” Joe says.

“Where is she, Joe?”
He turns to look at her again and gives her a smile, the puddles in his eyes starting to dry out. “Fuck you, Mad Dog.”

It hurts. It shouldn’t, because at the end of the day, it’s not like they were anything but coworkers to each other. But still, Joe calling her by that name, the one normally said behind her back or at the bar after the boys have had one too many, hurts. So maybe Mallory can be forgiven for taking out her glock and squeezing the trigger. The flash of the muzzle fills the car as Joe’s body dances to the rhythm of the bullets that plug into his flesh. In a moment, the pools are empty.

Mallory stares at the wrecked inside of the car. “Fuck,” she says. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” She’s done it again, let her temper get the best of her. No way she can go back to the boss, not empty handed. He was counting on Mallory to return his kidnapped wife to him, the woman that Joe killed eight people for.

Frantically she walks back and forth across the road, trying to find another set of tracks. She’s about to start canvassing the field when she hears something coming from the back of the car. Something that sounds a lot like nails scraping against upholstery.

Getting the trunk open, Mallory sees a curvy blond with a towel stuffed into her mouth and her hands and legs tied. Her eyes are wide, stuck in a look of fear while streams of light pepper the entire body from the bullet holes Mallory’s gun must made. Blood sill stains her nightgown.

Carefully picking up the body, Mallory carries it to her car, and then starts heading back towards the city, where she’ll take the body to her boss and tell him exactly what happened.

She might be a mad dog, but like Joe said, she’s also a loyal one.


Mint

Superman had Batman bent over while Spider-Man watched.

“Damn it Billy, stop fucking around and help me look,” Ray said.

Billy looked up from positioning the toys on the desk and flipped him off. “You aint the boss of me.”

Ray walked over to Billy and slapped the action figures out of his hands. “Like hell I’m not. Now go look in the bedroom. Or do you just want to go fess up to Mr. Graham?”

At the mention of their boss, Billy set the toys down and said, “Just messin’ around cuz.”

Ray watched his cousin disappear into the trailer’s bedroom. Lord  he could be a handful.  Billy’s momma coddled him too long, on account of having no man to call her own, and that had caused Billy to grow crooked as a tree branch. It’s why Mr. Graham hadn’t been so hot on bringing him in. Took Ray’s promise that hewould be responsible for his cousin to finally get the old man to agree.

Ray looked around the home. Stacks of comic books lined the walls of the trailer, some of the stacks reaching up to Ray’s waist. Yellowed, torn pages peppered the floor, a sea of colors and capes that crumpled under his steps. Toys lined the few shelves of the house, still trapped in their cellophane wrappings.

“Aint nothing in there but some nudie mags, toys, and more comic books,”  Billy said, coming out of the bedroom and flipping through a magazine. Unfolding the pictorial, he opened his mouth to say something else when they both heard the door  unlock.

“Shit,” Ray said.

A man dressed in cargo shorts and a ratty old Metallica shirt walked into the trailer, carrying a brown parcel under his arm. He ran a hand through his poorly cut, neon green mohawk and whistled a tune, never noticing the two men pressed on either side of the doorway until Billy grabbed him by the back of his neck and pushed him forward.

“Fuck fuck fuck” the man said.

“Damn right ‘fuck fuck fuck,’” Billy said, shoving him into the stained lazy boy in the corner.

“Nice to see you again Eddie” Ray said, and then motioned to his cousin, “that there’s my cousin Billy. He’s my,” Ray paused, trying to think of the word. He remembered hearing it once, when he went to the Applebees next town over and the snot nose waiter used it to describe the big boobed girl following him around. Oh yeah, now he remembered, “trainee.”

Eddie hugged the package and looked from Ray to Billy. He stammered, “I didn’t take no money.”

“Take note,” Ray said to Billy, stepping closer to Eddie. “The dumb ones will always fuck up.” Back to Eddie, “I didn’t say nothing about no money.”

“It’s all over town,” Eddie said, “someone went and robbed one of Mr. Graham’s men. Took a couple of grand.”

“No one robbed me,” Billy said, pushing Ray out of the way and slapping Eddie in the face. “They sucker punched me from behind and took off.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Eddie said. He pulled his legs up and tried to sink into the cushions. “What am I gonna do with that money? Haven’t touched Mr. Graham’s stuff in three months, God’s honest truth.”
“That’s what people say,” Ray admitted. “Another thing to remember Billy, once an addict always an addict. They just move from one thing to another, way a dog goes from licking his pecker to licking his balls.”He crouched down next Eddie and looked him in his pock marked face. “Bob over by the gas station says he saw you gunning it just moments after Billy here got robbed.”

“Bob’s half blind,” Eddie said.

“I’d wager he could be full blind and still be able to see that ‘do,” Ray motioned to Eddie’s hair. “Come on Eddie, we know you did it. Give up the money and maybe Mr. Graham will go easy on you.”

Eddie sniffed and looked down. “I don’t got the money no more.”

“You asshole,” Billy shouted. He reached into his waist band and pulled out a gun. Before Ray could stop him, he unloaded six bullets into Eddie.

Blood, sofa stuffing, and paper rained down on Ray as Eddie convulsed on the lazy boy and died. The motion tipped over a nearby stack. All those comic books spilling to the floor sounded to Ray like hundreds of birds escaping their roost all at once.

Ray jumped up and shoved Billy. “You dumbass,” he said.

“Fuck!” Ray said, kicking the box Eddie carried in. It flipped opened.

Bending down, Ray reached inside the box and took out a comic book with a bullet hole t dead center on the cover. Ray wiggled a finger all the way through the book before looking at the paper that came with it. It looked like an invoice of some sort and read: Incredible Hulk 181:First appearance of Wolverine. Mint condition. Next to the title of the comic book, there was an amount- four thousand dollars.

Ray looked up to Billy. “Start packing up all the comic books.”

“Why?”
“Cause your better fuckin’ hope that one of them is worth as much as this comic book,” he said, throwing him the copy of Incredible Hulk 181, “It’s either that or Mr. Graham will make sure we both end up looking like it.”


Day of the Dead

The baby sized skulls adorned the foot of the grave, packed so tightly that they almost hid the name of the buried from view.  They all faced the front of the cemetery, their broad grins etched in black, blue, and red icing. Sprinkled among the skulls laid other offerings- a plate of tamales and red rice tightly wrapped in saran wrap, a small basket filled with pastries, and black and white photographs scattered among the weathered stone.

Jose looked at the photos and shook his head. “Shit Torito, couldn’t you find a couple of him smiling?”

“I told you not to call me that,” the man standing next to him said.

Picking the plate of food off the ground, Jose tore the wrapping and scooped a handful of rice into his mouth. “You too good for your name or something hermanito?”

Cochino” the man muttered, making a grab for the plate.

Jose ducked and danced around his brother’s fat, clumsy movements. He took a bite of the tamale, the masa crumbling and filling his mouth with cheese and spiced meat. “Looks like the little bull has grown some horns,” Jose said between mouthfuls. “Guess taking over for papi will do that huh?”

As if suddenly realizing how foolish they both must look, Torito stopped and glared at Jose. “This is what it’s all about?” he asked him. “Todavia estas enojado?”

“What? That el viejo left the business to you, instead of me? Why would that piss me off? Just cause I was running things while you were book learning with your gringo friends?”

“Now’s not the time,” Torito said.

Ala madre con tu ‘now it’s not the time’” Jose mimicked, dropping the plate and taking a step towards Torito. “It’s been a year since he” he pointed to the gravestone “died.  Un ano que te di sin decir nada”. Jose jabbed his finger into Torito’s chest. “A year I let you run things, and you’re still no closer to finding who killed him are you?”

“I have people…”
“That’s your problem” Jose interrupted, jabbing him again. “You never done anything yourself. ‘Member how you came running to me whenever someone threatened to kick your ass?”

“I have raised profits, expanded our stuff out of El Paso and Las Cruces.” Torito said.

“You found out who killed dad?”

“No but,”

“Then no has echo nada.” Turning away from his brother, Jose looked at the grave and thought about picking up one of the sugar skulls. He used to love them as a kid, back when El Dia de los Muertos meant nothing more than a half day of school and a chance to see the yearly parade. Unlike his friends, he never had to visit the graves and leave offerings. Not until a year ago.

“Torito” he said to himself. “I should have known you were his favorite when he gave you that nickname. I had to go out and make my own you know.”

“I heard. El Columbiano  huh?”

Jose grinned. “Got the picture El Diaro de Juarez ran to thank for it. They showed the guy’s throat and everything.”

Both men stared at the grave, and it was Torito who broke the silence “Why slit their throat like that? Why not just shoot them?” his brother asked.

Porque aveces tienes que ensuciar tus manos.”

“You need to stop, Jose.”

“Why?”
“Cause you’re fucking things up.”

“Go to hell, Torito” Jose said, reaching for a sugar skull. He never noticed his brother taking out a knife, and barely felt it as it slid into his side like a man slips in between his lover’s open legs.

“You think you’re the only one good with a knife?” Torito whispered, bringing his brother closer and twisting the blade. “And I told you to stop calling me that.”

Jose felt the knife now, felt it inside of him burning as if it been dipped in flames first. Blood poured from the wound and glued the brothers’ shirts together. “Why?” he managed to ask.

“You were right,” Torito said. “I need to start getting my hands dirty. And because the cartels are demanding an ofrenda for the bloodshed you caused.”

Torito held him tighter as the knife plunged into him again and again. “Dad…”

“Would have understood,” he heard his brother say.

Jose’s vision blurred and he felt himself being lowered to the ground. Craning his neck up, he saw two men walk up to Torito and stand by his side.

“You want us to take him away from here, boss?” one of them asked.

“No,” his brother said. “Leave him here.”

“Yes, Toro,” they replied in unison.


Big C

I ran away from the cancer about a year ago, when the word chemo first started to be used by the doctors.

I’m surprised it took Lola as long as it did to find me, after all, it’s not like I ever went into hiding.  Do you know what the survival rate for stage-four lung cancer is?

“You look good Lo” I say.

If there’s a woman that can pull of the bald look, it’s her.  As she remains straddled on top of me, her head almost seems to glow as the fluorescent hospital lights race along her scalp. She’s wearing a pair of faded cutoff jeans and a tight wife beater that seems to have been chosen specifically to highlight her thin frame. Combine that with the lack of hair and pierced eyebrows and she could pass for the lead singer of a punk band.

“Liar.”

“Really. It makes you look bad ass.”

“Sure it ain’t the gun, Charlie?” She taps my chin with the barrel and I wince. Can’t tell the make or model, but it’s not like it makes a world of difference this close up.

“It helps,” I agree, trying my best to ignore the gun as it lazily traces the lines of my face, the caresses of a lover I’d rather not have.

“You ran.”

“I got scared.”  I could try to push her off me, but the truth is, I can’t. I don’t have the energy, and her body does feel good pressed against mine.  Her ass shifts slightly as she speaks, rubbing against my groin and making me hard.

I’m relieved that not everything about my body has failed me.

“No shit.” She reaches into her pocket and takes out a pack of Marlboros. I admire her as long graceful fingers work on tearing open the celluloid wrapper. It doesn’t take long to get a cigarette in her mouth, all while the gun continues to be pressed to my face.

“You suck, you know that?” The words come out of the side of her mouth out as she lights her cigarette. “You knew the score from the beginning.”

How could I not? Our time tables were the first thing we announced back in the support group her doctor recommended. “I probably got half a year left” she said, “so you better not get too attached to any of this.” Back then, she’d motioned to a fuller body, plumper breasts, and long black hair. Back then, I taken it all in and assured myself that it would be easy to let go.

“You were supposed to die” I say.

The gun stops being a caress and gets jammed into the fleshy pool of my cheek. I must look like I’m giving it the world’s worst blowjob.  “Fuck you” she says, “fuck you if you think I’m going to apologize for not giving up.”

Like you.   The omission of those two words bothers me more than the gun ever could.

She takes a deep breath and I watch as the anger slowly washes out of her. “You suck,” she mutters again. And with a carefulness that I don’t expect, she shifts her body down and gently lies on top of me. After a few minutes, my right hand skims along her ribs and moves to her chest, exploring the new emptiness. Lola shudders when my fingertips touch the scars right above her armpit.

“Mastectomy” she explains, offering me a cigarette. It’s been so long since I had a smoke that I cough uncontrollably with the first drag. At least there’s no blood. Lola watches me from her position at the crook of my neck and then takes the cigarette away.

“Bad idea”

“Where were you twenty years ago? Maybe then it would have made a difference.”  It’s supposed to be a joke, but neither of us laughs.

“You want me to do it?” Lola asks, the sound of her gun being cocked mixing with the beeping of the machines they got me hooked into.

I shake my head. It would be unfair of me to rob Lola of the second life she got out of the surgery.

Plus, I find that I’m not so scared anymore.