Slim Jim

Glen’s Liquor Store was just off the main drag along the way home. The joint was lit up with half-dead, flickering red neon lights surrounding a shit-pile.  I’d meant to stop in for the past week, but the bossman had me doing other things off the normal route. The overhead bell jingled when I pushed the door open. If I’d seen what was going on inside, I might’ve waited a bit. You couldn’t see shit with all the faded beer posters plastered all over the glass front.
Inside was this kid in a black hoody holding a chopped double barrel. The barrels swung my way, the kid was in a panic.

“Whoa…”I said. “Now wait….wait….”

An old man was behind the counter. His thin arms held high over his head. “Mister…just stay there fer God’s sake.”

I let the door close behind me and kept my hands out and up. “Easy, kid.”

The kid was wild-eyed, swinging the barrels back and forth. “The money, old man!” He pointed the barrels my way for the hundredth time. “You….ju…just stay there.”

“First time, kid?”

“Huh?”

I pointed at the shotgun. “You ain’t got the hammers cocked.”

His eyes darted around like a pinball machine. His face pock-marked with pimples. Maybe sixteen tops. He worked a hammer back on the shotgun.

“Now, you got a live round going, but keep your finger off the trigger unless you mean it.”

“Huh? What?” He stammered.

“I’m just trying to help is all. I can tell you ain’t done this before.”

“I don’t need no help, Mister!”

“What the hell you doing, Mister? You helping the kid rob my place?” The old man yelled.

“Just trying to help out and keep us from getting blown in two,” I said

“You done told this kid to cock that man-shredder!” The old man’s angry orbs rolled over looking at me.

“What’s your name, old man?”

“Gaw…Ga…Glen.” The shakes were bad.

“Alright Glen, just stay steady and get the kid his money.” I turned back to the kid. The barrels were shaking. “You want my wallet?”

The kid wasn’t sure what I meant. He was shaking too, ready to piss himself. “Wa…Wallet…”

“I’m going to reach down, real slow, and get my wallet,” I turned slow so I could show him my good intentions. I tugged the wallet free from under my jacket, and let it drop to the floor. I kicked it over to him. I could write the loss off on my expense report.

“No funny stuff,” he said. He knelt slow, the barrels on the doubles kept shaking. The wallet disappeared into his pocket. Glen finished taking the bills out of the register. The kid grabbed the money from Glen’s sweaty grip. The kid looked up at me, puzzled.

“Now, go on,” I whispered.

The kid stuffed the money in his hoody pocket.  Clutching the shotgun, he jerked the door open, and disappeared into the inky darkness. The sound of pounding feet faded.

I lowered my hands, smiling. Glen wasn’t amused. “Gawd dammit! I can’t believe you went and done a thing like that! You done actually helped him rob me!”

I snickered, wandering up to the counter. “But we’re alive, right? I lost a fistful of dough too.”

He pulled a dirty rag from his pocket and began dabbing away the heavy beads of sweat. “I reckon…but still don’t fix the fact you helped him.”

“Now, Glen, let’s get down to business,” I plucked a Slim Jim from the counter display, peeled away the wrapper before reaching behind and pulling the .357 Magnum from my waistband. I laid it on the counter, finger on the trigger. The lights reflected off the stainless-steel finish.  “I’m here for the real money, Glen. You a month behind on payments, or you forget you borrowed a nice amount from my bossman to go gamble with?”

“B…boss?” he stammered.

“Your loan from Duprie?”

Glen scrunched up his old face in realization and began shaking again. “I… just done got robbed.”

“Don’t matter none, you got money in the back, right? Don’t make me do something bad, Glen. The boss man don’t give two-shits if you got robbed or not.”

I bit into the Slim Jim.


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!


Last Bit of Dirt

“Mr. Harris?”  The damned voice sounded like a rock sliding back and forth over a cheese grater.  “You ready for your vitamin shot?”

“Hell no.”  Harris rolled over, away from the nurse.  It was bad enough that he had to suffer the indignation of being here.

“Mr. Harris, we’ve been over this before.”

He relented, rolled over and faced her.  God damn, he thought, another day of shitty living.  He sighed.  He had to face a new day in the White Oaks Retirement home. Harris hated being here in the nursing home but there was no one else to take care of him.  He also had never believed he would’ve ever ended up in a nursing home.  He had always done the dirty work for the Family without a complaint.  When he got too old, the Boss retired him.  He shouldn’t complain too much.  They were footing the bill for the nursing home and also the meds for his beginning stages of Alzheimer’s.   It was a miracle he woke up every morning.  “Odell?”

“Yes, Mr. Harris?”

“You’re an ugly bitch.”

She gave a thin smile, reached over and pulled the blanket away.  She took out a syringe and, without further ceremony, jabbed it into his buttocks.

He groaned.  “Thanks.”

“Anytime.”  She helped him up and got him dressed then left without a further word.

After several minutes, he took up his walker and made his way to the recreational room.  He met up with Alan for a game of chess while the drone of Oprah Winfrey blared from the television set.  He saw Alan was having some problems sitting.

“You okay Alan?”

“Naw, my ass burns.”

“Hemorrhoids?”

He looked puzzled for a moment.  Harris could see a mix of confusion and saw what looked like tears welling up in his eyes.  “No.”  He hissed softly.  “Henderson,  he…”  The old man broke down after a moment.  Harris looked on in shock as his close friend held his sobbing face in his hands.  He was sobbing so bad that the nurses had to take him back to his room and sedate him.  He went to visit him several hours later.  He crept along with his walker and cursed his progress of walking down the hall.  Getting old was no goddamned fun.  It was then that Alan told him everything that Henderson had been doing to some of the patients.

Harris’ jaw hung open.  “Jesus.”

Alan continued to whisper low.  “He threatened me you know, said if I ever said anything to anyone, he would kill me.  You remember Jackson?”

Harris remembered.  “Sure.”

“I think he did him in.”

“What?”  Jackson had died suddenly in the night.

“Jackson told me what he had been doing to him.  I think Henderson gave him a shot of morphine or something to kill him off.”

He went back to his room and thought a long time.  Henderson.  Despicable character.  He never liked the thirty-something nurse’s aid the moment he saw him.  Something was not ’right’ with the young man.  He could be abusive and so condescending at times.  Harris fumed.  He had to do something.  He still had some dirt to clean up.  He hadn’t made it this far in life just to have a man like Henderson ruin it for him.  He had to protect the other patients as well as his own manhood.   Also, with his Alzheimer’s progressively getting worse, he had no desire to have Henderson having his way with him.

The following morning, he took up his walker and made his way to the nurse station.  He asked to use the phone in the private room.

With shaking fingers, he dialed a number.  After several rings a man answered the line.  “Hello?”

“Matt?”

“Harris!  How you doing old man?”

Harris thought fondly of Matt.  He had showed the young man the ropes of the dirt work business.  He had also saved his ass several times when things went sideways during some business deals.  Matt would come around every couple of weeks or so to visit.  He got to the point of his call.  “Matt, I gotta call in a favor.”

 

The radio played low, droning out a steady country beat in the dark room.  Harris propped himself up in his bed, cursing softly the aching bones.  Harris loved the older country tunes but the new stuff was okay.  It beat the hell out of the other crap that people called music these days.  Eric Church’s tune ‘Creepin’ droned on.

Matt had come by earlier in the day and dropped off the package.  Harris thanked him.  They said little.  Matt knew better than to ask.  He shook Harris’ hand, donned his hat, smiled and left without a word.

He eyed the doorway.  Henderson could be heard making his rounds.  He was sure he was picking out his next victim.     He leaned over and jammed a withered, ancient hand under the mattress.  He worked the old sawed off Winchester ‘97 free from between the mattress.  He slid it under his sheets, held onto the wooden pistol grip, grunting with effort.  He swore softly at the weight.  Maybe a .38 would’ve been better but he couldn’t afford to miss.  He settled the nub of the barrel on his drawn-up knees, pointing the dark maw at the doorway.

He saw the shadow of nurse Henderson approaching his room.  The footfalls and jingling of keys announcing he was coming for a ‘visit‘.

He cocked the hammer.  It was going to be the last hole Henderson saw.


Burnt Technicalities

“You working pretty late tonight.”  Sheriff Dubois stood on the back porch John-Wayne-style.

Did he know what was going on?  “Just dealing with a backlog.”

His eyes slid over my shoulder.  “Just seems strange…being this late at night.”

“Business is busy.  How can I help you?”

He stepped back, pushed his hat up then exhaled sharply.  “I just stopped by to say we got another body down at the rest home.  They tried calling you a few times but you wouldn’t answer your phone.”

“Sorry, I was probably grinding some cremations.”

“Do you think you can go pick up the body?”

“I can after I finish.”

“That’s six old timers this week and I‘m tired of running up here.”

“I wish they would fix their own freezer.”

“Until that happens, you’ve got the only morgue locker in a fifty mile radius.”

Being a funeral director and crematory superintendent was a full time job.  The dead don‘t stop dying because you’re tired.  “I’ll take care of it.”

“Good.  I got other things to take care of.”  He pulled his hat back down over his eyes.  “You take care now?”

No, I was sure he knew nothing.  “I will Sheriff and thank you.”

I watched for a couple of minutes as Sheriff Dubois drove off down the dirt road and my mind drifted.  She was twelve when she went missing.  She got off the school bus to walk home and was never seen again.  Everyone in the neighborhood helped in the search. Some even went looking out in the woods around Missoula but came up empty-handed.  When I got the call she had disappeared, I dropped everything, including a box of fresh hot cremations that had come out of the oven.

Monica Pierce was my daughter.  I remember everything about her.  From the moment she was born, to her first Christmas but now there would be no more firsts.

They found her some six months later up by Bear Creek in a popular hiking area outside Missoula.  A retired LAPD Detective, out on a hike, found a bone jutting from the ground and instantly knew what it was.

A week later, the authorities named Billy Roberts as a suspect. It was all over the news.  He later drifted into a bar in Great Falls and some patrons recognized him and dropped a dime.  By the time the cops got there though, he had vanished back into the cold night.  He was a vagrant and drifter with a bad dope habit. He had served time for statutory rape of a minor and had just been paroled from Deer Lodge before killing my Monica.

I reassured Tiffany, my wife, that Roberts would be caught and sent to prison.  She had withdrawn from normal house life since Monica died and hid in a dark bedroom sipping Scotch all day.  A few months later, with no signs of Roberts being found, Tiffany packed up and left.  All she left was a note.  She was leaving and that the divorce papers were in the mail.  All I had left was work.

I downed a shot of Crown Royal as Sheriff Dubois turned a corner in the road.  I donned the facemask, thick plastic apron and rubber gloves then walked back into the oven room of the crematory.  I still had work to do.  There were six more bodies to burn.

Going to the oven control panel, I remembered where I left off.  I peered through the glass portal into the burn chamber.  Billy Roberts was still where I left him.  He thrashed about against the thick nylon rope that held him to a backboard and I could hear his muffled screams through the duct tape wrapped around his mouth.  He squinted his eyes and I saw he was crying.  He had managed to free a hand and was frantically clawing at the bindings.

On a drive back from Missoula, I found him passed out beside a ditch with an empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to him.  It was one hell-of-a long shot in finding him.  I should’ve turned him in but other ideas came to mind.  I couldn’t afford a legal technicality that would assure his release in the future.

The human body burns at around 1500 degrees.  I prayed that Hell was going to be a lot hotter than this.  I closed my eyes and hit the button to ignite the burners.


Hells Express

The sun is a blaze of hot molten light, burning the skin off everyone wandering the streets while the chemicals from last night fix are cooking within the veins.  PJ wanders up out of the blue.  “You got some stuff?”  he asks.

“Fuck off.”

“Really.”

“Get the fuck off unless you got something to say.”

He’s pausing, looking wild eyed like some hunted wildebeest being chased down by a lion.  This can only end by a cloud of dust and he knows what I’m poking at.  “Maybe got something for you but I can use some stuff and you got the hook ups.”

“You know what I need, now spit the cock out’ve your mouth.”

“Drake…I heard he blew back into town.”

I been looking for the fuck for a couple years.  “Where?”

The tables have turned for the moment.  All junkies know when they can push the envelope to get their next fix.  “Where’s the stuff?”

This better be good.  I flip the smoke away.  “Go to Jackson street, 612 Jackson.  Rap the door and ask for Big Black.”

“Big Black?”

“Yeah, he’s big and he’s black so don’t fucking laugh when you see him.  Last dude tried that shit he feed the dudes balls to his Chihuahuas and has the guy‘s nut sack for a coin purse.  Tell him Lucky sent you and to front an eight.”  I place a hand on his shoulder.  “Now this shit better be good as the shit Big Black has or I’ll come looking and stick a twelve gauge literally up your ass.”

He nods, looking around nervously.  “Yeah, he be down at Saint Francis Missionary in the mornings doing breakfast then hangs out downtown by the bus depot pan handling.  He nights out at the Lexeco homeless shelter.”

I give the nod.  “Good, now fuck off.”

He hunches over and shuffles away like a dog kicked.  “You fuckers are all the same.”

I wave a finger with a raised eyebrow at him and he quickly heads off to Jackson Street.  After a couple of years of carefully dredging the streets looking for him, I finally get a nibble.  Drake Edwards.  Serial killer, wanted for multiple homicides in several states who drifted from back east killing cops wives and girlfriends along the way before settling in Albuquerque.  He thought it would be easy pickings and starts his shit the first week here.  The first body was a twenty-three year old daughter who turned junkie of a retired thirty year vet.  She was left dumped in some forgotten corner within the ruins of the old Indian School among the trash and dumped household appliances and the molded shit smeared walls.  The homeless community that lived within the ruins denied knowing anything.

The next month it was a bubbly blonde gal who was a fuck buddy with one of the guys within the ranks.  Found her close to downtown in an old abandoned high school inhabited by a bunch of strung out junkies and drunks who filtered Listerine through a loaf of bread for a drink.

We were getting close and we had his name.  Then my partner got the news.  His pretty wife Judy went missing and turns up a week later on the other side of downtown dead.  She wasn’t pretty no more.  My partner went and hit the bottle and ain’t never came back.  We been partners for years, did everything together and our boys were on the same Little League team.

I slide into the Crown Vic and slap it in gear and roll on home to pick up a few goodies.  A points gotta be made:  You fuck with one, you fuck with all of us.   First a hatchet for the junkie gal found at the old Indian School.  Next, a straight razor for the street cops gal…gotta make sure to skin off his whole back like a deer.  Also got to make sure he ain’t pretty no more with a few cuts to widen his smile.  Tonight I’d head on over to the homeless shelter and run him outa there.  Ain’t gonna be no trial, no jail and no waste of taxpayer dough.

Hell, there ain’t gonna be any Drake when it‘s all over with.  The only thing he’ll be hearing are the sounds of his own water parched whispered screams when he begins a trip south on the Hells Express.