Anthony Dirk Ray

Miss Interpretation

“I love you so much,” he said
“you are my rock”

as she thought:

you are my rock too
the rock tied to my feet
pulling me
down
to the bottom of life’s ocean
taking in water
with every p a s s i n g day
immersed in disappointment
asphyxiated with regret

the realization of wasted years
caused rivulets of despair
and hopelessness
down both
cheeks

as he thought:

she really does love me

Judge Santiago Burdon

Florsheim On My Mind

What kind of diagnosis is this for a psychologist to tell a client? It’s not like I don’t already have enough shit to deal with. Now I’ll have this to think about on top of it all. Here is what she told me:

“You don’t use drugs to kill the pain, Santiago, you use drugs to feel the pain. It’s a self-destructive mechanism that you employ to suppress traumatic experiences from your past. Your addiction isn’t to drugs themselves, they are simply your way of punishing yourself.”

I wanted to tell her the diagnosis was a complete and total fable, fabricated by her own imagination.

I use (at times maybe abuse) drugs because I like getting high. There’s no underlying cause to what she considers as deviant behavior. And the money I’m paying for this psychological evaluation could be applied toward more enjoyable activities, such as the aforementioned drugs. It was causing me to experience the trauma of client remorse.

“Santiago, have you heard anything I’ve said? Do you have any comments or questions?”

“I do have a question. Where do you think a one-legged person goes shopping for shoes? I mean, are there shoe stores that sell a single shoe? Or do they have to purchase a pair and then they’re stuck with a shoe that is useless? Possibly there’s a support group that introduces them to another one-legged person missing the opposite leg, and they shop for shoes together. Which brings me to another question concerning their taste in fashion. They would have to…”

“Santiago, please, stop this nonsense! Do you think this is humorous? We’re dealing with a serious situation here, and I need you to participate and accept responsibility for your addiction. Do you understand? Have you enrolled in the court-ordered anger management class?”

“I went to register for the class, but they informed me that I’d have to pay $250 to enroll. And that pissed me off and I became angry. And on top of that bullshit, the classes were scheduled on Saturday nights for eight weeks and were four hours long. That just added to my anger, and I figured that if just registering for the class caused me to become angry, they would ultimately prove to be ineffective. So I said forget it and left before I turned into the Incredible Hulk. And besides, don’t you think it would constitute a conflict of interest for me to receive counseling from someone else? It could possibly result in a complete anxiety disorder on top of all my anger issues.”

“You completely exhaust me, drain my energy. Have you always been a vampire, sucking the life out of everyone who attempts to assist and support you? So, I’m afraid to ask, but are you attending your NA and AA meetings? And they’re free, so don’t use cost as an excuse.”

“That’s not very professional to degrade me by referring to me as a vampire. If I wanted that kind of abuse, I’d call my ex-wife. She calls me names that are far much worse. And she doesn’t charge me $75 an hour, it’s free!”

“Your meetings, Santiago?”

“I’ve been going to meetings, but I’ve been asked not return to my NA meetings, and AA doesn’t appeal to me. I’m just unable to identify with drunks, simply because I enjoy drinking and don’t consider it a problem. Plus, I always have to go and have a beer after each meeting. I’ve been labeled as a bad influence, you see, because I always invite the other members to join me.”

I didn’t divulge that NA meetings are one of the best places to score dope. Whenever I was in a new or unfamiliar city, I would attend a meeting and was always able to buy drugs or get hooked up with member’s dealers.

“That’s enough for today, Santiago. This session is over. Let’s schedule our next meeting for next Wednesday at 2:00, and I’ll expect you to participate. Does that sound feasible to you? It’s not on Saturday, and it’s only for an hour. Let me write you a prescription for some more Klonopin and Depakote. Remember to go to the lab for your blood work. Take care of yourself, Santiago. Looking forward to seeing you again next week.”

I’ll admit, I wasn’t totally convinced of her sincerity.

When, I reached my car in the parking lot, I immediately did a large line of cocaine.

Ahhh… now everything was back to normal.

Judson Michael Agla

A Message for the Meek

This is the sunny side of the ghetto;
filled with freaks, musicians with busted guitars,
singers who’ve lost their voices,
dancers with no feet
and the general wandering souls
who’ve completely lost
their fucking minds.

We’re the lost; the bottom of every heap,
the forgotten, the ostracized and the lost.
We’re being pushed out of the world
with bulldozers and flamethrowers;
every time an artist looks up from their canvas
they realize they can’t afford that canvas.

Their systems are solid; the war machines
are shaking the ground, and the only fight
we make is the metal meeting the meat,
carnage through the streets,
children with guns confused
about Santa Claus
and the fucking
Easter Bunny.

Matthew Licht

dd8 girl

A Hard Case (Part 8)

The voice was familiar, as was the tone Sheriffs Dept bulls use on people caught in the misery light. I got outta the car, hands up.

“Turn around.” Sheriff Johnson Brown went heavy on the get-in-the-position judo and frisked hard.

“Where’s your gun?” he said.

“Gone,” I said. “Didn’t need it anymore.”

“Your former secretary called to report that your private investigator license expired.”

Wanda always said I was a rotten detective, but dates and bureaucracy were an electron cloud spinning out of control in another, distant dimension.

“Things’ve changed,” I said. “I work for the government now.”

“Oh yeah? Then who’s this ginch?” Sheriff Brown shone his heavy flashlight on Doris behind the wheel. “She looks like the wrong side of a divorce case, to me. Which means you’re operating illegally.”’

“She’s my new partner.”

Doris flashed a Project X badge, which gleamed golden.

“She drives better than you, too,” I said.

Sheriff Brown saw his party was pooped, and threw in a surreptitious kidney punch. A call crackled in on the squad car’s radio. There was a hostage situation at the Nursing Academy.

Sheriff Pettet said, “We’d better go, chief.”

Their unmarked prowler crunched the gravel and broken glass in the alley and faded away.

Doris lit a cigarette, but crushed it out in the ashtray.

We drove to a beach in Ventura County. The sun came up behind us. The Pacific waves lived up to their name and reputation. We went in, with our clothes off. The day finished with a green flash at a point where the world was a blue line and the sky was a pink infinity.

Time to go back to work at Project X.

The last detail of a misspent career in private investigation was a courtesy call to a former client. “Mr Frawley, I found your wife.”

“Oh? Hey, that’s great. When…”

“But that’s only because you lost her.”

“Huh? Never had no complaints from any other…”

“She’ll send you a check for what she borrowed to fund her escape from a nowhere life.”

“But how…”

“When’s the last time you did something for your country, Frawley? Think of it that way.” Then I hung up.

fin

A Hard Case (Part 1)

A Hard Case (Part 2)

A Hard Case (Part 3)

A Hard Case (Part 4)

A Hard Case (Part 5)

A Hard Case (Part 6)

A Hard Case (Part 7)

J.J. Campbell

on a porch with a glass of something strong

i was never cut out
for the corporate life

i own one tie
mostly used for funerals
i no longer bother
to attend

nothing against those
who feel more comfortable
in a cubicle

but i’d rather be on a porch
with a glass of something
strong

allowing my imagination
to fill some pages

taking a moment to
breathe in some silence
and whatever passes
as fresh air

letting the hours
fade away without
ever punching
a clock

John D. Robinson

The Nose Job

‘The bone structure of your nose
is completely abnormal, have you
experienced a facial injury?’ the
ENT doctor asked:
‘As a young man I was involved
in countless physical altercations
with guys who seemed to hate
my nose, they’d punch it, kick it,
pulled and twisted it, spat at it
and shouted abuse at it, they
hated my nose’ I replied;
‘I see’ she said concealing a
grin:
‘I don’t get involved in those
scenes nowadays’ I said
reassuringly:
‘That’s good’ she said
unimpressed
‘Chances are you’ve treated
some of my opponents’ I
said smiling: she didn’t
respond as she tapped on a
keyboard:
‘Goodbye Mr Robinson, the results
will be sent to you’ she said without
looking away from the screen.

Tim Frank

Concrete Jungle

At the centre of the Stonebridge housing estate in North London, no light could penetrate the shaded stairwells and the dirty net curtains. There were no views and inside the dingy flats cockroaches darted through bedrooms and the rank smell of blocked toilets wafted down halls. Those who knew the place said it was the darkest area in the city. And had the darkest heart. That’s where the undercover Officer Hislop patrolled daily, keeping his eyes on the neighbourhood hoodlums and arresting youths for drugs, knives and firearms offenses. He kept his distance, fighting any urge to sympathise with any of the kids he came up against. There was no point, they were on the road to self-destruction – empathy was a waste of his time. Except for one teenager, Gerald, part of the Skelter crew, who Hislop couldn’t help taking pity on.

One afternoon when some of the Skelter crew were rounded up and cuffed after a raid in the south side of the estate, rain lashing down on the concrete outside sounding like cracking knuckles, a small group of officers circled the gang who they’d forced to their knees by a wall. Officer Gauche frisked the crew. When he came to Gerald, he yanked his head to one side.

‘Hislop,’ ordered Gauche, ‘come over here. This kid’s cuffs are loose, I hope you’re not going easy on him.’

‘I didn’t cuff him, said Hislop, and I don’t go easy on anyone.’

‘Yeah, I don’t need any help from no cop,’ said Gerald, the crust of dried snot plastered across his upper lip.

‘Shut up punk,’ said Gauche.

‘Yeah, Gerald, shut the fuck up,’ said Hislop.

Gauche forced Gerald’s head against the wall. Hislop lit a cigarette and played with it nervously as he stared at Gerald and the stupid look he wore on his face, like he was confused by some complex maths equation. That poor sap couldn’t count to five, Hislop thought.

The police found nothing on the gang and eventually set them free. They scuttled off like a mischief of rats into all four corners of the building. Gerald went home to the fifth floor where his grandmother was waiting for him in the kitchen, smoking a joint that alleviated the pain from her cancerous breast.

When he came in the door his phone exploded with text messages. It was Gerald’s gang leader, Reece, checking on him to see if the cops had found anything.

Gerald’s grandmother beckoned him to join her.

‘Put the phone away, I have to talk to you,’ she said.

Gerald slipped the phone inside his jacket pocket and took a seat opposite his grandmother. His stomach growled with hunger as he wiped his nose and reached out for the joint.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I need your head clear for what I’m about to tell you.’

She laid the joint in an ashtray, letting it burn out by itself as it nestled amongst a cluster of other roaches.

‘I’m dying Gerald,’ she said, ‘you know that don’t you?’

‘Yeah, I know,’ he said, watching a fly try to wrestle itself free from a spider’s web.

‘But I don’t think you understand. It means you’ll be all on your own with no one to look after you.’

‘But you can come visit though, right?’

‘No – what? Gerald when someone dies, that’s it, they are gone, never to come back. Like your parents.’

‘Oh, they just went away, they’ll be back one day. I get it.’

‘No, you don’t.’

‘I do, gran, and I’ll save you, I promise.’

‘Listen to me Gerald, I have nothing to leave you when I die except this flat. I need you to promise me that you will sell it and leave this God forsaken place when I’m gone.’

‘Leave? But what about my job?’

‘Gerald, you’re selling drugs for a gang. It’s not a job. I know you don’t understand but I want you to find a way out of here.’

Gerald smiled and said, ‘It’s going to be alright gran, you’ll see.’

Gerald’s grandmother sighed, sparked up her joint and said, ‘You can go back to your phone now. Please try to think about what I’ve said.’

That night Hislop returned home to his wife and child late. As he searched his pockets for his keys he almost tripped on the front step. His wife, Marie, opened the door and said, ‘Jesus Patrick, this is the third time this week you’ve come back wasted.’

Hislop aimed a kiss at Marie’s cheek and brushed past her into the living room.

‘I’ve put Stanley to bed. Would you at least like to say goodnight to him?’

‘Can’t it wait?’ he said. ‘I need a cup of coffee.’

Marie placed her hand on her hip and gave him the look.

‘OK, OK, I’ll be up in a minute.’

Stanley’s room was illuminated by a night light that spread a gloomy fog. As Hislop entered, closely followed by his wife, he saw the boy, three years old, in Spiderman pyjamas, standing in his cot gently crying. Hislop scooped him up into his arms and whispered into his ear, rocking him back and forth. Hislop looked into Stanley’s eyes. The boy held a glazed expression.

‘He still doesn’t recognise me,’ Hislop said, as Stanley began to wail.

‘Give it time,’ Marie said.

‘Right. Time.’

***

A few days later Hislop was patrolling one of the blocks when he caught sight of Gerald dealing by the motorway that separated the estate from the rest of the city. The crackhead jetted off before Hislop could catch him but he managed to corner Gerald.

Hislop cuffed him and said, ‘Come with me,’ and he led the boy across the motorway where they found some semblance of civilisation. They stepped into a burger and beer joint.  Clean lines, white decor with splashes of red.

‘I didn’t do it, OK?’

‘Take a seat Gerald, I just want to talk.’

Hislop released Gerald from his cuffs and the boy rubbed his chafed wrists.

‘What would you like?’ Hislop said. ‘Pick anything, it’s on me.’

‘Is this a joke?’

‘No one needs to know Gerald; this is between us. I want to help you. You are hungry, right?’

‘Well, yeah.’

A waitress wearing her hair in a bun and an apron with a picture of a bull etched on the front came to serve them.

‘Give us a double patty diablo with the works. Fries and a chocolate milkshake too. I’ll just have a light beer, thanks,’ said Hislop.

The waitress jotted down the order but before she could leave Gerald said, ‘What are you looking at?’

‘Excuse me, sir?’

‘You know what I’m talking about. What the fuck are you looking at?’

‘Go easy Gerald,’ said Hislop. ‘Nobody’s judging you, right miss?’

‘Look,’ she said, ‘If it’s all the same, I think I’m going to let someone else wait on you.’

‘Fine,’ said Hislop, ‘but I’m sorry.’

Another waitress soon joined them and Hislop repeated the order. He flicked through the mini jukebox that was positioned on the side of their table.

‘I’ve been watching you Gerald. You may not know it but I’ve been looking out for your wellbeing.’

‘Looking out how?’

‘Just… Looking out. I know your grandmother.’

‘Oh yeah?’ Gerald said, all cagey.

‘We speak sometimes. She’s a good woman who cares deeply for you.’

‘I don’t want to talk about my gran.’

‘OK, we won’t. But listen, I don’t care that you deal drugs. I know you are a good person too.’

‘How?’

‘How what?’

‘How do you know I’m a good person?’

‘No idea, Gerald. Call it instinct.’

‘You don’t know the things I’ve done.’

‘Maybe so but I want to help you.’

The food came and Gerald tucked in ferociously.

‘I want to get you out of the hood,’ said Hislop.

‘I don’t need any help, I’ve got plans,’ Gerald said, manoeuvring his mouth around his burger then biting down hard.

‘Oh yeah? What plans are these?’

‘None of your business, and don’t worry about me. I’m going to be just fine.’

‘Right, of course.’

What, you don’t believe me?’

‘Honestly, no I don’t see it.’

‘Well, you’re wrong.’

‘Enlighten me.’

‘Fuck you, how about that?’

‘Now play nice, Gerald.’

Gerald wiped his mouth and sighed.

‘I’m going to save up for university, get a degree and become a doctor or something.’

‘There’s so much wrong with that sentence I don’t even know where to begin.’

‘I don’t have to listen to this bullshit. If you want to arrest me, arrest me. Otherwise, thanks for the food, but I’ve got to go.’

‘No wait, I’m sorry, please just hear me out.’

‘Why do you give a shit about me?’

‘Don’t ask me that question Gerald because I really don’t know.’’

Gerald stood and said, ‘People think I’m thick, well they’re wrong. I can achieve whatever I put my mind to.’

‘That’s all very well but if you stay here, in the hood, dealing for Reece you’re going to end up dead or in prison. You have to get out of this city where the Skelter crew can’t track you down. Please take a seat and let’s talk about it.’

Gerald stared out of the diner window, across the motorway and over to the looming presence of the estate. It seemed to look back at him, saturated in all its grey haunted glory. He sat back down.

An hour later, after an in-depth discussion, Hislop and Gerald went their separate ways. As Gerald crossed the motorway and approached the estate, he felt eyes on him, peering like black opals embedded in the concrete. As he jiggled his keys in his front door a text pinged from his phone. It was Reece.

The message simply read, ‘My flat, now.’

Gerald climbed the four floors to reach Reece’s apartment. He texted Reece to say he was outside his door. He was shown inside by one of the crew and the smell of high-grade skunk stung his nostrils. The living room had a couch and a coffee table next to it. A selection of guns was laid out on the surface and beside them was a mound of cocaine with tubs of detergent and baby powder to cut the drug. A one-year old baby with a soiled nappy roamed around the constricted space, dried tears on her face. The flat was hot and Reece wore a shirt cut off at the sleeves. But he was lean and had no muscles to expose.  He indicated to Gerald that he should take a seat.

‘Why did you text me, you idiot, if you’re just outside the fucking door?’’

‘Um,’ stuttered Gerald.

‘I’m not going waste time Gerald,’ Reece said, as the baby tugged at Gerald’s trouser leg.

‘You’ve been seen with… Wait, pass the little tyke over.’

Gerald picked up the baby and caught a glimpse straight into her eyes. He saw purity.

‘OK,’ said Reece laying the baby on one side of the couch, beginning to change her. He stroked the side of her face and made some goofy noises.

‘Gerald, you’ve been seen with Hislop. We know he’s been helping you. Let’s face it, any fool can tell you would have been locked up a long time ago if it wasn’t for him.  Honestly Gerald, do you actually like that shitbag?’

‘No, uh, he just wanted to talk and I listened.’

‘Talk about what?’

‘Well, you know, I guess, my plans to go to university and that. He said he could help me.’

‘University?’ Reece cracked a smile, chortled, then fell about laughing. After he’d settled down and picked up the baby, resting her on his chest, he said, ‘And what about your commitments to me and the gang? You have a lot of important work to do. And I’m sure you know what it means if you talk to the police, right? Listen to me now and listen well. I’m going to give you one of these guns and you’re going to take Hislop out. Pop pop, OK? It’s the only way I can be sure you’re on our side. I have to be able to trust you one hundred percent from now on. Otherwise you’re no good to me. Now I know this is a big thing I’m asking you to do, fuck me everyone knows you’re thick as two short planks. But I believe in you. I want to believe in you anyway. Prove to me that my faith is well placed. This is your last chance. Am I understood?’

Gerald gave a sullen nod and took the gun.

‘I’ll text you with instructions when the time is right.’

Gerald went home, his mind swimming with visions of death. That night he dreamt of his grandmother being strangled with a rope. He saw her blood vessels bursting out of her eyes, her bulbous tongue sticking out of her mouth. He couldn’t see who was murdering her but he felt it could be him. He woke in a cold sweat and checked his phone. Still no orders from Reece. He would have to wait.

***

After saying goodbye to Gerald outside the diner, Hislop went to the pub, but he didn’t stay long. Instead he journeyed home to spend some time with his family.

‘This is a pleasant surprise, to what do we owe this honour?’ said Marie as Hislop took a seat at the dinner table. She doled out some casserole for him. The baby sat in his chair and squinted. His lazy eye shifted about in its socket.

‘Just, you know, want to make some changes,’ he said.

‘Well great, about time,’ Marie smiled. ‘Wine?’

They finished the meal, put Stanley to sleep and climbed into bed. As they switched off their bedside lamps both of them remained wide-eyed and deep in thought. The night outside seemed to hiss with venomous intent.

‘You never bring your work home with you,’ Marie said, ‘but for once I want you to talk about it with me. Let me in. I know something is going on.’

‘I thought I could keep it from you. That was the plan. But you’re right, there is something. There’s some boy at work. He needs help Marie.’

‘And you think you’re the one to give it to him?’

‘Maybe, yes, I mean, I don’t know.’

‘Let me tell you what you do. You steer clear of this kid as much as is humanly possible. You don’t talk to him; you don’t think about him.’

‘But you don’t even know who he is and what his situation is like.’

‘I don’t care. I know your job and the scum you work with. They are animals, degenerates. Keep away, do you hear me?’

They were quiet for a while and then Hislop broke the silence, saying, ‘I’m having dreams, nightmares. I’m afraid I’ve already let him in and I can’t push him away. I’ve opened the door and now I can’t shut it.’

‘The only door you need to open is for Stanley, no one else. He’s the one who needs your help and attention. Can’t you see we’re losing you to this job of yours? And God knows what danger you’re putting yourself in by associating with some crackhead.’

‘He’s not a crackhead. Marie he’s actually given me hope. I can do something worthwhile for once in a job that’s been meaningless for years. If, that is…’

‘If what?’

‘If he doesn’t screw it up.’’

‘Please, I’m begging you, stop this madness and focus on what’s important – your family.’

That night Hislop couldn’t sleep so he took a pillow and a throw and crept into Stanley’s room where he laid down on the floor. Hislop finally nodded off an hour or two before dawn. He slept beside Stanley every night that week. He and Marie didn’t talk about his new routine and why it was happening because, although Marie wanted to feel happy about it, she wasn’t completely sure if she liked the motives behind his new behaviour.

***

The week after, Gerald was taking a snooze late in the afternoon. His dreams incorporated the sounds of an audience applauding from the television set next door. He was woken by a text from Reece. It spelled out the details of when and where the hit was to take place. Reece signed off by saying, ‘Don’t fuck it up.’

Gerald wiped the sleep from his eyes, slipped his feet inside his trainers and picked up the gun from inside the dresser. The weapon glinted in the shaft of light emanating from the half-open door. He swallowed. He reached out to his ashtray, took a couple of puffs from a spliff and then tried to sneak out of the flat before his grandmother could notice. As he opened the front door it creaked and alerted her to his presence. She was sitting in the armchair in the living room watching a game show shrouded by a cloud of weed smoke. Buzzers and ticking clocks frayed Gerald’s nerves.

‘What, you don’t want to give a kiss goodbye to your gran?’ she said.

Gerald’s shoulders slumped and he shuffled back inside.

‘What’s wrong Gerald? Don’t hide anything from me. Grandmas always know when there’s something up with their boy.’

‘It’s nothing gran. How are you feeling?’

‘I’m coping darling, I’m coping. I don’t know if I should tell you this but that nice police officer paid me a visit the other day. What’s his name? Henry? Harold?’

‘Hislop.’

‘Yes, that’s it. Well we’ve been talking about you, and me, but mostly you and I have to say he really does speak sense. He seems like a good man and I truly believe that he has your best interests at heart. One day soon I’d like us all to sit down and have a chat. Now, I don’t want to keep you, I just need my kiss and I’ll let you be on your way.’

Gerald dutifully bent down and gave her a peck on the cheek. He was close to tears. He walked out of the flat and told himself under his breath, ‘Fix up, look sharp, you can do this.’

Reece’s text had directed Gerald to wait in a stairwell on the second floor. The message said Hislop was expected to arrive, one flight of steps lower, in the hall by the elevators around five pm. Gerald leaned up against the cold wall with his gun held aloft, resting it near his cheek. He noticed his shallow breaths. In out, in out. He noticed the sweat dripping from his forehead. Then he heard voices echo below. Calling him from hell.   It was a conversation between Officers Gauche and Hislop. He eavesdropped.

‘I gotta say, I’m getting a little tired of this place, said Gauche. Frankly I don’t know if I can carry on much longer.’

‘Who do you think you’re fooling? You’ve said the same thing every day for the last ten years,’ said Hislop.

‘Nevertheless. And what about you? You seem to have a new found spring in your step.’

‘Really? No, I don’t think anything’s different.’

‘I have a feeling I know what’s going on.’

‘Oh yeah, what?’

‘Do I have to spell it out?’

‘Yes, I’m afraid you do, because I have no idea what you’re talking about.’

‘OK. It’s Gerald isn’t it. Tell me, what have you got yourself into?’

‘Come on Gauche, I’ve told you a million times I have no connection to that kid. Now lay off me.’

‘I wish I could but this is too important to be brushed under the carpet.’

‘What do you want me to say?’

‘Say you’ve been having secret meetings with Gerald and his grandmother. Say you’ve been looking the other way when he’s dealing on the streets or beating up crackheads. For chrissakes, say you’re obsessed with him.’

Gerald knew it was time to act. But the words of his grandmother reverberated through his mind, ‘He wants the best for you, he’s a good man.’ Gerald remained frozen in the stairwell, caught between two worlds. The darkness and the light. All he could do was continue to listen into the cops’ conversation and delay the inevitable.

‘You really want to know what I think of that retard Gerald and his crippled nan?’ Hislop said. ‘I’ll tell you. He’s degenerate scum just like the rest of the bacteria in this hole of an estate. Yes, I thought I could help him, yes, I thought I could fix him somehow. But I was wrong and he and his gran can rot six feet deep for all I care because they have brought me nothing but misery since I met them.’

‘Jeez,’ Gauche said.

‘OK?’

‘OK, OK, I believe you. I never knew you felt that way. I just thought…’

‘You thought what?’

‘Never mind. It’s history.’

Gerald leapt out of his hiding place and aimed his gun at Hislop’s temple. He fingered the trigger lightly but couldn’t bring himself to shoot.

‘I believed in you,’ he howled, the anguish and confusion painted on his face. ‘You said… you said, and my gran she trustedyou. I’m going to blow your fucking brains out!’

Just then the sound of trainers squeaked on the concrete from behind him.

‘Gerald, watch out!’

A gun fired and Gerald collapsed, his blood and brains splattered against the elevator doors as the lift descended past. Down the hall, a figure raced off and disappeared into the maze of the tower block. Gauche immediately gave chase after him.

Hislop knelt down next to Gerald’s body and wiped blood from his cheeks. His eyes were open, grey and gone.

‘Shit Gerald, you idiot, what have you done? I didn’t mean it; I didn’t fucking mean it…’

It wasn’t long before Gauche returned to the scene with the killer in tow – Troy, one of the  other Skelter crew.

‘You certainly do a good impression of not caring for the retard,’ Gauche said, observing Hislop’s grief.

Troy had a blank give-a-shit stare plastered across his face, yet it was clear he was trying his best to avert his gaze from the dead body before him.

‘Looks like Troy here just saved your life, Hislop,’ Gauche said. ‘And now we’re going to take him to the station to find out why.’

‘No need to wait, I’ll tell you right now’ Troy said, ‘It was a warning – to mind your business and leave the Skelter crew alone. Gerald crossed the line, there was no helping him. So, now you know that if you want to get involved again, you can expect the same thing to happen. Without question.’

Hislop flipped. He grabbed Troy by the back of the neck and forced his face up against Gerald’s.

‘Look what you’ve done!’ he cried. ‘Don’t you care what you’ve done?!’

‘That’s enough Hislop,’ said Gauche. ‘Let him go.’

Hislop released Troy who staggered to his feet, shaken.

‘Better him than wiping out some cop. We’re not that stupid,’ Troy said.

‘OK that’s enough out of you,’ said Gauche. ‘You’re gonna be in a world of pain. Do you believe in karma? Hislop go see Reece.’

‘Reece can wait until tomorrow,’ said Hislop, ‘he’s not going anywhere. He’ll be waiting for us, he’ll be clean. But someone’s got to tell the grandmother. I don’t think I can do it.’

‘I’ll get Rawdon to pay her a visit. Go home, have a shower, try and forget about today. Gerald’s not your responsibility, never was.’

Instead of going directly home he decided to walk a lap around the estate in an attempt to clear his mind. He saw rival gangs loitering here and there, continuing to go about their business, not even scared of dealing in front of him. A statement had been made. He hated them and yet he realised Gerald was once one of them too. Maybe Gerald was the same as all the rest. But maybe they were all like him – just kids who needed proper help and guidance. Or they were all psychopaths. Hislop took one last glance behind him as he left the estate and caught sight of two rival gangs, ten on each side, formed in a huddle, hurling punches at each other, grunting and groaning. Hislop let it pass. Not today. And what did it matter if he got involved anyhow? They’d only be at each other’s throats again the next day. It was insanity.

He hit the pub – propping up the bar, still, quiet, throwing back pint after pint as punters buzzed around him. Laughter rang out intermittently as strangers bonded over the pool table and old drunks slept in booths.

Then he went home and tried his best to be quiet as he entered the building. Something told him his wife knew he was there but was giving him a wide berth because, as he crashed about the kitchen searching for coffee, she made no appearance. He was relieved. He gave up on the coffee and with a shaky hand drank five glasses of water. He grabbed a bag of tortilla chips from a cupboard and climbed the stairs. He walked into Stanley’s room, closed the door, and took a seat on the carpet by the cot.

He prised open the crisps and began stuffing them in his mouth, crumbs falling from his lips, scattering around his feet as he sat cross-legged. He put the bag to one side, still munching away, got to his feet and arched his head over the cot to peer in at his son who was ensconced in a blanket, fast asleep.

Hislop picked up Stanley and carried him around the room on unsteady feet. Stanley opened his eyes and yawned. He pawed at Hislop’s chin and looked straight into his father’s eyes. The baby seemed to smile.

‘You see me,’ said Hislop in astonishment. ‘I don’t believe it, you see me.’

He hugged the baby. He hugged him tight. Too tight. Stanley wriggled around and tried to cry but his breath was trapped in his diaphragm. He began to turn blue as his father continued to squeeze the life out of him.

The sun began to rise on another day, a day like all the rest, where the weak were swallowed by the strong and no one dared to think twice.

Bogdan Dragos

Cyst

you ever just sit or lay
on your bed and stare at
the ceiling and wonder
if you’ve ever eaten meat from an animal
that was the offspring of another animal
you’ve eaten?

I’ve once read an article about the
food industry’s secret glue
that can paste together the meat
belonging from many animals and
makes it look like it’s from a single one

thus you could eat beef thinking
that it’s from a cow
when in fact it’s from nine different cows
of nine different ages and breeds

a friend of mine declared herself vegan
after she sliced a steak and found
gray slimy puss oozing from it.
The blade struck a cyst

“I’m a vegan forever from now on!”
she screamed

And I said, “I’m a writer.”

“What?” she said. “What’s that have
to do with what I said?”

“I’m a writer,” I repeated. “Meaning I have to
compare everything to writing. Your discovery
of the cyst inside the steak is akin to reading
a really nice book only to reach the most
disturbing scene you’ve stumbled upon in a long
while and be taken by surprise and change your
opinion about the whole book.
There are some books like that. Doesn’t mean
they all are though.
And unlike a meat eater, I like to believe
a writer can tell the difference between a book
written by a single person and a collaborative
project.”

“Boy, you’re scaring me.”

“Can I have that steak?” I said.

“Wah? You… don’t mean to eat it, do you?”

“Nah, my cousin has a dog who surely
won’t mind the cyst.”

she gave me the steak
and she didn’t ask (I only wanted her to),
but the writer
equivalent of this situation would be
to recognize when a story fails
real bad and instead of stubbornly striving
to submit to agents
you just give it away for free,
publish online,
maybe even under a pseudonym

Anyway
the dog loved that steak.

Frank Jones

Deca Dick

The lads at my gym told me I needed to have my fucking head read for shooting Deca. There were horror stories everywhere about this type of juice. 1 bloke couldn’t get a horn for 3 weeks after a cycle. Another bloke went off fanny for a month. Were the stories true? I thought it was a load of old fucking flannel, like saying a poke of Test could give you a heart-attack. So, I got hold of a few vials, cut-price, and shot the shit. I didn’t even stack the Deca with Testosterone to smooth out the side-effects, because I was on the bones of my arse skint.

3 weeks in, and everything was sweet. Had a dick like a truncheon in the mornings. Sex drive was bang on. Then 1 night I was taking a waz, looked down, and it was if my bell-end was fucking retreating into my dick. I could still get a little chubby, though, and it least it meant that I hadn’t been sold a vial of piss, you know?

A couple of days later I stopped getting wood altogether, and that’s when I started shitting it. The desire was still there, but I couldn’t get a rise out of the bastard. Porn was useless. I even rang up a list of my ex-birds to see if any of them would wrap their lips around it, but none would so much as stoop to a hand job. Fat lot of good it would have done me, anyway, with a prick like a burst balloon.

I was propping up the bar in The Moonraker’s 1 night, waiting for my training partner Jonty. We’d pre-drink at The Moonrakers, and then head up town on the lash proper. The barman swung on the Coors Light pump in front of me. He was a sliver of a bloke with a weak beard and a boss eye.

Reload? he went.

Yeah.

You weightlifters sure can drink.

I went: You can’t get drunk twice in 1 session. You just drink through the drunkenness. Leave the dead bottles, will you?

Why?

I like watching them stack up.

I turned around to see if there were any lookers in the place. The music was going loud and the strobe lights were cutting people to pieces. I could make out a bird sat at a table in the corner who was big in the rack, but she had some weight on her. Big tits on a fat bird are like big biceps on a fat bloke. Who gives a fuck?

I was peeling the label off my bottle when this fucking fit bird parked up next to me. I’m talking a 10 out of 10 if ever I saw 1, perfectly poured into a black dress. The barman’s boss eye straightened up as he gave her a once over.

Drink? I asked her.

No, thanks.

I sat back on the stool. I went: I’ve got this theory about blokes who are good at pulling birds. They’re basically stone-cold bastards, but they know this, and actively work to address it by giving birds lots of attention. That burns your Mr Nice Guy, because he’s always operating at his everyday level of niceness and no fucker notices him.

And you’re the Mr Nice Guy?

I’m the bastard.

She looked at me for the first time. I could feel her stare rubbing against me.

You lift weights? she went.

No, I put them down.

She laughed, and it was like some sort of surrender.

We had a few drinks, a few more, a fag in the smoking area outside.

Conversation was fucking easy, a smooth back-and-forth. I couldn’t believe it. The times I’ve dogged birds to get into their knickers, and here she was throwing her fanny in my face. She kept touching my arms, and I had my hand resting on the small of her back, and I could see every bloke in the place looking over ready to mop up if I spilt.

That’s when I remembered that my dick was broken.

You alright? the bird went, smoke from her fag climbing the air like a vine.

Yeah. I’ll be right back, I went, and headed to the lavvy. As I pushed through the crowd, I cursed myself for not getting some Viagra from Marcus. He was a gear dealer first and foremost, but he had his fingers up all sorts of arseholes.

2 blokes were in there, unloading into the pisser.

1 bloke said to the other: Fucking hell, you seen that smoking hot bitch at the bar?

The other bloke said back to him: I wouldn’t kick that out of bed for farting. Who’s that lump she’s talking to?

Dunno, but he’s a lucky bastard. She’s 1 fine bird, and he’s 1 shitpan ugly prick.

I walked up the condom machine. Buying rubbers was a fucking high hope. No – I wanted some of those herbal pills that are supposed to stoke your dick up. Probably a load of shite, but I couldn’t even give them a shot. Some fuckbag had smashed the brains out of the machine.

The lads at the urinals were still talking, hadn’t seen me: He must be on some juice, mustn’t he?

Course he is! His tits are bigger than that bird he’s with. I want a bit of tonk on me, but I wouldn’t want to look like that. He’s too big. It’s a mental illness lifters get when they start training, a bigorexia. They’re never hench enough. What a puffed-up…

That’s when he slung a glance over his shoulder and saw me.

…slag, he finished, his loud voice somersaulting into a mouse’s squeak. The stream of piss between his legs wobbled to a halt.

I opened the door, and went: It’s mental illness alright, but at least it got me jacked, you piss-ant shower of tossers.

The bird was at the bar waiting for me.

You want to go somewhere? she went, a hand on my forearm.

Yeah.

Your place or mine?

Your place, I replied. Limp dick or not, I couldn’t take her back to the mine. Open the cutlery drawer and there were fucking needles looking at you.

She grabbed my hand, and we made for the door. As we walked out, Jonty Jackson was trying to get in. The doormen were pushing him back, telling him he was too steamboated. His eyes were like frogspawn and he was giving them mad jip. Jonty was my boy, my training partner and best mate, so I should have waded in.

You know that lary bastard? the bird went, with a scowl. We were walking to a taxi on the curb.

I held the door open for her, and went: Never clapped sight on the prick before in my life.

She told her address to the drive, and we pulled out. As soon as we were rolling, she was all over me. Fuck, I’d never known a bird to be so game. She was giving me the tongue and I could taste her cherry lip gloss. I went for a classic move, and slid my hand up her thigh, rifled past her knickers to her pussy. There was playful resistance, but she was pumping out wet heat, so I let her have a fingertip. Her pussy was gobbling at it like the mouth of a hungry fish, and she was moaning away, pushing down further on my digit. I caught the driver’s eyes in the rear-view, and gave him a savage look until he went back to staring at fucking street. I pulled my finger out and chased her clit around like it was the last pea remaining on a plate.

The taxi pulled up at the curb of her house, and as she was adjusting her G-string, I gave my fingers a good sniff. Standard.

She lived on that rough Pinehurst West estate. Tiny houses, a criss-cross mish-mash of living. At any given time, you could smell either shit or food cooking, or shitty food being cooked.

At the door of her house, she spun around to face me.

You don’t take roids, do you? I’ve known blokes in the past who took gear, and they were all nutters.

She was feisty. I wanted to fuck that out of her.

I went: I think roids are for cowards and fucking bullies.

I stared out through the roid bloat that was pinching my eyes shut.

Come in, she went.

I did that, and then we were in the kitchen. I thought it was a right dingy shithole, all shadows and corners.

Nice place, I went.

You want a drink?

What you got?

She bent down to look in a cupboard, and her fine teardrop calfs rode up her lower leg. Still no pulse from my dick. I tried not to think about it but trying not to think about it only made me think about it even more, you know?

She went: All I’ve got is wine and…wine.

Bit queer, isn’t it?

She laughed and poured herself a drink, went: You’re a real throwback, a tough guy. How much can you lift?

Bench-press? About 4 of you.

That makes me so fucking wet. I’ve got no time for those poofy blokes who have long hair and wear skinny jeans. I’ve been there and shagged that. I couldn’t tell if they’re fucking me or I’m fucking them. I want a real man for once, 1 who’s gonna dick me right.

You got a boyfriend? I went.

No – do you?

She moved in for another fierce kiss. Her eyes were closed. Mine weren’t. I knew I was outgunned, but the only way out was to keep on going in.

After she’d necked her wine, we headed upstairs. Her arse was a few inches away from my face and it had this hypnotising little wiggle, this shimmy-shake. I could feel through my jeans that my dick was still like overcooked spaghetti, but I gave that arse a few slaps, and she giggled her way into the bedroom, with me chasing behind. She flicked the light on, closed the door, and pushed me to the bed.

Stay there, she went, and lifted my finger to her mouth, sucking it to the tip with lips that formed a soft, wet, tight O.

Before long, her dress and bra were in a pile on the floor. She left her knickers and heels on. Somehow they managed to make her look more naked. She had the sort of body that was so fit that you wished you had 2 dicks to do it justice. I didn’t even have 1 dick, and didn’t I fucking know it.

I’m going to fuck the shit out of you, she said, said it like a threat.

The bed springs squeaked as I shifted my weight.

She walked over with a look on her face like she was about to get wrong with me, like she was a wild fucking animal. Dropped to her knees, undid my belt buckle, and whipped the fucker clean off – slung it against the wall. In a quick second, she’d had my trousers and boxers down and was giving me brain. She was running her hand across my hard quads, but my soft dick was like a piece of chewed gum, stretching back and forth in her mouth.

Shame pinching up my face, I was rubbing my brow and going: Fucking hell. Oh, fuck me sideways.

She thought I was fucking loving it, went: You like that, huh?

She switched from my dick to my bollocks. It was like she was stuffing the hanging wattles of a tired old turkey into her mouth. She was working it and slurping it, but after a bit her eyes shifted from being sexy challenging to just plan fucking challenging, proper drilling into me. I raised my face to the ceiling, and prayed to God Almighty that she didn’t know anyone from my gym. The fallout from this would be worse than the time I shagged that brunette piece who we later found out was a prostitute. But that’s a story for another time and maybe not even then.

Still nothing from my dick. Sweet bugger all. She was absolutely fucking ruining me.

It was too painful to watch. I pushed the bird over to bed, and had her knickers down around her ankles. It has been said that I am a very lazy bastard when it comes to foreplay, but just to distract her from my limp dick, I gave her a right old finger chug. Soon she was grabbing 2 fistfuls of duvet and moaning my fucking name. I flicked the bean with my tongue for a bit, straightened up, and wiped pussy juice from my beard. It didn’t matter how fit the bird was, pussy still tasted like a week-old bucketful of piss and sweat.

Her hand was groping for my limp prick, and she was staring at it like it was a busted toy.

When are you going to ram me? she went.

The walls were closing in. I had to think of something quick, something that wasn’t embarrassing. I couldn’t think of anything. And then it hit me. I went: Wait. I need to take a shit.

She looked at me with her mouth slightly open, eyebrows curled into a question mark.

Where’s your crapper, or do fit birds not shit? I went, stepping into my boxers.

She started diddling herself, went: Down the hall. Second left. And hurry up, for fuck’s sake. My cunt’s making a sound like batter being mixed.

As soon as I’d bolted myself in that shitter, I started furiously pumping my dick. I was trying all sorts of different grips – standard right-hand tug, reverse grip, double-fisted. I even filled the sink with warm water and slapped the fucker in it. I looked like a great big elephant taking on water through a tiny little trunk. I was speaking to my dick, snarling through my teeth: you shit, you bastard, you son of a motherfucker! There was a mirror on the wall, and I kept looking from my jacked body to my limp dick, from my limp dick to my jacked body. I had it all. My biceps were screaming big and the pipes of muscle running up to my neck looked fucking sick good. But what’s the point of being hench if you can’t even fuck a stunner? I thought about bailing through the window, but the drop was a brute. That would be 2 broken legs, and my squat would be fucked for time.

Beyond the patchwork of tiny gardens, the tallest building in the town’s skyline rammed up into the air like an awesome piss-take.

No choice, so I tucked my meat away and went back to the bedroom.

There was this mad loud vibrating noise coming from in there. I hung my head around the door. The bird was resting against the headboard of the bed, legs spread wide. She was wanking herself with this fucking massive vibrator. Damn thing was like a wrist around, no lie. Her face was flushed to fuck, and she was proper going for it, flapping away.

I just stood there.

What’s wrong? she went,

I didn’t say shit, but we both knew that I was in no condition to be the second act following that big bastard.

She suddenly got very angry. Her angry face was very similar to her wank face. She went: This pussy not fucking good enough for you, or what?!

I smiled. You know how prissy birds get when they think their looks are on the way out.

Find me fucking funny, do you? she went, mardy as fuck.

She tugged the vibrator free, and launched it at me with a grunt like a female tennis player smashing a serve. I dipped to the right. That vibrator cartwheeled end-over-end past my head, and bounced across the floor. Thing must have had some guts, because it was fucking pulling itself along the carpet.

The bird scrambled from the bed, threw on a nightgown, went: I should have fucking known as soon as I saw you sitting there all buffed out at the bar. You’re a fucking queer, aren’t you? Fucking looking at yourself in every reflection you can find, like a little bitch. Real man my piss-hole!

I went: I’m no fucking queer!

She grabbed my clothes, and legged it out the bedroom. I saw the tail of her nightgown flap around the corner. I bundled behind – skittering over that vibrator that was still thrashing its way down the hall like a headless snake. Quick thud of feet on stairs. The bird opened the front door, and tossed my shit out onto the street.

I bolted out, limp dick swinging inside my boxers, and then turned around to face her. I pointed my finger at her and opened my mouth as if to speak.

What? she went, with both hands on her hips.

There was something very important I had to say, something that would claw this situation back, but I had no fucking idea what it was.

The front door slammed in my fucking face. I bent down to pick up my clothes. The moon was sitting high in the sky, watching, and it didn’t give a flying fuck.

I stood staring at that door for a long time, and then gathered my shit. Got my jeans on. Walked off down the street carrying my t-shirt and the weight of having almost fucked 1 of the fittest birds in town. There was still time to get mashed, though, so I headed to the High Street and got on it like a car bonnet.

I woke up the next morning, face-down on the floor, in a bus shelter on Havelock Street. I was holding a bag of cold Chinese takeaway. Crispy duck and pancakes. I walked home under a sky the colour of breeze blocks, and ate the Chinese for breakfast at my kitchen table. I showered, and drove to work still sick drunk. I was seeing 2 lines running down the middle of the road, and I could have flipped a coin to decide which was real. I did my 12 hours on the timecard. The thing with factory work is that the boredom is enough to kill you, but not quite, and that’s the fucking tragedy.

I went straight to the gym after work. I started off on shoulder press, but even my warm-up weight felt heavy as fuck. I slung the bar to the floor. Another fucking thing I couldn’t get up.

Big Dave sauntered over, went: You’ve got a face like a slapped arse. What’s wrong?

Had a rough night last night, Dave.

Rougher than Jonty?

What happened to that prick?

Spent a night in a cell for getting sparky with some bouncers outside The Moonrakers. He was in earlier, bragging like fuck about how the law had to use 2 pair of handcuffs to lock his hands behind his back because his lats are so jacked.

He’ll be fine, he’s taken more beatings than wet-mix cement. At least he got free bed out of the bastards.

Why are you so pissy, then?

I looked over my shoulders, and said on the down-low: Been running Deca without Testosterone. I’ve got Deca Dick.

Big Dave jolted back, as if just mentioning Deca Dick was enough for him to catch it like a cold. He went: Are you lacking in frontal lobe, or what? Good luck getting a shag any time soon.

I went: This coming from a bloke who couldn’t get a fuck in a woman’s prison whilst holding a box of Durex? God almighty, and when you do pull – the state of the bastards. I wouldn’t even ride them into battle.

Piss off! When was the last time you fucking pulled, then?

It was my pride that roped me into telling him the story of the night before.

At 1 point during the process, 2 lads walked over to the nearby mats. I’d seen them around, but didn’t know them by name. They started doing sit-ups – taking it in turn to hold each other’s feet.

I shifted the gears of the conversation sharpish: Uh, so, say Dave – did you watch the boxing on the telly on the weekend?

Boxing? What the fuck you on about?

Yeah, the boxing. You know, I said, rolling my eyes towards the chavvies in the corner.

The penny finally dropped, and Big Dave went: Oh yeah, uh, the boxing. I watched it, but it was a bit of a fucking limp fight if you ask me. The lad had it all to play for, but he didn’t rise to the challenge.

I wanked the air. Dave smiled.

The 2 lads wandered off after finishing their work. We snapped back to our conversation like a twanged elastic band.

I put the rest of the tale down for him.

When he’d finished laughing, I went: Thanks for your fucking compassion.

I’m sorry, bruv. But if you was me and I was you, it’d be hanging out of your arse right now.

So what’s your advice? I went. Although Dave was as thick as fuck, I often asked for his advice about shit, if only to do the exact opposite of what he suggested.

Big Dave said: I’ve got 2 pieces of advice. Firstly, you need to get some HCG into you. Restart your bollocks.

Human Chorionic Gonadatropin? I went.

Inject it into your gut fat with insulin pins. That’s standard, otherwise you’ll never get a rush of blood to the dick again.

What’s the second piece of advice?

This is when Big Dave leant in close and said that the second piece of advice he could give me is to not tell another living soul about the story. Bury it. Forget it. Save myself any future embarrassment. Put it in a rocket and fire the fucker into deep space.

I thought his advice was bang on the money, so I’m taking it to heart. I’ve bought some HCG, and I’m not going to tell any fucker about my Deca Dick ever again.