Ruby Sue Lyons

nothing happened

we stand in the corner of the club his hands are down my pants then I’m invisible hiding behind roses in the cab, he laughs and says he’ll drop me off the motion makes me sick the driver thinks I’m going to be sick and won’t turn the air on I stick my head out the window and do not throw up and the air comes on as his hands return to me at my building he gets out with me I’ve kept him away from my apartment until now it was the last defense but when he comes up and sits on the couch I insist that he follow me to the bedroom he turns me on my stomach and yanks my boots off lowers my pants I take my shirt off unhook my lace bra he bites my nipples kisses my stomach sticks his tongue in my pussy before yanking my pants off at some point I’ve opened his belt and pulled down his zipper and I want him to fuck me he says he doesn’t know if he can get hard but he does and he kisses me the first real kiss we ever had and fucks me with his clothes on I’m naked he’s hot afterwards kisses my back says he has to go can’t stay I can’t figure out how to call him a car still drunk so he puts his guitar on his back and says he’ll get a cab there are never any cabs down here, but I can’t figure out how to communicate that either, I do the drunk thing where I promise to never do the drunk thing again sleep for a few hours wake up and text him ask if he got home ok and he answers all good calls me at 10 AM, asks if anything happened last night I tell him no, he says I just dropped you off, right? I laugh and say of course and he’s relieved because of course nothing happened if you don’t remember it and if that’s what he needs to hear his black-outs are not my problem my denial is not his problem and if I had any doubts there is evidence, the leopard boot on the windowsill, the sock hanging from a lamp, the upside down Dylan poster on the wall, my panties on the bathroom floor, my shirt and pants inside out, the other boot on the couch, the second sock in the garbage, the sheets streaked with cum and shit, the quilt under a chair, but as far as we know nothing happened.

Matthew Licht

Big City Dreams, Part 4

Jena sprawled on her bed, partly covered by a China-yellow blanket. Dawn light shone through the wooden Venetian blinds on the windows of her room. I let myself out of her townhouse and entered Central Park to meditate.

Dizzying Deco spires were like the bars of a stylized urban cage. Kudus with corkscrew horns peered timidly from the bushes of The Ramble, and a first edition of The Green Hills of Africa. A white whale leapt from The Lake, and Rockwell Kent’s inkwell. I thought I was losing my mind, so I headed up to Harlem for an emergency Deco exorcism with Roshi.

Lester Frills cackled and gurgled like a loon over the sound of rice-straw flip-flops that flapped on fresh snow.

Roshi’s rosewood staff beat a syncopated drum solo on my shoulders. Whack, smack, crackety-crack! Roshi lost his almost otherworldly reserve and split his pole of discipline on my spine. His Queens accent rose to the surface when he suggested we knock off and head out for beer.

“You oughta leave the city for a while,” he said. “Look at some hills, trees, rocks. I’ll give the Saugerties roshi a buzz, tell him you give good garbage koan.”

Roshi doesn’t know about my investigation and removals sideline. It wasn’t the right moment to enlighten him on that score. Instead, I told him about Jena, omitting the hairless details.

“So take the tasty redhead with you. It’s not against the rules. Besides which, there are no rules. Except no whistling. Or tap-dancing.”

“Can’t do it, sensei…I mean, Sal. Someone…there’s trouble. I can’t explain. Don’t press me on this. Can’t leave town, either.”

Reverend roshi sensei Sal dug into his hooded sweatshirt, came up with a pair of perforated disks. One was milky jade, the other brushed brass. He handed them over.

“Last time I was in a spiritual jam, these got me through. I can’t explain it, and there’s no guarantee. Past performance is no indication, and all that shit. Look, there are two sides to everything, except in the alternate universe of uni-dimensional singularity. Usually, there’s more than two sides. Things, people and ideas are more than they seem, or less. Multifaceted. Layered. In and out. Try to see the problem from all possible angles before you draw conclusions. How ‘bout whiskey chasers, next round?”

“Sure, man. But this one’s on me. Thanks, Sal. Loads.”

Sometimes booze makes the universe more clearly ponderable than hours of za-zen.

***

The phone rang when I got back to my vehemently non-Deco pad. Someone was watching the place.

“Whoa-ho! The Zen Garbageman swings again. He shoots his unaimed arrow, and scores! That little Jena Panhard is one tasty piece of chicken tail, aka the Pope’s Nose. Hot-cha! You’re getting warm, streetsweep. I can feel it. But you need to work faster. Furthermore, I can practically taste your minimal brain cells grinding out a scheme to cross me in this affair. Don’t even premeditate it. Erase it from your thoughts and dreams, or I’ll erase someone who’s meaningful to you. I’ve got Rei.”

The meaning was unclear. “Ray of hope? Ray of light?” Lester Frills might’ve turned into a conventional religious nut, and shifted his headquarters to a baroque church. He raved, swathed in satin finery, a jewel-encrusted tiara on his head. “Corvette Sting-ray?” Lester zoomed off in a curvaceous hot-pink getaway car.

“Rei Kawakubo, you fucking dolt.”

Rei means take a bow, in Japanese. Rei Kawakubo was admirable, no doubt about it. There is a zen of clothing. Some fashion designers have Buddha nature. The world would be a less interesting, more totalitarian place if everyone dressed the same. Think of Mao’s blue pyjamas, Adolf Hitler’s brown shirt-and-armband look. Rei suggested possible, peaceful, well-dressed worlds.

A thoughtfully-dressed Japanese woman was handcuffed to a radiator in a lunatic’s overdecorated lair. Gagged, frightened, her almond eyes bulged and darted nervously behind thick black glasses.

Too many boilermakers had gone down. This was no time to run out and rescue captive clothing designers. Better try to talk Lester out of it, slur him away from his evil plan, whatever it was. I thought he might listen to reason. Man, I was bombed.

“Let her go, Les. I haven’t found your theater yet, but I’m on the case. I…I got a hunch I’m real close.”

Maybe he had a polygraph machine hooked up to the other end of the line.

“You lie, trashman. You are nowhere near. You have not got fucking clue one.”

“Well yeah, OK. But, kinda let her go anyhow. I wanna help you, Lester. I’ll locate the theater of your dreams. Or is it the theater of my dreams? In either case, I’ll track the place down. But what do you want it for? You’re not going to blow it up, are you?”

Penn Station, going down. Doors slammed shut forever on another of New York’s shambolically convivial taverns. A boulevard of indecency transformed into a bland Disneyland in the name of real estate development.

“Well, what does anyone need a theater for?” Lester’s tone had changed. For a second, he sounded human again. The second passed. “I want everyone to see my show, you silly ass. Everybody must see my show!”

Lester’s maniacal rant turned into a yelp of pain, distinctly female.

“Have you ever tweaked a top fashion designer’s nipple, trashboy? Oh, it’s delicious. The feeling of power, elegance, power over elegance, overpowering elegance. Find my theater.”

He hung up, hard. Telephone buzz became an instant hangover.

Find a forgotten theater in the big city, in the dead of a cold night, like a needle in a haystack of skyscrapers, a pearl lost among theatrical swinishness. I couldn’t even walk a straight line. Perfect. There aren’t many straight lines, in nature, or in Art Deco. I hit the bricks.

Bip, bop, beedle-ee-oh. Broadway, the electric boulevard of Broken Dreams, with a white light for every broken heart, a purple heart for every wounded soul, from the Assault & Battery up to Albany. Twee-oh! Shoop-de-woop. Times Square! Fresh air! Pubic hair! None there. Oh yes there is. Dig it, we’re on the Deuce.

 Not much left of its former scabby glory. Fast food and T-shirts all over. Can a city be turned into a T-shirtburger, sold and consumed? Little monastic Rei Kawakubo fusses and frets over how long is too long on a long-sleeve T-shirt. Long-T to reveal, not conceal, the body underneath. Long-sleeve T-shirts sold in the former Longacre Square cheaply turn you into the Statue of Liberty, a dancing skeleton, the Empire State Building, a sexy naked woman or dime-store Fred Astaire in a 100% cotton XL tuxedo.

 Costumes peel to reveal the body of a Broadway baby, a dancer, actor, singer. Skin sells tickets to Oh, Calcutta! Talented young people who think they got what it takes show up in the big city to make it there so they can make it anywhere. They show up, show off. And another hundred people just got off of the bus and they’re looking at us. We got off of the bus only yesterday, at the Port of Authority Bus Terminal. Seems like yesterday. Now the bus station’s lightened and brightened of pimps and pushers, cleansed of bums who dragged their asses across the linoleum leaving shitstain slug-trails and make the tourists wish they had flamethrowers. City of strangers, beset by the dangers of greed and ambition. Lose your soul, your self, in a hall of funhouse-mirror shop-windows. And another hundred people just got off of the train, to stand in the rain and blow out their brains.

Grand Central glittered in the taxi-light night. Soul-dead real estate developers conspired with politicians to blast train stations to kingdom come. Penn Station’s downfall didn’t satisfy their sick cravings. They plopped the Pan Am Building on top of Grand Central before Jackie O flashed beams of preservationist sanity from behind her big black glasses. Save that train station! Jackie, oh! Stu-dee-o! Studio 54. Gone. Oh no! Yoko. Ono. She’s behind big black glasses too. Skeedle-ee-woo. Jackie! Yoko! Ah! Ooh! Rei! Hoo-ray! New York’s a ballsy, gutsy, crazy lady. Alex Katz got it right, with giant billboards in the night. Pix of ambitious lady-faces strung out along the Deuce to greet those who just got off of the bus into the filth, the grime, the crime. Cardboard glory fizzes like cheap champagne when you pop your cork in New York.

The Chrysler Building’s the biggest bottle of cold bubbly there is. The isoceles triangular skylights on top are like the spikes in Lady Liberty’s crown. Liberty enlightens the world, then plants her torch in Jersey and sits za-zen to enlighten herself. Liberty in flowing green robe, severe Buddha smile flitting on her full lips. Without a care. And without a hair, like Jena. Oh, Jena! Have you seen her? Holy lotus-blossom jewels in the sky! Jena, Jena, Jena, they cry! Skat-tat-tiddly-wop.

Nearly knocked the Chrysler doorman down. Only wanted to get close enough to whisper in his ear. “Hey mac, there’s twenty bucks in my hakama says you’re gonna let me in to ride the bas-relief, nickel-plated, mahogany intarsio elevator all the way up to the mythical Cloud Club for drinks with the cool, crazy Art Deco ghosts.”

“You’re drunk, chief. Back the fuck off.”

He shoved. Could’ve grabbed his wrist, sailed him out onto the Deuce in front of a bus that bops to the beat of the dance of death. But I backed off, as ordered, looked up. An airship was moored to the chrome needle. Circular searchlight beams played on her silver skin. Chrysanthemum fireworks flew and blew, dangerously close to her hydrogen filling. The frozen flashes sparkled, as Heaven frittered away its glittering snow. That was the Chrysler Corporation’s way to greet important guests. Hop a zep, sail through cotton-candy clouds, come sink a cocktail or two at the Cloud Club. Seal the deal. Connive and steal. Blow blue smoke-clouds from a fat cigar, sit back in your broad-shouldered pinstripe suit, look up at the zigzag ziggurat ceiling from the comfort of a bulbous club chair with cream-colored leather piping at the seams. Exhaust clouds from chrome Chrysler tailpipes means you make millions, baby.

Mob-linked wrecking crews dismantled the Cloud Club years ago. Interior Deco-rators raided the loot. A city’s treasure, dispersed by avariciousness. High winds that blow down broad boulevards make approach by zeppelins an impossible dream.

A phantom dirigible plummeted to the on the terrazzo-, palazzo- and chrome-inlaid sidewalk, bounced away, unscathed. The revelation came: the theater’s in there. In the Chrysler Building. In the basement. Underground, like a cave.

A stop-light blipped from red to green on Lexington and 40-Deuce. Traffic rumble rose to a bass-note and washed past.

“Sorry, guy,” I said, to the doorman, hands up in a peace gesture. “Just an idea, that’s all.”

Uniformed Chrysler goons won’t let you in for a nocturnal snoop. Skip-bop-doodle-dee-shoop. What you need is a lady on your arm. Namely, jingling carrot-topped jazz baby Jena Panhard.

For a sobering effect, take a walk down the Deuce to the Hudson. The river, not the streamlined automobile.

The Deuce was boarded-up XXX porno dives, peep shows with permanently closed eyes.

The Deuce was crowded with ghosts, like the Cloud Club in the Chrysler Building’s attic and the unseen phantomatic theater lurking in its basement. The river was frozen nearly solid. I could’ve walked across to New Jersey. Or uptown, home. But it was too cold, too far.

Jena wasn’t too thrilled about being roused at 3 a.m.

***

Big City Dreams, Part 1
Big City Dreams, Part 2
Big City Dreams, Part 3

Luka Harrison

Pray

Not since Jack the Ripper has a serial killer held London in its hands as this one. Each morning edition splashed with the latest gory details of the murder, with every tea house conversation rife with suppositions about the meanings of the delicate murals created with the victim’s blood. At first the nation was taken with terror, but as time wore on, that terror was replaced by intrigue and bred amateur detectives in their hundreds.

The first murder will always be remembered as the most graceful. The victim lay peacefully upon white sheets, each crease in the wedding dress she wore perfectly smoothed out. Her hands had been placed upon her chest and her lips pursed in a contented smile. The very fact that she had been murdered seemed to amuse her, and that smile had been burnt into the minds of all who saw her.

The voices of the newspaper boys permeated the stillness of the morning as a darkness descended upon the streets, entering the hearts of the people as the story roused curiosity, gossip, and fear.

The papers had sensationalised the murder, fearing that they would never see such an occurrence again. Secret meanings were attached to the care attended upon the body of this young girl, scouring books and mythology for an understanding of the murals carefully painted with the victim’s blood.

Intricate patterns flowed across the walls, describing untamed forests, unscaleable mountains and lakes of fire. The female population shuddered collectively as each envisioned themselves in her position; the men took up arms as vigilante bravado spread with each drink downed to accompany the gossip that continued in the taverns.

For Mother, holed up inside her little home on the outskirts of the city, these portents could only signal the end of everything. Staring outside for hours on end, she waited, hoping to know her enemy as either man or devil before being consigned to the oblivion she was so sure awaited us all.

I approached her carefully, unsure as to how all this gore had affected her mentally. My fear was unfounded as she turned to remind me, as always, to pray.

The second murder took place on the eve of the new moon. The victim dressed exquisitely in the robes of the nobility lay prone against a wall with an oriental fan clutched tentatively in her left hand. The murals loomed over her as a macabre backdrop to this latest murder. The stolen blood swirled around itself in a vortex, each curl carrying a menagerie of animals walking towards the centre where a man sat cross-legged.

Many animals were recognisable; others strange creatures only found in the imaginations of the insane with a penchant for hellish creation. The police announced the work of an occult serial killer, and public fear reached its peak as the women hid and the men belittled the killer to quell the rising terror residing behind their strong words.

Back home Mother’s fear heightened.

‘They will come for me!’ she cried, begging the god she believed would protect us, if only we requested it.

For hours she pleaded, leaving me afraid to move lest I break her trance. As dusk settled upon the rooftops of the neighbouring houses she stopped, turning to me to once again remind me to pray.

The mural that accompanied the third murder was a grim rendition of civilisation; a multitude of houses, churches and even a castle were beautifully rendered in the now familiar bloody medium. It was like no place anyone had ever seen, curiously arousing in many the dream of travel. The victim was hung from the roof, dressed in a revealing nightgown and supported by ropes bound to the wooden rafters – forever flying above the city staining the ground below.

When officials considered the nature of the women’s attire they asserted that the killer was a man obsessed with the very things that define femininity. Of the murals there was no interpretation adequate enough, nor were there enough witnesses willing to discuss this obscenity due to the inclusion of a near naked woman.

As the city waited with baited breath for the next killing a letter arrived at the police station. The letter told them the murders were almost over, and its contents held the entire city’s population captive as the days dragged on without news. No longer did fear force people inside as darkness fell, it was as if they wanted to witness this final monstrosity first hand. The thought that they could be the last victim did not occur to them as they trawled the streets attacking any and all who looked at them askance. Chaos reigned as the foolish masses ignored the letter’s sage advice. It had told them that tonight was the night to hold your loved ones and consider your sins. To understand that god will forgive you if only you ask.

The letter told them all to pray.

The killings stopped at the fourth, for Mother’s work was complete. As I kneeled facing the walls, I prayed, as I was always instructed to do. With a careful hand mother drew the landscape of heaven upon the walls. She drew the clouds, the sun and the omnipresent form of the god she promised will save us all. The girl whimpers softly, gasping as Mother lets her blood into the old chamber pot. The herbal concoction is strong enough that the girl is barely aware of her predicament, lying naked across the bed as her veins are drained of life.

We waited as the blood turned dark, for the people to come.

The papers announced our capture, and the murals revealed their secrets: the ascent of life to redemption. I never understood the true meaning behind this, nor will I ever, for our execution date is today and the baying crowd awaits my dear mother at the gallows.

The chains around her wrists and ankles drag noisily across the prison floor; I can hear her approaching my cell as she is marched to the oblivion she knew was coming. At the exit, before the light of day enshrouded her form, she turned to me, serenity etched across her face as she whispered:

“You must pray”

And I did.

Matthew Licht

Big City Dreams, Part 3

After weeks of increasingly florid Deco dreams, a letter came from Lester. He tore the words he used to write it from the pages of fashion mags. 

Hey streetsweep, 

Had any sweet dreams lately? You have? Well, quelle surprise! You dream at my command. Your dream’s what I demand. For reasons I can neither fathom nor stand, I’m unable to tweak what I seek. Discover the place that I desire, or I’ll make life painful for one you admire.

Ta-Ta,

Lester Frills

Pontifex Maximus de la Zen Negrissimus

Dreams are private property that doesn’t take up space or weigh one down. Lester wanted the theater in my dreams. I was reluctant to relinquish ownership.

My enemy somehow projected his covetous fantasies onto the screen of my dormant brain. The infinity loop-shaped Zeiss planetarium projector was the only thing that looked out of place in the glittering dream-theater. The projector, I suspected, was Lester’s oneiric burglary tool. 

Lester had gotten wind of buried Art Deco treasure. Though frivolous and excitable, he’s no fool. Advertising’s an exact science. Lester was a master at putting desires, cravings, insatiable urges and unreasonable hopes into people’s heads. Dreams were the logical next step. Dreams follow dream logic, in that they embroider upon unconsciously perceived reality. Lester conjured the picture, the REM-phase brain does the rest. Lester wanted the theater for one of his Deco-enforcement schemes.

Zen practice is to see the world from different angles. I assumed the theater was real, locked away and forgotten somewhere in the city. A theater isn’t inherently evil, or necessarily a weapon. A theater’s a neutral space where action that simulates life is performed and repeated. Lester Frills had become a career criminal. His illegal actions either enrich him personally or help him achieve his ambitions. Lester was an aesthetic totalitarian. He wanted to impose his baroque tastes on others. He needed the theater as a platform from which to launch his insane directives, but couldn’t find the place on his own.

Lester would never approach me as a regular client. Picture him showing up at my pad with his entourage of incroyables and merveilleuses to spray spittle and bad breath about a problem he wanted discreetly and efficiently solved, for an agreed-upon fee. A recovery, in this case, not a removal.

Lester’s style is far flashier. He must issue ultimatums and take hostages. 

The gentle way of dealing with an opponent involves seeing things from the opponent’s perspective. He pulls, you follow. He pushes, you step back. The strategy, in either case, is to go further than your opponent intends. Gentleness has an unbalancing effect. Pivot unexpectedly, place your center of gravity immediately below your opponent’s, throw him clean across the mat room.

There was a judo dojo a few flights down from the zendo in the cast-iron building where the way began for me. Some nights I’d hit the dojo to wrestle, flip, fly and wear myself out before I went upstairs to kneel, turn off my mind, cancel my self. Other nights I’d clear my head first, then flap flip-flops downstairs, deposit them at tatami’s edge, bow in. 

Zen roshis don’t hand out belts to indicate achievement. They hand out brain-twisting riddles, and pole-whacks on the back if they catch you in an improper kneel or with a thought adrift. 

After years at the judo dojo, Sensei Shiyama handed me a strip of black cotton batting, thumped my shoulder, then flipped me towards the ceiling. 

The enigmatic, unbelievably pricey shopwindow was on the way back home. 

‘Nice pants,’ I thought. ‘Nice sweater. Nice long-sleeved T-shirt.’ What the hell, I thought, I just made black belt. It’s only money. Those clothes are good quality. They’ll last forever, and won’t go out of style. I’ll wear them all the time. They’ll attract good-looking babes I can take out on dates.

There was an acquisitive reflection in the spotless window. I scrammed out of  SoHo, spent the rest of the evening on my knees, followed an imaginary cloud as it wandered across a starless night sky. 

Sensei Shiyama objected when I showed up the next evening with my tattered white belt around my waist. 

“Ah so. You presume to affect self-effacing modesty. You must learn to accept corruption and blackness. Accept it humbly.”

He sent me away. Sent me home to figure out blackness and whiteness. To my shame, I never went back. 

Zendo and dojo were forced out of the cast-iron building by Manhattan real estate’s harsh reality. The zendo moved uptown, way uptown.

Intuition said Lester’s theater of dreams was mid-town, in the Theater District. I mean, where else would anyone stick a theater? So I cased the Eldorado, the Fuller Building, the lobby of the Film Center, the Association for the Deaf. Tourists snapped pictures of a New York nutjob absorbed by Deco vibes. Under the statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center, a little girl gave me a plastic gold ring set with a plastic diamond. I reached in my hakama, pulled out a netsuke carved from a discarded billiard ball. That was all I had. If I’d had a million bucks, I’d have given her a million bucks. Isn’t that what a diamond ring’s supposed to be worth?

A Radio City Music Hall usher let me in for a look. The zen get-up works better than the old Sanitation Department badge. The kid wouldn’t have let an off-duty garbageman in for free. 

The theater in the dreams was even grander and more Deco-rous than Radio City. Bigger organ. Plusher seats. More ornate on the palazzo-tile floors. More Brass-o on the brass mouldings. More cloud-like bulges on the ceiling. More African jungle hardwood on the railings and wainscoting. More bas on the reliefs. 

Bopped up 6th Avenue to Central Park and hit the Hayden Planetarium, which was Deco-deserted except for the custodian. She had red hair on top, the rest of her was poured into a bottle-green velvet uniform. Lost in thought, she leaned against a zigzag and starburst-patterned pilaster. I rapped on the Deco window.

“Hare Krishna,” she said, when she opened up.

“May you be enlightened,” I said, and pictured ways we could attain satori together. 

“If you’re looking for cosmic visions, this is the place. But we’re not open to the public on Mondays. Come back tomorrow afternoon.”

“Don’t misinterpret the hakama, Miss. Just clothes, is all. I’m an investigator. What I’m after is Deco.”

“Then you hit the jackpot twice, zen dude. Come on in. Aren’t you cold?”

“The uniform’s a problem at times, I admit. Thanks.”

Her name was Jena, pronounced the Italian way, as in Lollobrigida, but spelled like the former East German city. She made us a pot of tea in the employee lounge, then we went on a tour of her private Deco universe. Jena was totally taken by Deco. Deco was why she took the custodian job. She didn’t need a job. She had two Ph.D.s The kind from Columbia and the kind where Papa has Dough. I felt I could confide in Jena. I told her about my dreams. 

Jena let me examine the Hayden’s Zeiss projector. The thing was possessed of an alien beauty, like a creature from a Deco horror movie. She wouldn’t turn it on, though. She was worried an alarm would sound. I was alarmed at how turned on I was by Jena. I was supposed to be on a case. 

“Can this gizmo project anything besides light-pictures of stars and planets?”

“Strictly show-biz. Supernova science blab sells tickets. Did you know they’re planning to demolish the planetarium?”

“You mean this wonderful place, which got an honorable mention in ‘Catcher in the Rye’, isn’t landmarked? Wait a minute…who’s planning the demolition?” 

Lester Frills might destroy Deco masterpieces city-wide for the same reason kooks kill movie stars and pop idols. They want a piece, something they can hold onto. They want to be inextricably linked with someone they admire, even if their star’s stardom is an artificial concoction devoid of meaning or substance. 

Lester said he’d hurt someone I admired unless I located the Deco theater. Who were the zen stars? Is zen stardom possible?

The Deco theater was hidden underground, or in some crazy skyscraper attic. I asked Jena if she ever had Deco dreams. 

“My dreams are disturbingly mundane,” she said. “I dream, for instance, that I’m a waitress at a cafeteria. I dream of washing dishes, calculating taxes, typing letters for businessmen, a steno girl doing shorthand laps in the typing pool. In a black one-piece, not a bikini. Occasionally I dream of counting objects. Things I own, and things I’ve never seen before in my life. I hate my dreary dreams. My fondest dream is to never dream again.”

There was a Deco dispensary downstairs. Colliding, exploding galaxies upset certain sensitive high school students. Girls, mostly. They went to lie down on the green Deco fainting couch until their cosmic angst dizzy-spells dispersed. 

Jena peeled off her green custodian rig. I doffed my zen garbageman costume. Nude, Jena was glamorous. And glabrous. Not a hair anywhere. A redhead only on top. She playfully licked her left armpit. I nearly shot a load. 

“Pretty weird, huh? Like I never hit puberty. But I did, I assure you.”

Puberty stayed hit. Puberty never recovered.

Jena knocked off at 11, when the night custodian checked in. He made no comment on her dishevelment and heightened color. 

Jena disappeared into the staff locker room, came out dressed in understated clothes from nocturnal window-shopping in SoHo before the Real Estate Boom. She said she’d help to find the theater of dreams. 

Jena’s ride was a Hudson Custom 8 sedan. Her grandpa had been an executive in the extinct automotive firm. Among the car’s details was “Jena” in a scroll that fused into the speed-lines of flowing fenders. I didn’t want to breathe on the paint-job, or leave fingerprint smudges on the door handle. The front seat was a Jean Dunand davenport. Jena checked her lipstick in the bakelite rearview mirror. 

“On second thought, you drive,” she said.

We slid towards each other. Jena went up. I went down. Eventually we pulled out.

Streetlights and headlights shone on snow that fell lightly but steadily. The theaters let out. Women’s furs gleamed and bristled with ice-diamonds. Men wore hats in response to a style twitch in magazines and movies. Jena gave directions for a car tour of Deco Manhattan by night. We passed registered landmarks, and buildings I’d never heard or dreamed about. The tour ended at her place. Her town house, rather.

Not Deco, she said. Streamline Moderne. I had a lot to learn. A Northwestern Indian totem pole leant against the far wall of the heated underground garage. A birch-bark canoe hung from the ceiling’s beams. A Hollywood Oscar™ stood bald, gold and dickless among cans of paint and other household maintenance products on a zebrawood shelf. 

In the kitchen, Jena fished champagne from the icebox. Fred and Ginger would soon waltz in for cold bubbly and effervescent repartee. Tom would chase Jerry while the honey-voiced lady of the house mounted a chair and screeched for the colored maid. Al Capone’s goons would kick open the door with their two-tone brogues, spray us with hot lead. 

Jena’s library was all Deco. The books, I mean. Picture books and first editions with embossed covers, ink illustrations. The bookshelves were Deco, ditto wall sconces, reading desk, chairs and the sofa where we wound up wrestling again. Jena pulled apart her boiled-wool jacket to reveal coral-pink porcelain.

***

Big City Dreams, Part 1
Big City Dreams, Part 2

Tom Leins

Actress on a Mattress

The first time I ever set eyes on Rosa she was gyrating on a wank-loop at Slattery’s Meat Market. At the back of the Market were three small ante-chambers known as ‘Lunacy Booths’. £20 bought you as much video nastiness as you could withstand. That day she was wearing nothing except cheap sunglasses and three-day bruises. I thought I could save her.

She told me afterwards that she had always wanted to be an actress. I told her that I had always wanted to be a drunk.

I guess both of us got what we wanted.

***

It is a Wednesday morning, and the Dirty Lemon is dripping with sweat and choked with smoke.

Meathook Mulligan is standing so close to me that I can see what brand of cigarillo he is smoking. Café Crème. Sounds like the name of a fucking brothel…

Meathook’s safari suit looks immaculate, apart from a few specks of stale blood on the left sleeve. He has a deep knife scar near his temple, and his skin is mottled.

He sips at his cocktail and leers at me, wordlessly. Some people call him a thug. He thinks of himself as a bareknuckle capitalist. Others call him a degenerate, but he sees himself as a hopeless romantic. People say that he learned all of his best chat-up lines in correctional facilities. I’m not surprised, but it takes more than a sick joke and a mouthful of second-hand smoke to get my trousers around my ankles.

He gestures at my beer bottle with the glowing tip of his cigarillo.

His mouth says: “Drink up, darling. We’ve got work to do”, but his eyes say: “I used to fuck men like you in prison”.

***

Meathook and I were introduced by a local pornographer called Caruso. He has a deep, chocolatey voice and a lazy, crooked smile. When I first met him he was organising gang-bangs for local politicians. He liked to have some hired muscle on site, in case anyone stepped out of line, and turned a blind eye after I snapped a fat man’s arm on my first day on the job. Last year he started producing one-off videos for anyone who could afford the asking price. Freaky shit, by all accounts, and I quickly distanced myself from his operation.

Last week he turned up at the Dirty Lemon one happy hour and he offered me a grand in cash to do a clean-up job for him, no questions asked.

As with most offers I receive these days, I was too drunk to refuse.

***

Caruso’s studio is actually the canteen block at an abandoned office complex on the outskirts of Paignton Yards. The building itself has been deserted since the employees started getting headaches from the slaughterhouse lagoon out back.

Despite the building being empty for over a year, the canteen still stinks of fried fat and stale piss. On the wall is a pornographic calendar, still turned to Miss January. I recognise her. She’s a local stripper called Cobwebs. Her picture is a full frontal shot, and you can see all of her tattoos – even the ones her mother has never seen.

The room looks like it has been abandoned in a hurry, and the lighting rig is still set up in the centre of the room. The camcorder tripod has been knocked over, and the lens is cracked.

Next to the tripod is a soiled king-size mattress.

The dead girl is lying face down. She has a deep suntan and a tattoo of an eyeball on her lower back. The mattress is splattered in viscera. The girl is wearing nothing except peach-coloured nylon underwear, stained at the crotch. Her left shoulder and a chunk of her neck have been ripped apart by a shotgun blast. I turn over the corpse.

Fuck.

Rosa…

***

“Friend of yours?”

I remove the half-bottle of vodka from my jacket pocket and take a deep slug. I don’t offer Meathook any, as I suspect he has Hepatitis C.

“More of an acquaintance, Meathook. More of an acquaintance…”

***

Outside, the waste in the slaughterhouse lagoon looks thicker than ever. It looks thicker than blood.

We finish loading Caruso’s equipment into Meathook’s transit van, when I start to hear voices.

A posse of dead-eyed, half-feral youths melt towards us across the tarmac. I scan the rogue’s gallery of deformed faces. At least one of these young men is a wrongly discharged mental patient. He’s big – wrestler big. He’s clutching a claw hammer and a burlap sack. They are all brandishing rudimentary weapons: pipes, bats and knives.

Things are going to get ugly. Quickly.

A small kid at the front of the group flashes us a skeletal bone-grin. Meathook dips into the pocket of his safari suit and comes out with a shotgun with the barrel sawed off. He levels the weapon at the kid and shoots him through the teeth. I look at him, disbelieving, and Meathook’s eyes seem to gleam with a lunatic sort of glee.

I feel the claw hammer judder against my ribcage as the sack is thrown over my head. I throw a wild punch and feel teeth crunch against my knuckles. I lash out again and make contact with bone this time. I hope it hurts him as much as it hurts me, because it really fucking hurts me.

I rip the sackcloth off my head in time to see Meathook blast the big boy through his left lung.

I retrieve a stray hammer from the tarmac, and turn it over in the palm of my hand. The handle already feels slick with blood.

I pass it from hand to hand, trying to work out who to hit first.

Then all hell breaks loose.

Dan Hunter

Summer Stroll

It was just another summer day. The sun was high in the sky and warm on my face. The air was full of the scent of jasmine. The street was quiet. I was pretty much on my own and I walked. Then it dawned on me how quiet it was. Not just peacefully quiet. I couldn’t hear anything.

Nothing at all.

I raised my hands in front of me and clapped. Nothing. I breathed hard. Still nothing. Curious, I thought. Had I been struck deaf? When I’d left my home half an hour earlier, I had been listening to the radio. I had heard the slam of the door, heard my footsteps on the pavement.

How long had I been experiencing this silence? It must have just happened for me to have noticed it. In its way, it was like a sudden loud noise. But the complete opposite. Sudden, all encompassing silence.

It was horrible, I decided. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. What if it wouldn’t be over? Was I indeed deaf? I realized that I had lost track of time. I looked at my watch, but I had left it at home. Why? I never went anywhere without my watch. I looked around me and I realized that I had never been in this street before. I knew it was my neighborhood, and it was a perfectly nice suburban street with semi detached houses and manicured lawns, but I have never been here before. What was I doing here? Why indeed was I out walking? I never walked very far, unless I was playing golf. What had possessed me to go walking? And why was I in this damn street?

I turned around and headed back in the direction I had come from. The sun was getting hotter, it was starting to be a little uncomfortable on my head. It was funny but, this side of the street was like a mirror image of the other half. The houses looked identical, right down to the colors of the curtains, the rust on the mailboxes, the trees in the gardens. I realized that I had in fact completely lost my sense of direction. And still this drowning silence! I yelled in frustration. Just a quick burst – I didn’t want the residence of this unfamiliar street to think they had a lunatic in their midst.

Nothing.

I yelled louder, more out of frustration that anything. Still nothing. Where the hell was everybody? And why was this street so long? I wasn’t walking fast, just ambling really, but I couldn’t see an end to it. I was sweating now. And I was starting to feel light headed. God damnit! This was becoming a nightmare! In the middle of the day!

A day-mare!

As I walked I looked through the windows of the houses I passed, hoping to see someone I could call out to for directions or maybe a glass of water. But I couldn’t see anyone. Not a car had passed, nor a dog. I decided to knock on someone’s door. I walked up the garden path of a nice, normal house, not unlike my own, and rapped on the door. To me, it was a silent rap, but I knew it would have resonated inside the house. I waited a few seconds, and then I tried the doorbell. I rang it several times, then knocked again. I looked through the living room window. I couldn’t see anyone, just a couch and some chairs.

I turned and walked into the road, looking back at the house, hoping someone would answer. But nobody did. I continued in the direction I had been walking, not really sure if it was indeed that or if I wasn’t just back-tracking. I paused for a moment, glancing backward then forward again when I suddenly realized that I had just seen something in my peripheral vision when I had looked back. I thought I had detected something – (a person?) – standing in the street. Or had I? I wasn’t sure, and I knew I needed to turn and look again, but why did I feel a pang of fear in my gut? I should have been elated. Why wasn’t I?

I even had a sense of dread in just the thought of turning around to look.

But I did.

A man was standing in the middle of the street two hundred yards from me.

Staring right at me.

And the man standing in the street staring at me was dead.

I knew it as soon as I saw him. He was about forty and was wearing a suit. His face was ashen and gaunt with dark shadows under his eyes. He was standing rigidly straight, but his head was tipped at an angle. His mouth was open, and was a black hole just the hint of a smile there. His dead eyes were wide and staring. He looked pleased to see me.

He didn’t move. Neither did I. I couldn’t. I was frozen with fear. Funny really, considering how hot I was. Every cell of my being screamed that this apparition in front of me was not of my world, and whatever world it was from, I wanted no part of.

And then he started to walk toward me.

Not a slow, staggering trudge, legs dragging, arms outstretched like in a movie, just a straightforward walk, with his head cocked at an angle, and still the expression of pleasant surprise written across that most unpleasant face.

I still couldn’t move. I just stood, rooted to the ground, watching him stride toward me. I could smell him, I realized. It was indeed rotting flesh. He had halved the distance between us, and I still hadn’t moved. I could see his expression had changed. Now he looked positively elated, in a horrifying way. Because I was making whatever he had planned for me so easy, no doubt. He was just seconds away now. I closed my eyes and willed myself with all my might to move. And I did! My legs and arms sprung into action. I turned and opened my eyes. But I saw nothing, just blackness. I turned back to look at the man, but I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t see anything. But suddenly I could hear! I could hear his footsteps. I could hear my gasps for breath. I could hear the pounding of my heart!

What cruel trick was this?

I turned and ran blindly, my arms outstretched, as I heard the man’s footsteps behind me. The smell of him was intoxicating. I staggered and fell to the ground. I felt his cold, clammy hands on me. I knew it was over. I screamed as hard as I could, although I knew it was worthless. It was over…

***

“God dammit Jack, not the scream! I hate the scream!”

I opened my eyes and I was looking at my wife’s beautiful but annoyed face. I was in bed, not in a strange street.

“Which one was it? The zombie in the street? The vampire cop?”

I looked around me, still disorientated.

“The zombie…” I uttered eventually.

She smiled that slightly disingenuous smile, like a concerned parent.

“Remember what Doctor O’Hara said? The night terrors are a symptom of the feelings you’ve had because of your redundancy. Basically, you feel inadequate because you lost your job, that’s all. Redundancy has made you feel vulnerable. And ass soon as you get a new job, these dreams will go away.”

She got up and walked to the bedroom door. She looked back at me and smiled, although there was something off-kilter about her smile, her eyes.

Then she opened the door.

The zombie from the street was there. So was the vampire cop.

“Morning fellas” she said as she walked past them, pausing to glance back at me one last time.

And then I realized the screaming I could hear was coming from me.

Beau Johnson

Saving the World, One Appliance at a Time

“Can you hear me now?”

I know. I know. But we only get the one go-round, right?

We’re at the place, our special place, and my work face has replaced my everyday face, lack of hair included.

“I’m only going to tell you why they call me ‘The Arm’ once, so do yourself a favor and listen up. You do that, all three of us can get to where each of us needs to go.”

I look over to Randy, offer him the megaphone. He shakes his head, pulls his pants up and over his ever-expanding gut.

“I ever once take that thing when you ask?”

I smile and look back down at the man of the hour; the man whose name was Paul. He’s wearing skinny jeans and a ratty flannel shirt, trying over and over in vain to run up the sides of the empty pool. Sliding back down, nothing changes, the man coming to rest amongst the beer cans, wine bottles, and other, less distinguishable waste.

“It was an accident, really, how I got that nickname. Me and my brother here just doing our bit the day it went down.”

I go on, my voice echoing down from above. I tell him all about Marty Barnes and how he and that particular piece of shit shared the same strain of dirt-bag; middlemen to monsters who used children like toys.

Taken by surprise, Barnes had gotten past both Randy and I that day, but Randy, his abdomen nowhere near the unstoppable expansion it would become, was up and after him before I could pull myself from the floor.

“Everything happened fast after that, Paul. I mean, really fast…”

In boxers and a beater-T, Barnes was catching his breath behind an old, rusted-out Ford down below. To my left, on the concrete, was the air conditioner I would become famous for. I picked it up, heaved away, and called out to Barnes two or three seconds after the leaking machine had left my hands. Now, I have never been the best of shots, not on the best of days, but I will admit to being somewhat lucky in life. It’s the only reason Barnes broke cover when he did, I think, and why he’d looked up at just the right moment.

“I saw his eyes too, there before I took them away. Not fun. Not how you’d think. Every last bit of bone, hair, and gray matter parceled out into something like a nine foot radius. This doesn’t even include the blood puddle his neck creates.”

My little speech done, I finally release the bowling ball I’d been promising. Lob it like the weapon of destruction I want it to become. Paul screams as it descends toward him. Continues to scream as the concrete beside him cracks, relents, and comes to hold the ball like a big black eye.

Behind me, Randy sighs. “You know you have a problem, right?”

I want to ignore him, I do, but sometimes a brother is the only friend a man can have.

“It’s only a problem if you can’t stop. I’ve read the books. Pretty sure you should read them, too.”

He eyeballs me hard, just like our father used to do. It doesn’t do half of what he thinks it does but it’s a game neither of us can quit. Not if we wanted answers.

I turn back around, drop ball after cinderblock after microwave oven. The balls I found on sale at SPORTCHEK, everything else being me adjusting to the environment I’d been given. So you know, either way.

Paul dances and rolls, shucks and jives, and still I come close to hitting him more times than not. I can’t quite hear the words pouring from his mouth, not really, but a pretty good bet would be he knew we were done with fucking about.

Last bowling ball deployed, I straighten first my holster and then my badge. Randy does the same.

Time to see if our incentive took.

Time to see if our bird was ready to sing.

Alyce Absconded

Scatter

I feel fingers grasp my forearm and I am swallowed by the crowd.

Smiling faces surround me like circling sharks; neon signage and stage lights burning my retinas like sea salt. The dirty, sticky floor of confetti, glass, and trampled beer cans like jagged coral. I am drowning in a claustrophobic ocean of sweat and people, and I just want to swim back to shore for a single breath of cool air.

I scream, but I am stopped from being heard by the pounding of the bass.

Fingers grip tighter and yank at my wrist. I follow a trail of black chipped nail polish, light brown arm hair and a cascading shoulder tattoo of a male peacock to see a browned face giggling at me — crooked teeth barred with nicotine stain yellow. I have no idea who this person is but she pulls me on to the seat of a Ferris wheel and lowers the steel bar to lock across our waists.

Finally my arm is free and my forearm feels cold with the cooling patch of sweat made by a grimy, clammy hand. Before I take a moment to breathe, the Ferris wheel shifts upwards and the arm grabber looks out across the festival — a reflection of the lights below caught in the beads in her brown dreaded hair and making her look like a Christmas tree.

“Hey,” she says in a friendly tone as she turns her head to the left to face me.

“Are you okay?”

My furry brain tingles with chills of confusion and I say “P-Pardon” with a stutter.

“You look worried,” she says “Your forehead is all crinkly.”

“Oh… no… I’m fine,” I say, still having no idea who the fuck is sitting next to me.

“Good” she says, and her olive shaped green eyes squint a little as she widens her uncleaned smile and makes her fatty cheeks look like half-toasted marshmallows dropped in to a pile of dirt by the campfire, “Have you had a good day?” she asks.

She sounds so friendly and casual but I can’t remember her face at all. I blink my eyelids together hard and hope that I wake up somewhere else, somewhere not trapped with whoever this is, wherever I am, climbing higher and higher above the crowd that now looks like a mob of poisonous jellyfish bobbing around under fluorescent light.

“When was it day time?” I respond. “It feels like day time was forever ago.”

“Oh Jesus,” she says. “…You are fucked up.”

She leans in to kiss me and I pull my head back as her big, puckered, red lips come towards me like a loose vagina, flakes of chapped skin looking like fish scales on labia. I have nowhere to go but back down in to the ocean of monsters so I must kiss these scaly lips coming forth. I purse my lips together and squeeze my eyes closed. Her peeling skin tickles against mine and soon it is over. I re-open my eyes and she is still there, a loose thick dread drooping over her acne scarred forehead.

“How cool is it up here?” she says, as she peers over her feet at the crowded festival below and the vast blackness of empty fields that expand beyond it.

“How the fuck did I get up here? Why am I up here?” I shout, my heart thumping out of my chest and my brain spinning in circles. Suddenly I can think of nothing better than being on the ground. It’s as though I was never even down there. Who is this person who brought me here and why is she kissing me?

“Yesterday was nice, wasn’t it?” she asks in a half-rhetorical tone that makes no sense to me.

“Yesterday? What day was it yesterday? Why can’t I remember yesterday? It was just yesterday…”

I realise that I just said that all out loud and I turn to face this girl staring at the side of my face.

“We met yesterday,” she says. “…You were pretty scattered.”

“Oh,” I say, and I become transfixed on the pretty fairy lights below — they look like golden stars…

“Fuck. I don’t ever want to go home,” I mutter.

“No-one does, babe,” she says.

Matthew Licht

Big City Dreams, Part 2

My enemy Lester and I started out in the same place. He’d been the new boy at the zendo before I showed up. Roshi must’ve taken him on as a hard case. He wore cologne, couldn’t bring himself to cut the labels out of his zen robes. 

Curiosity is an attribute I couldn’t eliminate. It’s become a job, sort of. Upon request, for a fee that’s whatever the client thinks is fair, I snoop other people’s lives, locate and remove whatever stands between them and serenity. 

Back then, at the zendo, Lester Frills couldn’t achieve serenity. I wanted to help him, honestly. I snooped his inner and outer lives. Wasn’t hard. 

Lester had built a career in advertising on other people’s backs. Lester bit backs, chewed them, stabbed them. He got where he wanted to be by jumping on backs. To give him his due, he wrote brilliant copy, created unforgettable campaigns. His spots sold product to the tune of millions, billions. The emptiness of big numbers must’ve scared him, or the ghosts of the potential careers he’d trampled. Maybe he got hung up on coke. In any case, one day he left a note on the desk in his duplex corner office. He broke his lease on a Central Park South dream pad with terrace, walked away from a walk-in closet as big as the Waldorf Astoria. He turned up at the zendo with a cool million in cash, wrapped in rice paper crafted by a human living treasure in Kyoto, with a daisy from Central Park taped on top of the package. The daisy got him in. At least I hope it was the daisy.

The way is hard. Lester snapped. It’s possible he found his true vocation as the Pope of Black Zen, but his mincing, giggling devotees don’t call him Serene Highness. 

Paranoia isn’t zen, but it’s human. Lester Frills is a genuine enemy. He’s sent his adepts to beat the crap out of me on several occasions. Paranoia said Lester was sending the Deco dreams to turn me on to Black Zen. Intuition carries weight, more or less equal to a photon’s. Lester Frills wanted in on my dream life, or was already there. The usual dreams of garbage, ground into clean white sand blown by fragrant breezes into the Northern Lights, were replaced by streamlined decadence. Whether I wanted to be or not, I was on a case. The case was personal.

Know yourself. Know your enemy. Is your enemy your self? 

Lester and I used to go out for beers, post-meditation. He was a funny guy, great talker, good listener. He had style, paid his rounds, bought drinks for total strangers who looked like they could use a freebie. Beered-up Lester usually had a good-sized crowd around him by closing time. My thirst shifted from beer to ginger tea. I dropped the bar scene. Or the bar scene dropped me. 

Lester worked the zendo scene. He shaved his head, did the kneel for days on end, placed himself in abstract mental locations, began to phase himself out of the world and into the Big Picture. He nearly made it. But achieving oneness with nothingness requires one terrifying step. There’s no going back, and it’s better not to look down. Lester might’ve opened his eyes at the wrong moment. The universe rushed in to fill his near-empty space. The resultant Big Bang rattled windows city-wide. 

Effete but muscular Deco warriors dropped their Dunand shields and Ruhlmann spears, screamed and ran. But they ran towards imploding Lester instead of away from him.

There are material things human beings need. Particularly those who live in New York. Clothes, for instance. The winters here are rather rigid. One shop-window always caught my eye. 

There was a SoHo zendo, before real estate in the urban industrial wasteland skyrocketed. Wandering around SoHo at night was eerie, especially in front of a seamless sidewalk-to-ceiling window. Translucent fiberglass mannequins on invisible strings glowed from within, levitated and almost imperceptibly spun in shop space, as if set in motion by the breath of big city ghosts. A cloud of desire passed overhead at the sight of those perfect zen duds. I wanted to be seen wearing them, wanted people to know where I shopped. One day I waltzed in to have a look at the price tags. Disbelief bent me double like a baseball bat. I shimmered out. 

The cute Japanese shopgirl whispered farewell.

***

Big City Dreams, Part 1

Ian Shearer

Spilling Blood

They had been beating this guy for hours, and still they had gotten nothing.

Frank McCarthy had skipped town four days ago and nobody had any idea where he was. Nobody but this guy – Tom – Frank’s brother. Frank had been a fucking nonentity until his older brother Tom brought him in. Fucking Micks and their brothers. Frank was Tom’s soft spot. Unfortunately that also meant covering for Frank would be one of his strong points. He was ready to let these goons beat him to death, and by the look of him they were already about halfway there.

‘Tommy,’ I said. He was slumped forward, bleeding onto his own knees. His feet were bare and charred around the edges from where they had used the blowtorch on the soles earlier. ‘Tommy!’

He finally looked up and noticed me standing there for the first time.

‘Fuck,’ he muttered. He knew what it meant, my being there. He slouched forward again.

‘Untie him,’ I said. The two guys just looked at me. That goes to show what a tough bastard Tom was. Even beat to shit and outnumbered three to one, these guys didn’t want his hands free. ‘If I have to say it again, I’ll tie you to a fucking chair,’ I said.

They untied him as ordered and retreated to their posts on either side of the door.

‘You want a drink, Tommy?’

He looked up at me, held one nostril shut, and blew a clot of bloody snot at my feet.

‘I’ll take that as a yes,’ I said, handing him my flask. ‘Careful now, that’s the good stuff. You might not be used to it.’

‘Fuck you,’ he said and took a hit. He grimaced and wiped his burning lips, smearing blood across one cheek. ‘Just get it over and done with already,’ he said.

‘You know I can’t do that Tommy,’ I said. ‘I’ve got a reputation to uphold. I at least have to try my best.’

‘Won’t make any difference. You don’t get to Frank, you still lose face.’

‘Looks like you’ve already lost half of yours,’ I said. ‘Luckily for you, I’m not in the mood for any more violence tonight.’

‘You gonna fucking talk me to death?’

‘Actually I was gonna say I could go for some pussy,’ I said. ‘How ’bout you boys?’ I said, turning to the big bastards at the door. ‘How long since you had a nice piece of ass?’

They just chuckled in response. Beavis and Butthead on gear.

‘Reason I ask is, I bumped into Frank’s ex on the way down here. Ellie, isn’t it? I mean I figure she’s his ex. He sure as shit didn’t take her with him when he lammed it.’

I had his attention now. He went for another swig and I smacked the flask out of his hand.

‘I say I bumped into her, but really it was her front door. Bumped right into her pretty face when I kicked it in. She’s a real firecracker. How the fuck did a guy like Frank ever get a piece like that?’

He dove out of his chair at me, figuring to tackle me to the ground. I met his face with my foot and sent him sprawling back, falling over his chair. Then the boys were on him again, and he didn’t bother struggling.

‘I decided to bring her along,’ I said. ‘Maybe take her out for a drink after we finish here. Problem is we were in such a rush to get going, she didn’t have a chance to put any real clothes on. Must be getting cold now.’

‘You’re full of shit,’ Tom said as they tied him back into the chair. ‘They’d never let you touch a woman.’

‘Who the fuck’s gonna know? Who’s gonna say anything? These guys? I’d put a bullet in both their fuckin’ heads if I even got a whiff they might rat me out. And you know you’re not walking out of here.’

He was starting to believe it.

‘I told you I have a reputation, Tom. I always get what I want. Now you’ve got one more chance to tell me where Frank is, or I’m sending one of the boys next door for the best piece of ass he’s ever had.’

‘Fuck you,’ was all he said in response.

‘Fuck me? Really Tom? You’re gonna let this chick take herself down to the A and E to get stitched back together just because your brother can’t pay his fucking debts? You going to the grave with that kind of guilt?’

He didn’t say anything. He was weighing it up. Just a little more would tip the scales. I dug a coin out of my pocket.

‘Alright then. Call it fellas, heads or tails? Or maybe I should send them both in, eh Tommy? Let one get some head and the other get some tail?’

They called it and I flipped the coin. Heads.

‘You’re up,’ I said, and Mr. Heads left.

There was silence for a few seconds, then the screaming started. Panicked, frightened screaming, just hoping someone would hear and come to help.

That’s when Tommy finallt cracked.

‘Alright, call him off,’ he said, hanging his head low. I sent the other goon next door, and the screaming shortly stopped.

Tom gave Frank up and I put a bullet between his eyes. Eighteen hours later, over a hundred miles away, Frankie got the same.

I know what you’re thinking – did I really have the dame in the other room, or did I just pay one of my girls to scream on command?

Well shit, Tommy never found out.

Why should you?