Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 005 - Preston Lang

The Bold Colon by Preston Lang

It started with a meeting—a three-and-a-half-hour meeting. The whole department was there, with eleven execs teleconferenced in from around the country. We talked about whether the colon in a heading should be bold or not.

When we write an internal report, the heading might be Funding or Departmental Interface. That’s in bold. No controversy there. But after, say, Funding, there’s a colon, right? Some people were putting that colon in bold, some people weren’t. And everyone got very worked up about the issue. There were factions: pro-bold-colon faction; anti-bold-colon faction. You want to know what faction I was in? I was in the extreme don’t-talk-to-me-don’t-look-at-me-because-I-don’t-even-give-a-walrus-fuck faction. But I was the only one in that faction. Everyone else had really strong views and saw nothing wrong with sitting around talking about it for three-and-a-half hours.

Fine, you say. One meeting, and then it’s settled. No. The meeting just served as a kind of opening salvo to what would become an all-out war. It spread to all other departments. There were email chains, conflicting style guides, appeals to the writings of Michel Foucault, Steve Biko, David Hume, Martin Luther King, and Enid Blyton. Seating arrangements were completely overhauled, canvas partitions were set up, and there were post-work meetings—well-attended and completely voluntary—where officers were elected and minutes taken. Leaders emerged.

“I can’t believe Henry,” Janis said to me one morning. “He knows he’s wrong. It’s all just ego at this point.”

I saw Henry later that day.

“Man, can you believe those people? It’s like Salem 1692 with them.”

He drew comparisons to inquisitors, Maoists, Dickensian villains, and of course Nazis. All because they wanted to put a colon in bold. No. Wait. He wanted the colon bold. Sorry about that. Henry and his cohort wanted the bold colon.

One day it all came to a head in the breakroom. Henry and Janis screaming, throwing things, people backing their champions with chants and handclaps and hysterical insults. Butchers of decency. The harsh punctuation of terrorism. Two dark dots of hegemonic wrath.

Great, then. Have we gotten it out of our system? Can we go back to being humans? No, we’d just fortified the armies, drawn the battle lines a little clearer. No one was going to back down. This was going to tear us apart. Well, someone had to do something. In a world gone mad—as you may have heard—a hero must rise. 

That Monday evening I went to the library, created a new email account, and wrote to Janis:

If you do not agree to boldface the colon I will reveal everything. I have access to your computer. I’ve seen it all.

I sent the same message to Henry, changing bold to unbold. Then I waited. Janis came in early the next day, surly and unkempt, but she sat down and did her work. Henry didn’t show.

“Sick, I guess.”

The next day he was still missing. The day after that the Boss called us for an all-hands meeting.  

“It is my sad duty to inform you that we have lost a friend and a colleague. Henry Porter took his own life on Monday evening. There will be a memorial service on Friday.”

There were gasps and inane expressions of disbelief. And crying—real genuine sobs from the folks in his faction. They were rudderless, bereft without their sage and seer. Even the women in editorial who were against him on the colon started tearing up a bit. The Boss worked the room—pressed a few shoulders, murmured a few sensitive words. Finally, Janis spoke up.

“Sooooo. No bold on the colon, then?”

A Twist Of Noir 004 - Tom Leins

The Last Dog And Pony Show by Tom Leins

They say you always remember your first fight.

Your first fight and your first fuck.

I sure-as-shit remember mine. I was at the carnival, watching the kootch show, when Alvin Lupus broke his right wrist and four fingers on his right hand trying to shatter my jaw. I didn’t blame him – he had just found out that I had fingered his older sister up against the Crippled Civilians’ clothing donation box the previous Saturday night.

I was only 14 at the time.

The carnies dragged him off and beat him with cut-down baseball bats in the woodland behind the wrestling tent. A few people said that they murdered him, and buried him in a shallow grave along with a couple of rabid dogs, but I later found out that he had hitched down to Mexico in search of a wrestling promoter with deep pockets and lax moral standards.

Most guys I knew who fought in Mexico came home in a box or in a wheelchair, but Alvin was different. He came back tougher, meaner. Every time he got suspended, for some infraction or other, he wound up down south: dick-deep in senoritas and wrestling like his life depended on it. His hook-up down there was a fighter known as Gringo Starr – an old juicehead who liked to get drunk and slash faces like some men slash tyres. Those two boys were tighter than a nun's pussy.

On my 17th birthday Shriek Watson told my father that I was too short to be a wrestler, so Daddy bought me a crate of imported Metandienone for my birthday, and had me chopping logs and digging drainage ditches for a full year. I don’t know if the ‘roids helped, but by the time I was 18 I was as tall as any boy in Testament.

Shriek still wouldn’t train me, but by that point I didn’t give two shits – I was earning real coin fighting men twice my age in parking lots and abandoned factories. 

I didn’t cross paths with Alvin again until we met in prison. He had been convicted of a stabbing and a shooting, although nobody died. I was just passing through jail on a vagrancy collar. By 1989 I was back fighting, and got my big break in the Deep South Wrestling Association, fighting under the name Tiny Diamonds. I was a big man, obese, but not morbidly so, and I still knew my way around the canvas.

When Alvin got out of the Big House he looked me up. He was meaty with prison muscle, and looked fucking dangerous. My weight had ballooned by this point – underactive thyroid, my physician said – so I was grateful for a tag-team partner who was willing to work up a sweat on my behalf. We had a good run, even picked up a couple of belts along the way. We earned a reputation as men who would go the extra yard for a promoter. Blading was commonplace, and by the end of our first summer working together, Alvin’s face looked like a roadmap of hell.  

Not long after, we joined the Testament Wrestling Alliance – as a result of a hostile takeover. When people ask me what a hostile takeover is, I tell them it is just like a regular takeover, but the guy signing the papers has a sawn-off shotgun barrel between his teeth. Our new boss was a guy named Fingerfuck Flanagan. Never liked the man, personally – he walked like his balls were too big for his fucking pants.

I was mostly used as a jobber, but Alvin was a headline draw. By this point he was using the name The Jazz Butcher, and Fingerfuck had him wearing more make-up than a deformed hooker. Alvin hated gimmicks, hated costumes, and he especially hated wearing face-paint. One evening – shortly before he was due to fight Freddie Regal in a Punjabi Prison Match – he put on his duffel coat and walked right out of the auditorium, past the ticket-taker, past the queue of fans, and drove away in his shit-coloured jalopy.

Fingerfuck called me into his office. He was twitching – sweating like a rent boy in church. I thought he was having a heart attack, until I saw a cut-price hooker under his desk, working him with her misshapen mouth. I was worried that he was going to ask me to fill in for Alvin in the Punjabi Prison Match, but he had other plans for me.

“Tiny, you will never eat lunch in my canteen again, unless you track down that creepy bastard Lupus, and bring him back to Testament.”

I spent a month trawling carnivals and bareknuckle fights, slaughterhouses and dive-bars. I drove as far north as Hellbelly, as far south as Crooked Timber. When I eventually tracked him down he was working as a bouncer at Short & Sweet, a midget strip club in a shit-hole town called Small Pond.

The alleyway behind the strip club was piled high with discarded appliances. Alvin was sat atop a rusted A/C unit, wearing a bomber jacket and a bolo tie. His lank hair had been scraped back with its own grease. He grunted when he saw me, and flicked his half-smoked cigarette toward my face.

“I’m not going back, Tiny. I fuckin’ like it here.”

A couple of the midget strippers were watching from the fire exit, cigarettes dangling from their tiny painted mouths.

I rolled my shoulders, and Alvin was all over me like a cheap leotard. He reached between my legs, hoisting me into a powerslam, and upended me onto a pile of rubble.

I felt something give way inside of me, and a brief bubble of pain evaporated on my chalky lips. 

The midgets started to applaud, and Alvin took a bow.

I looked down at the jagged shard of metal embedded in my fat gut as my shirt started to turn crimson.

Lousy fuckin’ Alvin. He always was a Goddamn crowd pleaser…

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 003 - Albert Tucher


Plumber’s Crack by Albert Tucher

“Now that,” said the mainlander, “sums up Hawaii for me.”

The man spoke to Coutinho, but he kept his eyes on the young woman across the street. She was kneeling to paint an ornamental picket fence in front of one of the houses in the middle of the block.

As she leaned forward to touch up the bottom of the foot-high fence, her low-rise jeans did what came naturally. The hem of her cropped T-shirt climbed, and the fabric stretched across her toned back.

“Usually it’s a middle-aged fat guy flashing you plumber’s crack. Here it’s somebody like her.”

Coutinho could have agreed about beautiful island-born young brunettes of Portuguese descent, but he was busy. Not that he looked it. The lift at the Philips 76 station had a white Camry up in the air, but Coutinho hadn’t touched it all morning. He glanced down at the oval name patch on his mechanic’s coverall. For the moment, his name was Joe.

An onlooker might have wondered why he wasn’t holding a wrench, or what was so fascinating about the plastic bucket on the ground that kept him hovering over it. A glance inside would have shown nothing but a rag.

But there weren’t any onlookers.

“Think I’ll go over and talk to her,” said the mainlander. “What the hell? I’m on vacation.”

“She’s out of your league.”

Coutinho could have added that the man must have taken a wrong turn on his way to the Kona resorts. Few visitors found their way to this modest neighborhood in Hilo on the rainy side of the Big Island.

“Jeez, where’s that aloha spirit?”

The man didn’t really seem offended, probably because he was entitled to some confidence. He looked fit and squared away in his forties.

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Coutinho said.

The man shrugged.

“Later.”

He wandered off and disappeared around the curve in the road.

Coutinho went back to waiting. He tried to avoid looking too long at anything, especially the young woman, or the house next door to the one where she was working.

The mainlander reappeared on her side of the street. He must have hustled as soon as he got out of sight. When he reached the young woman, he stopped and spoke to her.

She ignored him. He tried again. She gave him a curt nod without looking up from her work. Most men would have taken the hint.

But the mainlander crouched next to her and pointed at a spot on the fence. His other hand rested casually on her shoulder. She shrugged the hand off and duck-walked a couple of steps away from him.

He followed, and this time he flagrantly groped her chest.

She threw an elbow at his face. He parried it. She jumped to her feet and backpedaled.

The man closed in fast and punched her in the face. The unexpected addition to her momentum made her fall on her rump. Her right hand went under the hem of her shirt.

Coutinho pulled his eyes away. This fight was a distraction.

And here came the main event careening around the same curve in the road. An aging Crown Victoria threatened to crush anything in its path. Coutinho knew a throwaway car when he saw one.

He stooped and grabbed the rag and tossed it aside. What he needed was his S&W nine millimeter under the rag in the bucket. He stood and aimed, but his angle was wrong. Coutinho swore and ran into the street.

He pulled his shield out from under his coverall and let it dangle on its lanyard. The driver of the Crown Vic wasn’t impressed. The car kept coming. Coutinho watched the barrel of an assault rifle emerge from the rear window on the driver’s side. The rifle opened up at the house next door to the picket fence. Coutinho could see bullets punching brutally right through the wall and the front door. He responded with three shots into the car’s windshield.

The driver ducked, but he popped upright again and executed a tight J-turn. Coutinho jumped backward, and the right rear quarter of the Crown Vic missed him by inches. The car accelerated away from him. He regained his balance and fired several more shots at the rear window. It disintegrated, but the car kept going.

Coutinho turned and looked. Both the young woman and the mainlander were sitting on the sidewalk. She held a gun in a two-handed grip. He clutched his thigh. Blood dripped from her nose down her upper lip. More blood seeped between the man’s fingers. Coutinho hadn’t heard the shot, but there had been a lot of shooting going on.

“Shit,” the young woman said, as the blood continued to drip. “Face down. Now.”

Her gun didn’t waver as she climbed to her feet.

“Can’t,” said the mainlander. “Somebody put this bullet hole in me.”

“Whose fault is that? Do it.”

He decided to roll over. She looked at Coutinho.

“You got cuffs?”

“Do you?”

She lifted the hem of her shirt and showed him her bra holster.

“Only so much room in here.”

*

The mainlander looked relaxed for a man handcuffed to a hospital bed.

“So, Joe. Where’s my lawyer?”

“It’s Errol,” said Coutinho, “but you can call me Detective. He’s coming.”

“Okay.”

“The witness is in protective custody.”

“Lawyer.”

“You don’t have to talk, but I can. I just want you to know you fucked up.”

It had been close. There had barely been time to evacuate the witness and the immediate neighbors. Then they needed a couple of cops to hang around without looking like cops. Coutinho could pass for a mechanic, and Officer Jenny Freitas would fit in anywhere.

“The plumber’s crack was her idea. Fooled you, didn’t she?”

“Almost, but she took a punch like a cop.”

“She also kept you too busy to call the operation off.”

“So give her a commendation.”

“We will.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Twist Of Noir 002 - Chris Benton


The Theory Of Hands by Chris Benton

In the riddle light I wake, and try to open my eyes but their lids fail, frozen shut by the sap of my tears, so I remain conscious, for a brief eternity in this cold-sweat temple of sleep, still stepping over the debris of my dream, stepping over Jessica's corpse, freshly wilted and weeping moon-light, stepping over Michael's corpse, whose smile was always a great geometric mystery, Michael, my dearest love, I kneel to kiss him, and my dick stirs mournfully within the twin actuality. I step over Ivan's corpse, whose infant curl spoke the unborn history of homicidal heroes, stepping over Kathy's corpse, whose black and blue eyes swim in her husband's wishing well, stepping over Alexander's corpse, who looks sadder now that he's beyond his joyful mutiny of sound, stepping over Christoph, whose gaze is horribly uncertain, stepping over Rachel's corpse, the great defender of the transensory faith: Rachel, her corpse, like her sister Jessica's, a blue insensate flower of pride, lunacy, pregnancy, their prodigals already evacuate, fluttering in silence above me, their heads are subdivided jewels from the secret hymns, as they spiral within a murderous airborne ballet between the heaving, glow-worm walls of the Buried Eye fellowship hall. I crawl carefully beneath their beast-waltz, finding our febrile father, our prophet, our final hour in the flesh, Sebastian, minus the history of arrows, at rest against the stained effigy of the pine pillar keeping the small roof a steady miracle, I find him still alive, whispering into the white forest of his chest but the dream is already losing recombinant cohesion, as he folds his oneiric flesh into himself like a bitter, molecular love letter, sliding back through another weeping mail slot of parallel memory.

I hear him, now, dreamless, never a prey of survival and its bone-closed, looped-language of nightmare. I grope for the bottle of Beam, take a belt, and another, spitting a little into my palms. I rub my hands together and wipe my eyes, dissolving the tomb of tears my dreams build every night since the extinction of my post-limbic tribe and I hiss, outta the truck now, staggering in a dangerous circle, the stinging at first exquisite, then degrading into a clarifying lament. It is early morning. The land is brutal and barren.  I check my watch with a cigarette lighter and find its arms are missing. To survive is to live without the limbs of time.

“Where the fuck are we now, mister professor fucking Miles,” Daren says, hawking a demon from his tonsils. 

In The Riddle Light? 

I picked up Daren from a truck stop on the outskirts of Nashville. He is young enough to be my son, or my student in that long-ago life. He never dreams, his unconscious is a black sea inhabited by those blind, glowing predators, who are forever floating toward their next feeding-frenzy.

It is snowing in Oklahoma. I own ominous nostalgia of Oklahoma. I search the rest stop for a sign, and find nothing save for flies, flies everywhere, defying the snow, and they bother Daren, he, of the indestructable hippocampus, he shadow-boxes them into the infancy of night. 

I was a teacher, once, I taught kids, yes. 

I rest while Daren plays with ghosts and hustlers. I vaguely hope he kills one. I remember Jessica, at the Buried Eye Ranch. It is summer, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, she is beginning to show our father's seed in her belly. She is radiant, her smile timeless with psychosis. She is speaking of eternity again, and the metamorphosis of death: “The purpose of the illiastrum is transformation, not of genomic traits, but of pre-genomic traits, into transensory identity, consciousness without the false history of humanity, only future memory, pure creation, a coalescence of new psychogenic proteins into a new anatomy, tearing apart the Euclidean chrysalis of flesh, flying outside the carceral continuum of time, becoming the epiphanies of eternally dying moments.” She invokes our Father's manic, esoteric gospel with a sonorous, escalating rhythm, and we are both looking to the sky as she speaks. The Enemy Eye is throbbing above us like a cosmic brain tumor, the crawling, bright clouds its misshapen, prodigal spawn. There is no wind, yet the creek-reeds are swaying wildly with approval. A spiral of migrating Monarch's suddenly invade our eternally dying moment. Jessica opens her arms like a penitent, and they descend upon her, isolating her from me, from family, from humanity. She dreamily plucks one whispering into her areola and folds it under her tongue.

Daren is slapping his bloody hands on the passenger window of the Ford. It is completely night now, and despite my previous vow, I fell asleep, suffering dreams I needed to die inside of, yet my lids are not frozen shut, because I can see Daren is smiling, and I unlock the door. He slides inside, he is smiling, I turn on the cabin light, and his smile glows brighter with the blood on his teeth. His hands are trembling, holding a wallet, wet with more blood, and this is the theory of hands, trembling, when they know the wisdom they were created for. 

BIO: Chris Benton lives in North Carolina, his stories can be found at A Twist Of Noir, Plots With Guns, Crime Factory, Thrills, Kill's 'N' Chaos and elsewhere, if you dig deep enough...