January Sale Down & Out Books

My pub­lish­er, Shot­gun Hon­ey, oper­ates under the umbrel­la of Down & Out Books. D&O is run­ning a 99-cent sale on two ebooks, for a lim­it­ed time only. D&O has estab­lished itself as a clear­ing­house for great crime fic­tion in all its iter­a­tions and I knew that before I came to be part of the fam­i­ly, so you can trust me on these. Vis­it the links below the blurbs to check out the sale.

The demons that dri­ve John “Mocha” Moc­cia to obsess, to put absolute­ly every­one under a micro­scope, and scratch away at every last clue, make him the best hard­nosed detec­tive in Brook­lyn homi­cide. But these same demons may very well write the final chap­ter in his career.

He isn’t the kind of detec­tive to take no for an answer, but in his most recent case answers are damn hard to come by. Part­nered with the con­sci­en­tious Detec­tive Matt Winslow, Mocha endeav­ors to solve the mur­der of the wealthy and beau­ti­ful Jes­si­ca Shan­non, a woman who had every rea­son to live.

As Mocha and Winslow strive to push for­ward the hands of time and solve the mur­der, their impos­ing lieu­tenant breathes down their necks, sus­pects are scarce, and all of the evi­dence seems to be a dead end.

With the last pre­cious grains of sand falling through the hour­glass, Mocha push­es ever for­ward, deter­mined to make an arrest, even if it means this col­lar will be his last.



There are sev­en of them. Children—innocents—whose long-buried remains are uncov­ered by a flash-flood. No one knows who could have com­mit­ted such a crime. Clues are scarce, and with the media turn­ing the sto­ry into a law enforce­ment night­mare, time is short. Only Wil Hard­esty, a pri­vate eye who has more in com­mon with the case than any­one knows, is will­ing to push hard enough—and dig deep enough—to find the cru­elest of killers. The killer of The Inno­cents …



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Forthcoming from Chris Offutt: Country Dark

This­April 2018 book by Chris Offutt seems to neat­ly cross two of my prime obses­sions, crime fic­tion and Appalachia. Be sure to pick it up. It's a guar­an­teed good read.

His first work of fic­tion in near­ly two decades, (Coun­try Dark is a taut, com­pelling nov­el set in rur­al Ken­tucky from the Kore­an War to 1970.

Tuck­er, a young vet­er­an, returns from war to work for a boot­leg­ger. He falls in love and starts a fam­i­ly, and while the Tuck­ers don’t have much, they have the love of their home and each oth­er. But when his fam­i­ly is threat­ened, Tuck­er is pushed into vio­lence, which changes every­thing. The sto­ry of peo­ple liv­ing off the land and by their wits in a back­woods Ken­tucky world of shine-run­ners and labor­ers whose social codes are every bit as nuanced as the British aris­toc­ra­cy, (Coun­try Dark is a nov­el that blends the best of Lar­ry Brown and James M. Cain, with a noose tight­en­ing ever­more around a man who just wants to pro­tect those he loves.

Pur­chase: Ama­zon, Indiebound, B&N


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Summer, poem by Brenda Glasure

Some days I remem­ber, but most­ly the nights.

We swal­lowed hard, Ken­tucky bour­bon burn,

Cru­dités of pret­zels and Slim Jims and peanuts.

We rubbed our eyes against the soft of dusk,

bird­song slept, turned crick­ets and bull­frogs,

the tight buzz of mos­qui­toes drift­ed past.


Our legs hugged the curves of the hood on the old Nash,

rust­ed-out obser­va­to­ry in the mid­dle of the south field.

The radio whis­pered, thin nee­dle scratched the dirt,

old love songs and poets and steel gui­tars.


We flung our arms wide in the weak-kneed dark­ness,

pushed grav­i­ty back, wished for pow­er to soar,

sling­shot past the sun on our way to Androm­e­da.

you be the prince, I the drag­on.


In the mid­dle of a wheat field, crop cir­cles in straw

the earth spun, a Cohen record in the dark,

the stars whipped, Medusa’s mane,

motes of dust, stunned in a moon­beam.

We made our­selves dance, awk­ward Jr. High sway,

just to keep from turn­ing to stone.

Bren­da Glasure’s poet­ry, cre­ative non-fic­tion, and short sto­ries have appeared in Strong Verse, Drift­wood Review, Sto­ry Gar­den 5 and 7 and sev­er­al oth­er online jour­nals – large­ly under her pen name, Adria Abbott Glass. She grew up in a small Ohio town, and spent her sum­mers work­ing on her grand­par­ents’ dairy farm. She cur­rent­ly lives on the North­coast, run­ning a hand­made jew­el­ry busi­ness and writ­ing.


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A Dangerous Man, poem by Julia Shipley

Have you seen my blue-eyed goose? He asks.

He keeps one among the reg­u­lar geese

in the grain room of his grandfather's barn,

where they honk like bro­ken trum­pets as we approach.

There are six, though you can't count these beaks, wings, crooked necks,

all crushed in a cor­ner, bleat­ing.

He enters, while I abstain behind the chick­en wire door.

He yokes his arms around a goose, and sep­a­rates her.

They quiet—a brash hush.

I see what he wants to show me:

how he exhibits the one whose pupil

is encom­passed with the col­or of a rare, pale jew­el.

Blue as the atom­ic scientist's iris,

as any clear sky, fall morn­ing.

Adren­a­lin sluices our blue veins.

Are you ner­vous? He asks, care­ful­ly.

I don’t say I'm afraid

any god is a bomb.

Julia Ship­ley is the author of The Acad­e­my of Hay (Bona Fide Books, 2015) and Adam’s Mark (Plow­boy Press, 2015) as well as some chap­books: One Ton Crumb, First Do No Harm, Plan­et Jr. and Herd. Her work can also be found in 5 x 5, Barn­storm, Bar­rel­house, Burn­side Review, Cincin­nati Review, Col­orado Review, North Amer­i­can Review, Poet Lore, Poet­ry, Prairie Schooner (online) and ter​rain​.org. She lives on a home­stead in the boon­docks of North­ern Ver­mont. Her web­site is www​.writin​gonthe​farm​.com

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Forthcoming Changes

I need to fig­ure out whether or not to go for­ward with the Red­neck Press White Trash anthol­o­gy coedit­ed with Tim­o­thy Gager. I'm feel­ing increas­ing­ly guilty about ask­ing my fel­low writ­ers for sto­ries and poems with­out prop­er com­pen­sa­tion. It's one thing to pub­lish online with no com­pen­sation for FCAC, anoth­er to do a print anthol­o­gy. It just doesn't feel right any­more. I need to fig­ure these things out, so I'm post­ing this and invit­ing com­ments.

At the same time, I'm look­ing for an edi­tor to take over the day-to-day pub­lish­ing details at FCAC so I'm freed up for a new project. I'd pre­fer some­one with deep rur­al and/or Appalachi­an roots to take over. The job is easy, but time-con­sum­ing, at least an hour a day most weeks. Any poten­tial edi­tor would need to be inti­mate­ly famil­iar with Word­Press and Sub­mit­table or ready to learn quick­ly, post­ing new con­tent every three-four days all year long, and of course, read­ing sub­mis­sions. I'm hap­py to host the site and con­tin­ue to pay the bills, but it's not a pay­ing edi­to­r­i­al gig. If you're inter­est­ed, mail me at rusty.​barnes@​gmail.​com. If I don't find any­one, I'll shut FCAC down as regards new con­tent and sim­ply archive the site.

If you have ideas about any of this, please let me know here or via email. Thanks.

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Songbird, fiction by Tiffany Buck


June 1st. My favorite time of the year. The flow­ers are in bloom and it seems that all is right with the world. I’m walk­ing to church with a song in my heart only it’s not Sun­day, that’s tomor­row. Sat­ur­day is when I go see Mama. Mama will love these lilies, she’ll love my dress too; it once belonged to her.

“Morn­ing Mama. It’s so beau­ti­ful today up on this hill. I brought you some lilies I picked from the gar­den. You know the one you and me plant­ed togeth­er two years ago. You made me promise to bring a batch to you every time they bloom good. So far these have been the pret­ti­est ever. I sus­pect you’re won­der­ing about beaus. I don’t have any, but I keep pray­ing for one. There is this one man, Jesse, I am kin­da sweet on. He’s got the voice of an angel. He sings…”

Down below in the church, I hear music and it was not my imag­i­na­tion. I kiss the cross guard­ing Mama. Preach­er didn’t say there would be a con­cert today. Nor­mal­ly on a day like today, I would take the long way home pass the old div­ing bell and dip my toes in the riv­er, but the music stirred me up, like God was call­ing me. I left my shoes on the hill and walked bare­foot to the church. I opened the door and there was nobody except…

“You star­tled me.”

“I’m so sor­ry, I heard the music and it was like Jesus was call­ing me to come and lis­ten.

Jesse smiled. His smile was so warm and invit­ing. Like a hug.

“Preach­er some­times lets me come in here and prac­tice. Is your name Sarah?”

“You know my name?”

“I make it my busi­ness to know every­one in this church. You smell like lilies. You been up on the hill?”

“My mama’s up there.”

“I’m real sor­ry for that and this.”

Jesse pulls me down on the floor, real rough. My head hit the pew. He put his hand, both small and strong, on my neck. I thought for sure he would kill me. Jesus made me strong though. My head turned to scrip­ture, but I couldn’t remem­ber vers­es only sto­ries. Jesse was lift­ing my dress and shed­ding my under­gar­ments, and then… Mama taught me to be a lady, so I can’t tell you what he did. “Jesus this is my cross, help me look to You like You looked to God.” Then it was over. My body, limp from pain and bloody as he dragged me to the altar only to prop me up like a doll on dis­play.


I was sit­ting on the choir bench hum­ming a tune I made up in my mind. I look through the hym­nal. Shame on me, I almost like the hym­nal bet­ter than the bible. I hear the door open and close. Did God send anoth­er angel for me? No. It was my old­er broth­er Jacob; he can nev­er escape that smell. I smiled. Jacob entered a church and the earth did not shake.

I thought I’d find you here.” said Jacob.

You smell like whiskey.”

“Hell, I always smell like whiskey. Even on Sun­days when I sell the most bot­tles while you’re in here singing about lovin Jesus in that pret­ty white robe.”


“I ain’t got all day, so let’s go.”

“Go where, Jacob?”

“Home. You asked me to pick you up at the store, when I didn’t see you there I thought I’d try here.

Do you know what I was think­ing about today?”

No. I broke my crys­tal ball Min­er­va from out on 53, gave me.”

I was think­ing about the time when you, Camp and me got drunk off of Uncle Mount’s white light­en­ing.”

That was a time.”

You and Camp wrecked Daddy’s bug­gy and ruined Mama’s gar­den”

That gar­den looked bet­ter ruined.”

That’s because Mama had a black thumb.”

What I remem­ber Jesse, is you killing a lit­ter of kit­tens while you were try­ing to save their souls. You cried so hard you made your­self sick.”

The Lord’s work nev­er goes unpun­ished.”

Has the new preach­er in town ever killed any­body in the riv­er, on acci­dent of course?”

Preacher’s a good man.”

Just check­ing. Thought there might be a club for men who drown their vic­tims while bap­tiz­ing them.”

I only drowned the kit­tens and they don’t have any souls.”

You drowned your mama, Jesse.”

She refused to accept Christ, Jacob. I had to resort to des­per­ate mea­sures.”

I ain’t bap­tized.”

I’ve been mean­ing to talk to you about that, you and Camp both. Where is Camp?”


You mean Gehen­na?”

I mean he ain’t here, lit­tle broth­er.”

I see blood on your hands.”

I think what you see is dirt.”

That’s a cru­el way to go.”

So is drown­ing.”

You must accept Christ as your per­son­al Lord and Sav­ior today, right now, with me as your wit­ness.”


If you deny Christ, you will burn in hell. Why?”

Because it piss­es you off. I also have no desire to spend eter­ni­ty on a cloud play­ing a flute or a ban­jo with some blond angel. I’m count­ing on hell hav­ing a damn good assort­ment of whiskey. At least I know I’ll have a few drink­ing bud­dies there.”

I pity you.”

Not as much as I pity you.”

I slam the hym­nal shut. I feel my blood boil­ing. Thoughts of may­hem and mur­der enter my mind.

Who’s the cunt on the floor? The one I’ve been pre­tend­ing not to notice.”

Jesus sent her to me, sweet Jacob.”

She dead?”

Why do you ask?”

They always are. She’s got blood on her dress.”

The last one didn’t bleed.”

The last one had two lit­tle chil­dren miss­ing their mama. What am I going to have to do with this lit­tle dove?”

Noth­ing. She has no fam­i­ly”

That don’t mean peo­ple ain’t gonna miss her.”

She’s so pret­ty, all still like that.”

I hope you real­ize what a fuck­ing mon­ster you are.”

Jesus don’t like you swear­ing in his house.”

But, it’s okay to rape a woman in church.”

Jesus sent her to me. He knows my weak­ness­es.”

Per­haps if your tongue was ripped out of your mouth and hung on the church door with the word rapist writ­ten on your white angel­ic robe, God would stop send­ing the women to you.”

You love me too much to do that.”

No, I don’t.”

Remem­ber when you burned Daddy’s hym­nal because he pun­ished me for not want­i­ng to go to the church pic­nic?”

Cracked my knuck­les good.”

So you see, I was right when I said that you love me too much to hurt me.”


It hurts to breathe. My neck feels like it’s being stabbed by a thou­sand tiny knives as I began to wake up.

How did I get in here?”

My guess is you opened the door and walked in here,” said Jacob.

Do I know you?”

Jesse, I thought you said this one was dead.”

Oops. She must have been stronger than the oth­ers. Do some­thing with her for me.”

Don’t I always.”

I guess, I will leave you two. Miss Sarah, believe me it was a plea­sure.”

Plea­sure. What does he mean plea­sure? All I feel is pain. I began to cry. My rapist is gone and left me with this man who…

Blood. There is so much blood on my dress. Oh Jesus.

There ain’t no rea­son for you to be cry­ing. This ain’t noth­ing you can’t recov­er from. I buried my best friend today. You don’t see me cry­ing.”

The man walked over to me and rough­ly put his hand on my mouth. I almost gag from the smell of whiskey and dirt.

Shut up!”

I’m bleed­ing.”

I’ll get you a dress.”


I leave the room and walk into a clos­et filled with choir robes and a few dress­es as well as one or two men’s suits. My hands search through the dress­es. I pull out three: a pink one, a green one, and final­ly a blue one. Why do I give a fuck? I picked the blue one because I knew it would match her eyes. I walk back into the sanc­tu­ary. She hadn’t moved

and her eyes were blood­shot from cry­ing. I took the dress off the hang­er and threw it at her.

Wash your face and put this on.”

I watch her strug­gle to stand up. A gen­tle­man would have offered assis­tance. I ain’t a gen­tle­man. She limps to the wash­room and clos­es the door. I heard the water run­ning.

“What’s your name?” she asks.


From Gen­e­sis?”

If you say so.”

You don’t come to church?”


She walks back into the sanc­tu­ary wear­ing the blue dress. Jesus, she looked beau­ti­ful.

Why don’t you come to church?”

You about done ask­ing me ques­tions?”


Dove, I don’t go to church because Sun­day is when I make my mon­ey. You ever sit in here on Sun­days and notice a lot of hus­bands miss­ing? The men are in the back woods behind my house buy­ing what you call the devil’s brew. I make the best white light­en­ing in three coun­ties.”

I pull a bot­tle of whiskey out of my pock­et and chug about half of it. She glared at me, but she didn’t protest.

You want a taste; might make you feel bet­ter.”

I offer her the bot­tle. She turns her head away.

Do I look okay, accord­ing to your opin­ion?”


I grab her by the wrist and look into her eyes. A tiny eye­lash had fall­en on her cheek. I remove it.

Bet­ter. We got to go.”

It‘s twi­light, and the two of us sit at a train sta­tion. I stare cold­ly at the train. Look­ing over at Sarah I see her fid­get with her dress. If she doesn’t stop, she’ll pull a but­ton loose. Her eyes look as if she’s being sent to the slaugh­ter­house. She turns her eyes to meet mine.

I could cook and clean for you. Share your bed. Any­thing.”

I chuck­le at this pro­pos­al.

I don’t pic­ture you as a fall­en woman.”

Mar­ry me. I’ll even for­give Jesse because he’s your broth­er.”

Dove, you ain’t nev­er gonna for­give Jesse. That’s des­per­a­tion talk­ing. And anoth­er thing, if I plan on get­ting mar­ried to some woman, it’s gonna be me that does the propos­ing.”


I already told you. You’re gonna get on that train and get off at Way­cross, and you ain’t nev­er com­ing back here. If I see you or smell you with­in forty miles of this town, I will per­son­al­ly put a bul­let in your head.”

She starts cry­ing again. God­damn it why can’t she stop the cry­ing?

I’m still bleed­ing.”

As a woman, you should know how to han­dle that.”

How did your best friend die?”


Ear­li­er, when I came to, you told me that your best friend died. How did that hap­pen?”

He stole mon­ey from me. Stu­pid son of a bitch put it in the car box. Oth­er than me, he’s the only one that had a key to it. He was sup­posed to make the run tonight, so he didn’t think I would see it. I found him drunk in his house. I drug him kick­ing and scream­ing to a shal­low grave and cov­ered him with dirt.”


The con­duc­tor makes an announce­ment let­ting every­one in the sta­tion know that the train to Way­cross has arrived.

What if I’m preg­nant?”

I lead Sarah to the train. The word preg­nant stings in my head and tiny heart. I lean down and kiss her on the fore­head. A baby in her bel­ly would be my blood. I take her hand and gen­tly mas­sage her fin­gers.

If it was mine, I’d like to see his face, if it’s Jesse’s I’d kill it. There’s an old man, Mur­ray, in Way­cross. He buys a bar­rel a month from me. His hob­by, aside from drink­ing and hunt­ing with arrows, is watch­ing trains. Find him and tell him I sent you. He’ll be good to you.

Will I ever see you again?”

I bend down and kiss her. Next, I pulled an old stop­watch out of my pock­et and put it in her hand.

Some­day I’ll want this back.”

She smiles at me and gets on the train. I don’t stay to wave good­bye.

Tiffany Buck lives in north Geor­gia on the edge of Appalachia. She is mar­ried and has a three-year old daugh­ter. Her inter­ests include writ­ing grit and mak­ing her own cos­met­ics.

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Hem, poetry by Michael K. Gause

(for William Gay)

Days lit flat and splayed, as if to under­stand a life is to log its con­tents. Take down work. Dis­sect the nights you don’t sleep. Mean­while, life hangs with death in the woods.  Tin cups of wait­ing. Long hours of drink. But go ahead. Open it all up. Take min­utes and leave them on desks come morn­ing. Walk in the sun and sleep in the bed.  For­get there are lines no one can map. The Great Divide. That mile mark­er where cities halt their sprawl. Springs that run dry at the hem of the Har­rikin.

Michael K. Gause was born in Ten­nessee and raised on for­est soli­tude and the writ­ten word. Lat­er there were explo­sions. Now, after 21 years in Min­neso­ta, he's hap­py to say he's nev­er felt more south­ern. His spo­radic blog is http://​the​day​on​fire​.blogspot​.com.

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Near­ly noon, on Thurs­day
late Octo­ber, and I see the trees
sway­ing with­in a wind that means
only busi­ness,
no fra­grant breeze
here, no idle
mere­ly rote
screams, blue note egress from boughs
with fore­sight and worse, they bite back the bark
in street light pos­es, they feel so much
bet­ter, much bet­ter come
the dark.
This time of year, this time
of life it breaks
down the anger, ache by ache, cold moan
in the heart attack
eaves, but maybe you know it
by now, too? by God
we must not feel so sor­ry
for those leaves, in free
fall, going to a place that gets

umber, then full
on, naked in a month: Win­ter
is the rud­dy face of a poet
at six­ty…
Or the tick­ing
of radi­a­tors
in my youth, they run on
sticky sheets left
oblit­er­at­ed in the mid­dle of the poster bed
of those wel­fare hotels, I’d check in
for kicks only, sucked off
dry by the usu­al specters, too many raven-haired sins
to enu­mer­ate them
down the block, some bloke fires up his chain saw,
and back in my brain, the fat Irish bard
in green felt der­by hat: … Let it go, boyo … But oh
to antic­i­pate the wood smoke, arriv­ing soon
in a kind of uni­son, dou­bles as an astral
sob; now it’s about half
past noon.

mahagin3Den­nis Maha­gin is the author of two poet­ry col­lec­tions: “Grand Mal” from Rebel Satori Press (https://​www​.ama​zon​.com/​G​r​a​n​d​-​M​a​l​-​D​e​n​n​i​s​-​M​a​h​a​g​i​n​/​d​p​/​1​6​0​8​6​4​0​515) and “Long­shot & Ghazal”from Mojave Riv­er Press: http://​pre​mi​um​read​ing​.com/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​/​u​n​b​e​l​i​e​v​a​b​l​e​-​l​o​n​g​s​h​o​t​-​g​h​a​z​a​l​-​d​e​n​n​i​s​-​m​a​h​a​g​i​n​-​o​n​l​i​n​e​-​get. Den­nis is also the poet­ry edi­tor for the online mag­a­zine, FRiGG. He lives in south­west­ern Mon­tana.

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Lady Smith, fiction by Jim Wilsky

The third day on the run, they ditched a stolen pick­up truck in the sprawl­ing park­ing lot and then wait­ed out­side the doors of Nordstrom’s. Less than an hour lat­er, they were turn­ing out of Spring­town Mall in a black Escalade.

He had picked out a well-dressed woman that was alone and it had paid off in spades. Mid-thir­ties at the most, looked twen­ty five, and she was from mon­ey.

It was a clear blue sky, sun­ny day but Mered­ith Brown­ing turned on the wind­shield wipers when she used her turn sig­nal.

What’re you doin’ woman?” Arlen Wat­son was hold­ing the gun low, rest­ing it on the con­sole between them. “Easy.”

Sorry…I — I’m scared.” She fum­bled with the con­trol. The wipers went faster and the wash­er flu­id mist­ed before she final­ly got every­thing stopped.

In the back­seat, Geor­gia was paw­ing through two shop­ping bags. “Oh, baby,” she said soft­ly pulling out a scarf.

Arlen looked back at her, caught a look down Georgia’s loose fit­ting top and then drug his eyes back over to the dri­ver. “There ain’t noth­in’ to be scared about ma’am. Just need the car. We get out of town a ways and we’ll drop you off. Do what I tell you and everything’ll be fine.”

Okay. Okay. Don’t hurt me.”

Get over. Left lane, jump onto 20 west.” He looked into the side rear view, then straight ahead. “It’s comin’ up here now, 20 west.”

Please. I’ll do what­ev­er you say, take what­ev­er you want,” Meredith’s voice was shak­ing as she took the inter­state ramp. She start­ed to cry. “Just let me go.”

I will, I swear. Just keep dri­ving.”

Arlen, how far we goin’ before we drop her whiny ass off?” Geor­gia asked as she pulled out a sweater next and held it up. “Oh my, I do love this col­or.”

Hush up back there girl” Arlen said while look­ing at the woman dri­ving. His eyes trav­eled slow. Up and down, then up again. The sun dress, which was short to begin and had got­ten his atten­tion in the park­ing lot, was rid­ing even high­er now. A lot to look at there. Long, tanned legs.

Feel­ing his stare, Mered­ith glanced across the con­sole to him. “She’s so young. What­ev­er has hap­pened, or what­ev­er you two have done, it's not too late.”

You’re doing like eighty. Take her down a notch.” Arlen's look was straight ahead now.

Oh, I’m old enough dar­lin’ and lis­ten up, don’t you go talkin’ about me like I’m not even here.” Georgia’s voice from the back was now close, almost in Meredith’s ear.

Let me help you both. I’ve been in trou­ble before myself.” Meredith's eyes in the rear view mir­ror went cold and blank, but for only a moment.

Trou­ble?” A wild lit­tle gig­gle came from the rear as Geor­gia leaned back and shoved her feet into the dri­ver seat. “Real­ly? Like what hon’, stay­ing up past your bed­time? Drank too much beer on prom night?” Anoth­er laugh. “You’re just a lit­tle princess. Have been all your life.”

Hush girl.”

Don’t you go hush­ing me again Arlen Wat­son. Fair warnin’.”

He turned in his seat again and stared at his girl­friend. His jaw mus­cles were work­ing over­time now. He'd had just about enough of this mouthy lit­tle whore.

Geor­gia went right back at it though, meet­ing Meredith’s eyes that were now big and soft again, in the mir­ror. “I bet your dad­dy had mon­ey and then you mar­ried into even more. Bet your hus­band is twen­ty years older’n you too. Ain’t that right, princess?”

Geor­gia got no answer, so she began to rifle through the expen­sive purse lying next to the shop­ping bags.

Hey now…I just found cash mon­ey Arlen. Cou­ple two, three hundred…wait now. Shit, close to four.”

And then, just like some­body threw a switch, the car fell into silence. Like it does some­times when the mind takes over and the words stop com­ing. It was like that until for about forty five min­utes.

After pass­ing an old Dodge Ram pulling a flatbed full of every­thing that fam­i­ly owned, Arlen final­ly broke that silence. He point­ed up ahead, “Comin' up here, about two miles more or so, take exit 18. There’s a closed Denny’s but pull in the lot any­way.”

Mered­ith did as she was told and start­ed slow­ing to a stop in front of the desert­ed restau­rant. Across the way, on the east­bound side, there was only a gas sta­tion and rest area. Noth­ing else.

No, no, go on around back.”


It’s gonna be fine ma’am. Pull around back, I just can’t let you out right here. Go on now.”

She cir­cled around the build­ing. Her hand was shak­ing as she put the car in park. “I have two young daugh­ters.”

Arlen leaned over and pulled the keys out of the igni­tion. His hand brushed Meredith’s leg and stopped. He rubbed her knee and then slid slow­ly upward. “It's gonna be okay.” There was no time and he knew it, but damn.

Instead of giv­ing in to it, he reached in his jack­et pock­et and pulled out a roll of gray tape. Same tape he’d used on the stolen truck’s own­er, but it was all for show this time. “Now, all I’m gonna do is tape you up.” He held the tape up to her as proof. “So, get out real slow and walk to the load­ing door over there.”

Arlen, let me do her up. Nice and tight.” Georgia’s voice had gone hard and wicked. “Let me cinch that princess up good.”

Hush, dammit. Stay put back there.”

Mered­ith got out slow, walked to the build­ing and turned. Arlen had already stopped, about ten feet away with the gun raised.

On your knees dar­lin'.” He motioned at the ground with the bar­rel.

She melt­ed down, cov­ered her mouth with one hand, the oth­er held out to him.

Please,” She said. “Oh please…don’t.” Her voice was just a whis­per now.

Two quick shots cracked. Then a third. First one hit him square in the back and he barked a yell out. The next, hit him in the side as he turned. He stag­gered a step, his open mouth show­ing sur­prise. The gun slipped out of his hand and he went down hard. His body only jerked after the third shot hit him.

I told that son of a bitch not to hush me again. Gave him fair warn­ing.” Geor­gia said, walk­ing past the body.

Mered­ith looked at the motion­less Arlen and couldn't believe she was still alive. The shock was short lived though, her eyes that had been big and round with pan­ic, nar­rowed. A hard look. She didn’t speak.

Sides, he was fix­in’ to kill you, not tape you. I ain’t no mur­der­er like him. Least not some dang exe­cu­tion like that.” Geor­gia looked at the Lady Smith .38 spe­cial in her hand. “Lucky for you, I found this pret­ty lit­tle gun in your purse. Didn't even know they made a girls gun like this. My last name is Smith too. Guess it was just meant to be.”

Behind Geor­gia, the sky in the west had start­ed to dark­en up and a low, far off rum­ble of thun­der rolled over them. Not a spit of wind. Calm. She turned and then looked back at Mered­ith. “I do like a good storm. I like that tense kin­da feel­ing you know. Some­thing badass com­ing. All that.”

They stared at each oth­er for a moment more and then Geor­gia Smith put her hands on her hips. She grinned big and said, “Well hell, ain’t you gonna thank me or noth­in’?”

Mered­ith stood up slow, her eyes clicked over to where Arlen was lay­ing in a small but grow­ing pool of dark blood. She still didn’t speak but her mind was work­ing.

Cat got your tongue, sug­ar? I'll admit, that was a close call.”

I…thank…” The words just weren't com­ing out right and all Mered­ith could do was shake her head. Her eyes teared up.

All right then, its okay. Let’s go sis, we got­ta put some miles in between us and ol’ Arlen here. We’ll head south now instead of west. Hell, maybe even Mex­i­co huh? You and me. We can have us some girl talk as we go, plus I can’t dri­ve with­out insur­ance right?” Georgia's smile looked forced now and her eyes were just a lit­tle too bright, too jumpy.

Mered­ith stared at that young face and saw mad­ness. She grinned weak­ly and nod­ded back at the girl.

Geor­gia motioned to fol­low and turned. “C’mon now, we’ll be like Tam­my and Louise…or what­ev­er the fuck that movie was called.”

Light­ning zigzagged in the dis­tance. A breeze picked up out of nowhere with the scent of rain strong. Much cool­er air, cold almost, sig­naled the oncom­ing storm. Mered­ith hadn’t felt like this for a long time. Not since Riley Lloyd, not since that moon­less night, on a bank of the Big Sandy. It seemed a long, long time ago but it real­ly wasn't. Not long at all.

As they walked back to the car with Geor­gia lead­ing the way, Mered­ith smooth­ly reached down and swept up Arlen's gun with a prac­ticed hand. She closed the space between them and two steps from the car she stopped and aimed.

Geor­gia sensed some­thing then, firm­ing her grip on the Lady Smith. She start­ed to turn but it was far too late. There was only a split sec­ond to real­ize her final and fatal mis­take, in a short bit­ter life that had been full of them.

Mered­ith Brown­ing was no princess.


wilskypicJim Wilsky is a crime fic­tion writer. He is the co-author of a three book series; Blood on Blood, Queen of Dia­monds and Clos­ing the Cir­cle. He’s fin­ish­ing up a new book that will be com­ing out soon, as well as search­ing for a pub­lish­er for a col­lec­tion of his short sto­ries.

His short sto­ry work has appeared in some of the most respect­ed online mag­a­zines such as: Shot­gun Hon­ey, Beat To A Pulp, All Due Respect, Yel­low Mama, The Big Adiós, A Twist of Noir, Rose & Thorn Jour­nal, Pulp Met­al, Thrillers Killers & Chillers, Plots With Guns, Flash Bang Mys­ter­ies, A Twist of Noir and oth­ers. He has con­tributed sto­ries in sev­er­al pub­lished antholo­gies, includ­ing All Due Respect, Kwik Krimes and Both Bar­rels. He resides in Texas, sup­port­ed and strength­ened by a won­der­ful wife and two beau­ti­ful daugh­ters.

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The Property of Bug-Eyed Motherfucker, story by Wynne Hungerford

Apache Springs the cross­roads was known as, and for miles around the land was called Apache Springs also. There was a sin­gle saloon at the cross­roads next to a board­ing house with its roof rot­ted from the night­ly urine of pros­ti­tutes that climbed up there and pissed beneath the moon. It nev­er rained in Apache Springs. There was nev­er a cloud in the sky. Because of this the pros­ti­tutes climbed onto the roof every night. Vis­i­tors began to take an inter­est. Eng­lish or French peo­ple they usu­al­ly were, spring or sum­mer­time cow­boys who always stopped at the saloon first to get prop­er­ly wast­ed.

Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er was one of these French­men. He spent a whole after­noon sip­ping rye whiskey and when he final­ly slipped into a good, moist stu­por he head­ed over to the board­ing house for some good, moist com­pa­ny. The woman only cost a sil­ver dol­lar because she had a shriv­eled leg, but Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er didn’t mind. He said, “Bon­jour sexy,” and then used her cane, a piece of desert wood, to beat her across the ass. When they had fin­ished and the pros­ti­tute was already climb­ing out of the win­dow and pulling her­self onto the roof with strong arms, Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er real­ized that his pis­tol was gone. It had been a gift from his late men­tor. They had been like father and son.

Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er ran back to the saloon and swung open the doors.

Some­one said, “Look at the bug eyes on that moth­er­fuck­er.”

Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er thought he saw the flash of his pis­tol’s moth­er-of-pearl han­dle at a table in the back of the saloon. He had excel­lent vision. The fel­low sit­ting at that table was an Eng­lish­man. Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er swag­gered back there and said, “Mon pis­to­let!”

My good man,” said the Eng­lish­man. “I beg to dif­fer.”

Then the Eng­lish­man picked up the gun and shot Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er through the eye. He fell dead to the floor. “I apol­o­gise for the dis­tur­bance, every­one,” the Eng­lish­man said. “Car­ry on.”

Mean­while, the crip­pled pros­ti­tute of Apache Springs stood like a flamin­go on the roof of the board­ing house. She had been the one to take Bug-Eyed Moth­er­fuck­er’s pis­tol, even though he had not sus­pect­ed her because of the shriv­eled leg, and now she was point­ing the pis­tol at the moon. She’d heard the oth­er girls call the moon beau­ti­ful but, to her, it looked like a pus­tule that need­ed to be popped.

hungerfordWynne Hunger­ford has pub­lished work in Epoch, Talk­ing Riv­er Review, The White­fish Review, The South Car­oli­na Review, and The Week­ly Rum­pus, among oth­er places. She is an MFA can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da.

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