Short Fiction: “A Snowy Night in Brooklyn”

by Andy Rausch

DISCLAIMER: This is one of those “inside baseball” stories where a knowledge of hip-hop music and/or Biggie Smalls is required for the story to make sense. If you don’t know anything about them, you’re gonna be lost.


Big and Cease were in Big’s Suburban, making their way down Fulton Street. It was dark now, a light snow falling against the windshield.

“Crack that window,” said Big, choking on the smoke from Cease’s blunt. “You ’bout to kill me with that shit.”

Cease protested. “But it’s cold, man.”

Big looked over at him. “And?”

“I’ll be fucking cold.”

Big gave him an exaggerated look like he was stupid. “There’s two other solutions.”

“What’s the first?”

“You could put that thing out and stop smoking in my shit.”

“And the second?”

Big grinned as he said, “I could pull over and let your ass walk the rest of the way. Then you’ll really be cold.”

Cease slumped. He rolled the window down a little, tossing the half-finished blunt out. “You happy now?”

“I’m as happy as Shaq makin’ free throws.”

“Where we goin’?”

“There’s someone I gotta see.”

“Who’s that?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know when we get there.”

Big slowed the Suburban, staring up at a shop window on the right. Cease couldn’t make out what the words on the window said, but there was a light on inside. “You see anyone in there?” asked Big.

“In where?

Frustrated, Big said, “In the window, man.”

Cease stared at the shop, squinting, but couldn’t make out anything inside.

Big pulled the Suburban over next to the curb. Other businesses on the street, like the Jewelry Exchange and the Metro King, had big signs and/or canopies hanging over their entrances, but this one didn’t. As Big turned off the motor, Cease was still squinting at the window, trying to figure out what this place was. He had been down this way a million and one times, but had never paid any mind to the place.

Big opened his door carefully, trying to avoid being hit by oncoming traffic. Cease climbed out the passenger side.

“Make sure you lock it,” said Big.

“I did.”

“You sure?”

“Damn, Big, I’m sure.”

Big walked around the vehicle, his Tims stepping up onto the sidewalk. He and Cease stood there for a brief moment in the falling snow, staring at the window. Now Cease could see it for the first time: “Madame Sylvia, Psychic and Medium.”

Cease looked over at Big, now walking towards the business. “Fuck we doin’ here, Big?”

“Don’t worry, man. I got this.”

“But Big—”

I got this,” growled Big, ending the conversation.


As they approached the door, they saw the closed sign facing outward. They could also see a figure moving around inside. Big stepped up to the door, made a fist, and banged hard. A moment later an elderly white woman—likely Madame Sylvia—came to the door. She peered out nervously, pointing at the closed sign. Big then pulled out a roll of hundreds and held it up to the window. The old woman’s face brightened, relaxing a bit. She shrugged, opening the door. As she did, an overhead bell clanged to life.

“Are you open now?” asked Big, enjoying the power of his newfound money.

The old woman looked nervously at the cash in his hand, clearly afraid it would disappear back into his pocket. “I could be persuaded to make an exception,” she said with a thick accent Big thought was Russian.

“I thought you might,” said Big, peeling several bills from the roll.

The old woman reached up and plucked the bills from his hand. She stood there, holding the door open and allowing them entrance. Once Big and Cease were inside, she closed the door and locked it.

The place smelled as if approximately 234 incense sticks had been burned simultaneously.

“How can I help you?” she asked.

“You’re a medium?” asked Big. “That means you can talk to dead people, right? Like Whoopi Goldberg in that movie with the Dirty Dancing guy?”

The old woman nodded. “My body is a vessel through which the dead can speak.”

Big glanced at Cease uncomfortably. “Yeah, that’s what I need. I wanna talk to a, uh… a spirit.”

The old woman smiled nonchalantly. Such a statement would have startled most people—it certainly startled Cease—but this was an everyday occurrence for her. After all, she was Madame Sylvia, Psychic and Medium.

“You can really do that?” asked Big. “It’s for real?”

The old woman nodded. “I can do it,” she said, her voice sounding tired.

She led them past a bevy of weird shit that included a jar with a human embryo inside, an inverted cross hanging on the wall, and a collection of painted skulls. She led them through hanging beads and into a second dimly-lit room, which also smelled of incense, but this time combined with the faint odor of cat shit. Big looked around the room, but saw no cat. The old woman led them to a round wooden table, motioning for them to sit. They did. She sat down on the other side of the table, facing them.

“What is the name of the deceased you wish to talk to, Christopher?”

This startled Big, who paused for a second, looking at Cease. He turned back towards Madame Sylvia. “How you know my name?”

The old woman grinned, exposing one black rotten tooth sitting among what looked like a mouthful of yellowish-brown Chiclets. “This is what I do.”

Big composed himself, staring at her. “Okay, the person I wanna talk to…”

She stared at him, that big creepy grin still plastered across her boney face.

“His name is Tupac,” said Big. “Tupac Shakur.”

The old woman’s head fell back slowly, her cataract-obscured gaze lifting to the ceiling.

Cease stared at Big, looking at him as if he’d lost his mind.

“I don’t like this shit,” said Cease. “I don’t believe in this stuff, but if it’s true, we don’t need to be fucking around with it. It ain’t right, Big.”

Big said nothing, paying his cousin no mind.

The old woman’s frail voice no longer sounded so frail and tired as it came screeching from her mouth. Her head was still tilted all the way back as she said, “I’m calling for Tupac Shakur… Tupac, can you speak with us?” She paused for a long moment, neither Big nor Cease saying anything. Then, finally, she called out again. “Are you there, Tupac?”

Almost the second she completed the question, the old woman started to shake violently. Big tilted his head, staring at her, wondering if she was having a seizure. He was trying to remember what you’re supposed to do if a person has a seizure; do you put a pencil in their mouth so they don’t bite off their tongue? Or was that an old wives’ tale? Big wasn’t sure. Cease looked over at Big again, but neither of them said a word. The old woman’s shaking slowed and she started to cackle now. Her head lowered, her cataract-covered eyes now filled with the shimmering glow of sunlight on gold.

She looked directly at Big. She smirked, but said nothing. She just kept staring at him awkwardly.

Big didn’t know what to say, but the creepy bitch was making him nervous.

Finally the old white woman said, “Nigga, is that you?” Her voice was upbeat now, and she spoke clear English, the accent now gone.

Big was stunned, unsure what was happening. He sat back in his chair, trying to make sense of it.

The old woman spoke up again. “What’s up, Big?”

Now Big knew.

“I’m chillin’, Pac,” he said. “How about you?”

“Nigga, I’m dead. That’s how I am.”

Cease was sitting on the edge of his chair, watching this exchange with his mouth hanging open. He said nothing.

“I can’t believe you’re coming to see me,” said Tupac. Big couldn’t read the tone; he couldn’t properly assess whether or not his old friend was angry.

“I just wanted you to know that I didn’t have shit to do with your death,” explained Big. “God as my witness I didn’t. I know people were trying to put it in your head that I was your enemy, but the truth is that I never had nothin’ but love for you, man.”

The old woman stared at him in silence for a long moment, unblinking. “I know that, nigga,” said Tupac. “You’re right though. I didn’t know it then. I was in a bad place after the Quad Studios shooting. I had a lotta people getting in my ear, tryin’ to tell me shit, tryin’ to tell me it was you and Puff did it.”

“It wasn’t me,” insisted Big. “We had nothin’ to do with that.”

The old woman nodded. “I know.”

They sat there staring at each other for a beat.

“I hated that we became enemies,” said Big. “I never wanted that. I didn’t like it at all. I told my crew to just back down and leave it alone, even though you were saying all kinds of wild shit…”

“Yeah,” Tupac said, grinning, the old woman’s hand rubbing her chin. “I did say some shit, didn’t I?”

“You had cats in the street thinking maybe I was soft because I wasn’t going in on you, wasn’t throwing darts.” Big paused. “Can I ask you a question?”

“You can ask me anything, nigga,” said Tupac.

“You said you slept with my wife.” He paused for a moment. “Tell me, was that true?”

Now the old woman’s face stared at him very seriously. “Nah,” said Tupac. “That wasn’t true. I shouldn’t have said that shit.”

Big nodded. “You’re right, you shouldn’t have said that shit.”

“What can I do about it now? I’m dead, Big.”

“And Faith and I are separated, mostly because of what you said.”

“That’s fucked up. What do you want me to say? I’m sorry.”

Big nodded, looking over at Cease. “You got another blunt? If not, there’s a couple out in the glove box.”

Cease felt around in the pocket of his Girbauds, finally producing a crinkled, slightly bent but intact blunt. He held it up to Big, who took a moment to locate his Zippo. As the two men worked out the blunt situation, Tupac smiled and said, “Hell yeah, that’s what the fuck I’m talking about. You know how long it’s been since I smoked?”

Cease asked, “How long, Pac?”

“Well, how long have I been dead now?”

“About three months.”

“Then that’s how long it’s been. Three months. That’s too long.”

Big now had the blunt in his mouth, lighting it. He removed it from his mouth and held it out to his dead comrade. Tupac reached out with the old woman’s frail hand and took it. He put it to his lips and sucked at it, filling his lungs with thick smoke. He exhaled slowly, starting to laugh as he did.

“Goddamn,” he said. He looked at the blunt for a moment, and then up at Big and Cease. “You mind if I have another hit?”

“Whatever you want, Pac,” said Big.

Tupac took another deep drag, letting the smoke float from his lips. He held the blunt out to Cease, who then took his turn.

“So what’s it like?” asked Big. “Is there, you know…is there a heaven?”

“Not that I’ve seen,” said Tupac. “There’s nothing, and yet I continue to exist. It’s crazy, nigga. It’s nothing but blackness, but somehow I’m aware of everything going on in the universe as it happens. I even know the future.”

Big looked at him. “Like what? What kinda shit you know?”

“I know you didn’t have anything to do with the Quad Studios shooting or my death,” said Tupac. “I know everything.”

Big bit his lip, considering this. He looked up. “So you know who’s responsible for your death?”

The old woman’s body sat back, her facial features lighting up almost as bright as her eyes. “Oh yeah,” said Tupac. “I know who did that shit. It’s someone I knew real well. And believe me, I’m gonna take care of it.”

“Who was it?”

Tupac grinned, revealing that nasty black tooth again. “I’m not gonna say, but believe me, I’m gonna get that nigga. He ain’t gonna die—not yet—but his life and career are about to end.”

“Do I know the cat?”

“You’ve met him,” said Tupac. “But let’s not worry about it.”

It was Tupac’s turn to hit the blunt again. Big passed it to him, and Tupac smoked it, eventually handing it to Cease.

“So you know everything?” asked Big.

“Pretty much,” said Tupac.

“Can you tell me who’s gonna win the NBA championship this year?”

Tupac stared at him through Madame Sylvia’s eyes, grinning. “You’re funny, nigga. I shouldn’t say anything about it. But I think I owe you for all the shit we’ve been through.”

“So what you saying?”

“The Bulls,” said Tupac. “The Bulls gonna win again.”

Big nodded. “Who do they play?”

“Utah.”

“What kinda series is Jordan gonna have?”

“Jordan gets hurt in the playoffs,” said Tupac. “He’s not gonna play in the series.”

Big looked at him, his disappointment visible. “Really?”

“It gets worse, too.”

“How’s that?”

“The injury is gonna end his career.”

“Word?”

Tupac stared at him, grinning, just letting it sit there for a moment. Finally he said, “Nah, nigga, I’m just fuckin’ with you. Jordan’s gonna have a great series. In game five he’s gonna score 38 points. But get this… He does it with the flu!”

“What?” asked Big. “You’re fuckin’ with me.”

“Nah, I’m serious. He ends up being series MVP.”

Big nods. “That’s cool.”

“It’s been good catching up with you fellas,” said Tupac. “But I gotta go back.”

“Back where?”

“Good question. I dunno. Wherever the fuck I came from.”

“But you and me, we’re good?”

Tupac smiled, extending the old woman’s tiny hand. The two friends bumped fists. “We’re good,” said Tupac. “We’re real good.”

“I’ll see you soon,” said Big. He paused before adding, “But not too soon.”

Tupac stared at him, knowing Big’s future but saying nothing. Tupac knew Big would never see Jordan perform in the Flu Game, as he would be dead by then.

Big watched as Madame Sylvia’s body started to convulse again, Tupac’s spirit exiting. The old woman slumped over, her face hanging down towards the table. After a moment she sat up and looked at Big, visibly exhausted.

“You okay?” he asked, genuinely concerned.

The old woman stared at him with her yellowed eyes, but said nothing. She just nodded, possibly too tired to speak. Big stood, and Cease followed suit. Big reached into his pocket and produced the roll of cash again. He tossed the whole roll onto the table in front of the old woman and turned to leave.

When they stepped out into the light snow, Cease remarked, “That shit was crazy, Big.”

Big nodded, looking up at the falling snow. He felt the burden of guilt regarding Tupac’s death and their unresolved issues now lifted. He felt alive and rejuvenated. “Things are gonna be good from here on, man. We’re gonna keep working on this music and really doing the damn thing, you know? We’re gonna live our lives to the max and live the long life that Pac didn’t get to.”

Cease nodded, “Can’t nothin’ stop us.”

The two men climbed back into the Suburban. Big turned up the stereo, playing a song he’d recently recorded with Easy Mo Bee called “Going Back to Cali.” As the music thumped from the Kenwood speakers, the two men nodded their heads rhythmically. Big pulled away from the curb, and they drove off into the Brooklyn night.

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Short fiction: “Santa’s Little Helper”

by Andy Rausch



This was Carl’s third house of the night, and he still had two more he wanted to hit before morning. As he’d gotten older, he’d become a much better robber, but the downside was that he’d come to loathe his work with a fiery passion. Maybe it was the two falls he’d already taken for B&E, or maybe it was because he felt like the Last of the Mohicans now that all his old road dogs were behind bars. But mostly Carl believed it was just a part of getting older. Even as he’d become wiser and had learned to take less chances, he still had to take some. Chances came part and parcel with this line of work. And topping it off, Carl’s body was showing signs of fatigue. He became tired much more quickly these days, and the treasures he carried out of the houses were getting getting heavier and heavier.

Carl hadn’t wanted to go out robbing tonight, but he had no choice. He’d been dating Porcupine Tina for a couple weeks now, but she refused to put out. She said she’d only screw him if he agreed to take her to this new highfalutin’ expensive-ass restaurant in Manhattan. She’d read about it in the Times, and had told him it was all the rage. “Movie stars go there,” she said. “There was a picture of Nicole Kidman eating there!” She thought going there might somehow give her class, but Carl doubted it, just as he doubted that all the women in the place combined had seen as many dicks as Tina had. When Carl was growing up, his dad had a saying about girls like her—if she had as many dicks sticking out of her as she’d had stuck in her she’d be a porcupine. Hence the name Porcupine Tina.

Carl was in the dark house, shining his flashlight down on a laptop. It was an older model, probably five or six years old. That wasn’t old for most things—Carl had underwear that were older by a mile—but it was literally a lifetime for a laptop. “Fuck it,” he muttered, sticking the laptop in his bag. He turned around and was shocked to find himself face to face with a little boy.

“Who are you?” asked the boy, squinting into the light. “Are you Santa Claus?”

Seeing his way out, Carl jumped on this. “Yeah, I am,” he said. “I’m Santa Claus.”

The boy tilted his head. He looked unsure, like he was trying to work out a mathematical equation in his head. “Are you sure?”

“What? You don’t think I know who I am?”

“Why are you here?”

Carl paused. “Well, I’m here, you know, doing Santa stuff.”

“But Christmas is eighteen days away,” said the boy.

“Eighteen days, huh?”

“Yeah, I count ’em off every day. I got a Santa Claus face calendar with cotton balls on his beard over each day. I remove a piece of cotton every morning until Christmas, and right now there are eighteen cotton balls left.”

Carl nodded. “That’s a good system.”

“But my Daddy told me you didn’t exist,” said the boy.

“He did?”

“He sure did. But I knew he was wrong. I knew it!

“Why do you think he did that?”

The boy scrunched up his face, looking perplexed. “I don’t know.”

“Well, I know,” said Carl.

“You do?”

“He did it because he was naughty.”

The boy’s eyes got big. “Daddy’s naughty?”

“He lied about me not being real. You know what that is? Naughty with a capital N.”

“Maybe he just didn’t know,” offered the boy.

“No, he knew. He just did that to be naughty. He was lying to you, trying to hurt your feelings. So that’s why I’m here. Normally I only come to houses and leave presents on Christmas. But this is something different. This is a special occasion. Your Daddy’s been naughty, so I had to come to teach him a lesson.”

“Good,” said the boy. “Daddy needs to be good and stop lying. It was shitty that he did that.” The little boy looked at him. “Can I say that? ‘Shitty,’ I mean?”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Carl. “It’ll be our secret.”

The boy’s eyes dropped to the bag in Carl’s hand. Next his eyes moved to the spot where the laptop had been. Then he looked at Carl.

“You lookin’ for the laptop?” asked Carl.

“Yeah. Where is it?”

“I gotta take it for a while, to teach Daddy a lesson.”

The kid’s face brightened. “But the laptop’s Mommy’s.”

“Oh,” said Carl. “Well, she let him lie, so she’s in trouble, too. I’m gonna take some of their stuff for a few weeks. Then I’ll bring it back on Christmas after they’ve learned their lesson.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“What’s your name, kid?”

This confused the boy. “Don’t you know?”

Carl knew he’d said the wrong thing. “I’m not gonna lie to you, kid, it’s hard to keep everybody’s names straight. Sometimes I forget.”

The boy nodded. “I forget stuff, too. I got an aunt that’s got a big mustache like a cowboy. Sometimes I forget her name. My sister Tammy and me call her Chewbacca, so then when I see her I wanna call her Chewbacca, but I know that’s not the right name.”

“What is her name?” asked Carl.

“I still don’t know.”

“Fuck it,” said Carl. “Call that bitch Chewbacca.”

The boy started to laugh and then caught himself. He looked at Carl. “You said a bad word.”

“Actually I said two. So, what was your name?”

“Billy,” said the boy.

“Oh, now I remember,” said Carl. “Well, I gotta get back to work. I’ve got other houses I gotta go to tonight.”

Carl turned to take a second look at the TV he’d passed in the dark living room. It was a decent set, probably middle-of-the-pack in terms of price and quality, but he wasn’t sure he could get it out of the house without making a lot of noise.

“If you really wanna teach my Daddy a lesson, you should take his baseball card collection,” said Billy.

This caught Carl’s attention, and he turned back to Billy, shining the flashlight on him. “Your Daddy collects baseball cards?”

“Oh yeah. It’s his favorite thing in the world. He’s always bragging about how much they’re worth. He says the Hank Aaron card he bought this summer cost about the same as a ski boat.”

Carl’s eyes got big. “Really?”

“Yeah,” said Billy. “And he’s got a whole bunch of Mickey Mantle cards, too. Mickey’s his favorite player, even though he retired before Daddy was even born.”

“He’s got a bunch of Mickey Mantle cards?”

“He’s probably got about twenty, all expensive and locked in a glass case in the study. Well, most of ’em anyway.”

Carl felt his heart drop. “They’re locked away?”

“Yeah,” said Billy. “But I know where the key is.”

“Lead the way, kid.”

As they walked through the house, Billy turned and asked, “Do you need another bag? I can get a trash bag. There’s a whole bunch of cards. Daddy says there’s probably enough to pay my way through college.”

Carl said, “Sure, I’ll take a trash bag.”

Billy went into the kitchen and switched on the light. He grabbed a trash bag from beneath the sink, and then turned and led Carl to the study. There was a big glass case full of cards along the wall. Carl could have broken the glass easy, but it would have made a helluva racket. Billy walked across the room and grabbed the key out of a desk drawer. He unlocked the case, and the two of them cleaned it out, putting all the cards in the trash bag.

When they were done, Billy asked, “Do you think that’s enough to teach Daddy a lesson? Or do you need more stuff?”

“I should probably go, kid.”

Billy nodded. “Are you sure?”

Carl almost laughed. “I think we’re good.”

He started towards the door when he heard Billy ask, “What about the safe?” Carl stopped and turned around. “What safe?”

“Daddy’s got a safe in the study.”

“What’s in it?” asked Carl.

“Stacks of money and some papers.” He looked at Carl for a moment, still thinking, and then said, “Oh, I forgot! And Daddy’s favorite thing.”

“What is it?”

“Daddy’s got a baseball card he spent $60,000 on. It’s a Mickey Mantle rookie card. Daddy says it’s mint.” Billy stopped for a minute, his face twisting into a confused expression. “If it’s mint, does that mean I can eat it?”

“No,” said Carl. “It’s a different kind of mint.” He paused for a beat before saying, “Let’s go to the safe. I really need to get going.”

Billy led him back to the study. They walked past the empty card case and Billy approached a framed painting of Babe Ruth, pointing towards the outfield. “It’s behind there,” said Billy.

Carl approached the painting, sitting down his bags. He pulled back the picture, finding that it was on hinges. When he did, he saw the face of a gray safe staring out at him. He looked at Billy. “Do you know the combination?”

“Yeah, it’s my birthday.”

“When’s that?”

Billy studied him. “Don’t you know?”

Carl sighed. “I forget stuff. Cut me some slack, kid.”

“My birthday is May 4, 2010.”

Carl turned back to the safe, twisting the nob to five, then four, and then ten. He turned the handle, and he heard the bolt unlock. He opened the safe and saw two fat stacks of hundreds, which would be more than enough to take Porcupine Tina to that rich la-di-da burger joint. He pulled out the cash and tossed the stacks into the bag. Peering into the safe, he moved a stack of documents and found the Mickey Mantle card lying there inside a hard plastic sleeve. He pulled it out and stared at it for a moment, admiring it. “She’s a beaut,” he said, sticking it in his back pocket.

He picked up the bags and looked at Billy. “I gotta go, kid. Santa’s got shit to do.”

Carl walked out of the study and through the dark living room, moving towards the door. When he reached it, he realized Billy was standing behind him. Carl turned and looked at the kid, slightly illuminated by the light from the kitchen. Carl turned back towards the door, pulling it open. He opened the storm door and stepped out into the cold night.

“Goodbye, Santa.” And for a moment Carl felt bad about all this. He stopped and turned towards Billy. “I got something for you, kid.” He reached into the bag and pulled three hundred dollar bills out, handing them to Billy. “Go get yourself some candy,” he said. Billy’s eyes were as big as silver dollars. “But whatever you do, don’t tell your Mommy and Daddy about this. No matter what happens, this is our secret and the money is yours. Deal?”

Billy looked at him, smiling big, a gleam in his eye. “You bet, Santa!”

Carl turned and walked towards the stolen Chevy pickup parked at the curb.

Billy watched him climb into the truck, hoping he’d look back so they could wave at one another, but he didn’t. But Billy didn’t care, because he knew he’d definitely be on the nice list now. He’d helped Santa, which was a thing none of the other kids at school had done, and this made him special. Billy smiled, closing the door. He looked down at the bills in his hand.

“Thank you, Santa,” he whispered.

And he went to bed, dreaming sweet, innocent dreams about he and his new friend Santa Claus.

PLEASE SUPPORT ANDY RAUSCH BY PURCHASING ANY OF HIS NONFICTION BOOKS OR NOVELS ON AMAZON. HIS NOVELS INCLUDE MAD WORLD, RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER AMERICAN CRUELTIES, ELVIS PRESLEY: CIA ASSASSIN, M-COMPANY IN THE AXIS OF EVIL, AND MANY OTHERS.

Short fiction: “She Had a Good Heart”

heart

by Andy Rausch

I’d had my heart ripped out numerous times throughout my life by a variety of guys who didn’t deserve me and didn’t appreciate what I had to offer. But this last time I had my heart cut out was different. It wasn’t done by some silly boy I’d fallen head over heels for; this time it was done by a surgeon inside an operating room. Somewhere along the way I’d contracted heart disease, and had been told I needed a new heart if I was going to continue living. On February eighth, after a year on the transplant list, I received a new heart.

“You’re such a brave girl,” my dad told me. That was four days after the surgery. This is my first coherent post-transplant memory. I had been awake for most of the days leading up to that, but was so heavily medicated I no longer remember them. Everyone says that same thing: “you’re so brave.” But the thing is, I would never have chosen to undertake that procedure if there had been any other way to survive. Because of this, I didn’t feel brave. I just feel like a woman who was pushed into doing something she didn’t want to do and had lived to tell the tale. But I suppose there was bravery involved. There had to be. Simply steeling oneself for such a dangerous and traumatic ordeal requires it. Allowing yourself to be put into a sleep that you may not wake up from is something beyond horrifying. In truth, I still don’t know how I did it, other than to simply repeat there was no other way.

My recovery was pretty quick. While it’s true that I stayed in the hospital for two months, which most transplant recipients don’t, my road to recovery was relatively smooth. I had trouble walking more than a couple feet for the first month or so due to the time I’d spent in bed, but I pushed myself, and the difficulty became less and less. Four months after the surgery I returned to my job as a receptionist at the college. “You’ve done such a great job recovering,” everyone said. But again, very little of that had anything to do with me beyond my will to return to normality. Most people who’ve had transplants eat better than I do, and they exercise with more frequency, and yet I’m doing better than they are. At my last check-up, my transplant coordinator told me she sees “very, very few” transplant patients who rebound as well as I have. This makes me happy, but I try not to get cocky about it or take any undeserved credit.

I was almost eight months post-transplant when I was told I could write a letter to the donor’s family. This was a big moment and this news was heavier than I had anticipated. Even though there had been several months where the mere thought or mention of this unknown donor made me cry, I’d wrongly believed I now was past that. But when I was told I could write the letter, it all came flooding back again, and suddenly I was overcome with a plethora of emotions. I couldn’t easily identify them. Was it sadness? Was it joy? Was it grief? It was, I think, all of those simultaneously.

So I sat down to write the family, crying as I did. In the letter, I apologized, although I don’t know why. The reality is that the donor would have died either way, whether or not I had existed. But that realization changed nothing; I still felt guilty. Once I got past the apology, I told them how exceedingly grateful I was for this gift I’d been given. I made a point to write that I was happy their deceased loved one lived on through me. I know it’s corny, but that’s what I wrote. I wrote it not only because I thought it sounded good, which I did, but also because I believed it. Those kinds of thoughts make it easier to cope with the guilt, I think. I wrote about how happy I was, and how great I felt, making a point to tell them I would not have felt this way, and probably wouldn’t even be alive at this point, had it not been for their loved one. “I want to know more about my donor,” I wrote. That was true. Everything had been done confidentially, and I ‘d been told nothing beyond the fact that the donor had been a young woman.

I thanked the family profusely in my letter, maybe going overboard, but I felt it better to go that way than to appear under-appreciative. I told them I looked forward to getting to know them, and that I hoped we could meet. I signed the letter and sealed it in an envelope. I put a stamp on it and stuck in the mailbox, sending it off to the transplant coordinator. After a few days had passed, I started checking my mailbox religiously, hoping to hear from the family, and also knowing I might not. Some transplant recipients don’t. I’m not sure why this is, and can only guess. I suppose it’s because some families doesn’t want to dwell on their loved one’s death any more than they have to. I think that’s a shame, because it would probably benefit people to know their loved ones are responsible for saving the lives of others. Maybe it would help them find meaning and make some sort of sense of otherwise senseless tragedy.

The response letter came back much more quickly than I’d expected. I received it in just over a month. It was a letter from my donor’s mother. It read:

Dear Kasey:

I’m glad to hear from you. I’m glad to know my daughter Tricia’s heart lives inside you. That fact makes me extremely happy. Believe it or not, I’m crying right now as I write this. My Tricia was only 24, which is a very young age for a woman to die. She was just a year younger than you. I wish you could have known her, although in a way I suppose you do. She got good marks throughout school—primarily As and Bs. She went to college in Maryland, and then became a pharmacist here in Tulsa.

I and Kasey’s siblings—she has two older brothers, Dave and Bryan—would love to meet you. Since we all live here in the same city, would you like to come and have dinner with our family on Thanksgiving? We don’t get too fancy around here. We just have the normal stuff—turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes… But I’m told it’s pretty good. And we have macaroni and cheese. I’ve heard people say that’s a weird thing to have for Thanksgiving dinner, but I don’t see what’s so weird about it. The kids all like it—it’s was Tricia’s favorite—and I make it with tons of ooey-gooey cheese.

I hope you can come, but you may already have plans since it’s the holiday. Certainly we will understand if that’s the case. I’m enclosing my telephone number here. Give me a call and let me know that you received this letter and whether or not you intend to come. Thank you so much for reaching out, Kasey. We are really happy to know you are doing well and that you successfully received our beloved Tricia’s heart. You sound like a very sweet girl and we can’t wait to meet you.

Warmest regards,

Dorothy Waxman

I read the letter through glistening, tear-filled eyes. I took a deep breath and read it again, finding myself overwhelmed with joy. This first contact had gone much better than I could have anticipated. Thanksgiving was only a couple weeks away, so I called Dorothy Waxman immediately.

“It’s Kasey Daniels,” I announced.

“Kasey?” the woman asked.

“I received your letter.”

There was a pause, and then recognition. “Oh, Kasey!” she said happily.

“I’m calling to say that I can come for Thanksgiving.”

“Great!” said Dorothy. “That would be fantastic!”

“Thank you for inviting me, ma’am.”

“Don’t call me ma’am. That’s for old women. Call me Dorothy, please.”

I thought about calling her “Dorothy please” as a joke, but instead said, “Okay, Dorothy.”

“Will you be bringing anyone along with you?”

“I hadn’t thought about it,” I said. “I guess I’ll be coming alone.”

“Fine,” said Dorothy. “I just wanted to know so I can make the appropriate amount of food. We’ll be eating at two o’clock sharp. Do you have our address?”

“Yes,” I said. “It was on the envelope.”

“Good. Then we’ll all see you on Thanksgiving.”

“Definitely.”

“Okay,” she said. “See you soon, Kasey.”

“Goodbye,” I said, hanging up.

The days passed quickly, and I spent more time than I should have wondering about what I might say when meeting the Waxmans. I hoped it would go well. Dorothy seemed excited enough, so I guessed it would. But I was a worrier by nature, just like Mom had been. It was in my DNA, and there was nothing I could do about it.

When I told my dad about the letter, the call, and the impending meeting, he was overjoyed. He offered to come along, but I felt like this first meeting was something I needed to do alone. After I had realized that I could do anything I set my mind to post-transplant, I sometimes felt a rush of empowerment doing things that scared me. This was one of those things, so the thought of going into this foreign place alone in the face of unusual circumstance thrilled me.

When Thanksgiving finally came, I spent an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror trying to ensure that my hair and makeup were perfect. After all, I didn’t want the Waxmans thinking Tricia had given her heart to an ugly girl. That was silly, I know, but it was an actual thought I had.

I drove over to the Waxman’s house. I thought I was ready, but when I came to their street, I panicked and kept driving, right past the house. I drove around the block. I took a deep breath and went back. I sat outside the house in the car for a bit, trying to prepare myself. I looked up at the house, relieved that no one seemed to be watching, and got out. I walked up to the house, trying to act normal, but I felt as nervous as a person could possibly feel.

I knocked. I waited a moment and the door opened. A blonde woman, probably about sixty, looked at me. She lit up, smiling. “Kasey?”

That was when I lost it. I felt another rush of those emotions, all at once, and I burst into tears. Dorothy just smiled knowingly and said, “Bless your heart.” She wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close. We hugged for a moment, and then Dorothy released me, stepping back inside the doorway. “The food’s ready, dear,” she said. I stepped in behind her, wiping my eyes with my sleeve. I saw two guys who were roughly my age standing there, both wearing ugly holiday sweaters.

“This is Bryan, he’s my oldest, and this guy over here is Dave,” said Dorothy. “He’s 25, the same as you.”

I smiled and moved towards them, feeling awkward. They both smiled and gave me obligatory hugs. They were warm, but their hugs were a bit more forced than Dorothy’s, which had felt as natural as a mother hugging her child.

Dorothy led us all into the dining room, where the table was set. There was a nice big turkey in the center of the table, along with some cream corn, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, gravy, and wine. “There are two pies for dessert in the kitchen,” said Dorothy. “There’s a pumpkin pie and there’s sweet potato, too, if you like either of those.”

“I do,” I said. “I like both.” I patted my stomach. “I’ve been eating more lately now that my appetite has come back.”

“That’s good,” said Dorothy. She motioned towards a chair. “Have a seat.”

We all sat down. It was a rectangular table, big enough for ten people, but there were only four of us. Dorothy and I sat on one side, and the brothers sat across from us. “Bryan, will you say the prayer?” asked Dorothy. Bryan smiled politely, and delivered a short, stock prayer that sounded like it had been recited verbatim hundreds of times. When he finished, Dorothy raised the bottle of wine and looked at me. “Can you have this? I didn’t know.”

I felt myself blushing, unsure what to say. “They, uh, they let me have some…in moderation.”

Dorothy smiled. “Everything in moderation, right?” She poured me a glass, and then filled her own. She then passed the bottle across the table to Bryan. After the boys filled their glasses, we started to eat. The food was good, not great, and it reminded me a little of my mom’s cooking. I decided to tell Dorothy this, leaving out the part about it being mediocre. “This tastes like my mom’s cooking.”

Dorothy smiled. “Is she a good cook?”

“She was,” I said. “When she was alive.” I came to the end of that sentence and found I didn’t know what else to say.

“Oh,” Dorothy said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. She died when I was fifteen. She was in a car accident.”

“Just like Tricia,” Dorothy said, her voice cracking.

I felt bad. I hadn’t known how Tricia had died. I put my hand on her shoulder, and Dorothy looked at me. “It’s okay. No fault of yours. It happens to all of us eventually.” Dorothy regained her composure. “I hate to ask this, with us still eating…”

“Yes?” I asked.

“I really wanna show you something, and I just can’t wait. Would that be okay?”

“Yes, of course.”

Dorothy stood. “Come this way.”

She led me back through the living room and into a hallway on the left. She took me down the hall to the second of three doors. She grabbed the doorknob and looked at me. “This was Tricia’s room.”

“Okay,” I managed, unsure how to react.

Dorothy opened the door and went in. I followed. The room was still decorated with all the trappings of a high school girl. There were posters and photos of cute male stars, mostly actors and bands who were no longer relevant. They were people who were popular among teen girls back when I had been one myself.

“I restored everything,” said Dorothy, turning towards me, spreading her arms to display the room. “I’d kept most of it in place after Tricia went to college, but after she died, I put everything back up the way it had been when she was still in school. This is my shrine to Tricia. I wish you had known her. She was a very sweet girl, like you. She had a good heart.”

I looked across the room at a congregation of tennis trophies sitting atop a tall dresser. Dorothy saw me and said, “Go ahead, take a look.” So I walked over and looked at the engravings on them. They were all first place trophies. “These are amazing,” I said, still reading.

“She was a terrific tennis player,” Dorothy said.

I turned around to see Dorothy standing in front of me, now holding a huge butcher knife. What was happening? She had a weird look in her eye. I didn’t know what it was, but suddenly I felt scared. I looked to the door, and saw that Bryan and Dave were now standing there staring at me, as well.

“What are you doing?” I asked, starting to panic.

Dorothy held the knife up between us. “I’ve collected everything that belonged to Tricia, Kasey. My collection is complete.” She paused. “Well, almost.” She moved towards me slowly, her eyes locked with mine.

“What are you saying?” I asked.

Dorothy stared at me, smiling a twisted smile. “I’m gonna need that heart back.”

She moved towards me. I tried to push her away, and now saw the boys moving towards me, as well. I stumbled back against the nightstand, and there was nowhere to go. I was trapped.

“Please, no,” I begged.

Dorothy’s arm slashed out, and I felt the blade rip across my stomach.

“Grab her, boys!” screamed Dorothy.

This was when I felt the blade cut my stomach the second time. And I knew then it was too late. I had been saved by the transplant only to die now because of it. I closed my eyes and started to pray.


PLEASE SUPPORT ANDY RAUSCH BY PURCHASING ANY OF HIS NONFICTION BOOKS OR NOVELS ON AMAZON. HIS NOVELS INCLUDE MAD WORLD, RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER AMERICAN CRUELTIES, ELVIS PRESLEY: CIA ASSASSIN, M-COMPANY IN THE AXIS OF EVIL, AND MANY OTHERS.

Aborted Novel: Kansas City Shuffle

valentine's day

by Andy Rausch

THE FOLLOWING IS A 3,000 WORD EXCERPT FROM A NOVEL I BEGAN IN 2011 AND QUICKLY ABORTED. ELEMENTS OF THIS WOULD LIVE ON IN OTHER WORKS, SUCH AS MY NOVELLA EAZY-PEEZY WHICH APPEARS IN RIDING SHOTGUN AND OTHER CRUELTIES AND THE FORTHCOMING NOVEL LAYLA’S SCORE. THIS IS BRIEF AND A LITTLE BIT ROUGH, BUT I AM POSTING IT HERE FOR POSTERITY.

ONE

The date was September 19, 1974, and Michael Russo had seen better days. But hell, he was doing better than a lot of fellas he’d known. Most of the guys he’d run with back in the Chicago days had been dead for decades.

Frank Nitti had shot himself in the head back in 1943.

Big Al Capone had died of a heart attack back in 1947.

And lots of other guys with less well-known names had bought the farm in a variety of ways over the years.

Sometimes Michael wondered if he was dead, too, and no one had bothered to tell him. Most days he felt like shit. His bones had become brittle, and his liver-spotted skin had become as thin as paper. He had a bad heart, and a memory that was almost as faulty. Nowadays he needed bifocals just to read the sports page. The doctors had him on enough pills to medicate an army, and his plumbing didn’t work so good. Maybe there were worse things than being sixty-nine-years old, but Michael didn’t know what in the hell those things might be.

Times were tough financially, as well. Back when he’d been a part of the Chicago Outfit, Michael could never have imagined the life of poverty he’d live as a senior citizen. Things had been all right once, but that was before his Beulah got cancer and died in the summer of 1961. Her extended stay at St. Luke’s had wiped them out financially. Then her funeral service, which was meager at best, put Michael in a financial hole he had never been able to dig himself out of.

He was sitting in his apartment, nursing a hangover and watching The Young and the Restless, when someone knocked on the door. Before he even got up to answer it, Michael knew it was trouble. At best it would be Mrs. Rodgers, his landlord; at worst it would be Blackie Cromwell’s goons here to collect the five hundred bucks he’d lost on the Browns game. (Michael had made the unfortunate mistake of betting on the local team. The Bengals won in a 33-7 rout.)

Either way it didn’t really matter. Be it Mrs. Rodgers or Blackie’s boys, Michael didn’t have the money to pay either one of them.

He opened the door, and as luck had it, it was Blackie’s boy, Greasy Dunleavy, and some other musclebound goon he’d never seen before. Greasy grinned as though he was genuinely happy to see Michael, every other tooth in his grin missing.

“Mike,” he said, putting out a beefy hand for him to shake.

Michael shook it, and ushered the men into his tiny apartment.

“Good to see you,” Greasy said.

Michael shrugged. “Wish I could say the same.”

Greasy laughed at this. He looked at Michael’s old basset hound looking dead on the couch.

“Who’s this guy?” he asked.

“His name is Arthur.”

“He do any tricks?”

“He’s alive.”

Greasy looked at Michael. “That’s a trick?”

“When you’re his age it is.”

Greasy chuckled at this.

Michael nodded at the other guy. “Never seen this one before. What happened to Big Jake?”

Greasy shook his head solemnly. “They got him in lock-up.”

“You don’t say.”

“Some guys are lucky, and some ain’t,” Greasy said. “And Big Jake ain’t.”

“What happened to ‘im?”

“He comes home one day,” Greasy said, “and catches his old lady in bed with another guy.”

“He kill him?”

“Big Jake shot the both of ’em. Unloaded his pistol on ’em, then reloaded and shot ’em another six times.”

“Shit deal.”

“Hell yeah, that’s a shit deal. I mean, what else can a guy do in that situation?”

“Yeah. That’s too bad.”

“Speaking of luck, you haven’t been too lucky yourself lately, Mike.”

Michael said nothing.

Greasy grinned. “You don’t bet on the Browns when they’re on the road. Hell, if I’m being honest, you don’t bet on the Browns under any circumstances.”

“What can I say? I like the Browns.”

“And how’s that working for you?”

“Not so good, I guess.” Michael grinned uneasily, knowing what was coming next.

Greasy reached into his pants pocket and fished out a pack of cigarettes. “Mind if I smoke?”

Michael shook his head no.

Greasy offered up the pack. “You want one?”

Michael nodded, and took one of the Pall Malls. He put it to his lips, and Greasy lit it for him with a tacky gold Zippo with a naked woman on it.

Once Greasy had lit both of their cigarettes, he asked, “You got the money?”

“I don’t have it all.”

A grim expression washed over Greasy’s face. “How much you got?”

Michael shrugged. “None of it.”

“There’s not much I can do if you don’t have any of the money, Mike.”

Michael nodded, already knowing the score.

“You’re not much of a gambler, Mike. Why don’t you just hang it up before something happens to you that you’re not gonna be able to walk away from.”

Michael said nothing, taking a long drag from his cigarette.

“I like you, Mike. Tell you what: I’m gonna let you pick the hand.”

Michael could have killed them both without so much as batting an eye. Back in the old days, had someone threatened him with bodily harm, he’d have unloaded on them like Big Jake had unloaded on his old lady and her lover. But these were different times, and Michael couldn’t begrudge the guy; Greasy had a job to do, and this was no one’s fault but Michael’s.

“I’m right-handed,” Michael said. “So if it could be the left, I’d be much obliged.”

Greasy nodded. “You got a nice, solid drawer I can use?”

“Yeah.” Michael made his way into the tiny kitchen where the silverware drawer was. He opened it, and a variety of silverware, knives included, was visible. Greasy looked into the drawer and said, “You gonna stab me with one of those steak knives?”

Michael laughed. “This is my fault, not yours.” He began removing all the silverware from the drawer and sitting it on the cabinet top.

“Good man,” Greasy said. “If only a tenth of my clients were as understanding as you.”

Once the drawer was empty, Michael pushed his left hand into it, half-in, half-out.

He took one more drag from the Pall Mall.

“Sorry, buddy,” Greasy said just before he slammed the drawer shut on Michael’s hand, breaking just about every bone. Michael screamed loudly, but quickly stifled it.

“You’re a pretty tough old sonofabitch, you know that, Mike?”

TWO

Michael curled up in bed with his broken hand out, his right hand gripping the bottle of Early Times. His hand hurt like a sonofabitch. The pain was intense, and Michael fell asleep immediately, attempting to outrun it.

And, as usual, the nightmares were there, waiting. Michael knew they were nightmares, but he still hoped he might change their outcomes. Somewhere deep down in his mind he believed altering the dreams might make them go away once and for all. But somewhere even deeper in his mind, he knew that it was a rigged-game, and that changing the outcomes was impossible. These nightmares, which now came to him on a daily basis, were memories that were now set in stone.

Each night they awaited him in his slumber. His only hope of avoiding them was getting black-out drunk and passing out. He attempted this each night, but rarely succeeded.

And so the nightmares came.

Today was no different.

His nightmares were like a greatest hits reel from his days as a hitman. Each night the faces of those he’d killed or helped kill came to him, each of them desperate and pleading for the lives they’d never know. And as the nightmares became more and more intense, Michael would find himself pleading to the God who must be overseeing these dreams for the exact opposite—he would beg for his own death. But life was merciless, just as Michael himself had been in his heyday, and death would not come.

The first nightmare was always the same—it would be the one with the little girl.

Michael hadn’t murdered the girl, hadn’t even wanted to kidnap her, but it didn’t seem to matter to the God of his nightmares. Each and every night, without fail, she would visit him in his dreams, just as doe-eyed and innocent as she had been on the day of her death.

Michael opened his eyes to sunlight, and he knew at once where he was. He and two other men, Sharky Tambini and some other guy whose name Michael could no longer remember, were standing around the parked Model T. They were on a hillside about a mile from a small town called Westchester, Illinois, and they were about to rob a bank.

And each night in the dreams, every minute detail would be the same.

They would joke around and discuss the job they were about to pull.

“Why Westchester?” the man whose name Michael could not remember asked.

“Because Al says there’s money in there,” Michael said.

“The man’s got a nose for money,” Sharky said. “If he says there’s good money in there, you can bet your ass he’s right.”

Michael and Sharky would light their cigarettes at the same time each night. Michael was still smoking Luckies; he could never see what brand Sharky was smoking.

As they stand around shooting the shit, Michael the observer remembers Sharky, and remembers why he never liked him. Sharky, or “Shark” as he liked to be called, was an arrogant prick. He was the guy who had done everything you’ve done at least twice as many times, and always had to tell a story that would one-up yours. In short, Sharky was a liar. But then hell, most of the criminals Michael had known in his day were liars. But there had always been something different about Sharky, and the truth was that Michael had been itching to put a bullet in him since the day they’d met. Thing was, Al Capone liked Sharky, and if Al liked somebody, they were pretty much a fixture. Nobody went against Al—not ever.

In the nightmare, the three men were now driving through the countryside, heading toward Westchester. The man whose name Michael could not remember was driving the Model T, and Sharky was riding shotgun. They were yammering on about how Rogers Hornsby had just won baseball’s triple crown with a .403 average, 39 homers, and 143 ribbies. But this was of little interest to Michael, who just sat in the back with his mouth shut, thinking about the job they were about to pull.

The passage of time in his nightmares was of interest to Michael, because it made no sense. Every night it was the same, and every night the nightmares skipped scenes. For instance, the nightmare now took Michael directly from the ride through the countryside to the robbery itself.

The three men each had Tommy Guns. The bank was relatively empty. There was the manager, a meek little sonofabitch, a couple of cashiers, and a smattering of customers. Tonight, as always, the robbery went off without so much as a hitch. Michael threatened to murder the bank manager’s family, and the little bastard opened the vault, whimpering as he did so. Things didn’t get messy until they heard the far off sounds of a police siren. That’s when Sharky grabbed the little girl. A pretty little thing, she couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, with stringy blonde hair and big blue eyes.

And every night in his nightmare Michael heard Sharky make the same declaration—“I’m taking the girl!”

And then they were all three out the door and gone before the cops arrived.

Now the nightmare skipped directly to the Model T pulled over on the side of the road about twenty miles outside of town. Michael the observer knew what was going to happen, but Michael the active participant in the dream had not a clue; the whole thing happened so quickly he hadn’t had time to react. Sharky had the girl out on the side of the road, cutting her down with the sub-machine gun, killing her instantly.

“What the hell you do that for?” Michael cried out.

Sharky, unaffected, said, “She saw us. She got a good look at us. Besides, we don’t wanna go down for kidnapping. The little girl had to go.”

And every night Michael says the same thing: “No, you’ve gotta go.”

And before Sharky can react, Michael’s gunning him down with the Tommy, Sharky’s bloodied body falling on the side of the road right next to the little girl’s.

And even in his nightmare, Michael felt no remorse for killing Sharky. Sharky was a lowlife and he had it coming. But the sad truth was, even in the dreams, Michael had no real remorse for any of the people he murdered. For him, these dark dreams weren’t so much an indication of remorse as they were a longing for remorse he just wasn’t capable of feeling. He felt remorse for not being able to stop the little girl’s murder, and he felt remorse for not being able to stop his Beulah’s painful march through the valley of death. But the deaths he felt remorse for were few and far between. The loss of life was just part of the job. His victims’ faces, sometimes yearning for life and at other times contorted gruesomely in demonic expressions, may have scared the shit out of Michael, but he rarely felt remorse for them.

The second nightmare that came to Michael each night was February 14, 1929—the day that had since become dubbed the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. A rival, Bugs Moran, had tried to gun down Al Capone and his men while they were eating dinner in a downtown Chicago restaurant. They showered the building with more than a thousand bullets, but they had missed Capone completely. Then Al learned that Moran had put a $50,000 bounty on his head.

“Something’s got to be done about this asshole Moran,” Al said, trying his best not sound frightened. “I can’t have every looky loo with a gun in Chicago tryin’ ta put a bullet in my ass.”

“No,” Nitti said. “We can’t have that.”

“So the question is, how do we get that sonofabitch?” Al said.

To this, Michael answered, “I guess it depends on how many of his men you want dead.”

“All of them,” Al said calmly. “Every last motherfucking one of them. I want them all dead.”

And that was when Michael explained his plan. Al had just received information that Moran was to receive a large shipment of whiskey on Valentine’s Day. The tipster had also revealed that the shipment was to arrive at Moran’s headquarters on North Clark Street. This, Michael explained, would be the perfect time to get the drop on them.

“What?” Al asked. “We just drive by and shoot up the place?”

“No,” Michael said. “We go inside, line ’em up against the wall, and shoot every last one of the cocksuckers.”

“How do we get inside?” Nitti asked. “How do we get past the door?”

Michael grinned. “We dress up as policemen and we act like we’re raiding the place. Then we line ’em all up—you know, the way the cops do—and we gun ’em all down like the filthy vermin they are.”

Al nodded happily, looking at Nitti, and then back at Michael. “I love this kid.”

“So who do we get to do the shooting?” Nitti asked.

Al nodded thoughtfully. “Maybe we hire guns from out of town.”

“Nah, I know just the guys,” Michael said. “I’ll put together a team.”

“Are they trustworthy?” Nitti asked.

“As the day is long,” Michael said.

Nitti asked, “How many guns are you thinking?”

“Four, maybe five,” Michael said.

Al pointed at Michael. “Well, I want you there. You wait outside until after our cops have corralled Moran and his men. Then you step inside and everyone starts firing. We’ll have a good old fashioned mobster’s ball.”

Al and his men all laughed at this.

Michael then put together his team. First he selected John Scalise, his oldest friend. He trusted John and knew that John was a good triggerman. With the selection of Scalise came Scalise’s partner, Albert Anselmi. Michael had no love for Anselmi, but he trusted him and also knew that Scalise wouldn’t do the job without his partner. Next Michael selected “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn, a tough bastard who worked for Al and had once been a professional boxer. The fourth gun Michael chose for the job was Joseph “Hop Toad” Giunta, a gunman he didn’t really know that well but was suggested by Al himself.

Each night the nightmare began with Michael and the other men standing around the corner from Moran’s hangout at 2122 North Clark Street. They wait there, watching for Moran to arrive. But Michael never sees Moran arrive because the nightmare skipped ahead again.

Now John Scalise and the other three uniformed assassins were inside, and Michael waited outside alone. He checked his pocket watch and finally decided enough time had passed. He made the corner and rushed into Moran’s headquarters, where his team had seven gangsters lined up against the wall. Michael looked them over. It was a virtual who’s who of the North Side Irish gang. Everyone was present—except Moran.

“Where the fuck is Moran?” Michael asked.

“He ain’t here,” said Moran enforcer Frank Gusenberg.

Michael looked at John Scalise. “I thought you said you saw Moran enter the building.”

Gusenberg chuckled.

John Scalise pointed at one of the men against the wall. “I thought that was him.”

“It ain’t,” Michael said grimly.

“So what do we do?” asked John Scalise.

Michael nodded. “Mow ’em down and let’s get out of here.”

And the gunfire began. The men lined up against the wall made ghastly faces as their bodies danced rhythmically under the hail of machine gun fire. They fell to the ground in bloody heaps, now nothing more than hunks of meat wearing tattered clothing.

One of the dead men stared up at Michael with what looked to be accusing eyes. Of course the man was dead, so his eyes weren’t really saying shit, but Michael saw them staring at him. Through him. Even now, as he slept, he felt a shiver run down his spine.

And the nightmare skipped ahead again.

Michael talking with Al and Nitti.

“The heat’s really on us for this St. Valentine’s Day Massacre thing,” Al said.

Nitti chimed in. “We can’t take any chances.”

“What do you mean?” Michael asked, already knowing the deal.

“Your men,” Al said.

“What about my men?”

Nitti looked at him solemnly. “They go down for the dirty nap.”

Michael searched for the words. “They—they won’t talk.”

“Everyone talks,” Nitti said. “Everyone.”

Al nodded. “It’s just a matter of circumstance.”

“Right,” Nitti said.

“If the circumstance is right,” Al said, “they’ll sing like fuckin’ canaries, and we can’t have that.”

“So what are you saying?” Michael asked.

“Everyone involved with the murders goes down for the count,” Al said. “Everyone but you. And you’re welcome for that, by the way.”

Michael tried to explain to Al that John Scalise was his closest friend, but Al wouldn’t hear of it.

“Friends,” Al said. “They come and go. You lose a friend today, maybe you’ll make a friend tomorrow. But that’s not what matters. You know what really matters, Michael?”

Michael said he did not.

“Loyalty,” Nitti said.

“Right,” Al said, nodding. “Loyalty is the most important thing in the world.”

And that was it.

The nightmare skipped ahead, and Michael saw a montage of scenes featuring him killing Anselmi, McGurn, and Giunta, and dumping their bodies in ditches.

The nightmare skipped again to a scene in which Michael held his Colt .45 to John Scalise’s forehead. Michael didn’t want to do this—inside his mind, he pushed back, rebelling, trying to find an alternative path for this nightmare—but Scalise’s fate was sealed.

Making matters worse, John Scalise, one of the proudest men Michael ever knew, dropped his pride and began begging for his life. “Please,” he says, “don’t kill me, Mike. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a family.”

And Michael squeezed the trigger, closing his eyes as he did it.

And voila, John Scalise was nothing more than a footnote in history.

“The $10,000 John Wayne Magnum Opus”

zombie

by Andy Rausch

Edison Mayhew was sitting in a corner booth in Bob’s Pizza Palace, chatting up an actor over all-you-can-eat pizza buffet. He was paying for the meal, so he got to explain the project to the actor, Jimmy Donovan. Jimmy was hot shit at the moment as he had just appeared in the TV movie B-Lizzard, about giant reptiles who attacked and ate people during a snowstorm.

“This movie’s gonna be the fourth installment in my Titty Zombies series,” said Edison. “Have you seen the other three?”

“Well, I’ve seen one of them,” Jimmy said. “I think it was Titty Zombies 2.”

“Ah, yes; A Tale of Two Titties. That’s my favorite in the series,” said Edison. “Until now.”

“Why now?”

Edison smiled proudly. “Because this one’s gonna be my greatest film ever. My magnum opus.”

“What’s the budget?”

“We got $10,000.”

“What would my role be?”

“Your role would be Miles Macklemore, a private eye with a taste for broads.”

“So this is noir?”

“Not really, but it’s going to have some noir flavor to it.”

“And the film, it’s guaranteed distribution?”

“Yes, sir,” said Edison. “Bloody Mess Pictures made a fortune off the first three, and they’ve committed to putting out a fourth one.”

Jimmy nodded. “What would I get paid?”

“Two hundred and fifty dollars.”

“How many days?”

“We would shoot you out in two days.”

“And the role, is it a lead?”

Edison squirmed. “Not exactly. But here comes the reason you’re gonna wanna make this movie…”

“Okay.”

“You’ll be the second lead.”

“Who’s gonna be first?”

“I’m getting to that,” said Edison. “Rule number one of no-budget filmmaking is to either have a ‘name’ actor in the lead or to have something to exploit. Well, I’ve got both.”

“Who is it?”

“John Wayne.”

“John Wayne?” Jimmy didn’t understand. You’re gonna have to explain this to me, because first of all, John Wayne’s deader than disco. In fact, I think they both died at about the same time. Second, I’m pretty sure John Wayne was making more to appear in a picture back in the Seventies than your entire movie’s got for a budget.”

Edison laughed, pointing to his temple. “I’ve got all the bases covered.”

Jimmy just stared at him, cutting off a corner of pepperoni and anchovy pizza with his fork.

“My girlfriend, Bree, practices witchcraft,” Edison said. “She’s got a spell book that’s supposed to raise the dead and make them do your bidding. Well, we’re gonna use that spell to raise John Wayne and make him appear in our movie.”

“You’re crazy,” said Jimmy.

“Like a fox.”

“Okay, so why John Wayne?”

“Why not John Wayne?” Edison asked. “He’s my favorite actor. I’d love to be able to say I directed him in a movie. The man’s a friggin’ icon.”

“Will he be able to speak? I mean, he’s been dead for almost forty years.”

“We’re not sure yet.”

“Your girlfriend has never used this spell before?”

“No,” Edison said. “That kind of thing doesn’t come up every day.”

“He probably looks pretty rough these days.”

“Which will be just fine since it’s a zombie movie. So whaddaya think?”

“Well,” Jimmy said, “It would look good on my resume to have made a movie with John Wayne.”

Edison nodded. “Now you’re talking.”

At that point the waitress came over and asked if they needed anything.

“I’ll have orange juice,” Edison said.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have orange juice.”

Edison grinned. “Why don’t you go in the back and see if you can find some. After all, I’m a famous movie director, and you’re gonna want my business.”

The woman grimaced and walked off towards the kitchen.

“That was kind of a dick thing to do,” Jimmy said.

“Hey,” Edison said, “all the big directors do it. So are you on board?”

“It looks like I am. But I’d like to talk about my financial package.”

“How so?”

“I’m gonna need three hundred dollars to make the movie.”

Edison raised his hand and they shook on it.

Two weeks later, Edison, his buddy and producer Parker, and his girlfriend, Bree, were standing over John Wayne’s grave at the Pacific View Memorial Park Cemetery in Corona del Mar. There was a full moon out, which Bree said was a must for such an occasion. It was dark outside otherwise, and there was a cool breeze blowing. Bree had used sidewalk chalk to draw a humongous pink pentagram over the grave, as well as some words in a dead language around the grave.

“You think this’ll work?” asked Parker.

“I do,” said Bree. “I’ve used several other spells from this book and they all work.”

Bree opened the book and started reading from the dead language of Akkadian. “Cheepa, cheepa, burga, cheep,” she said. Edison and Parker repeated the words, and Bree continued. Finally, after about ten minutes of this, the wind picked up and it started to rain.

“What the fuck?” asked Edison.

“We’re upsetting the gods,” said Bree.

“Does that mean it’s working?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I think so.”

She read more Akkadian. “Beygo, teehum, daydo, bohah…”

After several minutes of this, she closed the book and stood silently. Suddenly the rain stopped.

“What is it?” asked Parker.

“The spell is complete,” she said.

“But I don’t see John Wayne,” said Edison.

Bree pointed down at the grave. “He’s reanimated, but he’s down there, in his coffin, unable to get out.”

“So now what?” asked Parker.

Edison shrugged. “We go to the car and get the shovels and we dig.”

And they did just that. Edison and Parker dug for two hours. Bree sat on a nearby grave and painted her fingernails and toes.

Chunk! came the sound from inside the grave.

“Hey, I’ve hit the coffin,” Edison said. “We’re almost there.”

Once they had the coffin fully excavated, they found great difficulty in getting it open inside the hole they had dug. But finally they did just that. When Edison opened the coffin, a wickedly rotten stench emerged. With the moon behind the clouds and the flashlight lying on the ground, they could barely see inside the box.

And then, suddenly, the reanimated corpse lunged out of its coffin and seized Parker, chewing on his face.

“Arrrgggghhhh!” screamed Parker.

The corpse was gnawing off Parker’s nose.

Edison backed away, watching his friend being eaten.

“Should we help him?” asked Bree.

“By ‘we’ you mean ‘me,’” remarked Edison, still watching the gruesome sight.

The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was grotesque, like something out of an Italian horror movie. He was missing an ear, his skull was exposed under rotten, leathery flesh, he smelled terrible, and there were tiny maggots falling out of his ear holes and empty eye sockets. And now what was left of his face was covered in Parker’s fresh blood.

“What do I do?” asked Edison nervously.

“You command him to stop eating Parker.”

“John Wayne,” Edison said. “Stop eating that man—now!”

And the reanimated corpse of John Wayne stopped feasting on Edison’s dead friend and producer. Through the power of command, Edison was able to subdue the corpse while he filled in the grave over Parker’s half-eaten body. Although Bree wasn’t fond of having maggots falling all over the back seat of her Honda Civic, the three of them drove back to Edison’s house in silence.

They were two days into shooting, and Edison and his two-man crew were filming on a hand-held digital camera inside an apartment in Silver Lake. The reanimated corpse of John Wayne was hitting his marks. Of course he couldn’t talk, but Edison filmed him staggering around and waving his arms just the same.

“Unnnnggghhhhh!” growled John Wayne.

It was a scene between John Wayne and Sarah Newsom, one of Edison’s regulars. Sarah was topless and in the middle of a lengthy monologue when John Wayne reached out and grabbed her head at both sides, twisting it hard. Her neck made a sickening crunching sound as he did this.

“Dammit, John Wayne!” Edison said.

But John Wayne didn’t give a damn. He was leaned forward and was chewing into the dead actress’s skull.

“John Wayne, stop that!” Edison said. John Wayne just looked up with a mouth full of brains, chewing. The bottom part of his jaw fell off as he did this, and a bunch of maggots fell out of his mouth into Sarah’s skull.

“Phil,” Edison said. “Can you please find a way to reattach John Wayne’s lower jaw?”

Phil, the film’s P.A., nervously walked towards John Wayne, still trying to feast on the dead Sarah with his bottom jaw missing. Phil turned his head, sizing up the damage. “I think I can reattach it with some putty,” Phil said. But just then, John Wayne reached out and grabbed Phil’s hand, pulling it to his face. He attempted to chew off Phil’s fingers, but got nowhere without his bottom jaw. Phil tried to pull his maggot-covered hand away, but John Wayne dropped Sarah’s body and grabbed Phil’s arm with both of his own, tearing it out of the socket.

Phil screamed in agony.

“Goddammit, John Wayne!” Edison said, turning to his crew. “This is why I don’t like using ‘name’ talent. They’re all primadonnas. If they’re not rewriting the dialogue on set, they’re eating the cast and crew!”

Edison sat down the camera and turned to go and grab a tuna fish sandwich from the craft service table. He exhaled heavily as he walked, now fully irritated. He heard more screams behind him, but he didn’t turn around. He was now second-guessing his decision to reanimate John Wayne. This was gonna be one hell of a long shoot. They were only two days in and already way behind schedule.

If you liked this story, it and many others are available in Andy Rausch’s short story collection Death Rattles, available in both physical and Kindle formats.

“The Dog and the Sparrow 2.0”

sparrow 2

by Andy Rausch (based on a story by the Brothers Grimm)

Kesey was an Australian Shepherd with a beautiful, shiny black coat. Everyone who saw her commented on her beauty. But her fur was the only aspect of Kesey’s life that was beautiful, for she had a very cruel owner who beat her and often forgot to feed her. (This was usually when he was drunk, which was a great deal of the time.) Because of this, the outline of Kesey’s ribs soon became visible through her fur.

Each day Kesey diligently chewed at the rope that bound her. Finally, after many days, she managed to chew through the thick cord and free herself. She quickly dug a hole under the wooden privacy fence which surrounded the yard, hoping her master would’t discover her digging. After several hours, the hole was big enough that she was able to squeeze through it and escape.

She walked along the street hungrily for some time. She stopped when she came to a dead bird in the street, and briefly considered eating it. Only moments later, a sparrow landed on the pavement before her and asked, “What’s the matter? You look sad.”

“I haven’t eaten in days,” Kesey replied. “I’m weak and my stomach hurts.”

“Well then, let’s correct this at once,” said the sparrow.

“How?”

“Follow me and I’ll feed you.”

So the hungry dog followed through the alleyways of the city. Finally they came to a dumpster behind a butcher shop. “Let me get you some meat,” said the sparrow, and off he flew, into the dumpster. He then returned a moment later with a large piece of steak. He dropped it at Kesey’s feet, and the ravenous canine quickly consumed it.

“I’m still hungry,” said Kesey, licking her lips.

“No problem,” said the sparrow. “I’ll get you another piece.”

The sparrow returned to the dumpster and retrieved a second piece of meat, this one larger than the first. The hungry dog quickly scarfed down the meat, barely taking time to chew.

The sparrow asked, “Are you satisfied now?”

To this Kesey replied, “I could use some bread to wash down the meat.”

“Then follow me and I will get you bread.”

The dog followed the sparrow through a labyrinth of alleys until at last they came to a dumpster behind a bakery.

“Wait here,” said the sparrow, and off he flew into the dumpster. A moment later he returned, dropping a loaf of bread at Kesey’s feet. The hungry dog devoured the bread, and was now quite satisfied.

“Thank you very much,” she said.

The two continued on as traveling partners, eventually going so far they exited the city. They followed the road several miles before Kesey finally stopped and said, “I’m very full from having eaten so much. I think I’ll take a nap.”

Kesey lay down in the road.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea,” warned the sparrow.

“Nonsense. I’ll just sleep for a short time and then we can proceed.”

Within seconds the dog was fast asleep.

After a while, an old Ford pickup truck came roaring down the road on the opposite side from where the dog was lying. The sparrow was alarmed at first, but relaxed once he realized Kesey should be safe. The man driving the pickup truck, however, did not share this sentiment. When he reached the sleeping dog, he went out of his way to swerve into the opposite lane and run it over. Kesey died without waking from her slumber.

“You son of a bitch!” cried the sparrow. “I’ll have my revenge!”

The driver heard the bird’s proclamation, but only spit a glob of chewing tobacco out his window in response.

Seeing the truck was hauling a load of furniture in its bed, the sparrow had an idea. The truck was missing its tailgate, and the furnishings were held in place by a single rope. “I’ll have my revenge!” cried the sparrow. But the man didn’t hear him this time, as he’d turned up the volume of his stereo, which now blared Led Zeppelin. So the sparrow went to work pecking at the rope, until finally it snapped. Immediately items of furniture began falling from the truck and breaking to pieces all over the road. But the man was oblivious to this, as he was listening to Robert Plant screaming “Whole Lotta Love.”

When the man finally noticed he had lost half his load, he stopped the pickup and hopped out to see if any of the fallen furniture could be salvaged. He quickly assessed it could not. While he was arriving at this conclusion, the sparrow started to peck at the old pickup’s front driver’s side tire, flattening it immediately.

When the man saw this, he screamed, “You filthy little bastard!”

He reached down to the road and picked up a broken chair leg, and came up swinging at the bird. The sparrow quickly moved, and the man accidentally broke the back window of his truck, causing him to become even angrier. The sparrow then flew around the vehicle, and the man gave chase, still swinging the chair leg like a madman. Finally the sparrow landed on the windshield, and the man brought down the piece of wood hard. But the sparrow moved, and the chair leg smashed through the windshield.

“Goddamn bird!” screamed the man.

“It’s not enough,” said the sparrow. “I’ll have my revenge!”

And the bird flew away down the road, leaving the man to walk back to the city alone. Several hours passed, and finally the man reached his old ramshackle house. When he arrived, his wife was there waiting for him.

“Where’s the truck?” she asked.

“It’s a long story.”

“Thank goodness you’re here.”

“Why is that?”

“Because a bird flew into the house,” she said. “Soon it was followed by hundreds of other birds, and they’re pecking on the walls and shitting all over the house!”

This angered the man. He grabbed a hammer from the shed and went running into the house like a crazy person, swinging at every bird he saw. But he struck none. Instead, he hit his own furniture, breaking it to kindling. The wife saw what the man was doing, and tried to stop him from swinging the hammer, but to no avail.

Finally the man grew tired and gave up.

“Look what you’ve done,” said the wife. “You’ve broken every piece of furniture we own!”

“Still not enough!” said the sparrow, fluttering around the man’s head. “Still not enough!”

But the man got lucky as the sparrow grew cocky, and he reached out and snatched the bird. Now holding him in his arms, he instructed his wife to retrieve his hunting rifle. The woman disappeared into the next room, finally returning with the weapon.

“What do I do now?” she asked.

“Shoot this goddamned bird!”

He expected the woman to know enough to shoot the bird from a side angle, but she did not, knowing nothing about guns. So she fired at the bird, but only grazed it. She did, however, manage to shoot her husband in the chest, killing him instantly.

“No!” she screamed, falling to her dead husband’s side.

“I told you,” said the sparrow, “I’d get my revenge.”

And off he flew through the open door, singing as he did.

“Sandwich Bitch”

bologna sandwich

by Andy Rausch

The day had been a piss-poor one so far, but at long last lunch break had come to the rescue, offering Donny Mead a brief reprieve from his monotonous factory work. The breaks were staggered so only a handful of workers would be away from their positions at any given moment. Because of this, the bright white, overly-sterile break room only contained a couple of occupants at present. Donny approached the old fridge, surveying it to ascertain whether or not the Break Room Bandit had left any messages posted there. Unfortunately, he had not.

The much-ballyhooed Break Room Bandit was some heretofore unknown employee who had repeatedly eaten another worker’s bologna sandwiches. This caused the rightful owner of the sandwiches to become angry and post an ignorant, misspelling-laden threat that he (you just know it was “he”) would beat the shit out of whomever was eating said sandwiches. This, in turn, caused the perpetrator to go right on eating them, leaving mocking missives on the refrigerator door. One such message read: “It’s me, the Break Room Bandit, and I have once again eaten your sandwich. But the thing is, I really, really hate bologna. So, with this in mind, could you please bring either ham-and-cheese loaf or pickle-loaf next time? (I’m really fond of the various loaves.) If you could do that, I would be forever in your debt. Thanks! Yours truly, the Break Room Bandit.”

Being mocked infuriated the other guy (Donny still didn’t know who the identities of either party), prompting him to write the ever-so-eloquent pronouncement “THIS MY SANDWICH BITCH” on the top of his wrapped sandwich each day. One might think the questionably-literate person scrawling these oh-so-clever declarations might get lucky one day and actually write something semi-intelligent. But no, this did not occur. Each and every day, without fail, the message was the same: “THIS MY SANDWICH BITCH.”

As Donny reached into the fridge, stretching his hand beyond the freshly-labeled sandwich, to retrieve his blueberry yogurt, it occurred to him that the person bringing the sandwiches should simply poison them. Of course. It was so simple. Why didn’t he just do that? Donny could produce no adequate answer for this question. It would, he believed, be the perfect crime. If the illiterate sandwich scrawler used the right poison, the Break Room Bandit would eat it and then scurry back to his home, dying there as poisoned cockroaches do. This was perfect. How could anyone possibly know the sandwich had originated at the factory? There was no way. Making this scenario even better, if the victim lived with another person, that person would be a suspect long before any coworkers. Since the killer and the victim probably didn’t know one another, no one could connect them. Maybe this wasn’t quite as clever as stabbing someone with an icicle, which was said to be the end-all be-all perfect murder, but it was still pretty damned good. In fact, this plan was so good that it bothered Donny to think of it going to waste.

Donny sat down with his plastic spoon, digging into the yogurt container, considering possible outcomes of such a poisoning. Then it occurred to him to poison the sandwich himself. He had no way of knowing who might eat it and die. It could really go either way—either the sandwich’s owner or this Break Room Bandit fella. Donny found he didn’t really care which of them died. This, he thought, would be a grand experiment. He’d always been intrigued by the idea of murdering someone. Here, with the person being completely random and unknown to him, it seemed perfect. Tomorrow, he thought. Tomorrow I will poison someone and see what happens.

That night when he finally got home, Donny couldn’t get to the Internet fast enough. His plan was to investigate different types of poisons and find something suitable for the task. He went to a search engine, stopping. He considered for a moment, trying to decide what he should type. Finally he submitted the words “types of ingested poison lethal.” The search produced a variety of websites, and he scanned them carefully. When he came to a listing of the top ten most lethal poisons, he knew he’d struck paydirt. Reading through the list, he passed on a couple of substances, either due to their killing someone too rapidly (when they would still be at work) or their being too difficult to obtain. Then he came to a listing for Strychnine. Donny didn’t know much about poisons, but he’d heard of Strychnine. Here he learned it was easy to obtain and that it was a common pesticide that could be purchased anywhere. The thought of the particularly gruesome death it brought about—every muscle in the victim’s body simultaneously spasming violently until they died of exhaustion—appealed to him greatly.

After completing his research, Donny scarfed down a bowl of beef-flavored ramen. Then, after he finished, he drove out to Walmart, where he purchased some generic blue after shave, a Star Wars t-shirt, a bag of Lemonheads candies, and a $12 bottle of Martin’s Gopher Bait, comprised almost entirely of Strychnine. This could work, he thought gleefully as he scanned the items through the self-check reader. He paid for the stuff, grabbed the bags, and made his way back out to his Honda Accord, wondering if the taste of Strychnine would be obvious when his mark bit into it.

The next day at work was hell, Donny waiting anxiously for lunch break. He was ready to do this. So when lunch time finally arrived, he made a beeline to the break room. He was the first one in, and he glanced around furtively. There was no sandwich-related correspondence posted on the fridge today. He pulled the door open, looked behind him one last time, and reached in and grabbed the sandwich. He took it to the closest table, holding it close to his body, then lying it down with its proclamation/threat facing down. A couple of gargantuan women meandered into the room, heading directly to a table in the corner. Donny could hear them gossiping about someone being a “dumb sonofabitch.” This was good. They were paying him no mind. Donny went to work opening the wrapped sandwich. Once the plastic was peeled back, exposing the food, Donny popped the lid off the yellow mug he’d been carrying. He tilted it over the sandwich, pouring the tiniest bit of gopher bait onto it. The substance puddled up there, resting atop the deli mustard. After looking around to make sure no one would see, he re-wrapped it.

Donny stood up and returned the sandwich, sitting it where he’d found it, its moronic “SANDWICH BITCH” warning on full display. He then reached back further and seized his yogurt. Strawberry today. He returned to his table, listening to the heavyset women carry on about various dumb sonsofbitches, as visions of dead coworkers danced in his head.

The wait for the following day felt like an eternity. When it finally came, all of Donny’s coworkers were talking about a dead coworker named Susan. Donny didn’t know any Susans, so it didn’t seem like any deal to him. No one possessed any details regarding the circumstances of her demise, so he had no way of knowing if she had died by bologna-and-Strychnine sandwich. He figured this was mere coincidence considering the unlikelihood that either party had been female. (Their posted correspondence displayed a type of macho one-upsmanship that was uniquely male.) At lunch, Donny was startled to see a freshly-wrapped and labeled sandwich in the fridge. Now certain that Susan’s death was unrelated to the Gopher Bait, Donny went about his workday just as he had a thousand times before.

It wasn’t until the following day he heard someone saying the police believed Susan might have been murdered. Poison, they said. But there was nothing beyond that, no details to speak of. Had Donny killed her? There was no way to be certain, but he now found it probable. After all, someone had eaten the sandwich. Who was to say it hadn’t been given to Susan, or even stolen by her?

At the end of his shift, Donny saw a flyer taped to the wall. It had a photograph of Susan, announcing her death. Looking at this, Donny recognized Susan as a curvy young woman of about twenty or so that he’d frequently gawked at from afar. She looked a lot like Taylor Swift, at least to him, only a dirtier, meth-using, trailer trash, tattooed version. Because of this, Donny had always thought of her affectionately as “White Trash Taylor Swift.” But now she was dead. Donny wondered what name might be appropriate for her now; “Deader-Than-Hell Taylor Swift”? “Worm Food Taylor Swift”? These thoughts made him smile, and then her proper nickname came to him: “Sandwich Bitch.” This seemed fitting given the circumstances. While she had (apparently) been neither the person who’d made the offending sandwich, nor the Lunch Room Bandit, their actions, inexplicably, had led to her demise. In considering this, Donny found that he didn’t feel one way or another about any of it, but thought he might miss staring at her passably-attractive features.

Several days passed before the local newspaper ran a front-page story explaining that police had concluded Susan had in fact been poisoned. The article made a vague reference to leads the cops were pursuing. Reading this, Donny grinned, feeling proud of what he’d done. This, he congratulated himself, was a perfect murder.

One day in the break room, Donny, eating his yogurt, overheard the two old cows from before, discussing their co-worker’s death. “They’re pretty sure it was her boyfriend,” said Cow Number One. “They got him in custody.”

Cow Number Two nodded, mulling it over. “They lived together?”

“Yeah, but they wasn’t married. That was part of it, the reason why Jesus saw fit to take her so young…because of the sin of her living with a man.”

“Maybe they weren’t having sex.”

“No,” said Cow Number Two. “They was.”

“How do you know?”

“Did you ever look at Susan? She looked…dirty, like the kind of girl that would have sex before marriage. Probably even butt sex.”

Listening to this, Donny nodded his head to the melody and cadence of their words. It was literally music to his ears. Not only had he gotten away with murder, but someone else was getting the blame.

Donny found a a level of enjoyment in having killed Sandwich Bitch that was unlike anything he’d experienced previously. This led to the inevitable question: should he do it again? He thought about this long and hard, giving it due consideration, but ultimately decided against it. While it was true that the two idiots trading barbs over the sandwiches were still engaging in this childish behavior, making it possible for him to repeat the act, it was dangerous. It was also selfish, the type of blood-drunken mistake killers made that led to their being captured.

Six weeks passed and Donny’s life had gotten back to normal. So much so that he no longer gave any thought to his having poisoned the girl. On this day, however, he was reminded of his actions by the most insignificant of things—a pack of Twinkies.

It was a Saturday afternoon and Donny was visiting the sky-rise where his Grammy June was spending her final days. Donny visited her every few weeks, but he hated going to the apartment building, overflowing with the elderly and disabled, seemingly passing time until their death. On first glance, it looked like any other apartment building. But this one was different. The first indication this was a death house was the shuffle board just inside the entrance, a sure sign of old people, which, in Donny’s hundred or so visits, he’d never seen a single person playing. Then there was the television area in the lobby, with a TV that seemed to air unlimited episodes of Judge Judy and Oprah. There was occasionally one or two residents situated there, watching Sean Hannity or the like, but sometimes there would be a single lonely old man sitting there, raptly watching the television, which no one had thought to switch on.

There was an elevator there, with a table beside it. There were religious tracts and stacks of coupons for a nearby pizza delivery joint sitting on it, and occasionally there would be one or two items of food. These random foodstuffs, which ranged from a can of green beans to a box of corn bread mix, were left by residents who had decided they didn’t want them. They were up for grabs, free to anyone. Maybe the person who inherited the green beans left behind a food item in its place. Donny wasn’t sure how it worked.

But today there was a pack of Twinkies. Donny made a mental note of them, not sure why they were important but nonetheless aware they were. He went up to the third floor and spent time with Grammy June, watching The People’s Court and discussing life events. (He did not share his murdering Sandwich Bitch with her, which, when left out of conversation, made his life seem awfully dull.) When their visit was over, he left, getting on the elevator once more. When he came to the bottom floor and stepped out, he saw that the Twinkies were gone. He still wasn’t sure why he was interested, but found himself thinking about them on his drive home.

Thinking of the Twinkies sitting there, waiting for some stranger to pick them up and carry them back to their apartment, made him reflect on Sandwich Bitch once more. This scenario, he saw, would provide him the opportunity to do it all over again, still going unnoticed. He smiled, feeling proud of himself for being smart enough to recognize this opportunity. Still driving, he saw a Mini-Mart on his right. He flipped on his turn signal, preparing to make a quick stop to buy Twinkies.

“Rachel in the Moonlight”

by Andy Rausch

His Rachel had been gone almost two years now, and James still couldn’t wrap his head around it. Every morning when he awoke, he turned, expecting to see her lying on the pillow next to him. And every morning was the same; the pillow was empty and the horrible reality would then set in. Rachel was gone, and he would never see her again.

But that wasn’t entirely the truth. He saw her everywhere. He saw her at the supermarket. He saw her driving by in cars. He saw her walking in the middle of large throngs of people on the sidewalk. But mostly he saw her in his dreams. There she would come to him as if she were still alive, and he would hold her hand and kiss her once more as though there was still a sunny tomorrow.

But there were no more sunny tomorrows in James’ life. Not anymore. Now there were only overcast and rainy days, a constant reminder of all he had lost. Not that he had to be reminded. Rachel was all he thought about. In fact, he probably thought about her more today than he had just following her death.

Every day, weather be damned, he went and visited Rachel’s grave, flowers in hand. And every day he cleared away the leaves and debris, the flowers from yesterday’s visit, and propped up the new bundle of orchids to honor her.

One day he was making his daily walk to the flower shop when a store selling adult movies caught his eye. He walked past it everyday, but he’d never paid it any mind. Despite his mourning, James still had the normal male urges. He didn’t own a computer and was interested in obtaining a couple of smut magazines to help satisfy his cravings. He walked inside, the bell over the door ringing as he did. He didn’t consider himself a prude, but he was still somewhat shocked by the plethora of dildos and outlandish sexual devices which lined the store. He looked around at them with more than a small bit of curiosity. He eyeballed the devices, amazed by how many there were.

That was when he noticed a sign which read: “CUSTOM SEX DOLLS MADE HERE,” with a smaller sign beneath that read “MADE TO HER EXACT SPECIFICATIONS.” Somewhere deep down inside this piqued his interest, although he didn’t know why.

James made his way up to the man behind the counter, and said awkwardly, “I was wondering about the custom-made sex dolls.”

The man’s face lit up. “Would you like to see some?”

James nodded.

The man led him through an open doorway in the back of the store. They walked through a hallway adorned with posters of adult movie stars, some of them autographed. James thought the floor felt sticky, but figured that was probably his imagination. The man led him to a big room filled with ultra-realistic sex dolls. These were not the simple inflatable women he had imagined. These dolls were beautiful. There was a doll made to look just like Marilyn Monroe; there was a Scarlett Johansson; a Sarah Palin; and so on. Most of the dolls just looked like normal, beautiful women.

“What are they made of?” James asked.

“Silicone.”

“Who makes them?”

The man said, “Kyle, but he’s not here today.”

“The dolls are made to the exact specifications of real women?”

The man nodded. “We got a very detailed questionnaire you have to fill out when you order one. It asks questions like areola size, pubic hair length, height of the woman, foot size, things like that.”

James asked, “Could a guy just give you some photographs of the woman he wanted the doll to resemble?”

“Oh, Kyle will want those, too. But you still gotta fill out the questionnaire.”

James stared at one of the dolls, unable to believe how realistic it looked. “The hair looks so real.”

“Yeah, they’ve got real human hair,” the man said, grinning. “Up top and down below, too.”

“How much does something like this cost?”

“It varies, but the average one costs about $6,000, give or take.”

“That’s pretty steep,” James said.

“But trust me, it’s worth it,” the man said. “It’s the next best thing to having the real woman. If you can’t have her, you’ll want this.”

James took out his wallet and requested a questionnaire.

Fourteen days passed before the big wooden box arrived at his house. James scooted it inside, into his living room. He knew what was in the box, but now felt overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions at the thought of opening it. So he just sat there in his favorite chair for some time, staring at the damned thing.

And he thought about Rachel. He remembered the way she felt in his arms. He remembered the way she smelled. He remembered the taste of her hair in his mouth.

He had to know.

He went to the utility room and got a hammer, bringing it back to open the crate. He went to work on the box, and its lid was off in a matter of minutes. He fished around amongst the packing peanuts, and located the doll. He brought it forward, sitting it in the upright position, packing peanuts falling all around it as he did.

He looked at the doll and found himself amazed by how realistic it looked. It was his Rachel, right here in front of him. She looked just like the real deal; so much so, in fact, that he didn’t move for several minutes. He just stared into the doll’s glassy blue eyes, and they seemed to stare back.

He considered kissing the doll’s lips, but decided against it. No, he would wait until the right time when the doll was ready.

James lifted up the naked doll and found it to be quite heavy. It had to weigh a hundred pounds or so. He carried it up the stairs to the bathroom. Once there, he washed its hair with Rachel’s shampoo. He then applied her favorite perfume and lotion to the doll, and the scents immediately brought her back to life in his mind. Wanting to make the experience as realistic as possible, he even put Rachel’s lip balm on the doll.

He then took the doll to his bedroom, where he dressed it in Rachel’s slinky red lingerie. He tried not to look at the doll’s body as he did this, wanting to keep the forthcoming act as special as possible. He put Rachel’s ankle bracelet and toe rings on the doll’s feet.

Tonight would be a big night. Tonight he would reunite with his Rachel for one last sexual encounter, giving her the proper send-off he had never been able to.

That night, James lit scented candles all around the dark room. He left the curtain cracked just a bit so the light of the moon could fall gently down on Rachel’s body. He lay down on the bed beside the doll, gently caressing its hair. He kissed at its temples and nibbled on its left ear. He stuck his tongue in the doll’s ear and moved it around. He caressed the doll’s neck, finally kissing at the doll’s mouth, the familiar taste of Rachel’s lip balm in his mouth. He stuck his tongue into the doll’s tight mouth, wagging it against its limp tongue, forcing it to come alive and wag back.

For the briefest of moments, James forgot where he was.

He forgot this was a doll.

This was his Rachel, here once more, and they were reunited. Once more they would share their love as they had so many times before.

He moved his hand along her back, kissing his way down her neck towards her big, full breasts. She tasted of lavender lotion. The smell of her perfume filled his nostrils, driving him crazy. He moved the top of the negligee with his nose, his mouth finding her nipples, playing with them, flicking at them. He cupped her breasts together with his hands, kissing between them, moving his tongue all around them. As he did so, he felt himself harden. He was throbbing; pulsing. His desire was consuming him, and he wanted to eat her up.

He moved his hand down between her legs and touched her sticky wetness with his fingers, caressing her clit. He thought he felt her buckle in his arms, and he pulled himself closer to her, his hand moving with ever-increasing speed. He thought he felt her climax on his fingers. Her back arched, and her head went back against the pillow.

James moved closer to her, softly taking his hand away from her wet pussy. He then took his own manhood in hand and stroked it, bringing it to maddening hardness. He made his way on top of her, kissing her lips as he did, and moved his cock around, softly searching for her wet pussy. He found it, rubbed at it gently, and entered her. He moaned as he did, and gently thrust himself deep inside her. He put his right hand behind her back to support her, moving himself in and out of her slowly as he did.

But he knew what she liked. She didn’t like this slow stuff. It made her crazy, made her want it faster and harder. She liked it when he pulled her hair. So he gently tugged at it, thrusting his cock harder and harder into her tight, wet pussy. He pulled her tight against him as he did, swearing he could feel her heartbeat against his chest. He pushed himself up on top of her, swiveled his hips slowly, rotating his cock inside her, and then pulled it back to its tip, finally plunging back inside once more.

The moonlight fell against the right half of her face.

She was beautiful. Looking at her blond hair lying across her full, pale breasts, staring at the wonders of her exquisite face, James grew hornier and hornier, overcome with passion and desire. He now fed off what he perceived to be her sexual energy, as well, and he pulled her close, pumping himself in and out of her as hard as he could. He held her legs up over his shoulders, and they swayed hard with each thrust.

He kissed her mouth again, moving his tongue against hers, pushing his cock into her harder and harder as he did. Finally he felt himself climbing, escalating, reaching towards an unreachable high, and he came hard, feeling their juices intermingling as he did. He pulled her up close to him, holding her tightly, and the two of them lay silently in the moonlight in the afterglow of good sex.

Interview with Omar Doom

omar doom image

 

by Andrew J. Rausch

Omar Doom is an actor, director, musician, and artist. After meeting Quentin Tarantino, the filmmaker convinced him to shorten his birth name (“Omar Makhdomi”) to the shorter stage pseudonym. The Reservoir Dogs helmer also persuaded the young musician to consider acting. “Quentin told me I’d be great in movies,” Doom would later say in a press junket. “He really pushed me. I decided to go for it. I took his advice and I studied acting.” This would ultimately pay off for the would-be actor, who landed his first role in Tarantino’s Death Proof as Vanessa Ferlito’s love interest. Tarantino would later cast Doom a second time as Private First Class Omar Ulmer in Inglourious Basterds.

Tarantino and Doom remain good friends, and Tarantino often invites him to his home for movie marathons. One year Tarantino threw the actor a birthday party in which he screened cartoons and movies, including Hammerhead and The Mack.

When did you first meet Quentin Tarantino?

We met through mutual friends around 1998.

Were you a fan of his work prior to meeting him? Did he influence you as a filmmaker?

I was and have always been a huge fan of his work. I still watch his movies pretty regularly. Everything I’ve learned about making movies I learned from watching him work. You’ll be able to see what I come up with in the near future.

I understand that Quentin actually came up with your stage name, “Omar Doom.” Tel me about that.

When I was twenty-three, I was having lunch with Quentin at the restaurant Toi on Sunset in Hollywood. I was telling him that I was thinking of shortening my name from Omar Makhdoomi to Omar Makhdoom. He said, “Why not just be Omar Doom?” I had never thought of that, and at first I thought it was a little too ridiculous, but after a while I was convinced. I was like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it.” And I’ve never regretted it.

What do you see as being Quentin’s biggest strengths in terms of directing?

People normally praise him for his writing, but I think he is also a phenomenal director. He has a very artistic way of blocking his scenes and framing his shots. As with everything he does, he shatters any rules or conventions. Also, he has very strong convictions. He was so adamant about doing real non-CGI high speed car chases in Death Proof that he built a supercharged camera truck that he sat in, driving over a hundred miles an hour to get those amazing shots.

What’s the most interesting conversation you’ve ever had with him?

That’s a hard one, because there are so many. I don’t know which is the best, but one that stands out in my mind was about his meeting Bob Dylan. Apparently Bob Dylan boxes and has his own boxing ring. And Quentin and Bob Dylan actually boxed. The thought of that happening just blows my mind.

How did you become involved with Death Proof?

I got ahold of the script and basically begged him to read for it. He may have already been planning to bring me into the fold, but I didn’t waste any time making sure it happened.

What were your thoughts on the script the first time you read it?

It was like reading any of his scripts for the first time. They’re always read in one sitting because they’re just impossible to put down. And the endings always make the hairs on my arms stick straight up and I get chills down my neck. But with Death Proof in particular, knowing that he names characters after his close friends, and then seeing that he’d named a character Omar was just an incredible thing. I was basically in the movie before I was in the movie.

What was that cast like to work with?

We were mostly all the same age on that set, so we hung out a lot. I made some lifelong friendships on that movie. That doesn’t usually happen on movie sets. But something about Quentin’s sets makes it really feel like everyone is part of a big family. There’s no set like a Tarantino set. Everyone knows that the next movie set experience you have after working on a Tarantino movie is gonna suck, no matter what the movie is. Quentin told me that himself. Except it turned out that he was all wrong because my next movie ended up being Inglourious Basterds. I remember asking Quentin, “Remember telling me my next job was gonna suck? You were wrong.”

I’ve heard that he screens movies for the cast and crew sometimes. Did he do this on the two movies you worked on, and if so, what were some of those films?

Usually they have something to do with whatever we’re shooting or the actors we’re working with. For example, during Death Proof we watched Used Cars with Kurt Russell. That was quite an experience. Kurt got a real kick out of that, just as we all did.

What was Kurt Russell like to work with?

He’s a very humble guy who, like the rest of us, really felt that working with Quentin is just really something special. He didn’t treat it like it was just one of the hundreds of movies he’s worked on. For me personally, as a big fan of his work, it was an absolute joy just to be around him.

You worked pretty closely with Eli Roth on that picture. What’s he like?

I worked on both Death Proof and Inglourious Basterds with Eli Roth, so we had already become friends. He’s a great guy. Before meeting him I saw Hostel with Quentin opening night in New York City, and I was just blown away. It’s such a fun movie. Eli and I have a lot of similar interests film-wise. We both love a lot of the same horror/Giallo films and he has introduced me to some great ones I had never seen. Eli and the rest of the Basterds all formed a brotherhood on that picture. We would all hang out on and off the set. It was a great time. Filming Basterds in Berlin is one of my fondest memories.

What are your thoughts on the final film Death Proof?

I love Death Proof. Quentin can pull off any genre, and it was a real treat to see his take on grindhouse horror/car chase films. I don’t think anyone could have done it better. People have very short attention spans, so they weren’t really ready for such a long double feature in theaters. But it’s become a cult favorite since then. I get recognized a lot for that movie even though my role wasn’t all that big.

How did you end up working on Inglourious Basterds?

I didn’t go through the same audition process as I did for Death Proof on Basterds. Quentin just called me two weeks before I got on the plane and gave me an enthusiastic and bloody description of what I’d be doing—that I would be scalping and slaughtering Nazis left and right with Brad Pitt. He finished by saying, “Basically I want you to come to Berlin and be a Basterd.” I just said, “Quentin, I’ve been preparing for this role my entire life.”

What was working with Brad Pitt like?

Brad Pitt is a great example of how actors should conduct themselves. He’s the chillest, most humble actor I’ve ever worked with. Some of the other big names showed up with a thick entourage of men in suits, while Brad just showed up with a six pack for the Basterds, saying, “You guys want a beer?” He was very encouraging to me during a lot of scenes with him, telling me that I had really come into my own throughout the film. It meant a lot to me. I hope I get to work with him again sometime.

Were you at all nervous going in to act in a big film like Basterds, where you’d be working alongside so many talented performers?

I actually wasn’t. Working on Basterds was a pure joy. I was excited to get up and go to the set every day. Even when I was working in front of three or four hundred people, it was nothing but fun. Something about the way that Quentin works makes acting for him easy and such a thrill.

You were quite good in that film. Do people come up to you and recognize you from Inglourious Basterds?

I do get recognized for Basterds more than anything else. People ask me to do the Italian hand gesture for a picture, or say the Dominic DiCocco line. Depending on how many drinks I’ve had, I just might do it. I’m more proud of the work I did on that film than on anything else in my life, so it’s nice to be recognized for it.

What was your favorite scene on that film, and why?

Busting through the door and killing Hitler and Gobbels with Eli would have to be my favorite day on set. When is someone ever going to have a chance to say they killed Hitler? In a Tarantino movie, no less! Well, I can now. I feel like I should make a business card that says “OMAR DOOM. I KILLED HITLER.”