Powder Burn Flash #378 - John L. Micek

The Last Word
by John L. Micek

“I hate it when they scream,” McCormick said. He took a long pull from the pint glass, its sides slick with condensation, and put it down on the dark wood bar.

Next to him, Thompson nodded. He was drinking a martini, three olives, and only a splash of vermouth. He held the glass up to the light. He watched the olives float lazily in the ice cold liquor.

“All that begging for mercy,” Thompson said. He frowned and shook his head. “Can’t take that. They ought to know going in how it could end for them.”

McCormick signaled the barman for another beer. The barman was drying glasses and hanging them in an overhead rack. His sleeves were rolled up and he wore a garter around his left bicep. His black waistcoat was buttoned and his mustache was waxed.

The barman tipped two fingers to his forehead in salute and poured another draft. He moved down the bar, holding the pint glass. He made an elaborate show of putting it down in front of McCormick.

“Tab, sir?” he asked. McCormick nodded without making eye contact. The barman glanced nervously at the two men and moved back down the bar. He went to work slicing a lemon.

“Had a guy in Pittsburgh once, tried to pay me,” McCormick said. He smiled at the memory. He’d gone to work early. It was a cold February morning, the kind where the inside of your nose hurt when you breathed in.

When he was done, McCormick bought coffee from a food truck vendor and rode the Mount Washington incline, liking the way the traffic cruised across the yellow bridges leading into the city.

“Yeah?” Thompson asked, one eyebrow arching in amusement.

“Yeah,” McCormick said. “Told him that if he had all this money to pay me, that it should have gone to Lewis first. Then he wouldn’t be dealing with me.”

Thompson’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. He was the more slender of the two. His fingers were long and thin. He wore his still thick blonde hair combed up and away from his forehead.

The tie at his throat was knotted precisely and there was a tiny dimple in the center of the knot. A black wool overcoat hung on the back of his chair. He wore his suit coat and exactly a quarter-inch of the white of his French cuffs peeked through.

“Some of them never learn,” Thompson said. He drained his glass and looked at his watch. He had time for another drink before he had to head home. He glanced at the barman and tapped at the top of his glass.

The barman nodded and started mixing another martini.

McCormick was the smaller of the two, built solidly, like a fireplug. He was still wearing his pea coat and his dark hair was mussed from the watch cap that he’d taken off and stuffed in one pocket. Underneath the coat, he wore a flannel shirt and corduroys. His heavy shoes were still wet from the snow outside.

The barman put Thompson’s glass down in front of him. Thompson took the glass and sampled the martini.

“Perfect,” he said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” the barman said. Behind them, a woman with stiff blonde hair put money into the jukebox. Patsy Cline began to sing.

“How long we known each other?” McCormick asked Thompson, already knowing the answer.

“Twenty-five years,” Thompson said. “Since that business in DuPont Circle.”

“Yep,” McCormick said. He took another long pull on the pint glass. The beer was hoppy, but good. His short, thick fingers dug through the bowl of peanuts he’d placed at a right angle to his glass. He extracted another handful, ate the nuts and then chased them with another sip from the pint glass.

“We’ve been coming here nearly as long,” Thompson added.

“Yep,” McCormick said. He looked around the bar. The room was long and narrow, leading back from a dark green door that opened onto Second Street near Market in Philadelphia. If you walked past it, you’d hardly notice the place.

You had to put up with the hipsters. But it was a good place to get a drink, McCormick thought. And he could be across the bridge into Jersey and home in no time flat.

They sat silently for a while, finishing their drinks and watching the pointless mid-season hockey game on the TV that someone had mounted on a swivel-arm over the bar. The sound was turned off. Patsy Cline gave way to Billy Joel.

McCormick and Thompson stood up at the same time. Each looked quizzically at the other.

“Time to go?” Thompson asked.

“Yeah,” McCormick said. “It’s late. Gotta get an early start tomorrow. Got a thing in Virginia Beach I have to take care of. You?”

“Day off tomorrow,” Thompson said. “But Anna will be expecting me.”

They settled up with the barman.

“Good night, Dave,” McCormick said to the barman.

“Good night, Mr. McCormick, Mr. Thompson,” the barman said. He did not use their first names. They had never told him. McCormick and Thompson preferred it that way.

They got to the door and Thompson went through first. He held the door and McCormick stepped across the threshold and stopped. He looked at Thompson.

“Why do you figure Lewis never hired one of us to go against the other?” McCormick asked Thompson.

In the half light of the streetlamp, Thompson’s face took on a thoughtful cast.

“Good people are hard to find,” he said. “We do what we’re paid to do. And we don’t ask too many questions.”

“How is Anna?” McCormick asked. He knew all he needed to know when he saw the brief flash of pain that shot across Thompson’s face. He’d been to the wedding.

“Treatment’s expensive,” he said. “But they’re keeping her comfortable.”

“Good,” McCormick said. He put out his hand. “Same time next week?”

“Yes,” Thompson said. They shook hands. “See you around.”

“See you around,” McCormick said. He pulled on his watch cap and stood there, in the snow, watching Thompson’s back until he was out of sight.

When he was in the car, McCormick reached into his coat pocket and took out the neatly folded piece of white printer paper. He read it again: “Thompson’s been skimming. Take care of it. Lewis.”

McCormick smiled darkly. He balled up the paper and set it alight with one match from a book of matches in the glove compartment. When it was going good, he opened the car window and dropped the balled up piece of paper into a snowbank and watched as the snow quenched the flames.

McCormick felt good about it. He knew he’d catch hell. But he didn’t care. It was important to have values.


BIO: John L. Micek covers Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His previous work has appeared in Pop Culture Press, The Big Takeover, Harrisburg Magazine, PopMatters.com and Shotgun Honey. He lives in Harrisburg, Pa., with his wife and daughter.

Powder Burn Flash #377 - LA Sykes

Holey Velvet Curtains
by LA Sykes

Entered through the oakwood doors passing under the arch. Ignored the font of holy water with disdain in his sneer. Footsteps knocked out hard taps on the stone floor of the church.

Hadn't been back here for almost two decades. His old stomping ground. No time or inclination to reminisce. Registered the aged organist slipping chords, ripping piped melody into tattered clangs, her attention skewed from the keys as she eyed him cold recognition in the reflection of the stained glass. Froze and silenced the echoing notes watching him head towards the confessional booth in the glass unwilling to turn her head round and acknowledge unfiltered flesh. Shot her a look making plain she was choosing wisely to stay rooted.

He was not surprised that they were the only ones present. It was always dead on confessional afternoon.

The worn furnishings had not changed one bit. Pews chipped as they were all those years ago, footstools bleeding padding from their cracked leather skins. Three snapping raps on the booth door jolted the occupant out of light slumber as his hand instinctively reached to close the curtain partition.

"Enter and be seated," croaked the Priest, the voice unable to weather the years like the decor. He does as told and whispers, "Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been six days since my last confession."

"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit confess."

"My sin is one of wrath."

"How so?"

“My being is driven by the righting of wrongs."

"What were your wrongs?"

"Not my wrongs, Father," he let linger. Saw the silhouette shift behind the red curtain sitting upright. Figure had filled out since last acquaintance.

"Then which wrongs fuel your sinful wrath?"

“The sins of those whose lust warps, vile takers of innocence," rises the whisper to a growl.

“Whilst that is noble it is still… sinful in the eyes of Him.”

“Should vengeance be reasonable then it is permitted is it not Father?” raising his voice to mask the snapping clip in the top of the concealed FN P90.

The Priest’s spine flowed cold trickle as flashes of memories hazed by time flittered through his stream of consciousness, hopelessly grasping at placing the enunciation of the speaker on the other side of the velvet curtain separating them.

“We all will, in the eyes of the Lord….” His eyeballs burst as the searing 5.7mm rounds peppered his face tunneling through sockets ripping the skull to pulp spattering the paneled interior with hairy fragments, ruining his reply. The tattered curtains billowed with the wind of velocity as he made the sign of the cross and knelt, “Accept my reparation. Amen."

Re-entering the nave the organist, frozen in catatonia, could not even blink her tears away until the muzzle of the gun melted her sinew to an ordained obedience. Dropping to her knees she made the sign of the cross, the only mercy he allowed her as the trigger clicked sweet dissolution through the temple.

Slips the weapon back in the sling and takes the leather glove off his right hand. Wet his thumb in the font marking his forehead, lips and breast with small crosses as he whispers under the arch. He leaves the echoes of the closing doors behind and climbs into the back seat of the waiting black car.

“To the airport, Cardinal?” chirped the driver.

Fingering the gun under the black cassock trimmed with scarlet piping, the Cardinal drifted back to long ago days as a Deacon under the dead Priest as he always did, torturing his conscience with melancholic regret of never knowing what had gone on. He was curious how some found Him in the strangest of places and circumstance. The Cardinal wondered often if anyone else had found Him in their trigger finger. Reparation.

“Cardinal?” prompted the driver.


“The airport your Eminence?”

“Oh, yes. However, first to the Basilica. I am due to go to confession."

BIO: L.A. Sykes resides in Manchester, England. He studied criminal psychology at University of Central Lancashire and currently works in psychiatry. More of his fiction is up at Shotgun Honey, Razor Dildo and Blink Ink amongst others. He has two short stories available through www.thunderune.com/2012/04/la-sykes.html with the full collection coming later this year with E.S. Wynn’s www.thunderune.com publishing. Contact him at sykesfiction at live.co.uk

Powder Burn Flash #376 - Bill Baber

The Hometown Blues
by Bill Baber

He had expected the visit for quite some time. Frankly, he was surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. There were two of them, one tall and thin, the other short and thick. He was the one that started to speak.

“Wake up cabron. You…” He didn’t finish because Bump shot him in the chest and then blew the short one’s brains all over the room. They had disarmed the primary alarm system but missed the back up.

Jimmy “Bump” McGinnis had dealt drugs in Bend for over thirty years-back to when he was in high school. Started out with weed, a little blow. For years, he sold to the local high school kids and the increasing influx of ski bums. In the mid 90’s, when Bend began to sprout houses everywhere, he made a fortune off of California yuppies that moved to town needing a supply of coke.

He turned on the lamp next to his bed. The talker was still alive. Bump leaned over him.

“Hey maricon, say good night.” Then shot him just under the right eye. The tall one had carried a nine, the short guy a cut off .12 gauge.

He outlasted everyone that had tried to set up shop in town. He’d once formed an uneasy alliance with a biker gang that wanted to put him out of business. They ended up splitting the grass trade. The bikers got meth, Bump got everything else.
He had been hearing that the Mexican’s were taking over everything. And hell, Bend was on Highway 97. Other than I-5, it was the only north-south route up to Canada that went through Oregon. Yakima was 150 miles north. He always thought it was an Indian word. But now the joke was that it meant Juarez North in Spanish. Fucking cartels were killing dudes there just about every day. Now they were in Bend.

Bump wasn’t sure what to do. He didn’t have the firepower or the personnel for an out and out turf war. Hell, the people that sold for him were old hippies, college kids and housewives. That wouldn’t win a battle-let alone a war. Maybe it was time to get out. That meant not just out of business but out of town as well. That didn’t sit well with him but there didn’t seem to be any other options.

His house was a couple of miles west of town on a road that turned to gravel once it hit Forest Service land. Wrapping the bodies in tarps- the short thick bastard was a bitch- he loaded them in the back of his pick-up. An hour of scrubbing residue off the walls and hardwood floors with bleach cleaned up the rest of the mess. At the end of a spur road, he dumped the bodies. They might be discovered in a month when hunting season opened. By then, the coyotes would have left nothing but bleaching bones.

When his cell rang, it displayed Laurie’s number. When he answered, it wasn’t her voice.

“Listen up pendejo.”

Then Laurie.

“Fuck, Jimmie…” her voice trembling.

“They’re going to kill me.”

Then a single shot. Then silence.

He grabbed his Ruger Mini .14 and two twenty round clips. Stuffed a .45 in his waist and hit the door running.

Her house was just west of downtown. Two minutes from his.

He turned the corner onto her street as they pulled toward him in a black Suburban with Cali plates.

Rammed them head on and jumped out, got behind the door and shot the driver through the windshield. He fell against the horn as the other three scrambled while Bump continued shooting.

One by one he picked them off, littering the quiet street with carnage.

He had a key for Laurie’s BMW and when he heard sirens, he drove away.

At a red light on Bond Street, he was thinking about what to do next.

A cherry red ’63 Impala pulled up to the light on his left. The passenger, wearing shades and a Dodger cap, smiled at him and waved. When the light changed, before Jimmy could move, the passenger shot him dead.

He had lost the war and his hometown.

BIO: Bill Baber’s crime fiction has appeared at; Flash Fiction Offensive, Powder Burn Flash, Darkest Before the Dawn, Shotgun Honey & Near to the Knuckle. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. A native of San Francisco, he lives with his wife and a spoiled dog in Bend, Or.

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