Powder Burn Flash # 366 - Christopher Grant

Blurs and White Noise
by Christopher Grant


Ted sits on the couch and smokes his cigarette. The television is on but he doesn't pay it any attention. It's simple blurs and white noise. And isn't that what he's always thought about the images and the people that have appeared in the twenty-seven inch set? Fuck 'em, anyway. What have they ever done to help him?

He drags on the cigarette and thinks about what his next move is going to be. His last move, quitting his job, wasn't exactly a smart one. Helen, especially, didn't think so and told him as much.

"Why can't you trust me?" Ted shouted at her when she packed a bag and slammed the door shut behind her.

Helen, his wife of twelve years, had been with him through thick and thin. More thin than thick, he'd grant her that much. They never won the lottery or even got lucky on a scratch-off. But they'd gotten through shit before. Why should this time be any different?

Ted gets up from the couch, the cigarette still hanging out of his mouth. He grabs a glass, dirty, blows the dust out of it, finds the bottle of Jack and pours a generous two fingers. He throws it back and pours another two fingers. He throws that one back, too. Drags on the cigarette and mashes it out in a nearby ashtray.

He leaves the apartment, the television still showing blurs and spewing white noise.

*     *     *

Ted hasn't eaten all day. He goes down the street to the corner sandwich shop. The line is four people long and he figures
that he can wait that long. What, ten, maybe twenty minutes tops? He digs his wallet out, opens it up. Sixteen bucks, all
Ones. He's got a couple thousand in the bank. He's got enough to live on for a little while.

The line doesn't move.

Three kids, somewhere between fourteen and seventeen come in through the door. Two guys and a girl. The girl looks like one of those "pass-around" girls. You know the kind. You see them in the mall all the time. Two guys and a girl and you just know that they're a threesome.

She's got a nose ring that sparkles when the light hits it just right. Her short skirt is made out of denim. They laugh about
something they share between themselves.

The line, eight deep now, is at a standstill.

One of the kids says he's getting a turkey sub, tells the other guy that he wants mayo, tomato, lettuce, black olives and
bacon on white.

"Order for me," the kid says and heads off for the bathroom.

The girl says to order her the same thing and follows the first kid into the bathroom a minute later. She doesn't go into the
women's bathroom but into the men's instead.

The line finally moves. It goes smoothly. The order, the money exchanges hands, the customer steps to the side to wait for their sandwich and the next customer orders.

As the guy and girl come out of the bathroom, Ted's almost to the head of the line. He turns to look at them and notices two things about the girl. One, her skirt's a little higher than it was when she went in, and two, she's got a white streak under her left nostril.

"Hey, fuckhead," the kid that was behind him the whole time says, "mind your own."

The day's been long and hard.

Helen flashes into his mind for a minute. He can hear her telling him to just forget it.

Ted's fist is breaking the kid's nose. He's a fucking maniac, can't control his own actions. His fist pounds flesh again. The kid falls to the floor and Ted's foot finds the kid's ribs, as the kid tries futilely to stop the blood that's pouring out of his nose.

Ted is vaguely aware of the images as he continues to kick the kid. The girl and the other guy, trying to stop him, are just
simple blurs and their voices are white noise.
 
BIO: Christopher Grant is a crime writer and the editor of A Twist Of Noir.

Powder Burn Flash # 365 - Julia Madeleine

Crazy Town
by Julia Madeleine

 
In the bathroom mirror, Clive smoothed crimson lipstick over his mouth, and drew on his eyebrows with a brown pencil shaved down to a nub. Next, he stroked blue shadow over his lids and then expertly glued on false lashes. When he was satisfied with his makeup, he got dressed. Time to go to work. But first, he had a surprise for his wife.

“What’s this?” Becky tilted her head and squinted at the fold of paper Clive set on the coffee table beside her beer bottle.

“Remember how happy we were on our honeymoon?” Clive said.

“You got tickets to Mexico?”

“I know we’ve had a lot of stress lately and I—”

“The date on this is for next Monday.” She frowned

“It was a last minute deal, so I thought—”

“What? You thought what, Clive?” A vertical line sliced between her eyebrows as she struggled to a sitting position.

Without a word, she rose to her feet. Through the tight fabric of her cotton pants, he watched the indents in her lumpy behind as she moved past him. His gaze followed her into the kitchen, and he trailed after her like a puppy.

“Look, I can’t talk to you with that stupid makeup on. Honestly, Clive, you really need to get a new hobby,” she said and released a beer burp that was more of a bark. From the refrigerator she retrieved another bottle and twisted off the top, taking a long swallow.

Clive looked at the floor and said, “It’s not a hobby.”

“You should have asked me how I felt. What the hell makes you think I want to go back to Mexico? Why are you such an idiot, Clive? Huh?”

He sighed and looked at her, wanting to hold her, to tell her that he loved her and he just wanted them to be happy. “You’re right, I should have thought of that.”

Clive turned away. There were so many feelings trapped inside of him. Sometimes it felt like he was fading away, as if his physical presence would diminish into nothingness and he’d vanish from the world if he didn’t hang on to something.

“I’ve got to go to work,” he said.

“Work? You call that work?” She laughed. “Please, it’s a hobby. And it’s embarrassing. So stupid, you behaving this way.”

Out on the street a car door slammed. He peered through the window and spied a familiar figure climbing out of the pick-up truck in front of their house.

“What’s he doing here?”

There was a pause as she swallowed from her bottle, and then said, “There’s something I need to tell you.”

Sweat broke out in his palms as he watched Becky’s ex-husband walk up their driveway. Clive opened the door and stepped outside.

Don sneered and said, “Well, get a load of you, fat boy. Why you remind me of John Wayne Gacy in that get up. Every little kids nightmare you are.”

“Don, I need to ask you not to call the house any more,” Clive said, hearing his own words shrivel inside his throat. “You have to stop fighting with Becky all the time.”

“Hey, if I wanna talk to Becky I will.” He pointed a finger in Clive’s face.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble with you Don, I just want to ask you—”

“You’re not going to tell me what to do, buddy.” He cocked his head to one side, folded his skinny arms and looked Clive up and down with disgust on his face. “Just look at you man. You’re pathetic, you’re a fucking joke.”

Drawing back his lips to reveal a mouthful of crooked teeth, Don made a hacking sound in his throat. He spit on the driveway inches away from Clive’s feet.

“I have a birthday party to do.” Clive chuckled, looking down at the gob on the ground, trying to make light of it.

“I don’t give a fuck about your stupid party and I don’t give a fuck that you don’t like me talking to Becky. Understand?”

He stabbed a finger hard into Clive’s chest. It reminded Clive of all the bullies who’d ever stood before him with the same mocking tone and expression, making him feel like a low-life, as insignificant and revolting as the gob at his feet.

Don brushed past him and rammed a shoulder into Clive’s as he headed up to the front door. Clive hesitated in the driveway, watching him walked into his house like he owned it. That’s when the shovel sitting innocently next to the garage door, like a silent conspirator waiting to be called into action, spoke to him. In the pure silence from the depths of his being it called out, cutting through him.

“Kill the bastard!”

Clive felt something powerful launch within him—the alchemy of his spirit unfolding though layers of darkness. His heart went cold.

Clive picked up the shovel and stepped into the house.

The sound of the metal striking skull was completely drowned out by Becky’s scream. And then another whack, another thump on the floor, heads like a dropped bowling balls.

He went to the party after, where he laughed, joked and performed one of his best shows ever. At home that evening, Clive hauled out the bodies and put them in Don’s pick-up. He drove it out to a dirt road that lead to the railway, and parked it on the tracks. He jogged home again, feeling the blood pulse through his veins as if a monster had taken over his body. By the time he got home, he had made himself a list of names. A list going as far back as kindergarten. People he owed a date with his shovel.

Clive smiled at himself in the mirror, the makeup now smeared and partially worn off his face, giving him a strange and sinister appearance. It was in that moment that he knew he’d crossed over into crazy town. But at least Becky would be proud. He’d found himself a new hobby.

BIO: Julia Madeleine is a thriller writer and tattoo artist living in the Toronto area. Her latest new novel, The Truth About Scarlet Rose, is scheduled for release December 2011. For updates visit: www.juliamadeleine.com

Powder Burn Flash # 364 - Jochem Vandersteen

Blood Test, An Innocence Man Short Story
by Jochem Vandersteen

 

Compton isn’t the sort of neighborhood that usually gets visits from a UCLA professor like yours truly. I was contacted by a resident of this neighorhood, a man named Marcus Brooks.

My name is Julius King, but the press has dubbed me The Innocence Man because of the work I do to get the wrongly accused acquitted. My expertise as forensic psychologist has proven to be helpful in getting true justice done. You could call it a hobby; you could call it a calling. Whatever you call it, it was my reason for coming there.

I’m a black man, but my tweed jacket, leather loafers and 1957 Chevrolet Corvette made me stand out over there like a sore thumb. I was reminded of that by one of the gentlemen standing next to the El Camino parked in front of Brooks’ address.

“Who the fuck are you? Did you come here in your fancy car to gloat? To show how rich you are compared to our sorry asses?” This came from a stocky guy wearing a bandana, jeans and no shirt. I noticed a few prison tattoos on his chest.

“I was invited here by Marcus Brooks,” I told him. “Maybe you know him?”

“Marcus? Yeah, sure I do. But I don’t see what his business would be with an Uncle Tom like you.”

He irritated me, but I understood taking offense wouldn’t get my anywhere except in potential stitches. I’m a pretty big guy and I played a mean game of college football but taking on potentially armed gangbangers I try to avoid.

“I guess that’s between Marcus and me,” I said.

He came at me. I guess I chose my words not carefully enough. Just before it seemed to get psychical a strong hand clutched his arm.

“Take it easy, Tyrone,” the newcomer said. “The man’s right. I asked him over. Please, leave us alone.”

Tattoo spit on the pavement and sauntered off like a brooding teenager.

“Marcus Brooks,” my savior said and offered his hand. I shook it. Powerful grip.

“I thought so,” I said. “Where do you want to talk?”

“Let’s sit in your car for a moment,” he said. We did.

“Nice ride,” Brooks thought.

“Thanks, I put in a lot of work in keeping it nice,” I said.

“It shows.”

“So, I guess you didn’t invite me to offer compliments about my car. What can I do for you?”

“I’ve been following the stuff you do, getting the wrongfully convicted out of jail. Well, it seems I’ve got a case that deserves your attention. Maybe you heard about it, maybe you didn’t, but fifteen years ago a guy called Willis Armstrong was convicted of raping and killing a convenience store clerk during a robbery. He pulled the job together with a gangbanger called Francis Smith. Francis was jailed for armed robbery and got out last year. Willis is on death row waiting for his execution. I shared a cell with Francis. One day he bragged about having been the one who killed and raped the clerk but got away with it. Apparently DNA got switched at the lab, and the sperm found on the victim was analyzed as Willis’ while it should have been Francis’. I got out of jail myself just a few weeks ago and this story has been nagging me all the time. I’m no sweetheart and certainly not a Samaritan, but it seems wrong to me that Willis can be executed for a crime Francis committed.”

“You did a good thing, coming to me with this,” I told him. “Maybe I can get a private lab to do the testing again. Mistakes like that do happen.”

“Don’t tell anyone you heard this from me,” Brooks said. “It wouldn’t go over well here.”

“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me,” I promised.

Brooks left my car and I drove off.

*     *     *

In my office at UCLA I put in a phone call to the private forensic lab I use for cases like this. The money to pay for their work comes from the book- and movie deals I’ve made. My work seems to have a big entertainment value and people are willing to pay for the rights.

I’d managed to get the files on the case and had been studying them. Since there hadn’t been any witnesses to the rape-murder it was certainly possible there had been a mistake at the lab that was responsible for a wrongful conviction. It would take some time to get the DNA from the crime scene but I knew I’d be successful. I always was. What I needed now was Willis and Francis’ DNA. Willis’ DNA wouldn’t be a problem, he’d be happy to help. Acquiring Francis’ DNA could prove to be more difficult.

The door to my office opened. A black man wearing an Adidas warm up suit entered. He looked pissed off. I recognized him from my files.

“Hello, Francis. Nice to meet you in person,” I said. I figured that Tyrone guy had told him about me.

He leaned over my desk and grabbed my shirt, pulling me closer to his bristling face. “What the fuck are you doing, meddling in affairs that aren’t any of your business?”

I pushed him back and stood. “Haven’t you heard? I’ve made getting innocent people out of jail my business!”

He pointed an angry finger at me. “I’m warning you, stay out of this!”

I smiled. I had an idea. “And what if I don’t? Do you think a punk like you could do anything about it? Pussy!”

He took a swing at me. I blocked with my left arm and hit him in the nose with my right fist. There was a crack and I was left with blood on my fist. There was a lot of it coming from his nose as well.

He staggered back. I called campus security and readied myself for another confrontation. The broken nose had calmed Francis down a bit, though, and he didn’t seem to eager to try another swing at me just yet.

Two big and burly guys from campus security arrived. They grabbed Francis by the arms and forcefully escorted him out after asking if I was okay. I assured them I was. Francis called me some bad names before he was out the door. You can’t be popular with everyone, of course.

The blood from my fist was sufficient to do the necessary DNA testing. Brooks’ story turned out to be true. Francis’ DNA matched the DNA found on the crime scene.

Francis was prosecuted and Willis was released from jail. I got my name on the front page of the L.A. Times.

Whatever my work is, a calling or a hobby, it tends to get justice done.

END

BIO: Jochem Vandersteen is the writer of the Noah Milano series, founder of the Hardboiled Collective and blogs at www.sonsofspade.tk. This is the debut of Innocence Man, be sure to look out for more stories featuring professor Julius King!

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