Short story: The Accident

John sneered up from beneath the car and said: “Christ, Rog, did you do this intentionally?”

“What makes you say that?” Roger asked.

John shook his head and ducked back under. “Because this is the kind of fucked you can only get by going over a speed bump slowly or mounting a surface that’s too high,” he replied, his voice slightly muffled by the vehicle that covered him. “You’re a good driver, mate. So when I see this kind of damage I hafta ask.”

Roger sighed softly and shrugged. “A bit stupid of me.”

“Can say that again.”

Roger did a circuit of the jacked-up car, looking at the flat tires and the scratched-up bumpers. It didn’t look good from this angle. “Prognosis?”

John cleared his throat. “Back bumper’s hanging by metal threads. You’ve put a hole in the exhaust and that’s barely hanging, and you’ve somehow fucked three of the tires so they’re flat. And then you drove home on the things, so the rims are fucked along with the tires.”

“Can you fix it?”

John scoffed. “This is a garage job – I don’t have the tools or the time to fix it. Frankly I feel under-qualified just looking at it. And I’m only doing it as a favour to you.”

“Fair enough,” Roger said and did a second circuit of the car. He huffed constantly as he assayed the damage. “Went over one of those low roundabouts. Not low enough, I guess.”

“Don’t sound like you.”

“Thinking about other stuff.”

“Such as.”

“Trouble at home.”

John paused momentarily. “What?”

“It’s got worse.”

John poked his head out from under the car again. “Worse?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit,” John said, looking uncomfortable. “Owt I can do?”

“No more than you’ve done already.”

“Huh?”

“Can you fix marriages and cars?”

John went back beneath the car. “Marriages? Pfffff, can’t even fix my own.”

Roger paused. “Angela’s having an affair.”

“Really?”

He crouched and looked at the top of John’s head. “That’s why I pranged the car.”

John tilted his head so he could see Roger. “Shit, mate. Sorry,” he said and paused. “I guess something like that would make anybody lose control.”

“I didn’t lose control.”

“But, you said…”

“I said it was a bit stupid of me.”

John looked at something directly above him and tinkered with it. “Expensive way of venting steam,” he said, his voice stiff.

“I wasn’t venting steam.”

John angled his head back at Roger. “So you’ve inflicted all this damage for no reason?”

“No. I had a reason.”

John pulled at a piece of metal and threw it to one side. “Which was?”

Roger took a mobile phone from his pocket and prodded the screen. “I wanted you to look at the car.”

John paused. “I don’t understand.”

Roger got on his knees and crept towards the car. “This should explain it.”

John reached out from beneath the vehicle and Roger put the phone in his outstretched hand. He stood up and brushed the knees of his jeans.

John looked at the text, tried to speak but stuttered.

Roger looked at the jack. “Actually I wanted you beneath it.”

John screeched a rapid stream of words, reached out and hooked both hands around the foot of the car, trying to pull himself out. Roger kicked the jack away. The car seemed to hang in the air forever, and Roger worried for a split-second second it wasn’t going to fall at all. Then it dropped with violent finality. John squealed as the vehicle struck; bones cracked loudly, followed by a wheeze as the air rushed from his lungs. Two unmoving hands poked out from beneath the car body. The mobile lay on its back next to Roger’s right hand. The message on the screen read: I wanna see you, babe. Meet me tonight. The wife’s away. Make an excuse for Roger. John. Xxx

Roger squatted on his haunches for a view of the corpse. He saw a strip of bloodied hair in the light, but the rest was in shadow. It was good enough.

He smiled, stood and left the garage, closing the door on the way out.

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The cover for The Greatest Show in Town

The cover for my new short collection - The Greatest Show in TownHere for anybody who cares to have a look is the cover for my upcoming short story collection The Greatest Show in Town and other shorts. It features a very nice photograph of the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough as its main image, along with a bit of photo layering and a touch of transparency effects to get something that I feel is quite evocative of the contents within.

It has a different look to The Gamblers and The Hunters, but that was intentional. I wanted to differentiate it, draw attention to the fact that it’s a short collection. The Stanton brothers books will all have a very similar visual theme  – following the look developed in The Hunters. And even though the brothers appear in quite a few of these shorts it isn’t strictly a collection about them. I wanted the cover to reflect that.

Anyway, enough waffle from me…

Let me know what y’all think. If it’s appealing, do tell. Similarly, if you think it’s a big bag o’ crap then kindly tell me why it offends you!

To The Grave – a short story

Here’s a little story that’s going in my upcoming collection The Greatest Show in Town and Other shorts. It’s not very big – think a shot of espresso, rather than a big mug of noir – but I’d like to think it gets the job done.

“You get the shit?”

Joe waved two baggies. “Yeah. I got it.”

Stephen sighed. “Thank fuck.” He looked like a Science class skeleton that had been dressed in charity shop cast-offs. Even small-sized clothes looked roomy on his stick man frame. He had bags under his eyes that were large enough to carry groceries.

“What are friends for, right?” Joe said. He looked healthier than his friend, but his once tight frame was getting soft and doughy. When he wasn’t high he worried about this, though he wasn’t quite sure why.

“Right,” Stephen said, his movements twitchy. “Was getting worried for a second.”

“Christ. You thought I’d cut out on you? Jesus, Ste’!”

“Nah. It’s not that I don’t trust you or nowt,” Stephen said, with a shrug and a guilty smile, “but that’s the last of my money.”

“Last of our money,” Joe said, throwing one of the baggies.

Stephen caught it. “Right. Last of our money.”

“Then we better make sure it lasts.”

Stephen smiled. “You’re a real mate, Joe.”

He shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. “De nada.”

“Best friends, mate,” Stephen said, lifting a can of Tennant’s Super in celebration.

Joe blushed momentarily, then bumped an imaginary tin against the Super and made a clanking noise in acknowledgment. “To the grave.”

Both men took swigs – one real and one imaginary.

Stephen looked around the squat. It was shitsville – even the rats thought twice about staying here – the floorboards were soaked through and warped with rain water and piss and the wallpaper was peeling away in pendulous fungus-flecked sheets. Given a choice, Stephen and Joe would have chosen anywhere but this, but they were all out of options. It was this place or the streets.

“Was Oggie radged?”

“No more than usual.”

“He say owt?”

“Only that he still wants his money from you.”

“He was okay with you, though?”

“I’m here, aren’t I? Told him it was my cash, so he gave up the shit, but he said you better have his money, and sharpish.”

“Or?”

Joe shrugged. “That part he left open. Let your imagination fill the gap, or summat.”

“What we gonna do about money?”

Joe shook his head. “Dunno.”

Stephen paused, bit his bottom lip nervously. “Sorry, mate.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“About all of it.”

Joe’s jaw muscles twitched. “It’s history.”

“I mean it,” Stephen said, his eyes glistening.

“I know.”

“I had the need.” Tears clung for dear life to Stephen’s eyelashes. A blink sent them tumbling down his cheeks.

Joe smiled briefly and sighed. “You coulda asked.”

“Would she’ve given me the dosh?”

“No. But she woulda given it to me. I’da lent you it.”

Stephen gave his baggie a long glance and tapped it with his finger, dispersing the contents. “I didn’t think Emma’d kick you out ’cause of it.”

“We were on the edge.”

“She could still take you back.”

Joe shook his head. He sat down on the floor and gave his baggie a quick shake. “It’s been a month, mate.”

“She loves you.”

“Maybe.”

“She told me.”

“Things change,” Joe said and sighed long and loud. “Month’s a long time.”

“It’s not too late.”

“Maybe.”

“It’s not too late.”

Joe hung his head momentarily. “Yeah. It is.”

“Shit, mate…”

“It’s done,” Joe said with a sharp edge that suggested this topic of conversation was over.

“All I do is bring you down.”

Joe looked at Stephen for a long time, then glanced at the baggie. “Forget it.”

“Even when we was kids you stuck up for us.”

“Somebody had to.”

“Didn’t hafta be you.”

“You know me. I was always a bit of a touch for a sob story, stray animals, crying women, friends in need. It always take something drastic to cut the ties, know what I mean?”

“Well, means a lot. You’re a quality fuckin’ bloke, mate.”

Joe gave him a hard stare. “Can you just fuckin’ leave it.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“And stop saying sorry; it’s getting right on my tits.”

“Sor…” Stephen checked himself, then looked away. His eyes drifted back towards the baggie.

“Can I have first taste?”

Joe paused, then shrugged. “Do whatcha like.”

Stephen put some of the powder in a spoon, then added some powdered Vitamin C. He took a syringe, punctured a plastic bottle of water, drew in the amount he needed, pulled out the syringe and squirted this over the drugs. He mixed everything together with the syringe, cleaned the tip and started heating the underside of the spoon with a lighter. Once he was happy, Stephen dropped a raggedy piece of cigarette filter into the liquid and used this to filter the solution into the syringe. He tied a tourniquet around his arm and looked for a healthy vein – there weren’t many.  When he found one that didn’t look too manky, he pushed in the needle and depressed the plunger.

Stephen’s initial reaction was to breathe deeply, almost orgasmically, but this was followed by another rapid inhalation. His eyes widened. His fingers drew into tight fists and he slouched back into his mouldy armchair, sinking slowly into paralysis. Tears rolled down his cheeks and his breathing became more and more shallow.

Joe stood up and looked at his friend. As Stephen’s eyes began to take on the glassiness of death, Joe glanced at the baggie in his hand. “Sorry, mate. It was fifty-fifty. I never could cut my ties – always did involve summat drastic, like. Well, this is as drastic as it gets. If it makes it any easier it could’ve been either one of us, you know. I didn’t know which one was dosed. I couldn’t leave with you around, mate; just didn’t have the willpower. Like I sez, sorry.”

When Joe finished talking, he realised he was chatting with a corpse, or as near as it gets. Stephen stared glassy-eyed into the distance, his skin almost translucent, fine blue veins sitting just beneath the surface. He was slack-jawed and a line of drool ran from his bottom lip down to the neck of his T-shirt.

Joe crouched on his haunches. He rubbed his chin, deep in thought, staring at the baggie on the arm of the chair. He stayed like this for a while, then stood up slowly and walked to the chair. After rummaging around in his pocket for a while he took out an old till receipt and laid it flat in the palm of his hand. He picked up the baggie, poured some of the contents into the center of the receipt and put the baggie back down on the chair. Then Joe folded the receipt carefully, making sure not to spill the contents. The receipt went back in his pocket.

He smiled at his friend. “Just in case she doesn’t take me back.”

Joe patted his friend on the head, but Stephen didn’t feel it. He took one final look around the room, then made for the door. After opening it, he stood in the doorway for a few seconds, took a few deep breaths, sighed, and closed the door behind him.

Review: Dig Ten Graves – Heath Lowrance

One of the beauties of being on Twitter is finding a thriving hardboiled crime fiction and noir community. Meeting people (in a virtual sense) with similar interests to you; Meeting people whose knowledge of my chosen field of interest far exceeds my own, people like Heath Lowrance.

Heath recently did a potted history of hardboiled/noir fiction on his brilliant Psychonoir blog. It was good enough to make me buy the Kindle version of The Bastard Hand, which in typical hoarder style I have yet to read (though it’s now next on the list).

But I also recently downloaded Dig Ten Graves, his collection of short stories, which in also typical style I got around to reading first.

What can I say? Well, it’s flat-out superb stuff, for a start. And second, just bloody well buy it. You’ll be guaranteeing yourself some top-notch reading, and finding yourself a new favourite writer!

The entire collection is of a very high quality, but the stand-outs for me are Incident on a Rain-Soaked Corner, which is not only superb but, damn it, similar to a story of mine that was going in a collection of shorts I’m releasing late in February (although I’m now wary of including it because, trust me, Heath’s story is far far better); The Most Natural Thing in The World, which beautifully takes a man’s relationship with his dog and turns it on its head – a gruelling bit of psychological survival horror; and finally, From Here to Oblivion, which chronicles one man’s attempt to kill himself with brilliantly comic results (I have two words for you, Sayonara, bitches) – I guffawed regularly during the story, which got me a fair few looks whilst travelling on the underground.

If you’re looking for a quality collection of shorts, with not a duffer amongst them, then look no further. Dig Ten Graves is superb short story writing from a superb writer. Buy it today.

Apologies…

…for the lack of recent updates, folks. I’ve been hard at work on my novella, The Hunters, and several short stories featuring the Stanton Brothers, who are likely to be the main focus of my work over the next year or so, which means that I simply haven’t had as much time as I would like to devote to the website (I will add another of my favourite crime novels in the next few days, honest).

Normally, finishing the first draft of a work would be less of an issue, but as I am going travelling in October for several months (and leaving the comfortable job I’ve had for over five years) there is a hell of a lot to do to ensure that the novella and stories aren’t a massive pile of semi-literate crap. Added to which I need to ensure I have things in place to smooth my return to London, assuming I decide to come back (who knows what might happen whilst I’m travelling?).

So it’s go-go-go at the moment.

The second novel, or the second novella…

…which one will get there first?

I’m 44,000 words into my second novel (roughly halfway, by my current calculations), which will be the first in a series of three novels featuring a pair of Teesside thieves who steal only from drug dealers and other criminals. These novels are very much in the hard-boiled mould rather than noir. They are also in the first person, which is a new one for me (as third person is normally my thing).

However, they are also the stars of a few short stories that I have written recently and a novella, which is currently about 5,000 words in and moving at a faster pace than the novel in terms of words per day.

I hope to have first drafts of both done by mid-August. With draft revisions through August and September and a tentative publication date (for the novella, at least) of early October. The second novel will probably have to wait until

In the meantime, I will make the short stories available for free as and when they have been proofed and edited.

I intend to go travelling in October, and this is a deadline set in stone (the tickets are booked, for one thing), so I know I need to pick up the pace. I want to have another piece of writing available for sale by the time I go travelling, so I can enjoy my travels without fretting about the stuff I haven’t finished.

Exciting times!

The Short Goodbye – a short story

Eleanor folded their mother’s clothes neatly before packing them into the careworn brown leather suitcase that lay open upon the hospital bed.

Simon watched her. She looked frail and older than her years. Eleanor heard his heavy wheezing. She looked up, observed him with a cold gaze and resumed the folding and packing. “You’re late!”

“I’m sorry.”

“She asked for you.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“She asked for you!” Eleanor snarled.

“Let’s leave me and you outside,” Simon pleaded.

Eleanor stopped and locked her icy blue gaze upon him. “This isn’t about you and me. She asked for you, at the end, and you weren’t there.”

“I was busy. I’m sorry!”

“I wonder if you’ll be saying that when they read out the will.”

Simon felt the blow from that; it struck him hard, and he reeled from its impact. “This isn’t the first time she’s asked for me. We’ve been at this point before.”

“We’ve never been at this point!” Eleanor said, shaking her head with a look of disgust.

Simon winced inwardly at his inappropriate choice of phrase. “You know what I mean.”

Eleanor stepped away from the bed, towards him, her movements stiff, her face drawn tight. “You were never here.”

“Rubbish!”

Eleanor pointed an accusing finger at him. “You were never here for her!” Simon noticed her hand was shaking, he wasn’t sure if it was anger or grief.

“Jesus, Eleanor!”

Eleanor turned her back on him. “Is your time so precious that you couldn’t spare half an hour for your own mother?”

Simon shook his head. His family and his business were young; he had demands on his time that Eleanor, as their mother’s full-time carer, could never comprehend. “You wouldn’t understand,” he said.

“Really? Try me.”

“My family is young.”

“Mine’s dead,” his sister responded.

Simon winced. “My career is just taking off.”

“And mine’s just ended,” she countered.

Simon moved towards Eleanor; his attempt at breaking the ice between them. Eleanor heard his footsteps upon the vinyl flooring but didn’t turn around. She resumed her packing as calmly and methodically as it had begun. “You want to talk about time? The fruits of my time are in the mortuary,” she said coolly.

“Eleanor!”

“Keep it. Whatever it is you have to say just keep it to yourself. I don’t want to hear it.”

Simon backed away and turned towards the open doorway and the bustle of the ward outside. “When’s the funeral?”

“Well, if you can make the time, it’ll be this Friday,” Eleanor said. She had a slight smile and a vicious glint in her eyes.

He was supposed to meet his biggest client that day for a deal worth thousands of pounds. Of course, Eleanor knew this. She knew this because she had been there when he phoned their mother with the good news.

He shivered before chuckling softly.

The last words he ever said to his sister were, “I’ll have to check my diary, but I think I can make it.”