Thursday, June 28, 2007

Powder Burn # 35 - Barry Baldwin


She fitted that corny old headline Blonde Found Dead in Luxury Apartment.

Her husband turned into the equally intense face of their all-purpose Asian maid.

The tall guy with her, presumably the latest stud, barked his name and rank of city detective and took over. A phone call, people arriving, some in uniform others not, husband's transfer to the main precinct downtown where it was established that he taught Victorian poetry at the local college.

He'd been woken in his own room by some noise which bothered him enough to break the house rule and enter hers without invitation and found her as they had found her when they found him.

He'd seen, heard no one. Didn't know how long he'd been standing there when maid and detective arrived. Told he'd be in the hoosegow overnight pending further investigation, he raised no fuss about rights or lawyers, demanding only he be let go to deliver an important long-arranged lecture the next evening.

The detective and his chief knew he'd done it. But how and why?

Strangulation, the medic had pronounced. Not manual; the hyoid bone wasn't fractured. The ligature mark was strangely faint; he'd no idea what had been used. The detective swore he was there before any weapon could have been got rid of. Body was warm, no rigor. Husband's hands were empty. Was wearing only pyjamas, the trousers self-supporting, no incriminating cord or belt or tie or laces. No solution-providing items anywhere in the bedroom.

"You're screwing the maid. What you got from her?"

"We can rule out money. It's all his, she hadn't a dime. Sex looks a non-starter as well. She doesn't think either of them fooled around, though you'd figure she must have had offers with that figure and blonde mane. But maids have a pretty good instinct about that. Marriage seemed dandy. Except..."

Straw-clutching, "Except...?"

"She heard them quarrelling. Only this morning. First time ever, far as she knew. Couldn't make out much, she was down in the kitchen, and her English isn't too hot. She's certain it was something about poetry,they were both into that, not that she is, Tagalog pop songs apart. Swears the wife shouted 'How would you know, you haven't got any,' then he slammed out."

"Hasn't got any what? Come to that, we've got no damn thing either."

"Nothing and everything. We both know he did it. He's a flake. Like that French writer a few years back, Louis Althusser or some fucking name, strangled his wife just for the experience. I mean, what kind of guy has his own wife murdered and his only thought is, will I get to give my lecture?"

"You can never figure these arty types, son. You should know that. Time was you wouldn't let us forget you were a college major."

"Yeah, in criminology. Don't know a damn thing about Victorian fucking poetry." He didn't add, but I know someone who does. " It's the vibes he gave off. Everything he said and didn't say came out as Ha-Ha-Catch-Me-If-You-Can. He'd have known what time the maid was due back, he waited for her to find him there. I was someone who just happened along. He wants us to charge him, figures no way we'll get a conviction without weapon or motive, juries aren't big on circumstantial evidence, it's a defense attorney's dream, and he's off the hook for good."

"Well, at least we can let him stew in the can overnight. Come A.M., he's out, can go lecture to his heart's content. We put it in the unsolved file, keep him on the books. Crack this one, son, it's a fast track to promotion."

Next evening, the detective was in the surprisingly large lecture audience. Either the guy had a great reputation or time hung heavily on many people's hands. Gliding to the centre-stage lectern, he proposed a single text, no preliminary read-through, not even the title, taking it line-by-line as the original audience was intended to.

The detective realised here was a man in obsessional love with his subject, more concerned to draw his audience in than distance them with his own brilliance. No one stirred, until he reached a particular caesura. The detective rose, declaimed the next five lines, ran down the aisle up on to the stage where he informed the professor through the lectern microphone that he was under arrest.

To further consternation, the latter reached up, removed what was now betrayed as a dark toupee that had sheltered a totally bald head, and flung it into the audience, one of two of whom by conditioned reflex as though at a baseball game vied for its possession.

During the formal booking and cautioning, professor and chief separately observed that this must be the first time poetry had played a role in police work. Neither meant this as an unvarnished compliment, but a variety of emotions, some more identifiable than others, made the detective' s heart swell.

"Your promotion's in the bag, son. Let me hear that stuff again..."

"Robert Browning, 'Porphyria's Lover', verses 37-41:...I found

A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her."

"Some poem! You know, I'm a shade surprised that would work, but..."

No buts about it. The detective had got this literary nugget from the English teacher on his substitutes bench that he was screwing. Before going public , he'd tested it with the thick blonde pigtail around her own neck. He'd been after that promotion for too long, and wasn't going to foul it up by looking a fool.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 34 - Roy Berger

Ten Thousand Cops On My Tail

She looked at him, curious. `Such a quiet one.`She clicked his glass with hers. "What do you write?"

He looked at her. "Passion. I write about passion, romance..."He paused. "Fake pass ports, counterfeit paintings, hot cars, hot guns, hot babes and hot lead. I`ve got ten million bucks in the bag, ten thousand cops on my tail, spooks behind my door and tomorrow is a rainbow on fire. Saturday it`s Moscow, Sunday it`s Tel Aviv. Monday I bust out of a foreign prison. I can tell you it`s page one. You need a hook." He looked at her. "You should see me when I take off my glasses." His eyes wandered down to her necklace. "The Princess of Monaco has one like that but it looks better on you."

She wasn`t bored now. "You have a wonderful fantasy life. Do you make all this up?" She laughed.

"The best part of being fifty is not having to make anything up. I can`t get the memories down fast enough. Might run out of ink. Every man in this room is wondering why a woman so beautiful, why someone so lovely as you is sharing a glass with me." He smiled at her.

"Oh, but they can take care of themselves. They have beautiful women with them."

`Keep talking.` he said to himself. `Keep talking for the next fifty years.`"This is true. Let us celebrate capability, beauty and style." He lifted his glass to hers.

"ummm. I`m so thirsty." Her lips were red.

"Booze will cure that. Red or white?"

"Something that sparkles." she said.

He nodded, turned and left for the bar. He turned to look back. Cary Grant was standing beside her. She was laughing. He was holding a scotch and leaning into her. "...oh all that stuff from before. Listen, Frank Sinatras`car isn`t good enough to hold your high heels. We should embrace tomorrow while Frank runs out of yesterdays. Let`s meet tonight. I`m back at the St. James."

He ordered the drinks and waited. He looked back to see she was in the same place. Her hand was extended and she was saying something. Grant had left. Frank Sinatra was there. He had both hands in his pockets. "Tell Grant to take a hike. The road is paved. My car is hot. Guido and Tony over there can have us in Atlantic City in twenty minutes."

By the time he got back she was still there. He passed her a glass.

"Ohh, I love champagne. I think it must be part of my blood. You will please excuse me but this is a necessary thing."

There was a man to her left. He looked like any of the other tuxedo clad men there. She drew a fairly large gun out of her shoulder bag. Without hesitation she held it against the temple of the man, pulled the trigger and half his head evaporated.

He though. `That was one hell of a round.`

She was just standing there. The back splash of blood was all over her cocktail dress. She was looking down at the floor. His white shirt was speckled with the mans`blood and brain bits. She was still standing there. He could see the smoke still drifting in the air.

He politely inquired. " Did you have a plan beyond this point?"

She quietly shook her head.

The man slumped forward, fell to his knees and crumpled to the ground.

He pointed his lips to her ear. "I know you didn`t do it. I know your innocent. Come with me. Lets get out of here. I want to know if your earrings came from Mexico or Peru." He put his arm out to steady her. Her hand grabbed his forearm and clamped fiercely. That was enough. He took the gun out of her hand.He wrapped his arm around her waist and grabbed her hard. He backed up with her.

He starred blankly at the crowd. the crowd starred at the barrel of his gun. She was weightless. No one moved. He pushed a side door open then shut. They moved quickly now into the parking lot and down the line. He fired a shot. It was loud. She shrank back a bit but not much. He opened the door to a TR-6 Triumph convertible and helped her to the seat. She swung her legs in and he closed the door. He opened the drivers`door and turned the key. The engine caught right away. Stood to reason the car would be in good shape. Whose ever car it was. He pushed the stick back accelerated out of the parking lot. He could see people from his rear view mirror shaking their fists and yelling.

"I prefer museums. Others prefer banks. Jewelry warehouses are easier. You have the legs of an olympic cyclist."

She turned to him. She smiled. "You are very good for women. I think I should like best your idea. To get out of here."

Bio: Roy Berger is 51 and lives in Montreal and works as a mechanic by day. He just finished his fourth book.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 33 - Cormac Brown

"The Post-Nuptial"

The “City of Angels ?” They have all the letters right, but their order all wrong. It’s the “City of Angles .” As in everyone there has an angle, is hiding behind one or they will come at you from a funny angle. Because people down there just don’t deal with anyone straight on.

I don’t like coming down here; it’s way too bright and that’s just the light coming off of all the bleached smiles. Don’t get me started on the sun. But I am here on business, on behalf of a fine piece of pleasure.

She’s battier than a cave full of guano, which is good for the bedroom and bad for everywhere else. Even when she comes up for the occasional recreational tryst, this gets to be too much. So I know all too well as to just why her husband wants to divorce her, since he has to deal with her every single day.

The problem, as far as she is concerned, is that she is a movie star who has amassed millions over the life of her career, and before they were married he was a boom-mike operator with bad shoulders. When she finally cuts him loose, he won’t be able to work for long and though I don’t know all of the details, the only thing that both of their lawyers can agree on is that he has a fairly good chance of overturning their prenuptial agreement.

My plan is pretty simple: I’ve already driven down here and stolen a car. I’ll kick it off with a squat-and-stop right in front of her husband’s car.

It’s six P.M. on an overcast December 15th and it’s nice and dark. He turns off of Franklin Boulevard and I follow. I pull ahead of him and I look for witnesses...that’s right, I look for witnesses.

If you ask them what happened next, they would tell you that he rear-ended me, even though I was the one that stopped short in front of him. They would tell you that a Mexican gang-banger got out and cursed at him in Spanish for being crazy and for hitting his car.

Then they would tell you that the Mexican shot the husband point-blank in the head...even though I am about as Mexican as Charlton Heston in “A Touch of Evil,” and that my clothes and car authentic only in the borrowed sense.

I drive off of Whitley Avenue , where I torch the car and the disguise. I get the rental car I drove down here out of the garage and I’m home free, because L.A. ’s finest won’t be looking for “Joe Tourist” as the World’s best “accidental” post-nuptial agreement.

Just south of Lompoc , I have to get gas for the car and caffeine for myself, as we are both running on fumes...twenty hours on the road will do that to you.

I nod at the cashier, a nice East Indian who that will go far, judging by all the books he studies in between transactions. Then, in my sleep-deprived stupor, I make a mistake...I pay for the sale with my credit card. If a detective gets lucky and makes it up to Pacifica , this will put a huge hole in my “all alone at my cabin up in Tahoe” alibi.

I space out until the cashier and a Highway Patrol officer waiting behind me, bring me back. I sign the receipt and thank the kid.

Three miles later and I hear the distinct horn of a police car. I mull pulling over for about thirty seconds, then the car flashes the red and blue lights, and I panic. I get the first shot off, but I should’ve just shot myself instead, as it’s real hard to hit anything with a patrol car spotlight in your face.

I slip in and out...

...I see the Highway Patrol officer who was at the gas station.

...I hear him tell another officer that the station cashier said I forgot my credit card, and that he just wanted to give it back to me. I take it back...that cashier won’t go far; he’ll make a bad American, because he’s too damn honest.

...I just hope they can’t connect me to her.

...Yes, I contradicted myself by what I’ve done, but I’ll still talk shit about “The City of Angles.” I never said I wasn’t a hypocrite and the most comforting fact to me as I depart this world, is that at least I won’t die in L.A.

Bio: "Cormac Brown" is my pen name. I'm an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, and I'm following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. A couple of stories that I've stapled and stitched together can be found at

Can be reached at:

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Powder Flash Burn # 32 - Rob T. Lord

For I Have Sinned

Off the bus into the downtown heat, it didn’t take long for Elaine to find her target.

Inside the cool darkness she moved sideways between pews down the short side aisle of red carpet. She ducked inside and closed the curtain behind her.

Sitting down she put her purse between her legs, unzipped its top. A small window covered a honeycomb screen. It slid opened in front of her.

“Forgive me Father for I have sinned,” she blessed herself slowly, her palms covered in sweat. “My last confession was six years ago.”

“Very well,” said the calming voice.

The priest was in his mid-fifties, salt and pepper hair, pale skin and hairy forearms folded across his chest. A chubby hand tucked under his small chin—waiting to hear a sinner’s sins.

The church was cold. It felt good on Elaine’s tan skin and shoulders and sandaled feet. August in Washington meant unforgiving heat and humidity. Weeks earlier, three homeless men camped outside at the bus terminal watched a new A/C system loaded off a truck into the back of the old church.

Her watch read 5:00 minutes. She pressed START.

“Father, I’m having trouble in my marriage.”

“How long have you been married my dear?”

“Seventeen years last month.”

“Well, that’s wonderful. You should be proud,” he assured her. “Children I assume?”

“Two boys, one girl.”

“And they’ve received the sacraments of the Church?”


He nodded, clearing his throat.

“How long’s this been going on?”

“Well … longer than I realized.”


She looked down at her watch glowing in the dark.


Elaine said no, it wasn’t.


She practiced what she’d say next a hundred times in the kitchen late at night.

She learned something new from her husband, a retired Marine. Something she never tried before. She’d been practicing for a month with him deep in the woods near a deserted alpaca farm south of Annapolis.


“My daughter. She’s in therapy for---“


Elaine balled her fists. She couldn’t go any further. Her heart skipped a beat. Her time had finally come.

She reached into her purse, pulled out a pistol with a silencer. She brought it up from under the screen, flipped off the safety, pulling the trigger twice.

The priest fell sideways, arms dropping to his sides. His head covered with red and pink smeared against the screen, spots finding Elaine’s face and blouse.


Elaine put the pistol back inside her purse and wiped her face and blouse with a tissue. She moved up the aisle, looking for any sign of life.


Outside, Elaine moved down the stairs with her sunglasses on; head down past three homeless men. Aboard the waiting bus heading for the suburbs, she sat in the back checking her reflection in the window for any sign of blood. The bus pulls from the curb, heading for Maryland.

“That’s for touching my daughter you sick fuck!” she hissed.

Rob T. Lord has worked as a dish washer, factory laborer, and aide to politicians in the United States. He now is a middle school teacher in Washington, DC.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 31 - Shannan A. Gros

Accidental Death

“Hello.... I’ll be there in thirty minutes.”

“Who was that?” Jessica asked, as she laid on the edge of the bed.”

"Work....just wait here I will be back in a couple of hours.”

After getting dressed, Reggie left the hotel room. He got into his car and headed northbound on hwy 1 toward the parish line.

Reggie looked at his cell as he scrolled through the phone book menu. Finding the number he was looking for he pressed the call button.

“She’s there by herself, I have to leave for a couple hours, get it done as quickly as possible.”

After hanging up Reggie gently pressed on the accelerator and eased back into his seat. -- He thought this was going to make everything better.


Jessica was under the covers watching television when she noticed a shadow outside the hotel window. She waved it off at first thinking that it was someone just passing, but when the shadow returned several minutes later, Jessica could feel the hairs on the back of her neck beginning to stand up in fright.

She slowly got out of bed and put on her clothes. She creep towards the door along the wall. She could hear someone talking outside the door. The voice’s of two men.

She heard one of them say, “As soon as those people finish loading up their car were going in.”

Jessica’s heart began to race. "What is going on, who are they and what do they want?"

Her eyes began to well up with tears. Trying to pull herself together, she noticed something sticking out of the side of the bed between the mattresses. Jessica grabbed it just as she heard the hotel door bust open.


Reggie pulled into the old abandoned sugar mill in Napoleonville. He parked his car in the darkest corner he could find. Reggie turned off his lights as he got out of the car. Looking at his watch and realizing he was a couple minutes early Reggie lit up a cigarette while he waited.


It’s about damn time, Reggie thought to himself when the first car pulled into the sugar mill. The car stopped about fifty feet from where Reggie was standing and three men got out, none of which Reggie had ever seen before.

The second car, a black 328xi BMW Coupe with dark tinted windows parked next to the other car. An older man wearing a black double breasted suit got out of the rear passenger side of the car.

Reggie knew who the man was, but has never met him in person before. The man walked up to Where Reggie and the other three men were standing.

“Mr. Duncan, I appreciate you meeting me like this,” Reggie said to the man in the suit, knowing that you don’t get to meet him like this unless you screwed up.

“Shut up!” Mr. Duncan yelled, “What happened on your last assignment?”

“I’m sorry Mr. Duncan, it was an accident. The target’s wife came home earlier than expected. She walked in as I was cleaning up. I had to take care of her, so she couldn’t call the cops. I won’t let it happen--"

“You’re damn right it won’t,” Mr. Duncan eyes watered up and a tear ran down his check.

Clinching his teeth he muttered, “The man’s wife you killed....was my baby sister.”

Mr. Duncan then tuned and walked back to his car.

Reggie looked surprised to hear what Mr. Duncan had just said and didn’t notice that one of the three men, now standing in front of him had a pistol in his hand and was pointing it at Reggie’s face.

Reggie reached for his chrome plated snub nose from his waist band, his heart stopped beating before the bullet ever penetrated his skull...


Bio: Shannan has several flash stories accepted for publication from Flashshots. He has several flash pieces published through Nefarious – Tales of Mystery, Powder Burn Flash and DZ Allen’s Muzzle Flash. Shannan enjoys, playing guitar and spending time with his family.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 30 - Barry Baldwin


The inspector contemplated the pile of chains heaped on the ground, as dark and sinister as the surrounding buildings. He lit a pungent Shinsei cigarette. ‘How could they escape from a ton of iron like this? Godzilla himself would have been hard pressed to break such fetters.’

His subordinate was saying nothing. Tsumbo de oshi - deaf and dumb.

Chimbo , thought the inspector, monko. He had good reason to summon up the two grossest anatomical terms in the Japanese vocabulary. But they did nothing to help.

‘Who was in charge of this business?’

‘Yoshi Kamo.’

Yoshi Kamo. The smallest man on the force, as tiny as the inspector was immense, and the biggest nuisance. ‘Drive me back to the office, fetch him to me there, then make yourself scarce.’

When Kamo stood before him, watchful but confident, the inspector said without preamble, ‘You released those women.’

Hai.’ A lengthening pause suggested that his superior was waiting for this clipped affirmative to be decorated with a shamefaced Simata! - I have made a mistake. Well, his superior was in for a disappointment.


Yoshi Kamo stirred. ‘They were not only Sumo wrestlers, but also deviants.’

‘An interesting antithesis,’ observed the inspector impassively, ‘coming from one such as yourself. It is known that you entertain a poor opinion of this new feature of life in our nation.’

‘I consider them to be a dishonour to our people, an affront to order and morality, yes...’

The inspector raised a hand to abort the diatribe. If Yoshi Kamo were not stopped, he would launch into his celebrated lament for Mishima, the Japanese novelist and warrior who had a few years ago famously committed seppuku in protest against modern decadence. ‘Yes, all this is familar. But why do you say they were deviants also?’

‘Because there were no men in the bar where we rounded them up. Acting on information received. And when we attempted to bind them together, they giggled...’

‘All Japanese girls giggle.’

‘But these cheered and shouted Awri, Awri , to make my men go more quickly. And some even moved closer together and kissed each other. Masochists. They wanted the chains. That was not to be tolerated.’

‘So, where are they now?’ The inspector already knew he would not welcome the answer.

‘Ito and I herded them into that disused police laundry where, as you know, discreet interrogations are conducted. We shot them, not without difficulty, and rendered them down in the boilers, which still work most efficiently. They would make high-quality grease, for domestic use as well as wrestlers. Most expensive in the supermarkets. Our wives would be very pleased. It is, of course, expected that you, Inspector, would be entitled to the largest share.

‘Logical and clean. The sadist must deny pleasure to the masochist. And they were fat in life, hence what better than that they should be fat in death?’

Yoshi Kamo, surprised by his superior’s understanding, bowed more deeply than usual and left.

The inspector frowned as he picked up the telephone, punched in some confidential numbers, and arranged with the city’s top yakusa who owed him many favours for the killing of Yoshi Kamo.

Partly because, despite his great size, he was a vegetarian, for him a matter of simple taste rather than complex morality. After all, he had often read that the gaijin Hitler did not eat meat or drink or even smoke.

But mainly because his favourite wrestler had been among the victims. Only the previous week, he had composed an account of her latest - her last, as it had turned out - triumph in the newspaper Asahi. Under a pseudonym, naturally, he had evoked the erotic poetry in motion of both yokozuna coming together in migi-yotsu or right-hand inside holds. Since this was Mariko’s favourite grip, Yuko released her left hand from an outside hold and attempted to push her left arm inside Mariko’s gripping one to break her hold. Baffled in this, she resumed her original position on the mawashi. But Mariko suddenly unleashed a mighty, sharp-snapping arm throw from the right which sent Yuko thudding into submission.

If his report had unduly favoured one of these equally matched titanesses, that was a natural consequence of their having been lovers for quite some time. He had thought that no one knew. Neither was married, and they had been careful. But now, he wondered about Yoshi Kamo. The man missed very little. Had he somehow divined the affair? Was this knowledge, abetted by some dark desires of his own, the unadmitted impulse behind the slaughter in the laundry? Well, it was no matter now. And the inspector doubted that for all his alertness Yoshi Kamo had had the faintest inkling that his superior officer was booked into the most expensive private clinic in Bangkok surgically to complete his progress from man to woman. It would not be long before his career would be as transformed as his body, from inspector of police to madam in charge of Tokyo’s most illustrious house of geishas, his pension amplified by funds from grateful businessmen and indebted yakusas.

He pondered, not for long, then jotted down some ideograms which engendered a summarising haiku:

Inside Every
Fat Man A Fat Woman Is
Trying To Get Out.
Almost worthy of Basho, greatest exponent of the form. He would print it, under his own name, in the police newsletter when his resignation was gazetted. The liquidation of Yoshi Kamo and the avenging of Mariko the Sumo wrestler were acts positive in themselves but too quiet to be of more than limited validity. It was time that he/she came out into open embodiment and support of the twin virtues of female and fat.

One task remained. Yoshi Kamo had disclosed the name of his informant: Yuko. Mariko’s honour demanded requitement. Logic and pleasure dictated that he inveigle her into the old police laundry where she too could be rendered down into fat - alive.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 29 - Megan Powell

Dog People

"I'm tied up downtown," Eddie said. "Can you check on Shiloh and give her dinner tonight?"

"Sure, no problem."

Eddie didn't elaborate before hanging up, and Debbie didn't ask him to do so. They were both dog people, which formed the basis of a pleasant neighborly bond. Eddie was new to the neighborhood, and Shiloh's presence discouraged casual visitors.

Debbie had grown up with a Doberman, so her first reaction to the breed was always a rush of affection, not terror. Shiloh was a real sweetie, about a year old, full of energy, and food motivated.

Debbie crossed the street and let Shiloh out into the yard. "Good girl!" she said, when Shiloh refrained from jumping on her in greeting. Shiloh cocked her head, not quite sure why she was being praised but always ready to accept a kind word. Debbie tossed a tennis ball and they played a modified version of fetch, which involved Shiloh running past Debbie a few times with the ball between her teeth, and eventually playing tug of war.

For variety, Debbie threw the ball against Eddie's fence; Shiloh caught it on the bounce. At six feet, the fence wasn't high enough to contain a Doberman who wanted to get loose. Fortunately Shiloh had shown no desire to bolt, and at least she was microchipped. Debbie threw the ball again, and wondered if Eddie had considered an agility class. Shiloh would probably enjoy that--especially the part where she was rewarded with treats.

Debbie left her racing around the house and went into Eddie's kitchen to fill the water bowl and set out her food. In theory, anything Shiloh didn't eat was picked up as soon as she walked away from her bowl; in practice, Shiloh never left a single piece of kibble uneaten.

"Shiloh!" Debbie called from the door. "Dinner!"

The Doberman emerged from Eddie's garage, but she was definitely not her usual bouncy self. She bent her head toward the ground and made hacking noises. Debbie felt the beginnings of panic--Eddie was a good, responsible dog owner, but garages could contain all sorts of dangerous things. The death of her last dog still weighed heavily on Debbie; she didn't want to go through that again just yet, and certainly wouldn't wish it on Eddie.

She knelt beside Shiloh, offering encouragement in soothing tones. Out of the corner of her eye, she glanced into Eddie's garage. She saw no obvious dangers, no large overturned barrels labeled with skull-and-crossbones. If anything, the garage was unnaturally neat.With a mighty hacking noise, Shiloh dislodged something from her throat. Without hesitation, Debbie reached into her mouth and drew out the offending object. "Good girl. All better?" Evidently the answer was yes; Shiloh waggled her hindquarters and bounded off.

Debbie smiled, and only then realized she was holding a human finger.

She almost dropped it. But while it was quite recognizable, there was no logical reason for her to have a severed finger in her hand. No reason for Shiloh to have had a finger caught in her throat.

Nightmare scenarios overpowered squeamishness. Shiloh wasn't aggressive, but if she had maimed someone, they would demand that Eddie put her down. Debbie glanced into the garage again--there was no sign of the finger's owner. No thief passed out on the floor, no screaming trespasser bleeding in the street. And, looking more closely, the finger had not been torn off by an animal. It had been neatly separated from the hand by a sharp blade.

A sharp blade like, perhaps, the circular saw Eddie had bought over the weekend.

If Eddie'd hurt himself, why hadn't he asked her for a ride to the hospital? And was it too late to reattach the finger? Debbie walked into the garage, expecting to see a puddle of blood on the floor. But there was nothing. Just a recently cleaned floor, and an array of tools laid out neatly, everything in its place.

Shiloh rejoined Debbie and began sniffing around on the floor. She had found food in here before, and therefore might find food again. Never mind that the first snack had choked her; never mind that the first snack was a human finger.

Debbie felt a little ill. If the finger hadn't been cut off accidentally, then it had been cut off on purpose.

She flipped open her cell phone and checked the last incoming call. It wasn't Eddie's cell number. She hit Send, and was unsurprised to be told she had reached the police department, and that she should dial 911 if it was an emergency.

No, it wasn't an emergency. She stared at the finger, wondering who it belonged to and what he had done to offend Eddie. She wondered if the finger's owner was still alive, or if the rest of his body had been carted off this morning in Eddie's pickup truck. She wondered if this was what Eddie did for a living. The question had never come up; Shiloh was a more interesting topic of conversation.

The Doberman whined, unhappy that she was not currently the center of Debbie's attention. "Just a minute, sweetie." Didn't the police have anyone answering the phones? Didn't they want to be informed about evidence discovered in garages? On TV, there was always someone answering the phone.

And on TV, there was only one phone call, almost invariably used to call for a lawyer. Except Eddie hadn't done that. Eddie had just wanted to make sure Shiloh was all right.

Debbie closed her hand around the finger. She didn't know anything about the man it had belonged to--but she knew enough about Eddie.

"Hello, and thank you for holding--"

Debbie hung up. "Time for dinner, Shiloh."

BIO: Megan Powell's short fiction has appeared in various places on- and offline, and sometimes she writes longer stuff, too. She edits the webzine Shred of Evidence and maintains a homepage at

Friday, June 1, 2007

Powder Burn Flash # 28 - Cormac Brown

"Eggplant Parmigiana"

"I have to answer that."

"You don't have to do, anything, Erica. You never answered it when I called, did you?"

"Tommy, I have to answer it. It's probably my father and you know he'll come over if I don't."

Tommy's forearm tenses around Erica's neck and she winces. He winces too, but her bruised, clenched eyes miss that in the dark reflection off the glass frame, covering the painting on the wall in front of them.

All the lights are off and the setting sun is the sole source of light in the house. He was too agitated until now to notice the scratches that she gave him and the fading sun makes the ruby streaks glisten. His left arm and neck look like he went at it for half an hour with a mountain lion.

Still in a chokehold, Tommy drags her across the room and he picks the phone up out of its cradle. He roughly puts it against her face and places his ear in a perfect eavesdrop position.


"Hi, Erica," the deep voice greets her in a cold, flat tone.

"Oh, hi, Daddy."

"Why are you still at home? Mom has been expecting you over here for about an hour now."

Tommy pricks her left side with his knife and shakes his head against her tipping her father off.

"I've...been busy. I had too much work at the office and I had to bring some of it home, so I've lost track of time. Honestly, I have so much work. Tell Mom that I'm sorry and that I'll have to take a raincheck."

"Well, she made your favorite."

"You mean, eggplant Parmigiana?"

"Yes, it's gotten cold. Hold on, Honey. I have to go in the garage and get something out of my truck."

Tommy's sweat drips on Erica, and his breaths are slow and heavy. Over the phone, Tommy and Erica can faintly hear the sound of a car door slamming.

"Well, listen, Erica. Mom's going to put it in the freezer, because we're going out of town for the next few days. We were wondering if you could come over tomorrow and feed the cat."

If wolves could actually smile, the look on Tommy's face would be the closest facsimile possible. Erica starts to cry until Tommy clenches his forearm for her to stop.

"Also, Honey, make sure the timer for the lights work."

"Okay, Daddy."

"How about that new lamp I bought you, does that work?"

"I...haven't tried it yet."

"Well, why don't you try it right now?"

"Daddy...I told you, I'm kind of busy."

"I'd like to know, because I'll come by right now if it doesn't work. That way I can get it exchanged, first thing in the morning, when the stores open."

Tommy gives her odd look and Erica slowly points at the halogen lamp right by the front window.

"Okay, I'll check it out right now, Daddy."

Tommy's forearm lets go of her neck, but the knife stays firmly at her side. They stop just under the lamp and Erica turns it on...all the way up. Tommy's eyes are the ones to clench this time and his hands go up just a little bit.

In the space of less than a second, there is a bang, a crack of glass and Tommy goes backward. His knife goes flying from his hand and the bright light of the lamp becomes an even brighter light for Tommy, then it all goes black.

The front door flies open. Erica's father scoops her up with his left hand and cradles her. His right hand has a gun that's trained on the corpse of Tommy. The trauma of the situation overwhelms her and she starts to hyperventilate.

"It's okay, Honey, it's okay."

"I didn't-I didn't-"

"It's okay, you don't have to worry about him anymore."

"I didn' know?"

"I know you swore your mom to secrecy, but she told me about this abusive asshole a long time ago. You didn't call her when you said you were going to, so I came by. When I said I was going to my truck, I didn't tell you that it was down the block and I was getting out of it, instead"

"But how did you know?"

"C'mon, Honey, your "favorite?" Even I can barely stand your mother's eggplant Parmigiana."

Bio: "Cormac Brown" is my pen name. I'm an up-and-slumming writer in the city of Saint Francis, and I'm following in the footsteps of Hammett...minus the TB and working for the Pinkerton Agency. A couple of stories that I've stapled and stitched together can be found at