Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine Special

I'm proud to be participating in this wonderful tribute to the day of love. Patti Abbott has worked hard to pull together all these stories and I feel priviledged that Powder Burn Flash is able to assist in posting some of the stories.

Below you will find a listing of the stories submitted.

Read them all with the one you love.............

"Bye, Bye Love" Sandra Seamans

"Love on the Rocks" Aldo Calcagno

"Tongues" Patricia Abbott

"It Ain't Easy Loving Green" Daniel Hatadi

"Stand Up on Blow Pops" Bryon Quertermous

"Cupids Bullet" Clair Dickson

"Warmer" Cormac Brown

"Leaving Rachel" Patrick Shawn Bagley (reprinted from FITG)

"Connect the Dots" Gerald So

"The Many Forms of Love" Steve Allan

"Beautiful Trouble" Christa Miller from FITG)

Valentine Special - Sandra Seamans


Thanks to an accident shutting down the interstate for a few hours, a convoy of truckers had pulled into the Landry Truck Stop for lunch. Tildy loaded her plastic tub with dirty dishes, pocketed her tip, wiped the table clean, and moved on to the next one. A few more busy days like this and she'd have enough money in her stash to get out of Landry and her sorry-assed marriage permanently. The thought brought a smile of satisfaction to her weary, life-battered face.

A pair of hands grabbed Tildy's waist and spun her around. The smile faded as her husband, Jake, pulled her close and danced her around the diner. That he'd been up to no good was a given. Jake was never this happy unless he was downing a six-pack, and there wasn't a whiff of beer on his breath.

"What put you in such a good mood?" asked Tildy as she untangled herself from his embrace and grabbed her tip money from the table before he could slip it into his pocket.

He pulled a stack of bills from his shirt pocket and fanned them under her nose.

"Where'd you get all that money? You told me the bank wouldn't give you another loan until you paid off the note on that big screen TV you bought to watch the Super Bowl."

"You've been holding out on me, Honey."

"What are you talking about?"

"That bracelet you had, the one your grandma gave you? I took it down to Harry's Swap Shop. Did you know that piece of junk was an antique? Harry gave me two grand for that little trinket."

"That was my bracelet, Jake. You had no right to sell it.”

"That's where you're wrong sweetheart. We're married. What's yours is mine."

"Give Harry his money back, tell him you made a mistake. That bracelet was the only remembrance of grandma’s I had left and I want it back."

The back of Jake's hand caught Tildy's jaw, knocking her to the floor. “You don’t tell me what to do, woman."

Tildy struggled to her feet, waving off the truckers who'd left their seats to help her. No point dragging them into her troubles. With the Sheriff being Jake's favorite drinking buddy, they'd wind up lining the Sheriff's pockets with fines they couldn't afford to shell out because they decided to play knights in shiny armor.

“You’ve wrung out the last drop of love I ever had for you, Jake Lamont,” she said. “You'd best get my bracelet back or the next time you drink yourself to sleep in front of that fancy TV set of yours, you might wake up dead.”

"Oooo, you're really scaring me," he laughed. "All this time we've been pinching pennies and you're hoarding a fortune in your underwear drawer. What else have you been hiding from me?"

Tildy flushed as he scooped the tip money out of her apron pocket, biting her tongue to keep from saying something that would land her on the floor again. He’d gone too far this time.

The Sheriff was halfway through his breakfast the next morning when Harry called to report a break-in at the Swap Shop. “Damndest thing, though,” said Harry. “All they took was a bracelet Jake Lamont sold me yesterday, and that ain’t even the strangest part. Danged if that thief didn’t plunk down the two thousand dollars I paid for it.”

The sheriff, who’d fielded a dozen calls about the Lamont’s domestic dispute at the truck stop, headed out to Jake’s house. There was no telling what Jake might have done when he found out Tildy stole his money.

He walked into the Lamont house figuring he’d have to talk a beaten and bloody Tildy out of pressing charges, but Tildy had turned the tables on Jake. The sheriff found Jake duct-taped to his Lazy Boy, his balls shriveled under the glare of a double barreled shotgun Tildy had slid between his legs. But it wasn’t the cold metal of the gun that had knocked the stuffing out of Jake, it was the sign Tildy had taped to the shattered big screen TV before she left.



Valentine Special - John McAuley

Since I've Been Loving You

Led Zeppelin's, "Since I've Been Loving You,"-- for years I thought it was the most powerful and perfect rock and blues track ever made; until I my wife pointed out the squeaking bass-drum pedal buried deep in the audio mix. Ruined the whole song for me. In the five years we've been married Julie has really sharpened her ability to point out flaws in things I like. She cost me two- hundred- thousand dollars last month when she mocked the church I designed. She said to one of the Elder's, " looks like a big, fat, horizontal dick with wings instead of balls..." At first I was attracted to her vulgar humor but now she has to go. And with what I've got planned she's not taking half my money with her.


Dave was in his third year of architect school when he asked me out. I figured I'd served him one too many whiskey and cokes; other than a big rack I'm kind'a plain looking. But I went out with him on Friday night and was fucking him by Sunday afternoon. What the hell, why not? I liked him and he was good looking, even if most of the shit he talked about was over my head. We broke up for a while when he skipped the summer semester. I wallowed around for a few weeks, listening to Bonnie Raitt's, "I Can't Make You Love Me" , and drinking too much. When he came back in the fall we made nice and got married on Valentine's Day the next year. First time I was ever really happy. I thought he was perfect. And he is perfect; a perfect little tight- assed prick. I'm through thinking I'm not good enough like that woman in the Bonnie Raitt song. And I'm not settling for half his stuff; the way I've got it planned out I'm going to get every damn dime.


It's the first time I've ever had a husband and wife come to me seperately to do a job; it's like a miracle. Though given what I do I doubt it's any kind of divine intervention; but it's working out good for me. I'll kill one, keep screwing the other and collect on both.

Valentine Special - Sophie Littlefield


Charlotte Klipsinger couldn’t believe it had come to this – on Valentine’s Day, in her favorite room in the house, the little sunroom where she had spent so many stolen afternoons with Bertrand.

Who could have guessed that, having never deviated from his accustomed schedule in thirty-two years of marriage, Ned would think to come home on the four o’clock train, with a six-dollar bunch of flowers and a plan to take her to Red Robin for the early-bird dinner special?

And now Ned’s hands were closed around Bertrand’s throat, squeezing the last of the life out of him. Bertrand’s eyes were beginning to bulge from his head and his tongue protruded from his mouth and he was no longer making any sounds at all. Charlotte knew she couldn’t stop Ned – him of the Georgia Bulldogs defensive line, of the decades of pot roast and buttered potatoes – not with her rheumatoid arthritis and weak shoulders. Not without a weapon. Frantically she scrabbled at the desk behind her, keeping her eyes fixed on Ned, willing him not to notice.

Her hands found the letter opener.

“I warned you, Charlotte,” Ned shouted. Spittle collected at the corners of his mouth. “I told you if it happened again, I’d kill him! I just wish now I’d killed Glover, too.”

Charlotte let out a wail of frustration. “You’ve never understood! All these years you’ve been so distant, all the travel, the late nights, and then you come home and it’s nothing but your sports and your ESPN! I needed warmth, Ned, I needed someone to hold, and you – you were as cold as a man could be –“

“It’s no excuse!” Ned roared. “You know what it does to me. Just thinking about it, Charlotte – I can’t even breathe. It practically killed me the last time. Or was that your plan? Was it?”

Charlotte’s hand closed on the porcelain handle of the letter opener. It was a pretty thing, painted with a garland of roses – how she loved her pretty things. She adored this room, her sanctuary, the one place - with the needlepoint cushions and the chintz drapes, the silk flowers and the Limoges teacups in the curio cabinet – that Ned never entered.

But Bertrand loved this room.

“What I don’t understand is how you could have thought you’d get away with it,” Ned snarled.

But she’d been so careful. They’d stuck to the arrangement, Bertrand coming to the back door at the appointed hour, then making his way silently out into the darkening evening before Ned came home, giving Charlotte time to straighten her clothes, plump the pillows, and start dinner. It had been so perfect.

Until today. “If you could have just left it alone,” she sobbed. “You never had to know.”

“But I would have found out!” Ned said. “I can’t believe you could be so stupid. You can never get rid of all the traces. Never.”

Even now she saw his eyes, swollen an angry red; heard how his voice had gone hoarse and raw. Deep down, she knew Ned was right. It had been crazy to think she could keep her secret. But she hadn’t been able to resist – not when she first saw Bertrand, with his brooding dark eyes and his lithe, strong body. And if she had lost the luster of her early years – if her own body had sagged and pillowed, if her hair was thin and gray, if her fingers were twisted by the ravages of the arthritis – well, dear Bertrand had never cared. He had loved her as passionately as she loved him.

The pain in her hand was excruciating, but she forced her fingers tight around the letter opener and drew it to her side, concealing it in the folds of her skirt. “I’ll kill you,” she whispered.

“Hah,” Ned said. “You crazy bitch, you would, wouldn’t you? You’d go to jail, over this – this worthless sack of -“

Charlotte sprung at him then, the wicked blade held straight in front of her, screaming a banshee wail as she drove it home, never hesitating as it sunk deep into her husband’s chest.

For a moment they both stared down at the handle, and then Ned’s expression changed to one of wonder, and at last he let go of Bertrand. His hands went to the weapon, as if to pull it out.

But it was too late. Too late for Ned, and, Charlotte saw with a seizing horror, too late for Bertrand as well, for as her husband crumpled to the floor, gasping and twitching, Bertrand lay limp upon the antique game table.

The light had left her beloved cat’s eyes forever.

Valentine Special - r2

Doctor Doctor
(A Valentine’s Story)

Y’see, Doc, I’ve had this headache for four years. Nonstop. Just about ready to bring me to my knees. Today it’s the absolute worst.

By the way, thanks for meeting me so early. I know you’re a busy man. I brought you some Starbucks. It’s nothing. Enjoy.

What’s that? No today’s been a really nice day. Except for the pain in my head. Didn’t have to go to work. Gave my Linda roses for Valentine’s. Lots and lots of roses. Can’t get her enough. Did I tell you? When we first met, I never thought she’d have anything to do with me. She’s everything I’m not. When I first saw her I understood she had qualities. Y’know? Certain qualities. I felt like the biggest clod next to her yet she made me feel like the most important man on earth, the only man that ever mattered.

Did you ever notice how the light was drawn to her?

I know I sound like an old fool.

Well, thank you, I try. I have cut back on the burgers. Still like a good steak now and then. Okay, okay, if you say so, I’m not that old.

I love Valentine’s Day, don’t you? It’s the one chance you have to tell your woman about feelings you have that you don’t talk about any other time. Even though she knows you love her. Does she know how it felt when she kissed me the first time? Like time had stopped? Or how scared I was to even touch her face?

See? I just haven’t got the words and it comes out stupid, but it’s okay to talk about those things on Valentine’s somehow. It’s okay to sound stupid. Maybe to even try writing a poem, I don’t know.

Why am I talking so much about her?

Well, Doc, you should know, she’s everything to me.

I know, we all make mistakes.

I heard about the boy they thought was partially deaf and he went to specialist after specialist, and none of them thought to check and see if there wasn’t something keeping the sound from getting to his eardrum. Finally, one day, the end of a Q-tip popped out while he was playing. Now the kid can hear fine. What a freakin’ buncha clowns they were, all those specialists, that can’t see a Q-tip lodged inside an ear? Gimme a break.

I know that’s a whole different deal. But she came to you five times. Five! And then she went to four different specialists. Doc, c’mon. It’s not like you guys aren’t paid enough. With the kinda dough you make, and the fact that human freakin’ lives are at stake, doncha think you could look kinda hard to maybe double check things? To think, gee, she’s hurtin’, maybe it ain’t just indigestion. Like, duh! Women might have hearts too. Huh? Whatta concept. You stupid piece of…. Sorry.

No, I’m not mad. Did I tell you what I do for a living, Doc? I’m kinda the anti-you. You have that Hippocratic oath. Well, I took an oath. I work for a special branch of, let’s just say it’s the government. I make very, very bad people, well, I make sure they have an early demise, if you catch my drift. I do it in a way that no one can tell. It looks natural. There’s no scandal. No international incident.

My one flaw, if you can call it that, is I get this splitting headache thinking about the scum I’m gonna void. You know what I mean? I get such a headache thinking about the bad stuff they’ve done and it builds and builds and doesn’t go away until after I’m done. Isn’t that weird? Four years ago when I buried my Linda, I had a spike a pain start right in the middle of my forehead. And as I read up on things and talked to some other doctors, the pain just swelled and swelled. You’re probably starting to get a bit of a headache now, too. You’ll have your’s the rest of you life. Don’t worry, it’ll be over soon. Yea, it was the coffee.

My headache’s starting to ease up a quite a bit.

Sorry you can’t hear me now, but I think I’m on the road to recovery. A visit to a few more doctors and I may be totally cured.

Valentine Special - Graham Powell

The Last Time

I walked off the construction site when I got the call. I couldn't go back there now, but that's okay. I've been fired before.

Four years without a word, then this. It was nice to know that she still thought of me when she had a mess that needed cleaning.

As I climbed the four flights of stairs I promised myself this was the last time I would help her. Then I told myself it was the last time I'd make that promise.

I didn't knock, just opened the door. She sat on the couch opposite, staring at nothing. As I stepped into the room I noticed the smell, the scent of fire and smoke hanging in the air, like the Fourth of July when I was a kid. But this wasn't firecrackers.

Then I saw the man's body to the left, by the TV.

I hadn't been a cop in years but I knew what happened inside of ten seconds. Three shell casings just inside a doorway on the right. Three red holes in the man's chest. One casing next to the body. One bullet wound in the head.

The gun, an automatic, probably a .32 or .380, lay on the coffee table. Alice didn't look at it. There were no tears. She was beyond that now.

It was easy to see the girl I'd loved, but she wasn't that girl any longer. The makeup was thick upon her face but couldn't hide the lines at the corners of her mouth and eyes. Her hair was no longer blonde, but yellow, a color Mother Nature had never intended. The roses on her cheap print dress had faded.

She stood up slowly and walked past me without a word, close enough to smell her perfume. I saw the plan. She goes, I stay.

No. She'd always asked a lot, more than she'd earned, but not this. She wasn't worth my life. Maybe she never had been.

I picked up the gun from the table and took careful aim. "Alice," I said.

She didn't turn around, just stopped in the doorway. I took a breath, held it, the sight picture steady on the back of her head. A moment passed and I exhaled.

Alice turned and started down the stairs. I listened to her footsteps as they grew fainter, finally punctuated by the slam of the front door.

I laid the gun on the table and sat down to wait for the police.

BIO: Graham Powell is the creator of His stories have appeared in Plots With Guns, The Thrilling Detective, and Hardluck Stories, among other disreputable establishments.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Powder Burn Flash # 64 - Jim Harrington

The Old Gray Mare

The old lady, her pointy ears protected from the cold by earmuffs, shuffled by the parked police car with its lights flashing. She scooped sunflower seeds from the pocket of her tattered pea jacket and shoveled them into her mouth. As usual, no one paid any attention to her as she pushed her cart through the onlookers.

“Did anyone see what happened?” an officer said to no one in particular.

Heads shook, eyes darted from side-to-side, nostrils spewed vapors.

The officer interrupted his partner, who was questioning a beggar propped against the wall.

“Imagine that,” he said. “Nobody saw nothin. Nobody heard nothin. Bunch of damn monkeys.”

“The owner didn’t see anything either,” the partner replied. “Says he thought he heard a noise in the store room. When he got back to the front, the money was gone.”

The first officer did an about face just as the old lady reached the edge of the crowd. “Hey, lady. Wait right there.”

The old lady stopped and turned toward the voice. “Was I speeding, Officer?”

He grimaced and shook his head. “No, nothin like that. Did you see what happened here?”

“I don’t believe so, Officer...?”

“Rodriquez. Somebody robbed the bodega. You didn’t see anybody run out? Nobody acting strange?”

“Around here, everybody acts strange,” she said with a smile. She looked at the assembled crowd--three homeless men cowering in a doorway, trying to look invisible, two hookers prancing to keep warm, five teens of assorted nationalities; And a partridge in a pear tree, she hummed to herself. “No, Officer. I didn’t notice anyone running from the store. Is Mr. Alvarez all right? He’s such a nice man. Always lets me use his bathroom to perform my ablutions.”

“Your what?”

“Means she needed to take a leak,” his partner said as he approached.

Rodriquez blushed.

“Well, that’s not really…” the old lady started to say.

“We gotta go, Rod.” The partner waved toward their patrol car. “We got another call.”

“Sorry I couldn’t help, Officer Rodriquez,” she yelled after them. “I’ll pay more attention next time.”

The old lady watched the police car speed down Franklin and out of sight. She, in turn, strolled the few steps to the alley entrance and, looking to see if anyone was watching, pushed her cart into the dimness and behind a dumpster.

She glanced toward the street as she removed her coat and put it in the cart. The earmuffs came off next followed by the gray wig, a latex mask and a faded blue dress. She donned a fake fur coat, fluffed her auburn hair, replaced the sneakers with red, three-inch, patent pumps, and adjusted the hem of the leather mini dress. Just another working girl looking for Johns, she thought. She retrieved a mirror from the cloth bag, plucked the remaining latex pieces from her face, put the mirror back in the bag with the money from the bodega, flung the bag over her shoulder, and sashayed out of the alley singing,

The old gray mare,
she’s just what she needs to be,
just what she needs to be,
just what she needs to be.

BIO: Jim Harrington is a retired librarian embarking on a new journey. His stories have appeared in Apollo's Lyre, Baker's Dozen Review, Bent Pin Quarterly, Brilliant, Defenstration, Long Story Short, Litbits, MicroHorror, and others. You can read more of his stories at

Friday, February 1, 2008

Powder Burn Flash # 63 - Barry Baldwin (2fer Issue)


‘Word on the Street says we’re in line for a takeover attack.’

‘Who in hell would want to take us over? Third Quarter figures were a disaster. Our bottom line is so red that it’s positively bloody. Not even Gordon Gecko could find anything to strip except our balls and the shareholders have already got dibs on those.’

‘Gozo Nakamura doesn’t care about any of that.’

‘And just what would that honourable gentleman want with a screwed-up old family concern like ours?’The chairman held up a liver-spotted hand: ‘Revenge.’

‘Revenge? What revenge? We’ve never had any dealings with him or against him.’

This ignited a history lecture. ‘His father was the industrial power behind General Tojo in the war. In 1945, the allies seized all his assets as a war reparation. On George Marshall’s recommendation, Truman personally sent my father to Tokyo to mastermind the handover. He put the boot in so bad that Nakamura senior killed himself, committed Seppuku in his office, only way he could salvage a smidgin of honour. Junior swore he’d get even. Now he’s about to do just that. Cost no object, doesn’t care how bad a deal it is. All he wants is his feet on my desk.’

I couldn’t help grinning. ‘Sounds like Cliff Barnes and JR on Dallas . So, how do we stop him?’

‘That’s how you’ll earn your Christmas bonus.’

I took Gozo Nakamura to the best Japanese restaurant in town, ostensibly to celebrate his eightieth birthday, which had been in all the business papers. Faking drunkeness, I fed him along with the food some tidbits about the company, hinting at a secret plan that would hoist us into the black in a year. The next day, a couriered letter from our corporate lawyers informed Mr Nakamura that he was accidentally in possession of confidential information and so could neither bid for our shares nor advise anyone else to, under pain of prosecution for insider trading. There was no more takeover talk.

‘You’re a genius,’ babbled the chairman. ‘How the hell did you come up with that?’

‘Another bit of history. Remembered something I read in The Economist . A 1980s stunt they pulled in the City, at least until it got too well known. Nakamura had no London interests back then, and no one’s ever tried it over here before.’

‘Let’s drink to history.’

Six months later, we were bankrupt and Nakamura’s name was on the door.

I had one consolation. The chairman, my father, jumped from his office window. But for underlings, Thank God, Western business has no tradition of Seppuku.

Gozo had simply found out who our creditors were, bought up all the debts, and served them on us for simultaneous repayment. An old Victorian business squeezeplay. History’s a two-edged sword.


The advertisements at the back of her magazine, now reduced to eight pages by wartime paper restrictions, promised remedies for many a disease sent by God or invented by man: bad legs, bunions, flatulence, piles, problems 'Down There', varicose veins, and the mournful-sounding 'Night Starvation'.

Doris Jones suffered from none of these, except the last, and no pill or potion was going to cure that, only a change in her boy friend's work load and shifts. But this new one looked as if it might be the answer to her prayers, not that she was all that religious or naive.

Ethel Courtney-Browne (the double-barrelled name comported extra weight, an unfortunate phrase in context), a Kolynos toothpaste smile glowing from her photograph over the sylph-like figure beneath, pledged to reduce the size of any woman, young or old, within "a matter of months, if not weeks."

No luck for men, Doris thought, carefully writing out the phone number would-be slimmers were bidden to call. Well, that was their lookout. It was more than bad enough for her, being fat when everything was rationed and in short supply, and the consequent ribbing, some harmless, some with nasty implications of who did she know on the black market, which was another joke altogether when you considered what her boy friend did, from her workmates at the South London johnnie factory where they spent ten hours a day churning out the latest latex-dipped rubbers for keeping down the city's baby population. While wishing it were true, they had hotly to deny to all and sundry that one in ten of these artefacts were deliberately punctured at source, often taking refuge in banter over the twenty-five free ones a week they were allowed, the common refrain from male and female employees alike being "Twenty-five a week? I should be so lucky!"

Doris, who rarely had use for more than one of her allocations, laboriously scratched out the requested letter to Mrs (she assumed) Ethel Courtney-Browne, and with only a tiny residual doubt popped ii into the red pillar box on her way to work. She didn't let on to anybody, least of all her young man who had recently started to hint that his dissatisfaction was growing in proportion to her ever-exanding girth. It was going to be the shock of the year for friend and foe alike.

Despite the vagaries of the Royal Mail, largely though not wholly the result of Adolf's bombs and rockets, Doris received her answer by first-class post within a couple of days. "Do come at once, before buying your summer frocks, " urged Mrs (I was right about that, Doris reflected) Courtney-Browne, since your sizes will have changed drastically after taking my course."

The letter went on to insist that Doris pay a personal visit at her earliest convenience, to an address in the East London borough of Stepney. A funny place for someone called Courtney-Browne, Doris pondered, she would have expected somewhere posher, before deciding that this was perhaps the lady's contribution to what everyone vaguely called The War Effort.

A fee was mentioned, almost as an afterthought. It was well within Doris' range, but she thought it good tactics to demur, and see if Mrs C-B might bring it down a bit. She wasn't too optimistic, London was full of fat girls, previously a consolation for Doris but now a worry, Mrs C-B was probably doing a roaring trade, but there was no harm in trying, as she had often heard her mother and father, now both dead in the Blitz, say both to her and each other, the tone varying according to the subject under discussion.

So Doris knocked out a response to this effect, wondering as she licked the stamp if she'd get a reply, polite or otherwise. There wasn't long to wait. Back one came from Mrs Courtney-Browne, extolling her treatment at greater length than before, full of sympathy for Doris' plight, she knew people hadn't always a lot of money in these difficult times, hence she would be willing to "stretch a point" and reduce the amount by ten per cent.

Here was where Doris did what she shouldn't have, not that she could have known, or that you could hardly blame her. It's worked once, she gloated, let's have another bash. Another appeal was dashed off to Stepney, expressing how obliged Doris was by Mrs Courtney-Browne's understanding, but unfortunately the price was still on the high side for a simple (Doris was pleased by this touch, confident its acknowledgement of their social class-divide would both flatter and soften up this obesity oracle) factory girl, and could a further reduction be considered?

Apparently it could, according to the reply, though not without a note of plangency. Nothing daunted, Doris decided to milk the cow one more time. But she was now countered by a stiffer tone: Very well, but I cannot go lower than this, as it is, my margins are stretched to their limits, and furthermore I should warn you that my customer list is fast filling, so I urge you to make your decision immediately.

Doris did. Five days later, after a final epistolary flurry, she was outside Mrs Courtney-Browne's fat-removing headquarters. What a dump, Doris thought, not a patch on mine, and that's no great shakes. Stepney was one of those areas best viewed in a London pea-souper fog at midnight. Much of the street had long ago been bombed-out and boarded up. Still, you couldn't blame her for cutting down on the overheads, a good sign, really, it should mean everything was channelled into the programme.

The avoirdupois miracle-monger was in keeping: vaguely Eastern in looks and dress, welcoming in an anxious sort of way. She nodded at a large sign on the community notice board affixed by the door: Wife and Dog Missing. Reward For Dog. "You can wager she was over-sized as well. Do come in, Doris, dear. I may call you Doris?" You got that the wrong way round, Doris glowered unresponsively to herself: typical.

"It's just up these stairs. Mind the third and fifth ones, they're a bit rickety. A lot of them, as well, but you can consider them stage one ."

Once inside what resembled a large store room, its walls' leprosity mitigated by multi-coloured charts and pictures of Before and After snaps of presumably satisfied clients, Doris was told to sit down, and offered a large glass of something red. "I always give my people this first. It relaxes them. Drink it down, dear, like a good girl."

A bad girl, more like. Still, anything to oblige. Doris swigged it down. She needed a bit of Dutch courage, having come with the intention of trying to beat the price down even now, take it or leave it, having enough savvy to know that people selling things in a place like this can rarely stand to see hard cash leaving the room without them.

The drink was Doris' last mistake, along with being here at all, and not talking it over with her boy friend, a police officer attached to New Scotland Yard who was involved in the raid planned for the very next night of the premises of Mrs Courtney-Browne, on whom they had had an eye for some time.

This was carried out without a hitch, except that by this time Doris Jones had been drugged by the red drink, bundled up in a tatty oriental rug, carried out by her associates, slung into a lorry, driven down to the nearby docks and put on a tramp steamer for Istanbul where she ended up in a brothel as Turkish delight for the large number of that city's natives whose tastes run to extra-large partners. They were often rough, her owners took most of her earnings, but at least no one there was laughing at her for being fat.