Powder Burn Flash # 387 - Gary Clifton

Right of Way
by Gary Clifton

Dwight Eisenhower had just been elected President.  Word on the street was happy times were here again.  In the neighborhood, times weren't worth a damn.  Ralphie only knew Eisenhower was President because he'd seen the news on the little round, black and white T.V. in Jackson's Furniture Store window.

Heavy snow the night before was compounded that afternoon by a freezing north wind relentlessly seeking clothing leaks.  Old Mr. Dell saw Ralphie standing out of the wind in his grocery store entryway and offered the kid a quarter to deliver the widow Kovac's groceries.  "Get $3.65, cash."  He handed Ralphie change for a ten.

Ralphie dropped off the grocery box, thanked Mrs. Kovac, and with Mr. Dell's cash safely in his britches pocket, was short-cutting back along the C.B.& Q. tracks.  In the late afternoon dusk, head down into the wind, footing was better on the flat, graveled surface.   Street lights up on Front Street provided limited light a half block away.

Most everyone around knew Dirty Jim, commonly regarded as a harmless, crazy wino, slept in an abandoned car just off the tracks.  Rumor said Jim had been a successful middleweight boxer.  Ralphie, a typical skinny 14 year old, didn't know or care.  His thoughts were consumed with sex and how to get out of the cold.

"Gimme yer money, kid," Jim scrambled up the raised right-of-way.  "Or I'll kick your ass."  Jim came at him, head down, swinging wildly.  He was fortyish, his face mangled from years in the ring.  Ralphie was nearly overwhelmed by foul body odor despite the sharp wind.

Startled, terrified, Ralphie stumbled backward.  Jim missed with a roundhouse right and went down, landing hard on the ties.  He gurgled several times, then lay still.  Ralphie ran all the way back to Dell's, levels of imagined punishment skyrocketing with each step.  He was a kid and the wino was an adult.  That he'd done nothing wrong didn't factor.

"The hell's wrong with you, Ralph?" Mr. Dell accepted Mrs. Kovac's grocery money and handed over Ralphie's two bits.  He eyed the kid closely.

Ralphie, a slum kid with no conception of rights, concluded he would catch hell no matter what.  Awake most of the night, the angry wind moaning around the eaves of his mother's small frame house, self-delusion ramped up a wild blur of punishments.

Groggy, exhausted, consumed with paranoia, he trudged through the cold the next morning to Public School 97.  The hallway was toasty warm as he overheard a kid he didn't know drop the nuclear bomb:  "Hey, man...hear about that crazy wino, Dirty Jim...lived in that old car down by the tracks?  Got run over by a train yesterday evening.  Musta been sleeping on the tracks.  Guts all over."

Ralphie, eligible for the free lunch line, skipped eating that day.

In time, folks clucked their tongues and condemned the wino for laying drunk on the tracks.  A street kid, but a smart one, Ralphie concluded Dirty Jim would be just as dead if he ran his mouth.  So he never did.

BIO: Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, published a novel in national paperback and has published or pending several short fiction pieces on Writer's Type, Spinetingler, Yellow Mama, Broadkill Review, Shotgun Honey, Boston Literary Review, 50 Word Stories, Black Heart Mag, Disenthralled, Fiction on the Web, Spasm Valley, Bewildering Stories, and Liguistic Erosion.  Clifton has an M.S. from Abilene Christian University.

Powder Burn Flash # 386 - Hal Wagner

Someone Snitched
by Hal Wagner

It did not take long to kill the first three men. With the door kicked in, the first thug caught a forty-five to the head. The next thug took a bash across the bridge of his nose and then a hard placed boot heel down on his neck. The third guy wielded a knife that ended shoved up under his own sternum. The stomach holds a lot of blood.

It was the last guy that took longer to die but that was by design.

The stranger took his time with Jarrod Killjoy, a rising star of the underworld. He would savor every snap of broken bone and pop of dislocated socket. This last piece of trash would die slow.

The pocket forty-five cracked once more catching Jarrod behind the knee blowing it into a crimson mist. Jarrod fell to the ground. He dragged himself to the door when the stranger stopped him with an unforgiving stomp on the blown knee.

The killer grunted as cartilage and tendons crackled under foot. Jarrod could only gasp short catches of air into lungs that would not fill. Then he whaled in a futile attempt for absolution. The stranger was not granting forgiveness of sins, tonight he was dealing out justice.

“Who are you?” Jarrod demanded to know his executioner, a last request from a sentenced man.

The stranger stepped into the light to show a snarled and seething face. The stranger’s insanity hid his face from Jarrod Killjoy’s recollection. A tightly balled fist hammered across Jarrod’s pale face. Jarrod spit blood and a piece of his cheek to the wood floor.

Jarrod whimpered then forced hard breathes in and out of his lungs to keep from passing out. The stranger enjoyed the man’s willingness to suffer through what was about to come.

“Did the Ramos cartel send you? I haven’t done anything wrong, I swear. This is all some kind of mistake.” Jarrod began to plead. “Who sent you and maybe we can resolve this. I have lots of cash.”

The unidentified man gazed upon his heart’s desire. His eyes grew large with excited ideas. A four inch serrated boot knife gleamed off what little light penetrated into the fourth floor walk up. He crouched holding Jarrod’s left hand tugging on the index finger. The blade sliced into the base of the finger cutting the tendon. Jarrod’s screams only fueled the single-minded torturer urging him to cut more digits on the hand.

Despite the pain, Jarrod’s need to know who was to kill him took prominence in his frenzied brain. “If you’re working for the Deluca brothers tell them their trucks will be there and loaded with merchandise.”

The Stranger wiped the blade off on Jarrod’s pleated pant leg. He tucked the knife back in the boot.

“Deluca brothers…” Jarrod mumbled under his breath, presuming too much. His left hand was numb except for the pinky that he could feel twitch. The stranger swiveled his head “no”, then stomped on Jarrod’s pinky. When he lifted his boot what was left looked like a string of pink dough.

Shock set into Jarrod’s body. Shivering he grabbed his left hand at the wrist and cradled it against his chest. With a snivel he said, “I am a very powerful man.”

The stranger’s grin angered the dying man.

“Listen stranger, I have powerful friends. The mayor and half the city police are on my payroll. You won’t get far. Go hide back in the hole where you came from you sadistic fuck.” A swift kick in the nuts took the steam out of Jarrod’s building rage.

The stranger thought he might have gone too far too soon, when Jarrod Killjoy slumped over. His pain threshold had exceeded their limits.

Killjoy awoke on the bed. He stared up at a slow turning fan. Lights from the city street flashed below. For less than a second he thought it was a dream until he tried to move. Exposed nerve endings fired pain into his brain brining back the events of the night. The stranger sat in a chair near the door.

“I have money stranger. Lots of it, right here in this apartment. If you just call a doctor I will give you all of it.”

The stranger sat in silence.

“Look there in the top drawer of the dresser. There’s about three grand there and plenty more. What do you say?” Killjoy motioned towards the phone on the dresser.

The stranger rose from the chair and opened the dresser. He took out a stack of wrinkled bills. The screech of a bedside drawer spun the killer on his heels. The mussel flash of a pocket Derringer lit the room. For a frozen second, Killjoy had a smile on his face as the stranger dove for the floor.

Jarrod Killjoy began to laugh. He had survived the hands of the torturer and if the stranger was still breathing would inflict some of his own torment. With the hot barrel in his mouth, he grabbed at the sheets with his good hand, dragging him to the edge of the bed. Peering over, Jarrod fanned the barrel searching for a target.

The stranger’s hand shot up clenching Jarrod’s wrist and twisted it back forcing the barrel into the man’s neck. The second shot of the derringer cracked. Flesh and muscle ripped apart. Flesh that remained intact singed from the hot powder.

The stranger rose from the floor. His side now brown as blood soaked his shirt.

Jarrod Killjoy leaned back starring up at the slow turning fan, grasping his neck, holding it together in a futile attempt to cling to life.

A raspy gurgle emerged from the dying man, “Who are you stranger?”

The stranger stood over him, looking into wide, ever darkening eyes. He opened his mouth to reveal a mangled piece of meat that was once a tongue.

A half grin wrinkled Jarrod’s face. “It’s you…the snitch.”

BIO: I normally write science fiction and have three eBooks out on various eBook sellers. I've just been bitten with the crime fiction bug and been at work with a new novel coming out soon by Forker Media, titled The Collectors. For more updates my blog is http://halwagnerlocalhero.blogspot.com

Powder Burn Flash # 385 - Stephen D. Rodgers

The Night He Left
by Stephen D. Rogers

Thunder rumbled in the distance.  A sharp wind from the west stirred the darkness, rattled the dead leaves, and scraped branches against shuttered windows.

The rain arrived, thick, cold drops that fell like stones, soaking the man carrying cardboard boxes from the house, banging against the top of the moving van.  The rain drenched loose items, plastering the hangered clothes slung over the railing.

A bolt of lighting revealed a gaunt face at a second-story window.  A second bolt stowed she'd gone.  A third bolt struck nearby, charged the air, killed the power.

The pounding rain intensified.  The roaring wind ripped a branch from a tree, flung the branch against the van's windshield, creating a pattern of lightning.

Thunder echoed off the house, battered the man struggling to hold together the disintegrating boxes.

The wind yanked the front door from the woman's hand.  The lightning helped her aim.  The thunder covered the sound of her shots.

The storm drain overflowed, forming a raging torrent that carried away the blood.

Being night, there would be no rainbow.

BIO:  Stephen D. Rogers is the co-author of A MISCELLANY OF MURDER and the author of SHOT TO DEATH, THREE-MINUTE MYSTERIES, and more than 700 shorter pieces.  His website, www.StephenDRogers.com, includes a list of new and upcoming titles as well as other timely information.

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