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Holiday Season-Fiction by Don Stoll
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Elegy for Frank-Poem by David Spicer
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The Last Word-Poem by Meg Baird
Vision of Steel-Poem by Meg Baird
Zen-Poem by Meg Baird
Estrangement-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
First World Herd-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
Christmas Morning in an East Hollywood Hovel-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
A Season of Bailing Wire and Duct Tape-Poem by Brian Rihlmann
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Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

77_ym_holidayseason.jpg
Art by A. F. Knott © 2019

Holiday Season

by Don Stoll

 

        Detective Inspector Charlie Blake thought that if Detective Inspector Ellen Flay kept acting like a fucking cow then he’d happily lead her to slaughter.

       Bloody cheek Flay had recording Hedgie on about shagging that tart, Blake thought. Playing it for the missus, ruining Hedgie’s marriage. Hedgie pissing it up then, useless on the job, transferred out. Flay strutting through the station tits high, on about her black witch doctor. Like to put a blade to that pretty throat, other hand squeezing her tits.

#

       Last straw, Flay thought, was the morning that black chap was arrested on suspicion of being the Brixton Rapist. Racist twats Hedges and Blake dragging the poor sod up to me, arms pinned. Hedges yanking down his trousers and—‘ello!—no knickers. Eying me like they’d won the pools.

        “Thought gorillas had teeny ones,” Hedges said.

        They’d forgotten the black chap’s arms. He reached for his trousers but Blake grabbed an arm and wrenched it behind his back. 

        “That scar of yours,” Hedges said. “Your black French doctor have one this big? Use his scalpel to enlarge your mouth, try to get his thing in?”

        “Doctor Sylvain de León,” Blake said. “Black French witch doctor.

        Blake with that grin on his fat porridgey face looking like Benny Hill, Flay thought.           

        “Ivory Coast,” Hedges said. “Do cures with elephants’ tusks? His thing big like an elephant’s tusk?” 

        “This bloke an actual suspect?” Flay said. “Or just the first black chap you happened to see after you woke up?”

        Similar height and build to Sylvain, Flay thought. Same ebony coloring. Bloody bigger down there.      

        “Suspect?” Hedges said. “Hang him by that great whacking thing, he’ll confess to killing Kennedy. Caught him pissing in an alley with that thing hanging out, thought Got to show Flay, let her compare him to her black witch doctor.”

        That was the moment when Detective Inspector Ivor Hedges situated himself squarely between Flay’s crosshairs.              

#

        Christmas Eve. The Provisional IRA’s bombing campaign commencing eighty-two days previously in Guildford had two days before nearly taken the life of former Prime Minister Edward Heath, conveying to the pessimistically inclined the sense that the country was falling apart. The blackness of the wee hours of the morning heralded another grim gray day through the bedroom window of Doctor Sylvain de León’s Twickenham flat round the corner from his cosmetic surgery practice. Ellen Flay sprang out of bed to answer her fiancé’s phone.

        “Christmas Eve, Ellen! There’s other D.I.’s.”     

        Saying “D.I.” makes Sylvain feel like an insider, Flay thought.

        In the front room hitting her shin on something, she switched on the light stark naked thinking Sod the open curtains, let anyone who’s lucky enough have an eyeful.

        “Sorry to call so early, Flay.”

        Redmond apologizing. Mark it on the calendar.

        “Need you,” he said.

        Got Sylvain, she wanted to shoot back. But Redmond not one to joke with.

        “Know Killarney Street, Flay? The Red Lion? Where the soldier was stabbed.”

        “Blackest part of Brixton. Favorite place for Hedges and Blake to bust heads.”    

        Silence on Redmond’s end, Flay thought. Crossed a line?

        “Not another bombing, sir?”

        “Could see that. Great for soldiers with a taste for exotic amusements.”

        Exotic meaning black, Flay thought.

        Her intention upon returning to the bedroom was to dress for work but her fiancé had not reconciled himself to the wreckage of his holiday.

        “Five minutes,” Sylvain said.

        “Bloody hell.”

        “That a no?”

        “Bloody hell no.”

#

        Flay caught Elton John’s cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” on two different stations as she drove. Life’s not completely buggered, she thought. Not with blokes like Lennon and now this chap pinning diamonds in the sky.             

        Chief Inspector Antony Redmond was waiting for her not at The Red Lion but across Killarney Street in front of a squat ugly building, not alone.

        “You smell like sex, Ellen,” nodded Charlie Blake through a smile, its insincerity illuminated by a streetlight whose effective functioning surprised Flay. 

        “And you don’t,” Flay said. “Boyfriend still asleep?”

        Fucking cow, Blake thought.         

        “Need you two to put it aside,” Redmond said. “Third floor. Walk up give you time to prepare.”

        “No lift?” Blake said.

        “Bring a folding chair from your car, Flay?” Redmond said. “Give Blake a sit-down on the landings, catch his breath?”

        Redmond stopped. Flay could see he didn’t want to say what he had to say.

        “Not good at being human”—finally admitted it himself, Flay thought—“but. . . bloody hell, it’s Hedges.”

        Chief Inspector going to cry? Flay wondered what to do. She looked at Blake’s frozen face and wondered again. Suddenly these hard blokes who never wanted me in the station though Redmond has come to respect my work with little-boy faces wet with tears and snot. Flay thought If I tried that, might as well say I can’t work because of cramps.  

        But she said “Sorry, Charlie.” 

        She touched his arm. Like a tennis player flailing at a shot to his backhand that he might just get his racket on he repelled it.

        “You wanted him dead,” he hissed. “Bit of taking the piss but you couldn’t take it. Innocent fun and now he’s dead, so don’t pretend you ain’t happy.”

        Flay recalled Hedges’ constant obscene suggestions about the scar on her upper lip.

        “Always on about a bloke’s”—she glanced at the Chief Inspector—“about one stuck in my mouth, me needing to make it bigger. That’s innocent?”

        “How did you get that scar, Flay?” Redmond said distractedly.

        “Told you it was a drunken boyfriend,” she said thinking Fucking hell Redmond stay focused, Charlie’s scaring me.                

        “Flirting was all,” Blake said. “Hedgie had a wife, so couldn’t ask you out, but his way of saying you was all right.”

        “Wife keep him from shagging that tart?”

        Suddenly Blake was shaking her, sour breath in her face and screaming “Fucking cow!” Then Redmond was between them. Blake released her arms.

        Redmond’s hat knocked off. Kojak look suits him, Flay thought.        

        “Number Eighteen, Flay,” he snapped. “I’ll bring Charlie up. Need you both.”

        Flay adjusted her clothes and smoothed her hair. Breathing heavily, Blake hitched his trousers up over his stomach.

        “Blake and me a team?” she said.

        “Your objectivity, Charlie’s motivation,” Redmond said, no humanity in his face.

        “He’ll kill me, sir.”

        “Not like you to overreact, Flay, so proud of your cool head.”

        Redmond’s voice was icy.

        “Heat of the moment.”

        “Bloody hell,” Flay said, going inside.

        She tried the lift, but Redmond had been right: out of order.

        The walk up not breathing through her nose because of the stink of piss gave her time to think about working with Blake. Stay on my guard, not think hard about the case but let him take the lead. And make sure he doesn’t kill the first black he suspects.

        She nodded at the constable outside Number Eighteen. He looked away. Flay thought Like I’m his mum. 

        “Bloody hell. Borrow your gloves?”

        “Christmas Eve,” he said, offering her an excuse but not looking in her eyes.

        She pulled on the oversized gloves and opened the door.

        The corpse of Ivor Hedges was sunk into the ragged sofa. Flay experienced a satisfaction she knew she couldn’t show. The head, blood having streamed out of both sides, rested against the wall behind like he’d nodded off watching football. Sofa facing the telly. Note on the low table his legs were stretched beneath, but Flay saw why Redmond didn’t think suicide. Two words—“I’m sorry”—and not even a period. Why type two words except to disguise the handwriting? Plus Hedges would have known that the trick to steady a hand that might pull away last second is barrel in the mouth with lips clamped round it. Lips clamped round it like round something else, Flay thought, remembering Hedges’ innocent fun and thinking Dance on your grave now. 

        She was distracted from this thought that she knew would do her no good by the shop talk of the forensics blokes. Here fast, no one pulling them back into bed for a shag. She peeked into the hallway. Tom about his business in the bedroom, Dick in the loo. 

        “Any estimate of time of death?”

        “Only rough so far, Ellen,” said Dick.

        She thought Why would a bloke call himself Dick?         

        “Full rigor not attained yet,” Tom added. “But takes longer at this temperature. Can’t afford to run the heat, looks like.”  

        “Tart lives here,” Dick said. “Half-six now, so might have an alibi if she was across the way pissing it up before work.”

        Half-six and miserable bloody sunrise ninety minutes away, Flay thought. Be like spring in the Azores then.         

        Tom and Dick in the hallway.

        “Doing my job now?” she said sternly.

        Tom grinned. Dick’s face fell.

        “Reason he’s called Dick,” Tom said.

        “Taking the piss, Richard,” she smiled.                                                                    

        Back to the front door.

        “Who found him?” she said.

        “Tenant, down the hall with her mate in Twenty-three,” the young constable said in a normal voice and then, quietly, “Tart.”

        “Alibi?”

        “Working all night,” he smirked. “And smells like it. Acting broken up. Knew him.”

        Poor alibi, Flay thought. That kind of work travels, and just try finding the blokes afterward.

        “Knew him?” she said.

        She had another idea about the shooting.

        “Her name Mandy?”

        “Mate of yours too?” he grinned but Flay looked at him and the grin vanished.

        Hedges’ revenge? Flay thought. Like it was the tart’s fault he’d told her “Won’t run you in you do me.” Tart’s fault I taped him on about doing her? Course he’d take revenge on a poor black tart scraping out a living providing a necessary service. Poor, black, and a tart: good enough reasons for Hedges. He’d faked someone doing a poor job of faking his suicide so whoever investigated would think murder.

        Then Flay thought Worked too long in this slime. Coppers often worse than the criminals, now I’ve turned into the slime. Twisted thoughts come easy.

        Then she thought Doesn’t mean the slime’s not the slime, means maybe time to get out. Marry Sylvain, this time get through the engagement with no cock-up, quit the force, shop and play tennis. Last only so long doing that, bored to tears. But last a while and think of something else, just bloody get out of the force. And maybe last a bit longer shopping and playing tennis if Sylvain moves the cosmetic surgery practice to Los Angeles like he’s talked about. Novelty of getting to know the place, take longer to get bored.

        Move to Los Angeles, Flay thought, maybe have him give me the perfect tits I’ve joked about, not altogether joking. Required to prove local residence there, stuck at the back of the queue at the meat counter if you’re not loaded with both barrels pointed at the butcher’s face. Sorry luv, see you’re from out of town so got to serve these five local ladies ahead of you. Except do they have meat counters in the States? All pre-packaged, no worries about the meat counter but easily identifiable as a tourist looking for Cary Grant’s house.      

        Flay also thought Not murder but that vengeful racist woman-hater wanted it thought so and if Blake doesn’t make Mandy pay he’ll see another black does.

        Speak of the devil.

        “Accept my apology Ellen?” said Blake with a smile plastered on his porridgey face.

        “I understand, Charlie,” she said just as insincerely.

        Maybe play a different game, she thought: play soft, put him off guard. Game he thinks he can play, she thought, also thinking But I’ll play it better.

        Redmond right behind, not fooled by either of them but looking like he wanted to fool them into thinking he was fooled. Oh what a tangled bloody web, Flay thought.  

        “Not suicide,” Redmond said.

        “Course not,” Blake said, glancing at the note after glancing at the corpse of his former partner, weeping no more now, instead trying to convince Flay and Redmond that he was a man so he could handle this. “Murder made to look like one. And poor job of it.” 

        “Suspects,” Redmond said. “First impressions?”

        “Usual for Charlie,” Flay said. “Whole population of Brixton with extra pigmentation. Years to interview them all.”

        “Start with Hedges’ tart,” Redmond sighed. “You take her, Flay.”

        She thought He knows Blake can’t be objective but then why assign him? So I’ll keep an eye on him? He finally figure out Hedges and Blake terrorized these poor blacks, that why he moved Hedges? Blake on his way out too? Not soon enough.

        “You start knocking on the other doors,” Redmond said. “Delicately.” 

        “My middle name, sir,” Blake grinned.   

#

        Mandy Marshall sat facing Flay in the middle of a careworn sofa.  

        “Watches your little boy while you’re working?” Flay said nodding toward the large woman making tea in the kitchen, not as dark as Mandy.

        “Didn’t hear anything,” Mandy said.

        Like carved out of some precious polished gem, Flay thought, stirred by the young woman’s beauty and reminded of occasional intriguing experiments at college, but never with anyone quite this pretty. Easy to see why Hedges fancied her. Tarts for a copper’s taking all the time but I listened for my chance to catch Hedges out and Mandy was the first.        

        “No sugar,” Flay said to the large woman, thinking East Indian. Effing Black Hole of Calcutta so bad they’d rather come here for abuse by the likes of Hedges and Blake?

        “Sorry,” Mandy said. “Your job to ask her.”

        “Might have happened last night when the pub across the way was jumping,” Flay said. “Gun had a silencer, doesn’t really silence but can change the noise when there’s loads going on in the area.”

        Mandy looked at her curiously.

        “Sound like a car backfiring, something heavy falling, whatever,” Flay said.    

        “If it was last night she could have been asleep with my son,” Mandy said, looking toward the kitchen. “Reads to him and they nod off together. But the other tenants. . .”

        “My partner’s got them.”

        “Ivor’s partner. You the new Ivor?”

        Flay hesitated. 

        “What you think of him?” she said.

        Mandy hesitated longer.

        “What you think of him?”

        “Does his job,” Flay shrugged.  

        “That what you call it?”

        Flay hesitated again.

        “What time you start working last night, Mandy?”  

        Dick the forensics bloke was right: at The Red Lion pissing it up before starting work until late.

        “How late?” Flay said.

        “Late.”

        “After ten?”

        “Think well after. Holiday season.”

        “People see you there?”

        “Whole neighborhood,” Mandy laughed.

        Time of death rough so far, Flay thought, but Dick the forensics bloke might be right and poor tart Mandy polished like some precious black gem might be in the clear. Make sure Blake understands, stay with her for when he comes knocking. 

        Which he did sooner than Flay had expected and not in the mood she’d expected. Not fury and hunger for revenge but grief, Flay thought. Defeat, barely a nod at his late partner’s tart. Just a halfway-civil explanation that she needs to wait at her mate’s till forensics can finish, clear the body out of the way.

        “Nothing?” Flay whispered after they’d left the tart with her mate.

        “Too early,” he said not whispering. “Sleeping the sleep of the innocent whether they are or not, or else saying they didn’t or couldn’t of heard a thing, all beating their tom-toms across the way half the night. Holiday season and all.”  

        “Not half-seven. Give them time to wake up?”

        Blake smiled a sad little smile.

        “Got something in the car for a Christmas Eve morning.”

        Keep your guard up, Flay thought. But his grief seems real. Got to be human.

        “Hedgie’s Black Label,” he said. “Left it behind. Constant companion after. . .”        

        Flay thought After Yours Truly destroyed his life.

        “Too early, Charlie.”

        “One or two, Ellen. Then back to work.”

        “Charlie. . .”

        She’d already capitulated by calling him Charlie. But got to be human, she thought. And how else kill a bit more time? Charlie might have two or three, but I’ll stop at one.

        “Christmas Eve, Ellen.”   

#

        The immediate warming of Flay’s insides by the remnant of the dead man’s bottle of Johnnie Walker conspired with her recognition that it was after all but a remnant to persuade her to think Let’s have a couple, finish it with the poor grieving twat.

        Poor Charlie—he was poor Charlie now—had three or four. Flay lost count.

        Blake and Flay went back inside the squat ugly building where even Blake now thought, without prompting by Flay, Hedgie may have offed himself but faked someone doing a poor job of faking him offing himself so that whoever investigates thinks murder.

        But still pointless, Flay thought. Rousted one or two. Others still sleeping the sleep of the innocent whether they are or not, even Charlie Blake not up for banging on doors. Not on Christmas Eve morning with the whisky mellowing him from his insides out and him feeling grief not anger.

        At nine Blake said “Red Lion, Ellen? Maybe someone there who was working last night, finally give us some help?”

        “Be tripping over themselves to help, Charlie,” she laughed.

        Crossing the street she said “No more whisky, Charlie.”

        “All right, mum,” he sighed.

        “Forgot he’s mulatto,” Blake mumbled when he saw the owner behind the bar.

        Flay looked at Blake.             

        “Thinks he’s white,” he said.

        “Staff coming in at ten was here till late,” smiled the proprietor of The Red Lion. “Put them to work cleaning up.”

        Blake and Flay followed his gaze as it surveyed the wreckage of the previous night.

        “Keep me and the whisky company till then?” the proprietor said.

        Blake hesitated.

        “Or taste of the islands?”

        “You didn’t say no rum,” Blake said, looking at Flay.

        Just like that three shots of Captain Morgan in three glasses.

        “Bloody hell,” Flay said.

        “Sorry about your mate,” the proprietor said.

        “Ta,” Blake said.

        “Another on the house in his honor,” the proprietor said.

        “Jesus,” Flay said.

        “Should start the cleanup. One more on the house then you pay.”

        “Pour it now so we can sit?” Blake said.

        “Course,” the proprietor said.           

        “Table in the corner, Helen?” Blake said.

        “You call me Helen?”

        “Don’t think so. Know it’s Ellen.”             

        “Day’s shot,” she said, walking loose-limbed toward the corner.

        When Blake stopped she bumped into him.

        “Thought you meant the other table,” she said.

        “Can keep your hand there.”

        It was on Blake’s arm.

        “Almost ran you down,” she said.        

        Fat but he doesn’t seem disgusting, Flay thought. Seems soft and pitiful.

        “My pleasure,” he said, thinking Could do her.

        Doesn’t seem full of herself, he thought. Seems like she’d understand.

        “Any time,” he added.

        They sat down.

        “Thinking about Hedgie,” he said.

        She leaned toward him.

        “Might have done himself, made it look like murder,” he said.

        She nodded expressively.           

        “Like him to find one last way to give the black bastards grief,” he grinned.

        Flay wrenched violently to her left to avoid spewing on the table.

        Blake watched the contents of her stomach spill out.

        “My fault,” someone said.

        She wondered how the owner could be there right away with a mop.

        “Sorry,” she said.

        The smell of the bleach nauseated her. She spewed onto the mop.

        “There, there, luv,” she heard Blake say. 

        She felt his hand pat and stroke her back and feel for her bra clasp.

        “Get off,” she said sharply.

        Blake removed his hand.

        “Barman’s best mate, bleach,” the owner said. “You not the first or the last, luv.” 

        “Don’t have to be like that,” Blake said. “Didn’t mean anything.”

        She turned around to ask what “like that” meant but he was headed out.

        “It bloody did mean something” she said, and he said, “Fucking cow.” 

        “Coffee?” the owner said, and she said “Ta” and he said, “This’ll make you right.”

        But its bitter smell nauseated her, so she said, “Back to work” and up and left.

        The first thing Flay saw when she stumbled into the grim gray morning was Charlie Blake’s broken body in the middle of Killarney Street.      

#

        Ellen Flay resented her brief suspension from the Metropolitan Police for drunkenness during official hours, during which certain male colleagues had often been drunk. But her resentment was mitigated by the satisfaction of knowing she hadn’t been drunk enough to walk in front of a lorry.

        Her return to duty was also brief due to Doctor Sylvain de León’s decision to move his much-in-demand cosmetic surgery practice to Los Angeles sooner rather than later.

        “Just resign and thumb your nose at those bastards who blame you for Hedges and Blake,” he said, and she thought that was a fine idea.

        He asked about the investigation of the death of Ivor Hedges, which she’d been removed from. She said she didn’t bloody care, which was true.

END


Don Stoll has fiction forthcoming in The Helix; Green Hills Literary Lantern; The Main Street Rag; Sarasvati; Between These Shores (twice); Down in the Dirt; and Children, Churches and Daddies. His stories have appeared recently in Eclectica (tinyurl.com/y73wnmgqand Erotic Review (twice: tinyurl.com/y8nkc73z and tinyurl.com/y36zcvut). In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women's and children's health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.

A. F. Knott is a self-taught collage artist focused on book layout and book cover design as well networking in conjunction with Hekate Publishing, one of its missions, bringing together artist and writer. Sometimes seen selling in New York City's Union Square Park. Work can be found on 

flickr.com/photos/afknott/ Any exchange of ideas welcome: anthony_knott@hekatepublishing.com

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