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Bill Baber
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I Don’t Know

by Bill Baber

 

Late last night when Tommy dropped by

with a bottle of Mad Dog and a joint

laced with dust

I was on the couch in my underwear

watching some crap on TV

I don’t know what happened next

but when I awoke in the morning

there was a girl, kind of pretty,

in bed next to me

Tommy was gone

but the TV was still on

and the news was all about four dead

in what they said was a ritualistic murder

there were dried reddish-brown flakes

under my nails and scratches on my arms

I smoked the roach and

I don’t know what happened next.

 


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Art by Bill Zbylut 2016

Message Received

Bill Baber

 

Sam Thorn nursed his last beer. Flat broke, he briefly contemplated hitting the bodega on the corner and pulling a grab and go with a six pack, but just last week two Puerto Rican kids tried holding the place up. The old man behind the counter pulled a .45, wasted them both.  A guy like that might shoot you for pilfering a couple of beers.

Sam was startled by a knock at the door, never a good thing for an ex- con trying to lay low.  Not expecting anyone, he stuffed a Glock into the front of his jeans then peered through the peep hole. What he saw was a guy in a UPS uniform holding a parcel.

“You got the wrong place,” Sam said. He sure as hell wasn’t expecting a package.

“Number on your door says 3- C. You Sam Thorn? Because that’s what this shipping label says.”

Sam opened the door. Looked at the package, saw it came from Amazon. Signed the guy’s scanner, went inside and opened the box. It contained a fucking blender, a damn fancy one at that. He was perplexed. Who the hell would send him a blender?  A blender was like a wedding present. He had broken up with Rhonda last month. They had never talked about getting married, their relationship—if you could call it that—consisted of two things, screwing and fighting. Besides, she was a junkie and a bottom rung porn actress. There was nothing domestic about her; she’d pawn the damn thing for a fix. A blender? For making sissy drinks like Pina Coladas? He was a beer and a shot kind of guy. The hell would he do with a blender?

Sam decided to do the same thing Rhonda would have. There was a pawnshop around the corner. He’d dump the blender, score an oxy or two from Tony over on 32nd then grab a big burrito from Pedro’s along with a six pack, maybe something better than the Natty Ice he had been drinking. That would make for a good night, the best he had in a while. It’s the little things, he thought with a smile.

They gave him fifty bucks for the blender. After all, it was a Cuisinart, top of the fucking line model. He whistled through a grin when he left.

On the way to Tony’s to score he saw Danny Ortega walking toward him. He had heard Danny was out, and that’s exactly why he had been keeping a low profile. A few years back, they had been high and held up a pharmacy uptown. A robbery detective recognized Sam’s description and within twenty four hours, he was in a cell in The Tombs.

He had two strikes against him; if he went down for the robbery it would mean life.  When they questioned him about the robbery you’re damn right he sang. Hell, he crooned like Sinatra. It was Danny’s first felony beef. He got three years. Now he was out. And he was walking toward Sam with a big smile on his face. Never said a word, just waited until he got close, slid a length of lead pipe down the sleeve of his leather jacket and bashed Sam’s face in. The last thing Sam remembered before blacking out was Danny kicking him in the mouth, calling him a cock-sucking snitch.

Sam woke up in Bellevue, his right eye socket shattered and missing six teeth. His jaw needed to be wired shut. The doctor told him he would be drinking his meals through a straw for the next six weeks.

Now he knew who sent him the blender. The worst part was realizing he should have just kept the damn thing.



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Art by John Thompson 2017

Together Forever

by Bill Baber

 

“How’s Melissa?” My boss asked. I hadn’t seen him in months, but the bastard had been in town. He should know how Melissa was doing; he’d been banging her for six months.

I don’t know what she saw in him. He was ten years older than me, short, balding, not an attractive guy. He made more money than me, but that couldn’t have been it. We had a custom home with a pool and two almost-new cars. Took a couple of real nice vacations every year. Maybe he was hung like a horse. Who knows what goes on inside a woman’s head?

There were two ways I could play it, confront him with the truth, or play dumb. I figured that would really fuck with him, so that’s what I did.

“Were getting divorced,” I said as we pulled away from the airport.

“I’m sorry to hear that.” I didn’t detect any attempt at sympathy.

I glanced at him like the son-of-a-bitch knew I would. He was looking out the window.

It was time to throw the first punch.

“She was screwing around.”

“That sucks,” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied. “Really sucks for the guy when I find him.”

Must have been something really damned interesting out that passenger window since there wasn’t much to see between the airport and downtown Phoenix. I didn’t see much but a steady stream of commute traffic.

“You need some time away?” he asked.

“No, I’m good. Got an apartment in Scottsdale, I’ll be all right but I feel sorry for the prick that did this. Nobody is gonna break up my family and get away with it. No one else is going to raise my kid, you know what I mean?”

We rode in silence, traffic inching toward the downtown skyline.

“How did you find out?” he asked.

“Hired a private dick.” I thought about the old line from Barfly, the movie about Bukowski. Then I used it myself, laughing a little.

“Hired a dick to find an asshole. Now somebody’s really going to get fucked.”

I looked at him again. Beads of sweat had broken out on his forehead. I was enjoying this more than I had thought I would.

We passed the exit for Seventh Street, where he had a room booked at a hotel. Probably thought it would be a little love nest with my ex later that night. He thought wrong.

“Hey, where we going?” he stammered.

I had played this scenario out a thousand times since the P.I. showed me pictures of the two of them.

I pulled the .357 from the space between the door and my seat. 

“Taking a little ride.”

This time, when I looked at him, there were tears rolling down his cheeks.

“Look,” he said, “what do you want? A raise? A promotion?”

“Fuck you,” I replied. “No way you can undo this. What I want to know is, why? Why me, why Melissa? Actually, I don’t want to know, I just want this whole damn thing to be over with.”

He began to cry. He begged, then pleaded, so I hit him in the face with the barrel of the gun—that made him howl.

When we reached Buckeye, I headed south on 85 toward Gila Bend. After fifteen miles I turned east on a gravel road that led toward a range of cactus-covered hills. I stopped when the road petered out.

“Get out.” I prodded him with the gun. He pissed himself. Glad he waited until he was out of the Lexus.

“I can give you money, anything.”

“Quit embarrassing yourself and just keep walking.”

We came to a draw between two hills. I had dug two graves, one was filled.

 

He started to sob uncontrollably. I shot him in the back of the head; he fell face first into the hole. I covered his body with rocks to keep the coyotes from tearing him up. I threw the gun on top of him and shoveled dirt on top of the whole mess.  Now they could be together forever.

I walked back to the car and when I reached 85, turned south toward Mexico.

 


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Art by John Thompson 2017

Multiple Choice

by Bill Baber

 

The address the boss gave me was over in the East Bay. South of Oakland, where Castro Valley, Union City, Hayward, and Fremont all blend into one sprawling suburban shithole. Forty years ago, it was the American Dream come true for the white middle class. Now, it was nothing but a nightmare for the rest of the melting pot.

The guy’s name was Carl Morgan, an ex-cop living on disability, got shot on the job about ten years back, when a stickup went bad in the Tenderloin. Junkies, no doubt. He owed the boss fifty grand, didn’t know if it was for home improvement, putting his kids through school, or bad bets on the ponies—didn’t ask, didn’t care. I was just doing my job.

I didn’t like it. Most ex-cops are paranoid wackos, sitting around half-gassed, with a gun in their lap. At any moment liable to shoot someone or swallow their fucking gun. I drove by the house first: dead lawn, peeling paint, nothing to distinguish it from the rest of the dumps on the block. Obviously, he hadn’t used the dough to fix the place up. I knocked on the door, and my fears were realized.

He had a .38 revolver in his hand. The ripped T-shirt he wore was stained and struggled to enclose a huge gut. His gray hair hadn’t been washed, combed, or cut in quite some time. Three days worth of gray stubble covered his face, and his eyes had the yellow cast of a hardcore boozer.

I could have gone all OK Corral and just started throwing lead right at the door, but I’m a professional and like to keep things neat. This would require some tact.

“Officer Morgan?” I offered, with a real attempt at respect.

“Who the fuck wants to know?”

His voice sounded like the rasp of a saw being pulled through an oak. He kept ahold of the .38, pulled a pack of Camel straights out of the chest pocket of the T-shirt. Reaching into his pants, he came up with a lighter, lit his cigarette, and blew smoke in my face.

“I’m a lawyer with Patrick, Dibbs and Kornheiser,” I said, producing a phony business card from my suit coat pocket. “We do pro bono work for the Policeman’s Benevolent Association. We are going in front of the Mayor’s commission to try and get an increase in disability for officers hurt on the job.”

Warily, he looked me over.

“Frankly, sir, I think the city of San Francisco is screwing you without the Vaseline every two weeks when they send you that check.”

“What the hell do you want from me?”

“We want you, along with some others, to testify before the commission. How long has it been since you had a cost of living increase?”

I noticed a glint in his eyes. The possibility of more money had the sucker hooked.

Turning into the house, he told me to come in.

We sat at the kitchen table. He finished a full glass of bourbon in two swallows. A lone drop dribbled out of his mouth, drained through the stubble, and added to the collection of stains on his shirt.

He got up to refill his glass.

“You want a snort?” he asked.

“Sure. Thanks,” I replied.

When he turned to get a glass, the silenced .22 Colt Woodsman came from behind my back.

I shot the dumb son-of-a-bitch in the back of the head. He slumped forward into the kitchen sink. This one was too stupid to produce a kid who could get into college.

So it must have been the ponies, then—in situations like this, it almost always was. Sometimes you liked to think it might have been something else.

 

 


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What Might Happen In Vegas

by Bill Baber

 

The midnight blue Dodge Charger Danny Naughton drove westbound on I-10 was as hot as a freshly poured cup of McDonald’s coffee, the brunette with cherry-red lipstick in the passenger seat even hotter.

He had stolen the car in downtown Tucson; he hadn’t planned on it, but he never was one to pass up a crime of opportunity. He picked the girl up in a Northside bar. Neither action required much effort on his part; the keys were in the car. The girl was drinking a margarita and looked bored, like she was just waiting for something to happen. She decided Danny might be that something.

He drove just under the speed limit even though he had switched out the plates. He liked that the girl didn’t talk much, didn’t ask a lot of questions. He neglected to tell her he had stolen the car. Cracking the window, he lit a cigarette.  He planned on taking the car to a chop shop a guy that he knew operated in Glendale, figuring he’d get a couple grand for it. Thought him and the girl would hop a flight to Vegas.

She played with the radio as he fantasized about what might happen with a little champagne and a Jacuzzi suite at the Bellagio, when he looked in the rearview. Three black Suburbans followed him, looking bigger than shit as heat waves danced off their shiny hoods. What Danny didn’t know was that he had walked right into a drug drop. Someone had been watching the Charger when it got left in Tucson, waiting to be sure no one had followed it. There were twenty pounds of heroin sewn into the back seat.

He took the exit for I-8 that went west toward San Diego. It didn’t get the traffic that the 10 did, and once clear of Casa Grande, he put his foot into it. The girl looked amused. The Charger pulled away, the pursuers becoming small dots in the distance. There was nothing but seemingly unending saguaro-covered, rock-strewn hills and a deep blue sky in front of them. Danny thought he’d stay on 8, then take 85 into the west side of Phoenix. The girl applied another coat of lipstick. He started to get hard thinking about Vegas.

Ten miles down the road, one big rig attempted to pass another, the one in the fast lane not doing much more than sixty and struggling to get past the other truck. Danny watched the mirror. The Suburbans, like desert vultures, swooped in on him in seconds. One got right on his ass while another pulled alongside him. He thought about braking hard and trying to switch directions. The third vehicle laid back, ready to thwart that kind of escape.

The one on his left turned into the Charger, causing him to lose control. The car spun and when it caught the soft desert sand on the side of the road, it rolled twice, coming to rest upside down. Danny scrambled out first and instantly met a burst of gunshots.

Two men quickly grabbed the dazed and bloody girl, roughly tossing her into the back of one of the vehicles, while two others sliced open the Charger’s seat, removed the drugs. and doused the car with gasoline. One stood back a bit, lit a cigarette.

Danny could hear the muffled screams of the girl as two of the Suburbans pulled away. He watched as a slow stream of gas sought its way from the car toward him. He saw the evil smile of the man with the cigarette. Saw his blood mix with the gasoline. And lastly, saw the man flick his cigarette toward the car.

But Danny Naughton died with a smile on his face, because the last vision he saw was of him and a beautiful brunette doing nasty things in a Vegas hotel room.

 

 

The Wrong Thing to Say

by Bill Baber

 

I wasn’t very tough as a kid. That wasn’t a good thing in the blue-collar neighborhood where I grew up. Fighting was a way of life and your toughness or lack thereof determined your standing in the local social order. I got my ass kicked on a pretty regular basis. I knew my place.

But there were a few kids on my block I could hold my own against and we would fight at the drop of a hat over anything and everything from sandlot ball games to whose old man had the nicest car.

I had just started junior high school when just before dark my mother sent me to the corner store with two dollars to get a half gallon of milk.

Just as I got off my own block, three older boys who had a reputation as bullies surrounded me.

“Where you goin’ scrub? “ One asked.

“Nowhere.”

“Got any money?”

“No.”

They moved in. The biggest punched me in the face. It felt as if my nose exploded. Blood splashed on to the pavement. Another pushed me to the ground. There were hands in my pockets.

I returned home to find my old man had just gotten home from work. He sat at the kitchen table drinking a bottle of beer.

“The hell happened to you?” He asked. “And where’s the milk?”

I told him what had happened.

“Get your ass back out there and don’t come home without milk.”

I started to cry.

“You can either go fight for what was taken from you or get a beating from me. Your choice.”

I didn’t want my pop knocking me around so I went into the street with a baseball bat.

The boys were still on the corner. I ran at them and started swinging. Two of them went down, covering their faces.

“Give me my money back.”

They did.

When I got home my old man told me he was proud of me. That was the first and only time.

After that I wasn’t scared of much. I grew a few inches and filled out some. I would fight anyone over anything. I started to get a reputation around the neighborhood. After getting kicked out of high school, I wasn’t doing much. Training at a gym thinking about a boxing career and just hanging out being a shit disturber.

Frank Daugherty ran a little syndicate in our part of town- he loan sharked and charged small businesses protection. He put me to work- using me as muscle when someone didn’t pay. Guys with gambling debts would come up with the cash, especially if I had to get rough. Some of the old folks who owned businesses were a different story. I don’t know anyone who could feel good about stomping some old guy who busted his ass every day to make a living.

The neighborhood was mostly Irish but some Chinese folks were moving in. Frank sent me to a little grocery on Irving Street. When I tried to tell the old man behind the counter he needed to cough up two hundred a month he acted like he didn’t understand. A woman who I guessed to be his wife watched with cold, dark eyes as he went behind a curtain.

A moment later he returned with a guy my age. Short, slender.

“You have business with my father?”

I explained the purpose of my visit.

“And if we don’t pay?”

“Someone gets hurt,” I explained.

“Really? Get out and don’t come back.”

I laughed and started for him.

All I remember was a blur of feet and hands. And pain.  I got the worst beating I had ever had.

I went back to Daugherty’s, bloodied and bruised.

“Where’s the money?”

I told him what happened. He backhanded me.

“Get your ass back down there and don’t come back without it.”

So I walked into the store with a .45, shot the kid and took everything out of the cash drawer.

I gave Daugherty the money.

He laughed at me.

“Guess you’re only getting one ass kicking today. Lucky you.”

I shot him too.

Maybe he should have said he was proud of me.

That would have been the smart thing to do.







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Art by Hillary Lyon 2019

The Way It Should Be Done

by Bill Baber

                                               

Lou Boldrini only screwed up once. In our business that was it all it took. He paid for his mistake with a life sentence in Sing Sing.

A bunch of gangbangers started moving crack in Bed Sty. That was Charlie Rossi’s territory. Charlie didn’t like competition. But the warnings were ignored, and an order was issued. They hung out in an abandoned set of flats just off Lexington. I drove that day, Lou and Tommy Stella went in. There were eight of them passing a pipe and packaging product. One went for a gun. They never stood a chance. Just as they were coming out, I saw a car with a Housing Authority logo pull up. A pretty young blonde got out. Tommy started to raise his gun but Lou pulled him away. He had a daughter about the same age.

The cops knew who ordered the hit and who to round up. The next day the blonde fingered Lou in a lineup. She wasn’t sure about Tommy. Lou was stand up; he took the full jolt himself. The girl went in the witness protection program but not before I learned all I could about her. Who her friends were, her hobbies, anything that would help me find her. She was from Long Island but went to school in California. Her parents were retired in Florida. She had an ex-boyfriend in Connecticut. But every lead was colder than the Hudson in January.

I spent three years looking and began starting to think I’d never find her. Then I got a break. Tino Falcone was visiting a cousin who had a restaurant in Tucson. He called me on a Tuesday night the beginning of December. He said he thought he’d found her. If it wasn’t her, it was her twin, he reported. He went on to say she was a regular at his cousin’s restaurant.

I was on a plane west the next day. I ate a week’s worth of pasta waiting for her to visit the restaurant. When she did, I was ninety-nine percent certain it was her. But I had to be sure.

I waited for her to finish a plate of carbonara and a second glass of wine. She lived in an apartment complex down the street from the restaurant. I put her to bed and was back watching the place early the next morning. Twenty minutes later, she left on foot. I followed her to a gym a block away. I walked by a few times, before I spotted her running on a treadmill. I went in and told the guy at the counter I was interested in joining. At 9:15, the place was empty, except for the girl and the guy working there. The adrenaline started to kick in. I’d been waiting a long time and wanted this to be over.

A large sign proclaimed cell phone calls were only allowed in the lobby. The girl was running at a pretty good clip as the guy started explaining how the various machines worked. Just then, she slowed down before starting to talk. She had earphones on, and at first, I thought she was singing. I guess she thought the rule didn’t apply to her.

I heard a distinct Long island accent. My heart started to race the way it always did just before a kill. Yeah, it’s been a long time she said. I’m in the witness protection program out in Arizona. You should come and visit me.

No one was going to pay her a visit. I walked up, smiled, then shot her three times.

And I didn’t make the mistake my brother did.

I killed the witness too.





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Art by Steve Cartwright 2019

You Were Supposed To Be

by Bill Baber

 

I had been in love with Suzy Foster since second grade. Now, we were seniors in high school, and she still acted like she didn’t know me, despite the fact that we were in the same homeroom and shared a history class together.

Suzy had always been one of the popular girls. When we got to high school she became a cheerleader. Over the years I had only mustered up the courage to speak to her a handful of times, I was extremely shy, and her beauty tied my tongue in knots. Each time she ignored me. Each time it felt like she plunged a knife into my chest. Couldn’t she tell by the way I looked at her how I felt? Didn’t she see me in the front row of the bleachers at every football game, watching her do her cheer routines?  Didn’t she notice that I walked past her house over and over, or that I followed her doggedly through the halls at school?

I didn’t know what else to do to get her to notice me.

Not long after the school year started she began dating Dan Coates—the quarterback on the football team. He was everything I wasn’t. I was short, skinny, and had a bad case of acne. I rode a bicycle to school. Dan was tall, strong, and extremely handsome and drove a Camaro. He was like a lion everyone admired and I was a feral cat no one wanted.

 

The night of the homecoming game, they were voted king and queen. That really stung. I had always considered her as my princess. There was a party after the game that night. The Grove was a wooded area out on the edge of town. My parents were out that night, and I took my father’s pistol from its hiding place in the closet, tied a flashlight to the handlebars of my bike, and rode there.

I stashed the bike just off the road and snuck through the trees. In a small clearing, a bonfire illuminated the scene. There were fifty or so kids there, more boys—most football players—than girls. Led Zeppelin played from someone’s car. All the boys and some of the girls were drinking cans of beer.

Suzy and Dan stood near the center of the gathering.  Dan had thrown a touchdown pass late in the game to seal the win. He and some of the other boys kept replaying it while Suzy clung to him, all the while gazing at him with unbridled admiration. I was so disappointed in her. My princess couldn’t be that shallow, could she?

After an hour or so, the party began to break up. Soon, Suzy and Dan were the only ones left. They stood face-to-face near the fire, entwined in one another’s arms.  It was supposed to be me holding her. They began to kiss. Those lips were supposed to belong to me. I could feel the anger rise in my chest.

They made their way to his Camaro, clumsily climbing into the back seat. In the flickering light of the fading fire, I watched them kiss some more. Then I saw her head bobbing up and down in his lap. For a moment I thought I would be sick, but another wave of anger pushed that feeling away. She was supposed of been pure.

Moments later, Dan was on top of her, pumping away. I could hear her animal-like groans.

This shouldn’t be happening, I thought. She was supposed to be mine. She was supposed to have saved herself for our wedding night. I hated her now. The thought of what she had become repulsed me. She was a dirty whore.

I walked up to the car. The passenger door was open. I pointed my father’s pistol at the back of Dan’s head and pulled the trigger. Suzy and I were covered in his blood.

She looked at me and screamed. She sure as hell knew who I was now, but I no longer cared.

“You were supposed to be mine,” I said quietly.

I pulled the trigger again and repeated, “You were supposed to be mine.”


Bill Baber’s crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies. His writing has earned Derringer Prize and best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play, was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.

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