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Mark Joseph Kevlock
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straightshooterbanner.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

Straight Shooter

 

Mark Joseph Kevlock

 

 

 

          Tigue took another pull on the straw. That damn McDonald's sweet iced tea was the best he'd ever tasted. Made the wait almost tolerable.

          He was about to get up for another refill when the counter girl from Boston Market slid into his booth directly across from him.

          She was a raunchy blonde number from Noo Yawk who said, "Going to Boston?"

          "Yup."

          She was overweight, but in all the right places. An ass you could get a hold of, but thin delicate wrists. Heavy just around the middle, like Manet's "Olympia."

          What the hell was he dreaming about, anyway? This was a woman. From New York, sure. But still a woman. Not his territory.

          "Business or pleasure?" she said.

          "Going to the George Michael tribute concert," Tigue said.

          Red flags went up in her eyes. Her breasts backed away across the tabletop. The result Tigue was going for.

          "So you're..."

          "I am," Tigue said.

          "Huh," she said. "The way you've been sitting here for an hour. Staring at my tits every time I gave a customer change. I kind of figured you were... interested."

          Tigue liked her. A lot. She was a woman: whole, substantial, not air-brushed. There was vitality and humor behind her aspect. Tigue wanted to keep the conversation going.

          "You're facing the wrong direction, you know," she said.

          The turnpike plaza was in Framingham, along Interstate 90 west. Boston was to the east.

          "I'm used to it," Tigue said. "Been going the wrong way my whole life."

          The blonde clicked her teeth like a piranha at the ready.

          "You don't say," she said.

          "What I mean is, I got off at the mall exit up the road and turned around to come here."

          "Waiting for someone?"

          "Yup."

          Another red flag in her eyes. But she wasn't a quitter.

          "I just got off work," she said.

          "I know."

          "Maybe you were waiting for me," she said.

          "Maybe I was."

          Her hair was curly in just the right way. Ringlets that would look unbelievably sexy just after a shower.

          Tigue stopped himself again. Chasing after what you can't possibly have, he said.

          She was studying him now, as he finished off his chicken dinner. He ate with gusto—corn, muffin, potatoes, each with a man-sized chunk of meat, then another pull on the iced tea. She ran her fingers along the back of his hand where he held the cup.

          "Something about you," she said. "I want to get naked with you."

          The tea went up his nose, the chicken down the wrong pipe. Tigue choked and coughed and laughed and smiled. Definitely not his style.

          "Am I coming on too strong?" she said.

          Tigue's eyes were watering. "For someone with no chance at all, I'd say you're just about right."

          "That's what I figured," she said.

          It was all a playful dare. But Tigue had no time for games. It would only hurt more in the end.

          "You think you can turn me?" he said.

          The blonde undid another button on her blouse. Only three remained. She shook her shoulders to enhance the effect.

          "I know I can," she said.

          "But why try? Why bother at all?"

          "Because," she said. "I can tell. People come through here all day long. By the zillions. All the same. But you're not. You're one of The Unique. Like me."

          "And that makes us a matched set?" Tigue said.

          The blonde nodded vigorously. "The rest doesn't matter. You'll see."

          It was time to get hard. Tigue was rarely anything else.

          "You have a very jealous boyfriend," he said.

          She was still playing, didn't understand.

          "Doesn't everyone?" she said. "You've probably got one too."

          Tigue looked out the window. July thunderstorms were his favorite. The sky opened up and gave you everything it had. The whole affair lasted five minutes. Then the clouds parted and the sun came back and you could be warm and wet at the same time.

          "Let's go outside," she said.

          Out they went.

          The sky was spritzing enough so that the motorists who were overly paranoid had already activated their wipers. A bus pulled into the parking lot and unloaded a platoon of Japanese teenagers. The boys all looked like they were trying out for the lead in a John Woo movie—jagged bangs over their eyes. The girls were all bouncing and laughing, wearing every imaginable fashion accessory, most of it bubblegum pink.

          Tigue and his companion were headed right through the middle of their crowd. The downpour was seconds away. Tigue stopped and turned to face her.

          "He hired me to kill you," Tigue said. "Your boyfriend. He wants you dead."

          The wind was whipping the American flag above them. The Japanese boys were shooting imaginary guns at one another. The blonde grabbed his arms and pulled them around her.

          "And what do you want?" she said.

          Tigue felt the drops, hard and heavy on his back.

          "I want to spend my life with you," he said.

          "I can't share you with anyone," Noo Yawk said.

          The Japanese girls were giggling and pointing at them, talking fast and in another language.

          "I can't chance losing you," Noo Yawk said to him. "You'll have to go straight."

          Then the shower came. Water in sheets fell upon them. The Japanese kids scattered indoors.

          Tigue started to kiss her and to tear open her blouse. His face was buried in her breasts, his hands up under her tight, tight skirt. It was over for him then. He was turned. All those years he'd been fooling himself. Living a lie.

          He was as straight as they came. The look in her eyes proved it to him.

          "You just never..." she said. "You just never found somebody to love."

          Tigue had been right about the ringlets. Unbelievably sexy. He held her face in his hands.

          "I'll kill him instead," Tigue said. "Your boyfriend. Tonight."

          The downpour ended. The sun broke through. Noo Yawk nodded and gave to him all that she was and would ever be.

          Tigue took it all without question. Inside he felt warm and wet at the same time.






thepresent.jpg
Art by K. J. Hannah Greenberg 2019

The Present

 

Mark Joseph Kevlock

 

 

 

I made my way through the trailer park and found the right one and opened the door and went inside. Out in the park, Christmas lights were everywhere and it was beginning to snow. Inside the trailer it was dark. There was no sound. I found Peter in the bedroom standing at the window holding the slats apart watching it snow. His other arm hung at his side. In his hand was a gun.

At first he had no reaction to my presence. Then he nodded toward the bed and whispered, "They were passed out drunk when I got home." I looked over and saw in the shadows two people sprawled in the bed. Clothes were strewn on the floor and some were still atop the sheets. There was the smell of sex in the air.

“This is how I find them every night," Peter said. "Every goddamn night."

“Peter, what's the gun for?" I said. I was whispering too.

”They shouldn't be like this," he said. "Not tonight. Not any night, but especially not tonight."

I didn't say anything. More snow fell and Peter didn't move. The night was half over.

"What about if we get out of here?" I said. "Take a walk. You and me."

Peter didn't say anything. I took a step closer to the bed. I didn't hear any snoring.

"It isn't right," he said. "The way they live. They're like animals. They fuck like animals."

The profanity sounded strange even in this environment. The whole world was a church tonight.

"You're not going to leave," he said. "Are you?"

"No," I whispered back.

"I want you to leave."

"Sorry."

He raised the gun and pointed it at me. He was still whispering. "Fuck sorry," he said.

I didn't say anything. I didn't move.

"'Sorry' is all I've ever heard," he said. "'Sorry for this. Sorry for that.' Fuck sorry. People shouldn't do the things that they're sorry for."

I turned away from the bed to face him. "What are you sorry for, Peter?"

He took his hand from the window slats and wiped his nose with the back of it. "I'm sorry I was ever born."

"Why?"

          He made a small disgusted snort. "Why?" he said. "Fucking why. I'll tell you why. If you've got all night."

"I do."

That caught him a little off-guard. "Well I don't," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because I have to pack."

"You're leaving?"

He gestured to the room around us. He was still pointing the gun but he was starting to forget about it. "Would you stay in a place like this?" he said.

"I might. If someone I loved lived here."

"I don't love either one of them," he said.

There was still no movement or sound from the bed. I smelled the air hard for gunpowder.

"Every night I come home to this," he said. "That's a fucked-up world I don't want to live in."

"I don't blame you," I said.

"What?"

"I don't blame you for wanting to leave."

"It wasn't always like this," Peter said. "They used to have fun. We all used to have fun. But it didn't last. My mother got lonely because she was here by herself all day. I don't blame her for that."

"What about your father?"

"I never had a father," he said. "I never knew him."

I nodded. "If you leave," I said, "you'll never be able to come back."

He was startled by this. "Why not?" he said.

"Because they won't be here."

"You're wrong," he said. He was barely whispering now. "They'll always be here. And they'll always look just like this. This is who they are now. They're not the people I used to know. They're animals. Both of them. Fucking animals."

The gun was pointing at the floor now. The light outside was getting brighter and there was a wind to the storm.

"Did you hurt them, Peter?"

He didn't answer. He sniffled but he didn't answer. I waited. "They hurt me," he said finally.

I strained to hear any breathing from the direction of the bed. "Are they okay?" I said. "Will you let me check on them?"

"Keep your voice down," Peter said. "It's a holy night."

"I know," I said.

He was sniffling again and wiping his nose more often with his hand. "You don't know anything," he said. "She was my mother. She's not allowed to act like this. Nobody's mother should ever do the things that she does."

"Why did you let her do it?" I said.

"Let her?"

"You could've stopped her," I said. "Right when it started you could've stopped them both."

Again he was startled. "She was my mother," he said. "I couldn't stop her from doing anything."

"Not even this?"

"Fuck you," Peter said. "I want you out of here."

"You've got to tell me if they're okay," I said. "You've got to tell me what happened before I got here."

"I should've never called you."

"But you did."

"The woman gave me your number. She said if things went bad you could help."

"Sometimes I can."

"Why bother?" Peter said.

"Because in the morning things look different," I said. "It's almost morning. You should wait and see."

He looked over at the bed and showed no emotion. "I'll be gone by then," he said.

"Will you let me go to them?" I said. "If you won't tell me, will you at least let me go to them and see for myself?"

"They're dead," Peter said. "There's nothing for you to look at over there."

"Dead how?" I said.

"I smothered them," Peter said. "I found them passed out and I got sick of it. I couldn't take it anymore. They were always there anyway so I thought they should be there forever. I put the pillows over their heads and pressed down. They were too drunk to fight."

"Just let me go check," I said.

Peter raised the gun and pointed it at me. "Keep your voice down," he said.

"Where did you get the gun?"

"It's a trailer park," he said.

I nodded. "You said you were out earlier tonight. Where were you?"

"I have to go now," Peter said. "Don't make me hurt you."

"Okay," I said. "I won't stop you."

"Aren't you the police?"

"No, I'm not the police. Not anymore."

"Who are you then?"

"I help people. That's all."

"I don't need any more help," Peter said. "I'm leaving."

"Remember," I said. "You can't ever come back."

"I don't think I want to."

"Okay then."

"I'm going to pack," Peter said. "If you're not leaving I want you to wait outside."

"I'll wait right here."

"I'll shoot you," Peter said.

"You can shoot me," I said. "But I'm not leaving this room."

"Fine then," he said. "You stay." He left the room and I heard him with a gym bag digging in the hall closet. A gym bag would hold just about everything in the trailer that was his.

I stepped over to the bed. There were pillows over the heads of the two bodies. I lifted one. Underneath was a boy, a teenager. He was a little older than Peter and there was a strong resemblance.

"I told you not to go over there," Peter said.

I turned back and he was pointing the gun right at my face.

"He's your brother," I said.

"It's a trailer park," Peter said. "It's where we live."

"How long was it going on?"

"As long as I can remember," Peter said. "I told you she was lonely."

"Where were you earlier tonight?"

"Stop asking me that," he said.

"Before you came home you were out somewhere."

"I'll blow your face off."

"You were shopping," I said.

"The hell I was."

"You were buying presents."

He started to sniffle again and the gun was shaking in his hand.

"They're fucking animals," he said. "You don't buy presents for animals."

"But you did."

"I'm going to leave now," he said.

I reached out and he let me take the gun from his hand and he fell to his knees sobbing. He tried to keep it quiet and that made the sound all the more painful to hear.

"What, Peter, what?"

He looked up at me and the release was coming. It would all pour out of him in a moment. It was dawn outside and the wind was howling.

“I was going to leave," Peter said. "I really was. I just came home... to give them their presents."

FIN






acupofsugar.jpg
Art by Noelle Richardson 2019

Cup of Sugar

 

by Mark Joseph Kevlock

 

 

 

          A fast car races through the night.

A beautiful woman prays in a language that only mothers can understand.

A hard man grows harder with the thought of betrayal. Her eyes, from the passenger side, make him feel shame. He presses the pedal ever harder.

“We can't tell anyone,” she says.

“Her life would be ruined,” she says.

The hard man grunts. It is all he can do.

The train station lights still gleam in his eyes. Too damn bright. Why do they keep the place like that?

He sees his daughter curled up like a stepped-on kitten. He puts a father’s hand upon her back. Feels her recoil.

“It’s too damn bright in that train station,” he says.

The beautiful woman cannot cry. Once started, she will never stop.

“The tart,” she says, suddenly.

The hard man takes rubber off the tires through a turn.

“It’s still in the oven, I think.”

The hard man grunts, eyes aflame.

“Let it burn the whole damn house down,” he says.

There will be no name-calling. No dialogue. The hard man will not acknowledge the humanity of his victim.

Blood for blood.

He bites through his lower lip and does not feel it.

The beautiful woman prays.

The neighbor’s house arcs within reach of the headlights.

“Too pretty for her own good,” the woman whispers.

The hard man hears only the blood pounding in his ears.

The front door is open, inviting. A television babbles. A man in a bowling shirt guzzles a beer.

The hard man hears nothing. He slaps the bottle from his neighbor's lips.

The bowling shirt has a wife. She cries out, startled.

The hard man sees his daughter, five years ago, learning to bake. Cherry tart. His favorite.

“I'll make it for you, Daddy.”

He strikes the neighbor with an open fist. A closed fist would kill him.

The neighbor’s wife is dialing the cops. Bowling shirt crushes the phone from her hand. No one must know what he did.

The hard man backhands his neighbor across the kitchen.

The man in the bowling shirt topples against the counter.

A yellow Tupperware container spins its curlicued “S” into view.

The hard man asks his daughter at the train station why she ran.

“A cup of sugar,” she whimpers, lifetimes later. “All I asked him for was a cup of sugar . . . to finish your tart.”

The hard man splits in two with rage.

His conscience stays in the part left behind.

Bowling shirt begs now, a sinner dragged into the light.

Like the lights of the train station. Too damn bright.

The Tupperware brims with sugar.

A stepped-on kitten hasn't courage enough to throw herself beneath the wheels.

The hard man grips his neighbor by the throat, upends the container.

An avalanche of sweetness pours itself down a filthy passage.

Bowling shirt gags.

A beautiful woman lifts a daughter in her arms at a train station.

The daughter’s eyes say that no man will touch her ever again.

The sugar pours until empty.

A hard man grows hard forever.

 

 

 

 

Mark Joseph Kevlock: (used to spell it: Kiewlak) has been a published author since 1990. In the past couple of decades, his work has appeared in Black Petals, Hardboiled, A Twist of Noir, Plots with Guns, Thug Lit, The Bitter Oleander, and Mysterical-E. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2).


Noelle Richardson comes from a relatively large family and has been illustrating and painting for about twelve years. She writes a little on the side, plays a couple of instruments and dabbles in tattoo design.

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