Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Christmas, Mrs. Cash by Jaap Boekestein

Happy Christmas Mrs. Cash

Family. For Ned family was one of the most important things in the world. Family and friends. You took care of them, and they took care of you.

It was cold in the damned car and Ned wanted to smoke. But he didn't want to run the motor and didn't want the red tip of his cigarette give his position away.

Maybe he should get one of those pussy e-cigarettes. That would have come in handy right now.

But he didn't have one, and there was no use bitching about it. He would wait whole evening and whole fucking Christmas night if need be. He would wait.

Ned looked at the lights of the other side of the street. Some half hearted shitty Christmas lights hanging from the porch and he could see a decorated tree through the front window. Together with the flickering blue white light of the television that had been on whole afternoon.

Cold lights, like a hospital.

Ayla got stitches on her face and arms. Frankenstein rail tracks on black, blue and purple skin. Her face, her throat, her arms. It was quiet in her room. At least she wasn't on one of those bleeping life support system.

From her bed she looked at Ned.

“You didn't talk now, didn't you sweet?” he asked. “No charges, no accusations?”

The battered woman didn't speak, couldn't say anything with the tube in her throat. She only shook her head, a little.

“So it was just an accident. You slipped on the bathroom floor. Or such?”

A silent minimal nod.

Ned rose, put his hand on hers. His voice sounded tired. “I'm going to Jimmy's, to celebrate Christmas. After Christmas we will talk, if you are up to it. Love you, Birdie.”

There was a tear running down Ayla's wrecked face when Ned left.


Jimmy's, a real Irish bar. As real as they came in Boston. Which didn't mean shit, but fuck, it was a good bar anyway. And it was already packed this early. All guys with nowhere else to go on Christmas eve. Or maybe they just wanted a drink before that had somewhere to go.

It didn't matter.


“Hi Ned!” Jimmy replied, busy drawing beers.

“If you got a minute...”

“Sure.” The graying fifth generation true Boston Irishman -sure...- came over to Ned after serving the beers. “What's up, Ned?”

Ned shoved his phone over the bar, together with three c-notes. “I want you to take care of my phone will I sit over there in that boot all afternoon, evening and night, having a meal, drinking, celebrating Christmas.”

Jimmy and Ned were old pals, from long way back. Friends.

Friends were important.

“All afternoon and evening and night.”


“Sure thing, Ned.”

“Thanks, you're a pal Jimmy. Happy Christmas.”

“You too Ned. Enjoy your meal and drinking.”

Ned left through the back door.


He was in luck. The front door opened, revealing the silhouette of a woman against a rectangle of light.

She wore a long winter coat, a red woolen hat and a shoulder bag. She made her way down the porch and started to walk down the street.

Some last minute shopping? Getting some Christmas spirits from the package store?

Ned got out of his car, all cold and stiff.

It didn't matter, this was what he had waited for.


The first time he had met Birdie -Ayla- was years ago, in a club called The Comet. The place didn't exist anymore, except for the memory.

A beautiful but somewhat insecure girl who smiled a lot.

She was nice, Ned thought. He talked to her, got her a drink. They hit it off.

No, not in the deep love forever kind of way. They fucked on and off for six, seven months, but neither one really wanted to commit. They ran in the same circles, especially when Ayla's friend Tina married Cole, one of Ned's mates.

Somehow Ned and Ayla stayed friends.

Friends were important.

She was like his little sister.

Like family, you know.


Black and blue face, broken nose, broken jaw, broken this, ruptured that.

Insecure. Ayla was a sweet girl, but so god damned insecure. A man could tell her he loved her, that she was worthless without him, that no-one would ever want her, and she would believe him. And stick with him, no matter what.

Low self esteem or something like that.

She hid it well, first, but one day she ran into Ned on the street and it showed. The shade hid her eyes, it couldn't conceal her swollen lip.

“What do you tell people if they ask what's going on?” Ned asked over a coffee.

Ayla looked away. “I just ran into a door. I'm real clumsy.”

“You stick to that story,” Ned said, anger in his voice. He paid for both of them and when he left, he asked her. “And who did this to you, Birdie?”


“Good girl. Really smart.”


Ned crossed the street, gun in his pocket, the collar of his coat up. There was nobody else, nobody was out on Christmas eve.

He rang the bell of the front door. He rang it long, until he heard someone cursing inside. From the sound of it a guy was making his way to the front door.

Ned pulled the gun from under his coat. His other hand closed around the blackjack in his pocket.


Shortly after doing six months in Chucky's Place for a disorderly behavior charge and a lousy lawyer, Ned ran into Ayla again.

Nothing had changed. Black and blue girl.

“Birdie, Birdie. I can't help you, if you don't help yourself,” Ned said. “Come here sweet.” He tried to hug her.

She started to shiver and cry.

“He... He is married,” Ayla sobbed.

This fucking asshole beat her up time after time and she was fucking crying because he was married?

Ned shook his head. He would never understand women.

“Give me his name,” he demanded.



“No! Fuck off Ned!”

He didn't get the asshole's name.


The guy opened the door. He was drunk; he wore a faded Guinness t-shirt and some shaggy sport pants. He looked angry. Red eyes, bad breath.

Ned moved quickly and got real close. The barrel of his Ruger LC9 was buried in the fucker's belly.

“Now come with me, Andrew.”


Cole called Ned. “Do you know Ayla is in hospital? Tina just came back. He beat her up pretty bad this time.”

“Fuck. Where?”

“In Man's Greatest. Room... Honey, what room is Alya stay... Room 533, Ned.”

“Room 533, Massachusetts General Hospital,” Ned repeated. “Got it.”


Christmas eve, so only fucking Christmas songs on the car radio.

Ned drove on, not to quick, not to slow, merging with the end of the day traffic.

Andrew in the trunk wouldn't wake up for a while, and even if he woke up, he wouldn't be able to do much, gagged and bound the way he was.

Ned dove on through the night. He knew exactly where he was going.


Ayla was sleeping when Ned came in.

He looked at her and his heart broke.

She was like a little sister to him. Family. This had to stop.

Her phone was in the small cabinet beside her bed. He had seen her use the thing often enough. Swiping the Z he unlocked the little screen.

Andrew. He was called Andrew. She sent him so many messages, saying she was sorry, begging to take her back.

It was not nice to read.

Andrew what?

Ned found the last name and an address in Ayla's phone. He read and reread them until he was sure he had them memorized.

By the time Ned put the phone back, Birdie woke up.


Andrew was very sober now.

He was kneeling in the snow, at the edge of the quay. A black night with a zillion white snow flakes. Fifteen feet down the dark water waited.

He was cursing, he was crying, he was begging.

“You are married, aren't you?” Ned asked.

“I... Yes, I am.” Andrew was grasping for a straw.

“You should have stayed faithful.” Ned said, shooting Andrew five times, back and head.

Slowly the body fell forward, towards the dark water.

Ned cleaned the gun and threw it after the corps.

Through the snow he made his way back to his car.


No police at the house. Ned drove by slowly. Inside he could see a woman, waiting for her husband who had gone out, like he did so many times.

The only difference was that this time he wouldn't return.

“Marry Christmas, Mrs. Cash,” Ned whispered, driving on.

He had a phone to pick up in a bar, and a girl in the hospital to visit.

He wasn't going to tell her about Andrew Cash.


Bio Jaap Boekestein (1968) is an award winning Dutch writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers and whatever takes his fancy. He usually writes his stories in trains, coffeehouses and in the 16th century taverns of his native The Hague, the Netherlands. Over the years he has made his living as a bouncer, working for a detective agency and as an editor. Currently he works for the Dutch Ministry of Security and Justice. His English publications include stories in: Cyäegha, Nonbianary Review, Strange Shifters, Lovecraft after Dark, Surreal Nightmares, Urban Temples of Cthulhu, Sirens Call, Mystery Weekly Magazine, Double Feature Magazine, After The Happily Ever After, Cliterature, No Safe Word, Sex & Sorcery 3 and Brave Boy World: A Transman Anthology.  http://jlboekestein.wixsite.com/jaap-boekestein

Monday, December 17, 2018

Forsaken Land by Jeremy Perry

Forsaken Land

Randall King stabbed out his unfiltered Pall Mall and then upturned his Busch Light. Three cold swallows rolled down. He set his can on the bar top, grabbed his cigarette pack, shook one loose, and lit up. The beer, the tavern, the atmosphere mad him forget his mind-numbing week. The drug busts, the domestic disputes, the multiple overdoses were more than the average man could handle, but when you’re sheriff of Scott County it’s a normal week at the office.

Everyone in the tavern knew Randall and most didn’t mind the Sheriff’s presence. Randall had grown up here, lived here his entire life. There was one or two in the joint that Randall had hauled in years ago—a marijuana charge for one, and the other was an outstanding warrant for an unpaid traffic ticket. But those were the by-gone days and neither man held a grudge against the Sheriff. There were a few who kept their distance avoiding any association with the law, but others appreciated Randall’s commitment to cleaning up the town and the rest of the county, ridding the area of crime, drugs, and the general dope head.

The town, and county, did have its share of self-righteous hypocrites who thought Randall King was a no-good drunken barfly known for his unorthodox ways of enforcing the law. Though, Randall didn’t give a fuck about what they thought of him or the way he ran his county. 

He drew from his cig and sucked from his can. A Keith Whitely song rang softly through the jukebox speakers reminding him of his ex-wife, Mandy, and the good times they once had before their marriage went to hell. He motioned to Vicki, the barmaid, and ordered a bourbon.

A Saturday night and The Lounge filled as it usually did with a middle-aged crowd mixed with a few twenty-somethings. They came out after working all week at their dead end jobs. The Lounge was a sanctuary for the beaten-down and, often times, broken. People came to let loose, to forget, to find hope in a crowd comprised of likened souls that could lift each other up, make each other laugh, and that could create a few drunken memories.

Vicki set Randall’s bourbon in front of him and he said thanks in his low smoker’s rasp. Wasting no time, he tossed back the bourbon and followed it with a long steady guzzle of beer, emptying the can.

“Want another beer, sugar? Said Vicki.

“Yeah, I’ll have another,” said Randall exhaling smoke.

Then a short, square-shouldered man settled on a stool two down from Randall.

“Be right with ya,” said Vicki to the man.

“No hurry,” said the man.

Vicki set Randall’s beer in front of him and cracked it open. She stepped to the other man and wiped off the bar. “Now, what can I get for ya?”

“Whiskey. Water chaser,” said the man.

“This ain’t the wild west, Doc,” said Vicki with a sly grin. “Any particular kind?”

“Surprise me,” said the man.

“You got it,” said Vicki.

Tipping his can, Randall glanced again at the man, taking note of his features. Bald head on top with signs of heavy stubble along the side. A thick, dark forest of beard covered his bulldog face. Randall had encountered many people and faces over the years. He’d remembered some, others he’d forgotten over time. The bald man gave not an inkling of recollection. 

But this was the way of life for Randall King, always looking over his shoulder, always checking his surroundings. Some considered him a crazy paranoid, but for him it was a matter of life and death. He’d put away countless men and women over the years, disrupting their lives, breaking up families. Being on the defensive had kept him alive.

“Thanks, said the man as Vicki served his whiskey and water.

“You’re welcome,” she said.

Randall drew from his cig a last time and snuffed it into the ashtray.

“Mind if I get one of those?” asked the bald man.

“Terrible habit,” said Randall, sliding his pack and lighter down the bar.

The man grabbed the pack and tapped one out. “I only smoke when I drink.” He lit up and returned the pack and lighter. “Thanks.”

“Me too,” said Randall. “I’m down to two packs a day.” He drank from his can.

The man grinned and nodded. He sipped from his glass and then drew from his cig. He struck up a conversation about politics, which Randall didn’t give two shits about. He was a politician of sorts. He’d always ran a tight campaign, tapping into the heart and soul of the county—the working class, poverty stricken, gun-toting conservatives. He’d joined the department all those years ago because it was in his blood, a make-up of his heritage. His daddy had been sheriff, and his granddaddy before him a conservation officer. Being a lawman was all he’d ever known.

The bald man continued talking. He said Donald Trump was going to be the country’s savior and the greatest president ever to sit in the Oval Office. “He’ll put North Korea in its place. You can bet on that. And run out all these god damn illegals.” He tapped an ash into a tray and sipped again.

“Yep,” said Randall. He hit his cig and then exhaled, hoping the windy son of a bitch would shut the hell up.

The man said, “Let me guess. You voted for that damn ‘Crooked’ Hillary Clinton.”

Randall bypassed the man’s brashness. He had no desire to answer questions or talk politics. But he said, “Didn’t vote for either. Fact of the matter is, buddy, I just want to sit here and enjoy my beer and my buzz. Trust me, being in a bar around a bunch of drunks ain’t no place to discuss politics.”

The man smashed out his cig in the ashtray. “You probably right. Sometimes my political spirit takes over.”

“Ain’t a thing wrong with having a little spirit,” said Randall.

“The name’s Justin Pratt,” said the man.

“Randall King.”

“I know who you are, Sheriff.”

“Most folks do.” He paused, and then said, “Pratt? Don’t know any Pratts around here.”

“The Pratts ain’t from ‘round here. Same as me. Got some kin up here though, but most my people are down around Jackson, Kentucky.”

“Who’s your kin,” asked Randall.

“Related to the Clarks,” said Justin.

“Johnny Boy Clark? That bunch?”

“Yeah, that bunch. Nathan White was a cousin of ours,” said Justin outright.

That name alone summoned a dark, sick felling within Randall. He said, “Hope that son of a bitch is rotting right about now. He got what he deserved.” He spared no feelings. The year before he’d had a shootout with Nathan White, ending his life in the middle of a soybean field. Randall had no proof, but felt deep down that the low-life scum had murdered his baby sister, Darlene. And he’d handled the matter his own way as he was known to do.

“I reckon he got what was a comin to him,” said Justin “I’ll be first to admit he weren’t good for much, but some my folks is sayin it was an execution.”

“The bullet that went through my left shoulder says different,” said Randall.

Justin grinned. “Heard about that too. Nathan wasn’t known to shoot too straight.”

Randall didn’t care for where he thought the conversation was going. He said, “Maybe you best head on back to Jackson, son.”

Justin Pratt threw back the rest of his whiskey. Pulled a ten from his pocket and tossed it on the bar. He stood and said, “Nah, not yet, Sheriff. Have yourself a good evening.”

Randall watched the man step across the room and out the door, surefooted and cocky. He felt an urge to follow, to catch the son of a bitch in the parking lot and stomp his ass. Instead, he pulled from his beer and then lit up a smoke. He heard Merle Haggard’s “Mamma Tried” crooning from the jukebox. Mamma should’ve tried harder, he thought. He drained his beer and ordered another.

The glow of the muted television lit up Randall’s tiny bedroom. Sitting with back against the headboard, bare chest exposed, he stared blankly at the screen, hitting the Pall Mall compressed between his fingers. Piled dirty clothes lay in the corner. His gun belt looped over the back of an old wooden chair.

The toilet flushed and the bathroom door opened. Vicki ambled out naked, just the way she had entered. Her hair free of its usual ponytail hung over her soft shoulders. Her middle-aged breasts caught the television’s glow as she scooted onto the bed.

“You wanna go to the lake tomorrow?” she said. “Get the hell away for the day?”

“I don’t know,” said Randall. “Maybe.”

“What’s the matter?” said Vicki. “You been distant all night…ever since we left the bar.”

“Hell, I’m fine. Wore out a little.”

She laid her head on his shoulder. “Really, what’s wrong?”

Randall didn’t make a habit of revealing his innermost thoughts, but he told of the conversation with the man named Justin Pratt and how those old emotions of his sister’s murder came bubbling up. He thought of her every day, remembering the grim scene of her lifeless body, contorted, laying amongst the mud, muck, and debris down in the Bottoms, a backwoods wasteland. He knew she had been murdered, the autopsy confirmed it, although she had lethal doses of Opana in her system. Foul play was involved on all fronts. 

“I know you miss her,” said Vicki. “I miss her too, but you got to move on. She’d want that.”

A glass and bottle of bourbon sat on the nightstand, along with an overfilled ashtray. Randall leaned over, deposited his cig in the tray, and poured a drink. “Hell, I know that,” he said and drank. He placed the glass back on the nightstand. “I should’ve been there. I should’ve protected her.”

“She was a grown woman,” said Vicki. “You tried reaching out to her. We all did. It ain’t your fault. She was into some fucked up shit.”

But to Randall, being sheriff, he felt responsible for ridding the county of the worthless dope fiends and pushers. He knew eliminating all the evil would be impossible, but goddamn it, he would try. He poured another, drank, and sat the glass down. And then from outside, a sudden flurry of blasts and pops erupted, piercing and shattering the bedroom window. He grabbed Vicki and plunged to the floor. Live lead hornets buzzed past, lodging into drywall, kicking a hanging picture off the screw. Another hit the flat-screen television blacking out the room.

Under the bed he kept a loaded twelve-gauge. He grabbed it and said, “Stay down,” as he pumped a shell into the chamber.

The shooting from outside had ceased. Low and hunkered, Randall crawled out the bedroom door. He stood and raced down the hallway through the living room and to the front door. He spied out one of the small diamond-shaped windows and in the darkness made out a fleeing shadow crossing his front yard, heading to a parked car, with lights on, down the road. Randall flung the door open, shuffled down concrete steps with shotgun raised. He sent buckshot flying and wasted no time pumping and firing again. The gunman jumped into the car, sped off, tires barking and chirping. Gun shoulder and aimed, Randall watched, heart pumping and heavy of breath, as the car sped off and out of sight down the dark country road.

The sun was going down when Randall eased his cruiser into the gravel parking lot of Uncle Roy’s Place, a tavern known to host the vilest bunch ever to gather in one spot. Nestled deep in the backwoods, the old two-story plantation home had been converted to its current state about ten years ago. The sign out front read ‘poker tonight’. 

Randall scanned the parking lot examining the litter of old pickup trucks and cars with rusted out quarter panels. He parked beside a primer long-bed Ford, stepped out, and then headed toward the entrance. 

Inside, Patsy Cline sang sweetly throughout as Randall entered. Cards stopped flying and necks turned to take notice of the sheriff in his brown uniform as he stepped across the room and up to the bar.

“What can I get ya, Sheriff?” said the barkeep, a decrepit coot with wiry gray hair and not a tooth in his head. 

“Need to speak to Stratton,” said Randall.

“He’s in back. Lemme get ‘em.”

Waiting, Randall eyed the group of misfits who had gone back to their games. The tables were piled with cash and chips and cards. Those around the tables hoped to claim a jackpot that would eliminate any need to return to their dead-end jobs or add to their monthly benefit checks. Randall never held an urge to gamble, not with money. He’d gambled with booze and women many times throughout the years and lost on most occasions. He knew every man had a weakness including him.

He continued to scour the room and the faces not seeing the one for which he’d came, but he did spot a face that would do for now. Then, from behind, someone said, “Evening, Sheriff,” in a pleasant, welcoming voice.

Turning, Randall saw the voice belonged to Roy Stratton, or “Uncle Roy”, as most called him—but he was no uncle to Randall King.

“Evening, Stratton.”

“What can I do ya for?” said Uncle Roy.

“Need to speak to one of your guests.”

“Yeah? Which one?”

“Johnny Boy over there,” said Randall.

Uncle Roy scanned the room and saw Johnny Boy Clark rake a pile of winnings from the middle of the table. 

“Not sure disturbing their game is such a good idea,” said Uncle Roy. “They’ve been going at it for a while now. Might upset ‘em pulling Johnny Boy away like that.”

Randall pulled a pack of smokes from his front pocket. He tapped one out and lit up. He said, “You tell ‘em I’ll be waiting outside. You tell ‘em, Stratton.” His voice was calm and straight, his look steady and fierce.

“Will do, Sheriff,” said Uncle Roy as Randall strutted away.

Waiting on the front porch, Randall drew from his cig, and a few moments after the front door swung open and out walked Johnny Boy Clark. Compared to Randall, Johnny Boy was a younger man in his late twenties. His fitted t-shirt revealed thick arms and shoulders, and his wide chest protruded like a sturdy, wooden shelf. His squared jaw covered with heavy stubble jutted out and described by many as being harder than a chunk of granite. He closed the door behind him.

“You wanted to see me, Sheriff?” asked Johnny Boy.

Randall nodded, stayed silent for a moment, and then said, “Doing any good in there?”

“Fair,” said Johnny Boy. “About even right now.”

“Never was worth a damn playing poker. Always lost my ass.”

“Cards ain’t for everyone,” said Johnny Boy. He stepped to the porch railing, spit over the side. He spun and said, “I got a feelin’ you didn’t drive all the way out here to ask me about my card playin’. Am I right?”

Randall drew long on his cig, dropped it, and crushed the cherry with the pointed toe of his boot. He peeked through the window at the crowd inside, and without looking at Johnny Boy, said, “You’d be right.” Then, “Where’s your cousin? Saw ‘em lately?”

“Who?” asked Johnny Boy.

“Justin Pratt.”

“Oh. Yeah, I’ve seen ‘em.”

“Thought you might’ve,” said Randall. “Know where’s he’s at now?”

Johnny Boy was about to answer when someone cleared their throat and said, “I’m right here, Sheriff. Long time no see.”

Randall spun to see Justin Pratt walking up holding a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey. He eyed Justin and instantly knew he’d likely slipped out the back when the cruiser rolled into the parking lot. For whatever reason, he reconsidered the sheriff’s presence, and ambled around to the front porch. Randall noticed Justin had acquired a leg-dragging limp since they had met the other night in The Lounge. 

Justin stopped straight on from the sheriff, tipped the bottle, the brown serum sloshing inside, and let two swallows roll. He wiped his shiny lips with the back of his hand, and then said, “You come to gun me down too, like you did our cousin?”

“Shut the hell up, Justin,” said Johnny Boy. “He’s drunker ‘an hell, Sheriff.”

Randall nodded, already aware of the obvious. He’d dealt with more drunken sons of bitches than he could remember. Fought many. Received multiple punches to the head and body. Been stabbed, stitched up, and even threatened with an axe one time many years ago. He’d seen it all. He ignored Justin’s question and said to him, “I didn’t figure you’d heed my advice.”

“Advice?” asked Justin. “And what advice was that, Sheriff?”

“Getting your ass back to Jackson before something bad happens.”

“‘Before something bad happens’? Hell, something bad has already happened. Did you forget? You killed our cousin in cold blood. That’s god damn bad enough!” Then Justin added, “Did you enjoy your wakeup call the other night?”

“God damn it, Justin!” said Johnny Boy. “Shut your drunk-ass up. He don’t know what he’s talkin’ about, Sheriff. Justin, shut the fuck up.” He pointed a stern finger. “I mean it. Shut up.”

“I think he knows exactly what he’s talking about,” said Randall. “Get a little buckshot in your backside, Justin? That why you’re limping and dragging that leg around? You dumb son of a bitch.”

Randall’s words caused Justin’s drunken eyes to light up. Fury swept over his bulldog face. Holding the whiskey bottle in his left hand, his right swung to his backside where a tucked revolver hid behind his belt. He pulled the gun.

“No, fucking don’t!” yelled Johnny Boy.

But it was too late. Before Justin cleared his piece, Randall had already shucked his gun clean of its holster and squeezed two rounds into Justin’s left lung. He dropped the whiskey bottle, staggered, and then fell to his knees, gasping, clutching his blood-soaked chest.

The patrons from inside filed out onto the porch. Stunned, ghost faces watched as Justin Pratt drew his last breath. It was then a calm, surrealistic dusk settled in around them, going unnoticed, claiming yet another day in this God-forsaken land.


Bio Jeremy Perry is an American writer whose books and stories span many genres. He studied at Indiana University Southeast and graduated from Penn Foster Career School with a diploma in freelance writing. He is the author of Hard Luck: Stories and Under the Willow Tree and Other Stories. In 2016, he released the short novel Moonshiner's Justice and the western adventure Brothers of the Mountain: Heart of the Frontier. Jeremy Perry lives and writes in southern Indiana. Feel free to connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Beau Johnson

I must confess to feeling cranky lately. Normally, my emotional state wouldn’t be an issue. As an Ink-Quistioner, I have a job to do. And I strive to stay professional. Not that I don’t enjoy the work, of course.
But as I close out Story and Grit’s 2018 Ink-Quisition year with Canadian crime writer Beau Johnson, today’s not “business as usual.” The matters at hand are personal.
Because today’s about Atonement. As some of you may have heard, Beau Johnson has been negligent. A man’s supposed to protect his castle. He’s supposed to keep watch from his Tower and bar intruders from his domain.
But Beau fell asleep on duty. As a result, crime and horror writer Kevin Berg managed to breach the Johnson castle walls and filch an advanced copy of Beau’s latest book THE BIG MACHINE EATS—before I got my copy of this long-awaited manuscript—which became available to readers everywhere on November 26th.
To add insult to injury, I told Beau on several occasions that he was now in deep shit. But did he ever say he was sorry and assume responsibility for his actions? Nope. Instead he sent me “clown” pics.
I thought driving a spiked stiletto-heel into his forehead last month might knock some sense into him. Wishful thinking. When I asked him to send me an author pic for this interview, Mr. Johnson resorted to intimidation—and sent me a photo of himself: clutching an ax with both hands.
So today Story and Grit isn’t featuring the author photo Beau Johnson typically uses to promote his work. You know the one I’m talking about. The creepy pic where he looks like a home invader—grinning slyly in the foyer—like he’s about to hike the stairwell to the upstairs bedrooms, and slaughter everyone in their sleep.
The photo we’re running today is much more appropriate. Beau was unprepared to find me standing in his hallway at the time this photo was taken. In fact you could say he was stunned—
In more ways than one.
Because the cattle prod I zapped him with delivers way more volts than the ones y’all typically find in your local Agway store.
I imagine most of you Ink-Quisitive folks are wondering where Beau Johnson is right now. And you want to hear from him. After all, there are two sides to every story, right?
There’s only one side to this story—and that’s mine: this is not a “he said, she said fight.”
For those of you who might not be familiar with Beau Johnson’s work, he spent the previous decade penning tales. And much to his delight, I’m sure, at least a 100 of these stories have magnanimously been given published homes: usually in online magazines on the darker side of town.
In 2017 publisher Down and Out Books sprang Mr. Johnson’s first short story collection, A BETTER KIND OF HATE on an unsuspecting world. Buoyed by this achievement, Beau suddenly fancied himself a dancer, as well as a writer. And deluded himself into thinking he could become an Ultimate Frisbee champion.
But if one believes the legends, Beau came crashing back to earth—he broke his collar bone; became a couch potato; packed on forty excess pounds—and pounded out his second story collection, THE BIG MACHINE EATS solely on his phone, while loafing every day on his ever-expanding ass.
By now I’m sure some a y’all must be thinkin’: Damn. Jesse’s in a tizzy. She’s spewed about six hundred words … and we haven’t heard a word from Beau.
Damn straight I’m in a tizzy. And you haven’t heard a word from Beau cuz he’s got a ball gag in his mouth. He’s also tied up at the moment, if you catch my drift.
Once his collar bone healed, Mr. Johnson apparently shed those extra forty pounds by runnin’ around like a dizzy school girl and jabbering to anyone who would listen about his new book.
As a professional Ink-Quistioner, I strive to present you readers with something truly “fresh” each time I’m here at S&G—
Besides fresh blood that is.
So Beau’s constant babbling darkened my mood further. Every time I started to develop a line of questioning, I had to stop and read the latest propaganda about Mr. Johnson’s larger-than-life character Bishop Rider.
While Beau was dancing under the bright lights over at Mick Rose’s Center Stage last month, Mick naturally talked about Bishop Rider and the man who pens his tales:
“Abuse takes many forms. Betrayal does as well. But for those who have been bitterly abused or betrayed true justice and remedy can never exist.
“Beau Johnson understands this and brings us Bishop Rider, a former policeman who’s seen too much … and suffered some traumas of his own. Mentally twisted by his experiences, driven by his demons, Rider suddenly spends his days dispensing his unique hell-bent brand of justice.
“Just as readers did in A Better Kind of Hate, they will find stories involving other characters in The Big Machine Eats as well. But the song, as they say, always remains the same. Wrongs have been committed: and some folks are going to pay.”
Nice description by Mr. Rose. But to paraphrase his words in true S&G fashion: Bad guys do bad shit—and if Bishop Rider is involved—Bishop fucks them up.
Which, in typical Beau Johnson story-telling fashion, brings us full-circle to my opening remarks: Wrongs have been committed, and Atonement is required.
So the time has finally come to remove Beau’s ball gag. And I as Ink-Quisitioner will preside over these proceedings as both judge and jury—and potential executioner. However, Mr. Johnson will only be allowed to speak directly to my Questions. Any deviations on Beau’s part, and I will gleefully conduct some deviant behaviors on his person.
Q. Have you ever been to Disney World, Beau?
A. Yup. I took my boys there once. Great time. My only advice: GET THE FAST PASS!
Q. What was your favorite ride? And why?
A. Why, the Millennium Falcon, of course—
I kid! I kid! Give me a second ….
I’d say my favorite part was the Tower of Terror. That drop … man, that drop put your stomach in your throat faster than you’d believe.
As for why? Probably because my boys loved it, too.
Q. Amateur Hour: Hostage Negotiation 101, eh Beau? But trying to make your captor “humanize” you by mentioning your kids ain’t gonna work with me. Nevertheless since we’re on the topic of “family”—anyone’s who’s visited you on Facebook has likely seen some of your family photos—which you tend to label “A bunch of Johnsons.” There’s a whole lotta Johnsons in that bunch fer sure. But how many of them Johnsons actually live with you under one castle roof?
A. Five. My wife, Dana, and I. And our three boys. Donnie, Jack, and John-Edward.
Q. How sweet. I went to Disney World once. I was nineteen. Hated the place. Total cluster fuck. Long lines. Lousy food. And all a them sweaty deludedly-happy shining people holding hands. I honestly shoulda snatched some barf bags off the plane.
But sticking with the family theme and the word “fuck”—the first line in your new book—which opens with the story, “What Julie Said” involves both: “Do you ever think about your mother when we fuck?”
What motivated you to write this tale? And why did you choose to make this one the lead story in your latest collection?
A. First off, Jesse, even though you have me bound as you do, Bishop and I would like to offer our thanks to you for having us here at Ink-Quisitions. Throughout the year we have read many an interview, Ink-Quisitions coming to be one of our faves. That being said, could you maybe loosen these zips ties a touch? I mean, I do need these hands to write.
Anyway, to answer your question: the only thing which motivated me to write “What Julie Said” was that first line. As it is with quite a few of my tales, a line pops into my head and boom, we are off to the races. Happens in the opposite direction too, of course, but it’s when the idea starts me somewhere in the middle where I feel I’m truly tested.
As for why it’s the lead story? Comes back to that first line. I mean, it sorta does stand out.
Q. Both of us tend to publish on the darker side of town. So how does the older generation of Johnsons tend to view and treat your stories? When my first story got published two years out of college, my mom begged and begged to read my work. The story appeared in a small college press with a limited print edition. And I proved fortunate to have secured a couple of copies. Against my better judgment, I caved to her whims—
She’s never read one of my stories since. She’s always happy when I get published. But she doesn’t brag about me either.
So a lot of years have passed since any of my “art” has gotten pinned to the fridge with a magnet.
Guess that might explain a few of my anger management issues. Lucky I’ve got you to help me work through some of them. Anyway, what’s the deal with your folks?
A. Totally. Certain members of my family had a hard time not only with what I wrote but what fiction actually is. Weird, I know. I even had a cousin unfriend me on Facebook because they thought certain things I wrote in a story were biographical. They weren’t, this cousin just assumed they were.
I have also had people say, hey, great writing, I just can’t read that stuff. Too dark. Which is fair. As I’ve said before: there isn’t much sunshine in the stuff I write. I offer hope at times, but even that comes with a price.
But as the years have gone on, some of these family members have come around, understanding what fiction is so to speak, and now I have some true champions in my corner. I don’t have them all, and I know I never will, but the ones I do bring a smile to my face.
Q. Generally your stories are considered “macabre.” And granted I haven’t devoured every story in THE BIG MACHINE EATS, yet. But one particular fact struck me as “bizarre.” You don’t trot Bishop Rider onto the scene until your third story, “Knockout.”
Since you’ve taken to sporting T-shirts declaring “Bishop Rider Lives”—why did you decide to delay his appearance? Especially since “Knockout” is such a short story: and we barely get a taste.
By the way, Ink-Quisitive me is also wondering how Mr. Rider feels about your decision. So I splattered invitations all over social media asking him to join us. Only seemed fitting since many of your stories involve “reunions” of sorts—and a lot of them reveal attempts to “set the record straight.”
Though as a bit of incentive to draw Mr. Rider from the shadows, I guess “invitation” isn’t exactly the right word. What I actually said was that Beau Johnson called him a pussy—and what did he think of that?
Regardless of whether Bishop shows up or not, please tell the rest of our Ink-Quisitive audience why you decided to dick us around by not “featuring” Mr. Rider sooner? Although on the plus-side here, your fourth story “In Need of a Win” shows the importance of teamwork, as well as the trust and chemistry, between Rider and a cop—who is definitely not afraid to stick more than his “own neck” out.
A. Ha! Perhaps this is the reason you have me shackled, then. A present to a particular man who may or may not be on his way? Look to the shadows then, Jesse, it’s where Bishop is most at home! 
But seriously, I digress. There are two reasons why Bishop Rider’s struggle doesn’t open the pages of THE BIG MACHINE EATS. One, the first line of “What Julie Said” continues to scream for my attention to this day. Two, it’s as the old adage says: all good things to those who wait.
Q. Let’s drift back in time a bit … the stories I’ve presently read by you were penned over the last few years. So I was stunned to learn last month that you spent three years spinning yarns before your first was ultimately published about seven years ago.
Did your writing style and story-telling approach “evolve” during that three-year span? Or do think your subsequent seven-year success streak is more likely attributed to learning the “markets” where your stories were much more likely to “fit?”
A. A little from column A. A little from column B. It’s no secret that Stephen King is my influence. When I finally returned to writing it was his types of stories I tried to tell. Wrong. So wrong.
Wasn’t until the gravitational pull of crime fiction sucked me into its orbit that I found my voice. I also began to write in first person almost exclusively. It’s not for everyone, no, but I feel first person narrative has be kind to me. Those two things, finding my voice and switching to first person, found me a home in markets I had never explored before.
I haven’t looked back since.
Q. Obviously, Beau, you haven’t been looking at your surroundings period—or your manuscript wouldn’t have been stolen—and you wouldn’t be here now in your current predicament.
Speaking of which, before I smuggled you to this Tower—instead of conducting this Ink-Quisition back at S&G’s basement like I normally do—you used to live in Brantford, Ontario, Canada: sometimes known as Telephone City. How did Brantford earn this moniker? And what is the closest major U.S. city to Brantford?
A. Brantford was the home of Alexander Graham Bell as well, the inventor of that device which connects us all, hence the moniker. A lot less apps on his version, sure, but the man deserves no less credit. 
As for the closet major U.S. city to Branford, I would have to go with Niagara Falls for the win. About an hour from here.
Q. Hypothetically speaking, if I decide to let you live … and return you to your family—though perhaps in several pieces, if Mark and Dawn Westmoreland were visiting you in Brantford for a weekend, where would you take them for lunch and dinner—as well as a few hours of splendid drinking?
A. I never look a gift horse in the mouth, Jesse! The Grand River Dinner Cruises, of course! A family-owned business, “the Boat Farm” was established in 1978 by John and Luella Albin, my in-laws. My brother -in-law, Blain, Dana and I took up the torch some time ago.
That being said, and if you permit me to see the light of another day, we’d wine and dine Mark and Dawn with a three hour, three-course roast beef meal on one of our three boats while leisurely cruising the Grand! Hell, I can almost hear the banjo music playing now! 
Q. In terms of our current circumstances, I find the opening lines of your story, “The Elegance of Absolutes” divinely appropriate:
I ask him about his wife and kids, and then whether he knew the truth about his father. I
don’t have to do this, not at all, but certain things in life are meant to be respected, man-
ners being one of them. Marcus says yeah, big whoop, and I clarify what it is I mean to
convey: it was more the why they took Big Jim’s arms than the how that got us to the
place we were now. “The symmetry I’m able to create from such a thing, this is what I
wish to pass along.” He’d given up his protests long ago, once he’d fully grasped the sit-
uation for what it was. I give him credit for that, I do, and exactly for the reasons you
might think. Wrists and ankles bound, he’s positioned as I want him, the table saw set to
produce sandwich meat first, hard candy second.

“When you hired me, you said we’d be exclusive. Can we agree on that?”

I hope you will reflect carefully on these words, written by your own hands—which remain unharmed and intact—at least for the moment. Granted you didn’t “hire” me for this Ink-Quisition. And as a fiction writer myself, I would never be so cruel as to have demanded an “exclusive” interview.
Nevertheless, this last question is critical, Beau ….
Is there anything you’d like to tell me you’re sorry about?
A. That it has to end, Jesse, as it’s been a pleasure. Not only you and your interrogation, but all the other people like you who have embraced and supported me throughout not only THE BIG MACHINE EATS, but A BETTER KIND OF HATE as well. I am truly grateful and at times gobsmacked at the attention I am given. I strive to pay it forward. And will continue to do so for as long as I am able.
I love to write, Jesse. To create something from nothing and enjoy what my characters have to say. However, to continue to do such things I’m gonna need a little help. You understand what I’m saying here, Jesse? 
For the love of God, woman, give me back my hands!!
Q. Hold that thought a minute, Beau—I gotta make a phone call.
Hey, Dana, it’s Jesse. Yeah, he finally broke. Give me 30 minutes. I'll text you the GPS coordinates and you can pick him up.
Yeah, okay. Hold on a second.
Hey, Beau—Dana wants proof of life. Wants to know one of the safe words y’all use when playin’ games.
Did you catch that Dana? He just croaked “Thanos.” Okay, we’re set then. I’ll leave my cattle prod here in case you feel like zapping him a few times. Feel free to keep that baby and use it in good health.
Well, Beau, bein’ a crime writer who’s watched too many movies, no way in hell I’m cutting you lose. So drink this—
You’ll wake with the mother of all hangovers, but a small price to pay I think. Fashioned this concoction myself using a cocktail recipe Mark Westmoreland gave me. Bourbon, beat juice and a few key “active ingredients” I won’t mention—but the street name for these drugs is Mississippi Mud. Though I quadrupled the dose of course.
Thanks for joining us folks. I gotta clear outta here now, and put some mega-distance between me and the cops if Dana decides to involve them. Hope y’all enjoy your Holidays. And stay safe out there ya here? Lotta strange people in this crazy world besides me.
Anyone who’s never had the pleasure of readin’ about Bishop Rider can sample some of his tawdry tales for free at www.beaujohnsonfiction.com
And also find his books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Beau-Johnson/e/B079MHF7RG/
Meanwhile, THE BIG MACHINE EATS has certainly created a lot of buzz. And I imagine that table saw I mentioned earlier’s got a lot to do with that. So all you Rider junkies can further feed your addictions by checkin’ out the Links below if you haven’t already caught a whiff. Cheers!
Crime Writer Jason Beech has a go at Beau:
Beau dances like a ballerina at Mick Rose’s Center Stage:
Author Dana King digests Beau and his Machine “One Bite at a Time” (talk about “cheesy”):
And here’s Beau looking more “composed” during a quiet chat with his Hometown Newspaper: