Authors: Randy Chandler
“The tension is built with the skill of a professional, and it is added to by the reader's knowledge that every character is expendable.
is good fun. There is sex, violence and a hell of a story. This novel reminds me just a little of early-Stephen King mixed with everything Richard Laymon ever wrote. This one, you should read.”
“Oh intellectual horror, how I’ve missed you!! After one too many mind-numbing books,
is a treat to be both desired and consumed.”
by Randy Chandler
Comet Press Electronic Edition © June 2012
copyright © 2005
by Randy Chandler
All Rights Reserved.
Cover painting copyright © 2012
by Daniele Serra
Previously published by Hellbound Books, 2005
This book is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Table of Contents
The church bell began to toll at sunset.
Joe Carr lifted his eyes from the steamy sidewalk, turned his head and looked up at the abandoned church on Holy Cross Hill. He shook his head in perplexed wonder and pushed through the smudged-glass door of the Jiffy-Quick Mini-Mart. Crossing the threshold, he felt a fleeting sense of déjà vu.
The cowbell above the door clanged and the clean-shaven Pakistani behind the counter glanced up from a newspaper and gave Joe a wary nod. Joe figured the guy saw every customer as a potential robber, so he smiled to show he was no threat. But behind the plastic smile he was thinking:
Just an ordinary Joe, fuck you very much.
“Nice and cool in here,” Joe said as he walked up to the counter. He shivered against the air-conditioner’s chill. Too damn cold, but still better than being out in the hot soupy air of the endless late-summer heat wave. “I need a pack of Benson and Hedges menthol.”
The Pakistani reached to the rack above his head, pulled down the pack of smokes and slapped it on the counter like a Blackjack dealer slapping down a winning ace. “Anything else?”
Before Joe could say, “No thanks,” the cowbell clanged again and the man went into a paroxysm of anger and sputtered, “You get out of here. I call police.”
Joe looked back to see who had set off such an intense reaction from the Pakistani.
A rat-faced man with long greasy hair raised his middle finger and proudly presented it to the storekeeper. His lips peeled back in a gap-toothed grin a hockey goalie would’ve been proud of. His faded grease-stained jeans looked pretty good compared to the ragged Army fatigue shirt he wore unbuttoned to his hairy belly, its sleeves cut off at thick shoulders, his shoulders and forearms etched with violent swirls of skin art.
Joe stared at the muted colors of the man’s tattooed flesh. Things seemed to be moving around there, as if some of the tattoos were alive and crawling up and down his thick arms.
“What’re you looking at, asshole?” the illustrated man asked Joe.
“You are a thief!” the Pakistani shouted. “I don’t want you in my store!”
“Nothing,” Joe mumbled, looking at the floor.
“Bullshit,” the man said as he came forward, knocking over a wire rack of over-priced potato chips.
Joe stepped back and bumped into the counter.
Rat Face stepped on a bag of chips. Cellophane crinkled. Chips crackled. Joe’s heart pounded on his eardrums.
“My money ain’t no good here?” Rat Face yanked the little chain hooked to his thick belt and a greasy-looking wallet popped out of his jeans pocket. The wallet looked like it had been run over by a fleet of eighteen-wheelers with leaky crankcases. “I’m a paying customer, you rag-head goat fucker.”
The storekeeper did some more sputtering, finally getting out the words: “I call nine-one-one.” He had the phone in his hand and was holding it like a weapon.
Joe was close enough to Rat Face to smell his stench, and his stomach did a rollover, sending a hot surge of bile up his throat. He decided to get the hell out of there and do his cigarette shopping elsewhere, but as he took his first step toward the door, Rat Face planted his filthy thick-knuckled hand in the center of Joe’s chest and stopped him.
“Hold up, Bubba,” said Rat Face, “you’re my witness. You see this guy threatening me wid dat phone?”
The Pakistani started punching digits, but before he hit the third number, Rat Face reached over the counter and snatched the phone away, laughing. It was a dirty, rumbling sound, like the thunder of hot-rods on a dusty drag strip.
Joe found his voice and said, “Let’s just—”
“You son of a bitch,” Rat Face spat, dropping the phone. He was talking to the storekeeper who had pulled a pistol from under the counter and was pointing it at him.
There was a long nerve-wracking moment of thick silence.
Rat Face stared at the Pakistani. The Pakistani stared back. Joe’s eyes went back and forth between the two men faced off across the counter.
The air-conditioner hummed.
Up on Holy Cross Hill, the iron bell in the belfry of the forsaken church continued its somber tolling.
Who’s ringing that damn bell?
Then the door opened, the cowbell clatter-clanked and a girl in cutoff jeans and a skimpy halter-top sauntered into the store. She didn’t look toward the three men frozen at the counter, but went straight toward the refrigerated beer on the back wall of the Jiffy-Quick.
“Your damn Skippy,” said Rat Face, smiling at the man with the gun.
Joe took a second to wonder what the hell that meant, then he moved on to the real question: Is somebody going to get shot?
“Give me the phone,” the Pakistani demanded. He had the pistol’s muzzle zeroed on the longhair’s chest.
“Fuck you, come get it,” said Rat Face.
The girl in the red halter-top pulled a six-pack of brew from the fridge, let the glass door shut with the sound of a smacking kiss, then turned toward the counter and froze when she saw the gun in the storekeeper’s hand.
Joe shook his head, trying to signal her away. But her wide eyes never left the gun. Joe’s eyes drifted down to her jaunty breasts. The cold air in the store had puckered her nipples and they poked against the thin halter-top, tweaking the single-minded little soldier in Joe’s pants. The little trooper’s helmet nosed against Joe’s zipper, unmindful of mortal danger.
“You think I will not shoot you?” the incredulous storekeeper asked Rat Face.
“You ain’t got the balls, sand monkey.” Rat Face sneered, flashing his gapped teeth.
Outside, the church bell kept up its ponderous bonging.
Joe had had enough. He was not going to be hostage to this tableau of macho craziness. He moved toward the girl with the six-pack. She finally tore her eyes from the gun and fixed them on Joe as he walked toward her. “We have to go,” he said simply, softly.
She gave him a questioning look, then glanced down at the six-pack of beer in her hand. She had a hard-edged prettiness that reminded Joe of a country & western singer he couldn’t quite put a name to. She was probably in her mid-twenties, with bottle-blonde hair and a tight little body. If he had to guess, he’d say she lived in the run-down tenement building off Old Boston Road, two blocks from where they now stood in dangerous limbo. She looked up at Joe again.
“Forget the beer,” he said. “We gotta go.”
She nodded. She put the beer on top of a stack of soup cans, keeping a wary eye on the two men at the cashier’s counter.
Joe took her hand and they walked toward the door like a pair of mismatched lovers.
of the gunshot made the “lovers” jump, and Joe jerked his head toward the sound.
Rat Face staggered backward, righted himself and pulled a hunting knife from the leather sheath hidden beneath the tails of his fatigue shirt. With a roar of rage he dove over the counter in a graceless parody of a swashbuckling pirate in an old Douglas Fairbanks movie. He and the storekeeper disappeared behind the counter as the pistol fired again, shattering the florescent light in the ceiling and sending down a small shower of glass and shadow.
The girl tugged on Joe’s hand, urging him toward the door, but he resisted, keeping his feet planted on the dirty tile. He was drawn to the violence. He had to
it. To walk out now would be the same as walking out of a blockbuster action movie during the best part. He couldn’t do it. Never mind that this was most certainly
a movie and that he himself might easily become a victim of the violence. He simply couldn’t tear himself away.
,” said the halter-top girl. “Are you nuts?”
“You go,” he told her without glancing her way. “Call the police.”
She wrenched her hand from his (he had forgotten he was still holding it) and dashed out the door. The cowbell clattered in her wake.
Joe couldn’t see them, but he heard the scuffling and grunting and cursing as the two men grappled on the floor behind the counter. And he heard the steady bonging of the church bell. He was getting used to the lulling sound of the ancient bell, and it somehow gave him courage to approach the counter and peer over its edge, past the Marlboro display, the herbal stay-awake pills, the disposable lighters, the little rack of beef jerky, and all the other junky impulse-items arrayed near the cash register.
The knife rose in a dirty hand attached to a tattooed arm. Joe gripped the counter with both his hands and followed the arc of the blade as it sliced through the chilly air and struck the Pakistani’s throat, sinking halfway to the hilt. Blood gushed from the wound and spurted onto the knife-wielder’s thick knuckles, then dripped down the ragged edges of his fingernails, eclipsing the black crud embedded beneath them.
Joe watched with sickened wonder as the blade pulled out of the punctured throat, drawing a stringy gutted-worm piece of the Pakistani’s inner anatomy (a severed blood vessel?) with it. Then the blade descended again, this time burying itself deep in the storekeeper’s chest. The Pakistani’s eyes bulged from their sockets and he worked his mouth as though trying to speak, but his ruined throat gave him no voice. Blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. In the dim light, his tongue looked like a tiny cornered creature trying to escape a death trap.
Rat Face jerked the blade free and set to work on the storekeeper’s face, stabbing repeatedly, puncturing both eyes, opening up gashes in the cheeks, the forehead, slicing off an ear, stabbing, stabbing:
was punctuated by the deep-throated
of the church bell. Joe wondered if the knifer knew he had fallen into perfect rhythm with the bell. Then he wondered why he wasn’t doing anything to stop the slaughter.
I can’t just stand here and watch,
he told himself.
A weapon. I need a weapon
He looked around for something—anything—to use to club Rat Face over the head.