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Authors: Benjamin Whitmer


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“This is what noir is, what it can be when it stops playing nice—blunt force drama stripped down to the bone, then made to dance across the page.”
Stephen graham jones, author of
demon theory

“Benjamin Whitmer’s
captures the grime and the rage of my not-so fair city with disturbing precision. The words don’t just tell a story here, they scream, bleed, and burst into flames.
, like its eponymous main character, is a vicious punisher that doesn’t mince words or take prisoners, and no one walks away unscathed. This one’s going to haunt me for quite some time.”
nathan singer, author of
chasing the wolf
a prayer for dawn

“Without so much as a sideways glance towards gentility,
is one righteous mutherfucker of a read. I move that we put Whitmer’s balls in a vise and keep slowly notching up the torque until he’s willing to divulge the secret of how he managed to hit such a perfect stride his first time out of the blocks.”
ward churchill, author of
pacifism as pathology

“Whitmer’s writing is swift, brutal, precise poetry, formed into the shape of people—breathing, hateful, murderous, vulnerable people that I care about deeply now. His characters are broken to begin with, and yet he breaks them open again and again, each time revealing a darker, thicker black sludge inside, and yet, this is also a story about innocence and trying to protect what tiny amount there is. There isn’t a trace of sentimentality in here, but whatever tiny embers of warmth that are to be found in this devastated landscape (a landscape so bleak it approaches, at time, allegory, and yet remains disturbingly visceral), those embers are completely earned and the meager heat thrown off by them all the more valuable because of it. I feel covered in blood.”
charles yu, author of
third class superhero
how to live safely in a science fictional universe

Switch · blade (sw
ch’blād’) n.
different slice of hardboiled fiction where the dreamers and the schemers, the dispossessed and the damned,
and the hobos and the rebels tango at the edge of society.





By Benjamin Whitmer

Copyright © 2010 Benjamin Whitmer
This edition copyright © 2010 PM Press
All Rights Reserved

Published by:
PM Press PO Box 23912
Oakland, CA 94623

Cover designed by Brian Bowes
Interior design by Courtney Utt/briandesign

ISBN 978-1-604-86434-2
Library of Congress Control Number: 2009912456
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Printed in the USA recycled paper

For my wife, Brooky, and my children, Maddie and Jack.
All I can say is thank you.


he kid’s left arm angles out of the dirty snow like a stick of broken black kindling. Derrick prods the body with the toe of his cowboy boot. Not a twitch. He holsters his Colt 1911, scanning the alley. The redbrick industrials loom over him, an ancient fire escape peeling away from the building, threatening to pull down the entire degenerating wall. Ahead down the alley, a dead end into a dog run, home to a pair of pit bulls trained to take chunks out of white cops. Derrick turns and walks back toward Cincinnati’s Main Street. The morning still, his boots crunching through the slick snow in time to his heartbeat, cold and regular in his chest.

The kid had sure as shit known what was coming. Had to have, the way he played it cool right up until he caught Derrick with his face bent down over a flaring cigarette, then turned and broke out through the kitchen door, nothing but an Afro blur and shoe heels. By the time Derrick got his .45 clear of his holster, the kid was already ten yards gone, running for his life.

And he played it smart for the first four blocks. He stayed off the side streets, making a spectacle of himself to the locals. There were a few of them up too, sitting on their wrecked doorsteps, watching the scene play out through their beer-reddened eyes. A couple even stood, thinking to get involved. Derrick changed their minds, snapping his sights on the closest, barking out he’d shoot the first dumb sonofabitch to step in his path.

But then the kid made two mistakes. The first was cutting down the alley. That was the easy one to see. But the second was actually an error in judgment he’d made much earlier, probably sometime the day before, when he picked out his shoes. He’d picked elongated shoelacesthat trailed after him like rattails. And he tripped over them. Fashion victim. Derrick stopped, steadied himself, pulled the trigger twice. His pistol jumped in his hand like something alive, and the big .45 rounds sent the kid tumbling forward like a face cord of dry wood in a hard wind.

He was twitching when Derrick walked up to him. His lips parted, his mouth and nose foaming blood. He was blinking, trying to speak, the sky pressing down from above like an invisible hand. Derrick let loose one more round, pounding a smoking hole in his head.

He’s almost out of the alley now. Twenty feet to go, less and less. Two boys step around the corner, blacking out the sun in their winter coats. The smaller of the two whistles, his white face round and all but translucent in the winter morning, his thin blue eyes watering in the cold. An electric chill flashes up Derrick’s spine, he raises the .45 on them. “Back up.” They do, against the wall. Lazily. Unimpressed.

“Shot him, didn’t you, motherfucker?” the bigger boy says, his big, brown fists clenching.

Derrick keeps walking, .45 trained on him. “Tripped over his shoelaces.”

“That right? And just managed to drop his brains all over the place?”

“Could have happened to anybody. Could even happen to you.”

“Bet we get ahold of you, motherfucker.”

Derrick picks up the pace, no more than five feet. A wizened woman in a maroon housecoat and galoshes peers around the corner, checking the commotion. He shoves past her and he’s out, jogging. Ironwork and stone storefronts. The sidewalk ruptured as if blasted by an earthquake, and the few trees lining the street blown over with sooty snow. The gutters and sewers awash with last night’s beer cans and cigarette butts and one red high-heeled shoe. Derrick skids to a stop in the middle of the street, takes his bearings. There, the limestone façade and iron balcony of the Hanke building. He starts towards Central, quick. There are more of them now, a lot more, poking their way out of the apartment buildings, stumbling out into the street. He runs.

A whistle from back towards the alley. He knows better, looksanyway. The white kid with the round face. A beer bottle whips through the air, grazes his arm, skitters smashing on the cold blacktop. He runs. A howl goes up somewhere to his left. Another beer bottle slips in front of his face. Smashes. Then a rock. Derrick ducks, it cuts the air not more than an inch over his head.

He runs. His cowboy boots slide in the slush and the beer, he doesn’t fall. His car’s parked behind the kid’s apartment. No chance of reaching it. He hears the cold snick of a pistol’s slide being yanked back. He doesn’t look this time. The gun cracks out four times in sharp succession, the rounds slapping the street off to his right. Gangbanger, never seen the inside of a shooting range, no chance of hitting him. Derrick barrels towards downtown.

Side street to his left, a blue four-door sedan sitting at the stop sign. Derrick bolts for it. A Mexican man in a blue pin-striped suit, drop-jawed at this lone man in cowboy boots being chased by a roaring, flashflood mob, spilling out of their apartment buildings now, pouring down the street. Derrick snatches the back door open, jams his gun in the side of the Mexican’s neck. “Drive,” he rasps, jerking the door shut.


The mob boils towards them in a fuming mass. Derrick grabs the Mexican’s chin, forces his head towards downtown. “Vámonos. Ahora.”

The Mexican’s foot finds the gas. The car squeals through the intersection, lurches down Main Street. “They looked angry,” the Mexican says.

“It won’t be the last time,” Derrick answers.

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