Tag: crime (page 1 of 2)

Flash Fiction: Cordite, Acid, and Febreeze

Courtesy http://www.milsurps.com/

For the Terribleminds Flash Fiction challenge, The Body.

He was assaulted by scents when the door opened. The undercurrent of cheap booze and sweat was nearly overwhelmed by the acrid tang of cordite. He set his kit down inside the door and began to remove his coat.

“Oh man, thank God you’re here, I don’t know what to do…”

He looked at the young man speaking to him. His hair was disheveled, his eyes bloodshot, and the gun was still in his hand.

“You can start by putting safety on and putting the gun down.”

The kid looked down at the gun.

“Oh, Jesus…” The gun was placed on the ground very slowly, and he could see the safety was, in fact, engaged. Once it was on the floor, he picked it up and placed it in his kit.

“Now, tell me what happened.”

“Man, we were just sitting around drinking and talking, and Tommy, he… he said he had never seen a gun before, so I pulled it out to show him, and…”

“Okay. Stop right there. You were drunk and handling a loaded gun. You’re aware of how your father is going to react, aren’t you?”

The kid turned pale. “Oh, God, did you…”

“No. After we are done here I will take you to see him personally. But you have to realize, if the neighbors heard the shot and called the cops, we have maybe three minutes before we start smelling bacon. Do you understand?”

This got an eager nod.

“Good. Now let’s get a look at Tommy.”

He was lead into the apartment, where the bedroom was now a shambles. The smell of weed was contained here, as was the stink of Tommy’s body which had voided itself after the gun had gone off. The target pistol, a gift from the young man’s father, was a .22 and therefore not terribly powerful. There was no exit wound and no bullet to dig out of the wall. Tommy seemed to be laying on a pile of laundry, the head wound oozing blood and brain into some designer clothes.

“Help me with the body.”

They picked Tommy up and carried him into the bathroom. Once the corpse was in the tub, he retrieved his kit.

“Gather up any clothes Tommy bled on. Make sure his blood didn’t reach the carpet. Get the clothes in garbage bags. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And shut the door.”

With that, he was alone with Tommy. He put his smock on over his suit, strapped on the mask, and pulled on the latex gloves. From the kit he pulled out the first jug of acid, turning on the bathroom fan. He started with the face, then the hands, just in case they had to leave in a hurry. He had to be careful when pouring it – splashes were bad, and he didn’t want it eating anything but the body in front of him. It was slow going, arduous at times, but between the hissing and the stench, he managed to keep the mess in the tub without destroying anything in the bathroom. He checked his watch as the acid worked on the bones of Tommy’s rib cage. No cops yet; this was good news.

He only poured as much acid as he needed, and still ended up going through a jug and a half. After a few more minutes, the powerful stuff had reduced poor Tommy and his clothes to a slurry of reddish sludge. A few pours from the jug of basic acid neutralizer stopped any remaining hissing. He opened up the cold water tap in the tub, pulled the steel rod out of his kit, and started stirring. He hated this part the most, truth be told. It was tedious and getting this close to what had recently been active acid never exactly sat well with him.

At length, the tub was empty. He turned off the tap, shed his smock and gloves, and pulled one more thing out of his kit. A few liberal sprays of Febreeze within the confines of the bathroom cut the smells considerably. He opened the door and walked around the apartment, spraying as he went. The kid was sitting on his bed, two large black can liners full of clothes by his feet.

“Did Tommy have family?”

“His parents are in another state. He was here for college.”

“So it will be a few days before they become seriously concerned. Did they ever meet you?”


“And did Tommy ever mention you to them?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

He nodded. “Well, come on, then. Let’s get out of here.”

They walked out of the Febreezed apartment. He had the kid put his bags of laundry in the trunk of his Lincoln, and then placed his kit beside them. They left the parking lot and he considered their route as he pulled onto the main boulevard.

“Is he gonna be mad?”

He knew the answer to the young man’s question already. Yes, he’s mad, and if I hadn’t shown up and you were talking to the cops you certainly wouldn’t live through the night. He had worked for powerful men before, in many cities, but this one saw his son as more of an embarrassment than anything else. Hence the instructions he was to follow if the kid proved inconsolable or confrontational.

The gun was heavy under his suit coat. The docks were nearby. He knew it was the most surefire way to resolve this.

Yet the young man beside him had been cooperative, relatively calm, and seemed legitimately apologetic for the accident. No blustering, no panic, nothing embarrassing at all. And the kid was someone’s son. He had met the kid’s mother, too, a lovely woman with a big heart who loved her family more than anything. And unlike the cops, there was no way in the world he would lie to her about what happened to her son.

His hands never left the steering wheel.

“Yeah. But you’ll be okay. I promise.”

Flash Fiction: Payday

Courtesy http://www.milsurps.com/

For the Terribleminds challenge, Antag/Protag. Got to admit, I enjoyed this one.

Flashbulbs crackled in the bank’s lobby. So far the press hadn’t been admitted, which suited Paul just fine. The less they got in his way, the faster he could put together what happened.

Witnesses were saying it was two men with handguns who’d stormed the place. The guard had taken a good crack to the skull from one of the .45s and the robbers went straight to work afterwards. It was straight out of the Dillinger playbook. Paul wished he’d been part of that task force, but now he’d have to settle for his local beat until he could write a letter to J Edgar Hoover’s new FBI listing the reasons he should be included. As he bent over a spent shell casing, he mused that this could be his shot.

“They’re saying about $10,000 is missing, Lieutenant.”

“Thanks, Charlie.” Paul picked up the casing with the end of his pen. “So they come in, clobber the guard, and fire into the air to get people’s attention. Guess they head for the vault directly after.”

“Yes, sir. Eyewitnesses are saying one of them told everyone to stay down and stay out of their way so nobody else got hurt.”

Paul nodded. “Show them the guns work, show them you mean business, and most people will kiss the floor rather than come at you. Smart.”

He put the casing back down on the floor and walked to the fault, Charlie in tow. A good kid, a little wet behind the ears maybe, always telling the boys about news from abroad, but who had time to worry about tinpot dictators and loudmouth Austrians when stuff like this was going down?

“They ignore the cash at the counters and go straight for the vault. It’s got planning written all over it.”

“Yes, sir. Seems they were after the contents of this one safe deposit box.”

Paul narrowed his eyes at it. “Who keeps 10 large in cash like that? We know who owns the box?”

“We’re looking into it.”

“The sooner, the better.” He looked down. “So what’s the story here?”

Charlie scratched his head, skewing the angle of his hat. “One of the robbers, for sure. Same casing next to the body as out in the lobby. So the one who got people’s attention is the killer.”

Paul nodded. The robber lay where he’d fallen, a single bullet wound just above the bridge of his nose. “What do you make of his bullet wound, Charlie?”

The junior detective knelt. “Looks like powder burns, boss.”

“Right. Happened at point-blank range.” Paul made a gun with his fingers and pointed at Charlie to demonstrate. “Poor bastard probably had no idea.”

“So what now, sir?”

Paul adjusted his fedora. “We find the box’s owner, collect statements, and find this son of a bitch. He’s got an armload of cash, knows how to use his gun, works a crowd well, and won’t hesitate to kill. Chances are he’s as ruthless as they come. We gotta find him now.”

Simon closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening the door.

“I’m back.”

Betty got up from the table to meet him, holding him as he pushed the door to the tiny apartment shut behind him. She took his face in her hands and looked him over.

“Is it finished?”

Simon nodded. “The easy part’s done. Now I gotta meet with Big Louie and give him what he says I owe.”

“I still think he set that fire deliberately. The inspectors said everything was up to code before that happened.”

“All I wanted was to open a bar. You know? My dad’s got shut down by Prohibition, and here I am able to pick up where he left off…”

She kissed him. “You can’t live in your father’s shadow forever.”

“I know.”

“Hi, Simon.”

They turned to see Billy standing in the door between the kitchen area and the small living area, rubbing one eye. Simon pulled away from Betty and picked up the little boy.

“Sorry, sport, did I wake you up?”

Billy nodded sleepily. “Mommy let me stay up and listen to the game. They say the Babe’s going to retire, he’s playing so bad.”

“Well, we’ll just wait and see.” He kissed the boy on the forehead. “Now, sorry I woke you, but you gotta get back into bed. School in the morning.”


Simon set him down and he wandered back towards bed. He turned to Betty, who’d lit up a cigarette by the open window.

“Where’s Frank?”

Simon glanced to make sure Billy was out of earshot. “He wanted a bigger cut. One that wouldn’t have been good enough for Big Louie.”

Betty looked at him evenly. “Frankie wants to be Big Louie’s right hand man. It makes sense.”


Silence. The cigarette burned longer in her hand than usual.

“Oh, Simon. What have you done?”

Simon looked at his feet. He saw Frankie’s sneer, the gleam in his eye, the condescending “What are you gonna do about it, palooka?” that filled Simon with rage. The gunshot had been thunderous in the vault.

“I just don’t want you going back to that life. Billy needs you.”

“Don’t pin this on me. Don’t do it.” She stubbed out the smoke and stood. The white négligée clung to her curves – God, she’s gorgeous. “I’ll do what I have to do for him, don’t you worry about that. You just worry about getting clear of Louie.”

He nodded, putting the locker key on the table. “Grand Central, in case you need it. If I’m not back by morning, call Magda. You know she’ll take care of you.”

The madam’s name made something flash in Betty’s eyes. She blinked, and Simon saw tears. She held him tight, holding them back.

“I know you need to leave, but you come back to me, Simon. End this for us.”

He held her cheek, looking in her eyes. His heart ached, he wanted to stay so badly.

“I will. I promise.”


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


Tragedies are touchpoints in the course of human history. They’re also cautionary tales, whispering warnings of downfalls to come. From Aeschylus to Shakespeare, it’s a tradition with thousands of years worth of wisdom to teach us through the abrupt ends of others’ lives, especially those who choose to pursue their goals through illegitimate means. It’s just as true today as it was in 1983 when Brian De Palma’s Scarface first premiered in theaters. I don’t know if this visionary director and his young cast who became household names knew that this gaudy, baroque and melodramatic opus would still have something to say to a 21st-century audience, but it does, and like the main character, it isn’t shy about it.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

Originally a tale of Prohibition-era organized crime, Scarface updated its setting to southern Florida, when hundreds of thousands of refugees fled Communist-controlled Cuba for the United States hoping for a better future. For the criminals free of Cuba’s prisons among those refugees, that better future meant the fast money and high risk that came from a life of crime. And for Tony Montana, one of those criminals, the money was in cocaine. With his partner Manny, Tony almost immediately begins carving out a place for himself. He comes into the country with nothing, yet he soon is the premiere trigger-man for the biggest drug dealer in Miami. And he doesn’t stop there.

Scarface is a tale of excess from the very beginning in both plot and production. The patterns and colors of the early 80s are garish reminders that throwbacks like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City are not exaggerating. The score, heavy in ominous synth, is as cheesy as the zebra-print seat covers in Tony’s Cadillac and yet every bit as fitting. The multiple mirrors in the nightclubs our protagonist spends his leisure time in made shooting difficult but underscore the vanity of the time and the character. Of course all of the production value in the world is for naught without a central presence to drive the narrative, and Tony Montana is definitely behind the wheel in that regard.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
“I jus’ wan’ what’s comin’ t’ me: th’ world… an’ everythin’ in it.”

In future films such as Heat or Carlito’s Way (not so much Devil’s Advocate), Pacino will ratchet back the over-the-top scenery-chewing bombast to save it for key moments. But in Scarface, he seems to be firing on all cylinders at all times. Be he clawing his way up to the top or sliding down into oblivion, Tony lives with his dials turned to 11 and beyond. Not only does his behavior lead to him ensuring he alone remains the center of his universe, he’s proud of this way of life and his achievements to a tragic fault. There’s very little about this protagonist that’s redeemable or even all that likable, yet his tragic humanity keeps us watching every move he makes.

The rest of the cast certainly isn’t slouching, either. It was a breakout role for Michelle Pfieffer and the first on-screen appearance ever for Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. De Palma directs them all with the graceful nuance of an orchestra conductor as well as the uncompromising drive of a workshop foreman. As bold as a decision it was to shoot this picture at all, he went one step further in making it almost three hours long and including some incredibly brutal scenes of bodily harm from shootouts to stabbings. It’s an endurance trial made survivable and even enjoyable thanks to Tony Montana.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
Good times had by all. Mostly.

The presence of Montana is a pervasive one, even to this day. Scarface would inspire a plethora of crime dramas around the world, and its themes of freedom, excess and the rags-to-riches rise to power is clearly an inspiration for not only a good deal of gangster rappers but video games like the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto and, later, Saint’s Row. What the games leave out, of course, is the way the story ends. Once he achieves all he’s been after, Tony spirals into a miasma of vanity and contempt, even for himself. He’s an utterly repulsive human being, even acknowledging his villainous status at one point in a memorable black-tie dinner scene, yet he seems confused when people curse him and leave him on his own. And there’s plenty of cursing to be sure; screenwriter Oliver Stone used the word “fuck” and its many derivations 218 times in the screenplay.

Scarface is highly recommended. Be prepared to spend an afternoon with Tony, watching him banter with immigration, deal with Bolivian drug lords using surprising charisma and build his own cocaine empire from scratch yet at the same time finding true happiness eluding him at every turn. In the end he stares at a mountainous pile of drugs on his luxurious desk in his palatial Miami estate, and his hollow eyes echo the question he put to Manny at dinner: “Is this it?” It’s a moment of introspection and humbling, almost pathetic pathos which, after a lifetime of deception, theft, seduction and murder, has come too little too late. I’m sure that, almost 30 years later, we can find a message for our time between the bullet-riddled corpses and the bright, happy neon lights – even if that message is merely one of the rules that Tony neglected to follow: “Never get high on your own supply.”

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


‘Crime drama’ is a pretty broad spectrum for stories. Some are from the perspective of those on the people’s side of the law, following detectives and prosecutors in their pursuit of justice. Others give us the point of view of the individual criminal, from the ones trying to rise above a life of crime to those wallowing in it. They range from gritty realism to stylized flights of fancy, but there’s something about Gangster No. 1 that refuses to be pinned down to any side of the story save that of our protagonist.

Courtesy Film Four

Said protagonist remains nameless throughout the story much like his cousin in Matthew Vaughn’s seminal and stylish Layer Cake, and is recruited back in 1968 by up-and-coming crime boss Freddie Mays. Our hero looks up to Freddie in a big way, but when it seems Freddie has more affection of a nightclub singer than his new right-hand man, jealousy rears its ugly head. Circumstances fall together for the young gangster to get Freddie out of his way and become the big dog in the London yards, and he rules over a mighty criminal empire until, over 30 years later, Freddie returns from his imprisonment. A reunion is clearly in order.

One of the best things Gangster No. 1 has going for it is the clear influence of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. With Malcolm McDowell as the older iteration of the Gangster, and Paul Bettany excellently pulling off the glower from behind lowered eyebrows that Malcolm himself made famous, we’re reminded quite clearly of the film that gave us ‘a bit of the old ultra-violence’. And this movie certainly doesn’t shrink from the heavy stuff. Indeed, one of the best sequences in it involves a particularly brutal and thorough murder from the perspective of the victim, which tells us much more about the Gangster than any words ever could.

Courtesy Film Four
“Totally cool with you dating that chick, bro.”

This is a man driven mad with desires. He came from nowhere and wanted everything he saw. He didn’t just look up to Freddie Mays, he wanted to be Freddie Mays. More than once, we get the impression that the Gangster is struggling with feelings of romantic love for Mays, while at the same time he longs to oust Mays and take his place. This is why he seems so tortured when he’s taking his time to kill the rival crime lord who set about assassinating Freddie: the rival cause Freddie pain, he beat the Gangster to the punch, and he doesn’t dress or live anywhere near as well. The Gangster is out to prove his worth, that he is better than any other lawbreaker running around London, and he’ll leave a trail of bloody, broken bodies to do it without a shred of guilt or even a moment’s second thought.

It must be said that without McDowell’s sour, profanity-laced narration and Bettany’s silent, edgy intensity, this character study would fall completely flat. But thanks to the efforts of these two actors the movie functions quite well for what it is. The best scene is probably between Bettany and Saffron Burrows, the girl who “stole” Freddie from the Gangster. When she crosses the line and spits in the face of this cold-blooded, half-mad killer, Bettany’s face gives us an unflinching look at the anger and insanity writhing around in this character. Yet, he composes himself, without breaking eye contact, manages to smile and conveys wishes that would seem genuine, apologetic and heartfelt if it weren’t for the icy rage we’d seen moments ago. It’s a fantastic bit of acting that stands out among the rest of the film’s scenes.

Courtesy Film Four
Why is Professor Lupin being such a complete jerk?

The problems with Gangster No. 1 come down to tone and pacing. It never seems to decide for certain if it wants to be a mix of character drama and comedy like a Guy Ritchie film or a pure hard-nosed crime tragedy like Scarface. Elements of both are clearly present along with the aforementioned Clockwork Orange but it feels a bit like director Paul McGuigan went to a buffet where all of these options were available and tried to cram his plate with as much as he could from each one. It never becomes an actual mess, but also never finds its own voice amongst these influences. It also seems to accelerate a bit too much in places, as if once past the major turning points in the Gangster’s formative years it just wants to get us to the end. As for the ending, I won’t give anything away, but part of me was slightly unsatisfied with its neatness. Call me crazy, but I was expecting things to be a bit messier.

The director’s later work, Lucky Number Slevin and Push, had a better time with tone and pace, but Gangster No. 1 still gives us clean shots of excellent actors working with good story elements. I do feel there are better movies I’ve mentioned that can satisfy a craving for gritty criminal comedy or unflinching views into the underworld, and our villain protagonist doesn’t quite have the necessary pathos for us to be completely won over by him. He comes close, especially when we see how much unresolved emotion there is inside of him for Freddie, but it feels like too little too late. A little more time, perhaps elements of holding onto that duality of admiration and jealous, would have fleshed it out more and maybe left the ending a bit more satisfying for me. It never quite rises to the point of being more than the sum of its parts, but some of those parts are excellent enough for me to recommend Gangster No. 1 as an addition to any crime, noir or character-driven Netflix queue selection.

Especially if you’re a fan of British slang, or those mirror dresses club girls wore back in the 60s. Pretty groovy stuff.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Mind Crimes

Courtesy Universal Pictures

“I respect a movie that kicks me in the balls.”

This comment was how I summed up my initial feelings after watching Repo Men. It’s a Jude Law near-future picture about special ops guys who go after people and rip out their cyborg organs, since they’re 90 days delinquent on payments. I listed it as a potential review for this Friday’s IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! in the poll to your right. By the way, shameless plug: Have you voted yet? If not, go ahead and do so. I’ll wait.

All good? Cool. Let’s move on.

Repo Men (by the way? Better than Repo! The Genetic Opera. By far.) caught me a bit off-guard in what it did, which is something I will not spoil here. But it ties into something I’ve been thinking about. I like movies that make me think, but I especially enjoy films that pull a fast one on me. Quite a few make the attempt to execute a clever or shocking reveal, but only a handful manage to pull it off well. They break through our perception or cynicism, a virtual breaking and entering of our minds.

The Matrix

Say what you want about the sequels that followed it, and I’d say quite a bit, but the original Matrix gave us a slow burn to a pretty neat reveal. As much as I don’t buy into the whole “we’re plugged into machines” rhetoric of some post-modern philosophers (Baudrillard coined “The TV watches you” after all) the idea of machines rising up not to exterminate us, but to use us was something unique in movies and was presented in a way that was both interesting and exciting. As much as the second and third movies took a serious nosedive, the concept remains fresh for some and its originality permeates most entries in the Animatrix.

The Usual Suspects

This film revolves around a central question. We’re drawn into the maelstrom as we’re introduced to the titular suspects, but eventually we, like the detectives, are asking “Who is Keyser Söze?” One of the greatest triumphs of the film is only seen in retrospect. Everything we need to answer that question is right in front of us, practically from the beginning. After the initial shock of the answer wears off, we are compelled to watch the movie again, looking for the clues we missed. If that’s not a successful film, I don’t know what is.


It really doesn’t take much to make a film’s meaning or answers obscure. It takes quite a vision, however, to turn the entire course of a narrative on its head. Memento‘s timelines are in opposition to each other, one moving forwards as the other moves back through time, yet they work in perfect harmony and keep us just off-balance enough to be uncertain of what comes next. Or what came before. In any event, it’s a damn good movie and fantastic food for the brain.


These movies challenge us. They dare us to follow them and sort them out. The most powerful example of this in recent memory is Inception. From its exploration of the nature of dreams to the construction of its plot and primary caper, the movie is both a daring exercise in screenwriting and direction as well as the sort of challenge movie-goers tend not to expect. Not everybody chose to take up its gauntlet, seeing it just as a flashy, slick caper flick in the vein of Ocean’s Eleven, but others went deeper, teasing out layers of meaning and finding just as many questions as answers.

If I get to reviewing Repo Men at full, I’ll let you know if it joins this pantheon of movies that perpetuate mind crimes.

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