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“The Back Doors of Fancy Places” is now available for a free download from the Kindle Store! Just today and tomorrow!

Please download as it will help my story climb higher in the rankings for free ebooks. And if you like what you read, let me know by leaving a review!


 

A woman with a green cigarette, a murder with no body, and a mysterious catamaran named the “Midnight Sun”. The private eye’s past cases come back to haunt him as he realizes that they are more entangled than he could have ever guessed.

-The Back Doors of Fancy Places is a dark short story that explores many quintessential noir themes.

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Contact and Submissions Page – UPDATED

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I am excited to connect with other crime and noir authors! If you are interested in having your work featured on this page, please contact me through the Contact and Submissions page!

Here is a summary of what I would like to feature:

Submissions: If you are interested in submitting a guest post for consideration, I am especially interested in the following categories:

  1. Short Noir Fiction (1-1500 words is ideal, but I will consider longer stories)
  2. Noir Book Reviews
  3. Noir Film Reviews

Thank you so much for getting in touch, I look forward to reading your work.

-Anderson Ryle

Savage Country

“Do you want to play guns?” he asked me.

This was a complicated question, and while I stood not knowing what to say, the summer heat beat down through the cloudless Virginia sky. Twenty years has gone by now, and each summer heat wave brings back this vivid memory. It will forever be with me, as clear as it was that day when I was eight.

A dozen or so boys watched me, waiting to hear my answer, and not one of them seemed to notice the oppressive humidity hanging thickly about us. The leader of the horde stood out in front, eyes fixed on me, with a toy cap gun in each hand.

The first part of the question that my eight-year-old brain had to address was this boy’s use of the word ‘guns’. He said it like ‘guns’ was an activity. In my universe, guns are not an activity; guns are things, guns are objects, guns are weapons, and guns can be used for many activities, but they are not activities. They can be used for hunting, or warfare, or even the occasional wild west duel that takes place at high noon on a hot summer day with the hero only seconds faster than the crooked sheriff who finally, finally got what was coming to him, but guns, in my universe, were not an activity.

In my world, as an eight year old boy who grew up playing games like, Boggle, and Scrabble, and the magnificent Trivial Pursuit, ‘playing guns’ did not compute. So I stood there silent for a moment as this other eight-year-old boy watched me, his mouth held open slightly, and all the other boys crowding in behind him also brandishing toy weapons of various kinds. They looked for all the world like a tribe of savages. Some were shirtless, some had skinned knees, and one even had an unnoticed booger hanging from his nose. But every one of them burned by the sun under which they played each summer day. They all looked at me like they didn’t understand why I wasn’t responding, as if they couldn’t have asked a simpler question.

But as I mentioned before, his question was multifaceted. I tried to step out of my universe and into some crazy parallel universe where ‘guns’ was an activity. The question then hinged around the rest of his sentence, ‘do you want to…’ Now that was a loaded question, pardon the pun. Did I want to…what? What did ‘playing guns’ entail? I had no way of knowing what I was signing up for. If I said ‘yes’, would I be resigning myself to an afternoon of getting stung by humming steel pellets fired from the smoking mouth of Red Rider BB guns? Entirely possible. I didn’t know what these booger-nosed hooligans were capable of. The mere savagery of that undetected booger was simply beyond my comprehension. A boy who can look another human in the face while standing there in such a state, well, he must be capable of anything. Saying ‘yes’ was right out of the question.

But to say ‘no’, now, there was another conundrum. If I said ‘no’ to the prospect of ‘playing guns’ without knowing what in involved, well I could be passing up on the greatest event of my life. The day I kissed Sally from School was good, but ‘playing guns’… that could be monumental. An eight year old goes to play with savages; he leaves a boy, he comes back a man. I could see the headlines already! The radio broadcasts! The cinema posters! I was sure that to say ‘no’ would be closing the door on one of life’s great opportunities… forever.

“How do you play guns?” I asked back at him.

The tribe’s leader looked at me like I was an alien from outer space assuming the form of an eight-year-old human boy. His eyes scanned my tucked in polo shirt and my khaki pants, and it was as if a realization dawned on his face. He knew right then that I really was an alien from outer space, at least an alien from a different city, a different suburb, and a whole different way of life. He realized that I had a whole different culture, and he didn’t hold it against me for a minute.

He just held out a Smith and Wesson replica cap gun and said, “You take this one, and shoot at me, and I’ll take the other and shoot at you.” He paused for a moment, looking at me to see if I understood, and then finished with, “It’s every man for himself.”

I took the toy six-shooter in my little hand, and I swear I grew six inches taller. My universe turned on its head. My world flipped upside down. But never for one minute did I want anything else. In my old universe there was order, there was reason, there were games that have boards, and rulebooks, and winners and losers. But here, out here in savage country, there were no rules; there was mayhem. Glorious mayhem. No winners. No losers. Just endless hours of joy serenaded by the pap-pap-pap of the cap guns, and the happy hollers of eight year old boys. Eight-year-old boys being eight-year-old boys.

The Developer

 

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“Who is it this time?” he asked me, his old black face cracking into a wide grin. “Mayor? Chief of Police?” I couldn’t see his eyes through his dark sunglasses.

“No, this is big time,” I replied. “Senator. I caught him with his pants down. He is trying to make a bid at the presidency, so I’ll be selling the pictures to the Democratic National Committee unless he offers me a better deal. Either way, its a big payday.”

“You’d better be careful that those political bottom feeders don’t gut you six ways from Sunday.”

“I’ll be getting out of town for a while afterwards. Maybe Mexico; I hear it’s nice this time of year.” I smiled, and tapped out my cigarette in the green glass ashtray.

“Well let’s take a look at what you’ve got, shall we?” He scooped the negatives up in his wrinkled black hands and shuffled his old body across room. “It’ll take a while; grab us a bottle of cognac would you?”

“Sure.”

“Cabinet by the stove, top shelf, just like always.” He adjusted his sunglasses as he crossed the doorway into the darkroom. “Bring us a couple of snifters too.”

I snatched the bottle from the cabinet, carefully selected two brandy glasses from the next shelf down, and followed him into the darkroom. He breathed heavily as he shut the door behind me. He motioned for me to pour the cognac, and I did, just as quickly as I could.

“It’s bad luck to develop photographs without a good glass of cognac,” he said, taking a swig and a deep breath. “Now, lets get to work.”

I watched as he stood at his table, illuminated by red light, fingers working at the roll of film I had brought him. Tyrone was the best photograph developer I had ever worked with. I met him during a particularly nasty job; I had caught a whole gaggle of dirty cops running a prostitution ring in the city, and nobody wanted to touch my pictures. Tyrone didn’t have a problem with it. We sent the pictures to the news station, and those cops were bagged by state troopers by the end of the day.

That’s why we got along so well I guess, I’d photograph anything, and Tyrone would develop anything; we didn’t have a single scruple between the two of us. It didn’t matter if we were smearing some cheating husband, the president of the United States, or the Pope, we were out for the pay day. And we had always made a decent living, the two of us. But this was a bigger fish than we had ever fried before. I hoped there would be enough money for both of us to cool it for a while afterwards; I didn’t want Tyrone to have to stick his neck out unnecessarily.

I watched him again as he prepared to expose the first picture.

“Split filter ok?” he asked.

“Always has been before,” I replied.

“I just love how it brings out all the tones,” he said, and a far-off wistful smile passed over his face.

He carefully exposed the paper through the negative image, and then he dipped it in developer. After a minute he pulled the paper out, gently submerged it in the stop bath, and slowly agitated it. He then transferred it expertly to the fixer for a few minutes before he washed it thoroughly, flipping the photograph over and over, and changing the water several times.

Finally, he waved the photograph in the air to dry it off, and then held it up to the dim red light. He adjusted his dark glasses again as he examined the photo.

“That’s a good one,” he said, and hung it up to finish drying.

I took a close look at the finished photograph. He was right: rich tones, clearly focused, and the senator’s face so clearly visible. It was a beautiful picture; this would no doubt be our golden goose.

He finished developing the photographs as we sipped cognac slowly.

When the photographs were dried and tucked neatly into my briefcase, I snapped the latch shut. “I guess this is it,” I said. “After I drop off your money at the locker box, I’ll be gone for a good while, living it up as best I can.”

“I guess so. When you get those pictures sold, and get yourself to Mexico, drop me a line so I know you’re not dead.”

“I’ll do that,” I said. “And don’t worry about me, in a week I’ll be sipping margaritas with the sun on my face.”

“I’ll try not to worry, but drop me a line just the same. Maybe a post card with a nice beach and a nicer señorita.” He smiled.

I looked at him with a chuckle.  “I’m going to miss you, Tyrone.”

“I’ll miss you too, boy. And I’ll miss you bringing your pictures in for me to develop.” His dark skin cracked around a mouth that smiled almost too often, and his dark glasses shaded eyes that would never again see the light of day.

“Well Tyrone,” I said, “for a blind man, you sure do know a good photograph when you see one.”

Newspaper Noir

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Newspaper Noir

“What are you reading, kid?” I asked.

“The paper,” he answered without looking up. His dirty brown hair hung down over his forehead and hid his eyes from view.

“I can see that. Aren’t you a little young to be reading anything but the funnies?” I lit my cigarette and tucked my lighter back into my coat pocket. The kid didn’t answer.

“Say, does that paper cover the Reynolds case?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Listen, kid, I’ll give you a quarter for it.”

“Go find your own newspaper,” he responded. “There is a box on every street from here to the post office, Oak Street, Linden Street, and Magnolia. Take your pick, but leave me alone.”

“How old are you?” I asked, a little incredulous at the boy’s manners.

He folded the paper and smoothed it across his lap like an old grandpa finally resigning to his grandson’s incessant questions. “I’m twelve.”

“You have a job?”

“Yeah. A paper route.”

“Shit, you run a paper route and you won’t sell me one newspaper? I just want to see the latest on the Reynolds–” The kid cut me off.

“It’s a messy divorce. Jim Reynolds still says that his wife stole a hundred thousand dollars worth of art from their mansion, and now she claims that he’s been cheating on her. Says she even hired a private detective who found proof.”

“Kind of grim stuff for a twelve year old to follow,” I said, taking a drag on my cigarette. “Who did she hire? Was it Bosworth? That sucker has out-maneuvered me at every turn. It’s not my fault though; he’s well connected.”

“Paper didn’t say who she hired.”

“I’ve been following the case, trying to get in on the action. I’m a private eye myself. There’s just one thing I don’t understand. If Bosworth was hired to scrape dirt on Jim, why didn’t he call to rub it in my face? There aren’t many private investigators in this town; I usually would have heard if there was a big fish on the market like Sally Reynolds.”

“I don’t know, mister. I’m just the paper boy.”

“Say, do you know when Sally made her statement to the reporter?”

“Not for sure. Ed Finch, who writes most of the articles on the Reynolds, told me that this case has been developing so fast he’s had to talk to his sources in the morning just so that he can get his piece in by the afternoon deadline.”

“If that’s true, then Sally would have had to make that statement yesterday morning. Jim Reynolds has been out of town on business for a week. He just got back in town late last night. I’ll bet Sally Reynolds never even hired a private investigator. It’s possible she hired someone from out of town, but I think she’s trying to bluff him out. If she can make him nervous about losing even more in the divorce, he might settle the case and drop his theft charges. She’s no dummy.”

“Doesn’t matter now,” the kid said, looking westward, down the street.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s dead. Jim Reynolds is dead.”

“What the hell!” I said in surprise. “Jim Reynolds isn’t dead.”

“Sure is.”

“Give me that paper,” I said, snatching it from the boy’s lap. He didn’t try to stop me; he just looked off down the street again like he wished that he were anywhere but there.

I read the short article where Sally claimed to have proof of her husband’s infidelity. It said nothing about Jim Reynolds croaking. “He’s not dead. It doesn’t say anything about Jim being dead,” I said, as I thumbed over to the obituaries. “Where did you read that?”

“Didn’t read it. I saw it.”

I put the paper down and tried to look the boy in the eye. He was staring off down that street trying his best not to look at me. There was a glistening drop of moisture precipitating at the corner of his eye.

“I saw it while I was on my paper route this morning,” he continued. “You know how they have those big glass windows in their bedroom? I was about to throw the paper from my bike when I heard yelling. I’ve been keeping tabs on the case, so I thought if I could get close enough to see, I might learn something nobody else did. Maybe even get my name in one of Ed Finch’s crime columns.” The tear couldn’t stay put any longer; it rolled down his cheek, and he smeared it away with his wrist.

He heaved a deep breath and then carried on with the story. “I walked up to the house with their paper in my hands. Saw that there was some movement in the bedroom window, so I crept over there, hidden by the bushes. I saw her, Sally Reynolds; she was laughing at him. She said that she had caught him with his pants down, and that she would get half of everything now. Then he called her a bitch and threw her on the bed, tried to strangle her. But she kept on laughing. It scared me, mister. Honest to God, that laugh scared me worse than anything I’ve ever seen at the horror pictures.” The boy breathed in silence for a few moments.

“Go on, kid.” I said, nursing the last shreds of nicotine from my cigarette. “What happened next?”

“Well, he was standing over her, trying to choke her to death. And his eyes were all closed shut while he was strangling her, as if he didn’t want to look at what he was doing. She was still laughing like a banshee. Finally, she reached under the pillow and pulled out a gun. Blew his head open.” The boy started crying. I put my hand on his shoulder and his sobs intensified.

“I don’t want to be in Ed Finch’s column. I don’t.” He said between sobs. “I just want to forget I was there.”

“You don’t have to talk to any reporters,” I said. “You don’t have to do any of that. It’s ok.” I kept my hand on his shoulder and pitched my cigarette into the street.

“She knew he was going to try to kill her. She was ready for it.” He said as he wiped his tears away, and started to regain his composure. “Why would she do that? Wasn’t one hundred thousand dollars worth of art enough? Did she really have to kill him for the rest of it?” He closed his eyes and rubbed them one last time. “She’s going to tell the police it was self defense; she certainly let him put the strangle marks all over her neck. I guess I’ll have to go down to the station too, make my own statement.” He looked like the most world-weary private eye I had ever seen, and he was only twelve years old.

“Kid, you’d make one hell of a detective.” I said.

“I don’t know about that,” he replied. “When I saw what happened, I froze up. Forgot to leave their newspaper on their porch; I just kept on clutching it tight in my hands, all the way back here where you found me.”


Thanks for reading, I welcome all feedback and constructive criticism.

-Anderson Ryle