Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded

Today we launch the third volume of the Both Barrels series with Shotgun Honey Presents: Locked and Loaded.

Featuring 25 stories by:

  • “A Boy Like Billy” by Patricia Abbott
  • “Border Crossing” by Michael McGlade
  • “Looking for the Death Trick” by Bracken MacLeod
  • “Maybelle’s Last Stand” by Travis Richardson
  • “Predators” by Marie S. Crosswell
  • “Twenty to Life” by Frank Byrns
  • “So Much Love” by Keith Rawson
  • “Running Late” by Tess Makovesky
  • “Last Supper” by Katanie Duarte
  • “Danny” by Michael Bracken
  • “The Plot” by Jedidiah Ayres
  • “What Alva Wants” by Timothy Friend
  • “Time Enough to Kill” by Kent Gowran
  • “Copas” by Hector Acosta
  • “Yellow Car Punch” by Nigel Bird
  • “Love at First Fight” by Angel Luis Colón
  • “Traps” by Owen Laukkanen
  • “Down the Rickety Stairs” by Alan Orloff
  • “Blackmailer’s Pep Talk” by Chris Rhatigan
  • “With a Little bit of Luck” by Bill Baber
  • “As Cute as a Speckled Pup Under a Red Wagon” by Tony Conaway
  • “Chipping off the Old Block” by Nick Kolakowski
  • “Young Turks and Old Wives” by Shane Simmons
  • “The Hangover Cure” by Seth Lynch
  • “Highway Six” by John L. Thompson

Available in paperback and Kindle editions. Buy your copy today!

The View from Inside the Pocket by Shane Simmons

She wanted to leave the lights on and open a window. Bright lights, fresh air and a good view. It sounded nice enough.

Her name was Tina, and she was a candidate groupie. Her and so many other girls who had picked a party, blue or red it didn’t matter, and showed up at the rallies and speeches with buttons and hats and signs to show support. At that age they should have been following rock stars on tour. But for whatever reason they were drawn to the glitz and glamour of political conventions. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. They have their own mystique, their own razzle dazzle. And the music’s better if you’re into oldies.

They were young, still in school, still learning. Some of them had read the right book, listened to a good speech, watched a compelling podcast and come away with a cause that resonated. They were idealistic and naive enough to think they could change the world. If they followed the campaign long enough to see their candidate elected, they’d have that notion crushed out of them by the end of the first term. But while it lasted it was cute, endearing. You couldn’t help but fall in love with their enthusiasm and remember a time when you were young and stupid enough to believe the system might work.

“I could use a drink,” she said.

“I’ll see what’s in the minibar.”

“Fix me something tasty.”

I was just another campaign minion, running the call center. Nobody really, but she came back to my motel room just the same to sport-fuck our would-be congressman by proxy. She reminded me of a missed opportunity in college. How could I say no? Why would I say no?

I brought her a Scotch. Her hand slid down between my legs. Her mouth soon followed. The lights stayed on and we screwed across from the open window that let in a night breeze and the peering eye of a cameraman with a big empty memory chip and plenty of batteries.

I had a visitor come to my table over breakfast. I didn’t know him, but I recognized choice moments from my night with Tina. There were photographs by the dozen that captured every contortion and made sure our faces were featured prominently. He also showed me a scan of the girl’s driver’s licence, with a birth date that indicated she’d only qualified for one a few months ago.

He said very little, but reminded me of certain laws and statutes that sounded antiquated, even quaint, but remained on the books and were enforced vigorously. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes. Supplying drugs or alcohol to a minor. Statutory rape.

“Who are you?” I asked him.

“An admirer of your work.”

“What do you want?”

“Your attention.”

There was no more for months. Years.

It’s like they knew I would run for office long before I did. Or maybe they just hedged their bets and sought leverage with every up-and-comer. How much did the girl and photographer cost that night? Very little, I expect. I was a cheap investment that paid off big. It was only once I put the incident behind me, almost dared to forget it ever happened, and was millions of dollars into the hole on my own promising campaign that I got another visit.

“Remember me?” said the man.

“Yes.”

“Remember our last conversation?”

I nodded and he told me I would receive calls from time to time. Calls I should take. Calls I should listen to carefully.

They had me tucked in their pocket, good and deep. And the phone rang often.

“Thank you for taking my call, senator. Our mutual friend, Tina, says hello.”

“What can I do for you today?” I asked in my official capacity.

“You have a vote coming up and we wish to express an opinion.”

Somehow I knew the anonymous stranger’s argument would sway me.

The pocket was deep and dark and I couldn’t see who else was in there with me. But I knew we were packed in tight.

The Spare by Shane Simmons

I’m not going to kill you. I wanted to get that piece of information out in the open straight off so there’s no misunderstanding – so you can be completely open and relaxed with me. You’re going to survive this conversation. You’re even going to be able to walk away on your own once we’re done talking, you and me. Your life is in no danger, so put any thoughts of escape or running off out of your head and listen.

Now that you know your worst fears won’t be realized, you should be able to focus with a clear mind. That’s important, because you really need to hear what I have to say and understand it. This is about your life. Not about losing it because, as I said, that’s not going to happen right now. If anything, this is a more serious threat. It’s about you wasting your life.

You’re on the wrong path, you see. I know it’s a strange thing to hear coming from a man like me. I can hardly claim to be on the right path myself. I hurt people for a living. I’m not a hitman or an assassin. I’m what cops or reporters sometimes call an enforcer. I don’t like to be called that. It sounds too formal. In the business, they sometimes call my sort a soldier, and I don’t much care for that either. It makes my profession sound honourable, official, part of a noble collective, and it’s sure not that. If I ever filed a tax return, and I was being honest – two big “ifs” – I’d write “thug” in the space they leave for you to state your profession. I’m a thug. I hurt people. Sometimes I hurt people so bad, they die. When that happens, it’s usually on purpose, but I still wouldn’t call myself a hitman or an assassin. I’ve met a few of them and those people are cold. People like that would never take the time out to have a conversation like we’re having right now. So I guess you should be glad you’re stuck talking to a thug. Believe me, in my world there are many people of few words you don’t ever want to have to talk to.

You’re young. You have your whole life ahead of you if you don’t get too busy trying to shorten it. Lately you’ve been pissing off the wrong people. The sort of people who keep me on speed dial and pay me a monthly retainer to do what I do whenever they need me to do it. These people – and I’m sure you’ve already guessed who I’m talking about – wanted me to send you a message. Not like a memo, or a greeting card, or a love letter. These kinds of messages are expressed in broken bones and spilled blood.

Take it easy. I’m not going to get violent with you. I like you. Really, I do. So I want to make this as simple and painless as possible. For the both of us.

You see these? These are pruning shears. They’re like little hedge clippers you use to trim bushes. Now you’re going to hold still while I take a finger. Just one. And no, we’re not going to argue about it. You see, it’s important that you remember this conversation for the rest of your life. The longer you remember it, the longer that life will be. Think of this like that old trick of tying a string around your finger to remind you of something. It’s just like that. Only the finger won’t be there anymore.

There’s a hospital just a few blocks away. Apply some pressure, try not to pass out, they’ll fix you up fine. They could probably even reattach the finger, but they won’t be doing that. I’ll have to hold onto it, I’m afraid. You see, you’re getting off light here. But the finger will serve as proof that I’ve done something to you. Something permanent. It’s kind of like a receipt for the message I’ve delivered. You understand?

I knew you would. You’re a real sport.

Let’s begin.

Table d’hôte by Shane Simmons

I don’t like being the middleman, but if there are favours owed and money on the table, I’ll make the appropriate introductions, arrange a meeting between talent and client, make sure everybody is playing nice. Then I get the hell out of the way and let the deal happen or not.

Robbie needed a job done. Wanted more than needed, really. But he was calling in a favour, he had the money to make it happen, and who am I to judge? He wanted a man dead and I knew people who could handle the job. I cared about Robbie. He was a nice enough guy when he didn’t have murder on his mind. This was uncharted territory for him, so I wanted to make sure he didn’t go slumming. Left to his own devices, he probably would have hired some junkie scumbag who’d turn him in the next time he got pinched on a possession charge. No, this had to be done right, by a professional, or Robbie would end up screwing himself.

We met at a restaurant, the three of us. Robbie, myself and the European. I didn’t know the European’s name or country of origin, but the mannered way he spoke made me think of Europe. We sat together in a booth in the back, over drinks and a bowl of mixed nuts. I chose an unpopular restaurant with bad reviews and was rewarded with no other customers and terrible service. We were left alone, with no one nearby who might listen in.

I had briefed the European about Robbie’s needs and the fact that this was all new to him. He agreed to help hold Robbie’s hand as we walked him through the process.

“I’m a practical man. I understand practical things,” the European told Robbie. “There are many practical reasons to want somebody dead. Economic reasons usually. Political sometimes. Other motivations arise. There’s jealousy and revenge – very common. These are impractical reasons for murder, but there’s nothing that says such a killing can’t be handled in a practical way. This is my method.”

A word of caution crept into his voice as he picked at the bowl of nuts.

“Sometimes the client wants something extra. They want me to pull out fingernails, cut balls off, make the mark beg for death. I always refuse these jobs. There are sick bastards out there who will do these things for less money and the pleasure such sadism gives them. I want no part of it. If you want someone – anyone – dead, I can make that happen quickly, cleanly, efficiently. But do not expect extras. The menu I offer may be limited, too specialized for some. But my product is of the highest quality. And there are always paying customers who appreciate a quality product.”

He cracked a stubborn walnut and scattered the fragments across the table cloth, picking through the bits of shell for crumbs of meat.

“Murder?” he added, “This I can do. Cruelty?”

He wagged a disapproving finger, “This I will not do.”

“So what then, you kill them with kindness?”

Sitting on the padded bench in the booth next to Robbie, I elbowed him in the ribs. This was not a man to offend, and he didn’t like clients getting cute.

“No, I kill them with bullets. Don’t be such a fucking smartass,” said the European.

“Please excuse my friend. This is his first time,” I apologized.

“As you’ve mentioned,” replied the European. He turned back to Robbie.

“So who is this person you wish dead?”

There was a lengthy silence across the table as Robbie and European stared at each other. It was only ended by a single gunshot I never saw coming.

“His eyes,” the European told me, “pointed at you.”

Robbie tipped forward in his seat and slammed face-first into the table. I could clearly see the empty cavity where his brains once were through the exit wound in the back of his skull. The European slipped his handgun back into his coat pocket and stood.

We left abruptly without paying the bill. In this business, money counts for much, friendship counts for little, but professional courtesy is everything.