14 short crime stories on a theme are collected in the inaugural “Girl Trouble” e-issue of Criminal Element's Malfeasance Occasional (available September 24th, 2013).
Tender-hearted, tough-minded (and occasionally foul-mouthed) girls take center stage in suspenseful tales that are also touching, haunting, and darkly funny. From modern cities and the middle of nowhere—even a place that never existed—come stories about female entrepreneurs, housewives, mothers, daughters, addicts, strivers, wanderers, conquerors, runaways, and women in collision. Whatever you think upon hearing the phrase Girl Trouble, this spectacularly varied e-collection of short crime fiction delivers.
Way back when, The M.O. was conceived as a crowd-sourced project, from our open submissions call for diverse interpretations on the theme to the cover art by artist Brian Rau, which site visitors voted to select. Finally, after many storms (and not all figurative) we're delighted finally to share it with the community of crime fans who made it possible. Read on for more information about each of the stories and contributors!
“Follow Us on Facebook and Twitter” by Eric Cline
The woman who fired me has a lovely daughter. Her name is Amber.
Amber is sixteen. She has lots of friends, judging by her Facebook page. I’m one of them.
I might be the only 33-year-old male Friend she has. And she doesn’t even know it; she thinks I’m a teenage girl in Tacoma, Washington named Kirsten Marcus. If she knew who I really was, and that I actually live in Maryland, like her (in Laurel, only an hour’s drive from her and her mom’s home in Columbia), well, I’m afraid she would Unfriend me.
Eric Cline was born in Independence, Missouri, a city saturated with memories of and monuments to President Harry S. Truman. It was in an Independence thrift store that Eric’s mom purchased him children’s science fiction books by “Paul French,” a.k.a. Isaac Asimov. Eric went on to devour all of the books in the Mid-Continent Public Library. Eric holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English, and once considered teaching as a profession. He has waited tables at a total of three restaurants. He was at the last restaurant after he got his master’s degree, which gave him some indication of how well teaching would pay. He now works in an office and writes on evenings and weekends. After a fitful original attempt to write, Eric turned his attention to reading, work, and study, before returning to writing with a vengeance in 2007. He, his wife, and his three dogs live in Maryland.
“Mad Women” by Patricia Abbott
The uniformed operator in the elevator shot her a sympathetic glance as the machinery delivered them to the top floor. Her capture played out efficiently because the man in control of her arm probably detained shoplifters and miscreants every day: women who couldn’t keep their hands off the merchandise; agile men who picked pockets; scoundrels of both sexes with stolen charge plates; boys who broke things, then ran; teenage girls who sneaked into dressing rooms and came out looking like polar bears, females who ransacked makeup counters, dropping tubes, pencils, and nail polish bottles down their blouse or into their pockets; teams of professional boosters who made a science out of defrauding stores. It was 1962 and theft was becoming more professionalized.
Patricia Abbott is the author of the ebooks Monkey Justice and Home Invasion (Snubnose Press). More than one hundred of her stories have appeared in print, in anthologies and online. Recent stories have appeared in The Huffington Post, Thuglit, Plots with Guns, Kwik Krimes, Beat to a Pulp, and The Interrogator. You can find her blogging at Pattinase.
“The Wentworth Letter” by Jeff Soloway
The new student in the Jane Austen seminar walloped himself into the chair next to the professor. He was overweight, balding, and haphazardly shaved, and he appeared to have only one eye, or one that worked; the other was hidden behind a single darkened eyeglass lens. The tittering of the young women (there were never any young men in the Austen seminar) was like a wind through dry grass. Cheryl, the only human among the leopardesses, got up and took the seat beside him. She smiled warmly at him. He smiled hotly at her.
In January, 2014, Mystery Writers of America awarded this story the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for Best First Short Story by an American Author.
Jeff Soloway’s first novel, The Travel Writer, will be published by Alibi, Random House’s new digital imprint for crime fiction in June, 2014.
“The Barnacle” by Hilary Davidson
Jess was washing bloodstains out of her husband’s shirt when the police came knocking at her door. She cleaned her hands at the pitted porcelain sink while they beat an aggressive tattoo. Not again, she thought, avoiding her own eyes in the scratched cabinet mirror. Twenty-seven and pregnant by a man who couldn’t hold down a straight job, that was the truth of her life.
Hilary Davidson won the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel for The Damage Done, which launched the Lily Moore series. That book also earned a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. The sequels, 2012’s The Next One to Fall and 2013’s Evil in All Its Disguises, took her intrepid crime-solving travel journalist to Peru and Mexico. Her fourth novel (and first standalone book), Blood Always Tells, will be published by Tor/Forge on April 15, 2014. Before turning to a life of crime-writing, Hilary was a travel journalist who authored 18 nonfiction books. Her short fiction has won her a Spinetingler Award and an Ellery Queen Reader’s Choice Award, and it’s made her a finalist for a Derringer. Her stories appear in publications including Thuglit, Beat to a Pulp, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and other dark places. Toronto born, Hilary has lived in New York City with her husband, Dan, since October 2001.
“My Brother's Keeper” by Charles Drees
Rich dames never crossed my door. When they needed a private eye, they hired one who worked for a big law firm downtown. So either she was lost or the big boys didn’t want her business. If it was the latter, the smart thing to do would be to send her packing.
She settled in the chair in front of my desk, and crossed her legs. The rustle of her nylons made my skin twitch like I’d passed through a swarm of bees. She peeled fawn-colored gloves from her hands and laid them in her lap.
“Are you discreet, Mr. Hunter?”
Charles Drees admits that when it comes to his literary preferences, he’s a mystery-genre snob. “Chances are, if someone doesn’t die, I won’t read it,” he says. His short story, “By Hook or by Crook,” was included in the anthology, The Prosecution Rests, and was later chosen as the title story for the anthology, By Hook or by Crook: The Best Crime and Mystery Stories of 2009. An Active Member of the Mystery Writers of America, Drees lives with his wife in Manhattan, Kansas—the Little Apple—and he is currently working on a mystery novel set in the Heartland.
“The Third Echo” by Sam Wiebe
Touch down in Glasgow, after ten hours of rom-coms and pasta salads and old people jostling my shoulder on their way to the john. Ten hours without a cigarette. I rush through the terminal and almost miss the woman standing by the baggage claim, holding a sign with my name on it.
I head to her. The other passengers shoot me resentful glances. Forget that I shared the same cramped Airbus they did. Forget that the woman’s uniform isn’t a chauffeur’s, that she’s not carrying my bag for me, and that the only place she’ll be driving me is the Glasgow City Morgue. I’m a stranger in a suit getting preferential treatment. To the locals, I might as well be English.
In April, 2014, Crime Writers of Canada shortlisted this story as an Arthur Ellis Award nominee for Best Crime Short Story.
Sam Wiebe's novel Last of The Independents won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Unpublished First Novel, and is slated for publication in August of 2014. Set in Vancouver, Last of the Independents details an iconoclastic PI's search for a missing child. Sam's stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and Thousand Islands Life, among others. He lives in Vancouver.
“Magda” by Cathi Stoler
“You don’t get what you don’t ask for,” Marti always said, “but sometimes you get more than you wanted.” It was good advice from a mother who didn’t have much else to give, and I carried it with me as I moved through life. Although, right now, I wish I had understood it better.
I shift slightly, to ease the cramping in my arm from holding the gun out in front of me for so many hours, and rest it on my lap. I see my eyes reflected in the wavy pane of glass I’m looking through, and a stranger’s eyes stare back from the blackness beyond. Dark and wary and filled with fierceness I didn’t know I possessed.
It won’t be long now; I’m not exactly a wilderness kind of girl, and coming up here to Devlin’s cabin in the Catskills was a mistake. He’ll find me soon enough. He’s probably out there already, waiting and watching. I bring the gun back up and aim it at the window. And I wait.
Cathi Stoler’s mysteries feature P.I. Helen McCorkendale and magazine editor, Laurel Imperiole. Telling Lies, published by Camel Press. takes on the subject of stolen Nazi art. Camel Press will publish the next two books in the series, Keeping Secrets, which delves into the subject of hidden identity, and The Hard Way, a story of international diamond theft later this year. Cathi is working on a new mystery series set in lower Manhattan featuring female bar owner Jude Dillane. She has published several short stories, including “Out of Luck,” featured in the Sisters in Crime anthology, Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices. Her story “Fatal Flaw,” published at Beat to a Pulp, was a finalist for the Derringer Award for Best Short Story. “Money Never Sleeps” is the second story in this series. Cathi is a member of Mystery Writers of America, as well as Sisters in Crime and posts at the womenofmystery.net blog.
“Crow's Lesson” by Robert Lopresti
It was my fifth day on stake-out. I was sitting in my tired old Ford Escort, parked across the street from the target. All the tools of the trade—clipboard, binoculars, coffee thermos—were close at hand.
By my client’s arrangement, the suspect had been delayed in the target building for ten minutes, long enough for the end-of-the-day crowd to thin out. I had no trouble spotting him when he left.
A colleague of his came out at the same time. They appeared to be having a disagreement—I was too far away to hear its subject—and my suspect kicked him in the shins. Twice.
The colleague fell down, screaming, and my suspect ran off. Half a block away he stopped, seeing a group of females who had left the building earlier and were chatting together on the sidewalk.
The suspect began digging in the front yard of a nearby house. He pulled up a bunch of onion grass and started to chase them, waving the stinking vegetation over his head. The girls ran off screaming.
Jimmy Pankhurst was a little swine, even for a seven-year-old.
Robert Lopresti is a New Jersey native who has lived in Washington state for a quarter of a century. He has had about fifty short stories published, including winners of the Black Orchid Novella and Derringer Awards. Previous stories about Atlantic City private eye Marty Crow have been nominated for the Anthony Award and been turned into radio dramas by the Midnight Mystery Players. His novel Such a Killing Crime was published by Kearney Street Books. This is his fifth published story of the year, and that's a personal best.
“Her Haunted House” by Brendan DuBois
The haunted house, though, pretty much looked like it did when I had last seen it, nearly forty years ago. It was an old Victorian, with peeling yellow paint, lots of impressive scrollwork and woodcarvings along the roof and beams, and a wide porch that was reached by a set of stone steps. The stone steps were uneven and crooked. I remembered them well. I still didn’t like them...
I said, “I have a lot of memories, growing up here… and I was too late to buy my grandparents’ place, so I thought I’d do the next best thing, and buy this property instead.”
She nodded. “I see what you mean. Good memories and all that.”
I turned so she couldn’t see my face. When in God’s name did I say the memories were good ones?
Brendan DuBois of Exeter, New Hampshire, is the award-winning author of nearly 130 short stories and sixteen novels including his latest, “Deadly Cove,” part of the Lewis Cole mystery series. His short fiction has appeared in Playboy, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and numerous anthologies including The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century, published in 2000 by Houghton-Mifflin, as well as the The Best American Noir of the Century, published in 2010. His stories have twice won him the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and have also earned him three Edgar Award nominations from the Mystery Writers of America. He is also a one-time Jeopardy! gameshow champion.
“Girl of Great Price” by Milo James Fowler
I knew I’d do my damnedest to find little Mao; but I also had a pretty strong idea that there wouldn’t be much left of her when I did. Those were the odds when kids got snatched off the streets. If the Jarheads were lucky, I might find their little girl still in one piece, but she’d be cold and grey as the moon.
Shoe soles applauding my herculean efforts, I descended the eight flights of indoor stairs and threw my weight against the crash bar on the exterior door, meeting a blast of cold, wet air and the sounds of my city at rest—traffic, radios, horns and insults blaring anytime one driver moved a little too slowly for the guy at his six. There was plenty of two-legged traffic, too, despite the bad weather, with dames strutting their stuff and playing coy under their escorts’s umbrellas...
In this economy, you took whatever work you could get. Too many years fighting a war against a more technologically advanced enemy had left the United World in sorry economic shape. We needed time to recover, lick our wounds. Make a few advancements of our own. And hope the EC would leave us alone while they did the same.
Milo James Fowler is a teacher by day and a writer by night. When he’s not grading papers, he’s imagining what the world might be like in a few dozen alternate realities. His work has appeared in more than 60 publications, including AE Science Fiction, Cosmos, Nature, and Shimmer, and many of his short stories are now available on Amazon for Kindle readers. Find him on Twitter @mfowler76, Facebook, and his blog, where he posts weekly updates on his journey as a speculative fictioneer.
“Benign” by Caroline J. Orvis
I started stalking my breast surgeon almost by accident. I was sitting in my car weeping, again, after the latest useless appointment.
I saw him walking carelessly down the aisle of Jaguars and BMWs in the hospital parking lot. The surgeon clicked on his keyfob, and a shiny new Mercedes winked its headlights at him. Fumbling with the Tylenol bottle shoved into my ashtray, I shook out two pills, quickly calculating that I could take four more that day.
“You’ve got to stop taking so much Tylenol.”
“What am I supposed to do instead?”
I dropped a third pill into my palm and swallowed all three with a drink from the water bottle I left in the car for just that purpose. Hey, a girl can dream, right? You never know, maybe three will do the trick.
Caroline J. Orvis has traveled around the world performing as a professional musician. A voracious reader since an early age, she started writing as a hobby six years ago. “Benign” is her first published work. Between gigs, she is working on her first novel.
“Them Old Blues” by Ken Leonard
The truth is I started feeling for her pretty fast. Lying there in my swaybacked bed that first time, her man Tom out of town for a couple days, it was more than just comfortable. It had a special feeling to it. She was pretty, in kind of a tired way. A real sweet woman with a good disposition. One who deserved better than she got. But beyond that, there was just this vibe. A good energy. Like we fit together in some way we hadn’t yet uncovered.
She was lying in the crook of my arm, running her fingers through the small patch of hair on my chest. “What are you thinking?” she asked.
I mulled it for a moment. I figured we were close enough now that I could say what was on my mind. “I was wondering why you don’t leave him.”
Ken Leonard was born in Dayton, Ohio and grew up in Daytona Beach, Florida. At age thirteen, he read Stephen King’s Christine and emerged vowing to settle for nothing less than to be a writer. He gleaned clues to the path from the biographies of his favorite authors and immediately set out to fulfill the prerequisites, spending his school years reading novels under his desk, and upon graduation, quickly jumping into a string of dead-end menial jobs. (He counts himself fortunate that he had not yet discovered the work, and therefore the formative years, of Mr. James Ellroy.) Some years later, tired of toil and drudgery, Ken opted for the elective Expatriate coursework and moved to Rio de Janeiro, where, in an uninspired flourish, he taught English and drank heavily. He currently passes a goodly portion of the year in Portland, Oregon, eating Mexican food and trying to remember what the sun looks like.
“Incident on the 405” by Travis Richardson
Jessica Tan eased the Rolls Royce onto the 405 onramp from Santa Monica Boulevard and instantly regretted it. Her smart phone had showed yellow, medium traffic, but what she encountered was a barely crawling red. How smart was that?
She looked at the time: 4:42 p.m. She needed to have this polished British export up to Clive Winterborne’s mansion on Mulholland by five, or he’d blow up… again. That horndog was either making creepy advances at her or was pissed off and screaming...
Sadie Bitterman bit her lip hard to keep tears out of her eyes. She could taste the blood. Was this the lowest low? The depths kept sinking deeper. Even now, after straightening out her life, it all flew back in her face. Splat. She wasn’t a criminal. Not anymore. She was doing her best to keep a job, but this fucking traffic, she’d be late again. And what would she tell Walter, the teenage shift manager? Sorry Walt, I had to go to court today in Torrance.... Child custody.... No, I didn’t win. Thanks for asking. She’d have a lot to talk about at her Narcotics Anonymous meeting on Monday.
In May, 2014, Bouchercon's Anthony Award voters shortlisted this story as a nominee for Best Short Story. In June, 2014, Mystery Readers International voters shortlisted this story as a Macavity Award nominee for Best Mystery Short Story.
Travis Richardson was born in Germany, raised in Oklahoma, and currently lives in Los Angeles. His novella “Lost in Clover” was listed in Spinetingler Magazine’s Best Crime Fiction of 2012. He has had short stories published in All Due Respect, Shotgun Honey, and Powder Flash Burns online and as well the anthology Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes. He also shoots short movies.
“Birds of Paradise” by Chuck Wendig
Five women walk into a dildo shop.
Sounds like a joke. It isn’t.
Because only four of them are going to walk out alive...
This isn’t new. Miriam’s had this since she was a teen. Since someone hit her with a shovel and broke something very precious and very alive inside of her. Everywhere she goes she sees death sitting on everyone’s shoulder like a fat-bellied crow.
She’s been the ghost visiting the scene of countless car crashes, endless heart attacks, organ failures. She’s been the crow on the shoulder as folks die from cancer or a bad fall or a noose. And murders. She’s seen those, too.
Too many of those by now.
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He is the author of such novels as Blackbird, Mockingbird, The Blue Blazes, and Under the Empyrean Sky. He is an alumni of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab and is the co-author of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus. He lives in Pennsyltucky with wife, son, and two dopey dogs. You can find him on Twitter @ChuckWendig and at his website, where he frequently dispenses dubious and very-NSFW advice on writing, publishing, and life in general.
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