When Jack Laretto made two million on the sales of his novel ‘No Mercy’, he took his wife Viola to the Caribbean, fulfilling a lifetime dream.
They spent two weeks in the sun, made love every night by moonlight and he returned ready for the sequel. He was going to write the next great Southern novel. He considered the path that had led him to overnight fame.
His first breakthrough came with the ‘Mustard Man’, a gruesome if realistic account of a split personality serial killer. That was how the reviewers interpreted the story. Jack’s readers felt it was an account of two characters, seeing the Mustard Man as a separate entity to Norm.
It had been published by an online magazine of some note and he soon realised he had a gift for dark fiction.
The only bugbear in Jack’s life when he returned to his beautiful Californian home was his psychopathic neighbour, who insisted on having parties every night and keeping him and Viola awake.
Complaining did little.
Viola was called an old whore by him and he yanked the volume up at his next do.
Enduring endless hours of wall shaking rap began to grate on Jack’s nerves. And he started to hate the man next door.
A crass and boorish individual, Hank Makeit was loathed by everyone in the neighbourhood and seemed to get some sort of perverse kick from the opprobrium in which he was held, as if his only yardstick for personal importance was being rejected by an entire community.
Jack began to lie awake at night wanting him dead, imagining him hanging from the nearest lamppost with ‘asshole’ tattooed to his head. In one dream he held a dripping brand in his hand and awoke to the sound of sizzling bacon in the kitchen below.
One morning on 4th July Jack stood with his cup of coffee admiring Viola in the garden.
She stood in her negligee watering a plant and as she bent he caught the graceful curve of her tanned thighs as they led sensuously to her lower buttocks and he thought what a lucky man he was. He had a beautiful wife. And anyone who insulted her ought to be removed from polite society.
At that precise moment load of trash was emptied over the fence by Hank, some of it hitting Viola.
Jack raced out of there and kept his finger on the bell until Hank answered.
He opened the door in a pair of shorts and a dirty T-shirt.
‘Yes?’, he said.
‘You know, your music’s bad enough.’
‘Don’t you like it?’
‘What would you like me to play? Something more modern like Bluegrass?’
‘Yes. At least it’s musical.’
‘How’s your wife? Is she trash?’
‘You fucking low life piece of shit, if you ever, ever do that again I will terminate you.’
‘Ooh! I am frightened, you a writer and all.’
‘Be careful, for you don’t know what you are dealing with.’
Jack marched off and stood by the window thinking of how good his life was without Hank.
And that reporter.
Blonde, snooty, vicious Stacy Adams through whose veins ran not blood but pure mendacity.
She dripped it, she oozed it, she made love with it, it was her immediate atmosphere.
Known by her peers as the sanctimonious bitch she gave unfavourable reviews to everyone. Thought to be a virtual illiterate, some said she hated anything to do with the arts and had gone into the business of reviewing to satisfy a profound need for sadism.
The only reason she wasn’t fired from the magazine she worked for was that she performed sexual favours for the editor, a grotesque individual with no professional standards.
The name Samuel Smythe was held in universal contempt by professional writers everywhere. He was a smarmy epicene bully, and hated not just for his uncaring attitude towards the arts but because he smelt of such a profound level of moral decay he repelled people on sight.
The popular joke was that he’d wanted to be a pimp but had failed because he didn’t have enough street sense to walk from one whorehouse to another without getting jumped.
Stacy Adams and Samuel Smythe, a human version of venereal disease to writers everywhere. Their magazine Arts Connoisseur wasn’t fit to wipe your ass on.
That morning Jack stood looking out of the window at the immaculate lawns that stretched like a statement of wealth from his house to the end of the road when he saw Hank leave with Mandy Cheap. She was wearing fishnets and bent to check her heel, exposing her ass, and Jack decided he wanted them out. Mandy was Hank’s regular fuck mate. She didn’t deserve a better title, since she was nothing better than a hooker in Viola’s opinion and had recently taken to insulting all the neighbours. Her skin had the used look of a bag that has been stuffed too full and she smelt of open sewers. He looked at Hank, his heavy simian face so incongruous in the setting of Echo Avenue it reminded Jack of a turd floating in a swimming pool.
He turned away and switched on his computer.
Checking his emails he noticed the name of one of his favourite editors, Jason Maverick of Blood Metal Magazine.
He was changing his site.
Jack checked the new Url. It looked good.
He read some of the stories and remembered what a great editor Jason was, always spotting and developing new talent, the kind of stories that didn’t get published elsewhere because the editors didn’t have his vision.
As Jack looked at the new site he noticed something was missing.
He picked up the phone and dialled Jason’s number.
‘Hi, Jason? It’s Jack.’
‘Jack, how are you?’
‘Good. Got your email and I think the new site looks great.’
‘It’s fully archived.’
‘I know. It’s just that I can’t find the link to ‘Mustard Man’, after all you first published it.’
‘How could I forget? Let’s see…. That’s funny, I put the link in and it’s gone. Who knows? Maybe he’s disappeared.’
‘Maybe he’s gone on the run, slipped from the net while I made the change.’
‘I see your sense of humour hasn’t changed.’
‘I’ll find you the link and email it to you later Jack.’
They chatted for a while and Jack hung up and went to get another coffee.
When he returned, there was another email from Jason.
‘Here it is Jack’, it read, followed by the link.
Jack clicked it and waited for what seemed like forever until it connected.
What it connected to, however was not his story but the announcement:
‘Pickle Party will soon be under way.’
‘Pickle Party’ was the name of the story Jack had just written. No one knew about it.
He looked at the announcement. In the background, against a fading sun, was the blurred image of a man, standing feet shoulder width apart and holding onto what looked like a buckle.
Jack considered for a moment that this could be one of Jason’s jests. But without knowing of the existence of his story it would be impossible.
He opened ‘Mustard Man’ and read what he had written, remembering the opening scene where he talks to Norm.
‘‘Put a little pepper on it’, he said, a casual grin spreading across his face, his legs straddling the floor, hands on hips, pointing into the snake’s head buckle on his belt.’
Jack read on.
‘He got her down on the bed and gave it to her just like the mustard man said, and the noises were quite obscene, and just at the moment when she thought he was finished and she could go, the mustard man yelled ‘Knife time!’, and out it came, a long handled sharp one….’
He looked again at the email.
The man in the picture seemed to be wearing a large belt with a serpentine buckle, this time the image seemed clearer, as if the figure was coming into definition.
Later that day when he and Viola returned from shopping Jack checked his emails again.
There was one from a magazine wanting to run a story of his and one entitled ‘Hey Buddy’.
Jack opened it.
‘I got out and I’m gonna get them whores and smart-assed motherfuckers, gonna serve em up a treat. MM.’
Jack considered some prankster was amusing themselves. He went to fix supper with Viola.
The steak was soft, and burst just the right amount of pink blood onto the perfect white plates he liked to eat from. And Viola looked radiant, exuding feminine warmth.
As he finished eating the phone went.
He picked it up and heard the familiar voice.
‘Hey Buddy, it sure is good to be out. Now I know who they are and I’m gonna do em real good, they better be ready for me cause I’m gonna cut em and pickle em, you ready for the party Buddy?’ In the background Jack could hear Pink singing “I’m coming up, so you better get this party started”. ‘The way I put it is they better get themselves some reinforced shields cause these knives are sharp as hell. Cutting fruit? Fuck they’d cut a skull, I’ll be splitting me a backbone with one. That Pink bitch is one hell of a whore and she tastes real good with something hot on the side.’
The line went dead and Jack stood there in the darkened hallway listening to the sudden sound of bass’n drum.
He passed a restless night exacerbated by Hank’s latest party.
He tried turning on the radio but couldn’t get his favourite jazz station. It seemed only to pick up country music.
He lay in the dark trying to repress thoughts of murder.
But the next morning he got up feeling strangely refreshed.
It was sunny and life felt good.
A few hours later the phone went.
‘Hey Buddy, it’s me. I got em.’
‘Got who?’, Jack said.
‘Starting at number one, working my way down the line for you. Now Stacy, scream you fuckin bitch!’ What Jack heard next wasn’t so much a scream as the wrenching of someone’s vocal chords. A woman seemed to be trying to summon a cry from a throat that sounded as though it had been cut and her scream was followed by a strange gurgling noise.
‘Are you talking about Stacy Adams?’, Jack said.
‘That’s right, I got em for ya, Samuel Smythe’s here too. Drink your own blood now, you whore. Here, Samuel, say hello to Jack , say it! Fuck you, you faggot. Scuse me, Jack, I need to cut some flesh off his back.’ There was a noise that sounded like an animal howling. ‘Now I’m gonna cut em up, they’s bleeding everywhere man. She was sucking him off when I got here and she’s now got his dick hammered into her gums with a nail. These nail guns are damn good. Ain’t that right you fuckin low life whore? You’s got no appreciation for the Arts. You don’t know shit bout nothin. You thought you could whore it up till your snatch dried out. You didn’t reckon on the old Mustard Man coming to see you. That’s right, Mustard Man with two capitals, cause I am alive and I will never be vanquished. I would suggest you start reading some Shakespeare. In ‘Titus Andronicus’ Titus cooks Tamora’s sons and puts them in a pie for their mother to eat. I quote ‘Her life was beastly and devoid of pity, And being dead, let birds on her take pity.’ Hey Samuel, and your whore, it’s knife time!’
The line went dead.
Jack walked around in a daze.
He sat in the garden and heard Hank starting another party and he felt very calm.
The sky was pink and tinged with fading gold and there was the scent of peach blossom in the air.
He went and checked his emails.
There was one from a software company and one entitled ‘Don’t the whore and her trick look good on a skewer’.
‘Here’s what I did to em Buddy. See you later when I do that other motherfucker an his piece of snatch.’
There were two attachments which Jack opened.
One was a picture of Stacy Adams naked with half her body removed. Her organs were clearly visible and she had something hanging from her mouth, which on closer inspection revealed itself to be a penis.
The other was a picture of Samuel Smythe. His crotch was mutilated, he had lost half his skin, and he was lying in a thick pool of blood.
Jack looked at them with a disinterest he didn’t fail to note, as distantly as the name of a train station. They looked like relics in a museum.
That night the music started early.
Hoards of people flocked up Hank’s drive and the walls of Jack’s house began to shake.
He was having supper with Viola when it began and she looked at him and said ‘You seem calmer than usual.’
‘Yes. The music. It’s unbearable. He is an asshole.’
‘Yes, he is. This is very good.’
He picked another piece of cured ham from the plate and ate it ravenously.
‘Do we have any Dijon? Or the grainy kind, that’s always nice.’
Viola fetched some for him.
Afterwards he said ‘Let’s go for a walk.’
Viola shrugged and they walked out into the moonlight.
It was a beautiful summer evening and Jack looked at the lawns, kept green by the constant sprinklers.
They walked past Hank’s house, to the end and along the next street.
They strolled like young lovers arm in arm and inhaled the subtle aromas of evening.
When they were returning to Echo Avenue they saw an unmarked car draw up outside Hank’s house.
A large police officer got out, touched his hat to Jack and Viola and walked up the path.
‘I wonder what that’s about’, Viola said as they went inside.
A few minutes later the music stopped as suddenly as if someone had cut a wire.
Jack looked out of the window and saw the hoards of guests leaving.
The night was peaceful.
The car remained outside Hank’s.
Jack was going to bed when he heard the scream.
It was a single cry of pain that pierced the still night.
He looked at Viola who lay there sleeping.
Then he put on his clothes and walked outside.
Hank’s front door was ajar and Jack walked in.
Through the hallway he could see the blood spattered on the kitchen wall.
Hank was in a chair tied up with rope and Mandy Cheap was sitting naked on the kitchen worktop with her mouth gagged. Bluegrass was playing on the radio.
Jack walked into the kitchen and saw him.
Broad shouldered, snake head buckle on his belt. Very large hands.
The officer’s uniform lay on the floor. He stood there in faded denim.
‘Hey Buddy, come to see em bleed? I got the music on my very own radio station, Mustard Man radio, n this here’s Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys. Don’t you just love a mandolin? Welcome to the Pickle Party. Now I just been saying to them two that they got no appreciation for Art. I been reading Baudelaire and boy that man could write a poem. Have you read ‘Les fleurs du mal’? Of course you have Jack. But I bet they haven’t.’ He turned to Hank. ‘‘Hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere’. I’m gonna cut you real fine. You are the hypocrite reader who reads and does not understand. You want to get your kicks vicariously. Ain’t that right? But now it’s time to pickle you. You and that whore, you understand boy?’
The Mustard Man was holding a long dagger. Its edge looked like a razor blade.
The next thing Jack saw was Mandy’s neck open.
He saw the blood spurt from it and shower the kitchen before he registered that the Mustard Man had moved.
Mandy fell forwards.
As Hank struggled to get up from the chair the Mustard Man lunged at him with the knife, driving the dagger deep into his head.
‘Whoo-ee!’, he said. ‘Look at that blade vibrate there, now I’m gonna pull it out of your head you piece of shit neighbour.’ He stuck a foot on Hank’s shoulder and pulled the handle of the dagger until it came out and then he stabbed Mandy repeatedly until she looked like a mess of flesh. ‘You been causing a disturbance you motherfucker’, he said. ‘Now I’m gonna disturb you Hank.’ He began to cut him open. It reminded Jack of a butcher hacking meat on a bloodstained counter. ‘Pieces of shit like you need to be pickled and I’m gonna pickle you and your snatch right up.’ He carved a piece of flesh from each of them and stood them in a jar of what looked like persevering fluid. ‘They’ll be tasty with a salad’, he said. ‘I told you I’d come and get em for you.’
Jack watched the Mustard Man cut up the bodies and he went home.
He slept peacefully and the next morning as he was having his coffee the phone went.
Viola was looking out of the window staring at the police cars and ambulances that were drawing up next door as Jack picked up.
‘Hey Buddy, that was fun. Anyone else you want me to take care of you let me know.’
‘Where am I going?’
‘Kentucky. I’m gonna have a real good time down there.’
Jack put down the phone. He sat and thought about the eternal verdancy of Kentucky as Viola watched the police leave Hank’s house with two body bags.
BIO: Richard Godwin is a produced playwright whose crime novel has been accepted for publication later this year.
He writes crime and horror and his stories can be found at many vibrant magazines, among them A Twist Of Noir, Disenthralled, Word Catalyst and Danse Macabre. You can also find them in the recent anthologies ‘Back in 5 Minutes ‘ by Little Episodes Publishing and ‘Howl’ by Lame Goat Press.
He blogs here