Tommy Gaffney edged down the terra cotta tiled hall, his sleep-starved eyes roaming over all the photographs, awards, and framed movie posters that lined the walls. Maybe it was the jagged bump of crystal he powered down minutes before or perhaps the lingering rush from the physical assault when they entered, but the adrenaline sweat stinging his eyes made it difficult to focus. Dozens of images. Movie sets. Handshakes. Awkward smiles at award ceremonies.

“Yo, dude, you cool or what?”

Tommy looked back down the hallway. His partner, an ink-heavy repeater named Marvin Cooper, tilted his head sideways like a curious canine. Marvin was busy stuffing valuables of all sorts into a couple of doubled black garbage bags and paused, wild-eyed. Tommy thought Marvin looked like God had stretched a grasshopper into a five foot human frame and forgot to feed it.

“I’m cool,” Tommy said batting a blue Nitrile gloved hand in the air, “You sure he’s down?”

Marvin looked over his shoulder at the bound body in the foyer and gave Tommy a proud sneer, “Totally. Boy ain’t going nowhere, not after that pistol whipping we gave him. What’s all that?”

Tommy gestured to the wall, “Had a feeling the guy was in the business.”

“You mean the movies?”


Marvin went back to filling his doubled up bag, “Duh. It’s L.A. Ain’t everybody in the biz in this town?”

Sure seemed that way, Tommy thought. Seemed like everyone was connected or wanted to be connected except for scrambling hustlers like Marvin and himself. Couldn’t walk a straight line in Hollywood without somebody mewing on about how they were attached to the industry’s vast machine of desire. Coffee shop pikers, bottled water dweebs, the straight groomed, liposuctioned, and douchebag phonies. Tommy had his share of damaged failures cross his path since he came out from Tempe a few years back. One girl said she worked a massage therapy crew that did nothing but muscle out the kinks and sprains for stunt men on sets. Worked that special effects bomb, the one about benevolent aliens who battled for control of earth’s dying sun. Got bounced for working some manual release on the side.

Tommy cased the bungalow they invaded for two days along with three other Laurel Canyon cherries that seemed ripe for the taking. The Mercedes in the cobble stone driveway was what caught his eye—loaded custom E-Class convertible, canary yellow. Christ, a sled like that was like flashing your tits to a starving infant, so Tommy scoped the place out. Ample leafy landscaping provided perfect cover, and one home next door was completely vacant. With their stolen pool van and a late morning plan of attack, no one would even think to look twice.

Tommy heard Marvin laughing to himself as he rustled his plastic bags. “Taking this sweet laptop that’s for sure. Oh, man. Scored me an iPad here, bro. Our boy here is some supergeek.”

“Keep moving. Five minutes.”

“Right. Out in five. Got it.”

Tommy eyes roamed over the movie posters framed in the hall. Nearly all were horror flicks, different levels of production value, some of which Tommy had even seen. There was one about killer dolphins, one about a haunted spaceship, and one about plague of super bugs. The anomaly of the bunch was some chick-flick that had a gaggle of airbrushed MILFs laughing over a basket of tiny dogs. Tommy was fucking positive he never saw that one. Good time schlock like that always made his bowels squeeze.

“Check the freezer,” Tommy said, “I’m going to flip the bedrooms.”

Marvin asked, “The freezer?”

“Yeah. Guy’s building a regular crystal city of pricy hooch on that sideboard here. Bet he keeps a bottle of good vodka on ice and I’m thirsty.”

Marvin pointed a finger gun back at Tommy and dropped the hammer.

At the end of the hallway wall Tommy noticed a faded poster in a brass frame and tried to remember if he ever saw the film. A striped circus tent was in the background and in the forefront there was a bloody clown wearing mirrored aviators. In the mirrored glass of the aviators a set of identical distorted women screamed. He checked the film credits at bottom. None of the names rang a bell.


“Check for a name too.”

Marvin called out from the kitchen, “A name? What? Why?”

“Just do it. Check for bills. A wallet. Something.”

“You check. I’m busy.”

Tommy shook his head and tramped back to the front door. The bunglaow’s owner, a balding man in his mid-fifties, was unconscious and breathing shallow, a ragged gash of blood unspooling from his forehead. Tommy stepped over the man and entered the master bedroom just off the hall. Wallet was on the dresser. Tommy unsleeved a California drivers license that read Fenton J. Dunn – California License #: C-000-987-367-987. A red tear drop heart indicated Dunn was an organ donor. The weight, of course, was a total lie.

Tommy dropped the wallet into his garbage bag and set about tossing the room. He found a cube safe in the closet and used a mini Halligan pry bar to pop the door. When he finished sacking up everything Tommy checked the credits on the faded movie poster once more.


Guy’s a screenwriter.


Marvin hooted when he found a classic rock station as he captained their stolen pool van across the city. Outside the grimy windshield the temperature soared past ninety.

“You sure know how to pick them don’t you, Tommy?”

Tommy didn’t look up. He had a headache from the crank he snorted before the robbery and the pain that started out as a caterpillar behind his eyes had morphed into a spastic mouse. He slugged down some stolen Grey Goose to subdue the ache.

To further distract himself Tommy searched the index of brick-sized paperback in his lap. He’d taken the book from a shelf back at the bungalow and with the noonday heat his fingers were sticking to the thin pages.

“Mind if I ask you something, T?”


“Why’d you take that, man? What’s that anyways?”

Tommy held up the book slightly. “It’s a book.”

“Yeah, like, color me retarded.”

“It’s a movie guide.”

“A movie guide? What do you want a movie guide for?”

Tommy bunched his shoulders and let them drop. “I’m curious. I want to know who that guy was back there, The stuff on his walls, those creepy movie posters, the awards and stuff. His DL said Fenton Dunn. He’s a famous screenwriter or something.”

“A famous screenwriter?”


“Bullshit. Screenwriters ain’t famous. Nobody cares about screenwriters. All the movies I’ve ever seen nobody, not one, ever watched one with me and said hey, who wrote that? You know what I think you should do? I think you ought to give your amigo down in Long Beach a call. Call him and see if he’s up for moving some of this swag. The computers and jewelry, the silverware and those guns? Not a bad little morning score, all in all.”

“Don’t think so.”

“Why not? Why do you have to be such a buzzkill, man?”

“I’m not a buzzkill. I’m just realistic. For one thing I know for a fact he won’t take those guns you took. You should’ve left them like I told you. Stolen guns, shit, you might as well throw a gallon of blood into a shark tank. As soon as we can we need to eighty-six those.”

Marvin shook his head. “Don’t think so. Those guns are mine now.”

“Oh? And what’re you going to do with them, genius? Huh? Sell them? Trade them to some white fence asshole for a few bags and said asshole gets popped for a traffic violation? Are you insane? No way. We’re getting rid of those guns. Just like we’re getting rid of this shitty pool van. End of story.”

“I don’t have to listen to you, you know.”

Tommy turned and stared at Marvin. At first Marvin didn’t even see that Tommy had calmly moved the book down between his legs and leveled his stubby .38 across his thighs. Aftre a moment’s silence, Marvin saw the black barrel of the gun.

“Aw, man—what? What?! You gonna shoot me over a couple of twinkie-ass nines and a .22? Me? Here? In traffic?”

A Kenworth tractor trailer on their flank downshifted loud.

“Marvin, listen to me carefully now, okay? Those guns are going missing, understand? We will drive down to the beach and you will give them to me and I will swim out and make them disappear beyond the breakers. Tell me you understand this.”

Marvin’s voice cracked a little as he stifled another protest. Goddman junkie, thought Tommy. He could only imagine how Marvin survived up in Avenal.

“This ain’t right, man. We’re partners here. Man, if I weren’t driving you wouldn’t fucking dream of—.”

“What? I wouldn’t dream of what, Marvin?”

Marvin locked his jaw in a frustrated grimace.

“Take the next left,” Tommy said and picked up the movie guide again.


CARNEVIL (1985) – Independent, Horror– Motor Mama Films, Ltd. Running Time 82 minutes; color. «½ . Director, Hugh Feltzer. Screenwriter, Fenton Dunn. Actors: Jordan Mersh, Sandy Avery, Michelle Wagner, Paul Kolan, Lisa Saint Claire, Campbell Davis. Unsuspecting teenagers looking to rob a traveling carnival’s daily take discover the carnies proclivity for sacrificing patrons to feed the bloodlust of a psychotic clown who holds the carnies in mind control. Frenetically paced and rich in kitschy dialogue, this low-budget feature tanked shortly after opening but gained recent notoriety as the favorite “slasher” film of special effects genius, Angus Huxtable, THE LAST HOURS OF COOPER MINTZ (1992), HEMISWEIRD (1996), CAPTIVA ICE (2000), SEAL TEAM BRAVO (2003), GUN SAFE (2007), etc. See page 465. Features a plot-irrelevant, high-speed chase and horrific crash that contributed to the paralysis of actor Campbell Davis. Davis, a Hollywood go-to paraplegic for many years, later committed suicide after washing out of the long running, cult sci-fi television drama, Extraterrestrial Uncle. Look for a cameo by a gaunt, young Trey Barker (BOOTCAMPER (1995), BOOTCAMPER 2: THE MISSION (2000), NINJA JANITOR (2001) etc. (page 371), as a dopey local convenience store worker. Available from CULT SELECT MEDIA


A few days later after a bunch of calls, Tommy located a place on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica that had a copy of Carnevil available for rent. VHS only. That was okay. The crappy little Sylvania television bolted to the dresser in Tommy’s room had a videocassette slot he never used. Tommy filled out the rental policy agreement with a stolen credit card number and forked over twelve bucks and change for the movie, a jumbo box of Nestlé Sno-Caps, and a Dr. Pepper.

He decided to make an evening of it. On the way back to his room at the boarding house he got off the bus early and splurged on a couple of burritos and a six pack of cold Bud. Back in his room he fluffed his one pillow and moved the bed closer to the television set so he didn’t have to turn up the volume so loud. He liked to be left alone and busting balls over the tiniest house infraction was like blood sport amongst the tenants.

About three quarters through the movie there was a small tap at his door and Tommy’s heart skipped as he hit the mute on the remote. Immediately his mind raced to Marvin. God damn it. God damn Marvin, God damn junkie diming me out, God damn punk. There was a second tap and Tommy looked up at the dropped down ceiling where he stored his cash and his .38. He sagged with relief when he heard the coarse smoker’s hack and wheeze.

“It’s Dart, superstar.”

Dart was a survivor, an old alky crook who worked as a dishwasher and rented a unit on the first floor of boarding house. Tommy crossed the room and unsnapped the lock, letting Dart in and blocking out the familiar queasy feeling that Dart was a cored-out specter of his own doomed future.

Dart shut the door and teetered on unsteady legs. His thick mop of gray was slicked down into a duck tail from a recent shower and Tommy thanked the good Lord for small favors.

Dart eyeballed the remaining two beers in the six pack caddy on the floor.

“Want one?” Tommy asked, flopping back down on the bed.

“How ‘bout two?”

“How ‘bout please, old man?”

“What’re we? Royalty now? Whatcha watchin’ ?”

“An old horror movie.”

“Any pussy in it?”

“Not much. About eight seconds. Jugs mostly, couple of ass shots. It’s winding up now.”

Shaking his head, Dart mumbled something indecipherable and cracked a beer. He drained the entire bottle without pause or shame and dropped the empty bottle and its cap back into the caddy. He cracked the last beer and settled on his heels.

“Big Friday night for a young Turk like you, huh? Jagging off, watching some dumbass video? How’s work these days?”

Tommy shrugged. “Y’know. Oil changes and lubes.”

Dart tugged his earlobe. “Right. Keep lying to me.”

“What’d you just say?”

“Cops came by earlier. Couple of fat detectives. Asked the landlord and me about you. Me, I figured they’d have picked you up by now.”

“Christ! When was this?”

“Two thirty or three. Just before my shift up the street. I told them I hadn’t seen you in days. Landlord gave them the finger and slammed his door.”

Tommy shot to his feet and at once dragged a chair to get up to the drop down ceiling. He pushed away a couple of the perforated tiles, tugging out a cheap Anaheim Ducks gym bag, a swarm of dust draining down on his chest like so much fallen ash. With a leap he was back on the floor again and jacked open a clunky drawer in the dresser. He started shoveling his clothes into the bag and then grabbed his boots tucked under the foot of the bed. Dart kept clear.

“There’s a bus that runs south about a mile from here, know it?”

Tommy nodded and zipped up the gym bag and pulled on his boots, hopping on one foot then the other. He stood straight and surveyed the room to see if he forgot something. Dart settled down on the bed and picked at the remains in the burrito wrappers on the bedside table. Dart frowned.

“It’s a 5:30,” Dart said, “That bus will take you as far as Carlsbad, I think. Maybe San Diego if you’re lucky. My thought is that should pace things out some, but you never know.”

Tommy felt sudden sweat all over. He unzipped the orange and black Ducks bag and snapped out a couple of twenties from a tight roll and left them on the bed for the old man. He checked his bag again for his .38 and zipped it up once more.

Dart’s mouth flapped like a bored garron horse. “Hey. Least you had a view for a while. Me, I wish I could afford a view at my age.”



For Immediate Release June 22, 2010
Jennifer McCabe 865-897-8325

LOS ANGELES – Marvin J. Cooper, 27, of Salitas has been arraigned in connection with the bludgeoning death of Fenton Dunn, Assistant District Attorney Henry Leone informed the public today.

Cooper was arraigned yesterday in Los Angeles Superior Court on charges of murder in the first degree (2 counts) and armed home invasion. He was also arraigned on charges of possession of heroin, an unregistered firearm with ammunition and ordered held without bail. Next court date is August 2 for a pre-trial conference.

According to authorities, at approximately 4:30 p.m. on June 19, 2010, Los Angeles Police responded to a complaint of strange odors at 990 South Marshall Terrace. Upon arrival, authorities discovered a partially decomposed body with apparent blunt trauma to the head in the front hallway. The victim was identified as Fenton Dunn, 56, who lived at the address. Dunn had been dead for several days.

Police assigned to the District Attorney’s Office conducted an immediate investigation into the circumstances of the victim’s death. Based on that investigation, it is alleged that Dunn was repeatedly pistol whipped during an earlier armed home invasion and robbery at the victims’ residence. Forensic evidence obtained by investigators eventually helped identified the defendant, Cooper, as being responsible for beating Fenton Dunn to death. A second suspect in the connection to the investigation, Thomas A. Gaffney, 33….


Tommy took a paisley upholstered deuce next to mustached Mexican in a perfect cornflower blue cowboy hat and played through his options. Everything he had came to six thousand dollars give or take the gun and he knew absolutely no one in San Diego.

He told himself for the thousandth time he needed to get gone for good. Maybe if he could figure out a way to get across the border, swim against the incoming tide of confusion, he could get lost for a month or two and let things settle down. But Tommy knew very little Spanish and ultimately there was inevitable dread that he’d have to claw his way back to the States.

Arizona was out. So was New Mexico. For a minute or two as the morning sun came up and the bus picked up Highway 5 he wondered what the Midwest was like and shivered. Maybe he could get unskilled farm work, be a cowboy like he dreamed when he was a boy. He thought about Vegas. Perhaps he could parlay his stake into something meaningful. Pipe dreams.

A small group of Latinos were throwing down dice in the back of the bus. A ropey pockmarked one in an Angels jersey approached Tommy and whispered something, his mouth a sour array of gold. Tommy ignored him at first but then apologized and bought a fifty dollar mini of weed. The cowboy mustached guy across the aisle shook his head.

Hours later in Carlsbad Tommy got off the bus and checked into a nearby motel. He took his bag with him to a liquor store across the street and purchased some Zig-Zag rolling papers, a shrink-wrapped ham and cheese sandwich, and fifth of Jim Beam from a clerk watching a Kung-Fu movie on TV set perched high on a cooler full of fortified wine. Back in the motel room Tommy rolled and smoked half a shortie to smooth out his edges and poured some of the Beam into a plastic water glass. Next thing he knew it was dark. He didn’t remember drawing the room’s drapes or passing out, but it didn’t matter as he had bigger concerns. Arms were pinning him down against the mattress and he struggled against the crushing weight of his assailants meaty hands. The mustached Mexican in the cornflower blue cowboy hat from the bus was at the foot of his bed and giving quiet orders in Spanish to two of the dice throwers and the kid in Angels jersey who sold Tommy the weed. Tommy thrashed in vain as the men sawed open his throat with a ridiculously huge serrated knife. Tommy didn’t want to die, but after they pulled the knife away and were staring down at him the pain wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be. Kind of hot, kind of cold. But then his heart was stabbed with God’s own thunderbolt and that sort of changed things.

Kieran Shea (at left enjoying some coffee at Bouchercon 2010's "Hades Suite") claims the 1980 version of Friday the 13th is his favorite slasher movie for two reasons; first---the film was shot on location in his home state of New Jersey and second---anytime Kevin Bacon gets killed on screen is fine by him.  Horror movies, however, are a completely separate matter. He's an Evil Dead and John Carpenter kind of guy. Plus anything with Sarah Jessica Parker. Seriously. Look at her. Scares him shitless.

"Tommy Gaffney's Personal Horror Show" © Kieran Shea • Photo features Chaos by Stephen Wozniak • PLOTS with GUNS © Anthony Neil Smith