Elske McCain sits at her tenth slot machine of the day trying to kill the baby inside her with complimentary rum and Cokes. There are no clocks or windows that can give her an idea of what time it is, but she thinks it's about time for The Prick to be coming in to work.

She'd started at the casino bar, but it didn’t take long for the bartender to start giving her a look that said she needed to go. It probably didn't help she had an ashtray in front of her full of matches she lit and watched burn to the tip. What could she do, fire helped relax her. On her way out, she passes the bar. The ashtray and the bartender with the evil eye are still there.

Such a small place, yet so many pricks.

It could be Christmas or it could be July, Detroit weather is a mysterious lover. The temperature is at a generic 50 degrees and the sky a blah shade of gray. But she doesn't need a coat and that's really all she can ask for. Once she's out in the expanse of the parking garage, Elske realizes she has no idea where she parked. So she starts at the bottom and starts walking up.

Halfway up the ten floors she still has no idea how everything happened. Sure, the mechanics of it all make sense to her, the teachers in health class made sure of that in complete and nasty detail, but the karmic implications of it still elude her. Tommy's impotent and she went out with him on a pity date. And then another and that of course led to pity sex, the stock in trade of failed strippers everywhere.

At work she gets paid to take off her clothes, but when she goes out with Tommy she has to pick up the tab for dinner to get him to screw her, but do it in such a way as to keep Tommy's masculinity in tack so he's ripe for the dirty stuff afterward. By the time she knew Tommy was impotent, the challenge was on. First to get him aroused, and then to keep him that way. Her mission was accomplished a month ago and she got five minutes of chaffing and a crotch full of cream for her troubles. She took the pregnancy test last night only to find out Tommy's gift was the sort that kept on giving.


The thing with fire began innocently enough with fireflies. Elske was six and her dad spent one glorious summer day with her chasing fireflies. A few years later he tried to recreate the magic. Drunk from a full night of drinking during her birthday party and shot down by all of her friends' moms, he came into her room and played with her and touched her and gently put a small, lit, birthday candle inside her so she could be a fun firefly.


Maybe she didn't even park in this ramp. She remembers working a few hours on the day shift before kicking her manager in the junk when he tried to stop her from clocking a guy showing pictures of his new baby to one of the other strippers. Then she shoplifted the pee stick from a shifty liquor store around the corner and ended up in the casino trying to take matters into her own hands. The next car around the bend is a security cruiser. Maybe it's Tommy so she starts waving and the car slows up beside her. It's not Tommy, but she gets in anyway. Fat Tyrone is one of the older security guards and she knows he's too old and lazy to try anything.

"Did he skip out on work today," she says.

Fat Tyrone doesn't say anything, just looks her up and down, focusing on her belly.

"Fuck," she says. "He told you."

After the stick turned pink that morning, Elske called Tommy and told him. She expected an angry reaction, something maybe to fuel her own bitterness. Instead he suggested they name it Emmett after his Uncle.

"Maybe something slipped out at roll call," Tyrone says. "You want a baby?"

"I want a gun, a little gun I can fit under my skirt to shoot the—"

"Don’t need to be hearing about any of that. And I shouldn’t be driving 'round too long with Tommy's girl in my car."

"Where's he working today?"


Tyrone gets on his radio and someone tells him where Tommy is and how to get there.

"Bitch act like we patrol a damn city," he says. "Like I don’t know how to get to the back of the building. Closer than the back of my ass."

Tommy is sitting on the hood of his car holding a gift bag awkwardly crammed with tissue paper when they pull up. If there is anyone who can ever look impotent, it's Tommy. Everything about his six foot tall body is limp and saggy. Elske takes the bag when he offers it but doesn't open it.

"Let's talk in the car," she says.

"It's for the baby. The bag, I mean."

Elske ignores him and gets into the car. She drops into the seat and hops right back up when she's jabbed in the back by something sharp.

"Watch it," Tommy says. "That was almost the best thing ever in my life before you called about the baby."

Even in the black nylon bag, Elske recognizes what's on the seat.

"You bought a gun?"


There was this therapist she went to see during her first year at community college. She had just started stripping but the boss was giving her money for school to try and look good in a custody battle. After she wrote a paper in English class about the birthday candle incident and how soft and loving she remembered it being, her teacher suggested she see someone or fail the class for lying.

She was attracted to her therapist and started sleeping with him after the first session. They had fun in bed but he was obsessive about the candle incident. He couldn't understand why she liked it so much. So they tried it together, with a bigger candle. It was soft and loving at first, but then he wanted to experiment with thicker candles, and hotter wax.


"It's not a bullet gun for shooting or anything," Tommy says. "It's a flare gun."

She picks up the bag and sits down again. Tommy gets in the car and drives back toward the parking garage.

"I got it in honor of you," he says.

"You got it because you can’t shoot off your own gun, if you know what I mean."

"Look at it. It's a vintage German double-barreled flare gun."

"You see me and think of an old flare gun?"

"Double barreled, like your tits," Tommy says. "Your stage name is Flare. How can it not be about you?"

She thinks about the ashtray full of matches in the bar. And she thinks about birthday candles and fireflies.

"I'm not like a pyromaniac or anything," she says. "Flames just calm me."

Inside the bag is a white baby jumper with the Red Wings logo on it.

"It's white for a boy or a girl," Tommy says. "Though, I mean a boy would probably like hockey more, even though I know we've been to some games before and you seemed to enjoy yourself."

"We can't have a baby."

"I know it'll be hard, but I talked to Mack about getting some overtime until something higher paying comes along. I'd probably have to go into the armed division for that and buy my own gun. Probably shouldn't have bought the flare gun now that I think about it."

"Is it loaded?"

"I don’t really have any sort of need for a flare gun on the day-to-day patrols, even though some of the other cars have the regular flare guns just in case."

"What good is an unloaded flare gun?"

"There are some cartridges in the bag that came with it. I don’t really plan on…wait a second. Why?"

Elske has the bag open and the gun out. Tommy slows the car down.

"Matches are one thing," he says. "But I don’t think—"

"I'm not going to load it. I just want to make sure it doesn’t go off while I go down on you."

Tommy slams on the brakes and almost runs into a pole.

"I've been drinking all day and even though the shit was watered down, you know the dirty things rum and cokes do to me."

He makes a lame attempt at protest, but lets her move her hands all over him and inside his pants. She wants to rip his pants off and go hardcore, but that would scare him and probably send his dick up inside himself. So she goes slowly. It works on him and damned if it doesn't get Elske all randy. By the time Tommy is hard enough for fun, Elske is beyond blowjobs and needs a good old-fashioned car fucking. Tommy is barely inside her a full minute before he goes limp.

"You were talking about blowjobs, not sex," he says. "I'm not ready for sex."

She grabs his dick and tugs at it like a rubber chicken.

"I'm ready for sex. You did it once, you'll do it again."

Tommy pushes her off and tries to pull up his pants.

"This is too obvious. People will see."

"Are you a faggot or just plain retarded?"

"If this is about the baby—"

"This is about the horny woman you knocked up and now don’t seem to be able to fuck. I need it right now and if you're not going to do it…"

She lets her actions finish the sentence by picking up the flare gun and running her tongue along the edges.

"Don’t be disgusting," Tommy says.

It doesn't take much for the gun to slide in. The double barrel is wider than anything she's taken in a long time, but she's wet and eases it in. Tommy is still reaching to pull it away when someone bangs on the car. The bartender is outside Elske's door.

"Shit, they need me," Tommy says. "Get out."

"I'm taking the gun with me."

Tommy doesn't argue but the bartender puts a hand on Elske's chest to stop her from leaving.

"You're supposed to be on the floor," he says. "Some guy is breaking shit at my bar."

Elske pushes him away and goes back into the casino. The gun is easy to load. It's a 12 gauge just like the shotguns her dad used when they went skeet shooting but all she can think about is the spot that gun hits when it's inside her. She needs to shoot something and the bar is the best place to start. Without knowing where the gas lines are, a wall full of alcohol is the next best thing for a big explosion.

The fat kid watching over the bar doesn't even put up a fight when Elske levels the gun at the wall. She's about to pull the trigger but pauses, wanting to make the biggest impact possible. With one hand gripping the gun, she uses the other to smash open the bottles and spread the liquor all over the bar. That clears out any remaining stragglers standing nearby but she can see Tommy and the bartender coming her way.

She's desperate to have the flare gun inside her again, the slight curves of the sighting guide pressing against her g-spot, but she needs to use it for something else first. With just a few feet separating her and Tommy, Elske aims at the middle of the bar and pulls the trigger. It's not as big of an explosion as she hopes for, but everything ignites and goes up in flames. Tommy tries to grab her but she holds him off with the second loaded barrel.

"This can go in your head or up your ass," she says. "Leave me alone."

"It's my baby too."

"Then we'll burn in bad parent hell together."

She tugs the skirt up over her hips and heads for the nearest craps table. The crowd around the craps table disappears when they see her coming.


The last time she was with the therapist, he asked her if she loved her dad. She didn't think it would be that hard of a question to answer. The therapist invited her to role play with a foam bat and to hit him while she exorcized her personal demons on him. She lit the bat on fire with a scented candle from the therapist's bookshelf and scarred his face. Her dad showed his love in his own unique way. It wasn't the times he was rough with her Elske regretted, it was the times he didn't touch her at all that hurt.


 She vaults onto the table and is on her back in no time, ramming the gun into her hot spot. People are watching, but no one comes near her. The gun doesn't feel as good this time. There's too much pressure. Her buzz is wearing off.

She adjusts her grip on the gun and arches her back to give herself more room for penetration. That works and she gets a rhythm going.

Past the point of no return, she can feel the fire building inside her. When the orgasm crashes over her, everything in her body tenses for the rush.

Including the finger she has on the trigger.

Bryon Quertermous's first play was a shameless rip-off of The Maltese Falcon and was produced when he was 19. His short stories have
appeared in several print and online magazines and are forthcoming in the anthologies Thuglit Presents Hardcore Hardboiled (Kensington
Books, Spring 2008) and The Prisoner of Memory and 25 of the Years Finest Crime and Mystery Stories (Pegasus Books, May 2008). He hates birthday candles.