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Authors: Adam Pepper

Skin Games

Skin Games

by Adam Pepper

First Digital Edition

Copyright © Adam Pepper, 2011

All Rights Reserved

Cover Art J. Simmons

eBook Creation by Book Looks Design

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without the permission of the author. All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

...a tour of the seedier side of life, and your tour guide is a man who basks in the grimy filth of the gutter…stellar prose, vivid characters.
-Dreadful Tales

Adam Pepper writes with zeal, verve, and a steak knife to the throat.
-Scott Nicholson, Author of
Liquid Fear




Symphony of Blood hits like a sledgehammer. Fast and furious. I loved this book.
-JA Konrath, author of
Whiskey Sour

A fast, fun and adrenaline filled read.


…a remarkable achievement in short fiction and haunts long after the last word.
-Dark Scribe Magazine


Praise for SUPER FETUS

In your face, allegorical social commentary.
-Paul Goat Allen,


Praise for MEMORIA

It’s always refreshing when a first novel dares to break new ground.



Learn more about the author and subscribe to his e-newsletter at

Chapter One


She’s crouched in the corner, her heart racing.  A small hint of light slips in through the crack. 

Why?  Why is Baba so stubborn? 

Heavy pounding.  Arms banging the glass door.  She squirms. 

“Just open up, old man.  We’re coming in, one way or the other, so just make it easy on yourself and open up.”

There isn’t any doubt: they mean what they say.

“Go away,” Baba yells, then to Taki he says, “I don’t have to take this from these hoodlums.”

“Baba, please,” she yells.  She can’t hold back any longer.

“Maria!  Be quiet,” Baba shouts.

She hears footsteps, then sees Taki’s legs in front of her.  “Please.  Quiet down,” he says softly.

“I can’t quiet down.”  She inches up.

Taki pushes the doors back, stuffing her into the corner behind the pipes.  “Please, Maria!  Be still.”  She hears Taki walk towards the front.

“Careful, Taki,” she calls, cracking the doors open an inch again.  Through the opening in the cabinet beneath the bar, Maria can see out to the front of the restaurant.  Standing tall and proud, Baba walks to the door and faces the men through the glass, eye to eye, nose to nose.  Taki stands behind him.

“Go.  Away.”  Baba says each word slowly.  “I no pay you.”  He waggles his pointer finger.

“I’m only gonna ask one more time, old man,” one of the thugs says.  She can only see his bottom half.  He wears nice dress slacks.

“Yeah,” the other thug says.  His pants are worn and dirty.  “Open the door already.”

It was only two weeks ago when the two men first showed up at the restaurant.  Maria was waiting tables and they walked in and sat down at a high-top table to the side of the bar.

“What can I get you?” she walked over quickly and asked.

“Budweiser,” said the dirty one.  He was unshaven, and Maria could smell the soot on his pants and the grime under his arms.

The handsome one wore dress slacks that day, too, along with a button-up shirt that exposed a hint of chest hair and a gold horn that hung from a thin chain.  “Seven and Seven, and send over the owner.  We have some business to discuss.”

“Very good,” she said and ran into the kitchen.  “Baba.  There are two men outside.  They want to talk with you.”

“Who?” Baba asked.  He peeked through the slit window in the swinging kitchen door, out into the bar.

“Those two men.”

“What do they want?”

“I don’t know, Baba.  But they scare me.”

“Did they order food?”

“Drinks.  Just drinks.”

“Well.  Get them their drinks.”

“Yes, Baba.”

Maria walked to the bar and got the men their drinks, then quickly returned to them.  “Budweiser,” she said as she tossed down a cocktail napkin and gently put the beer down on top of it.  “And Seven and Seven.”

The handsome one took a sip of his drink then asked, “Where’s the owner?”

“He’s very busy.”

“We can wait,” the smelly one said, then loudly gulped his beer.

“I’ll see if I can get him.”

“You do that, tootsie.”

Maria walked quickly back to the kitchen.  She didn’t mean to but somehow looked back at the men.  The smelly one was guzzling his beer, a line of froth running down the side of his cheek.  The handsome one smiled at her, then winked.

She couldn’t decide which man frightened her more.  The ugly one was ugly both inside and out, but at least it was clear the kind of man he was.  The handsome one had a face that was dark and smooth like a butterscotch candy, but when he licked his lips she could feel him sizing her up in a way that made her tremble with cheapness.

“Baba.  Those men are insisting they talk with you.”

“I am busy.  Don’t they know this?”


“Fine!  I go.”

He quickly thrust aside the swinging doors.  Baba’s short legs clomped against the polished floor.  He walked right up to their table and barked loudly, “What you want?”

“Easy, old man,” said the pretty one.  “I’m Vinny Macho.  This is Scrubby Mike.  You may have heard of us.”

“So what if I have?  I am busy.  Look around.”  Baba gestured to the tables, full with diners.  “I have food to prepare.  A restaurant to run.  Why is it you bother me?”

“Listen, we just want to make a business proposal.”

“Business fine.”  Baba turned and glared at her.

Maria walked behind the bar and pretended to wash a glass.

Baba lowered his voice, but still waved his hands wildly and his body shook as he spoke with the men.  Baba continued to talk as the pretty one shook his head and smirked while the ugly one snarled, then laughed.  Even as they laughed, the pretty one now patting the ugly one on the back, it was clear they weren’t happy.  The ugly one stood up, but the pretty one grabbed his arm and pulled him until he sat back down.  The ugly one turned and waved at her, motioning her back to him.

Maria walked towards them.  Baba didn’t turn his head but he stopped talking when she approached.  “Yes?” she asked.

“Get us another round,” the ugly one said.

The pretty one’s eyes were glued on Baba.  Baba’s eyes were locked right back.  Neither man budging.

“I’ll get your drinks,” Maria said as she was the first to blink.

“No,” the pretty one said.  “We’re going.”

The two got up and walked out.  They returned a few days later, and then a few days after that.  Each time they came in smiling, drank their Budweiser and Seven and Seven, then exchanged words with Baba and left angry.

But today was different.  Today they came after closing, and there was no pretence of friendly business talk.  And now they pound at the door.

 “Open up, old man!”

 She hears a loud sound: the ugly one is kicking the door.  She can see his soiled work boots as they rattle the glass.

 “Baba!” she yells.

 “Hush, Maria,” Baba yells back.  Then through the door he shouts, “You leave.  You leave now!”

 The ugly one kicks the door again as the pretty one shouts, “Last chance.”

 “You leave now.”

 “Oh, Baba.”

 “Shh.”  This time it’s Taki.  He whispers from nearby, “Be quiet.”

 All is quiet.  Have they left?  Maria tilts her head to the side, straining to see what’s going on.  She can see Taki’s brown shoes, but Baba is out of sight.  Is he still standing guard at the front of the restaurant?  She thinks he’s right up on the glass but Taki’s legs block her view.

 “Baba?” she calls out.

 “Shh,” Taki says again.


 Something smacks the glass of the front door.  It’s too loud to be a boot.  She opens the cabinet further and sees it hit again.  Then she hears a horrible noise.

“Ah!”  Maria can’t help but scream at the clamor from glass shattering and the door breaking, then giving way.

 Debris flies every which way as a large metal box bounces along the floor, coming to rest out of her line of vision.  It takes a second to figure out they’ve used a newspaper vending machine like a battering ram and busted their way inside. 

 An odor hits her nose, attacking her stomach and causing her eyes to fill with water.  She no longer sees Taki’s legs.  He’s run off somewhere.  She hears moaning.

 “Baba?” she calls out.  She is about to get out from the cabinet but fear takes over.  She sees the men coming in through the hole in the door.  They brush aside glass, and one of them throws something towards the back of the restaurant.

 Maria smells smoke.  She hears Baba shout.  He’s in pain.  She wants to run to him.  He needs her help.

 But she is too scared.  She is stiff with fear.

 Maria hears more groans from Baba.  She hears scuffling as Taki cries out.  He’s trying to say something but his words aren’t quite coherent.  He’s hurt too; she’s sure of it.

 “Where’s the girl?” she hears one ask.  It’s the pretty one.  His smooth delivery is unmistakable.

 “I don’t know.  Fuck her.”

 “No!  Fuck you, Scrubby.  Find the bitch.  Now!”

 She sees the ugly one’s legs as he quickly bolts past.  He runs into the kitchen.  She hears pots clank and pans smash.

 Then, he yells, “She’s not back here.”

 “Make sure,” the pretty one calls back.

 The odor of smoke is getting stronger.  There is a chemical smell, too: gasoline.  Things start to crackle.

 Maria doesn’t dare move.  Instead, she cradles herself and slides further into the corner of the cabinet.

 She hears Baba moan.  Then Taki speaks.

 “Let me up.”  His voice is straining as if he can’t find oxygen.  The pretty one is doing something to him but she can’t tell exactly what.

“Shut up,” the pretty one says.

“Let me up,” says Taki, but he’s drifting.  All energy is gone from his voice.

 “I’m telling you, she isn’t back here,” the ugly one says.  He’s now standing right in front of the cabinet.

 “She must be.”

 “She’s not.”

 “Come on.”

 The pretty one walks towards her, passing by the cabinet and walking into the kitchen.  The ugly one turns and stops.

 Is he looking at the cabinet?  Maria holds her breath.  She feels her stomach twist and a lump in her throat grows to the size of a boulder.

 “Let’s go!” the pretty one orders.  And the ugly one turns and follows.  She hears the kitchen door swing closed.

 Maria inches up to the edge of the cabinet.  She pushes it open, then slides out.  She stands up, looks at the kitchen door, then ducks.  Her head down, Maria darts underneath the window to the kitchen then slides around the bar.

 She wants to scream in horror, but then catches herself.  The heavy newspaper vending machine lies on top of Taki.  Taki isn’t moving.

 “Oh, Taki.  Are you okay?”

 She leans over and hears faint breathing.

 “Are you okay?”

Taki moans.  His eyes flutter.  A small line of bloody drool slides out the side of his mouth.

She pushes the newspaper vending machine, trying to lift it off of him.  She can’t quite lift it, so she maneuvers it sideways, sliding it off his belly and pushing it to the floor.

 Maria looks towards the far corner of the restaurant.  Smoke and flames burn, beginning to spread up the walls and across the tables.  Baba is lying in the middle of the dining area.  She runs to him.  His face is bloody; he’s covered with glass fragments from head to toe.  He isn’t moving, isn’t moaning, isn’t breathing.

 “Baba,” she says in a soft whimper.

 She hears the men walking out of the kitchen just seconds before they see her.

 “There she is.  Get that bitch!”

 Maria runs towards the back of the restaurant, right into the flames.  The long alleyway that leads to the restrooms is riddled with smoke.  She coughs and gags and her eyes burn, but there is no other way to escape.

 She runs into the men’s room and jumps up on the toilet, first stepping on the seat, then the back of toilet.  She tries to open the small window, but it is locked, as well as painted shut with white paint.

 The men are in the corridor.  She hears them coughing as they approach.

 “Where’d she go?” the ugly one yells.  They can’t find their way through the smoke.

 Maria removes her black shawl, the one she knitted herself as just a little girl.  She wraps it around her arm, then, elbow first, she smashes the window.

 “Here!  She’s here,” the pretty one yells as he pushes through the door and dashes towards her.

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