When I put this collection of 11 stories together about women characters, I knew I was facing a dearth of candidates who might fit happily into an Amish quilting bee or prayer circle of nuns telling their rosary beads. The principle of selection wasn’t just gender but an ability for a woman or girl to hold her own against some pretty cunning or depraved male antagonists. She must prove herself capable in very dire circumstances to qualify.
Regina “Baby” Frontanetta, in the first story, is a Youngstown boxer-turned-gumshoe whose first case is almost her last. She must out-think (even out-fight) males that range from her chauvinist pig boss through a violent lowlife (we Midwesterners do love that word) to a wealthy suburban businessman. Baby possesses more than grit and focus; she has integrity, far more than her trainer-brother Gennaro. The final story, “Huffer Girl,” features a similar type only much younger and less experienced than Baby despite her recent life on the street and an addiction to huffing paint. Opposed by a determined, professional killer, Natalie doesn’t run when all her instincts scream to do just that if she wants to survive the next twenty-four hours.
The longest story in the collection is “Finding Sandy Biggers.” Sandy is the object of a manhunt—not by police but by a betrayed partner, an amiable psychopath who relentlessly pursues her across the country. Unlike the other women, Sandy doesn’t appear to be the focus until the end when the reader discovers what she’s done with the money since betraying her partners in crime. The indifferent narrator could not care less, of course, because his aim is simple: Find her, kill her. The reader is left to contemplate a human being’s capacity to change, even one so desperate as Sandy Biggers. Not many characters—or people—get that chance in fiction or life, and it’s interesting when it happens.
Now we come to what will surely not please the reader who desires her or his female characters to be interchangeable with two-dimensional males—or worse, super-females. Some readers, I realize, want their women characters to be self-reliant but also self-effacing, smart but not too smart, even-tempered but not docile when challenged by men. I hope we can fast-forward to the reality of contemporary life and accept the fact, begrudgingly or not, that women can be as vicious and cunning as men, as greedy and wicked, or as able to outfox a man as another man, especially when that intended target has instincts as honed to survival as a Norwegian rat’s. It was important to me not to provide my dangerous women with soft males, albeit one such male so describes himself after his own undoing in “Diana’s Perfect Patsy.” Men addicted to crime or men whose personalities have been shaped by a predilection for evil should not be taken advantage of too easily. Even “normal” men, not so criminally inclined, knowing a little power or success in the world shouldn’t be easily duped; nonetheless, a couple of trusting husbands and at least one boyfriend of a pair of unscrupulous twins will come to rue that weakness when their hour comes round at last.
Yes, evil. Why not? We don’t have a female equivalent to Hannibal Lecter yet but someday we will and she won’t be a cartoony creature of Disney’s like Cruella de Vil but a terrifying equal to that bizarrely wonderful creation of Thomas Harris. In the meantime, I modestly offer a selection here—not a bevy of beauties, although the lap dancer in “My Gypsy Girl from Bluefield” and the trophy wife in “Her Ticket to Heaven” don’t hesitate to use what nature endowed. These women include ordinary women or girls, wives, girlfriends, students, so ordinary no one would notice them on the street. I acknowledge the inclusion of the stereotypical golddigger as well as a few women depraved enough to take a life (or three) while betraying hubbie or boyfriend on the side. After all, sex isn’t the only game in town. There’s money—and there’s the sheer pleasure of revenge and getting away with it. The arrogant narrator of “Blackmail Is My Business” discovers a criminal con job far superior to his own specialty.
For every cop-show viewer who feels a little sorry for the housewife entrapped by a vice cop acting as hit man when she clumsily plots to kill her husband, I humbly present a counterbalance of women who know how to do it right. These women can lie, cheat, steal, kill, betray and seek revenge for harms inflicted or damages perceived by the males in their lives—or sometimes, not at all, just for the sheer fun of doing it. Men have enjoyed a monopoly too long on violence, and it’s time women come in for their share of the fun—vicariously speaking, of course. After all, every nature program about the Serengeti features lionesses, not lions, on the hunt, providing the food, and protecting the pride from hyenas or other male lions while the alpha male sleeps soundly beneath a bush and wakes up for the food or fornication provided by the females. My caveat to the reader who yet insists on the traditional stereotypes and might be shocked when good girls commit murder, I refer them to the warning embedded in the subtitle: Stories of Crime, Mystery, and Mayhem.
Under the names Terry White, Robert White, and Robb T. White, Robert White has published dozens of crime, noir, and hardboiled short stories, and three hardboiled private-eye novels. A lifelong reader of crime fiction, he published his first story in Gary Lovisi's Hardboiled magazine. Since then, he has published several dozen crime stories, and a collection of mainstream stories in 2013. An ebook crime novel, "Special Collections," won the New Rivers Electronic Book Competition in 2014.
White was born, raised, and continues to live in Ashtabula, Ohio.
More about Robb at:
Weaker sex? Not hardly!
The female is definitely deadlier than the mail. Short stories about ladies who can hold their own.
Be careful what you wish for, Regina.
Her mother’s words. Sometimes she could hear her mother’s voice in the house.
The Vindicator piece on Bodycomb’s death was two paragraphs.
He was found floating in Lake Milton, a popular summer resort area for fisherman seventeen miles east of Austintown just off the Interstate 80 overpass. Shot by a small-caliber weapon in the back of the head. The important information was in the second paragraph: Bodycomb, it noted, was running a dog-fighting network among three states: Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia for a loose-knit West Virginia crime family connected to the Pittsburgh LaRizzo family.
Damn you, Leo.
She was blowing through caution lights, ignoring the honking of cars, as she beelined for the office on Market.
Like a script from a cheap thriller, he was there, wearing the same clothes and unshaven, big jowls dark with stubble, pong of body odor in the overheated single room.
“You promised me full disclosure, total honesty,” she said.
She threw the paper across his desk.
“Here it is in case you missed it.”
Be calm, Regina, she told herself. She wasn’t going to lose her temper and a new job in that order.
“I did and I meant it, Baby,” Leo said.
He glanced at the paper sideways and pushed it back to her. He’d obviously read it.
“You asked me—no, you demanded I call somebody. I did,” he said.
He disgusted her with those wagging jowls and big stomach. She noticed his belt was undone and a patch of curly belly hair exposed.
Probably jerking off in here, the freak.
“I suppose you’ll tell me when the mood strikes.”
“I meant the second case—your next case,” Leo said. “Full disclosure, just like you want.”
Her indignation petered out at the prospect. “So tell me about it,” she said.
Bodycomb was moving in on Donnie Bracca’s territory with his dog-fighting, Leo said.
“He can kill all the dogs he wants in West Virginia,” Leo said. “But Donnie B. controls gambling around here.”
“Donnie Bracca was your real client all the time,” Baby said.
“It’s like this, kid. They don’t blow each other up in cars no more. Gentlemen’s agreements, all nice and polite. But rules have to be followed. Bodycomb went rogue.”
She bit back a retort: You mean, like your own father?
Leo went on, waxing large, a hopeless Mafioso lover, although a real mafia man, a made man, could see Leo couldn’t be trusted. But even the Aryan Brotherhood used outside associates to get things done. Leo could be useful if you couldn’t buy a cop or scare off an investigative reporter snooping in shady politics or business deals.
She didn’t feel bad about Bodycomb’s death. After all, she'd wanted to kill the guy herself.
“Damn it, Leo,” she said. “You should have told me this in the beginning.”Baby moved in the direction Bodycomb’s vehicle had taken. After A couple of hundred yards through meadow grass up to her knees, she stopped and listened. Moving on, she dodged stunted bushes that popped up out of nowhere to snag her clothing. The foliage grew less dense. She found the parallel ruts of the Road Runner’s tracks and kept moving, straining her eyes to see light ahead. If Bodycomb was hiding assets from his soon-to-be ex-wife, he was taking a lot of trouble over it.
After five minutes of faster walking in the grooves, she heard barking coming from the right. She saw the first glimmer of light in the distance. The terrain was sparse but small slopes refracted the light source so it appeared and disappeared with every rise of the ground. A single dog barking became two, then three and finally a pack. Beneath their howls, men’s voices.
When she got close enough to make out words, she lay flat on her belly and put the binoculars on a cluster of men beside a ramshackle barn surrounded by cages of dogs in the beds of trucks beside a squared string of light bulbs a dozen feet from the ground. It looked like a crude boxing ring for backyard brawlers.
Its purpose became clear in the next few minutes. It was a dog-fighting pit.
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