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CHAPTER 1 (Excerpt 1)

South Texas Tangle is a tribute to the work of Elmore Leonard and Donald Westlake, and follows Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing.”

Jimmy Ireno was strung out on speed, bad freeway coffee and fear. But the big problem was the state trooper with the absurd wide brimmed hat, shovel-blade chin and linebacker shoulders waiting at his window.

“Driver’s license and registration please, sir.”

Saying it nice and polite.

But those were the last words Jimmy wanted to hear anywhere, let alone the middle of flatlands nowhere, hundred miles south of San Antonio. Thing was, he didn’t have a valid driver’s license. Revoked last year for a couple of chicken-shit DWIs coming home from the clubs. Cops on that shift can be real assholes. And registration? Nothing like that in here. They run the VIN they’ll find the listed owner to be some long-dead Minnesotan or an incarcerated miscreant, maybe someone only exists on paper. That’s the system.

“Are you aware that your vehicle has no license plates, sir? Seems that the mounting hardware was, ah, substandard.”

Jesus, no plates?

And why was the cop dangling a gnarled-up garbage bag tie in Jimmy’s face? Did somebody back in Minnesota not know that screws work a lot better? Jimmy didn’t have a clue. And was also totally clueless about a lot of other things—like what the hell he was going to do now.

Looking up at the cop, Jimmy said, “What? No plates? Seriously? That can’t be right. They were on there when I left Minneapolis.” And coming up with the best lie he could think of on such short notice: “Someone must’ve taken ’em. Probably at the campground last night in Oklahoma. Some Mexicans were checking out the van, they must’ve—

“Your driver’s license, sir.”

Politeness fading.

But Jimmy’s really huge problem was the million dollars in small bills hidden behind the cheesy Chevy conversion’s simulated wood paneling. Jimmy and the cash were on the way to McAllen, Texas, just a short jaunt over the Rio Bravo from Reynosa, Mexico, a place where—Sam Arndt had told him—they might as well put up a sign: Cash Wash—Cheap. Come one come all to Javier’s Pawn Shop. Bills Cleaned Daily. We Don’t Ask No Stinking Questions.

Up ahead now in the near dark, Jimmy could see a green road sign in the splayed beams of the van’s headlights, fluorescent white letters spelling out Gamble Gulch Rd.

Gamble Gulch?

This was clearly an omen. And Jimmy believed in omens. It was all the impetus he needed. Reaching down like he was going for his wallet, Jimmy jerked the door handle, put his shoulder to the door and drove it at the cop’s chest. But the trooper, evidently no rookie, was standing far enough back that the door missed him by three inches. Despite his miscalculation, Jimmy continued his burst from the truck, raced by the surprised trooper, dove down the bank and rolled to a stop in the high weeds directly below the Gamble Gulch sign.

Jimmy Ireno could always run. And the trooper had a decent-sized gut hanging over his belt, making it unlikely he could catch up to Jimmy, now slogging toward a grove of trees, the image of a speeding bullet coming at his back filling his troubled mind. Once inside the sheltering foliage, Jimmy listened for the clomping of the cop’s long boots or the wailing of sirens.

Neither one came.

Whattaya know.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 4, Excerpt 12

Just north of Corpus Cyn pulled to the shoulder to make a call, believing it was unsafe to talk and drive at the same time. Should she call Jean and seek sanctuary? Better than Daddy, but it was always the same at Jeannie’s house: First came the wine or beer, followed by smiling sympathy and understanding, and then eventually the unasked for advice and the cracks about naivety and being a pushover. So damn it; that was no good, either.

Cyn put the phone down on the seat and chewed at her lower lip. She was feeling a curious mix of apprehension and exhilaration. Wasn’t the Fourth of July yet, just early April, but today was definitely Independence Day. Taking a deep breath and letting her senses take over, something she’d learned in yoga class, Cyn felt the rush of traffic going by and the heat coming through the windows of the Toyota. Gazing out the windshield, she saw the big Northgate Mall sign up ahead towering above everything else.

Maybe something is guiding me, she thought. But there was still an empty space where her plans should be. She’d just have to keep the faith and take advice from that Kacey Musgraves’ song, the nice Texas girl singing about following her arrow wherever it points. But to follow arrows you need a little cash and Cyn only had fifty dollars in her purse—two twenties and two fives—and three credit cards she didn’t want to use because she knew from the crime shows that law enforcement could trace the receipts and see where you’ve been. The joint checking account still had the household money in it but she was hesitant to use that for the same reason—Trooper Dan might come looking.

Ten minutes later Cyn was drifting through the air-conditioned comfort thinking everyone in the mall looked strange today. She found an ATM and slid her card in the slot. A cash advance would keep her free from them all, Dan and Jean and Dad and Mom. And for now that’s what she wanted.

Needed.

Watching those crime shows with Dan, sometimes Cyn would imagine herself a character in the drama. What would she do; how would she feel? And now here she was, back in the car, cash advance safely tucked away in her purse and feeling strung out. Not exactly sure what strung out meant, thought it had something to do with drug addiction, and that certainly wasn’t the case with her, but still she felt stretched out and worn thin and on edge and directionless. “Strung out” seemed to capture the essence of her being at the moment.

Cruising aimlessly now, she was fighting off a little envy. Hard not to envy the people living in these beautiful homes surrounded by lush foliage. They had beach and water access, luxury cars in the driveway—what’s not to like?

Cyn didn’t like feeling envy, one of the seven deadly sins, and told herself it was only the surface of things she was seeing. One shouldn’t be fooled by superficial illusions because what went on behind closed doors could paint a totally different picture. And, in Cyn’s experience, often did.

She smiled recalling her first ride through Corpus Christi, nearly twenty years ago, the family relocating from Minneapolis for her father’s new job with the tire company. How the feelings of awe and envy started for her then, sun, water, sand and palm trees offering up a rich and colorful contrast to the bleak snow-covered plains of her former home in Minnesota. And no, Cyn hadn’t made it to her own dream house yet, but that kind of thing mattered very little to her. Six years ago, being Dan Henning’s wife and the mother of his child was all she wanted, having chosen Dan over her other suitor at the time, Roy Owen. Bunky, they called him. Biggest car dealer in Corpus now (Owen Toyota, Bunky’s BMW, Roy’s Royal Rides), and he owned one of the biggest, gaudiest homes in town.

Well, Cynthia had made her choice and vowed to make it work and tried her darndest for six years and now where was she? She would gladly do without the waterfront mansion if Dan still possessed what he had back then, although, to tell the truth, she could no longer identify exactly what that was. Maybe it was a lack of something? Seemed like Dan was carrying extra baggage lately. Yes, that could be it.

Possibly things had started eroding after Danny was born. And yes, Cyn had read the magazine articles about first-time mothers losing their sexual desire, young women refocusing their lives around their child at the expense of matrimonial intimacy, but she didn’t think that was her situation. What it was, Dan started coming home with the scent of other women on him. Sometimes faint, sometimes stronger. And then the stuff really hit the fan with the incident with the prostitute, the cell phone picture and Dan’s suspension, the incident putting a spotlight on the problem and making it hard to deny—although Cyn had tried really hard.

God.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 4, Excerpt 11

On her way to Corpus, traveling along I-37 in her ’96 Toyota Camry—same model that made the headlines about accelerators sticking a few years ago but she never had any problems with it—Cynthia was picturing her parents in their elegant home. Daddy moving with his stiff-backed posture and mother trailing behind him like a zombie, the poor woman seemingly reduced to only neediness now, independent thought having left her some time ago.

The image wasn’t very appealing.

No, she wouldn’t go to her parent’s house; she was thirty years old for God sakes. She needed to find someplace Dan wouldn’t think of right away. But it was kind of weird, because as much as she wanted to feel angry, Cyn couldn’t help but remember better times, seeing her and Dan together on the couch watching television cop shows like Justified and Graceland, Dan frequently hooting he’d like the freedom to shoot miscreants like that Raylan Givens on Justified. And Cyn saying Timothy Olyphant who played Raylan was sure a cutie, maybe a hottie, jerking Dan’s chain a little.

But those kinds of moments didn’t come around much anymore and you had to make the best of things. And sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places. It was because of those cop shows that Cyn got the idea to purchase a prepaid cell phone at Walmart, (what they called a “burner” on TV). Now with the burner she could call people without fear of Dan getting to the phone company records. You had a possessive cop for a husband; you had to take steps. She’d gone into the Walmart with the idea of using an alias for the purchase—April Flowers—and was a little disappointed when the pimple-faced kid at the counter didn’t even ask for a name, taking her money and ringing it up without so much as a second look.

So, with her new phone, she could avoid being traced. But now the question was what untraceable act, exactly, should she commit, since she had the opportunity? Her sister kept insisting she get down to Padre Island and hit the beaches, Jeannie telling her, Pick up a bikini and a thermos of mai tais and see what comes along, implying, it seemed, strange men. But Cyn suspected Jean’s advice was the booze talking, her older sister possibly an alcoholic—a functioning one, yes—but frequently displaying some of the signs discussed at Al Anon meetings, Cyn having attended a few last year in an unsuccessful attempt at understanding her husband’s daily boozing.

They told you at Al Anon—kind of a class in Alcoholism 101—that boozers often tried to control those around them with shame and guilt and subtle attacks on self-esteem. Recalling past encounters, Cyn thought it sort of sounded like Jeannie. Like the time Jean called her Cynthia Moonbeam because she’d taken a Transcendental Meditation class, although she quit after only three sessions because Dan said they couldn’t afford it. Or that time Jean criticized her for not having a full-time job like “normal women.” And she’d sure never forget the time she saw a photo of Jennifer Aniston in a magazine and made the mistake of saying she thought Jennifer’s hair and hers looked alike, Jean then telling anyone who would listen that Cyn believed she was just like Jennifer Aniston. God, the way Jean could twist things. And the way everyone in the family seemed to accept what she said as gospel—it was enough to make you want to scream. Dan could play the same game, proving it by claiming he needed booze for job stress and telling Cyn, “Men are under real stress; not the neurotic crap housewives have in their heads.”

But, well, aren’t all men controlling like that? Make a case for her father too, truth be told, and he hadn’t had a drink in years. Still dishing out the barbs though. Al Anon also had a name for that: a dry drunk. Strange concept but it made some sense when you thought about it.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 10

Sam pushed redial and got a busy signal, his gut churning like a washing machine on spin cycle. He had no time to waste tracking down the pill bitch so he went in the bathroom and checked his supply, found five of the pills left. Definitely not enough to get through the entire ordeal. He dry swallowed one to push back the fear of running out and went to his computer, booted up and clicked onto Southwest Airlines.

Ah, Southwest, the Greyhound Bus of the airways, one more indignity to suffer through. Fucking Jimmy—why had he trusted the kid? But Jimmy had been straight with him in the past, part of Jimmy’s nature it seemed, and if what he’d said about the license plates was indeed true, then it really wasn’t Jimmy’s fault. Not Sam’s fault, either. And hard to believe that Bob Ryan messed it up, but what else was there? So it was a good thing that Jimmy escaped. Who knows what secrets he might’ve revealed if the jackbooted Texas fascists had got hold of him, hooking electric cables to his testicles and such.

Sam clicked through, found a seat available on a flight to San Antonio with connections to Corpus Christi, and, although he hated to use a credit card online, finalized the transaction with his Visa card.

Sam shut down the computer, went to his bedroom and started filling a bag, stuffing in clothes without much thought because his thoughts were like young flies scattering—hard to hang on to. Soon the pill would take over and everything would slow down and the thoughts would be lying there stuck in the mud and he could pluck them out at his leisure, leisure being perhaps the wrong word. If he hurried, he could still get a cab and make it to the airport in time for boarding. He glanced at the Browning 9mm in his sock drawer, wishing he could bring it along. But those days were long gone. In today’s world a toothbrush was considered a dangerous weapon for someone of Middle Eastern descent.

As he was zipping up his bag, the landline in the living room chirped. Wanting to get out of here fast, Sam let it go to the answering service. But then, before he knew it, his cell phone was dinging from the top of the dresser, screen showing R. Ryan. Sam picked up the cell, his hands trembling. He thought he felt the beginnings of the languid chemical onslaught coming through his veins. He put the phone to his ear and heard his name being snapped off like a hammer hitting metal: “Sam. Sam. Sam.”

Sam said to the hammer: “Bob, how are you this morning?”

“Aggravated, Sam. My man in sagebrush country just called to tell me the van hasn’t checked in yet. You were supposed to be making my delivery today. Fuck is going on here?”

“I was just going to call you, Bob. There’s been a little problem with the van. Nothing I can’t handle, you understand.”

“You were supposed to be down there with it, Sam. This is very disturbing news, not the kind of thing I expect from you.”

“What makes you think I’m not in Texas, Bob?”

“Because I’m standing outside your goddamn door, asshole. I hear you in there, goddamnit.”

“Oh.” Sam felt his throat constrict and his sphincter lock up. And on weakened knees he shuffled to the door and let Bob Ryan in. Ryan was big, six-two, wiry and wide shouldered, wearing loose fitting jeans below a brown suede jacket and white shirt, the man’s sharp-featured face gray and rough and scowling down at Sam, Ryan showing his particular fake-smile that resembled a dog baring its teeth. “Sam,” Ryan said, nodding.

Sam said, “I’m on my way to the airport right now, Bob. I know I told you I was driving the van down myself, but several emergencies came up and I was forced to delegate responsibility to my extremely trustworthy right-hand man. In fact I—”

“Not that degenerate wop Ireno, I hope.”

Ryan seemed to grow larger in Sam’s eyes. “As a matter of fact, it is Jimmy.” Sam getting short of breath. “But I swear he’s changed his ways. Jimmy’s actually quite responsible now. In fact he called me this morning, said the van had broken down and the repair shop wouldn’t accept his credit cards—some kind of mix-up concerning expiration dates, I gather. I’ve scheduled a flight down there to straighten things out. Other than that, everything is fine.”

“I appreciate you finally doing what you were supposed to do in the first goddamn place, Sam. But why don’t you just wire him the money or use one of your own cards over the phone?”

“Well, he’s stuck at some backward dust hole outside Corpus Christi, Texas, and they won’t do that. You know how things are these days. And since I’ve cleared up my local emergencies, I thought it only right I fly down and take charge.”

Ryan squinted at him, scowled some more and shook his head. “And I know doing the right thing is important to you, Sam,” Ryan laying on the sarcasm. “But don’t you think it might be wise to have somebody with their shit together as your right-hand? Too much incompetence makes a man unhealthy, unwealthy and dead, Sam.”

Sam wanted to mention the license plates, but didn’t, fearing Ryan’s legendary capacity for rage. Instead: “I’m sorry, Bob, I truly am. I’ll be straightening everything out quite soon. Just hold your faith a little bit longer and I guarantee everything will be fine.”

“Better be, Sam. Hate to attend your funeral. And just to be on the safe side, y’know, I’m sending my assistant Frankie Neelan along with you.”

This was not what Sam wanted to hear. “But my flight leaves in two hours, Bob. I don’t know if we have time. I—”

“He’s waiting in the car outside, Sam. I’ll run you two out to the airport.”

“You sure your man can get a ticket?”

“He can do it on the drive to the airport. These kids today can do anything with their goddamn phones. Maybe Frankie can teach you a few things.”

Sam hated the idea.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity, Bob,” Sam said, pulling at the loose flesh around his Adam’s apple.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 9

Sam had the pill trollop on the line when the call-waiting click hit his ear. Times like this, he wondered why he’d ordered the damn service. Leave this one waiting, you might lose her for days, twat sliding off to Sopor Land. Girl had all the new drugs the kids were getting hooked on these days: Oxies, Vics, Special K—that stuff—a new one coming along all the time it seemed.

Reluctantly switching over to the incoming call, Sam heard Jimmy Ireno’s nasal whine on the other end. Sam’s spirit lifted. Ah, sweet Jimmy, always giving you pause but then coming through in the end. The boy still like he was on the basketball court: making mistakes, being reckless, but coming through at the buzzer. “Eye” Ireno’s fourth quarter heroics had rescued Sam from financial disaster more than once, back in the day.

“Jimmy, my friend, good to hear your voice. I confess I was a little worried, but I should know better, shouldn’t I? Trickster that you are, always taking old Sammy to the brink. But everything is forgiven now that the vehicle has been delivered and you are all right.”

“You sitting down, Sam?” Jimmy said. “You better sit down and listen.”

“What is this Jimmy, more of your tricks? You haven’t given your old friend enough heartache already?”

“I’m afraid this is harsh reality, Sam. The van is now in the possession of the State of Texas. Fuckin’ license plates fell off somewhere along the line and the patrol pulled me over. I just barely escaped myself, had to run through the sagebrush for hours to get away.”

“Stop with the bad jokes, Jimmy, my blood pressure, you know.”

“No joke, Sam. Everything’s gone. But it’s not my fault. Whoever you had mount the license plates on the van, did one piss poor job, man. Must’ve been some real sharp guys. I know you’re a generous fellow, Sam, but did you have to hire the handicapped for this gig?”

Sam felt the heat rising to his face and his stomach acid jets blowing out volume. For a moment he feared passing out. Rubbing his forehead, he stared at the floor. This had to be a joke, yes, one of Jimmy’s pranks, the wop asshole just rolling him on the coals, seeing how much old Sam could take. But goddamnit, if what Jimmy was saying was actually true; they were both as good as dead.

Staring at the phone in his hand, Sam struggled to pull himself up from the nightmare. He tried to think but the thoughts just kept jumping around in his head like popping corn.

“Jimmy, you still there? Are these things you say really true? Maybe you’re trying to cut yourself in for the big payday? How can I tell, this far away from you? That vehicle was delivered to me by my client’s people. These are top-shelf people and not given to egregious errors such as you describe.”

“Doesn’t change the facts, Sam. I never would’ve been stopped if it weren’t for the missing plates. Never went over the limit the whole way. Your client must’ve hired temps that day.”

“You seem to be taking this lightly for a dead man, Ireno. You know I was responsible for that delivery. I told the man I’d be driving it down there myself. The only reason I didn’t was out of kindness to you, Jimmy. To let you make good on your markers.”

“And your charitable ways are known far and near, Sam. You think I’m taking this lightly? I’m stuck down here with no money, no clothes but what I got on my back, and more than likely a BOLO on me ringing across the police band as we speak. Consider yourself lucky that you weren’t driving. Really couldn’t see you racing through the briars and the brambles like I did.”

“If I was driving, maybe I would see the plates were loose. Were you high, Jimmy?”

“Fuck you, Sam. And no, I wasn’t high. Just a little speed for the driving. Toed the line the whole goddamn way.”

Sam was out of ideas. What the hell could he do, put in a claim with the Texas State Troopers? Call Bob Ryan and beg for mercy? Guys tried that became catfish food in the Mississippi. “Goddamn you, Jimmy, you have any idea who we’re dealing with? If Bob Ryan doesn’t hear from me or his man down there today, I’ll be the confetti in next year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade. Drunken micks will be eating corned beef and Sammy.”

“I sympathize, Sam, but what the hell you want me to do? Seems to me the only play you got is claiming the van.”

“Claiming the van? You are high, Jimmy. Or are you telling me the highway patrol might not have found the money?”

Jimmy had an answer ready, his mind coming back to normal: “No way they didn’t find the money. A blind man coulda spotted the gap between the panels all the way from Mexico for fuck sake. Another amateur job done by your so-called top-shelf people. Way too much gap between the panels, dude. But think about this, as long as there was no dope in the van, why not cop to unlawful transfer of legal tender or whatever they call it and see what your legal sharpies can pull off. Might get something back that way. Shit, I don’t know. Only thing I know for sure is that I forgot my tennis whites and I’m beginning to stand out around here like the accidental tourist. I need to find a place away from prying eyes.”

“Don’t hang up, Jimmy,” Sam yelled into the phone. “I’m coming down there and you better answer your phone.” All Sam heard was a click and a buzz and emptiness ringing in his ears. He’d wanted to say to Jimmy that perhaps if he hadn’t run away the highway patrolman wouldn’t have looked in the van, but now the goddamn little dago rodent was gone. Made Sam momentarily forget the pill-pushing wench on the other line. Remembering, he clicked back, thinking he’d need a real good load if he had to fly down to the Lone Star State. But coming back, the line was dead; bitch was gone, Sam thinking she was off filling an anal syringe with Oxycodone… pill trollop floating away on a fantasy bubble.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 8

Jimmy was still in Tequila World. At least the parts of him that ached, throbbed or made him want to puke. His head was hazy but shit was coming back to him:

So he was sitting on that barstool last night rolling the ice cubes in his empty glass, waiting for another tequila sunrise from the bartender and wondering where he was going to sleep. Then the drink came and pretty soon he didn’t give a shit. Funny how the cactus juice makes your thinking change and it seems so natural, so right, at the time.

In the next scene he’s still at the bar, arguing with himself and looking at the remains of his money, a pathetic little pile in his hand. He’s wondering if he should get another drink or tip the bartender and crawl off somewhere to pass out. But before he can decide, Tequila World cues up a thrill ride in the form of a slightly drunk woman somewhere between thirty and forty Jimmy had an idea was a secretary from the Midwest, real estate or insurance. Soon she was on the barstool next to his, smiling at him and saying, “Can I buy you a drink?”

Well, Jimmy never had a problem with assertive women—even aggressive was all right if they were hot—and this one wasn’t half bad. And he did need a place to spend the night. So, as someone famous once said, exactly who, Jimmy couldn’t recall at the moment: “Buy your ticket, take the ride.”

Repeating that in his head he turned toward the lady and smiled as best he could, his face feeling rubbery. “You certainly may,” he said, looking in her eyes. Chick’s eyes were pale blue and glazed over, woman behind a wall of alcohol herself.

“You from Mexico, mister? I always wanted to meet a real Mexican.”

“I’m from anywhere you want me to be, darlin’. You can call me Julio.”

Then two more sunrises were sweating in front of him and she was smiling at him and everything was getting kind of warm and fuzzy. And maybe later there was a group sing-a-long with Jimmy leading the bar crowd through rousing renditions of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. And that’s pretty much all he could remember before waking up hung over in a hotel bed—six a.m. on the bedside clock—what’s-her-name (Linda?) passed out next to him, makeup smeared, matted hair sticking to the drool on the side of her mouth.

Horror show, dude.

Jimmy snuck out of the room without waking her and now was on the sidewalk, sun beating down on him, Jimmy thinking how nice it would be if things were different. If Sam Arndt hadn’t hired incompetents to mount the license plates on the van, Jimmy would be enjoying a spring vacation free of the millstone of his gambling debts, as was his initial intent. But instead of enjoyment, Jimmy’s mouth tasted like bird shit, he was battling heartburn, and trying to think away a headache. The reality of his situation was a gauntlet of fear and suffering where making it through to the other side guaranteed nothing.

Was a lot here he couldn’t control.

The money was gone for good. Same with the van.

These thoughts ignited little explosions in Jimmy’s gut, the acid riding up his esophagus to his pounding scull, the hot sun he’d longed for all winter now an instrument of torture. Dirty old sun.

Coming to a busy four-lane street Jimmy stopped and squinted in both directions, trying to recall the route he took last night. Tequila had gone down real easy and now he was paying the price. But not as dear a price as he’d pay if Sam caught up to him.

A voice in his head, this one coming from his good upbringing, was saying he should give Sam a call. There were no drugs found in the van so maybe the state of Texas would give the money back. Was it against the law to carry a million in cash in your vehicle? Jimmy didn’t know the answer to that but thought it must be illegal, the way they were making just about everything a crime these days. But as much as Jimmy wanted to believe in the possibility of a positive outcome, something rang hollow with the idea of the State of Texas returning money to suspected criminals. You didn’t hide your cash behind the wall paneling if you were legit. Didn’t take off running through the weeds if you worked for Goldman Sachs or Bain Capitol.

No, you didn’t.

Now a dissenting voice in Jimmy’s head, the most dominant voice in his recent history, was preaching avoidance, as usual. Telling him it was time to start fresh with a new identity. He was familiar with the process, having read his older brother’s copy of The Paper Trip (a guidebook to obtaining alternative identity) way back in 2012.

So he had the dueling voices thing going. Add to that he was a scruffy vagrant type on the tony beachfront boulevards of Corpus Christi, Texas, someone likely to draw the attention of the local bum dispersers. Made him wonder if strolling without a destination was a violation down here.

Shit, he just had to keep moving.

With sweat dripping into his eyes and the sour odor from his armpits mixing with the chick’s stale perfume to form a nauseating bouquet, Jimmy spied a bench on the boulevard and headed for it. There, in the shade of two large palms, he breathed deeply, trying to disperse the pounding in his head and the growing nausea and dizziness. Didn’t work. So he slid his cell phone out of his stained khakis—tar balls on the beach down here, you believe that?—and punched in Sam’s number. Jimmy hadn’t forgotten that Sam Arndt gave him a break, gave him a chance to work off his old gambling debts, and for that he believed he owed the man something. The least Jimmy could do was get Sam on the line and bitch about the license plates falling off, put the situation in its proper perspective.

Here was the refurbished and responsible Jimmy Ireno putting his best foot forward, getting in the habit, giving Sam a heads up. But a worm of memory was beginning to wiggle in his head, something about another dude, a more dangerous one, an Irishman, some kind of gangster. Jimmy recalled Sam pissing and moaning about a ruthless dude from St. Paul would slice off his nuts if anything happened to the cash.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 3, Excerpt 7

Sam Arndt’s gut was still churning when he got up to take a leak at four-thirty a.m. Stumbling back toward his king-size bed, he wondered what was causing this intestinal distress, but was too zonked to care. Save it until morning—the beauty of downers.

But the next morning, as any experienced tranq user knows, he would feel dumb and pissed off and just a tad slow. Then you drink the coffee and maybe your gut tightens up again and you have to go back for more Pepto. Then you read the paper and see where the Blues scored three times in forty-two seconds and you lost a shitload. But the thing really upsets you is that goddamn Jimmy Ireno hasn’t called from Texas like he was supposed to and now there’s a message on your phone from Bob Ryan, the “Associate” whose money you are responsible for: “Sam. What the fuck is going on? Answer your goddamn phone, goddamn it.”

So now Sam had a pressing need for more of those pills. And would have to call the fat chick in St. Paul gets them from some Mexican by the carload, see what she has in stock. And to make matters worse, he was getting hooked on the goddamn things. Sammy’s little helpers.

Help.

Sam was thinking he’d personally skewer Jimmy’s balls on a shish-ka-bob if the kid screwed this deal up. That is if he could keep his own gonads out of Bob Ryan’s Mulligan stew long enough to get his hands on the wop-cokehead-weasel-bastard-sonofabitch Ireno.

 

Dan Henning was feeling loose. Texas Highway Patrol could kiss his ass goodbye this time. See how often Theodor lunched with the governor after Henning was gone. Goddamn Cyn could be replaced too. Woman was turning their boy Danny into a sissy the way she smothered him. Always preaching the “Christian Way,” and that’s suppose to be good, but Danny was getting too—not sure what to call it—just something not right about him these days.

Henning was thinking maybe he should take Danny away for a while, put a little distance between the two of ’em and Cynthia. But man, sometimes it got hard to be around the boy. So maybe Danny was better off with his mother. She could teach him to live the nice clean life—no drinking, no swearing, no whoring.

Poor kid.

Henning swung the red Dodge Ram pickup onto his hardpan driveway and rolled through the trees surrounding the trailer. Coming into the yard he cut the wheel hard, hit the gas and sent the truck into a dust-throwing slide. He’d polished off the beaner’s shitty lime vodka on the way home and didn’t have to be back on the job for two days. Planned to request a personal leave of absence his first day back. Tell them it was a family-based decision, take that route: personal problems sir, that kind of thing, easy for everyone to relate to.

He got out of the truck. He stood and watched the sun peeking above the eastern hills. Soon it would be up bright and hot. Expecting some kind of scene from Cynthia, Henning lit a Marlboro to mask his booze breath and went inside to face her. But in the coolness of the trailer’s mint-green interior he sensed the emptiness. No Cyn to greet him. No smell of his breakfast cooking. No sound of his son playing. Just dust floating inside a sunbeam and the soft hum of the refrigerator. All the dishes were clean and put away. Nothing in the sink. Coffeemaker was empty.

Scratching his head, Henning looked out the window above the sink and saw nothing out there but dirt and trees. Now he had a hole in his gut and thoughts he couldn’t control were pushing in.

So where in hell were they? What was Cyn pulling this time? Goddamn woman was always messing with his plans. Someday maybe he’d show her the error of her ways.

Heart pounding faster in his chest, Henning turned away from the sink and went into the bedroom. Bed was made and Cyn’s dresser drawers were open. Wasn’t like her to leave them that way. He saw a piece of paper on top his blond dresser, small piece of notepaper held down by a can of Gillette shaving cream:

Dear Dan,

     Please don’t be alarmed. Danny is at Furillo’s Day Care. You can pick him up any time before six. I’m not sure how to tell you this, so I’ll just come out and say it.

     I’m going away for a while. Maybe forever. I just don’t know right now. Back when we were first married, I never could have imagined the loneliness and emptiness that I feel today. And everyday, truth be told. Something has been bothering me for quite some time now, and you don’t seem to know or even care. You have become a stranger to me. You come home from another world expecting me to be at your beck and call, and although I was raised to stand by my man, it seems to me it should go both ways. Instead, you seem to be standing farther away every day. My mind is so full of questions and confusion I don’t even know what it is I want anymore.

     Reading this, you’re probably fit to be tied, but please try to swallow your anger and understand my feelings. I’m not abandoning our son. I will call you tomorrow so we can talk. In the meantime, try and get to know your boy a little. It will do you both some good.

–Cynthia

“Jesus Christ, here we go,” Henning said out loud. He couldn’t say he’d seen this coming but Cynthia and her instability were always just a short and curly away from total lunacy. And now here it was.

Leaving him? Hell with that. He was leaving her. Just like her to bail at the same time he got rich, woman’s timing always piss-poor. Like the time he was facing suspension and she was eight-and-a-half months pregnant and he had to beg Theodor into stalling the suspension long enough to keep the medical insurance viable. Yep, goddamn Cynthia was getting like an anchor he had to drag around, and who the hell needs that?

Henning returned to the kitchen and took the bottle of Johnnie Walker Red from the cupboard where Cynthia always stuck it, the woman not wanting it out in plain view in the light of day. Typical of the shit he had to put up with.

But hey, not anymore.

From now on it’d be JW blue label sitting out where everyone could see it. Nothing but the best, goddamnit. Little Danny would learn how real men carried themselves. Maybe they could take a trip down to Mexico, just the two of them, pick up an RV from one of the used-car bandits down there, travel around and let the kid see how real men live.

So there was a plan.

Let’s see what she has to say about that.

(To be continued)

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