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Posts Tagged ‘Corpus Christi crime fiction’

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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 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 2, Excerpt 6

Corpus Christi was the kind of place Jimmy Ireno could get behind: big beautiful houses on his right, big beautiful houses on his left. Could still see the water in quite a few places. Feel the genteel comfort, the sea-breeze luxury and the laid back attitude, sending your troubles away into the soft night air.

But for Jimmy, reality was rubbing against the serenity. The stolen pickup was almost out of gas and he needed a nice big hotel parking lot to dump it in. Cops would likely be looking for it by now. And given his pressing needs, Jimmy thought it weird how the warm night air brought on the inappropriate impulses, the cravings.

Jimmy knew better, but just the same, he was thinking some cocaine would be nice. Shit would clear his head; help him think. But in the absence of any white powder, a drink at one of the numerous oyster bars in the area would have to suffice. Jimmy had no plan; no apparent options and only seventy dollars cash in his pocket. His wallet contained an overdrawn Discover card and two Master Cards, all three cancelled for lack of payment. He also had a checkbook from the Western River Bank of Commerce in Minneapolis, Minnesota, account closed.

As he navigated the light evening traffic in downtown Corpus, Jimmy’s gaze flicked back and forth between the gas gauge and the surrounding buildings. Be a drag to run out of gas and have a cop show up. Glancing around, nerves getting up, he locked onto a glowing green and red neon sign announcing The Bayside Motel, a two-level job with a sizeable parking lot on the side of the building.

Jimmy swung the truck in the motel parking lot, shut off the ignition and dropped the keys on the floor mat. No good reason to make it hard for the people at the ranch house, their truck had served him well. A nice old truck, a retro classic. No rust at all. Truck this old back in Minnesota would be a rust bucket.

After walking out of the parking lot Jimmy turned toward the darker, older part of the city and blended in with the night. Enjoying the salty air, he was drawn toward the blue-green pulsing neon above the Sand and Sea Oyster Bar. Soft light was coming out of a small porthole on the front door had tinted glass the color of seawater.

You didn’t see many oyster bars back in Minnesota.

Jimmy went inside to a pleasant, half full room, fishnets and sailfish mounts on the corkboard walls and blue padded stools in front of a long and dark, backlit bar. Leaning his elbows on the glistening wood, shivering slightly from nerves and the air conditioning, Jimmy scanned his environment.

Forty-something couple looking very Texas: tall and large boned in Western-style garb, shit-kicker boots and cowboy shirts, on his left. The gentleman two stools to his right seemed like a tourist: thinning white hair, Hawaiian shirt and a sunburn. Bartender looked to be around Jimmy’s age, tall skinny guy with a suspicious gaze and a brush of bleach blond hair on top a square head, the man wearing a yellow T-shirt and wrinkled, white, over-the-knee cargo shorts.

Craving something tall and cool and tropical with a southwestern twist, Jimmy ordered a tequila sunrise, pulled a twenty from his pocket and set it on the bar. When the drink arrived gold and glistening, tall glass sweating and a red ribbon of grenadine drifting slowly through the shimmering orange liquid, it conjured up two familiar images from Jimmy’s past: Cocaine swirls floating down and turning red in a glass of gold Clorox, and his former fiancé, Elizabeth. The two of them used to consume sunrises in excess back in their early days when things were still fun. Used to make them with two shots of tequila and one shot of gin.

Texas bartender wouldn’t know to put gin in the thing, Jimmy thought, rolling his shoulders in an attempt to ease the lingering tension. Was probably a good thing, though, he needed his wits about him, was in one hell of a fix this time. Jimmy picked up the tall glass and sucked the drink down like it was life itself, keeping his eyes focused straight ahead at the bottles and amber-colored glass brick behind the bar, not wanting to give anyone a full frontal. But halfway through his second drink—shit was tasting good—Jimmy was swinging around on the barstool checking out the stuffed fish on the walls. Sailfish, marlin, billfish—he didn’t know the difference. Then it wasn’t long before he was going to the men’s room and stopping along the hallway to scope the old photos of ships and bridges and paunchy men in hats standing next to huge dead fish hanging from large metal hooks.

Yes sir, Jimmy was in another world now.

Tequila World.

Next ride coming right up.

(To be continued)

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CHAPTER 1, Excerpt 5

Patrolman Henning jogged back to his darkened cruiser where it sat idling, lights off, a hundred yards down Gamble Gulch Road from the Chevy minivan. He’d considered putting a few rounds from his sidearm into the van to give it that Texas “been-here-a-while” look but decided against it because noise carries and crime lab nerds can identify slugs.

Having stuffed the cash in a military-surplus duffel he’d found in the back of the van—Christ, a ton of money in wrapped packets, all denominations—Henning threw the olive-drab bag into the trunk of the cruiser and drove back to the Interstate.

Nothing on I-37 but blackness.

Good.

His watch ending soon, Henning needed to get the hell down the road and make a bust a long ways from Gamble Gulch before some citizen called in the abandoned minivan. Tearing down the highway at eighty-five, passing everything in sight, which fortunately wasn’t much—couple tourists and a few semis—Henning got to Lake Corpus Christi Road in a few minutes, made a U and started back north. Wasn’t long before he came up behind a blue Ford Focus with its rear license plate light out.

Henning pulled the loser over. And when the kid rolled down the window, reefer smoke floated out thick as the pubes on a Jaurez whore. Just like I figured, Henning thought. Young spic doper out for some fucking and sucking. And the girl was white. No crime, but maybe her parents would want to know the company she was keeping. No doubt he’d find contraband if he searched the car—but Henning was feeling too good tonight for complications. And it was getting late. And hell, when you got down to it, spics weren’t that bad. Worked hard for shit wages and were better than niggers any day.

Going through the motions, Henning scanned the kid’s license with his flashlight, wrote out a ticket for the faulty light and gave his usual stern lecture about the dangers of inattentive driving. And how kids should be home doing schoolwork or sleeping this time of night instead of out on the highway looking for trouble.

The driver, likely thinking he was off the hook, seemed about ready to jump out the window and give Henning a kiss. Kid was looking at the ticket and slobbering. “You’re right officer, it is very late. I lost track of the time. We’ll go directly home, I promise.”

Something in the boy’s tone annoyed Henning. Now he couldn’t help himself. Staring down at the nervous kid, he said, “Before you leave, Alex, I’d like you to do one thing for me.”

“Yes, sir?”

Henning believed Alex would get down on his knees and slurp the snake if he asked him to, anything to avoid a search of the car. Grinning slightly, enjoying his power and rushing behind thoughts of the cash in the trunk of his cruiser, Henning said, “Come around to the passenger side with me, Alex. I have a favor to ask of you.”

Alex got out of the Focus and moped around to the other side, glancing warily at Henning. “Alex,” Henning said, stopping by the passenger window, “Open this door and reach inside the car. Push the button on the glove compartment with the back of your hand and then step back out of there. I have this sneaking suspicion there’s something in there going to do you and your friends harm. Would you do that for me, Alex?”

Henning stood there grinning, watching the kid and tapping his fingers on the butt of the Glock 17 in his hip holster. Henning saw subservience in the kid’s eyes, the boy’s hands trembling. Henning hoped there wasn’t a weapon in the glove box. There was, he’d have to brain the dumb kid, same as the last fool he baited into trying something.

Alex Ruiz looked scared shitless and did exactly as told, leaning in to push the button on the glove compartment with the back of his right hand before backing out quickly. Then Henning’s flashlight beam settled on a pint of lime vodka inside the glove box. And reaching in to lift it out, Henning saw the edge of a plastic bag peeking out from under some papers. He lifted out the liquor bottle and set it on the roof of the Ford, reached back in and grabbed the baggie and let it unfurl, saw a few brown buds of marijuana. “Just as I expected, Alex, you were about to travel down this public thoroughfare without your rear license plate light and in the possession of dangerous drugs and cheap alcohol. I wonder what Mr. and Mrs. Ruiz would think about this, Alex? You do have parents, don’t you, boy?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s good, son. A boy needs two parents in this world today. What about your girlfriend here? What’s her name?”

“Jenny.”

“Jenny what, son?”

“Jenny Lang, sir.”

“So, Jenny Lang,” Henning said, bending over with the baggie in his hand and leaning in closer to the frightened girl. “You have an ID with that name on it, young lady?”

The girl had her driver’s license ready and handed it up to him.

“Well, Alex,” Henning said after examining the girl’s license, the nervous eighteen-year-old boy shifting from foot to foot on the shoulder of the Interstate. “What do you think the Langs would think about this trouble you’ve gotten their pretty young daughter into tonight?”

“There’s only a Mrs. Lang, sir. Jenny’s old man split a long time ago.”

“So you thought you’d take advantage of a poor fatherless girl, huh, Pedro?”

“It’s Alex, sir, and it’s not like that at all. It’s her dope—her booze. I—”

“That’s where you’re wrong, boy. From now on, this contraband belongs to the State of Texas. And I’ll hang onto your driver’s license in case anything bad happens to cute little Jenny Lang here. In the case of said event, or any other goddamn stunts you might pull in the future, I will take this bag of dope with your license inside it and mail it to Ms. Lang’s mother. And I hope Jenny here has some second thoughts about givin’ it out to a whimpering snitch like you. So get your sorry ass down the road and have that light fixed or I’ll chase you down and bust your ass.”

Alex did what he was told.

(Chapter 2, to be continued)

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South Texas Tangle, Chapter 1, Excerpt 4

An hour later Jimmy Ireno was still sloshing through the creek bed, Johnny Horton’s “Battle of New Orleans” cycling in his head. He was tired but thanking his lucky stars as he waited for the cover of total darkness to hide his sins and his ass. Getting pulled over for no plates was bad juju, no doubt, but getting pulled over next to one of the few patches of greenery in this dusty, vacant lot country was truly fortunate. Like other-wordly fortunate, dude, good luck on top of bad.

But after another seemingly endless period of struggling through the brush led to nothing, Jimmy began to resign himself to being overrun by sirens and dogs and inbred giants toting shotguns and cattle prods. He was about ready to let himself get caught, this running-through-the-briars-and-brambles shit being hard work. He could cop a plea, throw himself on the mercy of the court; give up Sam Arndt in exchange for clemency, tell them Arndt was threatening to kill him if he didn’t deliver the cash to the proper destination.

Jimmy saw himself in court standing in front of the judge, man up there in his robes looking stern: It was gambling debts and an addiction to terrible drugs that put me in contact with an evil guy like Samuel Arndt, your honor. The man’s an Arab, might be a terrorist. Sure looks like one, used to have a beard. And he changed his name from some unpronounceable Arab thing. I am so ashamed of myself I’d do anything to atone, your honor.

But if Jimmy pulled that, Sam might really have him killed, instead of just enslaving him for the rest of his life paying off the markers. So what was to gain from rolling over on Sam? A job selling shoes in Sandusky in the witness security program? Trustee gig in the slam proofreading license plates?

Gimme a break.

In frosty Minneapolis, Sam Arndt was searching his kitchen cabinet for Pepto Bismol. Trying to relax, he was gazing out his eighth-floor penthouse window at the mighty Mississippi and the glowing bronze embroidery of the city lights. But his heart was thumping in his chest and bile was climbing up his larynx, all for no reason he could put his finger on. Had a lot of cake riding on the Redwings-Blues playoff game, but the score was tied with two minutes left, no way Detroit would win by two unless there was an empty-netter. Wasn’t a big thing even if it happened; NHL playoffs are long. He’d recoup. Always did.

Baffled by this sudden attack of panic, Sam was glad he had some downs for moments like this. Must be worries about Jimmy and the cash bothering him. And he had reason to worry, didn’t he? This was a relatively new gig, this arranging for mountains of cash to be transported to the border. Profitable, yes, but this was only the third time. Drove it down himself the first two times, making sure things went smoothly to insure future business from the associates. But Sam hated driving long distances. He had numerous food allergies and couldn’t tolerate freeway fare. And he trusted Jimmy Ireno. Trust starting to wear a bit thin now.

Sam liked Jimmy. Kid was a degenerate gambler and a drug abuser, but still a nice young man. And most importantly, Jimmy was a coward, too big a chicken to pull anything stupid.

But something still felt wrong.

Standing there staring out at the lights, Sam drifted back to the days when Jimmy was playing high school ball at De LaSalle, little shit running the fast break like Ricky Rubio. Sam had some good nights with the book when Jimmy Ireno was throwing ’em in from downtown.

Deep in the heart of Texas, Jimmy “The Eye” Ireno was coming out for air. Out of the bush and up under that big starry sky they always called lonesome in the songs. Tonight he knew what they meant. He wanted to believe things were going to work out, like the voice in his head kept insisting, and now he could see the lights of a farmhouse up ahead.

Getting closer, it was more like a ranch house: sprawling two-story, reddish-brown modern with a two-stall garage and a blacktop driveway. On the edge of the driveway nearest to Jimmy, a yard fixture on a tall pole shined a cone of light on a glistening light-blue pickup truck, the pickup creating a shadow that a person might use to keep from being seen as he crept along.

Minute later Jimmy was looking inside the truck.

Keys were in the ignition.

More good luck.

Another omen?

Was there a lottery outlet nearby?

Truck door squeaked a bit on opening and creaked on the close, stoking Jimmy’s nerves as he turned the key and fired up the cherry Ford. Glancing toward the ranch house, Jimmy eased out the clutch and backed down the pavement to the dirt road, headlights off. Swinging the truck around, he headed away from the main highway, and, he hoped, the law.

Jimmy had often wondered what you might find on one of these strips of white dirt you saw running out from the highways in ranch country. Shifting into third, he watched the dust kicking up behind him in the red tint of the taillights, Jimmy thinking, This road could take me anywhere. Or nowhere.                             

Inside the tidy ranch house, Rachel and Dr. Robert Hayden couldn’t hear anything over the commotion from the most recent of their increasingly frequent fights. This time it was about the lazy hired hands and the amount of time the doctor was spending away from home, the reasons du jour Rachel chose when she really just wished Doctor Bob would stand up and face himself—perhaps accept responsibility for his actions—if it wasn’t too goddamn inconvenient. But honestly, these days, just about anything could set the two of them off.

Recoiling from his wife’s angry salvos, Dr. Robert huffed and mumbled as he retreated toward the sanctuary of his lockable home office, Rachel saying to his departing back: “You better start taking more of a part in this marriage or there’s going to be trouble, Bob. You can’t hide from the truth forever, Doctor.”

Calling him “Doctor” to express her growing indifference.

(to be continued)

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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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