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Posts Tagged ‘Elmore Leonard’

Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

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CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT FIVE

Surveillance. Put on a tail and make it stay. A simple and basic act that all fictional private eyes from Race Williams to Patrick Kensey depended upon. If I had known the situation in advance, I might have brought in an assistant. That way we could change vehicles if Rose somehow got hip to the tail. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t need any help. Most women, the only thing they see in the rearview mirror is their hair and makeup.

It was nice in that wayside, even a little chilly at times with the lake breeze coming in the car window. I had the sky blue water on my right and the brilliant, sun-speckled green of the hillside on my left. After an hour or so of waiting, just as my client had predicted, the postal truck rolled to a stop across the road from me. A short, squat guy in blue Postal Service shorts got out and stuck a handful of mail in the unpainted metal box mounted on a post at the side of Talbot’s steep driveway. Fifteen minutes after the truck drove away, a small red car came bouncing down the asphalt and pulled up next to the mailbox. I’d been trying to imagine what Rose might look like, narrowing it down to either a burly bowling broad type in a red and black lumberjack shirt or a gum-chewing nymphet in hair curlers with the IQ of a snow hare.

As she exited the car, I could see she landed somewhere in between. I put the binoculars on her—an indispensable P.I. tool—and found her to be cute, but not beautiful, with short brown hair and a few freckles. Tall, wide in the shoulders and hips but with a nice little teacup tush inside cut-off jeans that showed off strong and nicely shaped, tan legs.

She pulled a stack of mail out of the box and jumped back in the Ford, jerked onto the highway and headed north towards Taconite Bay. I gave her a little head start and followed, feeling confident she’d never notice me, at least until we got into town, if in fact that was where we were headed.

According to Billy Talbot, who’d been quite talkative at brunch with a load of coffee running through him, Rose was the daughter of a former Rourke Mining executive. Rourke Mining being the company that had essentially built the town of Taconite Bay. This seemed to contradict Billy’s earlier “peasant stock” comment but with the kind and quantity of drugs he was taking I’m surprised he could even string a sentence together.

Gamely continuing, Billy sadly recalled how Rose’s father had resigned from Rourke and taken his family to Minneapolis, shortly after the asbestos-like taconite residue the company was routinely discharging into Lake Superior caused a huge environmental scare and forced the state to shut down the entire operation. Taconite Bay had gone from boom to bust in no time at all but was currently on a slight rebound, as Rourke was back in operation on a limited scale.

Our sweet Rose, whose marriage to Billy had been against her parents’ wishes, had defiantly stayed behind in the dying town. Now it seemed she was nurturing some regret. After the accident had left her man only half there, she had allegedly begun to communicate more frequently with mumsy and dadsy. And, Billy said, was growing more receptive to her parents’ familiar refrain: Leave your husband and return to civilization.

Billy was obviously hurt, confused and suspicious. It was hard for me not to hate this woman without even having met her.

I swung the Subaru onto the asphalt and got the red Ford in my sights, staying comfortably behind until she drew alongside the Rourke plant, a looming, rust-brown industrial monstrosity with the aura of a Third Reich munitions plant, lines of belching smokestacks on the roof pointing to the sky like anti-aircraft guns.

The warning light at the railroad crossing was flashing red. Rose came to a stop and I had no choice but to roll in behind her. An ore-filled train was crossing the highway and chugging up the incline to our left, throwing out dust that was undoubtedly toxic. Rose fussed with her hair in the rearview. I turned my head toward the plant and pulled my Guinness cap down over my eyes.

Staring up at the gargantuan Rourke building, I recalled fondly how, in the middle of the aforementioned taconite tailings fiasco, my first wife had freely and frequently expressed a strong desire to blow this hulking polluter of the last clean Great Lake to shreds. Recyclable shreds, of course. Ah, for the good old days and dreams of social activism. Talk like that today and you get a visit from the friendly folks at Homeland Security.

The train passed, the red light went off and Rose sped away. A half-mile ahead another stoplight stood at the turn to Taconite Bay. I saw the left turn signal on the Ford Focus start to blink. I kept my distance. Although it had been a while since I’d been here, I knew everything in the tiny town of Taconite Bay was either on or very close to the main drag.

I followed the path of the little red car into town and found it in the parking lot of the municipal liquor store and lounge. It was 3:45 by my dashboard clock. I debated going inside for happy hour, thought better of it and instead parked at the edge of the lot where I could see both the front door of the tavern and the Focus.

Forty minutes later, my mouth was dry as a cob as Rose spilled out of the muni and flounced back into her car. She was alone, no men following. That was good. At least for Billy. I started the Forester and watched her pull out and head back toward the highway.

She wasn’t screwing around this time; blowing through town at fifty miles an hour with her arm lolling out the window, thumb flicking at a cigarette. She flew through the intersection just as the light turned red, made a left and headed north.

I got stuck at the red light.

Just as I was contemplating running the light, having deduced that local law enforcement was scarce, a sheriff’s department SUV appeared in my rearview. He must not have seen Rose’s turn because he stopped behind me and we both waited like good citizens for the light to change color.

The copper turned right and I went left. I put the pedal down and ran up the shore for thirty minutes, vainly searching every driveway and side road for red-red Rosey.

No luck. No sign of the Ford. I’d lost my pigeon. Failure in my first day on the job. I wanted to hit a bar and get hammered. Instead I got out my cell phone to call Talbot and tell him the bad news.

Goddamn cell phones.

(To be continued)

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Jackpine Savages by T.K. O’Neill  

(ebook and paperback)

nieaseal

Ebookit.com  https://bit.ly/2GME30V

BarnesandNoble.com   https://bit.ly/2sc4w2q

Amazon.com  https://amzn.to/2km8F0f  

CHAPTER ONE, EXCERPT FOUR

The wind was coming hard out of the southeast as I eased my Subaru Forester onto scenic Highway 61, a winding, predominantly two-lane strip of asphalt that traces the northern shore of Lake Superior all the way to Canada. It was the kind of day a travel magazine might claim we’re famous for around here. The lake was emerald green and churning with thin whitecaps. Seagulls circled in the air-conditioned winds that held the coastal area at a pleasant seventy-four degrees while the inland sweated in the nineties. The type of day that attracted the tourists, the throngs who’d changed the region from the remote and isolated area it once was to the RV and SUV magnet of the present. The old motor lodges and commercial fishing shacks were pretty much gone, replaced by rustic-look condo developments, trophy homes and upscale lodges.

Sky Blue Waters Lodge, where I was to meet Talbot and Sacowski for brunch, was part of the “New North Shore.” Freshly milled log structure, flowery name and all. But I didn’t care. It’s not as if it was ever going to become like Florida up here, every inch of coastline filled with development. No, it was still winter half the year this far north and that simple fact was a time-proven natural ceiling on high-end growth. Or so it had always been.

Traffic was heavy through Two Harbors even at ten-thirty in the morning. Farther north, up past Crow Creek, a paved bike path meandered along parallel to the highway. Thing had fancy wrought-iron bridges that seemed to have yuppie bait written all over them. I was exceeding the speed limit because I didn’t want to be late for my first client, especially one who seemed to be generous with the filthy lucre. A private eye has to be punctual unless danger has somehow detained him. The only danger I sensed at this point was the pop-up camper directly in front of me dancing on the back-end of a Chevy pickup like a johnboat in a hurricane. The shock absorbers on the trailer were obviously shot, and the ones on the truck not much better. It brought to mind a past incident on this same highway. A horrific incident that occurred when just such a trailer broke loose from its moorings on one of the very same curves we were approaching. The wayward trailer then flew across into oncoming traffic, severing the heads of a young couple on a motorcycle.

Death by trailer was not the way I wanted to go out. Especially not when my fortunes seemed to be on the upswing. But I knew the Forester was a real safe vehicle because the ads on TV had told me so. Also a symbol of earth-friendly progressive thought and an adventurous spirit. Fortunately, I saw the Sky Blue Waters Lodge sign coming up on the right. I took a deep breath and flipped on the blinker, found myself wondering what a wealthy paraplegic eats for brunch. Told myself it was a stupid question and not worthy of one such as I. But that’s the way it is for me, the thoughts just come flying through, quality control non-existent.

Shortly I found out that a paraplegic—Billy Talbot anyway—eats scrambled eggs and a pile of bacon for brunch. Just like nearly everybody else in the nearly full restaurant. Myself, I had the eggs, American fries and coffee. I don’t usually drink coffee these days; stuff gets me too edgy, but I wanted to at least create the illusion of alertness.

We had a pleasant meal and Talbot agreed to my terms and fees, all of which I’d obtained from The Private Eye Handbook, a handy tome purchased on the Internet.

And now I’m going to be perfectly honest. I need to tell you that my Drake Career Institute Private Detective diploma was about as worthless as a paper shirt in a windstorm. As if you didn’t know. Maybe it could have been helpful if I had actually studied; but in fact, I had cribbed the answers to the final exam off the Internet. You can find anything on the Internet these days.

(To be continued)

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EXCERPT 6, FLY IN THE MILK

The fight was over, Johnny was pretty sure he won, but the thrill was gone. From Fly in the Milk, ebook available wherever ebooks are sold:

Prizefighting. Only what exactly was the prize? The money wasn’t shit. Just enough to impress a few women for a couple of nights. And when it came down to guys like Sparks… that kind of fighter, this kind of fight… it was a different world. One that Johnny Beam wasn’t very fond of.

And a distant voice in his head was shouting that he was too old to change.

Truth was, he’d been adjusting to one thing or another all his goddamn life. Whether it was school or the army or white society in general, it didn’t matter. Black man in a white world had to bend or go down for the ten-count. It seemed about time that Johnny Beam—light heavyweight champion of Minnesota—started calling his own shots. Let the world adjust to him for a while, he’d been ducking and dodging long enough.

The fighters got watered down and toweled off and their cuts were treated. Sparks was going to need quite a few stitches and there was a murmur that maybe the fight should have been stopped. “Never seen so much blood,” said some.

Ernie was putting a bandage on the damaged eyebrow. All Johnny could think about besides the throbbing in his face was how badly he wanted to get out of this lousy shit hole of an armory. Hard to believe this was the place where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson, known as the Big Bopper, had performed just a week before their fatal plane crash. Christ, they had Jeeps in here just like the ones in Korea. Goddamn military trucks, too. And all the assholes out there in the seats—shit—it was way too much like the army.

Sitting there feeling the pain in his hands and head, he recalled the months of training in cold, empty gyms. And all that running outside in the snow and ice so they could put up a ring in a goddamn military garage and come out on a frozen night to see two niggers beat the shit out of each other. But hell, he’d won. He’d beaten the guy; he could feel it. They weren’t gonna come up with some bum decision in this town. He was a hero here, Negro or not. They loved him. He’d won, goddamn it.

The judges didn’t take long to reach a unanimous decision in favor of Minnesota Champion Johnny Beam. But the key word here was decision. Johnny swore he heard a tone of disrespect when the ring announcer said the word.  But then some of the crowd started chanting, “John-ny, John-ny, John-ny,” and he felt better. He held up his tired arms in victory and smiled that famous smile that had won over so many.

As he made his way out of the ring and slowly across the concrete floor toward the dingy lockers in the basement, the crowd was friendly and encouraging, yelling “Way to go Johnny” and “Bring on Archie,” meaning Archie Moore, the current world light heavyweight champion. But the scene just made the knot in Beam’s gut get tighter and fueled his growing desire to escape.

After the tape was cut off his hands, he sat on the bench in the locker room staring at the dark green floor, wiping sweat from his chest with a worn towel and pulling on a bottle of beer from the case of Royal 58 a local distributor always sent over on fight nights. As he sat there letting his muscles relax, smelling the liniment and touching his fingers gingerly to the bump on his face, Johnny started to feel a little more comfortable about his future.

Removed from the ring and Al Sparks’ stinging blows, his victory seemed a little easier than it actually had been. Now it was possible to believe he could do it again. Maybe get a shot at the title. Wasn’t that what they were saying out there?

Ernie Callahan hovered around, squinting at the swelling above his fighter’s eye. Sloan was there, too, a cigar between his lips and a beer in his hand, his free hand slicing through the dank air as he paced around, talking excitedly.

“I think we can get you a shot with Kid Chocolate, Johnny. He’s been ranked as high as number five. We can get a big venue, maybe Chicago… at least the Twin Cites….  I know you want to move up. And y’know, it’d ah, it’d ah… it would’ve been be a sure thing, you know, if you had KO’d the Canadian.  But you know… anyway…  Sparks is well respected in the game. He once took Ezzard Charles the distance, y’know. So beating him in any fashion is good.”

“Wasn’t Charles a heavyweight?” Johnny asked peering up, his eyes showing skepticism as he swiped the towel across his forehead.

“Well yeah, when he was champion, he was. And that should be motivation for you. Charles started out light heavy, I think….  He, ah, put on weight—and then he moved up toward the end of his career.  First light heavy, than heavy. Didn’t reach his prime until his body was mature. Only weighed two hundred when he was champ. Our Mr. Sparks also put on some weight as he matured, you can bet on that. He was packing at least one-eighty-five out there tonight.”

“I sure must be maturing, too, Harry,” Johnny said, chuckling softly and pulling at the growing roll around his middle. “And it’s getting harder to take off, the more mature I get.”

“I told you, you should’ve started training sooner,” Sloan said through a blue cloud of cigar smoke as he returned the empty bottle to the cardboard case on the green bench. Then his head jerked toward the hallway, honed in on someone in the small crowd mingling outside the locker room. He leaned over and grabbed another bottle of beer, waggled his paunchy, late-forties body and said, “There’s some people I gotta see out here, Johnny boy. You hold tight a second.”

“Sure, Harry,” Beam said, turning to Callahan. “You can go home now, Ernie,” he said softly. “I’m going to be fine. You know I heal up real quick. I tell you what, my friend, why don’t you stick a few of those beers in your coat and take them home to the wife. I know she likes beer. Tell her that Johnny Beam wanted her to have a good time tonight.”

Ernie stuffed six bottles in the pockets of his gray wool overcoat, thanked Johnny and left. Beam felt that familiar lonely-in-a-crowd feeling coming back again so he hit the showers. The hot water and steam took away some of the pain. He dressed in his favorite black suit and a white shirt that he’d purchased just last week at Allenfall’s. The suit was from Chicago, acquired when he’d lived there after returning from the Korean War. That suit was the only thing he’d brought here from the big city besides his wife Ruby.

Suit was the only thing still with him.

(To be continued)

Fly in the Milk – $2.99 at https://amzn.to/2LbNJ8j

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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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