Posts Tagged ‘#elmoreleonard’

Dive Street 2

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Maynard Loy didn’t much care for the name Doughboy. Wasn’t very flattering. He looked down at his old buddy Artie Autry coming to on the pavement, Maynard thinking buddy was the wrong word, because tonight Artie hadn’t acted much like a friend should act. Or any night, when he thought about it, Maynard recalling the heaps of abuse he’d taken in his years of hanging with leather-faced Autry. And the mean sonofabitch was all the way conscious now and as pissed off as a starving Gila monster.

Autry’s eyes were open wide and staring at Maynard. “What are you waiting for you fat fuckin’ piece of shit? Cut me loose so we can go after that asshole. He’s gonna ruin everything we worked for. If he gets between the sisters and Pills, the whole scheme will fall apart.”

Maynard’s nerves were raw and exposed, his hands and feet were cold and stiff and he couldn’t shake off the edginess. He needed something to put in his body, stop the itching beneath his skin, stop the craving and the trembling and make him warm again. Fucking Ford had interrupted what could’ve been a real nice night. Artie was supposed to get a good load of Tuinals and Percsand maybe some Demerol. Judy had even hinted at the possibility of Dilaudid, but that was probably bullshit. the little slut just trying to keep them chomping at the bit. “Did you get the shit from Judy, Artie?”

“Shut up and cut me the fuck loose you worthless hunk of blubber or I’ll make you wish you’d moved a little faster.”

“I will, Artie, I will.” Maynard stared at the knife in his hand, the light from the tower making the serrated back of the blade look sort of green. “But why did you tell Frank it was me that pissed on him? You shouldn’t of told him that, Artie. Now he’ll be picking on me for-fuckin’-ever.”

Artie was writhing against the shoelaces binding his hands and feet, the blood running from his ear and mouth covering his skin like pancake syrup. “Just cut me the fuck loose and we’ll go get him then. You think I’m letting him get away with this?”

“We do something to Frank and we’ll go to jail, Artie. And I can’t do any more time. They don’t treat me right in jail; everyone picks on me in jail. The guards, the other prisoners—everybody. I’m sick and tired of being picked on. I just can’t stand it anymore.”

“Oooh, the fat boy can’t stand it anymore. Maybe if you weren’t such a whiny tub of lard, people would leave you alone. Cut me loose, goddamnit.”

“First tell me why you told Frank I pissed on him.”

“Because you did, Doughboy, and I’m way into truth. The truth will set you free, fat ass. Now cut my fuckin’ hands loose and set me free.”

Maynard had never felt quite like this before, although it did kind of feel like the time he realized he’d just sold Percodan and Seconal to a narc. There was intense pressure from the inside trying to push its way out and tremendous pressure from the outside squeezing his head like a vice. And that darkness inside him was coming on again. That life sucking curse that made everything seem hopeless and useless and not worth the effort. A giant shadow that rose from his middle and took him over until he was sitting in a corner sweating and shaking and crying.

And it was gonna be on top of him real soon if he didn’t get back to Artie’s car and get his hands on those drugs. But looking at the man huffing and bleeding there on the ground, Artie like a rabid dog struggling against a chain, Maynard knew it would be an extra long walk back to the Twins Bar. Based on past experiences, Maynard knew that anytime someone or something got the better of Artie Autry, Lizard Face ended up taking it out on the Doughboy. Slap the Doughboy in the back of the head. Kick the Doughboy in his fat ass. Call him names. Say he’s worthless, wasted, useless… threaten him with the gutting knife…

It had all happened before, more times than Maynard cared to admit. Was like having a second father, Artie, just as bad as the first one.

Call him a wimp or a pussy or a fag if you have to—but Maynard really couldn’t stand it any longer. The whole world seemed to be pressuring him, squeezing him: Frank Ford, those horrible girls, Artie, the cops, the need for drugs to kill the pain…

Nah, this shit just had to end.

“What the fuck are you waiting for shit-for-brains, cut me the fuck loose.”

It was Artie again, screaming at him from inside a long dark tunnel somewhere, the lizard’s voice like a rusty hacksaw.

Maynard Loy stared at the knife in his hand and saw the dark clouds begin to part, saw sunshine on the other side. Sunshine and warmth and comfort. “Okay Artie,” he said, hold on, I’m comin’.”

“About fuckin’ time you mush-brained turd.”

Maynard glanced up at the star-filled sky for a moment, asking for forgiveness but not feeling very forgiving. Then he looked down at Autry pushing his bound hands out away from his back, the hands tied together with a knot Maynard learned in cub scouts, the only thing he retained from his six months in the scout troop.

Maynard knelt down behind Autry. He could smell the blood and the sweat and the foul breath. Artie thrust out his bound hands. “’Bout fuckin’ time,” he growled.

Maynard raised the knife, reached around Artie’s leathery neck and sliced fast and deep across the throat, feeling the warm blood spurting against his hand as Artie toppled slowly to the pavement and stared up at him with a look of shock and disbelief.

And then the eyes were empty and the blood was running like a torrent and Artie wore the face of death.

“Sorry, Artie,” Maynard said, “You were just too goddamn mean.”

Feeling chilled now but sweating heavily, Maynard searched Autry’s pockets hoping for a stray pill or two. Finding nothing but lint, some loose change and the keys to Autry’s GTO, he let out a heavy sigh, grabbed the lizard’s legs and dragged the body across the pavement to the shadows. Gasping for breath, his racing heart kicking out fear and paranoia, Maynard cut the shoelaces from the lizard’s feet and hands and threw the string in the gnarled bushes at the edge of the blacktop. And then looking down at the black cowboy boots lying on the ground had an inspiration.

Thinking it was kind of neat how a fierce need for hard drugs could sometimes make you resourceful; Maynard wiped the knife on Artie’s jeans and used the blade to cut off the toe sections of the boots, leaving the souls intact.

Pulling his new snakeskin, hi-top sandals over his soiled tube socks; Maynard was pleased with himself. The stash was all his now. Soon as he got the body hidden away it would be an easy walk to the Twins Bar parking lot.

Downhill all the way.

(End of Chapter 24)


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enger 3

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Frank stared down at the blood smearing Autry’s leathery features, the eerie green light shining on it bringing to mind Jello salad with a side of rawhide. “Quit interrupting, Artie, it’s not polite,” Frank said. “You gonna bite it or do you want another love tap?” Sticking out the gun, wiggling it.

Autry shook his head in disgust and spit bloody goo on the blacktop.

“Okay, Maynard, please continue.”

“I ain’t got much more, Frank. Ray told us Judy was gonna marry the bastard and get him to put her in his will, that’s all. When the old lady kicked, that was her chance, I guess. Ray said they were giving the old bag extra pills and shit to kinda help her along. Artie and I were staying close to it, y’know, and once they were married we figured out they were planning on killing the poor bastard. Mr. Pills was gonna OD one night soon and Judy would have an alibi because she was gonna be far away from the scene. With people seeing her there—wherever the fuck she was at.”

The ground beneath Frank’s feet seemed to move and sway. Sweat popped out on his forehead. He had to step over and lean against the Dodge to keep from falling over. His hands were shaking.

Jesus fucking Christ, how did he miss it? How could he be so goddamn dense?

He jammed his trembling hands and the pistol into his jacket, those familiar thoughts back swirling in his head now, coming together, coalescing.

Takes two to work a seine. Twins Bar…


Gathering himself, Frank handed Autry’s knife to the Doughboy. “I’m gonna fire up the green machine here,” Frank said. “And I want you to cut that belt as soon as you hear the engine start, Maynard, and drag Artie out of the way. I gotta go see a woman about a waxy winged beast.”

Loy made a face. “You gonna leave us here with no car?” he whined.

Frank didn’t say anything, just turned the key, revved the engine and waited while Loy dragged Autry’s slumping form away from the Dodge.

Wheeling away in the four-wheeled garbage dump, waving goodbye with the pistol, Frank yelled out the open window. “I’ll piss on your grave, Maynard,” He thought about touching one off in Doughboy’s direction, but he didn’t, just blew out of Enger Tower and kept on going.


Winding along Skyline Drive, the lights of the city below him a twinkling tapestry, it was all coming together. The Twins Bar sign and Frank’s own words to Pillsbury were clues from his subconscious he’d failed to pick up on.

Takes two to work a seinethe most efficient trap of all

Man, this is what happens when you think with your dick.

Jesus Christ—sisters? You gotta be kidding.

He didn’t know where to go. Seemingly irrational urgency was kicking up his heartbeat and making him dizzy. His head was throbbing and there were little flashes of light in the corners of his eyes. The only thing coherent was a song lyric on repeat mode, “Save my life, going down for the last time.”

And shit, he didn’t even like the song, had never played it on the juke at the Metro. Was it another message from his subconscious?

Doughboy said the deal was happening soon. And Judy would have an alibi. First place came to mind was the Metropole and Frank rejected that. Driving out to the house on London Road was the next choice. What would he find? What should he look for? Could he tell what was going down from outside the house? You couldn’t just bang on the door, start up a hue and cry and try to warn the bastard. If Pills was alive and came to the door he’d just think it was another Ford family fiasco, some nasty trick from the unwashed peons scratching away at his lofty pedestal.

So Frank decided to go where all the action seemed to happen— Judy’s apartment building, the Asiata Apartments.

Sometimes you just have to make a choice.

Frank squeezed the steering wheel and gritted his teeth. Determination, man, that’s what you need. The place of his downfall would become the place of his triumph. He would finally shed himself of the creatures and the harlots and the pill pushers and put his little brother to rest once and for all.

Or not.

(End of Chapter 23)


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enger 2

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Turning to look at Loy, who was shuffling around nervously in his dirty white socks, Frank said, “Articulate bastard, isn’t he, Maynard?” Turning back to Autry. “Listen, Artie, I know you, and I knew my little brother pretty fuckin’ well, too. So I’m aware that neither one of you had limits. In other words, dickface, I know there is no limit to the lengths you would go to make a big score. So come on, man, tell me the deal, I really don’t want to start removing your body parts one at a time.”

Autry looked up at him with that familiar sneering smirk firmly implanted. “What the Doughboy said is true, Ford. Your brother was just a junkie. We’re all just junkies here. Pills are all we need. We like the drugs; we like the lifestyle. It’s a simple life. A wonderful life.”

Frank squatted down in front of Autry, put the front sight of the pistol under the tip of the lizard’s nose and pried upward as he pulled back the hammer on the .38. Frank felt detached, like he was watching himself from above, the whole scene illuminated by the light from Enger Tower like a movie shot on green-tinted film or if your eyes were covered with that green Saran Wrap people use at Christmas to cover the Santa Claus cookies. “You sound a little congested, Artie,” Frank said, shifting the barrel to the side of Autry’s nose and pressing inward. “Maybe you need your nose blown.”

Autry jerked his head away from the pistol. He was chuckling, a dry bitter sound. “Wasn’t the guy that shot Jesse James in the back named Frank Ford?”

“That was Robert Ford, Artie, Bob, to you.”

“Gotta be your people, Frank. Where you get your lack of balls from.”

“Don’t worry, Artie, I shoot you, it won’t be in the back. You’ll see it coming, I promise you that much. And now one more chance to fess up before the bell rings. C’mon now, you can do it.”

Autry tilted his head to the side and sneered. Blood was trickling down his canine teeth and bubbling as he spoke. “You really are a dumb bastard, Ford. Can’t see the forest for the goddamn trees.”

“My head ain’t been quite right since someone hit me with a board, Artie. Know anything about that?”

“Yeah, I did it. I confess. You were a real beauty, Ford. Judy must have fucked you inside out and sideways. I was just trying to knock some sense into you, man. Let you know that having intercourse with Judy Pills was not a good thing for you.”

Found that out all by myself, Frank thought, restraining himself from giving Autry another pistol whip. “And then you thought it was a good idea to piss on me?”

“Doughboy did that,” Autry said, laughing. Then he hawked a plume of bloody spit into Frank’s face.

Frank jerked upright, wiping his face with his fingers, then hauled off and kicked Autry in the ribs. Then he turned and gave Doughboy a hard stare. Loy took two quick steps backward, pleading eyes staring at Frank. “I should’ve known,” Frank said, shaking his head, still wiping his face. “Okay campers, now we’ve cleared the air, so let’s keep our flow going with this sharing and truth telling thing. Artie Autry, you want to tell the group what your big scam is, why you’re putting in all the time on this?”

Autry was still laughing, a full-blown jackal’s howl now, metallic and cutting, the sound scraping the inside of Frank’s head like a fish scaling tool. With his frustration growing and his nerves raging, Frank crouched down and slammed Autry in the jaw with the butt of the pistol one more time and then grabbed him by his oily, wavy black hair and twisted. Holding the lizard’s head in a sideways tilt, Frank placed the muzzle of the .38 against Autry’s large left ear lobe and squeezed the trigger, sending a piece of Autry’s ear flying off into the darkness, the explosion making Frank’s ears ring.

Artie’s eyes snapped open as the sound of the shot died in the breeze. Big drops of blood were falling from his ear as he began to struggle against his bonds, eyes wide, lean body writhing and jerking like a caterpillar trying to shed its cocoon. “Goddamnit,” he snarled. “You fuckin’ lunatic, Ford, you blew off my fuckin’ earlobe. You’re fuckin’ insane—even worse than your fuckin’ brother.”

“No earring on that one now I’m afraid,” Frank said. “Sorry, man. And I guess you’re right about me, I am a little crazy. Ain’t been the same since that board to the head. Oh the unintended consequences, eh, Artie?” Frank stood up and threw Doughboy a look, “Don’t get any ideas, Maynard,” he said. Then turning back to Autry. “And as for you, Artie, that’s one body part down and who knows how many to go. Want to try for the nose this time? Truth or Dare?” He crouched down in front of Autry again and tried to position the gun barrel on the lizard’s nose but Autry was squirming and rocking and jerking his head from side to side as he struggled against the belt wrapped tight around his throat, a cold, primitive look in the reptilian eyes.

Frank gave him another short stiff shot to the chin with the gun butt and the writhing and jerking ceased, Artie’s head falling forward as far as it would go with the belt around the neck. “So Artie has a glass jaw, whattaya know,” Frank said from his crouch. “You know that, Maynard?”.

Loy stammered but couldn’t get a word out as he watched Frank place the pistol barrel against the tip of Autry’s nose and pull back the hammer. “Let’s give him one more chance, eh, Maynard? Whattaya say? Soon as he comes to I’ll ask him again. But, you know, a little off the tip might be just what he needs to complete this reptilian-look thing he’s got going.” Then Autry’s eyes were coming open again and Frank said, “One more time now, Artie. You want to come clean? Confession is good for the soul they say.”

“Fuck you.” A hoarse, harsh whisper, Autry’s chest heaving.

“Okay, man, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Wait, Frank,” Doughboy yelled, looking queasy. “Don’t do it. Don’t do any more to him. I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

“Don’t say a fuckin’ word, Maynard,” Autry said, his voice getting stronger.

Standing up, Frank had a big grin on his lips. “I knew it was about time someone came to his senses here, but I never expected it to be you, Maynard. What you got?”

“The thing Ray told us that day in the Bunyan, the thing that tweaked Artie’s interest—was that Judy has a sister.”

“Goddamn you, Doughboy, shut the fuck up,” Autry growled from the pavement, his face streaked with dark blood resembling burgundy wine.

“Yeah, so? What about it,” Frank said, not quite grasping the meaning. He felt like he was floating, almost levitating off the ground.

Doughboy’s eyes dropped down to Autry on the pavement. “Sorry Artie,” Loy said, “but Frank needs to hear this. This has gone too far already. It’s probably too late but I—“

“Come on, Maynard, out with it. What else?” Frank wagged the pistol in Doughboy’s direction.

“Judy’s sister looks just like her, Frank. They could be twins, I don’t know. See the two of ‘em together; you might be able to tell ‘em apart, but separate, it’s almost impossible. Soon as Judy gets the drugs in him, Pills doesn’t have a chance. The girls have been working Pills like a tag team, Ray said. Told us he went to Judy’s apartment one day and the other one was in there and he heard them talking. Said he waited until the sister left and when he saw her he knew right away they were working some kind of scam. He confronted Judy with it and she offered to cut him in on the deal if he kept his mouth shut.”

“So that’s why,” Frank said, feeling the rug being pulled out from under him, a wave of nausea following. “I was amazed that Judy was so disciplined. I never thought she…” He pinched the bridge of his nose, blinking rapidly. “So what’s the scam, Maynard? What they got planned for Mr. Pills?”

“Don’t say any more, Maynard,” Autry snarled, “or I swear to God I’ll gut you like a fuckin’ hog.”

(To be continued)


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As a scenic overlook, Enger Tower had seen better days. The five-story bluestone tower with a medieval designa tribute to a local businessman dedicated forty years ago by Prince Olaf of Norwayhad lately become more of a urinal for house cats and underage beer-drinkers than a tourist destination. And this time of night it was as empty as Artie Autry’s soul or Doughboy Loy’s head. The recently installed light on the tower was bathing the parking area in an eerie green glow as the rusty Dodge with the loud exhaust pulled to a stop in the shadows of a clump of large, newly budding trees set off to one side of the tower.

“Kill the lights and shut ‘er down, Maynard,” Frank said. “And give me the keys, I have a hunch we’re gonna be here for a while.” And then seeing Autry beginning to stir on the seat beside him, Frank slashed the gun down on the back of Autry’s head, closing those reptilian eyes once again. Frank liked Artie a lot better when the lizard man was unconscious.

Frank put the pistol up close to Doughboy’s bloated face as the man handed back the car keys. “Get out of the car, Maynard.”

Doughboy got out and stood alongside the Dodge. Frank got out and came around next to him. “You wearing a belt, Maynard?” Frank said, looking at Loy’s huge gray sweatpants. “I guess not. But I am.” Putting the pistol in his jacket, Frank slipped the black leather belt from his jeans. “Now, Maynard, I need you to drag Artie out of there and prop him up against the front bumper.”

With a little help from Frank, Loy was able to complete the task, Doughboy panting for breath and dripping sweat from his crimson forehead by the time he had Autry sitting up with his back pressed against the front bumper. The leather-faced one’s mouth was hanging open and his head was lolling to the side as Frank held out the belt. “Run this under his arms and through the bumper, then cinch it up behind his back. You can pretend it’s some retarded chick you want to fuck if you need to, but make sure you get him nice and tight.”

“Artie wakes up he’s gonna think I’m you and take a swing at me, Frank.”

“You need to be quick about it then, I guess.”

“Ah, man, it’s hard for a man my size to squat down and reach around the bumper and shit. Don’t think I can do it.”

“You never will if you don’t try, Maynard. It’ll be good for you. A little stretching is good for a body.”

“Artie’s hands are still free. He carries a knife in his boot, ya know. I don’t want him stabbing me.”

“Now you tell me. So pull his boots off and remove the blade from his person before he comes to.”

Loy made his pouty face, rattled off a heavy sigh and gave Frank a pleading look. “What if he wakes up?”

“You better hurry then.”

Doughboy squatted down and struggled off the lizard’s filigreed left boot, revealing a skinny ankle and thin gray sock with a hole in the toe. When Loy wiggled the right boot off, Frank saw a scabbard fastened to Autry’s calf. Loy carefully lifted out the knife and handed it up to Frank, who had the pistol trained on the fat man’s face. Frank slipped the knife into his jacket and watched as Loy got busy running the belt under Autry’s arms and trying to thread it under the bumper, Doughboy all the while squinting at Artie like the snaky bastard was a time bomb about to blow. The more Doughboy struggled, the redder his face got and the more labored his breathing became, Frank thinking the white whale was going to have a heart attack.

After some long sweaty moments, Loy looked up at Frank, the Doughboy’s eyes wide and pleading. “This goddamn belt is too small, Frank. Ain’t gonna work. I can’t get it all the way around the bumper.”

“Okay, Maynard, you got a point, Take out your shoelaces,” Frank looked down at the dirty, extra-large, grease-spotted Converse All-Stars at the end of Doughboy’s flaccid legs. “And when you get them out, hogtie Artie’s hands and feet together nice and tight.”

At the mention of his name Autry’s eyes opened and his chin began to rise. Frank bent over and snapped him in the jaw with the gun butt and the lizard was once again in hibernation.

After huffing and puffing out the shoelaces, Loy got Autry all trussed up, hands tied together behind his back and feet stretched out in front of him, dirty shoelace wrapped tight around the ankles and sealed with a square knot. Autry’s butt was on the pavement and his upper back was pushed up tight to the huge front bumper of the Dodge. “Try running the belt around his neck and under one arm and then the bumper, Maynard,” Frank said. “Buckle it behind him, I think that’ll work. And be careful, he bites.”

And it did work.

“Good job, Maynard,” Frank said. “See what happens if you try? Now slip off those shoes and kick them over to me,” Frank pointed the gun at Loy’s chest, oversize breasts heaving beneath the sweat-soaked gray sweatshirt.

Loy kicked the stained sneakers across the pavement. Frank squatted down and picked them up and hurled them one at a time deep into the trees at the edge of the parking area.

“Ah, Frank, why’d you do that? I got flat feet, man. I can’t walk without shoes.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Maynard. But hush now, Sleeping Beauty stirs. I think it’s time for the Q and A, what do you say?”

Loy didn’t say anything, just bit his lip, eyes flicking nervously at Autry trussed to the bumper, the reptilian one conscious now and glaring up at Frank like Satan himself.

“Well now, Artie,” Frank said, moving in close to stand above Autry. “Back with the living, are we?”

“Fuck you, Ford,” Artie’s voice was a hoarse, hate-filled growl.

“Glad to see your personality is still intact, Artie. Hate to think I’d changed you. But now that you’re back with us, I have a few questions. I—“

“Fuck you, Ford,” Autry howled. “I ain’t sayin’ shit.”

“Oh come on, Artie, you’re among friends here, no reason to be shy. Just tell me what the scam is. What’s this big deal that’s got everyone scurrying around like rats stacking in grain for the winter? Doughboy’s been trying to tell me it’s just about the drug samples Judy’s giving you, but I know you, remember? And I remember that you once did time for murder, big shootout over a botched heroin deal. And as I recall, there was big-time money involved.”

“Involuntary manslaughter, Ford. My life was in danger.”

“Of course it was, Artie. I stand corrected. But I do know you wouldn’t get this industrious over a few goddamn pills. Share with me, man, what the fuck is the real deal here?”

“Fuck you.”

(To be continued)


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Crouching down in the mountain of junk food debris, Frank heard the sharp cut of a voice. “What are you doing out here, Doughboy? I told you to wait for me inside the Filling Station.”

Frank heard Autry’s footsteps approaching, pointy-toed cowboy boots clicking on the pavement.

“You were late, Artie—and I couldn’t take the place anymore,” Doughboy said in his familiar whine. “I had to get some air. Bar was full of assholes tonight.” Then, “Did you get the shit?”

Autry, coming closer, said, “Yeah, Maynard, I got the shit that turns assholes into angels.”

With Autry inches away from the driver’s window, Frank burst out the backdoor. But his bad knee buckled hitting the pavement and he nearly fell over. Stumbling, he righted himself and came up fast, swinging the butt of the pistol backhand into the surprised Autry’s temple. The leather-faced prick reeled backwards from the blow and Frank pounced, grabbing the dazed, wobbly-legged lizard by the collar of its leather jacket and bum rushing it, face down, onto the backseat of the Dodge. Frank jumped in and jammed the pistol into that area beneath Autry’s jaw line where it’s real tough to shave, pulling the car door closed with his left hand.

Craning his neck around to see his attacker, Autry was trying to blink away the headshot, struggling for focus. Lizard eyes were glossy and wide and full of pain “Ford. What the fuck, man? You fuckin’crazy? That’s gonna cost you, asshole.”

“Cost me like it cost my brother, Artie? That what happened? Ray stood up to you and you couldn’t handle it so you and your corpulent buddy here tag-teamed him into the bay?”

“Fuck, man,” Autry said, pushing on his temple, a sneer on his lizard lips and cold hatred in his stone-gray eyes, blood trickling down the back of his hand and his creased, leathery cheek. “We still on that shit? Seems like someone here can’t accept the truth if it ain’t exactly what he wants to hear.”

“We’ll find out what the truth is, Artie, before this night is through, I guaran-fucking-tee you that.” Frank paused, breathing hard. “Maynard, get us out of here,” he said. “Take a left on Central Entrance, go up the hill to Skyline and take another left. I think the three of us need some privacy to sort this situation out. We’ll get cozy and have ourselves a little rap session.” And after saying it, cocked his arm back and gave Autry a good stiff left hook to the ribs. Autry grunted but never lost the sneer, which annoyed the hell out of Frank so he lifted the pistol from Autry’s neck and hammered it down against the lizard’s scaly jaw, thinking, Now we’re even for the club to the head but I still owe you for the piss job.

Artie the lizard was out cold.

All the better for transporting dangerous creatures.

(To be continued)


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Richard Pillsbury was feeling about as good as he could ever feel. Or at least, as good as he’d ever felt before. Things seemed to be fitting into place quite wonderfully. His mother’s will had been probated and all the papers were signed. Now everything was officially his. All of it, the business, the homes—everything. His. Or he should say, ours. His bride would be surprised and delighted when she found out of his little gift to her. Something she had never directly come out and asked for, but Richard knew it was something that would delight her and make her realize how much he valued her, how much trust he had in her. The idea had come to him one evening while enjoying one of Judy’s wonderful “Cocktails.” It had become clear to him that his bride’s difficult upbringing and troubled early years had left her somewhat insecure and given to occasional bouts of self-doubt and anxiety, however infrequent. It was then that Richard made a vow to keep the dark cloud from his bride’s lovely face as long as he lived. And now that he’d made her an official partner in Pillsbury Enterprises, surely she’d see how valuable she was to him, how much her husband cherished her.

Not that everything was one hundred percent perfect. He still felt the worm of anxiety in his stomach from time to time. Mostly when he had too much time on his hands or got to looking at things the wrong way or perhaps too deeply. And there were times—and the reasons for them weren’t always clear—when he just found it hard to believe that everything was working out so well.

But his blushing bride always found a way to make it feel all right.

(End of Chapter 22)


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Then the hands on the dashboard clock seemed to stick in place and his headache got worse. As he flicked his eyes from the entrance of the Twins to the door of the Filling Station and then to Autry’s GTO, Frank was wishing Doughboy would pass out or evaporate. It was that time of night when bar patrons desperate for companionship or sex or both began hopping from bar to bar in hopes of finding a consort before the bright lights came on at one a.m. and ruined the grand illusion. And they were out there now weaving along the sidewalk in the garish glare of the over-bright streetlights, uttering the occasional shout or boozy laugh. Frank saw a few familiar faces but not Artie Autry.

Then Frank’s bed at home and that big roach of sinsemilla, seemed to call out to him: This is crazy, Frank. Carrying a gun on Fourth Street, man—in Zenith? You gotta be nuts. Come to your senses, guy. Go home and toke up, hit the rack and leave these dead-end lowlifes to self-destruct—which they always do in the end.

And really, where was the wisdom here? Waiting inside the vehicle of a well-known felon on infamous Fourth Street, directly across from two of the city’s most troublesome saloons?

Not much wisdom to be found.

But the grinding in his chest wouldn’t stop. And now the belly bunny had claws and was dragging them across his stomach lining. And staring at the Twins Bar sign was making his mind spin, shaking up his equilibrium, shit twisting in a confusing spiral. That conversation with Mr. Pills on the lakeshore—takes two people to work a seine—was swirling in his mind along with the glowing bar sign and making him squirm. Goddamn neon sign across the street opening a big blank spot in his head that was demanding to be filled.

Seeking distraction from the confusion, Frank turned his gaze to the fat man, Loy nodding off now, his nearly luminescent dome of a head lolling forward onto the quadruple chin and settling there. “Hey, Doughboy,” Frank said. “Why don’t you save us a lot of time and misery and just tell me what else is going on here? What else you two got going besides a few hundred bucks worth of drug samples every month. Vibes are too heavy for just that. What kind of scam has Artie got cooking, man? Just tell me and you can be off to reunite with Our Lady of the Syringe.”

Doughboy stirred himself to a semi-conscious appearance. “Huh? What? Ah, no, Frank, that’s pretty much it. Judy said there’d be a lot more coming though. Pills’ new thing is pushing all these no-name drugs as a cheaper substitute for the brand name stuff. Judy said they’re what they call genoric or some shit like that, and I guess they got one for just about everything these days. She said her hubby would be handing them out by the shitload.”

“Comforting to know, Maynard, real comforting.” Frank looked across Fourth Street. “But I guess we still need to wait for Artie. I’m just not satisfied that I’m getting the whole truth here. But our man should be out momentarily, and we need to prepare ourselves for that inevitability.”

“Fuck are you talking about?”

“I’m going to jump in the back seat and you are going to stay exactly where you are, Maynard.” Frank put the pistol in his jacket, stepped out to the sidewalk, pulled open the rear door and slipped into the backseat, using his forearm to scrape a small mountain of trash off the seat and onto the floor before he sat. Afraid to see just exactly what was down there, he kept his eyes averted, thinking he’d seen a huge pair of men’s underwear mashed among the debris.

Shuttering internally at the image, Frank pressed the heels of his hands against his temples and tried to squeeze away the growing pain and unrest. Not to mention the stench. His head was already spinning and now he was nauseous. It made him angry and frustrated. He took out the gun and gave Doughboy a sharp poke in the back of the head with the barrel, not enough to make Loy bleed, but enough to get his rapt attention.

Doughboy yipped with pain. “Goddamnit, Frank, would you stop it.” Rubbing his head, he turned to the backseat. “What’s with you, man? What did I do this time? Jesus, lay off, will you? I’ve done everything you said.”

“Just wanted to remind you that I’m here, Maynard. I know drugs can make one forgetful. And now you need to listen very carefully. When Artie comes out, I want you to call him over here and find out if he’s got the stuff. And here comes the hard part. I’m going to leave it up to you what to say, but I want you to arrange to meet him somewhere dark and lonely to make the exchange, somewhere where we can have a little private discussion about personal ethics and morality.”

“Ah shit, Frank, Artie ain’t gonna go for that. He’ll get suspicious.”

“Just tell him the cops have been cruising by out here, he’ll lose his resistance.”

Doughboy rubbed his head some more and launched a gob of spit out the window, the bastard now making some kind of simpering sound.

Jesus, was the asshole crying?

And then Frank saw Autry stepping out from under the awning above the entrance of The Twins Bar, the lone spotlight on the wall shining down on the wrinkled, rawhide face, Artie exuding don’t-fuck-with-me aggression and full-time hatred.

The praying mantis. But he looked more like a lizard tonight, Frank thought, picturing a forked tongue shooting out to slam a circling moth. Autry’s eyes were wide and pinned and searching the streets. His jaw was tight.

Frank scrunched down on the floor of the backseat, heard the wrinkle of empty snack bags. “Say the right thing, Maynard, or I’ll split your fuckin’ skull open.” Then he cranked the window down a crack and slowly pushed the door handle down until the latch was released. Burrowing farther down into the pile of garbage, he was trying to avoid that old pair of soiled underwear. He jabbed the pistol into the back of the driver’s seat. “Be careful, Maynard,” he hissed, “Watch yourself.”

(End of Chapter 21)

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“Slow down, Maynard,” Frank said, “Keep a low profile, remember? But you know, I suppose we could save ourselves a trip out there if you tell me what Artie decided to do after Ray walked out of the Bunyan. Artie hunt him down and beat on him, throw him in the fuckin’ bay so you two assholes could take over his action?”

“No, Frank, I swear—it wasn’t like that. We never saw Ray again after he left. When Artie heard Ray was dead he decided to move in on Judy and keep the deal going, that’s all. Artie threatened to turn her in unless she cut us in. That’s what we were doing the night you ran into us outside her apartment building.”

“You know, Maynard, I can almost believe you. And I would—if I was a brain-dead moron. But, hey, I give you some credit; you tell a good story.” Pausing a beat. “You know how to swim, man?”

“Whattaya mean? Why you asking me that?”

“Well, Maynard, the cops have this theory that Ray’s body floated down to the port terminal after he jumped off the Arrowhead Bridge. I thought we could run a little experiment, using you as a stand-in for Ray-Ray. A bit of a size difference, granted, but you might float better than my brother did, given your robust frame.”

“Oh come on, Frank, lay off of that shit.” His face was a mask of hurt. “No, I can’t swim.”

“All the better for my experiment then.”

“Maybe we should just find Artie, he’ll back me up,” Doughboy said, jaw tendons flexing.

“Squirrel’s it is then.”


Another dive bar in another part of town, Squirrel’s had to be the worst of the worst, even below the Metropole and the Filling Station. Even all the wino dumps in Bay City were a step above this place. In his decade of working in a dive bar—or should he say as a dive bar tender or maybe dive bartender—Frank had been to Squirrel’s numerous times. And although there was a somewhat interchangeable, roving bunch of patrons that frequented all of the aforementioned saloons, Squirrel’s was the preferred hangout for local thieves, burglars, drug dealers, welfare cheats, bikers, addicts and recidivists, its location outside the downtown area somehow reducing the number of unannounced cop visits.

Which made it the perfect place for Artie Autry.

But his GTO was not in the parking lot or anywhere in the neighborhood as far as Frank could tell after circling the West End business district twice. Frank was trying to figure out how he could keep Doughboy under control if they went into the bar to look for Autry, and when no reasonable solution came to him, he took a calculated risk that Autry, not being a physical fitness fanatic, wouldn’t stray far from his vehicle. Translation—Autry wasn’t likely to be at Squirrel’s. “So now where, Maynard?” Frank said, his gut rabbit now thumping its large rear legs into his solar plexus. 

“I bet he’s on the way to meet me at the Filling Station,” Doughboy said. “We never should of left.”

Frank waved the .38 in the direction of the freeway. “Wagons ho, Maynard, no rest for the wicked.”


The dashboard clock in the ratty Dodge was showing a little after midnight as Doughboy pulled to a stop across Fourth Street from the Twins Bar, a half-block to the east of the Filling Station. There were three bars within a block of each other on this section of Fourth Street and all three had their own set of regulars. The Corral, the farthest west of the three, catered to a shot-and-a-beer country music crowd, while the Filling Station was popular with the druggies and rock ‘n rollers, a slightly younger group. And The Twins—named for the two brothers who originally owned the place, not the Minnesota Twins baseball team as most people believed—got a few from every group, but generally catered to men of the hard-drinking, blue-collar variety.

Frank saw Autry’s GTO in the Filling Station parking lot, an overhead sodium lamp bringing out the blotches of corrosion on the faded muscle car. “So you think he’s in the Filling Station waiting for you?” Frank said to the Doughboy as the junkie shut off the ignition and wiped his sleeve across his forehead for the umpteenth time tonight.

“He wouldn’t wait long,” Doughboy said, his mouth stuck in a bitter, half-sneer-half-pout. He pushed out a heavy sigh and looked across the street. “He’d go to the Twins if I wasn’t at the Station.”

“How about The Corral?” Frank asked, impatience clawing at the inside of his chest.

“Not there,” Doughboy said. “Those assholes hate Artie and me. And the feeling is mutual for those redneck bastards, I promise you that.”

“Glad we got your cultural animus out of the way,” Frank said, deciding then to wait Autry out instead of searching for him and trying to keep Doughboy from going rogue. There was a limit to what a man could take.

After the engine stopped ticking and the smell of exhaust faded into the night; Frank was left to his thoughts. Doughboy looked pathetic sitting there. Man was like a beached whale starving for oxygen or an ignorant pig coming down off a load of Demerol—could be either one. Frank couldn’t stand the sight of him now and was starting to wonder why he was wasting his time with lowlifes like this on the night he lost society’s version of the perfect girl.

What’s a nice guy like me doing in a place like this?

Thinking that he wasn’t that nice of a guy and places like this had been his life for too long a time, Frank was sinking down into that grinding feeling in his chest that just wouldn’t go away. He’d heard about it, read about it, but right now, this moment, he finally understood what they were talking about.

Having a family member murdered is a life sentence.

But maybe it went away or at least eased off a little if you found out what exactly happened. And if you found out who did it and killed the cocksucker, maybe it would go away forever.

Worth a try.

(To be continued)

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Doughboy turned up the hill at Third Avenue East. They were passing by the alley above Fourth Street when Frank pulled the thirty-eight from his jacket and shoved the barrel into Loy’s bulbous, pillow-y middle, thinking now he knew what a tub of lard felt like if you jammed a pistol into it. Shit, he’d wanted to jam the barrel hard into Doughboy’s ribs and give the fat fucker a jolt, but instead it was like he’d buried the thing in a goddamn mattress.

Doughboy tried to jerk away from the pistol, his movements like ripples in a bowl of Jello, but there was nowhere to go. He wheezed. He winced. He tilted his head down toward the pistol and gave Frank a hurt, questioning look. “What the fuck are you doing, Ford? I thought we were going to your place.”

“There’s been a change in plans, Maynard. Instead, you’re gonna take me to see Artie, and the three of us are going to have a little talk concerning what took place at the Paul Bunyan the day my brother disappeared.”

“Ah, come on, Frank, I already told the cops everything I know, why you picking on me?”

“I’m picking on you because you were there that day, you stupid sonofabitch. And I know that Artie had some kind of scam planned that Ray didn’t like. That was the subject of the disagreement, according to what I heard. So you want to tell me what it was about or do I keep shoving in this gun until it hits something hard. You never know, thing could go off by accident. Just bought the piece and I don’t know how reliable it is. Might not kill you but sure as hell will do some damage,” Frank jammed the gun deeper into the corset of fat.

Doughboy’s breathing was strained and uneven. Frank could see sweat popping on the fat man’s forehead in the dim light, the skin on Loy’s face red, like barbecued pork. “I can’t drive with that thing stuck in my side, Frank.” Doughboy pulled the Dodge to the curb and stared at Frank with a frightened-but-determined look, Doughboy having had plenty of practice dealing with bullies, it seemed.

“Okay, Maynard, you got it,” Frank said, pulling the gun away, thinking maybe he should wipe it off or something, but instead resting it on his thigh with the barrel pointing at Loy. “But now that I’ve done you a solid you need to return the favor and tell me what Artie and Ray were arguing about, or this little devil goes back into your roll,” lifting the .38, waggling it.

Doughboy slid the shifter arm into park, wiped the sleeve of his gray sweatshirt across his forehead, swiveled his head around for a look outside then inhaled deeply and gave Frank a nervous smile. “Ray was doing some kind of speedball that day. He’s talking a blue streak and he starts going on about how Judy’s got this pharmacist on a string and how she’s getting all these pill samples from him. All the big companies are handing them out by the ton these days, he says. Well, Artie hears this and pretty soon he’s in Ray’s shit telling him we need to share the bounty. How if Ray don’t cut us in he’s going to drop a dime and bust the whole scheme wide open. But Ray dug in his heels and told Artie to fuck off.” Doughboy looked out the window again and then back to Frank. “So that’s what it was all about.”

Frank knew the Doughboy was an efficient, practiced liar, and believing what he told you was the essence of foolishness, but still he sensed a ring of truth in what the man had said. Just a light ring, though, like one of those push-top bells at the meat counter in a butcher shop. “And so, Maynard, when we get together with our mutual friend Artie, is he gonna back up your story or spin a totally different tale?”

“Of course he’s gonna back me up, Frank. I ain’t shittin’ you. But I don’t know where Artie is tonight, I swear. I got no idea.”

“Oh, please, Maynard, stop the shit. Artie is who you were waiting for at the bar. And I think Artie is meeting up with Nurse Judy tonight for a supply of fresh pharmaceuticals courtesy of the illustrious Mr. Pills. And I also think that whatever dope you took tonight is either just kicking in or just wearing off and either way you’re falling apart and need something else. You took a chance on me because you know Ray was getting a ton of shit from his ex and that made my story believable.”

“You mean you don’t have anything?” Loy’s voice was a grating whine in Frank’s ears.

Frank shook his head in disbelief and gave Doughboy a hard stare. “No, Maynard, I don’t have anything. Afraid you fell victim to the hunk of cheese in the rattrap, because you is the big fat lab rat. Now get this piece of shit on the road to wherever your partner in crime is.”

“I told you, Frank, I don’t know exactly where he is. He said he’d find me.”

“I tell you what, Maynard. Put your drug-sniffing nose out the window and pick up the scent. I know you can find drugs like a bloodhound finds blood.”

“He could be out at Squirrel’s, I guess.”

“Squirrel’s it is then. Drive on, Jeeves.” Frank waggled the gun in a circle like a master of ceremonies at a circus, which, come to think of it, he kind of was. A twisted, stinky, exploitive circus—just like the real thing.

Loy whined some more. “Aw, c’mon, Frank, it’s way out in the West End, I’m in no shape to drive all the way out there.”

Any patience Frank once possessed had gone out the door with Nikki a few hours ago. He lifted the pistol from his knee and drove a corner of the butt into Doughboy’s bulbous bicep, hitting something firm beneath the layers of fat.

Loy yelped, grabbed his arm and continued whining. “Frank—Jesus, c’mon, would you? I was just saying, man, just telling it like it is… ease off, all right? Artie might not even be out there. I told you… I’m not sure where he is.”

“Feeling more alert now, Maynard? Think you can get us to Squirrel’s?”

Biting down on his lower lip in an exaggerated pout while rubbing vigorously on his bicep, Doughboy flashed Frank a hateful glance then gingerly lifted his arm, dropped the shifter into drive and peeled away from the curb in a cloud of dust and a roar of un-muffled V8.

(To be continued)

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Doughboy was easy to spot, overhead lights glinting off the big round shiny dome of his head like some sort of urban distress signal. Low on energy? See the Doughboy. Can’t sleep? See the Doughboy. Can’t face life without a crutch? See the Doughboy. Too much pain? See the Doughboy.

Business must be slow, Frank thought, the Doughboy all alone in a booth kind of hunched over and disheveled, looking like he needed a friend. And that gave Frank an idea, the universe finally opening up with a game plan and laying out the procedures.

The Filling Station, set pretty much in the middle of the Central Hillside, was the focal point of the neighborhood and one reason Frank always disliked coming here. There was a lot of overlap in the customer base and you never knew when someone you had to punch out at the Metropole might decide on payback while you were off your guard drinking and socializing and having a good time at the Filling Station.

Striding down the aisle toward the Doughboy, nodding to familiar faces and gesturing to the bartender, Skimmer Mancini, older guy rumored to be buying the place, Frank was fighting the urge to snap his finger into the back of Loy’s balloon of a head. But then he saw the pale mountain of flesh quiver and begin to rise up from the booth like a not-so-great white whale. Frank watched the creature struggle out of the booth and stagger and sway toward the men’s room at the back of the bar. Halfway there the Doughboy formed a gun with the thumb and forefinger of his pudgy right hand and placed the finger against his head.

When Doughboy flicked his thumb three times like he was shooting himself in the head and then disappeared behind the restroom wall, Frank got the message. Old Mister Doughboy was feeling a tad self-destructive tonight.

Frank slid into the empty booth on the opposite side from where Loy had been. A few minutes later Frank heard a scratchy, incoherent whine coming from behind him and then saw the man himself dripping down into the booth like a melting candle, everything sagging. Frank gave Mr. Loy a nice deep smile, phony as a three-dollar bill. “How’s it hangin’, Doughboy,” he said, “got anything I might be interested in tonight?”

Doughboy’s chin rose slowly like the opening of a coffin lid in an old vampire movie. The slits for eyes slowly widened, going from hazy to stark and staring, in an instant. “Frank, I didn’t expect to see you here. In a place like this, I mean.”

“This is my neighborhood bar, Maynard, the place I met my former girlfriend. This bar carries a lot of nostalgia for me. Now you gonna answer my question?”

“What question was that, Frank?”

“Come on, Maynard, wake the fuck up. What you got for sale, tonight? Ups, downs, narcotics—what?”

“That’s not your bag, Frank. Even I know that. You’re just fuckin’ with me. Loads of fun torturing the fat guy, right? Ray was the same fuckin’ way except he was too small to pull it off.”

“Afraid you’d sit on him I bet, eh, Maynard? But I am not here to torment, only to seek shelter from the storm. What’re you holding, man, come on?”

“Nothing, Frank. I was expecting someone to show up and they haven’t yet. But you never know what might turn up here if you wait around until close.”

Maynard out of product on a weekend night? Something was in the wind.

“Well then, Maynard, this is your lucky night. I just may have the answer to your prayers. I was going through Ray’s shit at his old apartment the other day and I ran across a little stash of his. Actually, it’s not little, man, it’s an entire shaving bag full of pills: reds, yellows, capsules, tablets, shrink wrapped stuff, bottles… a real pharmaceutical horn of plenty. Probably a gift from his former wife.”

Loy’s face was turning pink now. “Come on, Frank, what’re you trying to pull? Everybody knows you hate that stuff. And I’m sure the cops gave Ray’s place a complete shakedown, so stop fuckin’ with me and go bother someone else to get your sick kicks.”

“Doughboy, my man, I appreciate your caution. Didn’t expect it, believe me, but this time your instincts are failing you. You heard that I quit the Metropole, I assume. And now my day job is on hiatus, so I really need the fuckin’ money. And, you see, I knew where Ray stashed his shit. Little bro had a hidey-hole under some loose bricks in the fireplace. Come on, this stuff is right up your alley. We can both make some hay here.”

“All right then, let me see what you got.”

“I didn’t bring it in here for Christ sake. You gotta car?  We can go over to my place, it’s only three blocks from here.”

Doughboy’s face scrunched up and his eyelids began to flutter. “Well, I dunno about that, I’m kinda fucked up.”

“Consumed the last of your product, eh? No problem man, I got something’ll fix you right up. Up, down, sideways, inside out… whatever way you need to go I’m sure I got something will fill the bill. So whattaya say, let’s go and have a look, the night is still young. You can get yourself right and be back here for the witching hour if we make haste.”

Drug lust motivating him, Doughboy stood up. “Let’s go then, Ford,” he said. “Let’s make some haste.”

Frank followed Loy out to the parking lot and a dark green Dodge four-door from the late sixties. Ugly car with rust around the wheel wells and spots on the doors looked like blasts from a rust-shooting shotgun. Getting in the passenger side, Frank’s feet crunched down on a pile of empty potato chip and Cheeto bags, candy bar wrappers and grease-stained fast-food bags. Craning his neck to the backseat while Loy struggled in behind the steering wheel, Franks saw an even larger collection of similar debris covering the floor and the rear seat cushions. Whole damn car stunk like a landfill on a hot summer day.

Loy cranked the ignition and the engine fired. It was loud as hell. Had to be a hole in the muffler or no muffler at all. “Jesus, Maynard,” Frank said, “Aren’t you afraid of getting stopped in this thing? Not too smart to carry dope when your car sounds like a stock car.”

“Which allows me to fit right in perfectly in this part of town, Frank. Zenith cops don’t seem to pay it any mind.”

“At least until they need an excuse to pull you over. But I guess it’s your choice, Maynard, being a grown man and all.”

Loy gave Frank a look before pulling down the shift lever and driving out of the parking lot. “Which way?” he said at the intersection of Fourth Street and Fifth Avenue East.

“Come on, Maynard, you know the way. I’m sure you and Artie have been by my place before.”

“Never been there, Frank, swear to god. Why would we do that?”

“Okay, never mind. Play it that way if you need to. Go over to Third Avenue and take a right, I’m in the alley above Fifth.”

(To be continued)

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