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South Texas Tangle, Chapter 1, Excerpt 2

Cynthia Marie Mathews Henning felt light and airy, except for the tugging in her stomach when thoughts of her son came around. And now as the cool of dawn gave way to the heat of late morning, the elation of breaking free from Dan was fading with the dew. And as much as she believed what she’d done was necessary—mandatory even—second thoughts and second guesses were creeping into her head like scorpions seeking shade. Maybe she shouldn’t have listened to her sister Jean. Maybe she should’ve talked to Dan about marriage counseling before walking out. Maybe she should’ve stayed at home. But darn it, she couldn’t do things over, and Jean was probably right about Dan, her big sister saying Dan would pull a John Wayne and refuse any kind of help or counseling.

Cynthia knew state troopers could get mental health counseling within the department if they requested it. She also knew Dan would never request it on his own. Probably say he’d taken enough crap already from the guys about his “chicken-shit suspension.” Talk about a stubborn streak, the man was still sticking to his claim that the Latina whore was forcing herself on him, Dan insisting he’d pushed the tramp away just a second after the cell phone photo was taken. And the picture wasn’t that clear—really—so Cyn did have some doubt.

Just a little.

Or maybe not.

Yes, she was trying very hard to believe her husband. But sadly found herself coming back to the way she’d felt for the last few months: a big, aching hole inside her and despair when she looked ahead even so far as next week. Freedom demands eternal vigilance was one of her father’s favorite sayings, but what, exactly, was there to be vigilant about here? Was she supposed to be following Dan around 24/7? Hacking in to the NSA to track his movements? It was all too confusing and draining.

Her sister Jean kept telling her she just needed time on her own, Cyn having gone right from college into a “dead-end marriage trap,” Jean never bothering to soften her rips at Dan. And maybe it was good advice. Cyn wasn’t sure so she was giving it a try. But what the heck should she do with this time on her own?

That was the question all right.

Money wouldn’t be a problem if it came down to that. Her Daddy would be more than happy to help her cut loose from the “cretin with a badge,” her father’s exact words six years ago when Cyn told him she was marrying Dan. And perhaps a few weeks on her own was what she needed to get her thoughts in order. Her mother always said Jesus would guide the way and Cyn was hoping old J.C.—or anyone, for that matter—would come along and point her in the right direction. At the moment she could barely imagine spending much time away from her baby boy, so that needed some adjustment. And, well, a few days away might be long enough to get things straight, but if going back to her husband meant putting his penis in her mouth like he was always asking, she just didn’t know, thing smelling like stale Vienna sausage under the covers. Maybe after a shower….

And that was the actual truth, but she wouldn’t be putting it on her Facebook page anytime soon.

(to be continued)

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CHAPTER 1 (Excerpt 1)

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

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

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

Saying it nice and polite.

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

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

Jesus, no plates?

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

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

“Your driver’s license, sir.”

Politeness fading.

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

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

Gamble Gulch?

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

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

Neither one came.

Whattaya know.

(To be continued)

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DEAD LOW WINTER

T.K. O’Neill

Originally published in somewhat different form as “Social Climbing,” one of four stories published under the pseudonym Thomas Sparrow in his 1999 debut Northwoods Pulp: Four Tales of Crime and Weirdness and later translated into Japanese and published by Fushosha.

It’s the mid-1970’s and, in his search for a way out of the mire that had become his life, sometimes-cab driver Keith Waverly finds himself in deeper than his wildest nightmares. At odds with both conventional life and life outside convention, looking for a way to break free without giving in, Keith tries to control his fate, but ends up a pawn in someone else’s bigger game.  The vast darkness of the north woods provides a chilling backdrop and powerful force to Dead Low Winter.

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dead_low_winter COVER

 

Originally published in somewhat different form as “Social Climbing,” one of four stories published under the pseudonym Thomas Sparrow in his 1999 debut Northwoods Pulp: Four Tales of Crime and Weirdness and later translated into Japanese and published by Fushosha.

https://bluestonesblog.com/category/dead-low-winter-excerpts/

 

In an age that is utterly corrupt, the best policy is to do as others do. — Marquis de Sade, 1788

ONE:  Social Climbing

The high rollers had me surrounded. They were all staring at me, waiting.

“Three, please,” said the Mayor of Bay City. He was polite, as usual.

I thumbed the cards off the top of the deck and slid them across the smooth brown surface of the round wooden table. Mayor John McKay took them and settled back against his straight-backed chair, spreading his cards out like a fan as he always did. Then he took a white-tipped filter cigarette from the pocket of his tailored white shirt and lit it with a silver Zippo and a flourish of his long-fingered almost feminine hands, blowing out the smoke in a slow upward moving cloud.

I figured he must have hit on his pair.

“I’ll take two,” said large-headed and balding Nicholas Cross on McKay’s immediate left. Cross squinted and tugged on the bridge of his previously-broken-but-nicely-set nose as if a fly was up there. “Make it two of the same kind if you please.” He grinned strangely at the rest of the players, pulling at the loose skin around his Adam’s apple like the fly had found its way down there. After seeing his cards he made a quick swipe across his forehead with a hairy forearm and sat back.

I looked over to my left at the ever-grinning mug of Sam Cross, Nick’s younger brother. His index finger was jammed in his ear, the rest of his stubby hand wiggling with gusto, his other hand resting comfortably against his slight paunch. A good-sized pile of chips and several empty beer bottles formed a barrier around his neatly stacked cards. He’d opened right off the get-go and drawn two.

The Cross brothers were cheating and I knew it. But it only seemed to be working for Sam. Nick had been losing big all night long and was down to writing IOUs. And the jing wasn’t only going to his sibling; he was spreading it around.

Tom Geno, the slick-haired mayor of Zenith City, had a few of those IOUs and also a gigantic collection of chips stacked up in odd-sized piles like rice cakes at a vegetarian picnic. And him the compulsive degenerate gambler that everyone loved to play against. The big fish from the bright side of the bay where the streets are a little cleaner and the sun shines a little brighter. The boys from Bay City always enjoyed cleaning this fish, but tonight the finner was having the last laugh. Yes sir, the Mayor of Zenith City was showing the Bay City boys a thing or two about poker, letting them know he wasn’t the sucker they thought he was.

Geno took one card and slid it in his hand and mixed them up slowly, one at a time, without looking. Having the last laugh on these assholes would definitely be frosting on the Mayor’s cake.

Myself, I was laughing on the inside, where it counts. Imagine—me hanging with the rich and influential. Just a punk nobody finally old enough to grow a decent mustache and here I was, in on the “fleecing of the elite,” as Sam Cross called it.

But the brothers were fucking up their scam right in front of me.

The show was going to be better than I thought.

(To be continued)

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