Monday, July 31, 2017

Whacked, by Jim Chandler

You had to watch Louie's right hand. If it went under his jacket you were in a world of shit. It was close to his lapel now and he was frowning behind his shades. It was not a good sign. I figured to be fished out of the river in a few days with a hole in my head. And on autopsy, they'd find a couple of cracked kneecaps as well.

"You disappoint me, Jake," Louis said. He raised his Cuban to his lips and took a deep drag. The cigar looked like a black dog turd. I felt like the cigar looked, except I might be stomped on the sidewalk.

"I'm sorry, man, " I said, trying to keep the fear out of my voice. "I did the best I could to come up with the dough."

Louie shook his head and turned to Bones the Undertaker. "He didn't try hard enough, did he Bones?" Bones, looking glum as your friendly neighborhood mortician, nodded. In fact, Bones was a mortician. It was a handy way to get rid of things, in his fiery crematorium. "So," Louie added, "What should we do with him, Bones?"

"I don't know, boss," Bones answered.

"I'll make it good, Louie," I said. That just pissed him off more.

"Like hell you will!" he yelled at me. "You had six months and it ain't good yet. Why will things changed now, huh? Tell me wise guy."

It looked like it might be it for me. What the fuck, I wouldn't beg. I'd taken on some bad dudes in my time and I'd always come out on top. But there was no taking on Louie, Bones and Big Rick. They had me cold. My piece was in Louie's side coat pocket. I was a goner.

"If you're gonna whack me, just make it quick will you," I said. "Is that too much to ask?"

"You want me to whack you?"

"Naw, but I figure you're about to," said I. "I don't wanna die man, but I won't beg either."

Louie sort of smiled out of the corner of his mouth and cut his eyes over at Big Rick. Big Rick was a fucking psycho; he was just standing idly by waiting for Louie to give him the sign. Once he got it, out would come his straight razor. I'd seen his handiwork once and it wasn't pretty.

"Damn, he sounds like a made man," Louie laughed. "How 'bout that, Rick, think he's afraid to die?"

"Gimme the word and we'll see, Louie," Big Rick grinned. "Bet I can make him change his fuckin tune in a hurry."

"Fuck you too, Rick," I said, figuring what the hell. I was a goner but I wasn't going to take any shit off him. "Take that razor outta your hand and you're a helpless piece of shit!"

Rick would have jumped me right there but Louie stopped it. "Cool it man!" he yelled at Rick. "Jake's got more balls than I gave him credit for."

"He won't have none when I get done with him," Rick growled. "I'll cut his fuckin nuts off and shove 'em down his wise mouth!"

All of a sudden, the irony of all this struck me. Louie had hired me a year before to do some legwork for him. He needed a private dick, one a bit on the seedy side, to find an old girlfriend. I took the job, found the girl and that was that. Oh yeah, the girlfriend was the one I saw Rick play his razor music on. Meanwhile, my gambling habit got the best of me. The ponies ran sour for several weeks and I wound up twenty gees into Louie. I managed to make the vig for a while but then things went south. Push came down to shove and here we were, with my tit in a big crack. It was going to slam tight and there wasn't a goddamn thing I could do about it.

"Well hell, let's see," said Louie. "You owe me still about sixteen long ones and it's growing every day. But there might be a way to get out from under that. You interested?"

"Is the fuckin Pope catholic?" I said. "Has a goat got an ass?" That got a twitch of lips from Bones, who had never been known to really smile in his life.

Louie laid it out for me then. Staying alive, and clearing my debt, was simple.

All I had to do was whack Superior Court Judge Harry Grogan. A piece of cake, Louie said. Yeah.
As it stood, I had three options: I could whack the judge, let Louie whacked me or maybe set Louie up with John Law. I knew I couldn't do the first and the second wasn't too appetizing either. So I decided to fuck Louie over.

None of the cops were big fans of mine because I tended to get in their way sometimes. Most of them hated my guts, but there was one sergeant who could at least tolerate me. I gave him a call.

"You want Louie Bostone?" I asked Bill Dill. He snickered.

"Everybody wants old Louie," he said. "The feds would give a million bucks for him. You can turn him?"

"He wants me to hit Judge Grogan," I replied. That got Dill's attention.

"No shit! How did you get hung in that?"

"The ponies ran sour," I said drying. "You know the tune."

"Yeah, well meet me off Rock Canyon Road at six, up by the dam. We'll talk more."

"I know the place. I'll be there."

I went to my filing cabinet, bottom drawer, and got my backup piece. Fucking Louie had my .44 Bulldog Magnum, my real firepower. I flipped the barrel down on the owlhead .32 and noted all five cylinders were loaded. I slipped the peashooter in the back of my waistband and stuck a handful of extra shell in my side coat pocket just in case. The .32 was a shitty piece, good only if you were going to cap somebody in spitting distance. But it beat nothing by a long shot.

My office was in the low rent part of town and I was always cautious coming and going. This day I was more cautious than most, peering out the front windows far as I could see in both directions. I was looking for Louie's Caddy, a big blue number. Big Rick would be at the wheel; besides being a primo blade man, he was the best wheel man in town. I saw nothing unusual and slipped out the front door into the afternoon glare.

The sun hung in blue haze back over the ocean like a festering boil. It was one of those July LA days when the air was still in all directions. The thermometer hovered around 98 and the humidity was close behind. You could take Bic Rick's razor and cut a chunk out of it.

I scoped the area casually before crawling under the wheel of my beat up Mustang. I didn't want anybody tailing me to my meet with Dill, else I'd be fish bait before morning. I figured to take the long way around and keep a close eye.

It was like a sauna inside the car. The air conditioning had quit a couple months before, but I didn't have the bread to fix it. I had to support the ponies, fuck cool air. I rolled down the windows and grimaced when the 5.0-liter engine kicked over. The car looked like a piece of shit but it would move when you kicked it. I kicked it away from the curb hard and hung a left, bolting off in a way certain to draw attention if anybody was tailing. A move like that might fool a rookie. Big Rick was no rookie, however.

I made about five miles of unnecessary turns trying to spot a tail. I pulled up in front of a liquor store on Studebaker and got out. I went in and got a bottle of Beam for later, then came back out. Everything looked cool to me, except the mean ass heat rising in the street. I turned north toward the canyon and was pleased to see that the only thing behind me, way back, was a bread truck.

Dill was waiting when I arrived, leaning against the front of his white Ford. He was smoking a cigar and I could tell he was squinting behind his Ray-bans. Most cops are pricks, but Dill was a little less of a prick than most. He was still a prick though.

"You're fuckin late," he said. I looked at my watch.

"What the fuck's ten minutes."

"Yeah, well, it can make a lot of difference sometimes," he said, but grinning a bit. "Like when you're screwing. By the way, you still seeing Margie?"

Margie was something I didn't want to talk about. I'd run out my string with her and it was finished. I stayed away from the club where she worked because I was afraid I would kill somebody.

"Screw that, I came here to talk about Louie," I said. "If you don't wanna talk, I'll walk."

"Calm down, man," he said, flipping his smoke butt. "OK. Lay it out for me."

I did, the whole nine yards. Grogan was supposedly bought and paid for, but he fucked them with Little Stevie Benza. Little Stevie was up on an attempted murder charge because a guy happened to get in the way of Little Stevie's 'Vette. In fact, the guy got under the wheels about four times according to doctors who tried to put him back together. Grogan was suppose to direct an acquittal during the trial, but he didn't. And so the jury found Stevie guilty and gave him 27 years. Little Stevie was married to Louie's daughter, so Louie was sorely pissed. He wanted Grogan wasted. That was it.

"We'll have to wire you," said Dill when I finished. "Then you'll have to get him to say this again."

That worried me. Louie was no fool and he'd had Rick pat me down good before, when he got my shooter. The fucker had been real thorough, even grabbing my nuts. "I don't know, man, they'd probably find it."

"I'll be close and I'll put a couple more guys on it, we'll cover your ass," said Dill. "What choice you got?" He had me there.
"OK, let's do it," I said. What the hell, my options were nonexistent. "I'll try to make a meet with Louie and get back to you."
"Do that," said Dill. "The sooner the better."
But I let it slide right up to the two days Louie gave me to make up my mind. I didn't want to look too anxious to waste a judge because Louie would smell that. I had to play it as safe as possible and that's what I tried to do.

I called Louie. I didn't have to pretend to be nervous. I was scared shitless.

"OK, I don't like it, but I'll do it," I said. "I ain't got much of a fucking choice."

Louie laughed. "I figured you were smart enough to stay alive," he said. "You do this and the debt is clear, capiche?"

"Yeah, but we need to get together and talk about this. I'll need a piece and. . . "

"I'll have Rick get a clean piece to you," he interrupted.

"Fuck that noise, Rick will try to waste me himself," I said quickly. "I trust you, Louie, man I'd rather deal with you." That bit of ass kissing seemed to work. Maybe Louie wasn't as smart as I gave him credit for.

"OK, screw it," he said. "Come by the Shady Lounge at nine this evening. We'll set it all up and you can pick up the shooter then."

"I'll be there," I said, hanging up. The next call was to Dill. Six-thirty o'clock at dam I'd get wired.

I was shaking like a dog shitting peach pits. I didn't like to be scared. It made me dangerous.

I had almost four hours to kill before meeting Dill. It dawned on me that it might be my last day on earth. What I wanna do if I knew it way my last sunrise? I asked myself. That was simple. I wanted to see Margie one last time.

That decided, I piled in the iron and headed for the Chez Sally Club. If I was lucky she'd be working the noon crowd still hanging from a long lunch. I was lucky. Maybe my luck would hold.

I found a stool off to the left of the stage and ordered a double Beam. She worked the pole just as I remembered all legs and tits and blonde hair. I looked at her trim spreading as one leg went high on the pole and the memory of how she tasted made my heart ache. I realized at that moment how much I still cared for her. She saw me then, her face twisted in what was supposed to be some erotic move. Her eyes widened briefly and a tiny smile played over her mouth.
Two drinks got me through her set and she left the stage. A few minutes later she came up, covered now in a blue gown, and slid onto the stool next to me. She put her hand on my arm

"Hi, Jake," she said. "It's good to see you." There was something in the soft look of her green eyes that told me she hadn't forgotten me.

"Yeah, it's good to see you too, kid," I said. "You're lookin' good as always."

Damn. She was 27 and I was 43. We had got on good for awhile, then I got the notion I was too old for her. And I fucked things up big time because of it.

"Kid," she repeated back to me, grinning. "Same old Jake. Thinks he's an old man when he's not."

"I guess it's all relative," I said, smiling in spite of myself.

Her face got serious then. She must have sensed something was up because she asked me, "So, why are you here now, after all these months of nothing? What's happening that brought you here to see me?"

"Maybe I just wanted to see an old flame."

"I don't buy that, you're too bullheaded to come because of that. Please, tell me . . .are you in some kind of trouble?"

What the hell, it might be the last time I ever laid eyes on her. It was time for the truth. So I laid it out for her, or as much as I could. When I finished she had the beginning of mist in the corners of her eyes.

"Oh baby, come home with me," she said. "Please." She took me by the arm. I followed. I would have even if I hadn't believed it might be my last day alive.

She was better than I remembered, much better. You know what they say--good pussy is wonderful and bad pussy is pretty damned good. Margie was somewhere way beyond good pussy. She had a way of slinging that left leg around high on your back and then digging the heel of her right foot into your ass. She could rock you to heaven like that.

At least I had one more trip there before possibly taking the elevator down. She rode me high and hard and she was, yeah, way better than I had remembered.

"And you believe you're too old for me?" she teased afterward, rubbing the hair on my belly. "You wore me out."

"Yeah, well I ain't consistent," I grinned. I reached over and shook a weed out of the pack on the nightstand, firing it with the gold Dunhill. She smiled when I did that.

"You kept the lighter I gave you," she said. "That must mean something."

I laughed. "Yeah, twelve hundred buck lighters don't grow on trees."

"It's more than the money," she said.

"Yeah, you're right about that. I can't deny it. Sentimental value and all."

She rubbed lower. My buddy Willie paid attention, it was hard not to.
I used her shower before I left. It was strictly in consideration for whoever would be taping something on my balls. And I also borrowed the little .22 Baretta I'd given her. It wasn't much but it might be concealed and I wasn't going to the meet without something on me, no way.

I thought about Scarface and the chain saw scene. I'd rather drop in a blaze of glory and maybe take a couple out with me. If it came to that, Louie would get the first one. I hadn't practiced lately but I could still throw a head shot offhand if I had to. And I might have to.

Dill was up at the dam when I arrived, this time in a black van. There was a guy named Roman in the back, a skinny dude who appeared a little on the gay side. I had no big problem with gays, but I didn't relish the thought of one dabbing around my balls with tape. But he may not have been gay because he insisted on taping the box and mike on my chest.

"Fuck no," I said. "Hell, I might as well tote it in my hand than do that. It's a sure way to get killed and I won't do it."

"Yeah," Dill agreed. "Seems a little reckless to me too. Go ahead and put it where he wants it."

I wound up with the transmitter behind my balls and the mike cord around and on my lower belly. I'd worn pouch briefs especially for the occasion. I pulled the .22 out of my back pocket. "This is going in the pouch," I said. Dill shook his head. "I'd have to recommend against it," he said, but not with too much conviction. "They find it, you're fucked."

"If they find it they find the wire and I'm fucked anyway. I got a plan."

"Well, you're right about that," he said. "But don't use it unless you have to, understand? We'll be right outside the building, front and back, in case something goes sour."

"That's comforting, but the pistol stays," I said.

"OK, just be cool."

"I'm always fucking cool," I said. I didn't feel too cool, though. The peach pit shit shakes were coming back. I had to get that under control in about an hour or I was history.

Against my better judgment, I took a big jolt of the Beam after I crawled back in the Mustang. It was so good I took a second. After the third one I capped the jug. It was calming me, but I needed a little edge. Not too much, just that quick jump afforded by a small case of nerves.

About five miles down from the dam I seemed to be getting to that place. I even managed a smile. I was going to fuck Louie, or he was going to fuck me. It was all so simple, just like everyday life. People screwed or got screwed.

Tomorrow we'd know who got fucked today. I hoped the screwing I had earlier was my last one for this Tuesday.
I pulled into a parking lot a block from the Shady Lounge at twenty minutes before nine. I didn't want to arrive early and appear anxious, so I sat for a few moments. The jug looked tempting and I picked it up and removed the cap. But I thought better of it and screwed the top back on. If I survived, I'd have a drink then. One right now might be one too many.

At about five till, I slipped out of the car and started down the sidewalk toward the joint. There was quite a bit of traffic and a lot of curbside parking, but I spotted the van pulled up on the curb directly across from the Shady. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Dill sitting behind the wheel. I knew there were others in it as well and no doubt somebody would be inside the joint.

I yanked one of the double doors open and stepped into the club. It was dark and the air visible in the faint light looked like one of those news scenes of the rain forest on fire. There were a dozen or so drinkers bellied up to the bar and an equal number scattered in the booths. None of them looked like cops in a brown wrapper, but that was good if they were.

Louie's office was at the end of a hallway in back, past the toilets. I went up and rapped on the door. After a few seconds it cracked open and Bones peered out. He turned and said, "It's him." I heard Louie tell him to let me in and he did, opening the door. I stepped in and Louie held up his right hand in a halt gesture from where he sat behind his desk. Big Rick was standing leaning on a cabinet to his right, looking mean as usual.

"Frisk him," Louie said. Rick grinned and started over. It was now or never for me, because the frisk he gave me before would find the gun and the wire. Then it would be razor time.

I raised my hands high and stepped to the sides, spreading my legs wide. I grinned as Rick approached.

"Hey, give my balls and cock a good one," I laughed. "I noticed how much you liked it the other day, must have picked that up in the slammer eh?" His face went red and he gritted his teeth.

"Fuck you man," he said. "That mouth's gonna be the end of you some day." But he merely rubbed under my arms and around my waist and stepped back, scowling.

"This chickenshit ain't got the balls to come in here packing," he said to Louie. Louie nodded and then reached into a drawer and removed a pistol. He lay the .22 revolver on the desktop.

"Here's a clean piece. Pitch it when you're done. You got two days to make it, or your ass is mine."

"No, boss, you promised me it was mine, remember," Rick grinned.

"Two fucking days?" I said. "Christ Louie, I can't set it up that fast, killing a fucking judge!" I wanted to get him to commit to that on the wire.

"Just do what you gotta do in two days," he said like he meant business. "Do it and you free and clear. Don't, and your friends will wonder what became of you."

"He ain't got no goddamn friends," Rick laughed. "Nobody wants a low ass gumshoe for a friend."

It was about that point that the problem began. I felt it before I heard it, felt a vibration in my crotch. I almost went into a panic but I managed to stay cool enough. But seconds later it was making an audible sound, a high pitched beep. Everybody started looking around.

"What the hell, somebody wearing a wrist alarm or a beeper?" asked Louie. Then, the noise got louder and they all looked at me. Louie understood what was happening first, because, his eyes bulging out of his head, he screamed, "The motherfucker is wired!"

That was it. As Rick broke from his spot by the filing cabinet, I spun to my left and made a dive forward, my hand going down the front of my pants. I got the handle and pulled the little shooter on the roll, coming up on my back with Rick closing in fast. He'd fished out the razor and it was about four feet from cutting my throat. I threw the pistol up and popped a cap, watching as a tiny red spot opened up between his upper lip and nose. I triggered again and saw his right eye disintegrate and his head snap back. He stopped in his tracks, sat down limply on his ass and fell to his right, dead before he hit the floor.

About the time I saw Rick die, I heard Louie's 9-mm fire. I was slammed halfway around to the left. Bones had come out with a snub-nose piece, but seems to have a problem because he was fumbling with the safety. I fired two rounds at Louie, missing but causing him to duck, then took Bones out with an aimed shot through the forehead. Louie came back up firing and that's when all hell broke loose. There was a loud crash and the door fell in. It sounded like a reenactment of World War Two suddenly as Dill and his boys came in shooting. Louie took at least a dozen rounds, dancing back to the wall and sliding in his brains down it.

"How bad you hit?" Dill asked, coming over. There was blood seeping through the front of my jacket. "Get an ambulance," he told one of the other cops.

"Hell I don't know, left shoulder is fucked up some," I said. "It's not hurting but it felt like a bat hit me. That fucking wire almost got me killed."

The little guy who had put it on me grinned, then looked at Dill. "It worked just fine, didn't it Sarg," he said. Dill grinned. "It damned sure did," said Dill. "Like a charm."

It hit me then what had happened. "You sons of bitches," I said. "You used me as bait to get these fuckers." Dill laughed.

"Jake, you just performed a hell of a public service. And you saved the taxpayers a big bundle of dough."

"Fuck the taxpayers," I said. "And fuck you too."
That was a month ago. I spent the night in the hospital for the flesh wound. A doctor said if it had been an inch higher it would have clipped an artery and I'd probably have bled to death before the meat wagon got there.

I had to leave town. I'm staying in a friend's cabin in the mountains now, but I can't stay here forever. I'll have to watch my step because Louie had friends. I'll be looking over my shoulder for a long time.

I thought about bringing Margie with me. She'd come, I know, but I decided that was no good. I'm too old for her and besides, she'd be in danger. If they whacked me, they'd whack her just for the hell of it.

So, I screwed Louie and Louie screwed me. Dill screwed us both.

But shit happens, as they say.

And they weren't lying. 

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Book Review: Shank, by Roy Harper

Roy Harper
Crime Wave Press
reviewed by David Nemeth

An outlaw’s prime motivator is not wanting to go back to prison. Readers take this at face value, but not wanting to go back to prison is a strong incentive, because prison is shit. Roy Harper’s Shank (Crime Wave Press) takes aim at Hollywood’s myth of the sanitized prison system and obliterates it. Prison is no game, it’s death, it’s boredom, it’s soulless.

In Shank, Harper’s narrator David “Tool” Roney is serving a life sentence at Parchman Farm, the oldest and only maximum security prison in Mississippi. Though Shank details the daily life inside a prison walls, Harper shines when writes about a convict’s existence and their fight for dignity:

Prison was about much more than just not being allowed to come and go. It was about sensory deprivation. Deprivation of life’s normalcy. You were deprived of all kinds of stimulation – colors, aromas, sounds, movement, family and love – all variety of life was replaced by something bland, offensive, and negative. Everyone wore the same clothes and the same hairstyle. Everything was painted the same bland, uninteresting color. Everyone was a potential enemy. Your life became permeated with the odors of unwashed bodies, urine, feces, and insanity. Steel doors slammed and people were always screaming; angry, stupid or insane screaming. Everything moved slowly and any sudden move caught your eye; was it an act of violence? Or was it just a rat?

Stuck in the Maximum Security Unit, Roney is always on alert against the daily humiliations forced upon him by both guards and inmates. These indignities drive his one ambition — to escape. Roney finds himself a partner in making his escape plans, a man who Roney knows to be “loudmouthed and rude, with an overbearing personality, abrasive to most people’s nerves, Mad Man was a man who was hard to like.” But what attracted Roney to him most was that Mad Man was an outlaw.

I didn’t particularly like Mad Man, myself, and would never even have talked to the man if it hadn’t been for the one thing that drew me to him: Most inmates who spoke of escape fantasize about living in the woods or blending into a large city somewhere and maybe getting a job. Not Mad Man. He wanted to escape so he could rob more banks, do drugs, sell drugs, enjoy party girls, and live like a biker till someone killed him. Yep, Mad Man Rigsby was a one-hundred percent true, no excuses made, no apologies offered, outlaw.

Unlike heist novels where the plan goes haywire and usually fails, Shank is prison escape novels, the plan always falters, but somehow the escape always succeeds. Harper clean and crisp writing excels at building the tension throughout the escape and does not falter as Roney continues to evade the dogs and police tracking him down.

Usually we don’t assume that a crime writer is a pick-pocket, robber, murderer or, say, prisoner, but in this case, assume away. Harper is currently a prisoner at Parchman Farm where is his serving 88 years for robbery as a repeat offender. Left with the knowledge that his only way out of prison is escape or death, Harper has escaped from prison three times. One escape was featured on an episode from National Geographic’s Breakout series, “Escape from Supermax”. Even though there is an authenticity to the bleak dreams and bitter realities of Shank, the book succeeds on Harper’s direct and no-nonsense writing.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Last Good Day, by Michael Bracken

Elmo Tiller sat on the open tailgate of his white Ford Super Duty F-450, nursed a cold bottle of Shiner Bock pulled from the ice chest a few minutes earlier, and watched a dust plume approaching. He wore ropers the color of Texas dirt that had long ago molded themselves to the shapes of his feet, well-worn Wranglers that clung to legs bowed from decades of horseback riding, a chambray long-sleeved work shirt with the cuffs rolled back to reveal sinewy forearms the color and texture of worn leather, and a sweat-stained white Shantung straw Stetson that shielded his pale blue eyes from the glaring morning sun. He had shaved before driving down from the ranch house, but tufts of gray bristle nestled where the razor failed to navigate the wrinkled canyons of his face. A blue bandanna hung from one back pocket, a pair of tan deerskin gloves from the other, and a holster tucked into the small of his back held a Glock 27 semi-automatic pistol he’d purchased and registered after earning the concealed carry permit in his wallet.

He turned his attention from the approaching dust plume to the Herefords scattered across the short-grass prairie his forebears had fenced off for pastureland. In addition to the cattle dotting the landscape were several shrubby mesquite trees and some prickly pear cacti, but the only real trees were a few cottonwoods growing near the ranch house at the top of the low rise several miles away. After his most recent visit to his cardiologist, any day Elmo spent outside with his cattle was a good day.

He’d just finished the beer and opened a second when an aging black Dodge Ram 3500 wheeled through the open gate and across the cattle guard, a rusty livestock trailer clunking along behind it. The rancher set the bottle aside and slipped down from the tailgate as a man less than half his age stepped out of the Dodge. Chance Palmer came from a different generation. Though he wore Wranglers like Elmo, he also wore scuffed black steel-toed work boots, a sleeveless black Metallica T-shirt that hung loosely over his emaciated frame, and a black-and-white Tractor Supply Co. gimme cap with the brim broken into a compound curve lower on the left that partially blocked sunlight coming in the side window when he drove. Stringy black hair hung to his shoulders, and that he had not shaved in several days gave his face a dirty, mottled appearance. When he spoke, he revealed rotting black teeth surrounded by the open sores on his gums and lips.

“Mornin’, Elmo.”

Elmo winced at the smell of the other man’s breath and nodded a greeting. He hadn’t had much time to plan for their meeting after Chase called his burner phone that morning and told him special agent Jim Walker had been nosing around his place, but Elmo felt confident he’d thought everything through, beginning with smashing the burner phone and dropping the pieces into the well behind his ranch house.

“I brought four, just like I said.”

Elmo followed Chance toward the livestock trailer. As he did, he glanced in the bed of Chance’s truck, where he saw bolt cutters used to gain access to pastureland and a bucket of feed used to attract cattle.

“No tags, no brands,” Chance said. He scratched one arm and then the other. “I checked.”

Elmo eyed the four Herefords—three cows and one steer—inside the trailer. Deep cherry red, with white faces, chests, and lower bellies, nothing about their coloration appeared unique, and Elmo felt certain the cattle would easily blend with his herd until they became steaks, one indistinguishable from the other.

“Let ’em out one at a time,” Elmo said, “and let me look ’em over.”

Chance swung the tailgate open and dropped the loading ramp. One at a time, he led each of the animals out of the trailer for Elmo to examine. Just as Chance had promised, there were no identifying marks on any of the Herefords—no brands and no ear tags with or without built-in radio-frequency identification. Each animal would pull in about a thousand dollars at auction, but until he transported the Herefords to auction, they would be drinking his water and eating his grass, both of which were in short supply thanks to the drought.

Without sufficient water, grass didn’t grow, cows couldn’t eat, and herds shrank. As the drought continued, fewer head reaching market meant prices went up and, as prices went up, rustling became increasingly profitable. Unemployable cattlemen such as Chance found an easier way to feed their methamphetamine addictions than boosting cars and breaking into homes. Though risking prison time for third-degree felony, all Chance had to do was walk into a pasture with a bucket of feed and attract the attention of a few head of cattle, which followed the feed as he led them up a ramp and into his livestock trailer. On a good night, he could cut the padlock on a gate, get two to four head into his trailer, and be back on the road in less than thirty minutes. And nothing was more inconspicuous on a Texas back road than a pickup truck towing a livestock trailer.

For several years, rustlers dropped stolen cattle at auction houses and returned later to collect whatever money the animals brought at auction, a business run entirely on handshake agreements. When the auction houses tightened up their sale requirements, it became harder for rustlers like Chance to unload stolen cattle.

Then Elmo and Chance found themselves in adjacent Emergency room beds. Elmo had suffered his first heart attack while visiting a feedlot, and after Chance overdosed he had been dropped in the hospital’s driveway by a fellow tweaker. They soon realized they could solve each other’s financial problems.

Chance no longer had a safe way to sell the cattle he rustled, and Elmo’s income had taken a hit as the drought forced him to thin his herd. As owner of the biggest ranch in the tri-county area and a past president of the Cattle Ranchers Association, Elmo was beyond reproach. He could easily mix stolen cattle with his herd and move them through the auction houses for a reasonable profit. Thanks to Chance, he was moving near as many head through the auction houses as he had before the drought began.

Elmo slapped each of the Herefords on the ass, encouraging them to meander across the pasture toward the other cattle grazing there. Each of the animals would pull in about a thousand dollars at auction, so Elmo pulled a rubber-banded roll of twenty one-hundred-dollar bills from his pocket and pressed it into Chance’s hand, paying half the Herefords’ value to the tweaker rustler.

“I can’t have you bringing Walker down on me,” Elmo said, unwilling to risk prison time because he knew his heart couldn’t take it, “so you need to lie low for awhile.”

“Yeah. I guess. Right.” Chance scratched his arms and blinked rapidly. “What’m I going to do about—?”

Elmo cut him off. “Same as you did before.”

As Chance walked away, shoving the cash into his front pocket without counting it, Elmo called his name.

Chance turned. “Yeah?”

Elmo drew the automatic from the holster at the small of his back. He fired once, drilling a hole in the middle of the younger man’s chest.

Then he pulled on his leather gloves and removed the wad of bills from the dead man’s pocket. He stuck the money in a hidden cavity in his truck’s wheel well, replacing a .38 Special he’d purchased off the books many years earlier.

After returning to the dead man, he fired one shot from the .38 into the side of his truck and a second shot into the distance.

He grabbed the bolt cutters from the back of Chance’s truck and walked down to the open gate. After he closed it, he snapped the padlock into place before cutting the lock free. He dropped the pieces to the ground, where they fell through the metal grid of the cattle guard. Short of breath and sweating from the exertion, Elmo pushed back the brim of his Stetson and mopped his brow with the blue bandanna. He opened the gate again and threw the bolt cutters into the back of Chance’s truck as he returned to his F-450. There, he removed his gloves and returned them to his back pocket, settled onto the tailgate, and drained the open Shiner Bock he’d earlier set there.

When the bottle was empty, he pulled out his cellphone.

By the time the sheriff arrived thirty minutes later, Elmo had trouble lifting his left arm. Even so, he stood beside the sheriff without complaint and together they stared at Chance’s body. By then the dead man had begun attracting flies, and twice during the wait Elmo had shooed away an aggressive vulture.

The sheriff, a barrel-chested man only a few years younger than Elmo, wore a badge pinned to his white pearl-snap western-style shirt open at the collar. His dark blue Wranglers had been pressed by his wife that morning, and his black boots had started the day with a high polish.

Elmo handed the man his Glock. “I caught the son-of-a-bitch trying to steal my cattle.”

He explained that he had been protecting his property when Chance tried to shoot him, and that he’d been protecting himself when he’d shot Chance. He knew the sheriff would believe him. He’d helped finance every one of the sheriff’s election campaigns.

The sheriff eyed Elmo’s truck. “Where’s your rifle?”

“Up at the house. I didn’t have time to grab it.”

“You had time to grab beer but not your rifle?”

“I was loading the ice chest when I saw him coming through the gate.”

The sheriff looked toward the ranch house, barely able to see it on the rise. “You saw him from all the way up at the house?”

“My eyesight’s fine.”

Elmo repeated his story when Jim Walker joined them a few minutes later. Dressed much like the sheriff, but sporting a handlebar mustache and wearing a six-shooter at his hip, the whip-thin Walker worked as the Cattle Ranchers Association’s special ranger for the district, charged with investigating livestock thefts and ranch-related property losses. He had arrived sooner than anticipated, but Elmo felt confident from the sheriff’s reaction to his initial telling that his story would hold true.

The sheriff walked the special ranger around the crime scene, pointing out the cut padlock, the bolt cutters in the bed of Chance’s pickup, the empty livestock trailer with the gate open and ramp extended, the bullet hole in the side of Elmo’s truck, and the revolver in the dead tweaker's hand.

Elmo hung back and leaned against the open tailgate of his F-450. He had been feeling poorly ever since cutting the padlock, and now he felt as if a Hereford bull sat on his chest. He’d felt the same pressure twice before, and both times he’d been hospitalized. He patted his pockets with his right hand. In his rush to leave the ranch house that morning to take care of Chance, he had failed to take care of himself. He had forgotten his nitroglycerin pills.

“Hey,” he said, trying to attract the other men’s attention. They were too far away and too engrossed in their own conversation to hear his weak plea for help. “Hey.”

“I’ve been hard on that boy’s ass for a couple of months now,” Walker said, indicating Chance’s body with a thrust of his chin. “I knew he’d been rustling, but I couldn’t figure out where he’s been selling the cattle. None of the auction houses has any record of dealing with him for near on a year.”

The sheriff scratched his chin and said, “Looks like Elmo here solved your problem for you.”

“Looks like he did,” Walker agreed, “but not the way you think. Chance wasn’t picking up cows, he was delivering.”

When Walker turned to address the rancher, Elmo clutched his chest and fell to the ground. As he lay in the blazing mid-morning sun, Elmo stared under his truck across the short-grass prairie at the Herefords, shrubby mesquite trees, and prickly pear cacti dotting the landscape, and ended his last good day knowing he would avoid prison time.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Scum Bar, by Tony Tremblay

In the evening, the Tavern Bar wasn’t a pretty sight from the street. Inside was even worse. But this was Goffstown, and with my options limited, it was the only place where I felt comfortable having a few drinks alone.

Its redundant name was supposed to be some kind of joke; no doubt the owner had thought himself a superb wit when he named it, but it never took. Instead, the locals called it The Scum Bar. The owner didn’t seem to mind the nickname as he never did anything to live the moniker down.

The Scum Bar was where people went for some serious drinking, and that was exactly what Wade was doing when I walked in.

We were both thieves, second-story men, and occasionally we called on each other for advice or help on some of the more difficult jobs we took on. He was tall but thin so he could shimmy through almost any size window, a real asset in our business. He was also one of the best safecrackers I had ever met. What I liked about Wade was, like me, he always passed on a score if there were a potential for violence. He would take jobs only if the marks weren’t home, and he never carried a weapon. I wasn’t always averse to violence, but after a few rough patches, I put those tough guy days behind me.

The last time I had seen Wade was about three or four weeks ago. He had a new girl on his arm and was as happy as I’d ever seen him. So why was he sitting in The Scum Bar, staring down his drink? I couldn’t let this go. I slipped into the seat opposite him while ordering two scotches from a waitress hovering close by. It took a few seconds, but he finally gazed up at me. He looked like shit. His eyes were glassy, unfocused, and the corners of his lips were dipped toward the table. I asked him what was troubling him.

“They took her,” he replied in a voice that was low and trailing.

“Who took who, Wade?”

“Sullivan. Sullivan and his goons. They took Sheri.”

It took me a moment, but I remembered that Sheri was the name of the girl I saw him with a few weeks ago. “Wade, back up, tell me everything from the start.”

He lifted his glass and emptied it. The timing was perfect; the waitress came by and set two fresh glasses of scotch on the table.

“Run a tab, honey?” she asked. I nodded back to her. Wade wrapped his hands around the drink but he didn’t bring it to his lips. Instead, he told me his story.

“Sheri and I were out in Manchester for dinner last night. When we finished it was late, and when we walked back to the car a big-ass Chrysler pulled up alongside us. Sullivan and three of his goons got out. They stepped in front of us—there was no way of getting around them.”

Thomas Sullivan. He was trouble on two feet. He ran an outfit out of Haverhill, Massachusetts, known for pulling messy jobs, meaning he didn’t care if anyone got hurt. His specialty was knocking off jewelry stores, though many believed he was involved in a few other high-profile robberies. What the hell did he want with a small-time guy like Wade?

“Sullivan said that I had broken into the house of a friend of his in Goffstown,” Wade continued. “He said that I took twenty grand out of that house, and he wanted it back. I had no fucking idea what he was talking about. I hadn’t made a big score since I’d hooked up with Sheri, and that was in Vermont.”

Like me, Wade never shit where he ate. We always did our jobs outside of town, outside of New Hampshire if possible.

“I told Sullivan it wasn’t me, but he didn’t believe it. His goons pushed me up against a wall and they started to beat the shit out of me. He told me he was taking Sheri. I could have her back when he got the money. He gave me until tomorrow.”

I felt like I had just listened to the plot of a bad movie. What the hell was going on here? It didn’t add up. Why would Sullivan himself come up from Massachusetts? Why didn’t he let his goons handle it? And why did they think Wade had anything to do with the robbery? Also, kidnapping wasn’t Sullivan’s style. It left a witness. Then I thought about how Sullivan didn’t mind getting messy.

“I don’t have twenty grand to give him.” Wade went on, his voice cracking. “I don’t even know where to get twenty grand. What the hell am I going to do?”

I didn’t have twenty grand to give Wade, and I wasn’t sure I would give it to him if I had it. I began to run his story through my head, picking out details that I wanted to follow up on. That’s when Eddie walked through the door.

Eddie was a sleazeball, a small-time player who picked at the bones of the simple and the elderly. He was a con artist, pulling off scams about grandkids in trouble that depleted the bank accounts of retirees. I didn’t trust the son of a bitch and he knew it. I usually stayed far away from Eddie but that didn’t stop him from coming over to our booth. He nodded and then slid next to me, and began talking to Wade.

“Wade, buddy! How you doing?”

Even his voice sounded slippery to me.

“I’ve been looking for you pal,” Eddie continued, “I’ve got a job for you.”

At the mention of a job, Wade looked expectantly at Eddie. “You serious? How big?”

Eddie ignored the question. “It’s right up your alley, Wade. It’s a house close by, on Tibbetts Hill Road, easy in and out, but there’s a safe we gotta get into and I ain’t good with safes.”

Wade leaned over until he was no more than a foot away from Eddie’s face, his eyes drilled into Eddie’s. “I asked how big.”

For a moment, Eddie fidgeted in his seat. “I’m getting this second hand from my source, but from what he tells me we’re looking at over fifty grand.”

“I’m in,” Wade said without hesitation.

I had been listening patiently up to now, but I couldn’t stay quiet any longer. “Wade, what in the hell’s the matter with you? This smells like a setup!

” Wade turned to me, his brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“This whole thing seems too neat,” I explained to him. “Your girl gets kidnapped, they demand a ransom of twenty grand—which you don’t have—and then this guy comes in offering you a job that will pay it off. You’re being played.”

It didn’t take long for Eddie to get back in character. “Hey, wait,” he retorted, his face a mask of innocence, “I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I don’t know nothing about no kidnapping and I want no part of it. Look, Wade, you want in or not?

It’s got to be done soon, within the hour, because the family that lives there will be coming back tonight.”

Wade continued to stare hard at Eddie. “You better not be screwing with me, Eddie,” he said, “I need this job bad.”

Eddie smiled. “You get half: twenty-five G’s. You gotta tell me now, Wade, or I’m outta here.”

“This whole thing stinks, Wade,” I said trying to reason with him, “it’s too pat, it’s too close to home, and the timing’s too tight. Come on man, don’t do it.”

For a moment, I thought Wade was going to blow the job off. He shook his head and murmured something about not knowing what to do. But I was wrong. He ignored me, looked at Eddie, and said, “Let’s do it.”

Then the two of them left The Scum Bar.

I nursed my drink for a half hour.

I’m not my brother’s keeper.

I kept telling myself that, but it didn’t make me feel any better. I motioned to the waitress and left two twenties on the table. It was too much but I didn’t want to wait for the change.


Tibbetts Hill Road was in one of the more well-to-do neighborhoods of Goffstown. It was a long road, well paved, with streetlights every hundred yards or so, and the homes were well spaced out. I drove over it slowly looking for Wade’s or Eddie’s car. The moon was full, and while I couldn’t make out every detail on the road, there was enough light for me to navigate without a problem.

It took me a long five minutes, but I finally spotted Wade’s white Ford Taurus parked in a long line of cars on the right side of the road. Someone was having a party. Could this be dumb luck or was it was part of the setup? If the party was staged, someone went through an awful lot to make sure this job got pulled off without any trouble. The source Eddie mentioned might be the neighbor of the house they were hitting. If that were the case, fifty grand cut three ways didn’t leave enough for Wade to pay off Sullivan.

I reached into my glove box and took out a pair of latex gloves, slipping them on as I got out of my car. Sticking close to the line of parked vehicles, I walked up the street, passing the party. The music was loud and there were several people behind the house with drinks in their hands. I could hear an occasional raucous guffaw over the music. The house next door to the party was a good forty feet away. It was a gambrel with a two-car garage—no lights. Three-foot-high hedges surrounded the property gave it some natural cover. A nearby streetlight provided enough illumination for me to make my way around the grounds without fumbling blindly.

I went to the far side of the house where the garage was located, and slipped in through the hedges until I was against the wall.

The side of the garage had no windows, so I was going to have to look inside through the overhead doors in the front. Poking my head around the corner, the first thing I did was to look up. A motion detector was nestled in the roof’s peak. I searched around and found a child’s pull toy lying on the ground. I grabbed it and carefully tossed it in front of the garage. The lights on the motion detector didn’t come on.

It was a bad sign but I shrugged it off. I turned the corner and stood in front of the garage. I looked inside through one of the small rectangular windows in the door, and a chill went up my spine.

There were two cars parked in the garage. Those had to be the owner’s.

I’m not a praying man, but I found myself asking God to give me a sign that I was at the wrong house. My prayer was answered, but not in the way I had hoped. A flashlight beam swept across the front windows of the house.

I ducked back to the side of the garage and then rushed to the rear. Keeping low and staying tight against the foundation, I walked hunched-over, following the back of the house until I came to the opposite sidewall. I crept toward the closest window and peered inside. Cringing, and on the verge of vomiting, I turned away.

It was a kids’ playroom. Laid out on the floor, side by side, were five bodies; two women, one man, and two small children. Their throats and chests were covered with dark stains.

I stepped away from the window shaking and leaned against the wall. I needed to catch my breath, to somehow banish that bloody scene from my head. However, my mind kept going back to that playroom. Something about the adults didn’t add up. Why were there three of them? Why two women and one man? Then it came to me. The odd woman must have been Sheri. If Wade was still here, he didn’t know that Sheri was dead. And, as soon as he had that safe open, Wade was going to be just as dead. I had to get inside.

Retracing my steps, I came to the rear door; I assumed this was how they had entered the house. I reached for the handle and it turned easily. The door led me into the kitchen where there was just enough light for me to make my way through without bumping into anything. I walked into the living room and paused. I heard movement coming from upstairs. Footsteps? I eased my way onto the stairway and trod softly. At the top, there was sound to my immediate right. There was an open door. Standing off to its side, I peered in.

The room was well lit from the streetlight. It was large and appeared to be a master bedroom. Eddie stood there with his back turned to me, facing a king-sized bed. In front of him, on the wall to his far right, was an open safe. Below the safe, on the floor with his back against the wall and his legs splayed, sat Wade. His head hung low and both of his hands were clutching at his stomach. Blood had pooled between his thighs.

My knees went weak and I swallowed hard. I couldn’t tell if Wade was alive or not. It didn’t take long for the anger to start boiling within me. It had been a long time since I had wanted to hurt someone this bad.

I rushed Eddie, curling my right hand into a fist while bringing my arm back for the swing. I grunted, wanting the bastard to know I was coming for him. Sure enough, when he heard me, he turned. My fist slammed into the side of his face so hard his feet lifted from the floor. His head bounced off the wall behind the bed. He fell hard to the floor and didn’t move. Satisfied that he was out, I hurried around the bed and over to Wade.

I knelt down, put one hand under his chin and lifted it gently. “Wade, buddy, can you hear me?” He was still.

Then, his chin rose off my hand and he opened his eyes into small slits. “Yeah, I can hear you.”

“I’m going to get you out of here.”

Wade sighed. His hands slid to his sides, exposing the handle of a knife jutting from his stomach. “You gotta get the diamonds first,” he whispered. “We need them to save Sheri.”


Confused, I left Wade’s side and walked over to the bed. Sure as shit, an open wooden box lay there with a handful of diamonds inside. Scattered around the box were bundles of hundred-dollar bills. I guess Eddie had been counting them when I clocked him.

“Step away from the bed please.”

The voice was a woman’s. I turned and saw her standing in the doorway. Though I had met her only that one time, I knew it was Sheri. She was pointing a handgun with a suppressor at me.

I moved toward Wade, who sat motionless against the wall. Either he had passed out or he was dead. I said her name loudly, hoping for a reaction from him.

“Sheri, who’s the extra woman downstairs?"

Wade didn’t so much as flinch at the mention of her name.

“No idea,” answered Sheri. “She was here visiting when Eddie and I came over earlier to take care of the family. Wrong place, wrong time I guess.” She laughed.

Still, no reaction from Wade.

I looked down at the floor, my anger building. “You were part of the setup from the beginning, weren’t you? Dating him. Getting him to fall in love with you.“

Something stirred on the floor, at the other side of the bed. Eddie moaned, sat up and rubbed his jaw. Both our heads turned to him as he struggled to get up. He must have heard me because in a shaky voice he answered my question for Sheri.

“Yeah, she was in on it from the beginning. She’s one of Sullivan’s girls; he picked her specifically for this job. Guy who owns this house, he’s a fence and Sullivan knew he came into a nice stash of diamonds from the West Coast.” Eddie stopped for a few seconds to stretch his jaw. “Sullivan came to me because I was local, but I didn’t know anything about breaking into safes. But I knew Wade did. We just needed a way to get Wade involved. Sheri was our ticket.”

I looked at Sheri and then back to Eddie. “How do I fit in?”

“You don’t,” he replied. “I’m not even sure why the hell you’re here.” He turned to the bed and gathered up the cash. “Sullivan told me I could keep any cash that I found, and it looks like there’s at least forty grand here.” He transferred the bundles from hand to hand as he counted them.

I shook my head. “You planned on Wade being your fall guy for the murders. How were you going to explain his death?”

Eddie smiled as he counted. “Not sure. Sullivan said he’d take care of it. The boys will be here in about an hour so I’m sure he’s got something in mind.”

“Eddie,” Sheri casually called to him.

Eddie answered offhandedly, “Yeah?” He was still counting the money.

“Sully’s already figured that out.”

Sheri turned the gun toward Eddie and pulled the trigger. A puff of white smoke rose from the barrel of the suppressor. Eddie fell onto the bed; the blood seeping from the wound in his head soaked the blankets and the cash.

I knew Sheri was heartless but her ruthlessness was unexpected. I had to admit though, that as I watched Eddie bleed out on the bed, I took some satisfaction in the fact that there was one less sleazeball in the world.

Turning, I faced Sheri. “Let me guess. Eddie and Wade were supposed to kill each other, probably fighting over the money.”

She nodded with a smile. “And it looks like you’re going to be part of the mix.”

I had to think fast. I couldn’t run—I wouldn’t have gone more than a few steps before she shot me. So I did the only thing I could think of: I dove to the floor on my side of the bed.

Small pieces of wall board exploded above me. When I went to push myself under the bed, I was blocked by storage boxes tucked beneath it. Sheri appeared and stood over me. Defeated, I rolled onto my back and waited.

“Nice try,” she said, pointing the gun between my eyes.

Then she screamed.

Sheri lowered the gun, and then struggled to reach around to her back with her free hand. I sprang to my feet and charged, hitting her full on, pushing her backward, onto the floor. When we landed, I heard her gasp loudly. The gun tumbled out of her hand.

I stared hard at her face as I pushed myself up off her. Sheri’s eyes were wide with shock, her mouth frozen in the shape of a perfect O. I hovered over her until I was satisfied she was no longer a threat. I slipped off and then I flipped her over. Wedged deep into the small of her back was a knife. I slid over to Wade to thank him for what he had done.

Wade was dead.

There was not a lot of time to think about what had just happened or how it had happened. I needed to get the hell out of there. I stood and prepared to leave, but I hesitated at the end of the bed.

I scooped up half the diamonds out of the box and grabbed as much dry cash as I could stuff into my pockets.

I high-tailed it downstairs and back to the car, and then I drove to my safe-location where I keep my stash. All of the diamonds and money went into storage, except for two hundred-dollar bills.


Now, here I am back at The Scum Bar. The booth where Wade and I sat earlier is empty so I slide into it. The same waitress we had comes over. I order a scotch. I slip both of the hundred dollar bills into her apron. “If anyone asks,” I tell her, “I never left this booth.”

She smiles, pockets the bills and says before leaving, “No problem, honey.”

Sitting here with a drink, I can finally wrap my head around what happened. Though I figure I’m lucky as hell that Wade had enough life in him to stab Sheri in the back, I’m amazed at the willpower it must have taken for him to do it. I can’t imagine the pain Wade felt when he learned Sheri was part of the setup.

I’m confident that Sullivan couldn’t have known I was there; I was never part of the plan to begin with. Sullivan’s boys will find the remaining diamonds and the cash on the bed, and that should keep him satisfied. I’m also pretty sure that Sullivan doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Sheri. After all, he pimped her out to Wade in the first place. Sullivan will tell his boys to leave some cash on the bed and the cops will have no problem tying it all up.

Looking around this dump, I think it’s time for me to go away for awhile. Not for too long though, because I got those old feelings back. I want to hurt someone, and Sullivan is going to pay for what he did to Wade. In the meantime, I’ve decided I’m going to do what I came here to do in the first place.

I’m going to drink my scotch.