Excerpt for Criminal Economics by , available in its entirety at Smashwords




CRIMINAL ECONOMICS

A Crime Novel


Eric Beetner





PRAISE FOR CRIMINAL ECONOMICS


“Balls out insanity!” —Owen Laukkanen, author of The Professionals and Kill Fee


“Proper noir. Definitely my kind of characters. Barely a moral scruple among the lot of them.” —Allan Guthrie, author of Hard Man, Savage Night and Two-Way Split


“Beetner writes with tension to spare and the story is marinated in his sick sense of humor, making this gleefully nasty noir fly by in just a few sittings.” —Nerd of Noir, Spinetingler Magazine



PRAISE FOR ERIC BEETNER


“To be blunt, he’s the 21st century’s answer to Jim Thompson.” —LitReactor


“Eric Beetner seems to have a formula that he has used for every book he has published: Fun plot + believable characters + witty dialogue + breakneck pace = novel that knocks your socks off.” —Regular Guy Reading Noir


“Beetner has a keen eye on how to plot a book that never allows the reader a chance to catch their breath.” —Out of the Gutter





Copyright © 2013 by Eric Beetner

Down & Out Books Edition: June 2017


All rights reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.


Down & Out Books

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Lutz, FL 33558

DownAndOutBooks.com


Previously published as Run for the Money


The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.


Cover design by Eric Beetner



Smashwords Edition, License Notes


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TABLE OF CONTENTS


Criminal Economics


About the Author

Also by the Author


Other Titles from Down & Out Books and its Imprints


Preview from A Negro and an Ofay, the Tales of Elliot Caprice by Danny Gardner

Preview from Down on the Street by Alec Cizak

Preview from Polo’s Long Shot, a Nick Polo Mystery by Jerry Kennealy





NEWS BULLETIN


August 23—A daring bank robbery took place last night at the Midland Savings and Loan when two assailants raided the bank after hours and made off with over a half million dollars. Two bank employees were shot, not fatally. The employees, and four others, were bound and gagged and left inside the vault overnight. It was not until morning when a new shift arrived that they were discovered.

Police are gathering evidence, but surveillance video proved an ineffective identification tool as the robbers were wearing full face masks.



NEWS BULLETIN


August 24—Barely twenty-four hours after the robbery of Midland Savings and Loan the suspects are in custody. Apparently the robbers’ own hubris and overconfidence did them in.

The two men allegedly stole a vehicle in the Southport area and were in the act of returning the vehicle to the owner’s address and then making an attempt to stage the car in order to frame the original owner of the vehicle. One of the robbers, one Bo Marcus, made an anonymous phone call to police to tell them about the vehicle, not knowing that two officers were on patrol a mere two blocks from where he stood. Marcus then placed two stolen fifty-dollar bills and a money wrapper from the stolen currency inside the back seat of the car, but before he could make his getaway the officers arrested him at the scene.

Marcus was quick to lead the arresting officers to his partner, Eddie “Slick” Himes, a criminal of some renown in the police files.



NEWS BULLETIN


September 21—In near-record time Judge Dearborn handed down a sentence of 25 years to Midland bank robbers Bo Marcus and Eddie Himes.

After much plea bargaining by the defense the charges were reduced to a point where a life sentence was not in the Judges’ power, but in his remarks Dearborn expressed regret at the rules that kept him from sending the boys up for good.

The money, $642,000 at final count, has yet to be recovered.



NEWS BULLETIN


September 22—Hurricane Esmeralda is slated to hit the county head-on overnight and well into tomorrow. The governor has expressed his intention to declare a state of emergency as soon as needed to deploy rescue and cleanup vehicles.





CHAPTER 1


Rain hit the roof of the van, filling it with the frantic sound of someone trapped in a coffin.

The two-lane country highway out to the penitentiary swirled with leaves and fallen branches dancing a dervish across the narrow strip of blacktop cutting through the woods.

Behind the wheel, Officer Nuñez inched ever closer to the windshield trying in vain to get a better look between the intervals of the wipers fighting a losing battle against the ass end of a hurricane. The inky tarmac reflected headlights and lightning flashes barely enough to keep the road in view. Beside Nuñez sat Holt, a three-year veteran still thought of as a rookie. He gripped the shotgun upright and white-knuckled it tight to his chest wishing to God it was a steering wheel and that Nuñez would slow the fuck down instead of trying to race the storm to make it there on time. Eight o’clock, eight-fifteen—midnight for that matter—what’s the difference? The two jerks in back sure weren’t in any rush to start their twenty-five year stay up at Wharton State pen.

Two prisoners in the holding area of the van glared at each other from opposite steel benches. Rain whipped the metal shell of the van like a dominatrix. Above the din Eddie “Slick” Himes’ ragged breathing still stood out. Slick sat with his head turned low, but his eyes angled up staring directly across from him into the face of Bo, his ex-partner in crime. Slick could stare down a rabid grizzly bear with a tack in its ass and still send the bear running. His face was long, like an exaggerated mask. His ears dangled low lobes with empty holes where the man took away his earrings, set aside in a manila envelope to be retrieved when his twenty-five years were up. His eyes were deep-set and ringed permanently in black giving him the look of someone who always recently woke up and wasn’t happy about it. The perpetual stubble on his face did little to hide the scar that ran from his right ear down to the point of his chin. How he got his scar was a long story, but he never saw a doctor, never got it stitched like he should have. Now it grew high like a speed bump on his face and it acted like a mood ring, darkening with blood the madder he got. Anyone on the wrong side of Slick watched that purple scar like a thermometer in July, waiting for it to blow. That was when to get out of his way. That and every other time you saw him coming.

Bo met Slick’s practiced stare, not bothering to brush away the wet strands of blond hair over his left eye. A leak had opened up in the thin roof above him, but to move would be to act like a pansy who couldn’t get his panties wet, so he stayed put. Bo was handsome in a surf bum kind of way. He hated to wear shoes, his hair hung down to his shoulders and looked good even when he didn’t shower for days. A come-and-go crystal meth habit had ruined his skin, but when he was younger all his friends told him to get the fuck out of town and go be a model somewhere. Bo knew that was a fast track to a few starring roles in gay porn to pay the bills and then either a heroin habit or AIDS so he hung around in his backwoods, go-nowhere town for a few more years. Years that led to this.

“Stupid cunt couldn’t keep your head,” Slick muttered, all but “cunt” drowned out by the storm sounds.

“You talking to me?” Even at his most intimidating Bo tended to sound merely cordial.

Slick raised his voice to challenge the thunder. “Ain’t no one else back here, dumb fuck!”

“Keep it down back there!” called Holt through the tight metal grating separating them.

Slick dropped back down to a low growl. “You’re the reason I’m here, motherfucker.”

“It was your plan. I only followed orders. How is that my fault?”

“When shit goes down, you improvise. Improvise, man.”

“You didn’t say that before.”

Slick tugged at his shackles; feet bound by a length of chain looped through two eye hooks bolted to the steel floor and then up to handcuffs. The tin box of the van acted as an amplifier for metal on metal sounds and every time either man shifted his chains it sounded like angry dogs straining to get loose.

“You cost me six hundred grand.” A thick rope of angry spit clung to Slick’s stubbly chin. His hands would not reach high enough to wipe it away. “I told you before, man, we get to that yard and first chance I get you’re getting a shiv up your ass.”

Bo believed it, tried not to let it show. “I thought Emma was keeping it for you. You didn’t lose shit, you just can’t make a withdrawal for a while.”

“You want me to brush off twenty-five years like it’s no big thing?”

“No, I want you to eat shit and die.”

Slick pulled up on his shackles, the eye hooks held firm. Clanging chains rattled like Marley’s ghost inside the van.

“Seriously! Keep it down back there. The man’s trying to drive!” Holt didn’t want anything to distract Nuñez from paying attention to the road. From where he sat there was only six feet of visibility ahead of them and it gave the impression of endlessly driving off a cliff.

Wind gusts pushed the van sideways, bouncing it on the shocks like some good old teenage humping was going on. If the van is a-rockin’ don’t come a-knockin’.

Nuñez leaned so close to the steering wheel he set off the horn with his chest. Startled, he jumped back into his seat, Holt hopping up out of his for a moment.

Outside, a different sound. Higher pitched than the thunder rolls, it split through the drum roll of the rain battering the van. The sound made Holt turn. He never saw the tree.

A forty-foot pine hit the van right above the windshield. A branch speared down through the roof and Nuñez took the thick spike of wood to his chest and died at the wheel before he had time to shit his pants. Safety glass like freezing rain coated the inside cabin and pelted Holt’s eyes. He screamed, leaned forward putting his head straight in line with the dashboard when the van left the road.

In the back, the two prisoners were weightless for a second, held in place by the shackles, with their butts rising off the benches in a roller-coaster move. The tree rolled over the top of the van, front to back, tearing into it with branches and peeling back the roof like a giant opening a can of sardines. The front of the van tipped then stopped abruptly and all forward momentum stopped in an instant when it hit a tree more stable than the pine.

Slick and Bo’s bodies carried forward for another beat and then were clawed to a stop by the chains binding them to the van. Cuffs tore at their ankles and wrists, but held firm. If not for the quick stop they both would have done headers into the thick firewall between the prisoner compartment and the cabin of the van.

The rain no longer echoed in back. A steady cascade of rain now flowed in splashing Slick and Bo to awareness like a glass of water in the face when you’re drunk.

The wall between them and the cops had split open like a cut throat. Slick saw something in a flash of lightning. The shotgun had fallen from Holt’s grip and poked through the split, a toothpick in gap teeth. He kicked out a foot and reached the butt of the gun by an inch. He flipped his foot up and brought the gun closer. Bo figured out Slick’s plan and tried to back away, but only rattled his chains and rubbed his ankles more raw.

Slick hooked a prison issue boot under the gun stock and flipped it up into his cuffed hands. Bo braced himself for a blast.

Instead, Slick upended the gun, pointed the barrel straight down and shot the eye hook keeping him attached to the steel floor. The sound was incredible. Even with the torn open top of the van it was loud enough that both men reached to grab their ears only to have their wrists cruelly scraped again and held in place. Ringing deadened Bo’s hearing, but the gunpowder smell reeked in his nostrils as if a skunk had gotten into the van.

The chain connecting Slick’s feet had been split. He moved quickly, crouching by the open gash and reaching a hand around to Holt’s belt. Without being able to see, he felt around and sunk his hand in something warm and wet. He pulled back quickly, hand covered in blood from the entrails he’d accidentally fondled. Holt’s body split down the middle, his intestines hanging over his belt like a beer belly.

Choking back a gag Slick reached again, this time starting on Holt’s pant leg and feeling up until he reached the belt, a move he hadn’t used since high school in the back seat of Danielle Zeboli’s car. Slick snatched the key ring, found the cuff keys and undid his leg and hand cuffs.

Bo watched helplessly.

Straightening up to his full six-foot-two, Slick tilted back his head to the rain and let it wash over him. He let out a bellow to the skies like he was challenging the storm to a fight.

Slick lowered his head and his eyes met Bo’s again. He lifted the shotgun.

“Looks like I don’t have to wait for the yard.”

Bo strained at his cuffs, wanting at least to cover his face with his hands, but he ended up squirming like a little girl in a room full of spiders.

Slick squeezed the trigger. No sound. He pulled back on the stock and it spat out the used shell, but there were no others to reload.

Bo peeked open his eyes.

Slick got down to his knees and scanned the floor of the cabin for any spare shells. As he inched forward the steady stream of water flowing down the incline of the wrecked van ran through the opening and mixed with the blood of the two officers which coated the floor beneath their feet.

As Slick shifted his body forward, the front end of the van tilted to a steeper angle. Slick retreated.

He rose to his feet again, still gripping the shotgun.

“Guess I’ll let the storm take you. I got a gal to see and some money to spend.”

Slick hoisted himself up through the tear in the roof. Bo could hear him climb along the outside of the van and drop off.

Bo scanned around the carcass of the van for anything that could help him. He was alone.

Slick’s size fourteen boot slammed against the back of the van. It rocked forward. Another boot, another inch forward.

Bo tried to shift his weight to the back of the van for counterbalance, but one more boot to the bumper and he found himself sliding with the van down an incline. He had no idea how far down it went.

Slick stood on the two-lane highway in his state-issued Creamsicle-orange jumpsuit holding one state trooper issue shotgun with no shells. No one else knew the gun wasn’t loaded so he still had an effective bargaining tool.

Wet leaves stuck to his legs as he stood in the midst of the tempest. Fat drops of rain landed on every part of his already soaked body. Six hundred forty-two thousand dollars lay less than fifty miles away with Emma. She didn’t expect to see him for another twenty-five years.

Boy, would she be surprised.





CHAPTER 2


Emma stood naked in front of the mirror taking inventory of everything she hated about herself.

First: the hair. She tried bleaching it blonde, but it never looked right so she gave in to life as a mouse-brunette. There was the ten, okay fifteen, aw hell twenty pounds she had to lose. The four moles that lined up on her chin like some sort of miniature Mount Rushmore. Her teeth, oh her teeth. Crooked wasn’t even the word.

All of this artifice, these surface imperfections and she still had a killer ass, great fleshy round tits with tiny nipples that drove men nuts. Crooked teeth or not, she could suck the memory of all other women right out of a man’s dick. But what did all that get her when spackled over with her list of imperfections? Slick Eddie.

She learned to love him over time, but the part of her pushing tears out when he got sentenced was fighting a brawl inside with the part of her that was glad to see him go. If only she’d gotten a tumble with Bo before he was sent up. Now, him she could do a little time with.

Emma got dressed in the dank chill of her basement apartment. She rented the concrete-walled space from Sylvia, an older woman who wasn’t letting her house sit around and not earn. She rented out every room in the place, except the master suite and her son Delmer’s room, to college girls. The two-story-plus-loft Victorian made her an awfully nice return on a house that was paid off in 1986.

Emma at least had her own bathroom, kitchenette and a separate bedroom with a door that locked. The other girls, who had to live side-by-side with Delmer, gave Emma jealous looks when she came and went.

She tied her hair in a ponytail and no truer description of her hair was ever uttered. Horse-like. She checked the thin windows up near the ceiling, ground-level outside, to see if it was still raining. It was. The concrete walls were slick with groundwater leeching in. Mold grew in fuzzy patches on the window frames.

I’ll be glad to get the fuck out of here.

There was still planning to do. It would be too easy to just bolt out of town so soon after Slick was sent away. She was a known companion to a convicted bank robber and the money still hadn’t been recovered.

Shit, she knew that because she hadn’t given it to them.

Emma had already given her notice at the bookstore where she worked saying it was too much to handle when Slick went away. She needed a fresh start. She did a little research using the Internet at the library and found out that the Cayman Islands were an awfully good place to go with a sack full of cash if you wanted no questions asked.

Her research was less than scientific, but satisfied her urge to find an island on which to get lost.

The plan was to go to Miami for a few weeks, get a post office box, be seen around town and act like she was setting up a new life and then bust out for the islands with the money.

For the moment, she needed a withdrawal from the bank of Slick’s booty. That meant heading out late for a stop at the storage unit. She knew once she was there she wouldn’t be able to resist counting a little bit more of it, rolling around on top of it. That first night she even got so worked up she held two paper-wrapped bundles in one hand and finger-fucked herself with the other. When she came, she rubbed a big wad of bills all over her pussy, getting them wet and sticky. Still legal tender, though.

She locked the door behind her and crept up the stairs.

Delmer was there. She jumped and swallowed a scream.

At thirty-three years old you could hardly call Delmer a boy, but for all the brain power he exhibited it was all you could think of when you spoke to him. He stood tall and rotund and awkward as a newborn cow. The constant slick of sweat on his forehead even reminded Emma of afterbirth. The way the old woman babied him it was a wonder she ever cut the cord.

None of the girls in the house liked to be around him. There were rumors he breastfed until age ten.

Delmer had a special fixation on Emma. Probably because she’d been there for over two years, much longer than the one or two semester stays the college girls had.

“Goin’ out?”

“Yeah, Delmer. I was.”

“Where to?”

“I got stuff to do. Don’t you?”

“Naw. It’s my bedtime.”

He took up the whole doorframe at the top of the stairs so Emma was trapped until she could divert his attention, but she wasn’t holding anything shiny at the moment.

“Well, then you should go to bed,” she said cheerily, the way a kindergarten teacher talks.

“You look good.”

“Thanks, Delmer.” She sighed. Guys like Slick and Delmer. Such was her lot in life. Curse her mother for the crooked teeth and mole genes.

“You goin’ out?” he said again.

“You know what?” Emma turned on the steps. “I just remembered I forgot something. I guess I’ll stay in. See you later, Delmer.”

She descended the stairs under his looming watch.





CHAPTER 3


Like a drunk college kid with his hand in a cup of water, the rain made Bo piss his pants. The thick fog of unconsciousness contributed to the pants wetting, but he was awake now and soaked through from the rain much more than the piss.

The van rested comfortably on a set of train tracks at the bottom of a fifty-foot incline, one Bo had ridden all the way down. The van barely qualified as a vehicle any more. Roof ripped open, tires shorn off, windshield gone and passenger cabin caved in, pine branches embedded in the frame, floor cracked open. The fault line in the steel floor ran right across where the eye hook that held Bo to the floor used to sit. He was untethered from the twisted metal of the van, but still shackled to himself.

His world moved slow, a feeling he was familiar with. Since he was twelve, Bo had been a serious self-medicator. He’d come to like the slow feeling, not the speed. All efforts were on procuring the pot and pills to keep things mellow and slow. Vicodin and Percocet were favorites. Oxycontin would do in a pinch. His time doing crystal meth nearly did him in. He found a person inside he didn’t like when he was on speed, but the person who moves slow, that was a dude he could hang with.

He blinked rainwater out of his eyes. Lightning flashed, thunder right on its heels. Across from him in the open carcass of the transport van were Slick’s old shackles. In the handcuffs, jutting out like a middle finger, was the key.

Bo moved as quick as his syrupy brain would allow and kept a death grip on the tiny key. Losing it in the chaos of the wreckage and the storm would be game over.

He went for the leg shackles first. Bent over, it was hard going without the light of the electrical storm above to help him find the miniscule opening. He was sixteen all over again, trying to figure out where to put his dick into Christine Tordello.

The light flashed and he took a mental picture of the hole in the shackles and jammed the key inside. But the light stayed. Bo looked up. Train.

The noise of the storm, the cottony muffle of his hearing from the shotgun blast and the probable concussion from his ride down the hill made him fail to notice the van had come to rest on a set of tracks at the bottom of the ridge, nor did he hear the sound of an approaching locomotive.

No time for what-ifs. This wasn’t a sprint to the end of the tunnel or a quick make-it-off-the-bridge moment in time. This was move-your-ass-or-get-squashed.

Bo turned to his right and took as long a stride as his leg shackles would allow which wasn’t much. It took three shuffling steps before he jumped out the back of the van which was blown open the way he’d seen photographs of cars in downtown Baghdad. Bo fell into a tangle of weeds and shrubs.

The train never saw the van. It ran through at full speed and took the van with it, a giant wad of gum stuck to the front of the engine. A dozen boxcars followed and helped push the broken bones of the van, with two dead corrections officers inside, for two miles down the track before it could stop.

Bo felt down to his ankles. He exhaled deeply. The key was still there in the lock. He undid his legs and then his wrists thinking, Fucking hard to be mellow when there’s a goddamn freight train two feet from your face.





CHAPTER 4


The walk back down the two-lane highway was so hurricane-wet Slick may as well have been swimming. He saw what he wanted. A diner with nothing else around it and only a few cars in the parking lot stood getting as soaked as he was. Red neon rimmed the top of the metal and glass building. Deep ruts in the gravel of the parking lot collected muddy water deep enough for a midget to take a bath.

Slick picked up his pace despite gaining a few pounds of mud on his boots as he neared the entrance. Shotgun in hand, still empty but he’d never tell, he kicked through the glass door, rattling dusty venetian blinds and cracking the glass as he did.

“Hands up motherfuckers! Now, which one’s got the best car?”

There were four patrons and three workers inside. Two men in their sixties sat in a booth together against the window, two men eating alone each sat at the counter with a respectful distance between them lest either one think the other was there for anything like a conversation. Trudy, the waitress, stood mannequin-still behind the counter. Jesus, the cook, peered out from the pass-through in the kitchen and Roy, the owner, fat with dry skin flaking off his bald head, stood astride the cash register ready to stuff it in his pants and bolt out the back if he needed to. No orange popsicle-looking motherfucker was getting his night’s till. Not on a shitty night like tonight.

No one answered Slick’s question. “Come on out of there, Mex!” He used the barrel of the pump action to direct Jesus out from the kitchen. “And you two, grab a stool. Sit where I can see you.” The two older men raised their hands up and slowly crossed to the counter, filling in the two seats between their fellow patrons. Tears rolled down Trudy’s cheeks taking long streaks of mascara with them.

“You!” He pointed the barrel at the counter man closest to him. “Strip.”

The man was approximately his size. Tall anyway, not as broad, but that would’ve been too much to hope for. He wore a plaid flannel shirt with a down vest over it. Jeans and Timberlands. Must belong to the pickup in the lot, thought Slick.

Plaid man slid off the stool slowly, unsure what to do.

“You want I should take off my clothes?”

“Well, I sure don’t see any pole so I guess that’s what strip means in this scenario, dipshit. You think I like this outfit?”

Jesus tapped Roy on the back of his shoe with his own foot. Roy turned slowly, a little with his neck, mostly with his eyes and saw what Jesus showed him. An eight-inch chef’s knife he held flat against the inside of his forearm. Roy nodded slowly, like a base coach.

The vest came off, the flannel, the jeans. Slick unzipped his jumpsuit, shook his arm out while holding the gun with the other then repeated the action. He jumped up and down a few times to get the suit to fall to his ankles and then stepped out, leaving the orange blob like a wet seal skin on the linoleum floor. His tight white briefs clung to his pelvis showing everything God gave him. Trudy looked away.

“Toss ’em over. T-shirt too.” The man threw the plaid shirt and jeans to Slick and removed his T-shirt. White deodorant stains ringed the pits.

One-handed, Slick began to put on the new outfit.

“You want me to wear yours now?”

“I don’t give a fuck what you do, son.” The man was ashamed, standing in his briefs, suddenly cold and acutely aware he wasn’t packing what Slick was and he didn’t mean the gun.

“So who’s got the best car?”

Eyes all around. No one volunteered.

The jeans were tight and the wetness of his legs didn’t help, but Slick managed to get them buttoned. He looked to the owner, Roy. “You. What do you drive?”

“Oldsmobile.”

“Pass. You?” He gestured to Trudy before he slipped the T-shirt over his head. In the split second Slick went blind with cotton over his eyes, Jesus inched forward putting his belly against the counter between Trudy and Roy.

“I got a…a…”

“What, you don’t remember?”

“You’re making me kinda nervous, mister.”

“Aw, am I?” Slick slung the flannel over his shoulder and stepped forward bringing the shotgun up to eye level aimed directly at Trudy. She started sobbing, feet frozen in place. “I’m so sorry, darlin’.” He brought the barrel of the shotgun to rest on the bridge of her nose. The room suddenly smelled like urine.

The long barrel and stock of the gun kept Slick a few feet away still, out of Jesus’ reach with the knife.

Slick spoke with a gentle lilt. “Does this help jog your memory?”

All he got in response were choking sobs.

Slick was in his element. Since he was a kid no one ever treated him kindly, and that was before the scar. Boys in school called him the ape man. He grew faster, uglier and dumber than any of his classmates. It didn’t take long to make the fear in people’s eyes a commodity.

He put up a poster of King Kong on his bedroom wall and saw the advantage in being able to intimidate. It made him happy. It was the only thing that did. Won’t let me play in your reindeer games? Fuck you, I’ll crack your head with an axe handle. Won’t go with me to the prom? Fuck you, I’ll grab your tits anyway and threaten to cut them off if you tell anyone.

“You got to use what the Lord gives you,” his mom used to say. On his sixteenth birthday he punched his mom in the jaw, knocked out three of her teeth and left home for good.

“Aw, fuck it. Who’s next?” Trudy still hadn’t answered.

As Slick pulled back the shotgun barrel from Trudy’s face Jesus lunged, hauling his body half over the counter, and slashed down with the long bladed knife like a Mexican Norman Bates. The knife cut the air and nothing else. It pounded into the red Formica of the counter and impaled a white paper napkin.

Everyone froze. Slick looked at the blade and pieced together a puzzle of what happened. His eyes rose from the knife to Jesus’ eyes. The butt of the gun swung out fast and hard catching Jesus across the jaw with Slick’s long reach.

Bone snapped and teeth chipped and the two old guys both groaned like spectators at the Friday night fights. Jesus went down, the blue bandana sliding off his head as he went. Behind the counter, out of view, the room could hear more bones snap when he hit face first.

“You think I’m fuckin’ playing?” Slick asked the room. Heads shook. “Okay, now you—” he spoke to the nearly naked guy. “What do you drive?”

“Pickup. A Ford.”

“Done. Gimme the keys.”

“Uh…,” the man hesitated. Slick stepped forward, gunstock raised and ready to dish out another jawbreaker. “You have ’em. In my pocket!” the man rushed to get out the words before Slick could swing. Slick balked, reached down and felt for the keys and smiled.

“So I do, my man. Now,” he walked down the counter reconnoitering the plates of food and turning his nose up at a patty melt, half-drunk coffee and crumbs of some pie. He reached the booth where the old timers had been seated and stopped. He reached down and took a barely touched hamburger off the plate and started eating.

He walked back to the front and raised the shotgun in one hand toward Roy. With a mouthful of burger he said, “I haven’t forgotten you, fat boy.”

Roy ran a hand across his head the way he did when he got nervous. Flakes of skin peeled off. Not snowy dandruff but big, quarter-sized pieces of dead flesh floated down around his feet.

“Open ’er up and let’s see how we did,” said Slick.

Roy paused almost imperceptibly, contemplating a seriously stupid move, then decided to play ball and poked a chubby finger down on the No Sale button. The till slid open. Slick peeked over.

A twenty, two tens, one five and six ones. A handful of change. Slick swallowed hard and scrunched his face, already a twisted mess, into a disappointed scowl. Trudy continued to sob.

“Can someone shut her up?” Slick asked, eyes still on the till. With the shotgun he gestured to Roy to hand over the money. The nearly naked guy was closest to Trudy, but he stayed put. The other solo diner reached over the counter to put a hand on her shoulder, but couldn’t reach. He whispered, “It’s gonna be okay. It’s almost over.”

Slick pocketed the fifty-one dollars. Roy kept the change. Slick spun and the shotgun barrel almost clipped nearly naked guy on the nose, but then landed like the marker on a roulette wheel pointing at the man trying to comfort Trudy.

“How the fuck do you know it’s almost over?”

“I was…I was just trying to get her to relax.”

“So, you have no idea. What if my next move was to blast all of y’all in the heads and pile you up like Lincoln Logs?”

The man sputtered with nothing to say.

Slick took another bite of hamburger, turned to the old men, “Jesus Christ, pops. You couldn’t go the extra fifty cents for cheese on this motherfucker?” He was met with silence. He chewed some more and muscled down the bite sooner than he should have, took a second to recover. “Look, I’m not gonna kill all of you. I didn’t even kill the Mex and he took a swipe at me. So relax. I’m taking the Brawny Man’s truck here and thanks for the burger. I’ll be on my way.”

Slick scooped a rain-wet coat off the back of the helpful man’s stool and lay it in the crook of the arm that held the hamburger. He backed toward the door scanning the faces for signs of a hero. He stopped, thought of one more thing he needed to do.

“One thing before I go.” The smell of bacon burning in the kitchen overtook the piss smell. Slick focused on Trudy. “Show me your tits.”

The shock stopped her crying. Her mouth opened to say something but nothing came out. She was an attractive woman. Past her prime, but worthy of flirting by the redneck truck drivers who frequented the diner. She wasn’t one to make a habit of flashing her breasts in public, though.

“Real simple—” he squinted his eyes to read her name tag, “—Trudy. Show me your tits and I’ll be on my way.”

She looked to Roy for help, but he gave her nothing but a hard stare back. She would get no signals to steal home from him.

“Come on, lift that shirt and show me those titties. I been in jail, man. You know how long the trial was? Three weeks! I need to see me some tits and I need to see them now.”

Trudy scanned to faces of the other patrons. Nearly Naked Man stared at the ground.

Slick huffed an exhale. “I don’t give a shit if anyone else looks or not. You better get them fun bags out here though or I’m gonna lose my patience.”

Roy and the helpful man looked away. The two old timers didn’t.

Trudy, still too stunned to cry, unbuttoned her uniform and opened it, leaving it loose on her shoulders. She reached up under the shirt behind her and undid her bra clasp. Slick nearly salivated and it wasn’t the burnt bacon doing it.

The bra fell away and her breasts sagged a tiny bit, but met with a grunt of approval from Slick. One of the old men nodded.

“Those, my dear, are the nicest tits I’ve seen in a long while. Yes, sir. Very nice. Firm. Big too. Whoo. Gets a man to thinking.”

The tightness of his stolen jeans betrayed his growing erection. Trudy stared beyond him not focusing on anything, her mouth agape in shock.

Slick inhaled deep like he was Hoovering up a line of coke. “Damn, girl! Thanks for whipping ’em out. I gotta go. I got a girl with a nicer pair than that if you can believe it. Trudy, you get second prize though. Ought to be a ribbon or something.”

Slick pushed in the last bite of the burger, turned with a whoop and crashed back through the door while reaching into his pocket for the keys to his new truck.

As soon as the intruder left, Roy moved like he’d been jolted by a frayed wire. Trudy slapped her hands over her chest when Roy turned, but he didn’t see her. He reached under the counter by the cash register and got his own arsenal—a sawed-off double-barrel boom stick of his own.

Slick ran across the muddy lot trying not to get wet all over again. He tossed the shotgun ahead of him onto the passenger seat and slammed the door behind him. It was a working man’s truck. Bare bones. Dirty cloth seats. Paperwork from construction jobs on the floor. A three-day-old coffee cup in the cup holder. But the engine cranked and he could taste his money again as clear as the hamburger when he belched.

He dropped it into drive and at first he thought it backfired. He noticed the back right of the truck sink a tiny bit and then another big boom sounded. Thunder? Another boom and a rattle against the side of the truck as hundreds of tiny buckshot pellets pierced the door. Slick spun his head and there was Roy at the top step of his diner, suddenly grown a spine and two balls and firing a sawed-off.

Slick slammed a muddy foot down on the pedal. It slipped off for a second and the engine dipped then revved to life again when he reset his foot. Another blast sounded behind him and the bed of the truck took a scattering of pellets.

When the truck cleared the mud of the parking lot it became clear he was down one tire. He pressed on. It took a few hundred yards to locate the wiper switch, but he did and he continued down the road toward Emma, scraping a rim along the rain-slicked road to a stolen fortune.





CHAPTER 5


Bo reached the two-lane road after ten minutes of climbing up and then sliding down the ridge; so slick it may as well have been lubed up for some anal.

The rain was relentless. Fallen branches like whips fell from the trees. His jumpsuit was heavy, making him walk like an extra in Night of the Living Dead.

Headlights ahead, making the curve. Step out into the lane, wave your arms, try not to look like a zombie.

The car saw Bo and braked hard, front wheel locking and the back end fishtailing out. Bo ran backwards toward the safety of the tree line as the car slid past him as if on waterskis. The rear swung to the left then back right before slowing to a stop. The red brake lights reflected off the blacktop and the exhaust puffed tiny white clouds.

Bo stepped slowly from the trees and approached the window. It spun down on an electric motor.

“Sorry about that. I thought you saw me earlier,” said Bo.

The boy behind the wheel was young. His eyes were still saucers and his fingers still clung to the wheel for dear life. He said nothing.

“Listen, I was wondering if you could give me a ride into town. Not really the best night for a walk.”

The boy turned to his right and Bo saw the girl seated next to him, equally young. Equally scared. A bottle of vodka, the cheap stuff, sat between her legs like she had given birth to it. A cigarette burned in her hand, but she held it in the telltale way of an amateur.

The boy turned back to Bo. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“But, it’s raining like a mother out here, man.”

“I know it’s…this is my dad’s car and…”

Bo scanned the car up and down. BMW 3 Series. Young kid. Nervous. Joyriding. Trying to impress the girl and hoping to get laid. Bo hated to cock block but…

“Listen, kid, I’m not really asking. I’m telling.”

“I really can’t. My dad would kill—”

Bo ripped open the door. The boy flinched, the cold rain shocking him as much as the suddenly open door. Bo grabbed him by the sweater vest and pulled. The seatbelt caught and held him in. Bo snarled and leaned over him to undo the belt. The girl started screeching.

“What the fuck, dude! Stop it! Cut it out! Brian! Oh my God!”

The kid, Brian, was helpless. Bo pulled him from the car. With no weapon, all he had was intimidation.

“I need your car, Brian. I’m sorry, but it has to be done. I need your clothes too.”

Bo unzipped his jumpsuit. Brian’s muscles froze, confused by the rain, the strange man and his commands.

“Now, Brian.” Bo lifted the sweater vest up over Brian’s head. It jogged Brian into helping. He started to strip.

The new clothes were soon equally as wet as his old jumpsuit, but at least they didn’t say County Property on them. Brian stood on the middle white line in his boxer shorts, not how he intended to get to that state of undress tonight. Bo fit easily into Brian’s clothes. He’d always been skinny, average height. He was generic like a mannequin. His once-pretty face now used to scare a couple of kids on a dark highway at night.

“What’s her name?” Bo asked Brian.

“Valerie.”

Bo leaned in the driver’s door. “Valerie. You need to get out. I don’t want to take—” A tiny flame. A wet spray. Bo’s face suddenly wet.

Valerie had spit a mouthful of vodka in his face. Her lighter was in her hand. Bo staggered back and stood straight, wiping alcohol from his eyes. Her plan hadn’t worked; to spit alcohol and light it—Gene Simmons-style—into a blowtorch right in his face.

Bo moved to lean back in the car blinking away the alcohol burn. Valerie screamed and unbuckled her belt, hopped the center console, knocking the automatic shifter with her vagina and sat in the driver’s seat. Bo reached for her but she stomped the gas and the tires spun on the wet pavement a moment before German anti-lock engineering took over and the car gripped and shot forward.

Bo fell back and almost lost his footing as the six cylinders revved hot above the noise of the storm. The door slammed shut with the lurching forward momentum of the car, but she had no control. The engine continued to rev hotter as she drove a hundred yards straight, ignoring the curve of the road, and slammed into a tree.

Unlike the tree that brought the van down, this one held firm.

Louder than thunder, the BMW sprayed glass and debris into the woods. The engine died. Airbags deployed, but the tree split the car down the center until it was planted in the backseat where a baby would sit. The front of the car forked out like a snake’s tongue. Steam rose into the air.

Bo turned to see Brian running into the woods the opposite way. He ran in the direction Bo had come from and apparently didn’t see the drop off. Brian left the highway and plunged down the ravine to the train tacks below, disappearing from Bo’s sight faster than a lightning flash. The rain drowned out any sound of him reaching the bottom.

Bo sighed. He was sick of being wet. It was a nice car too.

He walked north on the two-lane. The opposite of Slick.





CHAPTER 6


Her first thought was Delmer. Who else would pound on her door that way? Shit. This would be the night she finally pulled Slick’s old Bowie knife from under the pillow and stabbed the fat fuck in the heart.

She’d imagined it many times before. After he was dead she’d have to pull down his pants, take out his dick to stage the scene for the cops so there would be no doubt he came down there to rape her. She thought an added bonus would be to write EMMA in lipstick on his stomach as some sort of sick proclamation of love. She’d stolen a lipstick from Sylvia months ago just for the occasion.

“Who is it?” She held her robe closed but did not tie it. Served her right for sleeping in the nude. That halfwit could probably smell her through the walls.

“Police. Open up, Emma.”

Stash the Bowie and tie the robe. Emma opened.

“Let’s see some I.D.”

Detective MacKaye flipped open his worn leather badge wallet for her inspection. “Want to write down my badge number?” His tone was that of a Cary Grant character, charming even while he insulted you.

She shot him a sour look and opened the door wide. Letting a cop in was better than letting the eavesdroppers listen.

MacKaye was early forties, going grey around the ears but otherwise a handsome man. Solid jaw, muscular physique. All his life people told him he looked like Robert Redford. He’d trade his looks for Redford’s money. MacKaye carried an involuntary grin that worked well for a detective. It made everyone around him feel like he knew something they didn’t.

He wore a long overcoat covering a generic suit made for comfort over fashion. He leaned an umbrella outside the door before he stepped in.

The detective gave the basement a once-over, wasn’t impressed. Sure as hell didn’t look like the home of any six hundred forty-two thousand dollars.

“Heard from Slick tonight?”

“What? No. Why should I? He’s on his way to Wharton.”

“Yeah, not anymore.”

It sounded to her like one of the million code ways cops have of telling you someone is dead. “What happened?”

“Seems the transport van had a little accident.” Her heart sped up. “Slick and his little partner are nowhere to be found. But, to be fair, there’s two miles of train tracks we still need to search and what we’re looking for won’t really resemble a body anymore.”

“Would you tell me what the fuck happened already.”

“That’s all I know. Your boyfriend’s van crashed. He’s nowhere around, two officers dead. So, I’m thinking, where would I go if I was suddenly free and needed to get dry? To my dear beloved.”

MacKaye circled around the chipped-topped kitchen table. A weak florescent tube lit the corner kitchen space from under a cabinet. He leaned forward resting his hands on the back of a chair.

“He wouldn’t come here,” said Emma.

“Why not?”

“Because you’re here. If you’re smart enough to figure this much out he’s twice as smart to know to stay away.”

“He’s so smart he went and got himself sent up for twenty-five years.”

“That was Bo’s fault.”

MacKaye stood upright again. He continued his circle around the table, clicking his tongue.

“Oh, believe me, I don’t think for a second this is the first place he’d come. He may like you but he’d stop at his first love…the money.” He scanned the room again for her benefit. “I can see you don’t have anything resembling money here.”

“You haven’t looked under my mattress.”

“I’m afraid of roaches.”

Emma shifted her weight on her hips and thought about putting on some coffee, but it might entice him to stay. Now that the stink of cop had dissipated a little she could see he was a handsome man, the way women go nuts for George Clooney even though he’s old enough to be an uncle. And no scars on his face. Definitely a plus. The longer she was away from Slick’s features the harder it became to ignore them. After two years of dating she’d gotten used to the way he looked and it didn’t bother her, but now, after more than a month in custody, it freaked her out to look back at pictures. Jesus, I fucked that?

“Mind if I ask what a girl like you was doing with a guy like Slick?” Fuck, she thought, he’s a goddamn mindreader. “I mean, you’re a handsome woman.”

“You mean me or my tits? You’ve been spending most of your time looking at them. They don’t know where the money is either, for the record.”

“I’m curious.”

“Prince Charming wasn’t exactly knocking at my door.”

“I just knocked at your door.”

God help her, she blushed. He flashed that grin again, a sliver of white teeth winking through. “So he hasn’t called? You won’t be in trouble if he has. No crime in answering the phone.”

“No, he hasn’t called.”

“And you don’t have any plans to see him?”

“In twenty-five years.”

“Well, thank you for being honest with me.” His grin made her uneasy even though she knew she was telling the truth. “We’ll be keeping an eye on you in case he decides to drop by. He’s a dangerous criminal you know.”

“So I hear.”

MacKaye crossed back to the door. “Will you call me if he does decide to give you a ring?”

“Doubtful.”

“I didn’t think so.” If he had a hat he would have tipped it.

He dripped rain water from his umbrella as he walked back up the stairs. After he turned the corner another face peered from the top of the steps.

“Go to sleep, Delmer,” said Emma. She closed the door harder than she should have at that hour of the night.





CHAPTER 7


The pickup truck struggled on three tires plus one rim scraping down the pavement like a dog dragging its ass over carpet.

Time to give up. The diner was a good ten miles in the past. The woods had fallen away, given over to good old-fashioned progress and expansion. A mini-mart, Motel 6, neon, stoplights and billboards. Traffic was nonexistent because of the storm. Slick had only seen two cars in the whole journey. Luckily, he passed them before the rim started sparking.

The rain was letting up. Could have been the eye of the storm. The wind was still pissed off about something and taking it out on the trees and anything not bolted to the ground.

Slick aimed the truck for an empty lot next to a paint store. The curb cut bounced him in his seat when the bare rim made it over. He parked the truck under a tree and left it. He left the shotgun too. No sense drawing attention to himself now that he had a change of clothes. He slid on his new stolen coat and headed out to the deserted streets.

It was after midnight and traffic, such as it was, would only get slower. The darkness, the rhythmic tapping of the rain, the soreness from the crash and the comedown from the adrenalin high of the diner came over him like a tranquilizer. He could slip into a dumpster, tuck up in the sacks of garbage and sleep for a week. Being wet again didn’t help. Even the light drizzle got inside his collar, soaked through the jeans and made the sores on his wrists and ankles throb.

Down two blocks past a YMCA, a ninety-nine cent store, a place that did custom rims and a psychic—all closed—he spotted a welcome beacon of hope. The telltale yellow of a cab stood out in the rain. The taxi—lights on, exhaust spewing steam—sat idling on the side of the road outside a Subway sandwich shop; closed as of five minutes ago. The interior light was on, the cabbie reading a paper in between sips of coffee.

Slick jogged diagonally across the street, against the punishing wind, and came up on the cab from behind. He pulled on the handle of the rear door but found it locked. He stepped up to the passenger door and knocked on the glass. The window motored down six inches, not exactly inviting, but better for Slick. His face had been known to start any conversation off on the wrong foot and the less noticed he was, the better.

“Hey, there, can I catch a ride?”

The cab driver spoke like he had a porcupine caught in his throat. Pot belly, five-pack-a-day habit, remnants of his sandwich still lingering in his stubble that grew half way between a beard and “I don’t give a shit.” He gargled out, “Can you read, asshole?”

Slick leaned closer to the slit in the window. “What?”

The cab driver swallowed down his oversized bite. “I asked if you can read. Maybe I should ask if you can hear too.”

“What’s your problem?”

The window slid down six more inches, letting out a little more of the fart-and-mayonnaise aroma. “Look up there.” The cabbie punched the roof of his cab three times. Slick lifted his head and saw the illuminated OFF DUTY light on the cab’s roof.

“Hey, man, it’s raining like hell out here. I’m just looking for a ride. I got money, not like I’m asking for a favor.”

The cab driver was sitting on years of people asking for one more ride, one more fare across town after his shift. Rainy nights were the worst. People tried to appeal to his better nature, of which he had none. Enough.

“Go fuck yourself. Off duty means off duty, you ugly son-of-a-bitch. I bet you had to sneak up on your mom’s tit to get a drink, didn’t you?”

He punctuated his insult with a rumbling snort of his nose, a raucous clearing of the throat and deep swallow of phlegm. The window went up. Slick regretted leaving the shotgun behind. He rapped on the window again, hard. The slit was only three inches this time.

“Hey, what the fuck, man?”

“Are you that shit-all stupid? I’m not taking any fares. Now fuck off.”

Up went the window again. Slick took his argument to the source. He stepped around the front of the cab to the driver’s side window and pounded with a fist, rattling the glass. The wind, sensing Slick’s anger, picked up with powerful gusts.

The door opened, knocking Slick in the shin as it did. Slick hopped backwards on one leg.

The cab driver stood up faster than a man of his heft had a right to. He extended his right arm, lifting the gun: a snubnose .38.

“You wanna talk? Okay, let’s talk.”

Slick stumbled and spun on one leg making an awkward retreat. The cabbie drove forward like his brakes were cut. The rain began to pick up again. Wind blew shot glass-sized raindrops sideways and flopped the cabbie’s comb-over onto his forehead and down into his eyes.

Slick regained his balance and stood, hands raised. “Woah, woah, woah! Take it easy.” A long damn time since someone got the drop on Slick. He didn’t like it one bit, but didn’t see a way out of it yet.

“Won’t take no for an answer, huh?” The .38 was leveled at Slick’s face. The cabbie didn’t notice the rain, the hair in his face or the cold. As hard as the wind blew the steadiest thing in the street was his right arm and the gun at the end of it.

“I’m leaving, man. I’m out of here.” Slick hated the feeling. He was outdone. It happened rarely, but if his natural features failed to intimidate someone the way they usually did, he always had backup of the guns and knives he liked to carry. Without them he was weak, easily spooked. His offense was great, his defense sucked.

It was what he feared most about prison. He would have no weapons and those guys didn’t intimidate easy. Ugly was par for the course and there would be guys who were bigger, meaner, uglier and had connections. Going to prison would have been like starting over in the fifth grade, only with a lot more sodomy.


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