Category Archives: Pulp Fiction

All Tore Up—II

by Helene Baron-Murdock

The victim’s name was Oscar Reynaldo Phineas the Third and he had a paper trail for breach of promise and intent to defraud as an unregistered nonprofit from as far away as Alexandria, Virginia, Memphis, Tennessee, Athens, Georgia, Sparta, Indiana back east to out west Antioch, and Eureka, California. They were all lower tier felonies if that, but they were shadowed by the fact that he’d been a suspect in the death of his wife, Yuri Dicey, the famed performance artist, which was later ruled accidental during a rehearsal for a routine gone horribly wrong titled “Don’t Look Back.”

sharonDonovan drove out to Sharon’s Crossing, the sun sparking at the horizon and glancing amber rays off the rolling pasture land and encroaching suburban sprawl before the Santa Lena Hwy headed further west and entered the deep shadows of dark green coniferous stands crowding the roadway fringed by barbed skylines and winding parallel to the Acre River.

Sharon’s Crossing during the heyday of the timber industry had served as the ferry point for the lumber mills on the north side of the Acre, where all the logging had taken place, shipping board feet to all points east. At the south end of the WPA era bridge and near the entrance to R.K. Turas State Park, was Sharon’s Corner, a collection of century old buildings converted to a coffee souvenir antique art shop museum and assortment of outdoor picnic tables.

Once the victim’s name was released on the local news program, the tip came in. Someone remembered seeing him at the coffee shop near the State Park where his bits and pieces had been found. It was Donovan’s to follow up.

He identified himself to the young girl behind the coffee bar which made her wince, and then to the older man that she’d called over, the proprietor. They both wore glasses, hers more stylish. Donovan guessed that she was his daughter. His name was Dane Carson and he explained that he’d been watching the news on the widescreen on the back patio and saw the sketch that he identified as Phineas.

“The Third! And this is the crazy part! The reason I knew it was the same guy is that he gave a reading here no more than a week ago!”

Donovan looked at the handbill Carson handed him. “You mean like a séance?”

“No, it was a poetry reading. He’s that poet” pointing at the photo on the flyer. “But now that you mention it, he was strange, like he really didn’t belong to this time. Old fashioned and kinda snooty like he thought he was royalty. I heard he was pretty famous. He had an argument with somebody. Just a raised voice that made me look up. But he was loud anyway. And then the way he performed the poems was really creepy. Made your hair stand on end.” Carson self-consciously patted his near bald pate. “Anne, here, usually helps me with the kitchen when there’s an event or meeting or art show reception, but I told her she could go home. Some of the stuff he was saying sounded pretty sick. She didn’t need to hear that.”

“That bad, huh?”

“Well, don’t go by me. I don’t know anything about poetry. But the audience seemed to like it.” He motioned to the wide semi enclosed area with a scattering of tables and chairs and big screen in the corner. “I just provide the space and the service.. It makes a little extra money, and I do it as a favor to Fay Angeli. She’s the one who puts on these events.” He smiled like his generosity made him a nice guy.

Donovan looked out over the tables. More witnesses, more leads, less time sitting around the office with Voss breathing down his neck. “How big was the audience.” There was potential for extra hours. Mike would approve them.

Carson considered the count intently. “Not more than twenty I’d guess. But Fay would know for sure.” Then as if something had occurred to him. “It’s usually always the same crowd, and I know a lot by sight or their names. Friends of Fay’s mostly. But a few seemed a little bit edgier.” He paused to look over his shoulder as if someone might be eavesdropping, “They came with May Naddy.”

Donovan nodded, May Naddy again. She had been big star eye-candy on the continent years ago. Then she married someone richer than God. When he died she inherited a pile as laid out in the prenup. It couldn’t be said that the old sheik wasn’t generous but his estate was parceled out like a class action suit. Donvan knew more about May Naddy than he really wanted to. His ex had gleefully kept him abreast of the scandals surrounding the buxom star. And all because he’d once remarked that she had a body that could stop a freight train. It was a quip he’d heard an older friend make when they were in high school after viewing a sword and toga epic. It was likely one of the poorly dubbed Hercules muscle and loincloth action extravaganzas where she played a scantily clad Queen of the Amazons. Her celebrity was fueled by her scandalous behavior diligently reported in the tabloids as well as by the many clothing optional heroic dramas she was featured in, including a chilling cameo as Medusa in the popular Heroes of Olympus in which she appeared without a stitch and with a coif of writhing snakes. After she married the oil rich oligarch, May Naddy dropped out of public view. Coincidentally that was right around the time Donovan’s wife had decided to bid adios as well.

May Naddy reappeared in public a dozen or so years later, soon after the death of her husband, and in Weston County, as a severe, no frills beauty, still looking like she’d just stepped off the screen of her classic films, Seven Rivers To Hades or Mistress of Beasts, but now espousing a radical male averse feminism. She’d purchased an old ranch in the hills overlooking the Acre and adjacent to the State Park. At one time the property had been a resort with cabins and a pool. It was, to hear the old timers tell it, a nude dude ranch with young studs prancing around in nothing but leather chaps, riding bareback, and, in general, titillating the guests, mostly old goats. It had been called the Bear Ranch back then but everyone referred to it as the “Bare” Ranch. The local papers took an interest in Naddy when she applied for an exotic animal permit and stated, through her lawyers, that she planned to open a refuge for abused mammals of all species. That left the door open for the two legged mammals as well as the four legged variety.

Donovan surveyed the patio and indicated the table in the corner away from the few customers. “Do you have time to answer some questions? I could use a cup of coffee.”

Carson nodded like a puppy eager to please. “Yeah, sure, coffee’s on the house. Want a dough. . . .” Carson caught himself, “Uh, Danish or something?”

Donovan chuckled . “No, I’ve had to give up the power rings. And I’ll pay for the coffee. I can’t accept a gratuity.”

post apoc sat

Fay Angeli’s pixie cut accented a perfectly shaped head, large gold hoops dangling from her shell-like ears. She was as nervous as a lap dog when she met him at the door, a nymph in the classic sense, teasing and unattainable,.

Following Carson’s directions, Donovan had driven out to her place after calling ahead at the phone number the café owner had provided and establishing her availability for an interview. Her home was up a long gravel driveway about a quarter mile off the main road set on a grassy hillock of oaks and tangles of coyote brush. A large rusting satellite dish antenna with the feedhorn pointing down at the concrete base next from the doublewide mobile home was silhouetted against the darkening sky like a relic from a post-apocalyptic B movie. He parked next to a dusty blue older model Outback, the headlights of his sedan picking out the succulent garden bordering the path to the front porch and a pergola festooned with hanging baskets of bright flowers and arrays of wind chimes clattering randomly in the faint evening breeze.

A quick look around the living room said Fay Angeli had a taste for decorating that did not skimp on exaggeration with an emphasis on the lush and layered, photos and paintings set in ornate frames or draped with sheer fabric and arranged for maximum arty effect. It was a busy feast for the eyes but Donovan wasn’t distracted. “Can you tell me how you know Mister Phineas?”

In her mid-forties, he guessed, Fay seated herself on a long orange chaise in a cheerful patterned top and form fitting sherbet green yoga pants and, cocking her platinum blonde head to one side, considered the question. “What can I tell you about Oscar Reynaldo Phineas the Third? For one thing, he never told me exactly what he was the third of. “

Donovan blinked and took a breath. She was going to be cute and the intense red of her painted lips looked voracious as if when smiling she might reveal a pair of fangs. “Can you tell me how long you’ve known Mister Phineas?” He gave her his practiced no nonsense cop stare.

She raised a bleached eyebrow and crossed her eyes thoughtfully. “I’ve known of his work for years. He’s quite a well-known poet, internationally. A genius, and a hypnotic personality. And he was cleared in the horrible accident that caused his wife’s death even if there were rumors that he was somehow involved or negligent. But one must forgive the great their failings,” she proclaimed with an assured finality.

“I started a correspondence with him some years ago after attending one of his readings in Chicago when I was back there visiting relatives. He seemed very kind and interested in my own writing and some of my art.” She motioned with her hand to indicate the paintings on the walls. “I invited him to visit if he were ever passing through Weston County merely as a courtesy, never imagining that he would take me up on the offer. He is a celebrity after all.”

She got to her feet and ambled over to a small bookshelf near a writing desk. “I have most of all his books of poetry, and he was kind enough to sign them while he was here.” She held them up as if they were precious icons. “The Cult of Eight, one of his early books, a very powerful epic that takes place in ancient Egypt. The depictions are so real it is almost as if he had lived during the time of the Pharaohs.” She held up another. “Higher Glyphs, the sequel to The Cult of Eight, and much more detailed about the secret rituals of the ancient goddess religions. He was much younger then.” She showed Donovan the jacket photo and there wasn’t much resemblance between the pictured poet and the head that had been found floating down the Acre.

“This one is called When Sunny Gets Glue,” she continued, proffering another volume, “and the least of my favorites. He was trying for the modern touch and I’m afraid it just doesn’t work for him. Too flippant and self-referential.” She gave Donovan a conspiratorial smile as he if would catch the critical dig. “But he got back on track with these last three. Although they are a little, what would you say, anti-woman? In One With The Sun, he pledges allegiance to the Greek god of poetry, Apollo, as he does in this next book, Apollo Guised, an epic about a poet travelling around the world proselytizing the glory of the sun god. And his most recent, Death Sidestepped, is a paean to immortality.”

All of that had gone over Donovan’s head as totally irrelevant. “When was the last time you spoke with Mister Phineas?”

“Well, I have to say I was flabbergasted when out of the blue he accepted my invitation to come and read in our tiny cultural outpost. And thrilled. He was staying in Santa Lena, I think in a motel north of town. He came to dinner and we had a wonderful conversation about his poetry. Then we went to Sharon’s Corner for the reading.” Staring up at him, sincere, wide eyed, she asked, “Tell me, was it really as horrible as the news said?”

“I really can’t comment on that. When did you last see him?”

She sighed and grasped a knee with both hands and leaned back searching her memory with her eyes. “That night, after the reading at The Corner café and gallery. I curate the art there and host cultural events. I was quite disappointed at the turnout. O. R. Phineas is a literary celebrity even if he is a little controversial. Still, his reading was superb, quite magical.”

A breeze passed through the porch and tickled the wind chimes as if on cue.

“You were expecting a larger audience. How many people were in attendance at the,” Donovan checked his notes, “. . .reading? I’d like a list of the all people in the audience. Those that you can identify.”

There was panic in her eyes as she sat bolt upright. “What? No!” Then “I don’t know,” she moaned sorrowfully, pleading.

“Did anything strike you as unusual that evening? Arguments, disagreements? Do these poetry meets get heated?”

She had a laugh like one of her wind chimes. “No, no, not at all, it’s a very docile crowd. I know most of them. Local artists, writers, people who don’t want to sit around and watch TV. Besides, he had everyone spell bound. He can charm the cosmos.” She got dreamy eyed remembering and then snapped out of it. “Well, except for Axel,” she explained with a grimace, “Axel Cronen, but he likes to argue just to hear himself talk.”

“And May Naddy, I understand that she was there as well.”`

Fay Angeli gasped and turned away to give her left shoulder a very hard stare. “I couldn’t say.”

“You couldn’t say if she was there?” What Donovan saw in her hesitance was fear, terror.

“Don’t you know? She’s a witch. I don’t want to even speak her name.”


Next Time: Murder Ouija Board

Contents Vol. 2 No. 2

Welcome to Volume Two, Number Two of Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine. The start of the lunar New Year (the Water Tiger, 4720 by the Chinese calendar) and the beginning of the second volume of this serial pulp fiction magazine welcomes the latest in pulp entertainment.

In the current episode of a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary Western lawman, Pat Nolan’s novella, On The Road To Las Cruces, details the investigation into the disappearance of a prominent New Mexican and his son in what has become known in the Territory as “the White Sands mystery.”

Sex scenes are such a bother. So says Better Than Dead’s author, Colin Deerwood, who felt honor bound by the pulp code to sprinkle in an anxious moment. But that was last time. Fortunately the latest episodes of the detective story jumps right in to fast paced action as Lackland Ask and Rebecca Eisen are on the run from the mob and being chased by the feds. And did she misplace the diamonds?

Dismemberment is the subject of All Tore Up, Helene Baron Murdock’s latest Hard Boiled Myth, in which Detective Jim Donovan, on the eve of his retirement from Weston County’s Sheriff’s Office Violent Crimes Unit, puts together the pieces of a murder that eerily echoes Greek mythology.

Dime Pulp Yearbook 21 contains the novels (The Last Resort and Better Than Dead) and the short fiction (Hard Boiled Myth and Gone Missing) of Volume One’s 12 issues and are available for perusal in their entirety. If you missed a few issues or lost the thread of a serial, clicking on the link in this paragraph or on the menu bar above is a good way to catchup.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of 2 full length novels,  Better Than DeadA Detective Story and On The Road To Las Cruces  as well as a new episode of Hard Boiled Myth . If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number Two.

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—14


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces—Four—


HBM ArcGreek myth is rife with murder, mutilation, cannibalism, mayhem, and the ever popular incest.  Weston County Sheriff’s Detective Jim Donovan of the Violent Crimes Unit wouldn’t know a Greek myth from a Greek salad, but if he did he would find some troubling similarities to the cases he’s investigating.  Revisited as crime fiction are the strange death of Hippolytus, the agonizing death of Heracles, the slaughter of Penelope’s suitors, the Fall of Icarus,  the sparagamos of Orpheus, and the cursed lineage of Pelops.  Helene Baron-Murdock’s Hard Boiled Myth taps into the rich vein of classical literature to frame these ancient tales in a modern context.

All Tore Up—I


All Tore Up—I

by Helene Baron-Murdock 

ststepark

A group of amateur mycologists in the pristine timberlands of R. K. Turas State Park found a freshly severed big toe at the base of a pine where amanita muscaria were growing. At first the blood red end was indistinguishable from the bright red of the mushroom’s cap. Then blood dripping from nearby ferns only added to their initial horror.

Donavan was a little late but he’d already heard the initial report. Now he was watching Derrick Voss, the new Captain of Detectives, go through the power point on the  screen in semi darkened Conference Room Two. The entire squad was in attendance for the briefing, excepting Rick Nelson who had taken time off while his wife had their first child. The grizzly aspect of the murder had caught everyone’s attention.

Amanita toeVoss was pointing to the photos of numbered placards each designating a body part strewn across the forest floor. “They found the head” he said referencing another slide, “floating down the Acre River near Sharon’s Crossing on some kind of rude raft made of branches.” He paused to give Donovan a nod and then said, “Glad you could make it, Detective.”

Donovan hadn’t liked Voss when he first met him, an outside promotion hire from a department down south. And now he liked him even less. He spotted the subtle twist of Lieutenant Mike Jackson’s lips in a grimace, the dive of the lines of his forehead into a frown. The Loot was ten times the cop that Voss was and should have been the automatic choice for promotion after Krazy Ed Kryzinski retired. Because Jackson was a black man that wasn’t going to happen. Voss was the new breed of cop, white and ambitious, giving truth to that old saying, meet the new breed, same as the old breed. Or something like that. “HR took longer than expected, Cap, lots of paper work to read through and sign.”

“Try not to make a habit of it,” Voss admonished and turned back to the PowerPoint. “These three women are our primary persons of interest.”

Donovan glanced at the head shots, a trio of pretty hard to look at gals, and then at his squad mates seated around the table looking at him with expressions of questioning disbelief and surprise. Had he finally done it? Burdon gave him a subtle power fist and Townsend flashed a thumbs up. He had filed his retirement papers.

Back at his desk, Donovan cleared the file he’d been looking through, an old case that had caught his interest dating from back before he’d made detective. He’d been a Deputy then, patrolling the rural country around Hades Acre Lake in the northern part of Weston County, when he caught the report of the ten-fifty four over the unit’s radio. And he was one of the first officers on scene. He wasn’t going to forget the flayed condition of the body in this lifetime. Something about the current case was giving him pause. And his phone rang. It was Veronica, the Sheriff’s secretary.

“I hear that congratulations are in order.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to Nelson. It’s his wife’s having the baby.”

“I’m going to miss your smart mouth.”

“That’s more like it.”

“The Sheriff would like to see you in his office.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

Donovan avoided elevators. You never knew who you were going to meet on an elevator and he always felt so exposed when the doors parted at the destination. He took the stairs four flights up to the top floor passing through the administration wing of Justice Hall where he was familiar with many of the employees, mostly women, and who greeted him with more congratulatory best wishes. He muttered his thanks and appreciations and waved back in greeting. Veronica was on the phone when he got to the Sheriff’s outer office but she smiled and mimed him to go right in.

He hadn’t been expecting champagne or even cake so he wasn’t disappointed, but he was surprised to see Voss seated in one of the two chairs in front of Phil’s large ornate frieze-like desk.

Phil greeted him without getting up from behind the desk but Donovan noticed the crutches leaning against the cabinet behind and figured that the gout must be acting up again.

“Have a seat, have a seat,” Phil insisted. “You know Captain Voss, of course. I was just telling Derrick that it was a tough break to be less than a week on the job and get hit with this horrendous crime, murder, repulsive dismemberment. It’s a tough job and it isn’t made any easier with the pressure from the DA’s office. And the media. To get a handle on this outrage in a hurry. And I assured him that he had a crack squad of experienced detectives already on the case, especially you, Jim, you’re one of the old timers, you know the lay of the land, and you’ve established impeccable sources.” Phil paused a breath. “Are you familiar with the three women who are being held as witnesses? Are we getting anywhere with them?”

Donovan shook his head. “I saw the mugs, runaways maybe. My guess, by the location, living rough on the Bare Ranch.” He referenced the notebook he’d slipped from his jacket pocket. “Melanie, Dora, and Laurel, no last names because last names are patriarchal, so I hear.” He recalled his reading of the booking photos, the insolent stare of the leader, the vacant stare of the next smartest, and the clueless stare of the last. Dumb, dumber, and, dumbest, the three ingredients for mayhem. “You won’t guess who they’ve been talking to.”

mugs1The sheriff winced like his gout was acting up. “May Naddy?”

Voss leaned toward the desk’s edge after glancing a scowl at Donovan. “I’ve got Jackson on the interview panel with a couple of the other senior men, Sheriff. Detectives Donovan and Nelson are chasing down identification on the victim. I’m sure they’ll piece it all together.”

Phil roared, “Piece it together! That’s a good one, Voss!” He thumped his desk and wheezed out another laugh. Donovan figured that maybe the gout medication was making the boss loopy, not his usual high and mighty aloofness, or maybe he’d self-prescribed a three martini lunch. And he watched Voss’s face go blank and then register a flicker of recognition as he realized what exactly the “good one” was.

“Nelson’s on family leave. His wife just had a baby.”

Voss glared at Donovan, obviously displeased at being corrected. “I thought I had ordered all critical staff back on duty. Why does Nelson think he’s excluded from that order?

The Sheriff nodded sagely. “His job was done nine months ago, why didn’t he take the time off then?”

Donovan ignored the remark, more annoying than inappropriate and confirming his hunch that the boss had had one too many olives with his martinis. “It doesn’t take two of us to get the ID on the vic. I can have the techs work up a composite sketch from the remains of the head and get the picture distributed through the usual channels by the end of the day.”

“I would expect no less, Detective, but you have missed the point. When I make an assignment of personnel to staff a vital function in an investigation, I expect them to report for duty no matter the circumstances.” Voss had turned to him, grim faced, and rose, “But you’re retiring soon, is that correct? I hope we can have this cleared up before then and you can retire on a high note.” Nodding to the Sheriff, he said “I have to get back for a meeting with the Medical Examiner. I hope you’ll consider my suggestions for streamlining the unit.”

After Voss had left, Phil Collins cleared his throat and raised his eyebrows. “So you went and did it. Finally going to pull the plug. I’m kinda of jealous. What are your plans for, you know, after?”

“I’m not going to be dead, Phil. Contrary to what people believe, there is life after retirement. I’ll finally have the time to work on fixing things around the house, remodel, dig up that slab covering most of my backyard. Travel, maybe, go east, Baltimore, look in on Marion.”

Phil wagged his chin leaning back in his chair, eyes narrowing. “Marion, that the colored gal you were dating, from the hospital?”

Any regrets about retiring from a job that had been his life for over 30 years evaporated in the heat of his slow boil. “Yeah, the ER nurse.”

Phil leaned forward. “We go back a ways, Jim. We were rookie deputies together. You were a module or two ahead of me in the Academy, I remember. We may have had our run-ins over time, but I knew I could always count on you doing the job. I think sometime that temper of yours can get in the way, cloud your judgement. I also think you picked a good time to go out. Voss is more of a manager than a cop, and I don’t doubt that you and he would bump heads over proper or improper procedure. If you get my drift.

“Anyway, just to say I’m going to hate to lose your years of experience and knowhow on a case.” The Sheriff paused to look down as if he were holding a hand of cards. “So I’m going to put this on the table for you to consider.” He looked up. “Retired annuitant.”

“Doing what? Paperwork?”

“Yeah, pretty much. Cold cases, sorting, filing, creating a data base.”

Donovan shook his head. “I don’t know anything about data bases. Besides I thought Krazy Ed was going to do that. Wasn’t that why he retired? It would give him time to solve the case of the century or last century, his obsession with the Lopes clan.”

Tim shook his head. “The problem with Krazy Ed is that he’s crazy. Or to put it more politely, demented.”

“That’s not more politely. You mean dementia?”

“Keep that under your hat, but it was a medical retirement.”

“I don’t know. It sound boring, a lot like my current job which if it weren’t for the occasional axe murder would be unbearable.”

Collins chuckled his acknowledgement of the dig from the dark side. “You don’t have to commit to anything just yet. I can get a grant from the State through the Justice Department for Data Enhancement, meaning put together a coherent archive of cold cases with links to a nationwide network. I need an experienced officer who knows how to read a file and I can hire an assistant to do the data entry. We’re a small county. We don’t have a big cold case backlog. You can do it in your spare time. What have you got to lose?”

“Spare time.”

Mary Fisher, the crime scene tech, wore her own version of scrubs, a cross between a nurse and a lab tech, utilitarian blue pants and jersey under a long white lab coat. She was pointing at the image on the screen. “I took photographs of the head from various angles and then fed them into this reconstruction program that puts it together in a 3D image. He was missing an ear, lower lip, part of the nose, the whole left side of his cheek, and the hair from that side of his head.”

“Pretty gruesome.”

“Vehicle accidents are worse. So I’ve heard.” Mary was plumpish, dark hair almost always in a braid pinned in a bun at the back of her head, quiet brown eyes, diffident in the way of her people, and with a quiet way of speaking. “So far, it’s just bits and pieces. Chunks, like someone or something torn up a loaf of bread and dipped in tomato sauce. We haven’t recovered the torso. Nor the hands. We can’t identifying him by fingerprints until we find his fingers.”

“You’re sure it’s a him.”

Mary colored a little, her lips clamped together. She was used to Donovan’s banter. “Unless he’s a bearded lady.” She indicated the composite on the screen and the obvious beard swathing the jaw of the otherwise wild haired gaunt visage depicting what could only generously be described as a vacant eyed mad man. “And one of the bits we found would confirm his gender.”

Donovan nodded and smiled. He’d had his fun. He’d known Mary since she was hired a dozen years ago when he was just finishing up his stint in narcotics and moving on to Violent Crimes, or Robbery Homicide, as it was known back then. And she’d been Mary King in those days, newly engaged to Jay Fisher. After he’d got to know her a little better, he’d inquired idly as to why she hadn’t hyphenated her name so she could be Mary King-Fisher. He thought he was being cute. Her answer had shut him up. “That is not his clan. He is an otter.”

“Were you part of the recovery team?”

She nodded, “Yeah, I photographed most of the physical evidence and then came back here to prep the lab. Why?”

“You familiar with the area?”

“It is a good place for mushrooms. Of all kinds. My uncle would load us up in his truck and we would range through the forest hillside. This was before the State made it a park. But then, better that than condos. He taught us little songs that we would sing when we picked the mushrooms. They included a description and a thank you to be sung when we lifted one out of the ground. We were only allowed to pick the edible ones. The older boys picked the stronger ones and sold them at the High School.”

“Schrooms?”

One raised eyebrow answered the question. She handed him the printed sketch of the 3D model and said, “I hear you put in your paper. Sorry to see you go.”

He tugged at the sheet and she released the sketch. “I thought that was privileged information.”

“My cousin works in HR.”

Donovan stepped into Mike Jackson’s office with a handful of sketches to be distributed by the shift commander to the patrol units. He’d started a facial recognition search at his desk and was waiting for results. The Lieutenant had the same mug shots of the three women he’d seen earlier at the briefing up on his monitor. He shook his head and looked up at Donovan. “What would make them do such a thing? How could they do such a thing? They’re just women. Tear him to pieces like that.”

“They admit it? Maybe they had help.”

“Bloodied clothes would be the indication. And they’re not making much sense. Like they’re from another dimension or reality.”

“Think it could be ritual?”

“I don’t want to rule it out, but Voss isn’t interested in that angle. He wants straight out drug induced murder and mayhem. Reads better in the press, and besides ritual always leaves too much unanswered.” Jackson indicated the papers in Donovan’s hand. “Something you want to see me about, Jim?”

fagen“I’ve got a facial recognition match in progress, thought you might want to take a look at the sketch that’s going out to the field.”

“Now there’s a face you don’t want to be staring back at you in the mirror.”

“Yeah, sociopath poster boy of the year.”

“How old you think he could be?”

“Anywhere from late forties to early sixties.”

“Right about our ages. I hope I look better than that when I go.”

“Yeah, he looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet.”

Jackson laughed his appreciation. “Claymore?”

“Yeah, he was my sergeant years ago. I don’t know where he gets them.”

“I’d like to say, ‘last of the cowboys,’ but that isn’t so. There are newer and younger ones coming up every day.” He leaned forward, amused as Mike Jackson would ever get. “You had the rep of being something of a cowboy yourself, at least when you were in drug interdiction.”

“You have to be a cowboy if you’re going to play in that game, and you don’t have a choice. When it goes down, it goes down hard. Armed interdiction is high risk, you got to be like them but more so.”

“If that’s your logic, do you have to think like a murderer to work in homicide?”

“Most homicides are no brainers, husband, wife, ex, ex-lover, son, daughter, relative, neighbor, gang. You walk up on it, look around and you know right away which one of those Einsteins did it or knows who did it. You learn to read the scene, the people. If there are no witnesses, someone will know why, and maybe who. Unless they’re stone psychopaths, they have tells, twitches. Or come right out and confess before you ask the first question. Other times you have to negotiate. The paper work is the same, and it’s up to the DA to make the case with what I give him.”

“Well, things won’t be the same around here without you, Jim. Hell of a note to retire on, though. I hope we can wrap it up before you head out the door.”

“Unless it turns into a Krysinski case then it will never end.”

“Oh jeez, the Lopes. I’m glad I don’t have to listen to that horseshit anymore. He wasted a lot of manhours, his own, and some of the squad’s, on the Lopes Loop.”

“Collins offered me the annuitant job on cold cases. More paperwork, but I’d have an assistant to do the computer stuff.”

“That was Krysinski’s deal, wasn’t it.”

“Yeah, I don’t think I’ll take it. I don’t want to get tied down. There’s a waiting period before I can go back to drawing a county check. Hopefully I can find something that doesn’t have anything to do with asking questions of corpses.”

“I got another five before I even consider it. Be nice to go out with a promotion, but. . . .

“Yeah, I know. . .the new guy? I’m not sticking around to find out. And another thing that’s bugged me. When Krysinski retired, why didn’t Collins promote you to acting COD until the hiring freeze was lifted instead of taking it on himself? And then to promote from outside the department? What kind of message does that send?”

“You don’t have to ask. You know. And it’s the same old question. When I passed the detectives exam and placed in the first rank on the list I knew that I would never promote within the Santa Lena PD. The Chief told me right to my black face. I took the first offer that came along and that was with the Weston County Sheriff’s Office. I heard the word was out that I got the job because of the color of my skin. The Sheriff’s Office had been slammed by the grand jury for being noncompliant with County diversity guidelines. And they grabbed the first chocolate chip they could get their hands on. So maybe they were right. I did get the job because of the color of my skin. Not that it’s changed anything. And Santa Lena PD has yet to hire and retain a person of color in their sworn ranks.”

“Like you say.”

“I did my job, and I got good at it, and people that mattered said I had good leadership qualities. I think that my annual Fourth of July barbeques, where they got hammered and did stupid shit and knew that I knew they had, might have had something to do with it, too. Still when I got promoted to Lieutenant, the word going around was that I got the job because of the color of my skin. Now if I’d been made Captain of Detectives, the same thing would have been said.

“And since you weren’t.”

“Now therein lies the salt to rub in the wound, to paraphrase Willy. The irony is that you could say that I didn’t get the job, and I did interview for the position, you could say that it was because of the color of my skin.”

“Amen.”

“Your pocket is buzzing.”

Donovan retrieved his black clad device and glanced at the screen. “Ok, got an ID on the vic. He’s got paper, and. . .that’s interesting.”

“Whuzat?”

“He’s a poet.”

“Dead poet now, and as my old English Lit prof used say, the only good poet is a dead poet.”


Next Time: Picking Up The Pieces

Better Than Dead—14

by Colin Deerwood

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“Cripes, it’s the cops!”

She stared at me dreamily with incomprehension and sat up perplexed, looking down at herself as if it was something she did.

I was pulling my up pants. “We got visitors!” I said, “The cops! Outside!” Now I knew what a bucket of cold water felt like.

I could see the panic in her eyes as she jumped to the floor.

“Let’s get out of here. Is there a back door to this place?”

She was slipping into her coat, bag in one hand, setting her hat on with the other. “Yes, down the corridor and to the left!”

I found my coat and headed for the door by the hat rack. I needed a hat. Bare headed men are always too conspicuous. And I lost mine near the back entrance to Soloman’s building. I couldn’t afford to be picky but they were mostly trilbys and flat caps, a few boaters, and one lone fedora. It fit a little loose around the ears but I wasn’t going to worry about that now.

nekkerThe shadows of men halted in front of the wide display window. One of them put his nose up against the window to peer in. I recognized the nose and the face behind it. The G-man, Nekker.

Out in the hallway I followed Rebecca dashing to the rear and an alcove to the left. She threw herself at the door. “It’s locked!” she grunted in frustration.

I gaped at the large padlock and the chains. I ran back to the hallway. I could see water seeping out onto the floor from under the washroom door. It didn’t look like a federal offense. And across from it, the maintenance closet. From which I had emerged less than a week ago. It was a crazy idea and I had to go for it. If it didn’t work, we were trapped, no matter what.

I steered the kid into the closet, closing the door just as I heard flat feet flapping on the floor tiles and voices raised, commanding, announcing. The closet was dark and I felt my way to the opposite side, feeling for the handle of the door down to the furnace room.

The door creaked open onto a dark abyss. I knew there were stairs going down but I couldn’t remember how many seeing as how I had mostly crawled my way up them last time. My eyes adjust to the faint glow of light cast by the dirt encrusted window on the coal furnace hatch. Slowly I made my way down the steps made more difficult by the hat sliding down over my eyes and Rebecca’s iron grip on my arm making my balance all the more precarious. Finally I set my foot down on the cinder littered floor. It was still all but pitch black. I could see my hand in front of my face but I couldn’t tell how many fingers. I tried to remember the direction of the coalbin and took a few hesitant steps in that direction.

The noise at the top of the stairs meant that they gone into the closet. It was only a matter of time before they found the door leading down. I barked my shin against something solid but was thankful that it didn’t clatter. I bit my lip to stifle my bark. A few more steps and I touched the lateral boards of the coalbin. I felt around the front for the latch to the gate. I could now see a silver sliver glistening off a few lumps at the top of the heap, the seep of daylight coming in at the top of the chute. The gate scraped open wide enough to wrench through onto the jumble of oar. I felt her hesitate. Then voices, “Find the light switch!”

“It’s not working. Bulb must be burnt out”

“Go back to the car and get the flashlights!”

I scrambled to the top of the pile and felt for the edge of the chute. I whispered in her ear that I was going to hoist her up onto the chute and that she had to reach up to push open the hatch to climb out into the loading zone. She was willing enough and light enough to lift, and agile enough. I followed her up with a little more of a struggle. A voice shouted, “I can hear someone down here! Hurry up with those flashlights!” By then I was pulling myself out of the hatch and crawling onto the midmorning pavement at the rear of the building.

Rebecca stared at me from her sitting position next to a crate and the brick of the building. Then she started giggling.

Hysteria, I’d seen it before, under many different circumstances. Giggling, and pointing, pointing at me, now with the other hand over her mouth to catch any unladylike guffaws. “You are covered in coal dust, all over your face, and your hat!” That was apparently the funniest part of all. “Your hat is crushed, and is falling around your ears. You are like a Charlie Chaplin character! A clown!”

On second look she hadn’t made out any better wrestling with the coal chute. She had a scrape on one knee, her hat was off to one side, and she had smudges on her cheeks and her nose. Yet she gleamed like a diamond.

I leapt to my feet. “Let’s skedaddle!” And raced for the street and the narrow alleyway that ran directly opposite. It being a Saturday, the commercial traffic was light. I spotted a delivery truck pulling away further down. I raced toward it with Becky close behind. The driver hadn’t rolled down the back gate and he was going just slow enough to catch up. The large truck hesitated before turning on to the street. I  gave Becky a leg up and hopped on as the truck turned into traffic

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We abandoned ship when a passing cabby alerted the truck driver that he had a couple of stowaways. We landed a few blocks from my office on 9th. Hopper’s Diner was just around the corner and down the block. I was in a mood for some honest java and a chance to get my head around what I had to do next.

hopperscafe“They ain’t gonna think of looking for us in plain sight,” I said when she stared at the wide windows looking out on to the street. There was another couple in the one booth in the back and I would have preferred to be down there, half way out of sight, instead of perched on a stool hunching my shoulders to the street. Still I had a gut feeling that we might have eluded the G-Men and I could catch my breath. From the counter man’s mug he thought we looked a little rough.

Rebecca peered at me over her cup. “You have an eye that is blackening purple and a dark bruise on your forehead.”

“Yeah, I felt as much. Too bad you can’t see my headache. My head is throbbing like a sack full of kittens.”

“Should we go to the hospital?”

“Naw, that’s the first place they’d look for me.” What the G-Men wanted with me was an open question. Was it me? Or was it the kid? Maybe her old man? Kovic wasn’t going to let up until I was worm meat. And the others, who were they, and what did they want? “We gotta find a place to lie low. Change the way we look. I got a place nearby but I don’t want to take the chance that it’s being watched. I can’t go there.” Then it came to me. “But you can!”

I outlined my scheme. She would hide out at my place while I got a hold of Max and made arrangements to move the diamonds. Then we would have the cash to make a dash to wherever our hearts desired, including a ritzy hotel with room service. I could tell right away she didn’t like the idea.

She looked sorrowful enough, but I got the feeling something wasn’t right. “You lost the diamonds?”

“No, not Max, he is not a good diamond dealer if now he must be a pawn man. I know people, and the people I know know people, and these people will pay top rate for the diamonds. And we must also consider that by now the police have been informed that the diamonds are missing and a pawn shop is the first place they will look.”

She was right, I just naturally assumed the cops would be looking for me for whatever reason.

“Ok, you got a point. And if the diamonds are missing and you’re missing, they’re going to put two and two together and come up with you. And if they get that far, they’re gonna notice that I’m missing, too, and when they add me in, they’ll get us.” Now I had a bunch of international saboteurs on my tail to boot. And for the time being the diamonds were hot no matter how uncut they were. My ready cash had whittled down to Hamilton and his older brother, Jackson, a couple of fins, and some fish. If we were going to lie low someplace until the rocks cooled we were going to need a larger stake. And I had something I could use as collateral.

I dropped a couple of Jeffersons on the counter and pushed out the door to the street, the kid on my heels. “Where are we going?” she wanted to know.

“I got an idea,” I said as we hustled down to the corner, “we’re not gonna need those diamonds just yet.”

“Yes,” she nodded, patting the pocket of her coat. Then she stopped and patted the other pocket, and then rummaged in her bag. “Lack,” she moaned, “I can’t find the diamonds?”

“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears.

“I was certain that I had put them in my coat pocket. . .you remember, when we talked about them.”

I wasn’t remembering anything. I threw my hat to the ground and glared at her with my hands on my hips. “You lost the rocks?” I must have shouted it because a guy passing by gave me a quick look of concern. I leaned forward and growled in her ear. “You checked all your pockets?”

She fumbled with her coat. “Yes, look, the lining is ripped. It must have happened when I was climbing up the coal chute. And that pocket was the one with the hole in it.”

She looked sorrowful enough, but I got the feeling something wasn’t right. “You lost the diamonds?”

She put her hand on my arm and said with an earnestness I had to believe, “They have fallen out in the coalbin! We must go back and retrieve them!”

I was about to answer when a couple of older dames dressed up like they were just coming back from Church or a funeral brisked by. They gave me a suspicious cursory once over and then one of them reached into her purse and dropped four bits into my hat. An act of charity if it hadn’t been for the looks of pity mixed with haughty superiority.

“Right now the shop is probably crawling with feds. We’ll have to go back later. And getting past the super ain’t gonna be no picnic.”

“Lack” she said looking puzzled, “Why must you always talk about eating?”

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“I want you to meet my friend, Alice.”

Alice stood in the doorway of her small basement studio in a man’s shirt stained with paint and her pajama bottoms, blinking. “Lack, hello.” Smoke trailed up from the cigarette in her fingers

“Alice, this is my friend Rebecca.”

“Hi, come on in. What brings you around?” She pointed us to the two chairs and table by the small kitchen sink.

It had been a while since I’d been there. The last time I saw Grace was in this small apartment with its mattress on the floor and lopsided set of drawers. Not much had changed. The large table covered with large mottled sheets of paper and jars and brushes, cakes of color.

I’d had to admit my powerlessness at changing what could not be changed. Grace had made up her mind. She was moving to San Francisco. If it hadn’t been for Alice, I mighta been looking at an assault and battery rap. Ted had just died and it was tearing her up. And she’d lost it, in high hysteria, her grief so complete that it overshadowed the pettiness of our squabble, demanding all the attention. By the time she’d calmed down, I’d accepted what wasn’t going to change. I’d look in on Alice on occasion, help her out if she needed a few extra bucks. She seemed fragile but she was made of tough stuff.

I caught the kid gaping, wide eyed, fascinated, I was sure as much by the story as by the lingo it was being told in. She’d stumbled tail over teakettle down the rabbit hole into the land of the real American argot.

“I got a question about something that Ted gave me a coupla years ago.”

“Ok, have a seat. Nice to meet you, Rebecca. I’ll start some coffee.”

“I hope we didn’t come at a bad time.” Alice’s bob looked a little lopsided and she’d yawned a few times to unrumple her face.

She glanced shyly over her shoulder. “No. I stayed up late last night with some friends down at Sid’s. What did you want to ask me about?”

She’d found a couple of chipped tea cups and a hefty mug to set on the table.

“Yeah, remember that time Ted had the art show at that gallery down on 2nd Avenue? What, maybe two years ago?”

windowbox“Crane’s. Yeah, I remember. What a disaster that was. Ted got so drunk. He was celebrating the first one man show of his assemblages. He knew he was dying even then but kept it under his hat. Didn’t want to bother anyone unnecessarily” She turned from the tiny icebox. “Milk’s gone sour, but I’ve got a little honey if you want.” with a self-effacing smile that shouldered all the sorrows of the world. “What about the show?”

“There was this really obnoxious guy there, some stock broker, a money guy, and he was bad mouthing Ted’s stuff, you know, the little constructions and dioramas?”

“I remember it well. Such a phony blow hard.”

“I was ready to slap him silly and teach him some manners, but Ted let it slide. Then the guy sees one of the little boxes with the glass face and says that it is the best piece of art he’s ever seen. Or something like that.”

“That was Huddington, not a stock broker, but an art critic and dealer. A complete, pardon my French, arsehole.”

“And offered Ted, what, a thousand bucks for it right then. And Ted turned it down, said that one was from the collection of a friend, and when this guy demands to know who owns it, Ted points at me and says, ‘That guy, I just gave it to him.’

I knew I’d get Alice laughing with that story. She held the pot over my mug. “And Huddington offered you the thousand buck and you turned him down, too.”

I caught the kid gaping, wide eyed, fascinated, I was sure as much by the story as by the lingo it was being told in. She’d stumbled tail over teakettle down the rabbit hole into the land of the real American argot.

“Yeah, I knew that was Ted’s game, get even with the loud mouth, so I told him to go pack sand. But what surprised me was that when the party was over, Ted actually gave the box to me to keep.”

“I remember that.”

“And I said, ‘You’re crazy, it’s worth a thousand bucks’ and he said, ‘You’re worth more than that, Lack. Thanks for being a friend.’” I stopped because I was feeling a little heat behind my eyes.

Alice nodded, looking away as she remembered sadly, “Yeah, that sounds like him.”

“So even after I had to move out the apartment with Grace into my office, I hung on to that box. I still have it. I promised never to sell it.”

“That’s real sweet of you, Lack” and she kissed me on the cheek. I saw her wink at Rebecca. “We’re old friends.”

“So I’m wondering if that guy Huddington would still be interested in buying that box.”

If anyone could do forlorn it was Alice. And disappointed. “Probably. After he built a pyre of all his paintings and assemblages and lit them afire, what he called a bonfire of vanity, because each of them was an occasion of sin, there are probably less then a dozen people who own any of his pieces. So yeah, I’d say you could probably get more than what he’d have paid two years ago.” She narrowed her look at me and blew out some smoke. “But Lack, you said you would never sell it.”

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I felt like a rat. Alice was right. It wasn’t a new feeling. I always knew I was a rat because I had to be a rat just to get by, and doing what I did, Confidential Investigations like it says on the card, is something a rat is good at, always looking for an angle, always an ulterior motive, always considering what was in it for me. I had what some might call veneer, a tough exterior that was as persuasive as my solid good looks and native charm. I could talk the talk and I rarely had to prove it by walking the walk. But I didn’t want to have to be that kind of rat.

modelapuTed was my brother-in-law for a very short time. When I hooked up with Grace, he was already pretty sick. Alice said it was because of all the chemicals he used in his business that had got to his lungs, his brain. He refinished furniture so he could afford to work on his art. Every once in a while I helped him moving furniture he had refinished and deliver it to the customer in his old ’28 Ford when I wasn’t tracking down runaway daughters or nieces or spying on the wives of poor deluded bastards or retrieving someone’s possessions, like jewelry boxes.

We’d relax over a couple of long necks in his workshop afterwards and he’d explain to me why all the little boxes and scraps of odds and ends left over from a job and arranged in a certain way was called art. I never understood much of what he was saying, but what I did understand was that Ted liked me for who I was, the actual me, the guy who’d helped him lug a settee up six flights of stairs, not the tough guy that I wore when I was doing my job as a private dick. And the fact, that for some erroneous reason, he thought I was good for his sister.

I was going to have to think of another way of scamming some cash and finding a place to lie low. True to my rodent nature though, I had an idea of how I could use Alice and Rebecca to evade the eyes that might be watching my place, and buy me time to retrieve the rocks from the coalbin, if indeed that’s where they were.

I watched the kid take in the cramped but comfortable carelessness of Alice’s studio. The art on the walls, the sketches on the work table must have clued her.

“Oh! You are an artist!” Rebecca exclaimed and Alice joined her at the work table. “Watercolors!”

“Well, I’m not O’Keefe, but yeah. They’re not exactly a big seller like oils on canvas, but after what fumes did to Ted’s health, I don’t want any of that mess. Anyway, I get by doing department store display sketches and such.”

I could tell by Becky’s eager expression that she had a thousand questions and that  Alice was going to have a lot of explaining to do.


Next Time: Back To The Bin

Contents Vol. 2 No. 1

Welcome to Volume Two, Number One of Dime Pulp, A Seral Pulp Fiction Magazine. The start of the new year and the beginning of the second volume of this serial pulp fiction platform also marks the conclusion of our long running serial novel, The Last Resort, A Lee Malone Adventure, by Pat Nolan who reveals that he borrowed a technique from the proto-surrealist Raymond Roussel and that the first sentence and the last sentence in his novel are the names of countries. Other than that, the last chapter of The Last Resort ties things up as neatly as Lee Malone cinching the bow on the laces of her running shoes.

The new year also brings the latest installment of Colin Deerwood’s Better Than Dead, a golden age serial detective fiction prompted by the illustration of a vintage Black Mask cover. Lackland Ask, on the lam after the massacre in the Heights and hiding out with his new partner in crime, the young,  winsome, yet feisty Rebecca Eisen, is more than a little surprised when she reveals that she has managed to make off with the rest of the diamond stash. Yet with hardly any time to rejoice in his good fortune, he makes a troubling discovery: Rebecca’s father is a bomb builder and possibly an agent for Uncle Joe. Can this mean their lips will never touch? Don’t bet on it.

In this issue as well, the third installment of Pat Nolan’s novella, On The Road To Las Cruces, Being A Novel Account of the Last Day in the Life of a Legendary Western Lawman, a work of fiction tethered loosely to historical fact. Fearful that harm has come to her husband, Apollinara hitches up the buckboard and heads down the mesa to look for him. In the meantime, the old man, encouraged by a bottle of pulque, has recounted his background as a lawman and his role in the White Sands Murders. As much a retelling of some history as it is how such a retelling might come about, On The Road To Las Cruces is represented in the manner of a tall tale, the deadpan details of a crime story, melodrama, and a conspiracy to murder.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of three full length novels, The Last Resort and Better Than DeadA Detective Story, as well as On The Road To Las Cruces.

If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number One.

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


DPjuninsetDeep in the redwood wilds along the Corkscrew River, someone is shooting neighborhood dogs. The year is 1985 and Lee Malone, former fashion model, queen of the runways from Paris to Milan, once dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world, now a part-time reporter for The Corkscrew County Grapevine, is looking for a story to sink her teeth into. When Lee finds the owner of Kelly’s Seaside Resort brutally murdered, it leads her on an adventure that includes a mysterious gray van, another murder, extortion, pornography, sex slavery, and a shadowy organization of militant feminists known as SAPHO. In the process, Lee Malone’s notorious past catches up with her.

The Last Resort, Chapter 36


“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—13


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces—Three—

Better Than Dead—13

by Colin Deerwood

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The sachet of diamonds dangled from her index finger provocatively. But a sack of rocks couldn’t beam as bright as the pride in what she had done. She loosened the draw strings and gave me an encouraging nod. I was to add my pebble to the pile.

Against my better judgement I dropped it in and looked her in the eye. “You got a plan on how we’re gonna divvy them up?”

“This is not a word that I know. What is this ‘divvy’?”

“How’re we gonna divide the loot?”

“You explain with one word and confuse with another.” Now she was frowning, frustrated.

“Okey, how many rocks are in the bag?”

“There are six. With yours.”

“Don’t you think that the address book with the cockamamie writing is worth all six of them?”

“I have no way of knowing. It depends on how useful is the information.”

“Yeah, but Soloman got pretty excited about getting his hands on it so maybe it was worth a lot. I got the impression that had the deal gone through without a hitch, he would have forked over all six of those babies.”

She studied me with those big blue eyes of hers and I could tell the gears were turning beneath the auburn thatch of her perfectly disheveled hair. “You are very naive for a private police, Lack. Now that you have undergone this ordeal at the hands of these men, do you think that they would have agreed to a fair exchange?”

She shook her head and I watched the ringlets bounce on her shoulder. “There is something that perhaps you do not know about diamonds. One stone alone, even uncut, is same as many, many American dollars. Six is, as you say, a ransom for a king.”

“So you’re thinking I should only get one?”

“Two, I think, would be more than fair.”

“But not three.”

She shrugged. “We must be reasonable, not greedy.”

Here we were having our first disagreement, and wouldn’t you know it, it was about money.

mitch“I have cut my ties with these bad people, Lack, I cannot go back to them and ask for help. These diamonds will allow me to start a new life here in America.” Her eyes pleaded. “Don’t you trust me? Besides. . . .”

She didn’t finish because someone was banging on the door to the tailor shop and it sounded angry.

“Quick,” she said as she steered me to the back and to a little workbench behind another curtain, “Hide in here.”

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I listened with my ear to the curtain as she talked through the door. It was the super and he was mad, bawling her out, from what I could hear, about the mess in the bathroom. He was threatening to call the landlord to have her father pay for the plumber. I could hear the surprise in her voice, at first a stuttered half felt apology and then indignant insistence that she had nothing to do with the stopped-up toilet. The super yelled that he would call the cops and that cast a shadow on an otherwise rosy picture.

radio repairThe alcove I was in was some sort of workshop, but it didn’t look like something you would find in a tailor shop. Spools of wire instead of thread, pliers instead of scissors, screws and bolts instead of buttons. There was an odd odor, too, but I couldn’t quite place it. A few sheafs of grimy paper were folded in among what looked like radio parts on the workbench. I spread one open. It was a diagram of some sort, measurements and notations, and in the same weird alphabet as in the address book. I stared at the drawing on the second page, turning it sideways and upside down. It didn’t make sense, cylinders, squares, squiggly lines, kind of a blueprint, but of what exactly?

I felt the stirring behind the curtain as Becky pushed it aside. Her frown accompanied darting accusing eyes and she was about to launch a volley when she caught sight of what I had in my hands and it seemed to deflate her. “Oh,” she said.

“So your old man repairs radios, too?” I could tell by her downcast eyes that I wasn’t going to get a straight answer.

“It is just hobby for him. He was engineer once and design wireless. When he was to come here, he must be a tailor. His father was tailor and his father before him, and so it was not difficult for him be tailor in this country.” She led me out from behind the curtain and changed the subject. “Lack, we cannot stay here. Mrazovich will call the police. We must leave.”

I was hearing what she was saying but my mind was back at the workbench. That faint acrid smell lingered in my memory too. It bothered me.

“Lack, are you listening?”

I nodded, distracted by the feeling that not everything was as it seemed.

“Yeah, yeah, I heard him threaten to call the cops. For what, a stopped up terlit? They’re not going to come for that.” I fixed her with a purposeful look. “Here’s the plan. We lie low until it gets dark and then skedaddle.”

I was about to outline the rest of the plan when it came to me. I looked back at the curtain and then back at her. It was like someone had pulled on the overhead light erasing the shadows I hadn’t even known were there.

“What is it, Lack?”

“Your old man.”

“My father? Yes?”

“He’s a bomb maker.”

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She didn’t have to deny it. I could tell by the way her face fell, the droop of her mouth, the slight tremor of her chin’s tacit agreement. Now her eyes glistened.

“It is as I have told you. I did not realize what his work for Professor Soloman had him do. He was organize the work of help refugees in warring country I think. He is a brilliant man, my father. But not a leader. It is they who use his genius, those who want power, not freedom. The criminal, the politician, the oligarch, they are all the same! He was fixing portable wireless for a friend, he said. But radio never work. He said it was missing component. Vacuum tube, he say, but wireless engineer is much more difficult than learn to speak American.”

I wanted to believe her, believe the gathering drop at the corner of her eye.

Her laugh was like a string of pearls catching light. “You say such funny things! In my country you would be a poet!”

“Then yesterday night. . . .” She stopped for a breath and fixed me with her gaze. “It seem so much longer than that, so many pages ago, but yes, after I was returned from our rendezvous with Max, I was sent to my room. My father was in his office and I went in to tell him I was safe. On the floor by the door was box he kept the small wireless and I ask if he has finally fix, and he say yes, it will be heard very loud.

“Then when they have their meeting I listen at the door because I must know what is the cause for all this activity. It is a very quiet time I have since I have come to this city. I am used to freedom because my mother, a school teacher, encourage to be, how you say, independent? But here I am bored. My father say I am too strong in the head with my ideas, but I think I am much like him for my ideas. Then you, Lackland Ask, private police, come into my life and now it is upside down.”

I wanted to disclaim any responsibility for upsetting the apple cart but unfortunately my recent activity was anything but innocent such was my duck and dodge on the mean cruel streets.

“When I have listened to the door, I hear Herr Doktor speak to my father and say that information in address book has confirm what they know about location of Black Hand in America. And he ask if the explosive is ready to be used and my father say yes and I understand that he has been making bomb again.”

“Wait a minute? Again?”

radio1“The reason he must flee to America is because of bomb that kill police officials in Salonika. They say his bomb. They say he is Soviet agent because he is graduate of university in Moscow. He was to come here and beginning again, he has told me. Now I see what it means ‘begin again.’”

“You’re sure it was a bomb? In the radio?”

A tear was poised on the brink of her upper lip. “And I will never see him again because I also hear Doktor Soloman say he has new passport and passage on ship to Rio and then another for a new assignment in Palestine.”

I put my arm around her shoulder and she wiped her nose on her sleeve. “It’s gonna be ok, kid. We’ll get clear of this mess.” I said it like I knew what I was talking about, but at the back of my mind I wasn’t so sure. My taste for revenge had got me more than a mouthful. Maybe I’d bit off more than I could chew. I was looking into the eyes of a dame who was an illegal refugee and I guess you could say, a jewel thief and tough cookie all around, whose pop was a bomb builder and possibly operating for Uncle Joe in a secret war against some mob I’d never heard of before but also some of the same guys who wanted to fit me with a pair of cement galoshes. And that was only part of the fix I was in.

She had lifted her head to look back up at me, a bemused expression haloing her bright cheeks. “Why, Lack, why did you not want to make more affection to me after we have return here and we are alone? Do you not like me? Is there something I have wrong? You have fire in your eyes when you look at me. I have seen before this in other men. But they do not have respect for me. You are different. Why?”

It was a good question and as usual I didn’t have an answer. I was never all that good in the brains department. I didn’t think. I just did. Sometimes I landed in hot water. Other times, I was riding the caboose on the gravy train. Right now I felt like I was about to board the good ship Lollipop. I looked into her bright eyes and spoke what was on the tip of my tongue. I told her that I didn’t want to take the chance of getting any man oil in her baby machine.

Her laugh was like a string of pearls catching light. “You say such funny things! In my country you would be a poet!”

“No thanks, I’ve got enough going against me as it is.”

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She brought her lips up to mine and I tasted their delicate sweetness. It was almost as thrilling as a first kiss. Not bad for a guy who was used mostly to broads who wore cheap perfume and did their eyes up like Nefertiti. She pushed her body up against mine and I got that old familiar feeling. Her arms around my neck, she worked the tongue action like a real adult, and briefly, very briefly, I had to wonder where she learned how to do that.

I leaned her against the cutting table bringing my nose to nuzzle her neck and sweeping my hands over her body to make sure everything was in the right place. I wasn’t disappointed. He scent was intoxicating and I was drunk with urges. My clumsy fingers worked at the buttons of her blouse as I kissed her delicate skin down over the collar bone to the edge of lace.

She pulled at me urgently, uttering little breaths of encouragement. Her hands tugged at my waist and fumbled with the buttons of my fly. She scooted herself up onto the edge of the table wrapping a leg around the small of my back. She hissed with a desperate passion. It had the desired effect.

sex-inMy headache had gone away and was replaced by the pounding of my heart with special emphasis on the timpani of my ears. She moaned as my lips touched the inside of her thigh, grabbing my hair in her fists and arching her back. My hand reached under her skirt and found the top of her silkies. I pulled them down from her hips to be met with the moist miasmic vapors of the hairy grail. Now she had me thinking like a poet, but the Billy club in my pants was draining all the blood from my brain. And besides, it was no time to be thinking.

She helped me get the bloomers down to below her knees and quickly undid my suspenders, my pants dropping around my ankles. She had her hand in my briefs and delivered another deep felt smooch.

I had to use all my concentration to keep my mind off the intense pressure of pleasure promised at letting go. And it wasn’t any easier once she freed me. Like a bat, I wanted to head straight for the cave.

She had other things in mind. One of them was to drive me crazy. I glared at the ceiling cross eyed. Then she pulled me in toward her. I was tense with expectation, trying to distract myself by not looking down and get caught up in her roiling ecstasy just yet. I focused my gaze at the part in the curtain that faced the front of the shop where constellations of dust motes floated in a shaft of morning light slanting in through the wide display window. The same light was also reflected as a flash off the windshield of a big sedan that had screeched to a stop at the curb.


Next Time: “Cripes! It’s the Cops!

The Last Resort, 36

by Pat Nolan

Chapter Thirty Six

RESPECT

The bullet had gone through my left shoulder. They said it was just a flesh wound and that I was lucky. All the same, there was an ugly dimple where the bullet had gone in and a purple raisin-like scar where it had come out. On the right side of my face where Rhonda had pistol whipped me, a small tear shaped scar hung just below the cheekbone. My surgeon recommended plastic surgery. I said I’d think about it. I was chipped porcelain. I kind of liked the idea. It took about a month for the pain in my shoulder to cool down enough for me to resume my daily jogs. I was living in a rental in Feather but still running in the old Primrose Lane neighborhood while I had the cabin rebuilt. The insurance would pay for it.

After the cops had tracked Timmy down, he implicated the Montague crew in the arson and extortion of the small wineries in Corkscrew County. He was held responsible for the conflagration that ate up an entire block of greater downtown Timberton. The Antique Store & Motorcycle Repair Shop, and the Grapevine office upstairs, the abandoned gift shop next door to the real estate office, all pretty much gone. Rhonda did not survive the blaze, the shotgun blast having done most of the job. Blackie made it out alive but just barely. Rhonda’s shot had pierced his right lung. That was the least of his problems. The stomping Timmy had given him put him in a wheelchair, maybe for good.

arson-motelIn the days following my release from the hospital, I was the center of a media storm. I’d been there before. This time was different in that it involved arson, extortion, murder, an international sex trafficking ring, and money laundering, not my usual outrageous prima donna shenanigans. I was camera candy on a daily basis for a couple of weeks. It was like the old days in Milan. I couldn’t go anywhere without being accosted by the strobe of camera flashes. Then someone else’s high jinks, this time in DC, took over the headlines.

I learned that State and local authorities had been investigating Tommy Perro’s operation for some time before Fashwalla’s murder. The feds had been brought in once the scope of the operation was realized. The murder in Feather had been the wild card that turned things around. Up until then Ramparts Corp had kept their illegal business within the bounds of criminal decorum that could easily be overlooked by bribing local officials. One of them was the District Attorney, Chandler Wong’s boss, the leering racist letch I’d met in the hallway at the Hall of Justice last winter. Some of the information I gleaned from the Daily Republican, some of it Detective Rick Santos let slip when he visited me in the hospital in the course of his investigation. After he was done asking his questions, he’d given me a wry smile and teased, “What’s it with you and shotguns, Malone?”  Chandler Wong provided me with most of the details over dinner one evening not long after I got out of the hospital.

With the first killing, the investigators had realized there were more players than they had originally figured. They never caught on that Rhonda was the controlling hand behind the scene. As an aging porn queen, she had never even come up on their radar. As a result of the police raid at the Winery, Tommy Perro, who survived his heart attack and would be recuperating in a federal penitentiary hospital, was arrested along with Junior and charged on a number of racketeering counts. Timmy was facing murder, manslaughter, and attempted murder raps. I had inquired after Preston Carmichael. Chandler said that when they converged on the warehouse that night they found only the old man, young Tommy, and some of their staff. There were no dead bodies, of either Preston Carmichael or a Doberman pinscher.

I wondered what had become of the women I had seen being auctioned off like livestock. Chandler explained that they found nine young women in a makeshift dorm at the warehouse. Most of them were country girls who had been lured by ads placed in freebie advertisers by phony modeling agencies. Once in the clutches of the white slavers, they were drugged and held virtual prisoners. They’d been released in the care of a halfway house for abused women in Santa Quinta. A few were foreign nationals and would eventually be repatriated. Chandler said that if it hadn’t been for me, they’d probably still be prisoners. The medical emergency had provided the ideal pretext to stage the raid on Montague Winery.

I was also trying to make sense of what had happened at The Mint. The killing of Timmy’s bearded partner, Bruno ‘Bear’ Fitzwaller, in Alice Franklin’s bedroom had investigators scratching their heads. I had told Detective Santos in my original interview that the dead man was one of the men in the gray van. I didn’t know then that he was a thug tied to Timmy Montague and Montague Winery. Once I identified Timmy as the other man in the van, they were able to piece together a plausible scenario. It centered on Ramparts Corp’s voracious appetite for acquiring property as a means to launder their ill-gotten gains.

 From the statements Timmy made in his confession, it appeared that Rhonda had been negotiating with Alice Franklin to sell the family resort. Although Alice had agreed to a deal at first, she had a change of heart, claiming she had a nephew who might be interested in keeping the business in the family. Fashwalla and his brother had made a similar mistake in accepting an offer from Ramparts Corp and reneging on the deal. In that instance, Ralph Fashwalla wanted to hold out for more money. He got a shotgun blast in the back for his greed, and his brother, in fear of his own life, cut a deal with the murderers. Faheed Fashwalla confessing to his brother’s murder and later recanting was a ruse dreamed up by Preston Carmichael to throw the investigators off the scent.

tlr36end In Alice Franklin’s case, an enraged Rhonda had instructed Timmy to do whatever it took to get Alice out of the picture. Ramparts Corp would then grab up the last resort on the Corkscrew River for next to nothing. It was well known that Alice was in financial trouble exacerbated by a drinking problem. She needed money to keep the Mint open, and having fallen in with dubious company in the persons of Timmy and his partner, Bear, she was persuaded that the money they made from a risqué movie would pay off her mounting debts. Timmy denied any involvement in his partner’s death in spite of the fact that his fingerprints were all over the murder weapon. Even more damning was evidence that it was the same shotgun used to kill Fashwalla. The investigators also found a video tape in a search of Timmy’s apartment at Montague Winery. The tape confirmed that Alice and Bear engaged in perfunctory sex play. The video also showed Alice shrinking back with a mixture of surprise and fear as Bear advanced with shotgun in hand. Bear then stopped as if something had distracted him and, with an angry frown, glared off camera. The video stopped at that point indicating the camera had been turned off. Confronted with the evidence on the tape, Timmy admitted that once Bear had his way with Alice, he meant to kill her. The investigation concluded that Alice Franklin had turned the tables on them and acted in self-defense. What or who had distracted the killers and why the filming had stopped was an unresolved detail that would not hinder the DA from adding conspiracy to murder to Timmy’s growing list of criminal charges.

I got a slightly different version of what had gone down from Blackie when I visited him at the rehab facility in Santa Quinta. In the account Blackie had given the cops, he placed himself arriving after the gun had gone off.

He told me how he had walked in on the setup that night. Alice had been a friend of his and Arlene’s since their early days in Corkscrew County, and he had gone by to say hello and thank her for letting him use the dumpster. He’d called out her name walking up the steps to her room, not wanting to take her by surprise. To his own surprise, when he came to the doorway of the bedroom, he spied a naked man and a naked Alice struggling for a shotgun. He yelled something, more to distract the man than anything else. He was about to jump into the fray when Timmy, whom he had not seen at first, shouldered past him and knocked him back out into the hallway. He had first thought to go after Timmy but instantly realized that Alice was in more danger so he went back into the bedroom where the naked pair had now fallen across the bed in their struggle for the shotgun. He planted a boot in the big man’s kidney and it was enough to get him to release his hold on the weapon. Then the gun went off hitting Bear square in the chest. He didn’t think that Alice had intentionally pulled the trigger. Alice, once she saw what she had done, was inconsolable. It had tipped her already fragile mental state into the abyss of psychosis. About then was when I arrived with Rikki and Wallace to find Blackie dialing for help.

I was concerned for Blackie. His business had gone up in flames, and he had been critically injured. His future was uncertain. It must have shown on my face.

“Hey, at least I still got wheels,” he had joked halfheartedly from his wheelchair. I figured that it would be a good idea if I looked in on him every once in a while.

There were still pieces of the puzzle of what had occurred over the last year that I needed to fit together for myself. The dog murders were resolved when it was revealed that Timmy Montague was an animal sadist. He had bragged to a cellmate that he liked to cruise residential neighborhoods and shoot dogs that had the nerve to chase his van.

The mystery of the burnt-out van itself and the charred bodies it contained remained unsolved. My intuition notwithstanding, the autopsy determined that both victims were males and yet to be identified. Timmy and Bear undoubtedly had a hand in the grisly ruse. The investigation, according to the Sheriff’s Office, was ongoing.

The Grapevine, Corkscrew County’s last independent newspaper, was put out of business by the fire. JJ wasn’t too broken up by it, though. She’d met an antique dealer at the fashion show, someone who had gone to high school with her, though she had to admit she didn’t exactly remember him. He’d been in the class ahead of her. Or behind her. Not that it mattered. He lived in Arizona and was quite wealthy.

Meanwhile back at the resort, Rikki and Wallace had come up with the idea of buying The Mint from Alice Franklin. They planned to renovate it, with the help of Nathan Thiele, and make it into an exclusive resort for their same preference friends.

And there was my step-father’s involvement with Rhonda and her money laundering schemes. Just the thought of it gnawed at my gut like a festering ulcer, and I knew I would have to get to the bottom of it, if for no other reason than my own sanity.

What caught my attention was the small tattoo on the inside of her bicep, a V bisected by a line, the Aeolian Greek letter psi. I knew that symbol well. It belonged to SAPHO.

Marty Steele, the little mannequin TV news reporter at KSQU, offered me a job as a news anchor. I told him I’d think about it. I was being deluged with similar offers. News shows and talk shows clamored for my presence on their tiny screens. I felt like telling them I was too big to fit in such a small space, but I kept it to myself. My old agency was desperate to get me back even though they had hung me out to dry in the waning days of my career. I wasn’t all that interested in any of it. I liked who I had become in the anonymity of the tiny river community. I took the calls from my friends who expressed their concerns and envy that even out in the middle of nowhere I still had the ability to draw the world’s attention. My answer to them: “some of us have it and some of us don’t.” I gave a tentative yes to Marilyn Nakamura, an old runway mate who was starting a line of yoga togs and wanted me to model them for her catalog. I’d never been a catalog model before. At one time I might have considered it beneath me. These days it was simply something I could do for an old friend and that was enough. And I patiently fielded the calls from my mother who was beside herself with what she called my reckless lifestyle. They usually came in the evening, around dinner time, like calls from pollsters or aluminum siding salesmen. My patience wore thin after about a week of tipsy dialing. Finally I told her that I was in the driver’s seat of my life and if I took the curves a little fast and tight, that was my worry.

I had one more piece of business to attend to. I wanted to personally thank the woman who had pulled me from the burning building that night. I had come to on a stretcher being loaded into the back of an ambulance to see May Ann Young, the County fire investigator, peering at my face, brow furrowed in distress. Her face smudged with soot, she had put her hand on mine and smiled when she saw that I recognized her. I managed a weak stretch of lips myself.

May Ann retired from her position with the County before I had a chance to properly thank her. If she left a forwarding address, I wasn’t privy to it. I did get the opportunity to view the investigative report she filed in which she admitted that she had mistakenly assumed I had deliberately set fire to my cabin for the purpose of collecting on the insurance. When she reviewed the timeline and the witness statements, Rhonda’s appeared inconsistent. Determining that Rhonda’s story would require further inquiry, she had driven out to the Primrose Lane address just in time to see the old woman put something that looked like a rifle or shotgun in the trunk of her car and speed off followed by a man on a motorcycle. Her suspicions aroused, she set off to follow them but was called away by emergency radio traffic of a vehicle into a power pole. Since she was the closest County unit, she responded. The accident was responsible for knocking out the power to Timberton and the surrounding area. Once the scene was secured, she continued her search for Rhonda, ending up in Timberton just about the time the power came back on. She was on the road out of town when she heard the radio traffic reporting shots fired in the vicinity. By the time she reached the motorcycle repair shop, it was fully engulfed. She called the fire in to dispatch and went to investigate. When she approached the rear of the building she saw two motorcycles and Rhonda’s Coupe Deville. And Timmy running off down the alley. Peering into the smoke choked open doorway, she spotted the bodies and took it upon herself to pull them to safety, first me and then Blackie.

Her uniform shirt sleeve had been ripped up past the elbow, a gauze bandage soaking blood from the wound on her forearm. She had been injured going back into the burning building after Blackie. What caught my attention was the small tattoo on the inside of her bicep, a V bisected by a line, the Aeolian Greek letter psi. I knew that symbol well. It belonged to SAPHO.

leewarhol2I put my right running shoe on the front bumper of my Volvo and tightened the laces and then did the same with my left. I would attend to everything I could all in good time. But first I was itching to run. I inhaled deeply, the cool of early morning autumn air filling my lungs. This was my favorite time of the year, the deciduous trees on the verge of turning to a riot of reds and yellows. With a water bottle strapped to one hip and a tiny cassette player on the other, I ran in place, adjusting the earphones on my head. I pressed play and grinned as Aretha’s voice sang “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” I knew exactly what she was talking about. My feet beat the asphalt as I propelled myself down Primrose Lane. Was there ever any doubt? I rock!


~END~