Category Archives: Pulp Fiction

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~

On The Road To Las Cruces —Two—

by Pat Nolan

new badge hd6 “So you never did come up against any Indians?”

The old man emitted a grunt. He was going to peel this grape. “Matter of fact, it wasn’t too long after the incident with Nigger Horse that I did come up against Indians. Real close.”   He paused to be sure that the young man had taken the bait, and continued.

“When we got back to the plains, we found good hunting in the breaks of the Salt Fork of the Brazos. A herd of close to two thousand was watering along the bottoms. They were priming toward their winter coats, shaggy and thick. In the first twenty days, we had a thousand hides. The herd was scattered across the bottomland for miles. New animals showed up in droves every day. The shooting was good and easy. We hunted the days we could. Days it rained, we stacked the drying hides under tarps and spent most of the time playing cards in the lean-to.

“Come late November, there was snow on the ground. One morning I took my skinner, Joe, with me to one flank of the herd. We took the wagon to bring back some of the hides we’d pegged out to dry. I left Joe looking for the hides under the layer of new snow and set off on foot.

bison walking out of the mist greyscale image            “Well, I hadn’t gone more than a mile when I came up on a clump of buffalo, about twenty in all. My position was on a little rise about a hundred feet from them. I got down in the snow behind a mound and picked a cow that had started to stray.

“You see, I wanted to keep them all in the same area to make the skinning and the collecting of the hides as easy as possible.

“I aimed for the lungs. She gave a jump when she was hit and did a queer little sideways dance before she dropped, blood streaming from her nostrils. A couple of young bulls lifted their heads and began milling slowly in a circle. I brought down one that had started to wander off, and then another one that bolted from the opposite side. Now they were pawing the ground and bellowing, but I had them whichever way they turned.

“I paced my shooting so as not to overheat the barrel of my Winchester, and in no time at all I had about fourteen laid out in a neat little circle. Then the others, half a dozen or so, began moving away from me. I ran down, got behind the carcass of a big bull, and picked off all of them but one. I worked my way toward it and got close enough to bring it down when I realized that I was right on top of a closely packed herd.

“There were so many animals that their frosted breath made a wide flat cloud over the lot of them. They were more or less boxed in by the steep bank behind, and they had to pass my position to get out. I dropped a young bull, then a cow that had come up to investigate. Two old bulls tried to bolt but I brought both of them down and their bodies made a barrier that corralled the rest of the herd. I spent most of the day picking out the best hides and only stopped when I ran out of cartridges.

“Then I went back and gave the skinner a hand. He was still working on the first bunch. I’ll have to say, it wasn’t something he had the stomach for.

buffloskinning           “I had him cut around each animal’s neck, down the belly to the root of the tail, and then down the inside of each leg. I wrapped a rope around the wooly scruff at the neck and tied the other end to the mule while Joe, he staked the animal’s snout to the ground with a wagon rod. Once that was done, I cracked the mule on the rear and he jumped a good six foot and yanked that hide right off.”

“Was that when you come up against the Indians?”  The young man had been following the old man’s story patiently.

“No, not exactly,” the old man said, taking his time to answer. “That was the next day. I had Joe with me again and we took up where we’d left off skinning. The wind was particularly bad that day as I recollect, whipping the powdery top layer of snow sideways. The herd had moved on overnight and I went off by myself to scout up more buffalo but the wind had sent them out into the open and I had to go back for the wagon.

“Well, old Joe, he was blubbering about having to skin the frozen carcasses, and even though it wasn’t anything to cry over, I’ll admit that it was a hell of a chore. I stayed back and gave him a hand. That wind never did let up, and even with the cold, the butchered buffalo were beginning to stink something furious. About the time we were finishing up for the day is when I felt my backbone start to crawl up under my hat. I turned to see that we were surrounded by Indians.”

The old man paused and stared at the space between the horse’s ears. He was enjoying himself. Ash would have been proud of him. The young man’s eyes questioned him, a slackness developed in his jaw.

COMANCHES          “I had never been face to face with a wild Indian before,” he continued. “There wasn’t a pleasant looking one in the whole dark, greasy lot. They were wrapped in buffalo hides and Army blankets astride their ponies, and there was no telling who if any was fingering a trigger.”

“What happened then?” the young man blurted. He’d been anticipating this part.

The old man knew he’d hooked him good.    “Why, hell, they killed us!”

 

new badge hd7 The buggy crossed the stream at the bottom of the canyon. Adams drew up the horse under the cottonwoods and got down to loosen the harness. The old man stepped down from the bench and stretched to his full six foot four height; in his younger days, the Spanish-speaking natives had given him the name of Juan Largo.

After a cursory glance around him, shotgun cradled over his right arm, he walked slowly to where he scuffed a spot in the sand with the toe of his well-worn half boot. A question mark of smoke curled up from the smoldering coals.

“Cooked myself a little coffee this morning before I made the trip up to the ranch house,” Adams called out over the horse’s back.

The old man had already moved over to a spot under a clump of trees where it appeared from the trampled ground that several horses had time to paw and dig. There were boot prints in the still damp morning earth.

“I had Helpy from over at Swanson’s guide me this far, otherwise I’d have got lost in the dark.”  Adams was now leaning on the buggy, anticipating the old man’s findings.

The old man nodded absently as he stepped out a set of prints. What the ground told him was there had been two men on this side of the stream. One set of boot prints belonged to the kid’s pointy toed riding boots, but the other set were definitely not Helpy’s, the Swanson’s hired hand. Helpy had one pair of footwear and those were the big leather galoshes he’d inherited from old man Swanson. The toe on the left boot had about an inch wedge taken out of it when Helpy almost severed his foot chopping firewood. Helpy was not a horseman either, and the horse that had accompanied the buggy this far, judging from the impressions it had made in the sand, was far too much horse for the hired man to handle.  The man who had made the other set of prints was also a good five inches taller than Helpy if the length of the stride was any indication.

A breeze came down the canyon and rattled the leaves. The horse rippled the muscles of its back and snorted. “I’m for getting out of the shade and into the sun, ain’t you?” Adams said rubbing his hands together. He climbed back up into the buggy and held the reins.

The old man proceeded slowly from where he had been staring at the mauled earth, patting his pocket to assure himself that he had remembered to bring along some extra shotgun shells.

The buggy rolled over a large exposed root and then settled with a jolt into the wagon rut that led away from the stream.

 

new badge hd8 Back on the Staked Plains, the animals were rutting, and hunters counted on this time of year to double their bloody harvest. The herds were also beginning to move north in anticipation of their spring migration.

“We used to call bagging buffalo in the act, getting a hump.” That was an obvious stretcher, one that would have caused Ash to roll his eyes, the sign of an amateur storyteller.

The young man, still smarting at being taken in by the last tall tale, gave what had to pass for a wry, patient smile. His eyes, an unsettled blue-green, glinted hard with the hurt look of  someone who did not like to have what little intelligence they had insulted. That he had fallen that hard for one of the oldest yarns in the West had wounded his estimation of his own savvy.

He forced out a question, straining to keep the resentment from being noticed. “How much of a fortune did you pull in from that slaughter?”

“Next to nothing was the final accounting, I’d say. I had to leave the range on short notice and any claim I had in the partnership. I’d say it was over a thousand dollars.”

“No chance to collect? A thousand dollars is a tidy sum to leave behind.”

The old man nodded grimly. It was a sum that he could use right at the moment, a sum that would extricate him from his present unfavorable circumstances, that’s what the thousand represented to him. But that was thirty years ago. What was done was done, he reflected bitterly.

“I killed a man,” he said finally.

The young man urged the horse along with a slap of the reins and gave the old man, whose demeanor had suddenly become grave, a wary glance.

“You don’t say? Killed a man? That’s almost as bad as horse stealin,’ ain’t it?”  The young man’s tone was unmistakable.

“I won’t be mocked, boy,” the old man spoke evenly. “You don’t know me otherwise you would think twice before you talk to me that way. The man I shot and killed was barely that, your age or younger. Don’t go taking it into your head that you’re too young to die.”

Ash would have said, “You’re never too young or too old, too fast or too slow, too good or too bad that death doesn’t have the habit of catching up with you.”  And Joe Bristol, rest his soul, was one of the ones who had died young. For a moment the image of Joe’s skinny, pinched cheeks and Ash’s deathbed pallor became one and it unsettled him, twisting his gut with a clenched fist.

new badge hd9Joe, the tag-along from Fort Worth, did not have the stomach for skinning or slaughter. His ineptness at practically everything was a constant source of amusement for the camp, and an endless irritation to Shelton who counted every blunder, every botched hide as money out of his pocket.

Ash too, now that he thought about it, was downright squeamish when it came to butchery. He recalled that when he had gone into the hog business with Tip McKinney, Ash had been their resident expert, extolling the virtues of one breed over the other, whether a red hog produced better bacon than a white, or the all-around utility of a Jersey over a Berkshire. Ash was a veritable encyclopedia of hog statistics, and his opinions, asked for or not, flowed freely and copiously. Tip was certain that Ash contributed as much to the ankle deep muck of the pens as did the hogs themselves. But it was well known that come time for butchering, Ash would make himself scarce, and the pens would be minus the sonorous drone of his scholarly appraisals.

Ash was not particularly good at doing much except writing or bragging or telling stories. Any work he’d ever taken to had been an occupation in which he could engage in at least one of those pursuits. He made a good Postmaster and Justice of the Peace, and he’d even clerked at Lea’s dry goods store in Lincoln where he could indulge in his loud raucous tales and scandalize the ladies who always seemed to be hovering within earshot.

It baffled him that he was confusing the two memories, that of a sullen boy and a garrulous old man. Ash had never stopped talking long enough for folks to figure out what an odd old coot he was. If he had, they would have seen a strange, profane, blasphemous old man, full of bluster, who loved to tell lies and test his wits against those of his listeners. He hardly, if ever, lost. He had been educated in Connecticut, and had come out West as a correspondent to cover the Indian wars. He had wandered down to Santa Fe, and being particularly affected by the sociability of the natives and their shared enthusiasm for a drop of the creature, he decided to stay put. He’d scuttled around the Pecos Valley like vagabond sagebrush doing any work that required little or no elbow grease and a high likelihood of chin wagging. There was no comparison with the desperate young man he had killed.

“It was one of them him or me situations. It was the last thing that I ever thought would happen. And it happened so fast, it was over before I knew it.”

The old man licked his dry lips. Remembering that day made him uneasy. Ash intruding into his thoughts added to his turmoil.

It had been a damp, foggy, bone-chilling morning in buffalo camp. The herds were getting scarce and the hunters’ humor, because of the lack of action, had begun to fray. He had been squatting by the feeble flames of a buffalo chip fire, trying with no great success to warm his stiff cold hands. Joe had come out of the nearby arroyo wringing a lump of soaking, gray cloth. He had watched with scornful amusement as Joe approached the fire and dangled the dingy, blotchy handkerchief over the fuming coals, splashing him with muddy water in the process. Annoyed, and with the viciousness of a cur, he had spoken harshly, cursing his skinner. As he remembered, he had called him a goddamn, good for nothing, Irish son of a whore without sense enough to know not to wash his laundry in a mud puddle.

That was all it had taken. Joe had lunged across the fire pit, blinded by anger and mad frenzy, swinging wildly. He had been caught off guard but recovered, and with barely an effort, he had knocked the boy down, expecting that to be the end of it. But Joe had leaped back to his feet with demon energy.

He’d packed more determination into his punch the second time and knocked him down again. Joe, possessed, eyes bulging from their sockets, veins at his temples and neck on the verge of bursting, had staggered back to his feet only to be knocked to the ground again.

The other hunters, struck dumb at first, had awakened to the blood thirst of Joe’s attacks and were hooting their derision, fanning the boy’s hysteria so that he’d kept getting back to his feet.

He still burned with his original embarrassment. He had punished the boy enough. The fight had been far from fair. He outreached Joe by a mile. Yet, the boy kept coming back for more. Finally, he had walked away, saying enough was enough, and that a man ought to know when he’d been whipped.

He’d glanced back just in time to see Joe swing the axe at his head. It had come close enough to scare him. Just that quickly, the shoe had been put on the other foot. He had ducked behind the wagon, calling out Joe’s name in the hopes of bringing him back to his senses. Joe kept charging after him, blood and madness in his eyes. He’d pulled his Winchester out from under the tarp on the wagon and brandished it with the warning that he’d shoot. But Joe continued to advance with the axe held over his head. He had no choice but to fire.

The impact had caught the boy square in the chest and lifted him off his feet, propelling him backward into the fire pit. The look on his face resembled that of someone surprised by painful indigestion. Joe’s clothing, smoking, had begun to burn, and the hunters, in almost comic confusion, had rushed to beat out the flames. Then the life had just bubbled out of him as if it were gas.

ashupThat agonized expression, it was like Ash’s the morning he’d found him. He had died in his sleep, looking like he’d protested every inch of the way.

“How did it happen?”

“Bad words passed between us.”

“You mean you just killed someone in cold blood over a few disagreeable words?”

“Men have been killed over less, more times than not. I was protecting myself. He was about to cleave me in two with an axe. I’d be dead today if I hadn’t.”


Next Time: The White Sand Mystery

Better Than Dead—12

by Colin Deerwood

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I like my coffee hot and black. I was drinking a strong tea that had been poured over half a dozen sugar cubes. The daily blatt’s morning edition headlines screamed MASSACRE IN THE HEIGHTS and took up almost all of the space above the fold to make up for the fact that they didn’t have any information except that the cops had found what appeared to be a shootout in an attempt at robbery. Even though I had the inside track of what really happened, I paid attention to what the news hacks had come up with. That the police were baffled came as no surprise. G-men were being brought in to help with the investigation. That was funnier than Dagwood.

Soloman, I kinda figured, was a respected businessman with international connections. He had ties to refugee organizations who were helping displaced people who were fleeing the krauts and the nasties in the Balkans around where I was guessing Rebecca was from. Rabbi Joe, Joseph Frank, they called him, also well respected and a community leader, resided at that address but was unharmed. According to unofficial reports, two of the stiffs were also residents of that suite of apartments, a third, thought to be one of the robbers, was Asiatic which was another way of saying Chinese or Japanese. Half a dozen people had been taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds. A few residents were also not accounted for. There was an ill lit photo of a large room with a long table I took to be the dining room. A trio of men in fedoras with their hands in the pockets of their overcoats very much out of place, Police were questioning neighbors and were asking witnesses with information to please step forward.

I looked up at one of the unaccounted for residents and a witness and got a frown. I’d been getting them since I woke up. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate all she’d done for me. I didn’t expected her to wash my trousers and iron them dry and thought I’d thanked her by saying “you didn’t have to do that.” And she’d grabbed a morning paper as soon as the bundles hits the bricks at the newsstand down the block. She’d obviously read the reported account of what she’d been in the middle of and that giving a cause for worry. But that wasn’t it, exactly.

I had to ask, “Where’s the library?” I got a crossword puzzled look. “The terlit, the commode?” and I was hoping that it wasn’t a bucket behind a curtain.

The confidence that had been a part of her upbeat personality seemed shaken and I suppose it coulda been my fault. I had the choice between being a good guy by being a bad guy or a bad guy by being a good guy. I never thought of myself as a good guy. On the streets, do-gooding tends to get kicked to the gutter. I don’t even know why I chose pain over pleasure or maybe the pain was the pleasure of being perverse. So I said, “No.” And when I saw her look, I said, “Not now.” I wise up at the worst times, and when it happens, I don’t know why it doesn’t happen more often. As a result, I got some much need shut eye while I suppose she stewed over why I didn’t give her a tumble. I had to work out my next step but she had her own ideas.

“I cannot go back to them, Lack, you must understand. They are bad men, dishonorable men. Even my Zayde is foolish and old fashioned and believes the lies they tell him. He was my last hope to make them let you go. You are not at fault. You are good man, Lack, I can see that now.”

My ears heated up and I was hoping I wasn’t running a fever. “You have to find your father and tell him you are all right. To find out if he’s alright. Do you have a phone number you can call in case of an emergency, somewhere you can go to be safe.

“I am safe here, Lack. This is the only place I know other than the room behind the kitchen in the apartments.”

“But what about your things? Your clothes?” I had a pain behind my eyes that wasn’t going away and I wanted to blame Max’s hooch. Besides I wasn’t having any luck convincing her that the worst for her was probably over. “Once this gets calmed down, you can go to your father and tell him you’re safe. Who knows, he might even show up here looking for you.”

“No if he is not here by now, he has either been detained or he is not coming back.”

“You don’t know that he’s dead.”

She shook her head as if to rid herself of a sad expression. “No, I don’t think he is dead because now I understand what has happened.” Now she gave a sardonic little twist to her mouth. “You came to the apartments at a fortunate time, Lackland Ask. Did you not notice the large gathering of men? You came at the end of a long day of discussion and planning by the men of I don’t know what but I can assume it was to do about the refugees who are being detained in Albania. It is a very complicated situation my father has told me.” She shook her head, “He treats me like a child.” Her blue eyes blazed with hurt. “I know what he does for them. He is a proud man and a believer in the cause. It is why he does what he does and wants to keep the truth from me.”

“Well slap me silly and call me Einstein. You’re a Red!”

She must have noticed my surprised look. “What do you know about me, Lackland Ask?” She gave a fierce smile. “You know where I am from, I am a refugee from Salonika, I have no papers, and I cannot go to the authorities. When I was young I play the piano at five years old. I was reading the classics by ten. Then I was sent to special school in Zurich where I belong to a group young-pioneersof comrades, we called ourselves the “red kerchief” because that was our uniform, a red kerchief around our necks. When the war came I return to Salonika. My mother was a school teacher and belong to a political party prohibited by the metaxfascist government. The secret police arrest everyone in connection and steal their property. The Black Hand gangsters firebomb our place of worship and kidnap those of our faith for ransom. My mother was torture until death. My father escape to Istanbul on a Black Sea freighter and with help of compatriots come to America. I stay behind to be with my mother and help hide refugees until she is arrested and I hear she is dead. I have to flee because the secret police wishes to arrest me, too. I catch fishing boat across to island of Lesbos, and then to Anatolya where I ride many bus lorry wagon for many days to reach Beirut where after a long wait I am able to catch ship to come to this city and find my father who has joined with Herr Doktor Soloman and his refugee organization and where I can get new papers to say who I am and why we must fight for the revolution and overthrow the oligarchy!”

That made my ears perk up. And the more she talked the more I was beginning to get the picture. She went to a fancy school where they filled her head with a lot of baloney about truth and justice and capitalism and oppressed masses and fired her up with a fever to change the world to be a better place for people and puppy dogs. What she didn’t realize  that if it we’re for dog food, the dogs would be eating each other and even bit the hand that might pet them. All this high toned coffeehouse jabber disappears as soon as you step out on to the street where you have to look three way, right, left and right again if you didn’t want to get upended by some bat out of hell, I wanted to tell her. Someone was always on the grift and they didn’t really need to have a fine opinion or reason to take you to the cleaners. You’re just another pebble in the path leading to the top trod on by an endless stream of crooks and cons with table manners and nice suits with their hand in your pocket and who would think nothing of snuffing you as if you were a bug, maybe even less because at least they have to admit the bug’s existence. I was trying to tell her all that and if the people at the top of the heap ain’t buying it, it ain’t getting sold, but she was all pink in the face, eye bugging with intensity, declaiming that the workers of the world had to unite and overthrow the ruling class. I knew they only way that got done was through strong arm robbery, what some might want to call revolution. I had to laugh. “Well slap me silly and call me Einstein. You’re a Red!”

It was probably the wrong thing to say. I got the frown again and the glare that went with it. “I am not a color! I am a human being who wishes for equal rights for all mankind!”

I didn’t want to tell her she was in the minority so I concentrated on the matter at hand. I didn’t doubt that her people even her father and maybe even the cops would show up at the shop. I needed to make myself scarce and even though the kid had got her hooks into me, I was going to have to slip free if I was going to get back what was mine, with interest. I had a diamond in me and I had to get it out. A good strong cup of Java would have done the trick without thinking. The tea, strong and sugary as it was, was making me think about what I had to do and I was wondering if I was up to the intellectual effort. One of the things I learned from my old man was to make sure you were in the proper circumstances and that was by sitting in the library as it was often called. And if I went to library I would need reading material. I noticed that she had been filling in the squares on the crossword puzzle so that ruled that section out. She’d explained when I noticed her scanning the columns of clues, “This is how I am learning vocabulary for to better my English.” She’d said it with a beam of pride. The screaming front page headline seemed untouchable so I opted for the for the funny page.

I had to ask, “Where’s the library?” I got a crossword puzzled look. “The terlit, the commode?” and I was hoping that it wasn’t a bucket behind a curtain.

She gave me a look of pleasant surprise. “So it is called that also, the library! Of course!” She had a key and pointed me to the water closet down the hallway past the broom closet that led down to the furnace room. “Be careful the super does not see you.” It was a tiny spot crowded with a corroded gravity flush commode, a scummy washbasin, a battered plumber’s helper and a stinking soaked mop.

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Staring at the blue and red can of Drano on the shelf under the sink wasn’t helping, but then neither had Maggie and Jiggs, Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, Mickey Finn, or Terry and the Pirates. My brain was sending commands down to the engine room but nothing was turning or churning. Popeye , The Katzenjammer Kids, Mutt or Jeff couldn’t take my mind off what I had to do. I was about to give in and pull my pants up from around my ankles when I felt the tremor, faintly, but I knew my gut had finally made up its mind and was sending signals to set off a chain of events. I quickly freed a double page of newspaper and slid it under the seat and then sat back down to let nature take its course. I was hoping that what I was expecting was at the head of the line and that I wouldn’t have to wait for the next installment.

katzenI stink, I’ve been told that many times, mainly by dames, and for entirely different reasons. This time I was looking at the evidence that I did and trying not to add to it with something coming up my throat. I set the package on the washbasin and slowly ran water over the sticky stinking muck. They were two well-formed specimens. I began separating them with a pencil tip. Most of it washed away as a disgusting brown slurry and I almost lost it down the drain and had to stop up the hole with my thumb while my other hand carefully separated the tiny chunk of gravel to one side of the basin and onto a dry section of the newspaper. I held the pebble under the faucet and let the slow stream wash the dirt away. It still looked a bit of grit but now that I knew what it was it was more than that. Slipping it into my vest pocket, I ran water over my hands washing off the crap and scrubbing my fingers with the bar of lye soap on the shelf next to the can of Drano. No matter how many times I put my nose to them, the stink lingered around my sparkling cuticles. I dumped the newspaper and the remains into the commode and after slipping into my suspenders, strode out into the hallway and back into the tailor’s shop.

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“You seemed pleased with yourself.”

“I’m happy to report that everything came out ok.”

“It was then a good ending?”

“Yeah, very satisfactory.”

“Did you bring some of it with you. I detect. . .something. In the air?”

“Maybe we should find some fresh air. Things are looking up and there’s a chop suey joint down the street in need of my business.”

“Do you think it is safe to be in the public? The police?”

DiamondFI“I plan get as far away as possible from the cops and this little beauty is my ticket out of here. I just got a little bit of unfinished business to take care of and I’m gone.”

“Oh, that is the diamond. Have you had on you all this time? I did not find it when I was washing your clothes.”

“I had it in me.”

“Oh. . .ooh, that explains the odor.”

Yeah, well I didn’t have much choice. I had to do what I had to do do.”

“That is joke, yes?”

“Yeah , you catch on fast.”

“And where is this place you will be gone now that you have a diamond.”

“Any place but here. But I hear South America is nice. Rio, Buenos Aires, maybe even Santiago in Chile. I hear the weather is like California, and it’s not as expensive. A cheap place to lie low while I’m on the lam.”

“Now you are just making up words. I have never seen this word in my cross puzzles.”

“What’s a three letter word meaning ’23 skidoo’?”

“You are making fun of me but you also make me laugh, Lack.”

“Yeah I’m just a barrel of laughs once you get to know me. I kill ya with my jokes cause ya die laughing.”

“Now you speak of murder? Why is this funny?”

“Forget it. It’s just an expression.”

“Lack, I have something else to tell you.”

“You’re full of surprises.”

“Herr Doktor cheat you from the diamonds like I told you. They have the real book that you have sold them for the diamonds. They trick you with a false book soaked to look like it has fallen in the commode. I hear them laughing about this and I think they are cruel and dishonorable men. And I think that they must be not succeeding in this cheating.”

“I appreciate the thought, but a diamond in the hand is worth six in the safe.”

“That is just it, Lack, there are none in the safe!”

“Whaddayamean?”

“When they have their meeting in Zayde’s apartment I go into Herr Doktor’s office and take the diamonds from the safe.”

“You did what? How did you know the combination?”

“It is my birthday.”

“So you have the diamonds?”


Next Time: Diamonds And Coal Dust

The Last Resort, 34-35

by Pat Nolan

Chapter Thirty Four
ESCAPE

I reeled like a sapling in the wake of a tornado. My legs went weak, knees about to buckle. How long had I been standing there? An eternity? The man in the wheelchair grasping at his chest in agony focused all attention on his drama. Bodyguards set up a perimeter and Tommy Junior’s voice shouted out above the confusion for an ambulance. A rough hand grabbed me by the arm to keep me from collapsing.

I couldn’t focus. I had projected my entire being at the old devil and now there was nothing left of me. I was empty. The hand, the shoulder, the arm around my waist, the feet striding quickly, purposefully out of the spotlight and backstage belonged to Blackie. My eyes fought the encroaching dark and my skin turned cold. Then I realized that we were outside and I wasn’t dressed for evening. I was barely able to put one foot in front of the other.

Blackie half carried half dragged me behind a sheltering row of vines. I was limp as a rag doll. He shook me roughly. “Come on, Malone, snap out of it!”  His anxious face multiplied in a blur like the spinning dial of a telephone. Finally he heaved me over a shoulder and jogged to behind the pump house where he had hidden his motorcycle. He took a black bandana from the pocket of his jacket and tied one end around my wrist. Numbly I complied with his instructions to climb onto the seat behind him. He pulled my arms around his waist and tied the end of the bandana to my other wrist. He pointed the bike downhill and coasted to a point where the engine came to life with an earsplitting roar. Helpless, my head pressed against the slab of his black leather back, arms bound around his waist. I should have been afraid but my instincts told me to trust the old man, trust him the way I had trusted an old woman not so long ago.

The screaming apparition of an emergency vehicle, flashing red lights blazing, passed in the opposite direction on the darkened road.

chopper darkI just wanted to curl up somewhere warm, soft, safe and quiet. Instead I was on the back of a noisy chopper with a gale force wind blowing through my skimpy blouse and up my long skirt. And I was on the down slide, the price I had to pay for my extraordinary power. I’d been there before, guided through my initiation by Trayann, and allowed to right my tumbled world before the blazing hearth of her stone hut with a bowl of herb tea, listening to the murmured litany that would help ease me out of the depths of my autism.

“I am chaos, I am order. I am she whose smile induces forgetfulness. I am the vessel of dreams, she who turns the year round its axis. I am the claw of night, the sigh of all time, silence incomprehensible.”

I had gone looking for the old woman after the hubbub of my rescue by the Prince’s commandos had died down. I’d hired a fisherman from Sardinia to ferry me back to the black sand beach. Everything was gone, every trace of the women, of SAPHO, had been eradicated. The villa was in a state of disrepair that would have taken centuries to accomplish. Trayann’s stone hut, a pile of time worn rubble, and the once raging stream, dubbed Milk of the Goddess, an anemic trickle. I stood on the deserted black sand beach and looked up at where the villa had been, remembering the names of the women I had become friends with, the women who had changed my life. Xuxann, Urann, Roxann, Choann, Reiann, Mariann, Elann, Diann, Belann. And above all, Trayann.

“I am the vibrant virgin, the fertile female, the wizened hag. I am the primal force, the mist in the trees, rosy-fingered dawn. I am truth. I am beauty. I am the first and the last, the honored and the scorned, the holy and the whore, the virgin and the wife, the daughter and the mother.”

In the weeks after I had witnessed Trayann’s performance I completed my initiation into an ancient sisterhood whose ubiquity is its camouflage. Every woman has life shaping power, the power over life and death. Once this truth is acknowledged, the ancient technique, known in French as la Folle, or as Xuxann liked to call it, Femme Fu, ‘crazy woman,’ is relatively easy to learn. Of course, it helps if you have a heart stopping body like mine. However, it can only be used as the last resort.

The screaming apparition of an emergency vehicle, flashing red lights blazing, passed in the opposite direction on the darkened road. In the wake of its oscillating wail I could still hear Trayann’s voice.

“I am knowledge and ignorance, shameless and ashamed, strong yet weak, fearful yet fearless. I am foolish. I am wise. I am the child at every birth, the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral. I am the many. I am the one. I am the labyrinth.” 

Teeth chattering, I was fully alert by the time Blackie brought his bike to a stop in the alley behind his motorcycle repair shop. He untied the bandana and led me to the back entrance. All of Timberton was in the dark, another power outage apparently. Once inside Blackie found a kerosene lamp and lit it. He took a bottle down from a shelf and poured each of us a stiff drink in coffee mugs. When the whiskey hit my gut, it was like a little sun had exploded, sending its warm rays out to my extremities. I studied Blackie’s craggy lined face in the warm glow of the oil lamp.

“OK, I think you need to tell me what’s going on.”

He shrugged. “You know about as much as I do.”

“No, no, that doesn’t cut it.”  The drink had put fire in my veins. “You need to tell me what you were doing there, at the Winery. “

Blackie stared at the wall behind me, his lips pursed like he wanted to tell me but hadn’t figured out how to say it.

“Come on, Blackie, you can tell me. What were you doing there? You certainly weren’t on their team, not the way they manhandled you.”

He bobbed his chin in agreement. “Actually, I was keeping tabs on you.” Blackie registered my surprise with a sly grin.

“I don’t get it. You were stalking me?”

He shook his head and sighed. In the dim light of the lamp he appeared older, tired. “You remind me an awful lot of her.” He pointed to the picture of Arlene on the wall. “She was a feisty one, too.” That brought a hint of a smile to the lines around his mouth. “You wouldn’t listen to me when I said you needed to keep your nose out of this business. I knew you’d eventually bump into trouble. You have no idea how ruthless these guys are. Everything you said to JJ about the murders and your suspicions was relayed to Junior.”

“Joyce James, that bitch!”

“The way I see it, torching your cabin was a warning. You were supposed to back off. But you wouldn’t take the hint. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw you flitting through the vine rows. For the life of me I couldn’t figure out what you were up to. When you disappeared into the warehouse I knew you were just plain stupid.”  He paused to light a cigarette. “Then stupid followed stupid.”

I was about to answer when the power came back on. I nearly jumped out of my skin.   “Hey, nothing to be scared of,” Blackie said, laughing at the panic in my eyes, “it’s only a little electricity.”

If I had been a man, my actions would have been viewed as ballsy. As a woman, I was just stupid. My lack of caution made me reckless, not brainless. I shrugged it off. “Did you know what was going on at the Winery, the auctions?”

Blackie drained more of the bottle into his cup. His hand was shaking. “I had a pretty good idea that if it involved Tommy and his kids, it was probably no good. I keep a low profile where Tommy Perro’s concerned. He knows, and I know, that if I ever got him alone I’d wring his scrawny neck. I’m not interested in going back to jail.”  He stared down at his cup.

“I know about your time in prison, Blackie, that’s not what concerns me. What’s your connection to Tommy and the boys?”

Blackie drew on his cigarette and let the smoke out slowly. “Ok, if you know about my time in the pen, then you probably know why.”  I nodded and he continued. “Imagine my surprise when I got out and found Arlene with a couple of kids. And living with Tommy! Well, I didn’t care nothing about that. It was gonna be a fresh start, her and me. Like nothing had happened.”  He frowned remembering. “We’d talked about quitting the business and heading up to the Corkscrew River before. Arlene, she was all for it, but she couldn’t leave the boys with Tommy.” He shook his head. “He was too coked up or smacked out. Unpredictable, irresponsible. He was leaving his shit lying around where the rug rats could get at it. It was a real horror show I found when I got out of the slam.”

“So you moved here with Arlene and the boys. Didn’t Tommy come looking for you, to take the boys back?”

Blackie’s look told me I’d touched a sore spot. “Yeah, he come looking for Arlene,” he said slowly as if it were a strain to talk about it. “Took his damn time. She was set to enroll the boys in elementary school and all of a sudden he shows up and says he’s taking custody cause she’s an unfit mother being a porn actress and all. He had the brass to claim she was immoral yet here he was a big time drug dealer and porno pimp. Good thing I was gone or I would for sure have wacked his sorry ass!”

“Where were you?”

“Ah, I had to go back east, Boston, to help with my mother’s funeral arrangements. And there were other family matters that needed sorting out so I was gone longer than I figured. When I got back, Arlene, she was in pretty bad shape and I was ready to go after Tommy and put a bullet in his knobby little skull. But Arlene wouldn’t have it. It wouldn’t bring the boys back, she said. Tommy had the lawyers and the money so we couldn’t fight it that way.”

“And that was the last time you saw the twins?”

Blackie looked at me from behind the pain in his eyes. “I thought I’d seen the last of them. They’d been a handful anyway, and I don’t have much patience with misbehaving and disrespect. The way they treated Arlene always made me mad. I was ready to give them a thrashing more than once but Arlene wouldn’t have it. But with them gone, we had some kind of peace.” The lines around his eyes relaxed as he recalled the tranquility. “Then, half a dozen or so years later, out of the blue, Timmy showed up. He’d got himself into a jam down south and needed a place to lie low. I didn’t want anything to do with him, but Arlene, she put him up in the spare bedroom. Let me tell you, it was no picnic. He was a wild one, but the way Arlene fussed about him you woulda thought he was the Prince of Siam. I had him help me out in my shop to try to keep him out of trouble. Had a knack for the machines, I’ll say that for him.” Blackie glanced around the shop as if the deep shadows concealed the memories. “But one day, he just left, didn’t say a word. Disappeared like he’d never been there. Arlene took it hard as you might expect. Me, I just couldn’t figure what made him tick. I got an idea about a week after the boy took off. Santos, the local deputy at the time come looking for Timmy. Seemed that the cops suspected him of setting grass fires, one of which burned down a house. Well, Arlene wouldn’t believe it when they told us and of course I took her side seeing as how I never had no love for the police. They took me down to the substation for interfering with an officer of the law.”  Blackie scoffed at the memory.

“So Timmy was the evil twin?” Blackie’s story was making me sad. I wanted to comfort him, but his stiff manner wouldn’t allow it.

“If you ask me, they’re both evil. I thought I’d seen the last of them. About then is when Arlene took sick. And that was mostly what was on my mind. Caring for her.”  His eyes got glassy and he looked away.

“That must have been when Rhonda moved up here, right? Arlene must have been comforted to have her old friend nearby.”

Blackie frowned. “No, Arlene passed before any of them showed up again. First it was young Tommy, throwing money around and buying up property and planting vineyards. Changed his name to Montague. He come by once, just to check me out. I didn’t see much of him after that. And then Timmy come by. Had himself a chopper. Wanted to use my shop to work on his bike.” Blackie sighed. “Can’t say I was too welcoming. Considering.”

I was puzzled. “So Rhonda. . . ?”

Blackie shook his head. “Me and Rhonda never did get along once the whole dirty movie business started. I always figured she was the one who got Tommy going in that direction. And the way she treated Arlene, like she was her maid. I know she’s got a cabin in your neck of the woods, but her and Tommy Perro, I stay out of their way.”

Something was not adding up. “I have a confession to make, Blackie.”

He smiled, relieved to be pulled from his dark reverie.

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“I suspected that you set fire to my cabin. I was told that a motorcycle was heard in the neighborhood before the fire was discovered.”

Blackie fixed me with a stare, brow stepped with concern. “Who told you they heard a motorcycle?”

I was about to answer when the power came back on. I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“Hey, nothing to be scared of,” Blackie said, laughing at the panic in my eyes, “it’s only a little electricity.”

I had easily recovered from the surprise of the sudden bright light. The apparition in the doorway was the cause of my saucer eyes. Timmy beamed an evil grin at Blackie’s back. And behind Timmy stood Rhonda. The square black thing in her hand was a pistol.

Chapter Thirty Five
A FAMILY AFFAIR

I was speechless, I couldn’t think of a thing to say. Not that the situation required me to say anything. Rhonda, gun in hand, was clearly in control. My head was spinning. It felt like I was having post-hallucinatory hallucinations. The way my gut dive-bombed told me that it was all too real.

Blackie blurted, “Rhonda? Timmy? What?” before Rhonda cut him off.

“Shut up Blackie, and keep your hands where I can see them.”  There was a remorseless feline cruelty to her eyes.

And I finally got a good look at the surviving occupant of the gray van. As my prime suspect in the murder of Hitler, Goldberg’s Airedale, and presumably Creasy’s pup, he had epitomized the sense of wrongness, of evil, in this whole affair. What I saw was a greasy sadistic pipsqueak in a motorcycle jacket holding a big shotgun.

It must have been the adrenaline contributing to the dryness of my mouth and the sense that my back had arched. I locked eyes with Rhonda. The way she twisted her mouth into a haughty smirk. I recognized it. Timmy was making a similar one and I didn’t think it was because they had both attended the same smirk class. The resemblance between Rhonda and Timmy, and by extension Tommy, was striking. That was only slightly troubling. It was the resemblance between Rhonda and the old man in the wheelchair, Tommy Perro that had me gasp in surprise. My puzzlement resolved in a flash of intuition. She was the brains behind Pa. And she was his sister or a very close relative.

I was looking at a pistol and a shotgun yet I felt like I had the upper hand. “I think you just confirmed that I do know what I’m talking about. Tommy Perro is your brother.”

I blinked. Rhonda sensed that I knew. For that, I would have to pay. “And you, you meddling bitch.” She crossed the short distance between us and hit me in the face with the pistol. It wasn’t a blow that was intended to hurt as much as intimidate. I felt the skin on my cheekbone split and put my hand up to meet the swelling. I looked at the blood on my fingers. The sight of blood, especially my own, always makes me faint. I tottered.

Blackie moved to catch me but Timmy read it differently and clubbed him with the butt end of the shotgun. Blackie dropped to his knees and then fell full face forward to the concrete floor. I caught the edge of the work bench and held myself up until the wave of nausea passed. I focused on the photos Blackie had pinned on the wall, the old photos of Rhonda and Tommy and Blackie and Arlene. The old gang, the original porn crew, the youthful clan of sybarites grouped in sibling camaraderie.

Timmy left off kicking Blackie at Rhonda’s caution. “We don’t want to kill him. Just yet.”

A crimson halo spread from Blackie’s head across the cement floor and I felt a cramp in my gut that told me I was going to heave. I dug my nails into the wood of the workbench. I swallowed hard. “So you’re the mother of the twins,” I said finally, swaying to keep my balance.

Rhonda gave a sardonic cackle. “Of course, the twins are mine. There was never any doubt of that.”

“But Arlene, she was supposed to be the mother,” I managed as the room slowed its spin.

“You’ve got that right. She was supposed to be.” Rhonda scoffed. “If you must know, miss busybody, not that it’s going to do you any good, Arlene was supposed to act like they were her kids while I was doing time in the slammer. She claimed to be their mother so they wouldn’t end up in a foster home. I didn’t want that to happen to my babies. I know what that’s like. I love my babies.” And she gave Timmy a little maternal smile of affection, seductive in its controlling power. Timmy, in turn, frowned the troubled frown of a momma’s boy whose leash had just been tugged.

Rhonda felt a need to explain. “I was doing time when Blackie got out of prison. Once he hooked up with Arlene again, she left Tommy and took the kids with her. Tommy didn’t care, he’d become strung out on his own product. So when I got out on parole I wanted to know where my kids were. In the meantime, Tommy had become quite wealthy and greedy and thought he could write me out of the script. I had news for him.”  She said it, lips pursed in ruthless resolve.

“But you told me. . .”  I stopped. I wasn’t sure what she’d told me, there were too many loose ends.

“That’s the problem with beautiful women, they’re so gullible. The more beautiful, the more gullible. And fashion models like you think they’re better than the rest. Face it, honey, to men you’re just a piece of meat. Less than that. A picture of a piece of meat. You’re what they want. I’m what they get.” There was a bitter truth to what she was saying.    “Sure, I had to play it straight, but all the while I was working behind the scenes, managing the finances, letting Tommy be the front. I diversified. He kept the girlie concession. He always was a horny little bastard.”

“And you’ve known that since you were a little kid.”

It was her turn to blink. I knew I had got to her by the stormy furtive look she threw Timmy’s way. Timmy was clueless as I imagined he’d always been, a puppet tied to his mother’s apron string. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I was looking at a pistol and a shotgun yet I felt like I had the upper hand. “I think you just confirmed that I do know what I’m talking about. Tommy Perro is your brother.”  It was a leap but her clouded brow told me I’d hit the mark. Timmy stiffened as if stung, the dim light behind his eyes suddenly bright.

“You think you’re so clever. Here’s something you don’t know. One of the original investors in my little business venture, the guy who showed me how to launder money, set up a dummy corporation, branch out into international markets, do you know who that was?” She was certain I didn’t have a clue and she was right. A shiver of fear rippled up my spine. “The guy who owned the cabin you lived in, your sainted step-father, Frank Zola.”

Timmy might have just as well hit me in the gut with the butt of his shotgun. “Frank was involved in all of this?”  Now I was really going to puke.

“Dad is your brother?” Timmy was looking at his mother, head cocked to one side, confusion darkening his features. “You’re my aunt? He’s my. . .uncle?”

“Now Timmy, honey, don’t listen to her.” She made a move toward him as if to comfort him. He leveled the shotgun at her. It wasn’t so much a threat as something that would keep her at arm’s length while he mulled over the ambiguity of the situation. Once he had been so sure of himself and now he felt betrayed.

“Timmy,” Rhonda repeated, pleading.

“No, mom, I gotta figure this out on my own.”  It went with an angry pout. It didn’t last long.

Blackie had come to or he’d been playing possum. Either way, he managed to rise to his knees and throw his body against Timmy’s legs, knocking the boy down which in turn triggered the Fireshotgun. The blast hit Rhonda on the left side just as she got off a round striking Blackie in the back. She was thrown backwards, taking the oil lamp with her. It shattered on the concrete floor sending flaming oil in all directions. Timmy’s legs were pinned under the weight of Blackie’s body.

Stunned, my ears ringing, I stumbled over to help Blackie. I glanced at Rhonda and caught the wicked gleam in her crazed eyes just as she raised the pistol and fired. My entire body stiffened, seized with pain, before I collapsed to the floor. Runnels of burning kerosene had reached a pile of greasy rags catching them on fire and filling the workshop with choking smoke. Timmy freed himself and crawled toward the doorway. A huge orange flame roared up from the cans of solvent stacked behind Rhonda. She was engulfed by fire in an instant as surely as if she had been sucked into the gates of Hell. A cacophony of voices filled my head, shrill voices, siren voices, swimming toward me as I closed my eyes. I didn’t care anymore. I was too far gone.


Next Time: The Conclusion. “I Ran, I Rock!”

Contents Vol. I No. 11

Introducing Dime Pulp Number Eleven

In Issue Eleven of Dime Pulp, A Serial Fiction Magazine, Better Than Dead, a 1940 serial detective fiction prompted by the illustration of a vintage Black Mask cover featuring the hapless Lackland Ask holed up after the massacre in the Heights and looking for a way to extricate himself from a mess of murder. But first, a romantic interlude..

The Last Resort, A Lee Malone Adventure aka Tales Of A Long Legged Snoop, picks up the pace toward its concluding chapters as the former international beauty and now reporter for The Corkscrew County Grapevine, is put in the position of being auctioned off to the highest bidder in a sex slave auction and has to resort to using her secret weapon, femme fou.

And beginning this issue, we are pleased to start the serialization of Pat Nolan’s 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. It is as much a retelling of some history as it is how such a retelling might come about, and 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 Dead, A 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 One, Number Eleven

  —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


TLR banner321Deep 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, Chapters 32-33

BTD head

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. 

A Detective Story–11

Second Snowstorm Slams Into St. Mary's MD

In 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.

—ONE—