One Trick Pony

For the last fifteen or so years I've been living with a bunch of dead guys at a motel in West Texas. Like the characters in my stories, I'd really like to move on, see the world, go places. But I'm just like them. Anchored by love, worn down by circumstances and fascinated by how much there really is underneath it all. So I keep writing their stories and tell myself that someday, when I've got this all out of my system, I'll write deep, meaningful literature about... something else. In the meantime, this is a place for the short attention spanned. I'm making a commitment to keep it small here. Flash fiction and scenes from the life inspired by, The Bella Vista Motel.

Thanks for reading.


Friday, May 6, 2011

It's Kind Of Like I Shaved My Head

Hello again. After a long silence here, I'm back to plant a redirect sign to my new site.

Now, usually when someone does this, it's because they have some super fancy upgraded word yacht to launch with flags whipping in the wind and some serious promotion goals in mind. That's not the case here. I just spent about six months off the grid. I pulled in to focus on my writing and assess my situation. The conclusion I came to was that the writing has to remain my primary focus, but continuing on as a disconnected hermit was a bad idea.

I've combined my Vintage Vice site with the blog posts from here and I'll be developing my online presence anew. I'll leave this site up for archival purposes, but it would please me if you'd head on over to Vintage Vice and let me know I'm still welcome, even though my word yacht is currently a paper boat.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Don't Worry About Pamila

She's doing just fine. I got her all set up in a nice little room with no distractions. As long as she does her work on my story, I even feed her every once in a while.

As soon as she's done, she'll come out to play. Oh, and she asked me to wish you all a Happy New Year.



Tuesday, November 2, 2010

It's Come To This: Romeo Has A Gun To My Head

November is a heavy month. Día de los Muertos and All Souls Day are traditionally the time to reflect on those we've lost. Autumn is the time to look back, to assess. The harvest is in, the earth has been turned over, the scarecrow has gone into the flames and all our grand plans have come back to haunt us. The veil between the worlds is thin, they say, and the ghosts will speak if you tune your ears and listen.

Well, my ghosts are screaming. Specifically, the ghosts of my unpublished novels.

Last year I participated in NANOWRIMO and had a great time spinning out a Bella Vista Motel story that I thought would be a fine introduction to the series. Throughout the year I've chipped away at the second draft with a nagging sense of unease. I know it's a great story. In fact, it's a beautiful story about a new character that I love and that I'm sure you will all love, too.

But it's not the first book.

The first book is the story of a young guy named Romeo, whose career track in the New York City underworld goes off the rails when he gets stuck managing a motel in west Texas––a motel with an underworld of its own.

That book has already been written, it's just buried in a much too long for a first novel edition. So rather than start something new this November, I'm going to dig that first novel out.

Much as I love participating in Friday Flash, I've decided it's best to go on hiatus. I'll check in here and there, cheer on the NANOWRIMO-ers and the other Friday Flashers when I can. I'm grateful for all the comments and encouragement I've received from visitors to this blog, and the Twitterstream. I may post updates and excerpts.

As of today, consider me in the cave. Thanks for reading, and please, wish me luck. Romeo's run out of patience with me...


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Halloween, 1944

The charred, waxy smell of burning pumpkin was everywhere. It seemed to crawl down Chuckie’s throat only so far and then stop. He tried to swallow, but simply couldn’t. He wondered if he had made it back to his room, or if he was still in the lounge where last night’s party had ended in a brawl.

His eyes were closed and he feared opening them would bring in the punishing morning sun, though he wasn’t sensing light against his eyelids. His head was throbbing with pain.

He’d been dishing it out pretty good, but the last thing he remembered was a cracking blow to the jaw that left him swimming in blackout lake.

He tried a tentative stretch to assess the damage, but found he couldn’t move at all. Christ, he thought, I must still be dead drunk. He tried to go back to sleep, but it was no good. He was too uncomfortable. It was hard to breath, the air was muggy and smothering, and that disgusting pumpkin smell…

The pumpkins had been what started the whole mess. Romeo had squashed their plans to pick pumpkins out of the motel garden to make jack-o’-lanterns. “Madge’s garden is off limits to you mooks. Those pumpkins are good eating, Madge makes a hell of a pumpkin pie. I’m not going to sacrifice them so you guys can act like a bunch of kids,” he’d said in that irritating, condescending way he had.

Chuckie and the other guys had resentfully settled for drinking in the motel lounge, passing the time playing pool, pissed off and complaining about the lack of Halloween fun.

Michael, usually the quiet one of the bunch, complained the loudest and got the other guys riled up. “Why is it we gotta be treated like prisoners here? It’s like being locked up in a lunatic asylum, except even there they get to celebrate holidays.”

Jason agreed. “How hard would it have been to put up some decorations or get some candy? If Romeo and that little slut could pull themselves apart for a minute, she could have made us some treats or something.” He glanced out wistfully at the pool. “As warm as it is, we coulda had a swimming party.”

Freddie was the one who dreamed up the pumpkin raid and spurred them all to action, though. “Who says we can’t make our own fun? The spirit of Halloween is trick or treat, right? They didn’t make treats for us, so they earned tricks…”

Chuckie groaned and tried to open his eyes.  It was as if his eyelids were pasted shut somehow, they felt gooey and thick.  Jeez, he thought I must have taken some beating...

The men had waited until they were fairly certain the couple and that half-wit kid helper had gone to bed, then they snuck out around the front of the motel into the garden. The moon was up, and though not full, had given them enough light to judge their prey. Freddie had produced a couple of razor sharp knives and they'd set about picking the biggest, best looking pumpkins and quietly cutting them free of their vines.

They couldn’t just leave it at that. Freddie’d brought a roll of toilet paper from the john in the lounge and before they had a chance to consider the wisdom of their actions, they were tromping down vegetable plants, ripping down vines and streaming paper all over the mess as quietly as four grown men could, wrecking the garden.

Chuckie’d been resting off to the side stifling giggles when he’d heard a faint creak and a rustle of dry leaves right behind him. He’d glanced over his shoulder and nearly jumped out of his skin when he looked up into the face of the garden scarecrow looming over him. It was perversely real looking in the moonlight, its ragbag wardrobe complete––ancient, rotting cowboy boots, leather gloves, sun-streaked overcoat and a battered fedora. Its flour sack face leered at him, black button eyes gleaming.

It’d given him such a fright that he got mad and pulled it down off its pole. He’d ripped it apart with the relish of a murderer, not stopping until he'd pulled its head off and left it on the kitchen doorstep.

He’d picked up his pumpkin, twice the size of his own head, tucked it under his arm and spit on the scarecrow’s severed head as he turned and left.

He remembered they’d been having a hell of a good time back in the lounge carving up the pumpkins, but somehow they’d ended up fighting. His thinking was so muzzy, had it been Romeo who’d showed up, somebody had… or had they just got too drunk and started brawling amongst themselves?

Chuckie's eyelids slowly tore open at the sound of angry voices outside the lounge and muffled footsteps. He couldn’t hear clearly, and when he finally got his eyes open, he couldn’t see straight either. His field of vision was limited like he had a mask on and there was a beer bottle sitting right in front of his face. Was he laying on a table? It seemed like his chin was resting in cold mush, he hoped it wasn’t vomit.

Madge screamed. There was a commotion and that kid yelled at her to stay out, don’t look, and the patter of high heels running away. He heard the kid whistle, and his footsteps as he walked around the room.

Damn it, why couldn’t he move his head so he could see around that bottle? He heard more footsteps and Romeo’s voice coming closer.

“What the hell happened in here?” Romeo said.

“Looks like the pumpkins fought back,” cracked the kid. Little wiseass.

“Yeah, and the pumpkins won,” Romeo said, “where do you suppose this guy’s head is?”

More footsteps, shuffling nearer… the kid’s voice right in front of him, “There’s an awful lot of blood under this pumpkin,” he said.

He saw the kid’s hand move the bottle aside and then his face peering at him. The last thing Chuckie heard before the blackness overwhelmed him again was the kid shouting, “Found it!” as he pulled the lid off the top of the jack-o’-lantern to expose Chuckie’s head inside.

Friday, October 22, 2010

We'll Just Talk About The Murder

Agent Ramiel walked around the corner to his nondescript black Ford, got in and drove two blocks away from the crime scene.  The details were burned into his eyes like afterimages.  The detective's words kept coming up in his mind like an irritating song, "She was a nice girl, a waitress.  She wasn't a whore."

He parked in front of Clark’s drugstore, killed the engine and sat there watching the red-and-blue neon mortar and pestle sign blink and spin while he waited.  He wondered if his would-be informant would actually show up, she was new, someone referred by a friend to his under the table network of eyes on the street.

He needn't have worried.  Ten minutes later a striking young woman with improbable red hair paused next to his car.  She wore an equally vibrant shade of red lipstick and an attractive turquoise colored summer dress.  He glanced at her neutrally and watched while she rummaged through her red handbag and pulled out a compact.

He rolled down his window as she powdered her nose.  “Excuse me, Miss, did you make a phone call earlier this morning?”

She met his eyes over the edge of her compact.  “Maybe, who’s asking?” she answered cautiously, scanning the sidewalk and windows around them.  Her hands were shaking and her vivid blue eyes were glassy.

“I’m Agent Ramiel.  Have you had your breakfast?  There’s a diner a few blocks away from here, isn’t there?”

She pulled out a tube of lipstick and tried to reapply it with slow, forced nonchalance, but her lips quivered and she messed up the line.  “Goddamn it,” she cursed under her breath.  “I don’t think I’m ever gonna eat breakfast again.”  She capped the lipstick hastily, dropped it back in her purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab away the errant color.

“I understand,” he said kindly.  “How about a cup of coffee then?  It will get us off the street and we can talk a bit.”

She glanced up suspiciously, the handkerchief half way to her mouth.  “Nobody said anything about talking.”  She glanced around nervously, “I made the call, I get a reward.  Right?”  She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and back again.  Her red patent leather pumps, while fetching to the eye, appeared to be cruel on the arches.  “Anyhow, it’s way past my bedtime, if you catch my meaning.”

He smiled.  Her coloring made her look like a painted carousel pony in the early morning sunlight.  “Having a cup of coffee would be more discreet then standing next to my car and taking money through the window.”

She frowned and snapped her compact closed.  He had her there.  

“Please talk to me, I won’t take very much of your time and I’ll pay extra, Miss…?”

She hesitated.  “Ruby.  Just Ruby.”  

He tipped his hat.  “Pleasure to meet you Ruby, my name is Ramiel, Agent Ramiel.”  

“Yeah, you told me already,” she commented, as she narrowed her eyes and looked over the interior of his car in an appraising manner.  Her gaze seemed to note each item and weigh it in some personal scheme of judgement--his camera case beside him on the seat, a fine, well-used brown leather satchel, open and brimming with files, the day's newspaper hastily refolded, his light weight grey suit coat laid over the back of the passenger seat.  The car was clean, but he became aware of how very lived in it must appear to her.  He thought it was a good thing she couldn't see inside the trunk.

She abruptly met his eyes again and seemed to continue her assessment.  “I didn’t believe you were for real when Belinda told me about you.”  She dropped her compact back in her purse.  “How do you know her?  You a trick?”

He glanced at her upper lip, at the place where the lipstick had gone astray over the edge. She’d forgotten to fix it.  He had an urge to reach out and smooth the line with his finger.  He met her eyes with a calm, steady gaze.  “No.  I’m just a friend.”

She nodded and looked away, perhaps unconvinced, scanning the street again for observers.  “The nearest diner’s called Jack Flap’s.  It’s three blocks down, one to the left.”

He leaned over to unlock the passenger door.  “Don’t bother,” she said quickly.  He looked up at her, puzzled.   

“You’re getting ahead of yourself, mister, if you think I’m getting in a car with you.”  She turned briskly and started walking.  She didn’t look like her feet hurt once she started moving. “I’ll meet you there,” she said over her shoulder.  

He watched her go and thought about Belinda as he started up his car.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Keep The Devil Close

When the old Ford finally gave out, the elderly preacher slowly eased it over onto the roadside. He'd been driving tight-lipped, his eyes locked onto the far horizon ahead, his hands gripping the steering wheel with the same force of will he used when laying on hands to drive out illness from one of his congregation back home. A few miles from San Angelo, Texas where they'd stopped in for lunch, the car had suddenly begun to grumble and groan. It stuttered and threatened to quit with unsettling loss of speed, then picked up where it left off and drove normally for a while before it made good on the threat.

His wife stared straight ahead with her hands folded tightly in her lap and her lower lip tucked up nearly under her nose. She tsked, gave a long sigh, resettled her lips into a mere grimace and turned to give him one of those silent looks that was part acknowledging glare and part demand for action.

The small child in the back stood up on the seat and looked curiously at her grandma and grandpa in the rear view mirror. She had half a bottle of orange Ne Hi in her hand and it sloshed and fizzed softly against the glass. The still, hot air settled down on them like a blanket. He glanced at the child in the mirror and smiled briefly before he grabbed his hat off of the seat beside him and stepped out of the car into the blazing sunlight.

He propped open the hood, relieved that his wife and grand daughter could no longer see his face and peered down at the engine. He knew almost nothing of engines and their ways. He sighed and wiped the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his hand.

He closed his eyes and prayed aloud, "Lord, if it be your will, send us assistance so that we may be on our way." Before he had a chance to mutter, "Amen," he heard the familiar chuckle from behind his left shoulder.

"How long has it been since he answered you?" asked the sardonic voice he knew so well. He finished the prayer with a firm, "Amen," and ignored the figure that stood behind him, mimicking his pose and also peering into the engine.

Sweat ran down the preacher's face from beneath his hat, dripping off the edge of his set jaw. The engine looked like a black painting of hell to him, the arms and legs of demons and suffering souls entwined on torture racks, bound, impaled, charred and writhing in the suffocating heat.

"What have you done to it?" he asked the figure without looking back.

"Why is it always my fault when something goes wrong?" came the rhetorical reply.

"Will?" his wife called out impatiently from the front seat.

He walked around her side of the car and looked in at her through the open window. Her light cotton dress was dark with sweat under her arms and spreading out from beneath her bosom. Her white hair was lying in limp, wet waves against her scalp. The coral red lipstick she wouldn't be caught dead without was feathering up into the wrinkles above her lip like bleeding cracks. He smiled at her reassuringly. She did not smile back.

He looked up the road in the direction they had been driving. The sun was high, it was just past one. He knew the next town on the map was Ozona, but he didn't know how far away it was. He felt like San Angelo was closer.

"I'm going to walk back and get help. Just stay in the car. Everything will be fine," he said. His wife nodded her head, but said nothing.

The child leaned out of the backseat window, looking up at him sideways, her light blue eyes screwed up against the blinding sun. He stepped over to her and put his hand on top of her small head, pale cornsilk hair doing nothing to protect the glowing pink scalp. Her head felt like a sun warmed peach from a roadside fruit stand.

"Stay out of the sun, baby girl. Mind Grammy and stay still," he told her, pushing her head back inside gently.

She flopped down against the seat, scowled up at him as only a four year old could and said, "I'm not a baby."

"I'll be back soon," he said and began to walk down the road.

He didn't look back at the car, where he knew the child would be watching through the rear window. He didn't look over his shoulder where he could hear the footsteps behind him. The land ran as far as he could see in irregular patches of scrub brush, low disorienting hills and loose rock. The road ahead disappeared into shimmering waves of light. He walked at a steady pace. It seemed like he was going nowhere.

After a while, he began to recite the lord's prayer under his breath, as much to block out the sound of the footsteps as anything else. The figure behind him began to whistle, maddeningly. Within a moment, he recognized the hymn, There's An Old, Old Road... He laughed despite himself and shook his head.

"That's right, Brother. Keep your sense of humor," the voice behind him said. "Nothing to worry about. I've got it all under control."

He stopped walking. "I didn't ask for your help. The lord will provide," he said, his eyes fixing on the farthest point he could see at the road's end.

"The lord will look the other way while carrion birds pick your bones. I take care of business," the voice said.

A tiny car hovered above the road in the heat waves like a magic trick, still far away but driving toward him. He began walking again, a smile coming to his lips. He hummed along with his whistling companion until the car got close enough for him to flag it down.

A big gaudy black Packard pulled over and a fancy young redhead wearing sunglasses looked out at him. "Sir, are you in some kind of trouble?" she asked, pushing her sunglasses down on her nose and assessing him with concerned grey eyes. He took hold of the side of her car to steady himself, his vision beginning to swim and sparkle.

"Car broke down, my wife and grand daughter are waiting up the road there," he pointed off weakly as everything started to spin and his knees gave way.

He heard the young woman exclaim, "Oh, my!" as she opened the door, got out and took a firm hold of his arm. She opened the back door and guided him to the seat. "You just sit right down there, I've got some water in a canteen, just a minute."

He sat back against the seat fighting nausea while she retrieved the canteen and handed it over to him.

"Just take a little sip," she cautioned. "Oh, my, it's a good thing I came along. You look fit to have a sun stroke."

He squinted at her, rolling the metallic tasting warm water around on his tongue and smiling faintly at her youthful candor.

She made sure he was all tucked in, shut the door and started the car up again. "Just take it easy," she said, pulling back onto the road. "We'll get your wife and grand daughter, and you can all come back with me. My husband and I run a little motel just a few miles up the road. We'll get you all cooled off and then see about your car."

He closed his eyes and ignored his companion's satisfied chuckle in the seat beside him. Despite what he had told his wife, he knew that things were not going to be fine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

All Those Windows, All Those Doors

Slappy watched Romeo drive off down the road in the piece of shit farmer pick-up truck that belonged to the motel. The dust from the road floated up into the air in the truck's wake and hung there like dirty cigarette smoke. Standing at the edge of the road by himself with a peeved expression, he looked every bit the bored teenage boy he was. He sighed heavily, jammed his hands in his pockets and turned back to the driveway where the three big mutts that also belonged to the motel stood watching him.

Slappy regarded them. "So, away he goes and it's up to us to hold down the fort, eh guys?"

The dogs abruptly sat down and began to pant, tongues lolling.

"Some gang I got here," Slappy said, shaking his head and walking back up the driveway.

The motel courtyard was half shadowed from the late afternoon sun, the pool, still and glassy but for small clusters of dead leaves floating on the surface. He walked over to the edge at the deep end and stood looking down through the cool aqua water at the pale empty bottom.

"Think I'll have a swim," he said. His voice sounded loud and shrill, echoing around the empty courtyard weirdly.

Those leaves needed to be skimmed off. He didn't like the idea of a bunch of dead leaves sticking to him.

He headed back toward the rear of the courtyard where a utility room held cleaning supplies and tools to get the leaf skimmer.

Glancing around at the doors and windows of the motel, he had a brief sensation of unease. He'd never been alone at the motel before. Romeo had taken him along whenever he went to San Angelo for supplies, but he'd had to go into Ozona for some reason and said Slappy shouldn't be in any hurry to meet Sheriff Cobb.

He'd expected to be treated like a juvenile delinquent, but so far Romeo seemed to think he was only good for menial chores. Whenever Slappy asked when they were going to do something interesting like pull a gas station heist, Romeo would just stare at him in that, "You've got to be kidding," way he had. But he knew that Romeo just didn't trust him to behave yet.

"Ah, so what?" he said to himself in a much quieter voice, "what do I care if I never see Ozona?"

He looked back at the dogs, sacked out in the shade of the driveway next to the lobby door. They seemed far away, and the utility room seemed farther as he walked past all those windows, all those doors. Except for his room, number 7, right next to the lobby, the rooms were unocupied. The windows were closed, blinds drawn to keep the sun out.

The air was heavy and static like it had been on his first morning there when he'd woken to find that he'd brought along more than his suitcases and radio.

He'd come out of his room at dawn to find that the courtyard was still, but not quiet. The sound of wind moving through trees was everywhere, though the lone tree back in the corner was as peaceful as a photograph.

Confusion and a sense that he was dreaming with his eyes open had given way to heart pounding recognition as small familiar sounds he'd heard every day for most of his life came through clearly – the soft creaking squeak of leather straps rubbing against each other and the high, almost imperceptible oily whine of metal wheels rolling.

He'd turned around slowly and looked up the walkway. A low, boxy shape was moving toward him, the light glinting off of steel spokes as the wheels turned, wild black hair softly swaying around her face as she sat forward, leaning into the straps...there, and then gone.

That had been almost a week ago, and the memory of it felt more like a dream with each passing day.

The utility room was cool and dark, and despite their best efforts to clean it out, still smelled like mildewed laundry. He grabbed the skimmer and stepped back out into the walkway just in time to see a guy's foot disappear into one of the rooms down the row and hear a door slam.

He dropped the skimmer and hurried down to the room, never taking his eyes off the doorway. It was room number 9. He stared at the door, listening for movement inside. He could hear birds, those weird insects that made the humming sounds, but not anything to give away that a guy was inside room number 9.

He glanced over at the dogs and saw that they were still asleep in the driveway. There was no way the dogs would have let anybody get by them. He knew that. But he still felt obligated to make sure that room was empty.

He put his hand on the doorknob, remembering that Romeo kept them all locked. The doorknob turned easily and the door pushed open. He leaned in, his hand still holding onto the knob.

He saw the gun barrel pointed right at his forehead before he saw the grinning face of the man behind it. “That’s a good way to get your face blown off, kid,” the man said, and laughing, he pulled the trigger.

The explosion started in the gun. It always starts in the gun, but with the gun right in his face, he got to see it, the small flash of fire that sent the bullet hurtling out. The impact was immediate, but he experienced it in a series of stuttered images, like photos taken in rapid succession.

The bullet thunked against the wall of his skull. The sound was like being inside of a base drum just as it is struck, sound waves radiated outward, blowing out his eardrums.

His skull shattered inwards like busted glass as the bullet pushed through.

His thoughts and feelings and everything he knew or thought he knew, his memories, his desires, all awareness as the person, Salvatorre Allamonte, AKA Slappy, were dragged back through the meat of his brain, caught on the point of the bullet like fish on a hook.

The bullet exited the back of his skull, taking a good sized portion of pureed brain with it, and for a moment, he was flying, back and up and out over the walkway, light as a bird, wet as a fish, still here, I’m still here, I’m...

He hit the concrete walkway and found himself sitting on his ass outside room number 9. His heart was pounding so hard, his face was throbbing and his fingers were hot. His ears were filled with a high pitched ringing. He was breathing like a steam engine.

The door to room number 9 was halfway open, the slice of dim interior showing nothing.

He looked up and down the row of rooms, all those windows, all those doors, all closed and blank except for this open doorway, this broken mindway.

He stood up and turned his back on room number 9, though it set his teeth on edge with fear to do it, and walked back over to the deep end of the pool. He stripped off his clothes and dove into the water all the way down to the pale empty bottom. He touched the rough white bottom with both hands before he shot back up to the surface.

He swam laps back and forth, never minding the dead leaves until he couldn’t do it anymore, got out and laid on his stomach against the warm concrete. He was still panting, his heart still pounding, every muscle burning.

He wished he was back home with Oma, pushing her around in her wheelchair, hearing her beautiful laughter.

He could see the dogs lying in the driveway, just as they had been. Even though they weren’t right by him, it was comforting to know they were all laying on the same solid ground.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

For Lack Of A Good Time

Sonora was all played out as far as Sardo was concerned. It was late Sunday morning and his head was grinding away at a hangover that'd seemed to begin before he'd even had a chance to enjoy his drinks. He and the other guys––Don, Mike, and Tony M.––had pretty much exhausted their options for a good time. It was always the way in those little shit towns, not like back home in New York where you couldn't get enough time off to wear out the fun, even if you never worked another day in your life.

They'd ended up at some dame's place that had turned out to be an amateur whorehouse, with a bunch of average-looking gals they wouldn't have bothered with had they not been in limiting circumstances.

He'd gotten the head dame, he could almost remember her name... Dorothy? Donna? She was a bottle blond and though older than the others, young enough. Her breasts stood up fine and her ass was nice and round. But she had mean eyes that were full of mocking disrespect and a mouth that had the shadow of a toothless hag in the begrudging way she smiled. He looked at her in the harsh morning sunlight coming in through the kitchen window and saw a bitter old women lurking just beneath her young skin. It spooked and repelled him.

He slumped over his coffee cup and waited for her to finish scrambling eggs. He wasn't sure he'd be able to eat them, but she'd offered, and the other guys didn't seem to be up yet, so, what the hell. Two of the other gals wearing wrinkled, slept-in slips, last night's smeared make-up, hair-dos askew, had groped their way past him to get glasses of bromo-seltzer and cups of black coffee, with the beleaguered attitudes of those who must get up and go to work with a hangover. He wondered briefly what the hell kind of jobs they had to go to on Sunday morning, waitressing? Maybe whoring was a part-time gig.

Probably, if he and the guys had gone to the whorehouse in San Angelo that Romeo had insisted was their best, safest bet for nearby entertainment, they'd have had access to a better class of whore. The Shy Violet had a fine reputation and was extra friendly to guys from New York.

Or so Romeo had said. But Sardo had had enough of taking orders from Romeo at the Bella Vista motel, him and his petty dictator routine. You'd think Romeo was running a military school for wayward boys instead of a safe house for gangsters. Enough was fucking enough. So they'd gone to Sonora instead and whooped it up through the little town, starting in a spic bar they'd seen fit to ransack, beating up every sucker they could get their hands on. They'd all of them gotten rip-roaring drunk. He had a faint memory of struggling to get the Packard out of a parking space and scraping against another car. He hoped the Packard was okay. Next thing he knew, they were sacked out at the house of Dorothy, or Doris, or whatever her name was.

She loaded his plate with eggs and deposited it in front of him with all the warmth of someone plunking a dog's bowl on the floor, then turned back to the counter and her own cup of coffee to stare out the window.

"Thanks, Da... uh..." he tried.

"Dolores," she finished for him, without looking back.

"Right," he said, filling his mouth with eggs. They weren't half bad. He had more of an appetite than he thought he did.

He heard the women in a nearby bathroom getting cleaned up, the water running, medicine cabinet door opening and closing, murmuring voices. Jeez, the other guys must be dead to the world, he thought. He wasn't relishing the idea of going back to the motel for another week of Romeo's task-master routines, but they ought to be moving along.

Then the fourth gal appeared in the doorway of the kitchen and stopped short when she saw Sardo sitting at the table. He noticed she had had the decency to wash her make-up off and put on a bathrobe. She looked to be the youngest of the bunch and was not happy to see him. He put another forkful of eggs in his mouth and chewed, staring at her.

She sidled past him to pour herself a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter next to Dolores, pouting. The pouting was clearly not for his benefit, as she kept sighing and shooting glances at the older woman. Dolores finally looked at her after a moment and said firmly, "Peggy, stop it."

The girl sighed again and made a Shirley Temple unhappy face. With the puffed out lower lip and everything. Sardo found her pretty cute, and suppressed the urge to giggle as he shoveled more eggs into his mouth. Dolores paid her no mind, glanced over at Sardo as if to gage how much longer before he'd be finished and then began taking cleaning supplies from beneath the kitchen sink, a bucket, rags, a huge scrub brush, and setting them aside on the floor next to the sink.

Keep your sunny side up, up... Sardo sang in his head, humming the tune to himself as he chewed.

Dolores stepped up to Peggy, cleared her throat meaningfully, and waited as she moved aside resentfully. The young gal took a big gulp of her coffee and glared at Sardo as Dolores opened a drawer and pulled out a really big butcher knife and a huge, wicked-looking meat cleaver, laying them out on a large cutting board.

The other two gals, now cleaned up and dressed, purses in hand, paused in the doorway, peering into Sardo’s eyes strangely, the way you'd look at someone if you were trying to tell if they were awake or not. This time he couldn't suppress the giggle and had to take two stabs at getting the eggs into his mouth. The more he chewed the happier he felt. His hangover was completely gone.

"See you later, Dolores," the gals said, eyeing Peggy smugly.

Dolores crossed her arms and asked them, "Did you do your work?"

"Yes, Ma'am," said one.

"Ready and waiting," said the other.

Dolores gave a curt nod and the gals were out the door.

Peggy stamped her foot on the floor and exclaimed, "It's not fair! I did mine, too, and you haven't even finished yours."

Dolores, imperturbable as ever, raised her eyebrows and gave Peggy a schoolmarm stare that Sardo found absolutely hilarious. The laughter burbled up his throat and he laughed and laughed.

The young gal put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes. "Oh, all right," she whined, "can we get on with it then?"

She suddenly pulled the table away from Sardo, and he was briefly aware of Dolores stepping up behind him, one hand gripping the hair on the back of his head and pulling back sharply, while the other hand sliced across his throat with the big butcher knife. The last thing he saw was that cute little gal in her bathrobe, a resentful scowl on her face and the big meat cleaver clutched in her hand.

Friday, September 17, 2010

No Songs Left

It was half past three in the afternoon and the rain was still coming down like buckets of gravel. The noise was so loud, Romeo hadn't heard the lobby door open. The Bella Vista Motel didn't have a bell on the door, usually the dogs acted as alarm or welcome committee, but they'd been out running around when the rain started in and were probably huddled under a car or something.

The woman must have stood at the empty front desk for a few moments, looking around and sensing the emptiness of the place before she hit the bell on the countertop. Back in his room behind the lobby, Romeo had stood up from his arm chair and set aside his book hesitantly when he heard the bell, not sure if he'd imagined it.

She was standing in a small puddle of water when he stepped out of the hallway and stopped to stare at her in surprise. He hadn't been expecting anyone, least of all an elegant young woman. Elegant, even though she was soaked straight through her clothes, rainwater running all over her. She was a very light skinned negro with regal features, luminous amber colored eyes. The sharp edges of her bones stretched the fabric of her dress and the taut skin of her cheek. Her body shivered in waves.

"Can I get a room?" She asked. "My car broke down up the road..."

Romeo blew out a breath and hesitated before he said, "I'm sorry, I can't let you stay here."

Her eyes bored into his and he knew exactly what she was thinking. He thought back to the times he'd been turned away from motels in the south on his way out from New York for being too dark a shade of brown, the signs in the windows that read "No coloreds, no Mexicans."

Some old guy in Ardmore who didn't even have any functional front teeth had stepped up and motioned for Romeo to keep going before he could finish turning into a gas station's driveway. Romeo had sat staring at the old guy through his open window trying to figure out what the problem was.

The old guy had glared at him and shouted, "Get on with you, there's a colored station up the road."

"Colored station? What are you talking about? I'm not colored," Romeo had said, laughing.

"We don't serve your kind neither." The old guy had spat on the ground in the general direction of Romeo's car and continued to glare.

Romeo had been stunned. His dark olive complexion had never garnered him anything but tall, dark and handsome compliments from the ladies. "What kind do you think I am?" He'd asked, half serious.

"The god damned kind we don't serve, now get on!" The old guy had stomped his foot in the dust and Romeo saw that he was barefoot. He also saw that a large, scowling young man probably of a similar mind was making his way up off the porch of the gas station's office and coming toward them. He stepped on the gas and peeled out on the dirt road, enjoying the thought of leaving them coughing up his dust, but disturbed and angry nonetheless.

“Listen," he said. "Here’s the thing, this isn’t a general public establishment. I’m not turning you away especially, it’s just our usual policy.” He spread his hands in a helpless gesture that betrayed ambivalence.

He tried to look away from her and stand firm, but her unwavering eyes held him, and he suddenly realized he’d seen her somewhere.

“You been out this way before? Where’re you from?” He asked, peering at her face and trying to place her. She almost smiled.

“You’re from New York, aren’t you?” She said, nodding slowly.

Romeo’s face lit up and he snapped his fingers. “Café Society? You’re a singer?”

She looked down at the puddle of water spreading around her feet and softly tapped her toe in it.

“I remember you now,” he continued enthusiastically, “I saw you a couple of years ago with… ah, I don’t remember… you just sing with a piano and a horn, right? Man, you’re good.”

She continued patting the surface of her puddle, unmoved by his admiration, still shivering. He looked down at the puddle and lost patience with his resolve to enforce the rules.

“This is stupid. What you need is a good, hot bath.”

Her body reacted involuntarily to the suggestion and she leaned in toward him slightly, but only looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He walked behind the desk and pulled a set of keys off their hook. He gestured at the door. She didn’t hesitate.

“I think it’s gonna be pretty quiet around here till tomorrow. It'll be fine for you to stay the night.”

As he held the door open for her, he couldn’t help asking, “You think maybe later, after you’ve had a chance to dry out, I could get a song or two? We got a nice lounge with a piano and a top of the line record player back there…”

She gave him a cold stare. “Wouldn’t be the first time I had to sing for my bed.”

“Aww, come on, I didn’t mean it like that… look at me out here. You think I get any good music like you can do? I’m wearing out my records as fast as I can buy them,” he said, as he led her down the walkway to room number eleven.

“Baby,” she said wearily while he unlocked the door, “I don’t know how much sympathy I got left in me right now.”

She looked into his hopeful face as he held the motel room door open for her. She still couldn’t come up with much of a smile. But she touched his shoulder briefly with a feather light hand on her way into the room. “Maybe later,” she said, as she softly closed the door.

The only music Honey James could think about right then was the siren call of the glass vials of heroin in her purse. She was going to play it loud.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Interlude: Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Pamila Payne

Richard Godwin writes raw, extreme crime fiction.  He is also an oddly inquisitive interviewer.  Recently, he invited me over to his hidden lair for a "chat."  I liken the experience to being under the microscope of a very polite, very erudite alien abductor.

The result can be read here: Richard Godwin Interviews Pamila Payne

I highly recommend that you check out the other interviews posted as well.  The man has a knack for coaxing writers off on interesting tangents. You will probably recognize his other subjects, (Paul D. Brazill, Matt Funk, Charles Gramlich, Eric Beetner just to name a few) and I'm sure you'll find them as illuminating as I did.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Forget It, Ramiel

Agent Ramiel parked near 56th street and paused to look over the notes he had written so far that morning.  His notebook, though small enough to fit in his breast pocket, was meticulously organized by subject and date.  His handwriting was small and precise.  He liked to write his notes in the car after an interview, not during.  It was too easy to miss contradictory expressions in the eyes or subtle clues in gesture while trying to transcribe.  He listened, he watched.  His memory was infallible.  And sometimes, as with writing down his dreams upon waking, he found that answers and understanding flowed from solitary contemplation after the fact.

Carol’s murder was different from the others he had worked on or researched in ways that were especially puzzling.  There was something deliberately wrong about it.  He had no doubt that it was the same killer.  But it was almost as if he had been forced to hurry, or not allowed to do things as he preferred and so had thrown caution out the window.  Ramiel was sensing an almost belligerent attitude in the choice of victim.  She was a nice, respectable girl.  Her death might not be forgotten by the end of the day.  Leaving her out in plain sight like that in an alley where it was well known that street walkers would pass by was a cruel act in and of itself.  He wondered if any other women besides Ruby might have seen her and been too frightened to do anything but run away.

He got out of his car and walked the couple of blocks to the precinct.  It was a crowded, chaotic neighborhood filled with people who were happy to keep the cops busy night and day.  Inside the precinct, he followed the sound of Detective Finn’s voice carrying above the general hubbub and stood in his doorway for a moment before Finn looked up and saw him.

“So, there you are, come in,”  Finn said.  Ramiel sat down in the chair that faced Finn’s desk.  The detective's gaze was sharp and interested. "Our young lady is in the capable hands of the coroner."

Ramiel nodded.  "Good.  The sooner you get the autopsy reports the better.  It will be useful to see records from the other cases.  I can help with that."

Finn leaned back in his chair and fixed Ramiel with a calculating stare.  "You're a narcotics officer."

"Yes.  I'm currently assigned to narcotics."  Ramiel met his stare with an absence of expression that may as well have been a shrug and a "so what?"  "The FBI is a law enforcement agency, Detective.  We cooperate when we can with other departments.  Especially where murders are concerned."

"Oh, we're always grateful for cooperation,"  Finn said dryly.  "So, how many murders you think this guy's good for?"

"I think a great many, but it's hard to say for sure.  We haven't recovered as many bodies as I suspect are out there.  He usually goes to some trouble to conceal them.  There were eight on record, this would be the ninth," Ramiel said.

"If this is the same guy,"  Finn reminded him.

"Have you ever seen anything like this before?  Does this look like just any garden variety killing to you?"

Before Finn could answer, he was distracted by a man standing in his doorway.  Ramiel glanced over his shoulder at a hard-featured man, dark, sunburned skin stretched tightly over the bones of his face.  He wore his hat down low over deep black eyes that were difficult to see behind thin, shiny spectacles that reflected the light in glittering flashes as he moved his head.  The man smoked a cigarette that glowed red hot like a coal at the bottom of a fire.

Ramiel had a chance to think, So rude to come into the detective's office like this... 

It seemed to Ramiel that the man introduced himself... his name was... and came into the room speaking as if he were in the middle of telling a story.  Part of the story was about Ramiel, and how he was going to go back to Virginia because his prisoner had a good lawyer and he wouldn't be traveling back there to be tried after all, he would just stay right here in New York where he belonged.  And another part of the story was about how Finn had done a fine job of cleaning up that neighborhood...

A roaring sound, blood pounding in his ears, the inside out version of breathing and he was up and walking.  Hallways and sidewalks were confused beneath his feet, he stumbled and reached out to steady himself on the edge of a desk, but his hand came down on the edge of a parked car instead.

It was his parked car.  He was sitting inside his own car gripping the inside edge of the driver's side window.  It was rolled down, all the way open, the man's face was leaning in and Ramiel could smell fire and cigarette smoke on his breath.  He was still telling stories, packing them into Ramiel's ears like cotton wads, and the inside of his car spun around like he was driving on ice, and then he crashed.

Blood gushed out of Ramiel's mouth as his head flew back from the steering wheel and his car came to a halt.  His horn and many other horns were blaring discordantly.  He turned his head to look back at the man in his window but there was a different man staring in at him.

The new man asked, with a mixture of anger and worry, "Hey, hey mister, are you all right?  What the hell was the matter with you, are you drunk or something?  Didn't you see that truck was stopped?"

But Ramiel couldn't see him anymore, his vision was swimming, he was passing out.

He heard someone shout, "Get an ambulance!" from a great distance away.  He was trying very hard to remember the girl in the alley, he didn't want to forget her.  "Her name was Carol, he muttered through his bloodied lips, "her name was Carol..."

Friday, August 20, 2010

All He Knows Is That She Left Him

Gabrielle parked the big blue Oldsmobile in the train station parking lot and cut the engine. She'd allowed the tears to run freely down her cheeks while she drove, but now she pulled a handkerchief out of her purse and began hastily wiping and dabbing, trying to salvage her makeup. Robert would be waiting for her inside, watching for her anxiously, watching for her husband even more anxiously. She glanced at her watch and sucked air through her teeth, she would have to hurry now.

She gathered up her purse and sweater and got out, walking around the car to the trunk.  She hadn't packed much, just one small suitcase with the essentials.  Her mind went blank as she opened the trunk and looked down at the suitcase.  It didn't look like anything important to her.  The thought of carrying it just made her feel tired and she had the urge to just walk away from it.  Leave it, run away from it, get on the train now, before you lose your nerve...

But she didn't have any nerve left to lose.  She realized that she felt nothing all of a sudden, that her whole body was numb and empty.  She had already done the worst possible thing.  The only one that mattered to her, the only good thing she had ever done was gone.

She could still picture him sitting beside her in the car, so proud of the suit she'd bought for him just that morning.  Navy blue short pants, a crisp white shirt under a matching jacket with a fine white linen handkerchief in the breast pocket, folded just so.  She'd clapped her hands and laughed and said how smart he looked when he came out of the dressing room, beaming. The salesman had agreed and said it was just the thing for a boy of five to wear to an important party.

She’d made him practice his manners and he kept repeating, “Good afternoon.  My name is Salvatorre Allamonte, I am pleased to meet you,” in a plummy little imitation of radio englishmen as they drove.

The vision of him standing at that huge wrought iron gate, her tiny little man, her funny little boy, all ears and nose and bright hazel eyes, staring at her with that pale, stricken expression as she waited in the car across the street for someone to answer the bell, made her heart turn over in her chest and her stomach heave.  He'd known.  He was so smart.  He'd known she wasn't coming back.

“You should have taken a taxi,” Vincent said flatly from behind her.  "The flashy ride was pretty easy to keep track of.”

She closed her eyes and almost smiled. This was right, she thought, this was how she knew it would go.  At least my boy won’t have to watch me die slowly.

“You did manage to give me the slip for a little while.  What’d you do with the kid?  Leave him in a basket at the orphanage?”

She dropped her purse in the trunk and let the sweater slither off her arm like a small, quick animal.  Her hands fell to her sides.  “I took him to the Boss’ house for Oma’s birthday party,” she said softly.  She heard Vincent’s sharp intake of breath behind her and she did smile then.  Surprise, you didn’t know everything after all, she thought.

“He’ll be fine, he’ll make new friends and have a good time.  I watched him go in, they wouldn’t turn him away, it wouldn’t be polite.”

“Yeah?  And then what?  He gonna mix with a better class of kid and step up in the world?”

“Be good to him, Vince, if you’ve got any kindness in you at all, use it on him.  He’s better than either one of us deserves.  Please don’t take out your anger at me on him.”

He was standing very close behind her, she could feel his whole body shaking against her back.

“I told you I’d have to kill you if you ever cheated on me, I told you... why’d you have to do it?”  His voice was a strangled whisper next to her ear.

"Turn the radio on for him at bedtime, he can’t get to sleep without soft music on.  The apartment is so loud.  And make sure he practices his penmanship, it’s difficult for him, he needs to practice.”

She turned around and looked up into his hard, angry face, “Oh, Vince, please don’t hurt him...”

He gritted his teeth, pressed the gun up under her breast and shot twice.