By Steve Weddle
First, here are some Christmas present ideas for that reader you know:
THE CHAOS WE KNOW by Keith Rawson
"These aren't stories (The Chaos We Know), these are slivers of a blasted world which Rawson gleefully embeds in your mind, and which won’t be dislodged by bourbon, ritual scarification, or even the police procedural -- thank God. And thank God, too, for Rawson, who has the kind of talent to leave you mutilated and breathless." -- Benjamin Whitmer, author of Pike
“The Chaos We Know is a pulp-fueled debut w/ dopers, cops, husbands and wives. boyfriends & girlfriends, psychos & sadists, sand-storming through the potholes & shithouses of Arizona, leaving barnacles of the self centered, the down trodden’ & the surviving. Keith Rawson is the new garbage-tongued satirist of filth, deviance & violence for the new underclass.” -- Frank Bill, author of Crimes in Southern Indiana and Donnybrook
MONKEY JUSTICE by Patti Abbott
"Patricia Abbott proves that there are many shades of noir as she expertly layers her stories with melancholy, loss and the frailness of the human psyche" – Dave Zeltserman, author of Pariah
“Patti Abbott is a master when it comes to short stories.” -- Anne Frasier, author of Pale Immortal and The Orchard (as Theresa Weir)
“In this collection of short contemporary noir fiction, Patti Abbott distinguishes herself as an extraordinary storyteller of the dark recesses of the human heart. Abbott’s characters hit hard, fight dirty, and seek a brand of hardscrabble justice that will leave you both wincing and wishing for more.” – Sophie Littlefield, author of a Bad Day for Sorry
OFF THE RECORD edited by Luca Veste
‘Hitmen, cons, winos, bag snatchers, killers and psychos, the wronged, the vengeful and the damned, all darken the pages off this superior crime anthology. Off The Record is seriously cool.’ - Howard Linskey, Author of The Drop, named in The Times best reads of 2011
37 talented writers plus Steve Weddle, 38 short stories based on classic song titles...
The best writers from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, come together to produce an anthology of short stories, with all proceeds being donated to two Children's Literacy charities. In the UK, National Literacy Trust. In the US, Children's Literacy Initiative.
SKATING OVER THE LINE by our own Joelle Charbonneau
"Light and breezy, Charbonneau’s sophomore entry holds up. Her humor mixed with an eccentric cast keeps the mystery rolling at a steady clip. With this title’s romantic triangle not unlike Janet Evanovich’s trio of Stephanie Plum, Ranger, and Joe Morelli, and relatives reminiscent of those in books by Rita Lakin or Deborah Sharp, you’ve got another humorous series at the ready."--Library Journal
"Charbonneau's sequel to 2010's Skating Around the Law offers just the right mix of skullduggery, humor, mystery, and romance....Readers will enjoy the ride, and they'll really love Elwood, Lionel's retired circus camel."--Publishers Weekly
Also, you know, this.
OK. As many of you know, I've been finishing up my COUNTRY HARDBALL collection, which has nothing to do with Oscar Martello in tone, subject, or style.
Still, we have plenty of Oscar in the tank and on the horizon (don't ask), so here you go -- the return of Oscar Martello. This is a section from the Oscar story I've been working on. Maybe it's rough, but I hear that's how you folks like Oscar. I'll put it through the polishing machine later. By the way, if you need to catch up on Oscar, you'll find some help here.
The Return of Oscar Martello
I’d been driving for an hour or two looking for something that would lead me to the next thing. I’d gotten some information from what was left of the priest, but I didn’t expect to find out what happened to my brother and his wife. Don’t know what I was expecting. Guys handing off cash and crack under a big sign that says “Drug Deal Here.” I hadn’t bothered with dealers in 20 years, not since a guy we called Ugarte needed some help cleaning up an area over in Bossier.
If the answer to the problem is to stop the oxygen from going to someone’s brain, then I’m the guy. If the answer is to separate a person into parts in order to find out another answer, they call me. But when no one even knows what the question is, no one gets called. Which is why I was driving around Weatherby Estates. The neighborhood, maybe the kids called it a territory, was jammed between Youree Drive and some of nicer neighborhoods. And the place was falling apart, like big hunks all over Shreveport. Meaning that the kids were like hawks in the winter, needing to expand their hunting grounds to find food. But they weren’t hawks. They were bees. The Killer Bs. They had been the Weatherby Killer Bees, tagging “23-11-2” all over because “W” was the twenty-third letter of the alphabet and so forth. After a couple of years, they just called themselves the Killer Bees and adopted jerseys from the Houston Astros because a couple of their players, Biggio and Bagwell, were called the “Killer B’s.” Really cute. I had the history explained to me by a guy I had tied up watching me peel the skin off one of his gang-mates in order to keep the conversation moving. I’m the curious sort.
Now I was pulling around their territory, looking for them. And looking for a place to dump a plastic bag of crapped pants. My friend Lucy had called me thirty minutes after I’d left her place because my nephew Zach had crapped his pants. So I swung by Sears, grabbed him some replacement clothes, and stopped by her place where we swapped plastic bags.
He was sitting on the couch watching cartoons, just as I’d left him. Except for the change of clothes.
“Why is he in that t-shirt?” I asked her.
Lucy looked at me, then back at the t-shirt, then at me. “You don’t like Jeff Gordon?”
“Don’t care. Just asking.”
“I had him in a Dale Junior one after I cleaned him up, but then I thought he might have another accident. So I put him in that one instead.”
“You brought him undies?” she asked.
“I brought socks, underwear, pants, shirts. Kid can move in now.”
“The hell he can,” she said, then scrunched up her face, said “sorry” to Zach and leaned in to me. “The hell he can. I got clients coming.”
“I don’t know. Tonight. They called as soon as you left. You gotta do something with him by dinner.”
“Tell ya what. I’ll grab some pizzas when I come back to get him. That help?”
“Just be here. He ain’t gonna spend the night.”
Exactly what I needed. Taking care of my four-year-old nephew while I figure out what the bad guys did to his perfect mommy and daddy. His daddy. My brother. What he’d told them. Whether he’d told them anything he shouldn’t have. Anything besides where I was. Anything, such as what was in the Richardson file.
Having a little brother never helped me when I was growing up. He was staying with my mother’s side of the family. The ones with college degrees and paychecks. I was staying with my father’s side of the family. The ones who weren’t familiar with taxable income.
That’s why he’d become an accountant, and I’d become something else. That’s why he was the person to go to when I realized what was in the envelopes I’d taken from Richardson’s safe. That was why I had to find out what he’d told them. What he told his wife. Johnny Quinn was gone. But if Vitus wanted the information, then I had to act quickly.
So there I was, driving around the outer edge of the Killer Bees’ area when I stopped to finally drop the bag of crap into a trash can. I should have stopped the first chance after leaving Lucy’s, but I just wanted to find out what was going on. Get out and clean up his dad’s mess. Then get the kid back with whatever family he still had at that point. Then move on with my life. And by then I was smelling wet crap all over the inside of a plastic Brookshire’s bag.
I pulled up in front of a strip mall and was stepping out to the edge of the sidewalk for the trashcan when I saw two tough guys in Astros jerseys and crooked caps slinking around the corner.
I locked the car and followed them down the side of the building. Beige cinderblocks and weed-tall grass. Across a concrete creek, some overflow reservoir, to a chainlink fence.
I looked around and noticed an opening that had been torn on the bottom part of the fence. Probably so that they didn’t have to jump over. Or so that they could stay hidden longer. I saw one of the guys coming out from behind a bush, and when I stepped towards him, a building of some sort hit the back of my head and I went down.
The guy behind got my gun as I struggled to keep my eyes open. The guy who’d been in front was holding something solid in his fist and taking a whack at my chin. I couldn’t stay up, couldn’t stay steady. Even though I had to move my car. Even though I had to stay awake. Even though I had to get Zach from Lucy’s by six. Even. Though.
I woke up with my hands tied behind me. Cuffs. I blinked awake to high windows. Concrete floor I was sitting on. Basement. Hands cuffed together behind me, around the bottom of a column.
The two Killer Bees who’d dragged me here were sitting at a card table waiting for me to wake up.
The little one saw me, then he put his cards down. “He’s awake.”
The big one pushed his chair away from the table. He kneeled in front of me. “You’re the one who messed up Father Michael.”
I looked up at him. “Yeah.”
He kneeled down again and backhanded me across the face. “I wasn’t asking a question, you friggin’ puke.”
When I leaned back to avoid some of the slap, I felt the column behind me shift a little. He walked back to the card table and I felt around the floor where the column settled. Raised cement, but the wooden column hadn’t been secured. I didn’t know too much about lag screws. I didn’t understand all the details about how to frame walls, how to finish a basement.
I did know how to finish other things. And I knew that putting your hands on me is a bad idea.
The little one, Biggio, came at me from the table. He stood right in front of me, swaying from side to side in his work boots. I was guessing size 8. “See, Mr. Tough Guy. We don’t like people asking questions about us. We got serious business to take care of and we don’t need no weasels like you coming around trying to scare us with your guns.”
Behind him, Bagwell chambered a round in my Glock 25. I kept it handy because it was easy to carry, easy to hide, and didn’t ruin the line of my jacket. My jacket that they’d wadded up on the floor next to the table.
I crossed my legs, put by feet under me. Biggio was standing between me and Bagwell, so when I slid my hands out from under the column, I had an extra second or two. I popped up with my head into Biggio’s chin, sending him up and back. Bagwell reacted better than I’d thought he would and the little guy caught a couple rounds in the back as he fell into Bagwell. The big guy reached out for his buddy and dropped the gun, which I kicked to my left, towards the door.
Had I been 20 years younger, I would have jumped and pulled my legs through my arms, putting my cuffed hands in front of me. As it was, I dropped to my side, trying to wiggle around like a dying fish flopping around a boat.
Bagwell recovered enough to kick me in the back, but not before I’d gotten my hands in front of me. As I stood up, I caught another one of his kicks in my hands and pushed him back into the wall. I didn’t know where the key to the cuffs was and I didn’t have time to find it before he was coming back. I turned away as he came at me and sent a knee into his gut, then raised my arms and brought both fists down into his upper spine. He stayed there on his knees for a second before I put my fists together again and slammed him against his temple. I saw the key on the table and uncuffed. I walked over towards the door where the pistol and my jacket were. As I tried to shake the wrinkles out of my jacket, Zach’s bag fell out.
Bagwell was barely awake, but opened his eyes with a start as I put the first nail through his hand. He tried to shake me off, but I had my weight on his back, my knees pressing into his shoulders as I drove in the other nail. That’s the good thing about basements. Tools. 2x4s.
I’d secured him around a post I knew wouldn’t move -- him spread face down and arms out, the post in front and his hands nailed to a 2x4 on the other side. I hadn’t tried this before and was curious about how it would turn out. That should have gotten him talking, but I was in a hurry and didn’t want to waste any time.
So I opened the bag of Zach’s soiled clothes.
After two minutes, I pulled the streak-filled Transformer underwear from his mouth and he gave me the name I needed.