Release: The Honorary Jersey Girl

The Honorary Jersey Girl by Albert Tucher

About the Book

Criminal defense attorney Agnes Rodrigues got her client Hank Alves acquitted of a murder in the rainforest of the Big Island, but the victim was a cop’s wife, and a case like this doesn’t end with “not guilty.” When someone takes a shot at her client, and that someone looks like a cop, Agnes knows no one in Hawaii will take on the job of protecting Hank.

Agnes travels to New Jersey to hire ex-prostitute Diana Andrews and her crew of bodyguards, who have a reputation as the toughest in the business. But Diana refuses the job. The Jersey girl has been to the Big Island before, and it almost killed her. Diana’s own people persuade her, but her decision puts her in the crosshairs with Agnes.

The bodyguards are soon earning their payday, but nobody can be protected forever. Keeping Hank alive means finding the real killer, and Diana might know the answer from first career. And what Agnes has to do outside the courtroom will make her an honorary Jersey girl, if it doesn’t kill her first.

Praise

“A lean, mean confluence of complicated women and the seedier side of paradise, The Honorary Jersey Girl is suspenseful and plenty of fun.”

—Kristen Lepionka, Shamus Award-winning author of the Roxane Weary mystery series

The Honorary Jersey Girl has the kick-assiest cast of women — badass bodyguards, wily hookers, and a fierce attorney — who power this taut, relentlessly-paced novella that rips through the gritty underworld of Hawaii like a stray bullet, searching for flesh to pierce. This is deeply satisfying noir from a master of the craft.”

Kevin Catalano, author of Where the Sun Shines Out

About the Author

Photo by Mark Krajnak

Albert Tucher is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in eighty short stories in such venues as THUGLIT, SHOTGUN HONEY, and THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2010, edited by Lee Child and Otto Penzler. Diana’s first longer case, the novella THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE, was published in 2013. Supporting characters from her world, which includes the Big Island of Hawaii, are featured in THE PLACE OF REFUGE, THE HOLLOW VESSEL, and the forthcoming novella THE HONORARY JERSEY GIRL, all from Shotgun Honey. Albert Tucher recently retired from the Newark Public Library.


Three-Ring Binder

A scrapbook, that’s what Jen keeps calling it.

No, a scrapbook’s for paper doilies pasted on pink and blue stock, with oh-so-pretty red flowers along the edges. This book is but a cheap loose-leaf binder filled with news clippings Scotch-taped to plain paper.

I think this but don’t say it, not to Katie’s sister. She means well. And whenever I dredge up a new article and call her up about it, she makes the half-hour drive and comes right over.

The latest clipping, one I just trimmed with my scissors and taped to paper, shows Jeffers in his prison grays beneath the headline: Jeffers granted early release for good behavior.

In prison? I ask. Aren’t you supposed to be on good behavior?

I slam the binder shut. Then fling it open again. I land on the article that started it all and fall silent. Jen, behind me, lays a hand on my shoulder.

Maybe you should set this aside, she whispers. Look at your albums. Something positive.

Positive? Seeing Katie’s face, rosy from exertion after our hikes and climbs and spirited jaunts, sometimes hurts worse than the cold print in all these articles, even this one, the one the binder’s turned to.

She was waiting at a red light when her car was plowed into from behind by an SUV doing seventy in a thirty. The outcome? Katie with a shattered spine. Jeffers with bumps and bruises, failing the walk-and-turn but still walking.

I thumb past item after item about all the legal hoops until I finally hit the item where the sentence is handed down.

Two years.

Hey, longer than the five months he got years before for swerving into the convenience store he bought his liquor from.

That bit of old news is right here.

And here, next to it, is the interview after those five months vanished to nothing. A reporter asking, why do you keep doing this? And Jeffers answering, doing what? This? Swilling this fine stuff? It keeps me company. Better than you. Now get the **** off my porch.

The stars not mine but the article’s.

Before that, pages of yellowed clippings I dug up from different states. Jeffers moved around. It’s what you can do when you’ve inherited the green. Lead the cops on a high speed chase, do community service, cross the state line. Sideswipe a school van, pour yourself out of the front seat sobbing, do community service, cross the state line.

Pages.

I skip ahead. Jeffers’s lawyer, the best his money can buy, slamming the idea that Jeffers can be blamed for whatever complications occur in a wrecked spine. Nice try on the life stretch. The two years stay.

And then what. Not even two years. Jeffers called his prison guards Sir, and now he’s back on the street.

• • •

Weeks later, Jen shows up. This time she has something for me rather than the other way around. She unfolds the local rag and hands it over. I make sure she sees my eyes move. The body of a man id’ed as Richard Alman Jeffers discovered at the bottom of a ravine. Stabbed through the eye, the eyeball and the sharp instrument nowhere to be found.

Jen leaves the paper with me, touches her hand gently to my cheek. Maybe now we can put the scrapbook behind us, she says.

Yeah, maybe, I say. I stand at the door and watch her get in her car and pull away.

Back inside, I reach for my own copy of the paper. Rip out the article. Take the binder and snap open the rings. Slip in a fresh page. Before taping the article to the sheet, I trim it into a neat rectangle with my scissors, not giving a good goddamn what pretty red remnants cling to the newsprint’s edges.


The Windrows

From the living room window, Edith could see the snowplows. Must be here for the windrows, she thought, happy to finally be rid of the jagged sediment left behind by past plows. The piles of thick snowy detritus were beginning to look like a barricade, mucked up and browned like the kind you see in war films. They had been there for a month now, ever since the city sent their motor graders to clean up and chip away at the snow-packed roads. It was the last time Edith had seen her husband.

Gary had come home late that day. It had taken ages to get home from work, he said, the roads were terrible, the snow piling high, visibility low, he said and said and said. For months now, Gary had been coming home late, and for months, Edith had suspected an affair. That unfamiliar scent on his neck, the subtle smiles at the corner of his mouth when he thought she wasn’t looking, the way he tiptoed everytime he got home like a guilty teenager out past his curfew. The night before the windrows, Edith decided to confront Gary about his little dalliance. She would make Chicken à la King, ply him with his favourite dish. They had been eating for twenty minutes when she asked him.

To be honest, he said, it’s a relief that you know.

She was floored. He hadn’t even had the decency to pretend. To act as if this was an impossibility, that he would never cheat on her, her, her, the diamond of this relationship. But there he was, admitting it with the deepest of breaths, a light entering his eyes that hadn’t been there for months.

The ache in her that had been there all this time, the pain and betrayal, the grief that had seeped into the walls of their home, into her eyes as she watched the snow fall night after night, an empty driveway filling up to remind her that not only would she have to shovel it the next day, but that her husband was simply not there, that he was out somewhere with someone who was not her, laughing the way that he used to laugh with her, maybe even whispering to her under softly snowflaked light—it all expanded, rising up before catching in her throat.

She asked him not to see her again, knowing that he would not agree to it, knowing that his next words would be that he was leaving her, and that Cressida—Cressida? she shuddered—had been asking him to leave her for a month now, and that he would finally have the courage—courage? she barked—to be with the woman he loved.

The blizzard spiralled outside as Gary mouthed the last bits of chicken, turned to Edith, and thanked her. Thanked her. He told her he was going to pack his things, and Edith felt her whole body go cold, knew that whatever happened, this was always as it had to be, that there was no other possible way, that ever since the day she and Gary had married, under a white plastic arbour bought at Wal-Mart, their life together would end like this, in a blizzard in the thick of February. She followed him into their bedroom and closed the door.

The next day, the graders came, stacking sharp clumps of compact snow atop one another, burying anything the night before might have left behind. Edith had hoped she wouldn’t see her husband again after that night. She had wished not to see that horrible cut she had given his perfect face, or the blood that ribboned its way out of him like a party streamer. She did not want the reminder of the shouting, slashing, dragging.

But now, a month later, as the plows ripped the caked snow and dirt from the boulevards, Edith thought perhaps she would like to see her husband once again. Yes, she thought, that might be nice to see him once more. It might even offer some closure. So she waited and watched as the plow groaned on.


Old Bones

Mel glanced nervously at his watch and settled his eyes on the Chalmers Topaz in the Gem Room on the second floor of The Field Museum.

The 2.5-lb., 5,899 caret topaz was almost comically oversized but still incandescent in the light. It refracted that bright multi-colored fire you’d often see in diamonds.

Mel stared vacantly. It was the biggest stone he ever saw.

“To hell with it,” he muttered, driving his fist through the glass, snatching it up.

It went down just as he expected with a loud blaring alarm and flashing lights. He wondered at the last minute if it would be a silent alarm but it was as over-the-top and theatrical as he first assumed.

He made a run for it, jostling past slow, shuffling museum-goers and plowing through two security guards, his days as a high school fullback coming in handy.

As he came upon the stairwell, he was confronted by a phalanx of guards he knew he couldn’t muscle past. He turned and saw his out: the pterodactyl hanging from the ceiling. He vaulted himself over the railing and crashed onto the plaster dinosaur. As he assumed, it was too flimsy to support his weight. The supporting cables snapped.

He rode the pterodactyl about 30 feet down. It broke his fall, but the impact was violent. He staggered back onto his feet. He straight-armed a small guard that rushed at him and saw daylight clear unto the exit.

So many guards had rushed upstairs and he outstripped them all by making a crazy leap downstairs. It might have given him just enough time and enough of an advantage to make it outside.

“Freeze!”

Mel knew even if he made it outside, he could never escape. It was a dumb heist, a smash-and-grab at a major metropolitan museum that was inevitably doomed to failure. You might as well try to rob a police station. But the real score was five of the hot dog carts on the bustling museum campus during a sunny summer day when it was clogged with strollers and tourists eager to fork over cash for an authentic Chicago dog. Ed and his crew as sticking them all up simultaneously while Mel provided a diversion. Mel was only providing a distraction that would send him to prison for a couple years because he was into Ed for 80 large after the Patriots failed to cover the spread in the Super Bowl. He owed Ed big-time and you didn’t owe Ed.

“Freeze!”

Mel knew he’d never get away, not in a million years. But if he could just make it outside those heavy bronze doors, he’d have some small moral victory. He could relish that he pulled one over, nabbed a minor triumph over a system so rigged against him.

“Stop!”

He was almost there, so tantalizingly close to shoving the door open when the first bullet caught him in the shoulder. The hot metal sliced through like a pate knife through a cheese ball, spinning him around. The next two bullets missed, but he dropped the Chalmers Topaz.

It clattered to the floor, skittered off. He worried for a minute it was chipped, damaged. But it wasn’t even what he was really there for anyway.

To hell with it, he thought as he staggered back outside the door. He could feel the cool wind off Lake Michigan. The sun was so bright. Everything was awash in color.

He could taste the faint marine tang of the lake air. He was free, at least for that moment, free.

“Stop!”

He stumbled down the steps as his shoulder bled profusely.

He plowed past a scrum of tourists toward the lakefront, when Ed’s muscle Doyle pulled up on a motorbike.

Mel’s heart swelled. They’d get away. He’d make it home after all.

“No loose ends,” Doyle said.

Mel opened his mouth to respond when Doyle whipped a .45 out of his leather jacket and shot him three times in the chest.

As he lay there splayed on the steps, Mel could catch a glimpse through the windows at the dinosaur bones in the museum lobby.

A thought started to form and then dissipated in that lake breeze.


Killian’s Gun

There’s something you should know about Killian.

Killian’s a guy who can put up with pretty much anything. All of that bullshit ex-con locker room talk doesn’t faze him one bit. For the most part, the man is like a Zen Buddhist monk.

But if you so much as mention his gun.

Let me give you a “for instance.”

For instance, last summer, when Jerry Sullivan’s little brother Pat joined the crew, we threw him a big party at the veterans’ hall on Ellery Street. We were all shitfaced and lined up at the bar for another shot, when Pat makes a comment about Killian’s gun being too small for a guy his size.  I don’t know. Maybe he meant it as a joke or something.

Everyone at the bar shut up all at once. Jerry and me looked at each other. I could tell we were both thinking that maybe we could spare Pat a beating from Killian if we took care of this ourselves, right quick. So, we made a big show of dragging the kid out into the parking lot, and, after giving him a few good ones in the kidneys, we explained to him in no uncertain terms the rule about Killian’s gun.

Never talk about Killian’s gun. No jokes. No questions. No well-intentioned small talk about where he got it and how many rounds it holds. Nothing. Not a single word.

Turns out Killian wasn’t making any allowances that night, not even for a new guy just cliqued up. When we all went back inside, Killian was waiting in the coat room.

“Pat and I need to have a little talk,” he said.

Nobody tried to get in the way. We all knew better. Ten minutes later, Pat left the coatroom minus his two front teeth. Later that night, I heard Jerry thanking Killian for not killing his little brother.

I’m telling you all of this so you don’t make the same mistake Pat did. So you don’t ever let slip a question and end up alone in a coatroom with Killian.

Here’s the truth.

That gun Killian carries is a fake. Looks real, but it’s the same kind they use in the movies. Takes special blanks Killian buys at a magic shop in Roxbury. For obvious reasons, it’s absolutely fucking essential that nobody find out about this. I mean, can you imagine what would happen if the wrong people knew Killian wasn’t really strapped?

But that’s not the only reason why Killian’s so salty on the subject of firearms.

He used to carry a real gun. Used to have a little boy, too. Named Bobby, after Bobby Orr. Four years old. Then, one night, Bobby got a hold of Killian’s gun. Now, Killian doesn’t have a little boy anymore and he doesn’t carry a real gun. Can’t bring himself to put his hands on a loaded piece without sobbing like a day old baby.

So, if you ever do work with the guy, for your own sake, avoid the subject of Killian’s gun.


The Tracker

“Snow’s comin’,” the tracker mumbled to himself.  The eastern ridgeline, set clear in the distance an hour ago, had become blurry.  The gray canopy dropped low enough to touch.  It was mid-April.  The late-season storm would bring a cold rain to the North Carolina valley below, but here just off the Appalachian Trail at four thousand feet, it would be a heavy wet snow.

The tracker hurried his pace.  He was close, but had to make up the remaining ground before the snowfall covered those telltale signs he was looking for.  The occasional heelprint.  Broken twigs.  Crumbled leaves. 

He’d been tracking Henry Windsor for four hours, since dawn.  That numbnut from New York City decided to go off the trail three days’ prior and got himself lost.  It was national news.  Not that a person got lost.  That happens with some regularity.  It was national news because it was Henry Windsor. 

His father, Stewart Windsor, was a hedge fund titan.  Made billions last year shorting silver.  In the process, he wiped out another hedge fund manager on the opposite side of the trade.  The poor sap was so devastated he killed himself, leaving the sap’s son in charge of what was left of the rival fund.  The son proved to be a much better manager than his father.  One of the best.  Stewart thought it was because the experience toughened him up.  Made a man out of him.    

Likewise, Stewart wanted to make a man out of Henry.  Get him in the Wall Street trenches.  So he hired his son as an analyst fresh out of college.  Stewart wanted his son to learn the business from the ground up, and eventually run the hedge fund.  But Henry was a millennial.  He wanted different things out of life, so he quit the fund after a month to walk the trail from Georgia to Maine.  “Going off the grid,” Henry said when explaining his plans.  It was an indulgence available only to the very rich and the hippies.  Everyone else, including the tracker, had bills to pay. 

Before beginning his journey, Henry’s mother made him promise to call home once a day to let her know everything was ok.  He did just that for the first three weeks, walking into various mountain towns to make the daily call.  But on day twenty-two, there was no phone call.  Now it was day twenty-five and still nobody had heard from young Henry.  Time was running out.

The tracker’s phone rang the night before.  It was the captain of industry himself, Stewart Windsor, offering the tracker fifty thousand dollars if he could bring his son home alive.  “Why you callin’ me and not some other fella?” the tracker asked. 

“Because I hear you’re the best in North Carolina.”

“How you know that?”  The tracker was genuinely curious.  He was the best at what he did, but kept a low profile and didn’t know how the hell someone living in New York City would ever know about him.

“On Wall Street, you don’t get to be the best unless you’re the most well-informed.”

The tracker would come to find out just how true that was.    

As the snow began to fall, the tracker was fairly certain he found who he was looking for.  Slumped against the trunk of a fallen tree was a young man, dirty, disheveled and wearing a jacket with a patch on the arm that read “Canada Goose.”  The tracker poked his chest with a stick and the young man came to with a start.

“You Henry?” the tracker asked.

“Yes.  Oh thank god!  You found me!”

“Let me help you up,” the tracker said.

“I’m sure my father is offering a reward for whoever finds me.  You’re going to be richly rewarded.”

“Oh, you right about that.  He payin’ fifty thousand,” the tracker replied as he extended his hand to Henry.  As Henry began to pull himself up, the tracker’s other hand – the one holding a stone – crashed into Henry’s temple, knocking him out cold.  “But the man who says your pa killed his pa,” the tracker continued, “is paying me double to make sure you’re never seen alive again.”  


The Bench Warmers

Bat resting on his shoulder, Stuart maneuvered the rickety Huffy into the gravel parking lot.  The little league season had ended a few days ago.  Still, he wore his full uniform:  red cap, white jersey and pants with red pinstripes, red leggings, even his black cleats.

The late July heat was oppressive.  Stuart was soaked by the time he reached the diamond.  The others had already arrived; he saw three bicycles leaning against the back of the chain link dugout.

He dismounted, added his steed to the mix, and entered the smoky lair, grateful to be out of the sun.

“You made it,” Craig said, proffering a pack of Marlboro Lights he had stolen from his older sister.

Stuart plucked a cigarette and slid it between his lips.

Danny provided the flame with a Bic lighter.  “We were starting to think you chickened out.”

“Not me, man,” Stuart said.  “I ain’t no pussy.”

He took a deep drag and joined the others on the bench.

“Well,” Craig said, “here we are.”

“Just like old times, huh?” Ken said.

“Riding the fucking pine,” Stuart muttered.

Craig produced a black tube of eye glare and started marking his face.

“War paint,” he said.

The others sat tight, rigid and waiting, gripping their bats with white knuckles.

• • •

They pedaled with purpose, working their way through the suburban labyrinth, armed and painted and ready.

Danny said, “He better be home.”

“Don’t worry,” Craig said.  “Schoolteachers are off all summer.  Now that the season’s over, he probably spends his days working on that car.”

“That’s one bad ass Camaro,” Ken said.

“Fuck his Camaro,” Stuart said.  “And fuck him.”

They rounded the final turn and coasted down a hill.  Coach Cooley lived at the bottom of the descent.  They heard a radio playing in the garage.

Then they saw him.

The Camaro’s hood was up.  Their coach was standing in front of a wall filled with tools.  They rolled into his driveway, letting their bikes fall to the pavement in a haphazard heap.

Coach Cooley took one look at them and laughed.  Can of beer in hand, he emerged from the garage.

“I’m afraid Halloween is a few months away, boys.  Or maybe you all can’t get enough baseball.  Is that it?  Well, you’ll just have to wait until next April.  Until then, there’s always football, basketball, soccer.  Well, maybe not soccer.  That’s for commies and—”

They rushed him, taking out his legs first, shattering his kneecaps and shins.  He dropped, writhing and groaning in agony.  His beer rolled across the driveway until Stuart kicked it into the lawn. They formed a circle around him and went to work, pummeling their coach with unchecked savagery, five aluminum bats gleaming in the sun.


Portrait of a Hotel Photographer

Jeannette Fisher told a story when she sang. It wasn’t in the words of the song. It was in the way she tilted her head, stretched her neck, shifted her eyes. She welcomed you with a lift of her arms and dismissed you with a wave of her hand. I knew because I’d been photographing her in the Hawaiian Gardens Club at the Hotel How-Do-You-Do since the war ended. I’d seen the spell she cast over men.

Just before the midnight show, Jeannie glided into the Hawaiian Gardens Club in a red bird of paradise sarong dress with a halter neck. Her black hair was up, an orchid tucked behind her right ear. I watched her work the room. Laughing. Shaking hands. Making small talk. She stopped at a table not far from the stage and gave me the signal, a subtle glance that said she needed me to take a photograph.

From lunch to dinner, my primary job was arranging guests in the lobby for a souvenir photograph. Usually I took the picture in front of the gold-flecked tile mosaic of the swans. People liked the way the long necks came up behind them and appeared to peak over their shoulders. I made a buck commission off of each one of those; the hotel made three. The guests staying there could afford it. Sometimes I even got tips.

After hours, I did a little freelancing under Jeannie’s guidance.

I grabbed my camera and moved to the table where Jeannie laughed with a big wheel up from the city. Jimmy D’Agosta ran a solid business in the concrete industry. He supposedly poured the cement in the hotel’s expansion twenty years before Jeannie started singing there. Jimmy D gushed over her. He sat alone but the ermine wrap hanging on the back of the empty chair next to him said he wouldn’t be for long.

I got maybe a table away, raised my camera, when Jimmy D put up his hand.

“Sorry, pal, no pictures.”

A couple of his associates stood up at the bar. Jimmy D shook his head, waved his hand. The men sat down.

Jeannie slipped her arm around D’Agosta’s shoulders. “Come on, Jimmy, just one picture. For me. Before your wife gets back.” She gave him her precocious smile that wrinkled the bridge of her button nose. 

“My wife ain’t here.”

“Then who’s is this?” Jeannie stroked the ermine wrap.

“Not my wife’s.”

I caught the shift in Jeannie’s eyes. I knew what to do next.

The orchestra played a little introductory vamp. Jeannie stepped up on the stage. The crowd applauded.

Jimmy D’Agosta’s companion returned. He was right—she wasn’t his wife. She was barely old enough to vote.

Jeannie worried the line, held that first note so long time might have shattered in its wake.

Now…love…has found a way…to brighten our darkest day…’

Jeannie walked down to a table of four. Two couples. She leaned between the first pair and I snapped the picture.

My heart beats with yours…Sings our song behind closed doors…

She moved to the second couple. Sitting directly behind their table was the real subject of the picture.

Jimmy D’Agosta and the gal in the white ermine wrap.

Our plan always worked. Catch a mark out on the town without his wife, snap a picture of him and his guest, then sell him the negative but keep a print for future use. Sometimes it paid better than the lobby photo commission.

My flash lit up their faces just as Jimmy D tried to sneak a kiss. In the fading aftermath of the spent bulbs glow, Jimmy D’s men dragged me out the stage door.

Outside, one of the heavies smashed my camera while the other smashed my face. Jimmy D and the girl in the ermine wrap came out. I was pretty sure only one photograph from the night would wind up on the front page of the morning edition of the paper under the headline, ‘Hotel Photographer Found Dead’.

 Jimmy D’Agosta lifted my chin. “I told you no pictures, didn’t I? Maybe next time you’ll listen.”

“Maybe next time I will.” I think we both knew I was lying.


Splatterproof is Not a Challenge

Do you know how many times you need to bounce a man’s skull off a breezeblock wall before you split the epidermis, shatter the brain-pan and draw blood?

Six.

Or seven.

I lost count. Like self-control, numbers have never been my strong point.

I don’t have many marketable skills, but a talent for revenge is top of the fucking list…

 

Five Hours Earlier.

 

Stephen Mackey is a slum lord.

I did a double-take when he walked into the Dirty Lemon, because I had heard that he was dead. Not that it’s particularly hard to fake your own death in this town. If you know the right counterfeiter, you can get a passable death certificate for the price of a carton of cigarettes.

He wanted me to stake out one of his shitty rental properties. Said he had been hit by Mucky Mickey Molloy and his posse of teenage knife-boys six times already this month. They prowl dead-end streets, breaking in to parked cars – robbing power-tools, handbags, whatever the fuck is lying around. 

Accepting a job off a dead man is never going to end well – the only uncertainty is who it ends badly for…

• • •

I hear the familiar smash of brick on glass and roll out of my sleeping bag, scrambling towards the front door. I grab my claw-hammer from the telephone table and fling the door open.

He’s half my age – a skinny streak of piss – shell-suited and shell-shocked.

“Drop the bag, or I’ll break your fucking arms.”

We are under the queasy glow of a streetlight, so I know he can see the scarred forearms under my vest.

“Fuck off, old man.”

He turns and legs it towards a dented grey Vauxhall Cavalier.

I’m in no mood to run, so I hurl the hammer at his skull. It catches him with a grisly crunch and he hits the tarmac teeth-first.

I retrieve the tool and break his right elbow, before clambering onto the back of the car. I lash the hammer at the roof, pockmarking the rusted metalwork. Once, twice, three times.

One of the doors creaks open, but I’m too distracted to care.

I reassess my priorities as soon as the Taser snags in my gut. My fingers tremble as I try to wrench the tiny barbs free.

Then a second Taser blast hits my lower back – right next to my bastard spine.

Then I fall off the fucking car.

• • •

Swallow your pride. Swallow your own blood. Just keep gulping it down. It isn’t pleasant, but it all goes down the same fucking way…

The man with the lump hammer is a cadaverous ex-junkie called Garry Eastlake. I had heard rumours that Mucky Mickey used him for the grim jobs that nobody else was willing to do, but I never expected to find out first-hand. His petulant lips look discoloured, like he has been experimenting with stolen Superdrug lipsticks.

Mickey wheezes as he unfurls the plastic sheeting – his gut hanging over his soiled chinos like a bag of medical waste.

He looks at me sadly – I’m tethered to an old kitchen chair with a length of rope.

“I hope it was worth it, son?”

I grunt. It never is.

The two men step into disposable white coveralls – Mickey struggling to zip the suit up past his stomach.

“Splatterproof, son. I buy them in bulk from a guy at Newton Abbot market.”

I could scream, but it wouldn’t do me any good. I’m deep in the guts of Paignton – some clumsily excavated basement or other.

“Any last requests?”

I shake my head.

“Not that it would do you any fucking good!”

They laugh like drains – their guttural laughter mingling in the gloom.

I topple my chair sideways – hoping it’ll smash, but it remains intact, and all I do is trap my left arm.

Still laughing, they try to haul me off the floor.

I sweep Mucky Mickey’s legs away and he hits the concrete like a sack of shit.

Eastlake wrenches me across the sheeting towards him and his lump hammer.

The rope goes slack as it starts to unfurl, and I feel myself smile for the first time today.

I’m back in the fucking game.


The Errand

Secure the package. Take a road trip. Make the delivery. Get paid. It should have been easy. I’m alone, standing in the rain. The pistol I’m clenching feels like a brick as I struggle to keep my balance. I feel a sharp pain in my side as the gunshot wound oozes through my bandages. My coat is stained red. Not very professional. They should all be here with me, but it’s always been like this. I feel the sting of frustration sweep through my mind as I limp towards the front door of the house. Maybe it’s because I keep living while everyone else is dying. Maybe I’m just too old for this. Deliver the package. Get paid. Start over. It should have been easy. What a fool I’ve become. 

Mickey opens the front door before I get a chance to knock. He motions for me to come in. I can see the smug look on his face as I limp past him, towards the office where the rest of the assholes are waiting for me. I feel Mickey’s hand grab my shoulder. I turn around. 

“You packin’?”

I pull out my pistol I’d stashed before approaching the front door and hand it to him. He stands there, waiting and staring.

“That’s it,” I mutter to him.

He motions for me to raise my arms and gives me a half-assed frisk. I can smell the bourbon on his breath before he finally leads me into the office. Jack is sitting at a table. Benny and Sean are pouring themselves another drink. They’ve obviously been celebrating my return. 

As I walk in and approach the desk, Jack motions for me to stop. 

“Where’s the rest of you?” 

I hesitate. I straighten my coat. Jack notices the bloodstain. 

“I’m all that’s left.” 

“Shame,” he remarks with a smile. “I didn’t expect the other two dipshits to make it, but Stanley was a good one. Guess you should have planned better.” 

I grit my teeth. “It was your plan. You knew exactly how this would turn out.” 

Jack laughs. His yellow teeth beam at me as he chugs his whiskey on the rocks. 

“Guess I didn’t plan enough then, since you’re still here.” 

“I guess so,” I spit out. I grab my side. The pain is mind-numbing, but I try to maintain my composure. Jack stands up. 

“So, you have the package then?” He asks. 

“In the trunk of the car,” I tell him. Jack shakes his head in surprise…or maybe it’s disgust. 

“You’re in a bad way, Tommy-Boy. I think you already know there’s no dough here for you. But I’m a generous man. Leave the car here. Mickey will keep your gun. The nearest hospital is fifty miles away. The police know your face. You’ll never make it. Go find a rock to crawl under. You’ll bleed out before the night is over. For what it’s worth…you did a good job, Tommy. Too good. Not get out or eat another bullet. The Don will be here in an hour. I’ll sell him the package as planned. Your debt is paid. You get to die in peace.”

Blood trickles down my leg and starts to pool at my feet. Jack takes notice and sighs with frustration. I hear a gun cocking under his desk. I nod my head, turn around and limp out of the office, tossing the car keys over my shoulder. Mickey glares at me as I step outside into the rain. The door slams shut behind me. I make my way to the car, open the door and pop the trunk.

Her muffled cries echo into the night as I shamble towards her. I look down at the Don’s daughter. Her wrists are bleeding from the handcuffs and the outline of her closed lips can be seen through the layers of duct tape covering her mouth. She’s sobbing. I laugh to myself as I imagine the look on her father’s face when Jack tries to sell him some more “firepower.” I slam the trunk shut. I start walking. I walk for what seems like an eternity. Deliver the package. It should have been easy. It wasn’t easy.


Release: The Furious Way

Shotgun Honey is please announce the release of The Furious Way by Aaron Philip Clark. This marks the 3rd release by Clark, previously publishing The Science of Paul and A Healthy Fear of Man.

About The Furious Way

Lucy Ramos is out for blood—she needs to kill a man, but she has no clue how. Lucy calls on the help of aged hit-man, Tito Garza—also known as El Perro of Pedro. Garza’s signature method of killing? Using dogs to maul his targets to death. Now, in his golden years, Garza lives a mundane life in San Pedro, a port town south of downtown Los Angeles. With a backpack full of cash, Lucy persuades Garza to help her murder her mother’s killer, Assistant District Attorney Victor Soto. Together, the forgotten hit-man hungry for a comeback and the girl whose life was shattered as a child set out to kill the man responsible.

But killing Victor Soto may prove to be an impossible task. The newly elected Assistant District Attorney’s wealth and political clout keep him well-insulated. Lucy and Garza’s plan is further complicated when Lucy begins to develop feelings for Victor Soto’s son, Martin. With their romance threatening to derail the mission, Lucy fights to keep Martin out of Garza’s cross-hairs when his violent urges become more unpredictable.

Will Lucy’s feelings for Martin jeopardize everything she’s worked for? Will Garza’s unchecked rage cause innocent people to die? Lucy Ramos and Tito Garza are furious, deadly, and driven by vengeance—but vengeance comes at a price.

About Aaron Philip Clark

AARON PHILIP CLARK is a novelist and screenwriter from Los Angeles, CA. His work has been praised by James Sallis, Gar Anthony Haywood, Gary Phillips, Eric Beetner, and Roger Smith. In addition to his writing career, he has worked in the film industry and law enforcement. Clark currently teaches English and writing courses at a university in Southern California. To learn more about him, please visit AaronPhilipClark.com.

“T.S. Eliot referred to it as tradition and individual talent, the manner in which new work at once honors, builds upon, and questions what has come before. Chester Himes, Richard Wright, James Baldwin—Aaron Philip Clark has been paying attention.”

—James Sallis, author of Cypress Grove and Chester Himes: A Life

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9 Questions with
Gary Phillips

Son of a mechanic and a librarian, weaned on too many comic books, Hammett, reruns of the original Twilight Zone, and experiences as a community organizer and delivering dog cages, Gary Phillips has published various crime fictions and toiled in TV. He is the past president of the SoCal chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, and the anthology he edited, the Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir, won an Anthony.

How did The Movie Makers (Down and Out Books, April 2019) come about?

I’ve done several books with Down & Out, including a collection of my short stories, and have gotten to know several of their writers. Frank Zafiro is one of them, though oddly we’ve never met in person. At any rate, my name was put in the hat when he came up with this series, A Grifter’s Song, a series of novellas, or maybe that’s novellettes, about Sam and Rachel, a couple who are life-long con artists. Each installment, or episode as they’re calling them, finds the pair working another con in another city while trying to stay one step ahead of the mobster out for their heads.

In the Movie Makers, the two have come to where dreams are made and crushed, Hollywood, baby. Rachel is posing as an indie producer backed by Silicone Valley money and Sam a life coach as they set up their mark. It’s al going according to plan until it does. I like to think of it as Harold Robbins meets Jim Thompson.

And in February, The Be-Bop Barbarians: A Graphic Novel, was published. Tell me about that.

The Be-Bop Barbarians was a labor of love as they say. It’s a graphic novel set in the late 1950s New York; jazz, the Red Scare, and the burgeoning Civil Rights movement the backdrop. The main characters are three cartoonist friends inspired by real life black comics pioneers including Jackie Ormes (who is in the Hall of Fame for comics), the first black women to write and draw her own comic strip. In this version she’s called Stef Rawls and she’s buddies with the matinee handsome Cliff Murphy, who his friends know he passes for white detailing the adventures of the Blonde Phantom in comic books, and Ollie Jefferson, a Korean War vet who does hard-edged political cartoons for the lefty newspaper, The Daily Struggle. As these things happen, events conspire in their lives to bring them together and drive them apart. The book was wonderfully illustrated by Dale Berry and lavishly colored by James Brown.

As if that weren’t enough, The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen stories of conspiracy noir (Three Rooms Press, 2017), what was its genesis?

Funny enough, when I pitched the Obama Inheritance to Kat and Peter of Three Rooms Press, it was just as the presidential campaign was heating up, but like a lot of folks, we figured the Orange One couldn’t win by a country mile. I figured the anthology would be this quant nostalgia piece, stories riffing on the outlandish right-wing nutjob notions that had been floated about Obama. Who knew the wildly entertaining tales in it from subterranean lizard people, the First Lady leading a clandestine group of vigilante women in Washington after dark to Bo, the family dog, leading the resistance, could barely keep up with the daily lunacy we find ourselves in currently.

How is it you’re so prolific?

Once the ideas bubble up, I have to do something with them or they gnaw at me. If nothing else, I find writing is good therapy.

Why is crime fiction so appealing?

I think because you can present characters who run the gamut in terms of their psychological makeup. They may have limits or they may be erasing them as you put them through the paces. They may be cons like Sam and Rachel, amoral, bent, damaged, or the ordinary soccer mom, but that one incident, that one time she decides to take a step out of line, we’re vicariously fascinated to see where this journey will take her.

What drew you to crime fiction?

How could I not be drawn to it growing up in South Central when I did? Those were the days you’d hear about some brother getting jacked by the cops out of the infamous 77th Street Division. Add all those original Twilight Zone reruns I zealously watched and then getting a collection of Poe’s stories at nine, the course was set.  

Do you think crime fiction is more compelling now that our political climate is often fictional?

Great observation. Hillary Clinton is running a child sex ring in the back of a pizza parlor; the president tweets stuff like, “Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate. He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo…” so you know, case closed; Obama hid the death panels; Ivanka Trump was granted 13 trademarks in three months from China; Attorney General Barr plans to investigate spying on the Trump campaign without a shred of evidence to support this claim and on and on. For sure crime fiction is more compelling now because at least in crime fiction there’s some sort of resolution and the antihero has a few good qualities.

What do you want to talk about that you never get to, in interviews?

Why doesn’t my poker playing ever improve?