Certificate of Authenticity

When she saw the Welcome to Umbridge Enterprises sign, painted in a trendy whitewashed font on a plank sign on the side of the two lane, Annabelle whipped the rented Grand Cherokee across a small sea shell parking area in danger of being overgrown by saw grass, parked between a faded used-to-be-red Ram pickup and a new, black Mercedes SUV. She put her right hand in the square red leather shoulder bag, took the safety off her Glock, stepped out into the bright Florida sunshine.

She started across the fifty-foot arched wooden bridge paved with asphalt shingles that led to an unpainted, faded cedar shake façade manufactured home surrounded by a covered veranda that sported a random collection of patio and beach furniture and a pair of rusty propane grills. The waist high ballustrade was draped with fake fish nets, adorned with faded plastic starfish and seahorses. The whole mess sat on pilings over the St. Johns River narrows and tied to a floating dock behind it was her missing white Swamp Vue Cabrio.

***

Preston Umbridge clicked the remote, brought up the four-panel screen of security cameras on the wall mounted TV. “Either of you two pig fuckers order up a jigaboo hooker?”

“What the fuck, Boss? Fella was about to nail him a big ass gator an – whoa shit,” the dirty wife beater and camo cargos clad Pillsbury dough boy on the couch sat up. “Who the hell is that?”

“No shit ‘whoa shit’ Wally. Fuckin’ dumb ass.” The tall bony guy pulled on his waders, pointed at the screen. “That’s the nigger woman we done stole the boat from, that’s who.”

Umbridge dropped the remote on his desk. “You’re telling me you two idiots was so obvious stealin’ that boat a woman could find it? Shit.” He ran his hands over his hair and beard, wiped his lips with his thumb and forefinger. “Don’t just stand there, Steep, let her in ‘fore she breaks the goddam door down.”

Annabelle, black leggings and long tailed black silk blouse, matching red heels, earrings and purse stepped into the man cave of Umbridge Enterprises. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. Annabelle Monette. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

Umbridge stood behind his desk, undisguised snicker in his voice. “Preston Umbridge, may-am.” He bowed. “To my right is Mr. Walrus. My associate Mr. Steeple let you in. Without an appointment.”

“I make my own appointments. Walrus I understand. Too much mustache, belly and ugly. Steeple makes no sense to me.” She studied the man walking back toward his boss. “Beanpole, maybe.”

“Now, now. Legend says Steep’s sainted Momma christened him with it just before she died, lookin’ out the hospital window at the First United Methodist Church of Mun-row bell tower.”

“I had an Ontie named Iris and she told the same story about flowers in her momma’s garden. We could go on about the Indian named Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud but let’s not waste each other’s time, gentlemen. I have come for my boat.”

“I’m sure we don’t have ‘your’ boat.” Umbridge tugged his longish manicured beard, puffed up. “And if we did, I doubt we’d return it. Things that end up here are like gifts. Or tithe offerings. Ain’t that right boys?”

“It’s the white Swamp Vue Cabrio tied off next to two patent and intellectual property theft counterfeits. Both to be confiscated and destroyed as contraband. The Swamp Vue is not now, nor was it ever, a gift.”

“The white one?” Umbridge put a point on ‘white.’ “That’s different. Lessee, Cabrio, Cabrio…I recall having a Bill of Sale for that somewhere.” He made a show of opening and closing drawers.

“Never you mind looking for it. I have an equally legitimate certificate of authenticity for the lock of our Lord and Saviour’s hair my Ontie Delores keeps in a Café Du Monde coffee tin and prays to five times a day.”

“Ain’t nothin’ any of us can do about our families, is there?” He slammed  the drawer he had open. “I also seem to recall Larson makes theirselves a Cabrio. Whattaya think it’s worth to them to find out about yours?”

“I’ve spoken to them and all the lawyers are satisfied that as I do not manufacture mid-cabin drug-running speed boats there is no conflict. That’s how it is when people cooperate. Had you come to me with a franchise manufacturing offer we might have bypassed all this unpleasantness. I am not a fool, Mr. Umbridge. After I talked to your local people, showed them the manufacturing paperwork, patent applications, all more than most around here could read in a lifetime I concluded that I needed to look elsewhere for assistance in recovering my property. And to come see for myself what a genuine corrupt, low life thief and liar Floor-ida bad man looked like.”

Walrus flicked open a three-inch lock back pocket knife, cleaned his index fingernail with it. “We don’t cotton to name callin’, now. Smokes and O-yays particular doin’ that shit ain’t seen much of after.”

“Where I came up in Detroit my momma’s paperboy was more dangerous, and considerably smarter than all three of you put together. I’m not here to get in a pissing contest with some Little Dick-ey Mafia fiefdom, I’m here for my boat and to bring you the gospel according to Annabelle Monette.”

Umbridge held out an arm to stop Walrus. “Which would be?”

“Not everyone is scared of you Mr. Umbridge. Least of all me. Come hell or high water, with or without your blessing, I will sell boats in central Florida.”

Walrus took a step. Without looking Annabelle pointed her non-purse hand at the television. “While we’ve been having our little chat, those gentlemen arrived to pick up my boat and destroy your copies.”

“What the hell?” Umbridge pulled a revolver from his desk drawer. “You two, what the fuck do I pay you for? Go stop those mother –”

“I wouldn’t. Those are Federal Marshalls. From Miami. Looking for you to give them a reason to level this place once I am safely out the door.”

“She’s fuckin’ lyin’.” Walrus took another step Anabelle’s way and one of the counterfeit Swamp Vues below went ka-whoooom. The explosion sent a geyser of water and debris up past the sliding patio doors at the back of the office, rained down on the roof.

Steeple slid the patio door open, leaned out over the veranda rail far enough to see the brown-water gun boat, look down the barrels of its 50-caliber machine guns. “She ain’t lyin’, Wally.” He glanced down further, counted at least eight red laser-sight dots on his chest, and froze. “No fuckin’ shit she ain’t lyin’.”

“And wired, too. Goddammit.” Umbridge grabbed Steep by the back of his fishing vest. “Git back in here ‘fore you piss yoursef.” He turned a red raged face at Annabelle. “We’ll continue this discussion, Annabelle Mo-nay. Soon.”

“My door is always open, gentlemen. If you come, wear shirts with sleeves. I only need to see three cheap, dirty white men in cheap, dirty wife beaters one time to know it’s not an experience I choose to repeat.”

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Grab My Purse

It was nice to have Bobby and Annabelle back, thou, trapped in a warehouse fire by a ruthless Dixie Mafia type who doesn’t want Swamp Vue to sell enclosed swamp cruisers in the Everglades. If you read this from book two you’ll know what happens. Without further ado, the edited version –

The sixty-foot-long string of fire along back wall of SwampVue’s old galvanized odds and ends warehouse didn’t go up with the special effects wooomph Bobby thought it should have. It wasn’t all that big yet, either, just a trickle of fire across the bottom.

“Those two sonsabitches.” Annabelle pulled a Glock 26 from her purse, set it on one of the overturned buckets they’d been using for chairs.  She stepped into a black fire-retardant mechanics jumpsuit she’d found a box full of them in the warehouse, zipped it, pocketed the Glock.

“You figure they knew we were in here?” Bobby zipped into his own jumpsuit.

“The fire was supposed to be a warning, Bobby. You and me being here is gravy.”

“Maybe we don’t need to sell boats in Florida. Maybe we should talk –”

“Selling boats in Florida is a distant second to ‘maybe’ we should think about how to get out of here before we go well done. That fireline sayin’ to you ‘c’mon out y’all, let’s all have us a lemonade and a chat?’” She scanned the warehouse. Buckets of Bobby’s wrong kind of paint, pallets of Bobby’s pre-Annabelle reclamation material runs from the Katrina salvage yard. Senior Eldridge’s Swamp Vue customized tractor. Big, rusty industrial tools and conveyor runners stripped from the old machine shop that was now Swamp Vue Building A. She looked up at the sprinkler heads doing nothing, knew the Matchstick Men had shut off the water. “Mr. Preston fucking Umbridge and crew have gone from being pains in our asses to dangerous. Where’s my idea boy?”

Bobby had  been walking the warehouse while they talked, came back and yanked the canvas sailcloth off his dead in the water project car that had been rolled into this warehouse with all his other unfinished projects.

“What the hell is that?”

“Half a plan? It was a Ford GT, before Katrina. When I got it most of the aluminum was gone. I’d thought about turning it into a marketing car, like the beer companies have? Half GT on the front and over the engine in back I wanted a small, high gloss wooden pickup bed. Unless we could do the front end like a baby ’57 Fleetside maybe. You know –”

“Bobby, goddammit, brevity. Does it run?” She waited, eyed the fire climbing the back wall, sweat glistening on her forehead.

“Hell yeah it runs.”

“And the half a plan?”

“We could drive it out, or, or…”

“Bobby, it’s a NASCAR grade go kart. Walk, or drive out in that thing, front or back, they’ll pick us off.” She thought for a minute. “Start it. Point it at the front, tie the wheel down.” She could feel Bobby hesitate. “Bobby? Listen up, baby. If this works? I’ll put a four-man team on the damn thing until it’s right. Set it up, start it.” She hit him with the scare a voodoo priest eyes, walked to a pallet of acetone cans and picked up two in each hand, took them to the back wall. When she heard the GT go-kart roar to life she stacked the cans in the flames, backed away in hurry. She pulled the pistol, held it two handed, looked over her shoulder at Bobby and raised her chin.

Bobby jammed a piece of re-bar between the accelerator pedal and the seat on the GT, flipped the transmission paddle to D, Annabelle shot the bottom can of acetone. The GT screamed through the front wall at the same time the acetone cans blew a hole in the back. She grabbed Bobby, pulled him down behind a pallet of junk aluminum while front and back the pop…pop pop and brrrrappp of gun fire punched holes in the galvanized tin that turned the moonlit warehouse into a redneck planetarium.

The shooting stopped, a couple of long minutes passed, Bobby and Annabelle drenched with sweat, each watching the black holes in the warehouse. Someone out back hollered “Anybody still alive in there won’t be fer long.”

***

Leading with an AR-16 the one called Walrus stepped through the acetone hole, Bobby hit him in the face with a shovel. Annabel grabbed the gun before he hit the ground, frisked the prone Walrus and came up with two more clips.

“Jesus.” Bobby looked down at Walrus and back to Annabelle and the rifle. “You know how to use that, too, huh?”

“Afghanistan. By way of Detroit. Help me.” They hog tied Walrus in an upward arch, ankles and wrists together, stuffed a rag in his mouth when he came around enough to make noise. Annabelle handed Bobby the Glock. “You know how to use one of these?”

“Since I was six. We’d go trollin’, Daddy’d get drunk and put me on gator –”

“Bobby? Jesus, boy. Count to thirty, empty that pistol through the front. Then drag his sorry ass up there and wait for me.”

“What if they see you?”

“You have to be kidding me.” Annabelle held out her arms, assault rifle in hand. Black woman, black overalls, night.

“Right.”

Bobby counted, wiped his sweaty hands on his jumpsuit, emptied the clip through the hole his GT had made. There was a round of pop pop…pop pop pop that punched a few more holes in the front of the warehouse, a man’s voice called out for Walrus. There was another pop, louder, closer.

“Get on outta there, Bobby,” Annabelle, her voice raised. “Grab my purse on your way to the water valve.”

***

Bobby stopped his two-wheel dolly next to Annabelle’s tumped sideways wheel barrow, stood it up and Walrus, screaming behind the rag in his mouth fell on the Swamp Vue dock next to his partner.

“You put gas in the tow skiff?”

“Yes ma’am.” Bobby nodded to the far side of the dock. “That red Bandit four-seater set up for water test is a lot faster.”

“I’m not looking for speed. I think a nice, slow moonlight ride under the Spanish Moss might give these gentlemen a chance to reflect on the errors of their ways.” She looked at the two Matchstick Men, trussed up like Houdinis in a mixture of chain, rope and wire. “Besides, they’re bleeding and the skinny one vomited himself over the hole I put in his shoulder.” The burning warehouse reflected in her eyes. “And I’ll be godammed if these boys’ll ruin any more Swamp Vue inventory.”

Bobby helped her roll Walrus and Steeple unceremoniously from the dock into the green, slimy bottom of the tow skiff, both men wild eyed and squirming, still trying to holler through their gags. Bobby untied the skiff, watched Annabelle kick the Merc outboard up and disappear into the swamp.

***

Sheriff Wylie pulled up by the dock, joined the flashing light show of Terrebonne Parish emergency vehicles surrounding Swamp Vue’s back warehouse. He climbed out of his cruiser, met with a fireman who talked for a minute before he went back to his truck.

“I declare, Bobby B,” Wylie pulled his Smokey the Bear hat, wiped his forehead. “Seems ain’t no kinda shit can be got up to foreign to anywhere you’re at, boy.” He reset the hat, tweaked it. “Where’s Ms. Annabelle Mo-nay?”

“She, uh,” Bobby felt the weight of the canvas bag in his hand, heard Annabelle asking him if gators’d eat anything, how she’d heard a story about somebody cutting a gator open and finding a pocketwatch. “She took the tow skiff out. To clear her head. All the chemicals…”

“That right? Big city lady knows her way around the bayou now, does she?”

“GPS.”

“Mmm.” Wylie walked to the warehouse, frowned at the puddles under his shiny boots, wrinkled his nose at the smell of smoldering paint, burnt rubber. They both watched the firefighters rolling hose for a few. “Late start on the sprinklers, huh?”

“Valve stuck.”

“You don’t say. Head honcho Fire fella told me this mighta been arson.” He poked a stubby finger through one of the bullet holes. “Y’all got any problems I need to know about?”

“No sir.”

“The bag?”

“This? Oh, uh, just some, uh, lost and found.”

“Sure ‘nuff?” Wylie shined his high-power penlight into the bag. “Lessee now. Coupla phones. Coupla belts with big fancy buckles like them two slicks outta Florida was wearin’. The ones been hangin’ to the 76 truck stop talkin’ up the waitresses and hookers how they’re big shot Matchstick Men? Two wallets. A watch, an en-graved pocket knife,” he turned it over under the penlight, “to Walrus from LuLu. Makes you wonder about people, don’t it? A three-inch wood handled lock-back gizzard splitter. A baby Colt semi, looks like a 380. Car keys on a key ring fulla those grocery store cards. And you got nothin’ to tell me?” He shined the light on a cluster of bullet holes and moved it to Bobby’s face. “No problems? You sure?”

“Yes sir, I’m sure.” Bobby pointed to his GT, a 427 engine on a bent aluminum frame embedded in a giant old cypress. “We’re gonna fix that GT up right, put the logo on it, haul it to boat shows. And Ms. Monet thinks after tonight Swamp Vue’ll start selling more boats in Florida.”

“No doubt.” Wylie dropped the wallet he’d opened and gone through back in the bag. “Fact is I’d bet on it.” He walked back to his cruiser, tossed his hat on the passenger seat, leaned on his open door. “You be sure to give Ms. Mo-nay my regards.” He put a foot in the cruiser, stopped his descent. “Y’know, Bobby, she might give me a holler sometime, she’s of a mind. Tell her lunch is on me.”

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #7

Personal Accountability and THG III

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Chungwipff makes a good point about using WordPress for personal accountability in the comments of Adieu For Now.  A point I had mislaid somewhere in the Social Media wasteland. Create something. Put it up. Own it. Do it again. Forget what anyone else is doing, or not doing, or how what you do is received. Give it your best shot, be accountable to yourself. Get out of your own way, write your story. Your way. My Mantra had gone walkabout. Thank you, Chungwipff.

I bailed on my personal accountability based on what I perceived as a landscape largely without a threshold knob for the noise floor. No gate/expander, wide open. Foolishness, vagaries, rampant narcissism. Which are none of my damn business. I control the threshold of my personal noise gate. I hereby revoke my tantrum and resultant self-exile. I do not revoke my opinion(s) on the root cause. This started as a methodology for personal creative accountability, and so it continues. Nothing else matters.

I have been guilty of accusing others of things I once tried. Looking for the equation, the silver bullet that would make me a “writer.” I once took a Tony Hillerman novel apart. Because they read like glass and drop you right into the environment without travelogue. How much scene vs. dialogue vs. narration vs. internal dialogue. Seriously. I bark at people now because it was a waste of time. Timing of events for formula writing is important. The rest is all storytelling. I was fortunate enough that my father was friends with Tony’s father. He was older than my dad. My dad, like me, hung around places he wanted to be with his hobby. I turned my hanging into a career. My dad made side money. As a photographer and short story writer. Saturdays we’d go downtown and hang out at Hillerman’s Photography. When he had a large job, like team pictures, my dad would borrow the Hillerman drum dryer for his prints. Tony the author, a man who taught English in missionary schools for Native Americans and in Mexico, said there was no secret. He sat down in a room with his characters and an idea for a story, and off they went. He committed little hash to the page, and then he came back with wax on – wax off. He wrote a story, did the work. No magic. Except, I think, for listening to his own stories.

There is no Silver Bullet. There are formulas. For arcs, for story driving events. But there is no substitute for a well drawn yarn. What sets the really good like Hillerman and Vonnegut and Steinbeck and Hiassen and King, David Foster Wallace, and true genius like Virginia Wolff apart is their stories. And their style. Perhaps there are only X number of conflicts and plots. But stories? Stories are everything, and they deserve our best shot. Stories and their telling deserve our respect because they are a gift. Not everyone has the mindset to escape, to dream, to see the mirage that is an untold story. Respect your stories. Your loss if you don’t. All I’m sayin’.

THG III

Starting in a day or two, I will begin publishing The Hot Girl III – Cambridge. It is draft mode. I cranked it out and it has languished on my hard drive for three years. Once upon a time there was an editor who knew an editor who thought it was a good idea. Both of them are dead. Must have been a killer idea.

Unless you beta read The Hot Girl, you don’t know these people, and this is the only synopsis/player scorecard you’ll see –

The Hot Girl is a social commentary fairy tale. Feminism, gender role confusion and rock n roll from the late Seventies through the mid-Eigthies. A bit like the taming of the shrew, who doesn’t need taming along with self-discovery, the perception of abuse, coming of age, true love and destiny all wrapped in fairy tale.

For starters, two star crossed kids, like any good fairy tale. Angry ex cheerleader (Deanna) looking for a cause and Rock n Roll Prince Charming (Jackson), looking for a Princess. Deanna hears someone describe Jackson’s mother, before she knows the woman is his mother, as “An elegant hell in high heels.” And sets out to discover feminism, because elegant hell in high heels sounds like the best gig since head cheerleader turned out to be a bust. But she’s at a superficial level. Until Jackson introduces her to a pair of rich, over educated lesbian feminist fairy godmothers, Amanda and Alix Morisé, who can be found here. The Morisé’s own a huge real estate development company inherited from Amanda’s father. They run their empire from the 17th floor of an office building in middle America. 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower. And more than anything, they want women’s issues front and center, and they need a cheerleader. No one better qualified than an a very attractive, angry high school ex-cheerleader and overachiever with man issues, a sterling academic record and a temper. How Amanda meets Jackson in The Hot Girl I is an exercise in feminism kicking sexism’s ass, and listening to a woman. Deanna wants to know a real feminist, and Jackson, reluctantly, introduces them.

Think of a classic like Captain Blood. I wanted to write that, in different context, only I always wanted to know what the girl was up to while Errol Flynn was off pirating. I asked some women and they told me they didn’t know, but they’d be damned if she sat in her room reading poetry, sniffing roses and pining away while the non Pirate Prince Charmings of the world plied her with party invitations and gifts and scams and offers of wedding rings.

Some of THG is already up here, as short story. Here they will be presented in context. If you meet someone you don’t know, don’t worry, they won’t bite. Just climb in and take the ride.

THG III begins several years into Jackson and Deanna’s relationship and who she has become with his help. She is tired, again, of being told what to do. Tired of her mistakes in personal judgement dulling the sheen of her brilliant performances on the academic debate circuit where she takes feminism and throws it straight into the face of patriarchal strongholds and comes out with medals for both skill and humanitarianism. I will drop us all into what I call the “between narrative.” Between the bliss of young love and the glow of success, her mentor’s frustrations, and her need to run. Stay tuned.

Personal Accountability – Defined

I read an interview with Jeff Beck. He was asked why it takes a while between records.

“I’m the sort of bloke that’s like a ton of bricks, you know? I won’t be moved until I hear something that really sends me up in the air, then I’ll be around pestering everybody, playing for them. I can’t see the point in putting out an album, kidding yourself that it’s great, if you don’t believe it. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing—and then you can take all the crummy reports that are going to come, and you can say, ‘Well, sod you, I like it.’ And that’s the main thing.”

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #6

“-LY” Words and Arn

“-ly” words. Adverbs. Descriptive tags. I avoid them like the plague. I stress over not using them. Yet, as the re-blog from the other day shows (blatantly), I am a sucker for them when they paint the proper picture.

I have been editing. For me that involves checking context, this follows that, clear dialogue attributions. And whacking things I wrote two (or three) times (often back to back in different ways) getting to what comes next. (Are you listening, George F?) But – most of my editing involves adding more than subtracting. To me? People tell stories, so I have dialogue. And I set the scene (admittedly on a word budget). “What else?” is a pervasive question when I’m doing that sort of editing. Because I’m unsure. Too little is too much for me most of the time.

This morning I read the first chapter of an older Robert Parker’s Spencer. From his office window Spencer watched a client get in her chauffeur driven Bentley through a gray, misty day. It “gleamed wetly” as it pulled away. There has to be a better way to describe that than turning wet into an ly word. Gleamed wetly. Really? That, and “said” forty times on a page where attribution was clear. And I idolized this guy. I have also noticed that there are a lot of expression tags. She said, disconsolately. She said, spritely. Once it starts up that stuff is like a rash you can’t rid of. But it is like sheetrock mud. It fills in the cracks. And nobody has to work for your story as it stops requiring any imaginative support on the reader’s part. To me it also puts you slightly out of the scene because instead of being in the middle of it, you are being directed. Subliminal, but still…

I caught myself writing  – “he found a strange comfort in the discordant sounds of a Long Beach Friday night as they mingled in distant, mellow cacophony before they found his open window.” That is some flowery shit for me. Do I have to write it? I don’t know. But it needed something besides “he fell in the bed with his window open.” And if you’d read up to that point you’d know that he has an infamous dive bar in the parking lot twenty feet behind and fifteen feet below his second-floor window, just off Ocean Blvd in Long Beach. I could fluff it up with drunks and dealers and low-riders with glasspacks and the ocean, but there has to be a cut-off point for the travelogue writing. And the easiest way is to avoid it altogether. You tell me.

I ass-u-me in dialogue that a lot of emotion is clear in the exchanges if the attribution is clear. I would write this –

Amanda Morisé’s office, Wednesday afternoon, November 1st, 1978

Amanda was standing, stretched across her big, clear desk doing something with a marker to an unrolled blue print, didn’t bother to look up.

“Jailbait, there is some viable reason for you to be in my office during business hours without Deanna?”

“Yeah. She’s done, Amanda. It’s over. All of this is over, I can feel it. The last one was the last one, if you’re picking that up.”

“You are speaking in riddles and I’m busy. Be clear, dear. Or be gone.”

Nowhere in there do I see the need for “she said, slightly annoyed.” Because she isn’t slightly annoyed, she’s curious. “She said, curiously.” Isn’t that redundant? Said, a ? and curiously? Which is one of my pet peeves in the “said” culture. It was a f*cking question, not a statement. I see it all the time “Are you okay?” she said. She asked, dammit. Okay?

Nor do I see the need for “jailbait” to clap his thighs in frustration or opt in on his demeanor. He will probably drop into her guest chair in a moment and we’ll get there. Nowhere do I see the need for tags.  Isn’t the resignation in his word choices and the disruptive but not entirely unwelcome appearance of this person obvious? Even if you didn’t have two books worth of backstory on their relationship? I can see some stilted dialogue from someone requiring the appearance of an “ly” if it was needed to set the tone. But you tell me. Is it? If it is, I can do that. But…

Yes, there are times and scenes and moods that you want to set with words, that we need to set with words. The thing about editing is that it makes me wonder if there aren’t hundreds of thousands of my words that are total rubbish because I’m allergic to tags. But not altogether if they help –

It was rainy and cold the first Friday of December. The drive had been dry in his car, but the non-working heater had left it cold. Jackson stood under the heater by the hostess stand for a minute, his jacket dripping.

“May I help you, sir? Are you expecting someone?” The hostess was a girl about his age wearing real lipstick, not lip gloss, and had her snotty on.

“She’s here someplace. So tall,” he held out his hand at about five-four. “Long, blondish brown hair?” He wanted to describe her figure, just to piss snotty off, checked it. “Can I go look?” He didn’t wait for an answer. After a summer of snotty lipstick girls he’d figured out that they all thought they ran the place when they were really no more than attractive speed bumps between the door and a table.

There. Attitude for everyone involved, no work for anyone.

Out of that quagmire of self-pity and curiosity into  – Dialect

Rule of thumb is “don’t.” I say as needed. I am the world’s worst for gonna and wanna and contractions. I am from the south. I’ve read a lot of stilted Indie (and mainstream) dialogue that would have benefitted from a little casualizing. People’s voices change, their delivery and inflection changes, with emotion. Aw, man. I don’t wanna go to the…Or. Look. I am not going to the…Either one of those, finished could have found their own LY tag. But contextually I don’t think they need me to direct you to how they’re feeling. That wasn’t this discussion. Apologies.

JD MacDonald slipped into some vernacular in a book and it was drawn his way and I had to go back and read it three times to get it. He didn’t go full on phonetics, he wrote new words wrapped in backwards apostrophes. Jeez. Elmore Leonard says not to load up your pages with apostrophes. I disagree with both of them. Write it so whoever is reading it gets the gist without struggling for it. I have a character from coastal Louisiana headed for New Or- lee-uns, as people from elsewhere might say. In narrative I would say he’s headed for New Orleans. If in dialogue, I’d have him say – “Headed for Nawlins, Junior. You comin’?” Because no redneck gets in his truck and says – “I am going to New Orleans, Junior. Would you like to come along with me?” No more than an ex-cop and an ex-boxer would say, under heavy gunfire ripping through their cabin, “Well, what shall we do?” I read that one. Honest to God. Here’s a funny story about dialect and I’ll get off my soapbox.

I did a handful of clinics with Larry Londin. He was the drummer for Motown during the Supremes era. There are other stories of his and Lamont Dozier’s that are priceless, but I’ll put on the limiter. When Larry was done with Motown he moved to Nashville as a session drummer. On his first session he set up, rehearsed some, they ran down the tune. When it was over, through the headphone talkback came “Hey you, new drummer boy. Don’t use no arn.” Larry thought WTF? Arn? He nodded, they ran the tune down again. Halfway through the tape stops. “Don’t use no arn this time,” the engineer said, edgily (!). Larry is still trying to figure out what arn is and they get the count-in. Not even to the first chorus and the tape stops. The engineer slams his chair back, stomps out into the studio. “Godammit, I said don’t use no arn,” and he proceeds to take Larry’s cymbals off their stands.

Iron. (Cymbals are copper based alloys). Euphemistically, and in a very narrow subcultural vernacular, they were a drummer’s “iron.”

When it gets to be a reach I’d have that redneck in a truck say “Gawldarn it, Junior, we got us flat tire.” Because “flat tar” would be a double take a lot of places. Particularly if the damn thing got hot and caught far. I say vernacular and dialect and even subcultural slang, in small doses, and apostrophes wherever you want, are okay. If they are true to your character’s voices. But watch your Arn.

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #5

This isn’t creative, but it’s something to share, which makes it SocialMedia content. If it helps, consider it a roasted pepper salsa recipe or a trip to the zoo with grandchildren.

Attention Economy

Not long ago I made mention of Revising Prose by rhetorician Richard Lanham. That, and another of his books, The Economy of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information should be read by anyone who communicates with the written word. In 1979 he identified the burgeoning modern trend of stringing words and prepositional phrases together ad nauseum to make a point. His example was no one can write “Jim kicks Bill” anymore. I won’t plagiarize his work. I will tell you this – read the first chapter (eight short pages) of Revising Prose and it will make you think better, write better, and not commit wordiness to the page. It will scare indefinite comparisons and “is,” “was,” “will be,” “seems to be” “of” and other “weak” verb glue out of your writing vocabulary for any purpose other than dialogue. If you’re like me, the first eight pages will hook you into going further into what I harp on. Sentence length, rhythm and sound. But if you read no more than those first eight pages, your word count will have dropped 45% before it ever hits the page.

I was made painfully aware of the failure to write “Jim kicks Bill” and what that directly entails in my own work, as well as in published authors’. Example – I read Richard Rayner’s 2005 The Devil’s Wind, his paean to Noir. I referred to it in another post, namelessly, as “soft boiled.” It was wrapped in “language” and “writerliness” and when he occasionally hit a “Jim kicks Bill” line it stuck out like a pew rattling fart. Rayner disregarded economy of attention (Elmore Leonard’s rule “Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip”), and I found myself skipping blocks of Rayner’s text that proved he was a writer and had done research but stalled the story. Writerliness that became an overturned eighteen-wheeler on the freeway at rush hour. Had all that excess backstory been committed on the front end and led me into the book on it’s own, defining the character? Fine. War hero changes last name, turns architect. But in the middle of the action here’s an unnecessary two-page flashback?

Virginia Wolff called thoughts “arrows.” Thoughts are often a component of stream of consciousness. Arrows with a point, that hit a target, agreed. Arrows that eat up two pages of word count way past time to be important to our understanding of the character? WTF? Granted, Rayner stylized the novel like a Noir film. I could see Mitchum sweating in black and white, staring into the bathroom mirror reliving his war experience, his white shirt gone limp in the desert heat, tucked roughly into his armpit high pleated slacks belted across his ribs. Close up of his face, maybe he pulls his bottom lids down, cue the WWII bomber footage. But it wasn’t written that way. It was a novel, not a screenplay. Which are Rayner’s claim to fame. Attention economy isn’t on the menu for Hollywood, as witnessed by this season’s incredibly boring three episodes turned into ten of Bosch. The last two aimless seasons of Justified after Leonard died. And furthered into the reading realm by books like The Devil’s Wind(iness).

“Jim kicks Bill”

I stumbled over a 1959 John D MacDonald, The Beach Girls. It has character building with dialogue scenes that should be in a textbook. I had never looked at MacDonald in any light beyond my father’s hand me down pulp with the possibilty of sex scenes. Looking at JDM in the light of verbal economics explains why authors as diverse as Vonnegut, Block, Hiassen, Koontz, Leonard, Parker, King, Philbrick, have all dedicated works to, and sung the praises of, MacDonald. My favorite description of MacDonald is “verbally precise.” Simply because he writes “Jim kicks Bill.”

Following on the heels of war and the first half of the 20th century “attention economists” like Cain, Hammett, Hemingway and Steinbeck, MacDonald leaves no doubt in your mind what is on a waning Southern Belle’s mind about an arrogant asshole. Not, “Sally thought it seemed like she felt angry whenever…” Instead he writes, “When he grins I find myself thinking how fine it would be to kick him square in the face.”* Hot damn. “Jim kicks Bill.” Emotion. No PC. No apology. Real people thoughts. Check this out. It should have its own Flash Pulitzer. “He’s a small souled man, but picturesque.”* BAM. I am amazed at how much story, how many fabulous, precise one liners are in one of those thin JDM books. If reading one does nothing but embarrass you out of trivial minutia in your storytelling and sharpen your “point,” it is worth the read as a textbook exercise.

As an example, I have a now-offended ex-friend who wrote a book. I know the guy can write, so I offered to read it as he beta read for me. It took him and his family 7,000 words to get from the curb to boarding an airplane. Another 6k to get to Paris. He was striving for humor, via overwritten minutia, hyperbole and simile. By the time they were done with the currency change kiosk, before the first security check, I was done and didn’t care what happened after that. Why? Attention Economy. Dave Barry can go to a convention in Hawaii, with his family, take a charter sightseeing boat, eat dinner and have you laughing so hard you might fall off the commode. In 2k. Or go to the proctologist with the same effect in 500. Attention Economy. Think Billy Connolly or Robin Williams on stage. It isn’t a matter of being passively entertained, it’s a matter of keeping up. No special effects. Precision phrasing. “Jim kicks Bill.” I once had a beta reader tell me that with all the dialogue a book I wrote moved almost too fast. I was upset. Now I am proud.

Mind the POV

Every modern editor with a blog has a mantra. “Watch Your POV.” With first person, you really have to watch it, and often need to narrate the adventures of other characters or share scenes with them as they are living through the “I”. Usually. There is a WordPress author, marple25mary, who writes short, delightful flights of fancy vignettes. They involve the same set of rotating characters. I can’t follow them like there’s a story line because my head will explode. They are like cupcakes. I enjoy them for what they are. Down to POV.

For over a year I read her stuff and thought the woman had a monstrous case of AADD. She knows, I mentioned it. I thought she was all over the map. What do Mary’s vignettes, JDM’s The Beach Girls and editorial admonitions have in common? Watch the POV – shift! Each of Mary’s offerings hands the first person POV to whoever is the “star” of the scene. It took me forever to catch that. Every chapter of The Beach Girls tells the story from different members of a boat dock community’s POV. Previously I have only seen drastic POV shift in the epistolary format. Maybe I have led a sheltered literary existence. But it’s a discomfiting mind bender to flip the page and be in someone else’s first person account of an unfolding story. The shifting “I”. Brilliant, if you can pull it off, and in JDM’s case it’s used in a new take on the “stranger comes to town” vehicle. As if everyone in High Plains Drifter is giving their POV of Clint Eastwood. POV shift is easy onscreen. Change camera angles, change the POV. Turn the page, no visuals? Ouch!

To me, “I” is singular. “I” am me. Which is why I usually write third person. “I” am not a gunfighter or skirt hound or detective or leap tall buildings in a single bound. “I” am not important. “I” can see it as a storytelling device. “Let me tell y’all ‘bout the time ‘I’ had a crazy jealous woman in one hand, a scalp hungry Injun in the other, a rattler in my boot and seen the tax man comin’ my way, no horse in sight.” That’s a story, by a single person. But to turn the page and get the woman’s account, and then the Injun’s and then the tax man’s, all in first person?

Gawldamn, I got fences to mend and this damned woman is about a handful of I hate you, good for nothing tomcatting SOB and if you let go of my throat I’ll bite your ear off before I’ll have good hunting with plenty firewood for my winter teepee with this white eyes hair ledgers that tell me I have a decent commission coming on this clown that thinks he can write off sunglasses because he’s outside all the I can’t hold her off much longer. I’ll take my chance with the injun and I’ll kill the SOB’s slutty girlfriend if I don’t strangle first…on and on. I repeat. Ouch.

Watch your POV. Unless you’re Mary or JDM. Mind your attention economy regardless of who you are, or people will skip your writerliness and miss your story. Leave tap dancing to professionals and say exactly what you want the reader to hear. Write your stories with the power of each phrase’s direct effect. If people wrote music like any number of popular authors write books, there would be chaos and people rolling in the streets screaming with their hands over their ears. Much like the first public performance of Bolero.

Takeaway? “Lanham, MacDonald and company kicks Phil’s ass.”

 

Invest in yourself. Lanham is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpRnAJuy-Ck

*The Beach Girls – © 1959 John D MacDonald

Painted Ladies

Tuesday September 11, 1979 – Los Angeles

The rattle of locks and chains stopped the heel of Jackson’s fist from landing on the warehouse door for his third set of bam, bam, bam. The locks continued to rattle against the galvanized door, up the left side, down the right, then the middle. The rattles stopped, nothing happened for long enough he considered announcing himself to see if that would help. An electric motor behind the door started grinding, the door split in the middle and rolled away across the front of the almost waterfront warehouse. Three mid-twenties Art and Dance grad school girls in loose clothes, all sporting a tangible air of caution, were spread out across the opening, the two on either side holding three-foot long steel pry bars. The middle one looked right and left down the alley with no name, waved to a forklift driver two buildings down before she turned back to him.

“Jackson?”

“Yeah. I –”

“Who was your ref again?”

“Audrey. Boriman. Atlanta Bal –”

She pulled him inside, the grinding commenced, considerably louder inside than out, and the doors came together behind him with a boom that seemed to reverberate forever.

“Sorry.” All three of them frisked him. “Weirdos. You never know.” The one who’d pulled him inside left them, lifted several industrial breakers and flooded the space with light.

Old welded angle iron and pine-plank bleachers like the ones at high school practice fields were arranged in a loose horseshoe in the middle of the warehouse. He knew by heart from reading the seat bottoms when he was a kid they’d hold “approximately 105 adults or 3, 250 lbs.” On the floor in the center of the horseshoe was a twenty by twenty-foot pad resembling a boxing ring. Its edges, the floor around it and the first couple of rows of the bleachers were splattered with paint.

“Aja,” the middle one, introduced herself. “Hope Audrey knew what she was talking about.” She stripped down to her flip flops. “Hard to find good help these days. Everybody can talk, nobody can do.”

“Uh…” Jackson eyed the other two still gripping their pry bars. “The ad in the  practice hall said ‘Painted Ladies Dance Troupe seeks non-derivative sound artist.’ There wasn’t anything about, um…Clothing being, optional?”

“Are you high?”

“No, but I –”

“Excellent.” Naked Aja grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him across the warehouse while she talked. “What we do is totally dependent on a high level of intuitive interpersonal communication. We can’t…No, we won’t have the integrity of our work disgraced by tainted sensory reception.”

It was getting weirder, but art and dance majors all talked a stream of crazy shit most of the time, with or without their clothes, and he could hang right in the middle of it with them.

Aja marched him to the far, open edge of the splattered pad, lifted the lid on a good sized wooden shipping crate and proceeded to pull out a wide assortment of junk and toss it in his direction.

Jackson caught a few of them, had to let others clang and bang on the floor. Juggling metallic kitchen utensils and construction site junk in a “surprise, I’m naked!” interview wasn’t what he expected.

Aja continued to toss until she was satisfied with the mess of debris at his feet, dusted her hands. “Make us some music.”

He squatted, went through the chunks of pipe, enameled wooden boxes and paint sticks, kitchen spoons, stainless steel dog food and salad bowls, sheet aluminum, a bowling ball with a chunk missing, a small galvanized flower pot with French writing on the side and other junk.

“Lots of it, but not much to work with.” He held up a wooden meat tenderizing hammer, thunked it on a bowl suspended from a banana hanger, got a dull bunggggg for his effort. “Short term interesting, not very good percussion is the only possibility for most of this. The wash basin and some marbles would make a decent groove. Nothing lyrical. I’m not sure what you expect here.”

“You’re the ‘Sound Artist.’ Make something wonderful happen.”

He knew they were waiting for him to fold or build a drum set out of dog food bowls and fold even harder. He looked past the two expressionless security girls leaning on their weaponized pry bars, scanned the warehouse.

“That.” He pointed to the far corner where a version of every church basement and grandmother’s house upright piano sat, adorned with a psychedelic multicolored paint job and partially draped with a splattered canvas painter’s cloth. “I need that.”

“It will never be in tune. Piano players are like gum under church pews, and Piano Man is not who we…” She stopped, weighed his enthusiasm against her cynicism, waved in the piano’s direction. “We let you in.”

There was something unsettling in a naked girl with her fists on her hips in that “You’re wasting my time” way watching him push the piano across the warehouse, the ancient brass casters screeching on concrete.

He scattered the pile of junk with his foot, spent a few minutes modifying the piano with odd bits and pieces, set a chunk of steel on the damper pedal. At first he coaxed some eerie, metallic drones out of it by scraping the strings with a steam basket, ringing occasional dissonant bells from the top end with a medium sized aluminum serving ladle. He looked up and all three of them were naked, rolling all over the mat in and out of what he recognized as modern dance poses. He abused the strings and soundboard with other objects from the floor, monitoring the ‘dance’ out of the corner of his eye and adjusting his output to their activity dynamics as best he could until they folded into each other. He smashed a raspy, banged strings-on-aluminum-strip from the upper middle of the sound board and stood, eyes closed and arms wide while the warehouse’s huge natural reverb decayed around them.

“Cool. The room lets you stand inside it.” He absently set two metal ladles on top of the piano along with several lengths of galvanized pipe. “I need an egg beater like I used with Aud. More dynamics.” With the steel block still resting on the pedal he played a slow, out of tune arpeggio that rang through the warehouse like distant church bells on acid.  “Man. I could get up inside of that with one and –”

All three of them, naked and slightly sweaty, hugged him. They helped him toss the excess junk back in the crate and dressed before they led him to a glassed-in upstairs office that overlooked the small arena and handed him a steaming pottery class cup.

“Honest to God fresh roasted coffee.”

His first instinct was to refuse. After his last three girls and their Timothy Leary’s Gatorade in New Mexico he liked to watch his drinks being mixed. But they were all drinking from the same pot. He might die crazy, but not alone.

Aja pulled a chair away from an old, metal, paint splattered like everything else in the warehouse work table, pushed a box of donuts his way. “I was afraid you were another Bartok tone cluster wannabe. But…” She looked at him with clear, appraising eyes. “That was amazing. Magical.” She checked in telepathically with her two partners who had left their pry bars downstairs. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” one of the ex-pry bar girls laughed. “Thanks for being the most disappointing real piano player in L.A.” A comment that in any other context he might have found disturbing.

***

“You got a gig doing wha?” Dash had to set the bong on the counter while he coughed. “Sheee-it, my man. Fine, nekkid women rollin’ around in paint? However much they payin’ you be too much. As you have piqued my interest, what is the entry fee to witness this creative endeavor?”

Jackson loaded and fired the bong. “Two-hundred and fifty dollars.” He blew a series of smoke rings. “Fifteen hundred in the paint splatter zone. I figure they have to gross close to a hundred grand for a full house.”

“Call me Sambo, slap my momma, order pizza for later. You shittin’ me?”

“Nope. The canvas auctions start at twenty grand. Unless they find something artistically disagreeable on one or it won’t fit in the buyer’s space and cut it up into smaller pieces that add up to more money. I’m going to a show at some Warbucks’ pad in Malibu on Sunday. I have to be ‘Rasputin’ for a while, but you can hang if you’ll play my awestruck, culturally underprivileged token sidekick.”

“Depend first upon what a Rasputin be. I refuse to be seen in such an enlightened environment wearing a Sunset Boulevard at midnight bulldog collar.”

“None of that. I’m supposed to blow my hair up crazy, take kitchen utensils out of the host’s drawers and gently abuse the inside of their grand piano in a cocktail piano version of what I do at the paintings. While they all eat shrimp cocktail and talk art and admire their wall size naked chicks in paint art.”

“And what do you say as you peruse their drawers for these magical implements of sonic construction?”

“Nothing. I grunt, but not too dangerously, and if pressed I guess I’ll tilt my head with an air of quizzical seriousness, like a dog that doesn’t get it.”

“Sheeee-it. It is my assumption, as your friend and confidant in this affair, they be payin’ you way too much for that artistically suspicious activity as well?”

“Mama said stand up tall when confronted by a truth.”

“Then you are an artistic fraud of the highest order.”

“I prefer carefully constructed poseur.” Jackson raised his hand, wiggled his fingers like a magician. “An elaborate accessory to the festivities.”

“Fraud by any other name. I am down, my brother. For shrimp and a rich white people in Malibu tableau I will become the epitome of Buckwheat and suspend belief in any creative photography degree that bears my name.”

Bobby B – Don’t Let The Pretty Face Fool You

Last One. Unless someone asks for Bobby’s Houma House Denouement 

“All of you. Out.” Liz Vernier’s voice was level with a sharp, beveled edge, and packaged with a glare that could have turned an Arizona swimming pool into a hockey rink.

“But we have more –”

She raised the inside corners of her eyebrows and maybe a quarter inch of her tongue sneaked out onto her upper lip.

“Yes ma’am.”

She, Carrie Louise, Bobby and LBI District Chief Bastik watched the parade of plain clothes and uniformed police from three agencies swivel their hips, shift their holsters and radios in a dance through the narrow crosshatch of legal assistants at their desks in Liz Vernier’s outer office. They re-convened at the elevator, all shuffling, staring at the floor. A pack of sheepish, recently chastised over-equipped and overgrown boy scouts.

Liz kept the glare and focused it on Bobby who had stopped letting it bother him some time back but played along when it was to his advantage. She tapped the tip of a high gloss index fingernail on a yellow and black plastic fishing tackle box.

“What manner of lunacy prevailed on that pea brain of yours to think, even for an instant, that bringing two million dollars halfway across the country in a tackle box was a good idea?”

“He wanted…” Carrie Louise folded her arms tight across her chest, tried to mimic Liz’s stare. “He wanted motel time with that…actress. Bobby B’s in love with his pecker lunacy, that’s what lunacy.”

“CL that’s bullshit and you –”

“You two can do this later. If I’m lucky she’ll kill you. I asked you a question, Mr. B.”

“The tackle box was Annabelle, this morning. She said whoever was after the money probably wasn’t done, so…And the rest seemed like a good idea. I mean, I was coming home anyways, Bernie wanted to see her people –”

“Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.” CL wiggled quote fingers around the name every time she said it. “I’m about sick down to my butt of ‘Bernie’, Mr. B.”

“I’m not telling either of you again.” Liz pointed pistol fingers with both hands, heels still on the desk. “Lafayette? I need an explanation.”

“Another motel –”

“Carrie Louise Roche, shut it and keep it shut.” Liz never took her eyes off Bobby. “Lafayette?”

“Not far from Port Barre. For, uh…Bernadette. We didn’t want to stay in Houston,” He shot the glare back at CL, “And spend another night in a mo-tel. I asked one of those pretty airline counter fellas if there were any other options and they hooked us right up with a ride on a mostly empty corporate charter. It worked out. You know, for Bernie.” Bobby played lost swamp boy for a few more beats. “I wasn’t sure what to do in California, with the money and the bank and all.”

“Your Mr. DeHavilland couldn’t advise you?”

“He was gone. He’s out –”

“Raising investment money for a restaurant franchise that is now guaranteed to be a hit. If I didn’t know better, or thought any one of you involved were capable of pulling it off, I’d say this wild west robbery fiasco and subsequent media feeding frenzy was the marketing ploy of the century. Fading niche content TV host reinvented as hero who saves the day for swamp bred bikini model and a down-bayou rube. Both of whom just happen to work for him. I’m tempted to tell the press this money that raised hell over half of Louisiana is you backing out of the restaurant deal.” She let that sit. “But it seems Mr. DeHavilland and Monterrey Mick the Mouth beat me to it and they have you all tied up in a neat little bouquet of the happy, down home heroes family.” She poked the long, polished nail index finger at her wide-open mouth in a gag me gesture, pulled it and blew a breath out the corner of her mouth. “It’s all a giant crock of gator shit. You and Carrie Louise need to have a conversation. Take it outside and off the premises.”

For the second time Liz and Chief Bastik watched a trek to the elevators. Bastik chuckled silently hard enough to rock in his chair. “Glad I’m not him.”

“She’ll skin him, but I’m afraid she’ll never let him go. What about the bimbo?”

“Two rooms in Lafayette, both slept in. Nothing there. Talked to the housekeepers, they think maybe she intercepted a pizza but couldn’t prove it. Her little machine gun cleared the Feds,” he snapped his fingers, “like that. She’s clean except for running away and joining a militia when she was fifteen. Possible suspicious disappearance of a pizza and looking good in suntan lotion and short shorts aren’t crimes.”

“The last two should be. And you’re all expecting me to believe Bobby is truly stupid enough to wait for Wells Fargo in Huntington to come up with two-million cash because he likes to do business that way?”

“They sent him and two armed couriers to a Brink’s warehouse with a voucher. Paper trail checks all down the line.”

“Damn. What was the noise I heard about the FBI?”

“They were on a gun smuggling case. Macon’s dinks overheard them showing off their badges to the desk girl, called in, thought they’d make great cover to get next to the target.”

“You know that as fact?”

“No, they’re all dead. But what I do know is half-wit dinks and that scenario makes perfect sense in Dinkville.”

“Shit.” She leaned back in her leather exec chair, tossed a pen at her desk. “Macon?”

“Macon was crooked as a Cypress root, and if he knew anything besides what he told us, he took it with him. The only other calls he made that afternoon were LBI business and a couple to a six-dollar burner that pinged down by the river and disappeared. It was obvious he was buying information with rock, Liz. Information someone didn’t want bought. He was a cop, though, so we’ll shake the bushes, bring out the bagpipes and fold a flag. In a couple weeks we’ll shoot a methed up skin head covered in swastikas for resisting arrest and find Macon’s murder in his manifesto.”

“Your idea?”

“No, but it’s the one to run with. Dirty cops are bad press. Dead, white extremist meth head cop killers make everyone happy.”

“White, methed up skin head lives don’t matter? You watch. Somebody’ll be butt hurt, show up at your press conference with a sign.” She sighed, from somewhere deep inside. “The FBI anywhere near this bothers me. What do you think I should do about the money?”

“Bank it. Or burn it if you don’t believe Macon told you everything and you’re still worried about the FBI. And have two mill laying around to replace it.” District Chief Bastik stood, profoundly gay, totally unaccustomed to his uniform and uncomfortable in its forward manliness. “I’ll pass your sincere condolences on to the Director for the loss of one of our rising young stars and he’ll be more than pleased to accept your promise of a generous donation to the fund of his choice.”

“This stinks, Bastik. All of it.”

“Maybe. I wouldn’t let it fester too long if I were you. New plays are most likely being run around us as we speak, and we’re down two snitches and one fixer with a badge.”

Liz watched his slightly pigeon-toed solo through the legal assistants, the big, round brim hat in his hands incongruous until she thought of John Wayne playing a gay cop-o-crat and snark laughed through her nose.

***

Special Agent Hyland brushed the back seat beside him with his hand, as if to rid it of his last two guests. The big Samoan relocated himself from outside, peered out the Lincoln’s front passenger window with the silenced .22 in his right hand, pointed up. “Thoughts, Sir? Divine insight?”

“Orrin Peachman is not a problem. He wants to keep being a loner car and boat mechanic down on the Texas coast, try to grow some decent hydroponic weed in the bedroom his old roommate occupied. He’s a situational killer with small dreams, not a sociopath, and he saved us some cleanup work. Give them the sanitized go-home money and a dangerous admonition, tell Holbert and Keefe to take them to the Lafayette bus station.”

The pistol remained. “The girl? Holbert might kill her for running her mouth before they get across the bridge.”

“That would be a bonus. All Paris knows is that Mick got drunk, told her about a kid with money in a briefcase and she called her Pimp’s bro. She’s too stupid to lie. If Holbert doesn’t kill her, she’ll run her mouth about that Cartel nonsense one too many times and end up face first in a topless bar shitter with her throat cut. Not our problem.”

The pistol came down. “What about the kid?”

“What about him? He sold it in Vernier’s office like he owned it when he could have sold us down the river for having to back out of the frame and leave him high and dry. Instead he out-drove bullets, had cars blow up around him and still stood up for us on this deal because he’s not terribly fond of Liz Vernier, who for reasons known only to her, is trying to rip his girl out from underneath him. He’s unofficial family.”

“Hot pants?”

“Ah. The surprisingly clever, multi-faceted, machine gun wielding Bernadette.” A faint smile crossed Hyland’s lips. “You know, she could have disenfranchised me in California when I handed that pink Ruger back and the money was sitting on the table. I saw it in her eyes. Being with the Agency made me not worth her risk-reward equation, an equation that a less intelligent, purely avaricious person wouldn’t even have run. Don’t let the pretty face fool you, Liko. She and that Annabelle woman are at least as dangerous as we are. In fact, I think I’d rather handle snakes with the unwashed faithful than spend any more time than needed around either of them. And for damn sure only a fool or a rattlesnake with a death wish would get between them and our young Mr. B.”

The Samoan snickered. “Background says Annabelle Monette fed two Florida Matchstick Men to the swamp, sent their jewelry and phones to the man who hired them. You weigh in on that?”

“Swamp Vue didn’t burn to the ground last summer, she and Bobby are still with us. The Matchstick Men are MIA. What I said about dangerous women and Mr. B.”

The Samoan shook his head once, started to unscrew the silencer on the assumption it wasn’t needed, stopped halfway. “The car douche?”

“Nobody listens to Mick. He’s a semi high-profile Hollywood Jester in a Hawaiian shirt. He’ll drop his wrench in one hand and dick in the other lifestyle now that he has Bernadette to contend with as a business partner, not an employee playing T&A delivery girl.”

“Jesus. Out of the fire and into the pan is like a daily with that dude.” The Samoan finished unrolling the silencer, studied Orrin and Paris, both pacing nervously, the two female agents bored, leaning against their car. “Think Vernier will burn the money?”

“If she does she has to replace it from somewhere. We have her trail either way. Speaking of money…” He waved toward Orrin and Paris with the back of his right hand. “We’re done here. No place on Earth smells like Louisiana and I’d like to forget how I came to know that. Soon.”