• Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry
    by Craig Terlson

    A collection of short stories where the humour runs dark and the slipstream bubbles up.


    ...imagine if Raymond Carver called up George Saunders and Joe Lansdale, and they all went drinking with Neil Gaiman.

  • Correction Line
    Correction Line
    by Craig Terlson

    “… it's clear that Terlson is way ahead of the curve in terms of crafting an engaging premise that reaches for elevated territory and reinvents enduring archetypes of action and suspense.”  J. Schoenfelder

    "Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed."   Kay Sexton


    "I love a novel that you can't put down, and this is one of them."  L. Cihlar


Surf City Acid Drop - Thirty-Three


Hard rock blasted over the 4Runner’s tinny speakers as we headed out of PV. A previous renter had left a few cassettes in the glove compartment. Harold bitched that there wasn’t any Bacharach or Herb Albert. 

“Mexico isn’t an easy listening kind of country,” I said.

“Bunch of long-haired freaks banging on cheap Asian guitars. They don’t know melody from shit.”

“Never took you as a musicologist.”

Harold grunted and punched the 4-Runner. He weaved in and out of a line of cars, but was finally forced to slow down as traffic was too unpredictable coming around the hidden corners. I could see the anger growing inside him as clear as the ropey veins in his forearms. 

There was no point in asking what was on my mind but I did anyway.

“So what… Strothers wants to put me down himself? Some sort of payback?”

Harold didn’t say anything. Something had been gnawing in my stomach ever since we left Tijuana. It was more than fearing he would pop me like he did Jules – sure, that still danced in the background. But this was something else, I couldn’t quite name it, but there it was, burning my guts.

Mostly Harold popped the tape and shoved in another. The tape was old and stretched, which warbled the guitars and vocals. That bent sound combined with the thick trees and vines that swam by my window. I felt like I was going through deep water. Sure, it could have been the rows of beers and tostados from Los Barios funky dancing their way through my digestive tract, but it was that something else. It was the exact feeling that I had back in the Esperanza. The feeling that made me bolt down that long ramp, dragging her as I ran, and spilling into the street. That was a lot of hours, fights, and miles ago.

Again, I asked question that I doubted would get answered.

“Did you kill Leon?”

“Who is Leon?”

“Skinny junkie guy. Hung out at the hotel where I stay. Esperanza. The place you played tether ball with my head.”

“I dunno.”

“What the fuck you mean you don’t know, Harold? Are you that cold hearted, or just dumb as sack of cats?”


Harold tightened his grip on the wheel.

“Short term memory issues, then? Too many blows to the head, Mostly?”

“Shit. Okay, that’s it.” He reached down and ejected the tape. He grabbed it and threw across to my closed window. It smacked the glass, bounced back and landed in his lap. “Son-of-a-bitch this day.”

Harold pulled the 4-runner onto the narrow shoulder, and skidded to a stop.

“Listen numb-nuts. There’s more than a chance you’ll end up like your junkie friend. And there’s a slim as fairy fart chance that you might not. I’ve heard they’re interested in you. Who the fuck knows why, because I am not. I wanted to finish you out in the field like that asshole in a leotard, but I was told to hold up on that.”

“Who told you Harold?”

“You know who asshole.”

“So you did Leon?”

Harold sighed.

“Lloyd did it. I hate knives. Messy as hell. Works for Lloyd cuz he can’t hit shit with a pistol.”

“Why did they care about Leon? He was nothing to anybody.”

“They knew that other guy, your pal, had hired him. Skinny little shit was snooping around. Saw shit he wasn’t supposed to. He saw Strothers do a guy.”

“Do what?”

“Do him. Knife, gun, ice pick… how the hell should I know? It was Strother’s business. We beat up the junkie, sent him to the hospital. But Strothers was still pissed. He wanted to get a rise out…” Harold stopped.


“That’s a name? How is that a name?”

“Why are they interested in me, Harold?”

“Damned if I know. I told you I’m—”

“Are Strothers and the woman in a partnership?”

“Damned if I know.”

“C’mon, Harold. Don’t play this bullshit. I know you’re smarter than that.”

“You said I was a sack of cats.”

There was an honest melancholy drop in his voice. I admit that surprised the hell out of me.

“Sorry. Trying to get at the truth. Sometimes I just say shit. You’re good at what you do.”

“Fuck off.” 

I flicked off the music. “So Strothers told you to find Jules, take him out, and bring me back? Then what did Cynth want?”

Harold eased the Toyota back onto the road.

“Some sort of shit was going down. I didn’t follow all the he said, she said, somebody screwed the pooch on somebody, saids. And I didn’t give a rip.” Harold snorted. “Cynth. Hah. Is that what she’s calling herself now?”

“You were down here? At Strother’s?”

“For a few days.”

“You must have heard something. C’mon, Harold. I don’t know what the hell I’m going into, and I know you don’t care either - but, hey, how about some professional courtesy.”

Harold laughed harder than I’d ever heard him.

“You’re the one that said you weren’t a detective. And that’s about the only damn thing I’d ever agree on. Professional courtesy my ass.”

We both let the silence hang. I’d given it a shot - and probably now I was going to get shot. Dead in Mexico. Not really what I aspired to when I came down here. I hoped they’d find my body a nice hole close to the ocean.

“I overheard some stuff,” Harold said.

“What kind of stuff?”

 “There was no partnership I’ll tell you that. You know when two kids get to fighting over who gets to ride the only bike, until the one kid pulls a knife, and the other has a gun?”

“Different kind of playground than I grew up on.”

“Shut the fuck up, you know what I mean. Strothers offered me a chunk of change to go to Montana. Retrieval services he called it. I told him I worked for her. And like I told you, he offered me more. So I went.”

“Not much loyalty, Harold.”

He rolled his window and hacked a huge loogie onto the road.

I recognized the curve before Strothers’s house. The Pair of Dice sign appeared, and we pulled into a narrow drive that I hadn’t seen the first time I was here. It was further up the road, past the choked tunnel of vines and flowers. The same goofy round trees were there, recently trimmed, and the peeing boy still peed. Though, from what I know knew about Strothers, the place had a different feel to it. Before he was just some cranky ex-pat semi-hood that happened to have a decent left hook. But now. What was he now? A tightness came into my neck and crawled down my spine.

A thick guy in a floral shirt was parked by the fountain. By the way he stood, I knew he had something loaded and shoved down his sea blue pants. We pulled up next to him, and he pointed Harold to the house, even though there was no need, it was right there. Last time I’d been here the driveway was empty, now it was crammed with three cars. Harold nudged the 4Runner next to a brown Ford. Another thicker guy came out on the terrace and waved us in.

Harold strode in the house and set the black satchel on the same kitchen counter where I’d shared punches and vodka with Strothers. Our host was stretched out in a recliner, wearing cream shorts with that razor crease of his, his ankle was wound with tensor tape. He saw me notice it.

“You didn’t break it – but damn near. There’s a thought. I should bust a few things on you so we start at an even level. Or just because I want to,” he said.

A bald goon, as grumpy as our traffic guide outside, stepped toward me.

“Easy, easy,” Strothers started. “Bygones and all that shit.”

“You expecting someone?” I asked.

“Why would you think that?”

I pointed at one of the goons. 

“Lots of guests,” I said. “Your birthday party? Maybe they’re a traveling act. Do they do Stooges impersonations?”

Harold stepped into me.

“Settle it down numb-nuts.”

“Oh, Harold relax. I figured you two would be best of friends by now. Driving and flying across the country like one of those old road movies. You know, Bing and Bob.” Strothers sipped from a tumbler full of clear liquid. “Which one of you is Bing?”

“Before my time,” Harold said.

Strothers shook his head.

“In answer to our Mr. Fischer. Yes, we might be getting a few more guests. But they are not the sort to bring me a fruit basket. Ah, I see you’ve brought the minerals back. I’ve got a courier coming later today, shipping them out to Cuba. Not that it matters to you.”

I tightness went through my chest on his last words. Sure hope it’s a nice hole.

“You were pretty sure of yourself to book a courier,” I said.

“I knew you’d still have them. And I knew Harold would have you. Dicks are predictable.”

“He says he’s not a detective,” Harold said.

“I didn’t say he was,” Strothers said. “Alright enough of this nicey-nice bullshit. Let’s finish it up.” 

Strothers drained his glass. He winced as he stood and put weight on his ankle. The thickest of the goons strode over to help him, which earned him a solid cuff to the head. 

“Fuck off. I got it.”

Another goon, this one in a dark suit that looked completely out of place with the floral patterns everyone else wore, brought in a pair of suitcases and set them in the kitchen.

“Looks like you’re going on a trip,” I said.

“Now look who’s being a detective.” Strothers smirked.

“North?” I asked.

“East, west, south, who knows? Who gives a rat’s ass? I’ve had enough of this city and if I eat one more chile my entire digestive system is going to hold a protest. And it won’t be pretty.” Strothers pointed his finger at my forehead. “Enough about me. Aren’t you wondering why you’re not lying wherever Harold left that other thieving little shit?”

“It did cross my mind. But I’m also thinking your partner might be kinda pissed that you sent Harold to kill him.”

“My what? Who are you talking about?”

“Cynth Forrester. The so-called sister.”

That brought peals of laughter and another wince.

“I don’t know what’s funnier, you calling her my partner or a sister. Though, wait, I’m guessing you didn’t mean one of the holy orders. Unless you were thinking a coven, because she is one sneaky witch.” Strothers wiped his eyes and hobbled toward the kitchen.

“So Jules didn’t rip you off? That’s not what it was about?”

“Oh, no. That is for certain what is was about. Skinny little prick broke in when I was down south. Old witchy woman was trying to get something going… me, her, him and his gay artist buddies. There wasn’t a one that I would let into my bed let me tell you. Bunch of shallow pricks on all levels. I told her I wasn’t interested. She was small town, trying to get bigger. Anyway, blah, blah, blah, now he’s planted in a shallow grave in the middle of…” Strothers looked at Harold.

“New Mex.”

“Right. Nowhere.” Strothers refilled his tumbler of vodka, then poured another, finishing the bottle. “You did bury him right?”

Harold shrugged.


Strothers handed me the second drink.

“You haven’t said what you wanted with me,” I said.

“Truth is… I gave the Harold the option of laying you out.”

I looked over at Harold, who shrugged again.

“Hahaha! Old Bob couldn’t pop Bing. That kills me.” Strothers pointed at me again. The finger felt like a 9mm right at my eye level. “Listen, let me pitch something to you Mr. Dick.”

“I don’t—”

The first crack shattered the window next to the recliner that Strothers had just left. It caught goon two in the shoulder and spun him around. He was still reaching for his gun when he hit the ground. I would have called him a tough son of a bitch, except that coming out of his crouch he took the next shot in the head. He was dead in the twelve inches before he hit the floor.

Bald Goon moved fast, back against the wall, his Glock held with two hands, scanning the yard. He fired out the shattered window. Harold moved to the french doors and slid outside. Shouts, someone called someone a fucker, and three fast shots. Strothers tucked inside the kitchen nook, opened the fridge freezer and grabbed another bottle of vodka. He twisted off the top, pointed at me and gestured outside.

“Are you fucking kidding me? You may think I’m a dumb-ass, but I’m not going out there without something in my hand that fires bullets.”

Strothers reached into a drawer and pulled out a 9 millimetre – and not an imaginary one. For a half-second, I figured that’d be it. More shots peppered the living room. Bald Goon returned fire. Strothers handed me the gun and two clips and pointed again to the outside. I took the gun and slid in one of the clips. He poured two more shots of vodka. I slammed one back and he toasted me with the other before he downed it.

“Go get ‘em, Ace.”



Come back Sunday for the next chapter of Surf City Acid Drop


Surf City Acid Drop - Thirty-Two



I didn't think it could happen, but the landscape got bleaker. The hills had a bit more roll to them, but it was still barren as hell. The sagebrush and other scraggly plants got further apart, the ground cracked, more grey than brown, the sky grew so pale it was more white than blue. The sun burned down on us like some kid trying to burn ants. 

I didn’t say anything for a long time. I waited for Harold to slow the Pontiac. I watched him scan the landscape, probably looking for a spot to lay me out like he did Jules. 

“You gotta piss?” he asked.

“I’m good.”

“No. I mean for real.”

“Just drive,” I said.

Hours went by before the ground finally gave up the ghost and started to bend and roll around El Cajon, a city in the middle of mountains, not unlike Missoula, minus the hippies. 

“We gotta go in here.” Harold pointed at the sign.

“Why here?”

“Because I might be able to get a set of rocks past those yahoos in security, but they might have an actual question or two about me holding a briefcase full of cash.”

Harold drove into town and then pulled into a Piggly Wiggly. He bought a gym bag, some kid’s t-shirts, a box of bakers chocolate, packing tape and a roll of brown paper. We left the parking lot and headed down an alley that took us a few streets over. Harold opened the briefcase, took out the packets of cash and wrapped them in the shirts.

“That’s a lot of scratch.”

“More than you or I will ever make in this lifetime,” he said.

“What’s the chocolate for?”

“I’ve heard it throws the sniffers off.”

“Dogs? I thought that was for drugs.”

“Damned if I know. Again, this is what I was told to do, so I do it. Rip off some of that tape.”

Harold wrapped the shirt-covered money and the chocolate in brown paper and then taped the edges. He put on two more layers and finished each with a band of tape. The package looked like a lumpy Christmas gift from an aunt that no one liked.

“And this will get through the mail system?” I asked.

“You’d be surprised. Especially when you have certain relatives working there.”

Harold drove to the post office. He filled out a slip, writing down birthday presents, books and candy in the description area. 

“Land or air?” A young postal clerk asked.

“Air,” Harold said.

“It will cost a lot.”

“Yeah, well, the kid’s birthday is in a few days. Wanna make sure it gets there.”

“You are a good father.”

“Uncle, but yeah, thanks. I do what I can.”

I coughed and Harold gave me a look. 




After the post office, Harold pulled back onto the highway. He wiped sweat from his face. Both of us had pie-shaped circles of sweat under our pits. A sign for Tijuana appeared. Thirty miles.

“You want to tell me what happened back there?”

“At the post office. I already told you. They told me--”

“No, back back there,” I said. “With Jules.”

“What, with that skinny freak? Just lightening our load.”

“And you don’t think your employer might have a problem with this?”

“He told me to do it. I was just looking for the place. Out in the middle of nowhere seemed the best option. Had a lot of options around this desert.”

“Wait. She didn’t hire you? When did that change?”

“Oh she did at first. But Strother’s offer was better. It wasn’t personal. It was—“

“Business? For fuck’s sake, Harold. You just blew him away. That’s a bit different than closing a real estate deal.”

“Yeah, well, it’s what I do. Everybody's gotta do something.”

And that’s was pretty much it until we got to Tijuana. I tried to dig a bit more story out of Harold, but he wasn’t giving over.

“What were Strothers and her working on? And what happened that he told you to put Jules down?”

“Who cares?”

 I finally left it.

Harold parked the car in the airport lot, put the gun back in the hidden space, and tucked the keys in a spot under the wheel well. He cashed in the third ticket at the Aeromexico counter, telling the girl in the black and red uniform that our traveling companion had gotten real sick. That’s what he said, “real sick.” Yeah, serious case of gunshot in the back-of-the-head-itis. I hoped it wasn’t contagious.

We flew my previous route in reverse, though in a much bigger plane and without the shared bottle of Cuervo. In Tepic, Harold rented a car. Again he was pissed they didn’t have the model he wanted. He finally gave in to a 4Runner.

“Stupid-ass car. This close to the states, and they can’t stock American?”

“You still haven’t told me where we’re going, or who we’re meeting.”

Harold sighed.

“He said to bring you back with the rocks and the briefcase from your buddy’s buddy in Albuquerque. You know, Aardvark."


"So that’s what I’m doing. You ever just do what you’re told numb-nuts? Christ-sakes, you found the little freak and his rocks and then you just take off to Frenchy-town. Another whole fucking country away!"

"It was just Canada, Harold."

" And in my car! You are a major pain in the ass.”

“Just tell me what Strothers is doing.”

“Why should I?”

“Cuz I’m bored. It’s been a long trip. Because I watched you shoot a guy in the head and wondered when it was my turn. And because for the last three days, I’ve been driving in the exact-fucking-opposite direction of where I was headed.”

“You’re bored?” Harold laughed.

“Yeah. I hate travel.”

That got another laugh out of him.

“You’re a strange fuck. You’d fit right in that hippie-ville where I picked up skinny-Dracula. Me, I like my place in the Springs. Quiet, a few mountains to look at, nice beer fridge, and a couple of ladies that I have on a one-ring relationship.”


“I call, they pick up on the first ring, and bingo-bango, they come to my place.” 

Harold rolled down his window. I smelled the Pacific. 

“You spend a lot of time down here?” he asked.

“Have been for the last few years.”

“Why? What’s the deal? You might be weird, but I don’t see you as the beach type.”

“It’s a good place to drink,” I said.

“The beach?”

“The whole country.”

“Nah, I call bullshit. Seems to me, you’re running from something. An ex-wife, loan shark, or a bunch of kids you don’t want to take care of. You’d make a lousy dad.”

“We’re all running from something, Harold.”

He pondered this one for a while. The road had started to bend a lot more since leaving Tepic. A thick quilt of cloud descended and touched the dark hills that surrounded us.

“Yeah. You’re probably right.”

“You know I am,” I said.

“Damn. I need a drink. You know somewhere to get a decent beer and a shot?”

“I know a lot of them.”

As we passed through Sayulita, I caught sight of a lone surfer charging the last good waves of the day. He made a cutback, guided his board back to the breaking whitewater, his knees at the perfect angle. I marvelled at the control. Maybe one day I’ll get on a board.

The northern edge of PV grew on the horizon. I was back. Again.




We ended up at Los Barios. Harold and I kept the bartender busy filling up the table with buckets of Pacifico and tostados, then clearing it, and starting again. I held off my desire to go to El Rayo. If I went there, especially with my Lizard boot wearing friend (I never believed his shit about the rattlesnake), news about my return would spread faster than a case of the tourista runs. I couldn’t be sure that a few policia weren’t still on the lookout for a few extra pesos.

“What time is it?” Harold asked.

“Damned if I know. Haven’t wore a watch for years. Why aren’t you wearing one?”

“Forgot it back in the Springs.” Harold squeezed a lime into his mouth. “We better head out of here.”


“Just pay up and go out to the car numb-nuts.”

“Why should I pay?”

“Because I hauled your ass back here and didn’t put you down in the field with the Prince of Darkness.”

Harold had a point. Not the hauling part, but the not shooting me part had its merits. I paid while Harold went to the bano. It crossed my mind to bolt the hell out of there. I had gotten pretty good at doing the Olympic sprints down PV’s cobblestone streets. But again, that need to know just where Harold was taking me took over. I figured we were headed to see Strothers. It bothered the hell out of me that I didn’t know why. My stubborn-ass curiosity would be the death of me yet.

A piss shiver ran through me as I considered that very possibility.


Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:

Hard rock blasted over the 4Runner’s tinny speakers as we headed out of PV. A previous renter had left a few cassettes in the glove compartment. Harold bitched that there wasn’t any Bacharach or Herb Albert. 

“This isn’t an easy listening kind of country,” I said.

“Bunch of long-haired freaks banging on cheap Asian guitars. They don’t know melody from shit.”

“Never took you as a musicologist.”


Go to Chapter Thirty-Three




Surf City Acid Drop - Thirty-One

“So, let me guess. You didn’t get the suitcase unless you showed up with me. That must have pissed you off.”

“Everything pisses him off,” Jules said. “In serious need of anger management.”

“Look, here’s an idea. Everyone shut the fuck up. I’m low on sleep, the coffee around here sucks, and I’m pretty damn certain that egg salad is doing the salmonella disco through my digestive tract right now.”

“Aren’t we going to stop? Arkin said that we should clean up,” Jules said.

“Yeah, well if Arkin said we should all jump off the Brooklyn bridge would we?”

“That doesn’t make any sense. You’re not a professional. You're just a dumb-ass with a gun.”

Harold took his right hand off the wheel and swung a fast rabbit punch to the side of Jules’s head. Jules yelled and then went silent. He wasn’t out, but guessing from Jules recent behaviour I figured it wasn’t the first one Harold had given him. He seemed a lot more ballsy in Missoula, but Harold must have broke that out of him.

Again I wondered what Harold was capable of, and I had to admit to more than a few butterflies bouncing around my chest when I thought of getting on his truly bad side. Cynth or Strothers or whoever had hired a guy that would do whatever was asked, and probably some stuff that wasn't. I couldn't figure out if he was playing me somehow, and by that I meant like a cat does with a decapitated bird. Whose doorstep was he going to leave me on as a gift? Someone brokered the suitcase for Fischer deal, but after that... what deals were made? If any. 

What ifs and maybes knocked around next to the butterflies. What if I would have bolted from that room in Montreal, or on the highway, or in one of the pitstops? I had the chances didn't I? One of the maybes was Harold firing his Glock into my back as I hurdled over a chair, or the border crossing meridian, or, well it didn't matter what. The other maybe was that Mostly Harold would just find me again, so I might as well play this thing out. Fate was a bitch that never bought a single round.

Jules shoulders drooped and he sunk further into the seat.

“Bunch of pussies. Oh daddy, drive us to the motel for a shower, take us for ice cream, sing me a goddamn lullaby.”

“Need to chill, Harold. Not good for the constitution.”

“Yeah, well fuck you Dr. Welby. And another thing, who the hell is called Arkin? That’s a name now? When did that become a name?”

Harold slid into a brooding silence. Jules rubbed his jaw and looked out the window at the clumps of sagebrush spotting the pocked landscape like tiny villagers from the saddest town on earth. The chief export of this part of the country was loneliness.

Harold finally relented to his tiredness and pulled into Buckeye, Arizona. Jules bitched that we could have got something decent in Phoenix. Harold ignored him and found a motel called the Lucky 7. By the looks of the sagging window frames and peeling paint, the luck had run out some time ago. The room smelled like the back of a refrigeration truck. An electric hum from an unseen location went right along with the early hobo theme. Harold produced a flask from his jacket and poured us three plastic glasses. He flipped on the TV and went through the channels, landing on an old western.

“Really? We have to watch this shit?” 

Jules sat cross-legged on the bed, stretching his arms and torso in a way that must have been part of the whole Capoeira thing. Or he was just plain nutty.

“Honest American movie. Good guys, bad guys, horses and guns,” Harold said.

Jules cracked his neck and groaned.

“And how many of those Indians are white guys in make-up?”

“Who gives a shit?”

They went on like that for a bit, until Harold got fed up with the whole debate, and threatened to smack some perspective on the American dream into Jules. He flipped the channel onto an old classic with fast talking guys who wore hats not unlike Arkin and Benno’s.


“If I have to get off this chair and beat your ass again—“

“Can everyone just take it down a notch. Jules shut the fuck up and do your screwy meditation thing. Harold, pour us another round and stop beating on Jules head. Damn. You guys are worse than kids.”

Harold started to say something, then gave a grunt and spun the cap off the flask. We hunkered down, watched the fast talking guys square off, and the guy with the best hat solve the crime. It was all bullshit, no one talked like that, even back then. But I thought, kinda like Harold did about the western, that at least things in those movies were clearer.  Find the killer, call the cops, get the girl and fade to black. Here I was holed up in motel just south of absolutely fucking nowhere with a couple guys that each saw themselves as the baddest of asses (and to give Harold some cred, he kinda was). The kicker was that they both thought they were on opposite sides. If that was the case, then what side did that put me on?

I knew that Benno had worked a deal to get me back to PV while I was still drawing breath – the meet with Arkin proved that. I was fairly sure the briefcase wasn’t full of Strother’s laundry. Harold could have kicked my ass out of the car after he got the case and left the airport. For some reason, Cynth now wanted Jules back, and damned if I knew why. Maybe she wanted to pistol whip her little brother by herself. Not her brother, I had to keep reminding myself. I felt the still folded paper from the library that I’d jammed in my pocket. Right. She wasn’t who she said she was either.

The whole deal felt sloppy. What sort of dance party in PV was I heading into? As I went through the options in my head nothing got any clearer. I decided to go back to the movie, where I knew how things would end up. Sure enough, the guy in the lighter suit shot the one in the darker suit. He said something witty and then went out for a drink with the dame with the pinned up hair and the great set. Then bam, fade to black, which meant they ended up naked in bed. Simple. Clean.

Jules had rolled over and moved into a fetal position, his breathing smooth and even. He looked and sounded like a cat. For the last twenty minutes, Harold had tilted his neck further and further until he moved into a rooming house snore. I sprawled onto the other bed. For a few minutes, I contemplated cutting out, hot wiring the Pontiac, and leaving the Bickersons to duke it out.

Dammit. I needed to find out what the hell was going on in PV. I found a semi-soft spot between the springs and drifted into an uneasy sleep.




Harold was in no better mood in the morning. We gassed up, grabbed coffees and a six of frosted doughnuts for the road. Jules got an orange juice, which just annoyed the hell out of Harold.

“Fucking Missoula.”

It was a long morning under a cloudless sky. The hills were right out of a barren Star Trek planet. I scanned the ridges for any sight of the Gorn. Clumps of the sad sagebrush clung to the cracked ground, hanging on for dear life before the next desert wind ripped it up and blew it into oncoming traffic. Even for a plant, it was a hell of a way to go.

“Are we driving this piece of shit right into Mexico?” Jules asked.

“Dropping it in Tijuana. Then we’ll take a puddle jumper down.” Harold looked back at me. “You gotta take a whiz?”

“Thanks for thinking of my bladder, but I’m good,” I said.

“I’m thinking we all need to take a whiz. It’s a long fucking drive and I ain’t planning on stopping. We got a flight to catch.”

“You know when the flight goes?”

I caught something in Harold’s voice, couldn’t be sure, something he wasn’t saying.

“Yeah, numb-nuts, surprise, surprise. I can read a departures screen.”

“They don’t list those flights in Albuquerque,” Jules said.

“Yeah, well, I read it somewhere else. Listen, I’m pulling over up there, and I suggest we all get out and do our business.”

“There’s nothing up there.”

“Listen princess, the big guy in the sky created this whole wasteland as a giant urinal. I don’t know how they do it in Missoula, but out here, you find a bush and you shit on it.”

“You’re proof that evolution never really happened.”

Harold swung a backhand at Jules and he blocked it with a fairly impressive sweep. Harold gave a grunt, muttered something about kung-fu shit, and put his hand back on the wheel.

“The hell with both of you. I’m pulling over, and if you wet your jeans on the road, you can damn well soak in your own piss.”

He edged the Pontiac onto the shoulder. He shut off the engine and slammed the door behind him.

“Dammit. Now, I do have to piss.” 

Jules waded out to the open field. Something twinged in my chest. There were plenty of towns we’d go through before we crossed into Mex – and we’d need to gas up at some point. There was no reason to stop now, except for Harold’s general cranky-ass attitude. Oh damn.

Jules stood in a cluster of sagebrush about twenty yards to the right of Harold, who was just now shaking it off. I reached for the door handle, as Harold began taking long strides toward Jules, who was still in mid-piss. I opened the passenger door, about to yell out. Harold reached in his jacket, and in a motion just as fluid as the blocked punch, he pulled out the Glock and fired twice into the back of Jules’s head.

The figure in black crumpled like a dress falling from a hanger.

The morning doughnuts chugged in my guts.

Harold swung the gun toward the Pontiac. I stared at him from where I sat, still in the back seat, my feet on the gravel, the door wide open. His gaze was flat, like he stared right through me into the foothills on the other side.

“I guess you get shotgun now,” he yelled across.

He lowered and put the Glock back in his jacket. He walked back to the Pontiac. I now stood outside the car and looked to the field. Jules skinny legs poked out from behind the sagebrush. Harold slid in behind the wheel.

“Either piss or get the fuck back in the car.”

The doughnuts took another spin around my digestive track. I got in next to Harold, who was wiping sweat off his forehead.

“Gonna be another hot one.”

We pulled back onto the highway and drove deeper into the moonscape.



Come back Sunday for the next chapter of Surf City Acid Drop.


Go to Chapter Thirty-Two






Surf City Acid Drop - Thirty

“If we’re sharing the bed you’re taking off those lizard boots.”

“Rattlesnake. And we’re leaving.”

Mostly Harold got off the bed. He kept his Glock on me.

“How’d you find me? I thought you and your boyfriend would be going to the emergency ward and then taking in a double feature down in Santa Fe.”

“Look, numbnuts, I do the same as you. Except I’m a helluva lot better at it. Let’s go. We have lots of time to yak. I'll be taking that black bag.”

I made another late night exit out of a motel – except this time they made me pay up front when I first got here. Up here in Canuckville, they don’t trust anyone.

Harold drove the Ford out of the city. I pushed him on the whole finding me thing.

“Did I hurt your pride or something? You ever consider that you’re not the shit?” He took an exit south. “Let’s just say it helps to know people, like a nice old man that runs a hotel in Missoula who, by the way, told me to kick your cheapskate ass.”

“You’re telling me you knew Pop?”

“Who the fuck is Pop?”

“I don’t know his real name.”

“I didn’t know him from the president until I got the call. It didn’t surprise me that my plates showed up in Missoula. Didn’t figure on you running out on the bill. Damn. You got no fucking respect for small business?”

“That doesn’t lead to Montreal.”

“No. But leaning on that sneaky shit friend of yours popped a few answers. And some phone calls, and, well shit – it’s not like you don’t know this. Trust a guy like you to drive this far. What’s wrong with Minnesota?”

“Too many Scandinavians.”

“Huh?” Mostly Harold looked at me like I was from another country, or planet.

It pissed me off that I’d left any kind of trail.

“Finding Rick’s number. Hats off on that one,” I said, and I was honestly impressed.

“Who the fuck is Rick?”

“The friend you said you leaned on.”

Harold pushed the Ford past a couple of cars on the highway.

“Is that his name? Guy who runs some sort of racket in PV. I heard it was something else. I didn’t do the leaning."

They got to Benno? That didn't seem likely.

"You were back down in PV?"

"I was still in Santa Fe thinking of things to do to you when I found you. They called and told me. Booked me another flight. Asked if I knew French.”

“Do you?”

“What do you think numbnuts?”

Damn. It had irked me that Benno wanted me back down there so bad. For starters, it wasn’t like him. Now I wondered who else was in the room when he took my call.

“So we’re driving to Mexico?”

“Not fucking likely. If it was up to me I’d pop you one and put you in the trunk. You can settle in, we’re driving into the night, and out of this pancake and bacon eating country.”

“Whattya got against Canadians?”

“Everyone talks about how polite they are. Please and fuck you very much. It’s horseshit. They’re always looking down at us from their pointy beaver noses.”

“Us? As in Americans? I’m not one of the us.”

“Yeah, I figured as much. No wonder you’re such a pain in the ass.”

“So how are you for driving anyway? How do I know you won’t doze off and pull us into an oncoming semi?”

“You wish.” Harold passed another car. “I’m on the job and there’s nothing gonna make me lose focus. And I got ways to keep focused.”

“Uppers then.”

“No way José. I don’t do that chemical shit - who knows what that does to a person's system. I’m all natural, ginseng, ginko, and this crazy-ass root, ashwa something, I can’t even pronounce it. Get it from a guy in Santa Fe. No worse than taking a cup of coffee. Better actually. Puts lead in your pencil, too. Not that’d you know about that.”

“Beavers don’t have pointy noses.”


“You said—“

“I know what I said. Who are you, a fucking zookeeper, now? Shit, this is going to be a long drive.”

I didn’t feel like trading insults with my hopped up driver, so I sank into the seat and closed my eyes.

“Then again, if I get dozy, you’re driving. So, yeah, you might want to catch a few winks. And another thing.”

“Hmm?” I was already starting to nod off.

“You give any kind of shit at the border and I’m going back to that trunk option.”

“Right,” I mumbled.

Mostly Harold's voice seemed farther away than the driver’s seat. The adrenalin had long since left and I was feeling the rows of beers and wings.

“You never took your rental back,” I slurred.

“Yeah, well fuck you Canada.”



I woke up not knowing the time, day, or where I was – or even who I was. I looked across at the driver’s hooded eyes.

“You’re going have to take the next stretch.”

I yawned and rolled my shoulders.

“How can you be sure I won’t just veer off in my own direction?”

“Cuz I don’t sleep that sound.”

“Hard to figure on you shooting me while I’m driving.”

“Yeah, well I’ll take my chances. And you can take yours.”

He pulled the Ford onto the shoulder and we switched seats.

“Point it toward Detroit. Think you can find that numbnuts?”

Harold’s breathing deepened and moved into a low rumble snore. I doubted his ability to wake out of a dead sleep, shoot the driver, and grab the wheel before we rolled into the ditch. But what the hell. I didn’t have any other plans for three-thirty in the morning in southern Ontario.

I saw the circle ring of red from the CN tower hovering in the sky like a spaceship, and then faded out again. Harold woke up with a snort.

“Keep driving wise-ass.”

He shifted his grip on the Glock in his lap. He grunted and the snoring started again. 

It was past five when we stopped for gas in one of those towns with a British sounding name. Breakfast was stale sugary pastries and some of the absolute worst road coffee I had ever attempted to drink. It should have been on the rack with the transmission fluid.

Harold decided that since I entered Canada driving the Ford that I would drive it across the border. 

For the second time this week, I drove into an underwater tunnel. The lights streamed by creating long retina-burn waves. The effect was hypnotic, and I had to give my head a shake and roll down the window to prevent nodding off and driving the Ford into a wall of concrete and steel.

“Always hate this part,” Harold mumbled.

We exited the tunnel and the sun came up behind us and lit the skyline of Detroit, which only accentuated the grime of the city. It went as smooth as it was when I entered the other way. Anything to declare? Yeah, my passenger keeps wanting to put a bullet in me and stuff me in the trunk? Okay, well, you drive safe then.

Detroit was a sorry-ass town, and I felt bad for those that called it home. Though I am sure the people were as proud of it as anyone is of where they come from, broken windows and gang filled streets and all.

“Don’t know who’d agree to live in a shithole like this,” Harold said.

“Where’d you grow up?”

“Detroit. Right around 8 mile. And I got my ass out of here as soon as I could. Get onto I-94 and take the airport exit.”

“We meeting someone here?”

“Well look who woke up and decided to be a detective. A regular Phil Marlowe.” Harold snorted. “It turns out that we are meeting someone there.”

“I always thought of myself more of a McGee type.”

“Yeah, in your dreams numbnuts. Travis, my man, was a tough son-of-a-bitch that wouldn’t take nothing from no one. You, on the other hand, are a pussy.”

“Handed you your ass a couple times.”

“What kind of guy starts a fight in a moving car?” 

Harold had slid the Glock into a hidden pocket under the seat when we crossed the border. He reached down and slid it back into his jacket. 

“And take note, I will end it right here if you try that shit again.”

“Your employer won’t be too happy with that,” I said.

“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. Besides, I am not sure why they want you anyway. As far as I figure they just wanted the stuff you were carrying. Maybe they want the pleasure of seeing you put in the ground.”

“You never asked what was in the bag.”

“Some kind of rocks. Probably diamonds or something.”

“Nope. Just rocks,” I said.

“Well, I’ve killed guys for less.”

“You’ve killed guys for less than rocks? Mostly Harold, you got a temper.”

“And you’re standing on it. You call me that dumb name again and I’m doing an early burial. Pull in over there and park it.”

I pulled into the short term lot. Harold got out, opened the trunk and grabbed the black bag. He tucked the Glock into another hidden pocket, this one under the spare in the trunk.

I figured on seeing Harold’s partner again – it was the guy next to him that surprised me. Lloyd had three stripes of tape across his nose.

“Hey, asshole,” Lloyd said.

I ignored him, and turned to the skinny guy all in black. His nose had two crossed strips of tape under a set of blackened eyes.”

“This is pretty low rent for you – hanging out with this lot.”

“Not my choice.” Jules pointed at Lloyd. “You responsible for that?”

“Noses are my thing. Like Zorro,” I said. “What happened to Jim? Did he—“

“Yeah, yeah." Harold cuffed Jules across the head. "We’re one big happy fucking family reunion. Who brought the watermelon?” 

Lloyd handed three tickets over to Harold.

“Give him the keys.” Harold shoved my shoulder. “Put a dent in it, and I’ll kick your ass all the way back to Colorado.”

We left Lloyd at the airport coffee shop and the three of us walked through the airport like we were headed to a weekend in Vegas… or Santa Fe, Austin, Phoenix, or Alaska for all I knew. Harold wouldn’t let me see the tickets. He handed all three to the girl with the perfectly coiffed locks behind the United counter.

“Albuquerque for all three of you then?”

“That’s what it says on the paper.”

“I’ll take you each one at a time. Just the carry-on? Nothing to check?”

“Does it look like I have anything?”

“And your traveling partners?”

“Just do your clickety-clacking and get us a row of seats together.”

“No need to be impatient, sir, plenty of time to catch the flight.”

I could see Harold lamenting that he’d left the Glock in the car.

A few tense minutes and ten or twenty points raised on Harold’s blood pressure, and we were scooted through to security. Harold hid his usual bad-ass attitude when he explained that the rocks were part of his teenage kids science project. I guess they didn’t figure on him taking over the plane by heaving stones at the pilot, so they breezed us through.

The flight was a puddle jumper with layovers in Chicago and Denver. Harold sprang for a trio of egg salad sandwiches and coffee, which cost about as much as the plane tickets. Damn airports just suck you dry when they have you locked inside their sterile buildings. None of us said much the whole time. I picked up a USA Today and passed around the sections. Jules slept most of the way. He had a wheezy sort of snore that got on Harold’s nerves. He reached over and pinched his nose a couple of times until Jules woke up coughing.

I tried to get more info out of Harold about why Albuquerque and not right to PV. He just said we had to meet a guy and pick something up. We’d be driving down to Mex after the meet. 

“Why’d you pick him up?” I nodded to the sleeping Jules.

“They pay me. Then I do it. This is ain't complicated numbnuts.”

By now, I had figured that Harold was working for Strothers or Cynth, maybe both. The two of them were in something together, and Harold was their arms and legs. It didn't seem right to call him an enforcer, or even muscle, though I knew he was capable of putting a lot of hurt on someone – or into the ground. Something that Jules had done had put a royal pain in their collective asses. It was more than the stealing of the rocks, or maybe it wasn't. Benno figured in the deal, but I couldn’t put it together. I was beyond exhaustion, and slipped in and out of sleep, half-waiting for Harold to put a crab-hold on my nose.

Back in the Albuquerque airport again, I got that traveler’s circle thing, wondering if I had ever left at all – even more so when Arkin met us at the gate. He wore the same straw hat with maybe a few more stains, and he still hadn’t found time to iron his jacket. He carried a beat up briefcase.

“You all right?” He directed the question at me.

“He’s right as rain. Stewardess blew him in the bathroom on the way down from Denver.” Harold reached out his hand. “I’m supposed to meet an Arkin. That you?”

Arkin handed the case to Harold. He fished a set of keys out of his pocket.

“Is that your name, or some weird code thing that goofball in Mexico has for you?” Harold asked.

“Green Pontiac. Lot 3B.”

“What, you couldn’t get a Ford?”

“I’m not Hertz.”

“No, you’re an Arkin. Shit.” Harold held up the case. “I need to check this out?”

“Do what you need to do. But I’d do it in the car. Certain gun carrying officials in airports start to get nosy when guys like us exchange briefcases.” Arkin didn’t look around when he said it.

Harold peered around.

“What do you mean guys like us?”

“Here, Benno sent these.” He handed over an Aeromexico folder. “Three tickets out of Tijuana, down to Tepic.”

“Well, hey big spender,” Harold said.

“The car in the lot is clean. Registration in the glove dept. Tijuana’s a smooth crossing, you shouldn’t have any trouble. But you’re a surly looking bunch. Surprised they let you on the plane. Wouldn’t be a bad idea to grab some sleep and a shower on the way down.”

“Who are you, my mom?”

“Thankfully not.”

Harold’s blood pressure reached a new personal high. I thought for a moment that he was going to earn us a visit from the two security guards on the other side of the airport. As far as I could tell, they hadn’t looked over this way.

“Leave the car in the airport lot. There’s a space under the driver wheel well for the keys. Someone will pick it up.”

Harold brushed some unseen lint off his jacket.

“There a piece in there?”

“False bottom in the glove compartment. Also clean. Leave it in the car before you board. Unless you’re stupider than you look.”

Harold burned.


“That’s what I heard you wanted.”

“Yeah, well I also wanted a fucking Ford, not some piece of shit—“

“Harold. Time to go.” 

I grabbed him by the elbow, and he jerked away. I nodded toward the two guards by the back wall. Both were now looking this way.

“How’s Benno?” I asked as we walked past Arkin.

“He’ll be glad to see you.” He tipped his hat and walked in the opposite direction.

Harold swore a few more times when he saw the car. He went on about shitty workmanship and weak-ass engines. He told Jules to get in the front. I slid in the back. He opened the glove compartment, felt around for a latch, popped it, and fished out the Glock.

“Might not be a bad idea to wait until we get out of the lot,” I said.

“What’s with everyone giving me advice? Do I look like I give even the smallest of shits what you or that asshole with the dumb-ass name in the dumb-ass hat thinks?”

“I liked the hat,” Jules who had been silent for the last hour said.

“Oh fer shit sakes. Let’s talk fashion.”

Harold revved the Pontiac and we peeled out of the lot.



Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:

“So, let me guess. You didn’t get the suitcase unless you showed up with me. That must have pissed you off.”

“Everything pisses him off,” Jules said. “In serious need of anger management.”


Go to Chapter Thirty-One


Surf City Acid Drop - Twenty-nine


“Mexico? I guess that makes sense.” Rick squeezed a lime into his beer. “You stay in one place, or more?”

“Mostly Puerto Vallarta. And a small town south a ways, Melaque. Six or eight hours by bus, depending.”

“On what.”

“If the driver is in a hurry, or if he wants to stop for a cerveza, and whether he has livestock on the bus. A lot of variables.”

“Sounds dreamy. I guess you never seemed like a resort guy.”

“Couldn’t afford them and wouldn’t want to be there.”

Another round came along with two baskets of wings. The sauce, just the right amount of heat and salt, hadn’t changed a bit. We chomped on the food and worked our way through a couple more rounds.

“So did you look her up?”

“Not why I’m here. She wouldn’t welcome the call anyway.”

“Okay, man of mystery. I know things went bad for you. Shit, you barely said goodbye when you scooted out of town. But you want to tell me exactly why you’re back?”

“Working on something.”

“Looking in people’s bedroom windows again?”

“Pays the bills. And cheap shot, by the way.” I put the black satchel on the table. “I need you to look at something.”

“I wondered when you were going to show me your new purse.”

I zipped it open and took the rocks out of the felt lined case. I lined them up on the table.

“Whoa.” Rick reached a hand out. “Can I?”

“They’re rocks not eggs.”

“These aren’t just rocks.” He picked up the green flecked one and rotated it in the dim light. The bits of colour glittered. “Where the hell did you get these?” He picked up another one. “Painite. Damn, I’ve only seen pictures of this. Rare as hell.” He turned his head quickly and looked at me. “Do you have any idea what these are worth?”

“You tell me.”

He picked each of the stones up, rotated them, held them to the light. A couple he sniffed, and one he licked.

“That’s kinda weird, Rick.”

“Mineral deposits. Salty. Want to try.” He held up the still glistening rock.

“Maybe later with shots of Tequila.”


He went through the row again, more smelling and licking. My scientist buddy was so into it that, to be honest, he made me want to lick one too.

“Should have figured you’d know this stuff,” I said.

“I’ve had an interest. More in the past than recently. I had a colleague, geologist, but also a collector. But nothing like this. You’d have to—” He stopped. “Why do you have these?”

“I picked them up in Montana.”

“Not down by the river you didn’t. More like one of their museums. Are these hot?”

“Someone’s been watching too many cop shows.”

“Luke. These are worth a ton of money. No, actually, a shitload of money.”

“How much?”

“Hard to say. I don’t go shopping for these. I’d have to look some things up, talk to the rock guy I mentioned. But I know it’d be a lot.” He took a long swallow of beer. “You’re not going to tell me why you have them? Or how about telling me about the convoy of FBI cars combing the country looking for you, and these, right now?”

“You don’t get out much, Rick.” 

“Okay, maybe I watch a couple of detective shows. But seriously, come across.”

“Let’s just say I got them from a guy that shouldn’t have had them either.”

“Is this guy currently in the hospital? Or worse?”

“Why would you say that?”

“I know you do more than peer in people’s windows.”

“How about we switch to scotch?”

“Am I buying?”

“I could sell you a rock.”

We got a couple of tumblers of Johnny Walker on ice and I laid out the story for him. He took it all in like he was reading a book, asking me questions about the guy that got shot on the hill, what Leon looked like in my hotel room, was there a lot of blood, and how bad-ass was this Mostly Harold guy?

“This is really what you do for a living? A private-eye – hard boiled and everything. Like Philip Marlowe? Travis Mcgee?”

"You still reading MacDonald?" I asked.

"Only cuz he's the best. So you are one then?"

“Not really a detective. I find people. Sometimes.”

“Do you still get paid if you don’t find them?”

“Usually. I’ve been stiffed before. Clients get unhappy.”

Rick leaned back in the bar chair, studied the ceiling for a bit.

“So who hired you for this? The woman, or this Benno guy?”

“I work for Benno down in PV. He has some interests, I can see that now – but it was the woman that hired me.”

“You said it was her brother.”

“Pretty certain that he’s not her brother – and the rest of her story is fairly fictional.”

“What do you do for Benno?”

“Random tough guy stuff. He helped me get out of town.”

That got a look from Rick.

“This have something to do with the street guy getting his neck slit? You telling me the full tale here, Luke? Did you go to the police?”

“Police aren’t the most helpful down there. A lot are in the pocket of the cartels. It’s worse for the locals, but they can make life difficult for people like me.”

“Luke, I gotta ask. Did you have something to do with that guy being killed? You said he was in your room.”

“I liked Leon. For a junkie, he was alright. He got into something he shouldn’t have, or saw something. I’m not even sure what.”

“You think him dying had something to do with the missing brother?”

“Like I said, not her brother. Could be a connection though. What makes you think that?”

“I dunno. Maybe I am just hearing this like some movie... hard to believe that it isn’t. But it sorta makes sense. Especially her being at the hotel when you found him in your room.”

“It did cross my mind. Even more since I’ve been on the road.”

We sank into the long silence that good friends can do without feeling weird. It was a small place, mostly couples, a table full of people probably out after work for a few drinks. Most were engaged in their own conversations. I wondered what they might have thought if any of them were eavesdropping. I’ve never been a paranoid person, plus what the hell could they do with the information they might have heard. Still, a feeling washed over me. I needed to stop talking about the rocks and about Cynth and her so-called brother.

“So if he wasn’t her brother, and she didn’t want you to bring him back... then why’d she hire you?”

Just like old times, Rick had been reading my mind.

“Let’s take a walk,” I said. “There has to be at least one new place that’s opened since I left town.”




We hit two more places, neither as good as our old haunt. Once we’d stopped talking about Cynth and Jules, we went through some nostalgic trips, and then ran out of things to talk about. Rick walked me to the metro.

“You want my guy to take a look at those rocks?”

I’d been carrying around the heavy satchel throughout the pub crawl and my wrist had started to ache from it.

“Not just yet. Maybe, I could meet this guy too?”

“You saying you don’t trust me? Gotta tell ya that stings a bit, Luke.”

“No, it’s just that—“

I didn’t have an end to my sentence, so I just let it trail off. A lot of miles had been spent on this bag of shiny stones, and I just wasn’t ready to hand them over, not even to an old friend. 

“I’m gonna grab a cab.” Rick broke us out of the silence. “Give me a call tomorrow if you want to have breakfast or share some aspirin. I don’t do these anymore.”

“The bar crawl or the hot wings?”

“Both. Call me.”

I caught a train back to Longueuil, and then walked the few blocks to my motel. I thought about asking the front desk if there’d been any messages, maybe Benno checking up on me – but decided I’d ask in the morning. I wanted to just crawl into my cheap mattress with the dusty floral comforter and disappear for eight hours. The parking lot was about half-full, same as when I had left to see Rick, mostly local plates and one from Michigan. The beige sedan had the look of a rental unit, too clean to actually be somebody’s car.

I fished out my key, opened the outer door, and stared at the line of light along the inside door.

“You can kick it in and come in firing if that’s your thing.”

I pushed the door open. He was stretched out on the bed, his Glock pointed at my chest. Son-of-a-bitch didn’t even take off his boots.

“You always stay in dives like this?”

“I’m a simple guy.”

“Maybe so. But damn hard to find. You better have not put a dent in my car, numbnuts.”



Come back Sunday for the next chapter of Surf City Acid Drop.


Go to Chapter Thirty