• 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

Login
Tuesday
Jul282015

Surf City Acid Drop: Thirteen

The voice on the phone was English, but the Spanish accent was thick. He told me to stay where I was.

“I will be there rightaway. Minutes. Or sooner.”

A beat-up white VW pulled up eight tense minutes later. I hadn’t pictured my exit from PV, policia on my probably easy to find trail, in a rusted Bug. 

“Luggage?”

I held my package from Benno out to him.

“Don’t be a wise-ass. Get in the car.”

We left town smoothly, not so much quietly, as the old german vehicle, I am sure made by some very old Germans, putted out of town. I guess that was the point.

My driver didn’t say much. Actually, he didn’t say a single word after his first warning to not be an ass. I studied the back of his head, long black locks spilled from his fedora – was that a thing if you worked for Benno? Matching headgear? His collar was stained yellow, probably crisp and white at one time, before he bought the VW and started the family business of driving guys out of town.

“Tepic.”

I thought he’d hiccupped, or sneezed. It took a minute.

“What about it?”

“Early flight to Tijuana.”

“Yeah, Benno told me.”

 “Time it right, it should work.”

Should work. Yeah, that’s the hope. I sank back into the worn down seat and looked across highway 200. I caught a last glimpse of the ocean before we turned inland.

The patchwork fields were a refreshing breather from the noisy streets of PV. I let my eyes dance along the winding roads that snaked and climbed around the clumps of bushes, copses of trees, and over the rolling hills.

Tepic was an hour away, maybe two depending on how much power my well-tressed driver could coax out of the Bug. My muscles had only now begun to relax. A dull ache reminded me that not that long ago I was drowning in a bay of Tequila, barely vertical, stumbling down the cobblestones, and dragging Ms. F. behind. Good name for her.

I could have stayed. I could have explained to the cops that I knew nothing about the dead guy in my room. Yeah, it was a guy that many people had seen me talk to in the Esperanza or on the street. Maybe they’d seen me buy him coffee and even breakfast on more generous mornings. I’m sure some people had heard me give him shit, and tell him to get his act together, lay off the pipe, or nose candy, or mescal. That was the thing - too many people had seen this. And I’d heard too many stories from Benno about how things went with the Mexican police. There was a good chance I’d be fully cleared. But the question was when. The thing that knocked the most on my suspicions was the possibility that I was set up by the bootsie-twins. If they had paid somebody off to finger someone for Leon’s dead state, then things could go south real fast for this someone. And I didn’t mean Acapulco south, because it was pretty nice down there.

I churned this through my brain as I rode in the back of the Bug. It was more instinct than anything that made me run. That voodoo, EPS, crystal-ballian part of me was telling me to get the fuck outta Dodge. Maybe I didn’t have an actual vision of myself in a Mexican jail cell, but damn near.

Hell, maybe it was providential – to use that phrase from those Sunday School classes I took back in the dark ages. Maybe it was just the boot out the door that got me going in the direction of Cynth’s brother. After Strother’s place, I’d pretty much signed off on that one. There was too little too go on, and something about the whole deal smelled like a chile relleno gone bad. The suspicious part of me wondered if she had anything to do with Leon’s eviscerated neck. The paranoid part of me knew she did. And what did Benno have to do with all of this? He had Leon working for him. But on what? And it was Benno that steered her in my direction in the first place. Now he was sending me to Albuquerque as his delivery boy – and then telling me to head to Santa Fe. Somebody was yanking someone’s chain. And I felt the pull.

We drove through Las Varas as the sun climbed over a faded mountain.

“When’s the flight?” I asked.

“Eight-thirty. Give or take. Nothing is exact.”

“What if I don’t make it?”

“You will make it.”

He gave the Bug a bit more gas. It shot a black cloud of smoke from its rusted ass.

“Nice ride.”

“Still a long walk to Tepic, wise-ass. Lots of places to get knifed, too. Cut you open like a ripe melon.” He held an imaginary knife up and slashed at the dashboard.

“Go easy. I’ve had a hard night. And I’ve been working like a dog.”

“Ah. You are like that song!” 

“Didn’t take you for a Beatle’s fan,” I said.

“Best fucking band of all-time. No question. McCartney. Lennon. Genius.”

“Spend much time in England… uh, what was your name?”

“You do not need to know wise-ass. And just like you, no not England, America radio. And now, Mexico radio, too. I play in the clubs, I cover all of them. I sound more like George. Do you like them?”

“Sure. I mean, you gotta give them respect for their songwriting. But me, I need more guitars, some groovy riffs and a smooth deep bass.” 

“You like jazz?” He spit on the passenger side floor. “American masturbation.” He did another gesture at his dashboard.

“Ha. Someone said that jazz is five guys playing five different songs at the same time,” I said.

“Ah, good. So maybe you are not such a wise ass?”

“Nah, not big on jazz. But give me Dick Dale double-strumming a jungle beat, drummer putting down a steady drive, and a slick horn cutting through it all.”

“That sounds like jazz. I don’t know this Dick Dale.”

“A lot of people don’t. Well, if you were a surfer you would.”

“And you surf?”

“I wish. Just more of an admirer. Never even been on a longboard. Seems like about the coolest thing there is. Watching a big break come in, getting on top of it, riding it out.”

“Has this Dick Dale written anything as beautiful as Norwegian Wood?”

“Not in the same way you’re thinking. But in other ways, his Misirlou has its own beauty.”

As much as I enjoyed the diversion into what surf rock might have in common with the Lennon/McCartney catalogue, a throbbing built in the back of my skull – half-caused by too much tequila, and the other half of the pain reminded me that there was a good chance I’d have a few carloads of PV’s finest waiting for me at the Tepic airport.

“This is not good.”

“What, that I don’t like—”

My driver cranked the Bug hard and we spun down a gravel road running parallel to the airport. I peered out the back window. A pair of police cars were parked nose to nose. Not so much a roadblock, as a... well, I don’t know what the hell they were doing. Maybe they just decided to stop that way. Right.

He gunned the VW, spitting out more black smoke, stones machine-gunned the undercarriage, as if any second they would shoot out and pepper my feet.

“Whoa, whoa. Whose to say they’re looking for us?” I shouted at him over the whining engine.

“Not us. You.”

We came to a T in the road, and he took a hard left.

“And you don’t think they’ll pay attention to someone driving the shit out of a VW?”

“No one in that car. You need to look closer. You miss a lot.”

I stared out the back window, squinted at the cop cars shrinking in the distance. 

“If there’s no one in the car, why are you driving like we’re in the Daytona?”

“I do not know this person. Day? Toni? Another musician?”

“It’s not a—“

“They are watching.” 

He slowed and took a right. I saw we were still headed in the direction of the airport. A row of hangers came into focus.

“I take it I’m not going to check in.”

“Go down into the seat.”

“I thought you said they weren’t in their cars?”

“They will be now. They know my car. Benno greases their wheels. They allow me certain cargoes.”

“So why bother? Aren’t I just a different delivery?” 

“My cargoes don’t breathe. Go down.”

I edged down and out of sight. I wondered what these other cargoes were. I fingered the package on the seat next to me. From conversations I’d overheard, I knew Benno had some reach in other cities. And now he was sending me to Albuquerque, or I guess I sent myself.

We drove up to a pair of hangers that looked more like farm quonsets than anything holding aircraft. 

My driver gave a short honk and the door began to lift. 

We pulled up next to plane that wasn’t exactly a crop duster, but only a couple tiers higher.

I peeled bills into the pilot’s hand, until my new Beatle loving friend gave a grunt. I think the pilot would have gladly taken it all.

I listened to them speak in Spanish. I didn’t catch much. Damn, I so needed to take some lessons. I thought I gathered the gist of it. They were making a cargo drop in Tijuana.

“You are in luck,” my driver started, “he just got a tune up and passed his safety. With luck you will stay in the air.”

“Best news since Christmas,” I said.

 I tucked the thick envelope under my arm and climbed into the back of the winged wonder.

“Do you have any fears of being in the air?” His grin showed off some sparkly-ass fillings.

“Would it matter if I did?”

He looked like he actually considered this for a minute before he closed the plane door. He stopped half-way to give me one last piece of advice.

“When you get where you’re going, give another listen to Norwegian Wood. I think you’ll see what I mean.”

 

***

Next time in Surf City Acid Drop:

The next twelve hours slid by in that slow liquid way that happened to me when I went across a long distance, even more so when it was in planes. In the air I lost track of time – something to do with not having a connection with the ground. 

 

New Chapters every Sunday and Wednesday. Miss a chapter - click the menu above for a complete list. 

Monday
Jul272015

Twelve Chapters in and a Giveaway.

If you've been following the story of Luke Fischer you know that the story is twelve chapters in and things are not going so well... for Luke that is. Me, I am having a helluva great time sharing this novel, and to be honest, delighting when people are waiting for the next installment - and even bugging me to post more often. (Which I did - see 2x the Pacificos).

Luke and I have been steadily picking up more readers, and connecting with some other noir and neonoir writers and fans. So far I have achieved just what I wanted - to share the fun of writing this novel, and the great character that is Luke Fischer. 

I have been working on a follow up to Surf City Acid Drop (I will share more news of that in a future post). At this point, a few months in (I'd have to look back to see where it began), I thought I would reach out to the readers of the serialized novel, and see what you think so far.
Now, I know people can be hesitant to post comments on a blog - so I will give you the option of sending me an email if you'd rather.

Rather than a contest, I'd like to offer one of my books as a thank-you for reading Surf City Acid Drop. No draws, no best post wins... basically, if you send me a comment about Surf City Acid Drop, I will send you the (e)book of your choice. (Sorry, at this point, I do not have any hard copies of anything).

Here are your choices:

Correction Line - my first novel, what I call Prairie-Magic Realism-Noir (Hell, I have to call it something). Basically, hitmen on the prairies... oh, and with a mystical substance that glows and may heal people.

Ethical Aspects of Animal Husbandry - a collection of short stories. Dark humour, with more than a dash of the Slipstream.

Bent Highway - A novella, serialized first here on the blog. This is part one of a planned series. The story is time-travel hits the road, and drinks a lot of tequila along the way. 8-tracks and Elvis tunes make an appearance.

For more information about thiem, you can find descriptions and reviews on Amazon amd Goodreads.

I can supply either mobi or epub versions - whichever you prefer.

Comment wise - just tell me what you think so far. Is the story pulling you along - or is it too slow and boring? Are there things you wonder about? Like Luke's background - or where you can buy Pacifico? (That's an easy one). Fire away, good, bad, ugly. At this point in my writing career, I've heard at all.

If you'd like to email me - send to cterlson@gmail.com

Finally, thanks to everyone for reading. You make it possible - because just one interested reader drives me to write another chapter.

Pacificos for all!

Sunday
Jul262015

Surf City Acid Drop: Twelve

 

I have a skill that has saved my butt more than once. I can’t explain how I ever got it or even why I have it. Ever since I can remember, I have had an innate sense of when things are about to go bad, as in really bad. The trick of this skill was to get ahead of the wave, just like those surfers who can get on top and stay just ahead of the danger. They are the greats, they are the survivalists. 

Staring at a Leon, bled out across my floor, and looking very very dead, I knew things were about to go bad. And they were going to go that way fast. I needed to get ahead of, or maybe right the hell away from, the wave that was coming.

The Morales family showed up so fast after we found Leon that they must have followed us up the stairs. It was the dad and two of the uncles, or brothers, I never could keep them straight.

“They came looking for you,” Dad Morales said.

“Were they were wearing stupid-ass lizard boots?”

“No, Mr. Fischer, the policia. They wanted to go to your room. There were just two of them.”

“But we told them that you weren’t there,” the older brother-uncle cut in. “We would not let them go upstairs.”

“He argued well for you. Maybe too well,”  the other brother with the thick ‘stache piped in. “They left angry, and will come back angry. With more policia. And this time we will not be able to stop them. We cannot be—”

“What did they want?” 

Around me the air got close, my shirt stuck to my chest. I turned to her.

“What did they want?” I asked again.

“I don’t know anything about it.” She looked almost as white as Leon.

“They will come back any moment. I don’t think we can—”

“Be responsible for this.” Dad Morales finished.

I remembered now. The patriarch's name was Luis.

“But we know of someone that can take care of this.”

Quick glances from the brother-uncles.

“It will cost, of course.”

It was like I felt the waves of water rise in the small room. Soon it would be up to my neck, and then I’d be driven under. I riffed through the options. Yes, I could pay to clean this up. The Morales probably had a relative that could do this fast and clean. But that was the thinking of someone who did something. The something being slicing open a skinny street-guy’s neck, and leaving him to bleed out in a one and half star hotel.

“They asked about this one.” Brother-uncle one pointed to dead Leon.

“They were looking for him, too. They have seen you together. Talking.”

“They said that he was missing. This one,” pointing again to the bed. “One said that you threatened him.”

The wave reached my neck and and started to curl.

“We told them that this one annoyed guests. It was usual. Asking for money for drugs. Lots of people talked badly to him.”

"But you did not. So we do not believe you threatened."

“His name is Leon.” A shiver ran up the back of my legs. “Was Leon.”

“Maybe you should…” she started.

I dug into my pocket and pulled out every bill I had. I slammed it into Luis Morale’s hand.

“Call your guy. This is all I have.”

I grabbed her hand and ran toward the wheelchair ramp.

“Wait!”

I don’t know who said it. Maybe they all did. I ran, half-slid, down the four flights of tilted floor, my shoes grinding across the pebbled surface. The thought of being slapped around by the PV policia, followed by an extended stay in a Mexican jail, helped my sober transformation. The alcohol was swapped for adrenalin. I dragged her down the whole way.

We ran through the doors and spilt out into the street. She yelled again. I think she yelled the whole way down.

“Stop!”

She was dead weight. I'd have to let her go.

I spun around, faced her, listening for the sirens I knew would come. Any minute.

“This won’t turn out well. Trust me. I know this.” I looked in her eyes, searching for anything.

“You can’t just run. That will look worse. It will look like—”

“It’s not about looking,” I said.

“What are you talking about?”

“Somebody paid somebody. Maybe those somebodies wear reptiles on their feet. PV’s finest doesn’t just show up at some random hotel and start asking questions about a street junkie that talks to tourists.”

“You can’t be sure. Can you?” The colour had come back into her face.

Down the street an unseen dog started to a bark.

“I have to go.”

“But where?” She flipped open her bag, the thing had flown behind her on our bolt out of the hotel. She brought out a handful of bills. “Take this. Grab a cab, a bus, whatever you can find and get to the airport.”

“Why?” 

“Don’t you mean where?” she asked.

“Why give me this?”

Somewhere a few streets over a bell started to ring – odd time for a church service. It made no sense. I strained to listen again for the sirens. My leg muscles tensed, even as I stood completely still. I had to run, or more like, swim for it. I had to get ahead of the wave.

“Go to Santa Fe. Find my brother, just talk to him. Call me.”

The name of the city tugged at something in me.

“Why there?” I remembered where I had last heard it. “Who have you talked to?”

I grabbed her wrist.

Then I heard it low, and rising in tone.

“If you know he went there…” I twisted her wrist, colour bled into her face. “…why did you hire me? Do you—”

She slammed her hand into my chest. I dropped her wrist and stumbled backward into the street. Every single one of my million questions had to wait. An avalanche wave was about to crash down on my skull. I had to move.

I bolted down the cobbled street, took the first corner, ran another block and took another fast right. I scanned the street. Not a cab in sight. The sirens howled. I sprinted. They would head to the hotel. I knew that. Someone probably called it in – a nosy neighbour who doesn’t like blood in the hallway. Wait, did she call it in?

I stared into a pool of lies deeper than the Gulf. My body, mind, heart and lower intestine knew it. I couldn’t see anything that looked like truth. I pictured myself in that Mexican cell with the hole in the floor – me writing a letter on the t.p. – begging some guard to get it to the embassy. The image was dark. It brought up the memory of another stay in a jail ten years ago and two thousand miles away. It wasn’t Mexico, but it was no picnic.

Maybe I was wrong. Maybe one of the Morales called it in. No, they had my back. Benno must have put more than a few good words in for me when he introduced me to the family. That was two years ago. 

Benno. Son-of-a-bitch. I gotta talk to him. Did I have time to find him? How soon after the hotel would the policia start combing the streets? How fast could the Morales clean up? Was their guy in the hotel? Was it one of them?

It was a rolodex full of questions, and without one clear answer.

As I ran down the cobbled streets of PV, the last vestiges of drunkenness fell away from me, along with a milk bucket of sweat. Blood coursed through my legs. My thoughts cleared. I started to see an exit as a possibility. But I needed to find Benno. The sirens were distant. I ran in the opposite direction. This was a good thing.

Surf guitar drifted out an open door, a tight snare bumped against a walking bass and a guitar reverb so wet that it formed its own puddle onto the street. The music pulled on me like a Siren dressed in floral shorts and a coconut bra. Inside, the band was crammed onto a corner stage the size of a lifeboat. They hung on and played their asses off. The crowd nodded along, a few in the darker corners talked, but most of the people followed the tight rhythms. A horn player, hanging off the back of the boat, cut a line that knifed through all the other sounds.

The guy in the short brimmed fedora blew out a soft whistle.

I weaved around the tables, barely noticed by anyone. My chest heaved and my heart beat as fast and steady as the sticks on the highhat.

“Benno.”

He was a guy that was used to hearing his name in places like this. Benno turned away from the band. A look of surprise flashed on his face, but it morphed right away into a narrow smile that broadened, and then the eyebrows knit into a tight line under his brim. He downed his drink and got up so quick that he was halfway across the room before I had to run to catch his stride.

He walked up the street a half a block, stopping under a ghostly green light that hung off the side of the adobe building. 

We were far away enough from the bar noise to speak in low tones.

“How bad?”

“I need to leave PV.”

“When?”

“Now would be good. An hour ago better.”

He fished out a small leather book, handed it to me, then dug again and brought out a thin gold case. I shook my head when he offered, amazed at my own resolve.

He fired up and took a deep drag from Benno’s blend – half Kentucky leaf and half Acapulco gold. He took the book back and ruffled through the pages.

“Stay here.”

“Benno.”

He put his hand on my chest. Walked back down the street, and ducked into the bar. He was gone an hour or maybe three minutes, in between my heart beats, it was hard to tell. He came back holding a thick manila envelope.

“I need this delivered.”

“For fuck sakes Benno. I’m not looking for—”

He held up one of his manicured fingers.

“Where?” I asked.

“Albuquerque. After that you can go to Santa Fe.”

A wire went black in my brain.

“How do you? Have you talked to her? Shit, Benno, what the hell is happening here?”

“Look at this number and remember it.” He handed me a small slip of paper.

“Why?”

“Remember it. Walk across to La Noche, you know where that is?”

I nodded and studied the paper.

“Ask to use the phone. If the bartender gives you a hard time, tell him Benno will be dropping by.”

“Who am I’m talking to? Can he get me on a plane? What the fuck, Benno?” 

My neck tightened at a distant sound that I thought was a siren. It turned out to be another piercing lick from the horn player down the street.

“You got it?”

I scanned the numbers, recited them in my head, tried to make a song out of them.

He pocketed the leather book, took another long drag and handed it to me. This time I took it. A long pull of smoke found its way into my tense body, and tried to ease every muscle. Benno produced a thick billfold held by three red bands. He peeled off a dozen U.S. bills, so fast I couldn’t see the denominations. He slapped them into my hand. He stopped, considered, and peeled off a few more.

“Your driver will take you to Tepic.”

“I’m driving all the way? Where after that?”

“Tepic flies direct to Tijuana. You can get to Albuquerque from there. If you go now, you’ll get ahead of them. The wheels of progress don’t move that fast here. You know that.”

I looked at the bills. 

“Why do I need this much?”

“Give three hundred to the driver.”

“The guy I’m about to call?”

“Right.” 

Benno handed me the envelope. It was heavier than it looked – damn sure it wasn’t his beer coaster collection.

“In the ABQ airport wait in the Lizard Lounge. That’s where the pick-up will be.”

“It’s actually called that?”

“Uh-huh.”

I took another long drag and handed the cigarette back. Benno looked back toward the club.

“You knew this was going to happen, didn’t you?”

“You better hit it.”

“How did you know, Benno? And why Santa Fe? Did you just happen to have a package going to Albuquerque – or did she set this up?”

He flicked his smoke into the street and crushed it with his pointy four-hundred dollar shoe.

“Fischer. I need a bit of help. You, my friend, need a lot of help.”

“How long have you known her?”

“Get out of town.”

I pushed at him and he blocked my hand, grabbed and twisted hard. I winced, my wrist ready to snap. He released.

“Go.”

I stepped onto the streets, started a tense jog. Halfway across, I spun around.

“Thanks.”

“Santa Fe. Check out the church with St. Francis.”

My next half sentence was stopped mid-speak by the hurtling cry of sirens headed in my direction.

I ran.

 

***

New Surf City Acid Drop this Wednesday.

If you like what you read, or even if you didn't, feel free to drop a comment here, on facebook, or follow me on tiwtter. Catch up on all the chapters by clicking the link in the menu above. Surfs up!

Chapter 13

Tuesday
Jul212015

Surf City Acid Drop: Eleven

I awoke feeling like someone had shoved me in a washing machine, on spin cycle, with a bag of rocks. There was no knifing pain that would have signalled something broken, or worse, torn inside. I made my way down the Esperanza ramp, happy to have that option instead of the stairs. I thought about checking into an emergency ward, but figured they’d give me a roll of gauze and a couple of aspirin, tell me to sleep it off.

I walk-limped a few blocks. I started to gather an idea of someone I really wanted to talk to. I knew just where to find the son-of-a-bitch. I planned on putting more than a couple of dents in his fedora.

It took three bars, one Pacifico in each, and some hefty tips, for my scale anyway, until I found him. He was at the back table, entertaining a couple of well dressed blondes, and a gorilla in a three-piecer.

“You got a minute?”

Benno looked at me, squinting in the half-light of the bar.

“Luke? You look even worse than usual.” He turned to his friends. “And for Mr. Fischer, that is substantial.”

The girls twittered, the gorilla grunted and searched his pocket for a banana.

“Only take a second.”

Benno tilted his hat back, gave a nod to his simian friend, and then motioned for the girls to slide out from the booth.

I pointed toward the banos.

“Really? Couldn’t we find somewhere a bit more gentleman-like? Seriously, Luke, your standards have—”

I flashed him a look. He followed me into the can.

“So what’s going on?”

I grabbed the lapels of his silky shirt and yanked him close enough to give him a slap that counted.

“Fisch—”

I gave another slap and a hard backhand to shut off the last syllable. The motion opened up a cut across my forehead, a present left to me by my recent hotel guests. Benno opened his mouth and I gave him one in the guts. He wheezed the rest of my name in a long, errrr

Crouched over, he held up his hand like he was stopping traffic. He sucked in the ripe air of the bano.

“Just a sec, just a sec,” he wheezed.

A pasty-faced guy wearing the single ugliest shirt that I’d ever seen walked in.

“Walk out or crawl out. Up to you.”

He made a quick one-eighty.

Benno was upright again. He picked his hat off the floor, gave it a dust and placed it back at his perfect angle. He dabbed at the corner of his mouth.

“Can I talk now – or did you want to finish?”

His voice was a bit raspy, but I knew Benno had taken worse. I raised my hand. Bugger didn’t even flinch. I lowered it.

“You mind telling me why I’m your new punching bag? You thinking of heading back north to the sparring gig?”

“Who were the bootsie-twins you sent to give me a wake-up call?”

“You’re going need to spell it out a bit more than that.” Benno turned and splashed some water on his face.

“I could go find Leon and ask him. But something tells me you’re the one with the answers.”

“What’s Leon got to do with it?”

 “They said I’d end up like someone else they must have put their boots to. Before I went to Boca, I ran into Leon, and he looked like hell warmed over a broken stove. Then when Twiddledee and Twiddledum were playing kick-ball on my head, I’m damn sure they said your name.”

“Leon was in the hospital?”

“Hoping he still is.”

“I don’t see the connection. I haven’t seen Leon in days. I left town when you did. I had a meeting with those people out there in the bar, whom I invited back to stay a few days, and have been entertaining them since.”

“Leon said he worked for you. Right before I dropped him off at the hospital.”

Benno dried his hands.

“I’m afraid our mutual friend has been smoking a few too many different things to be counted upon for an accurate story. Yes, I did hire him a few weeks ago. And I’m guessing he ran out of that money, and found his way into some more money, or more trouble. Either case usually leads to one altered state or another.”

Benno was a hard one to read. He had been in too many situations where the truth could set him free or get him knifed. 

“So who were the bozos ringing my bell?”

“PV is full of undesirables. The exact kind I have been trying to keep away from my party out there. And if I don’t get back out there, I have a feeling one of them is going to come in here to extract me.”

“George of the Jungle?”

“His name is Francis, actually. But yes, him.”

“He doesn’t look like a Francis.”

“Tell you what, Fischer, you go out there and tell him that. Whisper it in his ear.”

“What’d you hire Leon for?”

He ran some cold water on a paper towel and handed it to me. I took it and dabbed the cut on my forehead.

“Luke, you told me once that the less you know the better... when it comes to my business.”

“Yeah, well getting punched in the head makes a guy curious.”

Benno gave me a look.

“Sorry about the punch,” I said.

“What about the slaps?”

“Yeah. Well, you might have deserved those.”

“For what?”

“I’m sure there was something.”

Benno reached into his pocket and yanked out a roll. He peeled a few bills off and handed them to me.

“Go have a few stiff ones on me. Then go check into a different hotel. I’ll ask around.” He turned to walk out.

I stared at the bills.

“Okay, I’m sorry about the slaps, too. You going to tell my why you hired Leon?”

Benno held up his hand and went back to the bar.

### 

An hour later, after a pair of Modelos, and three shots of Cuervo, the muscle pain faded into a dull memory. I knew tomorrow would be worse – my body always liked to remind me that it took a shit-kicking, not that I paid it any mind. I mostly believed Benno. He lied when he needed to, but never to me. Or up until now.

He was right, that I didn’t want to know his business. But the Leon thing kept digging at me.

I’d walked to the Costantini. I came here whenever I needed time to think, rest my bones, and lick my wounds. It wasn’t Jimmy’s. Hell, they didn’t even have peanuts. But it was quiet and dark in there as a starless night. A guy with close-cropped hair played James Tayor on his spanish guitar. A warm breeze pushed through the open windows, and blew across the smells of someone frying meat in the restaurant next door. It wasn’t a bad scent. It brought me back to the times I’d cooked thick steaks on my backyard BBQ. But that was a long time ago, made even longer by the miles that separated me from that landscape. So long ago, that it seemed more like a movie than a life I had once led.

I wasn’t sure if another shot of Cuervo would keep the nostalgia at bay, or have it flood in like a high tide. In the middle of my wrestling act with memory and alcohol, someone said my name.

She sat next to me at the bar, ordered a mojito with extra lime.

“Let me guess. He told you where to find me,” I said.

“Have you found anything?”

A drip of condensation made its way down the neck of the Modelo that I'd been nursing.

“Anything at all?” she asked.

I caught the drip with my index, then drained the bottle. I stood to leave.

“If you’ve heard something about Jules… you need to tell me.”

“I don’t need to tell you squat.” 

I threw down some bills and headed to the door. She left her drink and followed. I heard the bartender yell at her as I left.

Orange lights like broken suns blurred my vision. I misjudged the step out onto the street. She grabbed the back of my shirt and saved me from a first class face plant.

“You’re drunk. What happened?” She spun me around. ‘Tell me what happened.”

In my head I went over the numbers. I thought it was three shots of Tequila and two beers, but I think my count was off, or they were pouring heavy on the account I looked like a guy who lost his best friend, his dog, and whose mother got nailed by a bulldozer on her way home.

I pushed her away from me, ran my fingers back through my hair, and gave a head shake – always a great sobering technique. Nope. Still hammered.

I started down the street, feeling like a surfer swimming out to catch the big one, careening off the sidewalk edges. A breeze picked up and edged me on. The pavement lifted, but I stayed on my board, rode the pipeline, crouched low. She followed me, in a much straighter line, and at a distance.

I thought the usual things when I got like this… how the fuck did I get here? I knew the answer, or at least had a faded roadmap of how I ended up doing shitty lost person work in a country where I barely knew the language, and now that I considered it, was hot as hell for a good part of the year. Staggering down the street I longed for a crisp fall morning, the crunch of leaves, and the threat of snow hanging in the air.

I drifted through faces of the people that I had left behind when I left. There was one in particular, the one I always thought of when I was three sheets to the wind. Behind me a soft chorus of my name bounced off the cobbled streets.

“Fischer, Fischer, Fischer.”

I stopped to vomit. Stretched, arched my back. Damn, that felt better. 

“Where are you going?”

I walked past the street sign for Panama, and made the three step climb to the higher sidewalk. Damn, even this drunk, I could still find the Esperanza. I'm a crazy-ass homing pigeon. The hotel's white walls climbed into the sky, the moonlight bouncing off the plaster. Check in somewhere else Benno said. Forget it. I’m checking right the fuck out of this country. Or after a quick lie-down, anyway.

I let the door swing behind me and she caught it. One of the Morales called over to me. He seemed more excited than usual, but I had no time for it. I took the stairs, knowing the ramp would be too hard to navigate. She was right on my heels.

“Coming up to see my sketches, Cynth?”

“You have to talk to me at some point,” she called.

Her perfume wafted behind me. The first time I had caught a whiff, I thought she smelled like money. Taking in the fragrance now made me think of dying lilies. I stopped and painted the ramp below with another round of Cuervo.

Two flights of stairs and she was ahead of me. I followed her, even though she didn’t know where she was going. Or did she? I stopped again. I considered Benno’s innocence and how those boot boys knew just where to find me. It was no secret that I lived at the Esperanza, but still.

“I thought you wanted to show me something?” She called down to me.

“How much do you really know about your brother’s buddies? The Oaxaca group?”

“Next to nothing. I told you that already.”

My head started to clear as the alcohol sweated out of my body. She stopped on the fifth floor.

“Well, where are you?”

Her question drilled deeper into me than she could ever know. Just where the hell was I?

I shook the existential vibe and studied the hasty fix the Morales had done on my door. A sturdy breeze would rattle it off its hinges. I turned the handle, not really expecting the lock to work. It swung open. I stared at my shitty little room, now furnished with a body strewn across the bed. 

“Oh.” 

Now it was her time to bring up breakfast, in a very unlady like way, out in the hallway.

There was nothing like a guy with envelope white skin and a six-inch gash across his neck to sober me right the fuck up.

Leon. Damn.

 

***

Watch for the next chapter this Sunday. Surf City Acid Drop - now twice a week. Tell your friends. Or keep it to yourself, it's ok with me.

Either way, I hope you enjoy and please feel free to drop me a line here or on the twitterbox.

Chapter 12

Sunday
Jul192015

Surf City Acid Drop: Ten

He wore a crisp white shirt and pants with a crease you could cut glass on. His voice wispy, not quite effeminate, but you wouldn’t mistake him for a trucker.

“Are you some sort of policeman? A detective?”

“Not a detective.”

“With the government? You have dark enough skin, but I can tell you’re an American like me. FBI? IRS? CIA? You better not be a goddamn spook.”

“None of the above. I’m just trying to find someone, and I was told you might know them.”

“Who told you this?”

I gave him the spiel about the guy with the circles in the gallery, folded in my story about Enricho that I'd heard from Larry. His face changed when I mentioned Enricho, and when I finally got around to mentioning Paulo and the Oaxaca group, he took a step toward me.

“Don’t mention that little cocksucker’s name in my presence. And if this is your friend, then you can get the fuck right off my property.”

It slid into my mind that the fat cigar guy from Chicago and the gallery owner probably thought I was gay. An easy guess in Vallarta, I figure, but I wondered how I gave off that vibe.

“Has he been around here? Is he here now?” I asked.

“Ha! If he was I’d kick his ass right onto the highway like I did the last time I saw him. And if you’ve been with him, you know exactly what I mean. Now—”

“Uh, I’m not, you know.”

“What a faggot? You can say it y’know. It’s not like it’s catching. And I know that. You dress like a hobo.”

“Listen, this sun has been baking my brain, and I’ve been up and down this damn road for the last couple of hours. Any chance you’d offer me a cold drink?” 

“Why would I do that?”

“For starters, I don’t know this Paulo either. He’s not the one I’m looking for. And I’ve heard from others that he’s an asshole. Maybe we could come together on that.”

Strothers crossed and uncrossed his arms.

“Oh what the hell, this day is as boring as spit anyway.”

He got up and went through the set of french doors.

 

We sat in his chrome kitchen, which opened into a bright living room with light pouring in from the row of floor to ceiling windows. Strothers gulped down a vodka tonic.

Lucky for me, a party goer from last weekend had left a six-pack of Dos Equis in the fridge.

“You have a lot of parties here?”

“I like to entertain. I’ve earned it,” he said, topping up his drink with another couple inches of vodka and a fresh lime.

“What kind of work you do that allows you to own a place like this?”

“I rent. And that’s not your business, nor why you’re here. Understand, my hospitality to strangers only goes so far. Especially hobos and beach bums.”

“What's the deal with hobos? Did someone--”

“Get to it. Mr… what did you say your name was?”

“Fischer, with a C. Hired by a woman that’s trying to track down a relative.”

“Hired? You're some sort of Private Eye, like in the movies? Now, you’ve got at least some of my interest.” He picked up a red swizzle stick and plunked it in his glass. “Don’t they call you guys, dicks?”

“Not a detective.”

Strothers rolled his eyes. “But you were hired as something. Is there another name for looking in people's underwear drawers?”

“Did Paulo ever mention a Jules? Hanger-on type.”

“What if he did?”

I swept my hand across the counter and sent his vodka tonic smashing into the wall. I grabbed his crisp shirt in one hand and an ear in the other. I twisted both.

“Agggh. You son-of-a—”

I let go of his shirt and swung a backhand at him.

“Stop!”

Another cuff to the back of the head.

“Listen up.” I twisted harder. Strothers let out a scream. “I’m hot. I'm tired. I spent a day listen to people prattle on about art. It puts me in a mood, especially when most of it’s utter bullshit. So spill what you know about your ex-loverboy – and anything he said about Jules.” I shoved him back into his chair. “I’m going have one more of those Dos Equis and sit hear and listen.”

“You bastard.” He pushed his hands through his hair, and rubbed the back of his head. “I want another drink.”

A gave him another hard one across the face.

“Talk.”

“Ok, just don’t hurt—”

He was up and out of his chair so fast I had no time to duck his jackrabbit fast swing. I heard a tooth crack when his fist slammed into my cheek. I fell ass-over-tea kettle out of my chair and sprawled out like an overturned turtle on the beach. He drove a flip-flop into my side and bent down and popped me another one. 

“You like that tough-guy? Mr. Dick? I didn’t grow up in the projects in Philly to put up with shits like you.” 

He set up for another kick and I feinted right, like I was covering up. It made him hesitate, which is when I drove my non-flip flop shoe into his ankle. That time for sure I heard a crack. He screamed as he hit the floor next to me.

My head was still ringing from his punch. I hadn’t been clocked like that since my days as a sparring partner for the middle-weights.

“You fucker! I think you broke my ankle.”

I got up, went to the counter and finished my beer.

“Shit, phone me an ambulance or something. I don’t think I can get up.”

I went to the fridge for the tonic, decided against it and yanked the vodka out of the freezer. I poured myself a couple of inches, and the same in Strother’s glass. I sat down on the floor next to him. He grimaced and sat up.

“I don’t think it’s broke, or you wouldn’t be able to do that.” I handed him the glass of vodka. I raised my glass at him and rubbed my jaw. “Nice punch.”

“Skinny Spanish guy from the hood taught me. Comes in handy when assholes think they’re gonna lay a beating on fag.”

He drank. I drank.

“Why should I help a lowlife like you? If I was wearing my jacket with the holster, you’d be bleeding out in the yard.”

“Lucky me.”

I drew back to slam him another one.

“Alright, alright. Enough of that shit.”

He downed his glass. I refilled them both.

“Sure, Paulo talked a lot about Jules, how he was going to bankroll some big exhibition. Had some sort of media connection, or knew some galleries in New York. I forget. It sounded like he was getting fed a line. And I told him so. He took it as jealousy, which maybe it was. Though, when I met him, I knew he wasn’t Paulo’s type.”

“You met Jules? Was he straight?”

“Not like an arrow, but enough. He’s like you said, one of those hanger ons. Hey, you know what they call a guy who likes to hang out with musicians?”

“Uh-uh.”

“A drummer.”

He got nothing from me.

“Musician joke. I used to hang out and drink with a bar band down there in Oaxaca. That’s where they were all from. Anyway, that was Jules. He saw himself as some emerging talent. Pfft – like a turd emerging from a skinny dog’s ass.”

“So if you weren’t jealous, then why the falling out?”

“I told Paulo to just keep doing what he was doing. I had some people on the Eastern seaboard, that with the right galleries, the right shows, at the right time, I could get him some big sales.”

“That’s a lot of rights.”

“Well, I make my living by knowing what is right.” He reached out his glass for a top up. “Anyway, when the two of them took off to Santa Fe, I was done with him. Ungrateful little bastard.”

“They went to New Mexico? Are you sure?”

“Sent me a fucking postcard. Like I wanted to hear from either of them.”

“But you kind of did, didn’t you?”

Smothers gave be a burning look, then his face softened.

“For a hobo you’re pretty perceptive. You sure you’re not—”

“You still have the card?”

Smother’s voice had started to slur. I helped him to his feet. He winced and let out a yell. Damn near broke, I’d say. They say a sprain can be worse, and I knew he’d be limping for a few days. Smother’s sat on a bar stool and pointed to the fridge.

“Get me some damn ice. And check up top on that pile of envelopes.”

I spilled a blue tray into a bar towel, gave it a twist and handed it across. Then I went back and grabbed the papers from the fridge. It was a third of the way through the pile. I held up the card. Someone had drawn a giant dick out the window of the hotel.

Smothers hiked his ankle up to the counter and applied the ice towel. Pretty limber for his age, which I pegged at closer to 40 than he would probably admit.

“Can I keep this for a while?” I asked.

“Get it out of my sight.”

“You should do that twenty minutes off and twenty minutes on. You got enough ice in there for a couple more sessions.”

“Thank-you Dr. Hobo.”

I poured him one more vodka, had a shot for the road and headed out the French doors. Smother’s called out to me.

“If you find the little prick give him one of those kicks of yours. Except aim it a couple feet higher.”

I walked out to the 200, scanned up the road, and decided to walk toward the city. I could always flag a flying talisman special down if I heard one coming. I read the card as I walked.

Hey Smote, sorry we left town without telling you. J has a lead on something hot. We’ll keep you in the loop.

It was signed with a big loopy P and a spiral for a period. It was the kind of postcard they kept at hotel front desks. El Paradero had the faux-adobe style that always reminded me of the Flintstones – even the pink and orange hills in the back were cartoon-like, right along with the toilet-bowl-cleaner-blue sky. It didn’t look like a place where three-dimensional people lived.

I heard the rattle and grind long before I actually saw the bus. I didn’t want to risk jumping out in front. Catholic or not, there was a decent chance the driver would make me part of the 200, mutter a few words to Mother Mary and keep on trucking. I made my waves casual, not frantic, as if to say, hey, I’m a regular guy, not a hobo, and I have the fare.

He sped past me, then slammed on the brakes, seeing either a vision, or remembering he could use a few extra pesos.

The bus was half-full, almost all locals. A couple of deer in the headlights Americans sat near the back. They must have hitched a ride to catch some local colour. By the looks of their complexions, they were both on the edge of losing their lunch. I smiled, and plopped down in the row across from them.

“First time on a segunda?”

“Have you rode on these before?” the husband with the white polo asked.

“Are they safe? I don’t want to criticize, but he’s been driving like a drunken man,” the wife added, her skin tone the colour of hubby’s shirt.

“This time of day, he probably is.”

Their eyes went wide, and her skin shifted a tone past the shirt.

“But, hey, we got Mary on our side. So no worries.”

“Is that the woman behind him? Because she has been positively nattering away at him. That has to have an effect.” 

Hubby’s voice had a touch of New England in it.

I closed my eyes, leaned back into my chair, and  listened to the gears grind and the governor whine. I gave the couple a thumbs up just before I drifted off.

 

 ###

 

I shot up in bed when they busted the door open with the second kick. Unlucky for me, sitting up made me easier to hit. I went from a deep sleep to blocking punches and chops at my head and neck. I got about fifty percent of them before they tossed my ass out of bed and added a few bonus kicks to the basket. I grabbed an exotic leather boot, could have been ostrich, and flipped one of them back. The big guy backpedalled, crashed into a lamp, and swore. In English.

“Listen up you little fuck.” 

The other one punctuated his words with a kick from his pointy lizard-skin boots. Damn fine footwear for thugs.

The guy I’d Flying-Wallended now joined him and added his tap shoe routine to my guts.

“We think it’s time for you to pack your bags and vamoose your ass the fuck outta town.”

“Yeah, or you’ll end up like that other—”

The big guy grunted, shutting the other one up. They said a few things quiet to each other, including a name I knew. I was pretty sure I’d cradled well enough to avoid a broken rib. I sucked in some air. Electric jolts of pain rode through my body.

“I swear I didn’t know she was your sister. Her moustache wasn’t near thick enough.” I jammed my foot into Ostrich Boot’s leg, just above the the top cuff. It was barefoot kick, but I knew it’d still smart. He buckled and I earned another kick in the stomach from his buddy.

“You got until tonight. Get your shit together and get a flight. Next time we come back with something sharp and metal.”

The other guy limped close, wound up to punt my skull for the conversion and Lizard Boots put a hand on his chest and nodded. He bent his large frame down close enough for me to smell his greasy breath.

“Get the fuck out of Dodge. Smart-ass.” He added a final smack to my head.

They tried to slam the door on their way out. It fell off its hinge and crashed into the room.

I wanted to make fun of their boots but I passed out instead.

 

***

New Surf City Acid Drop this Wednesday!

 

Go to Chapter 11