Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Snippet from my next novel

A Turner Hahn/Frank Morales novel is coming within the next two weeks.  Called 'A Taste of Old Revenge.'
You know about Turner Hahn and Frank Morales.  I haven't been shy about extolling their virtues and hang-ups in this blog.  I've preached long and hard about these two guys were the first characters I came up who seemed to stick with the reading public (as small as that reading public may be).  So I thought I would  . . . . kinda . . . prime the pump a little bit and offer a snippet out of the book's first chapter.

The novel is actually two homicide cases packed in one book.  Totally different; completely unrelated.  One homicide has Turner and Frank trying to figure out who would want to kill a survivor of a German concentration camp . . . execute him formally while he sat in a small office of his classic car garage working alone one night.  By time it's over with the Mossad, the FBI, some unknown Federal Government spy agency, and a long-since-dead organization called ODESSA gets involved

The second case involves millions of dollars stolen out of Iraq--a seemingly random killing of a convenience store clerk by a madman--a genius who has created the first truly sentient artificial-intelligence software--and greed.  Simple, pure greed.
Neither case is just a simple homicide investigation.  Simple investigations of homicide are not the cases Turner and Frank get themselves involved in.  You can check that statement out quickly enough by looking at the eleven short stories in Eleven from the South Side.

Here's a snippet of the opening chapter of the novel.  Thought I might share it with you.  Maybe get the taste buds salivating.  You know . . .

Chapter One

A stale breeze played through the dead man’s hair.
           
            An unwanted breeze. 

            A breeze filled with malaise. 
           
            The old man was slumped across the open cavity of an accounts ledger, his face squashed between the pages of a thick accounting book.  The body looked remarkably like a piece of trash carelessly tossed onto an old kitchen table.  Or maybe like a discarded broken doll long forgotten by the one who had once loved it.  As I bent down for a closer inspection I could see a clearly defined hole in the back of the old man's hairless cranium.  There was remarkably little blood.  What little blood had seeped out had created a tiny rivulet down the man’s neck and formed a dark puddle about the size of a man’s palm on the brown pages of the accounting book.  The blood was not fresh.
            Inspecting the wound I got the impression of precision.  A surgeon’s frugality of effort.  Or a craftsman’s sure touch in a grisly occupation.  Standing up and frowning, another impression occurred to me.
            Premeditation.  Coldly calculated and flawlessly executed.
            And who said a murder had to be messy?
            The dead man's arms were pushed across the table on either side of the oversized open book.  Between the fingers of the corpse's right hand was the butt of a cigarette, with ash about two inches long still clinging precariously to the filter.  In front of the ledger was an ash tray almost overflowing with the discarded flotsam usually associated with a heavy smoker.  There was a distinct blue haze of cigarette smoke hanging in mid-air above the corpse's head and the room smelled of old tobacco and sweat. Added to the mixture was the sweet aroma of automotive body putty.        
            Above the dead man's head was a single light fixture swinging slightly in the breeze  creating a surreal film noir touch to the crime scene.
            The fixture hung from the ceiling on a long and frayed electrical wire.  As it swung in a rhythmic pendulum motion the oscillating light created oddly contorted shadows that danced a frenetic but silent mime across the walls and floor like some madman's macabre nightmare.   It wasn't much of an office.  In the middle of the room was an old kitchen table, three office chairs, and the dead man.  To one side was a dilapidated old sofa so threadbare I could see the springs were about to pop out and give the next person who sat down on it an intimate surprise.  In one corner was a set of three six-drawer filing cabinets.  The floor was old green tiles worn through to the bare wood in front of the single door, which opened toward the steep stairs.  The stairs led down from the office to the main garage floor below.           
             A garage which, for me, held paradise. 
            Below, in the dim half light of a cavern, the cement floor was filled with classic cars from about six different decades and a dozen different countries.  It was the cold steel setting on the garage floor that kept singing alluring charms to me.  I wanted to forget about the body.  Bodies, in my line of occupation, I see almost on a daily basis.  But the sensual curving lines of a black ‘29 SSK Mercedes in the far corner of the shop, and the seemingly plain-looking dark red ‘40 Ford two-door coupé, captured my full attention.  In the middle of the floor was a ‘52 Buick convertible with its top down, painted pale-blue, with brand new white vinyl interior.  The Buick's huge chrome grill gleamed in a lustful display of American excess.  The paint was so fresh and the white interior so new I would have sworn it had just rolled off the assembly line.
             I was like some buck toothed, pimply-faced kid with a pocket full of money, standing in a Buick dealer's showroom and aching to buy my first new car. 
            Sitting next to the Buick was a ‘64 Chevrolet Corvette coupé stripped down to the bare plastic body and sitting on four rather solid looking floor jacks.  The doors were off, the windows were out and it was devoid of an interior.  Some artisan was carefully patching the nicks and scratches on the ‘Vette's plastic body with the delicate touch of a brain surgeon.  It was covered with a coating of red primer and waiting for its first coat of paint.  There was a tool bench beside the car's gutted remains and on it were an air hose and a paint gun. At some point during the next two or three days, I thought to myself, someone in this city was going to be the proud owner of an immaculately restored ‘Vette.
            And dammit, it wasn’t going to be me.
     Also on the garage floor was a brown ‘29 Lincoln sedan, a red '58 MG two-seater, and a massive looking black '41 Cadillac two-door sedan.  All of them were in various states of disassembly, with the cement floor around each car littered with discarded body panels and disassembled engine parts.                  
            But the jewel in this crown lay underneath an old tarp in a corner of the shop.  It was a perfectly restored ‘49 Jaguar XK-120 in British Racing Green.  I have to admit when I took a look at this one I felt sick in the stomach.  Looking at that car, holding the tarp over my head as I gazed upon its sensual curves of cool metal, the sight brought back a lot of memories.  As a kid living on the farm, the dream of someday owning an XK-120 and touring over back country highways from one end of the country to the next, constantly drifted into my thoughts.  Even now, more than fifty years after rolling off the showroom floor, it looked like it could go like hell and scare the bejesus out of every motorcycle cop in the country.
            But all I could do was admire it and shake my head.  Reluctantly I dropped the covering and slipped back into the practiced routine of investigating a murder.  Climbing the rickety stairs I kept glancing over my shoulder and grinning in sheer admiration at what sat silently on the floor behind me. But walking into the office and blending into the blue banks of haze floating over the body brought me back to the situation at hand.  The city pays me to be a homicide detective. Not an art critic. 
            Too bad.
            In front of the ragged looking wooden office chair the corpse was slumped in was the empty brass casing of a .22 caliber long rifle cartridge.  Frank Morales, my partner, was kneeling beside it and pushing it around with the eraser of a pencil when I walked into the room.  He looked up at me when I walked in, grinned, and began clucking like a hen as he started shaking his head.
            "This doesn't look promising, Tonto," he said, still grinning and shaking his head, "this doesn't look promising at all."
            I pushed my hands into the pockets of my trench coat and smirked.
            "I suppose you're gonna tell me it’s my turn to grouse through the pig pen."
            Frank grinned and nodded his head as he looked up and winked.
            "You got it, pardner. This is our third stiff and it looks like a stinker.  I'll play along as the dumb sidekick and do the paperwork. But you've got the brains to figure this one out.  And buddy, I got a feeling it ain't gonna be easy."
            He stood up, still grinning, and dropped the pencil into his shirt pocket before looking back at the body.  Frank is about the same height as I am but roughly a foot wider and eighty pounds heavier.  He has a head shaped in ninety degree angles, and a nose which is, more or less, spread across his face like someone spreading butter across a piece of bread.  He has beady brown eyes, and a chin which is made of reinforced concrete.  And no neck.  Yeah, that’s right; no neck.   Just a head and a set of shoulders about the size of a cement mixer.  How he swivels his head from side to side I’ve never figured out.  He's not fat but he is large and solid.  He's not slow, which surprises a lot of people.  His reflexes are dangerously fast and he has two hams for fists which can punch the lights out of an aroused gorilla.  He claims he's dumb. But don’t believe it, brother.  I know his IQ is somewhere around the same numbers the scales in my bathroom say I weigh, and he’s got more college degrees than I’ve got fingers.  Some people collect comic books as a hobby.  Hell, I collect muscle cars and first-edition, signed books.   Frank collects college degrees.  He wears clothes like most nine year old kids wear a coating of mud after a summer shower.  God only knows if he's ever ironed a shirt.  But don’t for a moment underestimate the guy.  You do and you’ll pay for it in the end.
            And me?  Just an ex-jock who almost had a chance to play in the NFL.  A dream which almost came true.  But now, like so many things, just water under the bridge.  Now I am a detective, like Frank, in the South Side Division.  I live in a warehouse where I collect my cars and work on them in my spare time.  The ground floor is the garage.  The second floor is like an over sized loft I’ve converted into a decent habitat.  And get this; I did the work myself.  No help.  No contractors.  Hell, I’m as surprised as you are.  I actually have a talent for working with a hammer and saw.  And I’m not bad at wall papering and plastering.  If this gig at being a cop doesn’t work out, who knows?  I might start a home-remodeling business.

1 comment: